My Favorite Campsite

My Favorite Campsite

A common question I get is: “where is your favorite place you’ve camped?”. I’ve never had much of an answer because I’ve liked most of the places I camp so much that it’s not worth wondering which is my favorite. But now, I found a place I like so much that I can call it my favorite campsite. 

I was planning to go this general direction, but wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go or where to camp. My brother solved that by finding this spot on Instagram. A guy with an account named @fiftyfivesquarefeet posted a drone video from when he camped there.

Navajo Nation

I drove up from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. So I drove about 100 miles through the Navajo Nation (A huge Indian Reservation that covers the northeast corner of Arizona). It was an interesting drive. A good deal of the land there looked odd and inhospitable. There were a lot of hills of odd colored dirt/sand/rock with absolutely no plants. There are a lot of very small homes in the reservation. Some people would call them shacks or shantys. There are also clearly no type of building code enforcement. If I had a house, that’d be about the size I want. So I’m not entirely sure whether these shacks are because that’s all they can afford, or if they have housing preferences similar to mine.

The Navajo Nation is a mysterious place for me. I don’t fully understand their rules related to camping there. It seems that you need to pay for a permit (maybe $15), and pay a nightly fee (Maybe $5). If I understand that right, I probably won’t camp at all on the reservation unless it’s to camp out at a specific place that I want to photograph. It’s not my style to pay money to sleep in my own van in the middle of nowhere when I can do it for free all over the place.

 

Getting there

The campsite is on the west side of the Colorado river. In this area, the river is the border between U.S. and the Navajo Nation. The reservation is on the east side of the river. The campsite was on the west side, on some BLM land.

Crossing the river was cool. There are two bridges right next to each other. The newer one was built because the older bridge wasn’t designed to support the heavy loads that are common now.  So now the older bridge is for pedestrian traffic. There’s a little visitor’s center on the U.S. side that you can part at and walk out on the bridge.

My Favorite Campsite

Boaters on the river

There are a lot of boaters floating down the Colorado, especially here. They get on the river at the old site of Lee’s Ferry. It’s the only place in hundreds of miles where it’s easy to get down to the river.  Nearly all of the river passes through a canyon like in the picture above. The river cut this canyon out over millions of years. Lee’s Ferry was situated at the one place where there’s an easy and gradual hill down to the river instead of near vertical cliff walls.

People get on the river at Lee’s Ferry and float down for various lengths of trips. Some of them will go all the way to Lake Mead (the reservoir at the Hoover Dam). Getting permission is difficult. There are two options: go privately, or pay an outfitter. To go privately, you’re supposed to get a permit. The permits use to be given out using a waiting list. But, the waiting list got to be 20 years long. So they changed to a lottery. I think about 5% of the entrants get a permit. The other option is to pay an outfitter. This is really expensive – $300 per day on the cheap end. I learned this from a group of older guys that came to the campsite one day to have lunch. They set up a table and got out a cooler and a bunch of supply boxes. I went over to talk to them. They gave me a beer and lunch. They’re from Flagstaff and have done a ton of outdoors stuff around here over the years. I asked them about how to score myself a spot on a boat for free or really cheap, and it seemed an unlikely thing to accomplish unless I wanted to work on the trip cooking, cleaning, and carrying people’s poop.

Down below the campsite, there is a stretch of rapids (going over the rocks that got washed into the river from the offshoot canyons on each side), and then a large beach.  Some of the boaters stop here for a break or to camp overnight.

Driving into the site

My Favorite Campsite
On the highway

 

My Favorite Campsite

A highway passes along closer to the hills that are visible in the background.  This road is gated (with a BLM sign that says to close the gate after you go through), and is about 2 miles from the highway to the end near the river.

My Favorite Campsite

 

The Campsite

The end of the dirt road is situated at the edges of both the river canyon and a big branch of the canyon shooting off at about 90 degrees. So – you get a lot of big views.

It was really windy the first couple of days there.

I stayed for about two weeks. Quite a lot of people came and went during that time. No one stayed more than two nights. Quite a few people drove the two miles to the end of the road, got out for only a few minutes, and drove off.

Every couple days, someone would come in and hold up an antenna connected to some kind of box. They were scanning for transmitters that have been placed in California Condors. There are only about 400 of these condors alive now. They’re dying off because they end up eating meat tainted with lead bullets/shot. The condors are huge – they have up to a 10 foot wingspan.  They also have the ugliest head/face of nearly any animal in existence. A condor will travel up to 200 miles per day scanning for food. They eat mostly large animals like deer, sheep, elk, or cattle.

I saw one flying around and got out my binoculars to watch it closely. They are the most elegant and efficient birds you’ll ever see. The one I saw flew 10 miles without flapping it’s wings once.

My Favorite Campsite

My Favorite Campsite

 

My Favorite Campsite
I walked along the edge of the cliff above the river many days

 

My Favorite Campsite

 

My Favorite Campsite
A group of people with overlanding rigs showed up one day. They’d been at the Overland Expo in Flagstaff the previous weekend. As they approached, I figured they were big time overlanders who’d been to far away places. Nope, they were some dudes from California and Texas who go on weekend trips sometimes. Gear nerds, basically. Or, I guess, just normal people with normal jobs who don’t have much time for this.

 

My Favorite Campsite - Stars - Astrophotography - Milky Way - Astro

 

My Favorite Campsite

My Favorite Campsite

My Favorite Campsite

 

A RAINBOW!

My Favorite Campsite
Can you see it?

RAINBOW

A HIKE

I wanted to go down to the river. There’s a very nice looking beach down below the campsite. It’s about 500 feet down, with nearly vertical walls. But there are these other little canyons at 90 degree angles to the river – and the campsite is next to a big one. I’m sure these have a real name – what are they called?  I’d walked along it a bit, looking down to see if it appeared walkable.  Most of it looked good, but there was a section I was worried about. It looked like there were pretty big drop offs. But it’s hard to tell from a distance. Sometimes, once you’re there, you can find ways to walk or scramble down and up slopes that look impassable from a distance. (I easily made it about a third of the way down the cliff right next to the river, which you’ll get a look at in the drone video).

