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 and check out our GEAR STORE!!


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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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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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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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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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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

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Lynx Lake, Arizona – Great RV Camping Near Prescott!

Lynx Lake, Arizona, and the nearby attractions around Prescott proved to be a great place for a week-long RV camping shakedown cruise in our toy hauler. This trip gave us a chance to do some exploring and test our solar power upgrade and generator repair before we headed out on our summer travels.

Lynx Lake Arizona sunset

A fiery sunset at Lynx Lake’s South Shore.


Lynx Lake is a quiet spot in the higher elevations of north-central Arizona that is known for great fishing. Sitting at 5,500′ altitude, it is cooler than the Verde Valley and Sonoran Desert parts of Arizona.

We were hoping to get some nice photos, and we played a lot with bracketing our photos (taking identical shots at different exposures) and HDR (combining those images to get the most out of the highlights and shadows).

Sunset at Lynx Lake Arizona

Lynx Lake at dusk.

Lynx Lake is manmade and has two recreational areas, one at the north end near the dam and the other at the south end. The South Shore Day Use area is a wonderful spot with picnic areas and lots of places to fish. That’s where we spent most of our time.

Picnic Day Use area at Lynx Lake Arizona

The day use area at the South Shore of Lynx Lake is beautifully outfitted with picnic areas and grills.

Lynx Lake is known for good fishing and it’s well stocked! There were fishermen along the shore and trolling in boats at every time of day.

Fishing at Lynx Lake Arizona

People were fishing all along the shoreline.

Fishing and trolling at Lynx Lake Arizona

Fishermen were trolling in boats too!

Arizona Delorme Atlas

We followed the shoreline to the far southeast corner where we found a large gravel beach that was perfect for kids and dogs to play in the shallow water.

Shoreline of Lynx Lake Arizona

There’s a beach with shallow water that’s idea for kids and dogs.

A stream ran through a small craggy canyon to the lake. I suspect this area is usually dry or just a trickle, but because of the heavy winter and spring rains, the water spread out into marvelous shallow pools that mirrored their surroundings.

Stream leading to Lynx Lake Arizona

We followed a craggy canyon upstream at the southeast end of the lake.

We caught the trees making lacy shadows in the water.

Tree shadows at Lynx Lake Arizona

Leafy patterns in the water.

Buddy just loved this part of the lake. He loves going in the water, but only up to his armpits! The water was the perfect depth, and he and a few other dogs had fun chasing sticks.

Happy puppy

Buddy and other dogs had fun playing in the water.

A slightly overgrown trail followed these pools far back into the canyon and took us to a surprise manmade waterfall. It was wonderful to be here when there was so much water flowing.

Manmade waterfall at the South Shore of Lynx Lake Arizona

We came across a manmade waterfall that was flowing really well after the heavy winter and spring rains.

At dusk, we wandered back through the canyon along the stream to the main part of the lake where the sun was beginning to do its magic.

Lynx Lake Arizona southeast tip

Peace at twilight.

Lynx Lake Arizona peaceful shoreline

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After all that fresh air and fun at the lake Buddy crashed when we got back to the RV!

Tired pup after a day at the lake

Buddy was dog tired after all that!

There are two campgrounds at Lynx Lake: Lynx Lake Campground and Hilltop Campground.

Lynx Lake Campground has hookups and the sites are better suited to larger RVs. It’s also located halfway between the two main access points to Lynx Lake — the North Shore and the South Shore.

Hilltop Campground is near the South Shore and is better suited to smaller RVs and tents. It is dry camping only. Campsites at both campgrounds can be reserved.

Renogy 200 watt solar panel

We decided to take our chances on squeezing into a site at Hilltop Campground. Some campsites are first come-first serve, which we prefer because you can see what you’re getting yourself into. But with busier campgrounds these days, and not knowing how busy Hilltop Campground might be, we opted to reserve a campsite ahead of time.

We chose a campsite the USFS website said was suitable for a trailer up to 40’ long. Since ours is only 33’ we thought it would be fine. Not!

As we stood there scratching our heads trying to figure out how to shoe-horn our rig into the sloped and tightly curved pull-through campsite, the campground host showed up in his golf cart and kindly offered to put us in a big former campground host site that he kept available for people in a bind like we were. Phew! It was plenty long enough and didn’t have any weird sharp turns.

