Posts Tagged Hiking
NOTE: I started this blog back in January…dang it! So here we are in April with a whole lot of travel under our belt for 2018 and I’m getting ready to post something about 2017. That is SO last year!
At the risk of feeling like I am writing about a time “back in the day”, I’m going to post it anyway!
What is it about January 1 that resets everything in our brains to start over?
Start a diet to lose weight. Start working out at the gym. Start emptying the inbox by the end of every day. Organize the kitchen cabinets…I got this!
I’ll be the first to admit that I do this myself… Every. Single. Year.
I started using my Lose It app again to take off these stubborn 10lbs. Why I couldn’t make myself do it October 17th is beyond me. But come January 1? I am so excited to track my intake, count every almond, cut out cream in my coffee and kick my evening piece of chocolate to the curb! Easy peasy.
But over time the enthusiasm fades, the rules become more like suggestions and I am once again carrying an extra 10lbs around my midsection.
I think from now on I’m going to declare “JANUARY 1” once a quarter, since that seems to be the longevity to my New Years commitments. WHO’S WITH ME???
Despite my lack of stamina for some things in 2017, Jeff and I had a wonderful year of RV’ing. Not everything went as planned, but we are thankful for a lifestyle that allows us to be nimble enough to take on whatever life throws us.
So here are some of our favorites and some of our surprises from 2017
Favorite Boondocking Location
We started the year thinking we were going to go to Rocky Point Mexico. But after pricing insurance for the rig we went to Yuma, Arizona instead. Specifically, American Girl Mine BLM just across the border of California from Yuma.
It’s probably the most barren landscape we have ever spent time at. But the amount of trail running was endless, the Internet speeds were crazy fast, city conveniences close by and a Mexico experience within a half marathon.
Days are warm. Nights are cold. Unbelievable sunsets. Other RV’s as close or as distant as you please. All free for the taking.
Favorite Work Location
Working in the RV industry we worked plenty of RV shows in 2017.
Good Sam Rally-Phoenix
The Escapees Rally-Tucson
National Hardware Show-Las Vegas
Overland West Expo-Flagstaff
Easter Jeep Safari-Moab
Overland East Expo-Ashville, NC
By far our favorite show is the Overland West Expo. To start, we love Flagstaff! Camping amongst the pines. The wind creating a very distinct sound through the trees. The smell of pine needles baking in the sun.
Then there are the customers we get to interact with. They are inventive, savvy, astute and creative. They are not only well travelled, but minimalists who travel in modified Land Rovers, Toyotas, Motorcycles and Earth Roamers. They are not confined to USA borders but prefer to explore the backwoods of the world.
Favorite Sporting Event
This category is a bit tough to isolate. Trail Runs, Hiking The Grand Canyon, Ultra Runs, The Bentonville Arkansas Half Marathon, and Vacation Race series.
I’m certain that Jeff would consider his very first 100-mile Trail Run at Bryce Canyon the highlight of 2017. Pushing his body not just during the race, but for a year of training was a challenge. All to see if he could actually do it! What an accomplishment.
For me was the Bentonville Half Marathon. I ran the race with my sister-in-loves in my hometown surrounded by friends. It was a race and a family reunion that was so special. I ran the Grand Canyon Half too, but Bentonville and family made this one a standout.
Lastly, the bike ride across Iowa during RAGBRAI was special as well. Riding along with our RV’ing buddies with endless laughter and great food made for a memorable time.
We did a lot of hikes in 2017 but the two that stand out the most are two hikes that are hard to get permits for.
The Wave. What a special experience this was! Having our number drawn for a permit, the challenge of finding it, having our dog Sam and friend Whitney along and the isolation from it all made for a memorable experience. The color and texture was unlike anything I have ever seen and I feel so fortunate to have hiked there.
Havasupai Falls Part 1 and Part 2. The hike to the falls was not that incredible, but the falls themselves and day hikes from the campground were stunning. Blue green water that appears fake at times, were unbelievable. This was our first ever backpacking trip without the RV and it gave me confidence that, with the right equipment, I can manage some overnight hiking trips in the future.
Spending 6 months in the mid-west. This was NOT part of the plan for 2017. My Grandmom passed away 7 days before her 100th birthday. So we stayed in St Louis for the memorial. Then I was so thankful that my Mom decided to move closer to my brother. So we sold her house, packed everything up and moved her to a new home.
Then I needed to have two unplanned surgeries. Nothing life threatening. Just necessary. Tests, doctor appointments, surgeries and recovery. All took a better part of June through December.
Second Biggest Surprise
We adopted a new dog. Sammy-do-da is getting up in age (13 years) and we were considering getting a younger dog for Sam to mentor. Sam is an amazing dog and we would love for his good manners to rub off of another dog. We are partial to Wired Fox Terriers and had been keeping an eye out on WFT Rescue Facebook sites.
Dogs have come up but Foxies have a certain temperament that doesn’t always mesh with kids or other dogs. We can’t have that with our RV lifestyle so we have taken our time to wait for just the right fit for our family.
One popped up in Tulsa just 2 hours from home. Bullet’s description sounded very similar to Sam’s and we reached out to his Foster. We set up a meeting and Sam and Bullet hit it off. That day we came home with a new dog.
Bullet (B for short) it super sweet just like our Sam with about 10 times more energy and hearing that can detect a wrapper from rooms away. We are having to adjust to having a dog that does not come when we call him or mind his manners. Training has become a new priority which leaves us exasperated at times. But he has a good heart and we will continue to do our part to bring out the best in our sweet B.
Well, thats it for 2017. I will hopefully get caught up on our travels in 2018 very soon. Since January 1 has come and gone and I am 17 days into my second January 1, I am committed to getting my blog back on track.
Now where did I hide that chocolate!
Since we had purchased all this camping gear for the falls we decided to give car camping a try instead of getting hotels. And after sleeping on a picnic table for 3 nights, the car felt like a five star hotel (she laughs hysterically)!
We drove from Havasu Falls trailhead past monument valley to find a nice campsite on the rim of Gooseneck State Park. The sun was going down by the time we got there and the temps were a very comfortable 70-ish. We set up our camp mattresses and sleeping bags in the back of our Nissan Pathfinder and left the tailgate open for ventilation.
