Western Adventure: moving to Phoenix, AZ - December 2014 to ...

Dec 24, 2016 - Current

September 2018: Leaving Phoenix

After 3.5 years of living in the Phoenix, Arizona area, we have decided it's time for a change. We leave Phoenix in early September 2018.

This blog will stop in the next month or so and all trip updates will be posted on my photography website at https://www.vangophotos.com

See you on the road!

March 15, 2018: Spring Break trip

We had a few days of vacation time during the annual Spring Break week so we headed out to explore the area in and around the Navajo reservation.
On past trips, we had visited the Navajo reservation but only some of the most famous highlights such as Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Antelope Canyon and Grand Falls. This time, we decided to drive into the heart of the reservation.

At 71,000 km2, the reservation is more than double the size of my home country of Belgium. Most of the reservation lies in Arizona (east of Flagstaff and Page) with small sections in Utah and New Mexico.

We left Phoenix on Saturday morning (March 10) and headed north of Flagstaff. About halfway to Page, the road turns left towards the east entrance of Grand Canyon national park; a road that we have driven numerous times. However, what we hadn't visited before along this road is the "Little Colorado river gorge", somewhat of a baby grand canyon.
The Little Colorado river has its origin in eastern Arizona's White Mountains and joins up with the more famous Colorado river in the Grand Canyon. Along the way, it feeds the Grand Falls (also on the Navajo reservation). The viewpoints of the gorge itself are pretty impressive.

Afterwards we headed into the Painted desert. This desert runs through the Navajo reservatio from the Grand Canyon all the way southeast to Holbrook and the nearby Petrified Forest national park. We drove into a random dirt road and hiked into the painted desert along the road to Page. Beautiful scenery with lots of petrified wood fragments.

We continued our drive north through the amazing scenery and turned towards the town of Tuba City. A few miles before the town, we visited the "Moonkopi dinosaur tracks". These dinosaur footprints were discovered about 100 years ago during road construction. Since then, nothing much has changed to the site: there is no entrance fee, no parking ... just park your Jeep close to the tracks and venture into the desert to find them! We found several interesting (and large) tracks.

A STOP sign on the Navajo reservation

We arrived at our hotel in Tuba City in the evening and ate at the hotel's restaurant. We stuck to traditional Navajo dishes which were very tasty (e.g. mutton stew, fry bread).

On Sunday, we visited the old trading post in Tuba City (started in the late 1800s to trade goods with the Indians and travelers) and the Code Talkers museum (about the Navajos who fought in some of the US wars; specifically WWII; and who were invaluable by developing their own secret code that couldn't be broken by the enemy).
Mid morning, we headed southeast from Tuba City and visited little-known "Coal mine canyon". Again, no tourist services available. This canyon is situated partly on the Navajo reservation and partly on the Hopi reservation. We parked our Jeep in the desert and hiked to the canyon rim.

Exploring around the canyon

Amazing views into the colorful canyon and very hard to understand why this place isn't more famous ... This is definitely one of the more beautiful attractions of the four corners area for us.

Sophie looks out into the canyon

We spent about two hours at the canyon before continuing our trip into the Hopi reservation. We visited a small town where a traditional ceremony was going on. No pictures or video allowed. They are protective of their culture, which is probably a good idea. We ate at the nearby Hopi Cultural Center; again native american dishes.

Haichong eating mutton stew with fry bread

We continued our journey through the reservations: miles and miles of empty, scenic land with the occasional (very) small town. We paid a brief visit to the Hubbell trading post national historic site (which we had visited on an earlier trip) before arriving in the Navajo Nation capitol: the town of Window Rock, where we checked into a hotel for two nights. Pretty chilly here as the town is located at 7.000 feet altitude (2.100 meters).

On Monday we explored Window Rock. This being the capital, there are lots of government buildings. Near these offices is the Window Rock tribal park where the aptly named "window rock" can be seen: an arch in the sandstone rock.

The window in the rock

We visited the Navajo Nation museum (which details the history of the Navajos, including old rugs dating back to the 1800s. Next door is the free zoo which houses native wildlife, including black bears, cougars, coyotes, owls, eagles and also Mexican wolves; which recently have been re-introduced in the wilds of eastern Arizona.

Jorn and Sophie in front of the Veterans Memorial

The story of the Navajo Code Talkers

At lunch time, we ate in the local flea market: inexpensive local dishes, different but tasty.

On Tuesday, we drove into New Mexico to get gas before heading south on scenic Indian route 12. We stopped in the forest along the way and discovered the carcasses of 3 coyotes; brutally murdered by an idiot with a gun ... no doubt he's proud of his "achievement". Continuing on ...
We arrived at Petrified Forest National Park before lunch time. We spent the rest of the day exploring the park which highlights a portion of the Painted desert as well as lots of petrified wood dating back 200 million years. Yes, that's a long time ago and no idea how they come up with that number. The park is beautiful and offers great views into the colorful desert.

In the evening, we continued our drive to the mountain town of Heber-Overgaard where we ate a local restaurant and checked into a hotel.

On Wednesday, we explored the national forest near the town and spotted 3 bands of wild horses plus 2 herds of mule deer.
We explored the town of Payson (with its Green Valley park) and then headed back home.

Feb 20, 2018: Presidents Day trip

Presidents Holiday on Monday so we went on a 3-day trip. We left on Saturday morning and drove a 40-mile dirt road through the Sonoran desert between Buckeye and Gila Bend. Most of the trip follows the Agua Caliente road and heads towards an old settlement famous for hot springs.
Along the way, we drove through the Gila Bend mountains, visited an old mine and the ghost town of Sundad. Near the site of the hot springs, we visited an old pioneer cemetery with graves dating back to the 1800s. This offroad trip makes for a great day trip.
We arrived in the small town of Gila Bend in the evening and checked into a local motel.

On Sunday, we headed west to visit the Painted Rock Petroglyph site. [URL]
This small protected area is in the desert about a 30 minute drive west of Gila Bend. Along the way, we noticed several solar farms.
The petroglyph site protects rocks that were inscribed by Indians starting around the year 300. Recent visitors also left their mark with inscriptions dating to the 1800s. An impressive site to visit as there are many petroglyphs easily visible from the short loop trail.
After visiting the site, we drove the car into the desert and had our lunch. We explored the desert in the afternoon before returning to Gila Bend.

On Monday morning, we drove the old highway 80 back in the direction of Phoenix. Along the way, we explored the old Gillespie dam and bridge. This was built by local ranchers in the 1920s on the Gila river for irrigation of their farm land. The dam failed due to flooding in the early 1990s. Today, you can still drive across the old bridge and walk around the flooded land near the dam. Many birds live here in the riparian area.

Jan 16, 2018: MLK trip

Monday was a holiday (Martin Luther King day) so we headed out of town for the long weekend.
We headed east and slept in the "Motel 6" in the town of Globe.

On Saturday we hiked the Picketpost Mountain near the town of Superior. It's a very steep trail to the top of this mountain (4,377 feet = 1.334 meters) that provides amazing 360 views. We didn't go all the way to the top but turned around before the climbing section of the trail.

On Sunday we spent all day in the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation north of Globe. We drove a dirt road into the Salt River canyon and hiked the beautiful and wild trail to the Cibecue Falls. Amazing and very quiet: we were the only ones there!
The lack of visitors can probably be explained by the need of a 4WD vehicle to get there (as you need to cross the creek) and the fact that you need to purchase a $30 (per person) permit. Definitely highly recommended: one of our favorite trails in Arizona.
On the drive back into Globe, we spotted a family of javelinas (including a tiny baby).

Dec 26, 2017: Christmas trip

We headed to eastern Arizona for our 4-day Christmas trip. We left Phoenix on Saturday morning and drove; via the San Carlos Apache Indian reservation; to the small town of Safford, not too far from the border with New Mexico. The truck camper is still under construction so we stayed in the local Best Western hotel.

On Saturday afternoon, we explored the nearby Gila Box National Conservation Area. The area around Safford is dry with the exception of the land surrounding the Gila river. Thanks to this river, there is lots of agriculture possible in Safford (mainly cotton). The area immediately around the river and specifically the canyon through which the river flows, is protected. We drove dirt roads next to the canyon and hiked into the canyon. A green artery that cuts through the desert scenery.

On Sunday we drove the 21 mile (34 km) "Black Hills back country byway", a scenic dirt road that cuts through the Peloncillo mountains. Beautiful views all around and barely anyone around. We stopped along the road for small hikes. The road was built in 1914 by prison laborers and used afterwards for mining activity.
In the afternoon, we arrived in the small mining towns of Clifton and Morenci. The copper mine in Morenci is one of the largest in the world. Started as a regular mine back in 1872 meaning tunnels into the mountains, it is now an open pit mine. [Click here for more info on the copper mine]
This area is famous for its population of bighorn sheep (Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, not desert bighorn). The town of Clifton is located inbetween the mountains with steep cliffs: an ideal area for the bighorn sheep. They don't seem to mind the people sharing the area with them. We got lucky and spotted a herd on one of the mountains as we drove through town.

On Monday we explored the mountain southwest of Safford: Mount Graham. At 10,724 feet (3,269 m), it is one of the highest in this part of Arizona. A partially paved, partially unpaved road goes up the mountain. This road; built by loggers and improved upon by the CCC (during the Interbellum); allows locals to escape the summer heat during summer and to visit the snow during winter. The final part of the road closes from November until April (during which only snowmobiles are allowed on the final section). We parked at the closure sign and hiked through the snow for a few miles. Great views into the surrounding valleys.
While we were exploring one of the old CCC camps (Click here), I saw a skunk walk around. Sophie did too ... she ran towards the skunk and got sprayed for the 5th time in her young life! Incredibly stinky. This being Christmas, we feared no stores were open. Luckily, the Walgreens store was open in Safford so we could buy the ingredients for the solution to remove the skunk smell. (hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap)

We left Safford on Tuesday morning and headed back to Phoenix. On the way home, we hiked in the desert a few miles west of Superior and visited the owls at Zanjero park.

Late Tuesday night, we picked up Haichong's oldest brother (and his family) from the airport. They are visiting her family in San Antonio, Texas and flew to Arizona for a few days. Haichong will be taking them to see the Grand Canyon and other nearby attractions over the next few days (while I have to go back to work on Wednesday).

Nov 27, 2017: Thanksgiving trip

Since we are still working on upgrading the truck camper, we couldn't take it out on a camping trip during Thanksgiving.
One of Haichong's piano students' parents is a famous New Zealand film maker (he made Free Willy 3 amongst 31 other films and documentaries) who lives here in Scottsdale, AZ. They own a vineyard / winery in Willcox Arizona and allowed us to stay on their property over the Thanksgiving vacation.

We left our home on Tuesday afternoon and stayed on the vineyard in the main house until Sunday. We had an amazing time drinking the wine, enjoying the quietness and beautiful surroundings and enjoying the cool temperatures at 4,000 feet (1.200 meters).
During the day, we took trips to go see the migrating birds at Whitewater Draw; we saw the rock formations at Chiricahua national monument; the sandhill cranes at Willcox Playa Wildlife Area and drove to the top of a mountain pass (dirt road of course) east of the winery.

Nov 19, 2017: We bought a 'new' truck!

After a lot of deliberating which overland vehicle to purchase, we ended up buying a ... Dodge RAM truck.

We were searching for a car that has good fuel economy, is easy to maintain and has a good reputation for being reliable. Some of the cars that came up in our research were the Toyota Hilux, the Mercedes Unimog, Toyota Landcruiser 70 ... all cars that are not for sale in the US!
Modern diesel engines sold in the US - since 2008 - have the emissions crap (DPF and EGR) so we knew we didn't want this. What comes close(st) in the US to those old reliable diesels for sale around the world?

We briefly considered buying a new Toyota Tacoma and to place a Four Wheel Camper on it, but we don't like pop-up campers and thought the Tacoma's gas engine is under powered for the FWC. Plus, once you put a FWC on it, the fuel economy isn't as good compared to a diesel truck.
We also looked at the 4 door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. This one got my vote for about 2 weeks since I love Jeeps and I've driven Jeep Wranglers since 2002 (even today, it's still my favorite car). However, we like more comfort than traveling by Jeep offers: we like to have a full-time bed with a good mattress and like to have a bathroom with shower, so the Wrangler was scrapped from the list.

Research pointed us at pre-2008 diesel engines (pre emissions crap and pre ULSD requirements). The Cummins 5.9l engine gets great reviews as does the 7.3l Ford. Since the 7.3l is only found in (very) old Ford trucks pre 2003, we looked around for a low mileage Dodge RAM 2500 / 3500 built before 2008.
We found a 2005 Dodge RAM on Craigslist and purchased it locally in Phoenix, AZ. A lot of money to spend on a 12 year old truck but with only 70k miles, it is a good as new!

So, we ended up with a 2005 Dodge RAM 3500 Laramie 4X4 SRW with the long bed (8 ft) and the 5.9l Cummins diesel engine. It came with sidesteps, bedliner and aftermarket aluminum wheels and bigger 34 inch AT tires.
As opposed to the Dodge RAM that we just sold, this one is single rear wheel (vs. our old truck had the dual rear wheel) and it has the 5.9l engine (vs. our old truck had the 6.7l Cummins diesel which requires ULSD and has all the emissions crap). And of course, the truck we just sold had 250K miles which we thought was kind of high, especially looking at that we want to keep our car for quite a while to travel around.

We are doing upgrades to our truck camper (solar, inverter, golf cart batteries, counter top, floor, ...) and truck (air bag suspension, GPS, Bushwacker fenders, ...) so fingers crossed that it'll be ready for traveling soon.

Oct 9, 2017: We sold our old truck

We sold the 2008 Dodge RAM and have also listed the truck camper for sale as we consider what suits us best in our travels. The past weekends have been spent selling the truck and cleaning the truck camper.

This past weekend, we took the Jeep Wrangler exploring the large area (national forest) north of Roosevelt lake. There are several dirt roads there that bring you from the desert all the way up into the mountains with pine trees. We left the highway and drove about 15 miles (24 km) on dirt roads of varying conditions. Great views and solitude. We setup camp on a meadow in the forest and spent the evening staying warm next to the campfire.
We continued our trip on Sunday morning and drove another 10 miles (16 km) on pretty bad dirt roads. We saw lots of deer.
We headed back down to the desert in the afternoon and drove home via Globe.

Sep 18, 2017: Elk rut

We camped in the national forest in the mountains. Another weekend of lots of (bugling) elk and wild horses.

Although on Saturday afternoon we ran into a ranger in the Indian reservation. Apparently the reservation/forest was closed for an elk hunt. As it turns out, people from around the world pay up to $20,000 to come and shoot a bull elk.
It's not enough to show your blood thirst that you travel all the way to eastern Arizona from wherever you live to come and kill a beautiful creature, but on top of that to plunk down $20,000 to do it ... That's just sick.
Oh, the ranger told me that he wasn't going to fine us (great) but if we wanted to come see the elk again, we'd have to wait until October and we'd have to buy a "small game hunting license" to be able to access the forest. Yes, "small game" means what you think it does ... People pay money to go into the forest and shoot squirrels.

Sep 11, 2017: Elk rut

Another weekend looking for cooler temperatures up in the national forest. We camped near the Indian reservation and explored some of the dirt roads, including a nice 4x4 trail into a canyon.
The elk rut is in full swing: we saw many elk, including some very impressive bulls. We also saw some wild horses and two coyotes.
As I was sitting quietly in the forest, I saw a bull elk together with one female. As soon as I took a picture, they noticed me and the female started 'barking' at me. This must have gotten the attention of a coyote: when he noticed me, he too started barking at me ...

Sep 4, 2017: Labor Day

Long weekend thanks to Labor Day on Monday. We headed into the mountains and camped near the Indian reservation.
We spent our time hiking and exploring dirt roads in the Indian reservation. The elk rut has started and all evening and morning, you can hear bugling in the forest.
We saw many elk including some impressive bulls. We setup the blind on Saturday and Sunday and saw several wild horses and a big bull (who had just rolled in the mud), who came pretty close to the blind to check us out!
On Monday afternoon, Haichong got lucky. While I was driving the Jeep, she was driving the RV. Right in front of her, a big mountain lion crossed the forest road!

August 28, 2017: Heber

We spent the weekend camping in the national forest near Heber to escape the Phoenix heat. On our walks and 4x4 explorations, we saw many wild horses. No elk however, even though we did hear the occasional bugle ... The rut hasn't really started; probably in another week or two.

August 21, 2017: Road trip to Yellowstone

Two week road trip. Family from Belgium was visiting at the same time as one of Haichong's brothers with his family. I took my family for a road trip with the RV while Haichong rented a car to travel around with her family.
We made a road trip from Arizona to Yellowstone for 4.631 km or 2,878 miles. Click here for the pictures

--- Friday August 4:

We left after work and drove in the direction of Flagstaff. We slept in the national forest at Schnebly Hill.

--- Saturday August 5:

In the morning, we drove up to Flagstaff and met up with Haichong and her family at the hotel where they slept the previous night. Sophie (our dog) took the drive with Haichong back to Phoenix, as she and her family were at the end of their road trip.
We continued onto Grand Canyon national park and checked into the Mather campground in the park. We explored the west rim drive by bus all the way out to Hermit's Rest and walked around the hotel area at the south rim.

