Imagine this: You’re in a tank top, shorts, and flips, there’s a gentle warm breeze, and above you is the persistent caw of a hungry raven. From your camp chair, you are watching the sunset glisten on the Sultan Sea, while the San Jacinto Mountains turn bright pink in the distance. The sun is setting on another beautiful 75° and sunny day in the Mecca Hills Wilderness and there isn’t another soul around, at least that you can see.
This is our reality right now! This is how we have been spending our evenings and I am not mad about it at all. We found this area by accident, randomly deciding to drive through it on January 1st, just “to see what it cuts through”. Haven’t left since (aside from re-supplying in towns) and don’t plan on it either until we head back to Moab at the end of February. There is no shortage of hiking trails, canyons to explore, or places to camp- basically a #vanlifers paradise. We have barely even touched the landscape and we are 21 days in to staying here, there is still so much left for us to do and see, and of course, never enough time.
There are no traditional developed trails in the area (there a few in the back section, but only accessible with 4wd) so it’s mostly just hiking around, exploring different canyons + drainages and then turning around when they choke out, dead end, or turn into a dry-fall. Which may sound weird or boring but soooo far from accurate. We have found some incredible slot canyons within these badlands, and because the landscape is practically melting all around, it is v. v. eerie to walk through and under the walls, but you must. We often find ourselves whispering as not to disturb the very sensitive rock, sediment, and sand that is stacked above us. The badlands are not a place you want to be when it rains, the flash flooding that occasionally sweeps and destroys the area claimed a young lawyer in October 2018, that same flood shut the road down for over 6 months for repairs. While hiking around, you will see large pieces of pavement hundreds of yards away from the road itself, showing just how powerful those storm waters can get.
We have focused primarily on exploring the area we are camping in, but we will probably start spreading our wings here soon. As I said before, we are close to the Sultan Sea, which means we are close to the famed Slab City, Coachella, Joshua Tree National Park, and a few other places that I have always wanted to visit. What am I most excited about? I’m so glad you asked!! I found a really cool little place called the International Banana Museum that I am dying to check out (LOL) maybe today is the day!! With Rufio, Joshua Tree is kinda hard to explore or fully enjoy, but we still want to check it out and I obvi need my passport stamp! Another area we want to visit this winter is something Sean’s dad told us about, the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area! Have you ever been to sand dunes? The ones we have been to and explored, were on such a small scale and still really cool, I can’t imagine what this massive area will be like, cannot wait! Drop a comment below if you are familiar with the area and have a special place you think we should see!
This winter has done a lot of things, but going according to plan has not been one of them. We wanted to spend the winter climbing and though we started off really strong in December, we haven’t climbed once this year. Instead of being really bummed about that, I am going to choose to focus on all the things we are getting to do, and just be grateful for that. That doesn’t mean to say we aren’t still training or changing out climbing goals for the upcoming season, we still plan to go HARD. So in the meantime, we got one of those hand and finger strengthener things, and we have been working out, cutting fat and building muscles that we hope will help us climb smarter and longer. We shall see this spring!
It’s been 8 weeks since we left Moab for our Winter Adventures already, with only 5 weeks to go before we head back- time is flying on by! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I missed our little home in the desert, but mostly, I miss our friends!! Which is one reason why I love social media, because while Sean and I are off having our adventures for the winter, so are our friends! We get to watch them explore far off places, other countries, ice climb up frozen waterfalls and enjoy the peacefulness of winters in Moab, I love to check in and see what they are up to but it definitely makes me stoked for allll the desert shenanigans we will get into this season with our chosen family. Soon!
SO there’s your update! That’s what we have been doing this winter. Nothing crazy exciting to report, just quietly enjoying each and every day in our own version of paradise, resting our bodies and minds for a very busy and hectic season ahead.
Before I sign off, I just want to say Thank You to every one who cares about us enough to read our blog, send us encouragement, check in when you don’t hear from us or see an injured person on the news in an area we are- it means the world to us. To know that there are people who love us and wish us well, from near and far is the best gift that vanlife has given us. We have never spoken more with our family or friends than we have since living on the road, it truly has renewed our relationships with them, each other, and ourselves. From the bottom of our growing hearts, Thank You. Know that we love + appreciate you more than we could ever express.