RV Camping at Hilltop Campground Lynx Lake Arizona

We had a wonderful stay at Hilltop Campground.

Many sites at Hilltop Campground are called pull-through sites, but they are really just pullouts along the campground loop road. You’re basically just pulled over on the side of the road. We would have fit into several of those but they were full.

campsite at Hilltop Campground at Lynx Lake Arizona

Most pull-through campsites at Hilltop Campground are simply pull-outs from the campground loop road.

The campground pads in the campsites themselves are beautifully constructed, however. It’s a very hilly area, and each site has a large tent pad, picnic table and fire ring, often at different levels and facing into the woods.

Campsite at Hilltop Campground at Lynx Lake Arizona hiking trails

The campground pads are nicely constructed. Many are multi-level and there’s always a large tent pad and area around the picnic table and fire ring. Plenty of room to spread out!

There are wonderful hiking trails running all through ponderosa woods around Hilltop Campground and down to the lake. These would be ideal for mountain biking. We didn’t bring any bikes with us, but we walked these trails every day. Well, Buddy ran them at full speed sometimes! We were always the only ones on the trail.

Hilltop Campground at Lynx Lake Arizona hiking trails

The hiking trails around the campground were fabulous and rarely used.

We love ponderosa pine woods because the trees are spaced wide apart, creating a natural park-like atmosphere. You don’t feel closed in by the trees and have lots of open areas between them strewn with soft pine needles.

Ponderosa pine forest at Lynx Lake Arizona

A natural alley in the ponderosa pines.

Happy Camper Holding Tank Treatment

Each evening we wandered down to the lake to catch the sunset.

Lynx Lake Arizona at sunset

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A pretty sunset was reflected in the lake’s surface.

There is a hiking trail that goes all the way around the lake. On the eastern shoreline it is a narrow trail that is very lightly used. On the western shore it is a paved walking path that is very popular. We liked the intimacy of the eastern shoreline trail.

Hiking trail on the eastern shore of Lynx Lake Arizona

The hiking trail along the eastern shore of the lake is narrow and has very few hikers on it.

Park bench on the eastern shore of Lynx Lake

At one point on the eastern shoreline trail we came across a park bench with a pretty view.

The sunsets were lovely. The week we were there was windy, but on a few evenings the wind quieted down completely and all the ripples in the water disappeared.

Lynx Lake Arizona at sunset

The water was perfectly still as the sun set.

Sunset at Lynx Lake Arizona

The sky lit up just as the sun sank behind the distant trees.

It is amazing how much we relax when we’re out in our RV. As soon as we set up camp, we both let out a huge sigh of relief.

It’s not that our conventional home-based lifestyle is stressful, but somehow there’s always a lot to do that keeps us busy all the time. Also, the focus is very much inward and homeward.

On the road, the focus of the RV lifestyle is outward and full of curiosity about what lies around the next corner. The “busy-ness” of day-to-day living slips away. When we’re camping in the woods, our to do list dwindles to the simplest things: eat, sleep, smell the fresh air, hike, ride the side-by-side, take photos and relax. Napping sneaks in here and there too!

Napping in a toy hauler

Buddy and Mark love napping in the upper bunk bed!

Our newly upgraded solar power system worked great. The batteries never dipped below 12.5 volts. We also had a chance to run the generator, and it purred like a kitten. Yay!

But our real reason for this trip — besides doing a shakedown and exploring Lynx Lake — was to spend some time at nearby Watson Lake and Willow Lake, home to the spectacular Granite Dells.

Here’s a sampler of what’s over there — with lots more to come!

Watson Lake Granite Dells in Prescott Arizona

The Granite Dells at Watson Lake were fabulous — more pics coming!

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Fossil Creek Waterfall – A Pretty Hike to a Scenic Cascade

November 2022 – The Fossil Creek Waterfall in Arizona’s Verde Valley is a scenic cascade at the end of a pretty hike through the woods. It’s especially beautiful when there’s a bit of fall color!

Fossil Creek Waterfall in Arizona a pretty hike to a scenic cascade

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The whole Fossil Creek area was closed for several years due to wildfire erosion damage. When it reopened, lots of people jumped at the chance to hike in this beautiful area once again, and we were among the the very first who showed up the day it opened!

The trailhead is accessed via Fossil Creek Road. One end of this road intersects with AZ Route 260 about 8 miles east of Camp Verde and the other end rolls into the west side of the town of Strawberry.