--- Sunday August 6:

We drove the east rim drive out to Desert Watchtower in the morning and left the park. We drove into the Navajo Indian reservation. Along the way, we visited the painted desert and hiked the Sandal trail in the Navajo national monument where we got drenched in a rain storm while heading out to see the Indian ruins.
After shopping for groceries in Kayenta, we arrived in Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border. We spent the afternoon looking at the views into Monument Valley, visiting the museum and the visitor center.
We slept in the Goulding's campground in Monument Valley.

--- Monday August 7:

We headed north in the morning past Mexican Hat. We visited Goosenecks state park with beautiful views of the meandering San Juan river. Afterwards, we drove the dirt road through Valley of the Gods. A beautiful area with red rock formations similar to Monument Valley.
We had lunch in Bluff and continued onto the Four Corners monument, where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet.
We shopped for groceries in Cortez, Colorado and checked into an RV park near Durango, Colorado. We enjoyed watching the many hummingbirds that visited the bird feeders at the campground. At night, a big raccoon came out of the dumpster when we threw away our trash.

--- Tuesday August 8:

We headed into the mountains and visited the old mining town of Silverton. We walked around the town and watched the old train arrive from Durango.
After having lunch, we drove the Million Dollar highway into Ouray where we visited the Box Canyon falls. A male and female deer walked through town as we drove out.
We headed north and slept in the national forest outside of Grand Junction.

--- Wednesday August 9:

In the morning, we visited Colorado national monument with its dramatic views. We also spotted one desert bighorn sheep.
At lunch time, we headed north into Rangely and the Dinosaur national monument were we took the bus to go see the dinosaur fossils.
At night, we slept across the border in a KOA in the town of Vernal, Utah.

--- Thursday August 10:

We visited the Flaming Gorge recreation area and the dam in the morning. Then we headed north into Wyoming and drove the long drive to the town of Jackson. Along the way, we spotted many pronghorns.
In late afternoon, we arrived in Jackson and visited the tourist area with the shops and park (with the antler-arches on every corner).
We found a place to sleep in the national forest with a great view of the Teton mountain range. Along the drive into the national forest, we saw a male and female moose in the Gros Ventre river. On our walks in the forest, we spotted a big red fox, a male mule deer and a porcupine.

--- Friday August 11:

In the morning, we checked in to the Gros Ventre national park campground for 2 nights.
We explored Grand Teton national park, including the Gros Ventre area, Mormon row, Moose, Murie and the Moose-Wilson road.

--- Saturday August 12:

Today we drove the park road and visited Jackson Lake, Signal Mountain, Jenny lake, etc. We saw many bison.
On walks in the Gros Ventre area near the campground, I spotted a female moose, a badger and 4 snakes.

--- Sunday August 13:

We left Grand Teton and headed north into Yellowstone national park.
Today we visited the Old Faithful geyser and other volcanic features including Grand Prismatic spring, the Fountain paint pots and the Norris geyser basin.
In the afternoon we spent time looking for wildlife in Hayden valley (we saw a bear far away) prior to checking into the Fishing Bridge RV campground in the national park.

--- Monday August 14:

In the morning, we visited the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone prior to heading north over Mount Washburn. We drove into the Lamar valley where we saw; amongst many bison; a wolf eating from a bison carcass.
We had lunch at Mammoth Hot springs and walked the trail around the hot springs. In late afternoon, we left the park and checked into an RV park in the town of West Yellowstone.

--- Tuesday August 15:

A long day of driving from West Yellowstone into Utah. We slept in the national forest north of Panguitch.

--- Wednesday August 16:

This morning, we visited Bryce Canyon national park. The RV had an issue when we were in the park so we drove to the town of Kanab, where we found help at Little's Diesel garage. They had to order in a part but allowed us to 'camp' next to the garage. They provided us with a free loaner vehicle (an old Jeep Grand Cherokee) which we drove into town for a visit.

--- Thursday August 17:

The RV was fixed by 10 AM so we continued our trip. We headed to Page, Arizona and visited the Glen Canyon dam prior to having lunch in town. After lunch, we went swimming in beautiful Lake Powell and visited Horseshoe Bend. In late afternoon, we headed south and camped in the national forest north of Flagstaff.

--- Friday August 18:

We left the national forest in the morning and arrived home in Phoenix by lunch time. We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing by the pool. On Sunday, Haichong and Helena went to the Wet'n Wild water park in Phoenix.

July 30, 2017: Haichong's Family

Haichong's 2nd brother flew from South Korea for a vacation in the US. He will spend his first week in Arizona; traveling with Haichong; and his 2nd week in Texas, visiting Haichong's sister. We prepared for their arrival on Saturday. Her brother has 4 children. We picked them up from the airport on Saturday evening and picked up the rental car for their road trip.
On Sunday morning, Haichong and her brother's family left on their 1-week road trip. They will visit Las Vegas, Zion NP, Bryce NP, Page, Grand Canyon NP and Sedona before arriving back next Saturday.

On Sunday, I went hiking with Sophie in the wild horse area along the Verde river (near the Salt river). We saw several bands of wild horses.

July 24, 2017: RV Repairs and Wild Donkeys

We stayed in town this weekend due to some needed repairs on the truck.
On Saturday we drove the Jeep to lake Pleasant northwest of Phoenix. We explored 4x4 roads around the lake, saw wild donkeys and swam in the lake.
On Sunday we headed northeast and drove the dirt road up to the top of Mount Ord (2.172m or 7,129 feet). We hiked around near the top in the cooler temperatures with great 360 degree views.

July 16, 2017: Indian reservation

We camped in the national forest outside of the Fort Apache Indian reservation near Heber-Overgaard. Cool weather with some thunderstorms on both days.
We explored dirt roads into the reservation and saw a good amount of wildlife (elk, deer).

July 10, 2017: Mogollon Rim

We left the heat of the city on Friday evening and drove north of Payson up to the Mogollon Rim. We camped in the national forest for the weekend. Both days we were pleasantly surprised by thunderstorms that brought much needed moisture and cool temperatures.
On Saturday afternoon I setup the wildlife photography blind near a pond in the forest. Over the course of 3 hours, 6 female elk and 1 bull elk came to visit!

July 5, 2017: White Mountains

Long holiday weekend thanks to July 4, Independence Day. We decided to head east and visit the White Mountains, the mountain range in Eastern Arizona near the border with New Mexico.

We left the city on Friday evening and drove to Heber where we slept in the national forest at the cool altitude of 7,500 feet (2.200 meters). Some of the roads in the area; including the one where we have spent many summer weekends in the past; were closed due to an ongoing forest fire. 200 Fire fighters were in the forest fighting the fire which was affecting about 600 acres. (2.4 square km)
We learned afterwards that the fire was likely lit by an arsonist who was hiding out at Black Canyon lake and was shooting at fire fighters!

We left the area on Saturday morning and headed west towards the mountain town of Show Low. Outside of Show Low, in the White Mountain Apache Indian reservation, we ate the Indian specialty of fry bread. Our "Indian Taco" was filled with beans, cheese, tomatoes and onion.
We continued driving east into higher elevations and found a great camp spot a few miles east of Big Lake. We camped at the end of a forest dirt road in a small valley, next to a small river (fed by a nearby spring) at an elevation of 9,000 feet (2.800 meters). Perfect temperatures around 76 F (24 C).

In the afternoon, we hiked around our campsite to explore the area. Plenty of wildlife droppings, including wolf! This area was chosen to release Mexican wolves in an attempt to bring back wolves to Arizona. There are approximately 113 wild wolves living in this area. (read more here)

On Sunday, we drove a scenic forest dirt road to the small town of Blue, in the Blue Range Primitive Area. The loop starts in the small town of Alpine, heads south to lower elevations and back up to Luna lake to the east of Alpine; via a short section through New Mexico. Nice scenery although the temperatures at the lower elevations near Blue were quite hot compared to Alpine.

On Monday, we headed up the 12th highest mountain of Arizona, Escudilla mountain. We drove the Jeep up forest roads to the trail head and hiked 3 miles (5 km) all the way to the top. Not an easy walk steep up the mountain at an altitude of 10,900 feet (3.300 meters).
It took us about 5 hours round trip and we made plenty of stops to eat, drink water and enjoy the scenery. In one of the meadows near the top, we spotted a big black bear who luckily didn't see us.
This area is still pretty devastated by the big forest fire that destroyed 538,000 acres (2.115 square km) in 2011; Arizona's largest wild fire on record. (read more here)

After the hike, we drove the scenic dirt road (Terry Flat loop) and spotted several deer.
At night, we saw a bull elk near the campsite and more deer.

We relaxed on Tuesday morning and enjoyed our campsite surroundings before heading back to the city. We avoided Heber and headed south from Show Low towards Globe to see the Salt River canyon along the way. The road through the canyon has beautiful views and crosses two Indian reservations; the most famous one being the San Carlos Apache Indian reservation, famous for Geronimo.

June 26, 2017: Black Canyon

We camped in the national forest near Heber-Overgaard, up on the Mogollon Rim this weekend.
On Saturday morning, we drove into the Indian reservation for our morning walk. Very quiet as usual as ATVs are not allowed and the nearest (Indian) town is many miles away on dirt roads in the forest.

In the afternoon we went to Black Canyon lake to cool off. Even though the lake is around 6,600 ft (2.000 m) altitude, it got up to 90 F (32 C).

Late afternoon, we setup the photography blind next to our favorite pond in the forests of the Indian reservation. Perhaps due to the warm temperatures, several animals showed up for a drink: a bull elk (with his antlers in velvet), a female elk ... and the most exciting, a black bear!
The bear was very curious. After walking around the pond, he kept coming closer and closer to the blind. He heard the shutter from my camera as I was taking pictures and wanted to check it out. It was exciting and scary at the same time as he kept looking at the blind and coming closer. When he was about 10 yards/meters away, he heard us whisper something to each other and immediately ran away at full speed.

On Sunday morning, we hiked in the Indian reservation again. Lots of quiet nature here. On our walks this weekend and while driving in the forest, we saw several elk, deer and wild horses.
In the afternoon we drove part of the scenic 'Black Canyon loop', a dirt road near Heber that passes several historic stops. We visited old Indian petroglyphs (made by the local Mogollon Indians between 900 and 2000 years ago) and a rock shelter they used.
Late afternoon, the heat resulted in storm clouds and as we left for the drive back to Phoenix, the temperature had dropped to 54 F (12 C). Amazingly nice. When we arrived in Phoenix 2 hours later, it was 109 F (42 C).

June 18, 2017: Clear Creek

Blistering heat in the valley (110F+) so we headed back up to the Mogollon Rim for the weekend. We camped near a pond in the national forest. On Saturday, we explored the area and sat in a blind next to the pond. A coyote and a pronghorn showed up.
On Sunday we hiked down into the canyon of West Clear Creek Wilderness. Last weekend we saw the canyon from the top and I was curious how it would look from the bottom. We parked the Jeep in the national forest near a way into the canyon and hiked down. No trails other than animal trails so very steep and wild at times.
We arrived down into canyon after an hour of hiking and were excited to find some small ponds where we cooled down. We hiked into the canyon between the steep walls and saw our first ringtail cat, which is Arizona's state mammal.
After resting a while in the canyon, we turned back and hiked back out. Very tiring in this heat but worth it.

June 12, 2017: Clear Creek

We camped in the national forest up on the Mogollon rim between Payson and Flagstaff. Nice cool temperatures as usual.
On Saturday we explored the dirt road leading to Milk Ranch Point. This dirt road goes south of Forest Road 300 and ends on the edge of the rim with great views.
On Sunday we headed west and explored the area surrounding the Clear Creek canyon. An amazing sight with sheer drop offs and a year-round river at the bottom. This time we were at the top of the cliffs but someday it'll be fun to explore the canyon floor. Supposedly there are some trails that go into the canyon, however, one of the most well-known trails starts east of Camp Verde at an altitude of 3,700 feet, so ... too hot to hike during the summer months at that altitude.

June 5, 2017: Schnebly Hill

We headed north on I-17 towards Flagstaff this weekend. We camped in the national forest in the Schnebly Hill area, east of the interstate.
We explored the dirt roads on Saturday and found some great scenery.
On Sunday, we headed up to Flagstaff and drove up the San Francisco mountains towards Snowbowl. We hiked in the cool aspen forest before heading south into the Phoenix valley - heat.

May 30, 2017: Heber

Long weekend due to the holiday on Monday (Memorial day). Now that our camper is upgraded with extra batteries, a solar panel, an inverter (to charge our laptop and appliances when camping), better seating, thermal curtains ... we finally were able to go camping again.
We drove up to the Mogollon rim and camped in the national forest near the small town of Heber, and near the Indian reservation.
On our hikes, we saw several elk, deer, turkeys and one coyote.

May 22, 2017: Four peaks

100+ F temperatures have arrived and it feels as brutal as ever ... Summers in Phoenix are no joke.
On Saturday, we hired a mobile RV mechanic to come put the camper back on the truck and install the new RV house batteries.
On Sunday, we headed up the Four Peaks mountain by following a 28 mile long dirt road (44 km). A long drive bouncing around on a dirt road that starts in the desert (where the saguaro cacti are currently blooming) up to the mountain at an altitude of 7,600 feet (2.300 m). At the end, we hiked part of the trail that goes to the top. Beautiful 360 degree views towards Phoenix, Mount Ord, Roosevelt lake, etc.

May 15, 2017: Crown King

The camper still not being ready, we took a day trip up the small town of Crown King. The long dirt road brings you from the desert up into high elevation with pine trees and a cool climate, at 5,700 feet (1.759m). We spent the afternoon exploring the national forest surrounding the town with great views towards the surrounding desert.

May 8, 2017: Arizona trail

We headed into the Mazatzal mountains again, northeast of Phoenix. A 9-mile (15 km) dirt road brings you from lower elevations up to Mount Peeley (7,000 feet = 2.100 m) and a trailhead for the Arizona trail (which crosses Arizona from the Mexican border to Utah). A beautiful drive with cool temperatures up near the top. We had lunch and hiked on the trail with great views.

On Sunday we explored another dirt road in the national forest near the Salt river. This close to the city however, there were lots of noisy people: either driving in ATVs or target shooting. Not exactly a pieceful experience in nature ...

May 1, 2017: Summer heat is almost here

The first time of the year that we hit 100 F in the city ... Summer hasn't even started yet but I can't wait for Fall!
Haichong attended a piano event so we didn't go on a trip. I worked on the camper which is hopefully getting closer to completion so we can take weekend trips again.
The new couch is being made; the exterior has been repainted; the battery is being replaced with more batteries; new drapes are being hung; possibly new flooring; ... Lots to do.

Apr 24, 2017: Arizona trail

It's getting warm in the valley so it's about time to start heading north for cooler weekends. As we are still working on our camper, we took two day trips.

On Saturday we went to the Salt river for some cooling. Beautiful scenery as usual. No wild horses in sight but we did see a dead river otter that was floating in the river... Pretty big animal! I've only seen one (alive that is) so far while visiting the Salt river.

On Sunday we explored some dirt roads in the Mazatzal mountains, northeast of Phoenix.
Only about a 45-minute drive, this mountain range provides much lower temperatures. We drove a dirt road that connects to the Arizona trail and hiked around for a while. We had lunch at a pond in the mountains before driving down to spend some time in Sycamore creek. Very scenic and very quiet; we hardly saw a few other cars.

Apr 16, 2017: Ballantine trail

I had Friday off on Good Friday but Haichong was working (=teaching) so we didn't go away for the long weekend. I went hiking at the Verde river with Sophie on Friday and we saw many wild horses cooling off in the river.

On Saturday we went to an upholstery store to order a new custom couch for the RV. Our original couch cushions were pretty thin and uncomfortable for long periods of sitting. In this part of Phoenix, we also spotted street food vendors, an uncommon sight here. The lady chef in the food truck was from Guatemala and cooked us delicious shrimp tacos and shrimp pupusas (which is street food from El Salvador actually that we had on our Central American road trip in 2014).

On Sunday we hiked a 3 mile (4.8 km) trail in the empty national forest between Phoenix and Payson; about 40 miles (64 km) east of the city. The Ballantine trail brings you to the top of one of the mountains through beautiful desert scenery (lots of saguaros) and great 360 degree views.
Not easy however in 90 F weather (30 C) so on the drive back home, we drove into a national forest dirt road to one of the local creeks. There were many people hanging out here in/near the river ... including one that got his Ford F150 truck stuck in the river! They were trying to dig out the truck and pulling it out with another Jeep but it didn't work. I ended up helping them by pulling out the F150 with my winch.
I've had my Warn M8000 winch on my Jeep for a few years now and I've only used it twice: both times to rescue someone else! The first time was in a river bed near Wickenburg where a Jeep Grand Cherokee got stuck, and now the F150...

Apr 9, 2017: Painting the camper

After only 3 years, most of the camper stickers were peeling off due to the harsh Arizona sun. We removed the stickers and hired someone to repaint the RV as it looked ugly in the areas were the stickers were located ...
The painting was done this weekend and now we are looking to hire someone to wet sand and buff for long-term shine and protection.

Also, after 2+ years of working at PracticeMax (the first job I got since we moved to Arizona at the start of 2015), I quit my job. I'm starting my new job on Monday! It's a contract position so risky whether it will be available long-term but it was time for a change, so fingers crossed that it goes well.

Apr 3, 2017: Four Peaks

We visited the Four Peaks area. A long dirt road goes from the Phoenix valley (almost all the way) to the top of the nearby Four Peaks mountain.
A beautiful drive that brings you from the currently blooming desert into the pine trees. Along the way, we made several stops, including a hike along a mountain stream through a canyon.