Hello! Ashley here, with a blog filled with trip highlights, tips, photographic evidence of the dope sh*t I’m talking about, and a guide on how to spend your time in the area (there’s more than just the NP!).
Before I jump into our trip (scroll towards the bottom for that section), I wanted to explain what petrified wood is exactly, highlight why this area is so special, and where the park is located. This is all super interesting information, not boring details IMO!
About the Park
Most Importantly: PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK IS 100% DOG-FRIENDLY! DOGS ARE ALLOWED ANY WHERE PEOPLE ARE!!! (except visitor’s centers, but DUH)
What Exactly is Petrified Wood?
Petrified wood (from the Greek root petro meaning “rock” or “stone”; literally “wood turned into stone”) is the name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation. It is the result of a tree or tree-like plants having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization. All the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the stem tissue. Unlike other types of fossils which are typically impressions or compressions, petrified wood is a three-dimensional representation of the original organic material. The petrifaction process occurs underground, when wood becomes buried under sediment or volcanic ash and is initially preserved due to a lack of oxygen which inhibits aerobic decomposition. Mineral-laden water flowing through the covering material deposits minerals in the plant’s cells; as the plant’s lignin and cellulose decay, a stone mold forms in its place.
The brilliant colors in the petrified wood come mainly from three minerals. Pure quartz is white, manganese oxides form blue, purple, black, and brown, and iron oxides provide hues from yellow through red to brown.
TLDR; trees fall, get covered in organic matter (sediment, volcanic ash) –> oxygen is cut off –> trees absorb minerals from organic matter –> mineral rich water flows through the covered material and into tree matter –> the plant cells die off –> what is left is a stone mold.
Favorite Factoid About the Area:
Scientists believe that two hundred million years ago the area where the Petrified Forest National Park lies today was located at the latitude ofCosta Rica. It was a rainforest and part of the super-continent Pangaea. When trees were downed they accumulated in rivers and were periodically buried by volcanic ash. Water dissolved the ash and transferred it into the logs, forming quartz crystals and petrifying the wood. Eventually the land moved north to its present location.
How cool and wild is that to think about? Here’s a map with the park and Costa Rica shown using hearts, so you can see what a large shift that would have been.
Why is This Area so Special?
Over 13,000 years of human history can be found in the park, including over 800 archaeological and historic sites. Read a short description of how those Native Americans lived in the area throughout history here.
Important Reminder: we are lucky to be able to visit and explore this land When visiting Cultural Sites, it is best to treat it like you are at a museum. Get a refresher on how to Leave No Trace here.
And remember: Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time.
Park Location + What Else is Around:
Petrified Forest National Park (PFNP) is located in Eastern Arizona. The park has 2 visitor centers, Painted Desert Visitors Center on the North side and the Rainbow Forest Visitors Center + Museum in the South, with the two sides being divided by Interstate 40.
Nearby Cities: Flagstaff, AZ- 1hr 45 minutes West Phoenix, AZ- 3hrs 20 minutes South Cortez, CO + Four Corners Region- 3 hrs North
Closest Town for Supplies + Gas: Holbrook, AZ- 20 minutes West on Interstate 40 Holbrook has gas stations with rest areas, grocery stores (Safeway is the big one), dollar stores, and auto part shops. Holbrook is a beautiful quiet community, help keep it that way when you visit.
This area is centrally located to a TON of fun side trips and adventures, so if you have a week+ consider venturing away from the park for some added exploration. Here are some of my absolute favorites within a 3 hour(ish) drive: Sedona- 2.25 hours- you could spend a whole week just exploring these incredible red rocks + vortexes. Click Here for more info. Tempe- 3.25 hours- tons to see and do here! The Beach Park, Tempe Zoo, Botanical Garden, and so much more. Grand Canyon– 3 hours- 1 of the 7 wonders of the world- need I say more?
The park has no developed campgrounds- but don’t freak out! There are still some great options right outside of the park, keep reading.
*If you like the sound of free dry camping:
At the South entrance, there are 2 gift shops on either side of the road.
On the East side is Crystal Forest Museum + Gifts and they have free dry camping, BUT you must be self-contained (that means you can poop in your vehicle). If you didn’t know, WAG bags count as being self-contained and having them on-board is criteria for staying on this land. The good news is, if you can wait until the park opens at 8AM, you can go to the visitor’s center and use their facilities and save the WAG bags for a real emergency.
