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February 11th – February 17th, 2020

Chandler, AZ – Rimrock, AZ

February 11th

Today was a lovely and rejuvenating day with my new friend Michelle (@appyfan). We started with a slow morning, and I tidied my van a little. It had rained through the night which I found incredibly relaxing, and the air smelled fresh and clean. By early afternoon we were ready to take off on a little adventure to do a hike Michelle suggested. 

The drive across town was rather stress free despite travelling on a busy freeway. The contrast between the city and national forest was stark and abrupt. One minute we are on busy roads and before I knew it I was surrounded by wilderness and heading down into a canyon. Wetness remained from the previous nights rain, and fresh green grass sprung up under the trees. The canyon was lined with blocky, granitic rocks beaconing me to play on their inviting shapes. Frank was stoked for our choice of hike, and only got more excited when we reached another fork of the canyon which was flowing with water. We turned and headed up stream myself hopping back and forth across the water trying to stay dry while Michelle walked in the flow with neoprene booties and sandals on. 

At the end of the canyon was a pool with a waterfall flowing into it. We played fetch with Frank while wandering about and taking some long exposures of the falls. Michelle has a beautiful Instagram feed with many wonderful long exposures of waterfalls, and I have always enjoyed the style myself. Another group of people came and went while we enjoyed the little oasis, and then ourselves started out. The hike back went quickly and the whole excursion had been an enjoyable way to visit while seeing a beautiful sight. 

On the way back to Michelle’s we stopped at a REI where I got fuel for my stove and found a small guide for a nearby bouldering area that had called out to me. The day was nearing a close so we settled into the couches to eat takeout and chat into the night. 

My attempt at a long exposure, the strange colouration is because I kinda broke my ND filter and now there is a light leak. Light leak is also a popular filter on Instagram but this is a actually legit light leak.

February 12th 

I took the morning slow enjoying the wifi signal in my van before heading to a nearby riparian preserve to meet another friend of Instagram for a stroll. She was having a busy day but it was nice to meet up and hear stories from the area. Her dog Callie is similar looking to Frank which is how we came to know each other. The preserve was busy with birds, several types I had never seen before. My favourite were the little Quail running about with the cute tuft on their heads bobbing as they moved. 

After our brief visit I continued travelling north making a stop for fresh foods as Trader Joe’s and Sprouts which just happened to be right next to each other and along my route. It was mid-afternoon when I arrived at the Beardsley Boulders located on the north end of the Phoenix area. I have been very excited to visit here since finding the little guide at REI yesterday which described small boulders with easy problems and flat landings. It was exactly what I needed to get back into bouldering after a couple years away from climbing which was one of my favourite activities. If you’ve been reading this blog since my time in Moab you can probably guess how much it means to me to finally be packing up to go for a climb. 

Frank got excited too as I threw a crash pad out the van and began rounding up the rest of my supplies. Climbing shoes, chalk bag, water, water bowl, camera, tripod, snacks and a hoodie. The approach was a flat path surrounded by many types of cacti, my anticipation rising as I walked towards the hill which the boulders laid below. I walked around some of the boulders which were far from being the nicest I had experienced but still very exciting, and then settled on the most ideal bloc for my current desires. The boulder was fairly low, with a flat landing and had many big, easy holds, and good feet. It was a welcoming sight and soon my hands were covered in chalk flowing over the stone. The first couple times topping out and then down climbing I felt my nerves flutter, but it didn’t take long to find the feeling I always loved to much about easy climbing. The fluidity and playfulness of feeling confident on the easy holds brought a huge smile to my face which by the end of the day would begin to hurt. 

I climbed several different routes on the first boulder and then head to several more blocs where I was also able to do problems. A couple of the problems took several tries to figure out the body positions and moves, but it felt good to climb something that wasn’t immediately easy. Given it had been long time since I climbed by primary goals were to have fun, stay safe and start to gain back some of the strength in my tendons and ligaments that are so important to avoiding injury. After a couple hours I had climbed everything I felt confident was within my very safe range and my finger tips pleasantly burned just a little. It was the perfect time to head back to my van, enjoy the sunset and allow my skin and body to begin recovery. 

