Monday, March 23 – We say bye to Jeff and Lisa
Our friends, Jeff and Lisa, are heading to Phoenix this afternoon for an early morning flight back to Stockbridge MA. We decide to meet in Dewey AZ for lunch and say our goodbyes. We’ll be towing the Airstream so I use Google Street View to find a restaurant with ample parking.
It’s a little before noon when we arrive at Leff-T’s Steakhouse and Grill. This place is perfect. Trixie and Eddie are allowed on the outdoor patio, the weather’s ideal and the staff is very friendly. Our lunch is excellent as well. This place deserves every bit of the 4.5 stars listed on Yelp.
After lunch, we say our goodbyes. It’s sad to part ways but we’ve made plans to visit in Stockbridge for Christmas. Cindy and I climb in the truck and for the first time in 3 weeks, we’re on our own again.
Boondocking here we come.
We head east for the Coconino National Forest. Downloadable GPS-enabled Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) are available for most of the National Forests throughout Arizona. The one for Coconino shows lots of dispersed (free!) camping along the forest roads that branch off Highway 87 east of I-17.
It’s a beautiful day as we arrive in the Coconino Forest. The forecast calls for highs in the upper 60’s and lows in the upper 30’s, perfect weather for boondocking. The MVUM states that roads shown in yellow are open all year, however we see signs along the highway saying that all forest roads are closed for the winter. Sure enough, as we drive by the “yellow” roads, we see locked gates. So much for this idea. We decide to head for Homolovi State Park for the night. It’s near Winslow Arizona, about 50 miles north of here so we’ll take it easy just like the song says and figure out what to do tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 24 – Not all National Forests are closed.
We’re headed to Albuquerque NM next week so I check the Arizona Benchmark Atlas for other National Forests in that direction. Just east of Coconino lies the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. A quick phone call to the Black Mesa Ranger Station confirms that their forest roads are open. Unfortunately there’s no downloadable maps for this area so a visit to the ranger station in Heber AZ is in order.
Once again, I foolishly follow the route proposed by Apple Maps (will I ever learn?). About 30 miles into our drive, the pavement ends and the gravel road ahead does not look well maintained. I check the Arizona Atlas and sure enough, the road ahead is gravel all the way to Heber. I should have checked before we left Winslow. Towing the Airstream over 25 miles of rough road seems like a bad idea so we backtrack to Winslow and take the I-40 route.
2 hours later we arrive at the Black Mesa District Ranger Station. The ranger suggests a few forest roads with dispersed camping sites that can accommodate our Airstream so we head west on Highway 260 a few miles and turn south on Forest Road 86 aka Black Canyon Road. The road turns to gravel (as expected this time) and as we pass by potential camping sites, we make a mental note of which one we like best. A large coyote is roaming around Number 1 on our list but we continue on thinking there might be something better up the road. As we approach the Apache Indian Reservation border, we decide to head back to what we’ve named “Coyote Junction”.
We discover Pictographs
Our campsite is located in a valley floor surrounded by rock cliffs on either side. About a hundred yards away, I see pictographs painted on the ceiling of overhanging rocks. We’ve seen pictographs many times since we’ve come out west but in all cases they were in state parks and carefully protected. The pictographs by our camp are simply there with no fanfare to publicize their presence. As I walk T&E late at night, I stare up at the night sky and think about the coyote we saw and the people that painted the pictographs hundreds of years ago. We’re all alone out here and I get a little spooked. I tell T&E to “Hurry up and do your business”.by