North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 2

North Rim, Arizona – July, 2017 Once we set our sights on returning to the North Rim this year, I started looking at camping options. They were basically booked through the end of the summer but I checked back every now and then to see if there were any cancellations and I finally saw a spot available for two days right after the July 4th holiday. It wasn’t in the national park campground but in the national forest campground just a few miles outside the park’s gate. We would have preferred a longer stay but I continued to check back and never saw another option.

We made good time getting across the country so when we got to our destination a whole day early we decided to boondock our first night. We had thoroughly researched the area through freecampsites.net, the Days End directory available from Escapees, and on Google maps. We had a couple promising locations scouted out.

Our first choice was my favorite because there was a large pullout at the intersection of the gravel road, Forest Road 257, and Highway 89A. We pulled over and walked what turned out to be two roads leading into the woods. There were plenty of options and we chose a lovely site that was far enough from the highway to significantly reduce road noise.

We never saw another camper and the only traffic on the road was a few forest service trucks going by. It was a little hot until the sun went down without electricity, and therefore AC, but we persevered. The only other downside to this campsite was the flies were occasionally thick.

We were eager to explore the area and see how it compared to the way we remembered it. We set off for the Jacob Lake Inn where we spent that fateful night during our first visit over 20 years ago. It was pretty much how we remembered it except the phone booth is now a closet.

We didn’t really plan to visit the rim that afternoon but we were so excited to finally see it that we made the 45 mile drive anyway. The parking areas were almost full in the early afternoon so we parked some distance from the rim. The lodge sure looked different than I remember, mostly it seemed bigger. But a sign out front confirmed the lodge hadn’t been significantly modified since the 1930’s. The only other difference was that we both clearly remember a large parking lot right next to the lodge and there are rental cabins built there now.

We hurried through the lodge and finally got our first look at the Grand Canyon from the North Rim.

We then walked down to the viewpoint below it for a good view of the canyon and an even better view of the lodge.

We followed the path under the lodge to more views. I was surprised to see an abundance of lizards. The winters must get awfully long for these cold blooded fellows.

It was HOT and very crowded so we happily called it a day and headed home to enjoy our private camp site.

The next morning we went for a hike in the national forest while we waited for it to be late enough to move to our reserved campsite. After the heat of the last week’s travels, the cool morning at 7900 feet elevation was welcome. The air smelled strongly of the fresh scent of pine and we had the trail to ourselves.

About a mile from the highway we saw a flock of turkey and a herd of deer grazing in the same area. We also saw several Kaibab Squirrel, a very unusual squirrel that only resides on this plateau. It is black with a white tail and fast. I never could catch one in my camera’s sight so I finally swiped a pic from the internet.

After lunch we moved to the Demotte campground which had no hookups and cost $20 per night. The weather was a little more pleasant over the next two days. It still got a bit warm in the afternoons but cooled down by dinnertime instead of by bedtime as it had our first night in the area.

We jumped up the next morning and made the 18 mile drive to the rim before 8 am. We wanted to explore it while it was still cool and before the crowds arrived. It was around 50 degrees when we left camp so I brought a couple layers. But as the sun rose higher it warmed up fast. I chose to start the hike with a light jacket and I shed that pretty quickly.

We headed out to the main lookout near the lodge, Bright Angel Point. It’s a quarter mile hike with some ups and downs but the view is fabulous. As we’d hoped there was only a trickle of people coming and going at that hour.

We then hiked the rim trail. The 2 mile hike was mostly through the woods and the shade was already a welcome relief at 9 in the morning. There was one good viewpoint along the trail that included a bench under the trees.

We hadn’t had a cell signal since entering the park the day before so when our phones started pinging in our pockets we pulled them out and checked all our media outlets, posted a photo or two, and made sure nobody was missing us. Throughout our visit we only got the occasional cell signal on the edge of the canyon. We often found people hanging out at a beautiful viewpoint and talking on the phone. They were usually talking to the office, poor suckers.

