After flying back from Cancun to Phoenix, it was neat to be home as soon as we got to the parking lot of the airport. We had left our Quest Overland insulated window covers installed, the heating thermostat set to our usual 68F, and the MaxxAir roof fan set to automatically open and turn on at temperatures over 78F. We left the Xantrex Freedom X 3kW inverter off since we wouldn't be using any AC power while we were away. The fridge remained on although it was mostly empty save for a few items like condiments and whatnot that would last. The only other thing that was on was the fan venting the toilet I believe. All those items run on DC power. When we returned, the batteries were sitting at 13.0V, and there was no evidence of our chocolates having melted in the dining room. So, it didn't get super hot inside and there was tons of battery capacity left, probably enough for a few weeks at least. We power our house side electronics in our van with 510Ah of lithium batteries from Renogy.
We weren't actually truly home until we picked up the dog, though. He was ecstatic, Of course. We were pretty much out of water from our last shower before flying to Mexico, we were super low on groceries and dog food, and we had a mountain of dirty laundry. So we went to Walmart to get a couple bottles of water so we could at least have some to drink and brush our teeth. And we got some breakfast for Loki. Then we drove back to the middle of the desert in Wickenburg for free camping. We really like that spot. It's "free", but you have to purchase a permit which allows you to camp on state trust land for up to two weeks per year. It's on the honor system, so we make a note of which dates we use it.
When we woke up, we skipped showering and cooking since we wouldn't be able to wash dishes. Mandy drove us back to Prescott where we filled and emptied our water tanks at Affinity RV. We had reserved a spot starting Monday at White Spar Campground again, but we decided to head there Sunday, for simplicity. We got some groceries on the way to stock back up. When we arrived, Mandy made us some delicious burgers. After we ate, we set out on a hike and we FINALLY made it all the way to Goldwater Lake. It only took a few tries, perhaps the key to motivating Loki was that we were both there with him.
Since we had initially only reserved a site for Monday through Thursday of this week, we weren't able to go to that site a day early; it was occupied. No big deal, we just took the one next door for a night and planned to move over once it was vacated. We noted when we arrived Sunday, though, that the site was kind of a mess. There was trash on the ground and the tent was partially caved in, and the door appeared open. We thought that kind of odd.
I dropped Mandy off for work Monday morning and Loki and I went back to our Sunday site to finish and post our YouTube video a day late (we usually like to post on Sundays). We had the site until 11, so I was within limits for a time. Eventually, checkout passed, and there had been no change at the site we had reserved for the week. Not long after, the campground host came by and knocked on the van. I explained the situation and why we were in a site we hadn't paid for. She said if the equipment had truly been abandoned that it has to remain untouched for two weeks. We would play it by the ear, but we were okay to stay put unless someone showed up who had paid for that site, in which case the host would relocate us. Sounds totally reasonable.
So, eventually we had to go get Mandy at the end of her shift. All we'd really done was some laptop work, laying and reading, and a couple short hikes around the campground. Nothing too exciting. We went straight to the laundromat after work. Mandy handled the laundry, and I set to work making chicken tikka masala and rice. The tag team approach works really well for us. She got to eat while the dryer was running. The chicken was wicked good, but full disclosure, I used a sauce from a jar. It's not feasible to make sauces from scratch in a van; it requires storing way too many ingredients. She folded everything in the laundromat while I cleaned up the kitchen. Tag team.
We went back to the campground. "Our" site was still a mess. No surprise there. We went to the host site around 7:30 and knocked. Their dogs went crazy, but after five full minutes, no one came out. Mandy noted that the golf cart was not there. So, she drove us all around the campground to try and track down the host. No luck. But we did get to see our first javelina. It was in the road illuminated by the headlights and Loki was A N G R Y. He immediately started barking, which he almost never does, and trying to get out to go see it. It scurried off into the woods and he calmed down.
So, we decided to just take the site next door again. We parked and I put the window covers in while Mandy walked Loki to the dumpster to throw away our trash. She was back almost immediately, as someone had arrived who had paid for the site and we had to move. Again. Unclear where to go because the host was MIA, we just parked in the abandoned gear site. The one we had paid for. The newcomers walked over shortly thereafter, and Mandy explained the whole situation to them as they were rightly confused on arrival. They were nice, and we weren't mad. We actually got lucky that they hadn't shown up right after we got in bed, you know? Just an overall weird situation. We went to bed and hoped we wouldn't hear any knocking in the night. We didn't.
After we dropped off Mandy on Tuesday morning, Loki and I hit up Petco to get him a few things, but mainly his after-dinner toothbrush sticks. He's got pretty clean teeth for his age. Other than the one he had to have removed (he cracked it in half eating a bone!!), they're in really great shape. Then, we came back to the site and walked around a bit. I picked up the garbage that was left on the ground by the previous occupants, put it into a torn cardboard box that was also left, and stuffed it into the tent door. I didn't want it to blow away, but if it belongs to someone out there, I don't want it to seem like I stole it.
We took out some beef I had marinated the night before. Yes, of course Loki "helped" at this part. I laid everything out in our oven, set it to dehydrate for 5 hours, and waited for jerky. This is where all that battery power really comes in handy. I mostly read while the oven was on. I didn't want to wander too far, because I assume the van will burst into flames the moment the oven is left unattended. Of course, everything was fine, but you know. That killed most of the day until we had to pick up Mandy from work.
From there, we headed over to Thumb Butte. Finally. It's like the most popular landmark in Prescott, I think. It's definitely the most scenic hike around. The views, not just of the town, but all the way to Flagstaff, are awesome. The hike was not terrible, although it looks daunting from the start. It took us just over an hour. When we got back to the campsite, there was still a busted tent pitched on it. We weren't starving, so Mandy made some ramen, and we had a few cheese and crackers and meat-banana. That's what we call salame/pepperoni/etc. We cleaned a bit and then went to bed.
