Getting to the US required 3 planes.
Saguaro cactus top in
Starling chicks in a saguaro nest.
Mom takes good care of the babies in their fallen home.
A cardinal enjoys a
snack on our table.
The Mogollon Rim.
It's a little scary right at the edge, but
few can resist a shot.
Smoke from the Gladiator Fire approaches.
Wildfire smoke obscures the sun.
The awesome little paved rimside trail.
It's great to be alive.
Spring - a time for new growth.
An elk calf in the grass.
Woods Canyon Lake.
Jim Gray's Petrified Wood
Petrified logs ready for splitting.
Geodes ready for opening.
They're cute, just don't get bit.
Petrified Forest National Park.
A tree trunk that has cracked into drums.
They built 'em small in 1200 AD
The National Park calls these rock structures "teepees."
Collared lizard on a petrified log.
Cows watch us approach.
Puerco Pueblo housed 1,200 people.
A stork carrying a baby, for sure!!
Santa Fe Railroad.
A rusting relic near the old Route 66.
Mogollon Rim & Petrified Forest National Park
April-May, 2012 - It took us a few days to decompress after our awe inspiring three
at Agua Azul and Misol-Ha. But we had received alarming news while in the jungle
that Mark's parents had unexpectedly taken very ill. Their prognosis for survival had
become bleaker by the day.
We scrapped our plans to
sail 200 miles further to El
Salvador where a rollicking
annual rally of 50 boats was
in full swing, and instead
prepared our boat Groovy for a six month wait at Marina Chiapas while
we made a hasty retreat back to Mark's family homestead in Michigan.
It was jarring and disorienting to rejoin
modern American life after months of
immersion in southern Mexican culture.
Far more upsetting, however, was suddenly finding ourselves face-to-face with the specter of
death. We passionately pursue our dreams everyday, always feeling the immense pressure of
time, but now the grim reaper was at the door trying to collect. For days we huddled inside the
drab sterile walls of a modern health care facility trying to be positive while pondering the
Fortunately, spring was in full bloom outside. Flowers were bursting with
color everywhere, and flowering trees seemed to grace every front yard.
Every time we stepped outside we were greeted by the cheerful image
of tulips, a heartwarming flower neither of us had seen for years.
Very gradually, and totally miraculously, both of Mark's parents began to
recover and were able to return home. As they gained strength we did
too, and the dark, raw emotions in our hearts began to ease. Out in a
friend's garden a cluster of bleeding hearts reminded us that often the
most precious things in life are also the most fragile, and that life itself is
a gift we receive every day.
When we eventually returned to our own hometown in Phoenix, Arizona, we
found spring had sprung there too. Our beloved saguaro cactuses were
wearing their little springtime crowns of white flowers on every limb.
Just a few weeks earlier an ancient saguaro in a friend's
yard had died and toppled over. It now held the fledgling
chicks of a starling that had moved into her condo when
the cactus was still upright.
Despite living in a house that was now eight inches from the ground,
not a great spot for a small bird, she bravely got those chicks raised to
adolescence, and in no time they had all moved out.
We got our trailer out of storage, dusted it off, and set up camp at
nearby Roosevelt Lake. Still recovering from all that had gone on, and
feeling a bit battle weary, we reveled in watching a cardinal come to
our little seed plate every day. We could have stayed for a month, but unfortunately the desert temps
were climbing and soon became intolerable.
Fortunately, just 80 miles north of Phoenix we found ideal temps
up on the Mogollon Rim (pronounce "Mugeeyone"). At 7500'
we were in the cool pines, and we found a camping spot right on
the edge of the rim with views to the valley floor far below.
The rim is a jagged shelf of flat rocks that stick out in layers.
The views are expansive and the smell of the ponderosa pines
is invigorating. There is something about the edge of the rim
that is very alluring and draws people to it, even though the
sheer drop-off is a little unnerving. At all the scenic overlooks
everyone gets out of their cars and walks right out to the edge
to take in the view and get a photo.
While we were there four huge forest fires were
burning in the valley below us. The Gladiator Fire
made the national news, and we saw the hotshot
firefighting team's base camp nearby. Firefighters
had been flown in from all over the country to help
out, and some 1,000 people were fighting the
blaze. The smoke was intense
at one point, and it billowed
over us like a huge wave.
That evening the sun was
almost totally obscured by the
smoke. But the hotshots
managed to wrestle all the
fires under control, and in just
a few days the air was clear
We discovered a wonderful
paved trail that runs along the
edge of the rim for a few miles.