After our hike we headed home for lunch. Our plan was to take a scenic drive to another part of the park during the heat of the day. When the time came to leave I wasn’t sure I was up for a two hour adventure but I knew it was quite possible we’d never come back this way so I sucked it up and we hit the road.

It was a 23 mile drive to the end of the scenic Cape Royal Road. It was a curvy, narrow road and the speed limit was 30 but curve after curve often necessitated going much slower. There was only light traffic on the road and it was mostly a joy to drive.

We skipped several pulloffs and drove straight to the end of the road. I was primarily interested in seeing something called Angel’s Window. The trail from the parking lot to the viewpoints was less than a mile round trip. There were plenty of people around but it was nowhere near as congested as it was near the lodge in the afternoon.

The views were amazing!

Angel’s Window is in the middle of that bluff. You can see the Colorado River through it if you zoom in.

Further along the path were more stunning views. Of Vishnu Temple…

… and my favorite, Wotan’s Throne.

The views from Cape Royal were way more expansive than at the lodge which was basically the same view from several different vantage points. It was so worth the drive and I’m very glad we didn’t miss it. We thoroughly enjoyed our return to the North Rim and are glad we finally got to actually see it.

North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 1

North Rim, AZ – October, 1996 Our initial destination for this summer’s adventure was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We’d visited the north rim once before over 20 years before but we’d never SEEN it. Let me explain.

Jim and I took our first real vacation for our 5th wedding anniversary in October of 1996. Other than our honeymoon in Branson, Missouri and some road trips to visit family we had never really gotten away. So only five years after our nuptials my cousin graciously agreed to watch our youngest and we flew to Las Vegas for a 5 day weekend.

Jim and I had done very little traveling up to this point so to say we were green would be an understatement. We enjoyed what Las Vegas had to offer but we very much wanted to see the country and the Grand Canyon seemed like an attainable goal. I had been there once when I was too young to remember it well and Jim had never been.

The North Rim must have looked closer on the map because that is where we set our sights. We rented a car in Las Vegas, a white Mustang convertible, and we headed north east. We planned to make this a day trip.

On the way we drove through Zion National Park. Then we pointed the car toward the North Rim in Arizona. We knew little of altitude but we learned quickly when white stuff started falling on us as we ascended the Kaibab Plateau. It was time to put the convertible top up and look for some warmer clothing as we were dressed for the desert.

We stopped at the turnoff to the North Rim and bought sweatshirts at Jacob Lake Inn. We spoke to a park ranger who said that the road to the north rim was currently open but that snow was forecast all day and it could close at any time. We’d come too far to stop now!

Snow flurries continued to fall as we made the 45 mile drive from Jacob Lake to the North Rim. When we reached the rim all we found was the North Rim Lodge, all boarded up for the winter, and an expansive parking lot with only a few cars in it. We hurried to the rim for a view of the canyon but we were standing in snow laden clouds and we could barely see 5 feet in front of us.

We stood on the precipice of one of the world’s natural wonders but we couldn’t see it! We hurried from one viewpoint to the next with no luck. I was cold and returned to the car but Jim stayed on the edge furtively hoping the wind would blow away the mist and allow him one good view. The only view he got was when he brushed the snow off a sign like this one and it revealed what he would normally see from that viewpoint.

He finally gave up and returned to the car. We were the second to the last car to leave the parking lot that season. It was around 4 o’clock when we left and with the falling snow it was almost dark.

The snow began falling in earnest and before we knew it it was almost a foot deep. It was hard to tell the sides of the road from the meadows and we were getting anxious. Jim switched the headlights on and that’s when things took a turn for the worse.

There appeared to be an electrical problem with the Mustang. The headlights only worked intermittently and then not at all. The car began to lose power and eventually Jim had to pull over to what he supposed was the side of the rode.

We were woefully unprepared for the conditions. We were underdressed with no back up plan and white stuff in every direction. Thank goodness there was one car behind us.

Within a half hour a couple pulled up and offered us a ride. This may be politically incorrect but it would be remiss of me to not mention that they were a flamingly gay couple. Jim has come a long way since the 90’s but at the time he was seriously homophobic. So suffice it to say that we only got in the back seat of their car as a very last resort.