Mar 27, 2017: Salt river

We visited the Salt river on both days this weekend. On Saturday, we saw many wild horses cooling off in the river.
On Sunday, we hiked from the river into the Superstition mountains. The desert is blooming with colors everywhere.

Mar 20, 2017: Salt river

Haichong came back this weekend; she arrived on Sunday. She had a good trip to the Canary Islands (Tenerife and Gran Canaria) with my mom.
Prior to her return, I went hiking at the Salt river on Saturday and Sunday. Beautiful scenery and I spotted two javelinas running in the mountains.

Mar 13, 2017: Salt river

With Haichong still on vacation, I continued working on the truck camper. I removed all the (deteriorating) stickers. Unfortunately, some of the stickers left bad marks where even some of the paint came off. If you ever buy an RV, definitely order one from the factory without stickers ...
Both Saturday and Sunday afternoon I went hiking near the Salt river with Sophie. On Saturday we saw many horses. With temperatures rising, the horses are more easily found again as they spend more time near/in the river.
On Sunday I drove the dirt road into Bulldog canyon and hiked into the mountains. Still lots of wild flowers: because of the extra rain this past winter, the desert southwest is experiencing a 'superbloom'.

Mar 6, 2017: Salt river

On Saturday morning, Haichong left on a trip with my mom. I am staying home as I can't get that much time off at work ... Think twice before moving from Europe to the US! :)

On Saturday, I went hiking at the Verde river and saw several bands of horses. On Sunday, I went offroading in Bulldog canyon near the Salt river. After bouncing around for about 30 minutes, I parked the Jeep and hiked into the Superstition mountains for a few hours. Beautiful wild flowers everywhere.
Afterwards, I drove out of the canyon and hiked at the river. I saw one of the bald eagles again.

Feb 27, 2017: Salt river

Rainy weather for a change so we didn't go far. We went hiking at the Verde and Salt rivers and saw many wild horses.

Feb 20, 2017: Selling the truck (and camper?)

We have decided (or at least, I think we have ...) to sell the truck. This weekend, we spent time cleaning it and starting to do some small repairs to get it ready for selling.

We are not sure yet what will come next. The truck has treated us very well and the diesel engine is running strong. However, for future trips that we are dreaming of taking, we will start to look for something smaller; at least not another truck with a dual rear wheel - setup. As of now, we are undecided what will take its place ... or if we will also be selling the Livin Lite truck camper.

There are so many pros and cons of each possible RV / overland vehicle that it's very hard to make up our minds!
Until that happens, the first step is to sell the truck. We'll see what comes next ...

Click here for the 'For Sale' ad

Feb 13, 2017: Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation

After relaxing at home on Saturday, we visited the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Indian reservation on Sunday. This is a 40 square mile area east of Phoenix near the Salt river.

The Verde river (which meets the Salt river south of the reservation) crosses through the area. We parked the Jeep and hiked around. Surprisingly many of the 'Salt River wild horses' hang out in this area. It's much quieter here than around the Salt river so the horses probably prefer the solitude and definitely seem to be more shy: it's virtually impossible to get them to pose for a picture!
After our hike around the Verde river, we drove further north on dirt roads and saw two coyotes. Very quiet here and we didn't see anyone else around ... which probably has to do with the fact that we (unknowingly) were trespassing. On the drive out we noticed that we passed a "no trespassing" sign ...

Feb 6, 2017: Harquahala

We left Phoenix after work on Friday and headed west to the Harquahala mountains. This desert mountain range sits about halfway between Wickenburg and Quartzsite in very quiet surroundings with no cities nearby.
Upon arrival we left the pavement and drove into the national forest. We parked our RV and didn't see another person or car until we left on Sunday evening!

Both Saturday and Sunday we hiked around the area and the foothills of the mountains. We saw several wild donkeys (burros) and mule deer.
On Saturday afternoon we drove the Jeep into the mountains on old mining roads. Most not maintained so the Jeep's 4WD low range was needed to make it up and down the mountains in one piece.
Beautiful desert scenery with lots of saguaros, very quiet, spring-like temperatures, wildlife ... what more can you ask for!

Jan 30, 2017: Wild horses

We left home on Saturday morning and setup camp at the Salt river in the Tonto national forest. We unhooked the Jeep from the RV and immediately headed north into the mountains to see some snow!
Around lunch time we arrived up on the Colorado plateau and parked the Jeep in the national forest near Heber-Overgaard. Knee-deep snow and almost no one around meant a quiet hike in the forest. Sophie enjoyed hopping around in the snow even though her legs were barely long enough.
One of the great things about living in southern Arizona is that; once you have had enough of the snow and the cold; you simply drive down 1.5 hours and you enjoy 20 C (70 F) again. We arrived back at our camper near the Salt river in early evening.
On Sunday, we hiked in the national forest near the river and saw several wild horses and the nesting bald eagles.

Jan 22, 2017: Hot Springs!

Rain and cold temperatures in southern Arizona this weekend so we stayed in town.
On Saturday we visited an area that has been on my list for a long time: hot springs a short drive from Phoenix! At least, that's what I expected ...

We left town at noon and headed north on dirt roads in the vast empty area between I-17 and Hwy. 87. This road takes you up into the mountains and the "bloody basin" east of Agua Fria national monument.
A beautiful area with lots of river crossings; one in which we almost got stuck with the Jeep; and great views towards the snow-covered "4 peaks" mountains to the East. I clearly underestimated the road condition so it took us 3 hours of bumping over dirt roads to reach the Verde river. Total driving distance from our house was about 60 miles (90 km).

Needless to say, we were very excited to finally reach our destination: the road dead-ends at the Verde river (just north of Horseshoe lake). Here a long, narrow bridge was built in 1944 to allow sheep to cross over the river. However, it's quite a sight: a bridge high over the river (in the middle of nowhere) at approx. 170m long and 1m wide. Quite scary to walk across when you have fear of heights.

We explored the area on foot and then started our search for the rumored hot springs in this area. Supposedly, someone found warm water here going into the river a long time ago, brought cement and build a small pool / tub.
A short walk later, we found a cave-like entrance under the high vegetation next to the river, walked through a tunnel and found the hot springs! An amazing find, we relaxed in the hot springs for an hour before starting the 3-hour drive back to town ...
We arrived well after dark but the trip is well worth it.

On Sunday we drove west to visit the wild horses in the national forest. After hiking a few hours, we didn't find any horses ... but we did find the breeding pair of the bald eagles.
On the drive back home we saw another amazing sunset in the Superstition mountains.

Jan 16, 2017: Weekend trip to Harquahala mountains

Due to bad weather in the Phoenix area we headed west along I-10 towards the border area with California.
Upon arrival on Friday evening, we drove south on Hovatter road, a long (10 mile +) dirt road. However, the recent rains had made this road like driving on quicksand. A few miles in, the truck sank more and more into the road. Not a good place to get stuck! We activated 4WD and headed back north.

North of the interstate, we drove into the Harquahala mountains via another dirt road. This time we were heading up into the mountains so more rocks/gravel on the roads and no sand/mud to deal with.
We setup camp near an old mine (click here for the approximate camping location).

On Saturday we hiked in the area and found many abandoned mine shafts. Many gold mines were found in this area about 100 years ago.
In the afternoon we hiked/climbed to the top of the mountain next to our campsite. A few hours of hard work (doesn't a mountain always seem like only a 15 minute climb from the bottom?) rewarded with 360 degree views.

On Sunday morning we did another hike and spotted a deer. A rare sight in this desert environment.
In the afternoon we headed northeast and hiked in the Harquahala wilderness. We spotted a band of 7 burros (wild donkeys).
We arrived back in Phoenix around 7 PM.

Jan 9, 2017: Weekend trip to the Tonto National Forest

We camped in the Tonto National Forest east of Phoenix this weekend.
Both on Friday and Saturday night, some of the Salt river wild horses came by. During our day time hikes along the river however, wild horse encounters they were few and far between. We only saw a small band near sunset on Sunday.
On both days we saw the breeding pair of bald eagles. Unfortunately (for pictures), they weren't hunting but simply sitting in trees near the Salt river.
On Sunday, we also spotted a coyote.

Dec 23 - Jan 2, 2017: New Year's road trip to Mexico

For a change of scenery we headed south into an area of Mexico we hadn't visited before. We left on Friday after work and drove until the border in Nogales (Arizona). We slept a few miles before the border on the parking lot of a Home Depot.

We got up early on Saturday and crossed west of Nogales at the truck crossing: lots of space (as opposed to the crossing in the city) and almost no one there. On the US side, there was no one in the booths and on the Mexican side, there are no checks until a few miles south of the border.
A few miles into Mexico is the customs check. As you approach a 'traffic light' signals green or red: red means you will be checked, green means you can go. We got red ...
However, the check was easy. The customs officer wanted to see our truck registration and take a look inside our RV. He took a peak in our fridge but didn't take anything.

At km 21, you have to stop to get your passport stamped. This took about an hour due to the lines and the fact that you have to first fill out a form, then take that form to a bank to pay your entry fee (about $20 per person) and then go back with proof of payment to immigration to get your stamp.

We left around 10 AM and headed south for a day of driving: Santa Ana > Hermosillo > Guaymas / San Carlos.

The drive was uneventful along good 4-lane highways, some toll sections but mostly free roads. Pretty flat scenery and no ocean views yet. Looking east you can see the mountains of the central Mexican plateau (the "Altiplano") with an average altitude of 1800m.

We arrived in the beach town of San Carlos in late afternoon and checked into "Totonaka RV park". [website]
This is (especially for Mexican standards) a very clean and well maintained RV park with big spaces. Many American and Canadian retirees spend their winters here in their big rigs (bus-sized RVs and 5th wheels).
The park is located next to the ocean; which is actually the Gulf of California / Sea of Cortez. The beach is just across the street and the park is within walking distance of several restaurants, small shops and a supermarket ("Ley"). The nearby city of Guaymas even has the American comforts of a WalMart, Sam's Club, Home Depot, Subway restaurant, etc.

What attracted us to San Carlos; besides the one-day drive from Arizona; is the ocean. What we didn't know is that the scenery here is pretty dramatic with mountains and cliffs spilling into the ocean.

The entire week we spent relaxing in the RV park, hiking on the beach (perfect for Sophie to run), digging for clams (Haichong's new favorite pass-time) and taking pictures of the many sea birds.
San Carlos is home to a large, protected bay which is great for watching hundreds of pelicans 'crashing' into the water trying to catch fish. We spent many hours over several days here observing the birds in the beautiful bay.

We explored the nearby city of Guaymas on Wednesday. This is a typical Mexican city with not much to see or do for the average tourist. The local plaza and church are some of the tourist attractions but aren't that impressive. We enjoyed walking around in the local market to try some of the local street food.

On Thursday we explored Nacapule canyon, an impressive canyon with ladders up the steep rocks. The surrounding landscape is desert-like but the canyon has a micro climate with natural springs and palm trees. Next time we're here we'll have to do the ziplining between the canyon walls ...

We decided to spend New Year's eve in the US so we drove up on Saturday and crossed early afternoon. We camped in the Ironwood national monument west of Tucson.
We arrived home on Sunday. On Monday we visited the Salt river and spotted the nesting bald eagles.

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Dec 29, 2015 - Dec 23, 2016

- Update December 19 -

We went camping in the Ironwood Forest National Monument northwest of Tucson. We arrived on Friday evening and by the time we left on Sunday evening, we had only seen 2 cars pass by. It's a very quiet and beautiful place with lots of saguaros (it's just outside of Saguaro National Park - West) and some impressive mountains.
A cold front was passing through so we got some rain and near freezing temperatures overnight. The day time was nice around 18 C (65 F).

We camped along a dirt road at the foot of Ragged Top mountain. On Saturday we hiked half-way up the mountain and ate our picnic lunch at an abandoned mine shaft. We relaxed near the camper the rest of the time. No big horn sheep (or other large wildlife like javelinas) in sight unfortunately ...

- Update December 12 -

Another weekend at home: this time Haichong had 2 short recitals for her students on Saturday.
On Sunday, we spent the day hiking at the Salt river. The Fall colors are finally arriving at the river. The weather is beautiful with 70s (21 C) during the day time.

- Update December 5 -

We haven't replaced the tow bar yet (it may be covered under warranty so we are awaiting the decision from the manufacturer) so we stayed in town for the weekend.
On Saturday we hiked into the mountains near the Saguaro Lake ranch east of Phoenix. We spotted 3 bighorn sheep and some of the Salt River wild horses. A beautiful area with very few people around, even this close to a major city.
On Sunday we drove north and explored public lands (mainly State Trust land) east of the small town of New River. We hiked up one of the mountains, saw plenty of signs of animals (droppings, half eaten cacti) but didn't see any animals. Very nice and very quiet; all we saw the entire afternoon were two ATVs that drove by on the dirt road.

- Update November 28 -

Thursday was Thanksgiving day and I took the day off on Friday so we went away on a 4-day weekend.

We left town on Wednesday evening and headed west towards the border with California. We setup the camper for the long weekend in the mountains between Quartzsite, Bouse and Parker.
We relaxed for 4 days and explored the many dirt roads in our Jeep. The highlights were the drive out to the mining ghost town of Swansea and the beautiful area on top of Quinn pass. Lots of empty desert with volcanic mountains, sand dunes, canyons, droppings of desert bighorn sheep (although we didn't get to see any) ... and a very friendly fox.

One late evening, as I was talking pictures of the stars in the desert near our campsite, I heard footsteps. A little worried (what if it's a mountain lion?), I looked around with my flashlight but didn't see anything. Five minutes later, I heard another sound nearby. While shining my flashlight, I saw two small eyes coming towards me: a very cute small kit fox!
For some reason, it was not only interested in what I was doing there in the dark but it wasn't very afraid of me. As I walked back to the campsite, it followed. Against better judgment, I gave it some dry dog food. (who can resist this cute of a creature ...) I woke up Haichong so she could enjoy watching the fox.

On the drive back on Sunday evening we were lucky that we decided to stay south for this trip as we heard reports that it was snowing up in the high country north of Phoenix and there were lots of traffic problems (cars sliding off the highway and lanes on the Interstate closed).
We did however run into our own problem: as we pulled into the parking lot of a supermarket, our tow bar (which connects the Jeep to our truck) got bend out of shape and got loose, so the Jeep slammed into the back of the truck.

We are trying to figure out how this happened and will need to replace it ...

- Update November 21 -

We camped near Roosevelt lake this weekend, in the lower elevations just in front of the ascent up the Colorado plateau.
We arrived on Friday evening and setup the camper in the national forest. Very quiet; we didn't see another car pass by our spot the entire weekend.

On Saturday we explored the area south of the lake and the "Three Bar wildlife enclosure": a fenced area in which Game & Wildlife studies wildlife. The road leaves the lake area and heads steep up into the mountains with great views. It circles around the enclosure before heading back down to the lake.

On Sunday we explored the area north of the lake: a beautiful and desolate area with just a 22 mile (35 km) dirt road. Along the way, the landscape changes constantly from sandstone rocks to stretches of red colored desert. Highly recommended but definitely a vehicle with high clearance needed. We also drove a (bad) dirt road down to the lake where we hiked in interesting decor: with the lake being lower than usual, entire areas that used to be under water are now exposed.
We spotted a coyote near our campsite.

- Update November 14 -

We stayed in the lower elevations this weekend as the weather has cooled down. We camped in the national forest outside of the small town of Superior, at the foot of the Superstition mountains. Beautiful scenery and very quiet.
On Saturday we explored dirt roads and hiked in the mountains between Superior and Globe. We spotted 3 javelinas.
On Sunday, we drove one of the (very rough) dirt roads into the mountains north of Superior. Very dramatic drop offs and some scary driving in low range! We hiked to the top of one of the mountains with great views. Arizona is a beautiful place.

- Update November 7 -

We were planning on going camping near the Salt River canyon this weekend (near Indian land) but as we left on Friday evening, some warning lights were on in the truck. Not risking breaking anything (or getting stuck in the middle of nowhere), we spent the weekend at home.

On Saturday we visited the Salt river just east of Phoenix. We hiked in the forest for a few hours and saw a herd of the local wild horses eating in the river. On the way home, we stopped by an area southeast of Phoenix which has a population of wild burrowing owls.

On Sunday we did some maintenance on the RV. In the afternoon, we drove to one of the mountain ranges located within Phoenix: the McDowell mountains. We hiked a trail up to a ridge with a great view of the Phoenix valley and surrounding mountains.

The weather has been cooling off and fall has (finally) arrived! Day time temperatures in the 80s (25C) and night time temperatures in the 50s (17C).

- Update October 31 -

Haichong attended a piano recital on Saturday morning so we left later than usual on our weekend trip. We setup camp in the national forest near Prescott. We spent our time exploring some canyons in which we found two old cars that crashed down a long time ago. Both cars looked like straight out of the sixties!
Some nice fall colors in the canyons versus fairly dry desert in the mountains surrounding the canyons.

- Update October 24 -

Still warm in Phoenix (90 F = 32 C) so another weekend spent up on the rim. This time we camped near Sedona along the Schnebly Hill (dirt) road.
On Saturday we drove the scenic road through Oak Creek canyon into Sedona. The trees are turning color and a lot of people came out for the event! When we came closer to Sedona, there was a 30 minute traffic jam into town.
We visited Crescent Moon ranch just south of Sedona where you have great views of Oak creek, the fall colors and the red rocks in the distance; specifically Cathedral rock. Of course, plenty of people and a lot of photographers with tripods trying to get their shot. When you make the journey out there to take this famous shot, make sure to avoid the weekends. Even though it was pretty cold, there were plenty of people swimming in the creek so impossible to get the shot you want.
On Sunday we took two long hikes in the forest and saw a big bull elk, several mule deer and turkeys. Some elk were still bugling but didn't get to find them.

