Lake Powell – Heart of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

May 2024 – Spectacular Glen Canyon on the Arizona/Utah border was transformed into Lake Powell when the Colorado River was blocked by a big dam in 1963, creating one of the largest manmade lakes in the US. Today, Glen Canyon Recreation Area is a fabulous place to enjoy the outdoors, and we went there last week to do a little exploring.

The beauty of the Lake Powell as it snakes through the Glen Canyon on the approach to the dam is truly awe-inspiring.

Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area with a boat weaving between the cliffs

A boat weaves between the walls of Glen Canyon on Lake Powell.

The views change throughout the day as the light changes. Although the most magical times are at the beginning and end of the day, we thoroughly enjoyed driving the scenic road to Wahwheap that goes past several overlooks. The water was a rich dark blue, making a wonderful contrast to the whites and browns of the cliff walls.

Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell Arizona

Glen Canyon Dam was responsible for creating gorgeous Lake Powell.

Lake Powell Arizona near Glen Canyon Dam 2

These are the tops of Glen Canyon’s very steep cliff walls.

We could see boats far below cruising the twisting path through Glen Canyon. What a fun way to see it!

Boats on Lake Powell Wahwheap Overlook Arizona RV trip 2

What a unique boat ride this would be!

Boats on Lake Powell Wahwheap Overlook Arizona RV trip

Coming and going…

In the distance we could see Wahwheap Marina which is loaded with houseboats and big cruising boats along with smaller power boats. Many are available for rent, and we made a mental note to return someday to get out on the water. It wasn’t in the cards for this trip, though.

Wahwheap Marina Lake Powell Arizona 2

Wahwheap Marina is set against a jaw-dropping backdrop!

Wahwheap Marina on Lake Powell Arizona RV trip

Not a bad place to have a boat — and some of them are huge!

The size and scale of the Glen Canyon Dam hydroelectric project is staggering. Lake Powell began filling with water on March 13, 1963. It didn’t finish filling up until seventeen years later on June 22, 1980!

On a plaque by the dam there are photos of Sentinel Rock which towered 200 feet in the air from the banks of the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon before the dam was built. Once the lake was full, Sentinel Rock was submerged under 300 feet of water!

The lake is not a big round lake. Instead it consists of a long arm of the Colorado River with 90 water filled side canyons coming off of it on either side like tentacles. One of the best spots to see these bright blue tentacles is at Glen Canyon dam.

Lake Powell RV trip Wahwheap Overlook Arizona

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Lake Powell Arizona near Glen Canyon Dam

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Over 5 million people visit the Glen Canyon Recreation Area which each year. They come for all kinds of outdoor fun from boating to hiking, camping, taking photos and playing in the water. Spring and Fall are great because the weather is warm but not too hot. All summer long, the lake teems with people and boats.

The whole area is rich with breathtaking sights, and a drive along US-89 is a journey past towering red rock drama. Now-famous Horseshoe Bend is just a few miles south of Glen Canyon Dam. Amazingly, it was unknown to residents of Page just 60 years ago.

Just a few miles southwest of Glen Canyon dam as the condor flies, US-89 meets up with US-89A at a sharp turn and then reveals the wonders of Navajo Bridge, Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon and “Cliff Dwellers” as you head west. This is Canyon Country, and for travelers coming up into Utah from Arizona, it is the beginning of some of the most majestic scenery America has to offer.

Red rocks at Lake Powell Arizona

Looking at the far shore of Lake Powell from Wahwheap Overlook.

Glen Canyon Dam has large parking areas on either side of it, and you can walk all over the huge boulders that line the sides of the canyon. Buddy and I dashed off to explore the boulders — it was just so inviting!

We could hear Mark yelling, “Be CAREFUL!” far behind us. The wind was whipping, and he was afraid we’d go over the edge into the water far below. However, even though it looked like we were on a dangerous precipice, we were actually quite safe with several shelves of boulders stair-stepping down a ways before we’d be anywhere toppling over into the fast flowing water.

Red rocks near Glen Canyon Dam Arizona

What a place for photography!


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Pup on the red rocks near Glen Canyon Dam Lake Powell Arizona

Buddy’s fur was flying.

The rocks had wonderful lines and shapes. Buddy disappeared into a small slot canyon and then reappeared, trotting happily towards me.

Pup runs through slot canyon near Lake Powell Arizona

Dog heaven.

As I said, Glen Canyon and Lake Powell are stunning at any time of day, but some of the coolest scenes happen early. We returned to the Wahwheap Overlook scenic drive at dawn and waited for the first wink of sunlight to appear across the lake.

Sunrise at Lake Powell Wahwheap Overlook in Page Arizona on an RV trip

Good morning, Lake Powell!

Sunrise over Lake Powell near Glen Canyon Dam and Page Arizona

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The far side of the lake backs up to some wonderful mesas and rock pinnacles. I loved the layers and shapes of the mesas and stone pinnacles in the misty distance.

Distant mesas at Wahwheap Overlook at dawn on Lake Powell on an Arizona RV trip 2

Layers upon layers…

As the sun rose, highlights appeared on the rocks and cliff faces. This was a truly magical time of day. No one was around and the air was still.

Wahwheap Overlook at dawn on Lake Powell on an Arizona RV trip

Sunny highlights appeared as the land woke up.

A car drove on the road by behind me and then two more followed. I could hear them drive all the way to the boat ramp, and then I heard the rev of their boat engines as they took off. Suddenly a series of boats snaked through the canyon and disappeared into the deeper water beyond. Hopefully the fish were biting!

Wahwheap Overlook Lake Powell Glen Canyon Dam Arizona

Fishermen make their way out to the best fishing grounds.

Glen Canyon Dam was controversial when it was built because many historical treasures and magnificent landscapes were lost forever beneath the Colorado River water that filled the lake. Before the dam was built, some folks thought the area deserved to be a National Park. Many felt it was unwise to build the dam.

Interestingly, most of America’s major dams were constructed at a time that followed decades of plentiful rain and snowmelt. The data the engineers were working from was biased towards wetter than normal conditions. However, at that time and even today, no one knows what the Colorado River was like in the 13th and 14th centuries when the ancient Indians abandoned their pueblos all across the southwest and Mexico due to intense and persistent drought. If that data could have been taken into account, Glen Canyon Dam and others might not have been built!

Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell in Page Arizona on an RV trip

Lake Powell hovers around 50% of water capacity these days..

Oh well, that’s all water over the dam now. Lake Powell is gorgeous and we’ve just scratched the surface of all there is to see in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Before you pack up and go, here are some notes about the seasons: Spring is a great time to visit Lake Powell, however it can be exceedingly windy. Like 40 mph gusts and dust devils. Summer has much less wind but is very hot. Fall is cooler than Summer and less windy than Spring. Our visit one January was exceptional because there were few tourists and the air was very clear after some winter rains. It’s chilly at that time of year, but it’s a great time to go!

Happy campers and puppy at Lake Powell Arizona

Happy campers at Lake Powell

This little portrait of us was captured by a gal named Beth that we met on the trail. We were lamenting that for once we didn’t have our cameras, and the view was out of this world. She said, “I’ll get a pic of you three!” and she got it on her phone and emailed it to me. What a kind gesture that was, and what a great memento of that beautiful hike and view!

Arizona Highways Scenic Drives

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Lost Dutchman State Park: GORGEOUS scenery & RV campground!

March 2024 – Lost Dutchman State Park is one of Arizona’s most beautiful and most loved state parks. Nestled up against the towering cliffs of the Superstition Mountains, it is a showcase for stunning Sonoran Desert scenery, and it has a lovely RV campground with paved loops that is ideal for both RVs and tents!

Lost Dutchman State Park Campground - Awesome RV camping in Arizona

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All that wondrousness and popularity makes it very hard to get a campsite, though. Years ago, the campground was first-come-first-serve. But every morning from Fall until Spring a line of RVs would be waiting at the gate to get a campsite. Now all the campsites are reservable a year in advance, and you have to be online at the stroke of midnight if you want a specific site on a specific date!

Dramatic skies at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

Lost Dutchman State Park is nestled up against the Superstition Mountains.

Dutchman

The sun peaks over the mountains at dawn.

Fortunately, campers’ plans change. We snagged a cancellation for a pretty campsite during the prime spring season, and we enjoyed a wonderful weeklong stay. Many of the campsites are fairly large and private, and we had a nice view out the back end of our toy hauler.

View out the back of a toy hauler RV at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

Sunshine pours into our rig — Nice!

The view out the windows and front door wasn’t bad either!

RV Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park

The stunning Superstitions are visible from all over the campground.

When we arrived, we had beautiful summery weather too — so welcome in mid-March!

Happy Camper at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

Summertime in March!

We had hoped to find Lost Dutchman State Park full of wildflowers. It is considered one of the best spots to go wildflower hunting in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

The winter rains had other plans, however, and although we found a few patches of flowers here and there, they weren’t as copious as they’re known to be. We were a week early!

Wildflowers at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

We saw patches of flowers but heard the flowers really popped a week after we left!

Lost Dutchman is an incredibly scenic park, though, both with and without flowers. On the first night we had a clear sky studded with bright stars. Dawn the next morning brought a soft glow around the Superstition Mountains.

Stars over Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

Starry starry night.

Sunrise at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona with coyote sculpture

The sun rose behind the mountain and cast a beautiful halo around it.

There are lots of hiking trails at Lost Dutchman State Park that go out towards the Superstition Mountains and then deep into them. We walked along the Siphon Draw Trail, Treasure Loop Trail and the Cross-Cut Trail which all wander between the campground and the mountains.

Superstition Mountains and saguaro cactus at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

We loved the play of sun and shadow on the cliffs.

Many hikes penetrate the mountains, and if you go far enough or even do a multi-day hike, you’ll find oases with waterfalls, streams, caves and more. Or so we’ve heard. We haven’t done that yet!

Saguaro cactus and setting moon at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

The moon hovers in the background.

As the story goes, a German (Deutsch) immigrant found gold in the Superstition Mountains in the 1800s, but the location of his strike died with him, and the legend of the Lost Dutchman was born.

Lots of people have tried to reconstruct where that gold strike was, but to this day it hasn’t been found.

Sun lights up a saguaro cactus at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

No one knows where the Lost Dutchman’s gold is located in the Superstitions, but the golden glow of sunlight illuminates the saguaro cacti all the time.

As the days progressed during our stay, a storm began to blow in and the sky became increasingly dramatic. It began one night with soft pastel colors in the sky.

Pastel sunset and saguaro cactus at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

Soft colors in the sky.

Each night after that, the heavens presented a varied and colorful light show.

Saguaro cactus at sunset in Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

As a storm approached, the sunsets were colorful each evening.

Sunset at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona with view of Four Peaks

We could see the side of Four Peaks in the distance.

Crazy saguaro cactus at sunset in Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

Pink pink pink!

Saguaro cactus at sunset Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

A little orange.

Lost Dutchman State Park Campground Arizona

Lost Dutchman is a beautiful place to camp!

And of course campers weren’t only ones sleeping at the Park. One campsite had a saguaro cactus with a huge nesting hole in it, and a little owl thought it was a great place for a snooze!

Owl sleeping in a saguaro cactus Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

In one campsite an owl was napping in a hole in a cactus. What a fun surprise for the campers in that site!

During our first few days, the high temps had been in the low 80s and we’d been in shorts. But as the storm clouds began to form, the temps dropped lower and lower and winter began to wrap its icy fingers around the campground. The skies grew ever more ominous.

Saguaro cactus under uncertain skies at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

Brooding skies began to form.


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Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona view of Four Peaks

Snowy mountains and desert cacti.

RV Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

There were wild stripes above our neighbor one morning.

And then the clouds became downright spectacular. We’d come here for the flowers, but this drama was every bit as thrilling!

Lost Dutchman State Park RV Campground Arizona and Superstition Mountains

Temps dropped and the sky began to rage!

RV campground at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

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As Mark and I walked around the campground with Buddy, snapping pics of the drama that was unfolding around us, I noticed a scene that I particularly liked. It was the contrast of light and shadow on the boulders and grass in the foothills of the Superstitions.