It was such a beautiful night and the stars were fully visible with the lack of city lights. The rim of Gooseneck is barren rocky land completely void of any scrub or trees, which translates to magnificent sunset viewing. We set up our camp stove on the picnic table and kicked off our sandals just outside the tailgate and piled into the back of the SUV for a great night sleep under the stars.
Car camping was pretty awesome…until about midnight.
I woke to some jostling of the car and the gritty taste of dirt and sand in my mouth. When I finally came too I realized that we were in the middle of a windstorm that had kicked up so much grit in the air that the clear full moon from two hours earlier was a blurred hazy glow.
I had to jump out of the car to shut the tailgate but my sandals were nowhere to be found. I got the gate down and climbed into the side door to find our sleeping bags covered in sand. By now Jeff had barely woken up and wanted to know what I was doing. I swear that guy could sleep through a parade of fireworks.
I settled back in and asked Jeff if there was anything else left outside. When he said that the Jetboil was out on the picnic table, all I could see was hundred dollar bills flying over the edge of the canyon.
The wind was so fierce that I could hardly get the car door open to retrieve the camp stove and to look for both sets of sandals…all of which were teetering on the edge of oblivion. One more little puff and we would have been shoe & coffee-less the rest of the trip.
The temperatures were dropping quickly and I forced the car door back open to crawl back into my grit filled sleeping bag. A challenge for a 6’ tall gal with back problems. The car was being battered by the wind. The decline of the rear seats that we were sleeping on made it feel like we were angled down hill. All I could think about was rolling right over the edge of Gooseneck and crashing to a firry death in our rental car. Our remains permanently entombed in the canyon and memorialized with a jetfoil tombstone.
After surviving the night, we woke to 31 degrees. Jeff started the car to get the heater going. The wind had settled down a bit and we made coffee while I shared the story about how we barely survived being lifted in midair by the wind and discarded in the Land of Oz. If it weren’t for our rubber sandals that had wedged under the tires we would surely have been lost forever! (Jeff inserts eye roll here)
We would have done some hiking here but we wanted to reach the Kane Gulch Visitor Center just as they opened. We had read about several Anasazi cliff dwellings in Cedar Mesa and wanted to get more information about a hike to Moon House.
Moon House is a multi-room cliff dwelling named for its celestial pictograph depicting the moon in its different phases. It dates to the early 1200’s and is limited to 20 visitors per day via a first come permit system. It’s a rare cliff dwelling as you are allowed access to some interior rooms. Special instructions are given with the permit on how to enter the rooms without damaging the structures.
With permit in hand we headed towards McCloyd Canyon. We traveled about 8 miles down Snow Flat Road, a rough dirt road over rock slabs and rutted sections of sand and dirt. It was slow going and we were glad we had an all-wheel-drive SUV to get to the Trailhead parking area.
We started our hike and headed north on another road. After a mile we came a second parking area at the Moon House trailhead. Getting to this parking lot requires a true 4-wheel drive vehicle and we were glad we didn’t attempt it in our rental.
The trail started over sandstone slabs only visible by Cairns before it quickly starts a rocky decent. We took our time since the slope was steep and the rocks loose. At one point we had to slide down the lip of an overhung ledge to a rock pile down below.
We quickly dropped down into the canyon and reached the sandy floor before ascending the other side to Moon House.
Cliff dwellings are amazing structures as they are built into the sides of raised ledges on the side of cliffs. They are very undetectable when you are not looking and sometimes when you are. We didn’t notice the dwelling until we were right up on it!
We explored the ruins and were glad we brought along our headlamps to shine into protected rooms. It was interesting to see the construction of vertical tree limbs smeared in mud to form small interior rooms or apartments.
The ancient pigment that created a long white band of Moon House was still vibrant and corncobs still lie on the floors in some of the rooms.
We followed more trails around the ledge that led to more buildings. After we started hiking back we turned around to take one last look and realized that we missed a whole other section of dwellings perfectly hidden in the side of the ledge where we sat to have lunch!
It was a nice 4.5-mile round trip hike. We like these destination hikes with history to research and a challenge to get to.
By now it was late afternoon and we started to look for a place to camp overnight. The area is mostly BLM (Bureau of Land Management), which offers free camping off random dirt roads. Right off the corner of Hwy 95 and 261 was one of those dirt roads. We found a spot with the perfect amount of slope to make our bed level for the night.
Night two of car camping was not as volatile as night one, but dang it was freezing cold. The temperature dropped to 21 degrees and we had to run the car a good part of the night to stay warm. Of course I laid awake worrying about running out of gas and I had to get out of the car to pee behind a bush in the freezing cold while stepping through land mines of bull head stickers.
Come morning at the corner of Hwy 95 and 261 we needed to decide to turn left or right. To the left, at the risk of running out of gas, Natural Bridges National Monument. Turn right to Blanding for a service station and on to Moab.
Natural Bridges it is!
We didn’t know much about this National Monument so we drove through a beautiful little campground within the park for future RVing reference before heading to the visitor center.
It was too early to go inside, so we used the outdoor restrooms and made coffee with our recently rescued Jetboil.
We read about taking the scenic 9-mile Bridge View Drive. The drive takes you to scenic viewpoints that overlook three spectacular arches. Sipapu (place of emergence), Kachina (dancer) and Owachomo (rock mound).
We wanted to do some hiking so we saw that there was an 8-mile loop along the canyon floor to each Bridge…up close and personal.
We started at the Kachina trailhead and descended down a staircase carved into the sandstone. We took the loop counter-clockwise since we thought we would be in the sun on this cold morning.
Once we descending down to the riverbed the trail was flat and serpentine. Each rounded corner revealed new cliff views. We were keeping our eyes peel for petroglyphs and cliff dwellings that we heard were along the trail.
After a couple of miles the trail took a sharp left over slabs and ledges and there stood the magnificent Owachomo Bridge. It was so vast. So tall. The pure blue sky was the perfect backdrop for the white sandstone bridge.
The trail traversed out of the canyon and crossed the inner circle of the Bridge View loop over to the Sipapu trailhead. This part of the trail is known for its dramatic vertical drop via sections of ladders and staircases to the base of Sipapu Bridge.
