Nov 6, 2023 – Picacho Peak SP to Sedona, AZ
Another bright & sunny day! We decided to next head to Sedona, which has long been on our list of “to do’s”. So, we headed north through Phoenix via I-10 and I-17. We noticed lots of big campers heading south. We drove through a massive area of flat, farmed area, beautiful expansive views through mountain passes and finally started to see some golden changes to the leaves.
Our First Glimpse of Red Rock Formations
Camping is tight in this popular destination and there was nothing to be found in the area nearby. So we decided to try our hand at “dispersed” camping in Coconino National Forest which encompasses this area. Stopping at the forest’s visitor center we were directed to the designated camping areas. They warned us that these areas, too, would be crowded.
We drove around to see some of the areas and took the scenic Page Springs Road on our way to the Javelina camping area. We began to drive along a dusty, washboard gravel forest road, finally getting to the site named Windmill. There were about four campers already there but there was still plenty of space for us. It was already 3:30 and, rather than driving the road again, we decided to simply stay the night and save Sedona for tomorrow.
Gravel Washboard Road was Very Dusty
Dispersed Camp Site ; Ahh This is the Life?
WAWA was covered in dust and there was dust blowing through the campsite. Dust had even filtered inside the camper. As the day progressed more and more campers arrived at the site, finally totaling about a dozen of us. Two units even arrived in total darkness! People were in a variety of campers ranging from large fifth wheels to a tiny teardrop. At least one person simply slept in their car. Meanwhile, a variety of off road vehicles passed by the site headed to parts unknown.
It was an interesting place to camp. We’d have thought people would socialize in a fairly remote place like this but they didn’t. It seems odd to us because we surely have a lot in common and experiences to share. But maybe they’re here just because it’s free. Or, this is termed dispersed camping, after all, and maybe they simply seek solitude. After dinner we stargazed but weren’t too successful in identifying even the north star as there were just sooo many stars!
Nov 7, 2023 – Sedona, AZ
We gathered lots more dust as we drove back out the washboard gravel road from our dispersed campsite. We were on our way to nearby Sedona but got distracted. Bill noticed a sign for Red Rock State Park that he’d read about and we turned on to the road to the park.
The park is mainly a nature preserve and we arrived just in time to join a guided nature walk. Oak Creek flows through the park and is one of the very few Arizona streams we’ve seen that actually has lots of running water. Because of the consistent water flow the park is actually in a lush riparian zone. Our guide talked about the most common desert plants in the uplands areas of the park and then lead us down to the creek where the vegetation changed completely.
Some Cool Cactus
There were trees! Not mesquite but cottonwoods, a variety of sycamore, velvet ash and Arizona alder. In fact, the base of a huge cottonwood that grows next to the creek at the edge of a large meadow is a popular wedding venue.
Finally, Some Leaf Color!
Arizona Leaf Change Not as Vibrant as Pennsylvania but Still Nice
Yes, Water Actually Flows Here Year Round
Pretty Red Rock Formations
Huge Cottonwood Often Wedding Site
We are Dwarfed by Tree’s Trunk
Our guide also clued us in to the human history surrounding the park.
Small Pictograph along Nature Walk
In 1941, Jack Frye, then president of TWA, purchased the land that included what is now the park naming it Smoke Trail Ranch. He built a large desert home on a high point on the land that had spectacular views of the red rock peaks and canyons of the area. The home eventually deteriorated after his death. It still stands and has been stabilized but awaits decisions and funding regarding its future. We climbed to the home and enjoyed the views.
Home the Fryes Built
Back on our way to Sedona, we followed the suggestion of our guide and drove Red Rock Loop Road. The winding drive gave us great views of some of the prominent rock formations in the area and took us past a lot of very, very nice homes. One of the homes was way too ostentatious, though. The owner had built a home at the base of a cliff. Then he decided he wanted a better view. So, since his deed included the top of the cliff, he blasted an elevator shaft into the rock and had helicopters deliver building materials to the cliff top. The resulting home is spectacular and must deliver stunning views but truly is a eyesore to any nature loving person.
