Car camping the Navajo Rez and Mojave


Sep 30, 2014
Because M's foot is still causing her considerable discomfort, we have been focused less on hiking, more on camping. Thus this trip:

Day One:
Off for our usual long drive through Tehachapi, stopping for lunch at the Harris Ranch café and spending the night at Owl Canyon Campground--$3 a night with our interagency discount—but with no water turned on yet. It was windy and cool at the campground so we ended up cooking and eating dinner in the van. Dinner was a memorable dish of spicy ramen noodles, aka napalm noodles, that were so spicy we had to pour off almost all the broth, and they were still painful to eat. Good news—we still have one package of those noodles left!
Day Two: took a brief walk up Owl Canyon, both along the rim and then through the wash. And then drove out via the one-lane rough road through Rainbow Basin. This whole area reminded us a lot of Death Valley, but not quite so dramatic. From here we drove to Hole in the Wall Campground in the Mojave Preserve, where we camped for two days. The first afternoon we took the nature trail over to the Visitors Center which had been closed for months. OK fine. And then back through the picnic area and along the nature trail back to camp. After a nap we decided to hike the famous Rings Trail counterclockwise…going down the rings. This was really beautiful, and the rock shapes were amazing. Just as amazing was the wild diversity of plant life here---just about every desert plant seems to do well around Hole in the Wall. And the petroglyphs were also a nice surprise. Dinner was a green salad and Potato soup with a little chorizo added in. Yum. Another cold and breezy night…we were in bed early!

Day Three: Imagine our surprise to wake up to a campground full of boy scouts! Turns out those “closed campsites” had been reserved for a large troop from Southern California. Not exactly a peaceful camp. No worries. We drove north today to visit Rock Springs, where we hiked along the trail and saw more cacti and animal tracks. Lots of RVers in this area, but they didn’t seem interested in walking—only driving around in their 4WDs. After the hike, we drove over to Kelso and stopped in at the park office, where we asked lots of questions and ate lunch under the portico. It was still blowing hard! From there we drove to Fenner on old Rte. 66 (boring and expensive) and then back to camp for naps. Late afternoon we hiked the ring trail the other direction, going off trail to explore the caves on the Southeast side of the butte, and back to camp for Thai Curry and an Asian salad. We were eating well! That night a ranger (Barbara Michel) showed up for a star party. The moon was out, and the ranger wasn’t too familiar with her computerized scope, but there were a few other scopes out, and I brought out my huge binoculars, so we had a pleasant time.
Day Four: We drove east to Kingman, then took the old 66 through Peach Springs to Seligman. Bought lunch at the Hualapai store in Peach Springs. Ate lunch in Ash Fork---the flagstone capital of the world. Good to know. From there we drove to Walnut Canyon National Monument, which was stunning—whole galleries of Pueblo ruins lined the canyon, and the scenery was as beautiful as the ruins were Impressive. What a treat! We went online to find a room at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino…and were happy to take showers and eat dinner in the buffet. We washed a few clothes, checked emails, charged our phones, and got ourselves organized.

Day Five: Breakfast in the casino, then off to explore Wupatki National Monument. This was another wonderful site. We visited all five of the ancient ruins that were open to the public, although there were clearly many others that were off limits. The largest, Wupatki itself, is quite imposing, with towers, a ball court, and all sorts of fun. This was a real treat, and a great way to start the morning. For lunch we drove into Flagstaff to buy gas and a sandwich, and ate at the Elden Ruins just north of town. What a surprise to find this right in Flagstaff. In the afternoon we drove out to Homolovi, where we got a campsite and visited the ruins there. Quite a contrast. These ruins had been mined for many years by locals, and they completely destroyed any semblance of the original architecture. All that was left were large holes in the ground and potsherds everywhere. It was both impressive for what it had been, and thoroughly depressing for what had been done to it. The state park had collected a few of the potsherds and displayed them on pieces of stone in the ruins. It was quite effective at showing some of the best sherds, while still encouraging people to leave them well enough alone. That night we slept in the campground against spectacular cloudy skies.