Arizona Delorme Atlas

Coming from the west, Fossil Creek Road is a dirt road, and since we were unsure what condition it might be in, we thought it would be fun to drive our Polaris RZR side-by-side instead of our truck. The road turned out to be well graded and the drive was easy, even for a passenger car.

Riding a side-by-side to Fossil Creek Arizona

The RZR made getting to the trailhead a lot of fun!

The area near the trailhead had sustained quite a bit of damage. Fortunately, another pair of hikers who knew the area well were parking their car just as we arrived, and they helped us find the start of the trail to the Fossil Creek Waterfall.

Buddy, our little Trail Scout, was excited to lead the way after that!

Dog on the trail at Fossil Creek in Arizona

Buddy loves his job as Trail Scout!

It was autumn and some of the trees were wearing their finest fall colors.

A tree lights up with fall color on the Fossil Creek Waterfall trail in Arizona

Quite a few trees were outfitted in their Fall Finest.

We walked slowly and savored the pretty autumn colors around us. It wasn’t as dazzling as the fall foliage along Colorado’s San Juan Highway or in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but it was lovely nonetheless.

Fall foliage at Fossil Creek in Arizona

We saw some yellow…

Fall color at Fossil Creek in Arizona

…and some red.

Arizona Highways Scenic Drives
Autumn leaves in Arizona

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The trail was a little rocky in some spots and there were a few small water crossings too. Someone had built a bridge across the creek, although it was probably easier to hop over the thin stream of water since it wasn’t very high!

The trail took us across a small bridge

It was easier to jump over the tiny creek, but I took the rickety bridge instead!

Suddenly, we heard rushing water in the distance ahead of us. Some hikers who had done the hike before noticed us staring at it hopefully as they passed. “That’s not the waterfall!” one said with a wink.

We spotted the first cascade at Fossil Creek in the distance

We spotted a small waterfall in the distance.

This little cascade was very pretty, though, and we hung out for a while, sitting under the canopy of trees listening to the sounds of the water tumbling over the rocks.

Fossil Creek Arizona has many waterfalls

We found ourselves in a lovely grotto next to the rushing water.

Fossil Creek Arizona waterfall cascade

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Buddy found his happy place up on a rock and watched us as we took photos.

Beautiful dog at Fossil Creek in Arizona

Buddy surveyed the scene from up on a rock.

We finally tore ourselves away from this lovely little oasis and continued our delightfully shaded hike.

Hike to the Fossil Creek Waterfall in Arizona

The hike to the Fossil Creek Waterfall has plenty of shade.

Fossil Creek Arizona in autumn with fall foliage

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The sounds of the little cascade faded away and were soon replaced with the growing roar of the Fossil Creek Waterfall ahead of us.

Suddenly, the waterfall came into view. Wow!

Fossil Creek Waterfall in Arizona in autumn with fall color

And there it was…beautiful!

A small group of people arrived shortly after us. Some jumped in the water for a swim and made their way over to the waterfall, clambering up on the rock shelf beneath it and going behind the spray to peek out from behind the wall of water.

Swimmers dive into the water at Fossil Creek Waterfall in Arizona

Fossil Creek is a popular swimming hole!

Swimmers stand behind Fossil Creek Waterfall in Arizona

They made it!

We sat down for a while, enjoying the pretty surroundings while hikers and swimmers came and went. We learned that Fossil Creek is so popular in the summertime that you have to get a permit and only a small number of permits are given out each day.

We felt fortunate because it was the off-season and the area had just opened (without fanfare), so we didn’t have to get a permit, and there weren’t any crowds.

Fossil Creek waterfall in Arizona

Seeing Fossil Creek Waterfall is a great reward at the end of this pretty hike.

If you find yourself in Arizona’s Verde Valley, and Fossil Creek is open, we highly recommend you do the hike to the waterfall!

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Where to See WILDFLOWERS (especially POPPIES) in Arizona 2023!

March 2023 — Arizona has received a glorious deluge of rain and snow this winter, and the rivers, streams and lakes are flowing fast and filling up quickly. Yay!

As if in celebration of this divine gift of a long drink for a thirsty land, many parts of the desert are now ablaze in shades of yellow as Arizona’s wild Mexican gold poppies pop their heads out of the ground and point their smiling faces towards the sun.

But where is the best place to see wildflowers — especially poppies! — in Arizona this spring?