I had a wide angle lens on my camera, though, so I couldn’t capture what I had in mind. Mark’s camera had the Nikon 24-120 lens on it and could reach out and grab what I saw. So he handed his camera to me saying, “Take it with mine!”

When I looked through the viewfinder, it wasn’t as close in on the rocks as I’d wanted. And for some reason, I assumed the lens was already all the way out at 120. So, I just snapped the shot, even though it wasn’t what I had in mind, and handed the camera back to Mark saying, “I didn’t get it. You’ll have to crop it down on the computer to make it right!” And we walked on.

Lo and behold, it turned out to be one of our favorite shots just as it was. I’d inadvertently captured both the bright light in the sky and the highlights on the ground. I love it when we talk about a scene and cooperate to take a photo, either on his camera or mine. And sometimes blooper shots are the best ones!

Stunning landscape at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

What I saw was the light and shadow on the small peaks, but the hole of light coming down from the heavens gives the image something extra!

The storm finally hit full force and we had two days and a night of downpours. What a deluge! These were quiet indoor days with occasional sprints outside to get the wiggles out. We were cozy, though, with the heat running inside all day long.

Puppy in his dog bed in a toy hauler RV

“When’s the rain gonna stop?!”

Finally the storm passed and we were able get outside again.

Lost Dutchman State Park has cabins for rent, and we explored the little loop where they are. These look like a fantastic way to enjoy the beauty of this state park in relative comfort if you don’t have a big RV and don’t want to stay in a tent.

There are five cabins and each one has a front porch, back porch and a small back yard with a campfire ring. Inside there are two bunk beds with mattresses and a queen bed as well.

There’s electricity and heat and air conditioning but no plumbing. Guests bring their own bedding or sleeping bags as well as cookware and camp chairs. There is a bathroom and shower building, with a large outdoor sink behind the building for washing dishes. These are rustic “camping cabins,” after all, and not hotel cabins.

This might sound a little austere, but the setting is divine. The cabins are located away from the rest of the campground and they have a fabulous view of the Superstitions in one direction and of open Sonoran Desert in the other.

Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona camping cabins

The cabins have some of the best views in the park!

And the Superstition Mountains are what it’s all about. Mark caught a beautiful image of the mountains in the golden hour with the full moon soaring overhead.



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Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona full moon

The full moon flies over the Superstitions.

That moon was so darn quiet we didn’t pay much attention to it. But then, early one morning, we went out at oh-dark-thirty looking for a cool sunrise, and I turned around to see the full moon setting behind me. I smiled as I noticed a saguaro cactus was playing with it as it fell through its branches.

First the cactus cradled the full moon for a moment. Then it rolled off its fingertips. And then it caught it in its lower branches.

Saguaro cactus holds the full moon

A cactus cradles the moon in its arm.

Full moon rolls off saguaro cactus arm

Oh no… It’s rolling off!

Saguaro cactus catches the full moon

Ahhhh… Good catch!

When we returned home, we climbed over the mountain pass around Strawberry, Arizona. The two days of rain we’d seen down in the desert had been two days of snow up in the mountains, and it was just beginning to hail as we drove through the small village (and stopped for pie at the fabulous Pie Man shop!).

Arizona sure can conjure up some crazy weather. It was hard to believe we’d been in shorts enjoying a bit of summertime at Lost Dutchman State Park just a few days before!

Snowstorm near Strawberry Arizona

A huge hail storm blew in as we crested the mountains around Strawberry.

Snowstorm descending into the Verde Valley Arizona

We faced a slippery slide down into the Verde Valley.

Lost Dutchman State Park deserves to be on every RVer’s bucket list. Granted, it’s full every night from October to April, but it’s worth the effort either to get online at midnight (or shortly thereafter) 365 days before you want your reservation to begin OR to check back frequently for cancellations closer to the time of your trip.

While we were there, we looked into reserving a site for the same week next year. There were sites available, however all but one of the best sites was already booked! Crazy, huh?!

Sunset at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

Lost Dutchman State Park is a beautiful spot!

Oh yes. We stayed in the Rustic Loop 105-134. Some surveyors were surveying the campsites in our loop and we asked them why. They said the campsites in that loop are being prepared for electric and water hookups. So, that may be coming in a year or so.

Prices in 2024 were $25/night for a dry site in the rustic loop and $35/night for an electric/water site in all the other loops.

Teardrop trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park is a very special place

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Exploring the Lower Salt River and Apache Trail in Arizona!

March 2024 – The Salt River in eastern Arizona boasts some of the finest Sonoran Desert scenery in the state, and it’s one of our favorite places for exploring, hiking, biking, photography and relaxing in the lush desert!.

The river flows westward from Arizona’s White Mountains, and as it approaches Phoenix, a portion of it known as the Lower Salt River flows through a series of dams, creating Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake. The Apache Trail parallels the river on an impossibly winding and gorgeous route.

The contrast between the dry desert and these lakes makes for a unique landscape, and in the springtime it is bursting with flowers and wildlife.

Sitting in the Lower Salt River Arizona poppies

A little wildlife amid a lot of flowers!.

We had so much fun photographing the Arizona poppies along the Bush Highway last March that we just had to return this year.

Last year the poppies exploded in a fabulous super bloom. This year the fields of gold weren’t as extensive as before. However, it was still a magical experience to see the pretty flowers and walk between the thick patches of yellow and orange.

Buddy made himself at home and promptly laid down in a thicket of poppies.

Puppy in the poppies on the Lower Salt River in Arizona

“This is nice here!”

People all around us strolled slowly in wonder, stopping now and then to get selfies amid the flowers. We were no exception!

Happy photographing the poppies along the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

Right in the thick of it…

Photography in the Lower Salt River Arizona poppies

Getting down to business!



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These joyful flowers grow in abundance all around the Phoenix area. For some people whose yards are overrun with them each spring, they can actually be something of a nuisance. But to us, their happy faces smiling up at the sun are the very essence of Spring.

Lower Salt River Arizona poppies with a lupine

Poppies herald the arrival of Spring in the Sonoran Desert.

Lower Salt River Arizona poppies on the Bush Highway in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area

Smiling faces.

Arizona Poppies blooming on the Bush Highway in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

Poppies’ eye view of the sky!

A little further down the Bush Highway, we stopped at the Water User’s Recreation Area. This is a huge parking lot and river frontage area where people launch kayaks, standup paddle boards and let their dogs and kids play in the water. There’s a fantastic view of the Salt River from the edge of the parking lot.

Water Users Recreation Area Lower Salt River on the Bush Highway

A natural river flows through the desert.

Water Users Recreation Area Lower Salt River on the Bush Highway

This is a great place to play in the water on a hot day.

Lower Salt River on the Bush Highway Water Users Recreation Area

Just love those cliffs!

Sometimes when we’ve stopped at this spot we’ve seen the wild horses that are residents of the area. They come down to the water here for a drink. None were out on this particular day. However, Buddy waded in the water and took a long drink.

Dog in the Salt River on the Bush Highway at Water Users Recreation Area

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There are a lot of recreation areas along the Bush Highway, and each is a little different. There are cliffs and beaches and even some mesquite woods at the Coon Bluff Recreation Area.

We hiked on the short trail that parallels the Salt River and wanders between the lush green grass and mesquite trees.

Coon Bluff Trail in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

We watched a wedding shoot in this grove of trees a few years back!

Down on the riverbank we suddenly heard a loud chirping coming from a pile of boulders. Buddy quickly ran over and stared into a hole between the rocks, sniffing continuously. Sure enough, there was a ground squirrel in the hole. He came out into the sunshine for a split second and chirped for us and then darted back in the hole.

Squirrel at Coon Bluff Trail in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

“Watcha doin’ ?”

Up in the sky, a pair of geese flew by. One was honking loudly. The wildlife around here had a lot to say!

Geese flying at Coon Bluff Trail in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

“Take a left!”

We drove on a short distance and stopped at the Phon D Sutton Recreation Area. This spot is at the confluence of the Salt River and the Verde River, and there’s not only wildlife all around but lots of human activity too. it’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.

We hiked a short trail that goes along the river’s edge, and Buddy suddenly stopped and laid down for a brief rest while he surveyed the pretty landscape from a nice spot in the shade.

Dog relaxes at Phon D Sutton in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

Buddy takes a breather in the shade by the Salt River.

Four Peaks appeared far out on the horizon. From this vantage point we were seeing the “front” of Four Peaks while when we RV camped at Roosevelt Lake further upstream on the Salt River a few weeks ago, we were looking at the “back” of Four Peaks.

Salt River at Phon D Sutton in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

View of Four Peaks from Phon D Sutton Recreation Area.

In the opposite direction, Red Mountain cast a reflection in the glassy water.

Red Mountain Lower Salt River Arizona

Red Mountain checks its reflection in the water.

As I mentioned, Phon D Sutton (along with all the other Recreation Areas on the Salt River) is a popular place for all kinds of outdoor activities. While we were there, a group of people began bringing inflatable kayaks down to the water’s edge. First it was two yellow kayaks. Then two yellows and a red. Then two yellows, a red and a green. In no time the shoreline was filled with a rainbow of kayaks.

Rafting in the Lower Salt River Arizona

A group of kayakers brought a kaleidescope of kayaks to the shores of the Salt River.

A fly fisherman stood in the water casting his line, and a photographer grinned happily between shots.

Fishing in the Lower Salt River Arizona

The Lower Salt River recreation areas along the Bush Highway are all about having fun in and near the water.



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Photography in the Lower Salt River Arizona at Phon D Sutton

This is a great area to bring a camera.

The Bush Highway, Coon Bluff and Phon D Sutton are all near the city of Mesa. Further upstream on the Salt River, on the northeastern edge of the city of Apache Junction, lies one of Arizona’s most spectacular scenic drives: the Apache Trail (State Route 88).

This incredible winding road goes through some of the finest Sonoran Desert scenery in the state on a road that began as a trail used by the Apache Indians before the settlers arrived.

In 1903 road construction began to link the city of Mesa with the construction site for the Roosevelt Dam. In just a year, the first 64 miles of the road from Mesa to the Roosevelt Dam (which created Roosevelt Lake) was completed for a cost of $200,000. Two years later, in 1905, the entire 112 mile long road through this very treacherous terrain was completed for a total cost of $500,000.

The road builders were predominantly Apache Indians, and they built the road using pick axes and shovels along with dynamite. What an impressive feat!

Apache Indian road building crew on the Apache Trail, courtesy Bureau of Reclamation

These guys built 112 miles of road through perilous terrain in 3 short years!

Today, the 37 miles of road through the most treacherous part of the original 112 mile long Apache Trail goes from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake and takes dozens of sweeping turns on a hilly run out towards the dam.

Only the first 15 miles are paved, however. And the 22 mile long dirt portion, which used to make for a very exciting ride, is currently washed out in a few places due to flooding in 2019, so it’s closed.

As we drove this beloved road, we reminisced about racing our bicycles on the paved portion after work on hot summer Wednesday evenings back in the day! It was a crazy race, but so much fun. It was typically 115 degrees, and we’d both put in a full work day already, but all our cares slipped away as we rode at top speed on this scenic route.

The Apache Trail in Arizona is a winding road

One of dozens of tight turns on the Apache Trail.

On our drive last week, we were alarmed when we saw a sheriff’s car and an ambulance parked by the side of a particularly tight turn, lights flashing.

People routinely drive this road way too fast, and a surprising number go over the edge. Seeing the car at the bottom of the cliff was a great reminder to take our time and drive slowly. After all, why rush on such a beautiful drive?!

Saguaro cacti in the Lower Salt River area in Arizona

The Apache Trail is one of the best places to see gorgeous saguaro cactus stands.

721 Saguaro Cactus on the Apache Trail in Arizona

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Along the way, two trestle bridges cross tributary streams that flow into the river.

Bridge on the Apache Trail in Arizona

There are two trestle bridges on the Apache Trail.

The Apache Trail follows a portion of the Salt River that is dammed to form a series of lakes: Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake. As we turned a corner, we could see Canyon Lake in the distance.

View of Canyon Lake on the Apache Trail in Arizona

Canyon Lake appears in the distance.

A delightful way to see Canyon Lake is to take a ride on the Dolly Steamboat. We enjoyed that wonderful boat ride a few years ago when a crew from Camping World was filming us for a promotional video. It was a lot of fun to float through a Sonoran Desert canyon!