Luckily for us, it had just been
lengthened by a mile. The edge of the rim
is magical, and at every rock outcropping
we found ourselves stopping to get another
look. This same trail also heads into the
forest towards Woods Canyon Lake where
it weaves past several campgrounds. We
rode our bikes along the trail and savored
the crisp air and pretty views.
Spring was happening up here too. The
pines were all adorned with their new
feathery soft needles, and we found flowers
that looked like wild irises growing in a
We passed a mother elk
sitting under a tree
chewing her cud. Nearby
her young calf was
hanging out chewing its
cud too. They were
totally indifferent to our
presence -- or to that of
the cars that had started
to stack up in the road as
everyone grabbed their
cameras and jumped out
for photos. We stood
there for quite some time
watching the mouths of
these two large animals slowly working around and
around while their gazes wandered calmly between us
and the cars. It was as if they were kids hanging around
at the street corner, chewing gum, and waiting for
something to happen.
Woods Canyon Lake is cool and serene, surrounded
by pines. Families were out fishing and an energetic
guy rowed a skull back and forth.
We stayed in this beautiful mountain forest
for two weeks, settling into our homestead
as if it were our own private mountain home.
Every day we ran, biked and walked. Then
we read, napped, played on the internet and
watched the boob tube, something we hadn't
done for eight months. Isn't it amazing, we
kept saying to each other, that we can get 12
Phoenix digital TV stations via our antenna
and good internet from our nifty new Verizon
MiFi unit, while we are camped several miles
down a dirt road deep in the woods on the
edge of a cliff?!
It was hard to leave, but once we
got the wheels rolling on our
buggy, we couldn't wait to get out
and see our beautiful country. Our
first stop was the Petrified Forest
National Park. Actually, we
stopped just before the National
Park because the guy who owns
the vast acreage next door has
been mining petrified logs from as
deep as 30' down in the ground for
decades, and the collection he has
on display and for sale at his store
"Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company" is astonishing.
Petrified logs are created when a log gets buried in sediment, preventing rot, and then becomes
infiltrated by silica in the groundwater, replacing its organic material. This stuff eventually
crystallizes and "petrifies" the whole log. Over time, as erosion peels the ground out from under
the log, it cracks into short drum-shaped pieces that for all the world look like they are ready for
We wandered through the
endless display of petrified logs
and even found a pile of geodes
out back. This pile stood almost
10' tall and maybe 30' around at
the base. What a treasure trove!
This is also dinosaur country,
and the local gift shops have all
kinds of fun making crazy
displays for tourists. Mark found
a few out by the geodes.
Petrified Forest National Park is an easy park to miss
inadvertently because it sits on a road that cuts between an
Arizona highway and an interstate. We had made that mistake
years ago. We had driven along at 55 mph waiting to see a
Forest, and we skipped the pullouts because there was no
evidence there was any Forest there. After an hour we emerged
at the other end of the park having seen nothing but wide plains
and a few scattered logs in the distance. That goof-up has been
a standing joke between us ever since.
The only way to see this national park is to get out
and do some hikes. The hilly field behind the
visitors center is strewn with huge logs, many
resting in a row and fitting together to make an
entire tree trunk. These things are massively heavy
and are 8 times harder to cut than granite. From a
distance the crystalized bark, knots and tree rings
look lifelike, but up close the agate colors merge
and swirl in non-treelike patterns.
We hiked on the Long Logs trail which features one tree
trunk after another, each one segmented into shorter
logs that lie end-to-end. Looking around the sweeping,
empty, grassy plains it is hard to imagine that 260 million
years ago this area was a logjam in an ancient riverbed,
back when all the continents were joined and Arizona's
latitude was somewhere around modern day Panama.
13 species of large but extinct pines forested the area.
Out at the Agate House we
found an ancient Indian
pueblo made of petrified
wood pieces. Archaeologists
believe it was constructed
between 1050 and 1300 AD.
Those guys built very small
The trail took us past tall,
horizontally striped "sand
piles" that are now solid
stone. It looked like a gravel
yard that had been carefully
layered in different types of gravel. The heights of the
dark stripes matched from one pile to the next. There is
an otherworldly quality to this landscape.
As we walked back to the
truck Mark spotted a collared
lizard sitting on a hunk of
petrified wood. His little pink
mouth seemed to be grinning,
and his long skinny tail trailed
almost twice his body length
This is cattle ranching country
too, and before we could get
to the petrified log that spans a chasm -- the Agate Bridge -- we had to
get past a group of cows standing in the middle of the road. These
guys didn't move an inch as we drove past. Only their heads turned to
watch us as our enormous truck and trailer nearly brushed them when
we drove by.
