Camper Life Month #8 in Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla

Well month #8 kicked off with a bang because this is when we traded in our old pop-up for a 33-foot RV. As I wrote in my “upgrade post,” this one decision turned our February upside down, for the better and worse.

Related: We Upgraded! How Our New RV is Making Life More Awesome…and Complicated

Before I get started with my monthly recap, I suppose I should explain the title a bit. We’ve been trying to come up with a name for our new RV, which is no easy task. You see, it has to be incredibly random, relevant, and packed with inside jokes…all at the same time. For instance, my Jeep’s name is Chief Surfs with Manatees.

Well, at least for now, we’ve settled on a name: Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla. It roughly translates to “a large mounted infantry that has been threatened and coerced into the mountains to be named the king of butter.” He/she will go by “Dragoon” for short.

Anyway…

Places We’ve Been: Month #8

Month #8 can largely be summed up by one phrase: “Stuck in Yuma.” It’s funny, because we never actually intended to go to Yuma, Arizona at all. We actually had a campground booked in the Palm Springs area of California back in mid-January but were scared away by excessive rain and flooding. Yuma was a backup plan, and we stayed there in one way or another for over a month and a half.

We stayed at two different campgrounds in Yuma, and then decided to take a trip to Mexico for a week of pure vacation. While in Mexico, we settled on the idea of upgrading our camper and bought a new one in Yuma. This decision sent us on a side trip all the way back to Atlanta, Georgia to take care of a slew of logistical nightmares. I couldn’t stand to go back to our old Yuma campground with the new RV, so we switched to another one. Then after a long-cross country drive back to Yuma, we finally got unstuck and made our way to San Diego.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #31

  • Highlights: Switched campgrounds for one with more space and fewer annoying people, first few days in our new RV!

For less than 24 hours, all of our worldly possessions were in one place at the same time: RV, Jeep, 5×8 U-Haul

  • Lowlights: We are STILL in Yuma?!, new campground is out in the middle of lemon fields – kinda nice but so far to get to anything

Yuma to Atlanta Side Trip

  • Highlights: Seeing my best friend and meeting her one-month-old baby girl, drinking bubble tea, an awesome AirBnB in Chamblee, GA, donating lots of lots of stuff to Goodwill, squeezing in a hike at Rockhound State Park in Deming, New Mexico on our last day of driving

Best AirBnB (studio apartment) I’ve ever stayed at

10+ donation loads later…

Nice to see mountains and cacti again after a trip back east…missed New Mexico.

  • Lowlights: Driving 30 or so hours each way, having to leave our new camper behind because it’s a gas-guzzler and doesn’t make financial sense for a quick cross-country trip, dozens of logistical nightmares, DMV license and registration issues for the RV and Jeep, cleaning out and totally eliminating a 10’x12′ storage unit, being exhausted all the time and never sleeping, getting bug bites from cheap motels

San Diego, California: Home on the Road #34

  • Highlights: Amazing campground (Sweetwater Summit Regional Park), successfully towing our Jeep here with no issues, incredible weather, trails for running, greenery and wildflowers everywhere you look outside, pedaling the Bayshore Bikeway, kayaking in the fog from the Chula Vista Marina, cute “island” town of Coronado, Gaslamp Quarter outing in downtown SD, surprisingly no traffic anywhere, sitting outside in the sunshine to work

Yep, Monkey’s in the trailer!

  • Lowlights: No Wi-Fi but not a big deal, lots of bunnies outside that drive Monkey (and therefore, us) crazy

Yep, Monkey’s in that kayak with me too. Nice to have the boats back with us again. She’s an old pro at boating.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #8

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #8 on the road.

  • During month #8, I started to understand why people DON’T full-time travel and just plop down in a house instead with occasional trips here and there. The logistics of making this work really get to you and can make the whole thing feel totally not worth it at times. Society is not designed for people like us and seems to just wait for us to fail and fall in line. I felt like this a lot in month #8. However, I know that if I just gave up and plopped down somewhere, I’d have nothing but regrets.
  • We upgraded to the new RV at the absolute perfect time. We were both getting a bit burnt out on the lifestyle for various reasons, and this new home on wheels has totally recharged us and reminded us why we’re doing this.

Only in Texas.

  • My anxiety levels were at an all-time high in month #8 due to all the hassles of trying to beat the system for the sake of keeping the lifestyle going.
  • But in the last week, things have slowed down and we have more time to relax because of simple time-sucks that aren’t an issue anymore (walking across a campground to use the bathroom, do dishes, etc.). With the extra time, I’ve found myself starting to play guitar again, organizing drawers, and catching up on shows (recently added Big Love to my mix).
  • Exercise-wise, I’ve finally worked up to doing 100 push-ups, squats, and various ab crunches per day. We retrieved some resistance bands from storage, so I’m looking to add these to the mix in Month #9.
  • Dealing with the sewage system in the RV isn’t as bad as I expected it to be.

My go-to road trip fare: egg, avocado & veggies on flatbread.

  • Camping with a pit bull mix has been getting increasingly difficult. We have run into blanket dog breed bans the most in Grand Junction, CO and Palm Springs, CA. Some campground owners are idiots and flat-out tell you that your dog is unsafe and unwelcome there just because of who it was born to. Other owners are apologetic and make excuses about their insurance policies and safety clauses, but it doesn’t make it much easier to accept. And it’s not just pit bulls either…doberman pinschers, rottweilers, and others are being discriminated against as well. Everyone who meets Monkey loves her. She is obsessed with people, getting petted, and rolling over to get better petting angles. If these assholes would simply meet her and give her a chance, they could have had our business. Pit bulls and pit bull mixes have enough trouble getting adopted from shelters as it is. If people knew about these types of hassles caused by faulty perceptions, it might be even harder. It all just makes me really sad and angry.
  • Totally unrelated to all that, we’ve also been trying to train Monkey to not pull on the leash. It really makes walking and hiking miserable, and it’s gone on for too long. The current strategy is using cheese as a non-pulling bribe, AKA “cheese therapy.” We’ve tried other things in the past, but we’ll see how this goes.

On a positive note, Monkey is starting to take to our new RV and loves staring out her very own window 🙂

  • We are literally spending hours looking for campgrounds that meet our needs lately. And honestly, our needs aren’t that unreasonable: internet and phone service in one way or another, campers under 55 allowed, pit bull mixes allowed. So much time wasted by the inefficiency of this industry’s searching and booking systems. I’ve heard about some tech-savvy people trying to improve this process and bring it up to 2017, but an industry disruption needs to happen sooner than later.
  • We downsized our storage unit in Atlanta (10’x12′ for $200/month) to a much smaller unit in Yuma (5’x5′ for $41/month). Not only is this helping us become more minimalist and cut the waste, but it’ll also make RV loan payments easier, keep the adventure going for longer, and save our extra things on the side of the country we’ll likely plop down on someday!
  • The San Diego area seems pretty ideal as a potential plopping spot, but damn it’s pricey.