We’ve also taken the boat ride on Saguaro Lake aboard the Desert Belle. If you have a chance, either boat ride (or both) is well worth doing. Drifting through spectacular Sonoran Desert scenery is a captivating way to spend a few hours.

Dolly Steamboat ride on Canyon Lake Arizona

Dolly Steamboat cruises down Canyon Lake.

There are also several recreation areas near the Dolly Steamboat dock, and we stopped at Acacia Recreation Area to explore. This is a gorgeous spot with a beach, picnic tables, shade trees and stunning views of the canyon walls across the water.

A young family was enjoying a picnic on a blanket while a little girl and her dad fished at the water’s edge.

Acacia Recreation Area on the Apache Trail Arizona

What a beautiful place to bring the family on a hot day.


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Canyon Lake on the Apache Trail in Arizona

Far in the distance, the Dolly Steamboat is dwarfed by the canyon walls.

The paved portion of the Apache Trail ends just beyond Tortilla Flat, a small complex of historic buildings with a restaurant. This place is a magnet for convertible drivers and motorcyclists who love to ride the sweeping turns of the Apache Trail and then stop for lunch.

On our way back we saw an opening for a small trail that went down to a stream. Buddy cooled his paws in the water and Mark did too when he accidentally stepped into deep water that came in over the tops of his boots!

Fun in the water on the Apache Trail in Arizona

Buddy and Mark cool their paws in the water.

The whole Lower Salt River area from Roosevelt Lake to the Apache Trail to the river access points on the Bush Highway is a rich playground for outdoor lovers, and we keep going back and back again!

Camping in Arizona

RV camping in the Sonoran Desert – fun fun fun!

Arizona poppies blooming on the Bush Highway in the Lower Salt River Canyon Recreation Area

Poppies, poppies, poppies!

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Windy Hill Campground + Tonto National Monument

January 2024 – Roosevelt Lake is a beautiful lake in Central Arizona that was created by damming up the Salt River, and it is one of our favorite places to go winter RV camping in Arizona. When a warm “January thaw” swept through the state, we took advantage of the spring-like weather and spent a few days at Windy Hill Campground.

Four Peaks seen from Windy Hill Campground Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Mist rises from Arizona’s Roosevelt Lake in view of Four Peaks at dawn.

There are several campgrounds around Roosevelt Lake, but our favorite is Windy Hill Campground. There are quite a few campground loops at Windy Hill, and each is lovely. Some campsites can be reserved, but we always take our chances with first-come-first-serve because there are usually dozens and dozens of empty sites.

This year we had an entire campground loop to ourselves. What luck!

RV camping at Windy Hill Campground at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

We had an entire campground loop to ourselves at Windy Hill Campground.

Many of the campsites are near the water’s edge. This year the lake level was quite high, so it was just a few steps down a short trail to get to the water from our campsite.

At sunrise the world was very quiet as wispy clouds painted pastel shades of pink and orange across the heavens. Reflections appeared in the water below.

Sunrise Windy Hill Campground at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Sunrise at Roosevelt Lake, Arizona.

In the distance, we could see the winter snow on Four Peaks in the early morning glow.

Four Peaks at sunrise Windy Hill Campground at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Pink everywhere.

The light was constantly changing and once the mist cleared, the mountains took on a fiery hue for a few moments.

Four Peaks over Roosevelt Lake seen from Windy Hill Campground

“Morning has broken…”

Roosevelt Lake is especially loved by fishermen, and there are fishing tournaments year round. There weren’t any fishing tournaments going on during our stay this year, but there were plenty of anglers out on the water.

Fishing on Roosevelt Lake at Windy Hill Campground in Arizona

What a place to fish!

Hiking trails hug the water’s edge around several of the peninsulas just below the campsites, and we happily hit the trails each morning and evening. The campground hosts had done a great job of keeping these trails clear.

All the campground loops are paved while the campsites themselves are gravel.

One day while returning to our campsite, the shadow of Buddy’s inner wolf suddenly appeared in the road.

Inner Wolf

On a late afternoon walk, Buddy was stalked by his inner wolf.

Despite the shadow monsters out there, we felt a wonderful peace in the air and just hung out and relaxed.

RV Camping at the Windy Hill Campground at Roosevelt Lake in Arizona

Soaking up some winter sunshine in our campsite.

Just chilling in the RV

Just chillin’ on the sofa.

Sunsets are just as dramatic as the sunrises at Roosevelt Lake, and they were a bit easier to enjoy since we were already up and out of bed!

Sunset reflection at Roosevelt Lake in Arizona.jpg

Sunset!

Sunset view of Four Peaks from Roosevelt Lake Arizona.jpg

Wow!

For such a beautiful RV camping area in such a scenic setting, it has always bewildered us that very few of Arizona’s thousands of winter RV snow birds ever go there. Oddly, even fewer locals have ever heard of it!

The US Forest Service recreation areas around Roosevelt Lake were built decades ago with great anticipation that hordes of campers and boaters would flock to the lake from both Phoenix and Tucson, each about 100 miles away. There were hundreds of campsites built on both sides of the lake in all kinds of pretty settings.

Although the campgrounds at Roosevelt Lake, including Windy Hill Campground, are dry camping only, the loops are paved, the campsites are spacious, each one has a shaded picnic ramada and campfire ring, there are ample water spigots around each loop and there are bathroom buildings with flush toilets and showers.

But the expected crowds never came.

Roosevelt Lake is 2 hours from both Phoenix and Tucson, and it is just too far for a family to go for a Saturday night camping trip. Lots of people come for longer stays like Spring Break and the big three-day weekends, but not at any other time. As for winter RV snowbirds, most want hookups, and who can blame them in January when the onshore lake winds pipe up and temps turn chilly?

But if you choose a campsite that isn’t waterfront property (I know, it’s hard to do that!), then there’s little wind and it’s a lot warmer.

The USFS has allowed the Roosevelt Lake campgrounds to fall into decay, and they are deliberately letting several loops at Windy Hill Campground sites “return to nature” as one camp host put it. The picnic tables and campfire rings have been removed and the campsite pads are disappearing under the weeds.

Yet, at the same time, they installed a major upgrade this past year: a new RV dump station! They rerouted the road on one of the closed campground loops, and although it’s not the best dump station layout we’ve ever seen, it’s there and it’s open and it’s a lot more convenient than going to the other RV dump station at Roosevelt Lake located 10 miles away at Cholla Bay Campground.

In 2024, campsites at Windy Hill Campground cost $25/night ($12.50/night for seniors with the Federal Interagency Pass).

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One big surprise this year was that they now allow winter RV snowbirds to stay at Roosevelt Lake for as long as they wish. In the past, they wanted RVers to leave after the standard 14 days. During our stay we met several RVers who had been there for a few months and were planning to stay for a few months more. For seniors, at $12.50/night or ~$375/month, it’s a great deal for monthly rent in a scenic spot with paved loops and good sized campsites.

Roosevelt Lake isn’t near anything, and that may be part of the reason that most Snowbird RVers don’t flock there. The bustling town of Payson, Arizona, is 50 miles away to the north and the mining town of Globe, Arizona, is 80 miles to the east.

However, right across the street from Windy Hill Campground is a wonderful ancient Indian cliff dwelling ruin, Tonto National Monument. Even though we have visited several times before, we decided to go there once again during our stay this year.

Tonto National Monument trail to Lower Ruins

A paved path heads up to the Lower Cliff Dwellings cave at Tonto National Monument.
This is across the street from Windy Hill Campground.

The fun thing about these ruins is that you can go right inside the pueblo and get a feeling for what life might have been like for the ancients living high up on this mountainside.

There are two sets of ruins, the Lower Cliff Dwelling and the Upper Cliff Dwelling. Each set of ruins was found very much intact by the settlers in the 1800s, and there were fabulous artifacts strewn about as if the former inhabitants had just moved out last week.

In the 1940s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built a hiking trail to each ruin, and the Navajo Mobile Unit that had worked on stabilizing the massive ruins at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico were brought in to stabilize these ruins.

The paved half-mile trail to the Lower Cliff Dwelling is very steep and has lots of switchbacks. But between our huffs and puffs as we tackled this vertical hike, we paused to soak in the fantastic views of Roosevelt Lake behind us.

View from Tonto National Monument trail to Lower Ruins

We enjoyed sensational views as we ascended and descended the trail to Tonto National Monument’s Lower Cliff Dwellings.

View from Tonto National Monument trail to Lower Ruins

It’s worth it to hike up to the cliff dwellings just to see the views!

Roosevelt Lake didn’t exist 700 years ago when these cliff dwellings were built, but it sure is pretty today. Back then, the Salt River meandered through the valley below but its flow was temperamental during droughts and floods.

Roosevelt Lake seen from the trail to the Lower Cliff Dwellings at Tonto National Monument

The ancient Indians didn’t have these mesmerizing lake views…

Saguaro skeleton Tonto National Monument trail to Lower Ruins

Saguaro cacti leave exotic skeletons behind when they die.

The hike to the Upper Cliff Dwelling is 3 miles long and you can only do it on a ranger guided tour (the tours are free).

When we did that hike a few years back, the ranger explained that current theories about the Salado People who lived on these hillsides and in the valley 700 years ago were that the valley dwellers arrived and built homes before the cliff dwellers did. They farmed the flat lands by the riverbanks and in the river’s flood plains.

View from Tonto National Monument trail to Lower Ruins

Ancient farmers raised crops in the valley before the cliff dwelling builders arrived.

Tonto National Monument trail to Lower Ruins view of Roosevelt Lake

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As this modern theory goes, the cliff dwellers arrived at a later date, and because there was no room to set up housekeeping on the valley floor, they built their homes into the cliffs. It is also thought that the cliff dwellers were tradesmen and made pots and other things for trade with other peoples elsewhere (macaw feathers from Costa Rica have been found in this area, perhaps traded for a pot or two!).

So, you had two groups of people living here, farmers in the valley and artisans on the mountainsides.

Tonto National Monument Cliff Dwellings Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Today’s theory is that these cliff dwellings in the mountainside caves were inhabited by artisans while farmers lived on the valley floor.

Tonto National Monument cliff dwellings Arizona 2

There is even a theory that the Salado People manufactured clay pots specifically for trade and the pots were warehoused in structures built just to store them.

Dogs are allowed on the Lower Cliff Dwelling trail, but only up to a certain point which is marked by a trash can. That is the holding area where you can either tie up your pooch and take a quick peek at the Cliff Dwelling or leave him with another member of your party and take turns roaming through the ruins.

We took turns, and Buddy patiently — but a bit nervously — waited for each of us to go up to the ruins and have a look around. He wasn’t keen on having his pack separated!

Other dogs arrived and had to wait too, so we all chatted together. The wonderful thing is that we could take our dogs on the trail at all and enjoy the hike together. It is understandable that they don’t want any peeing or pooping mishaps inside the ruins because that would attract wild animals into the ruins when no one is there.

Tonto National Monument cliff dwellings Arizona

The front of the cave was originally walled in.

Tonto National Monumnet Lower Cliff Dwellings Arizona

Photos from over a century ago show these walls extending much higher.

For me, one of the most interesting tales related to these ruins is that of Angeline Mitchell who rode her horse five miles through the brush, tied him to a tree and then scrambled up the mountainside to “the caves” with five friends, Melinda, Clara, Tom, Frank and Bud, in December, 1880.

She describes the mountainside as being covered with debris from the ruined walls and says she and her friend found traces of 33 rooms, 18 of them in “fair preservation.”

She describes the ruin as seven or eight stories high, or more, and says there was originally no opening in the outer wall and that the people got into the pueblo via the second story.

Tonto National Monument cliff dwellings Arizona

This cave is not seven or eight stories high, so perhaps Angeline Mitchell was writing about a different cave nearby (there are other ruins in the area that are inaccessible).

She mentions that another person who explored the ruins found the skeleton of an infant and that the fingerprints of the builders were as “perfect as the day ages ago when the hands were pressed into the plastic clay.”

