Friday, May 16, 2014

Safford Arizona, Southern Utah and Homeward Bound

Sedona Red Rocks

The blog has been sadly neglected due to the nearly overwhelming destruction to our house that we faced on our return. We are now back in Massachusetts. We decided to accelerate our return yet still try to enjoy the trip back to our home base. This entry covers the remaining time on our 2014 southwest adventure.

While the northeast experienced a severe winter, the southwest was enjoying an early spring. This allowed us to travel a more northerly route than would normally be possible. With the experience and knowledge that our Airstream could cope with sub-freezing temperatures, we confidently visited places we would previously have avoided due to the risk of subfreezing temperatures. The days were unfailingly warm but the nights, especially at higher altitudes, were often in the upper teens or lower twenties. Fifteen degrees was the lowest overnight temperature we experienced and our Airstream handled it well. Not once did we experience a frozen water pipe. Wish I could say the same about our house.

Traveling west on SR260 from Show Low, Arizona kept us in the national forest all the way to Sedona, where we arrived with only a vague idea of where we might stay. Due to the unusually warm weather, the Forest Service opened one of its campgrounds early. The Pine Flat campground had opened just a couple days before. We arrived and took our pick of one of about a dozen vacant campsites. The Pine Flats campground was pleasant enough, but it is tucked tightly into the narrow Oak Creek Canyon about 20 minutes north of town. The campsites are very close to the road resulting in a lot of road noise during the day. Thankfully, there is very little traffic at night. A small stream runs along the west side of the campground and many sites back up to it. There is also a fine spring at the northern end where there is a constant coming and going of people filling water containers.

Hiking opportunities abound in the Sedona area. For our first hike we chose the Thomas Point trail that is just a couple miles south of the campground. We had the trail to ourselves and enjoyed the warm spring morning. The trail ascends steeply up the east side of Oak Creek Canyon and rewarded us fine views to the south and to the north with a beautiful siting of snow capped Humphrey's Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona. After reaching the top of the canyon we hiked along the canyon rim for about a mile for even more expansive views. There was no trail, but the forest was not too dense allowing us to explore without getting lost. On the way down we remarked at how many spring wildflowers had opened to full bloom in just the few hours it had been since we passed them on the way up.
View of Humphrey's Peak from Thomas Point above Oak Creek Canyon
Sedona Arizona
Sarah on Thomas Point
Overlooking Oak Creek Canyon
Sarah on Cathedral Rock

After two nights at Pine Flat, we moved to a fine boondocking site just ten minutes south of Sedona. In addition to being free, it was conveniently located for exploring Sedona and the historic towns of Cottonwood and Jerome, only short drive south and west of Sedona. The site we found was at the parking lot of the trail head that is a couple hundred yards east of Rt89A on Angel Valley Road. We were one of six RVs at this spot. There were other campers scattered further along the road among the trees. 
Boondocking just off 89A
On the way to Sedona Sarah and I decided we would take a flight in a hot air balloon. We made reservations with Northern Light Balloon Expeditions. However, we experienced only one of a handful of days  each year that they could not fly due to uncooperative winds so that we had to postpone our flight until the next day. I was happy with that because it was a cloudy day when we cancelled but we had a glorious sunrise the next day for our flight.
Getting ready
Heating the air inside the balloon

Up and Away
(sister ship still loading passengers)
Sunrise at Sedona
(Humphrey's Peak on horizon)
We flew very close to the Mary Joan at our boondocking site

While visiting Sedona, a trip to Jerome should be part of anyone's itinerary. It is a pleasant 45 minute drive through the charming town of Cottonwood to Jerome, a formerly abandoned mining town with a very colorful history. Today there are art galleries and vintners offering tastings from local vineyards. A highlight of our day was discovering that one of our favorite singer/songwriter, David Bromberg, was performing that evening at Old Town Center For The Arts in Cottonwood and we were able to secure a couple of tickets for his show in this very intimate venue. Such community arts centers are a rarity now a day.
Jerome Arizona

The next day, with new David Bromberg music playing in the TV, we headed north on US89A with our sites set on Page, Arizona where we hoped to explore Antelope Canyon Slot. However, we missed whatever road sign should have alerted us to the fact that US 89 to Page, was closed 50 miles ahead. At that fifty mile point we saw a small sign simply announcing that the road was closed. We had no option but to travel northwest on US 89A where we rejoined US 89 at Kanab, Utah. Our maps indicated that there were NFS campgrounds ahead, but they were all closed. At this altitude in the Kaibab National Forest spring had not yet arrived so we found a well maintained forest road and a comfortable spot to boondock for the night. While setting up camp, I discovered that one of the tires on the trailer was flat. Despite being tired from more time behind the wheel than usual, I changed the tire that evening rather than waiting until morning. That was a wise decision because that night was the coldest we have recorded with the Mary Joan. At 14 degrees the next morning, changing a tire would not have been pleasant.
Why didn't I think of this?