Day Six: We started the day with a quick hike to the rattlesnake invested butte to the east of the visitors center, where we saw some old and eroded petroglyphs and a fallen eagle nest. Then it was into the car for the drive to Canyon de Chelly. We stopped in at Hubbell’s Trading Post and bought a Navajo rug, ate lunch, and generally poked around. A local weaver was a work in the visitors center—astonishingly good. And from there it was a drive to Canyon de Chelly, where we immediately drove to take in both of the rim drives under broken clouds, which made for very dramatic lighting. We met a Navajo couple who shared our time on the viewpoints, and told stories of how they reacted to the ruins---he loved looking at them through my binoculars. She wouldn’t come close to them, because they made her feel closer to a place of death….but all with smiles and lots of good fun. By the time we finished up, it was beyond dinner time, so we ate at the Thunderbird Lodge Cafeteria—and that worked out great. Green Chile and a Navajo Taco—tons of food. And then checked into the Best Western for more showers and a soft bed.

Day Seven: We met our guide, Deswood Yazzie, in the lobby, and then took his jeep into the Canyon. He was a wonderful guide—full of stories about his time growing up in the Canyon, but also giving us enough history to put it all into context. And he knew his history. We visited Ledge House, White House, and Antelope House, and all the while Deswood was driving his jeep through deep ruts, deep mud, and deep water. Quite an adventure. And the binoculars here really helped us see some amazing petroglyphs that Deswood pointed out to us. Highly recommended! For lunch we drove back to the second of the South Rim viewpoints, where we had a snack and M bought some jewelry from a lovely old Navajo lady we had met the day before. That afternoon we then drove up the wonderful scenic drive up to Bluff, Utah, and then down to Monument Valley Tribal Park, past Mexican Hat (you could clearly see the uranium mine tailings outside of town) and into the View campground. This was expensive, and the view was nice, but it wasn’t a very good campground—just bare dirt and a picnic table every 20 feet, lined up like a parade ground. We were happy that it was almost empty, so that we had a little room to breathe. Dinner that night was at the lodge---and it was great. We shared a dinner: for $14 we got one bowl of soup, one pass through the salad bar, and shared a bowl of green chile stew that was more than enough for us. We felt so bad that we ordered a non-alcoholic beer and a dessert just to pump up the bill a bit. And our waitress even had them split the stew into two bowls and found some whipped cream for M, who asked if she could have some for her pecan pie. As the sun went down we enjoyed the view…and then fell asleep to the sound of rain falling all night long. We were glad we were not in a tent.

Day Eight: This was going to be an easy day. We ate in the van, and then drove into Gouldings Trading Post to buy a few things to eat and do our laundry. The view from the laundry was pretty darn amazing. We picked up lunch and dinner, as well as the current issue of a Navajo Tribal magazine, and then drove to Kayenta to eat in the Burger King there. Why? Because it has the largest exhibit about the Navajo Code Talkers anywhere in the world. That was the first time that I had eaten at Burger King in many years---and we shared a burger with fries left over. That afternoon we drove on to Navajo National Monument, which was also amazing. But first we were absolutely run off the road by an idiot on our way into the park. He was headed in the opposite direction, and driving straight at us in our lane. Luckily, I was able to slide off the road and drive up onto the hillside above the shoulder to avoid him. Quite an adrenaline rush. In retrospect, we think he may have been staring at his phone, and just assumed that there would be no traffic on that lonely road. Well, there was. We took the hike to the overlook of the Betatakin Ruins, watched the video about the park, chatted with the ranger, and then checked in to the free campground. When we were getting settled, the campground maintenance man was driving by, and offered to turn on the drinking water for us, since it had been turned off for the winter. There were another 5-6 people in the campground, which has space for 25 or so. And the ranger said it never fills up. It was cold and getting colder, and we were glad that we had our warmest sleeping bags along for this trip.