February 13th 

I had such a great time bouldering that I decided to spend the night where I had been parked in order to enjoy another session in the morning. I got up at a decent time, made coffee and then immediately headed out towards the boulders. This time we took the scenic route to stretch our legs and check out a couple harder blocs I hadn’t bothered to go to yesterday. The climbs certainly looked nice, but the landings were not safe with the one small pad I was carrying so we headed over to the same boulder that had started it all. My session was fast and furious as I climbed up and down, and all over the boulder while Frank laid in the morning sun. My strength was far from what it used to be, but my skill and confidence were quickly returning. The day was heating up fast and I was getting sweaty. Before continuing on I tried a problem I had been too scared to top out the day before and found it wasn’t scary at all. Walking back to Truck I felt satisfied with my return to bouldering and the progress I had made in my first two session. 

I took the 87 Northeast out of Phoenix and was surprised to see so many Saguaros. The highway was wide and quiet making the cruise relaxing and allowed me to enjoy the scenery. I marvelled at the gentle mountains around me covered in short green bushes knowing that before I knew it my time in Arizona would be over and I would miss these landscapes. It didn’t take long for me to get hungry so I pulled over at a trailhead to snack. I figured since we were there I might as well go for a hike then eat a bigger meal after. 

The day felt really hot as we headed out onto the trail and up small valley. Below was a small creek flowing and along the trail were flowers in bloom. Orange, yellow, and purple blossoms of several different types of flowers brought a smile to my face reminding me that spring is just around the corner, even to the north. The hike was a short loop that went up the valley and then onto a ridge circling back towards the parking lots. The sun was bright and I kept my head down during most of the hike focusing more on the walking than the scenery.

Upon returning to the van I devoured a huge salad and then continued north towards the town of Payson where I headed East just a little bit in search of a camp spot that apparently was right on the rim. I found the area no problem, but before I could get to the actual spot I was stopped by a massive mud pit. Thick, sticky clay like mud which I was not willing to attempt. I had driven through some on the way in, but this was different. This was a massive expanse of mud and I was not willing to go the speed I would need for momentum to carry me though. Then there was the way back that I also did not want to deal with, so I turned around and tucked into a nearby spot. It was surprisingly cool where I was and decided against having a campfire, instead settling into bed early. 

Typical southern Arizona landscape complete with Saguaros

February 14th 

Today was a big day, a weird day and an awesome day all in one. There was quite a bit of tossing and turning throughout the night, but the morning had been relaxing as I slept in. The day got weird when I went to find a place to poop and noticed there was already a hole. Upon further inspection I came to realize it was a partially dug up grave. There was a large stick as a headstone, and vague circle of rocks around it. Something had dug a hole into the middle of it and I could see ribs and vertebrae. This was obviously creepy and whatever had dug the hole had also taken a section of the spine. After documenting this discovery I sent photos to people who could help determine if it’s human or not. Given the grave was not far from where my van was parked and I could head gunshots nearby I decided not to linger. I felt kinda gross from the whole ordeal and needed to find a solid distraction. 

Leaving camp we started towards Sedona making many stops throughout the day. First I stopped in the mountains for Frank to enjoy the snow. He was happy to eat some but wasn’t into running around and instead got back in the van. Our second stop was to visit the Arizona Trail for a quick walk since our plans to thru-hike it had completely fallen through. From here we continued on eventually stopping for a short but steep walk with big pay off. 

