October 27th, 2016
It has been too long since Gman and I had a father and son adventure. So we cashed in some travel points and headed west. We took a late flight out of Houston Hobby direct to Phoenix. Our flight was delayed so by the time we picked up our rental car it was well after 11pm. We took our time deciding between a Chrysler Pacifica with some nice options and a Dodge Caravan with more room in the back. More room won. This was Gman and I’s second adventure using a Mopar people mover as a tent/mini-RV. The Caravans have this excellent stow and go seating feature where all the rear seats fold up into the floor and create a mostly level sleeping surface a few feet longer and about as wide as a queen bed. A couple self-inflating hiking pads, a bedroll, and some sleeping bags made the van into an excellent home base.
To the treeeess!!! We needed to get some supplies for the weekend before reaching our camp site in the Coconino Forest. Gman of course fell asleep on the 20 minute drive to Walmart. He was very excited?? to be awakened to purchase supplies at midnight. We bought two disposable coolers, groceries, and an Ozark Trail single burner stove. Provisions acquired.
To keep our costs down on these trips I love to find free campsites. Most often these are dispersed camping sites in our great National Forest System. http://freecampsites.net is an excellent resource for finding amazing sites off the beaten track. Our first site was on the Schnebly Hill Rd to Sedona – coordinates: 34.898264, -111.669424 . When we arrived it was pitch dark so we unrolled our sleeping bags and fell into a welcome sleep.
October 28th, 2016
Good morning Lord! Gman and I woke up at first light and were stunned by the beauty all around us. The site was nestled up right next to a high altitude creek and a small masonry dam – Foxboro Lake Dam. The creek, mostly dry, meandered through a beautifully green meadow and the aspen tress were golden in the pre-dawn light. Gman set about his favorite duty – fire builder. It was a welcome chore which knocked out the early morning chill. It felt like our adventure had finally begun. Oatmeal and Coffee made for Coach breakfast. Gman could hardly bring himself to stop exploring and enjoy his Powdered Sugar donuts. The mule deer that meandered through camp were a nice touch!
After an hour or so of exploring it was time to go see the world. Did did you know that a Dodge Caravan is technically capable of off-roading? Well it is. I read before our trip that Schnelby Hill Road has the best views of the Sedona area, so Gman and I decided to go for a drive. While the first few miles west of I-17 on Schnelby Hill Rd are well groomed and easily traversed by any vehicle that does not last long. Its always exciting to push your equipment! So after about 30 minutes of what can only be described as mild rock crawling (officially we did not bottom out at all), we arrived at our destination. Do you think the other people at the vista driving dune buggies, various off road jeeps, and Polaris ATV’s felt silly for being over prepared when we drove up in a two wheel drive mini-van? I’d like to think so.
Man were the cavity ejecting bumps worth it for this view! We spent some time hiking and bouldering around the cliff just to soak up the wonders. All this and it was not even 8:30 in the morning! Day one off to a good start.
“What’s next Dad?”
“Well son, we gots options. Would you like to climb an extinct Volcano or hike through a Cave made by Lava?”
To say Gman was excited would be selling it short. “LAVA CAVE!!!”
So we turned right around and drove down Teeth Shattering Rd back to I-17. Took a left and headed north toward Flaggstaff. We made a brief pause at a truckstop to pick-up an 3.5mm auxilllary cord (no audio options on the Caravan) and more coffee. An hour later we found ourselves several Chapters deep into the audiobook of Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet” (still in my top 5 reads) and the Kaibab National Forest on Fire Road 171. What a great drive through high altitude Pine Forests. There were various large and small groups camping off the road and some sites had spectacular vistas of Humphreys Peak. Then we turned onto the creatively named Fire Road 171b arriving at our destination – Lava River Cave. After a short hike to the cave, we descended into the mouth of an angry rock-monster. “So cool, Dad”. Gman was right, it was cool. The cave temperature stays a chilly 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit year round. Gman was in his element. Although you could not see your hand in front of your face and our headlamps barely pushed back the darkness, he would not slow down. Over rocks, under sloping roofs, and running across uneven ground. The boy was in heaven. We hiked all the way through to the cave’s end about a mile or so and then we headed back. One of the main purposes for these trips is to encourage Gman to take risks and explore. Being cooped up in a classroom is great for Gman’s character development; yet equally important is getting to explore his own limits without so many rules. How can the kid so afraid of the dark in his room run so far ahead of me in a cave? I lost complete contact as he ran ahead. I was struggling just to walk at a brisk pace over the uneven ground. Took all my will power not to yell at him to stop and wait for me. I may have had to contain some panic after no sign of the boy for 10 minutes. When I finally emerged from the cave – Gman is just sitting in the moster’s mouth grinning ear to ear. Mission accomplished.