  • We are now “those people” you love to hate on the highway…RVers with a really long towing set-up cruising at 66 max. On our last full day in Yuma, we got a tow bar installed on the Jeep. Five hours and $1,300 later, we are totally “those people.”
  • We have a checklist of probably 50+ items that are part of our new RV take-down process. This includes everything from draining the sewage to locking the outside storage cabinets and raising the jacks. I’m learning a lot, and it’s actually not as intimidating as I thought it might be. It involves less manual labor than the old pop-up did, but perhaps more brain power. Of course, it’ll all get quicker and easier each time we do it.

Looking Ahead to Month #9

We finally made it to California, nearly two months late, so we’re planning to stay here for a while. We’ve only been here a bit so far, but we’re already VERY familiar with all the issues of camping in California:

  • Private campgrounds are freaking expensive
  • Limited internet and phone reception in state/regional parks – an issue for full-time work
  • Discriminatory bans against pit bulls and other dog breeds
  • Silly 55+ age restrictions

However, we’ve gotten our next couple places lined up in the Banning, Burbank, and Santa Barbara areas of California. In fact, I’ve arranged for my parents to come out to Burbank to meet us for a long weekend! They’ve never been to SoCal before, so we’re planning to do some Hollywood/L.A. touristy stuff, and I think they’ll get a kick out of seeing our new RV.

If anyone reading this that I know is in these areas and interested in possibly meeting up or sharing some must-see tips, comment here or email me please! We’ll make the best out of you yet, California. It took 8 months to get here, and there’s no turning back now.

Catch up with the journey:

A Day of Love, Hallmark Cards & Our 7 Month Camper-aversary

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
7 months on the road,
Yep, it’s really true.

Happy camper-aversary to us, and happy Valentine’s Day to everyone else!

Places We’ve Been: Month #7

Month #7 kicked off by leaving the crowded Vegas campground and opting something totally different – boondocking in Mojave National Preserve. Our original plan was to head to Palm Springs, California after that, but persistent and heavy rains scared us away and drove us to Yuma, Arizona instead. We stayed in Yuma quite a while trying to get everything lined up for a trip to Mexico. Then we crossed the border into Baja California for a true non-working vacation (finally!) and back to Yuma to finish off the month.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Mojave National Preserve, California: Home on the Road #30

  • Highlights: Boondocking next to a canyon far from civilization, amazing Hole in the Wall canyon right behind our camper, pleasantly disconnected from technology, the stars at night, seeing Monkey overcome a really challenging climb

  • Lowlights: No heat on 30-degree nights with canvas walls

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #31

  • Highlights: Decent weekly rate, sunny and warm, met fellow (young!) long-term RVers Sara and Mike (check out Sara’s blog), Imperial Sand Dunes, yoga at the Yuma prison guard tower (every Monday evening at 5:30), date festival and Mardi Gras festival downtown, 80-degree weather

  • Lowlights: Very crowded campsites, way too many overly-friendly snowbirds in a constant need of chatting, high winds, not enough hiking/biking trails

Baja California (Ensenada & San Felipe): Home on the Road #32 and #33

I wrote an entire post devoted to our six days in Mexico. Check it out here: Road Tripping to Mexico in the Age of Trump…with a Dog

  • Highlights: Easy border crossing, incredible ocean and mountain views, perfect 70-degree weather, the beaches, cheap food and beer, the vineyard region, taking an actual vacation and not working for a few days

  • Lowlights: Lots of planning & logistics to get down there, loose dogs everywhere, potholes on roads, pushy sales vendors, everyone wants a tip, expensive gas and tolls

Thoughts & Ramblings: Month #7

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #7 on the road.

  • We started doing circuits of push-ups, squats, and crunches around Christmas and increasing the number of each by 5 every 3rd day. We’ve actually been keeping up with this INSIDE the camper on cold days, which is an amusing sight to see.
  • It’s really hard to find campgrounds in the Yuma area for people under 55 years old, that allow dogs over 20 pounds, and that don’t require you to be self-contained (have your own bathroom). What’s up with the snowbirds and all their rules?
  • We celebrated Monkey’s 3rd birthday in the camper! I can’t believe she’s only been with us a year. I can’t imagine this camper life without her.

  • We don’t fit in with or particularity enjoy the prevailing camping culture or demographic. I’d love to go off-the-grid like so many other vanlifers, but we haven’t made the big investment in solar panels, generators, etc. yet. However, I can’t stand traditional RV parks much longer, so something’s gotta give.

Sometimes I feel like we don’t allow room for enough spontaneity in our busy camper life schedule. But an example of something awesome we stumbled across was a wood craft festival in Yuma. Made me really miss crafting, and my husband even found his mom a birthday gift here.

 

Although the southwest has been MUCH less rainy than the east coast, rain is still brutal when your camper sinks into a mud pit.

  • On a whim, I joined a Facebook group called Make Money and RV. We actually met up with a couple living a similar lifestyle to us on the road in Yuma and it was really fun to swap stories and tips.
  • I have been considering taking virtual guitar lessons via Skype from another couple I met through a Facebook group called Make Money and RV. I’m stuck in a practice rut and totally plateaued in terms of getting any better. I haven’t pulled the trigger on committing to lessons yet because I’m worried that my internet situation changes every week or two and often sucks.
  • Dates are a big deal around Yuma. We went to a date farm and a date festival. I thought I hated dates after being force-fed raisins as a child.
  • Good craft beer is hard to find in Arizona liquor stores. However, liquor is plentiful and cheap. One day, I bought a bottle of Three Olives s’mores vodka for $2.99. However, it was disgusting…lesson learned.
  • I’ve been wanting to read a textbook-style book on how to identify plants while hiking. I’ve found some paperbacks on Amazon, but no good Kindle options. Suggestions welcome if you have any recommendations.
  • However, I have been neglecting reading books in general and watching too much TV. I’ve started getting back into the whole reading thing with some short stories on Kindle, like The Fluted Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and The Plagiarist by Hugh Howey.
  • Mexico made me feel pretty ignorant with my sub-par bilingual skills.
  • I’m at an age where I feel age-blind. People who are anywhere between 20 and into their 40’s all feel like they’re my age.
  • Here are some photos with captions!

Date farm!

Abandoned mine shacks in the Mojave desert.

Most interesting yoga destination in a long time: historic prison guard tower in Yuma.

Muggins Mountains: destination for a rugged BLM hike

Looking Ahead to Month #8

It wasn’t until we had a few days off to really disconnect from routine in Mexico that we started seriously considering our next phase in this camper journey. I’m not going to say any more just yet, but I will be sharing a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT very soon to kick off month #8!

Catch up with the journey:

Half a Year on the Road! A Six-Month Camper Life Update

It’s a new year in a new state, but the journey continues in 2017!

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Month #6 has been a weird month. It was holiday month, which means that everything was thrown off a bit – but in a good way. It’s also been the longest we’ve stayed put in one place so far.

Places We’ve Been: Month #6

Month #6 started finished up our stay in Tuscon and then we moved up to Phoenix. A while back, we had booked flights to travel from Phoenix to Champaign, Illinois to visit my family for Christmas. So everything leading up to this moment had to work around the flight schedule.

