Having coerced the RV up yet another mammoth climb to reach Flagstaff, we found ourselves suddenly transported from a desert wasteland to a wondrous oasis of forest and dampness. There was rain in the air, and we were very excited. We checked in at the Flagstaff KOA and began to re-acquaint ourselves with long forgotten luxuries like showers, internet, and electricity.
For the sake of the reader, I’d really like to provide some interesting tidbits about our time in Flagstaff, but I’m sorry to say that you’re shit out of luck. Up until this point, our senses had been constantly inundated with sweeping vistas and seething metropoli, and we wanted nothing more than to just chill the fuck out. This was helped along by a strong dose of persistent rain and cold temperatures, both of which we had been without for some time. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking “what, rain in Arizona?? Thats preposterous!”. And believe me, I was a little surprised, but I suppose that due to the elevation and various other likely scientific explanations, Flagstaff is well positioned to receive precipitation. Enough said on that topic, methinks.
So yeah, we just chillaxed at the campground for a couple of days (Flagstaff KOA was actually a really nice spot – good prices, really nice forested RV sites, and awesome mountain trails directly adjoining the campground), maxed out the wifi, and then continued south. The only real interaction we had with Flagstaff was to dump some sewage into it’s pipes at the Conoco gas station in town, and go on a spending spree at the awesome local health food supermarket (Natural Grocers).
Next stop was the town of Sedona, something which had come highly recommended from a well-travelled, vocally-inclined, fellow RV enthusiast back up in Montana. We chose the scenic route to get there from Flagstaff, and while the RV clearly didn’t enjoy the winding road and steep declines, we certainly did. Highway 89A took us down into the depths of Oak Creek Canyon, whose lush forested depths and interesting rock formations agreed quite nicely with our visual sensibilities. After making a rapid descent down some alarmingly tight switchbacks, we found ourselves in the West Fork Oak Creek Trail parking lot, and while we declined to pay the not-unreasonable $5 fee to parkup and walk the trail (on account of not having any time to spare, rather than finances for once), we DID endeavor to collect a goodly haul of fallen apples from the myriad of old orchard trees which dotted the field below the canyon. This was a truly magical little spot, and we would dearly have liked to dally and enjoy this garden of eden-esque spot for a while longer.
Having taken enough apples to make a tasty apple crumble, we continued on into Sedona. Here we parked up and strolled into Clear Creek Trading, one of the more interesting stores we’d frequented thus far on our trip. The place was positively overflowing with all kinds of weird and wonderful paraphernalia, including bull scrotum (for once, a chance to use the word “bullocks” literally), badger feet, beaver tails (not the edible baked kind), raccoons stuffed in the act of being mildly surprised, and a giant pile of deer antlers. In addition to this, there were lots of cool authentic Indian crafts such as bows and arrows and ceremonial axe things. Liivi was in her element, buying a range of shiny trinkets and a pair of genuine moccasins (strangely, the Indians had to travel to the Dominican Republic to make them).
Delayed by the wondrousness of the store, we eventually came to the realisation that it was close to dark and we had no place to stay. Jumping in the rat mobile, we made haste for the nearest large town – Cottonwood, about 20 miles down the road. Here, a quick look around and an online visit to the Walmart Atlas informed us that we were once again unwelcome to overnight in this Walmart parking lot, reportedly due to RV riots/gangwars in the not so distant past. Mentally shaking our fists at these recreational hooligans for ruining it for us peace-loving RV enthusiasts, we mosied on over to the next best thing – free BLM “campsites” just off Thousand Trails Road to the south of Cottonwood. Here, we laid low for a couple of days, sweating only slightly less than we had in northern Arizona and making our online presence once more known to the world via an AT&T mobile prepaid card.
After the second night boondocking the crap out of that place, we headed back through town to the rather descriptively named Dead Horse Ranch State Park (for some reason dead or kicking horses were very popular inspiration for place names back in the day). Here, we scuffed along beside the Verde River, scootled around the large lagoons they have at the park, and then scuttled up the Line Kiln Trail, a rather hot and dusty but enjoyable walk into the desert highlands. Notable observances during these explorations included a range of ridiculously spiky cacti, giant killer centipedes (not as big as the ones in the Amazon, but not too far off, and cool feaux-leaf crickets).
After a quick, unsuccessful and possibly illegal fish in the lagoons (there being a lot of hopeful fisherman around the lagoons, I thought I’d also try my luck), we continued back into town for a delightful dinner at Pizzeria Bocce (named so for the large bocce court behind the restaurant that you can play while waiting for your tasty pizza) then continued our jaunt southwards.
As we turned back onto the i17 and made our laborious way over a series of long, steep hills, we began to hear alarming hissing and banging sounds coming from the engine, corresponding to a rapidly rising temperature guage. This was nothing new, and not two days earlier I had in fact come to the conclusion that the radiator was clogged and in desperate need of flushing. The problem was, I hadn’t anticipated just how desperate that need was, and the result was a rather catastrophic explosion of coolant when we finally found a spot to pull over on the side of the road. The resulting cloud of steam and superheated green liquid was very alarming indeed, and we quickly exited the vehicle, fearing the worst and subsequently taking our vital possessions with us.