The Puerco Pueblo hike took us to an ancient Indian settlement built
around 1250 AD. It was home to some 1,200 people. 6'x8' was a typical
seen a few thousand miles to the south, these ruined walls have been
just a foot in height.
Far more intriguing
for us were the
petroglyphs that the
pecked into the nearby rocks. One showed what
looked to me like a stork carrying a baby. I'm sure
the archaeologists would disagree about that, but
these images are often a bit like ink blots -- what
you see in them is up to you.
The park road crosses I-40 and deposits visitors in
the middle of the Painted Desert. But first you get a glimpse of the
Santa Fe railroad and some relics of the old Route 66. While we
were wandering the hiking trails closest to I-40 we kept hearing
the horns and rumbles of endlessly long trains rolling past. I
climbed up on a bridge overlooking the tracks and caught a train
as it approached. Running to the other side I watched it
disappear around the bend. These tracks date back to 1882
when the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad went through. Early visitors
to the park arrived by train and took guided tours hosted by the
Fred Harvey company.
Mark was fascinated by an ancient rusting hulk of a car
that had been abandoned long ago on the side of the
old Route 66. Stretching 2,200 miles from Chicago to
Los Angeles, that historic road passed right through
this area, bringing tourists to the park in their own
private cars instead of by train. Now this part of Route
66 is overgrown by prairie grasses.
Our final miles along the park road
took us past some incredible vistas
overlooking the Painted Desert. This is
a colorful area of more gravel-pit
looking solid stone "sand piles," and
we had taken so long
getting through the park
that we arrived while the
late afternoon sun was
lighting the vivid
landscape to its most
brilliant hues. Gazing out
at this exotic land, the
sun beating down on us
and our sinuses rapidly
shriveling up in the dry air, it was hard to imagine what the ancients or the early
settlers must have thought or how they even survived. So harsh and yet so
By now our spirits were fully restored. As we studied our maps we decided to
head north via the tiny squiggle labeled "Indian Route 12" and head towards
Canyon de Chelly National Park. This road was marked as a scenic route
but despite being Arizona residents before our traveling lifestyle we had never
heard of it before.
Wildflowers in Parowan, Utah.
Yankee Meadows Lake,
Antique Tractor Show
Miss Iron County
and her attendants.
Over the top Las Vegas glam.
Fancy racing bikes at Interbike.
Mark Cavendish's winning ride.
Mark meets George Hincapie.
A big horn sheep in the Las Vegas suburbs.
Time passes more
slowly in Williams, AZ.
One tourist came to town in style.
Cruiser's Cafe 66 has live music in the afternoon.
Route 66 memorabilia is
A cheery gas station from yesteryear.
A mannequin greets patrons at the Red
American Flyer is a coffee shop for cyclists.
The road to Sycamore Canyon.
After 20 miles of dirt roads, we find Sycamore Canyon.
White Horse Lake
A dam holds the water back from Williams.
September, 2011 - While exploring the hiking trails at Red Canyon our legs were still
itching to run, so we decided to put them to the test a little further south at Parowan, Utah's
Labor Day Iron County Fair 5K. We had done this race three years prior, and we toed the
start line alongside the local speedsters from the high
school track team, hoping to match our old times.
By some miracle we both bettered our times, and Mark
left his peers in the dust. But it was the 80-year-old
Paul Flanagan who completed the 6500' altitude race in
a brisk 25 minutes that really got our attention. Heck,
he was older than most of the tractors at the fair's
antique tractor show, and he was a whole lot faster.
The Labor Day parade
was much as we
remembered it, showing
off both the young beauty
queens and older ukelele
singers. The arts and
crafts show was filled with
blue ribbons for Best in
Show of everything from
quilts to apple pies to giant
backyard pumpkins. And
the ferris wheel was
loaded with people swinging their legs and
eating cotton candy while taking in the
We continued down I-15 on our way to Las
Vegas for the annual bicycle industry trade
show, Interbike. The glitz and glam of this
crazy, over-the-top city greeted us warmly,
and we were soon immersed in the world of
bikes and cycling. Vendors showed off the
latest in their lineup of snazzy looking racing
bikes, and crowds formed around Mark
Cavendish's multiple stage winning Tour de
Cavendish wasn't on hand himself, but Lance
Armstrong's legendary lieutenant George
Hincapie showed up to add a little star power to
Las Vegas is an enormous spread of urban
sprawl that reaches out into a vast desert, but
sometimes there is a little blurring of the two
worlds at the edges. As we passed through
one of the Las Vegas suburbs on the interstate
we saw two big horn sheep standing at the
edge of the highway watching the cars go by.