The campground at Bryce Canyon National Park is open year round and it was on our way so a stop here was mandatory. We visited Bryce with the kids many years ago, but couldn't explore it as we would have liked because the kids were too small to enjoy long miles of hiking. But, Sarah and I both needed a place to get out and do some hiking and Bryce was a perfect place at a perfect time. Snow was still on the ground but the days were warmer, although a bit windy.  
Our campsite at Bryce with remnants of the hard winter.

Clear skies and warm weather at Bryce Canyon National Park

Just a short drive from Bryce is Capital Reef National Park where we spent a couple days experiencing the wonder of multi-colored layers of sedimentary rock that make up the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We did some short day hikes from the Fruita Campground. The campground is located on the grounds of a well maintained former fruit farm. We arrived while the apricot trees were in full bloom. We drove the Scenic Drive to explore Capital Gorge and South Draw. While in Capital Gorge, we hiked to the top of Cassidy Arch, a strenuous hike that granted us the opportunity to stand on a magnificent natural bridge.
View from Fruita Campground, Capital Reef National Park
Cassidy Arch in Capital Reef National Park
The Mary Joan III at Fruita Campground
Capital Reef National Park
Abandoned Ranch
South Draw, Capital Reef National Park
Petroglyphs in Capital Reef National Park

Another days drive found us at Arches National Park. As usual we arrived expecting to find a campsite available. However, this park is so popular that all campsites are available by reservation only, all year round. The ranger at the gate suggested we try one of the campsites outside the park along the Colorado river on SR 128. We found a campground just a couple miles outside of Moab on the river. We actually found this to be more convenient since the campground inside the park would have meant a forty-five minute drive in or out of the park. This worked out well since we had local knowledge of a fine restaurant, Buck's Grill House on the northern edge of town. We enjoyed our first dinner there so much that we returned the next night to try other dishes on the menu that struck our fancy. 

In the park, we spent the better part of one day slowly driving the main road, stopping frequently to view the many rock formations and arches. The next day we drove west on SR279 that follows the Colorado River to reach the trail that took us to Corona Arch. Along this road are marvelous cliffs popular with rock climbers, well preserved petroglyphs and fossilized dinosaur footprints . Everyone knows how much Sarah loves petroglyphs, now I know how excited she is to see dinosaur fossils. 
Dinosaur Tracks

Petroglyphs near Moab

Corona Arch near Arches National park

After Arches National Park we transitioned from travel and explore mode to time to get home attitude. That's not to say we didn't enjoy the trip, but we knew it would not be possible to linger long at any one place. We were quite far north. While the weather report was good we knew an early spring storm could strand us. 

Friends of ours have built a summer home on the Rio Grande River near the scenic town of Creede, Colorado. Surprisingly, the river seems as large here as it is at Big Bend, Texas. Creede is less than twenty miles from the road on which we came over the continental divide so we decided that we could stop there for one night and park in their driveway. Creede is a small mining town popular with people who have built summer homes there and with visiting tourists. We enjoyed an evening drive into the mountains high above the town that afforded us fine views of the valley below and the mountains beyond.
Rio Grande River
near Creede Colorado

From Creede, we crossed the high plains of Eastern Colorado. But, before leaving the Rockies, we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve to see the largest sand dunes in North America. We continued on and rested for the night at John Martin Reservoir State Park in eastern Colorado. This huge park on a man-made reservoir was nearly empty. But, it was a perfect place to stop for the night.
The magnificent dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Finding public lands for camping in Kansas is difficult. It has the least amount of public lands (as a percentage of acreage) than any other state. We set our sites on the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, hoping to boondock for one night. But, for the first time in our travels, I neglected to pay attention to our fuel level. When we were 15 miles from our destination I noticed we had only about 25 miles of diesel left in our tank. Great Bend, Kansas was 18 miles to the north, the only place within fifty miles to buy fuel. We limped into town, filled our tank and chose to rest our weary bodies by making camp in the Walmart parking lot. We shared our 'campground' with four semi-trailers, a motorhome and a pick-up camper. Despite the all night commerce and blinding parking lot lights, we spent a comfortable night.

The next day brought us to Lawrence, Kansas at Clinton Lake State Park. This convenient to town location allowed us to spend a day visiting a college classmate and his wife before moving just up the road to Paola, Kansas where we stayed the night in the driveway of another college friend. 

Our final night of this travel season was spent at Ramsey Lake State Park, just east of St. Louis, Missouri. Once again, we were stop at Jackson Center, Ohio to leave the Mary Joan for more minor warranty repairs.

The drive to Jackson Center, Ohio could be done in one morning provided we got an early start. We arrived at the Airstream factory shortly after noon. We completed the paperwork necessary to affect the repairs required then spent a few hours preparing the trailer to be left unattended. Draining the water, dumping the holding tanks and securing the water lines with antifreeze took just a little over an hour. By 3 PM we were back on the road in order to be able to reach Massachusetts the next day.

We stopped for the night just east of Akron, Ohio and reached Massachusetts late the next afternoon. We returned to Ohio a few weeks later to retrieve the Mary Joan. We are now living in the Airstream while we supervise the repairs to our house.

Stay tuned