Our time is up here in Flagstaff and it’s time to shake a leg and move on – because the bus is finally fixed!
Now, just so you know, take that with a little pinch of salt, because while we have changed the exhaust and it seems from our test runs that the fumes no longer overrun the bus (thereby alleviating us of the possibility of dying); we do still have a slight residual smell in the cupboards.
But we’ll deal with that at some point later – for now, let’s drive!
Well, actually we will be driving tomorrow, not right now. And in a northwards direction we think. But we aren’t sure. Loops has been checking out the weather maps recently (don’t forget his meteorologist tendencies) and has informed me that for at least the next week, anywhere within driving distance with be suffering from triple digit temperatures.
Are you kidding me?!
I can’t believe that we started off this year so well with our travels; setting out early to avoid the worst of the heat, and now here we are, caught in it. It’s like a bad rerun of last year’s mad rush to escape the blistering temperatures.
So before we dash off, let me fill you in on the Flagstaff area.
Oddly enough I have previously visited this city back in 2009 when, after my sister got married, my mum and I took a road trip. Just the two of us, a trusty Ford Focus with the best petrol mileage ever and a rough idea in our head to make a triangular loop through parts of Nevada, Arizona and Utah. It was actually an amazing trip and hopefully my mum and I will be able to take another together someday in the near future.
Anyway, we passed through Flagstaff previously (it has a nice downtown area with plenty of quaint shops to visit and an excellent observatory), but didn’t make it as far south as Sedona; which is a town Loops wants to take me to visit. Having already spent a couple days in the bus with him fiddling with the engine yet again (cleaning the engine of any possible leaks or spills that may be causing fumes when they heat up, disconnecting pipes, reconnecting pipes etc.), it’s nice to get out to see the scenery. And what lovely scenery it is too.
While southern Arizona continues both the Texas and New Mexico desert theme, the northern part of Arizona is vastly different with its lush pine forests and snow-capped mountains (Humphreys Peak, anyway). At 7,000 feet it is also blessed with cooler weather and often a pleasant breeze.
Taking the 89A road, we are treated to some of the striking sights this area has to offer. This smaller road winds starkly through the Coconino Forest, twisting and turning down through the valley before it comes to settle in the town of Sedona. The walls of the valley aren’t a simple boring slate or dull grey colour as you may imagine cliffs to be, the rocks around this area are a deep, rust red. I can only imagine how ethereal they must look when the sun begins to set around here.
Sedona’s purpose in life it seems is to cater to tourists. It appears to have no other function at all. Every single shop in this pretty and appealing town is focused on selling some type of local craft item, feeding people or taking them on some type of tour. The shops are littered with art, jewellery, pottery, clothing, household knick-knacks, fudge and jerky for you to buy; all locally made. There is a big push here on Native American items with all sellers desperate to tell you about the local artists whom they know personally. This should be no surprise as the whole of this area of Arizona and north into Utah is still very much inhabited by a number of tribes. There is reservation land to the north-east of here, the historical peoples of this area were Native American and even down at the local Wal-Mart you can easily pick out people who are obviously descended from this lineage. It reminds me very much of seeing so many Mexican faces down in Texas, just with a different race of people.
Anyway, you can spend hours just going from place to place here and window shopping. I will tell you very excitedly though, this time in a town, I actually spent some money! You may remember a couple months ago me going on about my new tea mug that I was so happy to have found. Well, since I got here to the US and realised how many paper towels I was going through using them as tea coasters, I’ve been desperate to find a coaster for my mug. But not any coaster you understand. I wanted it to have some sort of crafty or local connection, rather than a Made in China deal. And here in Sedona – I found one! Say hello to my new tea coaster….
Not only is amazing because of its desert design (with my new found love of roadrunners AND it has an ocotillo plant on it), but it is also made of sandstone, a gravelly type rock that absorbs spills, and my coaster is made by Wonderstone, a Phoenix based company, right here in Arizona. So it scores top marks all round.
After having our fill of wares, The Beast takes us to the outskirts of town to visit ‘The Chapel on the Hill’, otherwise known at The Chapel of the Holy Cross.
It is one of the big tourist destinations here in Sedona, having been completed in 1956, when there still wasn’t much out here; it used to be a hugely prominent feature in the landscape. Now, while it still is an excellent attempt at some type of modern gothic architecture, sadly it has been encroached upon the expansion of the city outskirts and so it now vies for attention with the likes of this mansion sitting just below it…
The chapel is swarming with people on the day we visit, and so we nudge our way through to see the inside of the building. It has been cleverly designed with a huge cross supporting the four glass windows facing out over the landscape. It is however a giant greenhouse. With not only the windows allowing in the sun that is beating down, but the large amount of remembrance candles burning inside, it is hard to stand in there longer than a couple minutes without needing fresh air.
While a site of interest in some way, I feel mostly that it is the architecture reigns supreme here, rather than its religious purpose. I think back to visiting the missions in San Antonio, still used for local services, and can distinctly remember the reverence the buildings held. This, to me, does not feel the same at all.
We leave the chapel as it is getting ready to be engulfed by the tourists just dropped off by the local tour trolley, and head back into town for an early evening meal; before winding our way back to the RV park and Belle.
The next few days pass by with Loops continuing to tinker here and there, and me making a final push to finish off my first, quilt-type-technique project – my Flatty Dog! And because my memory is so bad, I can’t recall what of my project I’ve mentioned before, so here’s the short version. I want to attempt to make an Amish quilt one day, and when passing through Lancaster, PA, picked up a small pattern to help me learn how to cut fabric, piece it together and sew. The pattern is in the shape of a dog cushion. And while here in Flagstaff I’ve managed to finish my sewing, stuff the dog and voila!
