Hitched Up: Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

Hitched Up: Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

I just returned from a wonderful tour of Central Europe with my mom and have already started writing about our experience. But, before I share all about that adventure I figure I should catch up on an older one- the quick trip to southern Utah and northern Arizona Mitchell, Gaius, and I made in March. Since our journey out west took us north from Texas to Canada, then across to the Pacific coast, we didn’t have an opportunity to explore much of Utah or Arizona before winter hit. With spring on the horizon we decided to head out and see as much as we could before I jetted off to Europe at the end of the month with my mom.

Snow Canyon State Park, St. George, Utah.

We planned a quick trip from California with stops in Las Vegas, Nevada, St. George and Kanab, Utah, and Page and Sedona, Arizona. Of course the week we chose to travel to Las Vegas they had their first snowstorm in 11 years and the highway we needed to take was closed. Luckily the storm only lasted one day, the roads were reopened quickly, and we were able to travel through safely.

I-15 From CA to Las Vegas, NV.

We only stayed in Vegas for two nights and the first was spent setting up camp then trying Sushi Twister, an all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant off the strip. Our RV park was also off the strip but conveniently offered a free shuttle service that we used to get around.

We spent the day walking along the strip and stopped for lunch at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar. We ordered “Trash Can Nachos” which were stacked and baked in a tin can before being inverted and poured onto the plate at our table. We also ordered a hawaiian chicken sandwich and a mac-n-cheese burger. It was all terribly unhealthy but super delicious.

Our main objective in Vegas was to see the Cirque du Soleil show “Ka.” We love catching the touring Cirque shows and had just seen “Volta” with my mom in San Jose, CA. We saw “O” with family when we were in Sin City for our wedding and were excited to see another performance on one of the big stages. We attempted to walk off some our lunch then headed over to the show, which turned out to be a disappointing experience due to the person seated next to me using a bright cell phone to scroll social media and text for nearly the entire show. They didn’t even silence their phone so in addition to the brightness, noisy alerts and notifications sounded every few minutes.The person got mad and became even more rude when I politely asked if they could put their phone away or step out of the theater, and with no staff in sight to help, the rest of the show was quite uncomfortable.

After that incident we were so ready to escape the crowds and head out into nature again. After a short drive we arrived at Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah. Though its name suggests wintery weather conditions, Snow Canyon is actually named after an explorer and only sees about an inch of snow on average each year. However, we arrived just in time to see the aftermath of the largest snowstorm the area has experienced in over 20 years…

…Not enough snow to pull out the skis but temperatures did drop down below 30 for the first few nights of our stay and we had to take precautions to keep the pipes and tanks in our RV from freezing. During the days, we had clear skies and bright sun with a cool breeze. Hiking conditions were fantastic. We hiked over massive petrified sand dunes, through a cool slot canyon, and along the nice paved, ADA accessible trail.

The park has two great accessible trails. One is paved and runs along the main park road while the other is an old dirt and gravel service road that travels through the park and has stunning views of the canyon. These are the only trails within the main park that dogs are permitted to use. Dogs are permitted on all trails that are part of the separate Paradise Canyon trail system which is accessed from a road outside of the main park. We didn’t see the Paradise Canyon trails this visit but I’d love to check them out with Gaius next time.

Our next stop was to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, where we volunteered working with dogs, pigs, bunnies, and parrots. To read about our volunteering experience, click here. After volunteering in Kanab we traveled to Page, Arizona and stayed at Lake Powell’s Wahweap campground.

Lake Powell is a manmade reservoir and although I’ve learned that reservoirs are not among my favorite destinations, during our off-season visit things were quiet and peaceful. We enjoyed walking along the huge accessible trail that travels through the campground loops, to the picnic areas, and down to the lake. Lake Powell also has accessible parking spaces for RVs and vehicles with boat trailers.

During our visit in Page I was most excited to see Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Both sites have become extremely popular, largely due to social media, and stay busy pretty much year-round. But, what else would you expect from a place that looks like this?

Horseshoe Bend.

We woke up early hoping to see Horseshoe Bend before the crowds arrived and to avoid using the shuttle service that is mandatory between 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, due to construction. I learned the construction project includes adding an ADA accessible trail (yay!), visitor center, and larger parking lot. During daily construction hours the parking lot is only open to shuttles. The shuttle is accessed just down the road from the trailhead and the fee is $5 per person.