Spectacular Dwelling is Actually an Eyesore
Riparian Zone Path Clear to See
Nice Red Rock Formations
Beautiful Red Rock Peaks
Driving through tony Sedona we decided to have lunch. Again, following our nature walk guide’s suggestion, we stopped at Javelina Cantina for their taco Tuesday special. The $2.50 tacos were delicious but we still managed to spend $36 for lunch!
We were almost out of food so stopped at a Safeway to stock up. We also had yet to secure a place to stay for the night. Heading towards the nearby town of Cottonwood we passed another dispersed camping area. We bumped our way into a campsite with a view but there were no level spots that suited us and, besides, more dust was blowing through the area.
We decided, instead, to try Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood. Even though a sign at the entrance said “Campground Full”, they had two sites left. We opted for one that had trees and were delighted with the spot. We also reserved another site for the following day. We then spent our first hour or so cleaning the worst of the last couple of days worth of dust from both the inside and outside of WAWA.
Enough with the dust already!
Nov 8, 2023 – Sedona, AZ
Today we spent exploring ancient Native American settlements of the Verde Valley. Water is the basis of life and we’re camped near the Verde River. The extensive riparian corridor that surrounds it was the home to a succession of Native American tribes. The people who inhabited the places we visited are referred to as the Sinagua who, over time, had many settlements in the area and left some interesting evidence of their time here. Today, the Native American tribes active in the area include the Hopi, Navajo, Tonto Apaches and Yavapai.
Creosote Bush is Among Worlds Oldest Plants
Our first stop was Montezuma Well, a sub-unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument. The site is a small lake formed by the collapse of limestone surface rock into an underground, water filled cavern, much like the Bottomless Lakes we visited south of Roswell, NM. This water percolates down from the Mogollon Rim to the north and over 10,000 or so years makes it down to the area of the well. There are no fish in the lake because of arsenic leached from the rocks and high amounts of carbon dioxide. On the north side of the limestone rock wall that surrounds the lake are several cliff dwellings and the area at the lake’s outlet on the south side is shaded and very relaxing.
The Well is Similar to Bottomless Lakes We Visited in New Mexico
Cliff Dwelling is Most Prominent Evidence of Habitation at Montezuma Well
Steep Stone Steps Descend to Water
Water from Well Makes Trees Grow Taller
Secondary Dwelling Stands Near Water
Low Walls Remain from Other Dwellings
People Tagged Sites Even in 1896
This Guy Offered Photos for Sale
Next stop was Montezuma Castle National Monument. This is a much larger settlement area with large cliff dwellings set in limestone cliffs. It illustrates a trend of the Sinagua people to gradually populate higher ground above rather than within riparian corridors. The reason may have been to preserve the relatively flat areas for agriculture. The main event is a walking path that takes you past the cliff dwellings. They are large and make you wonder how people climbed up and down during their daily routines.
Over Time Castle was Enlarged to Include Five Stories
Cutaway Model Shows Interior Structure of Castle
Beautiful Cottonwood Trees on Path to Castle
Our third stop was at Tuzigoot National Monument. This was, by far, the most elaborate Sinagua settlement. It is an elongated complex of two to three story stone masonry rooms that were built along the spine of a natural outcrop in the Verde Valley. Below the pueblo is Tavasci Marsh and the Verde River around which they were able to hunt and grow food. Built between 1125 and 1400 there are 110 rooms altogether. The view from the top is beautiful.
Homegrown Slide-In Camper
Tuzigoot is a Large Complex
Kind of a Desolate View to Our Eyes
We Could Walk Through this Room to Access Roof
View from Top of Tuzigoot Complex
Museums in the visitor centers show off many artifacts from the sites including everything from massive, well executed pottery, elaborate textiles and children’s toys made from twigs.