The cars, of course, wanted to watch the
sheep just as much, and a huge traffic jam
soon formed as we stared at each other.
Our final destination for this all-too-brief season of
RVing was Williams, Arizona, about 50 miles south
of the Grand Canyon on I-40. It is one of the
showcase towns along the old historic Route 66, and
there are fanciful nods to mid-twentieth century car
travel on every corner.
There is a fun, quirky and festive air to this town,
and every afternoon you can hear live music playing
on the patio at Cruiser's Cafe 66 where the local
Grand Canyon Brewery beers are served.
An antique gas
station features a
vintage car sitting at
old fashioned gas
pumps. Inside there
are all kinds of Route
66 souvenirs and
The Red Garter Inn
is adorned with a
woman hanging out
of an upstairs window luring
people to pay a visit.
The American Flyer coffee
shop is a bike-and-bean
bistro with creatively
designed coffee tables and
shelves, all made with
Williams sits on the edge of
Kaibab National Forest,
and it harbors a special
secret that I suspect many
tourists miss. Somewhere
in the fine print of a
Williams tourist brochure I
found a tantalizing
description of Sycamore
Canyon, Arizona's second
largest canyon (after the
Grand one). We had
never heard of it before
and definitely had to go check it out.
Getting to it requires a long
drive on dirt roads through the
woods. The directions said to
allow 3.5 hours for the trip but I
figured that was only for
slowpokes. Four hours later,
as we emerged from our
adventure, I realized that being
a slowpoke is the only way to
get through these woods.
wound up and
bringing us to a
we drove right
out to the edge
of a huge cliff.
The canyon is
gnarly old trees, and it's basin is
lined with a light smattering of
greenery and bushes that soften
its sharp, jagged edges.
Wandering back along the dirt roads through the woods we came
across White Horse Lake and then returned to Williams past a dam
that protects the town from deluge.
Despite the proximity of the interstate I-40 and the town of Williams, the woods in
this part of Kaibab National Forest feel very remote. One night we heard loud
animal noises, and in our sleepy state we thought we were hearing coyotes. The
next night the sound was right outside the trailer and we opened the windows to
listen carefully. It was a nearby elk bugling. He couldn't have been more than a
few hundred feet from the trailer, but in the moonless pitch dark we couldn't see
him. Sometimes in the distance we could hear another elk answering. The next
morning a small elk harem ran past our campsite. Six females charged by us
followed by a solitary male
in the rear.
It was really hard to say
goodbye to the magic of
summertime in the
ponderosa pine woods, but
the temperatures were
dropping fast and Groovy
was waiting patiently in San
Carlos, Mexico. We had some chaotic logistics ahead of us to put the
trailer to bed and re-awaken the boat, but we wanted to catch the warm
water in the Sea of Cortez before winter's chilly fingers took it in its grasp.
Flagstaff's San Francisco peaks seen across the meadow outside Bonito Campground.
Coconino Forest's ponderosa pine woods.
Wildflowers at Bonito.
San Francisco peaks.
The meadow that used to be filled with
sunflowers is now parched and cracked.
Some sunflowers line the road.
Sunset Crater just before a downpour.
Looking down at Nalakihu from Citadel Pueblo.
Lomaki Box Canyon dwellings.
View from inside Wupatki Pueblo.
Lomaki Box Canyon dwellings.
Looking out at the high desert plains from Citadel Pueblo.
Wupatki Pueblo and its round Kiva (gathering place).
Wupatki Pueblo, home for about 100 people.
Mark plays with the blow hole's breezes.
Our picnic is cut short by looming black skies.
Bonito Campground & Wupatki Nat'l Monument, Flagstaff, AZ
August, 2011 - We crossed the Sea of Cortez from just north of Bahía Concepción on the Baja side of Mexico to San Carlos on
the mainland side in late June, a 75 mile jaunt. It was the very best sailing day in our entire seven months spent cruising the
Mexican coast: bright sunny skies, flat seas, and a sprightly wind drawing us along on a close reach. Our arrival in San Carlos was
the first step of our re-entry into civilization and the US, and each stage of re-entry was a shock.