On the West side is Petrified Forest Gift Shop and they have camping with 30amp hookups available for I think $5/night. They do not have a bathroom, water, or trash though, so you will need to come prepared for that at this location as well.
If you’re like, I NEED a bathroom in the morning but I also NEED to free camp, I got a good option for you:
the Maverik Gas Station at mile post 286 off of I-40. It’s safe, it’s quiet (ish), they are open 24 hrs, clean bathrooms, hot coffee in the morning, and they have a picnic bench for cooking! We stayed here for 3 nights while we were visiting the park.
*If you like the sound of camping with amenities:
There is a KOA in Holbrook that has cabins, RV, and tent sites available, along with a whole host of other amenities.
*If camping isn’t your thing:
Holbrook has a few of chain hotels, check the current rates here.
Backcountry camping is allowed in the park after obtaining a free permit from one of the 2 visitor’s centers during operating hours. So if you’re planning on tent camping anyway, this could be a really cool way to stay in the park overnight, have nothing but wide open skies for star-gazing, and beat the requirement for being self-contained.
Our Adventures in the Park
To be perfectly honest, we visited PFNP on a whim after checking out Canyon de Chelly, and weren’t really sure what to expect. We arrived at 4:45PM and the park closes at 5PM, so that was kind of funny, but we got just enough info to stoke our curiosity, and we went to the gas station for a good night’s rest.
The next morning, I was up before sunrise of course, so we hit the road and drove to the south entrance of the park. We had to wait for the gate to open, so we hung out at the gift shop campground and made breakfast- definitely recommend trying this if you’re an early rise- sunrise was so beautiful to watch from there, seeing the sun hit the giant logs of petrified wood and give them this perfect golden hue is something I still can’t get out of my mind.
When the park gates opened, we were the first ones in- which is like always a goal of mine for some weird reason LOL. Our first stop was at the Rainbow Forest Visitor’s Center + Museum to get all the information on the history, trails, and things to do. It was really cool to learn all about the park history, see the fossils of the giants that used to roam the area, and watch the video they have playing with even more good info. While in the visitor’s center, I of course stamped my National Parks + Monuments Passport (my favorite way to capture memories for free!!) and they have the BEST stamps! Since the park has 2 visitor’s centers, they each have their own stamps, so I do recommend stamping at both!
While there, we borrowed one of their packets with all of their “off the beaten path” hikes. Out of all the parks we have been to, I have never seen a guide like this! They have all their unmarked route-finding trails listed, with way-points, maps, and photos to aid in your search. Such a fun way to get off the paved trails, away from people, and see a whole different side of the park you couldn’t see from pavement. We used the packet for 2 back country hikes and would have done more had the rain not started! One bummer about the backcountry hikes is, if it rains, all the mud turns to clay and it makes hiking around nearly impossible.
The first Off the Beaten Path hike we did, we ended up getting lost a few times. Even with the photos (okay, they didn’t really help everything looks the same after a while LOL), and topographic map, we still had trouble finding where we were going, so make sure you are confident in your route finding skills, as there will be no one around to ask or help you find your way. Getting lost in this vast landscape is not ideal, so heed that warning before setting out. You’re on your own out there! While we were on this hike though, we stumbled upon petrified wood chips and the sight and sound was AMAZING. They look like playground wood chips, but when you touch them they’re thin rocks that make the most beautiful clinking sounds when moved. When we finally made it back to the van, we looked up at the sky and saw a perfect circle made out of a rainbow!! We stood there stunned at what we were witnessing.
The thing I wasn’t prepared for the most, was just how much petrified wood there was every where. Every where you look, there’s giant logs, fragmented pieces, wood chips, and just the most stunning colors I have ever seen in nature. They say there is petrified wood all over Arizona, but nothing as concentrated as this area. Epicly spectacular is the only way to describe it.
The next day, we drove all around the park and did all of their paved/accessible trails. Though most of them were short and took less than a hour, they were still worth stopping and seeing.
One of Sean’s favorite stops was probably the Log Jam area (above) and the Agate House- a replica of a house made out of petrified wood that was once inhabited by Native Americans in the area. Check out the video below to see it for yourself.