A roadside trail lead us to incredible ruins of ancient dwellings. There were many small rooms inset into a band of soft limestone in the cliff. Some had remains of their front walls while others had succumb to time. It took a bit of easy scrambling to explore everything we found, and I’m sure there is plenty more if one where to follow that band of stone. I found a small maize cob left from the inhabitants and countless shards of pottery. Frank enjoyed the shade within the dwellings and I just couldn’t believe we were the only ones there. Ravens circled overhead and the views out into the distance were splendid. I had gone expecting to see a cave, and the site was in the end far beyond what I could have imagined. The hike took a lot longer than expected given it’s a short distance, and I’ll never forget the amazement I felt being there.

Frank with the still wild ruins we got to explore

I was hot and sweaty upon returning to Truck and it felt good to be driving with the windows down. My new found GPS abilities played a big role in the next couple stops allowing me to cram so much into my day without needing to find wifi. Friends had recently gone through the area on their way to Sedona and sent me a picture of Montezuma’s Castle so I popped that into Google Maps and easily made my way there. I was happy to discover available parking since to me it felt quite busy. The main structure was absolutely incredible, although it could only be viewed from a distance. There were also many other dwelling sites most of which were part of a 5 story community built into the cliff side.  These were much more eroded, but I could get a closer look at them. Amongst these there were several grinding stones showing heavy wear in the hard basalt which itself must have come from afar. All the dwellings were set into the same limestone layer as the ones I visited earlier in the day. I much preferred the more wild experience of my previous stop to the highly developed national monument even if it was rather picturesque. Instead of remains which I could get my nose to there were plenty of signs telling me about what little of the history was know. 

Montezumas Castle

I took my time nonetheless savouring the sights and then headed to the nearby Montezuma’s Well. Another short, paved trail with many signs lead us to a natural spring with several dwellings built into the rim of the crater. Since we arrived only 30 minutes before they closed the gates I was unable to explore the short side trails and felt rather rushed, but it was worth to be able to see this incredible water source. Apparently the water has very high levels of dissolved carbonate which isn’t much surprise considering it’s come up through limestone layers. The water is also a consistent, lukewarm temperate and supports some endemic species.

Montezumas Well

Leaving the park I felt totally satisfied with my unplanned day of visiting cultural ruins. In the morning I thought I would go straight to Sedona, but am glad I took the time to travel more slowly and had taken in these wonderful experiences. I headed out to nearby national forest land and selected a secluded site where Frank and I played fetch while watching the sunset. 

February 15th 

I didn’t sleep well and when I woke up I was in lots of pain and it was several hours later than normal. I had a headache and didn’t feel like doing much of anything, so I didn’t. Frank got out to lay in the sun and I more or less hid inside. The day progressed slowly, but I eventually made myself coffee and then food. After awhile Frank started acting real cute and asking to go for a hike. It took some reasoning with myself and some internal struggle but I managed to get out of camp. 

Luckily, the trail I had planned to do was only a couple miles away. It was mid-afternoon when we started hiking which in a way was good. The trailhead was very busy and almost everyone was on their way out. The trail was flat and had a gentle incline so we walked quickly. Our destination was a swimming hole cut into a red rock canyon. I didn’t plan to swim, but I knew Frank would love it. At first the trail was wide, but as the canyon narrowed and so did the trail. It was rocky in places but nothing rough enough to slow us down and we walked without stopping all the way to the end point. 

Once at the end we found a way to scramble down to the water and I played fetch with Frank so he could swim and cool off. After our brisk was in the heat he thoroughly enjoyed this. His tongue hung out with huge smile on his face as he brought me the stick over and over again. We had started late in the day so I did stay at the pool for too long, but then ended finding a way down to another pool for more play. I had a bird bath and relaxed a bit. The canyon and water was beautiful and soothing. I felt my spirits lift and was glad I had convinced myself to go for a hike. I could tell Frank appreciated it as well, and I played with him as long as I thought we could get away with and still get back to Truck in time to find camp before dark. 