The day I tried to hike down, I walked most of the way back toward the road, to a place where I could walk down the edge into the offshoot canyon. But I didn’t make it very far after that. I hit the big drop offs. It would take someone with climbing gear to get down and up that with certainty.

So I waked back up the canyon a bit, and up the other side, and generally wherever it looked fun to go. I like this kind of no-trail hiking.

Hiking in Badger Canyon Arizona
It’s further down than it looks. Maybe 200 feet. When it rains really hard, a torrent of water comes crashing through here, so thick with sediment that it looks like mud more than water, and so fast that it will pull up all the plants and move rocks as big as cars.

 

Hiking in Badger Canyon Arizona

SARDINES - Hiking - Snack
Snack break. mmmmmm, sardines.
Hiking in Badger Canyon Arizona
This is pretty much at the top/start of the offshoot canyon.

MORE OF THE AREA

 

VANLIFE

 

VANLIFE

 

My Favorite campsite - drone view

 

DRONE VIDEO

I shot a lot of drone footage while I was there. The area is nearly perfect for it. The main challenge was that it was too windy much of the time. The other was waiting for clouds that make it look more interesting.

After a couple days of shooting, I realized the video was often shaky. I guessed that this was related to a weird noise and shaking that the gimbal made right after starting the drone. It would turn on, and the camera would move around, and then it would start shaking and making a pretty loud noise. I did some research online and found that this is fairly common, and the likely culprit was a set screw on an arm that holds the gimbal being too loose. It could be tightened with a 1.5mm hex key. I have a ton of hex keys. I had a 2mm. I had a 1mm. But no 1.5.

I’d just went into Page the day before to get food and water. A hundred mile round trip. Ugh. Normally, I’d wait until I was in town the next time to get something like this. But this was such a great place for drone shooting. So I drove to Page again, found a set of hex keys at Wal-Mart, and tightened the screw. And, it fixed the problem. YES!!

 

 

LEE’S FERRY

I’d told the old guys that I had lunch with about how I tried to hike down to the river. I’d seen a trail shown on Google maps on another offshoot a couple miles upstream, and asked them about it. It’s called Cathedral wash, and yep, you can walk right down. Problem is, there’s not a beach where that wash meets the river. But there is a nice beach another couple miles upstream at Lee’s Ferry. So instead of doing the hike to the river that I’d been imagining I just drove down to the beach 😀

Lee's Ferry
Driving there

 

Lee's Ferry
These take many thousands of years to happen. A big rock falls from the hill above (the wall is now ~100 feet behind where I took the picture), rain and whatever erodes the ground away, except for the part holding the rock up – turning it into a pedestal. Eventually the rock will fall off. There were many of these right next to a certain hill/cliff. I don’t understand why they happen here and not in most other places.

 

Lee's Ferry - Beach
A beach near Lee’s Ferry

 

Ok. That’s it. Do you have a favorite campsite? Tell me about it. 

 

April 2017 Travels

April 2017 Travels

I spent most of my April in Arizona. A few incoming packages took longer than expected, and kept me near Phoenix longer than I wanted. I camped up north of Phoenix along Highway 87, and also near Sedona. Then I headed over into Nevada to meet some friends in Vegas.

Here’s everywhere I went in April (starting in Phoenix)

April 2017 Travels

SPOT WEST OF 87

(33.94633,-111.45529)

There’s a nice little group of spots to camp just a couple miles off hwy 87. I’ve camped here three different times. This last time, I went down to a spot that’s a bit off of the road and behind a hill. I’d never seen until midway through my second time camping there when I noticed that a few people went back there. It’s a little hairy getting there (the road is slanted sideways), and it’s really hard trying to find a flat spot down there.  But it’s nice though.

April 2017 Travels
You can see the van down there near the middle of the picture

April 2017 Travels

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

PHOENIX AGAIN:

I drove back into the city to pick up a package, and stayed for a few days. I watched the last few hours of the Paris-Roubaix bicycle race online. That’s always a fun race to watch.

SEDONA

During two of my three vehicle living test trips, I spent time in Sedona. It was one of the places where I decided I wanted my current lifestyle. I’d been looking forward to going back. I tried to go camp in the exact same place I did the first time there, but it was occupied. I ended up camping in three different spots

1 – Southwest of Sedona: (34.68848, -111.86182). 

This is one of the spots that a guy at the visitors center recommended. It was ok, but not very good as far as campsites near Sedona go.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

2 – West of Sedona – Forest Service Road 525c. (34.879, -111.94486)

This was close to the where I’d camped on the test trips.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

It’s close to the Robber’s Roost – a cave overlooking the way into Sedona. Robbers and bandits, used to hide out here when they had some heat. From the cave, they could see people approaching from far away. Also, while in the cave, you can hear people from below very well.

Robber's Roost

Robber's Roost

 

3 – “Base Camp” – Forest Service Road 525 (34.82324, -111.90566)

I went into town in the afternoon, and didn’t leave until it was starting to get dark. I didn’t want to sleep in Sedona, so I came out to this spot – just about the first place you can camp on 525 when coming off the highway. Many people stop here and then find another more secluded spot somewhere along 525 or 525c and move to it.

I stayed here one night. Some balloons landed nearby.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

4 – Forest Service Road 525 (34.8682, -111.90365)

Near the north end of where you can camp on 525 is closer to the hiking and biking action. A lot of the spots on 525 can hold many rigs and end up being communal spots. There were 3-5 other groups present while I was there.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona
My campsite is in this picture, over towards the right

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

The weather was absolutely perfect in Sedona and I was enjoying being there. After about a week, I was getting itchy to move on though. I had plans to meet some friends in Vegas at the end of April, so I found a place to camp on the way there.

LAKE MOHAVE – Telephone Cove

(35.23068, -114.59371)

Telephone Cove has free camping. And others, I believe. It’s a pretty nice stretch of beach. The pictures below don’t show it, but it was a bit crowded here because there was some kind of boys’ camp going on at the other end of the beach.