They kindly dropped us off at Jacob Lake Inn. Jim headed for the payphone (yes they still had those) to call the rental car company. I headed for registration to request a room.

Jim was told the rental company would send a tow truck from Las Vegas as soon as possible. I had less positive news. There were no rooms available and the lodge was closing within the hour. I was told that when the lodge closed we would be forced to wait outside the lodge in the snow for the tow truck.

We anxiously waited to be evicted from the warm lodge. Just a few minutes before the anticipated expulsion I was gratefully ushered to the registration desk and informed that they had one no show. A cabin was available if we wanted it.

Jim made a quick call to the rental company to tell them where they could find us and then we were ushered out of a back entrance of the lodge but with the key to a cabin. Upon exiting the lodge it was pitch black and we were wandering toward what we hoped was our room. We soon questioned that this was our salvation as it began to resemble a scene from Deliverance.

Apparently that time of year the lodge is taken over by deer hunters as we were soon assaulted by hunting dogs tied to bumpers. Trying to avoid the hounds, I almost ran in to a skinned deer hanging from a tree. We finally made it to our assigned cabin, a single room with a double bed on one side and the facilities in the corner. Above the sink, instead of a mirror, was a sign that read “do not clean fish in sink”.

We gratefully laid down in the bed to rest. A few hours later came a knock on the door. I didn’t want to be left alone in that place but Jim insisted I rest and that he would soon be back for me.

He hoped that he would just be collecting our new Mustang in front of the inn and returning for me. Instead the rental agent insisted that they had to first recover our broken down rental from the side of the road before he could hand over the keys to the new car. Jim reluctantly climbed in their tow truck.

So the rest of this story is what Jim told me the next day and what he has repeated to family and friends over the years. Jim has never been prone to exaggeration so I’m sure you can believe every word of the following story.

Jim was picked up by a young man who was born and raised in Las Vegas. Since corporate policy dictated that he not come alone he had invited the receptionist from their office to join him. Neither had ever seen snow.

Jim opened the passenger door to find a Latino woman in a leopard print miniskirt, 6 inch heels, and super long fake nails. She scooched over to the middle and they headed down the snow laden road to find our lame car. There were no snow plows as the road was destined to be closed for the season. At one point the large truck started sliding on the snow and before the driver regained control Jim swears the young lady peed her pants.

When they finally reached the car they handed Jim the keys to our new ride and he hopped up on the tow truck and backed her off. He then took off like a bat outta hell leaving the tow truck driver to do his job. He last saw him in his rear view mirror scratching his head.

It was about 3 in the morning by the time Jim got back to our room. Neither of us wanted to stay there another minute so we hopped in our new green convertible and took off for Vegas. We reached the rim of the city just as the sun was rising and we headed to our hotel room and slept until checkout time.

Obviously we had to return to the North Rim at some point and we decided this was the year.

Reflections on a Year Well Spent

Ajo, AZ to Kingsville, TX – January, 2016 The passing of the calendar year coupled with the one year anniversary of us hitting the road is a logical time to reflect on our expectations, realities, and what’s next.

We have been incredibly pleased with our first year on the road. It is everything we had hoped for and more. Any minor concerns we had have virtually vanished. Do we feel safe boondocking in remote locations? Yes. Can we really live on this budget? Yes. Are we gonna strangle each other if we spend every waking moment together and live in less than 400 square feet? Not yet!

Many of our goals revolved around our health. Together we lost over 40 pounds this year. More importantly we are stronger and the aches and pains I feared might worsen with exercise have instead improved.

We try, and generally succeed, at walking no less than 3 miles every single day. But are we ready to tackle mountains? Not yet. Have our eating habits changed? Not significantly.

We nicknamed this first year “The Highlight Tour.” We endeavored to see all the sights out west that we had not yet seen that we would be really disappointed if we never made it to. Many destinations we cheerfully checked off our bucket list. Others were checked and then moved to the growing list of places we plan to return to for a longer visit in the in the years to come. A small few we just didn’t get to but they got moved to the list of places we’ll see on another western roadtrip, hopefully in 2017.

