Arizona / New Mexico Adventure

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MA_Trooper

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Leg 1 - Sedona Bound

I'm not sure I have ever started an adventure with an on-time departure. None that were memorable, at least. This trip was no exception. The day before we were to set off was spent packing. Oh, and waiting for the suspension parts I was supposed to receive 5 days prior. My PTO was already submitted, and my wife had plane tickets for another trip to New Hampshire with a departure 3 days after our planned return date. Our departure for this adventure was not flexible. The UPS delivery truck pulled up late in the afternoon and I immediately set to work disassembling the rear end on the Trooper while I waited for a second set of hands to arrive and help me knock out the coils and rear shocks that night. The front shocks and torsion bar adjustments would have to wait until the next morning. We made quick work of the rear end. The OME coils and shocks were only providing an inch and a quarter lift so there were no modifications necessary. The next morning I was out in the driveway as the sun rose. The front end went even quicker than the rear, and being an Austin Texas vehicle it's whole life, there was no rust to fight with which made the torsion bar adjustments a 5 minute operation.</p>
My wife, Kayla, and I immediately set to our last minute preparations. We loaded the Trooper with way too much gear, then drove to the shop down the road to have a quick alignment done. I was able to get it close but wanted it completed professionally. Something about driving a few thousand miles on newish tires with new suspension when it was likely not in alignment didn't sit well with me. While the mechanic was working on the trooper, Kayla and I ran across the street and picked up the provisions we would need for the first part of the trip. We made one last stop at the house to say goodbye to the cats and run the keys over to a friend who would be house sitting for the next week and a half. As we pulled out of our driveway we realised it was 8:00 pm, and were faced with the decision of hitting the freeway and stopping at a hotel in west Texas or getting a good night sleep and taking off early the next morning. We chose the former and started the 5 hour journey to Lubbock Texas.

The next morning we awoke early. It would be another ten hours before we hit Sedona and I was really looking forward to catching the sunset from Schnebly Hill Road Overlook. While loading our bags back in the Trooper I realized I had forgotten the two pieces of plywood used to form a flat surface over the rear seats, creating a platform to inflate the air mattress on. I should stop for a moment to mention that Kayla is well into her first trimester at this point and dealing with the lovely feelings and sleep depriving nausea that go along with it. Sleeping on the ground was not on the table. We made a quick stop at Home Depot, before leaving town, to have them cut a piece of quarter inch plywood to size for me, topped off the oil in the parking lot and hit the road.

There isn’t much to report on west Texas. Not much there. Saw a few oil fields. Lots of pavement. I40 through New Mexico wasn’t much different. We didn’t venture off the highway as we were on a time crunch to get to Sedona for sunset. When we hit Flagstaff and began our trek south we were very surprised to see forest all around us. Neither of us have been to Arizona and we naively imagined nothing but desert. We headed down I17 and then turned of on Schnebly Hill Rd. with about a half hour to sunset. PERFECT! Couldn’t have planned that better. The road was gravel and fairly smooth at first, with some lightly washed out sections.
Now off the highway we rolled the windows down and let the sweet piney, vanilla of the ponderosas fill the Trooper, and the last fifteen hours of pavement quickly faded from memory. The road went through a gate where it immediately turned to dirt and rock and became significantly rougher. At this point, I’m very glad I replaced the suspension components before we left. We wound our way up the pass and finally arrived at the overlook just in time to see a Pink Jeep Tour leaving. We had the place to ourselves for one of the most breathtaking sunsets to date. The pictures we took do it no justice.

After the sun had finished retreating behind the red rocks we hopped back into the Trooper and set off down the winding, rocky road into Sedona. We had no idea what we were in for. Though technical only in a few areas, it was a slow trip down with fading light. The darkness made choosing lines difficult, especially since we knew the cliff edge was somewhere on our right and low range became my best friend for the evening. We finally made pavement and realized it was a bit too late to head up to the forest and find a good spot to make camp, so we grabbed a hotel for the evening, and began planning our Sedona activities.

It wasn't until we arrived at the Grand Canyon that I realized my camera lens wasn't functioning properly. So the quality of the few salvageable photos is a bit low. The next leg of the trip has many more photos and much higher quality photos so stay tuned for that. Sorry there aren't more pictures to post for this leg.


 
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Michael

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@cjones

I love this story, and know how you feel arriving at your destination after a long journey. This trip represents the realities of planning a journey, and describes how it often goes! Are you still on the road, or reporting after the fact? I'm really looking forward to hearing more. I'm going to post this as a article? The images you included are amazing.

Thank you for sharing!