Just our kind of trail!
The ladders were a bit intimidating as first but we were back down in the canyon along the dried riverbed before we knew it. After spending some time at Sipapu Bridge we followed the trail along the cliff walls to Kachina Bridge. We finally found Horse Collar Ruins and came across Petroglyphs along the walls of Kachina.
Petroglyphs are really quite amazing to have stood the test of time. They tell a story of life our modern day selves have never known. Hunting and gathering. Conflicts and battles. Everyday life lived amongst the walls.
We hiked out of the canyon and back to the car. This was such an enjoyable hike and I would recommend it if ever in the area. I would like to come back and hike it in the opposite direction for another perspective of its walls, bridges and stairs.
After Natural Bridges Jeff and I made our way to Moab. By now it had been 6 days without modern conveniences. After looking at the freezing temps forecasted I cried UNCLE and made a reservation at a hotel. By now my back was killing me from trying to climb around in the back of an SUV and my fingernails were telling the truth about how badly I needed a shower. I couldn’t stand the smell of my own hair another day!
I can’t tell you how awesome that shower felt! And after that first night in a room and being able to stand up to put my pants on I begged Jeff for another night…then a couple more. We both had to admit at this point that we (ok, maybe me more than Jeff) were not the car camping sorts.
We never did spend another night in that car!
While in Moab we visited the local Laundromat, ate real food in restaurants and Jeff went to watch the start of the Moab Ultra 200 trail race. Being the Ultra runner he is he wanted to see what the next level of crazy looks like. Apparently, once you’ve finished a 100 race, you begin to wonder if you could do 200 (or so I’ve heard).
We took a drive out on the course and then stopped to look for the Moonflower Panel Petroglyph nearby. We took a trail a couple miles back without seeing a single Petroglyph but once back at the trailhead we realized the slab of ancient art was right at the parking lot.
It was very interesting to see the similarities of art from one location to the other.
While we were in Moab we hooked up with some friends from our RVing group, The Xscapers. We had burgers at Milts Stop & Eat. Milts is well known for their awesome burgers that totally lived up to the hype! It was a great time meeting new friends and getting reacquainted with some that we hadn’t seen in two years.
After Moab we drove to Park City, Utah for a quick overnight before flying out of Salt Lake City back to Arkansas.
Despite the challenges of car camping, this was an amazing trip. To be nimble in a small vehicle instead of a 32’ RV was refreshing to say the least and we found ourselves exploring/considering other routes and locations that we would not normally have the luxury of considering.
I’m certain we will keep that in mind when we pick our next RV!
Before we came on this trip, we had heard about Native American frybread. We passed the bread tent on our hike into the campground the day before, but it wasn’t opened. And after seeing the posted sign about its hours, I wasn’t sure it would open while we were there.
After my hike to Beaver Falls I made the 1-mile hike through the campground to see if they were open. And sure enough, they were! After placing my order I was handed a ticket with a number. About an hour later this one-women show announced that my Navajo Taco was ready. Frybread is very similar to funnel cake topped but not as sweet. The taco was topped with seasoned hamburger, cheese and salsa. Just what the trail doctor ordered! It was REALLY good and I was kicking myself to for not ordering a sweet bread at the same time.
By the time I made it back to camp Jeff was back from his hike to the Confluence and sleeping soundly in his hammock.
Day three we decided to stay closer to the campground. We started the morning with a picnic table birthday massage for Jeff. I could have made a pretty penny by those passing by ready to be next. Then we packed some snacks and made about a 1-½ mile hike up the campground to Havasu Falls.
The mist off the falls was pretty chilly, especially since the area was still shaded. We made it just in time to see a very large yoga class finishing up. One of the tour groups offers yoga and massages at the falls.
We didn’t have much ground cover so we found ourselves sitting in sand and powdered dirt. We sunned ourselves and explored the falls before heading to the bread tent to place an order. This time we got a 3-layer sweat bread treat (aka Jeff’s Birthday Cake) and a Navajo taco. The sweet bread is topped with nutella, jelly, honey and/or powdered sugar to build your confection as you please. The bread is soft, doughy and the perfect amount of sweetness to go sweet or salty.
This was a special treat especially since we were going on day 3 of nut bars and dehydrated packaged meals.
After our snack we decided to join some friends and hike up the hill further to explore Navajo Falls. We spent a couple of hours
taking a bath splashing around the pools before heading back to camp.
Each night as the sun went down about 6:30 the temperatures plummeted into the 40’s. Campfires are not allowed so all that was left to do to stay warm was go to bed. Surprisingly I slept very well on my camp mattress on top of the picnic table all bundled up in my mummy sack while Jeff slept well in his hammock. Note to self…spring for the tent!
Day four we planned to pack up quite early to beat the sun/heat on the hike back to the trailhead. We had that last mile of climb that we were thinking about. We knew that it would difficult with our heavy packs and didn’t want to add canyon heat to it.
It took us 4 ½ hours to hike down so we thought it would take us an extra hour to hike back up. We left camp at 4:30am to a full moon and made a quick stop for water at the campground spring before starting the two-mile steep incline to the village.
At the village we saw a long line already forming for those taking the helicopter out. The helicopter is pre-reserved, but the seats are first-come first-serve and can take all day. They still had hours to wait until the helicopter even fired up for the day.
We hiked through the village while it was still dark and followed posted signs directing us to the trail. Things sure look a lot different in the dark and before we knew it we were standing at a creek crossing that neither of us remembered from before. Realizing that we missed the trail somewhere we backtracked about a quarter mile and were led astray by mule poop that followed some miscellaneous path in the woods.
After reaching a dead end we backtracked to the main trail and started back towards the creek again. This time we saw the clear trail that led to a bridge (just steps away) to cross the creek.
The trail was easy from here as the sun started to rise. Jeff and I were booking it and we found ourselves at the base of the last 1-mile canyon climb before we knew it. I have often said on hikes like this that my mind takes a seemingly mundane molehill and turns it into an impossible mountain. I was dreading this section for days! But after about 40 minutes we were cresting the cliff and snapping pictures of our completed task.
It really wasn’t a big deal and we made the entire trip in 4 hours. The thing that helped A LOT was that we figured out how to cinch up our packs to distribute the weight more to our hips than our shoulders. This made a HUGE difference!
