Arizona, Arizona We Love Arizona

posted in: Arizona, Road Trip, Van Life | 2
A desert find

Arizona greeted us with warm rays and so many options for dispersed camping we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. After traveling through Arkansas, Texas, and New Mexico it was a welcomed treat to be able to camp for free! Bonus: Arizona is ecologically diverse, stunningly beautiful, and relatively clean (comparatively). Arizona, Arizona, we LOVE Arizona.

Well, us and millions of other people living the van or RV life. But, luckily, there is more than enough space to share. After our journey to Arizona last winter, we had a few ideas on where to go but we also wanted to hit some new areas this time around!

First stop, the southeastern part of the state and a little place they call Indian Bread Rocks.

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Indian Bread Rocks

Awesome photo by Eric

Indian Bread Rocks was such an interesting place full of interesting people. Upon entering the long dirt road in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, we were almost instantly greeted by multiple vans and skoolies freckled across the land. At first, we thought, “uh, oh, we might not find a spot here”. But, we put all negative vibes aside and set off in search of a place to park for the night.

Despite being crowded, we found two spots. One was absolutely awesome (scenery wise) but completely shaded by the large rocks, so we opted for the full sun and prickly cactus. You’re welcome Mr. Solar Panels.

After we got set up, I took Grizz out for a walk when we met a local by the name of Fred who turned out to be the Rancher for this plot of BLM land. Fred was quite the character—we liked him almost instantly. We visited for a while and later he came back and visited some more.

Overall, we would definitely stay here again. It was quiet and everyone seemed respectful of others which was a nice change of pace from some of the other places we’ve stayed (especially the noise factor). The best part is that Arizona just kept getting sweeter the farther west we went. Arizona, Arizona, we LOVE Arizona.

Next stop: Dragoon Mountains.

Our spot for the night

The Drive

Eric and I woke with a general destination in mind, but unsure of what we’d find. The uncertainty is often one of the joys of van life, but can also be the most tedious, frustrating, and time consuming aspects. Today, however, luck was on our side and although we didn’t know it yet, we were going to find a fantastic spot. Just one obstacle first, a small mountain pass on a narrow dirt road. Yay!

Trees! We get excited when we hadn’t seen any for a long time.
A little over half way up we found a “Y” in the road and a good place to stop to take some pictures.
The first small clearing near the top
A heart pumping drive with amazing views of the summit.
The view on the other side of the summit

Dragoon Mountains

“I am alone in the world, I want to live in these mountains, I have drunk of the waters of the Dragoon Mountains and they have cooled me, I do not want to leave here.”

— Chief Cochise

This was one of our favorite stops while in Arizona (and there were many!). The Dragoon Mountains, also called the “Sky Islands”, was once inhabited by Chief Cochise of the Chiricahua Apache Tribe (Cochise Stronghold, 2021). I can only imagine what it would have been like to walk these lands as the Natives in a time before white settlers and OHVs—a serene place it would have been. While the road could get a little busy at times, overall, it was a peaceful retreat.

After a soggy and expensive month in the South had us questioning our sanity, we rekindled our love of van life while surrounded by the Coronado wilderness.

Our Heaven…

Van Heaven = Alone in the wilderness.
  1. Alone in the quiet wilderness
  2. Running Wild and Free

AND Grizz Heaven…

  1. Alone in the quiet wilderness
  2. Running Wild and Free

Maybe we’re all three more alike than we realized. 🙂

——–

The Dragoon Mountains marks the first place we were able to let Grizz roam leash free comfortably for the very first time. We were all super stoked about it! Not only does it make hanging outside of the van more enjoyable for Eric and I, but it helps Grizz gain confidence and wears him out. He is a work in progress, but if we never give him the opportunity to try, he’ll never get any better, right?

A short video to demonstrate the excitement Grizz had for being free.
Grizz was so tired, he fell asleep on top of his bone using Monkey as a pillow.

All-in-all, we each had a fantastic time here. Grizz even earned ANOTHER (yes, another) nickname: Dusty Dog. This was one of the dustiest stops on the way but oh-so-worth-it even if Grizz turned brownish-gray.

Here are some more photos from the 5 days we were here:

Daytime Shenanigans

Grizz and I took several walks to check out the area. There weren’t any specific trails nearby, but that didn’t stop us! We found several 4×4 trails that were relatively unused during the weekday. The only one that hates OHVs more than me and Eric is Grizz. So, I was thankful that only a single group of 4 ATVs went through while hiking. It could have been far worse!

After our hikes, Grizz and I would return home and spend time relaxing in the sun. Generally, I would read and Grizz would chew while laying in his favorite tuft of grass.

Chillin’
Chew time
Awe <3 I love this handsome fella

Evening Splendor

We cooked outside every night while watching the sun set and waiting for the stars to emerge.
Grizz and I took many evening walks
A few evening selfies
Grizz on his evening run.
Layers of mountains in every direction.
<3 No words, just appreciation <3
A fire to warm our bones at night
Magnificent Sunsets
Dark, quiet nights under the stars.