Being mostly downhill the walk out was even quicker and before I knew it we were home. The parking lot was now nearly empty and we headed along the dirt road in search of camp. I could have gone back where I was the night before which was the closest spot, but I guess I just felt like exploring a bit. After a fun romp down a rough road I found a small camping area along a creek. There was one tent and a truck there, but there was still one nice spot for me. Frank asked to play fetch a little while I prepared dinner. The usual for him and a massive salad for myself. I guess this too is often a very usual meal for me. We ate and then I spent hours glued to my screen before finally falling asleep. 

A sight to lift spirits

February 16th

I woke up earlier than yesterday, and feeling much better despite tossing an turning all morning. It was colder than it had been for awhile, but I was still surprised to find frost on the outside of my van. We enjoyed a nice leisurely morning, Frank laying in the sun and myself puttering about. I’ve found it easier to let go of my desire to be out hiking early, than feeling guilty about being slow in the mornings so that is what I did. It’s been awhile since I’ve had mornings to myself, and I’ve always been the type to enjoy savouring coffee while spacing out to the view around me. This morning the view was of small bushy tress with fresh green grass springing forth below and not far beyond it a creek flowing by. I passed some time chatting with friends online, one of whom sent me a pin to this sweet locals spot she thought I might like. When I opened the location in Google Maps I couldn’t help but laugh. It was the very spot I was at and had happened to find on my own. Given that I’m not from the area, the spot has no signs and isn’t on any apps I was quite pleased with my abilities to sleuth out a great camp spot. 

After savouring the morning I battened the hatches and headed back out the rough road. I drove a little slower than my way in, but only because I was still drinking coffee. We headed towards Sedona and stoped on the outskirts to hike. It was nearly noon by the time I was packed up and ready to set out on the trail. The day was clear, and warm but nowhere near hot. Many people were finishing their hikes as I was beginning, but I knew they hadn’t gone where I was going. One older gentleman explained to me if I wanted to walk far I had to cross the creek, but if I walked along it the walk was short. I suspected he could tell from my loaded backpack I was in for the long haul. I didn’t have all my camping gear, but certainly more than the average day hiker. I had packed heavy on purpose to start conditioning my body for another summer thru-hiking. 

For the first several kilometres the trail was wide, flat and at a very gentle incline. It was a dusty red sand and it felt great to move so freely towards the road canyon ahead. In the distance I could see the red walls of Sedona and everywhere else was green covered gentle hills of red. The terrain was open, but before I knew it I could only see the canyon walls on either side along with Junipers and every type of prickly bush imaginable. There were other people on the trail, some I passed and most were already on their way out. 

Just as the day was beginning to feel hot hiking so quickly we reached the creek where Frank could cool off and have a drink. I was carrying plenty of water, but I preferred to carry the weight and have him drink from the creek if possible. From here the trail narrowed and became rocky following the creek upstream. After awhile the trail lead us into the creek bed where I got carrying away rock hopping and ended up leading us right off trail. It was a welcome mistake because at the moment I realized what I had done we were also walking up to a beautiful swimming hole. Mostly the creek was shallow flowing through the boulders, but here it became wide and as deep as I could get away with standing in before I was required to float. We were both hot, so I figured we might as well take a break and cool off. I figured by the time we passed here again the day might be too cool for me to want to swim. 

First I tossed a stick for Frank to swim, and then I suited up and headed it. I expected the water to be cold, but it was VERY cold. I am assuming that this water flowed from the snowy mountains not far to the north. Being my first cold water immersion of the season I squealed a little and my lady bits hurt, but I managed to stay in for awhile. Getting out I sat on a large boulder soaking in the sun and then went back for more. This time paddling across to the other shore where I got out only long enough to work up the bravery for the return trip. I repeated getting in and out while also playing fetch with Frank so he could swim. We spent some time drying off in the sun and then retraced our steps until we were back on the trail. 