It’s hard to find the words to describe what this petrified wood looks and feels like in person, it’s definitely one of those things you have to experience yourself to truly feel the age, time, and history in small sliver of stoney-wood.
After we checked out all the hikes and pull-offs on the south side, the park was going to be closing soon so we decided to head to Holbrook to make dinner at a little park we found on google maps. After dinner, we went to the gas station for bedy-bye time, we had a big day planned for tomorrow and I could hardly sleep.
Every week, the park has 3 permits available for a special area called the Devil’s Playground. While we were visiting, the day they came available was on Wednesday’s (call ahead to see what day they renew) and they are on a first come, first serve basis and can only be picked up at the Painted Desert Visitor’s Center. I was born for that. LOL. I’m not gonna lie, we were the first one at the gate at 7AM and we were still the only ones there when they opened at 8am, but I still felt the rush to get there and be the first one at the door. I’m weird, we’ve been through this already. Unfortunately, in all the excitement of the morning, I didn’t notice that it had been raining all night and was still drizzling. The road that you park on to reach the Devil’s Playground was impassable to 2WD when wet, and that means the long hike out there would be through clay- ugh. So even though we signed the permit and read the rules, we had to make the tough choice to skip it this time and hand the permit back to the ranger. We were mega bummed. The forecast called for rain for days so we decided it was going to be our last day in the park before we continue south for drier and warmer weather.
The North side of the park is so unique and different than the South side, our disappointment from not getting our permit was quickly dissolved as we stood on the edge of the Painted Desert. Beauty was in every direction, and thanks to the clouds, the sun wasn’t able to over-expose the colors of the badlands so we really got to enjoy the colors and the not-so-subtle changes in the landscape.
All in all, it was a great experience and we cannot wait to make it back to the park! There is still so much to see and do, even just considering the Off the Beaten Path trails we still have to hit. And don’t get me started on that damn permit. I’m not sure when we will get back, but it’s definitely on my priority list for the year.
Here’s a list of my “MUST SEE’S” if your time in the park is limited:
Drive the whole park– it is setup so you can see all 8 points in less than 2 hours.
Blue Mesa– all the rangers will tell you this is their favorite place to hike around. Park at the top and hike down into the Blue Hills and feel like a tiny little ant.
Long Logs + the Agate House– take the hike through the ancient log jam and end up at the incredible Agate House.
Giant Logs– behind the Rainbow Forest are giant logs and a path that takes you all throughout the area with sweeping views and beautiful petrified wood.
The Agate Bridge– was cool but kind of under-whelming, I’d stop here if you have extra time and skip it if you’re limited.
Puerco Pueblo– an incredibly well maintained ruin of a large communal living space…Ashley’s favorite!
Ask the Visitor’s Center for information on any guided hiking and experiences available, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to hike around with a very knowledgeable ranger who will tell you everything you want to know.
Final Thoughts + Photos
No matter how you visit the Petrified Forest National Park, you won’t be disappointed. This park has something for everyone, the adventurer, the weekend warrior, those with dogs, those living on the road, non-hikers, history-lovers, and everyone in between. We were truly blown away by our experience and time spent inside. Below are some pictures from our adventures, but trust me when I say, they do it no justice! Some things you just have to see for yourself.
I hope you found this guide both helpful and inspirational to get out on your next adventure! This park was a good reminder that sometimes the best gems are the ones we find on accident! I am always studying Google Maps when we are some where new, looking for anything that sounds interesting, exciting, adventurous, or just piques my interest! I have found a ton of favorite places by doing that, I highly recommend you try it on your next roadtrip.
Have any questions leftover that I skipped? Shoot me a message on Instagram: @TheBeirnes or Post a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer any questions or address any concerns you have for your trip to Petrified Forest National Park.