Tonto National Monument cliff dwellings Arizona

A metate for grinding grain sits on the ground today. Angeline Mitchell wrote in 1880, “The floor is formed partly by a big rock…and in this rock were 1/2 a dozen metates hollowed out of it and varying in size, depth & shape.” Again, I’m not sure she’s writing about the Lower Cliff Dwellsing or about another cave in the vicinity.

In another cliff house, she and her friend found 22 rooms of which 16 were in “fair order, three of them and a hall…as perfect as the day they were finished.” That might be the Lower Cliff Dwellings as there appears to have been a hall at the front of the cave.

While marveling at the “fine state of preservation” of these rooms, her friend Clara suddenly fell through an opening to a lower level and landed in a pile of cholla cactus. Ouch! Removing just one barbed cholla cactus thorn will pull out a hunk of flesh with it. I can’t even imagine falling into a pile of chollas!

Nonetheless, Clara was eventually freed from the chollas and the group reconvened in another room.

Tonto National Monument Arizona cliff dwellings

It seems many of the rooms were fully intact when the ruins were first explored. Here there’s a hint of a roof.

Angeline later writes of the reactions they all had to this unbelievable adventure:

“It seemed so strange to be chatting and laughing so gaily in a house built unknown centuries ago by people unlike us in appearance but who had known joy and grief, pleasure and pain same as our race of today knows them, and who had laughed, cried, sung, danced, married & died, mourned or rejoiced their lives away in this once populous town, or castle, or whatever one would call it! It made an uncanny feeling come over us as we rested till moon rise and talked of this long dead people and told the little we knew concerning them.”

Juniper roof structure Tonto National Monument Arizona cliff dwellings

A few relics lie on the floor today. Whole pots and other treasures were in abundance when the dwellings were first explored.

Even though the ruins and the experience of seeing them today is nothing like what it was for Angeline and her friends in 1880, those sentiments of wonder about the people who “had laughed, cried, sung, danced, married & died, mourned or rejoiced their lives away” are still very much alive today.

We heard exclamations of “This is incredible” “Wow” and “I had no idea…” from everyone who came up into the ruins from the steep path.

We’d had a great adventure too, and as we left, I spotted two saguaro cacti waving goodbye to us.

Happy Trails to You

“Happy Trails to you, until we meet again…”

For some reason, I instantly thought of the song sung by Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans at the end of every episode of the Roy Rogers TV Show, “Happy Trails to You!”

I didn’t see the TV show when it aired 60-70 years ago, but I heard this song when we were at an Escapees RV park a few years back and some folks were watching the Roy Rogers Show on TV in the common room.

Its simplicity and sincerity touched me, and as you can see by the YouTube comments, it is beloved by thousands who grew up watching the Roy Rogers show:

Lyrics to the song “Happy Trails to You” (here) — There’s a cool surprise in the last verse!

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More info about Roosevelt Lake, Windy Hill Campground and Tonto National Monument:

More from our travels to Roosevelt Lake and Tonto:

Other blog posts about ancient ruins:

Other special campgrounds we’ve enjoyed:

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20 Years Later! Hassayampa Inn and The Dells

Way back in the Dark Ages of 2004, a long long time ago, back when flip-phones were cool, when “social media” was a phrase no one had heard of and a “big screen TV” was smaller than 40 inches, Mark and I tied the knot.

Hurray for 20 years of wedded bliss!

FB Valentine's Day Way Back When

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It was a second marriage for both of us, so we didn’t want a traditional wedding. Visiting a Justice of the Peace on Valentine’s Day was just our speed.

Well, it was just our speed until Mark read an ad in the newspaper (yes, there were newspapers back then!) for a big Valentine’s Day celebration taking place at one of the newer and swankier resorts in Phoenix.

The event, “Lover’s Lane on Main,” was happening in the Kierland Commons plaza between all the boutique shops next to the fancy new Westin Resort and Golf Course.

Complete with horse drawn carriage rides, a big band playing romantic favorites of yesteryear outside all evening, and wine tastings and chocolate sampling going on in the boutique shops, the highlight of the event was going to be three weddings.

To top it all off, the three lucky couples getting hitched would receive a one night honeymoon stay at the Westin Resort!

All you had to to do to be one of those happy couples was write a paragraph about why you wanted to be married during this unusual event. So easy!

I got my most poetic thoughts together and wrote a little Harlequin Romance description of how fun it would be to ride down the resort’s Main Street in a horse drawn carriage as a newlywed couple. Lo and behold, we won! We were the 7:30 p.m. wedding. (There was one at 7:00 and another at 8:00).

On Valentine’s Day morning, we showed up at our weekly bike club ride and invited everyone to come to Kierland Commons that evening for our wedding. At the appointed hour, the minister asked that everyone who knew us come forward from the crowd to watch our special moment.

After the magic kiss, we were whisked away in a horse drawn carriage to the Westin Hotel. What fun!

We’d barely gotten settled into our beautiful hotel room when the bellhop knocked on our door and brought in a cart loaded with all kinds of colorful boxes and packages wrapped with bows. It turned out the various boutique shops were sending gifts up to our room!

“This is just like a real wedding!” Mark said, laughing.

At 10:00 pm that night, we flipped on the TV and watched ourselves getting married on Fox10 News! They’d covered the event, filmed our “I do” moment, and interviewed some of our friends. I called the station for a copy of that brief clip, and that became our wedding video!

The next day, when Mark returned his tuxedo, the owner of the tux rental shop asked him, “Do I know you? Are you someone famous? I saw you on TV last night!”

What a total hoot.

Wedding pic 4

A night to remember!

One of the funniest moments happened after our carriage delivered us to the Westin Hotel. The enormous hotel lobby was chock full of people, and as I looked around, I realized I was one of five brides in fancy white wedding dresses in the crowd!

Three of us were slightly older brides (all second marriages) who’d just gotten married outdoors under the little arbor at Lover’s Lane on Main. The two others were younger brides wearing big fluffy dresses with elegant veils and holding bouquets of flowers. They’d just arrived by limo from more traditional ceremonies to host their receptions in the grand ballrooms.

Of course, stars were in our eyes as we gazed at each other and drifted through this incredible evening, and we had no idea what lay in store for us in the coming years.

Arizona Delorme Atlas

If someone had said, “You’re going to run off in an RV and have a ball traveling full-time for 13 years and sharing your pics and stories!” we would have laughed and shaken our heads, “No way!”

If they’d added, “You’re going to sail the whole Pacific coast of Mexico and fall in love with Mexican culture,” we would have thought they were crazy.

Looking back at that fabulous kickoff to our married life, we decided this year that we wanted to celebrate our 20th anniversary in a special way.

After tossing around a few ideas, we settled on going to the Hassayampa Inn in Prescott, Arizona, a historic inn in a historic cowboy town that caters to couples in love with Romantic Getaway offerings.

More important, the Hassayampa Inn caters to four legged guests too. That cinched the deal for us!

Happy 20th Anniversary at Hassayampa Inn Prescott Arizona

Happy 20 at the Hassayampa.

The Hassayampa Inn was built in 1927, and the owners have kept it as original as possible. The lobby is a big open space with comfy chairs in the middle, arches along each wall, southwestern tile accents and a beautifully decorated ceiling.

Hassayampa Inn lobby in Prescott Arizona

The Hassayampa Inn has a big and inviting common room on the main floor.
A cozy fire was burning in the fireplace throughout our stay.

Ceiling of the Hassayampa Inn Lobby Prescott Arizona

The ceiling is very cool.

A man was playing piano at one end of the room. As soon as we’d taken our bags to our room, we came back downstairs to relax in the cushy chairs, listen to the music and savor a peaceful moment.

Music in the Hassayama Inn lobby in Prescott Arizona

Piano music set the mood just right.

Right opposite us we noticed there was a little window with various coffee offerings. Perfect! We promptly indulged, Buddy most of all.

Territorial Cafe at Hassayampa Inn lobby in Prescott Arizona

The Territorial Cafe was serving fancy coffees.

Puppaccino at Hassayampa Inn

Buddy dove into his puppaccino

Guests with dogs can order food from the dining room to be brought up into the lobby common room where there are two dining tables ready to go. They were still serving breakfast at nearly 2:00 in the afternoon, so we made ourselves at home and ordered eggs Benedict and blueberry pancakes.

This was living!

Pancakes at Hassayampa Inn

The blueberry pancakes were out of this world!

Buddy promptly stretched out in the sun while we enjoyed our late breakfast at the table. He looked over at one point and said he really liked this 20th anniversary thing!

Happy dog at Hassayampa Inn lobby in Prescott Arizona

“Can we have another 20th anniversary next week?!”

We mentioned in passing to our server that this was our 20th anniversary, and she brought us a fabulous complimentary fruit tart with ice cream. How cool is that?!

When we checked in, I was given a lovely single long stem rose. Up in our room a bottle of sparkling cider was chilling on ice along with two champagne glasses and a platter of the most delicious homemade chocolate covered fresh strawberries. (Champagne had been an option but we love sparkling cider!)

It was so much fun to be pampered.

If your Arizona travels coincide with an important occasion in your life, consider splurging for dinner or for a night or two at the Hassayampa Inn. When we were traveling full-time by RV and sailboat, the times that we stepped out of our those lives to do something different for a night or two all stand out as being among our best memories (here, here and here).

Rose and shadow

Me and my shadow.


RV patio mat 9x18

The town of Prescott is a fun blend of old shoot ‘em up cowboy history and modern artsy flair. Doc Holliday and Wyatt and Virgil Earp all hit Prescott’s bars on Whiskey Row and there’s a fantastic modern performing arts theater on the Yavapai College campus.

We roamed the main Courthouse Square at dawn and at dusk and loved seeing the area lit up in shades of pink and orange.

Yavapai County Courthouse and band stand in Prescott Arizona

The band stand and Yavapai County Courthouse at dawn.

Downtown Prescott Arizona at dawn

Looking up Gurley Street at sunrise. The Hassayampa Inn is the further building on the left

Painting of downtown Prescott AZ

Here’s the above photo converted into framed a painting via Photoshop!

Mark even snuck out an hour after sunset to get a fabulous photo of the Hassayampa Inn all lit up in its evening finest.

Hassayampa Inn in Prescott Arizona at night

Hassayampa Inn at night

Prescott sits at a much higher elevation than the Sonoran Desert areas of Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma, so they have four distinct seasons. The heavens had just dumped two feet of snow on the town in the weeks before we arrived, first one foot of snow and then a second foot of snow a few days later.

Dog and snowman in Prescott Arizona Courthouse Square Arizona

We’d arrived in Prescott right after back-to-back snow storms!

Although it was cold outside, the bars on Whiskey Row were filled with laughter and warmth.

We stopped at Matt’s Saloon, but Buddy is still underage, so we could only look in through the door.

Matt's Saloon on Whiskey Row Prescott AZ

Buddy’s too young for a brewski…

I just had to check out the swinging saloon doors, though. They’re right out of an old Western. What fun!

Swinging doors at Matt's Saloon on Whiskey Row in Prescott Arizona

I’ve always loved swinging saloon doors!

Just beyond the north edge of town, there is an incredible outcropping of fantastic rounded granite boulders next to Watson Lake known as The Dells. We had explored this area a little bit last spring when we took our trailer to Lynx Lake, and we were excited to explore a little more once again.

The Dells in Prescott Arizona

The Dells in Prescott

Ryobi drill set

The easiest place to get into the heart of The Dells is at the main boat ramp in Watson Lake Park, so we made a bee-line there.

Buddy recognized the parking area before we were parked, and he started scrambling to get out of the car before the door was open!

This has to be one of his all-time favorite places.

Puppy in the Granite Dells Prescott Arizona

Dog heaven

The Dells at Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona

The Dells is a wonderland of boulders and water.

Granite Dells Prescott Arizona

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We had hoped to catch The Dells with some snow on them. Most of the rocks were bare, but we did find a few spots with snow.

Granite Dells in Winter Prescott Arizona

Curvy snow.

On another day we hiked the Peevine Trail. This is a rails-to-trails path that goes along the eastern side of the lake.

Peevine Trail Prescott Arizona in The Dells

Peevine Trail is a wonderful rails-to-trails path

The first 1/2 mile has no views, but then all of a sudden you find yourself walking between fabulous rock formations and cliffs. You can just imagine a train making its way between the cliffs that were carved away just so it could pass. What a score it would have been for an engineer or conductor to be assigned that route!

