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.
"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.