Back at the SUV we offloaded our packs, refilled our water bottles from the gallon jug we stashed in the car and started to drive towards Moab for round two of our RV-less vacation.
Next stop…Gooseneck State Park!
Havasupai Falls Trip Tips:
- Get to the Trailhead early morning to find a somewhat close place to park. Some vehicles were parked a mile and a half away.
- Fuel up in Peach Springs or Flagstaff. From where we stayed in Peach Springs it was about 70 miles to the trailhead. There are neither service stations nor stores along the way, so be sure to plan ahead.
- Keep a gallon of water and some food/snacks in your car for your return trip.
- Keep your bathroom expectations low…REALLY LOW! They are kept clean, but the smell of ammonia literally made our eyes water. Use the outer bathrooms (not the center) for additional ventilation.
- Be sure to have a “rat sack” to store all of your food and suspend it from a rope. Use it to hold your trash as well. Our first night we had a raccoon shred our trash and make a mess.
- Pack-In Pack-Out. There are ZERO trashcans at the campground so be prepared to take every ounce of trash back with you.
- On your hike out pick up at least one piece of someone else’s trash. You will see trash littered everywhere along the trail either by the locals or by hikers. Treat the land respectfully and do your part to keep this treasure beautiful despite who made the mess.
- Get reservations through a group (Check out Grand Canyon Hikers Facebook page). Rumor has it that reservations were moving towards giving large lots of permits to organized groups rather than individuals. This way the Indian Reservation can manage one person responsible for the group rather than trying to police 300 individuals each day. However, these decisions are made season-to-season, so what may be true one year may not be true for the next!
- Do not bring drugs or alcohol. We saw one group get busted while we were there.
- Do not go to the campground without your reservation wristband. They do check and you will be removed and fined heavily for not following the rules.
- DO NOT leave valuables in your vehicle. The day after we left several cars were broken in to at the trailhead parking lot.
- You do have the option of mules (Up to 130lbs/mule for $80) taking your gear to/from the campground that needs to be arranged ahead of time. Some hikers split a mule with others to share the cost. There is concern on some forums regarding the treatment of the mules here. So depending on your level of concern this may or may not be an option for you. Also, it takes a long time before your gear reaches the campground and the trailhead. And when it does it is put on the ground where the local dogs love to hike a leg on it.
- The helicopter ride in/out (pre-reserved) can take all day to get a seat. Go VERY early to get in line for first come first serve (the local villagers have first right). When we hiked out there was already a long line at 4:30am and we were back in our car before the helicopter even started to run.
- Take a couple of empty 1-gallon milk jugs to fill up with water at the natural spring in the campground. Our campsite was 1 miles downhill from the spring. Our gallon jug of water was used for hydrating meals and we filled our water bottles for drinking.
- According to the Havasupai website, the spring water at camp is safe, but they leave the responsibility up to you. We did not treat our water and had no issues what so ever.
- If you are packing camp fuel to cook meals remember that airlines will not allow fuel canisters anywhere on the plane…not even checked bags. Plan on making a stop at REI in Las Vegas, Phoenix or Flag to pick up fuel if you are flying in for this hike.
There are some beautiful places in this world that can be difficult to get to.
Mount Whitney. Yosemite Half Dome. Crossing the Grand Canyon.
I realize these places are no comparison to the difficulty of reaching Mount Everest. But they are some of the most beautiful and difficult places I have personally dragged myself to.
One place that has been on our “list” is Havasupai Falls. Pictures of it’s incredible blue green waters set against the red rocks of the Grand Canyon created a longing and curiosity, despite the challenges to getting there.
Havasupai Falls is located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. The Reservation consists of 188,077 acres that makes up the West side of the South rim of the Grand Canyon. The remote village of Supai, Arizona is an 8-mile hike below the rim and is home to Havasu Baaia, “people of the blue green waters”. Two additional miles past the village is the Havasupai primitive campground nestled along the Havasu creek.
There are no roads to Havasu Falls. Access to this Garden of Eden is strictly by your own two feet or pre-reserved helicopter ride that will drop patrons at the village.
There is a 2,000’ drop in elevation within the first mile. But once you hike the switchbacks the remaining 9 miles is mostly a gentle decline to the campground. However, the trail to the village is completely void of trees so temps can sore at the bottom of the canyon. And during monsoon season you must be aware of potential flash floods, as you will be hiking down the gut of the canyon.
Probably the biggest challenge to Havasupai Falls is getting a permit. There are only 300 permits issued per day via a very antiquated phone system; that for the most part, goes unanswered. I’ve read stories of people spending hours/days dialing over and over to get a busy signal. With large organized groups scooping up blocks of permits, it leaves very few to those individuals from around the world clamoring to get the rest.
After researching the falls, I didn’t think we would ever make the hike to this special place. We are RV’ers after all. Our camping supplies consist of holding tanks, fully equipped kitchen and queen sized tempurpedic mattress. We don’t own backpacks, sleeping bags or a tent nor do we have the space in the RV to store such items. And then, how would we ever get a permit?
But my attitude changed earlier this year when we noticed an invitation to go to the falls on the Grand Canyon Hikers Facebook page. They had 260 permits available for a 4-day/3-night trip in October of 2017. The permits were snatched up quickly and we put our names on a waiting list if others decided they couldn’t go after all.
Sure enough, as the date approached, people started cancelling and we were able to reserve permits for the trip! We just could not pass up an opportunity to see Havasu Falls.
After purchasing backpacking gear (that I hope to God we use again) we laid out 4 days worth of minimal food, clothing and gear, which came to 35lbs for Jeff and 25lbs for myself.
We met up with our group at the Haulapai Hilltop Trailhead at 6am to receive our group wristband and dropped down the tight switchbacks along the steep walls of the canyon. The view was vast with the sunrise waking up the treeless valley below.
We quickly made it down the first mile and picked one of many trails that spread over a wide-open area. There are no trail markers here and everyone seemed to be on a different trail. But they all led to the same place so if you hike here pick a trail and go with it.