- Update October 17 -

It's still unseasonably warm in Phoenix so we headed up to the mountains again for the weekend (where it feels like perfect Spring weather). We camped just outside of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in the national forest. A very quiet spot at the end of a long dirt road.
We hiked into the reservation and explored the many dirt roads. As this is apparently hunting season, there were plenty of hunters in the forest and thus much less (visible) wildlife. We only spotted a small herd of elk.

- Update October 9 -

We spent the weekend up on the rim between Camp Verde and Payson. A quiet weekend of hiking and exploring 4WD forest roads.
On Saturday, we explored the forest searching for fall colors. We found a nice patch of golden aspen trees.
I setup the photography blind in late afternoon near a pond in the forest and saw a herd of elk, including bugling bull, that came in for a drink!

On Sunday morning we hiked in the forest and saw several elk.
In the afternoon we drove a dirt road for 15 miles (21 km) through nice scenery just below the rim and cooled off in a mountain stream, "Fossil Creek". Very surprising to find such a fast flowing stream in the middle of what appears to be very dry scenery.

- Update October 2 -

Fall is arriving and the temperatures are dropping rapidly in the mountains.
We spent another weekend up on the Mogollon Rim and explored the national forest. We saw a skunk (luckily Sophie wasn't able to get to it this time!), lots of mule deer and of course lots of (bugling) elk.

- Update September 25 -

Another weekend of camping up on the rim near the Indian reservation. Less and less people up here during the weekend now that the temperatures have started to go down.
We explored the dirt roads by Jeep and took some long hikes; we almost got lost during a hike on Sunday morning. We started following bugling bull elk and lost track of our car in the forest.

- Update September 19 -

The elk rut is nearing its height up on the Mogollon Rim. Throughout the night and evening/morning hours, you can hear bugling in the forest.
We camped near Indian land and explored the forest roads in our Jeep and hiked searching for wildlife.
We saw many elk, mule and white tail deer, wild horses, a coyote and a fox. On one of our hikes, we sat quiet in the forest and a bugling bull elk came within 20 yards! Quite the experience.

- Update September 12 -

Another weekend spent near the Fort Apache Indian reservation south of Heber-Overgaard.
On Friday evening, shortly after we arrived in the forest, Sophie was running around off-leash while we were setting up. For the 4th time in her young life, she got sprayed by a skunk ... Horrible smell. Luckily, after the previous 3 times, we were prepared with the necessary items to get most of the smell off. (a mixture of dish soap, baking soda and peroxide).
On Saturday morning, a band of wild horses visited our campsite and we spent a few hours observing and photographing them. In the afternoon, we setup the blind in the hopes of seeing some of the bugling elk but were unsuccessful.
We had more luck on Sunday morning: on our walk into the reservation, we spotted a large herd of elk closely surrounded by multiple bugling bulls. No good picture opportunities as usual (they are way too shy and scared of humans here ...).
On Sunday afternoon we visited Black Canyon lake and saw another band of wild horses.

- Update September 6 -

We had a day off on Monday (Labor Day). We went back to the national forest near Heber to camp just outside of the Indian reservation. We spent the weekend hiking and exploring the many dirt roads in the Jeep.
We saw several herds of wild horses, elk and deer. The elk rut (with accompanied bugling) is in full swing. Unfortunately, this is not the Tetons or Rocky Mountain NP so photographing them is quite a challenge; not to say impossible.

- Update August 29 -

We went back to last weekend's camping spot just outside of the Indian reservation in the pine forests between Payson and Heber. Nice and cool temperatures and lots of wildlife.
We saw many deer, elk, wild horses and again a black bear. Of course, the animals grow up in fear of humans (which is a good thing) so it's very hard to take a decent picture. Usually by the time you see an animal, it's running away from you between the many trees.

- Update August 22 -

We camped up on the Colorado plateau near the Indian reservation. While exploring, we saw lots of wildlife this weekend. They all ran away too fast for a decent picture but it was still amazing: we saw several herds of elk; including males with big antlers (ready for the annual rut which is about to start); one black bear, three coyotes and several deer.
The weather was amazing with cool nights and Spring-like daytime temperatures.

- Update August 15 -

We spent the weekend camping in the national forest up on the rim near Heber. We explored the forest in cool temperatures and saw two herds of the local wild horses, one male elk (with big antlers in velvet, ready for the coming rut) and two male white tail deer.
On Sunday we returned early due to a flat tire on the Jeep. We couldn't remove the tire however due to a broken nut ... so we used the air compressor to keep air in the tire to drive back to town. Luckily, a tire store was open and he was able to fix the tire.

- Update August 8 -

This weekend we camped up on the rim halfway between Payson and Flagstaff.
We spent most of the weekend hiking in the cool forests. We saw an elk herd (again, no big bull; the rut hasn't started yet) and on Sunday Sophie chased some white-tailed deer. The surprising thing was that the fawn (baby deer, which looks like Bambi) run in our direction! It hopped by us within a few meters/yards. Sophie of course never got close to either the mom or the fawn as they are way too fast for her.

- Update August 1 -

We camped up on the Mogollon rim in the pine forests. On Saturday, we hiked around our campsite and saw several elk (no big males however).

On our Sunday morning walk, we saw a very cute fox. Sophie chased it and the fox climbed up in a tree: I had no idea foxes could climb this well.
We explored the area in our Jeep on very rough 4WD roads. During our picnic we saw several turkeys.
We were surprised by a thunderstorm. Amazing how fast the dirt roads turn into slick roads with the Jeep sliding left to right.

- Update July 25 -

Billy and Marissa (Haichong's niece and nephew; the children of her sister who lives in San Antonio, TX) are visiting us this week. Haichong took them on a balloon ride on Thursday and on Friday I took the day off so we could take them camping for a 3-day weekend.
We left Phoenix on Friday morning and setup camp in the mountains next to Flagstaff at 2.100 meters (7,000 feet) to be able to enjoy cooler temperatures. Haichong and Marissa shared the RV while Billy and I slept in a tent.

On Friday afternoon we went offroading in the nearby Cinder Hills area: a beautiful area filled with numerous volcanic cinder cones and craters surrounded by a ponderosa pine forest. We made our way up to two of the cinder cones with great 360-degree views.

On Saturday morning we drove the Jeep up to the Arizona snowbowl, the ski mountain north of Flagstaff. At an elevation of 3.500 meters (11,500 feet) I hiked in the aspen forests with Sophie while Haichong took the kids up to the top of the mountain via the 30-minute ski lift.
After a late lunch in Flagstaff, we visited Walnut Canyon national monument: a 'mini Mesa Verde' with ancient Indian cliff dwellings. The one-mile trail goes down into the canyon and past some of the rock dwellings. [Website]
In early evening, we took the Jeep for some more offroading in the national forest.

On Sunday morning we went offroading in the Sunset Crater national monument: several dirt roads allow you to drive on the volcanic soil that surrounds the cinder cone. It was raining which added to the fun as the dirt roads turned into small rivers. [Website]
We packed in early afternoon and headed south to Schnebly Hill, where we drove the dirt roads down to the lower elevation and with great views of the red rocks of Sedona.
We arrived back in Phoenix in late afternoon where the heat forced us into the pool ...

- Update July 18 -

On Friday after work, we headed up to the Mogollon Rim between Payson and Show Low. We setup camp for the weekend in the national forest just outside of the Fort Apache Indian reservation. Pine trees, quietness, cool temperatures ... and lots of signs of the local wildlife.

On Saturday we explored the northern section of the scenic "Desert to Tall Pines Highway" that goes to from the high country down to the (hot) desert near Globe, via a 76 mile (122 km) dirt road. We explored some of the side roads (4WD) and had a picnic.
In the afternoon we headed back to our campsite to pick up the photography blind. We drove into the Indian reservation and setup the blind next to a remote (aka. deserted) and small lake, in the hopes of seeing wild animals stop by for a drink of water.
Well, we were certainly lucky: after 15 minutes of waiting quietly in the blind, a squirrel hopped to the edge of the water for a drink. Soon after, a lone immature bull elk showed up, followed by a herd of about 10 elk (a mixture of cow elk and young ones). They walked into the lake, played, chased each other and were seemingly unaware that we were about 20 yards away. Amazing!
About 30 minutes after the group left, another herd of elk arrived for a drink; this time about 12 elk. This group was even more playful than the previous group. Very fun to watch and a successful first attempt at using the new photography blind!
We were also hoping to see a herd of the local wild horses (or even a bear) but better luck next time.

On Sunday morning, we were awakened by nearby neighing sounds of the wild horses. We took a long hike into the forest and spotted 3 deer and 2 elk; all being chased by Sophie of course.
In the afternoon we headed back into the Indian reservation via the countless 4WD roads and ended up at another remote lake. Sophie went for a cooling swim and we continued exploring until it was time to head back to the campsite. On the drive outside of the national forest we spotted 4 wild horses.

There are about 300 wild horses in this giant area but just as is happening throughout the American West, the wild horses (and burros) are under attack. Cattle ranchers want their cattle to graze on federal lands (such as the national forest) and claim that these 300 horses eat the food that their cattle should be eating. [Heber Wild Horses]
So, to put it in another way: these wild horses are living on public lands but some of the local cattle ranchers want them removed so their cattle can eat the public grass. Granted, these ranchers pay a fee to the national forest service every month to let their cattle graze in the forest, so they have a right to expect there to be enough food (grass). Whether it's the right decision to allow private parties determine how public lands are managed (aka. keep wildlife populations under control) is a different matter.
But let's say it is; which I don't support frankly; then where do they get the idea that these 300 horses, spread over thousands of acres of land, are responsible for eating the grass? There are thousands of deer and elk in these forests ...
Long story short: let's get rid of the cattle grazing in national forests and keep the public lands in the hands of the public!

Saturday July 2 - Sunday July 10, 2016: trip to Colorado

We left our home on Friday after work and headed up the Mogollon Rim to find some cooling temperatures. We slept in the national forest outside of Heber. Plenty of quietness and cool overnight temperatures.

We continued driving northeast. Via the town of Holbrook, we headed into the Navajo Indian Reservation. In Gallup (New Mexico), we turned north. We camped in the Bisti (or De-Na-Zin) Wilderness, about 45 minutes south of Farmington.
This was our second visit to the area (the first being on our trip to Alaska in the summer of 2013). Relatively unknown, it is a very beautiful area covered in hoodoos and other colorful strange sandstone formations. Definitely highly recommended when you're in the neighborhood.
We spent the afternoon hiking the sandstone hills until the sun set.

This morning, we hiked the 'famous' hike in Bisti: a loop trail (of approximately 3-4 miles) that brings you past scenic sandstone formations such as the cracked eggs, the Bisti arch, elegant hoodoo, Bisti rock garden, etc.
The Bisti Wilderness is in the middle of nowhere with the nearest facilities found in Farmington, so it helps to explore the area if you can stay overnight in your own RV. There are plenty of places to park/camp for free and it gets really quiet after the daytime visitors head out.
We continued driving north after lunch time and headed into Colorado.
We reached the mountain town of Silverton in late afternoon: a historic mining town located high in the mountains, about an hour north of the (bigger) town of Durango.
This being the 4th of July weekend, the entire town was overrun with tourists. After spending about two hours (!) of searching, we found a place to camp in the national forest between Silverton and Ouray. A very idyllic camping spot next to a mountain stream (Mineral Creek) which drowned out the noises of passing cars in the distance.
We camped at 3.047m altitude which we felt on our breaths while walking with Sophie.

Silverton and Ouray are famous for 4WD Jeep trails into the mountains. The mining activity at the turn of the 20th century was responsible for creating many dirt roads which are maintained today as 4WD trails. When you come to Silverton or Ouray, make sure to bring your Jeep (or rent one here) and explore some of these trails. The scenery is mind boggling: rough dirt roads bring you over mountain passes up to 12,000 feet in altitude with amazing views and lots of marmots (the dominant wildlife it seems at these altitudes).
The summer temperatures here are another reason to visit: with Phoenix averaging 100F+ days all summer (40C+), the 'summer heat' in Silverton means day time highs of 67F (17C) and lows that get down to freezing! We made it a habit of getting up in the morning when the sun hit our camper, which was around 8:44 AM.

Today we drove the following Jeep trails:
- "Brown's Gulch trail": the trail left the Million Dollar highway across from our campsite and brings you up above the treeline at 12,100 feet with great views.
- "Bullion King Lake trail": this dead end trail goes up to a lake high in the mountains with lots of snow still present. Definitely a scary trail to drive with steep drop-offs and barely any spaces to pass opposing traffic.

Today was a long day of exploring the mountains.
First we drove to Silverton and headed northeast on County Road 2. We drove the following 4WD trails:
- "Maggie Gulch trail": a dead end trail that goes up to a beautiful waterfall, where we had lunch.
- "Minnie Gulch trail": a dead end trail that also goes to a beautiful waterfall and great scenery.
- "Silverton to Animas Forks Ghost Town": a fairly easy trail that goes to Animas Forks, an old abandonned mining town.
- "North Fork cutoff": a trail that connects two of the areas most famous trails, Cinnamon Pass and Engineer Pass. We drove it to meet up with Engineer Pass (a trail that we drove with our Jeep Commander about 5 years ago).
- "Engineer Pass": a scary set of switchbacks brings you up to the summit of Engineer Pass at an altitude of 12,800 feet.
Once we got to the top, we turned around and drove the Engineer Pass trail in the direction of Ouray. This section was very rocky and definitely the most challenging 4WD trail we had done so far on this trip.
If we had known how rough this section of the trail was, we definitely had driven the trails back to Silverton.

Being tired of yesterday's long day of driving, we took it easy today. We explored the 4WD trail on which we were camping: "Ophir pass".
This mountain road brings you over the mountain and into the valley where the town of Telluride is situated. We enjoyed the amazing views and had lunch at near the top of the pass at 11,800 feet.
Wile relaxing we witnessed two motorcycle drivers having to turn around because of the loose rocks. (both fell over with their bikes). Proving that this is a very dangerous trail, we spotted the remains of a car laying down in the valley...

Today we headed back into Silverton and drove a loop through the mountains consisting of: - "Lake Como trail": this trail brings you from Silverton, past the mining town of Gladstone, to lake Como. This amazing alpine lake is located at an altitude of 12,400 feet.
- "California Gulch trail": just past lake Como, the 4WD trail connects to this trail which brings you up to 12,900 feet and more amazing views. Lots of snow still at this altitude and scary, steep drop offs.
Towards the end, someone had 'parked' their Range Rover Sport hanging off the cliff. Perhaps they slid of the road while letting another driver pass. Shortly after, we spotted a 4WD tow truck heading over to rescue the car. They were extremely lucky that their car didn't disappear in the ravine all together!

P.S. To find detailed descriptions of the 4WD trails in this area, we recommend the book "Colorado Trails - Southwest Region".

After an overnight freeze that froze Sophie's water bottle outside of the camper, we left Silverton with pain in our hearts.
We headed down to the lower elevations of Durango and did some grocery shopping. We headed east towards the town of Cortez.
In early afternoon, we parked our camper on BLM land outside of Cortez and drove the Jeep up to the nearby mountains into "Mesa Verde national park". A park we had visited in the past but nice for a visit when you're in the area.
We have gotten used to chilly days while staying near Silverton. Now we were back in the 80s (30C) and definitely not enjoying it. Of course, in a few days, the heat of the "valley of the sun" awaited with 100F+ (40C+) days for every day from June through September ...

Driving day today: we left our camping spot outside of Mesa Verde and headed south: Cortez (CO) >>> Shiprock (NM) >>> Gallup (NM) >>> Holbrook (AZ) >>> Mogollon Rim area (AZ). We camped in the cool temperatures up on the rim.

After enjoying hiking in the forest today, we headed down into the 'hell' of Phoenix. Can't wait to head back up to the mountains!

- Update June 26 -

We stayed home this weekend to prepare the camper for our upcoming trip. Of course I took advantage of being at home to watch the soccer games at Euro 2016 with an amazing victory by Belgium!

Oh, and completely random, I found out that our trip to Central America is featured on the Livin Lite RV website! Click here

- Update June 20 -

The summer temperatures have arrived in full force. This past weekend it went up to 118 F in Phoenix (that's 47 C!). We escaped the heat by heading to Flagstaff.

After watching the Belgium national team beat Ireland in the EURO 2016 tournament early on Saturday morning, we drove north on I-17 and camped in the national forest at Schnebly Hill.
Even though we camped at 1.800 meters (6,000 feet), it still got up to 32 C (90 F). We did some short hikes into the forest and saw one mule deer.

We left on Sunday afternoon but were forced to take a big detour because I-17 was closed due to an accident. We headed up to Flagstaff and drove southeast via Mary Lake road. We cooled off in the lake before heading further south through Payson. Along the way, we saw 2 elk (that just passed the road when we drove by).

It was 47 C when we got back to Phoenix so we went straight to the pool. When we walked the dog at night around 10 PM, it was still 41 C! (107 F)
This week doesn't look much better as it is expected to rise above 43 C (110 F) for the entire week ...

- Update June 13 -

We picked up the RV at the dealer in Globe on Saturday morning and headed up into the mountains. The "Pinal mountains" are about an hour south of Globe. Even though Globe itself has desert scenery, the Pinal mountains have cool temperatures at the top and pine and aspen forests. We camped in the national forest at the top near Pinal peak and Signal peak (at the top of which antennas are installed). Beautiful 360 degree views from the top at an altitude of 7,800 feet (2.300 meters).

