RV Trip 2016 - Arizona & New Mexico - Part 1 of 4

Welcome to our story about our 2016 (fall) trip in the southwest (USA). I kept a journal (of sorts) throughout our trip and have adapted it to the content you’ll find here. The content for this trip is divided into four sections. Each section begins with passages from my journal and is followed by the accompanying photos . . .

In 2016 we took our second long trip in our 'coach,' a 30-foot Class A motorhome (an FR3 by Forest River). The trip was focused on Arizona and New Mexico, with the annual 'Hot Air Balloon Fiesta' in Albuquerque, New Mexico being the impetus for planning this particular trip. During this 32-day trip, we also briefly crossed into southeastern Utah and northwestern Texas, for a grand total of 12 visits at National Parks/Monuments and one State Park.

The 'Hot Air Balloon Fiesta' is held in October, and Chris did a lot of climate research while planning this trip. He chose the route and other stops before and after the balloon fiesta such that we should have decent weather for the entire trip. But 'Climate Change' is upon us! We were very surprised by all the rain we encountered at the beginning of the trip, and the extreme heat we experienced during the second half of the trip. Fortunately, the rain didn’t interfere with our plans much (more on that later), and the dark clouds made for some dramatic photos. But later, the heat forced us to skip several planned campgrounds, in favor of places with electricity for air conditioning.

09/20/17 Tuesday: From Home to Joshua Tree National Park, CA

When we left Thousand Oaks, it was hot (maybe 86 degrees) with crazy humidity (considering where we live), and we were heading for Joshua Tree National Park. It seemed like we might regret heading for a desert campground that didn’t have electricity for running our A/C, but it had cooled down by the time we got there, around 5:15, with a light rain. In fact, we had had a light rain for the last hour of our approach, and it rained much of the night, with intermittent showers in the early AM hours. Considering how little rain we get living in southern California, we really enjoyed listening to the rain on the roof of the coach.

At Jumbo Rocks campground, the campsites are all small, primarily intended for tent camping, and clustered in several loops. There are very narrow roads with tight turns, but after driving all the way through every loop, we finally found a spot we liked that would fit our rig. (Very few spots here are suitable for large coaches/trailers.)

Who says 'rocks' can't be interesting? The rocks this campground was named for are actually volcanic rock called monzogranite, and sometimes are clustered and weathered in such a way that they resemble something well enough to be named, for example, "Skull Rock." I saw one that looked a bit like a ram's head. Granted, it's a bit like seeing shapes in clouds. But if you enjoy that particular flight of fancy, you would probably enjoy looking for recognizable shapes in these rocks!

Cat Report--Barley had probably his second best travel day ever. I sweet-talked him out from under the covers and he came out into the coach briefly, then went into the bathroom where Cooper was, and the two of them spent quite a while in there huddled together (see pics). Barley also sat on the bench at the dinette with me for a while, and Cooper spent some time under the table, before coming up front and sitting on top of Chris' seat back (behind his head) and on his lap. He went up to the top of the slideout once, but didn't stay for long.

09/21/17 Wednesday: Joshua Tree, CA to Goodyear, AZ

Today we headed east toward Phoenix. On our way out, we saw several dead trees of various shapes with something hanging from them that looked like Spanish Moss. One looked like a giant Scottie (well, a terrier of some sort). Too bad I wasn't ready with the camera!

We had originally chosen a BLM place to camp tonight (Saddleback Mountain), but as we got closer, the weather seemed to be too hot to go without air conditioning, so we reserved a night at Destiny RV Resort in Goodyear, Arizona instead. We had more rain on the road there, but it stopped before our arrival, at least long enough to get set up. It started up again and we put the awning out a little to hear the sound of the rain better over the noise of the air conditioner (which couldn't really handle the heat & humidity, but it dropped the temp 10 degrees which made it tolerable). We also used our little DC fan to help move some air while having cocktails on the sofa.

After dinner we went to the pool for a quick dip. We joked on the way there about whether or not they'd put a block of ice in the pool today, expecting it to be too warm to be refreshing. What a shock--it was quite cold! After dangling our feet for a bit, I decided to take a quick dip, but oh so quick, 'cause it really was chilly. But it was a good cool-down at the end of a very hot day.

Cat Report--Barley was his usual undercover self, spending the entire traveling day under the comforter on the bed. Cooper has decided that his favorite spot while traveling is Chris' lap. And that’s how things will stay for the rest of the trip.

09/22/17 Thursday: Goodyear, AZ to Sedona, AZ

We're off to Sedona today and looking forward to some cooler temperatures. Again, we had patchy rain on the drive, but a welcome cool-down from Goodyear.

We took Loop 303 that bypasses Phoenix, and it was the nicest road we’ve driven on. It is apparently quite new, and we were one of very few vehicles on it. It was perfectly smooth, nicely landscaped with desert vegetation, and the overpasses were decorated with Native American designs.

We also drove through a brief duststorm, which was quite surprising, considering the recent rain. We had more rain on the drive, but we left the storm behind before we got to Montezuma Castle National Monument, where we saw some impressive cliff dwellings. They also had a cool diorama depicting what life might have looked like for the people living there, including a recorded narrative describing what was happening in and on the various levels of the multi-level dwellings.

Continuing on our way, we enjoyed the spectacular red rock sights on the approach to Sedona, via Highway 179 through the Village of Oak Creek. The combination of dark clouds and sunny spots made for some dramatic views.

I wasn't counting, but we must have traversed at least 15 'Roundabouts' on 179-N heading to downtown. They may be a great way to keep traffic moving, but they require a whole lot of steering-wheel-spinning when you’re driving an RV!