I actually made my (nameless) Flatty with a particular friend in mind, and hopefully in about five days it will arrive and spread some cheer.
It’s about this time that we realise, despite our initial plans to be away from here, we will still be in the area when the mini Hot Birds rally takes place just down the road. This is the gathering that Putz and Ken from Payson had invited us too, and so we decided to pop along in the bus to say hello, bring a Victoria Sandwich, and have Loops be able to get some more ideas of what to do about the exhaust.
Doesn’t Belle look happy to have friends?
So this was our merry bunch and I did have a very nice chat with two ladies over dinner, which is a step up for me given that usually I stick in a corner and watch everyone else chat. We had a nice time around the fire and I could hear Putz’s constant voice in the background, which made me smile, and it was also nice to be able to say hello to Van again and meet his wife this time.
Van told us he was planning to be in the area for a few more days, and as luck would have it, he ended up coming to stay over at Pine View in the site next to us, lending himself for three days to help Loops with the exhaust – first by wrapping the exhaust pipe and turbo in a heat shielding wrap and blanket, and when that didn’t solve our problem, helping to finally replace the exhaust pipe that Loops had fitted back in Michigan last year.
Well, it seems we have finally found the main root of our problem! With the new pipe fitted we take Belle for a 30 mile drive, up and down a 6% hill grade, the result being that I can walk into the bedroom without having to hold my breath for fumes. Although the smell in the cupboards is still there and a bit of a bother, it has dissipated the issue enough to allow us to be able to safely drive and work out later if maybe the cupboard carpet is just hanging on to residual odours that have built up in there and will need to be replaced. So it seems that maybe the muffler was just creating too much back pressure and by adding the straighter pipe with the dampener (not a full straight pipe, thank goodness!), it has alleviated most of the problem.
Before our final off, we manage to fit in two canyon visits – though of different magnitudes; first, to the Grand Canyon and second, to Walnut Canyon National Monument.
We had not originally planned to visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, both of us having been there on previous individual trips and opting to see the north side instead when we’re back on the road, but we were doing too much sitting and waiting for the exhaust and we needed an adventure.
You’ve probably heard many clichés about the canyon – it’s mind-blowingly huge, your brain can’t take the magnitude of it in, you have to see it to believe – and they are all true. Much like our visit to the vastly smaller meteor crater, anything so large really cannot adequately be processed by your brain. Or mine, at least. On its largest scale, the Grand Canyon is 1 mile deep, 18 miles wide and 277 miles long. It’s a massive tear, a rip, a vent, in the earth. The vastness of the open area it covers really feels like a physical pressure on you when you stand next to it. It’s incredible.
It’s also incredibly busy when we visit.
It’s the height of the summer season, the schools are out and everyone and their brother is on holiday, here at the Grand Canyon (or so it seems). We do our best to escape people where we can, but really it’s just quite hopeless. So we wander the Rim Trail for a couple of miles between the main visitor centre and Verkamps centre, taking in the views.
On my last visit to the canyon (with my mum) I realised that you could hike into it and camp overnight, an amazing experience in my opinion, and promised myself that the next time I came here, I would. However, I didn’t envision myself here in June with the temperature being about 90oF. Still, I wanted to at least have the ability to say I’d been ‘in’ the canyon, so I gently cajoled Loops into agreeing to walk a small way down the Bright Angel Trail so that I could have the canyon walls around me. We made it 0.2 miles down and he decided that was far enough for him. I still have the desire to hike further one day, down to the Colorado River at least, even if not to camp.
Our second canyon turned out to be a completely different experience. Walnut Canyon is just on the outskirts of Flagstaff, and is an NPS National Monument. It was once home to the Pueblo Indians (early Native Americans), who used the natural overhangs of the canyon walls to build themselves stone houses. They then farmed the land on the canyon rim above and used the seasonal river below for water.
The canyon is obviously far smaller than our previous one, but it is far richer in some ways for the pine forest and historical buildings contained within it. It is easily accessible for anyone with a mediocre amount of fitness, taking the 240-ish steps down and back out again. There is a pathway that has been designed to take you in a loop around one part of the canyon that juts out like an island into it. And rather than be open to the hot sun all the time, the natural forest and overhangs ensure that there are plenty of cool spots to let you stop and really take in the experience, without getting heatstroke.
All along the walk you will find interesting educational posts, telling about the life of the people in the canyon, how they lived as a community and why they eventually moved on and left the canyon vacant. Sadly in the 1800’s the canyon was looted heavily by the people of the time, looking for treasures and artefacts, so the only things that remain today are the partial walls of the buildings covered in soot, evidence of cook fires.
With just a little imagination and contemplation you can begin to feel what life might have been like for the people who lived there, with the canyon silent and little enough traffic that you can sit on your own for short times to reflect. It’s easy just to focus on the homes you walk past, but if you take the time to really look around the canyon walls, you will notice that there are literally hundreds of these dwellings all around the rock face on both sides of the canyon. Sound travelling so well here, it would have been very easy for neighbours across the way to call out and talk back and forth. It really is a wondrous place.
And so that brings us to the end of our time in Flagstaff. It’s time to get the bus stowed away, cleaned and ready for our drive tomorrow. We’re taking a long drive north, crossing over into our 22nd state – Utah; with Loops having planned some sort of unexpected camp for us…I can’t wait to find out what!
Oh, and just to mention – Happy ‘One Year on the Road’ anniversary to us – 1st June marked our first full year, full-time living in Belle! Woo-hoo!