The early morning trip was well worth it and although the small parking lot was half full by 6:30 am, we had no trouble finding a spot. The view at sunrise was spectacular and we even caught a really cool rainbow on our walk down the short trail to the bend. Visiting Horseshoe Bend is free but to see the equally stunning Antelope Canyon, one must book a tour.

Heart-shaped lighting on the canyon wall in upper Antelope Canyon

Also worth it! I had seen many amazing pictures on social media depicting a seemingly empty, peaceful, and colorful canyon. Though the canyon is truly magnificent, those pictures are somewhat misleading in terms of what to expect out of the typical Antelope Canyon experience. The canyon is fully-packed with tour groups and photo ops are basically staged by the tour guides who move visitors along through the canyon ensuring that everyone is able to take pictures without any photobombers.

Our guide was very eager to point out the most interesting features to photograph and served as a personal photographer, taking pictures of each party with their phones. The experience can be somewhat overwhelming if crowds aren’t your thing, but if you want to enjoy the beauty of the canyon up close then this is the only way to do it. The canyon has an upper and lower section with tours offered for both.

We chose the upper canyon because it is supposed to have better lighting during the winter and spring when the canyon is typically not as well-lit. The upper canyon is more accessible with a level walking trail. The lower canyon requires guests to climb a few short ladders. Both are reported to be equally as stunning. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the upper canyon but I’d love to try the lower canyon on our next visit.

Next we headed to Cottonwood, Arizona and stayed a few nights at Dead Horse Ranch State Park located on the Verde River Greenway. The area is very popular for bird watching and mountain biking though I’ll admit we didn’t do much of either.

We did attend a chuckwagon supper and western show at the Blazin’ M Ranch adjacent to the park. Neither of us had ever been to such an attraction and thought, “well why not?”

The ranch is set up like an old western town with shops selling local goods and a saloon that makes surprisingly strong drinks. I had the most amazing prickly pear margarita.

Guests of the ranch can also enjoy the shooting range, farm animals, museum, western portrait studio, and tractor-pulled wagon ride before heading into the dining hall for the barbeque supper and dinner show. Everything was very good and although it could be considered a bit hokey, it was a nice family-friendly way to spend an evening.

Our next stop in Arizona was Sedona. I had heard so many great things about this little desert town but I was not expecting it to be so beautiful. And we weren’t the only ones with an itch to visit- it was packed! Crowds were possibly a little higher than usual due to spring break season but we still had a nice time on the trails and exploring town.

We met up with two other couples that I follow on Instagram who happened to be traveling through the area at the same time. One couple we met for drinks and a fun hike to Bell Rock, and the other we met for a nice dinner. It’s always great making new friends and meeting other travelers on the road.

We had a great time hiking with our new pals (and their fur babies) at Bell Rock, one of Sedona’s vortex sites, believed to radiate soothing and healing energy that can be felt and harnessed by visitors. Maybe it was all in our imaginations but we agreed that we definitely felt a little extra chill and peaceful near the vortex.

Just down the interstate in Camp Verde is Montezuma Castle, one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the country. Ninety feet up into a limestone mountain sits this impressive, 5-story dwelling that was built and inhabited by the Southern Sinagua people, who were indigenous to the southwestern United States. Early American settlers erroneously credited the masterful engineering of the Southern Sinagua to the Aztecs, naming the site Montezuma Castle, after the famous Aztec emperor. Doh!

A short, paved, accessible nature trail leads visitors to the best view of the castle.

Nearby Montezuma Well was used for farming and has a few additional dwellings. Though the water in the well is carbonated and contains arsenic, it’s home to several unique species of leeches, water scorpions, and freshwater snails that are found nowhere else on earth. Southern Sinagua farmers made their homes in the limestone cliff along the well and built canals for irrigation.

We did some hiking out in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness, away from the trails most popular with tourists. The hiking here was just as beautiful and offered the more peaceful, quiet experience we prefer. We also felt comfortable bringing Gaius along, who isn’t a fan of loud noises and does better in smaller (or no) crowds.

After hiking all morning we dined at the Hideaway House restaurant where we had an awesome lunch, complete with drinks and a view of the red rocks. Their patio is dog-friendly so Gaius was able to join us for the meal too.

The week in Sedona seemed to fly by, and though it was beautiful, it was also a bit expensive. We visited the farmers market and a few craft markets during our visit but didn’t end up buying much because things were too pricey.