M
 
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MA_Trooper

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17508 said:
@cjones

I love this story, and know how you feel arriving at your destination after a long journey. This trip represents the realities of planning a journey, and describes how it often goes! Are you still on the road, or reporting after the fact? I’m really looking forward to hearing more. I’m going to post this as a article? The images you included are amazing.

Thank you for sharing!

M
Thanks Michael. We are home now. Haven't had much time to get my thoughts down lately but I am slowly getting there. Next leg and more photos are coming soon though. I get my camera issues worked out while at the Grand Canyon, so it will seem like we didn't care much about Sedona and the Grand Canyon when you see how many pics we have of New Mexico but that is just because of the camera issues.
 
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Michael Collins

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@cjones

Thank you for taking the time to share this excellent idea for a trip.  Your photos so far truly deliver the message for me,....get out to see Arizona. I live a lot closer to the Grand Canyon than you, and plan to follow you tire tracks closely. (metaphorically, of course)

Looking forward to Part ll, for sure!

Mike Collins

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MA_Trooper

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Leg 2: Sedona and the Grand Canyon


We awoke on the morning of our third day exhausted. The goal of getting a good night’s sleep had not been reached, but we intended to make the best of it. We quickly dressed and left for the nearest coffee shop. There was a quaint little cafe in uptown Sedona that, not only served coffee, but had a decent breakfast menu. After placing our orders we could do nothing but gaze tiredly in each others general direction, occasionally mumbling incoherent things. I still can’t figure out what we were saying to each other. I hope none of it was important.

Halfway through my breakfast I perked up a bit and was finally capable of continuing our conversation from the night before. We settled on a few key attractions that we wanted to see while in Sedona and left the bulk of the day open. When planning this trip I had purposely left some time for Sedona since it would be one of the only places where we would be in civilization. This trip is the first of its kind for Kayla and I together, and we wanted to keep our expectations in check, and try different things to see what worked for us. Personally, I wanted to camp every night and be nowhere near other people. But Kayla isn’t quite as hermit like as I am and I was ok with doing a mix of things on this journey. Sedona turned out to be one of the more relaxing parts of the trip.

After breakfast we headed west to the Palatki Heritage Site. Our first and only cliff dwelling site. We wound our way up Boynton Pass, a smooth dirt road which dead ends at the site. There is no fee, but reservations are required to hike up to the ruins and the petroglyphs. This was one of my favorite sites. The volunteers were very knowledgeable.

Feeling overheated from the intense sun, we decided to eat our lunch on Oak Creek. What a beautiful spot to sit and swim. After hiking the trail down to the creek, we dipped our feet in the cool water and ate while admiring the view of Cathedral Rock. This was really a lovely spot, and we stayed through much of the heat of the day. When we had our fill, we hiked back to the Trooper and drove to a few other sites that didn’t involve too much physical exertion, including a drive on Soldier Pass. We got to the trailhead and were about to start our mini adventure when Kayla noticed an odor. I stopped the truck and got out. There was a strong fuel smell coming from the fuel tank region. I couldn’t see any leaking, but in that kind of heat I figured it could be vaporizing immediately if it were a slow enough leak. That is when I remembered another item I forgot to put in the Trooper. A fire extinguisher. We decided not to hit the trail until we could figure out what was wrong, and drove back into town.


Defeated and tired we pulled into an Italian restaurant that advertised “amazing” gluten free pizza. It <i>was</i> pretty amazing. Not wanting to drive into the National Forest and potentially light it on fire, we stopped at another hotel for the night and made a few calls to local mechanics, who were all closed for the day. The next morning we drove down the road to a shop to have the Trooper looked at. The shop owner put it up on the lift and found nothing wrong. He went on to say that he gets a lot of vehicles in the summer with that issue. “Just the tank venting. You should be alright if you keep the filler cap tight.” Well that was good news.

We had planned to get an early start and be at the Grand Canyon with some time to wander around before making camp for the night. It was now afternoon and the plan to leave early was long past due. We jumped back in the Trooper and headed north. The drive out of Sedona was just as gorgeous as the drive in. We took 89A which is a mountain pass that winds north to Flagstaff. The views were incredible.

While driving through Flagstaff we hit a pretty good hail storm which slowed us down a bit. My rush wasn’t so much because I don’t like setting up camp in the dark, but more for the fact that we still needed to get a permit from the backcountry office before they closed. Looking back, I should have applied for the permit via fax so I would have had it ahead of time. What we had failed to realize is that we needed to enter the park in order to get to the permit office. We reached the Grand Canyon entrance and glanced at each other with exasperation. It would cost thirty dollars to go buy an eighteen dollar permit and then leave the park to go to our campsite. We paid the fee and got to the office in time to purchase our permit and get some extra info and a paper topo of the area. After topping off our water can we headed back out of the park to pick up FR328 and begin our Grand Canyon adventure.