Day Nine: We woke up to a very quiet campground---and when we opened the door of the van, we discovered why. There were a few inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming down. It was so beautiful. We threw on our warmest clothes and joined the rest of the campers who were all heading out to lower elevations. We ate breakfast in Tuba City at the Hogan Restaurant, shopped for a few things at the local Trading Post and Basha’s supermarket, and then drove on towards the Grand Canyon. The overlook of the Little Colorado River was spectacular, and then we left the Reservation and drove into the National Park. M wanted to visit Desert View again, and to stop in and see the ruins at Tusayan, so we did both of those things. We ate lunch at Tusayan, and waited around for the ranger’s tour to start---only to discover that we were still on reservation time, and the Park runs on Arizona time, an hour later during the summer. And the trailhead at Grandview was snowy and icy—slippery and too dangerous for us to attempt on this trip. Sigh. So instead we drove into the park and checked into our campground. After a rest we walked to Yavapai Point and Geology museum and absolutely loved it all over again. But by this time M’s foot was really bothering her, and we took the shuttle bus back to the campground. On the way from the bus stop we ordered hot dogs at the camp store, and ate them for dinner, then had salad back at the campsite. Two French girls pulled into the site next to us with a pop-up tent and dime-store sleeping bags. It was cold, and I didn’t give them much chance of making it through the night. Sure enough, it dropped to below freezing, and by the time we woke up, they had been gone for hours.

Day Ten: With the trails in the Grand Canyon icy, and M’s foot in pain, we decided to move on. We stopped in at the Museum of Northern Arizona, because we had heard some very nice things about it. The collection is impressive. And the involvement of the various native peoples is really nice. But we couldn’t help staring at photo of one of the founders in his office, surrounded by literally hundreds of ancient pots that he had dug up fifty years ago. Yes, he had classified them by type, but there was no record of where they came from, and how they were found. He had just robbed the ruins for his whole life, and now it’s a museum. I know that’s how things used to be done. It’s still sad to see. We ate lunch rather somberly in the picnic area of the museum, and then drove back to camp at Owl Canyon for the night. It was cold and windy, but we were warm in the van---and just needed a place to stay.

Day Eleven: Up early and off to hit the road, heading west to pick up sandwiches in Tehachapi and then fruit at Murray Ranch. We ate lunch at the rest area near Coalinga, and drove home to Napa via the REI in Concord, where we stocked up on a few supplies that we had used up. We were back in Napa by 4:30 or so, and showered and shaved by 6!

The rest of the photos are here:
Looks like a very cool trip! Great time to get out and see stuff before it all gets too busy.

And the trailhead at Grandview was snowy and icy—slippery and too dangerous for us to attempt on this trip. Sigh. So instead we drove into the park and checked into our campground.
I was down at the Grand Canyon March 14 and 15, and we hiked Grandview Point to Horseshoe Mesa. No way we would have made it down the icy/snowy stretch of the trail if we hadn't had our traction devices or one of us had been injured.
Thanks @balzaccom ! Nice trip and lots of great info in your TR. And how about tossing that last package of napalm noodles? ;)
We have driven by Walnut canyon and Wupatki so many times, we will need to stop the next time. Somehow we just end up getting oil changes in Flagstaff! Canyon de Chelly has been on our list for a while, but since there is little hiking (and it's kind of out of the way for us) it seems to get booted off our list. Very interesting photos in your album - good idea to hire a guide to be able to get down into other areas of Canyon de Chelly.

Foot injuries are so pesky, I hope your wife's foot heals well again. It's great, that you were able to do so much on your trip! Thanks for sharing.
About those noodles. I love going to an Asian grocery store near Berkeley that has an entire aisle of ramen noodles--flavors and styles from Korea to India, and everywhere in between. I just pull packages off the shelves and try all sorts of things, These were described at "2X Spicy!" and they were! I wish that our advertising here in the USA were as accurate. grin.
Thanks for sharing and including a lot of good info. Your write-up makes me regret having driven past (and not stopping) many of your stops.
I absolutely adore camping. It's my favorite activity all year long. That's why I have some pretty useful tips and tools. What I would advise people to purchase are the Collapsible LED Lanterns from . The Collapsible LED lantern is a small but mighty tool. It collapses into a compact size, making it easy to take with you on any type of adventure. It's one of the best camping tools I've ever discovered. Totally recommend it.
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