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Since Monkey’s too big to fly, we had to board her, but did so at the best pet resort we could find in Phoenix called Tailwinds. For Christmas, we spent a few days in my hometown or Arthur, seeing family and friends and doing little-to no work. We had a Monkey to get back to in Phoenix, but our flight was cancelled due to FOG of all things. We’d packed extra food for Monkey in case of emergency, but were still anxious to collect her. So my parents graciously drove us the complete opposite direction to Indianapolis to catch the next flight out in the morning.

The Indy flight went as planned and we made it back to Phoenix, then drove to Las Vegas the same day. So in a 24-hour period, we lived in four time zones: Central, Eastern, Mountain, and Pacific. Totally exhausting, but we got Monkey back and got rave reviews about her behavior (and even a report card!).

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Phoenix, Arizona: Home on the Road #27

  • Highlights: Having dinner with my old co-worker, Maria, for her husband’s birthday bash, hot tub at the fanciest Motel 6 I’ve ever seen, short hikes around town

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  • Lowlights: Getting a traffic cone stuck under the Jeep and nearly starting a fire on the highway because of it, having to leave Monkey behind at a “pet resort” while we got on a plane

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Arthur, Illinois : Home on the Road #28

  • Highlights: Hanging out with my parents, grandma & extended family, seeing a couple of my favorite people from high school, meeting our mutual friends’ new baby, seeing “Moana” with my parents, eating at a really good Mexican restaurant that popped up in my hometown since I left, impromptu trip to Indianapolis

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  • Lowlights: Having our flight out of Champaign cancelled at the last minute, having to ask my parents to drive us to Indianapolis

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Las Vegas, Nevada: Home on the Road #29

  • Highlights: Fun pre-NYE day on The Strip, Cirque Du Soleil show that was impressive but made me feel fat and lazy, first NYE celebration with Monkey in the camper to ring in 2017, Valley of Fire State Park hiking

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  • Lowlights: Flat camper tire and cracked windshield on the drive to Vegas, Homeless people lurking around our campground and the staff doesn’t care, dental visit, crowded parking lot-style campground, no Wi-Fi

Random Ramblings: Month #6

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #6 on the road.

  • I’m obsessed with podcasts. I listen to them while walking the dog, doing dishes, washing up in the bathroom, etc. They really get me through the day. Ones I’ve been listening to lately: This American Life, Snap Judgement, Undone, Stranglers, The RV Entrepreneur with Heath Padgett, Lore, The Moth, Radio Lab, Hidden Brain. New podcast suggestions welcome…hit me up!
  • Motel stays make me feel really appreciative of the little things in life. Like not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night when I’ve had 3+ beers. They’re even better when they have a hot tub, especially after a long day of hiking. Campgrounds with hot tubs are awesome too.

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  • I really have no desire to live in a place with frigid winter temperatures ever again. These snowbirds have the right idea, but stealing the idea shouldn’t require Medicare eligibility.
  • I’m super appreciative of my parents. Understandably, they were skeptical about this whole camper life thing at first. But I’ve never really been a daughter to follow all the rules. Them driving us to Indy on Christmas day night was a lifesaver. I’m seriously lucky to have them. Too bad it too me so long to realize it.
  • I can’t stand being around other campers. The second I walk outside to use the bathroom in the morning, there are people all around me. I’m feeling claustrophobic by the close proximity of campers and drained by the constant sight of human beings. (1) Old retirees with nothing better to do than chat, (2) families with kids that have no regard for anyone but themselves, and (3) homeless riff-raff lurking around campgrounds when the staff doesn’t care are really getting to me. Friends always ask me about cool people I’ve met on the trip. The honest answer is none. Admittedly, I’m in an introverted phase of life and not putting myself out there. But honestly, that’s not what travel is about for me right now and I have no regrets.

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  • This month was a BIG time for repairs. The camper needed a new tire, the Jeep needed a sensor repair and a new windshield, the husband needed hardcore dental surgery, and the dog needed yearly shots at the vet, and I needed a routine dental cleaning. Somehow this all snuck up on us at once. But it just goes to show that you don’t need to be grounded in a place to get all the practical things in life taken care of.
  • Cities are making me feel claustrophobic. Most strangers seem like an entirely different species, I’m becoming a worse driver, and stupid things make me anxious. I’m hoping to find some quiet coastal towns in California.
  • Vegas is the longest we’ve stayed anywhere so far on this trip – 19 days! Not because we are in love with Vegas, but due to so many appointments and practical things piling up all at once. At least there were plenty of distractions to take our minds off them at the end of the day.

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  • I don’t like the format of these blog posts I’ve been doing, but I can’t think of a better way to structure them.
  • We looked into upgrading the camper and would seriously love to, but I don’t think it’s going to work right now. Mostly because a two-door jeep has embarrassingly low towing capacity, so a camper upgrade would mean a vehicle upgrade too. Looked at A-Liners, which were nice (especially ones with an in-camper toilet and solid walls!), but they’re not enough of an upgrade to justify the investment right now.
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  • This is my dream house.
  • It was nice to be able to take holiday time off like the rest of the traditional working world this year. This is always an awkward time as a freelancer, but things finally slowed down for me and I finally got some much-needed chill time.
  • Also as a freelancer, I have to keep track of every invoice and pay quarterly taxes, which is a huge pain in the ass. However, I made more this year than ever in life. So many full time travelers hate on freelance writing as a way to make money but clearly they aren’t doing it right. This is something I feel really proud of since 2017 is my 4th year of freelancing!
  • I am obsessed with self-serve frozen yogurt.

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  • The best reason that has come up so far for calling it quits on camper life is international travel. I feel like I’ve seen so much (but obviously not all) of this country, but so little of the rest of the world. Simply flying to Illinois for Christmas taught us how difficult the logistics are of finding a dog sitter, Jeep parking, camper parking, transportation, etc. After six months, I’m feeling the itch for international travel. This makes me amendable to finding a place to rent (somewhere) for a year so we can plop down and get slightly established so we can catch a flight to bust of America soon. This will likely be the one thing that makes me call it quits on camper life, at least for a while.
  • Valley of Fire State Park renewed my faith in Nevada hiking trails after several disappointments…what an incredible place with something different to see on every trail!img_3014
  • Everywhere I turn these days, I seem to come across a #vanlife post or some other young couple’s Instagram-perfect photos of full-time travel. I am mildly obsessed with creepily stalking other full-time campers to see what they’re up to and judging myself against my better judgment. It feels like this movement is gaining momentum, but perhaps I’m just seeking it out. But unlike so many of these other couples essentially doing what we’re doing, I’m not into going full publicity over it or trying to make money from it. That’s not my style, and I’m already stretched too thin. Also, my husband is a private person and I respect his wishes to not include his photo or name on my blog. I also have no desire to reinvent the wheel here or project an image that everything about this lifestyle is perfect. It’s not, and it pisses me off from time to time just like any lifestyle would. I’m being me, being real, and sharing my experiences as creative outlet rather than a means of self-promotion. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Looking Ahead to Month #7

TOMORROW, we’re celebrating our 6th month “full-time camper life anniversary” by crossing over the California state line and dry camping in Mojave National Preserve. This means no reservations, no electric, no internet, and only backup tank water…but hopefully some amazing scenery and hikes.