Perhaps the most jarring
moment in this process was our
first trip to a Super Frys
supermarket in Phoenix. What a
staggering abundance of
gorgeous produce, so beautifully
presented and in such perfect
condition! Mark and I stood and
stared in amazement, mouths
open in awe. "Where's my
camera?" I cried. Our friends
thought we were nuts.
Getting to Phoenix from San
Carlos required an 11 hour bus ride,
and we then returned to San Carlos by
truck (a mere eight hour drive) to deliver
some things to the boat and relieve the
boat of other things
we didn't need any
Then over the next
six weeks we
skidded from being
merely bone tired to
exhausted as we ticked off the endless items on our "to do" list of
chores. We lived as perennial house guests, bouncing between
generous friends' homes.
The madness culminated with finding new tenants for our
townhouse. Sleeping on an air mattress in our empty
townhouse during a frantic week of repainting the interior, we
realized we had come full circle. Four years of traveling, with
only the briefest visits to Phoenix, and here we were back in
our townhouse again, surrounded by the same smells, the
same noises, the same sensations that had been the essence
of our old home. What had the last four years meant? Had we
grown or just taken a big detour through life? There was no
time to think about that; there were chores to do!
behind us, we grabbed
the trailer out of
storage and dashed up
to Flagstaff as fast as
we could go. We made
a beeline for Bonito
Campground, our all-
boondockers, we splurged on a weeklong stay there while we re-familiarized
ourselves with the RV lifestyle and restocked the trailer with everything we had
pillaged from it for the boat.
Here at 7000' elevation we finally began to take stock and get some perspective on all
that we'd been through. When we left Phoenix in 2007, real estate was peaking at
astronomical prices. Now, on our return, there was a sea of homes in various stages
of financial distress and foreclosure. Few real estate signs were visible, however. The
panic was largely on paper and online, and too often was manifested in midnight
moves. Some of our once-wealthy friends were now scrambling to pick up the pieces
of their lives, while other less well-heeled friends were suddenly able to afford
The city's everpresent, massive
expansion into the outlying pristine
desert was temporarily on hold while it adjusted to the new economy. Our
memories of Phoenix as it once was were overlaid onto Phoenix as it is today,
and there were areas where the images meshed, and areas where they were
like two different places.
Some of the changes were within ourselves as well. Our souls were the same,
but all this traveling had expanded our knowledge of the lands around us, and
we had come to know ourselves better too. These thoughts swirled around us
as we rested and strolled about Bonito's pretty grounds. Life aboard Groovy in
Mexico felt like a far distant dream.
The land surrounding Bonito Campground has changed too. Last year this part
of Coconino National Forest was devastated by the Schultz wildfire which wiped out some
15,000 acres, mostly on the area's mountain slopes. Campers at Bonito were evacuated
twice, first to escape the fire and later to avoid the erosion-caused floods. As a ranger
explained to us, the floods altered the landscape forever and
even moved floodplains. Many nearby homes were damaged
or lost, a young girl drowned, and the water rose to about 8' in
the campground's amphitheater, leaving the place buried in
Knowing some of this before we arrived, it was with trepidation
that we approached the campground. The meadow that is
usually teeming with bright yellow sunflowers at this time of
year was devoid of blooms and parched and cracked in
places. But what a thrill it was to see and smell our beloved
ponderosa pine woods. Bonito's soul is the same, just singed
a bit here and there. The wildflowers still line the edges of the
roads and promise to return to the meadows. The
hummingbirds still buzz the campers looking for easy
meals in feeders. Some ponderosas have blackened
trunks, but the tops are green.
However, the Schultz fire was
nothing compared to the volcano
that erupted at next-door Sunset
Crater around 1050 AD. Spewing
marble-to-football sized chunks of
rock into the air for a few months
(or possibly several years), the
evacuation of the local farmers
lasted for generations. The
volcano layered the land for many
miles around in a thick blanket of
cinder. In its last moments it spat
out a final burst of cinder that was oxidized to a rust color. This gives the mountain a distinctive
orange-red top to this day, and the sun and shadows spend their days playing with the color.
We took a drive through the
nearby Indian ruins at Wupatki
National Monument. These
were built 50-100 years after
the eruption by the so-called
Sinagua people who returned
to the area to find that the
blanket of volcanic ash now
helped keep rare moisture in
the soil. They somehow eked out a farm life, living essentially
"sin agua" or "without water."
The ruins are like tiny dots on vast open plains, each located
several miles apart. The San Francisco mountains line the
horizon, but there are few trees or other protection between the open lands and the sky.