We headed to our spot for the next four nights, Rancho Sedona RV Park. It was a bit lower than the highway there and had a nice view looking upward at 'Snoopy' rock (which we'd seen on a 'Pink Jeep Tour' on our first trip to Sedona many years ago).

After settling in, we checked out the creek (Oak Creek). When we walked through the nearby passage to the creek's edge, there was a small patch of level ground, about 5 ft. above the water, reminding us of one of our favorite spots on last year’s long trip, Swift Creek Campground near Afton, Wyoming.

09/23/16, Friday: Sedona, AZ

This morning we rented a car for three days, and headed off to a hiking trail that follows, and occasionally crosses, the West Fork of Oak Creek in the Coconino National Forest. It was a lovely setting, with lush greenery and occasional vertical walls, similar to the 'Narrows' at Zion.

After the hike, we headed into Sedona for lunch and beer-tasting at Oak Creek Brewery in Tlaquepaque Plaza. While window shopping in Tlaquepaque, we saw a lovely hand-painted glass chandelier (similar to some we'd seen in Ojai, California), which would look great in our dining room. It was seriously tempting, but we're not really impulse buyers when it comes to expensive items. We may look into it once we're home and have had time to think it over. That's just who we are. We also saw some wonderful serving utensils with wire-wrapped handles set with various kinds of bling, including dichroic glass! Something else to look into later :-)

09/24/16, Saturday: Sedona, AZ

Today we rode the Verde Canyon Railroad train. It travels from Clarkdale through Verde Canyon to the mining ghost town of Perkinsville. We saw beautiful views of red rocks, occasional cliff dwellings, and the Verde River. And of course we drank some nice wine and chatted with some friendly people.

On the way back to Sedona we stopped at the Enchantment Resort for dinner at 'Che Ah Chi' restaurant. The restaurant has spectacular views of red rock cliffs, an extensive wine list with some absurdly expensive wines (e.g. over $3,500 for Screaming Eagle Cabernet), great service, and so-so food. At least, that's how we felt about the food based on our menu selections that night. But it was still a very nice experience.

09/25/16, Sunday: Sedona, AZ

Today we visited the 'Out of Africa Wildlife Park’ (Camp Verde, AZ) which aims to "create the ultimate animal adventure for all ages ..." while "supporting and promoting conservation awareness ..."

We reserved a tour in an 'Unimog' safari vehicle, in this case, something akin to a long jeep with a canopy for shade and benches for seating. We had a great guide on the tour, and we both got to feed 'Humphrey' the camel. I fed 'Kibo' the giraffe, and Chris fed 'Pilgrim,' another giraffe. We saw lemurs, a crocodile, and hyenas (who 'laughed' when the tour guide fed them. He also fed a white tiger (Chalet) and a lioness (Kumba) who shared the same enclosure. He explained that white tigers are rarely, if ever, found in the wild. They typically occur through inbreeding done intentionally in captivity. And the lioness was acquired from Las Vegas. These two large cats have shared their enclosure since they were 2 weeks old, and they happen to share the same birthdate!

The highlight of this park for us was undoubtedly the Tiger-Splash™ show. Here is an excerpt from their website: "You’ve never seen anything like this before! Witness one or more Bengal and Siberian tigers interact in a predator-and-play relationship, romping and splashing in a large pool as they play with their care takers and various colorful toys . . . The number of tigers that participate in each show varies from day to day — sometimes one, sometimes two — always based on animal behavior, as we wish to be considerate of their inclinations and feelings . . . With all the running, diving, and playing displayed during Tiger Splash™, it’s easy to forget that all of this action is achieved without training or rehearsal." And it was absolutely fabulous! Check out their Tiger Splash website for more information, and take a look at the video we took of our show (look for it among the pictures from the park below). There are also lots of videos available on YouTube. You should check it out if you haven't seen it before.

Back in Sedona, we had dinner that evening at 'Cress On The Creek' at the L'Auberge hotel (actually right across the creek from our RV park, though you couldn't get there that way). We sat outside along the creek in a beautiful setting, and enjoyed the food there far more than the fare at the previous restaurant.

All in all, we had fabulous weather for all 3 days of our outdoor activities in the Sedona area.

09/26/16, Monday: Sedona, AZ to Sunset Crater National Monument, AZ

It's time now to leave Sedona and head toward the Sunset Crater National Monument, with two planned stops on route. Our first stop was V-Bar-V Heritage Site. It was a short, easy walk to the highlight of this spot for us--very cool petroglyphs. We were happy to find out that a Ranger was on duty who could tell us all about these glyphs. We thought petroglyphs were sometimes decorative, and sometimes told stories. So we were amazed to learn that one particular panel of glyphs was a solar calendar telling the people when to prepare the land for planting, when to plant the crops, and when to harvest the different crops. Various symbols 'pecked' into the rocks were highlighted by shadows when sunlight hit some rocks sticking out of the larger boulders. The ranger had a contraption of wood and wires that he used to demonstrate how the light and shadows would look at different times of year. It was definitely an interesting and educational visit!

Our second stop for the day was at Walnut Canyon National Monument for a look at some cliff dwellings. In this case, a trail loops around a rock 'island' that has cliff dwellings all around it, some man-made as well as some natural alcoves.

To continue with the next section (after viewing the photos below), click/tap on 'Albums' at the top or bottom of the screen, then click/tap on 'RV Trip 2016 - Arizona & New Mexico - Part 2 of 4'.

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