We packed up and left Page early last Sunday morning. (Early for us means rising at about seven nowadays.) We drove through more beautiful Arizona mountains and mesas as we made our way east and north to Monument Valley. There, just a couple of miles across the Utah border, we paid $22 per night to dry camp in the lot across from Goulding’s Campground. (We could have paid more to have electricity and water, but why? Our water tank was full, and we only needed a little electricity now and then, and for that we used our generator.)

On Monday, we entered Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

For some reason, nobody else was dry camping in Monument Valley.
There were lots of RVs in Monument Valley, but we were the only ones dry camping.

Note: In the U.S., the federal government operates National Parks and National Monuments, plus there are National Forests and National Grasslands and National Recreation Areas and so on. Individual states have state parks and state forests and state historial parks, etcetera. Until this trip, I didn’t realize that individual Native American tribes operated their own parks too.

Monument Valley

“Are you driving that?” asked the fellow who took our $20 at the entrance station. He gave our Mini Cooper a skeptical glance. “The roads are rough, and that thing has pretty low clearance.”

“No worries,” Kim said. “It’ll make it.” She smiled and thanked the man.

“I hope you’re right,” I said.

“I can handle it,” she told me. “I’m a better driver than you, remember? Besides, I did plenty of four-wheeling when I was younger. Even though this isn’t meant for off-road driving, it’ll work.” She was right.

Monument Valley was fun, but not worth two nights
Monument Valley isn’t worth staying overnight. Swing by as you pass through.
But beware the rough roads — they’re mostly dirt and mostly rough.

Our little yellow car handled like a champ. As other people passed us in the park, they gave us the thumbs-up sign. Others laughed. When we parked at lookout points, a couple of folks stopped to admire our rig: 2004 Mini Cooper with tow bar mounted to the front, two bikes mounted the back, and a GoPro filming everything from the roof. A guy in an old VW Vanagon stopped to lean out his window: “I like your car!” he said.

We finished the seventeen-mile loop. “That was fun to see,” I said. “It’s cool to see where all those old westerns like Stagecoach and The Searchers were filmed.”

“Yeah,” said Kim. “But I’m not sure we needed to spend two nights here. We could have just stopped for an afternoon while passing through. Oh well, we can take some time off to rest.”

Monticello

On Tuesday, we left Monument Valley for a short hop to Monticello, Utah. (Named after Thomas Jefferson’s estate but inexplicably pronounced “mont-uh-sell-oh”. Also, here they pronounce Mesa Verde as “mess-uh vehrd”.) While stopped for construction just south of Blanding, I made a post to Facebook praising the perseverance of our Mini Cooper.

Famous last words...

Half an hour later, in the middle of a rainstorm, we rolled into Monticello. I parked the motorhome in front of the public library; Kim parked the Mini behind me. “I think the Forest Service office is just a couple of blocks up,” I said. “Let’s go ask if there are any places we can dry camp for a few days.”

She got back into the Mini and…

…and nothing happened.

The car tried to start — but wouldn’t. The lights and radio worked, but the engine wouldn’t turn over.

“Haha,” I said. “I must have jinxed us by posting about how awesome our car is. No worries, though. There’s a repair shop just up the street.”

At Draper Towing and Repair, we explained the problem to owner Steve Draper. We asked if he worked on Mini Coopers. “It’s a car,” he said, “I’ll figure it out. Can you tow it over here with your RV?”

We hitched the Mini to the motorhome and pulled it to Steve’s lot. For the next few hours, we killed time walking around Monticello. That didn’t take long — and another rainstorm came over the mountains — so we parked ourselves in the public library, which had the best internet connection we’d experienced in weeks. We listend to the thunder of the rain on the roof while we caught up on what our friends have been doing back home.

Steve called in the mid-afternoon. “Good news,” he said. “The problem’s just a dead battery. We don’t have one for a Mini Cooper in town, but I’ll have one for you tomorrow morning at eight. You can be on the road by ten.”