After that, we’re heading to the Palm Springs area of California, which will be totally new to me. But I will say though that California campgrounds are looking pretty expensive so far. I’m a newbie at pretty much all things Southern California, so I’m definitely excited to spend a good amount of time here. Please send any SoCal recommendations my way!

Cheers!

Catch Up on the Journey:

5 Months on the Road: Wait No More, Your Full-Time Camper Life Update Is Here

December greetings from warm and sunny Tucson, Arizona!

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Month #5 has been a continuation of our journey in the West and Southwest, and I’m definitely still loving the region. We finished up our stay in Salt Lake City, spent a couple weeks in Moab, and a couple days at the Grand Canyon before showing up here.

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We had to adjust our plans a bit due to cold and single-digit temperatures. Being in Tucson right now wasn’t the original plan, but I’m loving the 70-80-degrees and sunshine, so the switch-up was a success. These “snowbirds” really know how to live life right.

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Another interesting development is that we bought a GoPro as a holiday gift to ourselves. So we’ve been experimenting with the different mounts and putting it on our heads, chests, windshield, and even the dog to capture videos of our adventures. I even wore it on a horse!

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Places We’ve Been: Month #5

Here’s a quick rundown of how those places played out.

Moab, Utah: Home on the Road #24

  • Highlights: The otherworldly arches at Arches National Park and canyons at Canyonlands, horseback riding on Sassy (and she was!), mountain biking on the Bar M trails, slacklining festival on Thanksgiving, great campground Wi-Fi and scenery, nice community rec center in town to lift weights and swim laps, scenic winery next to a western film museum, Corona Arch as an uncrowded alternative to Delicate Arch, small-town Christmas festival

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  • Lowlights: Restaurants are way too busy, and un-fun, mediocre local brewery, consistently cold nights in the 20s, hilly bike trails too hard to bike with Monkey’s trailer, getting a flat jeep tire on the side of the road

Grand Canyon, Arizona: Home on the Road #25

  • Highlights: Dog-friendly hiking trails around the rim, shopping for family Christmas gifts and finally finding some, a weekend that didn’t up feeling as cold as we expected, beautiful art gallery at Kolb Studio

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  • Lowlights: Very icy sidewalks and trails that made hiking with Monkey really hard, being underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon (who’da thought that was possible?!) because of all the other amazing canyons we’ve been seeing

Tucson, Arizona: Home on the Road #26

  • Highlights: The amazing Saguaro cactus(!!!), Arizona Sonora Desert Museum that we could have spent several days at, private campground bathrooms (no sharing!), salsa dancing class for a different kind of Friday night out even though it was HARD, great bike trail right behind our campground, bringing home a little cactus to decorate the camper, discovering Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant, days warm enough to do yoga and work outside (or until my laptop overheats and powers down)

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  • Lowlights: Many parks (including Saguaro National Park) not being dog-friendly for hikes, crowded campground with sketchy WiFi, Monkey getting cacti stuck in her paws on trails

Random Ramblings: Month #5

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #5 on the road.

  • Moab was the first place that really made me question why we keep moving on and don’t just stay put for a while. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise in every sense of the word, and we would have been perfectly happy there for a while. In the end, the only reason we left after two weeks was because of the cold temperatures rolling in that would have made outdoor activities pretty miserable going forward.

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  • I have a t-shirt that’s probably a decade old with Grover from Sesame Street on it that says, “Anywhere I am is here. Anywhere I’m not is there. I still wear this shirt occasionally and it reminds me of the old saying that wherever you go, there you are. No matter how what city or state we’re in or how long we’ve traveled, the same things still make me happy, annoyed, anxious, excited, frustrated, etc. Many years ago, I saw a shrink (hey, Tony Soprano did it, so why can’t I?). At that time in my life, all I wanted to do was move far away and start over. I wanted to get out of my rut, leave everything behind, and find out if the grass was greener somewhere else. I remember said shrink telling me some version of “wherever you go, there you are.” He suggested that I’d still have the same personality/issues when I woke up to different scenery. It all sounds pretty obvious when I think of it now, but it was a novel idea that had never occurred to me back then. And it still rings true today.

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  • Division of labor makes camper chores manageable, and yes there are camper chores! Fortunately, we are both reasonable people who understand what sharing responsibilities means. For example, I take care of putting together (i.e. not cooking) breakfast and lunch, while my husband cooks dinner. He does the grocery shopping, and I do the laundry. And we take turns with doing dishes and dog walks. This goes for travel research too. He’s better at big-picture planning, and I’m better at figuring out daily details. So we tend to stick to what we’re each good at to avoid duplicating efforts and getting at each other’s throats. Been working pretty well for 5 months!

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  • Constantly looking for things to do is exhausting, but it does keep us on our toes. Ultimately, I keep coming down to the same research topics no matter where we are, which reiterates the point that wherever you go, there you are. Here are some of the things on that never-ending research list: hiking trails, yoga, comedy shows, local theater, bar trivia, breweries/wineries/distilleries, community rec center, dance classes, festivals, dog parks, cafes to work at, driving range, bike trails, fun neighborhoods, concerts.

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  • I really thought I’d have more free time while traveling like this but I really don’t. Between 50+ hour work weeks and squeezing in time to explore new places, there’s really nothing left. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted and just want to zone out watch The Sopranos in bed. Times that I draw in my sketchbook, do personal writing (like this) that’s not for money, and play guitar are few and far between. I thought I’d be trying to learn more new songs on guitar by now, but I’m stuck on the same old ones and not getting any better.

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  • I prefer non-standard holidays to tradition. We celebrated Thanksgiving by going to a slacklining festival across a canyon in Moab. Admittedly, it would have been nice to see my parents and grandma back in Illinois. But doing the same thing every year out of nostalgia or sentimentality doesn’t appeal to me, and unfortunately, that’s what traditional holidays are all about for most people.

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  • Monkey did great in a totally free-range, open-play environment the last time we “practice boarded” her in Moab. I think she’ll do great at the pet resort in Phoenix while we’re back in Illinois for Christmas. It’ll be weird without her, but I’m feeling much more confident about leaving her for five days.

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  • We’ve run into a few more campgrounds with breed restrictions. I’m looking at you, Las Vegas. I won’t get on a soapbox for very long, but these pit bull bans are absolutely ridiculous and unfounded. I wouldn’t want to give my money to these types of discriminatory business owners even if they’d take it.
  • The dry weather of the west makes my hair so much more manageable and easy to take care of. No more Midwest/East Coast-style frizzy tangles!