We got up and took a brisk walk through a short trail around the campground before heading to work. We dropped off Mandy and then checked the mail. Then we went back to the campsite. I packed a bag with some jerky, trail mix, water, and dog treats, and we set off. I was determined to complete the loop around Goldwater Lake. It was slightly chilly but forecast to be mid-50s and sunny. So, I started off with gloves and a hat, but they didn't last long. No jacket.
We took periodic breaks about each half hour. Just after our first stop, though, there was an intersection with no sign. Since I'd technically seen the lake on a previous trip by a different route, I took the way that seemed to head in that direction. There was another junction a few minutes later. Again, no sign. I took my best guess. Another 20 minutes or so, and we were on a trail we've hiked a few times with Mandy. Familiar ground. Normally, we hike to the summit of this trail, then turn back. I decided to see where it went. I followed it to the end.
Before the end, it cut through a beautiful meadow. I didn't think to get a picture, but I should have. I was just zoned out. Sorry. It came out onto pavement by a bible camp. Lots of people screaming in the middle of the woods was a weird vibe. It sounded cheerful, though, at least. By this point, we'd completely overshot the lake according to my GPS, without having actually seen it. There was a neighborhood nearby that I thought might have lake access so we walked through there. No luck. I figured it best to turn back as it had been a couple hours and we still had close to that ahead of us, and Loki was getting kinda droopy.
When we got back, I noticed the previous occupant's tent was bundled into a pile at the front of the site. Dog and I both flopped into bed for a while until we had to get Mandy from work. While we laid there, I noticed at least 3 deer snacking in the woods nearby our site. Maybe 10 feet from the van. That was neat. I took a picture but their camouflage is so good it's wicked hard to see them.
We picked up Mandy and came back to the site again to make dinner. New potatoes, Brussels sprouts with caramelized onion, and a big ol' steak. The steak was good, but I felt like the vegetables weren't my best work. As we were cleaning up, I noticed water in the shower drain, a couple inches below the floor level. We took an emergency run to dump the grey water tank. It seems we can get about 4 full days of water in the tank. Full days meaning we both shower each day. What's great is that with the addition of the check valve we recently installed, the water doesn't run out onto the floor anymore, even if the tank is full. We topped up the fresh water too, while we were there, since no one else was waiting. While the tanks were filling, Mandy whipped up a fresh batch of granola which made the van smell amazing. Since we were taking our time at the water station, by the time we got back to our site it was about 9:30pm so we went straight to bed.
Friday morning we took a hike. After failing yesterday, I was DETERMINED to do the loop around Goldwater Lake. We set out in slightly chilly weather but walked into warmth over an hour or so. We found the way to Lower Goldwater Lake, which was easy because we've been there, then we followed the shoreline trail. Eventually, that took us to the upper lake. I know we're really close to civilization, but for some reason these trails seem really remote. It's quite nice.
We wound around the far side of Upper Goldwater Lake and through the picnic area. The trail gets pretty vague in certain spots, but we managed. When we got to the opposite side of the dam, we hit a roadblock. There's construction ongoing and the road and trail are both closed. I believe they're cutting in a road or installing a parking lot. Perhaps both. We turned around and began the journey back. We took a shot in the dark trying a new trail that I was pretty certain linked to the most direct route back. My legs and feet were getting tired! Luckily, I was right, and we got back to the campground about 4 hours after we'd set out. Just in time for checkout, I think. Or perhaps too late. But we had no issues.
We hopped in the van and drove off to accomplish some chores. Empty the pee jug. Check. Dump the trash bag. Check. Empty the grey water. Check. Check the fresh water. Full enough. Get groceries. Check. Get Mandy. Check.
And we were off for the weekend!
We spent the weekend in Wickenburg, AZ. Well, that's not entirely true. But we cruised there Friday afternoon from Prescott after Mandy got out of work. We found a sweet spot in the middle of the desert off Vulture Mine Rd. It takes a while to get from Prescott to Wickenburg even though they appear deceptively close as the crow flies. The roads connecting them are very ziggy and zaggy, and there are a couple mountain passes to clear. With a stop for groceries on the way, we arrived somewhat late; right around dusk.
We met some friends, Abe and Mel, through Instagram. They're living a similar life traveling in their own self-built van, too! They hit a bit of a rough patch, but we'll get to that in a future post. This was the first time we'd met them in "real life", and they met us out on the road to lead us into their little campsite in the desert. They were also parked up with Sydney and Albert who live in a converted school bus. First we had to cook some dinner, but then we were introduced, given the tour and spent the evening getting to know our new friends. They were all wonderful people. As the night wore on, we all split up to head to our respective beds to get some sleep in.
Our goal for Sunday was Phoenix. We started in middle-of-nowhere, Wickenburg, as shown above. We could have driven pavement the whole way, but after a morning stroll, I had a different idea. I don't want to say better because that's not really clear.
We took a hike up a small hill adjacent to where we parked after we had breakfast and all that. It gave us a spectacular view of the surrounding nothingness. But there were roads. "Roads". I mean trails, really. Some of them (like one or two, max) were labeled on Google Maps. We watched a convoy of 5 or 6 Jeeps roll out and the idea struck me that we could do that. We have 4WD, ground clearance, a tow strap, and most importantly, experience. We'll be fine, right?
Google was actually able to find a route from where we were to what I thought was like northwest greater Phoenix. It was only forty-five minutes driving. Great, we got the whole day, clement weather, no deadlines or other objectives, other than laundry. It's the perfect opportunity to get a feel for off-roading this rig. Not that we want to regularly, but it's important to know the limits in case of emergency, you know?
So, we set off down N. Vulture Peak Rd. Southeasterly. Then we set the shocks to middle-softness because the trail was washboard. It's fine if the ruts are in phase. But they never are. The side-to-side oscillations get going immediately, and for whatever reason, magic I guess, the frequency of the washboard always exactly matches the resonant frequency of the suspension. So, we took it very slowly to attenuate the oscillations. We averaged about 4mph. And it took us a couple hours. It was a little tight in some spots. A little sketchy in others. We earned some cactus pinstripes. And we learned where the van doesn't roll over, so that's helpful.
