Monday, June 29, 2015


Leaving the Grand Canyon, we headed south to Flagstaff. Along the road we found a city of rocks - a roadside wonder that someone created using the precariously perched rocks.

Against the elements, Blanche Russell created her Rock House during the 1940s. She used local materials, built walls to complete buildings and carved niches inside for beds, chairs, etc. What an interesting little place located on Highway 89A between Jacob Lake and Bitter Springs. Currently, no one lives here.  Local merchants use the pull off as a place for roadside stands to sell native made jewelry and pottery.  It is a must see place and is close to the Vermilion Cliffs and Lees Ferry so many photo ops abound.

After driving through a sand storm, which is common place in this part of the desert, we turned onto Route 66 and entered Flagstaff.  This road brought the people from the east and west into the desert for vacations and spiritual healing.  The canyon to the north and the mountains to the southwest kept them coming back.  

We stayed in a quaint little RV park next to the dinner theater, Black Bart's Steakhouse, Saloon and Musical Revue. Of course we ate dinner there - partly because we were curious and partly because we didn't want to drive anymore that day.  It was fun having a decently priced dinner served by singing staff.  

The next day we ventured out into town, looking for an RV oil change shop.  Luckily we smart enough to ask the truck shop across the street from the RV park if they could do it. Turned out to be the best deal in town!  After telling them the make and model of our RV, they picked up the filter and oil and completed the job for half the price of any RV shop. 

We stumbled upon a bottle shop in town that Kathy fell in love with.  McGaugh's Smoke and Bottle Shop was a beer lover's utopia.  We only had room in our small RV fridge for Kathy to build one six pack but she could have easily built a case of various craft beers.  She hasn't looked back since and seeks out locally owned bottle shops wherever we land.  She enjoys trying new brews and only falls back to her mainstays (Left Hand Milk Stout, Guinness, Newcastle, etc) when this option isn't available.  

Although we considered visiting the Grand Canyon's south rim, we decided it was time to move on.  We did pass near it, though, and thoroughly enjoyed the views as we headed south and mostly down hill.

As we passed through Phoenix, I decided to see an old friend and find out what he'd been up to. He told us he was getting his life in order and would like to make amends for previous wrongs.  I appreciated the honest efforts.  As we sat drinking coffee, we received a phone call for our interview for Tamarac NWR in Minnesota, where we hoping to spend the summer.

The volunteer coordinator and I chatted for nearly twenty minutes while Kathy and my friend sat there watching me handle the interview.  In the end, we were offered another refuge volunteer position.  Since we had already spoken with Voyagers NP we would need to discuss our options and make solid plans for our next summer.  This was more difficult than we imagined as we were just heading to our second refuge, in New Mexico, for our first full time RV winter.

Back on the road late in the day, we located a fabulous state park. Pulling in to Picacho Peak State Park after dark was somewhat difficult because of the lack of lights but the amazing sunrise the next morning was gorgeous. We discovered there were only a few RVs in the park.  We enjoyed a morning walk as the sun warmed us quickly in the shadows of the Saguaro cactus.  Although the traffic in the Phoenix area reminded us of our previous busy life in Houston, the beauty of the desert helped prepare us for our next refuge in New Mexico.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Grand Canyon

Driving south from Zion, northern Arizona is mostly forested high plains. The northern part of the state is a broken piece of land known as the Grand Canyon.  From plateaus to forests, beautiful trees open to soft meadows where wolves once ran.  We drove toward the north rim to camp at the Demotte Campground, the only public campground within a few miles of the north rim.  This would be the first time dry camping for an extended time since the Denali fiasco and we were hoping that our battery issue had been fixed.

As soon as we were set up, and even though it was late afternoon, we couldn't wait to see that big hole in the ground.  We drove the 8 or so miles with anxious anticipation and pulled into the parking lot just after the sun set.  We practically ran from the Jeep to the north rim which was just on the other side of the parking lot.  Tears streamed as we got just a peek at the beauty we would be enjoying the next few days. Our breaths were taken away as we watched the sunset and the overture began to play in our heads.  (The Grand Canyon Suite by Grofe`, which we listened to on our way to the canyon.)

The next morning we were up early and eating a big breakfast to prepare for the day.  We hopped in the Jeep, put the CD into the player and hit "play."  We drove a few back roads along the north rim and fell in love with Cape Royal. 

The fall colors were already spectacular.  Instead of looking south and west, the view is east.  You can see Navajo lands as well and the beginnings of the crack that is the Grand Canyon. This area allows you to get very close to the edge and feel the vastness of the earth's fracture.  From a single river, the canyon is cut over a mile deep. 

We drove back to the RV for lunch and puppy patrol.  As we drove, we saw something in the glen near our campground.  It was a raven playing with a dog near a water hole.  No, not a dog, a coyote. We watched as we got closer as the two were having too much fun.  As we zoomed in for photos, we began to sense that the coyote was not a coyote after all.  It was a wolf!! A raven and a WOLF were playing in a small watering hole in the middle of the glen.  We watched for a few minutes and even got a short video before the two of them really noticed us. It was amazingly beautiful and unexpected. Kathy and I were lucky enough to see the first one to come back to this area after years.   A few weeks after seeing the two, we would read that a wolf had been spotted near the north rim - right where we were.  We are convinced that we watched the wolf that day and are still hoping to get a confirmation of our video and photographs.

After lunch, we headed to the park headquarters.  We inquired about donkey rides and were told there were no donkey rides but that there are mule rides.  We went into the lodge and a few other buildings and reserved our place for the mule rides the next day.  Then we walked out to Angels Point.  The wind reminded us, fall was in the air although temps were in the high seventies.  The walk down a narrow tar path is exhilarating. At some point people walking in opposite directions must pause and step aside to let others pass.  I found a little alcove in the rocks to stop and enjoy the shade.  The point is an experience where wind wraps you as you look down for the river which is just out of sight.

We decided to walk the rim trail back to the parking lot. The long winding trail ended up in the campground.  We were disappointed to find the "completely booked" campground was nearly empty as only five days remained before the park closed for winter.  We stopped at the little store and had some ice cream.  Kathy figured out how to get back to the Jeep while I used the wifi to get caught up on emails and Facebook.  We drove home and enjoyed the evening with the puppies and a satisfying dinner.

Our last day at the canyon we met the mule wranglers near the lodge.  The company which offers mule rides on the north rim has had the contact for more than ten years.  Our wrangler had only been with them for two seasons.  He was a horseman and who had learned to appreciate miles surefootedness and toughness.  He told us about how the rental mules were rescue heroes.  They were the means of rescuing hikers who were injured or gave up on the canyon floor.  We enjoyed riding the edge and seeing the canyon and forest from a different view.  Even Kathy liked the mules although she is not terribly fond of horseback riding.  

What a great time with no crowds.  We highly recommend visiting the north rim close to the end of the season.