Today marks 1 full week on the road since we left Moab! Even though we lived in the van in Moab, it some how feels like we left home all over again. When we left, the temps in town were hovering in the 30’s and dropping into the teens at night, so we were definitely ready for warmer weather and decided to head for Arizona where the weather forecasted to be in the 70’s during the day and high 50’s at night- perfection!
The first day on the road, we had to re-up on supplies. Our first stop was at a Walmart in Cortez, Colorado. We needed things like Propane for our grill, food (stay tuned for a blog about our weekly meal plan), and a few random things like disposable gloves (perfect for handling raw meat and saves on water and frustration), and I wanted to buy a machete for fun and bushwhacking, but Sean made me leave that behind LOL. After Walmart, we headed over to the local dispensary for winter medication ;)…Sean and I both have Medical Marijuana Cards which allow us to LEGALLY travel in Arizona with marijuana in the van. This does not protect us during Border Patrol Checkpoints however (technically federal property), and have had our weed confiscated during a search in Southern Arizona- but that’s a whole other story for another day. After Cortez, the only thing left to do was keep heading south- so that’s what we did.
With the Four Corners area in the rear-view mirror, we scoured the map looking for a new route we’ve never taken, and found only one: 191 South. Luckily for us, 191 was going to take us right to a google map pin we had saved: Canyon De Chelly National Monument, that was all we needed to see- off we went. Here’s a description from the park website:
Canyon de Chelly National Monument was authorized in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover in large measure to preserve the important archaeological resources that span more than 4,000 years of human occupation. The monument encompasses approximately 84,000 acres of lands located entirely on the Navajo Nation with roughly 40 families residing within the park boundaries. The National Park Service and the Navajo Nation share resources and continue to work in partnership to manage this special place.National Park Systems Website
The Monument has 2 roads that you can drive, with each going around the rim of the 2 main canyons that feature many Ruins and scenic pull-offs. Because we knew we couldn’t camp in the area, we had to pick 1 to do that day and save the other for a future visit. We decided on the South Rim so we could see the White House, even though we were not allowed to do the hike because of Rufio. In hindsight, I really wish we drove the North rim instead- but it just gives us a reason to go back sooner rather than later. Once we finished the South Rim, we started to turn our attention to where we were going to sleep that night.
Just 1.5 hours south of Canyon De Chelly is Petrified Forest National Park, it made the most sense for us to head there next. When we got to the park it was around 4:40pm and that’s when we found out that they close at 5pm, not ideal. 20 miles west of the entrance, there is a small town and a gas station that allows overnight parking, so we piled back in the van and headed for Holbrook, AZ. The first night in a new parking lot is always a little rough because I wake up a lot through the night, worried about people bothering us or being asked to move, but that night no one bothered us and we woke up to a clean restrooms and fresh coffee: the luxuries of staying in a gas station parking lot!
Around 6am, we left the gas station and headed for the South entrance of the Petrified Forest, where we planned on making breakfast while we wait for the park to open the gates at 8am. At the south entrance, there is 2 gift shops that each have an area to camp. On the East side of the road, it is free DRY camping (no restrooms, no water, no power), and on the west side, is paid camping with power. Not sure if they have an accessible restroom for campers.
side note here (talking about poop so feel free to skip LOL): when it comes to bathrooms in the morning, if we are staying on non-sensitive land, we dig 6-8″ cat holes, go to the bathroom in those and than bury it back up. When we are on sensitive land, we have WAG bags, which are basically giant bags you poop in and a gel substance in the bag breaks down your poo and you can throw it out in any old trash can when ya get to one. BUT when we are staying on developed land, that has no bathroom, or privacy, our options become very limited, I.E. using a WAG bag in the van. We haven’t had to do that in an entire year, but those are our options if there isn’t a restroom available. okay, now back to your regular scheduled programming..
We made breakfast at one of the sites, and I was in awe of these giant petrified logs they had laid out all around- little did I know what I was in store for in the actual park. If you made it this far and don’t know, petrified wood is wood that has turned to stone but still looks like wood- it’s really really freaking cool and also about 200 million years old. Much to my dismay, we were the 2nd car into the park that day- I like to be first, it’s a thing.
Once in the park, we realized that we were going to spend at least a few days there- so much to see and do and get this: TOTALLY DOG FRIENDLY. If you don’t know, National Parks are infamous for being very NOT dog-friendly, so this was a rare find! At the visitor’s center, they have binders you can borrow that have all the route finding backcountry hikes they have in the park, with descriptions and pictures to help you find your way to some far off places. Out of all the parks we have been to, this was a first! We wanted to check out their popular, paved hikes first so we parked the van and got to walking. Our first hike was to an ancient Log Jam that blew my nerd brain to smithereens. Here’s how it happened:
About 218 million years ago, flood waters carried fallen trees to this spot. After being quickly covered with sediment they slowly petrified- their organic material replaced with silica minerals over millions of years. Some of these prehistoric trees stood 200 feet tall. This pile-up of logs is an ancient log jam, brought to the surface again through erosion.National Parks Service
So yeah, we basically walked around a tree graveyard- if the graveyard was 218 million years old. SO COOL. Book your trip now. Seriously! Here are some photos from this rad hike:
After we finished the parks paved trails, we began to dive into their Off the Beaten Path Hiking binder to see what fun we could find. Originally, our plan was to do all of the hikes listed, so we started with the one closest to us, that took you through the backcountry, up onto a mesa and gave a sweeping view of the area. We are confident off route hikers, and even with pictures, it was still a challenge to decipher their clues and to get to each route point. We hiked through freshly soaked clay, so our boots, pants, paws, and selves were pretty much covered in heavy clay that really bogged us down- true adventure!