Neither Kayla nor I had ever seen the Grand Canyon before. So we were in a bit of a hurry to get out there and catch the sunset. We were told to allow two to two and a half hours on the trail before reaching the rim and eventually the campsites. The road was smooth at first but quickly deteriorated. We were able to maintain 30-40 mph pretty comfortably after airing down. When we reached the Havasupai land the road conditions diminished even further. The road became more of a trail than a road. The gate was open and nobody was around so we passed through knowing we would be able to pay the twenty five dollar tribal land use fee on our way back. We were glad to have purchased the paper map as the route I planned on google had quite a few roads that don’t exist anymore. Aided by our map now, we crossed back onto National Forest land and continued toward the rim. At this point, we were driving on a trail and moving pretty slowly. It was dry and four wheel drive wasn’t necessary, but the rocky terrain kept us at a crawl. Rounding our final corner, the rim approached steadily on our right. Glimpses of the canyon appeared through the trees and we stopped to get out and take our first look. We jumped out and ran through the trees like children and stopped suddenly when the canyon lay mere feet in front of us.

To say we were in awe would be a gross understatement. We expected it would be big, but we had no idea. The joke is often thrown around, “well, it’s just a big hole in the ground.” Though that is true, I have come to the conclusion that how you experience the Grand Canyon informs your opinion of it. We spent the second day of our Grand Canyon visit doing the “tourist thing” at the South Rim Visitor Center. I’m not saying that the park isn’t beautiful. It is. But there are a hundred different languages being shouted by several thousand other people who are herding through the paths and cramming onto the platforms to get a good view. It is a sensory overload and for us, it really took away from the sheer vastness and beauty of the canyon. I am very grateful that our first experience of the Grand Canyon was Havasupai Point. To get to Havasupai Point, we had been driving for hours without seeing a single vehicle. We were alone. The only sounds were from the wind and the Cliff Swallows swooping and diving for insects. The quiet was overwhelming and made the expansive feature in front of us even bigger. Astonished, we simply stood and stared. Wiping a tear from my eye I turned back to the truck and we headed up the trail to our campsite. We set up camp and started preparing our dinner. Sunset would be in an hour and we were happy to have a few moments to get settled in before the show.
The sun rose early, but not as early as we did. Being our only night at the Grand Canyon we got up before the sun to be sure we didn’t miss anything. The canyon was smokey. Very smokey, in fact. It was difficult to make out the formations we were able to see so clearly the night before. It had a certain mysterious beauty to it though. We sat in our chairs and watched for hours as the sun rose opposite us and filled the foggy canyon before us with golden rays. Breaking camp was difficult. We wanted to sit and admire for the rest of the day but we had nine hours of driving before we would reach our entry point into the New Mexico wilds, and the second half of our adventure.

Campsite on the rim - https://youtu.be/vLKEYP7sgeY














 
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MA_Trooper

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For those who might be wondering where exactly we camped on the GC rim, it is called Ruby Point. It is on the south rim and requires a backcountry permit which you can acquire in person or through the mail by faxing the application. You will cross tribal land that also requires a separate fee that goes to the Havasupai tribe. It took about 2 hours to get to the campsite once we hit dirt. If you have a chance to camp there, do it. You will experience the canyon in a way most other people never will.

*Edit* There are only two campsites there and you are not able to see one from the other. So even when it is busy it is pretty quiet.
 
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Leg 3: New Mexico

I’m not sure what we were expecting but whatever it was, didn’t match what we found in New Mexico. We’ve driven through before, all on highway, and seen much of what we saw in west Texas. A lot of nothing mixed with the occasional hill or large boulder in the distance. Now, though, we were encountering colorful rock formations, mountains, trees, desert, and a host of other sights.

Our first stop was the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. We didn’t spend a lot of time there, we needed to make camp further south and it was already afternoon. The heat was unbearable, making our already short stop there even shorter. Driving the park road, and stopping for some pictures and short hikes through the ruins became the new plan. After getting our fill of ancient rubble, and circling the park a few times searching for something we had no idea we needed to hike a couple miles to see, we got back on the highway and jogged south to our overnight spot.

We pulled into Ojo Redondo Campground, a very misleading name as it is free and several miles up a steep and winding forest road, sometime just before dark. We unloaded the Trooper and began setting up camp. Well, inflating the full size air mattress in the back of our vehicle. After dinner, sitting by the fire watching a small storm roll in, Kayla decided she couldn’t survive if she didn’t have some beans. I pointed out approaching storm and the fact that we wouldn’t be able to cook the beans before it arrived. Looking down at her not yet showing belly, she replied, “baby wants what baby wants.” This may be our first pregnancy, but I’m no dummy. I know that when baby wants something, baby gets it or begins torturing mommy with intense nausea. I leaped up from my camp chair and began rummaging through our food bag for a small can of beans. Finding one, I popped the top and set it gently on the fire as the first drops of rain landed on the top of my head. The raindrops were big and spread out. We grabbed our chairs and ran for the shelter of the ez-up. The drops turned quickly to pea sized hail and we retreated further into the back of the Trooper, hoping desperately the little can of beans would remain upright and that the storm would pass quickly so Kayla could eat them before becoming ill.