Mexican Gold Poppies and California Poppies in Fields of Gold near Phoenix Arizona

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We had a roundabout opportunity to see the poppies when special friends of ours invited us to their winter digs in Apache Junction which is home to Lost Dutchman State Park, a gorgeous spot known for its springtime wildflower display.

The official reason for our visit was to get some troubleshooting help on our Onan 4000 gas generator which has been giving us all kinds of grief since our first night in the trailer last year.

So, what better way to make our sour generator “lemons” into sweet wildflower “lemonade” than to get the machine repaired and upgraded and then go play in the flowers?! (We’ll share the details about the generator, its repair and upgrade in another post).

But first, we had to get there — and on our way we saw the remnants of the recent March blizzard that had buried parts of northern Arizona in several feet of snow!

Winter storm clouds on a northern Arizona road

US-87 north of Strawberry still had plenty of snow on the ground.

As we drove into Apache Junction, the roads were still wet from yet another dose of life-giving rain, and the Superstitions rose up under stormy skies in the distance.

Storm clouds over the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction Arizona

The Supestition Mountains — where we hoped to see wildflowers — looked impressive and imposing as we approached after a rain storm.

At a stop light in the middle of town, at the intersection of Meridian and Brown, we glanced to the right and our jaws dropped at the sight of a vast field of yellow and orange daisies. We quickly parked and jumped out of the truck to take pics.

What was this place and how did these flowers get here?

It turned out that this huge field is owned by a local farmer who works his land with vintage 1960s tractors and farm equipment. He planted this field of daisies and it attracts visitors from far and wide every spring when the field erupts in vibrant color.

Field of Daisies Apache Junction Arizona

A large back yard in Apache Junction is filled with yellow and orange daisies.

As gorgeous as that field was, we wanted to see true wildflowers. So, as soon as the generator repair was completed, we did a hike in Lost Dutchman State Park. Unfortunately, the famous yellow poppies weren’t blooming where we hiked.

We did find one small collection of poppies, though, and it was lovely. But it wasn’t quite what we had in mind.

Wildflowers Mexican Gold poppies Superstition Mountains

The poppies weren’t in their full glory at Lost Dutchman State Park just yet, but we did find a small patch.

Photographing poppies in Lost Dutchman State Park

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Even so, the Superstitions are glorious, and we got some satisfying pics of chain-link cholla cactus against the rugged mountain backdrop. But we were still in search of desert gold!

Chain link cholla cactus Superstition Mountains Arizona

A chain link cholla cactus in the Superstition Mountains..

Here’s a book about finding and photographing Arizona wildflowers that we just love:

We decided to take a drive on the Bush Highway, one of Central Arizona’s most scenic drives (blog post HERE).

The Bush Highway winds up and down and around the steep, rugged and gorgeous Sonoran Desert terrain, passing by lovely Saguaro Lake on its way.

We turned off at the Butcher Jones Recreation Area where there’s a small beach, and as cold and forbidding as the stormy and snowy mountain passes had been on our way here, this place was teeming with summertime beach activity.

Saguaro Lake Butcher Jones Beach Arizona

Saguaro Lake, a man-made lake on the Salt River, is lined with saguaro cactus!

People in bathing suits were drifting around on stand-up paddle boards and kayaks, and families were gathered around coolers on beach blankets and in camp chairs.

It was Spring Break and everyone was whooping it up!!

Butcher Jones Recreation Area Beach at Saguaro Lake Arizona

The Butcher Jones Recreation Area was hopping with happy spring breakers playing on the water.

But we were still on the hunt for massive blooms of poppies. Down at our feet we saw a beautiful bouquet of flowers poking up out of the gravel and sand.

Natural bouquet of beautiful wildflowers in Arizona

A natural bouquet of wildflowers blooms in the sand.

Another pocket of poppies was in full glory near the shore of the lake.

Mexican gold poppies at Saguaro Lake Butcher Jones Beach

We weren’t the only photographers to grab a pic of these poppies!

All of this was fantastic, and the excitement of the Spring Breakers was contagious, but we still weren’t seeing the poppy photo ops we’d hoped for.

We got back in the truck and drove another few miles north on the Bush Highway.

Suddenly, there it was, all around us, about halfway between the lake and US-87.

Mexican Gold Poppies and California Poppies near Saguaro Lake Arizona

Poppies!