By this time our camper was pretty cruddy. Bug remains plastered front facing surfaces and dust collected on everything from our dispersed camping experience. We found a car & RV wash with high clearances in the bays and gave the exterior a good cleaning.
We used the rest of daylight to visit the town of Jerome. Its origin was as a copper mining town, once home to 15,000 people in the 1920s. Like most mining towns, there were booms and busts. After the mine closed in 1953 the population eventually dwindled to less than 100 and was, at one time, promoted as a ghost town. Today it is a thriving tourist and art hub full of galleries, shops and restaurants. The attraction, to us, though, was the drive up a winding mountain road to the town. It was quite a drive as was the descent!
A Glimpse at Switchback Road to Jerome
Houses in Jerome Arranged on Steep Hillside
Thankfully, Some Steep, Narrow Streets were One-Way
Nov 9, 2023 – Sedona, AZ
The beautiful, red-rock town of Sedona sits at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon, which is one of the area’s more popular attractions. One of the neat things about it is that, unlike many canyons, you can drive up the canon along the creek. It’s an interesting and beautiful 25 mile drive.
Lovely Bridge Spans Oak Creek at Lower end of Canyon
View from Under Bridge
We started up, planning to stop at the visitor center on the way. Arriving there we found it closed for the season. Happily, though, what was open was Indian Gardens Café. It looked like a nice, casual place with good food and baked goods. We put it on our list as a possible breakfast place on our way to the Grand Canyon.
Continuing up the canyon, we passed numerous national forest picnic areas, trailheads and campgrounds. We thought it would be an interesting place to camp but all but one of the campgrounds were already closed for the season and that one was low in the canyon and for tent campers only. Yeah, winter is on its way!
As the canyon narrows the road climbs up an amazing switchback road to the top at about 8,000 feet elevation. There is a wonderful overlook at the top as well as lots of Native American jewelry vendors. This is Native American territory. The nations are careful to guarantee that the jewelry and other crafts sold here are actually crafted by Native Americans. We spent some time looking over their wares. The merchandise was lovely and sellers were eager to explain the symbolism of each design, what they represented and what kind of benefits they bestowed on the wearer.
Switchback Road Climbs Out of Upper end of Oak Creek Canyon
View Down Canyon from Overlook
The landscape changes amazingly as you climb through and out of the canyon. Beginning at our campground in Cottonwood, mesquite is the main kind of plant outside of the riparian corridors. Cactus mixes in as you begin to gain elevation into Sedona. But, by the time you get to the overlook as you exit the top of the canyon the vegetation is almost exclusively ponderosa pine.
Another short drive brought us to Flagstaff. The city appeared to be a modern chain-store shopping oasis with nearly every merchandiser known to man represented. We eventually found the historic downtown but there was no place to park WAWA so that we could walk it. Driving up the hill to Lowell Observatory, we discovered that you can’t really see anything without paying $35 each for a tour. The best time to tour is at night, of course, but we were there midday … forget it!
Fancy New Goodwill Store in Flagstaff
We retraced our drive and took a campsite at Rio Verde RV Park back in Cottonwood. It was just before dark when we arrived so we hit the showers, made dinner and had a relaxing evening.
View of Red Rocks Near Bottom of Canyon
Just Another Red Rock Formation
Nov 10, 2023 – Sedona to Grand Canyon NP, AZ
Change of venue day. We headed to Grand Canyon NP today with stops along the way. The drive would take us back up through Oak Creek Canyon. Breakfast at Indian Gardens Café was on our minds so we left the campground by 8:00 to get there. It was quite busy when we arrived but we ordered and found seating at the bar. It was Overnight Oats with milk, honey, bananas, candied pecans and cinnamon for Sandy and Huevos Rancheros for Bill, both delicious!