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

Then I got itchy feet and drove to Vegas early.

LAS VEGAS

Parking lot behind the LINQ – (36.11835, -115.16655)

Street with parking near the Link/Ferris Wheel/Westin/Cromwell (36.11631,-115.16643)

I went out to Vegas 9 days before my friends would getting there. I’m not entirely sure why I went so early other than that I felt like moving on from where I was previously. I spent the first weekend at the strip and it was fun. I’m very used to going places and doing things by myself, but I’ve only been to the strip when it was with friends. This time, on my own, it wasn’t quite the same.

Camping on the Las Vegas Strip
This was a good place to park the van. It’s a big parking lot for the LINQ casino/hotel. It’s temporarily free until after they do some kind of construction project. There is a ton of security patrolling the lot and it’s well lit. You have to not make it obvious that you’re sleeping in a vehicle though or security will tell you not to.

After 3 or 4 days at the strip, I went and hung out around other parts of the city. Vegas isn’t all that nice. The UNLV Library is really really nice though. I go to a lot of city/county libraries, and sometimes there are too many bums there. Really stinky ones. At this library on UNLV campus, it was only students. Everyone’s clean. Everyone’s nice. The wifi is good. And it’s beautiful – I mean, just look at this place:

April 2017 Travels - UNLV Library

I think I’ll start hanging out around campuses more when I’m in cities.

My friends arrived the next weekend. While waiting for them in the airport cellphone lot, I did the following:

  • Ate dinner
  • Moved water from my big reserve jug to my smaller jugs that I normally use
  • Repaired my sandals (Sewed part of the velcro back on one)

Once my friends arrived, I drove them to their hotel on strip, and we hung out at the strip that night. The next day we went to their pool, walked around the strip, went to the pool again, and then went to Fremont Street to gamble a bit and walk around. I think we had more fun at Fremont street than on the strip. It’s smaller and sort of simpler. You don’t have to spend 10-15 minutes walking to go from one place to another like you often do on the strip. We also walked past what’s probably considered the normal end of the Fremont street area (on the east end) and continued. There are some fun weird/hipster type places there.

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Zoltar Machine
On Fremont Street. (Downtown Vegas)

 

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Zoltar Machine
My friend is a champion of making stupid faces

 

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Gold Digger

The last day they were there we went over to a thrift store (a Buffalo Exchange north of the strip – it is a good one), and then back to some casino where we had lunch. Then they headed back home, and I was ready to get out of that city.

Wow. When I put all the places I went in one month into one post, it sure looks like a lot.

PLANS FOR MAY

  • Go meet my brother and his girlfriend in Sedona
  • Go to Grand Canyon
  • Go through Northern Arizona and into Southern Utah

Exploring Arizona 4 – New Friends

New Friends

I went back to camp at the same area as two trips ago – the place where it rained for two days while I was there. This time, I had 6 days of absolutely perfect weather there. Also, I met some new friends.

I had been wanting to find a place near Phoenix to camp – somewhere still down in the desert but not all messed up with trash, noise and shooting. I asked on the CheapRVLiving.com forums and members there recommended a place just southwest of Phoenix. I was excited to go there.

My mom visited Phoenix for over a week, and I stayed in the city then. After she left the city and I was ready to go camping, it was hot in Phoenix, so I decided to go up in elevation rather than the hot desert spot.

Campsite:

New Friends

 

Mom’s Advice:

My mom said I should post more pictures of myself here. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, but never of myself. When I looked at my Instagram Feed after she asked, I noticed I hadn’t posted a picture of myself for many months. I suppose some pictures of me would make it more personal and more interesting. So, I took a few of myself on this trip. More coming in the future. My grandma once told me I could be a male model. She’s probably the most biased person in the world, and that was like 15 years ago.. Anyways,… here’s a start:

New Friends

New Friends

New Friends

The Weather

I don’t see how it could get any better:

  • ~75 degree highs
  • ~55 degree lows
  • Slight breeze
  • Sunny nearly all day every day

Bike Rides

I went for two bike rides along the Forest Service Road I was camped by. The road goes about 8 miles into the forest, eventually hitting a wilderness boundary and hiking trailhead. I rode out and back both times  and it was fucking amazing. I recorded some more footage with the GoPro. It really doesn’t do the views justice.

Someone recently asked if I record any different views while riding so I tried turning the camera around. It works pretty well, and now you get to look at my crotch a bunch 😛

 

New Friends from Instagram

I met a couple name Dan and Cindy and they camped with me for two days. Dan had sent me some messages on Instagram. Him and Cindy live in Tuscon and had a trip planned to go to Havasapai falls at the Grand Canyon. I was pretty much on their way, so they stopped to hang out a while.

You can find out a bit about them at:

I’m just going to post a picture of my journal entry from the day after we parted. My handwriting has really went downhill since I stopped working. I used to write a lot by hand at work, and since I quit, I’ve done very little. If I start posting journal tidbits like this regularly, that will give me a good reason to improve.

New Friends - Journal - Handwriting
The blurred part is nothing bad. It’s just something about them that I’m not sure whether they want shared publicly.

New Friends

 

New Friends

 

New Friends - Journal - Handwriting

 

New Friends

 

New Friends

Exploring Arizona 3 – Road to Four Peaks

Road to Four Peaks

For my third trip out of Phoenix, I went up Hwy 87 again, and explored some back roads that go up over a pass right by Four Peaks.

On my second trip, where I got rained on a ton, I had a challenging time finding campsites down in the desert, due to, as I call it, the “Party Zone” surrounding the city. So I did more research before embarking on this third trip. I used My Maps on Google, which works well for this. My Maps allows you to add many markings and notes to a version of Google maps. You can add a pins and other shapes with names and notes, you can highlight a certain route of road, and you can draw shapes you want to highlight areas. You can switch quickly between views – including the normal map, ‘satellite’ view, and ‘terrain’ where you can see topography.  You can access and update your map on a computer or your phone. The only bad thing is that you can’t access or update the maps offline (I need to check that for sure though). 