The hillsides on either side of the highway were bursting with color, blanketed in vivid yellow poppies!

Mexican Gold Poppies on the Bush Highway in Arizona-2

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Hillsides covered with Mexican Gold poppies near Saguaro Lake Arizona

The desert comes alive.

On either side of the road as far as the eye could see, drivers had parked their cars on the dirt shoulder and people were getting out for a closer look at the spectacle.

Everyone was grinning, cell phone or camera in hand, and excited exclamations and comments filled the air. We all stared at the magnificent scenery in awe.

“Wow!”
“Incredible!”
“I’ve never seen anything like this!”
“Can you believe it?”

Mexican Gold Poppies and California Poppies near Saguaro Lake Arizona

Even though these poppies aren’t the kind that Dorothy walked through in the Wizard of Oz, I kept thinking of that refrain, “Poppies…poppies…poppies!”

We tip-toed between the flowers and found a dirt wash we could walk and were soon immersed in pretty yellow poppies.

Stop and smell the Mexican Gold poppies and California poppies near Saguaro Lake in Arizona

Stop and smell the flowers!

We’ve only seen vast fields of wildflowers where the flowers go on far into the distance a few times, by the side of I-40 in North Carolina (blog posts HERE), by a forest road near Cody Wyoming (see HERE) and at Cedar Breaks in Utah (HERE).

But this display was the biggest and boldest we’d ever seen. Fields of gold…and popping poppies!

21 721 Mexican Gold poppies and Calfironia poppies near Saguaro Lake Arizona

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Fields of Gold with Mexican Gold poppies and California poppies near Saguaro Lake

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Fields of Mexican gold poppies with Weaver's Needle in Arizona

On the Bush Highway, between US-87 and Saguaro Lake, there is stretch of about a mile or two where the rolling hills are covered in poppies right now.

We thought that these were Arizona poppies. After all, they were blooming in Arizona! But Arizona poppies bloom in July and this was mid-March.

Once we were back in our trailer that evening, we poked around online and discovered that these stunning flowers were Mexican Gold Poppies a subspecies of poppy closely related to the California Poppy (which is California’s state flower!).

Back in 1816, German physician and naturalist Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz (1793 – 1831) discovered the poppy genus in the San Francisco area.

Mexican Gold poppies

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Mexican Gold Poppies on the Bush Highway in Arizona

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Poppies in Arizona

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Poppies love dry desert soil and they bloom profusely when they get a long drink during the wintertime. They are sun worshippers too, opening up in bright sunlight and closing their petals tightly when the skies are overcast or gray (and at dawn and dusk which makes them hard to capture in a photo with a sunrise or sunset!).

Mexican Gold Poppies on Arizona Bush Highway

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On the fringes of the rolling hills of brilliant yellow, we found a few poppies standing side by side with other flowers.

Wildflowers smile up at the sun in Arizona

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And, of course, in other places in the desert, especially along the highways, we found lots of other beautiful wildflowers too.

Wildflower in the Sonoran Desert

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Wildflower in Apache Junction Arizona

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Wildflower in the Superstition Mountains Arizona

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Lupine wildflowers in Arizona

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If you visit the Sonoran Desert between late February and early April, you can catch these delightful flowers brightening up the landscape. These pics were taken just a few days ago on March 17, 2023, so if you are there now, be sure to take a drive to see this extraordinary display.

There are wild horses roaming in the area too, another special treat!

Wild horses and poppies on the Salt River in Arizona

The Wild Horses of the Salt River are a beloved herd.

Pup in the flowers

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Dead Horse Ranch State Park + Tuzigoot and Clarkdale

February 2023 – Back in mid-November we spent the better part of a week at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in central Arizona and used it as a home base to visit Tuzigoot, Clarkdale and the Arizona Copper Museum. We’d known about this state park for many years but this was our first time visiting. What a delightful stay we had!

DEAD HORSE RANCH STATE PARK – LAGOONS and TRAILS

The first thing we noticed after we got our campsite set up was the trio of beautiful lagoons that are the centerpiece of the park.

Rich fall colors at Dead Horse Ranch State Park Arizona

Autumn splendor at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in central Arizona.

The name “Dead Horse Ranch State Park” seems strange, but it has a fun origin.