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  • I had to repair a button on a shirt the other day and it made me how much I miss sewing and crafting in general. My sewing machine is sadly sitting in a storage unit in Atlanta collecting dust 🙁
  • I also realized I miss swimming laps. I’m not a great swimmer by any means, but it’s great exercise and really helps relax my muscles and clear my head. I found community rec centers in both Salt Lake City and Moab with public lap swim hours and only a $6-7 daily fee. Also a great way to lift weights and work these noodle arms. I’ll be looking for cheap rec centers like this in future places we go too.

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Looking Ahead to Month #6

Month #6 will be an interesting one because it’s smack dab in the middle of holiday season. This will be a nice taste of what’s it’s like to be traveling full-time during a very busy and traditional time of year.

We’ll be relocating to Phoenix soon for a short stay before flying out to Central Illinois to celebrate Christmas with my family. The plan for New Year’s Eve is Las Vegas, so that should be a fun way to kick off 2017. And after that, on to California!

If you made it this far, congrats and thanks for reading! Although I’ve still only been getting around to it once a month, it’s still nice for me to take a moment to reflect upon where we’ve been and where I’m at personally in relation to that. Cheers!

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Related:

Hiking in Tucson – 5 Awesome Adventures (A Guest Post from Mitch Stevens of Southwest Discoveries)

To stick with my recent theme of Southwest hiking trips, today I’d like to share a guest post from Mitch Stevens of Southwest Discoveries. Most of my trip to the Southwest was centered on New Mexico, but I can’t wait to get back out to the Southwest to explore more of Arizona too. This post is all about Hiking in Tuscon, with five awesome hikes to check out for yourself.


Hiking in Tucson is arguably some of the best hiking in the world. From lush Sonoran Desert vegetation to picturesque mountain ranges it’s easy to see what attracts hikers to this corner of the world. As you gaze upon towering saguaros and beautiful sky island mountain ranges in the distance, you will understand why hiking in Tucson should be on every adventurer’s travel bucket list.

I’m Mitch Stevens, founder and lead guide for Southwest Discoveries, a hiking and adventure company based in Tucson. Born and raised in New York City, I came to discover the great outdoors and fall in love with Arizona’s special places. My favorite hikes in Tucson include the following wondrous adventures, some of the most awesome treks in the southwest.

1. Mt. Wrightson – Hiking Tucson’s Loftiest Summit

Mt. Wrightson - snow pic

The spirit of the Boy Scouts lives on at Mt. Wrightson. A wooden memorial stands alongside the trail about halfway up to the summit. On November 15, 1958, three boys ages 12 to 16, were caught in a ferocious blizzard and died there. The normally mild weather of southern Arizona was interrupted by an arctic cold front, plunging temperatures below zero. The Boy Scout episode of 1958 caused the largest search and rescue operation in Arizona history, leading to the formation of search and rescue teams in southern Arizona and other locations.

But two summers ago when I led a group of hikers to the summit, the weather was benign. There was a slight chance of monsoon storms in the afternoon which never materialized. We started our hike on the moderate and well graded Old Baldy Trail, allowing us to achieve the summit in less than four hours. The trail originated at Madera Canyon, a world renowned birding spot. Hiking in the Santa Ritas enabled us to not only escape the summer heat but to take in exceptional mountain vistas.

Accompanying us was hiker extraordinaire Bill Bens; who had climbed the mountain over 130 times. He has walked these trails during full moon occurrences and after winter storms with the aid of crampons. The photos Bill shot on these excursions were stunning, resembling scenes more reminiscent of the Canadian Rockies than southern Arizona. He is just one of the many who has fallen under the spell of Mt. Wrightson.

About a mile from the top we reached Baldy Saddle, a great place to rest. Among meadows, spruce and ponderosa pine trees, we observed deep canyons, lofty ridges and sloping grasslands. The final ascent was steep and rocky but taking it slow and easy allowed us to reach the mountain’s glorious pinnacle, no worse for the wear.

The views from the peak were outstanding. They extended more than 60 miles into Mexico and encompassed much of southern Arizona. At Wrightson’s distinct rocky peak, elevation 9450, we peered off into the distance at other sky islands such as Baboquivari, Mt. Lemmon, the Rincons and dozens more.

There are two main trails leading to the summit, and they cross each other twice, making a figure 8. On our descent back to the trailhead, we veered off on the longer and equally scenic Super Trail. It was there that we spotted a mother bear and cub bounding off into the woods, a bonus to an already exceptional and wonderful hike.

 

2. Redfield Canyon – The Place Time Has Forgotten

Redfield Canyon

Imagine a secret place, a narrow red-walled chasm featuring tall cliffs pocked with eroded caves and strewn with boulders. A place where deep within its heart exists a stone cliff house built into a cliff; lying in splendid isolation. Rumor has it that when they excavated it in the 1930’s, a mummified skull of a Native American infant was unearthed. The daughter of the family who lived in the cliff house brought the skull to school for show and tell!

In this spectacular canyon, hidden cascades and deep pools may be discovered in the side canyons while occasionally bighorn sheep and mountain lions are spotted on the canyon walls. Pictographs, petroglyphs, ruins of the ancient ones and pioneer relics are scattered throughout the canyon and the Galiuro Mountains, where Redfield is located. The Galiuros are made up of a network of peaks and canyons and are a great example of the fault-block development of the Basin and Range Province, stretching from southern Arizona to Oregon.

On a fine autumn day, our group drove the rough but picturesque Jackson Cabin Road eleven miles to the head of Swamp Springs Canyon. We parked our vehicles, unloaded our gear and began our two-day backpack. The trip proved most enjoyable when done as a backpacking trip because of the rugged nature of the terrain. The roundtrip mileage clocked in at approximately fifteen miles.

We scrambled seven miles down Swamp Springs to the confluence of Redfield Canyon. The canyon included beautiful riparian vegetation such as sycamore, cottonwood, walnut and oak trees as well as flowing water. In the distance, saguaros cactus and other Sonoran Desert plants held sway, clinging to steep cliffs flanking the canyon. The contrast between lush woodland, water and stark desert was fascinating.

After camping at the cliff house, the next morning our group climbed a steep route leading out of Redfield Canyon and hiked the Sheep Wash Trail. Riveting views of tree-lined Redfield Canyon from above and far reaching vistas of the Galiuro Mountains were the highlights. The meandering Sheep Wash Trail eventually rejoined Redfield Canyon after seven miles and a side route guided us to Jackson Cabin. After spending time exploring the cabin and pioneer relics, we followed Jackson Cabin Road three miles back to Swamp Springs Canyon where our adventure began.

 

3. Monsoon Magic on the Red Ridge Loop
Red Ridge Loop

Simply put, the Red Ridge loop is one of the most beautiful summer hikes in Arizona. In the middle of a desert summer, a group of us embarked on this 14-mile jaunt in the cool pines atop Mt. Lemmon, just north of Tucson. We dropped over 3,000 feet to the floor of the Canada Del Oro drainage. In the near distance stood Rappel Rock, Samaniego Peak and Cathedral Rock. These landmarks appeared even more mysterious and intriguing than usual because of a fine layer of fog which enveloped the mountain.