“What’s next Dad?”
Between labored breaths, “Lunch”
We took another Fire Road out to Highway 180 and headed into Flagstaff for lunch. We bypassed the peanut butter and turkey sandwiches. A hot meal was in order. Was it really only 11:30am? I like to try the local haunts so I got on the interwebs and was pointed to Brandy’s Restaurant & Bakery. We had a great meal of hot chocolate and hot sandwiches. Yummmm!
Stuffed, we headed for our next stop – Wupatki National Monument. A conglomeration of various first people dwellings and sites makes for a very interesting historical park. Gman had a great time at the visitor center using the binoculars and then proceeded to run and run and run. He took the walking tour as a personal fitness challenge. Pretty awesome to watch. On to the big ditch – the Grand Canyon.
Once again we took advantage of dispersed camping for our nights accommodations. This time in the Kaibab National Forest. A campsite inside Grand Canyon National Park will run you between $12.00 – $44.00 dollars p/night depending on the level or services you desire. These sites are small and your guaranteed on the weekend or during the busy Summer months to have somebody within 100 feet of your tent or RV. We opted instead for a site on the little known Forest Rd 307. These sites are a hidden gem because Forest Rd 310 leading out of the National Park has a “no camping sign” at the turnoff. However, the sign only governs the land inside the national park. Within a 1/4 mile of driving south of Hwy 64 (main Grand Canyon Hwy) you pass through a gate with new signs welcoming you to the Kaibab National Forest. Free camping with almost no people. Fantastic.
Gman and I had a roughly 5 acre site all to ourselves. We also happened to be within easy walking distance of the Grandview Lookout Tower and its outstanding views of the canyon and surrounding plateau. Its a bit of a scary climb to the top, Gman wanted no part of it, but well worth the nerves. Man you could see far. Just don’t look down, as the ground seems to be moving as the structure sways in the wind. Another plus to camping near the tower is the National Forest service maintains a public vault toilet at its base.
Gman and I settled into the camp and he once again took up his favorite job of gathering kindling and firewood from the surrounding forest. We backed the van up within a foot of the fire pit and enjoyed the warmth and played a Minecraft card game to pass the time. As the sun began to set, it began to rain. Lovely to see rain falling through the suns rays. Dinner of turkey sandwiches and Doritos(Gman fav) for the win. We called it a night. After Gman drifted off to sleep and all the sunlight had faded, I stepped outside of the van to gaze at the stars. Magnificent.
October 29th, 2016
Another beautiful morning in Northern Arizona. Gman got a predawn fire going with our breakfast of donuts, oatmeal, and coffee. We also drank lots and lots of water – altitude makes you thirsty. We’d now approached 48 hours with no shower. We performed cursory wipe downs every morning and Coach washed his hair every day. However, the wet wipes will need help after the day’s activities. We head to the visitor center to get the lowdown on the shuttle system and find out which hike down into the canyon we can knock out in a few hours. Ranger sends us toward a shuttle to Ooh Ahh Point. The canyon looked beautiful in the morning sun.
Gman and I check out the visitor center museum and then head over to the store to pick up some chap stick. We stop by the springs at the visitor center to fill our bottles with crisp cool water and then we grab the bus to the trail head. This trail more closely resembles a staircase than a trail, particularly the first 20 switchbacks or so. It is chilly in the shade and Gman and I start off in jackets. Exertion took care of the chill pretty quickly. The hike itself has an ethereal quality like you’re descending down on the sky. The size of the canyon is really hard to take in. We made it down to Ooh Ahh Point fairly quickly, took some great snap pics (subsequently lost in a phone update), and then we turned around and headed back. It took twice as long to get back up. Gman was asking for rest!
When we made the top of the canyon Gman took a moment to ponder his existence and a new hatred for switchbacks.