The west was so much more than we expected. Arizona was more mountainous, southern California was greener, everywhere people were friendlier than we ever imagined. Our expectations were surpassed at every turn. But the southwest just wasn’t warm enough for us to want to spend a whole winter.

We experienced several weeks of nighttime lows in the 20s and 30s. It got chilly very quickly in the late afternoon and it often took until almost lunch for it to warm up in the morning. That’s too many hours that we are stuck in the camper staying warm instead of outside being active. We certainly plan to spend a lot more time in the southwest but we will go further south, hopefully to Mexico, for the coldest months of the year.

Since we had committed months ago to being in Houston by mid-February and that was still four weeks away, we decided we were ready to move it on over to Texas. Last year when we were at Padre Island National Seashore we had been too excited about heading west to explore any further south in Texas. So now we wanted to go as far south as we could in Texas to spend a couple weeks before going to Houston as planned.

We had just boondocked for seven days so we stopped in Benson, Arizona at the Escapees Saguaro Co-op for a couple nights to dump our tanks, fill up on water, and recharge our batteries. We loved this park when we passed through last spring. They charge $20 per night plus electric which after taxes averaged out to $27.50 per night. It is a friendly park, convenient, and has one of the cleanest and least expensive laundromats I’d found all year. I was behind on my laundry so this appealed to me.

I was looking forward to making our next stop a winery a couple hours east of Benson. The St. Clair Winery just off I-10 east of Deming, New Mexico, participates in the Harvest Host program which allows RVs to stay at farms and wineries for one night. I joined the program and used it to stay at Tularosa Vineyards near Alamogordo, New Mexico last spring. I had heard about the St. Clair Winery shortly after we had passed that way and was disappointed we had missed it.

I read that you could fill your own containers at this winery with very reasonably priced wine. I couldn’t believe I had missed such a gem! We actually decided to travel further that day but I insisted we stop anyway. This place was awesome! Unfortunately this past year they stopped letting you bring your own containers. Instead you have to buy their container and then you can bring it back as many times as you like.

The prices were still great and the wine was too. They will sell you a filled magnum, the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine, for about $10 and if you bring their bottle back they will refill it for around $6. I loved their sweet white and sweet red. It is probably for the best that I don’t live nearby.

We generally prefer to travel no more than 2-3 hours a day but Jim said he was willing to put in some longer days in order to reach southern Texas’ warmer temperatures. So we passed up staying at the winery in sweet bliss and instead set our sights on the other side of El Paso. After a late start and too short a stop at St. Clair’s we were slated to arrive late on a Friday afternoon.

I kept reading references to bad traffic conditions on I-10 in El Paso and was not terribly excited about heading into that late on a Friday afternoon. So when I mentioned that the Texas Welcome Center at Exit 1, a good 15 miles north of El Paso, had good overnight RV parking Jim agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to stop by on our way through and see if it would suffice for the night.

We had not yet spent a night in a rest area even though Texas has some rather nice ones and 24 hours of parking is allowed at each. The problem is that they are generally very close to the highway and, more importantly, you have no idea how many semis might join you before morning. Semis are rather noisy and not our first choice for neighbors.

The nice thing about this welcome center was that it was set back a fairly good distance from the highway and there were three parking lots; one for cars, one for RV’s, and one for semi-trucks.

We arrived before 3 and were the only ones parked in the RV lot so we took the only spot that had a yard.

We walked in to talk to the folks in the welcome center. They were very friendly and, well, welcoming. So we put out our slides and made ourselves at home. We walked around the parking lot and next door to an RV dealer. Then we made some dinner and watched TV. It turned out to be quieter than some RV parks we’ve stayed at.

When we awoke in the morning one pickup truck camper had joined us in the RV lot and a dozen semis had stopped in their lot. Surprisingly a couple motorhomes had chosen to stop in the semi lot. Weird! We were pretty pleased with our free camping location especially since we had gotten a good night’s sleep and saved $40 on the campground we planned to stop at.