Next we stopped in Needles on the California-Arizona border for a bit more exploring. By night we had amazing cotton candy sunsets and by day we hunted for bright, delicate wildflowers.

We made a quick trip to Lake Havasu City to see the London Bridge, which was little more than a tourist trap. The bridge formerly spanned the River Thames in London, England but now sits over a canal on Lake Havasu in Arizona. The City of London dismantled the original London Bridge and put it up for sale when they realized a bigger and sturdier bridge was needed. It sold to the founder of Lake Havasu City, who hoped it would bring people and new development to the area. It worked!

From there we headed back to my mom’s house. I packed my bags for Europe, kissed my dog and husband goodbye, and off we went! Stay tuned for the first country of our tour: Poland! Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: Desert Dwelling

Hitched Up: Desert Dwelling

We’ve parked our little home on wheels in all sorts of different climates and environments on our travel journey but setting up camp out among the desert cacti would be a new experience for us. My unorthodox way of planning our adventures thus far has been opening up Google Maps and zooming in on the green areas, which indicate a national or state park, and picking destinations that sound interesting. Through this method I stumbled across Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and began researching the area.

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Ranking as California’s largest state park, Anza Borrego is pretty remote with the nearest town being the small community of Borrego Springs. When I looked further into Borrego Springs, one of the first images that popped up in my search results was a huge metal sculpture of a dragon weaving through the sandy desert floor. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and since Mitch has always loved dragons I knew right away we had to see this work of art in person. You won’t find a Walmart or fast food restaurant in Borrego Springs but we were pleased with several locally-owned restaurants and markets to choose from. The Center Market had the best prepared foods in their deli section- if you get the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend the mango, jicama salad.  

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We camped in the Palm Canyon Campground located within the state park and surrounded by tall, rocky mountains. Our site had had full-hookups, which means we were able to run our air conditioning in the dry heat of November. From May until October, temperatures stay in the triple-digits and even in November the high of 85 felt more like 95. We had one of the pull-thru sites on the edge of the campground loop (#28). These sites offer more privacy, however the utilities sit on the same side as the picnic table and fire pit which means most RVs will either need hoses and electrical cords long enough to reach around the RV, or camp will be set up with the RV door opening to the road instead of the campsite. Luckily we have long hoses and cords and we were able to get hooked up with no problem.

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The campground has four accessible full hook up sites (#3, 21, 49 and 52) and three accessible developed sites (#118, 119 and 120) which have no hook ups. Accessible restrooms and showers are available in each campground loop and each building has an accessible parking space out front.

We went on a few hikes during our stay, the first being a canyoneering adventure on the Slot Canyon Trail. Reaching the trail requires a 2-mile drive down a rocky, sandy road. I had read 4-wheel drive was recommended because the sand was soft in some areas and cars can easily get stuck, but we saw several small sedans and low-clearance vehicles handle the terrain with no problem.

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A large parking area is located at the trailhead but beyond the parking area the road serves as a multi-use, 4wd and hiking trail. The Slot Canyon Trail can be hiked as a loop by taking the 4wd road back to the parking area or as an out-and-back by heading back into the canyon instead. There is one sign pointing to the trail near the parking area and from there the trail leads into the slot canyon without many opportunities for getting lost. The canyon isn’t as colorful as some of the famous slot canyons of Arizona and Utah but it was still beautiful and a lot of fun to hike through. 

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img_1701img_1700After exiting the canyon, identifying the trail becomes much more of a challenge. There are no trail markers along the way and the space opens up revealing 4wd roads in every direction. We ended up hiking to the top of the 4wd road and had an awesome view of the open desert. We hiked in the morning when temperatures were cooler but it was still hot. Beyond the canyon there aren’t many areas where escaping the sun is a possibility, so having enough water is critical.

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We also hiked the Palm Canyon Trail, which has one of the easiest trailheads to reach and is the most popular trail in the park. The trailhead is located in the Palm Canyon Campground and has restrooms and a water fountain. This 3-mile trek into the desert  travels between rocky hills and ends at a beautiful lush palm oasis. 

The Palm Canyon Trail is well-marked, making it much easier to stay on the correct path.  The trail is also lined with large boulders, some of which provide protection from the sun. Some boulder scrambling is required and there are a few sets of stairs, but otherwise the trail is mostly flat and an easy hike. The cool and shady palm oasis is a nice reward after being out in the heat. Though rarely spotted by humans, endangered bighorn sheep also take refuge from the sun and find water in the grove of palms. Because water sources in the desert are so scarce, visitors are reminded to stay on the trail to help protect wildlife.

