AZ to WA, My Van Adventure Begins!

My goal the first three days of travel: drive from the hot desert of southeastern Arizona to a cool forest of northwest California and begin a coastline adventure of Oregon and Washington.

Day 1: 

There is a blue-winged warbler in the Phoenix, Arizona area. Since I am passing the place then no reason not to stop and find the bird! Well it was off the interstate by some distance but doable. I was up at 4:30am, out the door of my home by 5am, and at the birding site by 7:30am. Other birders were on the trail with the same goal. We commiserate together as we wait and watch and hope. I was fortunate to talk with a woman who had seen the bird the last few days and knew the bird’s routine! (That is a true blue birder!) Long story short, the blue-winged warbler arrived, hopped around deep within the ash tree branches. I saw it and have no photo! It was amazing to see the bird though.

My destination for the night was to visit friends in Sedona, Arizona. Always wonderful to see them, drink wine and enjoy delicious food with a friend who is a fantastic cook. My partner rented a place for time away from our desert heat, thus I could sleep on a real mattress for one more night before the van adventure really starts.

Day 2:

With a beautiful sunny blue sky, my partner and I walk after breakfast and see the new housing in the Sedona area where we used to live. Once headlined on USA Today’s newspaper as the “best place to live” led to everyone descending on the area. Now every housing lot is built upon. Plus half the people eventually driving their rental car from the Phoenix airport to Grand Canyon National Park, drive through Sedona and seem to discover traffic circles for the first time in their life!

I take off and just 15 miles down the road I am in a thunder, lightning and torrential rainstorm on the interstate. When truckers put on their emergency flashers I know this is quite the downpour! No hydroplaning, clean windshield, and thoughts of appreciating my van, knowing I will not be setting up a tent in the rain tonight.

I head to Williams, Arizona where I will overnight. Time exploring Kaibab Lake and downtown Williams were also on the agenda before settling back at the campground for dinner. While waiting to check in at the campground, the woman at the desk finished her statement to another as she looked at me, “and so I am working on my AB list”.  I asked her about her AB list. Years ago she wanted to hike a trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument, near Flagstaff, AZ. Her husband, Bruce, said she should not … and so she did not. She kept a list of things he pooh-poohed and ever since Bruce died she has been doing the activities on her “After Bruce” list.

(Just so you know: Walnut Canyon National Monument has cliff dwellings 350 feet below the canyon rim. 240 steps down for the visitor … thus 240 steps back up. Bring water, wear good shoes, and take your time as you walk the path of the ancient inhabitants and see 20 ruins. It is a worthwhile visit.)

At Kaibab Lake, I discover it is an area enjoyed by fishermen and campers. It is in a beautiful setting where I saw a bald eagle, osprey and great blue heron. I witnessed how crowded the town of Williams can be in the summer. So busy with all its hotels, cafes, and shops selling all sorts of knickknacks. This town is at one end of the train line that runs north to Grand Canyon National Park. Have you visited Grand Canyon National Park? That is a must visit for anyone in the area!

Kaibab Lake

Day 3: Williams, AZ to Barstow, CA

This is not rocket science. Waking to a 55 degree AZ morning … but it is 78 degrees already in Barstow, my next stop. I am leisurely enjoying the morning here. The  cool breeze through the ponderosa pines and Steller’s jays stop by. My 105 degree California afternoon of adventure can wait.

I left the campground at 9am with time to detour to the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City. So I did. Lake Havasu City is about 20 miles south of Interstate 40. Easy detour and perfect time for me to check out the area. Boating and fishing is huge here, but I wanted to see the London Bridge. It was originally built in 1830s and spanned London’s Thames River. Robert McCulloch bought the bridge in 1968. He had granite blocks cut from the original bridge brought to the United States. Reinforced concrete structure then had the original masonry on it. In 1971 the bridge was complete linking an island in the Colorado River with the main part of the city. I walked along the Bridgewater Channel canal to take this photo.

London Bridge
Another Colorado River stop with Santa Fe Railroad

Yes, it was very, very hot and I was happy to get rolling down the road again. A short while later I stopped at another section of the Colorado River. No birds, just boaters. The train is often seen as this was a main route across the USA. I am driving across the Mojave Desert. It is known for the hottest air temperature … you may have heard of Furnace Creek in Death Valley. The record: 134 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913. There is truly no joy in stopping at a rest area when it is so very hot. 105 degrees at the moment.

I check in at the campground. After eating some food I decide to check out Liberty Sculpture Park. Somehow I missed the park. If there be one advantage to having everything in the van when I leave a campsite, this was the day! Using my phone, I reserve a hotel room about 20 miles down the road and head there for the night. Air conditioned room, a shower and a good night’s sleep are needed. I have a 6 hour drive the next day. That’s the way adventure travel happens. So much for the best of plans … do what is best to stay safe and healthy! It may require a detour!

Mohave Desert, hottest desert in the world.

Arizona Mountain Biking … Got Oxygen?

I’ve climbed mountains to 19,000 feet and expected to be winded, but I wasn’t ready for the altitude and the rocks on uphill climbs during my mountain biking in Flagstaff, Arizona’s 7,000 -9,000 foot elevation! But with perseverance and determination, I busted on through 12 miles one day and 15 miles on another, then ate and drank well at the end of each ride! I must really remember to strengthen my quad leg muscles before any mountain biking here. Those muscles are different from muscles needed for walking and road cycling. I always appreciate my bicycle’s gear-shifting capabilities as long as I am in the best gear for uphills! Then I am also not gasping for air on these uphills … ahhhh!

Spending time in northern Arizona, away from the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, is a wonderful change of scenery and temperature. The wind, cooler temperatures and green color and freshness of pinyon pines, ponderosa pines and juniper trees are a welcomed sight. I can imagine hiking the 800 mile Arizona Trail from Mexico to Utah, USA and would love this section of northern Arizona to hike or mountain bike! I noticed one cache of water trailside and know the individual will appreciate the precious water! I have hiked sections of the Arizona Trail and water is not easily available so having caches set out is wonderful for a thru-hiker. Kudos to all thru-hikers: an accomplishment to complete the distance whether hiking or mountain biking the distance!

Water, thru-hikers appreciate this resource!

The trail varies from rocky uphills to smooth rides through gates and intersections with other trails. Wildflowers are beginning to bloom and I saw pronghorns romping through the forest. Deer, elk, squirrels and birds are seen here too during various seasons. Do take time to notice the natural beauty around you. It may be best to do that when you take a break from your bike ride, since most of your energy and sight will be looking at the upcoming trail and not necessarily the world around you! I’ve been known to look at something a bit to long and find myself falling off a trail. Would not recommend that action!

One of 4 pronghorn checking out the mountain biker.

A good portion of the land where we are bicycling also provides a grazing area for cattle. As a result we often need to open and close gates depending on the season and if the cattle are here. Often you’ll see more cow chips on the trail than cattle. Even if you come upon wildlife, they usually scoot away and want nothing of you. Those are healthy wild creatures not looking for human hand-outs or interaction. That is the way it should be! 

When you plan your next mountain biking adventure, remember: bring filled water bottles, wear a bicycle helmet and eye protection, bring a snack, bicycle tools, repair kit, tire pump, and use your shock pump before the ride so your front and back suspension points are ready for your bumpy ride. Know the trail and/ or carry a map or phone with a downloaded map. If possible, especially when riding solo, always a good idea for another person to know where you are in the forest. Enjoy your ride, be safe, have fun and consider Edmund Hillary’s quote, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” So true!