Exploring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

1 06 2017

Duck on a Rock, Grand Canyon South Rim

After getting settled into our campsites overnight, our first outing the next day was to the Visitors Center.  It’s about a mile walk over to the Visitors Center or a short ride on the Blue shuttle.  From here you can explore along the rim all the way to the South Kaibab Trailhead, out to Mathers Point or return to the Market Plaza.

Logistics: There 4 shuttle bus routes operating along the South Rim.  The Village Route (blue line) handles stops for the Market Plaza and Village areas.  This includes stops at both Mathers Campground and Trailer Village.  The Hermits Rest Route (red line) interchanges at Village near the Bright Angel trailhead and continues for 9 stops along the rim in the western direction to Hermits Rest.  Coming back eastbound, the shuttle only makes 3 stops between Hermits Rest and Village Transfer.  If you want to see all of the rim overviews, make sure you are jumping on and off the westbound shuttle.  The Tusayan Route (purple line) runs from the Visitors Center out of the park through the south entrance to the small town of Tusayan.  The Kaibab/Rim Route (orange line) runs from the Visitors Center between Yaki Point to Yavapai Point.  Private vehicles are not allowed along the Orange (to Yaki Point) or Red lines, shuttles are the only way to see these South Rim vistas.

El Tovar Lodge, Grand Canyon South Rim

After getting an overview at the Visitors Center, the next day we jumped on the Blue line to explore the Village area.  Most of the Grand Canyon accommodations are found here, from the luxurious El Tovar Hotel, the more casual Bright Angel Lodge and the Maswik Lodge.  There are some gorgeous overlooks at Lookout Studio and Kolb Studio, both perched on the very edge of the rim.   Catching the Red line at the Village Transfer station, we stop at several of the view points on the western route including Hopi Point, The Abyss and Pima Point.  Hopi Point is the first place along this route that you can see the river below.  The Abyss is known for its almost vertical view down the canyon, looking into the Monument Creek drainage.  Pima Point is an overlook that provides great views and sometimes sounds of the Colorado River below.

Working in the Park:  There are many WiFi access points scattered throughout the park including the Visitors Center, the Market Plaza area at the Yavapai Lodge and the camper services building at Mather.  Unfortunately none of these connections worked well enough for real access.  Phone email seemed to work slowly, but that was about it.  Verizon cell service is spotty throughout the park, but like the WiFi, very limited in bandwidth if you are able to connect.  We ended up driving out of the park to Tusayan and using the fee-based WiFi service at the Grand Hotel.  We did have T-Mobile access in Tusayan, but only slow 2G roaming services limited to 100Mb of data.


The Grand Canyon – one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World

31 05 2017

Good Morning from Mather Campground!

Perched on the south rim, Mather is a typical very large Federal campground.  With over 300 sites, there are great RV sites, tent sites and group sites.  With a stated limit of 30 feet, our two 31 and 32 foot 5th wheels fit into sites #181 and #183 very easily.  And, with mindful positioning, there’s no problem with our opposing slides. These are the last two sites on the Juniper Loop.  However, with these “inside-the-loop” sites, entering through the “Exit Only”, we’re in the first two spots and properly positioned with our doorways and awning to our campsite rather than to the road.  We also have friends in site #185, the first site on the Maple Loop. This site also works fine with a slightly over sized 5th wheel with slides.

There are no facilities at the sites except picnic tables and fire rings.  At least 1 and sometimes up to 3 water taps are available for filling on each loop.  Unexpected, but convent, we have one on our site #183 – and it even has threads for attaching a hose.  A dump station is provided at the campground entrance not far from a camper services building with showers and laundry.  There are also flush toilets scattered throughout the camping loops.

Located next to Mather Campground is Trailer Village, a concessionaire operated full hookup campground.  With 80 sites this campground gets good reviews for larger rigs – or those that prefer electric, water and sewer ports.  The western half of the village appears to be for guests, while the eastern half appears to be long terms residents, we assume employees.  The guest side has paved roads and sites, the employee site is rough dirt roads and even some rougher looking sites.

Both campgrounds are within walking distance of the Market Plaza, or catch the shuttle bus at the entrance to each campground for transportation to the market and other areas along the south rim from Hermits Rest to the Yaki Point.

Lost Dutchman State Park

2 03 2017

After discovering Lost Dutchman last year, we knew we wanted to spend more time in this beautiful Arizona State Park.  Arriving on Thursday, we’ll be in site #88 for 3 nights, then move to site #93 for 3 additional nights.  Both sites are in the smaller campground area, both are back-ins with electric and water.  All sites on this loop are paved and have a carefully manicured gravel area for a picnic table and fire ring.  There are also pull-through sites running down the center of the loop as well as circular pull-throughs on some of the outside locations.