We eventually reached the wash that guided us directly through the canyon. The trail is rocky here but the views of the canyon walls were glowing red from the sun. We started to run into mule trains that were carrying hikers packs up to the trailhead. We also ran into other hikers who had left the campground at 3am to beat the heat.
Once we entered the Supai Village we had to check in to receive a second wristband that allowed access to the campground. By the time we hiked 8 miles and made it to the Village, Jeff and I were miserable. Our legs were doing fine but our shoulders were screaming from the weight of our packs. We are trail runners after all and being newbies to backpacking, we hadn’t quite figured out how to distribute the weight of our packs to our hips.
We left the village quickly and headed down the last 2 miles to the campground. Thankfully this steeper section was more wooded offering nice shade on the dusty trail.
We started getting glimpses of Havasu Creek and its stunning blue green waters along the trail before reaching Navajo Falls. The water is like nothing we have ever seen before. What the eye sees looks fake. The lime content that cakes the bottom of the creek somehow reflects the blue sky through is perfectly clear water.
Further down the trail we got our first glimpse of Havasu Falls. One large fall that spilled into a beautiful blue green reservoir made up of tiny pools of waterfalls. People were already swimming far below. They looked like tiny specs in a vast wall of blue.
By 11:30AM we reached the campground and found a wonderful narrow peninsula wedged between the creek on either side to make camp. If you plan on hammock camping there are plenty of trees in the campground to stretch between. And the creek offers the perfect volume of babbling brook as background noise to shut out other campers.
We took a quick nap before we explored the campground and met with our group for a meeting. We were instructed to be respectful, tidy and have a good time at one of North America’s most beautiful treasures.
Day two was Jeff’s birthday. And like any good camper without a calendar or reference for what day it was…I completely forgot!! (BAD WIFE!) Jeff and some friends made the 18-mile round trip hike to the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River while I made the 8-mile round trip to Beaver Falls. Both hikes follow the same trail that starts at the far end of the campground at Mooney Falls.
You HEAR Mooney Falls before you SEE Mooney Falls. There are excellent vantage points to see the falls and take pictures. From there, several of us were looking for the trail to head to the bottom of the falls. There was a small cave formed by large boulders, but none of use considered it the trail until I walked back to the area and finally saw a faint arrow pointing into the hole.
The trail stepped down through the cave and poked out the side of a cliff with an amazing view of the falls. Chains led you a few steps to another cave that stepped down to another opening in the cliff. Visually I lost the trail here only to discover that it drops right over the edge by staggered indentations meant to be stairs, then chains and then a system of slick wooden ladders.
My heart was pumping out of my chest! At our group meeting the advise for Mooney Falls was to maintain 3 points of contact at all times. Two hands-one foot. Two feet-one hand. Take your time and be intentional with every movement.
When I finally reached the bottom my head thought, “that wasn’t so bad”. But then I went to take a couple of steps and almost collapsed from my scared s*%tless wobbly legs.
But as soon as I turned around and saw Mooney Falls up close, equilibrium was restored! IT. WAS. STUNNING!
There are a few picnic tables scattered about and beautiful natural pools of hallucinogenic colors. A rainbow forms from the mist given off by the falls in the sun that was just peaking over the canyon walls. It truly is a Garden of Eden.
I followed the trail along Havasu Creek. The trail crossed the creek several times and I left my hiking shoes on to protect my feet from the lime coated creek bed. The trail veered away from the creek into what looks like a mangrove of foliage, then back to the creek again.
It was an easy hike and I reached another set of ladders that climbed up a cliff face and then along a bluff. The views were incredible with more of the same blue green waters along the red rock canyon until I reached Beaver Falls. And WOW!
There were people swimming in the falls and jumping off of rocks. The sun was fully over the canyon. The waters were crystal clear and not overly cold. Just the right temp in full sun and a bit cold in the shade. There are layers of waterfalls that are created by dammed up lime covered logs and branches. The logs are so covered that the surface is fully rounded over creating very nice places to sit and soak.
It was pretty crowded at the falls and I decided to hike back on the trail just a bit to find a private pool to soak in. It was such an interesting but easy hike (once you are past the ladders) that was a relief from my sore muscles from the day before.
I returned to camp and rinsed out the lime and sand from my shoes and swimsuit.
Part II Next Time
After leaving Yuma Jeff and I headed to Quartzsite Arizona for the big RV, Rock and Gem show held every January.
Quartzsite is a sleepy little town that explodes in population in the month of January as RV’ers from all over North American swallows it up. The draw is the largest gathering of RV’ers in the world (so the legend goes).
The city of Quartzsite embraces us as best it can, but the town struggles during the weeks leading up to and after the big show.
It’s a sight to behold and one you need to experience at least once. I wrote about the show highlights here from last year. Nothing about the show changes much from one year to the next, so I’m going to focus on other things this time.
We showed up at the big tent a few days early to check on the shipped items for the Dometic booth that we would be working for nine days. We wanted to make our way to Dome Rock where our RV’ing group, the Xscapers, were having events for two weeks. We made it for a dog hike one morning with the group and then stopped to say hi to our friends John & Becky and Kurt & Toni.
Xscapers is a sub-group of the Escapees RV Club, but focused on full time RV’ers who are still working full time. Whenever there is a “converge”, events are planned for late afternoon or evenings so not to interfere with our workday. It’s a fun group and we have such a wonderful network of fellow RV’ers. We support, offer advice and just plain hang out with each other as our travels ebb, flow and intertwine.
When Jeff and I started FT RV’ing we would have never dreamed that it would be so social. But thanks to social media we all stay tightly connected despite being miles apart.
We had hoped to join the group in the evenings during the show, but after working the booth all day in a very cold tent we just wanted to isolate ourselves to our warm RV. As an introvert, I only have so many words for the day. By nighttime, I’ve got nothing left.
We never did make it back to Dome Rock.
While at the show, we manage to get in some trail runs. There are lots of jeeping roads up, over and around Q-Mountain. We managed 5-11 miles just by taking any number of intertwining trails. One got the best of me and I tripped over a rock and fell hard. Skinned knees and palms, bruised hips, elbows and shoulders are all a part of the trail running experience. The trick is to not break something in the process.
Wind is always a factor here so expect a good coating of dust in and on everything you own. And expect to catch the “Quartzsite Crud” while you are here…everyone does.