Google My Maps

Google My Maps

 

Google My Maps

 

Road to Four Peaks

I found a lot of areas that I highlighted and want to go explore in person.  One of those areas have some Forest Service roads going all the way up over a pass right next to Four Peaks. The roads traverses 30 or so miles from Hwy 87 over to Hwy 188 near Roosevelt Lake.  It looked like it has many good camping spots along the route. I did already know that there’s an OHV area there. And that this close to the city, many of the campsites would be occupied by shooters or littered with their mess. I expected that I may have to go pretty far up the road to find nice campsites, but I was sure that I’d find some before the pass.

I drove about halfway to the pass before I found a camping spot I liked, and settled in for a handful of days. The path up to Four Peaks is a great drive. It’s one of those cool Arizona drives where you can go from 2,000 foot elevation desert up to 6,000 foot or so where you have pine trees. It’s also popular for people driving around in SUVs, trucks, side-by-sides, and dirt bikes.

Road to Four Peaks

One odd thing happened up there: on Saturday evening, I heard a police car siren. I looked around and spotted a Sherrif’s SUV coming down the road quickly. He was obviously in a hurry. Two more Sherrifs followed within 10 or 15 minutes. I wondered whether they were responding to an incident along this road, or if they were using the road to get from Hwy 87 to Hwy 188. 

Road to Four Peaks
My home for this trip

 

Road to Four Peaks
My van is down there in the middle

 

Hiking

Road to Four Peaks

 

Road to Four Peaks

 

Biking

“I’m glad these people have to go to work on Mondays”

I drove up and found my campsite on a Saturday.  There was quite a lot going on out there. Just people driving around and shooting (not at the same time).  Sunday morning as I awoke there were two guys on ATVs at the road who appeared to be thinking about coming up the little offshoot where I was camped. They did, parked, looked around the area with binoculars a lot, and then walked off with their guns, binoculars, and tripods (for the binoculars). An hour or so later, a group of about 25 people traveling in a 10+ side-by-sides took a pit stop in my camping area. They hung out, talked, and drank beer for an hour before moving on. I heard gunshots all day long in sporadic bursts.

Monday morning I had peace and quiet for hours at a time. I wrote in my journal:

Sometimes I’m happy that other people work every week. Out where I’m camping, over the weekend I’ve heard a steady stream of noises from OHVs and guns. Now, Monday morning, it’s just me and the singing birds

Road to Four Peaks

 

Road to Four Peaks
When I start putting stuff down instead of putting it away, I have a mess like this really quickly

 

Road to Four Peaks
But it only takes about 5 minutes to get it this clean again

Tea Time

Road to Four Peaks

 

Road to Four Peaks

Two more trips near Phoenix, and then where?

I’ll be around Phoenix for a few more weeks – until the end of March. After that, I’ll meander north. I expect to spend 6 or more weeks in central and northern Arizona.  I’ve been to some wonderful places in this area that I want to go back to, but I’m sure there are a lot of other places I should go. So, if you know the area, tell me! 

Where should I go? 

Road to Four Peaks

Here are some places I’m expecting to go or thinking about going:  (The ones with question marks are places I haven’t been and am not sure about)

  • Apache trail / Lake Roosevelt again. Maybe see the cliff dwellings there
  • Montezuma’s Castle ???
  • The Meteor crater east of Flagstaff ???
  • Camp along the way to Payson. Maybe same spot as I went before
  • Camp up along the Mogollon rim just north of Payson. 
  • Sedona area
  • Grand Canyon.. (south rim??) 
  • Horseshoe bend??
  • Three Monuments??
  • Stuff in the Navajo Reservation? What/where??? (need to research visiting/camping there)
  • Hang out in/near Flagstaff

What else???

 

Exploring Arizona 2 – Rained out near the Beeline

Rained out near the Beeline

For my second trip out of Phoenix, I wanted to find a place to camp in the desert – at lower elevation, and fairly close to Phoenix. As of February, it’s still pretty cold at middle elevations in Arizona. I like the low altitude desert near Phoenix. There are a lot of cool saguaro cacti. I wanted to find some nice places to camp in the desert, at low altitude, fairly close to Phoenix. I expected that might not be so easy….

The Party Zone

A big city like Phoenix has over 4 million people. Any city with 4 million residents will include a lot who like to go out into the nearby National Forests, and many of those will like shooting their guns, driving loud dirt-bikes, ATVs, and Side-By-Sides (those sort of off-road go carts with motorcycle engines that are super popular now), and/or taking a few cases of Bud Light and a mattress out to a camp site and leave everything behind minus the liquid beer. Some people seem to think a National Forest is some kind of black hole where no one else goes and where the trash they leave behind doesn’t matter and won’t be seen by anyone else because surely no one else goes to such a remote place 20 miles from the city, right? Ok, I don’t like to judge other peoples’ ways of enjoying nature, but I definitely judge the litterers.

With surely a large number of people as decribed above existing in any city, many National forest areas within 40 miles of the city are likely to have a some or a lot of these folks. I’ll call this ring around a city the “party zone”. This makes finding a nice desert area to camp challenging because the National Forest areas north of Phoenix all seem to increase in altitude the further north you go. So by the time I get out of the range of the shooters, partiers, and ATVers, I’m up at 4,500 feet. Around 3,500 feet, the plants change from cacti to shrubs that are thorny and also really thick in some spots.

The Plan:

I decided to go out along Highway 87 this time, which is known as the Beeline. I took a look on Google Maps and found some areas that looked like they may work. There are quite a few roads going off from the Beeline, and a quick look on the satellite view** showed a lot of potential campsites.

** The “satellite” views on maps are shot from airplanes

Strike One

The first place I went to, shown as “A” on the map below. Once I got there, it was clearly a serious OHV area (there were signs). So I went back to the highway and continued north, looking for other roads.