- Update June 6 -

The RV is still sitting at the dealer in Globe so we didn't get to go on a weekend trip. During the first heat wave of the summer (with temperatures up to 114 F = 45 C!), we relaxed in the pool on both days.

- Update May 31 -

Monday was a holiday (Memorial day) so we went on a weekend trip a little further from Phoenix.

We left on Friday evening and slept east of Payson near the Mogollon rim; at a higher (cooler) elevation. On the drive up, the truck overheated briefly but returned back to normal.

On Saturday morning we hiked in the forest and explored the area between Heber and Show Low: endless pine forests.
In the afternoon we drove a scenic loop road south of Show Low into the Apache Indian reservation. Great scenery as you descend from the higher elevation into dramatic rock country and back up the rim.

On Sunday we explored the ski area east of Show Low. The scenic road goes through more pine forests up to scenery that reminded us of the wide open spaces in Montana. The mountain town of Greer sits at an elevation of 8,500 feet (2.500 meters). We hiked in the forest with great views and saw 2 elk.
We slept in the national forest near Show Low.

On Monday we started the drive back to Phoenix and planned to visit the Salt river canyon south of Show Low. However, on the drive south, the truck overheated and this time we chose not to continue driving since the temperature needle stayed in the red. Without cell phone reception, we took the Jeep to drive to a rest stop and found someone whose cell phone we could use. We called a tow service through our insurance company (Geico) which was quite a painful experience.
Even though there is only one road between Show Low and Globe, and we provided GPS coordinates, it still took the lady almost 15 minutes to 'find' our location. Then, after we explained that we were driving a truck with a truck camper on top, it took her another 15 minutes to find a towing company that could help us. She concluded the call by saying that it could take up to 4.5 hours for the tow truck to reach us, so we went back to the truck, had lunch, took a nap, took a walk ... until the 4.5 hours came and went. Still no tow truck and it was already 7 PM.
I waved down a passing police car and used his cell phone to call the towing company for an update. The driver was on his way but no ETA.
Around 8 PM the driver arrived: turns out the Geico lady sent him the wrong way + she failed to mention to him that we had a truck camper, so he couldn't tow us ... Go figure.
The tow truck driver was going to drive back home and schedule a different truck. We locked up the truck and drove the Jeep home, where we arrived around 11 PM. Long day. The truck was picked up on Monday morning and is now sitting at the Dodge dealer in Globe for repairs. (the water pump and EGR cooler broke apparently ...)

- Update May 23 -

We escaped the heat this weekend by camping near Prescott. We slept in the national forest outside the small town of Mayer.
On Saturday, we went up to Prescott and drove a 35-mile (56 km) 4WD trail into the national forest. The trail went up to cool higher elevations with pine forests. We spent all day exploring the trail and saw one mule deer.
On Sunday, we hiked up a hill near our campsite and unexpectedly came across petroglyphs and ruins of an Indian settlement. There's not much left other than piles of stones where the walls used to be. There is a 360-degree view from the top of the hill. While we were catching our breath at the top we saw 4 mule deer in the valley down below.
In the afternoon we headed back south to Phoenix and stopped just north of the town of New River. This area is 'state trust land' (which we love for the simple reason that target shooting is not allowed). We explored the dirt roads and saw many blooming saguaro cacti. Amazing that we hadn't found this area earlier as it's very close to Phoenix but with amazing desert mountain scenery. Due to the lower altitude, further exploration will likely have to wait until Fall when the temperatures come back down.

- Update May 16 -

On Friday evening, Haichong had her annual piano recital for her students at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Scottsdale.
After the recital we drove the camper up to higher ground to escape the rising temperatures in Phoenix. We camped in the national forest east of Payson, with great views in the surrounding mountain scenery and the Mogollon Rim.

On Saturday we drove the Jeep up to the Mogollon Rim and explored dirt roads in the forest. We saw a herd of elk (about 30 elk cows) and hiked under the pine trees in cool temperatures.
On Sunday we drove from Payson up to the foot of the rim. The road follows a canyon along the Tonto creek and ends at a fish hatchery. After visiting the hatchery, we relaxed in the lush forest next to the creek. Lush for Arizona that is ... with the dramatic views of the Rim, this area feels like Colorado.

- Update May 9 -

We learned through a phone call on Friday to the ranger at Saguaro national park in Tucson, that the saguaro cacti had started blooming. We left Phoenix after work on Friday and drove to Ironwood Forest national monument and setup camp for the weekend.
This is right next to Saguaro national park but MUCH quieter.

On Saturday we explored the dirt roads in the national monument to look for blooming saguaro. We found many but also learned that the local deer population likes to eat the flowers that are within reach!
On Sunday we hiked up to one of the mountains in the national monument to look for desert big horn sheep. We were lucky as we saw one male with large horns. We weren't able to get close enough for a picture however as he ran away when we came within a few hundred meters/yards.

- Update May 2 -

We headed west this weekend to the Kofa Mountains, near the Arizona-California border.
We drove a dirt road into the national wildlife refuge (created to protect the desert big horn sheep that live here) and camped next to Coyote peak, a beautiful rock formation rising from the surrounding desert.

On Saturday we drove into the national wildlife refuge on 4WD trails. We passed by the place where the Hovatter family used to live. Their 'driveway' is lined with saguaro. Their graves are up a hill. It must have been a rough live here in the middle of nowhere, especially during the brutal summers!
Beautiful scenery as the national wildlife refuge has many mountains.

On Sunday we hiked around Coyote Peak and saw many traces of big horn sheep, but unfortunately not the animal itself.
We explored the dirt road to the small town of Salome, along which many old (and even some current) mines are found. We explored the old Harquahala mine and cemetery.

- Update April 25 -

This weekend we headed to the large empty area northwest of Wickenburg, about an hour outside of Phoenix.
We arrived on "state trust land" (which is not 'public' land even though it is owned by the state of Arizona ... so you need an extra permit to access the area) and setup the camper between the joshua trees.
This area is desert but with a surprising small amount of cacti and saguaro; the strange thing is that there are many joshua trees here, which I assumed grow only/mainly in and around Joshua Tree national park in southern California.

On Saturday we drove a dirt road (Alamo/Wickenburg road) for about 1 hour into the middle of nowhere and arrived at lake Alamo.
This lake is fed by the Bill Williams river, which comes from the Parker and Lake Havasu City area that we visited last Thanksgiving. It's not the prettiest lake in Arizona but it's definitely one of the most remote ones!
We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the lake. Lots of waterfowl here.

On Sunday, we drove the camper into another area of state trust land east of Wickenburg. All afternoon we explored the mountain area along Buckhorn road and Castle Hot Springs road: the 4WD dirt road takes about 4 hours from start to finish and brings you through pretty and very quiet mountains.

- Update April 18 -

With the summer fast approaching and only a few 'cool' weekends left down in the desert, we headed an hour west of Phoenix. This large empty area is public (BLM) and is home to several 'wilderness' areas.
On Friday evening, we took I-10 west and then headed north for a few miles into the desert where we parked our camper. All alone and quiet.

On Saturday, we unhooked the Jeep and explored the "Big Horn Mountains". A 4x4 trail of 38 km (24 miles) goes around the mountains and in between two protected wilderness areas: the "Hummingbird Spring Wilderness" and the "Big Horn Wilderness". This area is home to diverse wildlife, such as desert big horn sheep, but unfortunately we didn't get to see the sheep.
A very nice drive nonetheless: extremely quiet (we didn't see anyone all day!) and great mountain/desert scenery. Some of the saguaro cacti are blooming but the big bloom is yet to happen.

On Sunday we drove another 4x4 trail in the area: up to the top of Harquahala mountain. This is southwestern Arizona's highest peak at 1.700m (5681 feet).
In about an hour of bumping around on the trail, you go from desert floor to cool mountain temperatures with amazing 360 degree views.
Another example of the natural beauty in Arizona: in many other states or countries, an attraction like this would be heavily visited and famous. Here, where something like this has to compete against the Grand Canyon, Sedona, ..., there isn't even a sign on the interstate to alert people that it's there!

- Update April 11 -

We left on Friday evening and drove into the national forest northwest of the mountain town of Superior. After 2 months of dry weather, it was nice to have some rain for a change. However, it turned driving on the dry dirt roads into driving on ice, with the top layer turning into mud.

On Saturday we explored the scenic area south of Superior. Another amazingly beautiful exploration of the public lands in Arizona.
On Sunday, we explored dirt roads in the national forest between Superior and Globe. There are several active mines in this area so most of the dirt roads are well maintained. Beautiful scenery with partially eroded rocks.

- Update April 4 -

Haichong had a piano recital on Saturday morning and I had to bring the Jeep into the shop for some upgrades, so we left for our 'weekend trip' on Saturday afternoon. We spent the night at the Salt river in wild horse - territory.
On Saturday afternoon, we hiked to the river at sunset and saw about 20 horses (in bands of 3-5)!

On Sunday, we explored Mount Ord: a mountain about an hour east of Phoenix in the Tonto national forest. We drove to the top where there is a fire lookout. Great 360 degree views towards the Phoenix-valley, Bartlett lake and Roosevelt lake.

- Update March 28 -

We went back to "Ironwood Forest national monument" this past weekend. We left town on Friday and arrived in the park around 8 PM. On the drive in, we spotted two javelinas. We camped deep into the park in a very quiet area.
This park is protected because of the "Sonoran desert scenery", filled with cacti which are blooming now and the main reason for our visit.

On Saturday we drove the Jeep on dirt roads in the park. The area contains many "sky islands" (isolated mountains that spring up from the flat desert floor) and is very beautiful to explore.
Throughout the entire day, we only saw maybe 3 or 4 other cars.

On Sunday we hiked onto one of the mountains. This area contains a number of (protected) desert bighorn sheep but unfortunately we didn't get to see them, although we did find many traces of them being around.
We left the park on Sunday evening and headed home.

- Update March 21 -

We camped in the "Tonto basin" southeast of Payson this past weekend, in the foothills of the Mazatzal mountains and the famous "4 peaks" (a famous mountain east of Phoenix).
We found a quiet spot to camp in the national forest.

On Saturday, we drove a dirt road ("El Oso road") into the mountains. On the top, you have great views towards the Phoenix valley on the west and the Tonto valley on the east. What a beautiful state this is.

During a hike near the camper we spotted an owl nest with two mature owls. They weren't pleased with us being there, even though we kept well away from the nest. At night, they thought it was time for payback! First, they woke me up by walking around on the RV and shortly after, it looks like they actually tried to attack me. As I lay in bed in front of a window, one of the owls flew up to the window as if he was trying to get in! Scary but fun at the same time.

On Sunday, we drove another dirt road into the mountains. Along the way we saw a snake (not a rattlesnake).

- Update March 14 -

This past weekend, we did a hike that had been on our list for a while.

On Friday evening, we drove southeast of Phoenix and camped at the "Picacho Peak state park". We got up early on Saturday morning to hike all the way to the top of the peak.
The hike is rated as "difficult" for good reason: in 2 miles, you hike/climb from the desert floor all the way to the top of the mountain. Many portions of the trail are steep and require climbing aided by steel cables. After an exhausting hike, we made it to the top with great views of the surrounding desert and mountain scenery.
Quite a scary hike if you have fear of heights (like me): many sections go past steep drop-offs. I was glad to be back down!

To give you an idea of how extreme the hike is, here's a video I found on YouTube.

On Saturday afternoon, we drove into the Ironwood Forest national monument, just west of Tucson. This area has great Sonoran desert scenery. We camped in the park and this was one of the quietest places we ever camped!
Other than 3 cars and 1 pair of hikers, we didn't see or hear anyone until we left on Sunday evening. Sophie did find a few javelinas: she chased them in a desert wash and the javelinas returned the favor as they defended themselves by chasing Sophie! They are amazingly fast.

- Update March 7 -

Another weekend trip, another discovery in Arizona.
We camped in the national forest near the small mining town of Superior about an hour southeast of Phoenix.
On Saturday, we drove the "Desert to Tall Pines Scenic Highway". From the town of Globe, a road (mostly dirt road) goes into the high country to the small town of Young. The name of the road is very adequate as you start in the desert and end up in beautiful mountain scenery, all within 106 km (66 miles).
Once the road passes Roosevelt Lake, it starts climbing into the cool pine forests. After about an hour of driving, we turned into a rough forest road. A few miles of bouncing around in the Jeep brings you to the end of the forest road with beautiful views into a canyon. We had lunch here and hiked around. Another amazing but mostly unknown site in Arizona! (we were the only ones there)
In the afternoon, we continued our drive up north and hiked in the pine forest.
In early evening we made our way south again towards our camper. A (deadly) crash had closed a mountain road however so we ended up driving a detour of 1h30 ... and arrived back at our camper just before bedtime.

On Sunday, we explored some 4x4 roads in the Superstition mountains near the town of Superior. Again, amazing views and challenging, very narrow dirt roads that go from the desert floor up the mountain sides.

- Update February 29 -

This past weekend, we camped in the national forest near Cottonwood. Very quiet and beautiful views towards the red rocks of Sedona in the distance.

On Saturday, we took a chance and headed into the Apache Indian Reservation, Northeast of Flagstaff. I had read about this big waterfall that only runs a few weeks each year because of the snow melt. Since it has been warming up recently and the snow in Arizona's higher elevations has been melting, we decided to go for it.

Once you leave civilization, you drive a dirt road through high desert scenery with volcanic cones and remnants of lava fields. When you arrive at the location of the falls, you still have no idea whether they are running until you walk closer. We were in luck! The "Grand Falls" were running at almost full force.
This is another one of those unknown natural wonders of which Arizona has a lot to offer. Definitely highly recommended if you can make it out there at the right time of year.
We hiked down to the foot of the falls and found a dead beaver. Very surprising to see a beaver dam here (and of course the adult dead beaver) in the middle of dry desert scenery. In the summer and winter months this dries up to a trickle so not sure what the beaver is/was doing there ...

The river that feeds the waterfalls is the "Little Colorado" river which originates in Eastern Arizona and it mainly runs after snow melt or the occasional monsoon rains.

On Sunday, we headed into the red rock area of Sedona. This area always seems to have new places to discover. We visited the Palatki Indian ruins.
While exploring a dirt road in the national forest, we had a picnic. Afterwards, we hiked into the red rocks and climbed to the top of a beautiful formation.

Again, amazing to have such great scenery sitting right on your door step!

- Update February 22 -

We spent the weekend camping in the national forest east of Phoenix near the small mountain town of Superior. The weather is beautiful with 25 C (80 F) during the day time and 11 C (52 F) at night.
On Saturday, we drove into the San Carlos Apache indian reservation to visit a volcanic field. One of the volcanic features there, "Peridot Mesa" (click here), is famous for its wildflower meadows during late February - early March. We spent all day exploring the area and hiking around the wildflowers with beautiful views.
On Sunday, we drove into the backcountry on a very rough 4x4 trail. Beautiful scenery and we spotted 3 big horn sheep high up a mountain top!

- Update February 15 -

Haichong's students performed at a piano recital this past weekend so we stayed in town.
On Saturday, we relaxed at home in the sun.
On Sunday, we drove to the Salt River. After a short hike, we found the nest of bald eagles that I had been hearing about. one of the eagles was sitting on the nest while the other one was out catching dinner. As to not disturb the nest, we kept our distance and observed the eagles from afar.
Afterwards, we picknicked next to the river and saw 3 wild horses.
In the afternoon, we drove down to SE Phoenix and found wild burrowing owls. They weren't very active however so I didn't get to take many pictures.

- Update February 8 -

We spent the weekend camping next to Lake Pleasant, northwest of Phoenix. The mild spring weather has arrived with daytime highs around 25 C and nights around 11 C.

On Saturday, we drove the Jeep up to the mountain town of Prescott where snow is still on the ground. After having lunch in town, we hiked a national forest trail amongst the pine trees in pretty deep snow.
As the temperatures dropped at sunset, we headed south to our RV parked at the shore of the lake in warm temperatures: a big benefit of living in Arizona.

On Sunday we relaxed at the lake and explored the mountains and desert surrounding the lake: we spotted 2 groups of wild burros (donkeys) that live in this area.

- Update February 1 -

This past weekend, we camped at one of the lakes north of Phoenix: "Horseshoe lake".
The dirt road ends at the lake and is pretty remote, 30 km (19 miles) outside of the nearest small town.

Offroading near Horseshoe lake

We camped waterfront in the national forest that surrounds the lake. Beautiful views and very quiet with the exception of a target shooter who decided to go nuts at 1:30 AM even though the lake area doesn't allow guns ... but what are you going to do to stop a crazy drunk shooter with no forest rangers or police nearby?

I find it crazy in general that people are allowed to shoot guns on public lands (national forests, BLM). Almost on every weekend trip around Phoenix, parts of the national forest sound like a war zone, whereas most visitors want it to sound like nature. And, a simple Google search does show that there are plenty of accidents: campers being accidentally shot, target shooters who kill themselves because of a bullet ricochet. On top of that, there are the destruction of vegetation (cacti and trees riddled with bullet holes), the destruction of public property (ever see a sign in the forest without at least 1 bullet hole?) and the enormous amount of trash that target shooters leave behind, from empty bullet shells to their old appliances that they decided to bring to the forest for shooting practice. My main concerns are the noise pollution and safety.
What's wrong with practicing your shooting in shooting ranges? I don't care that you exercise your '2nd amendment right' as long as it doesn't put me at risk for either a mental breakdown or a bullet wound ...