Besides visiting the laundromat, the only other highlight was getting Silly Al’s Pizza. It is one of just a few restaurants in Q and actually had really good pizza. If you want to go to dinner any time during the week of Q, be sure to get there before 5pm to avoid long lines for a table.
After Q we made our way back to Mesa for a couple of weeks. Jeff had to fly to South Bend, IN for business while I tried to vacuum dirt that had coated every surface in the RV.
The weather was amazing in Mesa. Mid-70’s during the day, mid-50’s at night. We stayed in our friend’s driveway again just a ½ miles walk from the canal system. It’s so nice to run on gravel right in town. Since we are training for the Bentonville Half Marathon we got right back into the routine.
While in Mesa we had a sales conference to attend. We pulled our rig to the Westin Resort in Scottsdale. We didn’t bring the RV to stay in it, but to make a quick departure for the Black Canyon after the conference. This is a very nice pet friendly hotel. Sam got the special pet treatment with dog bowls and special bed just for himself.
The Black Canyon is just 40-miles north of Scottsdale on the way to Flagstaff. We have never stopped here, so we wanted to get to some solitude before we had to be back in Phoenix for the Good Sam Rally. That and the Black Canyon Ultra Trail Run was scheduled the same weekend we were there.
We pulled off Hwy 17 at Table Mesa Rd, just south of Black Canyon City. We set up the RV on BLM land at the Black Canyon Trailhead. This area is STUNNING! Gorgeous mountains, lush green foliage and miles of rugged trails and jeep roads. The only downfall to this area is that it is a mecca for gun enthusiasts who come here to shoot. All. Day. Long!
Thankfully shooting is only allowed in specific areas, so we had a couple of hills between the ranges and us. We still heard the gunfire, but at least it wasn’t right next door.
Jeff and I did not sign up for the Black Canyon Ultra, but we did want to run on the coarse. So we set off the day before the projected rain to get our long training runs in. I had 10 miles to run while Jeff thought he would try for a 50K.
We drove north about 20-miles to the starting line and followed the very well marked route that the race crew had already put out. It started as maintained hard packed dirt road, turned onto a cattle road then to a very rocky rugged single track. It was a test for the sturdiest of ankles, but we both managed to stay upright!
We got a late start so Jeff ended up running in the dark to mile 27 before calling me to pick him up. He was getting cold and hungry. I on the other hand got my 10 miles out and back in, drove back to the RV, took a hot shower, made an early dinner then had coffee and dessert.
Ultimately the racecourse had to be altered due to the forecasted flash flooding. There were numerous river crossing that became virtually impassable with the rising waters. This is one race I am so glad we were not a part of. After mudageddon in Zion last spring, I’ve had enough of terrible weather conditions on race day.
It was a weekend of the most rain we have ever seen in Arizona, which made access roads to this area pretty soupy. We were becoming a bit concerned about our departure, especially since ATV’s and 4-wheel drive trucks decided the mud was the perfect consistency for donuts. But we had two full days of sunshine to dry out the road just enough to get us back to the highway.
It really was a beautiful area. But between the endless gunshots and ATV’s rolling by, we have crossed Black Canyon off our list of places to return to.
We hitched up and headed back to Phoenix for our next show.
On a sad note, we got a call from one of our Xscaper friends that let us know that another Xscaper had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away right here in Phoenix. She was in her 50’s and full of life. One of those ladies who made you feel welcome from the moment you met her. We met Kurt and Toni at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta over a year ago and developed an instant friendship.
We went to Toni’s funeral and as family talked about her, it was evident that full time RV’ing was the best time of her life! They spoke of her deliberate choice to have experiences over stuff as she and Kurt sold everything to move in and travel full time in their RV.
We left feeling privileged having made that same choice ourselves. You never know how long we have on this earth before we are called home. Our time here is but a brief moment on a spectrum of time. Toni reminded us to make the most of it!
We will miss you around the campfire Toni!
Jeff and I spent Christmas and New Years in Why, Arizona. After being in the big city of Mesa for 6 weeks it was time to get to some desolation, isolation and motivation of the desert.
Why Why, Arizona?
It was supposed to be our launch site to travel to Rocky Point, Mexico just 80 miles to the south. Beachside living, endless shrimp dining and the sound of waves lulling us to sleep. It would be our first Mexico crossing in the RV and we had our dog health certificate and passports ready.
But when we went online to get our insurance, we were shocked to say the least! $600 for a two-week stay in Mexico! OUCH!!!
As much as we were looking forward to spending New Years in Mexico, the $600 spend was just too much for us to justify. The waves. The sand. The shrimp. They would all have to wait for another time. We were spending NYE in Why, Arizona.
Don’t feel bad though. Once we got over our visions of beachside grandeur we settled in nicely to our new surroundings while free camping on Bureau of Land Management property.
This is our third winter in the desert southwest and we love it here.
Not many years ago, I would be on a flight over the Southwest and think, “Why would anyone want to live there”? Brown. Dull. Dusty. Void of any green. It always seemed to lack any beauty or color.
But what I’ve learned the last three winters is if you spend a little time in the desert she will show you her true colors.
You see. The beauty of the desert is cast low in those few minutes of sunrise and sunset. When the sun is making itself known and when it finishes its day. It casts a glowing spell on the desert, turning it into the beautiful creature that she is. Texture. Dimension. Color. It’s all there if you are patient!
Our BLM spot is just north of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Organ Pipe is a UNESCO biosphere reserve that stretches 517 square miles along the boarder of Mexico. It is the only place in the US where the Organ Pipe Cactus grows wild. It got its name due to its shape that looks similar to the pipes of an organ.
Right at the perimeter of the reserve there is a distinct change in the landscape.
What’s flat, barren and brown suddenly turns to rolling hills, black volcanic rock and a lush green. Well…as “lush” as a desert can be. But it is beautiful and very different than the mid-west landscape that I grew up seeing.
Our camping area is in a hotbed of illegal border crossings, drug trade and human trafficking. For the most part, they leave us campers alone. Unless you happen to leave out a water bottle or leave bicycles unlocked. You may wake up to some things missing. The dessert is scattered with rusty bike skeletons that didn’t hold up the rigors of a rugged desert crossing.
