Red Rock Country – Sedona, Arizona

March/April 2016

The next stop on my “spend the cold months in Arizona” tour was Sedona, a place that I had visited only a couple of times (or maybe only once) during my time living in Phoenix. Back when I didn’t get out much.

Sedona is a favorite stopover for nomads, and for good reason. Not only is it gorgeous, but there is a ton of outdoor activities to keep one occupied for weeks. Of course this also attracts the masses. The kinds of people I tend to steer clear of. So it made perfect sense to land in the Sedona area during the height of Spring Break, right? Ugh!

Fortunately, I’m not on vacation so I didn’t need to cram in a lot of activities in a short period of time as I can always come back. This is the approach I took during my 3 week stay in the Sedona area. I chilled and avoided the crowds for the most part. This meant I didn’t experience as much of the hiking and exploring that I could have, but I’m OK with this. I’m learning it’s OK to not see and do everything in an area. Staying put, staying home, chilling, is actually not too bad of a way to spend time.

Boondocking

There are some choice places to stay for free in the Sedona area. One of the most popular areas is due west of town, in the Coconino National Forest off of Forest Road 525. There are actually two locations off 525, with the first being the very popular Loy Butte Road spot that gets you fairly close to the spectacular red cliffs of the area but is also the very road that the Pink Jeep tours frequent, so it can get dusty and noisy.

Then there is where I stayed, off of Forest Road 525C, which is the left turn at the fork in the road and puts you out away from the red rocks, but offers a spectacular view of not only the rocks, but the entire surrounding area. More importantly, the Jeep tours don’t frequent this road so you are treated to peace and quiet. Yeah, that’s my kind of place!

Getting here is a bit of a haul. It is 5 miles down a dirt road. A heavily used dirt road until the split. A very washboardy dirt road that will shake your rig apart if you don’t take it ultra-slow. A small sacrifice to end up in a gorgeous location.

Cattle Drives

This part of the Coconino National Forest is open range where the cattle roam free. And roam they do. Everywhere. There are signs on the road that warn of cattle on said road, because, well, there are cows on the road at times. And in the campsites. Cow pies were ever present, so watch where you step!

Shortly after my arrival the cattle started to be relocated to a different section of the forest, closer to AZ-89A. This meant that I no longer heard cows mooing in the middle of the night (don’t they ever sleep?). It also meant that I was treated to no less than 4 (might even have been 5) cattle roundups right in my backyard. Literally. I was staying where cowboys (yes, real cowboys on horses) would run the cattle past, on their way to the other section of the National Forest.

The first roundup was massive. 100+ cattle gathered up in a group just a hundred yards or so from my house. They hung out in a massive group for a bit while the cowboys brought in stragglers, then they headed east in a big cloud of dust. Cows don’t like to be rounded up, so they were a rowdy bunch. So cool to watch!

Over the next couple of weeks the roundup continued. It’s hard to get all the cows at one time as the area is massive and small groups of cattle are everywhere. So every few days I was treated to the cowboys relocating more cattle. Just like in the cowboy movies! 😉

Tuzigoot National Monument

The Tuzigoot National Monument is a pueblo ruin perched 120 feet up a ridge. The site is an interesting contrast between simple Native American life and modern times as it is surrounded by the tailing pond from the former copper mine that was at Jerome, the former mining town that looks down upon the National Monument from the mountain above.

Jerome

Much like the quaint former mining town of Bisbee, Jerome owes its existence to the presence of copper (one of Arizona’s nicknames is “The Copper State” after all). During its heyday, Jerome was home to more than 10,000 people. Now there are just 400+ that live there, but it’s thriving as a tourist destination.

Much like the aforementioned Bisbee, Jerome is an cool little town to explore as it’s full of cute shops, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. And it attracts people in droves. It can be hard to find parking on the winding streets of the town proper, though they do have a rather large public parking lot tucked behind the fire station, which isn’t that far of a walk from the action.

I know some people LOVE towns like Bisbee and Jerome. I don’t like shopping, can’t belly up to a bar and expect to drive afterwards, and just don’t like being surrounded by tourists, so I’m not feeling places like this. Though I appreciate the history (as environmentally destructive as it might be) and love the views.

Palatki and Honanki Heritage Sites

Both the Palatki and the Honanki Heritage Sites are located close by to where I stayed. Accessed via the bumpy Forest Road 525, these cliff dwellings were home to the Sinagua (Hopi ancestors) between AD 1150 – 1350 and are the largest such dwellings in Red Rock Country (what the Sedona area is called).