Granite Dells in Prescott Arizona

Views everywhere.

A little further on we caught a glimpse of a small cove that is just exquisite.

Peevine Trail View in the Dells in Prescott AZ

View from the Peevine Trail.

View from the Peevine Trail in Prescott AZ

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On our way back Buddy plopped down in a shaded snow patch to cool off. He was one happy dog!

Dog resting in the snow on the Peevine Trail in Prescott Arizona Dells

Buddy cools his jets in the snow.

And so were we. Our little excursion to Prescott was the perfect getaway to commemorate our beginnings and to give us inspiration for our RV travels a few months from now.

Granite Dells in Prescott Arizona

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RV hose Water Bandit

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Grand Canyon South Rim RV Tips + Lesser Known Overlooks!

June 2023 – We visited the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in our RV travels this year in part because we’d never really gotten to know the place, despite several previous trips. Our hope was that on this visit we would spend more time, be less rushed, and come away feeling a bond to it that had been lacking before. By the time we left 10 days later, we’d fulfilled that dream in spades. This post shares our tips for finding peace and quiet at this busy place and suggests some lesser known overlooks that are worth seeing!

Grand Canyon National Park South Rim RV tips + Lesser Known Overlooks!

This sign is so popular for selfies that there is a special side road to it as you drive in.
But ya gotta do it!!

In the past, like everyone else, we had zipped to the rim, dodging the crowds as we went, peered over the edge in a few places, been awe-struck by every view, and left.

This time, for some reason, there were very few crowds. Perhaps it was the colder than normal spring season. Perhaps it was the impact of inflation keeping travelers at home. Or perhaps it was just our own personal timing.

1000 Places to See Before You Die

After a few days, we realized that we kept going into Grand Canyon National Park at odd and unpopular hours, and maybe that was the reason it was quiet!

We’d arrive at Grand Canyon at 5:30 in the afternoon, just in time to find a spot to watch the sunset, and shortly after the crowds had left! There was no line at the entrance gate, plenty of parking spaces anywhere we wanted to park, and only a few people milling around. Perfect!

Pre-dawn at Mather Point Grand Canyon National Park

What a view!

We also visited the park in the early morning.

There would be a peace and calm in the air at this magical hour as only a handful of people strolled around. They’d be quietly enjoying the views while sipping their morning coffee, and some would be walking their dogs.

Everyone was very friendly, and for the first time I can remember at any National Park in the last ten years, we heard as much or more American accented English as we did all the other languages of the world. That was very heartwarming. It’s wonderful to see Americans enjoying the National Parks.

We also found the South Rim to be extremely dog friendly.

Dogs greet each other at Grand Canyon National Park South Rim Trail

While their owners checked out the views, the dogs checked out each other!

A pooch rode in a bike basket to Hermits Rest at Grand Canyon National Park

This lucky pup rode in this bicycle handlebar basket all the way to Hermits Rest and back!

Dogs on leash can walk anywhere on the Rim at Grand Canyon National Park South Rim but they can't enter any buildings

Dogs aren’t allowed in the buildings…but Buddy took a peek inside the Hopi House from the doorway.

We came away feeling that this would be a fantastic place for a week-long family vacation. A lot of families pack several National Parks into one trip, but if you stay in the Trailer Village RV Park (full hookups and big-rig friendly) or at Mather Campground (dry camping for RVs under 27-30 feet), both of which are inside the Park and close to the rim, you’ve got a home base right by some of the best views in the world as well as paved bike trails that go all through the woods and take you to the hotel and concession hubs and out to the rim too.

The shuttle buses are frequent so you don’t have to drive anywhere, and if you stay long enough, you can take your time exploring each viewpoint or historical building, come back to camp to rest and regroup, and not wind up with that massive National Park Overload that hits all of us when we try to see too much in too short a time.

Yaki Point at Grand Canyon National Park

The views and the light change all day long — storm clouds are a blessing!

It also dawned on us after we’d watched the arrival of the train one day that the train (which is many cars long) brings thousands of people to the heart of Grand Canyon Village every day, just as the Santa Fe Railroad magnates had originally intended. It arrives in the late morning, and all those people descend on the park in one fell swoop. However, it also leaves every afternoon and whisks them all away.

Each time we went to Grand Canyon at midday, it was quite busy. Not packed, by any stretch of the imagination, but much busier than in the early mornings and late afternoons.

RV Log Book Journal

So, we’d suggest that if you want to have an intimate Grand Canyon experience that is similar to what you find at the North Rim all day long (the North Rim gets only 10% of the traffic that the South Rim does), then do your sightseeing at the South Rim around breakfast time and/or cocktail hour! Or better yet, for sunrise and sunset.

Another trick is to visit some of the lesser known overlooks. Not all of them appear on the map that the National Park Service provides, and that’s what keeps the crowds in check.

SHOSHONE POINT

One of the lesser known and more remote overlooks is Shoshone Point which is on the eastbound road to Desert View. You can get a detailed map at the entrance station or Visitors Centers if you ask. The best thing about this overlook for anyone with a dog is that there is a one mile long hike along a flat forest road through beautiful ponderosa pine woods to get there. Buddy loved it.

Grand Canyon Shoshone Point has a great hike for dogs

“That was a really great hike. Can I go do it again while you take photos here?”

The Shoshone Point overlook isn’t very big and there aren’t any railings. We did find we needed to scramble over various rocks to get ourselves situated to enjoy the view, however. We watched the sunset with about 8 other people.

Shoshone Point Grand Canyon National Park

Rich Grand Canyon colors just before sunset at Shoshone Point.

Shoshone Point Overlook at Grand Canyon National Park

There’s a cool triangular formation just below Shoshone Point.

Shoshone Point Grand Canyon Naitonal Park

Shoshone Point.

There are some lovely trees, and it’s a great place to get a Grand Canyon portrait of yourself and your family. We did, and so did everyone else!

Tree at Shoshone Point Grand Canyon National Park

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Shoshone Point Overlook at Grand Canyon National Park is great for selfies

Happy campers.

Happy Campers at Grand Canyon National Park

Another one!

GRANDVIEW POINT

Grandview Point overlook appears on the map the National Park Service provides, but we found it a frustrating place to visit at sunset. Perhaps at another time of day it would be different. The actual overlook is tiny, and the narrow trail around the edge is off-camber and includes some awkward maneuvers over the rocks.

It started to rain just as we arrived, making the rocks quite slick, and at that very moment two backcountry tours showed up in huge oversized off-road vehicles: Buck Wild Tours and Pink Jeep Tours.

Suddenly, an overlook that could comfortably hold 10 people all together had about 35 people squeezed in, all of them rushing to see and do everything they wanted to before their tour vehicle left for the next stop.

We still enjoyed ourselves there, but finding a place to stand among all those excited and pushy people was a challenge!

The storm clouds and mist more than made up for the various inconveniences, though, and the drama out in the Canyon was a sight to see.

Grand View Point at Grand Canyon National Park

Rain in the distance at Grandview Point.

Photography at Grand View Point in Grand Canyon National Park

Storm clouds and the sinking sun create wonderful light and shadow at Grandview Point.

Grand View Point Grand Canyon National Park

Sun, mist, rain and two rainbows!

Grand Canyon National Park Grand View Point Overlook

At last the sun breaks through just before setting.

Happy Camper Holding Tank Treatment

YAKI POINT

There are free shuttle buses as well as parking areas for most of the overlooks at Grand Canyon’s South Rim. However, Yaki Point is a little different because the ONLY way to get there is either by shuttle bus or by your own two feet. Cars are not allowed on the access road that goes to Yaki Point from the eastbound road to Desert View.

Since dogs aren’t allowed on the shuttle buses, we opted to park at an overlook nearby slightly west of Yaki Point and hike about 1.5 miles through the woods to get to it. Of course, Buddy was all over that!!

The storminess we’d seen the day before at Grandview Point was lingering and we saw some fabulous crepuscular rays as the sun went down.

Point Grand Canyon National Park

Light bursts forth from the heavens.

Yaki Point at Grand Canyon National Park

The setting sun peeks through the clouds.

Point Grand Canyon National Park

Sunset.

WE SEE SUNRISE – AT LAST

It’s not too hard to make an appointment with Nature to see a sunset at Grand Canyon. You’re awake and the only compromise you might have to make is that it occurs right at Beer-Thirty and/or dinnertime.

However, sunrise is a totally different story because it involves getting out of a warm bed, driving somewhere in the cold and dark, and standing at the Rim shivering while you wait for the sun to rise. We kept putting it off, but finally got ourselves motivated at 4:00 in the morning to head out to the Rim Trail at Mather Point.

Wow, did we get lucky that morning! The storm clouds were still lingering, and they put on quite a show.

Sunrise at Mather Point in Grand Canyon National Park

Wow!

Mather Point sunrise Grand Canyon National Park

This sunrise was worth getting up for!

Mather Point is a popular place for both sunrise and sunset, and there were quite a few other people who’d dragged themselves out from under their warm covers to go shiver on the edge of this massive chasm.

People watch the sunrise at Mather Point in Grand Canyon National Park

Everyone had a camera or cell phone pointed at the incredible display.

There were several little groups of people all along the rim, and when I stepped back, I saw two more familiar figures taking in the show.

People watch and photograph sunrise at Mather Point in Grand Canyon National Park

Mark captures the action while Buddy looks on.

Grand Canyon Fodors Guide

In the end, I estimated at least 100 people had come to Mather Point that morning to witness the sunrise.

The brilliant clouds finally gave up their pre-dawn color, and then we had a few minutes’ wait for the sun to creep above the horizon.

Some stragglers came running to the edge from their hastily parked cars, still zipping up their jackets and messing with their phones, only to realize when they got out to the rim that it was almost over!

Then Poof! — then sun was up!

Starburst at sunrise in Grand Canyon National Park

The sun peeks over the edge.

Everyone at the Rim was enraptured by the whole show and kept their eyes (and cell phones) glued to the spectacle. No one said a thing. it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Well, there was ONE person who wasn’t watching…

People watch the sun crest the horizon in Grand Canyon National Park at sunrise

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DESERT VIEW

As you head east out of Grand Canyon National Park, the very last overlook is Desert View. This is a big area with a gift shop and Mary Colter’s famous Desert View Watchtower.

We drove out to Desert View at oh-dark-thirty on our last morning on the way out of the Park so we could catch the sunrise, and there were only three people there with us. It wasn’t nearly as special a sunrise as we’d had at Mather Point, but it was still lovely and still very exciting to be there for it.

Desert View sunrise Grand Canyon National Park

Sunrise at Desert View.

Sunrise at Desert View Grand Canyon National Park

Desert View is a great place to see the Colorado River far below.

Sunrise at Desert View in Grand Canyon National Park

Desert View Sunrise.

Desert View Overlook Grand Canyon National Park sunrise

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Desert View Sunrise Grand Canyon National Park

The clouds formed a swirling, inky backdrop to this “window” next to the Desert View Watchtower.

We enjoyed our visit to Grand Canyon’s South Rim this year so much we revised our previous opinion of the North vs. South Rims. When we first visited the North Rim many years ago, we nicknamed it “Grand Canyon’s Better Half” because it was so much more intimate, historic and authentic feeling than what we had seen of the South Rim on short visits at that point. However that’s not really true. Both rims are well worth seeing, and neither one is superior to the other. They’re just different.

The North Rim is 1,000’ higher, more remote and takes a lot longer to get to from any major freeways. It has a fabulous historic lodge, restaurant and campground right on the Rim, and most of the visitors are from the neighboring states. The South Rim is much more commercial, much busier, and plays host to far more international visitors, but we discovered you can avoid the chaos, and even share the experience with your pup if you like, if you plan your visit carefully.

Renogy 200 watt solar panel

Interestingly, the last time we visited the North Rim (2019), we had a hard time finding parking at the central area near the Lodge, whereas this year at the South Rim we had no trouble at all anywhere. The North Rim doesn’t allow dogs on any trails, even the main paved trail, whereas the South Rim is a dog mecca along the entire 5+ mile long paved Rim Trail. Yet we never saw any dog poop and heard only one dog bark, and he was well controlled by his owner.