There are endless ATV roads scattered all over this place that are under the watchful eye of the Border Patrol via helicopters, trucks and 4-wheelers. Their presence is felt, seen and heard at all times. I had a helicopter swoop down over my head while out on a run…just to say, “I know you are there”.
The trail running was great and Jeff decided to ride his bike 27-miles to the Mexico border on Christmas Day where I picked him up in the truck. Then he had to outdo himself by running from the border to our campsite on New Years Day. His run was a bit eventful. Four drug smugglers darting across the road mere steps from him in broad daylight. All five of them were startled! Jeff later looked at his Strava from his run and saw the spike in his heart rate at that moment. Everyone went their own ways and we called the incident into the border patrol.
The community of Why has a Christmas day potluck at the local community center. For $5 each, the town provided the turkey and ham, while the attendees brought in the side dishes. It was a great deal, super food and a lot of fun visiting with the winter locals of this tiny community.
Though the desert here was nice, we never quite felt settled. We would check and double check if things were locked and we turned on a few more lights to take the dog out after dark. Even Sam was on edge since coyotes would run right through our campsite.
After two weeks we finally pulled up stakes and made our way to Yuma.
We stayed in Yuma 2 years ago and didn’t particularly enjoy our stay at Mitrey Lake. Between mosquitoes and mice we weren’t sure we would ever come back. But cooler heads prevailed and we decided to give it another go.
This time we headed to BLM at American Girl Mine off of Olgilby and boy were we so glad we gave this town another go. That location turned into one of our favorite campsites ever!
It might be a bit barren for some folks, but for us it was boondocking perfection. Full exposure to sun for solar charging. Well-groomed wide roads. As much or as little privacy as you want. ENDLESS and I mean ENDLESS trails to run. No worry about coyotes for Sam or drug runners for us. Lightening fast Internet. And those sunsets!
We just could not get enough of this place!
Yuma is the closest city to the Los Algodones border crossings. We crossed the border two years ago and found a delightful restaurant that we wanted to go back to. And since we didn’t make it to Rocky Point the previous week we decided to walk to Los Algodones for a dental cleaning and some lunch.
This was our first experience with Mexico dental. I say “our”, but Jeff was the guinea pig.
It was an AMAZING experience, and we will not longer be hesitant at taking the plunge. We picked a dentist that was highly recommended by other FT RV’ers that we personally know and decided to walk to the office a couple days before his appointment to make sure we knew where she was. And if you have any hesitation about walking there yourself, the dental office will send someone to meet you at the border to escort you to their door.
One thing you have to be prepared for when crossing the border is the bombardment of sales folks trying to sell you the exact same thing the guy right across the street is selling. Pharmaceuticals, dentists, eyeglasses and your typical assortments of trinkets, jewelry, blankets and cowboy hats are about it for this small town. A polite “no thank you” is enough to put a stop to it, until you hit the next booth.
While at lunch one day a nice lady from a local “spa” stopped by and gave me a free 1-minute shoulder massage while I drank my margarita. Her skills were impressive, and we actually went to her shop a couple days’ later and got $13 pedicures.
Our original intent was to stay in Yuma for a week before heading to Quartzsite, where our fellow Xscapers RV club was having a convergence. But Olgilby Road was just too perfect a spot to breeze through and we stayed for two weeks.
We did get to see our RV buddies Flying the Koop, Mike and Donna. It had been a while and they were blowing through town on their way from San Diego to Phoenix. Our time was short, but oh so sweet. We will get to see them a bit more after Q.
Well, onward to Q for the largest gathering RV’ers on earth!
After leaving Seattle we had three weeks to make our way to Phoenix. Our working travel schedule gave us a deadline and unfortunately we were headed into the belly of the hot molten volcano in the middle of summer. 106 degrees here we come!
We made quick stops in Eugene and Ashland, Oregon, Redding, CA and Reno, Nevada on our way to Mono Lake, CA.
I had read about some great boondocking at Mono Lake on the eastern side of Yosemite. This really would be our last stop at any elevation (6,378’) in order to avoid the southwest heat. Also, when we were in Yosemite in May, we never made it to Tioga Pass. So stopping at Mono Lake would give us that opportunity.
Well, that was the plan anyway…
Last year about this time, Jeff asked me a question about doing something epic, challenging or scary and I blurted out that I would like to hike the highest peaks in each state. A week later I had bagged my first…Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff, AZ. at 12,633ft.
Ever since then I have been researching the highest peak of each state that we traveled in 2016. Unfortunately, we have been traveling the states with the highest peaks overall that have been snow covered and required ice axes, crampons, repelling equipment, permits, guides, tents, backpacks, etc. MUCH more equipment than what we have.
So when I read about hiking California’s massive Mt. Whitney at 14,505ft, the highest peak in the contiguous US and it’s accessibility in late summer, I knew California was an attainable peak.
And look. It just happens to be down the road from Mono Lake! Change of plans…we are hiking Mt. Whitney!
The Mt. Whitney Trail Head starts at Whitney Portal at 8,360ft via the small town of Lone Pine, CA. A permit is required for this hike and the online permit system said that there were no permits available. Learning from our experience at Yosemite we stopped in at the Forest Service center just south of Lone Pine and easily picked up a permit and mandatory “WAG Bag” (Waste Alleviation and Gelling-Bag) for the next day.
Everything I read about this hike said that this VERY STRENUOUS hike could be bagged in one very long day (12-18 hours), although most people take two. Its 22 miles round trip with 6,100ft of elevation gain, topping out at 14,505ft.
Since Jeff and I had spent the better part of the past month at Sea Level, we knew that this was going to be quite a challenge in elevation and distance. One I was not completely confident in completing. But I knew that what goes up must come down and I could turn around at any point in the hike if it got to be too much for this land lubber.
The morning of our hike we got off to a late start, leaving the Whitney Portal TH at 6:30AM instead of our planned 5AM. Apparently we didn’t do enough research because most hikers leave around 1-3AM for this hike. For me, this was mistake #1!
Jeff tends to futz with his equipment, shoes, GPS and phone A LOT longer than I have patience for (sigh) and I headed off on the trail to get a jump. Jeff hikes much faster than I and I knew it wouldn’t take long before he would catch up with me.
