I Am A Big Fan Of Road Trips

This is a guest post from Regina Atwood- her twitter feed is @lovepeacecanoe

I am a big fan of road trips. When one of my best girlfriends agreed to my crazy plan of five days of camping, hiking, and driving through AZ. I was downright ecstatic.

 

Coming fresh off a pharmacy conference in Las Vegas, Amanda flew into Phoenix Airport where I picked her up. We began our road trip by frantically repacking the car and heading to Flagstaff for the night.  We woke up the next morning and headed to the Grand Canyon by way of Cameron, AZ on the Navajo Indian Reservation.

If you have never driven this route to the Grand Canyon or you are deciding which route to take, drive this stretch. It introduces you to a plethora of western scenery. The pinkish blue cliffs in the distance, set behind red rock and soil of the desert make you realize why this land is both destitute and breath taking. Approaching Cameron and beyond, you will see road side stands selling everything from jerky, to jewelry, to Navajo Tacos. I say the only thing worth stopping for is the Taco.

Amanda and I stopped for lunch at a roadside stand gas station-adjacent. I asked the older Navajo woman what consisted of a “Navajo Taco”. The base is a plate size round disc of fried bread, the topping consists of ground beef, pinto beans, lettuce, diced tomatoes and cheese. We sat down and ate this feast on the side of a cold windy road, near the intersection of Rt. 89 and Rt. 64. After finishing off, pretty much the best food ever, we turned on Rt. 64 to finish up the last leg of our drive to the Grand Canyon.

On this stretch you will see more roadside stands and more beautiful scenery. There is a small canyon on a dirt turn off which you will see signs for. Stop and walk around, its a really nice place to stretch your legs.

 

We approached the GCNP at Desert View, you have to drive about 25 miles to reach Grand Canyon Village from this entrance but again the views are much better then taking Rt. 64 through Williams. Grab a map of the park at any desk/lodge/store in the whole village or the grocery store. The map also gives you a schedule of park activities and a shuttle schedule. TAKE THE SHUTTLE, it’s awesome, runs every 15 min or fewer.

Really the park is a lot of fun. Camping in Mather Campground gives you cheap lodging you bring the tent! After bunking in our Big Agnes Emerald Mountain 3P, we had sunrise coffee at El Tovar Lodge, and moseyed on to the shuttle to hike the South Kaibab Trail. You have to take a shuttle to this trailhead but the 2.7 miles offers a moderate hike and big pay off in terms of scenery. You have a good chance of seeing a line of mules bringing up/down supplies from Phantom Ranch, and friendly fellow hikers who are willing to take your picture at “Ohh Ahh” point.

Let’s skip the rest of this excursion and move on to Sedona, AZ….Oh Sedona, vortexes abound and so do weird people who want to tell you about them.

 

In any case we two punch drunk 20 something women drove through Flagstaff, veered right and took 89A, the scenic route, through Oak Creek Canyon. Make sure you have good breaks because although beautiful, this road twists and turns through a gorgeous canyon, dumping you out, tossed and awed into downtown touristy Sedona. We camped at Manzanita Campground, also ridiculously cheap. Prior reservations are necessary. The campground sits right beside Oak Creek, nearly every site is water side and very clean.

 

We had girly-margarita time at Oaxaca Restaurant on Main Street. They have a balcony with a great view, killer margaritas and insanely delicious nachos. The shops in this part of town offer aura readers, all sorts of crystals and some pretty awesome jewelry. You can have a girly shop-gasm for hours and buy absolutely nothing.

 

We returned to our campsite, started a raging fire and laughed about college, talked about our relationships, families and ate marshmallows and deserts shared with us from our neighboring tent sites.

 

Although I have spent probably hundreds of nights outside this was Amanda’s first camping trip. So far we had eaten till we popped, slept in freezing temps and almost peed ourselves laughing driving from town to town. But I diverge.

 

The next day we woke up, made some pretty awesome pancake fruity scramble, and set off to try and find a vortex. After stopping at the The Hike House we decided to hike West Fork Canyon. This hike boasts plenty of stream crossings, beautiful scenery, and ruins of house/barn/ some sort of hotel or something. It’s cool and creepy at the same time. The hike is 6 truly mild miles out and back, we finished around sunset, having decided to go back to Phoenix, and started the drive back to the city.