We got a very early start the next day and drove about 450 miles to Junction, Texas. I had read about a city park in Junction that had free camping and all the reviews were good. We decided to drive through and if we didn’t like what we saw we could head over to one of the town’s RV parks. We expected a large gravel parking lot but what we got was amazing. The park was spread out near a small dam. There was a motorhome parked along the lakeshore and we nabbed a spot at the other end of the park below the dam. This was the view out our front door.

There was plenty of room for lots of other rigs but it was just the two of us on a Saturday night. I imagine it is a very popular place in the warmer months.

We got going the next morning intending to make it all the way to our destination about 6 hours away. But when we ran into construction on Highway 77 near Kingsville we agreed we had had enough driving and that this was close enough. I found us a campground on the nearby Baffin Bay for a couple nights and that is where we began the south Texas portion of our journey.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Ajo, AZ – January, 2016 Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was the last item on my list of must see places in Arizona for this go around. I wanted to see it primarily because my father said my late mother had loved it there. It isn’t really on the way to anywhere and I was tempted to save it for another visit. I am so glad we did not as we enjoyed the area immensely. We decided to spend two nights and one full day exploring there.

We started the day visiting the town of Ajo. I wasn’t expecting much of the town so I was pleasantly surprised. It was a rather large mining town until the mine shut down in the 1980’s. What remains is a town of around 1,800 people and some rather impressive buildings. This was their school during the town’s heyday. It has since been renovated to house artists.

They also have a town plaza, some pretty churches, and lots of cute homes. The town has an obvious artistic bent. We spent a pleasant couple of hours walking the town and then driving a scenic loop around it. It was a lovely drive, but all the drives in the area are scenic. We just love the craggily mountains here.

After a morning exploring Ajo we returned home for lunch and then made the 25 mile drive south to Organ Pipe. The afternoon was a perfect 75 degrees and sunny.

We checked out the visitor center first then made a short drive to the head of the Desert View Trail. We wanted to stretch our legs and this trail was a nice 1 and a quarter miles up and over a hill. It had some nice views and the largest concentration of Organ Pipe Cacti we saw all day.

After our walk we didn’t mind getting back in the truck again. This is a very large park so the choice was primarily which scenic drive did we want to make. Since it was already 1 pm we chose the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop. It was a good choice. The views were spectacular, especially during the trip in.

We stopped about halfway at the Arch Canyon viewpoint.

We decided to take the Arch Canyon Trail which was said to have good views of the arch and was supposed to be 1.2 miles out and back. It turns out the best views of the arch were from the trailhead and at 0.6 miles when you’d expect to be at the end of the trail it was really just the beginning of a climb up the rocks that appeared to promise a good view of the back of the arch but never delivered.

You could see a tantalizing small part of the arch and it seemed certain that if you climbed higher the view would appear. Just a little farther we told ourselves, as soon as we get to the other side of this boulder it will materialize. We climbed another half mile and the view never improved. We finally turned around. It is a great hike, and even a fun climb, as long as you don’t expect anything more.

It was a long and rewarding day. This area could easily keep us entertained for a week or more when we return some day.

We boondocked outside Why, Arizona, at Gunsight Wash BLM area which I found on freecamping.net. It is free with a 14 day stay limit. We pulled in on a Monday afternoon and saw around two dozen rigs while we were there. They were fairly spread out. We found a place pretty far in with a lot of space between us and our nearest neighbors.

There are supposedly two roads into the area but really there are a hundred paths in and around the small shrubs that cover the area and it is impossible to tell which is the main one. We broke the handle on our dump tank while maneuvering through one tight spot. It’s not too bad just a little confusing but if you have a large motorhome, or a new rig you don’t want to scratch, I’d recommend staying near the entrance.

We awoke to a cacophony of coyotes each morning. And they continued to serenade us throughout our morning coffee. Other than that the area was incredibly quiet and had the most amazing sunsets!

