Cave Spring Campground, Arizona

On July 26, 2017 we arose, ate a great breakfast and got underway towards Arizona. We left the Gila National Forest area with some trepidation. New Mexico was quiet, spacious and interesting. We knew that the part of Arizona we were headed towards was more populated and we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of camping and availability.

While traveling west we noticed that the Petrified Forest National Park was not far out of our way. It is in the northeast corner of Arizona and accessible via Highway 180. We entered the park through the south entrance and headed to The Giant Logs trailhead. It is a very short, pet friendly, loop just behind the visitor center. As the name implies the loop features many quite large, even giant, petrified logs. After this short hike we drove further into the park and found the Crystal Forest trail. This hike was much longer and while it was easy going, it was very hot. The trail didn’t really offer much more than The Giant Logs trail, but it was fun to be out and about.

It was interesting seeing so many petrified logs in one area. I guess that’s why it’s called a forest. On their sides the logs are impressive in terms of length and sheer size, but the end cuts are quite colorful.

We exited the park through the same gate we entered and continued west towards Flagstaff, Arizona. Near Holbrook, Arizona we noticed many stores had large petrified logs out front for sale. I guess what you find outside the park can be collected and sold.

We had an amusing incident in Flagstaff. Remembering the fuel situation we had in our last area, we decided to refuel in Flagstaff before heading south towards our planned destination of Pine Flat Campground. We went to one gas station after another only to find that none of them carried diesel. When we finally found a station that carried diesel it was in a crowded section of town. We entered the station and found that the diesel pump was on the wrong side of the truck and the hose would not reach. We left the station drove around the block and reentered from a different direction. We then noticed that the exit we were planning to use dumped onto a road that had a center divider, blocking our route to the other side of the road. We spent a significant amount of time backing the trailer up, wiggling it into a position where we could fuel and escape, and inconveniencing a few other potential customers. We finally fueled and successfully got on our way, but I think it was the longest fuel stop we’ve ever experienced.

The fun didn’t stop there. The sun was setting and south of Flagstaff we encountered road construction. This was some serious construction. For several miles we were the first vehicle behind the construction lead car that wove left and right down the one lane road of dirt between cones and signs. It had evidently rained very hard for some time just before our arrival and the mud was at least a foot deep. There were many spots where we had to switch to four wheel drive in the hope that we could stay on the road and keep up with the lead car. It was pretty nerve racking, but my wife’s excellent driving got us safely through.

An hour or so later we arrived at Pine Flat Campground to find it completely full. We had worried about this all the way here, but that didn’t make it any easier. We were tired of tight gas stations, road construction and the day. Fortunately, the next campground down the road, Cave Spring Campground, had one spot left that would accommodate our vehicles. The camp host helped us back into the spot and we were set.

The next day we slept in, ate breakfast and simply hung out at the trailer. Our son hung a hammock between two trees and rode his bicycle around the camp a few times. It was pretty relaxing compared to the previous day.

The Pine Flat Campground was an amazingly crowded and busy place. Even on weekdays it filled to capacity each night we were there. The camp sites are very close together. Where we backed in we had a table and fire pit just behind the trailer and then about 20′ of open dirt to the camp sites of three neighbors. Some of the sites are like camping duplexes. The back in parking spots are only separated by short logs space a few feet apart and then both neighbors camp directly behind their vehicles. One tent could not possibly be more than 10′ from their neighbors’. This was our least favorite campground of the entire trip.

In the afternoon a thunderstorm came up with some very close lightning strikes and powerful canyon thunder. We travelled down to Sedona, Arizona to have pizza that our son was craving. Afterwards we returned to the trailer, played games and went to bed.

The next day, July 28th, we drove down to Slide Rock State Park and paid our $30 entrance fee to go swimming. This park is not pet friendly and we were obliged to have one of us stay with our pet at all times. It was not lawful to keep the dog in our trailer without being with him. My son and wife hiked down the path towards Slide Rock while I watched Leo. They played for a while and then came back for me. I switched with my wife and my son and I went swimming. There were lots of people there with their dogs, I guess they were service dogs and comfort animals.

Slide Rock was pretty interesting and fun. Basically the river, Oak Creek, carved its way through the sandstone and created an 80′ long slide through it. The algae makes the rock a bit slick making it ideal to simply slide from the top to the bottom. Unlike the river in the Gila National Forest, Oak Creek is very cold and the hardest part of the slide is getting in. In addition to the slide, there is a deep swimming hole and short cliffs you can jump off into the water. You can see from the number of people in the photos that this place is well known and popular. It is just like going to a water park with parties, loud music and lots of people.

