Mother Nature Shines – Jerome, the Grand Canyon & Sedona

Rio Verde Campground

We are currently at Rio Verde Campground in Cottonwood, Arizona. The drive from Holbrook was an easy 153 miles. Our site is a pull-thru, sort of. The Big Rig barely fits. Oh well. We’ve gotten good at making it work. And the people are friendly. Check out the Asian totem poles at the campground office. 

We are staying for a week. Our plan is to continue to get our tourist on. This area has lots to offer. We started with the town of Jerome.

Jerome Arizona

Jerome is located on top of Cleopatra Hill in the Black Hills. It overlooks the Verde Valley. Cottonwood is located in the Verde Valley. The drive from Cottonwood is along State Route 89A, a curvy mountain road. It’s a beautiful drive, for the passenger. The driver – Other Half – can’t exactly gawk.

View from Jerome mainstreetJerome is known as “America’s Most Vertical City.” That’s not an exaggeration. The town is nestled into a steep mountainside. The 30-degree incline of the mountainside has given gravity the edge.

Jerome JailA number of the town’s buildings have slid down the slope, including the jail.

Jerome was once a thriving copper mining town. At its peak the population was 15,000. Today their are about 450 people living there. The barista at a local coffee shop described the residents as “old hippies and artists.” My kind of people.

Haunted Hamburger Jerome AZ

The town is also know as “The Largest Ghost Town in America.” We looked for ghosts at The Haunted Hamburger over lunch. Our waitress grew up in Jerome and had lots of stories of sightings. She’d never seen a ghost herself – but she’s a believer. Good enough for me.

Jerome has a nice array of shops and galleries. It’s refreshing not to have tons of touristy crap for sale. The day gave me another opportunity to practice my appreciate without buying skills.

The Grand Canyon

The next day we took the 6-hour round trip to the Grand Canyon. Once again Other Half’s National Park Senior Pass came through for us. The last time we were at the canyon we were on a motorcycle and way underage for the senior pass.

Kris on South Rim

The canyon is beyond words and photos don’t cut it either. To get an idea of how gigantic the Grand Canyon is – here are the stats: 1 mile deep, 277 river miles long and up to 18 miles across. If you ask me, the 1-mile deep is the most unnerving part.

Grand Canyon South RimWe got to the park when there were still available parking spots. We started at the Visitor Center and walked the South Rim Trail.

Grand Canyon South Rim 2Mother Nature has outdone herself with the Grand Canyon. We were both awe-struck. The Canyon is spectacular but it also messes with your equilibrium. Other Half is not a fan of having his equilibrium messed with.

Other Half on South Rim

Happy to say, he came through like a champ.

On the drive out of the park we spotted a sign for a Mountain Lion crossing. Yes, a Mountain Lion crossing. Now that would be something to see.

Sedona Arizona

Sedona Red Rocks

After a couple days of downtime, consisting of football, pizza and beer, we got back in tourist mode and headed to Sedona. Sedona is nestled in the red rocks of the Upper Sonoran Desert. It’s about 20 minutes from Cottonwood.

Glowing Sedona Red Rock The red rocks are glow-in-the-dark sandstone formations. Technically they don’t glow-in-the-dark, but they do glow a brilliant orange and red when the sun hits them.

Sedona is a small town with a population just above 10,000. The town is known for its stunning landscapes and its vibrant arts community. We enjoyed both.

In the FYI category, Sedona was named after the wife of the town’s first Postmaster. Who knew. And one more thing, my appreciate without buying skills were put to the test. Sometimes a girl’s gotta shop.


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Gettin Our Tourist On

Petrified ForestOther Half and I have made a decision to get our tourist on on a more regular basis. There’s so much beauty in this country. It’s our goal to see as much as we can manage. After all, that is the overriding point of living in the Big Rig.

We left Albuquerque bright and early Monday morning and headed west on Interstate 40. We did 240 miles landing in Holbrook, Arizona. We are in the Arizona corner of the Navajo Nation. Other Half educated me on the WWII Navajo code talkers. He has an extensive 7th grade knowledge bank. I, of course, had no clue.

The code talkers were bilingual Navajo speakers recruited by the Marines in WWII. Their primary job was the transmission of secret tactical messages. Pretty cool.

We’re staying at a place called OK RV Park. It’s ok for sure. The pull-thru sites are plenty big enough for the Big Rig and we have full hook ups. Full hook ups means we can take showers, make toast and do laundry without worrying about running out of water or running the generator. The first thing we did was laundry. It’s good to have clean clothes.

Petrified wood at OK RV ParkThe other more than ok thing about this place is the collection of petrified wood. The current campground owner told us the original landowner collected the pieces when the railroad was built back in the late 1800’s. She said their ancestors still own the collection. She happily displays it on the grounds.

Petrified treesHolbrook is an easy drive to the Petrified Forest National Park. That was our goal in staying here. (That and clean underwear.) This morning we packed a picnic lunch and headed to the park. Other Half is a proud owner of a National Parks Senior Pass so we got in free. The Senior Pass is the best $10 we ever spent.

Fossil on display in Rainbow MuseumWe started at the Rainbow Forest Museum at the south entrance. We caught about half of the orientation movie, enough to learn a little bit about the dinosaur fossils and the evidence of human occupation. The land seems unforgiving. It’s hard to imagine life thriving here.

Other Half and gigantic petrified logWe headed out of the Rainbow Museum onto the Giant Logs Trail. They’re not kidding when they say giant logs. The trail provided up close views of the whopping petrified logs.

Painted DesertThe park road is 28 miles and provides access to overlooks, trails and killer views of the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert.

Gigantic petrified treeThe Painted Desert is soft sedimentary rock in an array of colors. It’s breathtaking. We walked several of the trails, the paved ones, and took it all in.