You have to have reservations (free) to visit the Palatki Heritage Site as only 10 people are allowed per group. There are two sections – the actual dwellings and the pictograph alcove. Both areas have interpretive volunteers that give you a clue what you are looking at. The pictograph alcove includes drawings from all native cultures that ever lived in the area and also included the temporary living quarters of the rancher that built the ranch house (now serves as the visitors center) and surrounding orchards (some trees survive today).

Honanki Heritage Site doesn’t require reservations as it is less visited, being a bit of a drive down Forest Road 525. It is maintained by the Pink Jeep tour company and is a destination of said vehicles. There were 3 tour groups when I was there and just a handful of non-tour people.

Hiking

While Sedona is chocked full of great hiking opportunities, I only went on two – Airport Mesa and Devil’s Bridge. As I mentioned before, I wasn’t in vacation mode, thus the lack of exploring/hiking. 😉

The Airport Mesa (aka, Airport Loop Trail) hike starts/ends at one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. I actually parked on top of the mesa and hoofed it down the Sedona View Trail, which drops like a rock to the Airport Mesa Vortex, where you can pick up the Airport Loop Trail.

I’ve never experienced an energy vortex before, but I’ve heard about them for years (hell, who hasn’t?). So I climbed up to the top of the Airport Mesa Vortex, sat down, chilled out for a bit, enjoyed the view, and waited to experience colored orbs floating around my head (no joke, people claim to see these at Sedona’s vortexes). Alas, I only experienced some great views and annoying tourists who had to get the perfect selfie. But no feeling of overwhelming inner peace. No unexplained colored visions. Nothing out of the ordinary. I was kinda disappointed. So I got off my ass and did the loop trail which gave me more spectacular views of Sedona.

The Devil’s Bridge hike is a very popular outing for the throngs of tourists that inundate Sedona. The natural sandstone arch (bridge) is the largest one in the Sedona area and it’s pretty easy to get to, therefore it’s a prime destination. Parking can be a bit of a pain so I did what anyone with a two-wheel drive Jeep would do – I decided to head down Forest Road 152 which leads from the trail parking lot to the actual trail head, a 1.3 mile journey. FR152 is noted as being for high-clearance vehicles only and is very passable for a two-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle, until it isn’t. That didn’t stop me from taking LJ (my Jeep) up a section that she really had no business going up. In fact, the second vehicle of my group (there were 5 nomads together on this hike) did the smart thing and stopped at this rocky, uphill section. So I parked at the top of this particular hill and we hoofed it the rest of the way to the trailhead.

Once we arrived at the actual Devil’s Bridge, we found a spot to view the antics of the people who patiently waited their turn to have their pics taken while standing on top of the arch. Since two members of our little group were The Roaming Pint, it only made sense that we enjoyed an adult beverage as we watched the entertainment. Once the line died down, we took our turns striking a pose on the arch.

Birthday

During my stay in Sedona I celebrated another trip around the sun. Three other nomads joined me for a birthday dinner at Bocce Pizzeria in Cottonwood, a surprisingly good restaurant in a small town just southwest of Sedona.

Battery Upgrade

My house came with two 12-volt batteries to supply power when I’m not hooked up to shore power. I really didn’t know much about RV electrical systems when I bought my trailer, so I didn’t realize that the better option was to get two 6-volt golf cart batteries instead of two 12-volt batteries. I won’t go into the details why this is the case – just trust me. So for 2 years I made do with the two 12-volt batteries. It wasn’t really that big of a deal as I didn’t do a whole lot of boondocking (dry camping, off the grid), but 2016 is the year of boondocking, so I had to make a change.

The first thing I did was install a battery monitor during my latest stay at my parents’. A battery monitor keeps track of every amp of power that goes into and out of my batteries, giving me a very accurate indication of the battery health and how much usable power I actually have. I knew that my two 12-volt batteries had seen better days (they don’t last very long in this particular application) and this was confirmed by my newly installed battery monitor.

So I decided to bite the bullet and purchase two 6-volt golf cart batteries to upgrade my house’s power supply. Fortunately one of the nomads I was staying with in Sedona has a Costco membership, as Costco is the go-to place for inexpensive golf cart batteries. Unfortunately the closest Costco was a 2+ hour round trip to Prescott – a trip that was made twice. After a battery box upgrade (to fit the larger 6-volt batteries) the new batteries were installed and now I don’t have to worry about power anymore. It’s the little things in life! 🙂

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