For the first 4 nights we’ll have good friends from Conifer staying with us.  On Friday we’re going to attend an Arizona Diamondback baseball game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the spring training home for the D-backs and the Denver Rockies.  This beautiful facility is the first of its kind to be built on Native land, a cooperative venture of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and MLB.

Payson, AZ

1 03 2017
Payson Campground, site #42

Payson Campground, site #42

We’ve made it to Arizona – and, hopefully warmer temperatures.

After a calm, but chilly transit across western New Mexico and eastern Arizona we’re parked at what appears to be a former KOA, the Payson Campground and RV Resort.  It’s amazing how many former RV parks are now called resorts.  This one is unique because it’s perched on the top of a hill just off of highway 260.  Long gashes in the pavement attest to the steepness of the entrance driveway – anyone with low clearance needs to take extra caution to make sure they don’t leave their rear bumper or stabilizer jacks in the roadway.  Once inside, the sites are terraced along the back of the hill and along the outer edges.  With trees everywhere, plenty of shade is available in many of the sites.  We were in site #42, a very long back-in site along the outside edge of the park.  While we needed 3 blocks to level, the full hookups (water, sewer and 30/50 electric) were conveniently located.

This will be a relatively quick stop – we’re only about 90 miles from Lost Dutchman State Park.  More from the valley of the sun tomorrow!

Desert Trails RV Park, Tucson

14 03 2016
Desert Trails RV Park, Tucson, AZ

Desert Trails RV Park, Tucson, AZ

We’ve arrived in Tucson, and perhaps one of the most disappointing RV sites we’ve been in since leaving Colorado.  With good to excellent reviews, this park appears to be perfect for those who will spend a few winter months in Tucson, but not necessarily for those of us who are just passing through.  Winding roads and small gardens abound, and make for a eclectic and somewhat disorganized look to the park.  Trailers, coaches and even a few park models seem to be stuck in every nook and cranny.  But, the very full park schedule, the 7 activity buildings, a large recreation hall, pool hall, nature trails into the adjoining Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park tell the real tale of this park.  This is somewhere that active 40 and 50-somethings come to enjoy the warmth of Tucson during the winter months and to have activities besides shuffleboard and bridge.

For those that want to take advantage of a very full program, the $29/night, or $510/month is probably a great value.  Unfortunately for us, it’s all about the convenience and appeal of the site.  We’re in WE5 (I think that’s West End) crowded between a large motor coach and a long travel trailer.  There’s just enough room for our slides to extend and provide a narrow walkway before bumping into the small fence that demark each site.  The 30AMP electric socket doesn’t have a breaker, so you’re forced to plug in “hot”.  The water is convenient enough, and the dump port is all the way to the rear of the site.  None of this is terrible, we’ve been in small, cozy sites before.  The problem is directly behind us, not 10 feet from the rear of the trailer is South San Joaquin Road and directly across the road, a few houses with loud, large barking dogs that obviously spent the night outside.  And, the touted free Wi-Fi is like many parks, basically non-existent, at least in these out of the way sites.  Noisy nights, and that cramped feeling will make it easy to move on from here after 2 nights.  More from our next stop in New Mexico!

Desert Trails RV Park, Tuscon, AZ

Pretty Tight at Desert Trails RV Park, Tuscon, AZ

Desert Trails RV Park, Tucson, AZ

Every Nook and Cranny used at Desert Trails RV Park, Tucson, AZ

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

12 03 2016
Organ Pipe Cactus

Organ Pipe Cactus

The National Park Service has selected a beautiful patch of the Sonoran Desert about half way between Yuma and Tucson and all the way south at the Mexican border.  This is the northern most reach of the famous cactus that is used for the park’s name.  Early accounts tell of the magnificent rank of organ pipes rising from the desert floor, surrounded by the even taller Saquaro and gangly Ocotillo with it’s bright red blossoms.  This part of the Sonoran is known as the green desert, and indeed at least at this time of year, the surrounding hillsides are a lush green hue.

We’re parked at the Twin Peaks Campground, a relatively large campground with over 200 sites with no hookups.  But, potable water is readily available all around the campground, and two threaded taps for filling tanks are available near the dump station.  Generator hours are limited to 8-10AM and 4-6PM.  Without electric hookups, we didn’t bother trying for over-the-air TV, but it’s doubtful – only satellite TV is likely to provide signals.    There are also several bath/shower houses scattered through the campground with flush toilets and solar showers.  As a bonus, the Verizon data signal is full 3G and even the T-Mobile phones (which appear to be roaming to Mexico) work fairly well.   We were assigned site #37.  All of the RV sites provide a pull-through concrete pads between paved roads, a smaller concrete patio, a picnic table and grill.  All are set among the natural vegetation, most with at least some minimal shade.  The only “bad” sites would be those directly next to the bathroom buildings with their slamming doors and bright night lights.