- Update January 25 -

We explored the area of the southern Superstition mountains this weekend: about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, near the towns of Florence and Superior.
I was amazed by the beauty of the area. Several 4x4 roads bring you into the mountains with amazing scenery.
We arrived on Friday evening and camped in the national forest under the shadow of a butte.
On Saturday, we drove 'the loop': a 33-mile dirt road that brings you from the valley floor up to the tops of the Superstition mountains. We were sitting in our t-shirt in the sun next to the camper and arrived in the snow on the top of the mountains! Beautiful scenery and fun driving as the one lane dirt road clings to the mountain sides.
We spent 5 hours driving the loop and arrived back at our camper just before sunset.

On Sunday morning, the butte next to our camper looked very interesting so we attempted to hike to the top. Without an existing trail, that meant climbing a steep butte over loose rocks and through cactus fields (with many cholla cacti). The reward at the top was worth it however: amazing views around us. We even found a small cave at the top where we found many animal traces.
In the afternoon, we had more fun driving through a dried up riverbed and exploring some of the smaller dirt roads near our campsite.
It's great that the springtime weather is arriving with temperatures of 70F (20 C) during the day.

- Update January 18 -

This weekend, we headed north and camped in the national forest between Cottonwood and Camp Verde. The elevation was a little higher than Phoenix so it got cold at night (around freezing) but the views were worth it: we were surrounded by snowy mountains and could see the San Francisco peaks north of Flagstaff.
On Saturday, we went offroading in Sedona. The famous red rocks area has many national forest roads that bring you up to the slick rock. We drove three 4x4 trails today: the trail to Devil's Kitchen and the Seven Sacred pools; the trail to Devil's Bridge (a natural bridge); and the trail past Indian ruins.
The scenery was amazing! The roads were a combination of snow/ice (in the higher elevations) and in the lower elevations where the snow was melting, the roads were very muddy (red mud that is).
We stopped for a picnic and did several hikes, including the icy hike up to Devil's Bridge.
Along the way, we saw 2 javelinas.

On Sunday morning, we visited the "Out of Africa" wildlife park near Cottonwood: a zoo with large enclosures for the (rescued) animals, like tigers, lions, giraffes and other African animals.
In the afternoon, we relaxed in the sun at our camper and we headed back south to Phoenix on Sunday evening.

- Update January 11 -

We went camping at the Salt river this weekend in the area where the wild horses live.
Upon our arrival on Friday evening, we already saw some of the horses as a mare with her foal walked by the camper.

On Saturday, we hiked to the river and saw more wild horses. Now that it's less hot (it's pretty cold actually with temperatures dropping down to almost freezing at night), the horses seem to wander around the area more and are less found in or near the river.
In the afternoon, we took the Jeep on some dirt roads in the national forest but the road we wanted to drive (into higher elevations) was closed because of snow.

On Sunday, we again hiked to the river but this time didn't find any of the horses. In the afternoon, we took the Jeep up to a nearby mountain and hiked around in the snow. It's still amazes me that so close to Phoenix (a 30 minute drive to the NE), you can see snow but once you drive back down the mountain, you're in the mild temperatures and can sit outside in the sun. Amazing views from the desert floor up to the snowy mountain tops; almost like Colorado views (with the benefit that you can escape the cold!).

- Update January 2: New Year's road trip to SE Arizona -

Happy New Year!

For our New Year's road trip, we headed into southeastern Arizona. This area between I-10 and the border with Mexico is a collection of vast, flat valleys separated by north-south mountain ranges.
On Wednesday evening, we drove I-10 through the city of Tucson towards Benson, where we slept at an RV park. Good tip: make sure you bring earplugs as the trains thunder through town well into the night!

On Thursday morning, we drove through Tombstone (the famous Wild Western town which we had visited on earlier trips) and slept at a campground near the mining town of Bisbee (which we had also visited before).
The rest of the day we explored the wildlife area of "Whitewater Draw". Here, several thousand Sandhill Cranes spend their winter after migrating south. There is a trail that brings you past a few ponds (with other birds) and the area where the sandhill cranes are. It's not the same, impressive experience as visiting Bosque del Apache (in neighboring New Mexico) during wintertime, but it's very nice nonetheless.

On Friday, we drove our Jeep north into the Dragoon mountains to visit the area where the Apache tribe lived; lead by Cochise. There is a trail that brings you into the mountain area called "Cochise Stronghold". Very nice scenery and a great trail.
On the way back south to our campground, we spent a few more hours in Whitewater Draw. Other than thousands of birds, we spotted a javelina.

When we woke up on Saturday morning in the campground, we spotted several javelina and mule deer! Turns out some of the "snowbirds" (RVers who head south to escape the cold and stay in the south all winter) have been providing corn for the local wildlife to eat. By now, the wildlife has become so accustomed to this that at times, they walk through the campground, whether there are people present or not.

After taking many pictures of the javelinas, we left the campground in early afternoon and headed west into the mountain town of Patagonia. We checked in for the night in the only RV park in town and took the Jeep into the surrounding national forest. We hiked part of the "Arizona trail", a trail that starts at the Mexican border and heads north to the Utah border. Again, very nice scenery.
The scenery actually reminded us of Napa valley in California: mountainous and lots of dry grasses.

On Sunday morning we drove the Jeep into the mountains north of Patagonia. We expected an easy drive but the dirt road turned into a 4x4 trail with stream crossings and very steep climbs on the rocks. After about an hour of bouncing around in the Jeep, we arrived at the end of the trail in a pine forest with (some) snow! Very unexpected and great views of the surrounding valleys.

We drove back down to Patagonia to pick up the camper and drove into Tucson for lunch.
In the afternoon, we explored Tucson Mountain Park and the western section of Saguaro national park (we had visited the eastern section on earlier trips). Great scenery, this time a desert environment with LOTS of saguaros. We have saguaros growing in and around Phoenix but the vast number here definitely explains why this is a national park.
We arrived back in Phoenix in early evening.

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March 2 - Dec 28, 2015

- Update December 28: Christmas road trip to Grand Canyon -

Merry Christmas!

We spent our Christmas at the Grand Canyon. We left Phoenix on Thursday afternoon and drove all the way up into Grand Canyon national park. We camped at the RV park in the national park.
The weather forecast predicted a cold front with snow so we wanted to camp with hookups to run our electric heater inside the RV.

The first night (Thursday -> Friday) was much colder than expected: 0 F or -17 C! Somehow, our small electric heater kept us barely warm enough to sleep. Friday itself was amazing however: the cold front had arrived an brought an entire day of snow with a few small patches of sunshine. We visited some of the canyon viewpoints such as Mather point and some along the east rim drive. We hiked along the canyon rim for some amazing views. Even though this was my 6th (multi-day) visit to the Grand Canyon, this is a sight you don't get tired of seeing ... Without a doubt, still my number one as most beautiful area in the USA.
Due to the snow, the west rim drive and a portion of the east rim drive were closed.

We were in luck that the snow clouds cleared in time for the sunset in the canyon. However, when the insulating blanket of clouds cleared, the temperature plummeted to -9 F (-23 C)! When we woke up on Saturday morning, Sophie's water (on the RV's floor) was frozen. Turns out our RV's water tank had also frozen overnight ... With a few more days of deep freeze in the forecast, it was time to head south!

On the drive back to Phoenix, we stopped and played in the snow with Sophie. As we passed Flagstaff and headed into lower elevations, the snow disappeared and in 2.5 hours time we went from 20 F (-7 C) at 11 AM in the high country to 53 F (12 C) and sunny in the Phoenix area.
Yes, living in Phoenix means sometimes you miss the cold BUT (and it's a big but), it sure felt nice to sit in the sun on Saturday afternoon in Phoenix. The mountains, snow and cold temperatures are available on a day trip from Phoenix but the cold gets old quickly. And, Phoenix itself has amazing mountain scenery.

On Sunday, we drove the Jeep into the mountains northeast of Phoenix. We found a 4x4 trail in our trail book which was within an hours drive of our house plus had great views and fun/scary off-roading into the mountains.

- Update December 21

The temperature difference between the northern and southern half of Arizona is amazing. If it's sunny and 18 C in Phoenix, it's around freezing in Flagstaff and at the Grand Canyon. This is why we head north from Phoenix during summer and south during winter ...
This weekend, we headed southwest to the Kofa Mountains and camped in the desert with a beautiful view of the mountain range. We took the Jeep with us and went offroading into the Queen canyon on Saturday. The 'road' follows a dry river bed up into the mountains. Beautiful rock formations and desert scenery.
On Sunday, we hiked into the central mountains to go see Palm canyon. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any of the local bighorn sheep.

- Update December 14

During our Thanksgiving road trip to Mexico, we couldn't visit the Unesco biosphere reserve north of Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) since RVs are not allowed. So, this weekend, we returned to Mexico with the Jeep!
On Friday evening, we drove to Organ Pipe Cactus national monument and camped just north of the park's entrance on public (BLM) land.

We unhooked the Jeep from the truck camper and headed south into Mexico on Saturday. No car paperwork issues this time when we crossed the border but the Mexican border officers did want to check Sophie's paperwork.
We headed south 30 miles (45 km) and arrived at the entrance of the "El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve". (Click here for the Unesco website)
The reserve is a giant protected area; 7140 square km or 2756 square miles; that consists of desert and volcanoes. An 81 km (50 mile) long dirt road brings you into the reserve, past lava fields, and up to the crater rim of two volcanoes.
We spent about 4 hours driving the road and hiking around the top of the volcanoes. A very remote but beautiful area. We were amazed at the beauty of the volcanoes and how unknown this area is!
On the drive back north, we had an early dinner in the Mexican border town of Sonoyta and then crossed the border back into the US. We drove back to our camper and spent the night there again.

On Sunday, we explored dirt roads in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (also an Unesco biosphere reserve). We drove the South Puerto Blanco 4x4 road into the remote Senita valley. A beautiful valley filled with saguaro cacti and the rare Senita cacti (rare in the US that is as they grow abundantly in Mexico), which resembles the Organ Pipe cactus.
Remote indeed: we spent about 5 hours there (hiking around in the surrounding mountains) and saw no one the entire time. The only sign of civilization along the dirt road is the border fence and the occasional border patrol truck ... this road follows the Mexico-USA border for a few miles. Oh, and yes, I did find traces of illegal border crossings in the mountains as I found pieces of old, torn clothing and Spanish-language food packages.
Late afternoon, we headed back to our truck camper; hooked up the Jeep and headed back to Phoenix. Where I was hiking in t-shirt in the Senita valley, it was near freezing in Phoenix! A cold front had arrived. Not too bad in Phoenix but just north in the mountains, roads were closing because of the snow accumulation. Looking forward to spending some time in the snow soon ...

- Update December 7

Quiet weekend. Haichong gave a piano recital on Saturday so we stayed home.
On Sunday we took a day trip to the Gilbert Riparian preserve and the Tonto national forest to see if we could find some of the wild horses. We found one group of 5 hanging out in the Salt river.

- Update November 30: Thanksgiving trip to California and Mexico -

We left on a week-long trip on Friday evening. We headed northwest from Phoenix and slept a few miles outside the town of Nothing (yes, that is the town's real name) in the national forest. Click here for the campsite location.

— Saturday —
Arriving late at a campsite is always interesting the next morning when you wake up and see the scenery in the daylight. Here, it was the typical desert scenery that is found around Phoenix: dry hills and mountains with lots of saguaro cacti.
On our morning hike in the area, we ran into another Belgian, who was in the area on some army-related mission. He lives in Antwerp and mentioned the crisis in Belgium related to ISIS and the attacks in Paris.

We left the campsite early morning and headed northwest into Kingman where we ate lunch on the historic Route 66.
From Kingman, a beautiful road goes into the Black mountains to the town of Oatman. The small town was founded in 1915 after gold was found. The population boomed to 3,500 in just one year but when the mines closed in 1924, the town started going downhill. It was lucky that Route 66 was built through Oatman so tourism brought some dollars. Movie stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard stayed in Oatman on their honeymoon after they got married in Kingman in 1939. By the sixties however, after the new Interstate highway bypassed the town, Oatman was virtually abandoned.

Today, the few residents who live in Oatman survive thanks to tourism. Tourists visit Route 66 that runs through town plus many wild burros (donkeys) that live in town and the surrounding mountains. The donkeys were left behind by the gold miners and became 'wild' and survived in the surroundings.
When we visited, there were many wild donkeys wandering through the town and we got to feed some of the them; one of them even bit Haichong's hand!
In late afternoon, we drove a few miles outside of the town and camped in the mountains with beautiful scenery. Late at night, a few wild donkeys even stopped by, which Sophie (our dog) didn't appreciate too much ...

— Sunday —
This morning, we hiked around our camper in the beautiful scenery but didn't get to see any more wild donkeys. We headed south along the Colorado river and visited the town of Lake Havasu City, a popular place for 'snowbirds' (retirees who leave their homes in the cold north to spend their winters in the warm American south). The main tourist attractions here are the Colorado river (which is dammed here creating a lake) and the ... London Bridge.

The London Bridge was built in London in 1831 and spanned the river Thames until 1967 when the city of London decided to sell it since it was no longer in good enough condition to support modern traffic. An American businessman (the same guy who founded Lake Havasu City) bought the bridge for $2.4M and spent another $4.5M on tearing it down, shipping it to Arizona and rebuilding it (with extra concrete for support).
After visiting the bridge, we had a late lunch in the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge; a surprisingly green area in this arid part of Arizona.

In the afternoon we crossed the Colorado river to head west: the river forms the border between Arizona and California. A few miles south of Joshua Tree national park, we slept along the Box Canyon road heading into the town of Mecca. This wilderness area is surprisingly beautiful with sandstone hills all around us.

— Monday —
We explored the sandstone hills after breakfast: very unexpected and hardly mentioned in any tourist guide but definitely worth it. The area is managed by the BLM and is public land. [Click here for more info]

Around lunch time, we headed west to the Salton Sea. This is a large in-land lake which is mostly described by the guide books as 'an ecological disaster'. This dry area, which lies 71m below sea level (only 5 meters higher than the lowest point; Badwater; in Death Valley national park), was accidentally flooded with water from the Colorado river at the start of the 20th century during an irrigation project. Since then, the lake level has been going down and the salinity has been increasing, causing many fish to die.
The high salinity and large amounts of dead fish are causing the entire area to smell. This has caused the creation of ghost towns on the banks of the lake: where once new housing developments were built, now just stand the remains of the old buildings covered in graffiti ...

In late afternoon, we headed west into the Anza Borrego Desert state park and filled up on water in the campground. This area has a population of desert bighorn sheep which we didn't get to see.
We headed further west into the Cleveland national forest and slept near the Palomar observatory.

— Tuesday —
It was a cold night; near freezing; at this high altitude. After breakfast, we headed 70 miles west to the Pacific ocean. As we got closer, the temperature increased. We visited the ocean front town of La Jolla with its beautiful beaches.

Around lunch time, we drove into downtown San Diego and visited the famous San Diego Zoo where we got to see the pandas and other rare animals.

At night, we drove east and slept on BLM land near the Imperial Sand Dunes: an area famous for its ATV desert trails.

— Wednesday—
We drove back into Arizona this morning and the town of Yuma where we crossed the border into Mexico.

The border crossing went less smooth than expected: we forgot to bring paperwork for the truck camper; we brought the wrong car title (we brought the one for the Jeep Wrangler as opposed to the Dodge RAM); ... so it took some arguing to be able to enter Mexico!
You'd think that after spending 6 months south of the border in 2014 we would be better prepared ...

Once in Mexico, we purchased car insurance and headed towards the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). We drove through the small town of "El Golfo de Santa Clara", which is pretty rundown, and headed towards the town of "Puerto Penasco", otherwise known by Americans and Canadians alike as "Rocky Point".
The town sits only 1 hour south of the Arizona border so is a very popular weekend destination for people from Phoenix and Tucson.
We setup camp for 3 nights in RV park "The Reef".

— Thursday and Friday —
On Thursday and Friday we relaxed on the beaches in front of the RV park. We explored nearby rocky beaches with lots of birds and nearby hills.
The scenery is nice to explore although you have to share it with lots of Americans driving ATVs.
On Friday evening, we ate at the restaurant which wasn't great.

— Saturday —
In the morning, we visited the tourist area of the town (the "Malecon" / waterfront shops) and ate some great street food.
In general, we like Puerto Penasco for being this close to Phoenix but as far as the culture is concerned, this isn't "real" Mexico. All stores charge in USD; there are tourists and condo developments everywhere; ...

We left after lunch time and headed north towards the border. Along the way, we briefly visited the UNESCO heritage site "El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve". RVs are not allowed on the dirt road to visit the area (to see 3 volcanoes) so we'll have to return here with the Jeep!

After some grocery shopping in the border town of Sonoyta, we spent about 1.5 hours in line to cross the border back into the USA. Our first time as US Citizens and it was a much quicker experience!
We slept on public BLM land just north of Organ Pipe Cactus national monument in Arizona.

— Sunday —
This morning we were awoken by a bunch of coyotes howling near our camper. We explored the wild area around our camper and headed towards Phoenix in mid afternoon.

- Update November 16 -

The second cold front of this winter has arrived with chilly temperatures (50 F / 10 C) in Phoenix but snow and freezing temperatures up on the rim and in Flagstaff.
We camped this weekend in the Agua Fria national monument. We drove about 5 miles into the monument on a (bad) dirt road and camped on the top of a hill with beautiful views.