We navigated to what I thought was pavement. But when we got there, we discovered it was a whole massive "neighborhood" of rough dirt roads. So, we had another half hour or more until we finally reached pavement. Like I said in the beginning - at least we had all day. From there, we took paved roads to Tempe.
We got some lunch at Eat My Taco. Their street tacos were pretty legit. Get the steak or pork. The chicken was good, but the others were great. From there, we drove a bit closer to Sky Harbor to find a laundromat. Another laundry day, but we're getting more efficient at it. We packed our warm weather clothes into our backpacks and put the rest away in our dresser. We packed a few of Loki's things and made a list of morning items to grab. We parked for the night at Walmart just south of the airport. We pretty much just went straight to bed so we could get up early. We had a short drive in the morning to drop off Loki with a sitter on our way to the airport.
We flew from Phoenix because it was the closest cheapest direct flight to Cancun. We'd never been to Mexico before, so this was another country we got to cross off that list. So that was exciting! We felt like typical American tourists because we'd done very little to brush up on our Spanish before entering the country. This didn't really pose any challenges, but we like to be a bit better at the local language when we visit a new place.
Our week there was very relaxing. A far cry from our typical week vacations which you've read about here previously. Normally, we try to cram in as much as we can into one or two crazy week(s) before we have to hustle back home to go to work. Instead, we tried out something we've never done before. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort and just chilled. It was truly wonderful. That's not to say we stayed on the resort the entire week - we did do some adventuring of course! But we definitely spent more time than we normally do in one place, and we didn't hate it!
Hanging out around the resort doesn't make for great story-telling here, however. We spent a day out on a sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico which was awesome. We did some snorkeling off the catamaran as well as plenty of swimming and sunbathing. The boat tour got us thinking and so we talked a lot of what it could be like to live on a sailboat, too. We're definitely interested, though we're not ready to move out of our van just yet. We still have plenty we want to do in the van first. But stay tuned, maybe someday...
We also took a trip to some cenotes in the area. There are tons of them around Cancun. Cenote translates to sinkhole or natural well. Usually they're filled - at least partially, anyway - with water. We took a van from our resort to Cenotes Kin Ha for a day. This is a really cool spot because we got to do a bunch of stuff all in one place. First, we took a guided canopy tour across several ziplines. Our first zipline experience was in Guatemala, and we've enjoyed finding them ever since. This tour wasn't quite as high as the cables in Guatemala, but we had a wicked good time. We even got to zip down one line hanging upside down! It was terrifying! After ziplining, we hopped on ATVs and cruised a bunch of rocky trails over to a cluster of cenotes to do some swimming. Our group was pretty small - there were only 4 of us, plus two tour guides - so the tour was pretty relaxed. We spent a while hanging out in the water, trying to see who could dive the deepest, though none of us could touch the bottom. When we all felt like it, we hopped back on the ATVs and crusied back to the starting point where we ate some of the most delicious tacos. As we finished our lunch, our shuttle arrived to bring us back to the resort.
Most of the rest of the week was spent relaxing around the pools and on the beach. We spent a great deal of that time planning for our months ahead. What we'll do once Mandy's contract is up. We came up with a few plans. One says we head straight to Alaska, hopefully all the way to the end of the road in Prudhoe Bay, then about-face and head south to Patagonia. Another plan says we head back east to see some friends in Florida, then drive to Patagonia and head to Alaska afterwards. A third option is to drive all the way to Cape Cod for a wedding in July and then figure out the next steps. You'll have to keep reading to see which we execute.
But let's try to make it sound interesting. I have the advantage here because Monday was a holiday and so already covered in the previous post. So, I only have four days to spice up. The disadvantage is that I was still in a lot of pain from skiing, so the days were pretty slow-moving, to be safe.
For some backstory, we developed a rock chip in our windshield some time ago. We have also been experiencing the intense radiant heating capabilities of the sun in such arid environment as Arizona offers, and would like to do something about it. 3M manufactures an infrared-blocking thin film product that applies like window tint but doesn't significantly change visible light transmission. In other words, it's nearly clear. We wanted to have the film installed professionally, but we also wanted to ensure the rock chip would not form a crack that would propagate and warrant throwing away the windshield along with the newly-installed film. So step one was to have the chip addressed by Safelite. They chip away at it a little bit further to make it a more uniform bowl-shaped chip, and to remove any loose fragments of glass. Then, it is filled with a clear epoxy and made flat. The whole process took only about twenty minutes. The tiny chip is still visible, but the hope is that it will not get any larger or split. We will monitor it for a few weeks before getting the window film installed, as a precaution.
Another minor issue we've faced is related to our greywater tank and plumbing. In general, the drainpipe is mostly-straight shot all the way to the back of the van. It enters the greywater tank on the driver's side at the rear of the tank, towards the bottom. The point is that if the tank is full, and if we turn towards the right and apply the brakes, the momentum of the water can push it up the shower drain. Twice this has happened. Our interim solution is to dump the greywater more frequently so it doesn't get full, utilizing only about half the capacity. But we also ordered a check valve online to install in the drainpipe so water can't flow back up into our shower. This week, the valve arrived. It looks like this and will be installed this weekend.
Wednesday morning we woke under a blanket of snow. It means a few extra minutes before work to get the snow brushed off the van. And it usually means water on the floor from our shoes and Loki's feet each time we get back inside. That's just part of van life. At least the flooring material is waterproof. I went to urgent care this day to get some sort of pain relief more powerful than the ibuprofen we had in the van. After that excursion, Loki and I parked the van and worked on editing video for our YouTube channel. When we got Mandy from work, she cooked us up some delicious comfort food in the form of cheeseburgers. But these were on homemade sourdough bread, with caramelized onion and bacon-pepper jam. And they were SO. GOOD.
Thursday, I was finally beginning to feel a bit better, thankfully. We didn't accomplish much while Mandy was at work, but after work we went out to dinner. We'd been drooling over Colt Grille for a while. They always have a bbq pit smoking meats in front of their restaurant and the smells waft down over the whole downtown area. I think they know how good a tactic this is for getting people to come in for some BBQ. It's genius. We both got brisket and it was fantastic. We highly recommend Colt Grille if you're ever in Prescott, AZ.