Rained out near the Beeline

Strike Two

The second place I went, shown as “B” on the map below, has a bunch of places people could camp. People have done a lot of shooting there, so some parts are littered with casings, empty shotgun shells, broken glass, and the occasional old TV or computer monitor that’s been shot to pieces. It was also really close to the highway, and right under a busy flight path.

Rained out near the Beeline

I arrived in late afternoon and spent the night there. A couple guys drove into the area together and hung out for a while. One of them is from Phoenix and knew a lot about rocks and the area. The other has a house in Hawaii. He built a really small home out in the back yard, and lived in that while renting out the main house. Now he’s bought a truck and camper, and is in the process of renting out the small house to a friend for while he drives around the continental US in his truck camper for the next year or so.  He’s in love with the friend who is renting his small house. They are good friends and she just wants to be friends. He said “we’re perfect together, soulmates, she just doesn’t know it” a two or three times.

He has plans with a string of different women to come join him at times. In one case of plans overlapping, he’s going to have two women joining him at the same time at his condo that he bought on a whim while in a ski town in Utah. It was interesting talking with a guy who really really wants a travel companion. He is certain he’ll feel unsatisfied traveling by himself. In my case, I don’t mind traveling alone. There are many things I’m missing out on by not having another person along, but there are also many ways that traveling alone is easier and simpler. I do wonder a little bit whether the difference in my preferences and this guy’s are entirely personality based, or how much of it is me being more content with simpler things.

Strike Three

I got tired of hearing the traffic and airplanes, so the next morning I headed further north. I got up to higher elevation, and out of the “party zone”, and found a nice spot (in area C on the map).  It was up at about 4,500 feet.  I had a wonderful view out the windows. The spot was pretty close to the highway but with enough elevation difference and a big hill in-between to block all the noise. I did have a direct line of sight to cell towers across the highway, so I had a nice data connection.

Rained out near the Beeline

The first day there, the weather was wonderful. I went for an exploratory hike down the road to see what the road is like and if there were other good campsites further back.

Rained out near the Beeline

Rained out near the Beeline

I’d checked the weather before leaving Phoenix and saw two rainy days in the forecast. I looked closer while camped up in area C, and saw the forecast was non stop rain for 48 hours. Uh oh. I figured I’d just stay put through the rain and then enjoy  a couple nice days after before heading back down to the city.

Once it started raining, the clouds were thick.  They were also low and I was literally in them. This meant I didn’t have power for charging my computer or whatever else. I’ve now gotten in the good habit of letting only my fridge and MIFI device charge as needed, and only charging or using other devices when the sun is providing enough power for them on top of however much the battery can take at that moment. This way, the battery is always getting as much as is possible.

So… the first day, I read a book. This may be the first day in my life that I read all of a normal-sized book in one day. It was good. It’s called How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. As the title suggest, it’s about how to make money by entrepreneurial means, but it’s written as a novel in the first person – from the perspective of you being the main character. It’s a really good book.

It rained almost every minute of the day. And night.

Rain itself doesn’t bother me much. But it was also about 40 degrees, and I don’t like just sitting around in the van when it’s also cold. The second morning of rain, I got impatient. I’d already read an entire book, now what the hell am I supposed to do? :-P.

The road up to my campsite was very nice. Most of it was a nice well graded gravel road. The spot I was camped in was dirt, and now really muddy, and slightly uphill to get back on the road. Then the road was all downhill. I figured if I could get back on the road I could probably make it all the way down.

The mud had gotten saturated a few inches deep. It was really slippery. I made it out though. I started down the road. There had been a big camper in a spot about 1/8th mile before mine. I saw they had left, and saw tracks in the road that were probably theirs from leaving the previous afternoon or evening. About another 1/8th mile down, I got to a reeeeaaally soft and muddy spot. The trailer had made it down through this, and it looked like about 3 or 4 vehicles had been in it and tore up the road a bit.

Rained out near the Beeline
This is “the bad part”, looking uphill

I got through that part, but just barely. I almost inched off into a small ditch, which would’ve been an annoyance rather than a problem, as I could’ve just waited there in the ditch for it to dry and then easily driven out, but, the van would’ve been at an annoying angle. My van was sinking into the mud quite a lot. The mud was really soft, and my van is fairly heavy and the tires aren’t especially wide. I’d traveled up that section of road a couple days ago and it was flat and smooth. Now it was getting all torn up and I felt bad about doing some of it. I decided that I’d rather stop and wait it out rather than tear up any more parts of the road, so I went just far enough past that bad spot to get to where the road was wide enough and flat enough to the side for me to just stop right there on the road with plenty of space for others to drive by.

Rained out near the Beeline
Where I stoped to wait it out. Really, not a bad place at all to be ~stuck waiting

Two other vehicles did drive by, coming up the hill. Both of them went a bit into the bad section but turned back right away. I got out and walked around a couple times, but spent most of the day in the van.

The  next morning, the rain stopped. And the sun was shining about half the time. The clouds slowly cleared out.

Rained out near the Beeline

I waited until after noon. Then I walked the road all the way to where it’s paved, and it wasn’t bad.In the afternoon, after walking the road,  I drove the rest of the way down and headed back to the city. I probably could’ve driven the rest instead of waiting. Turns out the only tricky spot was the turn right in front of where I’d parked. It was banked inward pretty heavily, and past the outside edge of the road is steep downhill. When I watched one of the vehicles that came up and turned back, they did a pretty aggressive 4 wheel powerslide to make it through the turn to without sliding down the banking. I didn’t want to attempt something like that.

I suppose I should’ve checked the weather a closer before heading up. If I’d seen exactly how much it was going to rain, I probably wouldn’t have went up there. But I saw that the rain would only last two days, and that it wouldn’t be snowing or freezing, and I was camped maybe a mile’s walk from the highway, so there was not really any safety risk of being stranded up there too long or in too bad of conditions.

I decided I’d definitely do more research on lower desert areas before heading out next time, so I’d have much less chance of being up in the cold rain.

All-in-all, a “rained out” trip didn’t turn out so bad. I had two and a half days of really nice weather, a nice hike, read a really good book, and found a nice campsite are mid elevation easily accessed from the highway.