We finally made it to the top of the mesa, enjoyed the views, and headed back intending to do another hike. Once we got back to the ground, we realized we went up the complete wrong mesa, LOL. We were satisfied enough with our findings, so we started to slowly head back to where we thought the van was. A few wrong turns and a couple hours later, we realized that we were in the wrong area. We eventually found the van after some searching, and got our now 20 pound boots off of our tired feet. Walking through wet clay is exhausting.
There is one hike in the park that to do, you need to get 1 of 3 permits given out a week, and lucky for us- the next day (Wednesday) was the start of their week! The next morning, we waited at the closed gate for a hour, to ensure that we got one of the permits. It had rained that whole night and was just stopping by the time the gate was opening up and it was clearing skies by the time we walked into the visitors center. We got the golden ticket! We were on our way to hiking the seldom seen, Devil’s playground. Just as we signed our name, a knowledgeable ranger rang in to give us some information. The road out to the only parking spot was made out of that same clay we walked through- the van would never make it through it. Just as fast as we got the permit, we had to hand it back in and we were BUMMED to say the least. With a full day and no plans, we drove the rest of the park we hadn’t yet seen and once we finished, decided to hit the road, as the rain turned the whole park to clay and made all the hiking we wanted to do, seem like an exhausting chore.
A friend on Instagram had told us about this awesome climbing area only a couple hours away from the park, that we wanted to head to next. It was already late afternoon, so we found a halfway point and drove there for the night. We hit the road early, and drove through the Tonto National Forest on our way to the town of Superior, Arizona. The drive was breathtaking, we had no idea this forest had such stunning scenery, rich history, and tons of free camping.
We spent a couple hours checking it out and stopping at all the view areas and added it to our list of “must returns”. Not far away from Superior, we started keeping an eye out for any where to camp, when I saw a sign on the side of the road with a little tent on it pointing down a (paved!!!) road. We turned down that road and expected to find a paid camping area, but much to our surprise- it was FREE camping! We were elated! The town wasn’t far away- and it felt like it was perfectly in the center of all the great climbing around us. After the find, we went into town to grab a few things and stop by a climbing shop for maps- we didnt have service for a few hours at that point, so google maps wasnt helpful aside from getting us into the town. When we rolled in, we actually laughed- this wasn’t as big as we were thought- it was a tiny mining town with 1 grocery store and exactly zero climbing shops- actually laughing typing this because wow how hilarious that we thought there would be a CLIMBING STORE lol. We went to the Chamber of Commerce with low hopes and there happened to be 4 old men sitting at a table having coffee and just hanging out- they were elated when Sean walked through the door and even more elated that they could share information with someone in their town, and the most excitingly, in their office. One of the men used to climb and gave us a ton of great information and asked if we found the camping, and then told us that the camping was right next to a lot of great climbing- we never had to leave the area we were camping- music to our ears. We headed back to camp with no map but stoke that we some how magically ended up in the right place!
Ready to adventure some more, we drove around the area looking for a quieter place to sleep and some where for us to climb first. We found only one other place to camp, and snagged it right away without looking any further. We were excited that there was a giant boulder that we could climb on when we were at camp. After setting up and getting our stuff out, we started to hike around to see what we could find. Literal feet from the van we spotted a shiny metal bolt and then another and another…..and that’s when we realized that we somehow snagged the only spot on top of a climbing wall, and we had the whole place to ourselves. We practically ran back to the van like bandits that just found loot, to grab all of our gear and get to climbing straight away. A few weeks ago, we would talk about our winter plans and our dreams, and we kept saying we just want to find some where that we can camp right at the crag- it only took a few days for our dream to come true!
The rock is completely different than the sandstone in Moab, a totally different climbing experience for us. At first it felt like we had to start all over but then realized we just had to get our hands and fingers used to the sharp, jagged rock. All day Saturday was spent on the wall, completing nearly every route a few times each for practice. Our second to last route was a real challenge, the day before neither of us could send it. But on Saturday, after a full days work- we both sent it first try! We celebrated like we won a million bucks- and then tortured ourselves by doing the route 3 times in a row. With just enough strength for one more route, we moved over to an easy dihedral route, and though we both sent it, it was a challenge getting our tired bodies to the top- a tell tale sign that we were both done-zo for the day. After cleaning up, we walked the 20 feet back to the van, happy and tired.
Unfortunately, a rain storm was moving in, a day earlier than expected. It looked like we had enough time to clean up the site and make sloppy joes for dinner before it would start raining, and then we could head towards Phoenix for supplies while we waited the rain out. As soon as we hit the road, the rain started and its been raining ever since (now Monday), but today it all clears and then it’s nothing but sunshine for the forseeable future!
While in town, we signed up for a membership at Planet Fitness so we can shower and have somewhere to go on rainy days or when we can’t handle our own stench any longer (takes way longer than you would think haha). Last year we didn’t bother with laundry or showers often, but this year I think we may do both a little more frequently, we’ll see though. Today, we are going to check out a Blood Plasma donation center to see if we can make a few bucks this winter donating our plasma, and get an oil change before we make our way back to our little climbing paradise.
This first week has been off to such a great start, I’m certain it’s a sign of whats to come this winter! Thanks for reading and being interested in our adventures- scroll down for more pictures of our week.