Hi friend, Happy New Year! Now that we are 8 days into 2020, I thought it may be time to do a review of our entire year living in the van! Yup, that’s right: it has been an entire year already! Our Vanniversary was on January 5th. We didn’t really celebrate or do anything different, but we did reflect on what a wild ass year it’s been and I thought it would be fun to write a blog with our favorite moments and photographs. So without further ado…
MILES DRIVE: 25,000 (on the dot!) STATES VISITED: 6 (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California) NATIONAL PARKS + MONUMENTS: 15
on the 2nd “our notice was honored early” aka we were fired + decided to move into the van 3 weeks early. We hit the road on the 5th! Van hit 250,000 on the first day. We found natural hot springs in New Mexico and soaked for hours. Took our first long backpacking/hiking trip near Tombstone, AZ. Border Patrol raided our van and took our legal weed on the 9th forcing us to go West to Cali. Found the amazing Lake Havasu and soaked up all the laid back beach vibes. Went to Joshua Tree but it was closed due to the government shutdown. Left JTree and got a hotel in Las Vegas- ate at 2 different buffets LOL. Next was Sedona- we fell in love with this place, but we got a call to work the gem show in Tuscon and had to leave after 2 days. All 3 of us worked together for a day but we realized Rufio was bored and decided that just I (Ashley) would work but after 2 days of really mean co-workers- we decided we didn’t care about the money and left! That was the 29th. From Tucson we went to Colorado (cali weed prices are unbearably high even with a medical card).
We camped in Utah near Monument Valley at a place (we are dying to get back to) called Valley of the Gods. It was so rainy all of January though, so the road was too rough to drive the van through. We went south to Monument Valley and paid to enter the park. Found a ton of wild horses while we were hiking. Slowly made our way south camping a night or so at interesting places, found a couple areas we wanted to go back to. Made our way up to Agua Fria National Monument for Sean’s birthday and a long hike to rarely seen ruins, where there is no map or information, you just have to wander and search and use clues to find the ruins of a massive community. Celebrated our anniversary on the 13th in Tempe with a hotel room, eating all the good food + going the Desert Lights show at the Botanical Garden (HIGHLY RECOMMEND). As soon as the government shutdown was over, we went right to the BLM office, bought maps, and FINALLY found some BLM land to stay on. We spent a lot of time wandering the desert and finding wildlife, listening to coyotes howl and screech and celebrate, and just enjoying having space. It was so rainy across the entire country, there was no where we could drive to that was dry or hadn’t had rain recently (BLM roads are dirt/clay and often impassable after rain). So we stayed in a Walmart parking lot often, and wrote a lot of blogs, and explored many stores with Rufio. On the 25th, our van started leaking coolant and we had to rush to a Pep Boys to get it fixed- had to stay in a hotel for 2 nights- all together was over $1,000! We left Pep Boys happy and drove to a site we ended up staying at for over 2 weeks- a much needed break from all the driving we did in 2 months.
The beginning of March was mostly just hiking all the trails near our campsite. We only ever saw volunteers cleaning the trail- no other hikers for like 3 weeks- it was amazing! On the 5th we had a van tour recorded and afterwards both agreed that we don’t ever want to do that again haha. By the 11th, we were starting to head north for Moab and stopped at REI to buy climbing gear! I remember thinking how crazy it was to buy gear when we never climbed outside but I was determined that this year would be different..I think that was the extra kick I needed to make it happen. We stopped in Sedona for a week and enjoyed all the hikes and vortexes our hearts could take, still one of our favorite places! Sean accidentally shaved my head without an attachment- but it actually turned out to be my favorite hairstyle I’ve ever had and now I keep it like that! On the 19th we arrived in Moab. Rufio turned 5 on the 20th. On the 21st, we did laundry, took showers, Sean got a job at the 2 places he applied and accepted 1. We spent the rest of the month adapting to Moab, learning how to live in a van in Moab (learning curve), and exploring our new home.
April 1st I booked a guide to teach me how to climb outdoors, I learned so much and was stoked for what was in store. We bought a bouldering pad and started enjoying doing that more. Bought more climbing gear. Sean and I took a second class on outdoor climbing. The next day we tried climbing and both were so scared and ended up fighting and not climbing for weeks! We hiked a ton. Camped at the dreamy Mystic Hot Springs. Visited Escalante. Sean worked a lot, so it was just me and Rufio and we went full send into petroglyph hunting and cool hike exploring. We accidentally did a 19 mile hike after we saw a cool monument across the desert and decided we would walk to it.