The route wandered through a landscape of lush forest, as well as burned trees, a reminder of the fires that raged through this area ten years ago. The forest has made an impressive recovery and in many of the burned areas there was beautiful new growth, including wildflowers. Many people hike Mt. Lemmon each year and explore the front side of it on trails such as Wilderness of Rocks and Marshall Gulch but few actually explore the northern backside. Here, where few hikers tread, the Canada del Oro canyon was lush and full of life with water running roaring through it. The splendor was mesmerizing.

Massive old Ponderosa Pines, Douglas Firs, Cypress and grapevines cloaked the creek bottom. The scenery was reminiscent of a blend between the Colorado Rockies and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. A few storms rolled in but for the most part the rain was light and we stayed dry. However, nearby thunder was ominous. As we approached the Red Ridge trail junction the vegetation changed. We started to see more oak, juniper, huge sycamore trees and blooming yucca, an impressive succulent plant.

To the west rose tilted cliffs of granite known as Reef of Rocks. Tucked into a ravine in the rock face stood an impressive waterfall; an effect of over twelve inches of rain which had pounded Mt. Lemmon during the previous thirty days. Red Ridge is named for an iron bearing formation which gives off a rusty tint from the oxidation of iron during natural weathering. The final three miles to the Red Ridge trailhead is strenuous. In fact, the grade is steep and unrelenting at times. But if you pace yourself, before long you’ll be back in the cool pines and aspens on your way to the top of Mt. Lemmon.

A word of caution, this is not a hike for couch potatoes; it is long and strenuous. Drink plenty of water before and during this hike. Don’t forget the electrolytes and include lots of snacks. You’ll need it!

 

4. Rincon Peak – Of Dad, the Mountain and Life
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With dad’s ashes, two days’ worth of water, food and gear, my pack weighing well over forty pounds, I trudged up the mountain, saving my energy for the big push near the end. My father asked me several years ago to scatter his remains on a beautiful mountaintop. He passed away three weeks prior to this trip and to honor him; I chose one of the best hiking trails near Tucson and most spectacular sky islands in Arizona, Rincon Peak.

The steepness of the trail and terrain was unrelenting but the views were outstanding. We started out in desert scrub and hiked through a riparian forest featuring huge oaks, cypress and sycamore trees. But there was no water to be found. It had been a very dry year and all of the springs and creeks had dried up. Despite the arid conditions, we observed colorful wildflowers such as blooming cacti and radiant coral bean plants in full blossom.
We ascended through junipers and pinyon pine trees, typical of mid elevation altitudes in southern Arizona. As we climbed higher, massive Manzanita shrubs flourished, some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

As we climbed, my mind drifted once again to my dad. Towards the end of his life when he was fading in and out, he gathered his family around him and with tears in his eyes; he admitted that although my dad was difficult to deal with at times, he never meant it. To a man who hardly expressed emotion, this was profound. It was his way of completing and saying he loved us.

We reached the summit of Rincon Peak. Atop this isolated peak in southeastern Arizona, I gazed upon a landscape which struck awe, resonated beauty, and took in one of the most biologically diverse corners of the world. The landscape encompassed subtropical oaks, soaring pine-clad cliffs, and undulating hills of grassland and forest.

One hundred miles north of here, the massive Colorado Plateau and Rocky Mountains jut into central Arizona with their snow-clad peaks, thick forests and deep canyons. The Mogollon Rim lies at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. In the opposite direction, 150 miles to the south, the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, another great mountain system in North America, gives way just before reaching the Arizona New Mexico border. The ecosystem there is different from the sky islands, different from the Rockies, and adapted to warmer temperatures with strong connections to the tropical latitudes of the Western Hemisphere. The mountain ranges of the Sky Island Region exhibit the north south overlap of these two major mountain systems which span the temperate and subtropical latitudes.

From atop Rincon Peak, I released my dad’s ashes into the wind. His remains have melded with the elements of the ages, the rain, the earth, the wind, the water. Perhaps after good monsoon storms his ashes flowed through rushing waters down the mountain and eventually merged with the San Pedro or Santa Cruz, the Gila, the Colorado and into the sea. Storms will again rain on the land and the cycle will repeat once more.

 

5. Palisades Canyon – One of the Most Exciting Tucson Hikes

Mike on R4

Mike on R4

If you are looking for one of the best Tucson Hikes you can experience, you cannot go wrong with Palisades Canyon. Trekking it comprises one of the most exciting adventures in the southwest. This epic canyoneering trek originates on Mt. Lemmon and plummets 12 miles to Sabino Canyon. The trail starts out in a pine forest and culminates in the Sonoran Desert.

Palisades Creek and its tributaries tumble over polished stone into numerous pools and slots. It courses through hard Precambrian granites and gneiss which compose the heart of the range. The Santa Catalina Mountains, like a few other sky islands, were created by tectonic uplift deep within western North America’s crust. It is considered a metamorphic core complex, formed over fifty million years ago
by granite that has risen to the surface from great depths.

As if soaring cliffs, craggy peaks and stunning scenery isn’t enough, there are waterfalls, one of nature’s grandest spectacles. At Palisades in late summer, cascades are found in absurd abundance in all sizes and varieties. Sometimes, depending upon the angle and reflection of the sun, vibrant rainbows are created. Imagine rappelling into a rainbow!

The price of admission is high in terms of physical exertion, but the rappels are some of the best around. Palisades features seven spectacular waterfall rappels and some of the slickest rock in the state. Keeping one’s footing is of paramount importance; it is often easier to slide down the falls on your side with your feet dangling in midair. The hike itself is over 13 miles long with a total elevation loss of over 4,000 feet and a 1,500-foot ascent at the end. Therefore, this trek is recommended only for experienced technical canyoneers in good physical condition.

Those less than experienced in the rigors of technical trekking should tackle less challenging canyons and Tucson hikes before attempting Palisades. Canyoneering is the fastest growing alpine sport in the United States and for good reason. An intrepid backcountry enthusiast can access and experience amazing and remote places only seen by a few. Palisades Canyon is one of those beautiful and rarified places.

To safely descend this canyon, you’ll need a 200-foot rope and a 200 foot pull cord as well as harness, helmet, carabiners, quick links and about 140 feet of webbing. Wear boots with good traction and wetsuits come in handy in all but the hottest weather. Groups of five or less is recommended because of the time commitment involved, fourteen hours and a hike out in the dark. But if you are up to the challenge, the full descent of Palisades Canyon is a sublime journey indeed and, as we said, one of the best Tucson Hikes you can experience.


This is Alyssa again, and I must admit that these hikes sound pretty freaking sweet. A big thanks to Mitch for sharing his local hiking expertise and inspiration!

Next up on my to-do list is a post about hiking around Las Cruces, New Mexico. Two of my most memorable hikes at White Sands National Monument and the Organ Mountains were in this area, and slowly but surely, I’m excited to tell the stories of these trails and other random adventures along the way.

Arizona Day Trips – 5 Awesome Hikes in the Southwest (A Guest Post from Mitch Stevens of Southwest Discoveries)

It’s been way too long since I’ve had a chance to update this blog about my recent adventures, but I’m happy to report that a BIG ONE is beginning TOMORROW!