Exploring Arizona 1 – Apache Trail and Roosevelt Lake

As I mentioned in my post about test trips, I drove the Apache Trail a couple times when I used to visit Arizona for work.  I’ll quote myself to share a relevant part of that post:

About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around North America. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.

There are more beautiful places for sure. And there are countless places as nice as along the Salt River. But because I had been here on a test trip and because of how I felt while driving the Apache Trail, those feelings had me thinking back to it, and looking forward to it.

Arizona – Excursions from Phoenix

At the end of 2016, I’d just crossed the border from California to Arizona. I spent a couple weeks near the border, by Ehrenberg and Quartzsite, and attended the RTR, where I did a fun little “Rigs of the RTR” photography project.

After the RTR, I came to Phoenix. I had decided to make Phoenix my home base for the rest of winter.  I’ll to spend about 10 weeks in and near the city. I expect to spend half the time inside the city, and half on excursions of about a week each. Most of these will be within 50-80 miles of Phoenix.  As the weather warms up in the spring, I’ll go further north and stop coming back to Phoenix.

Ok… on to trip 1:

Apache Trail

My first excursion, as you’ve likely guessed – included driving this beautiful stretch of gravel and dirt. The Apache Trail is a 40 mile stretch of Highway 88 from Apache Junction to the dam at Roosevelt Lake. The southern half is paved, and the northern half is a well-maintained gravel road.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

There are some tall tales about this area. When I told my Grandma who lives in Phoenix that I’d be going on camping trips, she said “ohhhhhhhhh, don’t go out in the Superstition Mountains!”. The Apache Trail passes through them. The tales are mostly centered around gold mines, buried treasures of which old mysterious maps give vague directions, and murders of miners, treasure hunters, and some of the original teasure owners. The biggest of these tales is about the “Lost Dutchman’s Mine”. This is the most talked about and most searched for lost mine in North America. There are over 100 books and maps about the mine. Adventurous go-getters have been searching for the mine for over 120 years, with as many as 8,000 people searching in some years. Many have died while doing so.

There are numerous fascinating stories and tales all wound together. Some of them are definitely fact. Some are fantasies and deception.

A few excerpts:

From Wikipedia:

The legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine centers around the Superstition Mountains. According to the legend, a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz discovered a mother lode of gold in the Superstition Wilderness and revealed its location on his deathbed in Phoenix in 1891 to Julia Thomas, a boarding-house owner who had taken care of him for many years. Several mines have been claimed to be the actual mine that Waltz discovered, but none of those claims have been verified

 

But – a warning – if you’re searching for treasure out here, you might wander into Hell:

Some Apaches believe that the hole leading down into the lower world, or hell, is located in the Superstition Mountains. Winds blowing from the hole is supposed to be the cause of severe dust storms in the metropolitan region

 

From a website about Tortilla Flat (a little outpost of a town along the Apache Trail)

Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer in America in the early 1500’s. During an expedition to Florida, he was shipwrecked on a Texas island in 1528. There he was enslaved by the Indians. He escaped and made his way into the Southwest and eventually into Mexico by 1536. His wanderings brought him in contact with the Pueblo Indians, and his later reports in Mexico gave rise to the legends of the Seven Cities of Cibola, — or the Cities of Gold. These legends were the catalyst for bring Spanish explorers and prospectors into the Arizona territory. As part of the Coronado expedition into Arizona for the Seven Cities of Cibola, Marcos de Niza traveled westward along the Gila River as far as what is now the Phoenix metropolitan area. He may have been the first Spaniard to see the Superstition Mountains.

What has all this to do with Tortilla Flat, you ask? Because of it’s location, Tortilla Flat, even presently, is affected by the search for gold in the Superstitions. Each Spanish expedition inspired other expeditions looking for the vast wealth in gold. In the late 1600’s through the Mid- 1700’s, Jesuits priests were located throughout the Southwest. Allegedly, the Jesuits had amassed a fortune in gold and didn’t want to share it with the King of Spain. The king, convinced of treachery, ordered the deportation of all Jesuits in 1767. However, before their departure, they supposedly hid their treasure in various places throughout Southwest and according to legend, the Superstition Mountain region was one of these hidden places.

In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and an influx of Mexican prospectors poured into the Superstition Mountain region. Don Miguel Peralta was a wealthy landowner and miner from northern Mexico. Reportedly, his expeditions recovered immense quantities of gold from the Superstitions in 1847 and 1848. All but one member of the expedition was killed in a battle with the Apaches at a site commemorated as Massacre Grounds, located at the west end of the mountains.

If this sounds interesting, here are some links to get you started:

 

My Searching Expedition

I was on a search alright. But not for gold. I was searching for a perfect campsite along the Apache Trail. For the campsite I’ve daydreamed of hundreds of times. I did little research, figuring I’d go by memory and probably just find the right spots.

Like the treasure hunters, I came up short. But I didn’t die! There aren’t many nice camping spots along the road. A couple are right near the bottom of the big cliff that you drive down if you’re traveling northwards. They’re down at the bottom of this picture:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Ok.. look at the front of the van up by the windshield. Then track just a bit to the right. See that little branch off from the road with a white and red speck? That speck was a pickup with a camper and his hood up – a sign that he was settled in camping – putting the hood up is a method to try to prevent rats from nesting in the engine bay. Further north on the road, maybe 100 meters, is another good camping spot that had a car in it as I passed. They were likely out hiking or treasure hunting. Or maybe down in hell.

These two spots are the best free campsites along the Apache trail. That’s just according to my opinion right now, which is based on limited understanding of the area. Next time I drive this road going north, if one of these spots are open, I’m definitely stopping there.

This is a shot of the road as it continues down:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

See how the road sort of disappears in the distance, and turns back around? There’s something cool down there right at the horseshoe turn:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Did people used to live in that cave/overhang? It would be a decent spot, with that river right below.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
This place calls out for me to hike back along the river. Next time I drive the Apache Trail, I’m going to.