We were finally settled into Moab by May. Started making friends with Sean’s co-workers. The van needed $4,000 worth of work. We bought a $40 blow up raft, $5 personal flotation devices (PFD’s..they don’t call them life vests any more because they don’t save your life), and a cheap bike from Walmart so we could white water raft the Colorado. As soon as we blew the boat up and put it into the water, a gust of wind blew the boat into Tamarisk and popped it. We had to drive all the way to town, buy a new boat for $80, went back to the launch, blow that up, and then take our maiden voyage which was a wild success. We spent the rest of may taking little rafting trips + hitchhiking back to the van. We eventually upgraded out $5 PFD’s to $120 ones..more pockets ;).
The weather was getting extremely hot during the day and the nights were bad too, so we found a room to rent for a couple of months! It felt like the perfect fit, but we quickly realized living with a person who drinks a lot and likes to party, isn’t for us (we are coming up on 2 years alcohol-free). I tried micro-dosing mushrooms and had some great success discovering parts of myself high up in the La Sal Mountains. I got my first tattoo! A little note my Aunt Denise sent me that made me feel loved and happy. Every day I look at it, I am reminded of her. We were featured in the summer issue of ROVA magazine which was really exciting for us! We started climbing outdoors A LOT, and because it’s so hot during the day, we would go before sunrise and at night when it started to cool down. Found a secret crag that we were only ever the ones at. We learned to SKY DIVE!! In Moab!! SO cool! Right after our first jump, 2 Moab locals passed away in sky-dive related accidents, and our teacher and the whole community were devastated- we wanted to take a little break but never jumped again- something we are determined to change this season!
We camped up in the La Sals to climb and hike and get a break from our roommate LOL and the heat in the valley. We fell in love with the summer weather + climbing up there! We did an unforgettable sunset mission in Arches National Park. We did a lot of exploring in the mountains and even tracked a bear on a hike. We white water rafted the Daily section of the Colorado in our $80 raft and had such an exhilarating experience! The van got new off-roading tires and went straight to Telluride! It was a nice way to escape the heat, see some where new, and buy some cheap weed :). Rufio rode the Gondoloa for his first time and both him and I HATED it- very scary- see picture. I started taking apart the van build because we were moving back in at the end of August. It was a lot of work in the heat, but I was also able to salvage a lot! At the end of the month, I was starting the new build.
It was our last month in our rental (we stayed there for 2.5 months) so we knew we had a busy month doing all the non-dog friendly things we wanted. The van build was finished during the first week, we were really excited to live in it and see how the new build would fare. We spent a week camping + climbing in the La Sals for our anniversary (dating), and we did a lot of hiking! Decided last minute to do the Confluence hike in Canyonlands Needles District- soo happy we did that! Bought and learned to Slackline! Taught myself to Canyoneer (NOT recommended LOLOLOL) and took Sean and our bff Chelsey on our first canyoneering adventure! It went so well that we did another canyon early the next morning! We quickly realized that we LOVE canyoneering, especially with our friends Chelsey + Drew. Our last week in August was crazy, (read about it here), we canyoneered, rappelled arches, and adventured hiked up to Pariott Mesa, a definite highlight of the season! On the 31st, we moved back into the van and I can’t even describe how happy and ready we were!
We started off by staying in La Sals for a couple of days to climb with friends, and came back to valley to do some more canyoneering. My friend Ali came to Moab and we did a super fun hike and worked on her project, The Heartbreak Roadtrip. Chelsey and I ran a canyon with some new friends and on the last rappel, Sean and Rufio were waiting for us with a solid firemans belay, and lots of stoke. On the 8th, we left for an epic roadtrip to California! We stopped in Las Vegas, spent big bucks at the Caser’s epic AF buffet, saw Zumanity (I should probably tell this story one day, but let’s just say…I DON’T RECOMMEND to people like me who are prudes hahahaha.) We left Vegas and got to Santa Monica, and drove for what seemed like forever and it took so long to find a place to park for the night. Overall, SoCal smelled like piss, the beaches were gross, and the vibe felt nothing like what I thought it was. This trip was actually a scouting trip for our winter, we thought we would spend it on the coast- we realized right away we would not like this at all. We left early, we missed the desert, our red dirt, and wide open, clean smelling spaces. We explored a lot of places in Utah we never been, and found some new favorite spots! We hiked in Goblin Valley and fell in love with their canyons and landscapes. We bought Rufio a harness specifically for roped activities with Rufio, so he can come with us always! I broke my toe 4 miles out on a hike alone with Rufio and had to hike back to the van in SANDALS. It was torture! Rufio pretended to hurt his leg and needed to be rushed the vet, turns out it was an ant bite. Rufio did his first rappel and did SO good, way better than we ever anticipated. We started pushing ourselves really hard at climbing and started to get better and improve a lot and climbing much harder routes. Fall was in full swing and so fun to drive around in up in the mountains. I got attacked by a type of hornet that rarely attacks alone (usually 1,000’s) while alone on a hike up in the mountains with Rufio. I instantly had an allergic reaction and had to pop 3 benadryl to be able to drive down to the valley. I was scared but we made it down safely and I slept the rest of the day.