The BIG Tent, Flea Markets, & Gold

Quartzite, AZ – January, 2016 We have read about Quartzite for years so there was no question we were going to be there our first January out west. For anyone unfamiliar with Quartzite it is a small town in the desert that isn’t much more than a pitstop on the interstate during the summer. The surrounding desert offers tons of free and cheap boondocking so in the winter it is a haven for full-timers and snowbirds.

Every January for 9 days an RV show takes place there. There is a huge tent with exhibitors set up in and around it. During this time the number of visitors really spikes and there are thousands of RV’s parked in the desert in every direction. Here is a pic taken from above our campsite. If you zoom in you will see tons of white specs, each a camper, and the spot where they get really dense is near town. This is one of the less popular sides of town and the hills hide some of the more packed camping areas. Take my word for it, there are a lot of us.

Since Quartzite is not a very photogenic place I am going to throw in random pictures of the only cute things that were in abundance, puppy dogs.

We arrived the Thursday before the show started which also happened to be my 46th birthday. After we set up we drove in to town to have a look around and we stopped by one of the many flea markets to stretch our legs. This particular one happened to be primarily devoted to rock enthusiasts (not the music, the mineral kind). Quartzite also hosts a huge rock and gem show earlier in the month.

I had been fighting a cold ever since the last day of our cruise so there weren’t going to be any wild celebrations for this birthday but I did request takeout pizza for dinner. Jim and I stopped by Silly Al’s Pizza and had a couple beers while we waited for them to make our pizza. Given the size of their crowd we were surprised when our pizza was ready in less than 2 beers. We took it home and had a fabulous dinner.

Friday we headed to town after lunch to check out another huge flea market. This one was near the big tent so it had a lot of RV related items among the standard t-shirt, jewelry, and knickknacks for sale. I managed to spend a whole $1.50.

Saturday, the day of the big show, finally arrived. We got there at 9 just as the show opened which was good because we navigated the tent pretty well to start with but by the time we left a couple hours later it was getting crowded and hard to move. I have to admit that as hard as we tried to keep our expectations low, we did end up slightly disappointed by the show.

We had put off buying the few RV related items we did want until after the show thinking we might find them there so we wouldn’t have to order them. We did not. Jim was hoping to see a solar dealer that has had a booth there before and held seminars but they didn’t participate this year. He didn’t find what he wanted for the price he wanted to pay at any of the other dealers or the stores in town that offer solar.

In the days when I was collecting things and had a house to decorate, I would have loved their flea markets. We visited the ones on Main Street away from the big tent on Sunday and they had some really great old stuff, signs, and the like. But we aren’t allowing ourselves to buy anything that is not absolutely necessary. We are still culling through all the stuff we haul around and thought we couldn’t live without and donating more stuff every month or so.

The Quartzite gathering is as much about getting together with other RVers as it is about the show and flea markets. There are many groups that meet there in the desert; families, clubs, and friends.  They host get togethers all week long and I’m sure we could have joined a party or two but I didn’t feel like being very social with my cold.

We did love our free campsite at Dome Rock. We found a great spot and didn’t have any close neighbors. There are four wheel roads and ATV trails into the surrounding hills that could have kept us busy hiking for a week. We hiked up and around the nearest hill and found a mine shaft. It was a pretty solid looking tunnel that went straight in to the hill about 80 feet. Jim had brought a flashlight and insisted on checking it out.

There were also people panning for gold around us. One afternoon there was a group of men near our camp with metal detectors. They were running shovelfuls of dirt through a dry sleuth. Jim engaged them in a conversation and it turned out one of them was a well-known expert in the field of metal detecting and gold mining. He generously offered Jim some tips about his own equipment and some information on the process they were using to mine for gold in the wash.

Jim got his metal detector out and enjoyed a few hours of detecting and digging in a nearby wash. No gold yet!

Tamale Festival

Yuma, AZ – December, 2015 When we started this adventure we thought we’d take part in a lot of local festivals during our travels. The reality is that unless you plan your trip around such events you are likely to find that most occasions are usually next week, or last! Every now and then we get lucky though. When we realized we were in the Yuma area just in time for their Tamale Festival we were determined to go.