North of Flagstaff are a couple of National Monuments worth seeing. The first was Sunset Crater NM. The three-plus mile trail to the crater’s rim is closed but a couple of trails at the edge and through some of the lava flows were pretty cool. We’ve toured lava flows in the distant past but it is always amazing just how rugged and inhospitable they seem. This one erupted in 1085 AD and, after nearly 1,000 years, is still formidable.
Trail to Edge of Crater was Closed
Trail at Base of Crater is Contrast of Soil, Rocks and Lava Crust
Good Sized Ponderosa Pine
Bright Green Lichen
Clear Forest Floor is Evidence of Recent Fire
Tree Consumed by Recent Fire
The crumpled lava left after the flow is still amazingly sharp and only a limited pallet of plant and animal life are able to survive in it. And cinders from the cone cover the landscape for many, many miles around. The cinders actually capture and hold onto rain water and make a decent sort of mulch for plants and agriculture, something Native Americans in the area eventually used to their advantage.
Contrast Between Lava Crust and Cinders
Spatter Cone was Featured Along Trail
Wonder Why Lava Tube Entrance was Fenced Off
Cinders Surrounding Sunset Crater
Cinders Cover Nearby Hillsides
Cinders Even Cover Hillsides for Many Miles Around
About 15 miles further along the side road that lead to the Sunset Volcano is Wupatki NM. This monument is actually a series of five pueblo sites. We stopped first at Wukoki. This tall pueblo is unique in that it is singular and is built on a sandstone outcrop. It was fascinating to walk around.
Landscape Seems to Change Constantly
Wukoki Pueblo Built on Sandstone Outcrop
View from Wukoki seems Pretty Desolate
Next was the main event at Wupatki where there is a path that leads one to, around and through a 104 room pueblo complex. It is thought to have been a central crossroads where many people lived and gathered for celebrations and was likely also a major center for trade with distant groups. Near one end of the complex were a large, unroofed kiva, an unusual, masonry ball court and even a blowhole.
Yet Another Glamour Shot
Wupatki Pueblo has 104 Rooms
Model of Wupatki Pueblo
As are most pueblos, it was built on high ground, actually a rocky spine. It was fascinating how the builders integrated the shape and protuberances of the rock into the pueblo’s structure. This is an area of sedimentary rock that naturally splits into slabs and flat rocks. So the masonry here has flat walls and sharp, square corners unlike pueblos built with tumbled rock.
Looking up Through Rectangular Rooms
Holes in Wall are Where Floor Beams were Inserted
Wooden Beam is Original to Structure
Example of How Structure Incorporates Natural Rock
Lizard Sunning on a Rock
Ball Court of Masonry was Unusual Feature
Blow Hole Exhaling Today
Back out on the road we headed the last 90 miles north to the Grand Canyon, hoping to get to the campground before dark. Once again, we saw amazing changes to the landscape and the vegetation. Transitions went from ponderosa pine to grasslands and mesquite to nearly barren rock. The geology changed just as fast from rolling hills to mesas and, in the distance a rainbow of colored rock.
We entered the east entrance to the park half an hour before sunset and stopped at the first overlook at Desert View Watchtower. We visited the North Rim of the canyon years ago but we were still stunned. It is very difficult to overstate the magnificence of the canyon. The depth, breadth and array of colors is amazing even in the already fading light.
East Entrance to Grand Canyon South Rim
Iconic Desert View Watchtower at First Overview
And of Course We Got Our Photo Taken
Colorado River Winds through Canyon
But we still had nearly 25 miles to drive to the campground. It was getting dark when we arrived but we quickly checked in and found our site. Campgrounds in the park do not have electricity or water so we are happy that WAWA has ample battery and water capacity to stay several days without needing to replenish. We were also glad we had a good heating system since the forecast was to hit 15° that night.
During our quick pasta dinner we studied the brochures handed out by the park. There is an extensive shuttle bus system that we’ll probably use to visit some of the overlooks the following day. So, bellies full and agenda set we settled in for the evening.