After spending the evening with my two wild dogs and fiancé, Amanda and I took much-needed showers and ate much-needed hot non-freeze dried food. The next day we set off to Tonto National Monument, a Native American ruin monument with paid guided tours (3$/person reserve in advance) and near total access to archeological sites. These ruins are located near Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, Saguaro Lake, the Snake River, and the Apache Trail, a 25-mile dirt road that will make your car cry.

 

The ruins at Tonto National Monument are very cool. There are both upper and lower ruins. The lower being a large dwelling you can see from the parking lot. A Park Ranger takes you on a guided tour to the upper dwellings where they stop often and tell you about flora, fauna and history. Much of the hike is sun exposed. My fiancé, Amanda and I had a great time walking among the ruins and taking pictures. My fiancé Brad is over 6’5”, I am 6’1”, we estimate average height of the Native Americans who built this site to be 5’5”…we bonked our heads more then a few times.

 

Visitors have near total access to the site, where you can still find, over 800 yr old, pottery fragments, cotton string, and roasted corn cobs. Now vultures use the site to roost and safely raise their young, who leave rodent bones everywhere. It’s pretty awesome. If that sort of stuff doesn’t gross you out.  We left the site to head back to Phoenix and decided to take a “short cut”.

 

You can access Tonto National Monument from multiple directions, you can go through Tonto Basin or you can take the Apache Trail through Apache Junction and cut mileage, but not time, off your trip. I suggest doing both which offer completely different scenery.

 

The Apache Trail is nearly all dirt, rocky, and not well maintained: You have been warned. You do have a chance to see beautiful water views, tarantulas, and towering saguaro so really it’s worth it. This also offers you access to Apache Lake, and gorgeous, cheap campsites.

When my fiancé and I moved to Phoenix we did this road in our 2005 Scion XA, our “jelly-bean” as we called it. Before we did the road again we had purchased a 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander, a much better car to explore this road on. It took us well over an hour to complete the road and hit Apache Junction. Leave yourself plenty of time, especially if you don’t have experience driving this type of road. We landed in Phoenix and the next day Amanda left to return to our home state of Maryland.

 

I’m sure you can surmise how our trip went emotionally, you’ve seen the movies, read the books. We weren’t going to go all “Into the Wild” or “On The Road” but we certainly had fun, and were able to shed a bit of the pressures of home for a few days. Arizona can be both lush and desiccated within minutes walking distance; you have to lose yourself for even a few moments to truly appreciate this landscape.

 

In our few day excursions we were snowed on in Flagstaff, experienced icy cold in the Grand Canyon, had warmer days in Sedona, and got a tan in Tonto National Forest. Two girls conquered a chunk of the Wild West and ate tons of marshmallows doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

Camp Cooking- Tin Foil Dinners

Every year growing up I would go camping up past Park City with my Dad and some of our neighbors. It was just a quick over night trip that lended itself to a more laid back camping experience.  There wasn’t any backpacking into the site it was all very easy and was a perfect way to introduce me to the great outdoors.

One of the things I looked forward to most every year was that first day dinner of something called Hobo dinners or tin foil dinners. They’re awesome, and super easy with minimal ingredients and cooking prowess. Here’s how it’s done.

Ingredients-

  • Hamburger Meat
  • Vegetables of Choice- usually carrots and potatoes
  • Salt or any seasoning you want
  • Tin Foil

The great thing about these is that you can put in any amount of vegetables and meat you want, there’s so much freedom! You can also season it however you want, the steps are super simple-

1. Lay a piece of tin foil flat

2. Form the size of the hamburger patty you want and lay it on the foil

3. Season your meat

4. Add sliced vegetables of choice- potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.

5. Wrap the tin foil around your ingredients

6. Place in camp fire after the fire has died down and there are some good coals

7. Wait and and then eat!

My family sometimes puts ketchup on the condiments after it’s done cooking. So I am actually really hungry after writing this post. If you have any questions let me know!

Tales of Adventure- Bora Bora

So far on this site the adventure stories have been mostly exclusively Utah or at least Western US stories- but here’s a story about a trip to Bora Bora. One of the most exotic places on the earth, it looks awesome! I think I’m gonna get my inflatable raft and head down- click here

Moab-The Perfect Getaway

If you haven’t been to Moab, Utah you are missing out on the experience of a lifetime. Within a 30 minutes from downtown Moab you can find rock-climb, river-raft, bike, hike, camp, and fine amazing trails for your motorcycle, four-wheeler, or any other off road vehicle. One could drive on any of the roads outside of the city and there’s an adventure waiting to happen. A friend and I spent this last weekend exploring some new trails and campsites that I highly recommend.

