As you get into late March the warm days in the Sonoran Desert start getting…well…warmer. That’s when we start thinking about the boat and our home in the Pacific Northwest. It’s time to pack up and head out, but not too fast. I mean, weather in the PNW is lovely in the spring, but it can also still be cold and rainy. I think we’ll slow roll as we go North. Our first stop, is just 21 miles West.
GILBERT RAY CAMPGROUND
If you go West from downtown Tucson, you cross a mountain range and there you’ll find Gilbert Ray Campground, just South of Saguaro National Park and the Desert Museum. It’s about 20 minutes to drive to downtown, but on this side of the mountain range it’s hard to tell you’re anywhere near a large town. The Sonoran Desert sprawls away to the Southwest and it’s dark at night. For the first 5 nights of the drive home we’re going to park right here to hike the trails and keep looking for early spring flowers.
So, Sendona. Everyone’s heard about the beautiful red rock formations. Everyone says, “You have to see Sedona.” OK, sure. Let’s go to Sendona. We headed North, through Phoenix, which reminded us again why we don’t like Phoenix. Think LA sprawl, but without beaches to make it a little more bearable. Now, hearing all the warnings on RV sites about how traffic can be bad in Sedona, we found an RV spot to the South in Cottonwood, AZ. That way we could unhook the trailer and only have a short 19 mile drive into Sedona when we were ready to look around.
So first; the area around Sedona is remarkably beautiful. The red rock canyons and spires are amazing. But the town of Sedona is, like so many incredibly beautiful small places in the West, over run by the wealthy who want to to buy a cabin to “get in touch” with nature. In doing so, they ruin the place by building huge mansions. Some of these have designs that ape small cabin-like details but are exploded up many thousands of square feet. Others are garishly modern and clash with the surroundings. And, of course, it all drives up the price of everything, insuring no locals can live there any more. If your town’s primary real estate agent is Sotheby’s you have an affordability issue. Sedona is basically Vale or Aspen in Colorado, Sun Valley in Idaho or Jackson in Wyoming. There are lots of restaurants, bars and galleries and lots of places to buy a t-shirt or get your aura adjusted to the local “vortex.” And there are whole fleets of 8 passenger 4×4 jeeps (the largest fleet is painted Pepto Pink) that will let you see the red rock canyons without actually needing to hike. And Sedona has traffic that’s big city in nature.
So, should you go. Everyone has to decide that for themselves. We decided to adopt our “Yellowstone” strategy; go early, beat the tourists, get out early. We went in at 7:30am when there was no traffic, looked around at what the city had, said “Meh” and found a coffee shop on a side street that was open early. We found a spot for breakfast. We were driving North to Flagstaff by 10am….when stores were just opening and traffic was starting to build.
I don’t mean to be overly harsh. This area of Arizona is lovely and we’re going to go back to do more exploring. It’s just going to be in Cottonwood, Jerome, in the mountains that ring the area, and down towards Prescott. There is lots to see and lots to do. Trails to hike or bike. Cute little towns to visit. In fact, we stayed a night longer in the area than planned….and that made our next stop North much harder
VERMILLION CLIFFS NATIONAL MONUMENT
Heading North we skirted Flagstaff and headed for the Vermillion Cliff’s National Monument. We had planned to arrive on Thursday, get lucky, and find a spot in the first come first served campground at Lee’s Ferry over the Colorado River. That was the plan. But by staying an extra day in Cottonwood we ended up arriving on a Friday. Bad call. No room at the inn. So we stopped, took in the sweeping views of this stunning national monument….and promised ourselves we’d come back with better planning.
UTAH / IDAHO
On to Utah, where all the glorious weather was bringing out the 4×4 Off Road crowd. It was hard to find a spot to stop, so in the end we got a room in Panguitch for the night, then drove up in the Provo area for a few nights rest on the shores of Utah Lake. Then it was North…to Corral Creek Ranch and the family in Fairfield for a few days. Camas county in Idaho is always a welcome second home. It’s also where we found the solution to Mom’s “Dog” problem. She’d been bugging us for weeks to find her new dog. So in Fairfield we found a breeder…and put in the order. But not just for one….for two. Can’t have just one Corgi. Besides…mom always liked big dogs. So I told her two corgis together made up one big dog. They should be born this summer and we’ll come down to bring them home at 13 weeks.
After that it was on to Oregon. We headed due West this time to allow for a stop in Eugene to see Milly, Judy and Suzy. We camped and boondocked along the way taking three days to do the trip we used to bomb straight through….when we were young and had no time.
We found a great camping site out at Fern Ridge Reservoir. From there it was just a short 20 minute drive into see the family in town. After that, we took off for the coast, camping around Tillamook, wearing long pants and shoes again, buying cheese, and remembering how nice moisture is for the skin.
After a quick night stop to see my brother Dennis, his wife Carol, and their brood near Astoria we were finally ready to sing the song and cross the Columbia River back into Washington State.
Of course on the drive North on I-5 when I pulled over at a rest stop….we had our first raindrops of the trip. Welcome home indeed.