On Saturday afternoon, we explored the area with the Wrangler and drove down into the 'Bloody Basin' with great views down into the valley. Arizona keeps surprising us with its natural beauty and reminds us how boring Texas is as far as weekend trips into nature are concerned.
We also visited Indian ruins in the national monument. On the drive back (all via dirt roads) we came across an accident: an older lady had flipped her ATV on its side and she had fallen off and injured her shoulder. We helped them by driving the damaged ATV back to a safe location.

On Sunday, we drove the Wrangler into the mountains, all the way up to the small mining town of Crown King, at an altitude of 5,700 feet (1.700m). [Click here]
It's about an hour drive on a dirt road that starts in the desert and goes all the way up into the pine forest on top of the mountains. Very nice and unexpected!

- Update November 9 -

We drove the scenic loop east of Phoenix this weekend around the Superstition mountains.

We left on Friday evening and camped at the start of the Apache trail, just outside of Apache Junction. On Saturday, we drove the most difficult part of the loop: the unpaved road through the mountains and past 2 lakes which connects Apache Junction with Roosevelt lake. [Click here]
Beautiful views along the way. We had lunch next to the Salt river and hiked in a canyon with beautiful fall colors at the bottom. At night, we drove a dirt road into the national forest and slept surrounded by saguaro cacti.
On Sunday we continued the loop road back into Phoenix. Some beautiful stretches of road, especially near the small town of Superior. Along the way, we visited the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, where plants and trees from all over the world grow. [Click here]
Back in Apache Junction, we had a late lunch/early dinner at an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant and spent another visit to the burrowing owls who are easily visible living in a field in Gilbert, Arizona.

- Update November 2 -

Haichong stayed home for the weekend so it was just me and Sophie, our dog this weekend. On Friday evening, we drove up the Mogollon rim and camped in the forest. Even though the weather was nice in Phoenix, it was freezing when we arrived in the forest. Very unexpected!
Not being very prepared for freezing temperatures, we left and headed south on Saturday evening, into warmer temperatures. We camped in the Agua Fria national monument, at a lower altitude. The weather went from near freezing during the daytime up on the rim to t-shirt and shorts weather in Agua Fria.
We spent our time hiking in the national monument with great views.

- Update October 26 -

This weekend, Haichong had a piano recital on Saturday so we couldn't leave on our 'weekend' trip until Saturday afternoon. We camped near the Salt river in the national forest east of Phoenix where the wild horses live. We hiked around the area and found many groups (bands) of wild horses.
On Sunday afternoon, we drove to a nearby park (Zanjero park in Gilbert) where wild burrowing owls are easily visible. A lot of fun watching these owls; beautiful animals.
On Sunday evening, Martin, a German who lives in Cologne (Keulen) but who spends his vacations in the Phoenix area, stopped by our house for a visit. We had 'met' on Facebook earlier this year due to our common travel interests: he backpacked around South America in the early 80s.

- Update October 19 -

This weekend, we camped in the national forest between Payson and Show Low. We spent our time hiking in the forest and exploring 4x4 roads. On 2 occasions, we saw elk. Sophie had fun chasing an elk (cow) through the forest!

- Update October 13 -

We went camping a few miles south of Flagstaff this past weekend, up on the rim in the national forest.
On Saturday we drove a 4x4 road down into the red rock canyon where Sedona is located, with beautiful views. We hiked around to see some of Sedona's famous rock formations.
Surprisingly, while we were camping, we heard lots of elk bugling. Even though it is almost mid October, the rut is still in full swing. On Sunday, we hiked into forest and saw a large elk herd led by a bull with big antlers.

- Update October 5 -

Haichong had a piano recital in Phoenix on Saturday afternoon so we stayed home for the weekend. On Saturday, during Haichong's recital, I visited a nature area in eastern Phoenix: the Gilbert riparian preserve, an area with 9 ponds and a magnet for birds.
Most of the birds were hanging out in one of the ponds and unfortunately, pretty far from the viewpoints and without much action happening.

Click here to see some of the pictures (including some pictures from last weekend)

On Sunday, we drove up to Cave Creek; just north of our house; and hiked a trail in the desert.

- Update September 28 -

Still hot in Phoenix so we headed into the mountains again. We camped halfway between Payson and Flagstaff in the area where we camped last weekend.
On Saturday we drove a long 4x4 trail in the national forest past several back country lakes. Very quiet out there but we didn't get to see any big wildlife.

On Sunday however, after lunch while we were sitting outside, Sophie took off running. She spotted a black bear about 50 yards from our camper. Perhaps the smell of our cooking attracted it!
We started yelling for Sophie to come back which she did luckily after chasing the bear away. The bear didn't seem to care much however as he came back and continued walking past our camper ...
Fun to see a bear and luckily no fight between the bear and Sophie (which would have a predictable outcome).

On Sunday evening, on the way back to Phoenix, we stopped for a while in the national forest east of Phoenix to watch the 'blood moon' and the lunar eclipse.

- Update September 21 -

We camped halfway between Payson and Flagstaff this weekend. It is starting to get cold at the higher elevations: very refreshing!
We spent the weekend hiking and exploring the 4x4 trails in the national forest. We saw several elk, a mule deer and a fox. Unfortunately, mostly at night so no pictures.

On the drive back home on Sunday evening, I went by the horses and found one band in the desert.

- Update September 14 -

This weekend we camped in the national forest north of Payson again. We drove 4x4 roads in the national forest and hiked part of a beautiful trail along the Mogollon Rim. This is definitely a trail we have to visit again.

- Update September 8 -

Labor Day yesterday (Monday) so an extra long weekend. We camped on the Mogollon Rim in the cool mountain air for 3 days. The elk have started bugling! Exciting but very difficult to photograph. It's easy to understand why photographers head to the Tetons, Yellowstone or Estes Park to get great pictures of elk: the elk in Arizona are not protected so are very afraid of humans. Basically the only picture you can get of an elk here (unless you're extremely lucky) is that of an elk running away from you in the distance.

In the national forest near our campsite is a pond of water with lots of animal tracks around. So, I built a blind out of branches next to the pond and to my surprise it worked! A herd of elk, including bull, walked right next to me as I sat in the blind. Very nice but also very scary: a bugling bull is a bundle of hormones and to be that close is definitely an adrenaline rush! The elk drank from the pond, ate some grass; all within a few meters of my hiding place; and didn't notice me. Unfortunately, by the time the elk showed up, it was too dark for decent pictures, plus they were so close that my telephoto lens was pretty much useless and I didn't want to make any noise by switching lenses.

- Update August 31 -

We spent another weekend on the Mogollon Rim, northwest of Payson. We relaxed and hiked in the pine forests on Saturday and Sunday; we saw one bull elk. The elk appear ready but are not bugling yet.

- Update August 24 -

We drove up to Flagstaff this weekend and camped on the west side in the national forest. We hiked around the pine forests and drove up the San Francisco peaks to hike around between the aspen trees (where we saw two male deer).

- Update August 21 -

I became a U.S. citizen today!
Even though I already had a green card which allowed me to live in the U.S. permanently, it does have some drawbacks. Every 10 years, the green card needs to be renewed (=costly and hassle) plus; unless you file specific paperwork in advance; it doesn't allow you to be out of the country for longer than 6 months without the risk of losing your green card.
After 5 years on the green card, you can apply for citizenship. This involves taking an exam (on the history and government of the U.S.), an interview with an immigration officer and a whole bunch of paperwork ... (and some money of course)

An overview of the visa's I've been on since moving to the U.S.:
1) J-1 Trainee visa: July 2003 - July 2004
2) H1B work visa: July 2004 - July 2007
3) H1B work visa extension: July 2007 - July 2009
4) Green card: July 2009 - August 2015

- Update August 17 -

Heat wave in Phoenix (this means 45 C as opposed to the normal 42 C) so we headed into the mountains again. We camped in the national forest southeast of Flagstaff.
On Saturday we went to the "Arizona Snowbowl", the ski resort on top of the highest mountain in Arizona, the San Francisco peaks. Up there it was so cold that we had to wear long sleeves!

On Sunday we drove a 4x4 trail ("Schnebly Hill road") towards the canyon in which Sedona is located. Within a few miles of driving the road descents from the rim with pine forests into the famous red rock scenery around Sedona. Very beautiful!

- Update August 14 -

Arizona Highways Magazine released a book today about the Salt River wild horses. I was thrilled to learn that they chose to include 3 of my images in the book!

The book is for sale on their website and all proceeds go to the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group: click here.

- Update August 10 -

We camped in the national forest northwest of Payson this weekend. On Saturday we drove the Jeep on 4x4 roads into the mountains west of Payson, to an old mine, beautiful views. We relaxed in the cool "Verde river".
On a hike in the national forest on Sunday, we saw two bull elk with big antlers: the elk are almost "ready" to start their annual rut in late August and early to mid September. Looking forward to the action!

- Update August 3 -

We headed to Flagstaff this weekend and camped southeast in the Mormon lake area. On Saturday, we drove some 4x4 roads to Kinnikinick lake. Lots of quiet forests; I saw a small herd of (female) elk.

Summer is monsoon (rain/storm) season in Arizona with a violent thunderstorm every few days. These storms are especially loud in the high country as the thunder echoes between the mountains.

- Update July 27 -

We headed to Prescott this weekend, northwest of Phoenix. We camped in Mayer and drove 4x4 roads into the mountains on old mining roads. Along one of those roads, we found an old cabin that used to serve as a restaurant/hotel for miners in the late 18th century: interesting to step back in time to try an imagine how rough life was back then.

- Update July 20 -

Another week of hot weather, another weekend spent in the cool mountains.
This time we camped in the pine forests northeast of the mountain town of Payson. We towed the Jeep Wrangler behind the camper. We parked the truck camper in the national forest and used the Jeep Wrangler to explore 4x4 roads in the forest.

One of those trips brought us into Black Canyon where we hiked to the graves of 3 cowboys who were hanged by a mob in 1888. [click here for the story]

As far as wildlife goes, we saw an elk cow with baby.

- Update July 13 -

We went to the mountains northwest of Phoenix this past weekend. On Friday evening we drove into the Prescott national forest to sleep in a beautiful spot where we stayed a few months ago: 360 degree views into the surrounding valleys and mountains. It was pretty windy this time.

On Saturday morning we headed up Mingus mountain, the mountain on which the ghost town of Jerome is situated.
We camped in the national forest for the weekend and hiked a trail on top of the mountain ridge with great views.

- Update July 6 -

We drove up to Flagstaff for the long holiday weekend. We camped in the national forest northeast of Flagstaff in our RV but this time we towed the Jeep Wrangler behind the RV to be able to do some more exploring.

A few months ago, I had read a post on Facebook regarding a beautiful viewpoint at the Grand Canyon that barely sees any visitors. Intrigued I contacted the author of the post and got more details. The viewpoint is called "Tatahatso point" and can only be reached after an hour and a half of offroading across Indian lands.

I looked up the GPS coordinates of how to get there and on Friday, we headed north in the Wrangler towards Navajo land. South of Page, near the small Indian town of Cameron, we left Highway 89 and turned west on a dirt road. It's a good thing we had GPS coordinates of a few critical points; otherwise we would have never been able to find it. The area is a vast network of dirt roads (in varying condition). All we saw along the way was some cattle and a few (wild?) horses. After an hour and a half of bouncing around in the Jeep, we reached the Grand Canyon. No one there. Great!

If you ever have the chance to get there, go. Imagine having the grand canyon all to yourself. You're standing on the edge of the rim looking down upon the Colorado river.
The best feature of making the trek out to Tatahatso point? The final approach to the canyon. As you reach the "end of the road", you drive on a very small stretch of land as you have the deep canyon immediately to the left and right of your car! Amazing.

After spending a few hours at the rim, we headed back out the same way we came in.
On the drive south to Flagstaff and our RV in the forest, we stopped by some very colorful 'painted' sand hills. Again we were all alone and walked on top of the painted hills.

On Saturday, we explored the "Cinder hills" area a few miles from our campsite. This area consists of hills/mountains of volcanic material, deposited by the nearby Sunset Crater volcano thousands of years ago.
This area is a dedicated "OHV" (Off-Highway Vehicle) area which means lots and lots of ATVs and dirt bikes. We explored the area in the Wrangler and had lots of fun driving up and down the very steep hills.

On Sunday, we explored the nearby Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano national monuments by driving the loop road. In between the two national monuments, we turned into the national forest and followed some 4x4 roads on the volcanic soil with great views of the volcano, cinder hills and nearby San Francisco mountains (the highest in Arizona).

On the drive home to Paradise Valley (Phoenix) late Sunday evening, we noticed that we weren't the only ones who had escaped the Phoenix valley heat for the holiday weekend: traffic was horrible on the Interstate (I-17)!

- Update June 29 -

With the RV temporarily out of service (we are waiting for parts to arrive so we can have the A/C fixed), we took two day trips this past weekend with the Jeep.

On Saturday, we drove northwest into the mountains surrounding the small town of Wickenburg. We drove two long 4x4 trails.
The first 4x4 trail headed into the mountains towards several ghost towns (Stanton being the most well-known) and old mines. Even though we were at a higher altitude than Phoenix, it was still pretty much too hot to walk around outside. The scenery was nice and we didn't see anyone else on the trail.
The second 4x4 trail followed a river into a box canyon. The scenery here was definitely better than the 1st trail as we drove through the narrow canyon and through the river multiple times.
Of course, a river bed is dangerous for getting stuck with the soft, deep, wet sand ... A few miles into the trail, we noticed a Jeep Grand Cherokee hopelessly stuck in the sand. I drove around him and was able to winch him out; very surprising since my Wrangler only has an 8,000 pound winch and the Grand Cherokee is a heavy car, plus it was stuck deep into the sand.

After helping the Grand Cherokee driver, we continued on the trail and a few miles later reached Wickenburg again.

On Sunday, we escaped the heat by heading to the Mogollon Rim. We drove the 40-mile dirt "Rim Road" with great views.

We also saw some wildlife: we spotted 4 elk in the forest.
We were also very excited to see our first bear in this area. When we stopped along the Rim road to walk around, Sophie jumped out of the car and ran into the bushes. As I followed her, I saw a baby bear (cub) run away! Knowing that the mom couldn't be far away, I called Sophie back and we drove a few miles down the road for our walk.

- Update June 22 -

I picked up Haichong from the airport on Wednesday evening. She had a good trip around Asia. Pictures to follow.

This past weekend, we escaped again to the cooler temperatures around the Mogollon Rim. We camped in the national forest for a relaxing weekend.

- Update June 15 -

The temperatures are up to 110 F in Phoenix (43 C) so I headed north again this weekend. I camped in the national forest along the Mogollon Rim, east of Payson. Beautiful scenery and cool temperatures. Unfortunately, again, I didn't get to see any elk.

- Update June 8 -

I stayed in town this weekend. On Saturday I visited the wild horses along the Salt river. I only found a small band of about 6 horses (1 foal). The bad news is that, due to the higher river level, the mosquitoes are out in full force at sunset!

On Sunday, I went "offroading" with the Jeep Wrangler. I drove north into the Agua Fria national monument: a giant area with no developed roads. I headed into the area and visited old Indian ruins. After a lot of bumping around on bad dirt roads, I reached the "Bloody basin", a very beautiful valley named after bloody Indian battles.
From there, I headed south over more dirt roads to reach Phoenix again by early evening.
A long day of exploring but some amazing views!

- Update June 1 -

To escape the heat, I headed north again. This time I camped in the national forest a few miles east of Camp Verde. I drove the truck camper into the forest on a bad dirt road. A weekend of peace and quiet in perfect weather. Lots of signs of elk but all I saw was a mule deer and its fawn; both got chased by Sophie ...

- Update May 26 -

Three day weekend thanks to Memorial Day on Monday May 25 so I headed north into the mountains.
I explored the Mogollon Rim, the southern edge of the Colorado plateau, just north of the town of Payson. On top of the rim, you are at an altitude of 8,000 ft (2.400 m) and at the bottom of the rim 4,000 to 5,000 feet (1,200 to 1,500 m).

Other than the mountain landscape with its pine trees and views being beautiful, the thing I will remember the most about this three day trip is the temperature: it was unexpectedly cold on top of the rim.
I left Phoenix in 80 F (27 C) and arrived two hours later on the rim where it was 59 F (15 C). On Sunday, the temperature dropped and I had hail with temperatures down to 40 F (4 C). What a difference the altitude makes.

For three days, I took long walks with Sophie in the forests. We slept in the national forest west of the rim on Saturday evening and on Sunday, drove the 4x4 "Mogollon Rim road" (Forest road 300): a 60 km dirt road that follows the rim and provides great views down to the lower elevation. About halfway, I camped on the edge of the rim.

Lots of elk and deer droppings but unfortunately I didn't get to see any wildlife, other than lots of colorful birds and the usual small creatures.

I left the rim on Monday and headed south. It was 44 F (6 C) on the rim; 64 F (17 C) just south of the rim in Payson; and 82 F (28 C) when I reached Phoenix.
Definitely a place to return to, especially as the Summer heat is finally arriving in the Phoenix area. By the end of this week, it's supposed to get up to 100 F (38 C).

- Update May 20 -

Haichong left this morning on a 4 week trip through Asia.
She's flying to Seoul, South Korea where she will be attending her niece's wedding. After about one week in Korea, she flies to Japan where she will stay for 2 weeks. Then back Korea and on to China for a trip to Beijing. Hopefully she'll have a safe and fun vacation!