Boondocking in Town

“What should we do now?” Kim asked after we got the news. “Dry camping on forest roads won’t be good right now because of all the rain. They’ll be a mess. And I don’t really feel like paying for an RV park.”

“Look over there,” I said, pointing across the street from the public library. Next to Blue Mountain Foods stood a huge empty lot. “There are already several semis and a couple of RVs in that gravel lot. I bet boondocking is allowed there.”

“Why don’t you go ask one of the truckers?” she said.

I walked across the street and knocked on the door of a big rig. A man with a beard rolled down the window. “Hey,” I said. “Do you know if dry camping is allowed here?”

“I sure hope so,” he said, “because I’m done driving for the day and I plan to be here til 5 a.m. tomorrow.” He thought for a moment. “I guess you could always go ask, but then you run the risk or ruining it for everyone else.”

“Good point,” I said, laughing. “Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.”

We pulled Irvin — we’ve taken to calling the motorhome “Irvin”, which is an extension of “Irv” for RV — we pulled Irvin to the back of the gravel lot next to a big Class A motorhome from ???. As we did, the owner pulled up in his Honda Pilot. I walked over to introduce myself and ask what he knew about boondocking in town.

The guy told me he’d been parked in the lot for a couple of nights already. “We parked here last year too,” he said. “I think we were here a week or two. I lose track, you know? We’ve been on the road full-time for thirteen years now, and sometimes I can’t even remember what month it is… But you should be fine. This place is always packed with RVs and semi-trucks.”

One of these things is not like the others...
This photo is from camping at a casino in Phoenix. Monticello was much more rustic.

Dinner with Daniel

As I chatted with the other RV owner, Kim joined the conversation. We were soon joined by the truck driver I’d talked to earlier. He was taking his little dog for a walk.

“My name’s Daniel,” the truck driver said after the other RVer left. “I was wondering,” he said to Kim. “If I bought the steaks, would you fix dinner for us?”

“Why not?” Kim said. “We’ve got nothing better to do. There isn’t even a bowling alley in this town!” Daniel and Kim and I walked across the lot to Blue Mountain Foods. We bought salad and steaks and beer. “I’ll marinate the steaks,” Kim said. “You come back by our RV at around five.”

At five, Daniel and his dog sat down for dinner and conversation. We learned that he’s been a long-haul trucker for thirty-six years, since he was nineteen years old. Although he lives in Osceola, Arkansas, his employer is based out of Fargo, North Dakota. Daniel spends seven weeks at a time on the road before receiving a week off. It’s a tedious life, but it pays the bills. He welcomes any break from the routine — such as dining with a couple of RVers from Oregon.

“The freight I’m hauling now is from Oregon,” he told us. “I picked it up in Portland and I’m on my way to San Antone. After that, I hope I’m heading home for my week off.” But he’s not exactly sure. He goes where his employer sends him.

We chatted about driving and about life on the road. He and I commiserated about southern California’s shitty drivers. “They’re awful,” he said. “The worst in the country.” In his thirty-six years of trucking, Daniel has never had an accident, although he’s seen plenty of terrible wrecks. He gave us some driving tips: go slow, always keep a safe following distance, don’t let rude drivers rankle you.

He also gave us an important tip about drycamping: “As a general rule,” he said, “if you see a group of big rigs gathered somewhere, you can park your motorhome there for the night too.” (Kim and I have decided that we’ll start paying attention to places we see clusters of trucks to see if there’s a pattern.)

After a pleasant meal, Daniel returned to his rig while Kim and I went for a walk. The afternoons rain clouds had moved on to Colorado, and now the late evening sunshine cast a warm glow over the small town. Kids were out riding their bikes and motorcycles. A couple of men were mowing their lawns. The cottonwood drifted thickly through town.

“Well,” I said, “that’s not what we’d planned for today, but it wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was kind of fun.”

“Yep,” Kim agreed. “But I’m ready to get on the road tomorrow. It’s time to see Arches and Canyonlands, and then to move on to southern Colorado.” We walked home to read by candlelight, contented with our day of mini adventures.