We opted to start at the far end of the drive, visiting the more remote
ruins first. These were built above small box canyons that are
essentially ditches in the ground bounded on two or three sides by 100'
rock cliffs. The cliffs provide the only weather protection in the area.
The Sinagua people understood real estate: location location location.
It was early
morning and utterly
crunching of my
feet on the gravel paths made the cottontail
bunnies run, and lizards of all shapes and
sizes scurried for cover under rocks along
the trail. We were the only visitors at each
ruin, lending a sense of magic to each
At the biggest ruin, Wupatki Pueblo,
Mark played with the natural
"blow hole" air vent. The
National Park Service has built
a structure around it, but the
blow-hole itself is the real deal,
blowing air out or sucking it in
depending on ambient
temperatures and air pressures.
As we returned to the
campground the sky turned
black, thunder rolled and
lightning streaked the sky. For
seven months on the boat in
Mexico we hadn't seen a single
drop of rain. The deluge that came now was fantastic.
We drove through it
laughing, barely able to
see the road ahead, and
we jumped back in the
trailer, glad to have real
shelter. It was so great to
be back in our RV lifestyle
again. The rain pummeled
our roof all afternoon, and
we fell asleep to the plink
plink plink of raindrops
overhead. Little did we
know the downpours
would continue for several days. The sun finally returned in full blaze
as we took off to head north to Dixie National Forest in Utah.
The road to the North Rim winds through meadows.
Monsoon season was just starting.
A little piece of heaven camping in the Kaibab
The North Rim Lodge has
Sofa Room at the Lodge
Lodge Dining Room
Sun Porch at the Lodge
Bright Angel Point trail
Bright Angel Point
Bright Angel Point
Hiking in the Kaibab forest
We came across a clearing overflowing with lupines.
The aspens cluster together.
Point imperial Lookout
Ken Patrick Trail from Point Imperial
Grand Canyon - North Rim
June 24 - July 13, 2008 - We left Flagstaff in search of cooler weather,
and we found that and much more at the North Rim of the Grand
Canyon. The road from Jacob Lake to the North Rim is 44 miles of
After descending through dense woods, some of which were badly
burned in a wildfire in 2005, the road shakes out its curves, the tall
pines step back, and you fly along through lush meadows. These
meadows were green when we arrived in June, but by the time we left
in July there were wildflowers of all colors scattered about. The
elevation in this part of the world hovers between 8,500 and 9,000
feet, making the warm summer season very short. When we first arrived the sun was abundant and the air was warm.
By the time we left the summer monsoons were in full swing, bringing
thick, black storm clouds every afternoon. You could almost set your
clock by the 2:00 thunderstorms. We camped in a little forest glade
that was pure heaven. Our only neighbors were a jackrabbit and a
deer, both of which made several appearances, and a gorgeous male
western tanager who appeared near the end of our stay. Our little
clearing was lined with aspen that quivered whenever the wind blew.
Our first evening in our little paradise we watched the sun set while
listening to John Denver sing about nature. The warblers chimed in and
the aspen seemed to laugh and
dance in the orange glow of the
setting sun. It was magic.
Our first trip to the Rim itself took us
on the farthest reaching road,
passing Vista Encantada and taking
us down to Angel's Window and
Cape Royal. Vista Encantada was
bursting with wildflowers. Yellows,
oranges and even the bright pink of a prickly pear cactus flower
enhanced the rust reds of the canyon. The North Rim is not heavily
visited, and we were the only people at this lookout, gazing at the jaw-
dropping vistas while clicking away on the cameras.
Cape Royal, a massive lookout area, lies at the end of this road.
There is a charming paved walking trail through the scrub brush and
woods that leads out to Angel's Window as well as Cape Royal. We
couldn't believe that we were the only ones on the trail. Angel's
Window gives you a glimpse of the Colorado River if you peak
through, but once you climb onto the top of this arch formation you
get an unobstructed view.
As we walked we were overcome with the sweetest fragrance. A
trailside plaque told us that the Cliff Rose was responsible for this
heady aroma. We breathed deeply and walked slowly. We were
here at the perfect time of
Returning towards the
buggy, we stopped at some
of the viewpoints we had
skipped on our way out.
Walhalla Lookout is the
gathering place for a daily
ranger talk about the
ancients who lived in this
region, growing crops on a plateau 5,000 feet below at the Colorado River in the winter and moving up to the Rim in the summer.