Friday morning was mostly preparations for the weekend. While Mandy was at work, Loki and I dumped the grey water tank. We filled up the freshwater tanks. Ensured we had fuel and groceries. And by "we", I mean Loki didn't do anything but keep me company. Which is an important job, nonetheless. When Mandy got out of work, we set our navigation system towards Wickenburg, Arizona, for our weekend trip!
Friday at 4:30pm, when Mandy got out of work at the Prescott VA, we set the navigation to Grand Canyon Brewing Company. First, we made a pit stop for Mandy to exchange some clothes and get a new dress. Then we were on our way. It was strange in a way; Friday at 5:00pm on a holiday weekend and there was no traffic. It was so nice. And not at all what we're used to, having been in New England since forever. We made decent time and enjoyed the scenery and sunset along the way. We got to bring Loki into the restaurant at the brewery with us which was cool, but short-lived. He wouldn't chill, so Mandy put him in the van and we split a pizza and salad for dinner. It was pretty good food and decent beers although I think we both liked her mixed drink better.
We moved our van just down the street to the Dairy Queen parking lot after dinner for the night. We fell asleep pretty early. Saturday morning, we walked around Williams with Loki for a while. The town was so dead we could walk down the middle of the road for the most part. We put Loki in jail and then hauled him off to the pillory for being a very bad dog. Just kidding he's amazing we just wanted funny pictures.
We found the van again (not Vanagon, that's a Volkswagen) and drove north s'more. We made our way into the Grand Canyon south entrance. A while back, we got an America the Beautiful pass so entry was free. Mandy drove us to Shoshone Trail (the second stop after the entrance) because there was no parking available near Yaki Point (the first stop after the entrance). There were like two other cars near Shoshone Point. We had the trail almost entirely to ourselves.
Shoshone Trail is pretty flat, and pretty short. Our meandering pace got us to the rim after about a half hour. We found a lookout point just before we reached the end of the main trail. We just looked for a while and honestly, I don't know what to write about it here, just as I didn't know what to say while we were there. You look at it and it's unfathomably large and old and it's impossible to capture and relay that feeling. I'm just not that talented. You just had to be there, okay? So get off your butts and go. If you've already gone, you know exactly what I mean.
We made it to the end of the trail which comprises a much more expansive clearing, with a small rocky peninsula for almost-360-degree views of the canyon. This part was a little rough going because there were about a dozen elk lazing about the picnic area and Loki desperately wanted to sniff them. But we didn't want to disturb them, obviously. It's their home and we're the guests. So, we kept our distance and took only photos. We gave them a wide berth on our way to Shoshone Point. We spent a while longer just looking. And feeling small.
We weren't really sure what to do next, or where to go from there. We know there are numerous trails all around, but dogs aren't allowed below the rim of the canyon. And they're not allowed in buildings either. And a lot of stuff was closed for seasonal and/or pandemic reasoning. We decided to head to the visitor's center to figure out what we were allowed to do. But first, we stopped at the rear doors of the van to use our garden hose to wash off all our feet. There was a lot of mud on the trail that we didn't want to bring inside the house. The visitor's center wasn't explicitly closed but you have to set up an appointment for questions. There was a lot of information posted on the billboard which confirmed most of what we'd read.
Although we could have spent days gazing into the canyon from all different angles, we decided to head out to find a campsite early so we could have time to build a fire and cook dinner on it. So, we left and made the short drive to Mather Campground. With only two loops of campsites open for the winter, we were very lucky to snag one of the remaining available sites. We parked immediately and paid the fees. Then, we walked to the general store and back for a bundle of wood. We built a fire and got to cooking as the sun slowly went down through the trees. We had pork chops with asparagus and sweet potatoes. It took a while, but the process was enjoyable, and the results delicious.
After dinner, we chopped up the remaining wood into small bits to finish burning it off because we don't have a good place to keep logs in the van. As the coals burnt down to nearly nothing, we doused them with water and walked over to the closed area of the campground. Here, we looked up for a long time. Till our necks hurt. The night sky here was one of the clearest we've ever seen. The plane of our galaxy was clearly visible with our naked eyes. We tried to take some pictures with our phones, which did exceptionally well, considering. Then, we went to sleep.
We didn't stick around long Sunday morning. But, we didn't hurry either. We left when we were ready, that's all. Our plan for the day was only to explore Grand Canyon village and we pretty much failed miserably, and it worked out beautifully. As we drove to and through the village, we were feeling a bit hungry. Mandy suggested taking Hermit Road as it looked to offer scenic parking where we could make breakfast before exploring the village.
She was not wrong. We drove the road just a few minutes and pulled into the first overlook. We opened up our sliding door almost directly into the canyon. She made us bacon and eggs with sweet potato home fries while Loki and I sat in the sun and chatted with other visitors passing by. After a while, we decided to walk the path a bit that heads back towards the village. We didn't get very far, but we didn't mind. We had a long and lovely conversation with a gentleman who was preparing to hike into the canyon in the coming days. Several people stopped to pat Loki while we were stopped on the side of the path talking. It was nice to feel no pressure to keep moving. But eventually we did.
We drove to the next overlook, at Maricopa Point. We could see the river in several spots here, which was neat. We could finally clearly see how deep the canyon actually goes. It's really far down. We didn't spend a ton of time here, as it was a bit crowded. And we were starting to feel like we were seeing nearly the same thing over and over. So, we left. It almost feels guilty in a way. Like we didn't give it the deserved time. Or attention. But we can't realistically live there for a whole week.
We left and drove straight from the canyon to Flagstaff. We arrived mid-afternoon and went straight to a laundromat. Another laundry day. Exciting stuff. We went across the street afterwards to Target to get a few clothes and groceries. I got some shoes as well. We planned to have tacos, and by the time all that was done we were starving so we cooked right in the parking lot at Target. They were decent, but not our best work. Does anyone cook as well when they're wicked hungry? We're just too much in a rush. Anyway. We read the Home Depot there is friendly to overnight parking, so that's where we slept the night. It's not always scenic.