In the late 1940s the Ireys family of Minnesota was looking for a ranch to buy in the southwest, and they visited several prospective properties. At one of them the kids noticed a dead horse. After two days of driving all over the dirt roads of Arizona ranch hunting, the dad asked the kids which one they liked best. “The one with the dead horse!” was the reply!

The Ireys named their ranch, “Dead Horse Ranch” and they lived and worked on the property until the 1970s. When Arizona acquired the ranch, the Ireys made retaining the name one of the conditions of the sale. Dead Horse Ranch State Park officially opened on June 1, 1977.

The lagoons in Dead Horse State Park Arizona

The lagoons are a highlight at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Many people think that the desert regions in Arizona don’t have four seasons. However, that’s not entirely true, despite winters being warmer than elsewhere!

There is a distinct Fall season, complete with brilliant autumn colors, that arrives about a month or two later than the northern states, and Spring brings lots of wildflowers. Summer is, well, a lot like being in an oven!

Trees near the lagoons at Dead Horse State Park Arizona

Under the golden arches.

We found some wonderful hiking trails that meandered under the canopy of trees that grow alongside the Verde River. Buddy loved exploring these trails ahead of us and then dashing back to tell us what he’d found!

Fast dog sprints in the woods

“You wouldn’t believe what’s up there!”

TUZIGOOT NATIONAL MONUMENT

As comfortable as we were in our spacious campsite inside Dead Horse Ranch State Park, we ventured beyond the park’s borders a few times too.

Tuzigoot National Monument, a site of ancient Indian ruins that were built by the Sinagua people in between 1050 and 1380 AD, is quite close by.

The ruins consist of a series of rooms defined by stone walls that were built onto a hillside.

Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona

Tuzigoot National Monument is a 110 room ancient Indian ruin.

It is believed there were 87 first story rooms and 23 second story rooms in this community and that it housed about 225 people. The rooms were terraced and entry and exit from each room was through the roof.

Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona

Tuzigoot’s rooms are all adjacent. It is thought the residents climbed in and out of each room by a hole in the roof!

A paved path took us to the top of the hill where there were 360 degree panoramic views, and we could look down at the rooms of the ruins below us.

View from top of Tuzigoot National Monument

The hill that Tuzigoot is built on has panoramic views that go on forever.

Heading back down to a lower level, we were able to go inside a room that had been reconstructed with posts and beams to show what it was like when these rooms were occupied and were enclosed with full height walls and ceilings.

Inside Tuzigoot National Monument ancient Indian ruins

A reconstructed room interior.

Mark noticed a mortar and pestle up on a ledge.

Mortar and pestle at Tuzigoot national Monument

This mortar and pestle were originally found at the site.

As with most Indian ruins in Arizona, lots of incredible artifacts have been found in these ruins. A museum on site houses a large collection of pottery that has been carefully pieced back together again. What a treasure trove of handiwork made by the ancients!

Pottery found at Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona

Pottery found in the Tuzigoot ruins are on display in the museum.

CLARKDALE and COPPER MINING

On another day we took a drive over to the village of Clarkdale. We’d bypassed this town of about 4,200 people dozens of times over the years and never stopped in to see what was there. It is tucked away off the main highway but has a delightful main street and downtown area.

Despite its small size, it is home to one of Arizona’s most famous museums: The Arizona Copper Art Museum which is housed in the old high school building.

Clarkdale High School now the Copper Museum in Clarkdale Arizona

The old Clarkdale High School is now the Arizona Copper Art Musuem.

In years past, Arizona school kids learned about the “5 C’s” that made their state special: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate.

The Arizona Copper Art Museum celebrates the first C and is situated in the heart of the old Verde Mining District where the twin mining camps of Jerome and Clarkdale grew up around the United Verde Mine which was owned by William A. Clark.

Bucket of copper ore at the Copper Museum in Clarkdale Arizona

Copper was a huge industry in the Verde Valley at the turn of the last century
as it is elsewhere in Arizona today.

The United Verde Mine and Clarkdale mining camp were just one part of William Clark’s extraordinary holdings. He was a man of vision, energy and drive, and it seems no project was too big or difficult for him to take on.

Besides the copper mine and mining camps he’d built in the Verde Valley, he owned three mines and two banks in Montana, controlled several newspapers in Montana and Utah and owned a sugar plantation in California!

Before he built the United Verde Mine in Jerome, the copper vein there was considered too remote to ever be profitable. However, William Clark managed to make $60 million from his mine! Yet getting the ore out of the ground was just part of the challenge. He also needed to build a railroad to get the ore from the mine in Jerome to the smelter in Clarkdale and from there out to the world. So he built a railroad.