After Slide Rock we retuned to the trailer just in time to experience a huge thunderstorm at the camp. Very close lightning with enormous, booming thunder. We were in swimwear so we simply sat out at the picnic bench and watched the rest of the campground try to stay dry. At one point I danced with my wife on the table singing Dancing in the Rain, it was fun. We went inside, showered, warmed up, ate dinner and watched Pirates of the Caribbean 2. – the beauties of having a trailer!

When the rain reduced to a drizzle and the sun went down, people started to build fires. The wood was wet, the air was heavy with moisture and the smoke was very thick. It reminded us of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. We walked around the campground wanting to say ARGH.

The next morning we awoke and had a strawberry flavored oatmeal from our food storage. It was absolutely awful. Potentially the worse thing I have ever eaten, and absolutely the worse thing I had eaten on our adventure. One bite each and we put it right where it belonged, the trash can. We then made normal oatmeal and it was amazingly good given the appetizer.

We headed south on our way out to miss the road construction nightmare to the north. We went through Sedona and then headed north on Highway 17 back to Flagstaff. This scenic byway was much better than the construction war zone we traversed days before. Instead of mud, delays and construction equipment we enjoyed beautiful red rock hills and lush trees along the creek. We avoided our favorite gas station in Flagstaff and headed north towards our home state of Utah. We had one more night of camping before us and we were hoping for a much quieter and peaceful experience than what we had in Arizona.

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5 States, 31 Nights, and 4200 Miles

On June 29th, 2017 our family of three hitched up our trailer and took off on an adventure. We travelled to 5 states, camped for 31 nights and put 4200 miles of road behind us. My wife and I thought it was great and our 11 year old son thought it was “good”. However, I view a “good” rating from him as a positive sign. It means he liked many of our activities and likes us, both good things!

We travelled to Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. We learned a few things along the way:

  1. We’re glad we didn’t select a trailer larger than the one we did, 27′. Small trailers have fewer campground limitations, they’re easier to pull up steep mountain passes with tight switchbacks, and into and out of tight gas stations. When we buy another trailer, we’ll purchase the smallest one we can be comfortable in.
  2. We love having a solar panel on our trailer and are now glad we purchased only one. When the sun is out, the one panel fully recharges the batteries by early afternoon. For fall or winter camping another panel would be nice, but the cost of a second panel is equivalent to the cost of a generator, which is mandatory even in the summer when you might experience multiple days of cloud cover. One solar panel means you’ll seldom need the generator, but when you do you have one.
  3. While camping in a trailer you have several scarce resources: electricity, propane, fresh water, and limited holding tank capacity. With a solar panel and backup generator electricity is not very scarce. In the summer propane seems to last forever. Our trailer has two 30 pound tanks that hold 7 gallons of propane each. In 31 days of camping we went through both bottles. We have an 80 gallon fresh water tank and it lasts three of us nearly a week. Our experience has been that the gray water holding tank is the most limited resource. Nearly all of the fresh water we use goes straight down the sink and shower drains and fills this 40 gallon tank in 4 or 5 days. We could of course be more conservative, but …
  4. We chose to purchase two 2kW Honda generators that can be connected in parallel to generate enough power to run everything in the trailer, including the air conditioner.  One of these generators is sufficient to run everything but the AC and we never used both on our adventure. We did connect one of them periodically to watch a movie or play a video game on the large TV. The generator was quiet enough that we locked it to the front of the trailer and it never bothered us inside. While we chose the Honda, I later found that Costco offers a very similar Yamaha generator for half the price; I should have looked!
  5. We’re glad we chose a trailer over a 5th wheel because I really utilized the bed of our truck for extra water, fuel for the generators, firewood, etc. I’m sure we would have loved a 5th wheel, but any fear we had about towing a trailer has dissipated.

When we left we had some trepidation about traveling in New Mexico and Arizona in July. However, both states have significant mountains and associated national forests. We stayed above 5000′ in elevation nearly all of the time and enjoyed reasonable temperatures, seldom if ever exceeding 80 degrees. The one exception was our three day stay in Carlsbad, New Mexico. While there we chose to stay at the Carlsbad RV Park and Campground, and while this isn’t our idea of camping, the facilities were clean, the staff was friendly and helpful, the pool was simple and refreshing, and most importantly we had electric hookups that allowed us to run the AC nearly 24 hours a day.

Our adventure was amazingly fun and relaxing. As we headed home on the last day we passed the I-70 East ramp and I just wanted to take it and continue our summer fun. The next few posts will describe each of the places we camped and the fun things we found to do there.