We had to be driving by 8:00am. It wasn't a hard requirement, I just wanted to get there early. But it was easy to achieve anyways. Just a quick loop around the parking lot with the dog and we were off. We drove across town and up and up and up. Back to Snowbowl. We've already been here once before but it's worth revisiting.
I had reattached my bindings to my skis along the drive, and we had plenty of time before first chair, so I did some stretching. My back was feeling sore, so I spent extra time. Eventually it was time to finish gearing up and head over to the chair. "Ten minutes," the lift operator told me. Since we were parked so close I went back for some ibuprofen, just as a security measure. Still made it back up with zero people in line and a few minutes to go before they'd let me on. It was my first ever ACTUAL first chair, so that was pretty awesome.
Fresh groomers everywhere from the top. There was no wrong move. There was also no ice. I found some moguls and sat on the fence for a few trying to decide. Then I sent it. They weren't icy either, which was awesome. I'm still improving in the bumps so it's fun. I took a bunch more runs all over then went back down for breakfast and more stretching. The soreness wasn't really improving which was unusual. And I hadn't really done anything the day before. But I wasn't ready to call it a day at 10:30am. I took my time and went back up. I stayed off the moguls after the first, and just spent the day cruising. Towards the end of it I went to the small terrain park. I watched a lot of people go through because it's fun to watch. Eventually, I went through and hit all the boxes. They were narrow so it was tricky but I did it and was so pumped. I hit a barrel, but it freaked me out. I can't tell if it's more or less slippery than the snow so the balance is weird. I didn't fall, but it was sloppy. I took a couple more runs and then went back to the van.
Mandy was making a loaf of sourdough, so we hung out in the parking lot for an hour or so while it baked. We made grilled cheeses with it after it had cooled just a bit. Some bacon pepper jelly in there. So delicious. We eat like kings in here sometimes. Not really, I think that refers to like a full blown feast. I just meant in the sense that the food we make in here is really tasty. I was pretty much useless throughout this process because my back was hurting far worse than the start of the day. Far worse than pretty much any day. I laid on the bench all the way back to Prescott. I reserved us a site in White Spar along the way. The least I could do to be helpful. By the time we arrived, only dog of us was hungry. So he ate, and we did the pre-bedtime routine early. All I wanted was to lay down more. We watched The Morning Show and then passed out after that.
We got up, showered and dressed and everything. We were going to try and tackle a couple small things, not really "issues", with the van, but we realized we only had an hour to check out and didn't want to have to rush. We walked down to the lake instead. I went for a swim. By "swim" I mean I went underwater and immediately got out. That's all you need when it's that cold. Loki wouldn't go in above his toes.
After a pitstop in Punkin, AZ to make breakfast, we began making our way back to Prescott, since Mandy had work the following day. She rerouted us along the way, to Tonto Natural Bridge. She took a left off the highway and we plunged deep into a valley. I think the sign said 16% grade? I still don't know how grades are measured exactly, but I don't think I've seen one that steep, ever. Eventually we got to the bottom of this hole. Neither of us knew any more about the site than what was on the signs. That is, it's a natural bridge. Expectations were zilch. We were prohibited from the hiking trails because we had Loki with us, but we were allowed to get to all the observation areas at ground level. What a cool site! It would have been awesome to hike down into the crevasse formed below the bridge but the views from ground level were very cool. If you're ever near it, check it out. It's hard to explain how interesting a landform it is, and it's hard to convey in a photo, too. And we apparently took none.
We made it the rest of the way back to Prescott and parked downtown on historic Whiskey Row for the night. While Mandy was working Monday, I fiddled with wiring up our cell phone signal booster to one of our batteries. In doing so, I got lazy and didn't use the correct tool for the job, and I accidentally shorted the positive post to the van chassis. In that instant of electrical short, the battery's safety kicked in which disconnects the posts from the internal charge, putting the battery into a "safe" or "sleep" mode. Crap. Everything was completely dead on the house side of the van. I panicked at first, and tried a bunch of things that didn't make sense. After a breath and some thinking, I realized we should get somewhere that we could plug in our shore charger, and hoped that would work to "wake up" the batteries. When Mandy got out of work, we went to the only campsite in town that had electrical hookups. It was $50 for a night, which we reluctantly paid. We needed to plug in the van for only an instant, and that was enough to wake the batteries up and everything began functioning as normal straight away. It had been a tense few hours, not knowing if it would work. The relief when the systems came back on was huge. We made dinner and worked on destressing the rest of the night.
Tuesday was not super interesting. Loki and I dropped off Mandy at work, and then we took a couple hour ride down to Phoenix. We spent pretty much the entire day at the Mercedes-Benz dealer in North Scottsdale. It was time for its first oil change and the rest of "Service A" at 20,000 miles. I think the bulk of the work is fluids-checking and other inspection points. But we also had a small stack of recall notices to address. The team there handled everything all in one day, which was fantastic. It was a long day for us, but Loki was pleased to be welcome inside the lobby and found himself a nice cushiony chair to sleep in for most of it.
Thursday we had a little bit of a mishap on the way to drop Mandy off at work. The grey water tank, which we knew was mostly full, backed up into the shower and spilled out onto the floor. It was a result of specific driving conditions, I think a right turn while braking; because of the way the plumbing is arranged. So that was the project of the day. After drop-off, I cleaned up the floor and dumped the grey water tank. I ordered a check valve for the drain pipe immediately after, and we made a note to ensure we don't let the tank get over half full until it's installed.