 

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Most of the trails within the park are pretty remote and unfortunately not accessible. There are two accessible trails in the park, including the Visitor Center Interpretive Trail and the Culp Valley Trail (0.5 mile, located in the Culp Valley Campground).  The Visitor Center Interpretive Trail, also known as the All-Access Trail, is paved and provides great view of the valley and seasonally, beautiful cactus blooms. The trail travels through the desert between the Palm Canyon Campground and the Visitor Center 0.7 miles away. 

 So how about that metal dragon sculpture? It was awesome and so were all the other interesting pieces of art to be found scattered about Borrego Springs. I learned that the artist behind the work is Ricardo Breceda, who was commissioned by the late philanthropist Dennis Avery to create the 130 metal sculptures that are found around Borrego Springs. The dragon is one of the largest of the bunch at 350-feet-long. 

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Avery’s vision was to create an open-space museum, free and available for the public to enjoy. Breceda’s magnificent artwork is displayed on Avery’s estate, know as Galleta Meadows and visitors are welcome to drive through for an experience like no other. Most of the artwork can be enjoyed from the comfort of a vehicle, though hiking, biking, and horseback riding on the property is also permitted. 

img_1841img_1833img_1834img_1815-492095065-1542220182345.jpgContinuing on with our desert journey we headed northeast to Joshua Tree National Park and camped in the Indian Cover campground near Twenty-nine Palms. The campground does not have any hook ups but the weather was cool and there was no need to a/c. When we arrived I was stunned by the beauty of the giant, towering boulders that surrounded our campsite, then appalled by the amount of litter I found near our picnic table and fire pit.

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I was glad Gaius was not with us because all around our site I found shards of glass from broken beer bottles in every color. I picked up plastic bottle tops, food wrappers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, and bread ties, among other pieces of trash, some of which looked like it had been sitting there on the dirt for months. If you couldn’t tell, litter bugs me! 

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I felt much better after cleaning up all the trash and putting it in its proper place. Then after the sun had set, the stars really came out to shine. I don’t think I’ve ever seen stars so bright. The dark sky was literally filled with a twinkling sea of stars. We fell asleep gazing up at the sky from the window over our bed. The Indian Cove Campground is very popular with climbers, due to the huge boulders that line the campsites.  The posted climbing rules instruct climbers to ask permission before entering an occupied campsite to climb. I was a bit annoyed when a group of climbers walked right into our site, plopped their gear down, and started scaling the surrounding walls without checking with us first. After I watched for a moment and said “good morning,” someone from the group said, “Oh is it okay if we climb here? We’re already set up” while pointing up to the ropes. I imagined by eyes rolling out of my head while I smiled and said “Yeah, sure!” If we hadn’t been heading out I think I would have reminded these folks of the rules. Call me an enigma, but I believe you can be free-spirited, lead an unconventional lifestyle, and STILL show other people courtesy, and STILL respect the rules of places you visit. Okay, end rant. There’s also a really lovely nature trail located within the campground that we enjoyed hiking at sunset. Though there are some mild grades and unevenness in areas, this trail may be accessible for some. An accessible restroom is located within the campground. 

img_1980img_1953The Indian Cove Campground sits just a short drive from the park’s North Entrance Station, so we headed in for some hiking. The drive along Park Boulevard is beautiful with many pull-outs that allow visitors to stop and take in the otherworldly scenery, including the gnarly Joshua trees. 

img_1976We hiked the Hidden Valley Trail and drove down the unpaved Queen Valley Road which travels through the Joshua Trees. 

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The Hidden Valley picnic area is a great spot for lunch. There are several accessible picnic tables, accessible restrooms (pit toilets), and a few accessible parking spots. 

img_1894Unfortunately there are only a few accessible trails, including the Bajada Nature Trail near the South Entrance, Cap Rock Nature Trail at the junction of Park Blvd. and Keys View Road, Oasis of Mara Trail in Twentynine Palms at the Oasis Visitor Center, and the Keys View Overlook. I chatted with a ranger who told me the Barker Dam trail is currently under construction and will be accessible once renovations are completed.

Joshua Tree was beautiful and camping in the desert was fun but it was time to drop off our trailer for warranty work. Next stop- Lancaster, CA.

Thanks for reading!