Needing a place to service his trains, he bought a ranch in Nevada and brought in employees to live and work there. That little train maintenance camp and yard is now the city of Las Vegas…in Clark County, Nevada!

And if all that weren’t enough, he then became a US Senator for Montana.

Outside the Copper Museum in Clarkdale Arizona

William Clark was a busy and massively successful man. We kinda like the quieter life!

We had fun roaming around the outside of the museum where we found a large bell, a barrel of monkeys and a huge chess board.

The museum wasn’t open yet, however, so we decided to return to explore the inside of the museum another time.

Barrel of Monkeys at the Arizona Copper Museum in Clarkdale AZ

Who are these guys??

Chess game in Clarkdale Arizona

Buddy ponders his next move.

Clarkdale has a pretty park shaded by several huge trees, and these trees were all in the peak of fall color. Every time the wind blew, a flurry of vibrant yellow leaves would flutter to the ground. A blanket of yellow leaves surrounded the base of each tree.

Autumn color in Clarkdale Arizona

Golden leaves were falling everywhere, leaving a thick blanket of yellow on the ground.

Down one street we discovered Saint Cecilia’s Mission Catholic Church, and we learned later that mass is held here in Latin! If you are visiting the area and want to experience a Latin mass, Saint Cecilia’s is the place to go!

St. Cecilia's Mission in Clarkdale, Arizona

Saint Cecilia’s Mission holds mass in Latin!

Down another street we came across a vintage gas station that is still intact and is a wonderful throwback to earlier times.

Classic historic gas station in Clarkdale Arizona

Clarkdale’s old gas station evokes an earlier era.

An old gas pump served many customers over the years.

Old gas pump at a historic gas station in Clarkdale Arizona

An old gas pump.

A woman came over to chat with us, and we found out she owns a 50% share of this gas station. She told us it was originally built in 1942 and it served gas right up until 2014.

At that time the government gave all gas stations an ultimatum: upgrade the underground tanks or they’ll be removed (for free). The station had been struggling against more modern competition out on the highway, so they opted to have the tanks removed.

Even though gas is no longer sold there, the original gas price sign was still advertising some very appealing prices!

Historic gas prices in Clarkdale Arizona

Old gas prices!

VERDE CANYON RAILROAD

Automobiles weren’t the only way to get around back in the day or even now. The Verde Canyon Railroad takes tourists out along William Clark’s original train tracks that he’d built to transport copper ore from his mine.

The Verde Canyon Railroad is a very popular train excursion that goes through some red rock scenery as it chugs through the Verde Valley, and they have lots of different specialty rides, from starlight rides to chocolate, wine and beer rides to fall color and spring flower rides and a magical ride at Christmas.

Again, we have wanted to do this train ride for a while, but they don’t allow pets, so this particular trip wasn’t the right time.

Verde Canyon Railway in Clarkdale Arizona

The Verde Canyon Railway takes tourists on the tracks that were built to haul copper ore.

VIOLETTE’S BAKERY

But we still got a train ride (of sorts)! In the heart of Clarkdale stands an antique train car that is now home to Violette’s Bakery. Violette specializes in French pastries along with specialty coffees, as well as yummy breakfasts and lunches. We stepped right up to the train car window and put in an order!

Violette's Bakery Cafe in Clarkdale Arizona

Violette’s Bakery is in an antique train car.

Buddy was delighted to order puppaccino. It totally made up for him not being allowed on the Verde Canyon train!

Puppaccino at Violette's Bakery Cafe in Clarkdale Arizona

Buddy orders his favorite treat.

Puppaccino!

Puppaccino!

We really enjoyed our few hours in Clarkdale and will get back another time to see the Copper Art Museum and take the Verde Canyon Railroad ride.

Street lamp in Clarkdale Arizona

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In the meantime, Dead Horse Ranch State Park was calling us back with its its lovely campground and beautiful lagoons wearing their Fall finest.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park Lagoon in Arizona

Fall color at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Fall colors at the Lagoon in Dead Horse Ranch State Park Arizona

View from the water’s edge at the lagoon.

RV camping at Dead Horse Ranch State Park Arizona

We enjoyed our stay at Dead Horse Ranch State Park — and we’ll be back!

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