With the plumbing issue resolved as much as it could be at the time, I set to work figuring out plans for the weekend. This is something of a process which we're still ironing out. But we're definitely improving and getting more efficient. There's a lot of points to consider! First, we have a list of destinations recommended by friends and family, as well as places we want to see. There's a lot of overlap there, which is good. Then, there's weather to consider; will it be too hot or too cold? Any rain or high winds? Some destinations, like lakes, for example, we want to visit when it's hot on purpose. For swimming. The desert spots we want to visit when it's cooler, because the desert can get incredibly, unforgivably hot. Then, we have to consider where exactly we'll stay at a given destination. Is there a place to park for free, or should we get a campsite? Do we need reservations? Is there anything available? Then we have to consider the route. Can we get there in one shot on a Friday after work, or is it better to break it up? Can we pair it with another destination that's on the way, and do a two-for-one deal? All of that stuff is the figuring. Then, there's also prep work. Like ensuring the grey tank is empty, in case we don't see anywhere to dump it. Fill the fresh water tanks, in case we don't pass any fill stations. Make sure the fuel tank is full. Get groceries for the weekend. Even though we're ostensibly "ready to go", there's still a lot to be done.
This took us Thursday and Friday to complete, but we came up with a solid plan we were excited to execute. We'll tell you all about it in the next one!
Mandy got out of work Friday afternoon and we started driving south and east. We passed through the valley (that's what locals call Prescott Valley), Camp Verde, and then started climbing some mountain. We had a gorgeous drive over a couple of mountain passes through the sunset hour. The landscape is just so IMMENSE! We wondered if it ever gets old for people that live here? I had to slam on the brakes suddenly otherwise I'd have taken out a family of elk. There were a couple dozen milling about on both sides of and in the middle of the roadway just south of Strawberry, AZ. Right around dusk, so they were a bit hard to see. So from there on, the drive was a little tense. My shoulders were sore when we finally parked in Payson at Houston Mesa Campground. I gave my eyes a break from scanning for wildlife.
I set to work making dinner while Mandy paid at the post for our site for the night. We wished it wasn't generator-city here. Is that a new trend? It's a little annoying, honestly. We had pork chops. Nice thick cut, bone-in chops. Seasoned and then baked alongside Brussels sprouts and home fries. I also caramelized an onion to mix into the sprouts. It's great to be cooking full meals again. We cleaned up and watched the latest video from Expedition Overland and then went to bed.
Saturday was a big day for the van - it was to complete its first off-road trail!
We got up at the crack of 8:30ish. We let the dog out into our campsite. We were parked such that no one could really see into the passenger's side and it was warm enough so we could shower with the sliding door open. It was chilly, but in a good way. The kind of cool that you know is going to vanish quickly. We ate breakfast and took a quick lap around the campground with Loki before setting off in the van.
We stopped at Speedway to dump whatever small amount of grey water we had with us, and top off the fresh water and diesel tanks. Then, we went to Home Depot to get a stick-on wire holder thingy for charging cables and some glass wipes. Loki leaves his nose prints everywhere on the inside of the windshield. And bugs leave their guts all over the outside. It needs to be cleaned frequently.
Then we headed south down highway 87 with the windows wide open. It was so warm! We hopped off the highway right around mile 222, at the Mount Ord trailhead/FR-686. After a half mile or less, the pavement disappeared and we were just left with gravel. We set the shocks to full-floppy mode and began climbing. Up and up and up. Somewhere along the way, I decided to put the trasfer case into low range so we could drive slower for more comfort. We didn't really need all four wheels driving, but it's a side effect of engaging the low range. The views were amazing all the way up. Mildly terrifying, too. There's just a sheer drop in a lot of places, and a couple shady areas were still coated with a thick layer of ice. We managed, and the van had no issues whatsoever. We didn't slip once that I was aware of.
At the top of the trail, we parked and met Russ who was pitching his tent. He camps there often. Really nice guy, who had a lot of great info. After we chatted with him a bit, we hiked up the last half mile or so to the summit. There was still a fair bit of snow up there, but it was melting and making the dirt into soup. Gross. And bad for traction, too. The views at the summit were outstanding!
After we took it all in for a while, we turned around and headed down. Loki was pretty lazy on the down hike. Back at the van, he wanted nothing more than to nap in the shade underneath it. We eventually coaxed him into the van, and we set off back down the hill. We became aware of a popping sound somewhere along the way. It was definitely in the rear somewhere. I walked next to the van while Mandy rode the brakes over some bumps. I couldn't quite pinpoint it, but we took a few minutes to put a wrench on the upper shock hardware anyways. I got about 1/4 turn out of the passenger's side upper shock bolt, and we continued on in silence. Problem solved, I guess. The rest of the trip down seemed much shorter than the ride up. Uneventful. Which is what you want, really.
Back on pavement, we stiffened the shocks back up and beat feet to Roosevelt Lake. We weren't sure which campground would have sites available, if any, so we were hopeful but not certain. They're mostly first come-first served this time of year. Cholla Campground had plenty of sites available so we picked our favorite, hung our receipt on the post, and took a short ride south to Ffinchs (sic) for dinner. I got ribs and Mandy got a pulled pork sandwich. Loki got a cup of whipped cream and a cookie because everyone loves him. The views across the lake were better than the food, but it was fine because we were starving. And that's not saying much because the views were fantastic.
We tried to walk down to the marina, but the sign said no pets on the docks. So, we went back to our campsite instead. Someone was leveling their camper trailer when we arrived. I explained that we had already paid for that site. They packed up and moved over a site but we felt bad. Even though we'd done nothing wrong. I'm sure it would be crappy to have to set up twice. We scouted some spots for night sky photos in the dwindling twilight and went back to the van to wait for full darkness. Mandy forced us out of bed around 9. I was so sleepy I didn't want to go shoot. We stepped outside to find that there was way too much campfire smoke to see much in the sky anyways. We abandoned our plans and instead took a few shots of the van. We went back in to sleep.
At least it's back to the grind for one of us. Mandy started her temporary contract position for the VA Medical Center in Prescott, Arizona. During her working days, Loki and Rob will be adventuring in and around the town. On weekends, we'll all be exploring various parts of Arizona. Remember that we have to leave Prescott National Forest lands to satisfy the stay limits within the national forest. Since the adventures will be on a bit smaller scale, it probably makes sense to condense a week into each post here, rather than a day per post. Hopefully that's okay with you all. These posts have fallen quite far behind real time, so this will help to catch you guys back up to present day. Or at least a bit closer.