The views are comparable on both rims, but the distances between the overlooks are much shorter at the South Rim than at the North Rim.

Desert View Overlook Grand Canyon National Park

Now THAT is a spot for a park bench!

In some ways, choosing which one to visit — if you plan to visit only one — may come down to which rim currently has a large active fire burning. Both rims have frequent fires that are deliberately set by the US Forest Service, and they last for months, creating haze across the views, a brown tinge to the sky at the horizon, and the smell of smoke in the air.

The clearest skies are during the winter and early spring when the previous year’s fires are fully extinguished by snowfall and the new fires haven’t started yet.

It’s chilly at that time of year (the South Rim is at 7,000’ elevation and the North Rim is at 8,000’ elevation), but the clear air makes the views even more stunning, and of course you’ll be ahead of the summer crowds.

Grand Canyon National Park sign

Goodbye, Grand Canyon…til next time!

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More info about Grand Canyon National Park:

Grand Canyon National Park – National Park Service (NPS) Official Web Page
RV Parks and Campgrounds In and Near the Park – NPS Official Web Page
Trailer Village RV Park – Big rig friendly with hookups inside the Park near Mather Point
Mather Campground – Smaller RVs and no hookups inside the Park near Grand Canyon Village
Desert View Campground – Smaller RVs and no hookups inside the Park near Desert View
Ten-X Campground – Smaller RVs and no hookups outside the Park 10 miles from Grand Canyon Village
Grand Canyon Camper Village – Big Rig friendly with hookups outside the Park 9 miles from Grand Canyon Village

We heard a rumor from a local resident that a very large RV park is planned and has been approved for the town of Tusayan about 10 miles south of Grand Canyon Village. However, it is just a rumor as of the summer of 2023.

All of our blog posts about the Grand Canyon:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.   New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff. Also check out our COOL NEW GEAR STORE!! *** CLICK HERE *** to see it!


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Grand Canyon History: A Navajo & A Mule Link Us to the Past

The Grand Canyon is most beloved for the raw power of its majestic views, but Grand Canyon history is fascinating too. Learning some of the stories behind the development of this world famous tourist destination and being able to make a personal connection to that history through the world famous mule rides (of all things!) was thought-provoking…and fulfilling.

Grand Canyon History and Mules!

Our Grand Canyon visit took a very special turn when we met this man!

As we have discovered America’s history during our many years of RV travel, I have felt a special attachment to the late 1800s and early 1900s because, as a child, my much adored great-uncle, who was born in 1885, lived with my family until his death when I was 11.

Throughout my life, whenever we’ve encountered anything to do with his era, I’ve thought of him and wondered whether he saw it, or was aware of it, or what kind of stories he might have heard about it from friends and relatives.

Near the end of his life, he would often say that he’d lived during a period of history that had seen more change than any other: growing up with horses, buggies and trains for transportation, witnessing the transformative rise of the automobile followed by the airplane, and finally flipping on a TV to watch astronauts ride a rocket ship to the moon and back.

Puppy checks out the train tracks

Buddy checks out the train tracks that travel through time at Grand Canyon

One of his treasured memories from his young adulthood was the trip he took to the Grand Canyon around 1907. Sitting around the dinner table in urban Massachusetts in the 1960s, we heard about his ride on a mule down the Bright Angel Trail and the beauty of the El Tovar hotel.

I couldn’t picture any of it, though. Not the Grand Canyon, not the narrow cliffside trail, maybe the hotel, but definitely not my very ancient great-uncle as a nimble young man astride a mule!

Grand Canyon Fodors Guide
Hikers on Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

The beginning of the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park.
Hikers and mules pass each other on these narrow cliff-side trails.

Hikers on Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Bright Angel Trail, like most trails in the Park, has lots of exposed areas where you’re hiking right on the edge!

So, on this trip to Grand Canyon, I wanted to peel back the layers of what modern tourists see at the Grand Canyon, especially Grand Canyon Village, and try to envision something of what the experience might have been like back around 1907 for a newly minted Art Institute of Chicago graduate who was in his early 20s.

He rode the train from Chicago to get to there, of course, and today thousands of people come to the Grand Canyon by train everyday on the same tracks that the Santa Fe Railraod completed in 1901.

Grand Canyon history - the Railway train prior to 1910

A train at the Grand Canyon depot before 1910 when it was still just a humble shack!

The arrival of the train in the tiny settlement on the edge of this vast and charismatic chasm changed everything about it.

Settlers had lived in the area since the mid-1800s, and everyone who dared make a go of it struggled to make a life for themselves in the harsh and remote land. Most were miners and cattle ranchers. The few people who saw the tourism potential built their own private roads from Flagstaff and Williams through 70 miles of forest to their own rustic properties at different points along the rim. Many homesteaded their land.

Grand Canyon history - the arrival of the train at Grand Canyon National Park

The arrival of the Grand Canyon Railroad changed everything about Grand Canyon.

Before the train arrived, only a trickle of die-hard travelers would visit Grand Canyon, taking the train to Williams or Flagstaff and then catching a stage coach or renting a buggy to travel one of the private roads to a proprietor’s guest house or tent somewhere along the rim.

What is now an hour and a half car ride generally took two bumpy days by horse, and most travelers stayed in tents.

Grand Canyon Railway arrival at Grand Canyon National Park 2

The train took just a few hours to get to Grand Canyon whereas a stage coach ride took two days!

The big money railroad men recognized the immense tourism potential of the Grand Canyon, and after completing the train tracks, Santa Fe Railroad went on to build a stunning resort hotel in 1905. They called it El Tovar and positioned it right at the end of the train tracks and next to the Bright Angel Trail.

At this point in time, destination spa hotels in remote locales were rare or didn’t even exist. Not only were the rooms beautifully appointed, but there were two barbershops, a solarium, hot and cold running water, and the freshest food imaginable.

The El Tovar hotel had a chicken coop for fresh eggs, two roof gardens, a music room, an art room, a billiard hall and a gift shop! Staying there was an elegant and all inclusive affair.

Grand Canyon Guide Book

Unlike today’s tourists, many of whom drive straight to the rim, say “WOW!” a few times, get a selfie and then leave, a journey to the Grand Canyon in those days was a trip that deserved a fairly long stay, making those barber shops a necessity.

El Toval Hotel and Grand Canyon history

El Tovar Hotel.

A room at El Tovar cost $4.50 a night as compared to just $1.00 to $3.00 for a tent or rustic hotel room. However, a stage coach ride cost $15 while the train was a mere $3.50. (For reference, rooms at El Tovar are going for $394 per night now!).

No doubt customers did some quick calculations and realized there was no reason to undertake a two day bone jarring journey on a small private road to a second rate hotel or tent when you could watch the world go from a comfortable window seat on a train for a mere three hours and stay at a top flight resort for a similar outlay, depending on how long you stayed.

Rooftop of El Toval Hotel and Grand Canyon history

El Tovar has a beautiful roof line.

Not surprisingly, the stage coach lines and livery stables went out of business shortly after the Santa Fe Railroad began bringing tourists to El Tovar and other hotels at the head of the Bright Angel Trail. The smaller hotels and guest tents that were miles away from Bright Angel Trail along Grand Canyon’s rim soon went out of business too.

Sadly — and shockingly — in the end, only one of the original proprietors that homesteaded and initially developed the land on the rim of the Grand Canyon made a profit on the sale his property!

The hub at Bright Angel Trail eventually became known as Grand Canyon Village, and the tourism age for this iconic spot was off and running. It would be decades before the other areas along the South Rim were further developed or redeveloped.

El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon Village

El Tovar has a unique look with wonderful, huge, shady porches.

One such place is Grandview Point, 13 miles from the Bright Angel Trailhead. Today, it is just an overlook with a parking lot and a very steep trail heading down below the rim past remnants of the mine that once put Grandview Point on the map. However, nothing remains of the Grandview Hotel, and it is hard to imagine where it might have stood.

With all of this info swimming in our heads (the stories are told on plaques along the Rim Trail in Grand Canyon Village and in a PDF document I’ve linked to at the bottom), we gazed at the El Tovar Hotel in wonder.

There’s a charming beer garden out back with a view of the Grand Canyon that is a delightful place to while away the afternoon.

Beer Graden at El Toval Hotel Grand Canyon National Park 2

El Tovar Beer Garden.

One of the nicest features of the El Tovar, to this day, are the big shaded porches that are filled with wooden rocking chairs and porch swings. This is yet another perfect place to unwind with a world class view.

Swing on the porch of El Toval Hotel Grand Canyon National Park 2

Just kicking back.

Arizona Delorme Atlas

The Bright Angel Lodge is another historic hotel that is very close to El Tovar. Originally a cabin and some tents dating back to 1885, it was renovated 50 years later by Mary Jane Colter into a complex that incorporates several historic buildings. A few of the doors have vivid Indian designs on them.

Elaborate door at Bright Angel Lodge: Grand Canyon history in the Park

Bright Angel Lodge has some very colorful doors painted with an Indian motif.

In the 1930s Mary Colter began exerting a strong influence on the construction of new buildings at the rim. She designed the Hopi House to resemble the stone pueblos of the Hopi Indians nearby.

Hopi House: Grand Canyon history in the National Park

Hopi House has some fabulous Indian artwork inside.

Other artists had studios in fantastic dwellings that hang right out over the rim. What an inspiring place and view for a studio!

Kolb Studio: Grand Canyon history in the National Park 2

Kolb Studio.

Kolb Studio: Grand Canyon history in the National Park

Kolb Studio.

Lookout Studio: Grand Canyon history in the National Park 2.jpgLookout Studio

The Lookout Studio was built under Mary Colter’s guidance in 1914

In Grand Canyon Village at Grand Canyon National Park

All of the historic buildings in Grand Canyon Village are just steps from the rim.

This was all wonderful and interesting to learn about, but it was the mules I was really after. I wanted to get a photo of the mules coming up the Bright Angel Trail after their overnight at Phantom Ranch at the bottom.

When I asked around to see what time they usually returned, a mule ride leader I saw giving instructions to a group of customers told me they arrived between 1:00 and 1:30, although “it’s an inexact science!”

I got to the trailhead at 1:00, and a bus stop attendant right there told me they hadn’t come up yet that day. Yay! So, I stood in the sun waiting patiently for two hours while Mark and Buddy amused themselves in the shade by El Tovar. But the mules never showed up!

Bright Angel Trail: Grand Canyon history at the National Park

I’m here. But where are the mules?

Hiking Grand Canyon

I spoke with a concierge at Bright Angel Lodge, and she told me they actually come up between 11:30 and 12:30 at this season due to the heat. So, I arrived around 11:00 the next day and milled around at the rim for a while first. Suddenly I caught a whiff of mule sweat and dung. Oh no! Were they already here?

I rushed over to the mule corral next to the bus stop at Bright Angel Trailhead, and there they were, lined up side by side. A wrangler was attending to each one. The sight was something from another era.

Grand Canyon Mule and wrangler at Grand Canyon National Park

A wrangler was tending to the mules after their two day journey down to Phantom Ranch and back.

I ran over to the wrangler and quickly got swept up in conversation about the mules, the rides and the history. His name was John, and he’d been guiding the mule rides since December, although he’d done guiding elsewhere for many years.

He proudly told me that this mule outfit had taken a million people in groups of less than 10 at a time down to Phantom Ranch and back on the narrow, twisting, cliff-hanging Bright Angel Trail since they began operations in1890, and not one mule, not one wrangler and not one guest had ever died.

Grand Canyon Mule named Cholla and wrangler John at Grand Canyon National Park

John and friendly mule Cholla (she is one of the good natured mules that guests get to ride)

He casually mentioned that people die rafting the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon all the time, and that people fall off the edge to their deaths quite frequently too.

Sitting on the edge of Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

It’s tempting to get yourself right out to the very edge, but it’s not always a good idea!

Over the Edge at Grand Canyon

“These mules are the safest way to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” John said earnestly.

For inexperienced riders, though, I’ve heard the several hour long journey can leave you very sore in certain places and struggling to walk when you get to Phantom Ranch! And then you have to ride your mule back out again the next day!