What is really hilarious now is that Jeff had read that some folks were getting Verizon Cell coverage on the top of Mt Whitney, so his plan was to get to the top by 10AM for a conference call.
GEEZ! WHAT ON EARTH WERE WE THINKING?!?
I started at the TH and quickly passed the 6-10 informational boards that described the tenacity needed for such a hike. No need to read those of course…we have a conference call to make!
Immediately the trail started with a moderate incline. The sun was up just enough that no headlamp was needed and I made mistake #2 by leaving it in the truck. After an hour on the trail there was a beautiful sunrise that was enhanced by the smoke from the San Bernardino fires that were burning out of control at the time.
After about 3 miles I reached Lone Pine Lake. At this point Jeff still had not caught up with me and I grew a bit concerned. Come to find out he took a wrong turn at the beginning of the trail and got on the rugged Mountaineer’s route to Mt. Whitney. He noticed his mistake after about a ½ mile and turned around. That does tend to happen when you hike and post selfies on facebook at the same time!
Jeff finally caught up with me and it was clear that it was going to be a challenge to get to the top before the 10AM conference call. So I sent him ahead to try and make it without me holding him back…with our water filter. Mistake #3 (at least for me).
After Lone Pine Lake the nice smooth trail quickly changed over to a rockier surface. Footing became a bit more of a challenge as trees thinned out. I passed Outpost Camp with its gorgeous waterfall at a little over 10,000ft. There were a lot of backpackers here stopping to acclimatize on their 2-3 day summit push.
“Gee…Maybe I aught to look into some overnight equipment, scratching my head!
I hit a long patch of switchbacks after Outpost Camp.
In my quick glance lengthy research of this hike I remembered reading about a section of the trail called “the 99 switchbacks” that came after a campground.
I got pretty excited because I new that the 99 were around mile 7. “Wow, I’m making great time”! I asked a fellow hiker coming down if I was on the infamous 99. Imagine my surprise when she told me, “ Oh no. You have quite a way to go before you get to the 99”.
About this time I saw a trail marker that said Mile 4! I. WAS. CRUSHED!
By now my heart had been pounding in my ears for almost 3 hours. The elevation had reduced my hiking to 45min miles. THIS WAS GOING TO BE A LOOOONG DAY.
The trail switched from dirt and rocks to granite stair steps. I rose high above pretty Mirror Lake and Meadow. After another 1 ½-2 hours I finally reached Trail Camp at 12,039’.
Trail Camp is located on the shore of Consultation Lake. It could have been on the moon as far as I was concerned due to its barren landscape and granite spires. The camp was full of backpackers as well and by now I’m thinking these people are geniuses for breaking this hike up into several days!
I stopped here for a snack and contemplated the 99 switchbacks that were now staring me in the face. That’s 2.2 miles of switchbacks climbing 1,738’ to Trail Crest. I’m not going to lie…I thought long and hard about stopping here and just calling it a day. But after eating some food and catching my breath I decided to give the 99 a shot.
Surprisingly, the switchbacks were set at a low grade, which was much appreciated at this altitude. After what seemed like 999 switchbacks I finally rounded a corner and was hit with an amazing view to the west. Granite rising up, alpine forests and lakes below. My eyes had trouble taking it all in. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it now.
I made it to Trail Crest at 13, 800’!
The Mt. Whitney summit is 2.5 miles from here and a mere 845’ of elevation. But these are the most difficult and most draining 2.5 miles of your life…so I’ve heard.
Once I reached Trail Crest I was for sure going to turn around. But after I sat for about 20 minutes and ate some food and got inspired by the beautiful views I started wondering what was just around the corner.
The trail from here took a dip and I really thought hard about having to make up the elevation I had already climbed. But the trail drew me in and I pressed on, “just a little further”.
The trail from Trail Crest is brutal. BRU.TAL!!!
I scrambled for the next mile over unstable rocks, angular slabs, shear drops and technical boulders. After an hour I sat down for a break and saw the Smithsonian hut on the summit off in the distance. By now I was exhausted. The narrow single track trail was closing in. I was having moments of panic as my mind flashed back to my broken wrist less than a year ago.
I asked another hiker how much longer until the summit. When they responded, “about 2 hours” I was finished!
By now it was 12:30pm. I had been hiking 6 hours with 2 more hours to go. I did the math and figured it would take me 4 hours just to get back to this point on the trail. My heart sank realizing I was going to run out of water and day-light, without a filter that was with Jeff and headlamp that was securely back in the truck.
It killed me to be this close and have to call the hike. Just 1.5 miles left to the summit. For me, it had to be over!
About this time I met Esther. She was making her way back down the mountain after summiting. Wisely, she had left with her husband at 3am.
They had started this hike a few days before, but her husband Joe wasn’t feeling well and they turned around. This morning they started off at 3am again and again Joe didn’t feel well. He encouraged his wife to carry on so that one of them would make it. And that she did!
We started hiking together from here, retracing the technical trail back to Trail Crest. We both moaned at the section where we had to climb in elevation to get there, commenting about our pounding heads.
Down the 99 we went, past camps, meadow, lakes and waterfalls. All the while talking about our lives of adventure and travel. I learned about her amazing two daughters and could hear the affection she had for her husband of many years.
Our knees and quads were wearing down, but our time together made the trip so much better. I learned she and Joe take off their real estate business months at a time to travel. Check out their very well written blog here.
We arrived at the TH not a step too soon at 5:30pm, as the sun was going down. I got to meet Joe and instantly noticed they have a relationship like Jeff and I. Those rare relationships when a husband and wife actually like each other, have the same life pursuits and miss each other when we are not together. I can appreciate a happy couple!
I had gotten a text from Jeff that said that he had summited around 2pm, four hours after his missed conference call.
Joe and Esther were kind enough to give me a ride back to my RV Park in Lone Pine, knowing that Jeff would not be down for another 3 hours. I left the keys hidden in the truck so he could drive himself home.
Even though I missed reaching the summit I couldn’t be more proud for reaching 13,000+ feet and hiking 20 miles.
Thanks Esther for getting me down that mountain!
Mt. Whitney, I will be back! But next time I will leave earlier and not plan on making any calls!