The Tamale Festival is in the town of Somerton just south of Yuma. It is a benefit for the Arizona State University Alumni Association and the proceeds are used to fund scholarships. Neither of us had much experience with tamales before and we enjoyed trying something new.

You purchase tickets for $2 a piece which you then use to buy food. Individual tamales cost 1 ticket or you could buy a combo plate which included 2 tamales and 2 sides for 3 tickets ($6). We bought $20 worth of tickets, not realizing how filling tamales are and ended up giving some tickets away on our way out.  Great food, good bands, and $3 beers!  We would definitely attend again.

We moved to a campground just south of Yuma to be nearer the festival. KOFA Ko-op, an Escapees park, was a short drive to Somerton and reasonably priced. We originally planned to stay 2 nights in a full hookup site for $20 per night plus electric. But when we realized we could stay a week for only $100 we decided to go that route. We loved our spacious site just across the street from the pool and the laundry. At the end of our stay the electric bill was just $25.

We enjoyed this campground and agree that it is one of the quietest we have ever visited. Honestly the only night it got slightly rowdy was Sunday night. I was ready for a good night’s sleep by 9 pm. Apparently this was the same time the weekly ice cream social let out. Everyone was either hopped up on sugar or they were serving more than ice cream over there. They exited the activities building near our site and hung out in the street for a while visiting.

We liked the Yuma area and can certainly understand the appeal for the many snowbirds that winter there. The price of food and necessities seemed particularly reasonable in this area. We got the cheapest diesel we have found all year, $1.85 per gallon. This was more than 50 cents less than any gas we found in California before or following our visit to Yuma.

Yuma has a neat old downtown area with some great flea market/antique stores. We were lucky enough to stumble upon their weekly farmers market on a Tuesday morning. I got a huge bag of fruits and vegetables for only $4. They also have great parks and trails along the Colorado River which flows by the downtown area.

The Yuma Swap Meet was another fun place we visited. It didn’t look like much when we walked up but they only charged $1 each admission and the parking was free so we thought what the heck. It turned out it was much larger than it looked and had a good variety of vendors, from clothing to tools to your standard garage sale type booths. There did seem to be an unreasonably large number of vendors selling women’s under things. Next time I need some socks I would definitely consider heading that way.

My favorite booth was selling these great metal sculptures. The sweet lady in pink was life sized.

Christmas happened to fall during our stay in Yuma. We had pretty much boycotted the event this year other than sending a package to our only granddaughter. We agreed not to buy each other anything. The last thing we needed to do was spend money that wasn’t in our budget on frivolous things we didn’t need and didn’t have space for anyway.

Our one concession was going out to eat on Christmas Eve at Lin’s Grand Buffet. I’ve been craving Chinese food for a while and no matter how many dishes I made at home I couldn’t squelch it. Lin’s turned out to be a very good choice and is among the best Chinese buffets we’ve ever been to. Merry Christmas to us!!!

Colorado River

Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona– May 2015

I was enjoying my camp on Lake Powell in Utah very much but I’m really a river person at heart. So I drove a little south into Arizona, over the dam that created Lake Powell, and looked down at the Colorado River emerging on the other side of the dam. I then drove a bit further and walked a half mile to the viewpoint for Horseshoe Bend 6 river miles from the dam.

It did look like an amazing portion of the Colorado. So I drove to the only public access point below the dam for several hundred miles called Lee’s Ferry. It was only another 9 river miles but 40 miles by road. The water was crystal clear but at less than 50 degrees it hurt to put your feet in it for more than 30 seconds so swimming was out of the question.

This area is considered the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Because it is the last access point before the canyon and where outfitters put in for their river excursions through the canyon. Soon after Lee’s Ferry the canyon walls close in around you and the only way out is to float on through or climb out. I hope to raft through the Grand Canyon someday but for now I was more interested in the 15 miles of river between the dam and this takeout.

I put in at Lee’s Ferry to see how far I could kayak up river. The output from the dam was high that day so there was a healthy current. The winds were also against me but I managed to paddle for three miles to this beautiful spot mostly by staying in the shallows along the edge.