I asked him if mules are stubborn, and he said that they’re actually super smart.

“They can sense 32 different things that might go wrong if they put their foot in a certain place, and they just won’t take the risk if they think it’s unsafe.” And they hold their ground on that opinion!

He gestured to another wrangler, Simon, and said that he’d been guiding these Grand Canyon mule rides for 16 years. John said he’d learned a lot from Simon.

Simon introduced himself as a Navajo, and when I asked if he’d mind if I took a photo of him with his mule (named Paco), he not only posed next to Paco but quickly mounted him for another photo.

Grand Canyon Mule named Paco and wrangler Simon at Grand Canyon National Park

Ride leader Simon and his trusty mule, Paco.

Once seated on Paco, Simon began talking about the meaning of the Grand Canyon to the Navajo and how it is a sacred place for them. He loves being able to bring visitors into this beautiful canyon that he holds so dear, and share God’s wonder with them.

He went on to describe a huge monolith stone that is shaped like an Indian face that you come to after going through the second tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail descent. It is a sacred rock for the Navajo, and they refer to its spirit as the Keeper of the Canyon.

Bright Angel Trail first tunnel Grand Canyon National Park

This is the first tunnel on Bright Angel Trail. Simon told me that after the second tunnel you come to a huge stone that looks like an Indian face which the Navajo refer to as the Keeper of the Canyon.

“When we reach that point in the trail, I always say a prayer for our group, asking God for a safe journey for everyone on our way to Phantom Ranch and for a safe journey home the next day. In English it goes like this…”

He then recited the prayer.

Grand Canyon mule wrangler Simon and Mule Paco at Grand Canyon National Park

Simon recited the prayer he says each time he takes a group of guests down Bright Angel Trail.

I was touched by his sincerity and openness, and I imagined his guests sitting on their mules and listening to him saying this prayer to the Almighty while they were next to the towering rock Indian face.

Then he said, “In Navajo it goes like this…” and he suddenly launched into the prayer in Navajo.

My mouth fell open and I felt a shiver run up my spine…I was mesmerized watching him as he gazed up at the sky saying this lovely prayer in the language of his forebears.

Grand Canyon mule wrangler Simon and Mule Paco at Grand Canyon National Park

I had goose bumps listening to Simon recite the prayer in Navajo.

When he was done, I was speechless. I wished I’d recorded him with a video, but it was such an intimate gift he’d gave me that it wouldn’t have felt right.

We chatted a little more and then he suggested I go to the Mule Barn where I could read the prayer if I wanted to. So off I went.

A bunch of mules were roaming about outside the barn nibbling grass and hay, and two wranglers were working inside. I started chatting with one of them, explaining that my great-uncle had ridden a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon around 1907. “This mule barn was built in 1907” he grinned.

Grand Canyon Mules resting at the Mule Barn in Grand Canyon National Park

Mules relaxing at the Mule Barn.

Suddenly, he turned and said, “They’re here!”

I looked out the door and there were John and Simon coming around the corner with all the mules from the ride they’d just finished in tow. I snapped away taking pics as they approached, my heart singing as my wish for a unique Grand Canyon mule experience was completely fulfilled.

Grand Canyon Mules being brought back to the Mule Barn at Grand Canyon National Park

John and Simon bring the mules back to the Mule Barn for a much needed rest after two days on the trail.

We can’t step into the past and live it exactly as it was, but if we’re lucky, we can capture the spirit of a time and place and feel its essence envelop us.

I don’t know what captivated my great-uncle’s imagination most about his visit to Grand Canyon and his mule ride to Phantom Ranch, but I remember that he painted several beautiful and evocative images of Indians in his last years.

I believe he would have been as moved as I was listening to a Navajo guide on his mule reciting a special prayer in the native tongue of his people, and if there were a way to connect a beloved great-uncle and his great-niece through the veil of life and death and across more than a century of time, that was it.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon.

Sidney Riesenberg, artist and illustrator, 1968

My great-uncle, Sidney Riesenberg, as I knew him, painting at his easel, in 1968

Sidney Riesenberg, artist and illustrator 1968 2

Sidney Riesenberg as a young man

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More info about Grand Canyon History and the Mule Rides:

Articles from our travels to the Grand Canyon:

Inspiring Encounters with Special People, Unusual Travelers and the Divine:

Living the Dream:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.   New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff. Also check out our COOL NEW GEAR STORE!! *** CLICK HERE *** to see it!


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Grand Canyon South Rim RV Trip – Views, Views, VIEWS!!

June 2023 – We decided to start off this year’s RV summer travel season with a bang, so off we went to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park!

Grand Canyon National Park Mather Point Sunset

Grand Canyon South Rim at sunset.

There are many RV camping options at the Grand Canyon South Rim, including RV parks and campgrounds with hookups ranging from none to full and either dirt or paved campsite pads both inside and outside the Park. There’s also a USFS campground with paved loops but no hookups in the Kaibab National Forest ten miles away and dispersed campsites scattered further afield. It all depends on how close you want to be to the Grand Canyon views and how much dust you can tolerate when it gets windy in the forest.

We found a spot to call home for a few days, set up camp, and promptly drove into Grand Canyon National Park, grinning from ear to ear. A beautiful summer had begun!

RV camping in a toy hauler in the US National Forests

Home sweet home.

Renogy 200 watt solar panel

It was late in the afternoon, and we had white line fever from a long day of driving. Even though we have both been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon many times, we realized we still did’t know it all that well.

The National Park Service has quite a task on its hands to manage the more than three hundred million Grand Canyon visitors each year, and in many ways their Job #1 can be boiled down to one thing: Crowd Control.

People arrive at Grand Canyon’s entrance gates via car, bus, train, bike, horse and even on foot, and once there, they need to figure out what’s where. We were no exception!

Grand Canyon National Park sign

Grand Canyon here we come!

In a smooth move that reminded me of the way the crowds were handled by the East Germans back in the 1980s when I and an array of hitchhiking college age kids ventured through the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the maps handed out by the National Park Service are, well, minimalist.

When my youthful pals and I arrived in East Berlin, we were given tiny maps that had just four intersecting streets on them and nothing else for the whole city. The authorities wanted us to stay on the streets surrounding a single city block.

And so it is at the Grand Canyon where the NPS maps show certain roads in bright colors and others in faded gray. The colorful roads are the city bus routes that take people from place to place without having to find parking. The other roads can be driven, but the NPS map doesn’t make that clear.

So, we followed the purple road to the orange road, and that led us straight to a mammoth parking lot just steps from the Yavapai Point overlook. Perfect! Those simple directions turned out to be just what we needed at that late hour of the day.

Grand Canyon Fodors Guide

In hindsight it was smart of the National Park Service to guide new visitors away from the hotel, restaurant and boutique store hubs in the interior of the Park where things get congested and, instead, take them right to a satisfying overlook well worthy of their long journey through Arizona to get there.

Looking to the west where the sun was falling fast, the Grand Canyon view was layer upon layer of silhouetted mountain shapes.

Grand Canyon at dusk

Looking west from Yavapai Point.

Layers in the mist at Grand Canyon National Park

Layers of peaks fade into the distance.

Looking to the east, the mysterious forms took on their true shape and color, the peaks highlighted by the vivid orange and yellow sunlight and the valleys steeped in shadow.

Grand Canyon golden hour before sunset Yavapai Point

Looking east in the late afternoon.

The lovely paved Rim Trail goes along much of the South Rim, offering one jaw dropping view after another. Sometimes the views are wide open, and sometimes they are slightly obscured by wonderful gnarly trees.

Grand Canyon tree silhouette

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You can choose to look at the view from an official overlook behind very sturdy steel and masonry fencing or you can take a seat anywhere on the ground that looks appealing and soak it all in.

Grand Canyon overlook at Yavapai Point

The formal overlooks have very solid barriers and bench seating so you don’t fall off the edge.

Grand Canyon view at Yavapai Point

However, you can also sit anywhere you’re comfortable and enjoy the astonishing view without a barrier.

We strolled slowly along the Rim Trail, our eyes glued to the view. As the sun sank lower and lower in the sky, the colors of the Canyon became ever richer and deeper.

Grand Canyon at Yavapai Point sunset

Grand Canyon South Rim view.

Grand Canyon late afternoon Mather Point

Crevices and peaks created by erosion.

RV patio mat 9x18
Grand Canyon Yavapai Point

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Tree silhouette at Grand Canyon National Park

Another fabulous tree.

Surprisingly, the Grand Canyon South Rim is one of the more dog-friendly National Parks we have seen. Although the Park Service strongly recommends leaving your pooch at home, especially in the heat of the summer when the pavement is searingly hot for bare paws and the temperatures soar, dogs on leashes are allowed on the trails at the rim of the Canyon.

The Rim Trail goes for over 5 miles along the edge of the Canyon, and we were just thrilled there was a place for us to enjoy the Grand Canyon with Buddy as long as we stayed on that trail or elsewhere along the rim. Otherwise, of course, we would have gone somewhere else for the first leg of our RV trip!

Buddy loved walking the Rim Trail and found lots of wonderful smells along the way. Sometimes he plopped down in the shade and insisted we stop for a spell.

Patient puppy on the Rim Trail at Grand Canyon National Park

The Rim Trail.

We stopped to grab a lot of photos too.

Grand Canyon Photography

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We strolled the Rim Trail between Yavapai Point and Mather Point. What a wonderful area this was for our first foray into the Grand Canyon on this trip.

Grand Canyon sunset at Yavapai Point

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As you can see in the photo above, several forest fires deliberately set by the US Forest Service nearby created a thick brown haze of smoke above the horizon in certain directions, but the views were still out of this world

Grand Canyon Rim Trail

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Grand Canyon Guide Book
Grand Canyon views at Yavapai Point

Some of the canyon walls seemed like they were molded in clay.

Mather Point golden hour at Grand Canyon

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As full-time RVers we spent a lot of time at Grand Canyon’s North Rim, and we also took our RZR to a few of the overlooks that are outside Grand Canyon National Park on the north side.

We’ve always struggled, though, as everyone does, to try to capture the awe-inspiring beauty and vastness of the Grand Canyon in photos. It is so huge and so barren and so craggy, but too often the immensity and raw power of the place vanish in photographs. It’s hard to convey that wind-blown feeling of standing on the edge looking down 5,000 feet and across to the far side 9 miles away.

The light constantly changes too, especially at the beginnings and ends of each day as the sun plays along the horizon.

I found a beautiful little tree growing alongside a spectacular view and took a photo at the peak of the golden hour when the cliffs were lit up in full glory. Twenty minutes later I rushed back to that spot to catch the same view in the pink glow of sunset. What a startling difference. I couldn’t decide which one I liked better!

Grand Canyon Mather Point golden hour graceful tree

I loved the jaunty look of this little tree.

Grand Canyon Mather Point graceful tree at sunset

All dressed up in pink.

Ken Burns National Parks DVD Set

There were lots of beautiful trees all along the Rim Trail, each one unique, twisting and curving in unusual ways.

Grand Canyon view under a tree at Mather Point

Some trees live on the edge.

Grand Canyon tree on the Rim Trail

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The sunlight and shadows played with each other on the distant Canyon peaks as we wandered between Yavapai Point and Mather Point.

Sunset at Mather Point at the Grand Canyon

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Grand Canyon view from the Rim Trail

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Although you can catch a glimpse of the Grand Canyon with just one step to the edge (and you’ll leave forever changed after taking in that view), we’ve been fortunate on this trip to have been able to return again and again, checking out different overlooks and going back to favorite spots where we see new things on each repeated visit.

Hiking Grand Canyon

The town of Tusayan is just a few miles south of the Grand Canyon South Rim, and we stopped at the Chocolate Factory there one day for a yummy ice cream. The walls were adorned with metal prints of incredibly stunning photos of Grand Canyon, and we studied each one as we savored our treats.

Grand Canyon Chocolate Factory in Tusayan Arizona

When you get your chocolate or ice cream treat here, check out the beautiful photos on the walls!

One of our favorites had been taken somewhere at Mather Point. We were so enamored of the photo, we went back to Mather Point to see if we could find where the photographer had stood.

Grand Canyon Mather Point at sunset

The photo we liked was taken near here.

