10 Mar RV-ing Arizona: Exploring Saguaro, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Lee’s Ferry & Page
Caroline here! Back after a long blogging hiatus to spread the good word that Arizona is my favorite state. (For now.) After a rough start to winter with RV repairs-gone-wrong x3, repairs-gone-right x1, getting COVID and more, we made it out of the swamps (literally and figuratively), swung through Texas just in time before the disastrous freeze, and landed in Arizona.
A Texas Aside
Because we have deep love for Texas, I will add that “swung through Texas” means we spent a full week visiting our home in Austin and a full week in beloved Big Bend National Park, reuniting with the funky place where our love for road-tripping together first began. We stayed at Maverick Ranch RV Park in Terlingua, which is in the running for our favorite private campground. It’s like a luxury RV resort with the awesome views, but without the snobby attitude. Lots of friends gathered around campfires every evening, and lots of dogs ran the show. And Big Bend is a Dark Sky Park so it was lights out at 10 pm every night for stargazing. If you ever do make it out that way, a stop at the Starlight Theatre for famous chili, chicken-fried antelope, and live country music is a must.
Back to Arizona: A Week in Saguaro National Park
As we drove into Tucson and first laid eyes on those massive, cartoony cacti, it made us feel drunk with joy like a couple of kids. Every single cactus has a personality. Arms tucked in: emo. Arms outstretched: like your weird country uncle saying, “bring it in for the real thing!” Tiny little balls for arms: an awkward teenager, which in cactus years means only about 150 years old.
We stayed right in the park at Gilbert Ray Campground, where each campsite features at least one grand Saguaro. The Brown Mountain trail right by the campground was a magnificent, truly euphoric trek through thousands of those prickly personalities.
At dawn and dusk, this place has some of the most saturated, brilliant sunrises and sunsets we’ve ever seen. Tiger stripes of jet black and neon pink, purple, and orange above black mountain and cacti silhouettes may have been the inspiration for Lisa Frank’s color palette. (It’s much nicer in the wild than on a pencil set.)
Every night, the coyotes and owls howled; the owls the altos and the coyotes full-blown first sopranos. One night, when we were sitting outside with Grizzly, those coyotes got a little too loud and too close for comfort. As in, they were surrounding us and alerting the others to come for dinner. We quickly called it a night.
Tucson itself is a very cool city, and not just because it’s situated in cactus heaven. As we walked through downtown and around the University of Arizona campus, we both said, “Man, this would be such a cool place to go to school!” And after a full year of COVID life, it was nice to sit at a bar outside and see a bunch of college students doing the same—having a great time together safely, at least from what we could see.
Two Weeks in Sedona
After Saguaro, we boondocked on the outskirts of Sedona for a night on Forest Road 525 before heading into town (worth the washboard; if you go, stay left at the fork). Grizzly got to roam free as we explored a huge wash filled with glossy stones of all colors, shapes, and sizes.
In the morning, we drove separately into Sedona so we wouldn’t have to re-hook the Jeep. While we love driving into new places together, it’s also a liberating experience to enter a new scene alone; especially when entering a town with scenery that puts on a show like Sedona.
That initial drive in—as the red rocks rose up to greet me and I wove down into the tucked-away little world of luxury-pueblo galleries and shops, all clay red to match the landscape, I could feel my eyes widen and my jaw drop. When we reunited our family and vehicles at the Rancho Sedona RV Park, we both couldn’t wait to say, “Holy shit! This place!!!”
We were beyond lucky to snag two weeks at Rancho Sedona, the only RV park right in Sedona’s town center. Especially because the first week we added on was last minute due to a change of plans. This place books up many months in advance and for good reason. It’s a 10-minute walk into the Tlaquapaque arts & shopping district and just another 10 to Sedona’s main uptown strip.
I was surprised with a spectacular Valentine’s Day to kick things off in Sedona: a Vortex Tour around one of Sedona’s famous energy vortexes, followed by a divine dinner at Cowboy Club—a restaurant we ended up returning to for drinks at the bar because it’s packed with history and southwestern charm, without any pretense.
The vortex tours and Sedona’s emphasis on energy healing may not be for everyone, but it is for me. Whether you believe in the healing power of crystals and energy waves swirling in certain directions, the tour was grounding. Our guide, an older man with deep roots in Sedona, reminded us to connect with nature more intentionally—to really see each rock, tree, and animal and give thanks to the ones that stand out to us. He also guided us in a group meditation that had me feeling like my feet were hovering off the ground.
We partook in another very special energetic experience while in Sedona: a sound healing experience led by Valerie Irons. This was a Google discovery we committed to without any idea what to expect. At the end of our time in Sedona, we agreed that it was the best part.
We laid in a cozy and beautifully decorated room where Valerie sat at the front—poised like a mermaid in the blue light, in a sea of gongs, crystal bowls, and bells. We put on blindfolds, laid back, and let ourselves become completely immersed in the sounds she created.
Wait-what is sound healing?
Valerie did a wonderful job of describing it before the experience began. She explained how the vibrations made by different sounds carry different frequencies through our bodies. There’s a lot of research on the healing power of music, and it’s not just because the melodies are enjoyable. It’s because the different sounds carry different waves of energy through us, shaking up our physical chemistry and freeing stale, toxic energy that we all hold inside from days, weeks, even years of anxiety, trauma, and stress.