As I was floating back to my truck I saw several big blue rafts that take sightseers for an hour long raft ride down this section. They had dropped their passengers off at Lee’s Ferry and they had kayakers loaded on and were hauling them up the river. I made a note of the company’s name, Colorado River Discovery (CRD), and called them the next day to make a reservation. They charge $25 per person, $22 per boat, and $25 for gear in excess of 50 pounds. They only take 8 passengers at 2 pm every day. I was able to make a reservation for early the next week.

I arrived a couple hours early on the day of my reservation. I had watched some of the Grand Canyon outfitters load passengers on their huge rafts during my last visit. It was later in the day this time and I had seen 4 rafts full of passengers float under the bridge 10 miles downstream when I stopped to have lunch. I couldn’t help thinking “how did they find 120 people that could spend $2800 to go camping for a week?” Now the outfitters were loading 2 big rafts with supplies from a semi-truck. There were so many boxes but the ones that stood out read Pabst, Budweiser, Corona. I think every beer was represented there. When you consider the amount of food and manpower (and don’t forget BEER) necessary to comfortably transport passengers through the canyon I realized $400 per day was probably fair.

While waiting I met 4 other paddlers that were waiting for a ride upriver that day, a Texas couple around 30 on a week’s vacation without the kiddos and another couple, 20ish from Phoenix celebrating the young lady’s birthday. CRD’s rafts arrived on time and unloaded their passengers and we all pitched in and helped load each other’s gear onto three of their rafts and were off. It took almost an hour to raft upstream. We chatted with the girl who drove the raft. She was about 20 and I was surprised to learn the job didn’t require any special training and was relatively easy to obtain. She pointed out the campsites that were available to us and other points of interest along the way before dropping us at a tiny beach just below the dam.

I planned to cover between 3 and 6 miles between being dropped off and making camp for the night. I had read there were 6 campsites available to campers on this section (turns out there were only 3). I thought I’d be happy with any of the first 4 as long as they offered solitude and a decent tent site. The other floaters seemed to feel the same. As soon as we got on the water a cold wind hit us. It was fierce and although there was a reasonable current you still had to paddle hard to get down river. We passed the first campsite after about a mile. It had no beach or gravel bar at all. You had to carry all your gear and your boat up a steep sandy path. After another couple of miles of grueling wind we reached the second campsite. The sun was setting fast in the canyon and it appeared everyone had had enough. No one was interested in going a few more miles to the next site. Solitude be damned!

There were two fire rings at this site. And there was a couple already camped at one. There were a few possible sites in some trees but the bugs got really bad away from the water. The two couples I rode up with shared a sandy area near the second fire ring and invited me to join them but I chose a clearing in the grass between them and the beach. I’m sure it was not what any of us had in mind when we started this adventure but everyone seemed happy to be out of the wind, setting up camp, and getting dinner ready. After dinner I took a walk and met the 4th couple. They had spent two days kayaking up to the dam under their own power. They had a tandem kayak with pedals and had often got out and pulled the kayak along from the bank. They had peddled, paddled, and ported the entire 15 miles to the dam before starting the float back just before we were dropped off. I was impressed!

The night was colder than I anticipated. I was grateful I had packed an extra layer of clothing because the blanket I brought was not enough and I got up and put on more clothing during the night. I had been unable to stay awake much past sunset the evening before but when the cold woke me at 2 am I couldn’t help but take a look outside and was pleased to find the night sky of my dreams. I took a short walk to the beach and sat under a billion stars for almost an hour marveling at the Milky Way clearly visible in the moonless sky.

The next morning I woke up anxious for the suns warmth and ready to start the day. After an hour cooking a warm breakfast and packing up camp I set off on the river. I enjoyed a near perfect day floating the last 11 miles. Horseshoe bend wasn’t nearly as dramatic from the perspective of the river, but still pretty.

I didn’t experience any more head wind until the last mile or so. I got back to Lees Ferry early in the afternoon and made the hour long drive back to my camp at Lake Powell.