After New Mexico, our westwardly route took us over to Arizona. While New Mexico has an easily identifiable profile – culture, food, geography, etc… I don’t feel Arizona has the same. Based on my previous visits, I knew it had some fancy stuff around Phoenix, some cool desert towns up north along Route 66, a racist sheriff in the south and apparently a lot of spring training for MLB teams.
After our two weeks through the state, I’m still not able to identify an overall profile, but I can at least add some more descriptors! The main ones would be: snow birds, lots of great archaeological sites, great free camping and beautiful landscapes. Let’s get to the trip.
As we headed to Arizona, we took the typical few hours before arrival to research where we should visit. Jocelyn found a national monument in eastern Arizona that was within driving distance, so we headed that way to Chiricahua National Monument. Have you ever heard of the place before? We sure hadn’t.
If you’ve ever visited Bryce Canyon National Park, you’d recognize some of the geographical formations, but in a more yellowish-tone, rather than the orange and red of Bryce. We completed a roughly 8.5 mile hike through the main highlights and were blown away by the natural beauty. Rock formations like “balanced rock” and “duck on a rock” didn’t take much imagination to name, because they were exactly that… big rocks that were stacked high upon columns and resembled different shapes.
The main campsites fill up months in advance, so Jocelyn wasn’t surprised when we arrived late in the afternoon to no availability. However, I was a bit surprised because she failed to mention this bit of information which might have persuaded me to drive in a different direction and skip it altogether! Instead, we started the first of many off road excursions with Penny Lane across Arizona. We took a six mile drive down a heavily rutted gravel and dirt road where the only other traffic were really, really interesting hippies in vans you’d imagine hippies driving. The best was the old school bus that was pulling a VW van… double cool.
We managed to skip the hippy camps which must have been farther down the road, and instead settled on a nice treed site next to a creek. Oh yes, and it was free. If we had a main theme in Arizona, it was “find the awesome BLM and National Forest sites six miles off the paved road where the amazing camping is free!“.
We headed out after one night and left the rough road, only to find another. This time we headed north to Tucson and found some more BLM land, six miles up a pretty steep gravel road with ruts, that’s not recommended for trailers. I guess we saw this as a challenge instead of a recommendation. We spent the next two nights waiting out some cold and rainy weather while enjoying good views high over Tucson.
After Tucson, we had to decide which direction to turn, either south to hug the border or north up past Phoenix and to Sedona. As with most of our destination decisions, weather was the deciding factor and a three day warm spell meant we were headed to Sedona! We heard good things about the city previously from friends, so we were excited to add it to our trip.
As we left Tucson, we stopped in Phoenix to hit up the outlet malls so Jocelyn could get some new pants. We had been roughing it for a few days and we were getting to the point where either our bodies fully fought odors and no longer smelled, or our noses gave up the fight and we simply couldn’t smell ourselves. Jocelyn headed in to the mall while I stayed out with Lucy (I wasn’t ready for that much civilization) and when she texted me that she was headed to the fragrance aisle to freshen up, I knew it was time to take action. As you might know, I traveled for work and know my way around hotel programs. There’s a Sheraton Wild Horse Pass that was only a half mile away, and the points redemption wasn’t too high, so I made the call that it was time to fancy up.
We timed our visit so we maximized our one day at the hotel, arriving right around the 1pm check in time. I used my method to guarantee upgrades – slipped the front desk guy a $20 bill with my license on check in – and we were paid back kindly with a nice corner suite with a separate bedroom and $20 in drink coupons! This is the forth time I’ve done this trick, and while Jocelyn finds it extremely awkward, it’s worked every time and has been well appreciated by the front desk agents!
We spent the next day in total luxury and soaked up as much free internet and hot water as we could. We hit up the casino next door, got our $10 each in free slot play for signing up to their rewards program, and cashed out $17 ahead! It wasn’t a big amount, but usually we lose, so we were pumped. The next day was in 70’s so we spent the morning poolside before timing our last shower just before check out. On to Sedona.
Sedona. Wow, let me just tell you about Sedona. It’s reallll beautiful – a small town surrounded by mountains of red beauty. We kept up our theme and drove 10 miles on a dirt road to find one of the most beautiful campsites of our entire trip – once again, free, in a national forest. We spent the next few days watching the sun set over the beautiful red rocks, exploring the town (this only took a few hours) and doing one of our most exciting hikes of the trip – the “Hangover Trail” which was around five miles on a ridge of a mountain overlooking Sedona and the surrounding beauty. We really enjoyed the town and will definitely go back.
Let’s talk archaeological sites. As you probably know by now, I’m fairly obsessed with them. We had some good ones in New Mexico, but I was also very pleasantly surprised by what Arizona had to offer. Just around the Sedona area there are at least five major sites to see cliff dwellings and petroglyphs – Montezuma’s Castle, Montezuma’s Well, Hananki, Palatki, and V-Bar-V. We hit them all up but the last, so that will be left for next time. These were all sites of the Sinaguan people and really shows how many people civilized the area pre-Columbus. I’m continually astonished by the number of Native American ruins in the southwest.
After Sedona we headed to Phoenix in search of solar. Solar panels are a pretty complicated deal and if anyone can easily explain them, you probably have a bright future. My first set was a cheap Wal-Mart deal with a 25 watt panel. We realized after a few days this wasn’t going to do much and we needed to upgrade. We found a great retail location in Phoenix (Solar Penny) and spent $200 to get a 100w panel with a charge controller and all of the hook-ups. It was a great deal, and I’m happy to say it’s kept the battery fully charged in the southwest sun, and we may never need to plug in to the electric again! It was a good investment that will continue to pay off in the future as we won’t need to pay for electric sites just to recharge the battery.
Our last stop in Arizona was the Kofa National Wildlife refuge, just north of Yuma. We once again dove south to avoid the next cold front, which isn’t great for gas expenses, but at least we are able to avoid the cold. We continued our off road theme and took Penny Lane down a seven mile gravel road, across a proving (bombing) range and over a small creek where she bottomed out and I had to build a small bridge of rocks to get her over. Yes, that all really happened.
The site in Kofa was once again, free and incredibly beautiful. We spent the next two days hunkered down to avoid the cold rain… and uh, the bombs. Apparently, it’s an active proving ground – and why they have it next to an active “wildlife refuge”??? We felt we were somewhere in the middle east, with the desert beneath our feet and the sounds of bombs dropping in the distance. While we enjoyed it, we knew it was time to head out to California… after, of course, I built a new bridge with wood and ramps to get us over the ravine on the way out!
Arizona was a lot of fun and even though we missed wide swaths of it, we were able to get a good feel and find areas we’d go back and explore again. I guess the state profile includes – lots of potential to explore and return. On to California!