There were some Indian ruins from 800 years ago, including a granary where they stored seeds for future planting. From where
we stood we could easily see Mt. Humphreys in the San Francisco Peaks back in Flagstaff. A 200 mile drive by car, the mountain
was just 50 miles away as the condor flies. I watched the clouds gathering over Mt. Humphreys as the afternoon monsoons began
to build, and suddenly I understood why the Indians have always viewed the mountain as sacred. From that hot, dry plateau way
down on the Colorado River, it would be only natural to believe that the mountain held a mystical power to create clouds and rain.
Those clouds and their life-giving moisture drifted over the canyon
and a light rain began to fall.
Another morning we walked the Transept Trail from the campground
to the North Rim Lodge. This dirt path hugs the rim and occasionally
peaks out at a view that grows broader and broader as you approach
The Lodge was built in 1928 and reflects the
elegance and simplicity of that earlier time. It is a
stone and timber structure with enormous windows
overlooking the stunning view. In the early days
visitors were greeted by singing staff members, and
the first view they got of the canyon was through
the immense windows that drew them across the
wide lobby floor. Those windows are equally
alluring today, and comfy leather sofas fill the
A beautiful dining room also
has towering windows that
look out at Canyon views,
and it is impossible not to
feel a tie to the past when
seated beneath these
The Lodge also has a
sunporch with open-air
seating in front of the
spectacular view. What a
place to enjoy a latte, soak in
the view, and maybe even
read the paper.
From the Lodge we wandered out on the paved Bright Angel Point
trail. This is a pretty walk that takes you to the very end of the
peninsula that the North Rim Village is built on.
We clambered up onto the towering rocks to check out the many
views. At the end you can see the widest part of the Canyon laid out
before you, stretching 21 miles to the South Rim. We were able to
make out the tower at Desert View but couldn't see the other buildings
on the South Rim. The immensity, colors and shapes were a feast for
We felt very blessed
to be able to stay in
the area for three
weeks. After each
visit to the Rim we
would spend a day or
two back at the trailer
looking at our photos,
experience. There is
a lot to see in the
Forest as well, and
we did a lot of cycling
and hiking, checking out
the maze of dirt roads in
As we stayed more and
more flowers began to bloom
and on one hike we found
ourselves in a lush bed of
lupines. There was a variety
of shapes and hues, and we
came back to this area
several times to enjoy the
rich colors. A little further
down this road we found bunches of
yellow flowers that grew in clumps, like
nature's perfect little bouquets.
Mark noticed these little black butterflies
zipping around us periodically, and one
finally stopped long enough for him to
get its picture.
We drove out to Point Imperial
and hiked a portion of the Ken
Patrick trail to the south. From
that viewpoint you can see the
Little Colorado River in the
distance. It is a sheer canyon
that looks like a crack in the flat
landscape. It almost looks like a
child took a stick and dragged it
across the sand in jagged motions,
leaving a deep trench in its wake.
Point Imperial is not hard to miss.
As we walked along the trail we saw
it shrinking in the distance behind
us. There were many wonderful old
trees and tiny yellow and red
flowers along the route. We felt so
grateful to be alive to be able
to experience these wonders.
It was hard to leave our little paradise in the
woods at the Grand Canyon, but the monsoons
turned nasty and we found ourselves in
sweatshirts and long pants for several days in a
row. We even got hailed on twice -- pea-sized
hail that piled up on the ground for an hour
before melting. We hadn't seen everything at the
North Rim, but we always leave a few discoveries
for future visits. We wanted to head a little
further north towards Kanab and Bryce Canyon
Campsite at Bonito in Flagstaff.
Boondocking in the Cinder Hills OHV Area
Solar panel installation
Sunset Crater erupted 800 years ago
Smooth cinder hills alongside the road
Cinder hills and lava flow
San Francisco Peaks
Cinders are black gravel and red gravel
San Francisco Peaks
View from the top of the Lava Flow Trail hike
Vermillion Cliffs near Lees Ferry
Neat spot for a house!
Vermillion Cliffs - many colors in the rocks
Start of the climb out of the desert up to the Kaibab Plateau
Sunset Crater National Monument, Arizona
June 4-24, 2008 - We drove from Chanute, Kansas to Flagstaff, Arizona (1,200
miles) in just 3 days. We stopped long enough to weigh the truck and trailer at a
Flying J truck scale and found we were right at the limit. Even though we had filled
only 1/3 of the cabinet space, our weight (with water and propane) was 13,850 lbs --
and the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) is 13,995 lbs. No wonder the truck
noticed the load!! This wasn't the little Lynx any longer! We had met a lot of fifth
wheel owners whose cabinets and closets were stuffed to overflowing. They must
run about 2,000 lbs or more over their GVWR.