Day one of work for Mandy, and we already have a pretty well-established morning routine. We get up, take showers, eat breakfast, make the bed and raise it to the ceiling, feed Loki, take him for a walk, then drive Mandy to work. We drove through the security gate which was a little awkward because she didn't have an ID, we didn't have a parking permit, we have a pet which isn't allowed, and so on. We were allowed through, but we decided right then that in the future, we'd just park outside the gate and she could walk in. Mandy put on her brave face and set off to work. Loki and I left to run some errands. We got groceries, opened up a mailbox so we could receive mail and packages. Real exciting stuff. Eventually, we returned to our campsite and set out to hike to Goldwater Lake, which is about 3.5 miles away from the campground. Somewhere around the halfway mark, Loki started dragging behind, so I took it as a sign to turn back so I could avoid having to carry his 85lbs all the way back. Because that was just not going to happen. Back at camp, we relaxed in the sun for a while until it was time to pick up Mandy. Back at camp, we decided to grill a BBQ chicken pizza over our campfire. The gluten-free dough, which was all we could find at the grocery store, was a little difficult to work with, but the pizza came out awesome anyways. We devoured it, and spent the rest of the night cleaning up and relaxing by the dying fire before heading to bed.
Wednesday Loki and I went to Phoenix to meet a dog-sitter from Rover. So, we spent most of the day driving there and back again. We were going to try to do a hike before picking up Mandy, but the diesel pump was moving so slowly that we ran out of time to do the whole thing. Filling up the tank took over a half hour. It was incredibly, even impressively slow. I'd never encountered that before, so it was really strange. After we picked up Mandy we did a different hike, but still one we'd never tried. My back was hurting from all the driving by the time we got home to make dinner, I just had to lay down. I'd planned to make dinner but Mandy wouldn't allow it, and she handled it all herself.
Thursday was pretty much all errands. Loki and I mailed some post cards. We wrote to you guys here. I worked on some weekend plans, trying to figure out where we might go. We went back to work to deliver Mandy's wallet which she'd forgotten and needed to get a work ID. I called the van insurance company to discuss getting a rock chip repaired in our windshield. I reached out to some local companies to install window tint. I edited some video for our YouTube channel. Oh, you didn't know we have one? We post videos every week here. Check it out if you want. I found a laundromat in town we could go to after we picked up Mandy. So we picked her up, and went to Iron Springs Laundry to do a load of laundry. Mandy ran the laundry and I made chicken pesto pasta for us for dinner. A little bit of bacon is key to kick it up just a little bit. It came out wicked good. We ate, washed all the dishes, finished up the laundry and stored it, then returned to the campground to sleep.
Friday we woke up early. Enough time for a little sunrise hike. It's super chilly when we start out, but by the time we get back, about a half hour later, we're warmed up and comfortable from the effort. Plus the sun starts warming things as soon as it shines on them out here. There's no moisture in the air, so there's almost zero lag. But as soon as you're in the shade, it's cold again. It's a strange effect. Loki and I got groceries after we dropped off Mandy. Then I set to work installing a cell phone signal booster. We haven't needed one before now, but cell signal is so wildly variable in Arizona because of the landscape, we've been a little frustrated by it. If you're on the wrong side of a particular hill, you might just be completely out of luck if you need to make a call, send a text, look up something online, write a blog post, etc. Our hope is the signal booster will help alleviate that. Loki and I walked around a park a couple times to get his energy out and ensure he'd be nice and mellow the rest of the day. We drove across town to Affinity RV dealer and dumped our grey water and topped off our freshwater tanks. It's free there!
We circled back to work a bit early, so we prepped the navigation in the van, and waited patiently for Mandy to come out. We'll give you the weekend in the next post, as it's more interesting than a work week, I think.
We awoke in White Spar Campground and just got to chill again. No plan. No rush. Just made it up as we went. Sometime mid-morning, we decided to go for a hike. There's a bunch of trails that begin at this campground. We had sort of a map this time, on Mandy's phone, but didn't really refer to it all that much. We just kind of went where we felt like going and tried to keep our bearings relative to the campground.
I have to shout out the Mercedes app again here. Not that we needed it, but there's a feature that could come in super handy. I'm hoping we never DO need it, but it's great to know it's there if we do. So, if you have your device's GPS antenna on, and you open up the map in the Mercedes app (side note: we've learned to call it "M-word" in the van, because if you say her full name she's all "How can I help you" and then we're like "NO SHUT UP"), you can see two dots; one is you, one is the van. If you ever get lost and need to get to your vehicle, this is really handy to know. You just have to walk in the direction that connects the dots, then you're there. Just wanted to spread that knowledge in case.
So, I couldn't really tell you which trails we did. We learned that one of them goes to a lake which we'll definitely be checking out soon, once it gets just a tad warmer. Hopefully we can swim there. We'll see. Eventually, it was coming up on lunch, so we made our way back to finish up the leftover ziti. We reheated it in the oven and it was so good. We also had a wobbly-pop each, and just relaxed in the sun at the campsite. I sat in my new chair which is awesome. We highly recommend the Nemo Stargaze chair. I tried to adjust the passenger's side power step on the van to alleviate a retraction issue, but it didn't seem to improve any. It's just annoying. When the weather is too cold, it doesn't work properly. I think the van and the step have different thermal expansion rates that causes binding.
When we felt like we wanted a change of scenery, we lazily picked up and set out in the van. We made the short jaunt into Prescott and parked to walk around Whiskey Row and the courthouse. It's such a cute little town, and super dog-friendly, which is awesome. We picked up some post cards for family, and Loki literally just laid down inside the store. He's so lazy. The shopkeepers were laughing at him. Not AT him, but like, in a nice way, you know? Laughing with him, if he could laugh. Eventually, we agreed to find a patio to get a beer. We were wicked picky for no real reason, but we ended up at Ad Astra. It's a tiny brewery in town. It's also dog-friendly. We sat on their patio which is so adorable. Mandy got a strawberry-something sour that was really good, and Rob got an imperial IPA. Also delicious.