Shutting off all of the senses but one is a very powerful thing. It allows the brain to be playful in a way that it doesn’t get to do often. It gives the brain time, space, and auditory inspiration that unlocks memories that were seemingly forgotten. (This happened for both Aidan and me). During the sound healing journey, I even connected with two loved ones who have passed away. This could have been a “real” or “imagined” visit but these are the lines that blur when we allow them to. It was a moment filled with love and nothing else really matters.
Sound healing: five stars.
Sedona presents the opportunity for anyone to dabble in the new age and connect with themselves, each other, and nature in a deeper way. We did a lot of fabulous hiking on trails like:
Of course, there are also those people who prefer to zoom around on rented ATVs and Pink Jeep Tours, skipping the hikes and b-lining for the (precarious) photo opps. Perhaps they still reap the energetic benefits of the town unknowingly? To each their own.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon snuck up on us. Suddenly, we were on our way there. And suddenly, through the trees as we approached our campground within the national park, there she was. In that split second, I gasped and started to cry—like a kid who enters a surprise birthday party and can’t handle the feelings.
Despite having watched two documentaries that week in preparation for this natural wonder, nothing could have prepared us emotionally for that first meeting.
We got to Trailer Village RV Park, set up, and ventured back out to Hopi Point for sunset, where two more surprises awaited us. First, a full moon hung low over the bright pink rim of the canyon, steadily rising and illuminating more confidently as the sun fell below the West Rim. Second, I discovered on Instagram that evening that we actually arrived on the Grand Canyon’s birthday; her 102nd to be exact. It was a surprise birthday party – and we were among the sprinkling of lucky guests.
People always talk about how deep the Grand Canyon is, but nobody talks about how long she is (277 miles). You can drive and drive and drive along the rim and you’ll only see a small percentage of the canyon.
Stopping at all of the lookouts along the south rim is a great place to start. The Desert View Watchtower is the coolest lookout of all, designed by a fascinating female architect, Mary Colter. The tower wasn’t open because of COVID but this spot still had our favorite views on the rim.
Once we had explored the south rim from above, it was time to venture in. We chose the South Kaibab trail which takes you down into the canyon. All the way down, if you’re a real badass. We went about a mile down (just a bit beyond the fittingly named Ooh Ahh Point) wanting to allow ourselves plenty of time for the steep return before sunset.
We met two girls along the trail who were on their way back up from the very bottom that day; they’d started hiking at 6 AM and had a mile left to go at 5 PM. They were hurting, bad.
The South Kaibab trail is, to date, the coolest hike we’ve done in the US. It’s well worth any hurt to experience the canyon from within. I share the story of the two girls because the hike is so mesmerizing, it’s tempting to keep going down, down, down, and easy to put it out of your mind what it will be like on the way back up, up, up.
We spent five days at the Grand Canyon and it was barely enough. Most people stop for an hour or two, but we encourage you to spend more time here. It allows you to get beyond that initial Ooh Ahh moment of shock and actually * begin * to understand its grandness. To understand it fully, according to researchers and those who have hiked rim-to-rim-to-rim, is simply impossible.
On our way out of Arizona, we took a detour to see the Grand Canyon from another, very special vantage point: the very beginning. Lee’s Ferry is the gateway to the Grand Canyon and is the last easy access point to the Colorado River for hundreds of miles (going south). Because of a winter road closure on Route 64 (a fairly short road which connects Desert View to Route 89 to the east), we took a serious multi-hour detour back through Flagstaff to get here.
The history of this spot is the wild west at its best: all walks of life came here to cross the river in the late 1800’s including Mormon lunatic John Lee, who, after massacring more than a hundred people and stealing their children, was ostracized to live at/hide from the law at what is now Lee’s Ferry. Lee and his many brides rolled up their sleeves and worked the arid desert into a lush, fully operating ranch and orchard that you can still visit, now a historical site.
We had a wonderful time hiking along the river and dipping our legs in the freezing water and had the Lees Ferry Campground nearly to ourselves. After another elite night of stargazing, we headed out toward Page, Arizona the next day.
Lake Powell & Horseshoe Bend
Here, the blog technically dips into the state of Utah because we spent our next two nights boondocking on Lone Rock Beach at Lake Powell, just over the border. This crystal blue, man/dam-crafted body of water is gorgeous, but was bittersweet to visit having just listened to the audiobook Where the Water Goes about the countless conundrums that coincide with man’s taming of the Colorado River.
Lake Powell is massive and hosts a lot of tourism. It covers something like seven canyons. Due to over a decade of continuous drought plaguing the Colorado River, the lake’s water supply is decreasing at an alarming rate. An example of how it’s all connected: If the water levels in Nevada’s Lake Mead continue depleting as they have been, Lake Powell will need to be drained in order to save Mead–the most crucial reservoir for every state in the Lower Colorado Basin.
Still, Lone Rock Beach is a very cool place to boondock for a night or two. In early March it was a dream, spotted with just a handful of tents and RVs. And it’s the perfect home base for a trip to Horseshoe Bend.
So far, we’ve been hitting all of these desert spots at the right time. Cold but not too cold, empty but not too empty. More on Utah coming soon/at some point!