If all goes as planned, I will have rounded up the husband, the dog (we recently adopted one – more to come on that soon!), and a bunch of gear by mid-morning. I’m pointing Chief the Jeep and the currently nameless pop-up camper towards New Mexico and embarking on an extended working/camping/exploring road trip to the Southwest for a wonderfully indefinite amount of time!

So I thought there was no better time than the present to share a guest post from the founder of an Tuscon, Arizona-based adventure travel company I recently connected with by the name of Mitch Stevens. Mitch is the founder and lead guide of Southwest Discoveries, and he was kind enough to share some Arizona hiking expertise with me and my readers. Whether on this upcoming trip or a future one, I hope to check out some of these awesome-sounding Southwest hikes very soon.

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Arizona Day Trips – 5 Awesome Hikes in the Southwest 
By Mitch Stevens of Southwest Discoveries

It’s a well known fact that Arizona is beautiful, often breathtakingly so. In this post, we will introduce five of the most awesome, wondrous and secluded hikes in the southwest. From the fascinating Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona to the red rock country near Sedona and the Grand Canyon, Arizona features a staggering diversity of landscapes, perfect for Arizona Day Trips and adventures. But with so many amazing places to trek, just where to you draw the line? Allow us the opportunity to present to you five of the most awesome, wondrous and secluded hikes in the southwest that are perfect destinations for your next hiking adventure.

The first of our five Day trips in Arizona offering big, uninterrupted space, plenty of cactus and southwestern flora to experience and the unspoiled splendor of one of Earth’s major ecosystems.

1. Mt. Ajo – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Ajo Sunset (1 of 1)

As a trip leader and interpretive guide, Beth Krueger knows the desert. She once spent four days camped at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, surveying birds and other wildlife. While most hikers avoid summers in this part of the world, this is Beth’s favorite season. At this time of year, she can savor the fruit of the organ pipe cactus, purported to be the best tasting in the world.

Beth and I collaborated on a late winter outing at the park’s nearly pristine desert wilderness, celebrating the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. Our group hiked to the summit of Mt. Ajo, an incredibly beautiful trek which enabled us to experience the Sonoran Desert at it’s finest.

We marveled at magnificent organ pipe and saguaro cacti as well as a rich assortment of extraordinary plants. The preserve is a showcase for plants and creatures who have adapted to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this southwest region. Located between Arizona’s Ajo Mountains and the Mexico border, Organ Pipe is the only place in the United States where the organ pipe cactus appears, rare in the United States but common in Mexico

A hiker can explore many sections of this international biosphere preserve where big views, uninterrupted space, lots of the namesake cactus and one of the Earth’s major ecosystems survives in almost unspoiled splendor. The monument lies next to Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, which is connected to the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range. Together, these lands represent a large, unbroken desert habitat, home to species such as the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, Quitobaquito pupfish and desert bighorn sheep.

Our group hiked one and a half miles through dense stands of giant columnar cactus to the Bull Pasture overlook. There are exceptional views in every direction. The immediate surroundings are filled with smaller peaks, canyons, and other rocks formations; and in the distance are more mountains. If winter rains are generous, this vicinity of the park erupts with dense stands of Mexican Gold Poppies and other gorgeous wildflowers.

After we left Bull Pasture, the official trail ended and the unofficial cairned route began. A series of switchbacks quickly took us up several hundred feet, and the views just kept getting better. Before long, boulders and rock formations that were part of the backdrop at the beginning were now right in front of us. After a few short, steep switchbacks with some loose footing, the route meandered alongside amazing rock outcrops, including windows, arches and a series of huge cone-like stone formations.

At this point, the awesomeness factor jumped to a whole new level. After another mile of hiking on a ridgeline with stunning views, a short but fun boulder hop landed us atop Mount Ajo, the tallest mountain in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.(http://www.nps.gov/orpi/index.htm) We scrambled a short distance on the summit and more grand views emerged.  There was a large and colorful rock slab that looked like a spaceship, covered in lime green lichen. This made for a great resting spot.

On the return hike, we completed a loop hike by taking the Estes Canyon Trail to the trail head.  Estes Canyon is spectacular for birding and has many beautiful organ pipe and saguaros. It’s a great place to observe the unique botany and ecology of this fascinating region. For a brief cyber journey of this southwestern wonderland, turn up your speakers and enjoy Organ Pipe Magic. https://youtu.be/tnMc680-TXE

 

2. Wet Beaver Creek – Paradise Found

Wet Beaver Creek - swimming

Arizona’s Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness is paradise found. Located on the western escarpment of the Mogollon Rim, the perennially flowing Wet Beaver Creek drains an area of 250 square miles and descends more than 5,000 feet in its 30 mile tumble to the Verde River. What makes this stream particularly appealing for hikers is that it’s a backcountry swimmer’s dream; no fewer than twenty five plunge pools (25 to 75 yards across) must be negotiated. Although a day hike at Wet Beaver Creek is very enjoyable, the entire wilderness hike can encompass a 2 or 3 day backpacking trek, an unforgettable adventure.

Wet Beaver Creek, from start to finish, crosses the divide between the Colorado Plateau to the north and the Basin and Range country to the south. If completing the entire journey, a hiker will trek from verdant ponderosa pine forest at the rim to Sonoran Desert and descend through five geological formations: Basalt, Kaibab, Toroweap, Coconino and Supai.

On a beautiful early fall day, a group of us started our day hike on the Bell Trail in the popular lower end of Wet Beaver Creek. The walk started out mellow and flat but after a mile, the scenery become increasingly colorful. Red Supai sandstone rock formations comprised the rim of the canyon and the walls steepened. We reached the famous Crack, an amazing swimming hole cut out of the Supai formation.

Continuing upstream, true adventure began. The rugged character of this riparian wilderness revealed itself as we splashed, waded and swam across huge plunge pools. The forest canopy thickened and red rock outcrops soared overhead. We swam through a huge pool which was especially charming; a balanced rock towered above us.

At our lunch spot and turn-around point, we scrambled to a remote prehistoric Indian Ruin. Wet Beaver Creek lies within the ancestral lands of the Sinagua culture and archaeologists are still investigating evidence of their prehistoric occupation at Wet Beaver Creek. The Sinagua were hunters and gatherers, utilized extensive irrigation systems and were believed to be the first to trek and swim the length of Wet Beaver Creek. Throughout the Verde Valley, Sinagua rock art and extensive ruins are abundant. Nearby Montezuma Castle National Monument and Montezuma Well are outstanding examples.

An exploration of Wet Beaver Creek is an astonishingly beautiful trek and well worth the time and effort. To view highlights of this epic adventure, turn up your speakers and enjoy this three minute video. Happy trails!
https://youtu.be/ksxI7eIpIYk


3. Finger Rock – Tucson’s Best Trek

Finger Rock - alpenglow

Superlative landscapes, beautiful sunsets, grand views and an exhilarating short climb to a lofty stone pinnacle are the drawing cards of Tucson’s Finger Rock Trail. Late fall through spring are the best times to pull off this trek.