We made our way back to the campground, and split up. Rob set to making a fire in the pit, and Mandy made us dinner. We had steak tips with roasted broccoli and home fries. We sat on the ground next to the fire pit and elbowed dog so he couldn't swipe any off our plates. When it was nearly dead, we put the fire out so we could walk Loki around the campground, and then we went inside to avoid the nightly chill. We caught an episode of Ozark and passed out immediately afterwards.
Loki made sure we were awake around 4:00am or so. He heard coyotes, and he just wanted to verify that we heard them, too. We appreciate him keeping us safe, though. The coyotes don't have a key, so they can't get to us in the van. He was very alert, so it took some coaxing to get him to go back to sleep so we could do the same.
We eventually got up. This was the least-hurried morning we've had yet! It was quite nice. After we ate, we took a stroll around the campground to put our trash bag in the dumpster. On our short walk, we bumped into the host, Brian. He was super friendly and had a very laid-back approach to hosting. We expressed interest in hiking from the campground but that we were planning to move the van out of the site so we wouldn't violate the checkout time. He said not to worry about it. Thanks Brian!
So, after chatting a bit more with the host, we set out. With no map and no trail markers, we didn't want to get too crazy. It wasn't a full-blown trek by any means. We just meandered up the dry riverbed a while. We enjoyed the solitude together. There wasn't another person around the entire time we walked. And we could only hear cars if we listened really closely. It's incredibly rare to find a place like that anywhere near Ipswich, so this was an interesting new experience for us.
When our water bottles were half empty, we turned back. Back at the campsite, Mandy whipped us up some leftover tacos with the addition of chorizo to stretch them a bit further. We relaxed at the site in the sun for a while - Loki really loved this part. He's been deprived of his midday naps because he doesn't sleep well while we're driving the van yet. He's improving each day, so hopefully someday he'll be able to sleep on a drive. He laid out on his bed in the warmth, and you could just tell the was at peace.
Eventually it was time to go. We packed up and made the last little push to our final destination of Prescott, AZ. We made our way to White Spar Campground but stopped for groceries along the way. The campground is very nice and super clean. It's probably the cleanest national forest campground we've seen. Ever. We picked an open site and reserved it online through Thursday. We did some basic math and came up with a decent plan. We're allowed to stay 14 days in a 30-day period in Prescott National Forest. So, if we do Monday-Thursday nights while Mandy's working in town, we'll have to vacation every weekend away from Prescott. And then we'll just have 2 days per 30 days to find parking somewhere else.
We made, then ate, baked ziti for dinner and then we watched the Tinder Swindler before bed.
The sunrise in Sedona was b-e-a-YOU-tiful! Right in front of where we parked was the most scenic U-haul location we've ever seen. Which isn't saying anything at all. Usually they're not much to look at. But Sedona U-haul has got it going on. We finally had a little time to kill, so we just walked around the town a bit with Loki. It's just so pretty! Even though it was pretty chilly, we didn't even care. It was awesome to be outside walking around in the fresh air and sunshine.
Eventually, the cold did start to gnaw at us a little, so we circled back home. Once there, we made a couple breakfast sandwiches and ate them. After we ate and cleaned up, we made a big climb out of Sedona, through a zillion switchbacks, towards Flagstaff. Once we were in Flagstaff, we continued climbing even more. "You're going to drive all the way up the mountain and there will be none left to ski," Mandy said. Well, she was wrong. At Snowbowl, the driveway is a long climb uphill, but there's plenty of mountain left to ski at the top. The thing about skiing is that you need snow to do it, and the snow only likes to hang out at the top. She doesn't ski, so she just doesn't know.
From about 9:30am, when I started, until about 10:30am, the mountain was solid ice. As soon as the sun started to shine on the surface, everything softened up and it was perfect. It's a steep hill, pretty much all over, so it was a little dicey in the beginning there. Once the crust broke up, I was a lot more comfortable, and pushed myself to make a few passes through the moguls. I had a wicked good time playing all over the mountain until mid-afternoon when my legs started to get a little crampy. I forgot to stretch them out in the morning, so it's my own fault. I called it a day sometime after 2:00, and I was fine with that. It was a solid day of non-stop riding.
The base had fantastic weather. We almost called it "hot". It was deep into the "warm" territory, to be sure. I took my time cleaning off all my gear as I put everything away. And we didn't freeze during it. We even had the doors of the van wide open. You just can't do that in New England. Loki hung out on the ground outside the van, which is one of his favorite activities. It was awesome. Once everything was packed up, we headed back into Flagstaff. Although the mountain is technically IN Flagstaff, it's pretty remote. We took the van for another wash, this time doing a much better job than in Tennessee. Then, we went to REI.
We had some gift cards from Christmas to spend, and we had a need for some chairs that we could use outside the van. We had chairs, for years, actually. But when we moved into the van, we drew the line, and they ended up on the wrong side thereof. We never loved those chairs. We just accepted them, because we'd had them for so long. But it was finally time to shop for replacements, which was exciting. We trialed pretty much every chair they had available in the store. A lot of them we had to assemble first, but the store doesn't mind. And Loki got to come in, too, so we could take our time, and not worry about if he was okay outside in the van. Big shoutout to REI for being awesome. We decided to get one Nemo Stargaze chair, because Rob really liked it, and Mandy wasn't sure. She wants to use it for a time before deciding.
Leaving Flagstaff and heading towards our temporary-final destination of Prescott takes you along highway 17S. The surface of the highway is terrible, so we stopped to adjust the shocks a bit softer. Along the way, Mandy rerouted us towards Camp Verde, because the overnight temperature was forecast to be about 11 degrees warmer. And we didn't have to be in Prescott the next day. We were finally beginning to understand just how much impact we would allow weather to have on our travels. It's not that we have to avoid the cold and snow and rain and misery, but if we're this mobile, why not be comfortable? We stopped at Clear Creek Campground, and found the perfect site nestled in a corner. We paid for the night, and then we cooked chicken tacos for dinner. After dinner, we used our new chair for its intended purpose, and we stared at the night sky for a while. It was very clear here, with almost no light pollution from nearby towns. It was a perfect way to end an awesome day.
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.