It took 5 days until I could use my foot again after the sting. We bought canyoneering ropes and headed back to Goblin Valley to do some harder canyons with Rufio, it was so much fun and everything went perfectly! I had a custom made fire shaft made so we can spin fire with friends and in the desert. We drove to Denver to visit our friends John + Bethany, renew the van registration, and climb! Our good friend Cardamom ended up driving all the way down from Boulder to climb with us and seeing them was honestly so nice and wonderful, good friends are so good for the soul. We spent the rest of the month hiking some of our favorite trails in Moab, soaking up all the good temps, and spending some quality time with friends.
It was our last month in Moab, we had planned to leave Dec. 1, so we went into full send mode and did all of our favorites. We climbed a ton. Rufio and I did an awesome adventure hike with friends while Sean worked. We went to Looking Glass, free climbed nearly all of it, and then set up a swing for one of the most fun experiences of the season with great friends. We did one last canyon with a group of old + new friends and we had to all strip down into our undies to swim across a freezing cold pothole. EPIC.We climbed. I spent good quality time with my close friend, Zoe and we even got to climb a few routes together before they left for ice climbing! Our last week we climbed our first tower (I had my period and only made it half way) and then we went out to Andy Lewis’ Nonagon Spacenet to get out onto it! Rufio was not a fan of everyone ziplining acorss to get into it, but he was stoked when they made it back. On our last few days, we camped far off grid, visited Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands Island in the Sky district. I discovered watercolor painting. We hiked to Corona Arch one last time.
On the 1st, we left Moab for the winter!! First stop was Canyon de Chelly before leaving due to limited camping options and driving south to the Petrified Forest National Park which was EPIC AF! We planned on staying a week, but after a few days the rain started and turned the ground into wet clay which made hiking nearly impossible. That’s okay- that is the freedom of vanlife, bad weather doesn’t ruin anything because we have the time to come back whenever! We left and headed for a small mining town called Superior where we could camp and climb right from our site. On the 13th, I had a climbing related accident and took a big fall (nearly died) and ended up only with a bad wound on my leg. The next day, it looked pretty gnarly and hurt so bad so we went to Planet Fitness to shower and clean it. Rain was forecasted for a few days so went to that Walmart we stayed a lot in earlier in the year and made that a home base while the weather was bad and I was on the mend. After a few days the weather cleared, my leg was starting to scab over, and we decided to go to the Superstition Mountains while I still wasn’t able to climb. We found a great little spot and even saw a few wild coyote nearby! I started a side business selling my watercolor paintings and offering custom paintings of fellow roadlifers! There was so much hiking, beautiful warm weather, and incredible sunsets, ideal for us! We ended up meeting 2 of the coolest, nicest, most sincere (+ SOBER!!!!) people we have come across on the road, and we all ended up hanging out for days, playing games, sharing stories, hanging by the fire, and hiking! It was soooooo nice and overfilled our cups, we love you Jae, Jon, Rubinator, Brinnifer, and Kitty!! By the end of the month we were all ready to leave the dropping temps and head west. Jae + Jon drove towards the AZ/Mexico border, while we drove to California. We stayed at the same place near Joshua Tree as we did in January 2019 and rang in the New Year with a beautiful, never ending sunrise.
2019 was easily the best year of our lives. We met the most amazing people. We saw things we never knew existed. We traveled further in a year then some people do in 5. We explored areas deeply and realized that this land never belonged to us. We adventured hard. Worked hard. Loved hard.
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.