As we traveled across
country the air got dryer
and the terrain got craggier. On I-40 in Texas, 10 miles west of the
New Mexico border, there was a very distinct transition from open
plains to a desert landscape. We had left tornado alley in the middle
of tornado season and we were glad to leave the severe storm
warnings and tornado watches behind. However we drove straight
into a vicious headwind all the way across the country, and in New
Mexico and Arizona the winds were staggering. We were paying far
more for gas than we ever had -- and we were getting 8.2 miles per
At an Arizona
another fifth wheel driver discussing routes to Wasington with the host,
trying to find a way to get out of the horrible winds. Not possible! When
we arrived in Flagstaff it felt good to be among the tall pines under clear
blue skies again. The winds eventually subsided, and we relaxed at our
favorite campground northeast of Flagstaff, Bonito Campground. We
retired the truck for a while, sticking to our bikes as much as possible.
Flagstaff has a fantastic store for solar power related items (Northern
Arizona Wind and Sun), and just like the previous year, we used our
time in town to purchase a complete solar setup. We upgraded to
490 watts of power (from 130) and a permanently installed pure sine
wave inverter. We boondocked in the Cinder Hills OHV Area and
Mark took his time installing the new panels on the roof and the
charge controller and inverter in the basement. After three days it
was done, and the system has been phenomenal ever since.
Wherever we are, it is always as if we have full electrical hookups.
The hummingbirds loved our feeder, and we
enjoyed watching them zip around. One
morning a pair of warblers came to the feeder
for a visit. Their beaks weren't shaped quite
right for the feeder, so they didn't stick around,
but I was thrilled to get their picture through
We took some leisurely bike rides through
Sunset Crater National Monument. This is a beautiful area for cycling, as there is no traffic and the road is smooth and scenic.
Sunset Crater blew its top 800 years ago, filling the skies and covering the ground with cinder ash. The cinder ash (black gravel) is
so thick that little can grow in it. This makes the area seem as though the volcano erupted just a few years back. The cinder hills
seem smooth from a distance, and there are places where the gravel is actually black sand. In other spots the black gives way to
shades of red and brown, again making it seem as though this mountain were engulfed in volcanic flames sometime within my own
lifetime. There is a region where the lava flowed, and today it is an impenetrable strip of sharp black rock. If you look closely you
can almost see the ripples and waves as this thick angry goo washed down from the mountain.
In the distance the San Francisco peaks were still snow capped.
Standing over 12,000 feet high, the tallest of the peaks is easily visible
from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon some one hundred miles
away as the condor flies. The Navajo and other native peoples have
long felt that the San Francisco peaks were sacred. I had never really
understood exactly why until a few weeks later when we were camped
on the North Rim and were looking back at these peaks across the
canyon. Every afternoon, like clockwork, the clouds would begin to
form over Mt. Humphreys. There was no doubt that those mountains
attracted -- or were even the source -- of rain. Looking down at the
barren plateau on the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon I
could understand why the ancients revered that distant mountain. It
brought them much needed water for their crops.
We took a hike with friends up the Lava Flow Trail and
found some spectacular views of the San Francisco
peaks and the valleys surrounding the mountains. It
was a steep but short climb up the hill and well worth
the view at the top.
When we first arrived in Flagstaff the overnight
temperatures were in the 30's and daytime highs were
in the high 60's. After a few weeks the highs were
getting into the 90's. Even boondocked in total shade
(we found it was a miracle that the solar panels still
fully charged the batteries everyday despite being in
full shade!), we were too hot. It was time to move on
to somewhere cooler.
We headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It
is a significant drive to get there. Even though
condors and intrepid hikers
can cross the chasm in just 21
miles, it is a 200 mile trip by
car, because you have to go
way to the east, then a bunch
north, way to the west, and
then drop south to get there.
The drive takes you through
some beautiful desert
areas. The Vemillion
Cliffs are stunning, jutting
up out of the desert floor
in vibrant shades of
orange, red, and even
turquoise. There is little
in the way of towns on
this drive, just occasional
hamlets with perhaps a
store and cluster of
trailers. We drove with
our eyes glued to the
After taking the big left turn near Lees Ferry to head west, the red desert
suddenly gives way to greenery and you begin a steep and winding climb
up onto the Kaibab Plateau. The desert floor is at about 4,000 feet
elevation and the top of the Kaibab Plateau is at about 9,000 feet. North
Rim here we come!!