We started early in the cool dawn air and hiked to Linda Vista Saddle, a steep and invigorating workout. In three miles we ascended over 3,000 feet and arrived at one of the few level spots along the trail. If we continued two more miles on the Finger Rock trail, we would have topped out at Kimble Peak, a worthy destination in its own right.

However, our goal today was to scale Finger Rock itself. We left the established trail and headed off to the northwest, down a gully then up a sketchy route, climbing another 1,000 feet. An hour and a half of scrambling and bushwhacking later, we were at the foot of Finger Rock, a slender pillar of lichen encrusted granitic gneiss which juts up 250 feet in spectacular fashion.

Guiding us on this perfect autumn day was Don Smith, an accomplished rock climber, caver, canyoneer, backpacker and avid adventurer. Don has been known to take lengthy sabbaticals and journey to fantastic locales such as the Yukon, Alaska and Belize. He takes folks to some remarkable places, including Tucson’s Finger Rock!
Don went first, set the anchor and belayed the rest of the group. We completed the first pitch then reached the midpoint of the climb. Don clambered up the rock, achieved the near high point of the Finger and secured the rope at strategically placed bolts. The rest of our crew, one by one, scrambled up to a high perch offering marvelous panoramas of numerous rock formations, the lofty crest of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Tucson valley and beyond.

From there, it is a short scramble to the actual high point of Finger Rock, a precarious roost which can only accommodate one or two people. After spending about an hour enjoying the incredible spectacle, we rappelled 100 feet to the bottom of Finger Rock.

Three and a half hours later, after witnessing an awesome sunset, we all safely returned to the Finger Rock trailhead, rejuvenated after another splendid day of adventure in the mountains.

For an exciting glimpse of this astonishing trek, click on https://youtu.be/8plEYNCcxHw­. Turn up your speakers and enjoy!

 

4. Rogers Canyon – Spirits of the Past in the Superstition Wilderness

Arizona day trips - group at Rogers ruins

Most folks have hopes and dreams, some more grandiose than others. But few people are fortunate enough to realize all of their dreams. Elisha Reavis wanted to live off the land in a beautiful place far away from the hordes of humanity. He lived out his dream in a high mountain valley in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains where he farmed, grazed and tendered an orchard. Ponderosa pines graced his ranch and a beautiful clear spring-fed creek watered the fruit trees he planted. He died in 1896; his grave-site is located in a place few people will ever see. Thanks to Randy Weber, a Tucson hiker, historian and naturalist, we were one of the few.

500 years before Reavis departed, the Salado peoples were eking out a living in Rogers Canyon. So we headed left at the Rogers Canyon trail junction to observe the fascinating cliff dwellings. Gradually, the character and look of the landscape transformed from high desert grassland to riparian. Huge old sycamore trees, juniper, oak and mountain laurel appeared. As we ventured deeper into the thick of Rogers Canyon, spectacular volcanic rock formations made their appearance. Various shapes chiseled by the elements resembled a teapot, Queen Victoria’s crown and a huge boulder perched precariously high up on the canyon wall.

Finally, we arrived at the Salado cliff dwellings. These well preserved ruins, located in a huge cave above the canyon floor, were the highlight of our day. At one time, as many as 100 people lived here and there were more than 65 rooms when it was constructed over 600 years ago. Most of the ruins have all but vanished but there is still a lot to see. The view from the ruins, looking out across the canyon was fantastic, a sight to behold. The ruins are fragile and irreplaceable; the forest service asks that hikers tread lightly and respect this magnificent place.

The long and bumpy drive from Rogers Trough trailhead is almost as striking as the hike itself. To the west views of saguaro studded Byous Butte, especially at sunset, are glorious. About six miles down the road on the right, we observed a picturesque stone arch. Numerous ridges and peaks of the Superstitions as well as other sky islands in the distance were prevalent throughout the journey back to civilization.

 

5. Adventuring at Nankoweap

Nankoweap - Fred and the canyon

For hikers wanting to experience raw adventure and avoid crowds, the Nankoweap trail at the Grand Canyon is one of the most enjoyable and epic treks in the southwest. Spectacular geology and out of this world views are the calling cards of this magnificent place. Nankoweap is located at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The trail was originally constructed by Major John Wesley Powell, the one armed civil war veteran and explorer in 1882. It was created so that Charles Doolittle Walcott, a geologist in the Powell party, could easily be able to access the canyon and study its rock layers. Powell is best known for his epic explorations down the Green and Colorado Rivers and is credited with leading the first group of men down the Colorado River in 1871, through present day Grand Canyon.

Julie Dobson, who runs a travel adventure website called Escaping the Midwest, (http://escapingthemidwest.com/2016/01/22/the-words-of-john-wesley-powell/), recently posted a few of Powell’s most famous quotes about the Grand Canyon. Powell wrote, “the elements that unite to make the Grand Canyon the most sublime spectacle in nature are multifarious and exceedlingly diverse.”

In 2015 I had the pleasure of guiding a group of adventurers down the Nankoweap Trail. The first three miles were a delightful romp through a high elevation forest of ponderosa pine, juniper and aspen. Then suddenly, the trail took on an entirely different character. The route plunged off the rim of the Grand Canyon and a long ridge-top traverse ensued. After hiking two more miles, all the while gazing at amazing far reaching views, we arrived at Marion Point. Coming into contact with the geology in this part of the Grand Canyon was incredible, rock layers reached far back into our planet’s past from 300 million to 750 million years ago.

Wonderful and unbelievable panoramas unfolded. The visible green ribbon along Nankoweap Creek was 2,500 feet below us. The forks of Nankoweap Creek extended far back toward the plateau, each separated by colorful rocky ridges and lofty buttes. The most striking of these was Mt. Hayden, a distinct and slender 400 foot Coconino sandstone spire at an elevation of over 8,000 feet. Marion Point can also be the turn around location for hikers interested in a spectacular but rigorous ten mile roundtrip day hike.

But our group’s plan was to trek further into the heart of the Grand Canyon (backpacking experience and appropriate gear are highly recommended). Our long ridge-top traverse continued. After we reached Tilted Mesa in just over two miles, the route led steeply down to Nankoweap Creek and the Colorado River. Near the river, high cliffs of Redwall Limestone and beautiful exposures of Muav Limestone and Bright Angel Shale were the dominant features. Our first view of the emerald green Colorado River in the distance was mesmerizing. Not only did we finally see the river but we heard the roar of Nankoweap Rapids, amplified by red and tan walls at Marble Canyon.

Our group camped at the Colorado, which proved to be an excellent base for exploring further afield. We trekked seven miles upstream along bubbling Nankoweap Creek and discovered intriguing places such as Mystery Falls, a set of cliff top Anasazi granaries, and a fascinating cave featuring a stream running through it.

Should the Grand Canyon be included on your bucket list? Most certainly. And the spectacular and uncrowded Nankoweap trail is one of the best ways to experience the real Grand Canyon, the raw and unspoiled grandeur of this most magnificent gorge, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.