It was a beautiful and relaxing stay in the Dragoon Mountains. Such a great find! Arizona, Arizona, we LOVE Arizona.

Las Cienegas

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area was among the many favorites during our time in Arizona (if not THE favorite). It’s hard not to fall in love with an area that boasts thousands of acres and makes you feel like you have it all to yourself! Only 2 of 7 days here were somewhat busy along our generally quiet road. In fact, most days and every night, you could hear a pin drop it was so quiet.

Eric, Grizz and I had a wonderful week here! We took several long walks, one epic hike, and a few bike rides. It was the perfect place to live outside and breathe the fresh air while listening to the birds sing their song. This is also the absolute best place for watching the sun rise AND set—each spectacular in their own right. We’ll definitely be back!

Here are some photos from our stay here:

Hike Abouts

Selfie Time

“Not this again”
“The sooner I cooperate the sooner this is over”
“Ok, Maybe this is fun. Hooooowl”
“I love your salty face!”
“Uh, that’s enough of this selfie business. I’m ready to run!”

Sunrises/Sunsets

My absolute favorite <3

I guarantee it was at least 10 times more beautiful in real life. Every single day we were there we were granted a beautiful sunrise and sunset. It was magical. Believe it or not, I even put my camera away for at least 3 days refusing to do more than just enjoy the moment and store the memories on my own personal hard drive. It’s nice to do that from time to time.

I easily could have stated a full 2 weeks in this area, but we needed a resupply and “happy pills” for Grizz so on we went towards Tucson.

BLM outside of Tucson

After a long day of laundry, grocery shopping, and running a few errands we stumbled upon some fantastic BLM land outside of Tucson. It was a nice reprieve after a day in the city. None of us fancy spending time in congested areas, but it’s just part of van life. Our motto is “get in, get out”, and we’ve gotten chore-days down to an art. Generally we can have everything done in 2.5 hours or less. Grizz genuinely appreciates this because these are his LEAST favorite days by far. Unfortunately, Tucson was over 4 hours and we were all feeling it! That made this find extra special as we were all thankful for the (mostly) quiet space we were about to explore.

The downside about this area is that it was filled (FILLED) with various types of cactus. Beautiful, glorious cactus for us to admire; however, poor Grizz wasn’t a fan. We did our best to protect him, including a lot more on-leash walks, however every once in a while he would get a spine caught in his fur or paw and we’d have to pull it out with a pair of pliers. Although Grizz learned quickly, we felt so bad about the ‘accidental barbings‘ that we ended up staying only 1 day/2 nights.

A view from the binoculars

Cactus as far as the eye (and binoculars) could see!

The roads were pretty good for hiking though, so at least Grizz and I got in some great walks. Here are are few photos of the area:

These awesome cacti trees are NOT as soft as they look!
Do you see two fish kissing? I do!
Dramatic skies (rain in the distance)
Grizz frustrated by the cactus

There was so much to see and explore here. If it wasn’t for wanting to protect Grizz, we probably would have stayed a lot longer. Despite the fact that it was busy with ATV traffic and a bit trashed in certain areas, it was a beautiful area. So off we went with song in our hearts, “Arizona, Arizona, we LOVE Arizona”.

BLM outside of Roosevelt

Another fantastic, unplanned stop along our route was some land outside of the Roosevelt Lake area. This place was vast, scenic, and empty. The hiking opportunities were endless and it was one of the cleanest BLM stays yet. This is also the first place we stayed where hikers and mountain bikers outnumbered vehicles and ATVs 3:1. Bonus: the weather was absolutely perfect! What more could we ask for? Absolutely nothing!

We stayed in 3 different spots during our visit here. The road up was extremely steep and rocky so initially we were fearful that the van may get stuck. As the days went on, we became braver and braver until we made it to the third and final destination which we made our home for almost a week. There is so much I could say about this stop, but I’m just going to show you in pictures. All I can say is this: Arizona, Arizona, we LOVE Arizona.

Home 1

Sunrise from spot 1
Stargazing from spot 1

Home 2

Eric pulling into our new spot!
Not a bad view for a gloomy day
You can still see the moon as the sun rises over the opposite horizon
The glass-like Lake Roosevelt below
Grizz and I looking outward and planning our upcoming hike. Daddy makes his own plans on how he can get the van higher up!
Another lovely sunset

The Expedition

Grizz and I are the explorers. Generally, we’re the ones that scout out possible new spots down long roads to make sure the van can safely pass all while getting our daily dose of exercise. This is our favorite part of van life for sure! The following photos are from our first hike up to the top where we were met with a big surprise! Keep in mind it was a dreary day, so not the best pictures to showcase this amazing place!

A cactus clown?
Miles and miles of road up.
The area is still recovering from a large forest fire that hit a few years back
Zero to….
…FIFTY in a matter of seconds!
Getting closer to the end of the road
The AZT

And then, SURPRISE! After a steep but short switchback we were at a section of the Arizona Trail. Awesome!