- Update May 18 -

This past weekend we explored the national forest and mountain scenery on the east side of the town of Prescott.
We found a 4x4 trail that brings you up into the mountains towards the site of old silver mines (dating from the end of the 1800s).

The temperature difference with Phoenix was amazing. It was about 85 F (30 C) in Phoenix but up in the mountains where we camped it was only 14 C!
We parked our truck camper on a side trail from the 4x4 road and had 360 degree views. Beautiful and very quiet. Other than the occasional Jeep that passed by on the trail, we hardly saw anyone the entire weekend.

Here is our campsite location: Google Maps

- Update May 11 -

We left Phoenix on Friday evening and drove southwest for 2 hours until we reached "Organ Pipe Cactus national monument", a big area bordering Mexico. We slept on public lands (BLM) just north of the entrance of the national monument.

On Saturday, we drove into the national monument. It was surprisingly 'chilly' for the time of year: 75F (24C). A cold front from up north was responsible for the nice Spring-like temperatures in Arizona (the same cold front meant freezing temperatures and snow up in Colorado!).

We decided to drive one of the 4x4 trails in the area. Warning signs about illegal activity everywhere. This being on the border with Mexico, the area is popular for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers who hike into the United States through the desert.
The area is beautiful with lots of saguaro and organ pipe cacti and nice mountain scenery. We spent a few hours driving through the desert and into the mountains. An added bonus was that the saguaro cacti were blooming. The flower on the saguaro cactus is Arizona's State Flower.

Late Saturday afternoon, we left the national monument and slept again on BLM lands just north of the park ("Gunsight Wash"). Amazing how dark it gets: being so far away from major cities, it seems that the amount of stars multiplies at night.

We slept in on Sunday morning and relaxed in the sun until lunch time.
We decided to take another route to get home. In the small town of Gila Bend, we headed northeast into the "Sonoran Desert national monument". Our '4x4 Trail Book of Arizona' listed a trail into the national monument. Rated difficulty 3 (low) and with a scenic rating of 8 (very high), we decided to drive the 4x4 trail. Big mistake.

We didn't notice the sign at the start of the trail that said "Road Closed". About half a mile into the trail, we had to cross a wash (dry river bed). We drove into the wash and our truck sank into the sand until it was laying on its belly.
We tried to dig it out but whatever we tried, the truck kept sinking deeper as we removed sand ...

We had to admit defeat and we hiked back to the trail entrance. This is when we noticed the "Road Closed" sign so we realized that no one would pass by to help us out. We called our insurance company (roadside assistance is included) but they said they don't cover "offroad incidents". So, we ended up calling a 4x4 Tow truck company in Gila Bend. Half an hour later they arrived on the scene with their big tow truck and winched us out.

The wash after the tow truck winched us out

The wash after the tow truck winched us out

Not a fun experience but it could have been worse ... What if we had gotten stuck miles into the trail without cell phone reception?

- Update May 7 -

The following article about expats has a short feature about my experiences: click here for the article

- Update May 3 -

It feels like the summer is arriving here in Phoenix. The last few days before the weekend were up into the 100s F! (38 C)
We decided to try and escape the heat by going camping in the mountains north of Phoenix. On Friday evening, we left after work and drove 1.5 hours north towards Flagstaff. We slept in the national forest at about 4000 ft altitude (1.200m) and found some relief from the heat. It cooled down nicely at night and we enjoyed being all alone in the forest. We saw a herd of mule deer.

On Saturday, we drove 30 minutes further north into the Coconino national forest and slept in the cool forest at 7000 feet altitude (2.130m): click here
Amazing cool temperatures around 60 F (15 C). We spent the rest of Saturday relaxing and hiking in the pine forest with views towards Stoneman Lake.

On Sunday morning, we packed up and headed north towards the big Mormon Lake (named after a mormon settlement in the area about 100 years ago; and also the setting of the 2015 "Overland Expo" which is happening here on May 15-17). We found a 4x4 trail in our offroad guide and started the drive on rough forest roads. Along the way, we stopped at natural springs ("Weimer springs) to have lunch and take a hike. A beautiful location with aspen trees in a very green setting. Lots of traces of elk (droppings and foot prints) but unfortunately no elk to be found.

After our hike, we continued the 4x4 trail and ended up in Flagstaff. It was still around 62 F (16 C) here when we left late Sunday afternoon. Two hours later we reached Phoenix again in 90 F heat (32 C) ... We went home and took a swim in our pool to cool down. How great is it to live in the heat but have the cool mountains available. What a difference to living in Texas ...

Interesting article about how safe it is to visit Mexico compared to major U.S. cities: click here.

- Update April 20 -

This past weekend we intended to explore the desert area just north of the Mexican border. However, on the drive there on Friday evening, we realized we had left our Green Cards at home; a problem since there is a lot of border patrol in that area. So, we headed northwest into the mountains surrounding the little town of Wickenburg.

Large parts of the mountain and desert scenery there are public lands (managed by the BLM or Bureau of Land Management). We found a 4WD (4x4) trail that took us into the mountains. Very nice scenery with lots of saguaro cacti (and thankfully, not too many cholla cacti!).
We camped in two different locations; the 2nd night next to the remains of an old gold mine. The entire weekend, we barely saw anyone, just some ATV'ers that passed by.

On our hike on Sunday morning, we saw a rattlesnake. It was playing dead and luckily our dog (off leash) hadn't noticed it!

Click here for the pictures

Late Sunday afternoon when we arrived back home, we finally used our swimming pool. The temperatures have been warm enough in Phoenix for months, but the swimming pool water was too cold.

- Update April 13 -

We explored the Kofa mountains this weekend.
This small mountain range (with peaks up to 1.487m or 4,877ft altitude) is located in western Arizona near the border with California. The mountain range was named after the rich gold mine that was located here: "King of Arizona" gold mine.

The Kofa mountain range is protected as part of the "Kofa national wildlife refuge", thanks to the presence of desert bighorn sheep in these mountains.

We left Phoenix after work on Friday and arrived in the mountains around 9 PM. We slept at the entrance to a narrow valley. All alone and miles away from the nearest small town, it was very quiet and peaceful.

Click here for the pictures

On Saturday morning, we hiked into the mountains to the place where the only native palm trees in Arizona are found: "Palm canyon". After a few hours of enjoying the cool mountain air, we hiked back down to the camper and drove a 4x4 trail into Kofa Queen canyon (a definite benefit of driving a 4x4 truck camper: you can take it on most 4x4 trails). We drove several miles through the desert and arrived at the mouth of the canyon, where we setup camp with beautiful mountain views on one side and vast desert views on the other.

We hiked in the desert and mountains on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the local bighorn sheep.
This desert area has a lot of cholla cacti, which caused quite some trouble with Sophie. At one point, she was completely stuck as she had two big chunks of cacti sticking on her leg. She tried to remove them with her mouth but of course, that just meant getting cacti needles stuck in her tongue ... After a few minutes of assisting her (and getting stuck repeatedly ourselves in the process), she was free again. Hopefully she'll get more "desert smart" going forward. :-)
We drove back to Phoenix on Sunday afternoon.

- Update April 6 -

This weekend, we explored the area east of Phoenix known as the "Superstition wilderness".
The mountains are named for the superstition of there existing a gold mine. The legend goes that a German immigrant found a gold mine in the mountains but kept its location a secret, hence the legend of the "Lost Dutchman gold mine" (German -> "Deutsch" -> "Dutch").

The only road that crosses these mountains follows the Salt river and is known as the "Apache trail". Named after the Apache Indians who originally used this trail, it was later used to haul supplies east for the construction of the Roosevelt dam at the beginning of the 20th century.
The entire area here is unexpectedly beautiful. As president Roosevelt said when he visited here: "the Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful." He might have overstated it a little, but it is definitely one of the more beautiful areas in the US!

We left on Friday evening and headed northeast. We slept in the national forest an hour outside of Phoenix, all alone between the big saguaro cacti.
On Saturday we headed to "Roosevelt lake", a big lake formed by a dam on the Salt river, in beautiful mountain scenery. After hiking at the lake, we explored "Tonto national monument", old Indian ruins in the nearby mountains, kind of a "mini Mesa Verde".

Click here for the pictures of the Tonto National Monument

In the afternoon, we left the Roosevelt lake area and started driving on the mostly unpaved (with some portions of bad washboard) Apache Trail. This road is amazing as it snakes through the mountains next to the Salt river. After about 20 miles of bouncing around on the dusty dirt road, we reached the most exciting portion: "Fish Creek hill", a mountain pass, mostly one lane with steep drop-offs.

We found a place to camp for the night at the top of the hill in the national forest. We enjoyed the beautiful views on our hikes that evening and the following morning. We saw a snake and a type of lizard I had not seen before.

On Sunday we completed driving the Apache trail and arrived back in Phoenix. Along the way, you pass by another beautiful mountain lake, "Canyon lake". Due to this being Easter weekend however, it was very crowded so we kept on driving. This area is right next to Phoenix so we'll definitely (hopefully) be back!

- Update March 30 -

This past weekend, we escaped the warm temperatures in Phoenix by driving northeast to the mountain area surrounding the small town of Payson. Just north of Payson is the "Mogollon Rim" (pronounced "mugoyan"): a large cliff that visually separates the "high desert" from the "low desert" (in which Phoenix is located).

The "high desert" is actually better known as the "Colorado plateau". This plateau is centered on the Four Corners region (AZ - NM - CO - UT) and includes some of the world's well-known natural attractions (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion, etc.).

We camped in the national forest along the Mogollon Rim. Lots of pine trees, cool temperatures and great views in the mountains.

Click here for the pictures

On one of our walks into the forest, we spotted a large snake; luckily, our dog didn't as the snake was 'playing dead'. Based on pictures, I'd guess it was a "common garter snake": poisonous to small animals but not fatal to humans.

On the drive back to Phoenix on Sunday afternoon, we spent some more time searching for wild horses along the Salt river. I found about 4 bands of wild horses; most with at least one baby ("foal")!

- Update March 23 -

We left after work on Friday evening and spent the night in the national forest along the Salt river. On the drive into the national forest, we drove through a rain storm with a beautiful rainbow.

Click here for the pictures

On Saturday morning, we hiked along the river and found two bands of wild horses. There were about 15 wild horses, most of which I hadn't seen before. We drove back to Scottsdale in late afternoon as Haichong needed to perform in a piano recital.
On Sunday, we took a day trip to a lake northeast of Phoenix: Bartlett lake. A beautiful lake in between mountains, in the middle of nowhere. Once you leave civilization and turn into the national forest and the small road to the lake, it still takes about 14 miles (20 km) to get there!
The lake is formed by a dam on the Verde river (which meets the Salt river further south). So far, no complaints about the natural beauty and diversity of Arizona. What a difference compared to Texas!

- Update March 16 -

We went camping this weekend in the Tonto national forest, in the northeast of Phoenix. As the temperature is getting hotter, it's nice to be able to escape to a cooler area. We camped at 3,000 feet (1.000m) and had cool nights. We spent our days relaxing in the sun and hiking in the mountains.

At this altitude, the scenery is greener than the desert surroundings in Phoenix, but it's not yet the same as the higher elevation scenery (where the surroundings look like Colorado with its pine forests and still some snow on the ground).

Click here for the pictures

This was our campsite location. Very quiet with the exception of some gun nuts who were doing some target shooting nearby.

- Update March 9 -

I started working on an IT project for a medical company in Scottsdale (greater Phoenix metro area) on March 2.

My mom and her friend, Marie-Louise, left back for Belgium on March 12.
The weekend before they left, we took a weekend trip with them around Arizona and visited:

- Montezuma Castle national monument: Indian ruins built in a steep cliff side
- Jerome: an old mining town, built on the slopes of a mountain
- Prescott: an old mining town, where we slept
- Granite Mountain wilderness, near Prescott
- Tonto Natural Bridge: the world's largest travertine natural bridge
- Payson, in the mountains northeast of Phoenix

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Feb 9 - March 1, 2015

For the first time since I moved to the U.S. (back in 2003), my mom is coming over from Belgium for a visit! I guess Texas wasn't appealing enough for a visit when I lived there for the past 10 years. We've only lived in Arizona for a little over a month now and she decided that this area is worthy of a trip. :-)

In other news, I'm job hunting (I.T.) and might have found a new position ... Stay tuned.

With the possible upcoming job commitment, my mom decided she better hurry. We just bought last minute - tickets and she's arriving in 1 week and will be here for about 3 weeks, during which I will start my new job.

Shortly after my mom's arrival, we left on a 1.5 week road trip. We visited:

- Los Angeles: Hollywood (Walk of Fame, Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood-sign)
- Los Angeles: Beverly Hills
- Los Angeles: Santa Monica Pier (the start/end of Route 66)
- Calico Ghost Town
- Las Vegas (both during the evening as in day light)
- Hoover Dam
- Kingman and a long stretch of Route 66 in Arizona
- Grand Canyon National Park (west and east rim drive)
- Wupatki National Monument: Indian ruins
- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
- Meteor Crater
- Sedona

Click here for the pictures


  • Ik wens jullie een mooie tijd samen met jullie mam.Dat heeft blijkbaar lang geduurd

  • Bedankt! Het is al goed geweest, maar ze kijkt er ook weer naar uit om iedereen in Belgie terug te zien! Jorn

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Jan 2 - Feb 8, 2015

After 21 months of traveling on our road trip, we have "officially" settled down! We moved into a house on January 2nd, in Paradise Valley, in the northeast of Phoenix, Arizona.

It will take a few weeks to settle in; get the internet installed; start looking for customers, etc.

Haichong's new website is online at: VangoPianoAcademy.com

While we get settled in, I continue to visit the wild horses in the Tonto National Forest and post my daily pictures at vangophotos.com

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Dec 15 - Jan 2, 2014

- Update Jan 2 -
We found a house to rent! We moved out of the RV park on January 2nd. More info to come soon.

- Update 12/31 -
Happy New Year!

Tomorrow, January 1 2015, I am starting a "365 photo challenge". This means that I will be posting 1 new picture every day of the year. For the theme, I have chosen the wild horses in the Tonto national forest, east of Phoenix, Arizona.

It's a big commitment as a year is 365 days, so I'll have to go out to the horses on a regular basis, find them in the giant national forest, and take "good" pictures of them to post! Hopefully I can pull it off.

I will be posting 1 picture per day on my photo blog at www.vangophotos.com/blog. Hope to see you there!

- Update 12/29 -
We continued our exploration of the Phoenix area by visiting Saguaro lake in the Tonto national forest east of Phoenix. A beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains and hiking trees between huge saguaros!
Click here for pictures of our visit to Saguaro lake

- Update 12/25 -
Yesterday (Christmas Eve), more than 600 flights were canceled in the U.S. due to winter weather. Reading news like that makes you realize how lucky you are when you live in the southwest. It's Christmas today and I'm sitting outside (17 C / 62 F) under clear blue skies.
Yesterday afternoon, we went hiking again in the national forest on the eastside of Phoenix and we found 3 bands of wild horses ("mustangs")! An amazing sight. I took lots of pictures.
Click here for pictures of the wild horses

- Update 12/23 -
Happy Holidays!
We've been searching for a house to rent for about a week now. We've seen many houses with a realtor but haven't found "the one" yet ... Having three pets doesn't make it any easier; most places have a "2 pet" limit.

In the meantime, we keep looking and, when the WiFi at the RV park is working, keep processing pictures to add to the galleries at vangophotos.com.

Here are the pictures of our offroad trip in Sedona last week: click here
Here are the pictures of last Sunday's hike in the Salt River basin on the eastside of Phoenix: : click here

- Update 12/15 -
We're staying at the "Green Acres RV Park" in Mesa, on the eastside of Phoenix. We're planning on staying here for a few weeks while we look for a house or apartment to rent, and start the (dreaded) job search.

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Dec 2 - 15, 2014

We arrived in Phoenix and unloaded the Uhaul truck into a storage unit. For the first two weeks, we are staying two hours north of Phoenix in the "Verde Valley RV & Camping Resort". The campground is nicely situated in the "verde valley" (green valley) at an altitude of 3,314 ft (1.010 m), with cool nights and nice, warm and sunny days.

Nearby the campground, we visited Flagstaff where we drove up to Arizona's highest mountain; Mount Humphreys (12,637 ft or 3.852 m); to go play in the snow.
We also visited nearby Sedona, beautifully located in a canyon surrounded by red rock formations.

On our evening walks with Sophie, we saw many skunks (luckily Sophie was on leash...) and javelinas. At night, coyotes howl in the area surrounding the campground and in the day, bald eagles fly overhead ... not bad and very different from our previous life in Texas!

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Nov - Dec 1, 2014: Move to Phoenix

We are moving our lives and business from central Texas to Arizona at the end of November. We'll be settling in and opening our photography studio in Phoenix sometime in the coming months. After traveling non-stop for 19 months, we are going to try the "settling down" thing again.

Why Phoenix?

It's been a long and hard debate between the pros and cons of different possible areas in the western United States. We chose to leave Texas and move to Phoenix because of its:
◾ scenic surroundings: all reachable by car within a few hours are places such as Sedona; Prescott; Grand Canyon national park; Flagstaff; Page; Canyon de Chelly national monument; Las Vegas; southern California cities (L.A., San Diego), beaches and national parks; Mexico's Sea of Cortez; numerous other national monuments and parks ...
◾ beautiful climate in the fall, winter and spring; yes, summers can get quite hot, but at least the climate is very dry with almost no humidity and you can escape the heat by driving up into the mountains
◾ strong economy and job market

Come look us up when you live in Phoenix!

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