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Warning: This page might take a long time to load. It contains many high-resolution images. Sorry about that. On the plus side, you can click on any image to view a larger version. Enjoy!

In some ways, this may be the most difficult blog post I’ve ever had to write. You see, we’ve just spent nineteen days in Arizona, a place for which I had no (or low) expectations. And we’ve been completely blown away. This state is frickin’ beautiful. It’s gorgeous. Oregon is gorgeous too, and I love it, but Arizona has a different kind of beauty.

But how can I convey that beauty to you, the reader? I can’t. And even though Kim and I have taken nearly 2000 photographs here (!?!) they can’t truly show you just how awe-inspiring the scenery is in this state.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson was a great intro to the state's beauty
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson was a great intro to the state’s beauty.

The tree-like Saguaro cactuses live for decades in a land with little rain
The tree-like Saguaro cactuses live for decades in a land with little rain.

The brief desert rains support a surprising amount of life
The brief desert rains support a surprising amount of life.

Arizona is also mineral rich, which means mining towns pop up in unlikely places
Arizona is also mineral rich, which means mining towns pop up in unlikely places.

Still, I’m going to try. I’ve sorted through our images and I’m sharing those that I feel best capture the beauty we’ve seen. (Remember: You can click on any photo to view a larger version.)

Montezuma Lake is filled by an underground spring. Note cliff dwelling on left.
Montezuma Lake is filled by an underground spring. Note cliff dwelling on left.

Montezuma Castle is but one of MANY cliff-side ruins
Montezuma Castle is but one of MANY cliff-side ruins.

For hundreds of years, people made a home at Verde Valley's Tuzigoot
For hundreds of years, people made a home at Verde Valley’s Tuzigoot.

The red rocks around Sedona have inspired spiritual insight for centuries
The red rocks around Sedona have inspired spiritual insight for centuries.

Devil's Bridge behind Sedona may be the most beautiful place I've ever seen
Devil’s Bridge behind Sedona may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

People from around the world gather here to admire the views
People from around the world gather here to admire the views.

What makes Arizona so beautiful? It’s not a lush green sort of loveliness, the sort to which I’m accustomed. Instead, it’s mostly a barren beauty. It’s a beauty composed of stark lines and large rocks and improbably combinations of color. It’s a beauty forged by millions (or billions) of years of erosion.

Wind and water have carved this country’s rocks into crazy shapes: towering mountains and plunging canyons, vast deserts and flat-topped mesas and plateaus. These landscapes are on such a grand scale that it’s nearly impossible to photograph them in a way that conveys their majesty. They have to be seen in person to truly be appreciated.

In the high desert of north-central Arizona, you can find solitude in the trees
In the high desert of north-central Arizona, you can find solitude in the trees.

Grand Canyon is Arizona's most-famous (and most-visited) landmark
Grand Canyon is Arizona’s most-famous (and most-visited) landmark.

The canyon is vast almost beyond imagining -- 277 miles of fantastic formations
The canyon is vast almost beyond imagining — 277 miles of fantastic formations.

It's the Colorado River far below that has carved this region's landscape
It’s the Colorado River far below that has carved this region’s landscape.

The views are so vast that you can watch the approaching weather
The views are so vast that you can watch the approaching weather.

I remember when I was a boy, my grandparents brought us a bunch of Arizona Highways magazines. I was fascinated by the strange landscapes and beautiful scenery. Same thing when I watched Road Runner cartoons. Were these weird landscapes for real? Turns out, they are.

At the Utah border, Glen Canyon Dam (which took fifteen years to fill) harnesses the power of the Colorado River.
At the Utah border, Glen Canyon Dam (which took fifteen years to fill)
harnesses the power of the Colorado River.

Glen Canyon Dam created Lake Powell, an expansive waterway surrounded by amazing views
Glen Canyon Dam created Lake Powell, an expansive waterway surrounded by amazing views.

The famous Horseshoe Bend typifies the sort of crazy beauty found in Arizona
The famous Horseshoe Bend typifies the sort of crazy beauty found in Arizona.