I secretly (not so secretly) really want to do the AZT but Eric makes a good point that water would be scarce. Plus, now that we have the Grizzy Bear, our packs would be even heavier! You never know though, perhaps we’ll hike or bike some shorter sections instead of doing a the entire trail at once.

Arizona, Arizona, we LOVE Arizona

There is so much to see and do in this life. How do all of you pick where to go and what to experience? There’s too many choices, especially when you want to do it all!

Here are some pictures from the top:

A little rest before heading back down

Home 3

A vast world surrounding our little van with nothing and no one around as seen by the white speck just below my index finger.

Of course, while exploring on our hike the day before, Grizz and I decided that if Daddy expertly drove Van Morrison this far, we could undoubtedly make it the rest of the way. So, we excitedly packed up and moved on. Home 3 offered quite a bit more privacy (not that it was busy) and was a much larger and more level spot to stay for a longer period of time. I also preferred the mountain views to the lake views since we had a choice. I mean, if you know mountains you realize that depending on the time of day, they can take on many different looks and feels. Mountains are moody and I love them dearly.

Grizz loves the mountains too!

Here are some more photos of the ever changing mountain landscapes (from nearly the same angle/point of view).

Morning glow
Early evening layers

Hiking Galore

We hiked many more times up the road and on the nearby trails. I’ll just add a few new pics of some different areas for fun. I know there is a LOT of pictures this time.

The Test of Time

Sometimes when you have too much time on your hands the mind starts to wander. This can be dangerous and funny. All this time here and I was starting to feel like I was an alien from another planet. With minimal to no human contact for days (besides Eric and Grizz), a Mars-like terrain, and no internet, I decided to have a photo shoot as a Zorthexinian sporting the latest fashions from the planet Zorthex. If I would have had blue face paint and an airbrush it would have been even better! Haha

Blue Steel (for you Zoolander fans out there)
I call this style Lobster Claw
A Zorthexinian Warrior

What do you think? Should I keep the look or stick to my earthling ways? Haha 🙂

Moving On

Highlights

Here are a few highlights from our travels through the Payson area:

We slept in an enchanted forest…
Watched giant elk pass right by our van (sorry no pic)…
Spoke with the wise old trees…
And discovered an awesome 50+ mile trail

Happy Jack

A Happy Jack made for a happy Eric, a happy Jenni and a happy Grizz. This place was PERFECT in almost every way. It was quiet (only saw 3 cars all week), full of trails for us to explore by foot and bike, and had the lingering aroma of fresh pine floating constantly through the air.

I didn’t take many pictures because we all just enjoyed our time together here, just the three of us in quiet solitude. Sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy the moment. It was so still here that Grizz relaxed enough to fall asleep in the forest for the first time ever. Perhaps we should move to Happy Jack and we could live our days in peaceful harmony. Arizona, Arizona, we LOVE Arizona.

Sedona

Get ready to throw your tomatoes—we didn’t much care for Sedona. To us, Sedona is the “Sun Valley of Arizona” designed to do two things: take your money and house the rich. Not our scene. I must say though, the natural beauty of the area is breathtaking, no doubt about it.

Take away the 3 T’s (Terrestrials, Traffic, and Trash) and I would give this place FIVE/5 stars! And the drive from Sedona to Flagstaff—TEN/5 stars (though I’d much rather bike it).

Despite Sedona (every state has one), we love you Arizona.

Kaibab National Forest

Last stop before Utah, the Kaibab National Forest for a quick overnight stay before arriving at my Mom’s house the next day.

It is places like this where we feel most in our element—alone in the forest. We’ve never made very good tourists, why start now? Plus, we would gladly trade magnificent beauty for solitude any day. Well, I guess we did considering we left Sedona and managed to bypass as much of Flagstaff as possible.

I’m so glad we did. Grizz was so happy! After a long day of resupplying and an even longer day of driving, Grizz was eager to burn off his energy surplus. He was so cute out there in the snow. Run, run, run. Dig, dig, dig. The little guy was in doggie heaven.

Arizona, Arizona we’ll miss you Arizona!

Reflections

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”

-Bill Watterson

Arizona was the perfect place to slow our pace and spend more time enjoying the moment and less time planning for what was ahead. Eric, Grizz and I fell more in love with Arizona than we’d ever have imagined we would. It’s exciting to think that some day Arizona could be our new home.

Grizz knows all about living in the moment.

Thanks for reading!

Next stop, 2 weeks in Utah.

2 Responses

  1. Debbie

    Oh my gosh! I’m so glad you told me I had missed this one. I think these pictures are my all time favorites! They are truly works of art! I really hope you’ll write a book with pictures of course of your epic journey! You’ve also got me chomping at the bit to head out on our trip through Arizona!!

    • Jenni

      I’m so glad you liked this one. Just in case it wasn’t clear, WE LOVED ARIZONA! 🙂 Haha. If you ever decide to take a trip there, let me know. I definitely have some recommendations for your time there! SO many hiking, camping, exploring opportunities, etc. You’d love it!

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