Twin Peaks Campground from Google Earth

There are programs several times a day at the nearby Visitors Center, and a nightly program at the campground amphitheater.  The daytime activities range from hikes to tours into the nearby mountains.  On Friday we returned to Ajo (ah-ho) for quick visit to the local IGA which provided a good grocery selection as well as an in-store Ace Hardware.  How convenient!  On Saturday we decided to check out Lukeville, the small border town about 5 miles south of the Visitors Center.  As we head toward the border, it becomes apparent that spring breakers from Tucson and other local Arizona schools are escaping to the Mexican resorts along the Sea of Cortez.  The backup at the small border crossing was over an hour long.  Rocky Point seems to be most discussed, perhaps we need to check it out next time we’re in this part of Arizona.  http://playadeoro-rv.com/  In Lukeville, there’s nothing of interest – the former motel and RV park appears to be closed.  It truly is a border crossing town, and only about 60 miles to the resorts along the Sea of Cortez.

Farewell to Yuma

10 03 2016
Prison Hill Brewing Co, Yuma, AZ

Prison Hill Brewing Co, Yuma, AZ

After exploring some of the other RV parks on Sunday, we ended up in old town at the Prison Hill Brewery, named after the famous Wild West landmark, the Yuma Territorial Prison which operated from 1875 to 1909.  Located in an old building on Main Street, the brewery is the only craft brewer in town and in fact within 165 miles.  We enjoyed a few of their craft brews, along with an appetizer of of Poutine (fries smothered in cheese and brown Guiness gravy) and a plate of Fried Avocados.  The avocado’s were good, we weren’t impressed by their version of Poutine.  For an entree we enjoyed the Prison Hill Smoked Meat Plate – very good with 2 choices of meats and 2 choices of sides.

Los Algodones, MX

Los Algodones, MX

Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate early in the week – by late Sunday and all the way through mid-day Tuesday the winds howled and the dust blew.  We hunkered down, sealed everything as well as possible and waited out the storm.  The skies finally cleared on Wednesday and we decided to head across the border to Mexico.  From Yuma you actually cross the Colorado River into California, travel about 5 miles further along I-8 and then turn south to the border at Los Algodones.  Just before arriving at the gated crossing, there’s a huge parking lot – where nearly everyone parks for $6 and walks into Mexico.  There must be more pharmacies, dentists and optical offices here on the main street of Los Algodones than many large cities in the US.  The streets and stores are clean and English is being spoken everywhere.  Yelp had listed 5 of the best restaurants in town, we somehow managed to stumble upon #1, El Paraiso.  Tables are arranged throughout an open courtyard, with plenty of umbrellas for shade and seemingly plenty of wait staff.  Speaking Spanish to order or re-order a margarita and some snacks, our inquiries in Spanish were always met with responses in English.  Both US Dollars and Mexican Pesos appear on the menu, but USD are preferred.  2 Margaritas each, a bowl of chips and tasty salsa and carna asada Nachos set us back about $35.00.  Not inexpensive, but certainly not terrible either.  A quick stroll through the shops that surround the restaurant courtyard and we’re back to the border guard station.  Except, there’s a long line stretching at least a 2 blocks for those who are exiting Mexico.  The lesson here, order another margarita or two and wait for the 3pm departure line to ease a bit.  All in all, a very comfortable, easy and fun trip over the border into the small tourist town of Los Algodones.

El Paraiso Restaurant

El Paraiso Restaurant

One of the RV parks we didn’t visit earlier in the week is on the road between Yuma and the border crossing, Cocopah Bend RV & Golf Resort.  This park appears to have a bit more grass, and potentially would be a  bit less dusty during a windy period.  When we get back to Yuma, probably worth a check.

After talking with guys that were washing an RV in the park on Wednesday, we’re hoping they can fit us into their schedule for a truck and trailer wash before we leave Yuma.  Unfortunately we find out Riverfront RV Park doesn’t allow washes unless you’re staying at least 2 weeks.  Combined with the no-credit card policy when we check out, we think we’ll definitely find a different place to stay next time we’re in town.

Our next stop on the road to Texas will be southwest of Tucson at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  More from the south Sonoran Desert…