Prehistoric LandscapeThe Petrified Forrest and the Painted Desert make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Not a little step – a whopping step – a couple hundred million years.


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So Long Albuquerque

Today is our last day in Albuquerque. The Balloon Fiesta officially ended this morning. We headed down to the field early to watch the final launches.

Hearts A Fire in the centerAll week we’ve been keeping track of the Hearts A Fire balloon. Our friends Mike and Donna Kuper, www.flyingthekoop.comare crew members and friends of the balloon owners. This morning we watched as the balloon went from flat to full to floating. Spectacular.

More fun balloons!Of course I added to my collection of balloon pics. If you ask me, you can never have enough balloon pics.

We finished off our Fiesta experience with breakfast burritos. Other Half and I have been enjoying breakfast burritos almost daily along with an occasional apple fritter.

FYI: The food tracking part of my FitBit Frenzy has been on hold all week. The step count part of my FitBit Frenzy has been kicking butt. Good thing.

While here, we also experienced our first Frito Pie. We had no clue what a Frito Pie was – but it turns out to be chili, with a serious after burn, over top of Fritos. As long as you’ve got a beer, what could be bad with that?

Me, Judy and DonnaThanks to my friend Donna, on the right, I enjoyed another first while in Albuquerque – a 25 mile bike ride. I’ve been close to 20 miles back in Ohio, but 25 miles was a first. And there were hills – at least by my flatlander standards.

Rio Grande River in ABQ, NMOur plan was to ride 10 miles one way to a place called Bike & Coffee for breakfast. A friend of Donna’s joined us. The ride was beautiful with much of it along the Rio Grande. We navigated the trail, got to Bike & Coffee and found it’s only open on Saturday and Sunday. It was Friday.

The three of us had skipped breakfast so we were hungry. We decided to ride a couple of miles further to the Botanical Gardens and eat at their cafe. Good plan – or so we thought. We got there and found the cafe closed. We were two for two. The only thing open was the snack bar. We opted to split a giant, super salty pretzel with cheese. Best pretzel any of us had ever had.

Judy & Donna riding easyWe rode back with ease, at least those two did. I did great until we hit the hills. I clearly suck at shifting as I had to walk my bike up one of the hills. I’ll get better.

Our campground at foot of Sandia MtnOn the ride back I took a pic of our campground from the trail on the other side of the drainage channel. The Big Rig is in the center of the pic, just left of the yellow sign. If you squint you can spot our Toad, the beige Equinox. Toad is RV slang for your tow car.

We’ve had a great week dry camping in Albuquerque. We weren’t sure about dry camping for that long, but it worked out. Dry camping means no water, electric or sewer hook ups. The Big Rig is self-contained so dry camping IS a thing we can do. It’s just not a thing we usually do.

We’ll be happy to have hook-ups again. Three showers in seven days is not my idea of a good time.


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Balloon Fiesta – WOW!

The sky filled with balloonsI’m a person who gets excited when I see a hot air balloon overhead – even one. I’ve been known to run in the direction of the balloon so I can capture an out-of-focus pic. You can imagine how obnoxiously excited I’ve been experiencing the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

The Balloon Fiesta is in it’s 45th year and happens the first week of October every year. A man named Sid Cutter started it in a shopping center parking lot in 1972. There were 13 balloons. This year there are 550. One of our current Big Rig neighbors worked for Sid back in the day.

The Balloon Fiesta hit our Bucket List last year. My travel planner, Other Half got everything lined up and here we are – just in time for my birthday.

Ohio Friends at Balloon FestFour of our friends from Ohio joined us for a couple of days. So nice of them to come all this way just for my birthday. Gee, thanks guys.

The Balloon Fiesta is a big draw for the area. We got here on Monday afternoon and have seen the crowds increase daily. Thursday is kids day, and hundreds of kids get a skip day to attend. It’s worth it.

Tight sites at Balloon FestThere are also hundreds of Big Rigs here. We’re sandwiched in tightly with our new best friends. We’re the burgundy rig. This is our first real experience dry camping for any length of time. Dry camping means you have NO hook ups of any kind. No electric, no water and no sewer. Good thing the Big Rig has a generator and good sized holding tanks. Dry camping also means you take showers every other day and think twice about letting the water run while you brush your teeth. So far we’re doing ok.

Early morning on launch fieldOther Half and I are morning people, which is a good thing this week. The events start at the crack of dawn – literally. It’s dark and it’s cold when we hit the launch field.

Mike Kuper crewing for Hearts A FireSpectators are allowed everywhere on the launch field. You can talk to the pilots, the crews and the other frozen spectators. Each balloon has a crew and a chase team made up of volunteers. Our friend Mike Kuper, crews for the Hearts A Fire balloon.

Filling Hearts A FireHearts A Fire is owned by the Rice family. The pilot, Brad Rice, is a a second generation pilot. His dad, Dick Rice was an early balloon enthusiast. We watched Mike and the crew set up, inflate and launch the balloon.

Hearts A FireWe’ve never been so close to a hot air balloon. The experience leaves you in awe. The balloons are much bigger in person than they appear in the sky. The basket really is a basket. And the burner is loud and hot.

Kissing balloonsThey also are dang close together on the field and sometimes in the air. When two balloons touch in the sky it’s called a kiss. We’ve witnessed a lot of kissing.

Riding our bikesBetween balloon events Other Half and I are getting in some bike riding. Albuquerque has an extensive paved bike trail system, much of it running along the water diversion channel.

Enjoying a birthday MargaritaWe also managed a margarita or two.

In my opinion, the Balloon Fiesta is worthy of a spot on your Bucket List. Plan on dressing in layers, bring gloves and a portable charger for your phone. Take it from me, it’s a bummer to have a dead battery just as the balloon you’ve been stalking takes flight.


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