After a brief respite, Gman and I debated walking the rim of the canyon back to the Visitors Center. Gman won the debate by looking at me like I was crazy and walking toward the shuttle stop. When we got back to the Visitor Center Gman wanted to rent some bikes and go for a ride. So that’s exactly what we did. The trails around the Visitor center and the Grand Canyon village have almost all been paved. It makes for some great bike riding. Gman did not have as much fun as he thought he might. Being the daredevil, he is used to a BMX style bike with brakes engaged by peddling backwards – these cruiser bikes had hand brakes. It seems Gman in his hurry to get going was not quite listening to the braking instructions of the bike rental folks and Coach. Off we went until we came to our first hill where Gman proceeded to purposely fly by me only to realize he couldn’t stop. A loud scream followed by a young man crashing into a large rock and flying over the handlebars took place at the bottom of the hill. He used some brakes I do not recommend – helmet brakes. There were tears and some wailing. He calmed down but it was an hour or so later, after being bribed with ice cream, that his attitude began to improve. I think riding up on three very large mule deer bucks munching on the side of the trail had something to do with restoring his sense of adventure.
We spent some time just relaxing at the Visitor Center and refilled our four water jugs in anticipation of a camp shower. We decided we weren’t hungry yet so we decided to head back south in search of our last and final campsite of the weekend. Once we were on the road for an hour or so Gman and I’s stomachs started to growl. So we kept our eyes peeled for a picnic area. Unfortunately, we were now down in the desert lowlands between the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, it was hot! We pushed on into the mountains and ultimately found a beautiful picnic spot on Hwy 180, just north of Flagstaff. There was only one table on site making for a secluded picnic. The high elevation made the temperature jacket cool and the trees protected us from the wind. We had a leisurely lunch and busted out the Minecraft cards for over an hour.
When the epic build off ceased. Gman decided he loved the Schnelby Hill Rd area so much he wanted to pick another site there to camp tonight. Onward. We made a brief stop at Walmart in Flagstaff to pick-up an inexpensive duffell bag. We’re going to have a “flight camping” bag packed and ready at all times at TeamHovis HQ. Also, we needed help getting home the extra gear we purchased earlier in the trip. Gman would not let us choose our new site until we revisited the first nights site by the dam. We set-up our new camp at a site just a little closer to the interstate in a clearing in the woods. I could already see the memories placing themselves in his mind. He was nostalgic 48 hours later.
Once we got settled into the new spot, Gman and I went for a hike in the woods gathering fire wood along the way. I spent the better part of an hour prepping and packing all our gear for our flight home the next day. Gman built an epic fire and we facetimed the girls back home to tell of our adventures. We hung out all our wet and sweaty clothes to dry and enjoyed a dinner of cold sandwiches and Cliff Bars.
October 30th, 2016
Wrapping and Packing Up. Another great morning but it was a little chilly as Gman’s epic fire from the night before left no log un-burned. We organized all of our trash and started to make our way back to Phoenix – you have to pack out all your trash when you camp in the National Forest. A shower was now a must. Due to the chill in the air at our camp site above 5,500 feet. We headed down into the desert in search of a “spot where nobody can see me dad”. We found such a spot. Badger Springs Rd – which was more like Badger Creek Bed. We had four gallons of fresh spring water, biodegradable soap/shampoo, a propane stove, and a camper’s cook set. Through a system of heating water and pouring it back into jugs Gman was able to get perfect temperature shower. Wow – he smelled better. I on the other hand took an alternating boiling or freezing shower to adjust temperature on the fly. I am sure the naked dancing man in the desert was quite funny. All clean now and ready for reinsertion into the civilized world. We pulled over at the Sunset Point rest stop off I-17 to dump our trash.
Now to keep a promise. Gman had been asking to skip rocks since we landed in Phoenix. I said no problem buddy without thinking about us spending time in the desert or high alpine environments all weekend. We did not see a single body of water worthy of a rock chunk the whole weekend. I pulled out my phone and we found the answer – Lake Pleasant Regional Park. We were going to throw rocks into the fine citizens of Phoenix’s drinking water.
We paid the $6.00 to get access to the lake and an epic rock throwing competition was had. Skipping, target chunking, and water bottle bursting all were performed with joy. But alas the time had come to head to the airport. We stopped and introduced Gman to In & Out Burger and then we flew home. Great Weekend Complete! See you on our next adventure.