Luckily, I had topped up the coolant a couple of days ago, and this probably saved the engine from getting completely fried. An anxious half hour later, the engine had cooled enough for me to add some water to the radiator, and we limped to a free campsite close to Cordes Lakes, where we would take the Hunk o Junk to its 7th mechanic in less than 3 months (insert expletives here).
Arriving at LMR Automotive (one of only two repair shops in town), we were informed by the friendly yet hobo-esqe Larry that our radiator was essentially fucked, and no amount of coolant flushing would fix it due to the amount of corrosion and calcification riddling the damn thing. As with all the other repairs so far, this looked to be the original 1989 part, and had finally decided to give up on life while in the hands of two generous but stupid owners. Larry kindly phoned around and gave us some options, but the best course of action was to fork out another US$750 and completely replace the radiator and fan clutch. Larry informed us that he would be able to get the job done by end of day, so having nowhere else to go we had to hang out inside the ever-warming RV all day while they toiled under the hood. When I say ever-warming, the thermometer inside the RV at the height of the day reached over 40 degrees. Sweaty times.
As 6pm rolled around, darkness was falling and our trusty mechanics were still banging around under the hood, with the odd loud grinding sound informing us that things must be a little tricky down there. At one point, we poked our heads outside to inquire how things were moving along, and observed the two mechanics peering dazedly into the engine compartment with lit cigarettes hanging from their mouths and emitting the odd curse.
Eventually, everything was back in place, the bill was settled, and we were on our way once more. I realised as we drove away that in the whole radiator fiasco, I had forgotten to mention a small but troubling occasional incidence whereby the engine would suddenly stutter then die while idling. Putting this hopefully unimportant issue to the back of my mind (where I kept all the other RV shortcomings), we spent the night nearby then continued down towards Phoenix and civilisation.
On the way to Phoenix next morning, we stopped off at the Agua Fria National Monument, only to find most of the park impassable to anything but high-clearance 4WDs and ATVs. Badger Springs seemed the only place which was accessible by a big ole Hunk o Junk like ours, and so we soon found ourselves strolling along a dry riverbed (aka a “wash”) amongst hundreds of prickly pear and saguaro cacti. Along the way, we were informed by a family walking the other direction that there was a “rattler” on the path up ahead, but after much excited searching I didn’t spot the sneaky serpent.
Arriving at the springs feeling a little disappointed at the lack of snake sightings (I was, anyway), we were further disappointed by the slimy green puddle that appeared to be all that was left of Badger Springs. We had heard, however, that there were interesting petroglyphs on the rocks around the springs, and after much sweaty hunting we finally located them. Quite an impressive collection, actually.
Our earlier disappointments largely reversed, we strolled back up the RV, enjoying the diverse range of spiky flora surrounding the trail. Having considered the last prickly pear harvest a success (see our post on Zion National Park), once back at the RV, we grabbed some gloves and a plastic bag and went out to harvest a few more, as these guys were everywhere! With only few thorns adorning our hands following the harvesting, we continued on down to Phoenix.
Reaching Phoenix, we were now faced with the difficult task of finding accommodation in town until our flights to Mexico City in 4 days. Phoenix, as it turns out, is a hotspot for old people in the winter months – old fogies from all over the US flock here as the cold starts to seep in further north, and many of them bring their fancy state-of-the-art motorhomes along for the ride. As such, there’s a hot market for RV parks in the city, and the corresponding prices for staying overnight at a simple RV park are thus astronomical. Plus most of the parks are rather hilariously limited to those 55 years and older, which could be seen as a form of discrimination to us younger folks.
Eventually, we were able to find a somewhat reasonably priced spot at Covered Wagon RV Park, which is more of a permanent RV park but allows the odd “short termer”, aka “outsider”, to stay if there’s space. The lady who ran this joint was, we eventually gleaned, hesitant to put us in the only spot she had available, as it was high profile spot by the entrance and our crappy old RV would supposedly bring the quality of the place down (that being highly questionable). Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and we persisted, and she eventually gave us the overflow spot across from the office – essentially a temporary parking spot with nearby hookups. Despite the insult to our lovely RV, we were pleased just to have found a place to stay, and in any event the wifi and showers were top notch.
We spent the next couple of days preparing for our abandonment of the RV – finding a suitable secure storage location for the great rusty beast (Budget RV and Self Storage, for $65/month), doing the washing at the local laundromat (where we spent some time chatting to and exchanging contacts with an interesting gentleman who turned out to be none other than the famous Al Harbison, long time metal music manager and producer to bands like Metallic and Black Sabbath), packing, and sorting out various other odds and ends. All these tasks were made ten times more stressful by the fact that the little engine-cutting-out engine issue I had earlier noted and tried to ignore was now a fact of life, with the fricken engine dying EVERY SINGLE TIME we sat at a traffic light or had to drive slowly. Which makes for a very unenjoyable drive indeed, in a big city like Phoenix.
Spending our last night in the parking lot of Casino Arizona (once again thanks to freecampsites.net), we jumped up before the crack of dawn next morning, sped over to the RV storage depot to drop off the Hunk o Junk for the winter, and then Ubered to the airport for our 10am flight out.
With the RV tucked in for the night and our bags packed, we were excited for the next phase of our adventure – this time without a gas guzzling beast to worry about, but with the trials and tribulations of Mexico and Central America dead ahead.