Sure enough, we found the spot. A huge tree is growing there now, and we had to lean into the branches to get the same shot. But it was worth the extra effort and we were pleased with the outcome, both before the sunset and during.

Grand Canyon Mather Point sunset

This is the spot!

Grand Canyon sunset at Mather Point

And again during the peak of sunset.

Taking the Rim Trail back to the parking lot, we saw the crowd at the Mather Point overlook. Their silhouettes looked really cool against the layered backdrop of the canyon walls and the vivid orange glow of sunset above the Grand Canyon’s North Rim plateau in the distance.

Sunset crowd at Yavapai Point in Grand Canyon National Park 1

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Back at camp, Buddy’s inner puppy came out in spades as he frolicked in the grass, chasing lizards and mice around old logs and exploring every nook and cranny of our campsite. He’s really loving this summer’s RV adventure — and so are we!

Puppy peeks at his RV at the campsite

“That was really fun. What’s next?”

RV hose Water Bandit

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More info about the Grand Canyon South Rim:

Honda EU2200i portable gas generator

Blog posts from our previous RV trips in the Grand Canyon area:

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Articles from our adventures in Red Rock country:

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Willow Lake (& more) around the Granite Dells in Prescott AZ

Willow Lake is like the quiet, hands-in-his-pockets, unassuming brother to its neighbor, the more popular, vibrant and beloved Watson Lake. Both lakes are situated on the edge of Prescott, Arizona, and they share the wonders of the stunning rock formations known as the Granite Dells. Willow Lake is on the west side of the Dells and Watson Lake is on the east side, and miles of hiking trails roam through the vast acreage of boulders between them.

Willow Lake Arizona & More!

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After taking in lots of “WOW” sunset moments at Watson Lake, we finally went over to Willow Lake to see what was there. It was midday and the light was harsh, but what a beautiful place it turned out to be. We wished we’d gone there earlier in our Prescott RV trip!

We started at the Willow Lake boat ramp on the north shore and were surprised to see waves incessantly lapping the shore and the trees trunks! The lake level was very high and the wind was strong that day.

Willow Lake Arizona boat ramp

High water on a windy day at Willow Lake.

Along the shore of Willow Lake there were huge expanses of boulders, and we were soon hopping from one to another. There were fabulous patterns in the rocks, like veins running all through them.

Willow Lake Arizona Patterns in the Dells at Willow Lake Arizona

Colorful veins meander through these rocks by Willow Lake.

Buddy was on the lookout for any stray ground squirrels that might be scampering about. Mark caught him up on his lookout perch from below.

Willow Lake Arizona It's a long ways down!

“Is there a squirrel down there?”

Willow Lake Arizona Photographer and pupppy

I see you!

Arizona Delorme Atlas

Some of the rocks in the Dells had quite a bit of color.

Willow Lake Granite Dells in Arizona

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Suddenly we heard the familiar haunting cry of a Gambel’s quail. I just love the way these guys dress up with very dapper trim on their bodies and faces and that wonderful little topknot on their heads.

721 Gambel Quail at Willow Lake Arizona

All dressed up and ready to go!

Gambel Quail at Willow Lake Arizona 2

“Are you taking my picture? I wasn’t ready yet!”

We noticed a young man expertly navigating the crazy boulder formations and discovered he’s a local who hikes around the Dells around Willow Lake all the time. He highly recommended that we follow a trail that headed to the north and east past an RV park on the edge of the Dells, and he mentioned intriguing things we’d see, including a red bench and a bridge.

This sounded like fun, so off we went.

Hiking at Willow Lake Arizona

“C’mon, Dad, let’s go find that red bench!”

As we hiked away from Willow Lake, we saw some wonderful old trees and lots of massive expanses of boulders.

Tree and shadow at Willow Lake Arizona

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Willow Lake Arizona granite dells

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We came to a sign with a large map on it and could clearly see the trail that went to the red bench. Woo hoo! This was definitely a really cool area. We hiked along the trail for quite a while.

But then the trail suddenly went straight up a boulder hill. Mark stayed below while Buddy and I checked it out. At the top it seemed like we were standing in a sea of boulders, but I sure didn’t see a red bench or a bridge anywhere.

Willow Lake hike through the Granite Dells in Arizona

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On the way down we met a couple hiking the Willow Lake trails with a dog. After the pups introduced themselves with a few sniffs, I asked the couple where the heck the red bench was. It turned out we’d missed a fork in the trail and had taken the Ascent Trail instead of the Red Bench Trail. Oops!

Oh well. What we saw was still cool and it was a beautiful day to be out hiking.

Suddenly, a mountain biker rode over the boulders past us. Wow! Then his friend appeared and the two of them rode up and down the boulders like experts. What fun!

Granite Dells at Willow Lake Arizona mountain biking

Don’t try this at home!

Mountain biker in the Granite Dells at Willow Lake Arizona

These mountain bikers at Willow Lake made it look so easy.

Granite Dells mountain biking at Willow Lake Arizona

Weeeee!

Arizona Highways Scenic Drives

Buddy watched the mountain bikers for a moment, but he was much more interested in athletes of the rodent kind.

Regal pup

“Not just rodents, Mom. I’ll chase anything that moves. Lizards are good!”

Willow Lake is definitely worth a visit, and we’ll be back at sunrise or sunset next time to add a dash of color to our photos. In the meantime, we found a few more photos of the Granite Dells at Watson Lake buried in our computers along with some more lovely shots of Lynx Lake that we thought you’d enjoy.

Here you go — the Granite Dells and cactus flowers at Watson Lake:

Granite Dells at Watson Lake Arizona

Granite Dells at Watson Lake (next door to Willow Lake).

Full moon at the Watson Lake Granite Dells in Arizona

Granite Dells under a full moon.

Red cactus flowers at the Watson Lake Granite Dells Arizona

Red cactus flowers in the Dells.

Red cactus flowers in Arizona

Happy cactus flowers smiling at the world.

Red cactus flowers at the Watson Lake Granite Dells Arizona

Look for these red beauties in the springtime!

And here’s the southeastern corner of Lynx Lake where the water trickles into the lake and forms wonderful shallow pools on its way:

A trickle of water flows into Lynx Lake in Arizona

The pools of water in the southeast corner of Lynx Lake are as clear as glass.

A glorious sunset reflected at Lynx Lake, Arizona

Tree reflections at Lynx Lake Arizona

A reflected archway in the lake.

Lynx Lake Sunset

Goodnight!

We really enjoyed our brief RV trip to explore the lakes in the area around Prescott Arizona. There are actually even more lakes nearby that were on our list but we didn’t get to…so now we have to go back, and we will!

Puppy fur blown by gentle breezes

Buddy is looking forward to exploring the Prescott area some more.

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More info about Prescott and the Granite Dells:

Other blog posts about the lakes near Prescott, Arizona:

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Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott AZ – SPECTACULAR!

May 2023 – The Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott, Arizona, are a spectacular moonscape of rounded granite boulders that beg to be climbed on and explored. These gorgeous rocks line the shore of the lake and pop up out of the water here and there, forming mini islands. The views from every vantage point are magnificent.

Watson Lake Granite Dells in Prescott Arizona

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We have seen The Dells from a distance many times, catching brief glimpses of them as they appeared on the horizon for a split second while we drove to or from Prescott’s historic Courthouse Square.

This year, on an RV trip to nearby Lynx Lake, we had a chance to get a closer look at Watson Lake’s Granite Dells, and what a rewarding experience that turned out to be!

Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott AZ

The Granite Dells are a magnificent moonscape of rounded boulders on the shores of Watson Lake.

Kayak at the Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott AZ

The Dells are a fabulous place to explore on foot — or by boat!

We climbed and scrambled and followed the narrow hiking trails along the edges of Watson Lake. The trails dodged between the boulders and sometimes vanished to become just white dots painted on the rocks until the trail resumed on the other side of the boulders. It made for fun and easy route finding and gave each hike an amusing twist!

Hiking trail through the Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott Arizona

The hiking trails were gravel in some places but became white dots painted on the rocks in others!

Storage ottoman bench for RV

Buddy was totally in his element and scampered over the rocks in sheer delight!

Climbing the boulders at the Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott AZ

Buddy was in his element. We were too!

Hiking the boulders at the Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott AZ

All smiles!

We made a point to go to Watson Lake at dusk on several afternoons, hoping to catch the Granite Dells in the beautiful soft golden light of late afternoon and then watch a stunning sunset. Mother Nature has its own agenda for sunsets, however!

The boulders seemed to glow as the last rays of sun hit the Dells.

The Dells at Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona

Golden glow.

Sunset at Watson Lake Granite Dells Prescott Arizona

What a place!

As I began setting up for a shot, I noticed my shadow on the rocks. How cool is that?!

Photography at the Granite Dells and Watson Lake Prescott Arizona

A ghostly figure under a full moon across from me was busy taking photos of the incredible landscape!

Watson Lake is very popular with kayakers, and we saw lots of them out on the water. As the sun began to sink low in the sky, the kayaks came in from all directions to return to the boat ramp.

Kayaking on Watson Lake between the Dells in Prescott Arizona

Exploring the hiking trails was great, but checking out the views from a kayak might be even better!

Kayaking past the Granite Dells at Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona

Kayaks returned to the boat ramp at the end of the day.

Kayak at Watson Lake Granite Dells in Prescott Arizona at dusk

A kayaker navigates the island Dells to return to shore after a nice ride.

Every direction we looked we saw a stunning view, and we wandered happily from one dazzling photo op to the next. Some of the trees were standing in the water. They looked quite peaceful and very much at home!

Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott Arizona

Heavy rains this year raised the water level until the trees were immersed.

Granite Dells at Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona

The trees didn’t seem to mind this extra drink one bit.

Flashlight

When the sun slipped over the horizon, Mark caught a starburst between the tree branches. Just as he hit the shutter button, Buddy walked right into the picture! But we both love how it turned out.

Puppy at the Dells in Prescott Arizona Watson Lake

Buddy photo-bombed this photo at just the right moment.

Buddy then took a seat so as not to photo-bomb any more images, and he kept a close eye on us.

Puppy resting in the Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott AZ

Buddy patiently waited and watched as we took endless photos.

One night, the sunset was more subdued than we would have wished, but the setting was so glorious it didn’t matter. Such beauty!

Watson Lake Dells near Prescott Arizona the Granite Dells

The Granite Dells at dusk.

Watson Lake Granite Dells near Prescott AZ

Magnificent!

On another night, the brilliant colors in the sky we’d hoped for never appeared at all. But we were in seventh heaven anyway, crawling around on these rocks and savoring the gorgeous views.

The Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott Arizona plus a puppy

I noticed this wonderful dead tree by the side of the trail and Buddy watched me as I got set up. Behind him, Mark was busy creating another beautiful composition.

Watson Lake Granite Dells near Prescott Arizona

Watson Lake and the Granite Dells are such a surprise in the high desert and pine forests of Prescott AZ.

Watson Lake Granite Dells in Prescott AZ

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At last we got a sunset to remember. The sky and its reflections in the water went from bright orange to peachy pink to a rich pink and blue.

Granite Dells at Watson Lake Prescott AZ

Lots of people come out to Watson Lake to watch the sunset, and when the sky first lit up on fire, we heard a roar of cheers from somewhere high up in the rocks!

Sunset behind the Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott Arizona

Then the sky turned peach and pink.

Granite Dells at Watson Lake near Prescott Arizona

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over

And then it settled into a rich pink and blue. Ahhhh!

Granite Dells at Watson Lake Prescott AZ.jpg

“That was such a rush, I’ve gotta rest for a while!”

We will always remember that afternoon!

If you visit Prescott, Arizona, be sure to wander down to Watson Lake Park and explore the Granite Dells. There are lots of trails to choose from. We stayed close to the shore but the Dells fill a huge area that extends all the way from Watson Lake to neighboring Willow Lake a few miles away.

Watson Lake is popular with both locals and visitors, and you’ll have plenty of company to share the experience with. But everyone around you will be grinning from ear to ear and will be very happy to be there. It’s that kind of place!

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Location of The Dells – Google Maps

Other blog posts about the lakes near Prescott, Arizona:

More cool blog posts from rocky areas that are fun to explore:

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