I continued along, hoping to find a spot on or overlooking the salt river. Further north, on the last few miles before the dam, the road parallels the river pretty closely. I’d seen campsites during my test trips when I was just passing through this road and daydreaming. Now that I was looking to actually stop and camp, what I found is:

  • The campsites off the west side of the road – towards the river, are all sites where you have to pay (I don’t stay at those)
  • There are a few roads going east off of 88. Everything on the east side of 88 is all just normal (free) dispersed camping. The one I explored wasn’t so great. Lots of hill walls would block the sun this time of year (a problem for my solar electrical system), and there weren’t any good views for as far as I walked up it.
  • There are spots right along the road where you could stop and camp. Some of them have nice views. There’s a lot of traffic on this road though

I made it all the way to the dam without finding a spot that felt right. So I continued up past the dam and went to the Tonto Basin Ranger Distric Office. It’s a really nice visitor’s center, as nice as most National Parks have. I got some information and a bunch of free maps/papers, and headed over to the only free campsite along the lake (Bachelor’s cove). I stayed there for a few days, and then moved up to a Forest Service road that climbs the hills overlooking the lake. I stayed up there for a few more days.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
My campsite for the second half of the week. My van is one of the specks down towards the lake. (I was still about a half mile from the lake)

I went on a few bike rides and hikes. My first trip up the road I camped on was on my bike. But past a certain point the road is so steep that I had to get off and walk a lot of. Later, I hiked all the way up. I also went on a bike ride over to and back down the Apache Trail. I remembered to take my GoPro! You may want to watch it at 2x speed to make it less boring.

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Some parts are a lot steeper than they appear here

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Lunch at the top of my hike: a sardine sandwich and an apple.

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Those mountains you keep seeing in the background are the “Four Peaks”. They’re the highest mountains in this small area, at about 7,500 ft. (Roosevelt Lake is 2,000ft)

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Bonus – Ever wondered what’s inside a cactus?

I had assumed it was all just a wet mass. Sort of like a melon. Well, no. Inside some cacti are a system of sticks/trunks/branches:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

 

Before Vandwelling: Test Trips

This post is a bit of background for some upcoming posts about Exploring Arizona. Arizona holds a special place in my heart and my imagination. In 2014 and 2015, I went on three vehicle camping test trips to help me decide whether or not I wanted to live in a van, two of which were in Arizona. I also took long scenic drives on backroads between Phoenix and Flagstaff a few times.

Approaching Retirement

At around age 29 I decided to ramp up the amount of my income I saved. This would allow me to retire much earlier than most people. At first, I expected to be able to retire by age 40. Then I reduced my spending further and thus saved more each year while also reducing my net worth retirement target. I ended up retiring at age 34.

I expect that over the rest of my life, I’ll spend my time in different phases that last  2-10 years each. Some of the phases I’ve had in mind are below Some phases could happen concurrently.

  • Living in a van and traveling around the western US
  • Living in other countries (Southeast Asia, and/or Latin America)
  • Living in a shack/cabin in a remote area with access to some kind of nice terrain (Mountains, coast, etc.)
  • Bicycling a ton
  • Living in a small town for a while
  • Living in a big expensive city by means of some uniquely cheap housing (like living in someone’s guesthouse in exchange for a bit or work or just so they have another person around)
  • Living on a sort of homestead/compound
  • Doing some entrepreneurial projects
  • Working some fun jobs
  • Improving the world in some way
  • Very deep/serious romantic relationship(s)
  • Bicycle touring
  • Slow travel internationally
  • …. and others

As I approached retirement, I wanted to decide which to do first. I’ll share in another post all the details about the various reasons I decided to live in a van. For this post, I want to describe the test trips I went on to get a feel for what it would be like to live in a vehicle.

 

Test Trip #1: Sequoia National Park

Starting in 2013, I traveled a lot for work. I went to different factories. Many of them were in small towns surrounded by thousands of square miles of farms. Or in medium/large cities that are also surround by thousands of square miles of farms. But sometimes I went to more interesting places. In the fall of 2014 I went to a factory near Fresco, CA. That’s close to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. So I made that my first test trip.

I worked there during one week. Tuesday through Thursday. Instead of going home after the factory visit on Thursday or Friday like usual, and flying to the next location the following Monday, I stayed out in California the whole weekend and on Monday flew straight to the next work location. This gave me 3.5 days to go do my own thing. I brought along my camping and outdoors gear.  I found a first-come-first serve campsite fairly high up in King’s Canyon that would have open spots when I could get there.

I had a wonderful time. Just driving through these National Parks is a treat – let alone camping and hiking there. Camping among 200 foot tall sequoia trees was wonderful. A hiking trail passed near the campsite and I explored it in both directions. I saw a bear while hiking. And more while driving. I was really cold when the temperature dipped near freezing overnight. The last day I went for a hike at lower elevation and drove through Sequoia NP again – through dropping temperatures and freezing rain. I had a splendid time.

Driving through Sequoia, there are a ton of places calling out for to you to stop and soak in the view

 

My original version of “Cowboy Cuisine”. It’s gotten a lot better now :-D. That’s tea in the bowl

 

 

This is the hiking trail near where I camped. I saw a bear within a couple hundred feet of here. It was running along and making a TON of noise in the brush and sticks on the ground.

 

Test Trips
Pretty darn nice place to sit and read Meditations

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips
My Campsite

 

Test Trips
My vehicle setup

 

Test Trips

 

View from high in Sequoia. Just off the road

Test Trip #2: Coconino National Forest – Near Sedona, AZ

In 2015 I started going to Flagstaff, AZ for work. I’d fly into Phoenix and drive up to Flagstaff for a few days. Some of my trips there were with another person, in which case we’d ride together from Phoenix to Flagstaff, and I couldn’t go do my own thing. My first trip there by myself was in April, so I made that my second test trip.

I drove up to Sedona, went to the National Forest Visitors Center, and learned about dispersed camping. I camped out on the Forest Service roads ~5 miles northwest of Sedona. Again, I had a wonderful time.