Antelope Canyon is a crazy kaleidoscope of shapes and colors.
Antelope Canyon is a crazy kaleidoscope of shapes and colors.
Between the two of us, we took over six hundred photos!

Here’s the thing: I’ve only shared twenty photos of the hundreds we’ve taken. And these photos only capture a tiny fragment of what we’ve seen, which in turn is a tiny fragment of the state. There’s so much more to see here.

Plus, this is but one of four states in what is sometimes called “Indian Country”. We now know that each of these states is filled with crazy beautiful scenery. We could spend an entire year just touring this region, let alone the rest of the United States. Seriously.

Note: It’s a little strange for me to be in an area where the term Indian is not only acceptable, but embraced by people — even the people to whom it refers. In Portland, we’re very much indoctrinated that we ought to say “Native American”. In fact, I’ve chuckled at kids playing Cowboys and Native Americans in the past. Here, though, the term Indian is okay. (We love our AAA Indian Country Guide Map.)

I know we aren’t even two months into this trip, but I’m going to make a recommendation. Before starting out, I barely knew anything about this region (sometimes called “Four Corners”). I suspect it’s a blank spot on most people’s radar — except for Grand Canyon. Do yourself a favor. If you get a chance, take the time to explore NE Arizona, SE Utah, SW Colorado, and NW New Mexico. I promise it’ll be the trip of a lifetime.

We're happy to have seen Arizona. Now it's on to other states!
We’re happy to have seen Arizona. Now it’s on to other states!

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Getting Connected by Disconnecting

May 14, 2015

Note: This update comes from Kimberly, the fairer of half of the Rothwards. I’m having a moment. Sitting outside enjoying my wine while dinner is cooking, I realize that I’ve entered my “country self”. When you’re camping every day, you have to reach a place of acceptance. With the weather and your surroundings — and […]

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Tapping Positive Energy in Sedona, Arizona

May 9, 2015

“No mystical energy field controls my destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.” — Han Solo, Star Wars I’m fortunate to have seen a lot of spectacular sites around the world. I’ve hiked to Torres del Paine in Chile, stood above Machu Picchu in Peru, watched Victoria Falls thunder across the Zimbabwe-Zambia […]

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One Night in Bisbee

May 5, 2015

Kim and I have finished the first stage of our journey — the “see lots of family and friends” stage — and have moved on to the next phase of our year-long RV trip across the United States. For the first forty days of our trip, we ate a lot of good food, drank a […]

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Photo Friday: Across the Sonoran Desert

May 1, 2015

That’s right: It’s been another week during which we haven’t had time to post an update other than this photographic summary. Despite our best intentions, we just haven’t had time to write or edit photographs. That’s a good things, though. That means we’re getting out of the RV and living life. Last Friday, for instance, […]

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Photo Friday: In and Around Palm Springs

April 24, 2015

Wow! We’ve had a crazy week. Initially, we had intended to park ourselves for ten days in Idyllwild, tucked in the mountains between Palm Springs and San Bernardino. We were going to visit with Kim’s family while also taking several days to rest and relax. Plus, we were both going to get caught up on […]

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Photo Friday: From Yosemite to Santa Barbara

April 17, 2015

Has another week gone by already? Kim and I have both noticed that our sense of time on this trip has become very distorted. Days bleed into one another, and it seems sometimes like we’re barely moving. Yet at the same time, we’ve now traveled 1500 miles and the entire length of California! When we […]

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Photo Friday: In the Sierra Nevadas

April 10, 2015

Kim and I have spent the past week in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and its foothills. We’ve been visiting her friends and family, and now have moved up the mountainside to explore Yosemite National Park. Here, then, is the weekly photographic review of our trip. Last Friday (the tenth day of our trip) found […]

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One Week in Amador County, California

April 8, 2015

After a relatively quick start to our year-long RV trip, we’ve slowed the pace over the past ten days. First, we stayed four nights in Cloverdale, outside wine country. Next, we drove east to Amador Country, Kim’s “homeland”, where we spent nearly a week hanging out with friends, exploring the Sierra Nevada foothills, and making […]

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