After the storm passed, and we consumed every last bean, we stoked the fire and turned our heads to the western sky to watch the sun dip and the sky burst into orange and purple. There’s certainly something wonderful and unique about a sunset that follows a storm. The clouds, dark and still foreboding, appear almost beyond three dimensional as they sit heavy in the lower atmosphere.
The next morning we were a little slow to start. Knowing we had a bit of a treck to our next destination, I impatiently pushed Kayla to pack things up quickly so we could get on the road. She didn’t take kindly to my rushing her. After “discussing” my intentions for a bit, I came to the realization that we were still on vacation and therefore still had no place we needed to be. We left camp a while later and headed to our next sight on Mount Withington. We made a few quick stops for pictures along the way but never stopped for long.
While driving a somewhat rough dirt road into Pie Town, we came upon a few heavily loaded mountain bikes. Kayla and I looked at each other for a moment, we didn’t think it to be a common thing to see. We then realized we were driving on the Tour Divide route. A competition I have been wanting to do for a while now. Kayla rolled down her window and offered water to everyone we passed. One competitor had been in the saddle for 24 hours trying to make up time from a bike malfunction the previous day. They were all heading to town for some free pie at Pie Town. So we decided that was where we were heading too. When we arrived, two cyclists were already seated at a table. We grabbed a table near by and began chatting them up. It was an honor to talk to fellow explorers. Especially since they had already completed the vast majority of their journey from Banff and were mere days from finishing in El Paso.
After enjoying some pie with my new heroes, we set out again to make camp before dark. There was a forest fire on the mountain so we had to move farther down to another campsite that was less smoky. We started a fire and settled in for the evening.

The sun rose with excitement and high expectations for the day. This was the part of our New Mexico route I was most excited about. After breaking camp, we headed down the mountain toward Monticello Canyon, where the single lane track followed a creek through a high walled box canyon. With over thirty water crossings, Kayla was getting antsy to drive. So I put her behind the wheel and grabbed the camera. I can honestly say I have never seen her smile so much while driving. She was having a blast, and I was excited to watch her as something she normally did for commuting to and from work became play. We continued on the trail until we eventually made it into town and decided to eat on the road so we could make our next stop all the way down at White Sands National Monument. We made Alamogordo by late afternoon, checked into a hotel, stopped for a bite to eat and then headed to White Sands to catch the sunset. We were surprised to hear that the monument was remaining open until 11:00 pm because they had a special musical series going on. We made our way to the “Amphitheater,” a semicircle of dunes with a flat at the bottom used as a stage, and set up to watch the sunset and moonrise while listening to a cello quartet. We relaxed and chatted with some fellow Texans who we met on the dunes. It was a wonderful last night of vacation.
























 

MA_Trooper

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I haven't edited any of these photos yet. When I have some time, I will clean some of them up and post a few of the final cuts here.
 

MA_Trooper

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I finally spent some time at my home computer and touched up a few photos. I will upload those soon.
 

FirewallPhotography

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Chris - Your trip, writing and photographs are inspiring.
For your photography. may I suggest looking up the "rule of thirds".
Keep on snapping and check out my site firewallphotography.com and my facebook.com/firewallphotography

Cheers.
 

MA_Trooper

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Chris - Your trip, writing and photographs are inspiring.
For your photography. may I suggest looking up the "rule of thirds".
Thanks! I looked up the "rule of thirds" and have seen it before. Haven't really understood how to apply it very effectively. I am still pretty new to photography. My other big issue right now is getting comfortable with the camera and being adventurous with the settings. I'm learning though.
 

Lifestyle Overland

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@cjones We know of some nice trails in the Cloudcroft area that are pretty fun, which would be your closest NM option.
We still need to do some exploring up near Taos and west of Santa Fe as well, hopefully when the leaves start turning.
 

MA_Trooper

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@stringtwelve We drove through Cloudcroft on pavement when we headed back from White Sands. It reminded us of New Hampshire, where we are from. We definitely want to spend a little time in that area. We also have a friend who has a cabin in the Taos area that we plan to use as a base sometime.
 

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Lots of good scenery in that trip! Thanks for sharing it with us.

Love that picture of the people playing on the dunes, by the way.