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Hiking. This trail goes up the Mongollon rim and higher. And just on a walk, you can see many many different types of plants

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

I bought my van a few weeks after this second test trip.

Test Trip #3: Coconino and Tonto National Forests

I went back again in May and made and did the same thing. For my drive from Phoenix to Sedona, I went up highway 87 to Payson, and drove about 30 miles along a Forest Service/Fire road that traverses the top edge of the Mongollon rim. There are many campsites along the rim.

Test Trips
At the rim edge

 

Test Trips
One of the wonderful campsites along the rim. Past the edge you see in the foreground is basically a cliff of a few hundred feet

 

Test Trips

After my work week, I went to the same area near Sedona as the first trip, but it was cold this time. I went over into Tonto N.F. where I could go a bit further south and to lower elevation. I camped in a little valley south of Payson, I believe right here. That hiking trail up the road (Barnhardt) is pretty good.

When my days were up and I needed to head back to Phoenix, I drove over to check out Roosevelt lake, and saw the old native dwellings there

Test Trips

 

Test Trips
Entrance to this area (A National Monument) was free the day I came because there were a bunch of bees at the dwelling. You couldn’t go all the way up there though. Some rangers(? or I don’t know what?) were stationed on the trail as far as visitors are allowed, to stop them from going further. Since they had nothing else to do, I asked one of them about 50 questions. It was fascinating. And it was very impressive how they knew so many details about the people who lived here (and many times I asked “how do you know that?”).

By chance, I drove the Apache Trail to get back to Phoenix. I was just looking for a fairly direct route, and that’s the one. I was blown away on the drive! The Apache TrailI follows the Salt River from what is now Roosevelt Lake to Apache Junction (what is now a far east suburb of Phoenix). I assume the original real Apache Trail followed the river all the way. The road now goes over a pass that’s 500 or 1000 feet up above the river. I stopped many times on to take in the view, and to imagine myself back there, retired, camping, soaking in the area and letting days pass as they come with no schedule forcing me to push through the area in just one afternoon.

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips
What a nice place to camp, huh?

 

Test Trips

I made another trip or two to Flagstaff by myself in 2015. I was already busy building the van, so I went home to work on it rather than spend extra days in AZ. I drove the Apache trail again:

Test Trips
Roosevelt Lake

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

Result of Test Trips:

I could’ve easily done test trips in my car somewhere near my home. Since I was already traveling for work, I took the opportunity to do them in beautiful places. These three test trips all went very well and cemented my decision to build and live in the van as my first post-retirement phase of life.

About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, probably many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around the U.S. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.

I’m writing this post from Fountain Hills, AZ, which is a Suburb in the far northeast corner of Phoenix. I’ve made two trips out of Phoenix so far. I’ll tell you about them soon. Can you guess where the first trip was?

Arizona Sunsets

Arizona Sunsets

In Arizona sunsets and sunrises seem to happen more often. Nice big colorful ones. I spent a couple weeks camped about halfway between Los Angeles and Phoenix, and the sunrises and sunsets were incredible.

 

Arizona Sunsets
A Sunrise

Why do Sunsets happen anyways?

When light travels through empty space, it’s rays continue unchanged. While traveling through air (or anything), sometimes those rays hit little particles and get deflected. As you may remember from elementary school phsyics, sunlight is made up of basically 7 different colors. Those different colors of light travel as separate light waves. The waves of certain colors of light – mainly blue and violet – get deflected easier than others. (This causes the sky to look blue)

 

Arizona Sunsets
A Sunset

The more atmosphere light travels through, the more particles there are for the blue and violet light to get deflected.  When the sun is low near the horizon, it’s light has traveled through more atmosphere.

Let’s say a person was a the bottom of a REALLY deep and wide hole. One that goes many miles below sea level (but is not full of water). Well, the light getting down to the bottom of that hole would contain less blue and violet, because it would’ve gotten scattered on the way down and made the sides of the hole look more blue than they actually are.

The earth’s atmosphere is VERY thin compared to the size of the earth. Most of the air is within 10 miles of the earth’s surface. The earth’s diameter is over 7,000 miles. Since it’s so thin, there is a big difference in how much air the sun’s rays travels through when the sunlight is shining straight down onto a certain point of the earth vs. where it shines close to tangentially through the atmosphere near a surface (as it does wherever on earth is experiencing a sunrise or sunset.

The picture below illustrates this well. Note that the thickness of the atmosphere is greatly exaggerated to help illustrate. In reality, since the atmosphere is much thinner than shown, the difference in paths is is actually much greater than what’s shown. I don’t want to do the math but at sunset, that “long path” is probably 100 times longer than the “short path” at noon.

From a Scienceblog.com post

That cause two things:

1 – The “Golden Hour” – where light (and everything it shines on) is more warm (yellow/orange/red) in the last hour or so before sunset. This is because some of the blue and violet light is not reaching you. It’s getting deflected and making the sky (and the earth) more blue to the west of you.

2 – The clouds get colored. Normally they are white and grey. Because they are actually white and grey. They are not opaque (they’re like pockets of mist), so they get illuminated by the sunlight. Since the light coming in at sunset is warmer colored, that’s all there is to light up and reflect off the clouds.

Why are the sunsets better or more frequent in some places

I spent many months on the California coast this year. When a big sunset happens, it’s extra nice because it reflects off the water. But they don’t happen often. A bit west, in Arizona, they happen much more often. The sun is still shining through the same distance of atmosphere. So why are there more in Arizona?

It depends mostly on just having clouds to light up.  And on having the right kind of clouds.  Light, thin, fluffy clouds like in the picture well below are lit up best. This is impacted by a lot of complicated things and there are some places that just get more cloudy, or that get more cloudy in the evening. This makes more difference than anything else.

Something else that may make a difference (though I don’t know how much – maybe it’s negligible) is local pollution. Let’s say you’re a the beach in Los Angeles. Looking out west, the air is fairly clean. Now let’s say tomorrow you go 100 miles east of L.A.. Looking west, the air is full of shit that got spewed out from the city. All that crap deflects more blue and violet light.