We continued up the canyon until we got the end of our route where below the trail I was greeted with a most wondrous sight. My jaw dropped as I gazed at a glimmering green pool of water set into dusty red bedrock. I had absolutely no idea there was going to be such a glorious swimming hole on this hike. The route description said nothing about it, and it seemed most people turned back far before they ever reached it. Excitedly we found a way down to the water where I dropped my pack and quickly changed back into my swim suit. Frank was just as excited as I was and we took turns swimming. Frank loves to swim but he’s not into just swimming around for the sake of it, he needs to chase a stick. I would go in until it was too cold and then get out throw the stick and lay in the sun. I had no plans to spend so much time swimming and lounging, but we repeated cycle this for nearly an hour. If I had brought my camping gear I would have stayed right there for the night on that red stone bank. 

So happy for swimming and sunning

Unfortunately I was not prepared to spend a night and eventually I had to call an end to our fun and start back towards the van. I felt incredibly clean and refreshed. We walked smoothly and quickly keeping an excellent pace covering the 9km back to Truck nearly 30 minutes faster than I had anticipated. I talked to Frank about going on a big walk which excited him causing him to walk quicker leading myself to walk quicker, both aided by gentle downhill grade. After reaching the van we headed out away from town and onto a bumpy dirt road to find a spot for the night. 

I had no expectation for our days hike. I headed out simply to hike and liked the distance and elevation stats for the trail. The trail had a poor rating for the Sedona area, which for me is perfect on a weekend, but in the end we had enjoyed a most wonderful day. We had two glorious swimming holes to ourselves. I also happened to be the only person out in shorts and a tank top while everyone else was in pants and long sleeves. 

Swimming hole of dreams, and all to ourselves!

February 17th

I had hoped the spot I was camping in would have good cellular but it didn’t and it was a little noisy, so as soon as I woke up I turned on Truck, battened the hatches and then moved camp. I headed back towards Rimrock and a site in a very quiet area with excellent service. A unicorn spot in terms of online work, or in my case recording podcast interviews over the phone. After arriving I still had several hours until my interview so I enjoyed a chill morning sipping coffee, tidying up and chatting with my mom. 

The interview was for a new podcast by my wonderfully creative friend Amber Samaya who I know from living in Squamish. The show is called ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’ and she chats with women who have stories to tell from different perspectives without being trained professions. She does an great job editing the episodes and they have all been inspiring in one way or another. Today I had the honour of chatting with Amber about my path of Voluntary Simplicity including vanlife and thru-hiking. 

By the time our interview was complete it was mid afternoon and I was itching for a hike, so we packed up and headed towards Sedona. I wanted to hike around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, but the parking lot was packed. As I was about to leave to find a trail I could park at someone pulled out of one of the last spots and I managed to actually fit my van in it. I decided we would hike as much of the area as we could by sundown since I felt so lucky to snag a parking spot so we headed out on our own route connecting trails. The green Juniper, prickly pear and scrub bushes felt cooling in contrast to the towering red rock walls surrounding us. The sun as intense but as we rounded around the back side of Courthouse Butte the shade and fresh water were a welcome sigh. By the time sunset passed we had circumnavigated Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock, wandered up the rocky slopes of Bell Rock and detoured up another high point that afford us excellent views of the landscape towards Sedona. 

Our hike had been a nice release after such a sedentary day, but with another podcast interview lined up for the next morning I headed back to the same camp spot, made myself a nice dinner and then did a bit of ‘Instagramming’. I put up a giveaway for a camp trowel and ‘PooVault’ to promote responsible poop management on the trails and in the backcountry. The giveaway doesn’t close until the end of Feb 22nd and is on my Instagram if you are interested in entering.

So happy to be hiking amongst the Sedona red rocks again!

Distance Travelled: 629km 

Thank you for reading this week in travel. It was a busier week than normal making writing a real challenge, but I managed to stick to my own goals and complete this entry in time to post on my own self determined schedule of Thursday posting. Unfortunately I then had several days of technical issues that required I teach myself to recode my user login information from the websites control panel so that I could login and post this. Oy!