Seven Mile-Rim Road

“Go nine miles north of Moab on U.S. 191. Just across from the Archview Campground (north of Utah Highway 313), turn west to begin the route. Travel a well maintained road for four miles from U.S. 191, then turn west and start up a series of steep ledges. You will pass a “Sevenmile Rim” sign at this turn. Follow the marked trail to Uranium Arch.” (directions courtesy of the BLM)

This trail is awesome, there are many varying degrees of difficulty on this trail. The picture below is an example of some of the more difficult sections, we had to get out of the car in a few spots and plan our path. Along with the rock ledges there are some sandy parts and narrow spots. Most of the trail goes along a wash and depending on the time of year there is usually some water to drive through.

 

Sunshine Wall

A part of me doesn’t want to post about this place because it is pretty secluded and not really well known. When we were there we had the place to ourselves. But here we go, “Sunshine Wall can either be reached by driving roads east from US 191 or by going through Arches NP on a gravel road. Probably the fastest way is from 191. Look for a good non-paved road heading east between mile markers 152 and 153. Drive about a mile, and then take a right immediately after crossing a small bridge. In another ~2 miles, take a right at a T-junction. From here start looking for Sunshine Wall. It will be obvious on the left, and a mild 4WD road cuts off left to the base.” (CourtesyofMountainProject.com)

The wall has a few routes to rock climb, but be advised it’s mostly slab climbing and there aren’t a lot of holds. That being said, a lot of the wall is on an angle that makes the climb a little easier. At the base of the wall there are a few large rocks that serve as perfect wind-breakers to create a pretty secluded camping spot. There are a few trails that you can hike and we saw a few antelope while we were there. The scenery is fantastic and if you’re looking for a spot with little to no other campers this is your spot.

Coyote Gulch

Coyote Gulch is located in southern Utah and is part of the Escalante river and it is an awesome backpacking trip and is perfect for a two day trip or five days or forever. Part of what makes the Gulch such an experience is the fact that it allows you to enjoy all of the aspects of southern Utah- the red rocks, the arches and other formations, and crisp canyon rivers and waterfalls- not to mention slot canyons.

To really enjoy Coyote Gulch it is necessary to backpack in and stay at least two days, unless you’re training for a triathlon and are running the trail- bad idea. There are about four to five different trails that one could take to get into the gulch. The one that I have always taken is called the crack route, named because part of the hike involves traversing a crack in the edge of the canyon. There are other routes that are apparently not as intense as this one. The hike in starts on the edge of a huge rock plateau, this portion is fairly easy but it is a little difficult to follow the rock cairns (if you don’t know what these are, the picture below is an example.) However, like i said earlier- this is the easy part.

The next portion is by far the hardest, and its because of this section that I would probably discourage the less experienced traveler from attempting it. The rock plateau ends at a cliff, anywhere from 15-30 ft high or higher in some spots. The only way to get down this and to the sand hill that will take you into the actual gulch is to traverse through a slot canyon/crevasse-this is where things get exciting. If you have backpacked in you’re not going to be able to fit through the crevasse with your pack on. What my group did was we sent someone through the crevasse first and then lowered the packs over the edge with a rope and then the person below would untie the pack at the bottom. The crevasse isn’t too extensive and depending on your groups hiking/climbing ability, it should take the average person 20-30 min.

The next portion is the sand hill, going down isn’t too bad. If I remember correctly its anywhere from a half mile to a mile. If you are wearing sandals you will want to run because that sand is hot! I have many fond memories of my friends screaming in shock and then starting to run down the hill. There isn’t much of a trail here but it just kind of feeds into the narrow canyon at the bottom. You’ll want to plan for this hill when you’re coming back, not to get caught hiking up the sand hill in the middle of the day- it is the hardest part of the return trip.

After the sand hill you are in the gulch, congratulations! This is probably the most enjoyable part of the hike, you can hike along the side or just in the river if you want as you go up through the canyon. There are camping sites along the river, but if you can try and camp under one of the many inlets in the canyon do it. After you’ve set up camp you have many rock formations that you can hike to relatively easily. This is a must for any outdoor enthusiast, and therefore sometimes it can be crowded but the canyons big enough that you shouldn’t run into too many problems. There is a running stream literally throughout the whole canyon so if you bring a water purifier than you’ll have ample source. Oh and by the way, the horse flies can be bad down there- be careful!!