June 19, 2014: Finally, the trip we had been thoroughly planning, hardcore preparing, and impatiently waiting for was here – our trip to Flagstaff to hike the highest peak in Arizona! Before we left, we made a list of all the major landmarks we wanted to see, and quality letterboxes we wanted to get. The list we had made seemed very ambitious, and we were positive that we wouldn’t run out of things to do, we just hoped we’d have enough time to do them. My concern was that since we have less than a year left in Arizona, I thought we needed to see everything around Flagstaff, just in case we didn’t make it back there. And so, with everything packed up and lots of road trip snacks prepared, we set off early on Thursday morning, saying prayers along the way that our truck would make it, especially through the very hilly I-17.
We took a back highway to get to Phoenix – It’s just about as long and dull as the I-10 gets after so many trips, however there was a new letterbox along the way that we were able to claim First Finders on, which made it worth it!
Above – the World’s Largest Kokopelli, in Camp Verde, AZ. No, we didn’t pull over just for this, there was a letterbox as well! These figures are more common than you’d think down here. But if they say this is “the biggest” I guess I’ll believe them!
After that brief letterbox stop, we took another back highway to go to Montezuma Castle National Monument. Here’s the scenery on the way there!
We’re about to trade the desert scenery for forest scenery – I love the diversity in Arizona’s landscapes. Before visiting the state in 2012, I always just pictured Arizona being 4 things: Grand Canyon, Phoenix, Tucson, and desert. But just driving down I-17 will convince anyone otherwise – You really do have to travel to all corners of the state & inbetween to truly experience the beauty of Arizona!
Oh, this was what we had for lunch…no regrets! By the way, the special flavors for the summer are Birthday Cake and Brownie Batter, and they’re both delicious. 😉
Finally reached Montezuma Castle – took a walk through the museum before checking out the loop trail. Curtis and I agree that Theodore Roosevelt was a pretty awesome guy, for many reasons but today it’s because he’s the one that started National Monuments – Montezuma Castle was one of the first 4. Maybe we’re biased because we get in to these parks for free thanks to Curtis being in the Navy, but there’s no denying there’s some great places out there! Oh, and we’re positive that President Roosevelt wasn’t the one that said you can’t plant letterboxes in national parks, he probably would’ve really liked them. 😉
Short and paved loop trail to check out the castle – we always prefer the longer, quieter hikes, but for just a stretch break from driving, this was pretty cool and educational.
Us and our castle. That’s right, ours. We conquered it. Even though this is the only real cool attraction, we still think it was totally worth the stop.
A close up of the castle – the only thing that would make it cooler is if we could go in there! Come on, President Roosevelt, how hard could that be?!
The sycamore trees were the other exciting thing for us. We really do miss big trees and the shade that they provide!
We have this great system going where Curtis does all the reading at the signs while I take all the pictures, and then we share what we took away with each other. We just love visiting these places together!
Close up of a colorful sycamore
One last picture of us together with our castle – thanks to some strangers for the picture 🙂 One more place crossed off my Arizona bucket list!
Back on I-17, with our first view of Mt. Humphrey’s in the San Francisco mountain range. There comes a point here where no matter where you are, they are somewhere within sight. It was like they were following us, haunting us, beckoning us… Hang in there Humphrey, we’ll be up there soon enough! 😉
We made it to Flagstaff! Our first stop was for a letterbox, of course! We really enjoyed the trees and the brisk air, with temps a bit nippy in the 80’s. (Yes, “brisk” and “nippy”. This is coming from someone who’s been in Tucson where it’s been above 100 for the past 4 weeks! But it did feel great!)
So quiet and peaceful with just us, right on the border of the Coconino National Forest. This was an exciting moment for me – I finally finished AZRoadie’s Arizona Challenge – getting a box of his in every county in Arizona. Curtis completed the challenge in April, and while it took him 3 years to finish, it only took me 10 months. Let’s be real though, I really couldn’t have done it without him! 🙂
Here’s Curtis’ reaction to me finishing the challenge? Just kidding, I held my camera out and saw him start pouting in my peripheral vision, so I met his scowl with a “trying not to smile” expression.
After this, we took another scenic drive heading Southeast from Flagstaff to get a letterbox planted by our friends. It was a lovely, hilly road, passing by several lakes – or “wanna-be” lakes, like in the picture above.
There we go, a real lake! Don’t ever tell me that Arizona is dry!
After finding our friend’s box with a quality carve, we went out to enjoy the lake. We could have gone and camped in this area, but we weren’t done boxing for the day – our intentions were to camp at a higher elevation so that we could adjust for the hike.
Humphrey came to the lake with us…kept reminding us that it’s still there, watching, waiting…
It actually felt like a “relaxing” vacation for a bit here – but we just don’t do well with those, so we had to keep moving! There’s so much more to do and see! We drove into Flagstaff and on Route 66 right around rush hour, and kept missing all the restaurants that looked good to us, but didn’t want to turn around. We ended up getting to the edge of town before finding decently priced gas, then decided to go to our campsite and do a hike before the sun went down.
The road to our campsite ended up being nothing like what we expected – at first it was just a rough, dirt road, and we thought that was fine, the Yeti had been through worse. But then we passed a sign that said “steep and curvy roads” – that was an understatement! Basically it was a narrow, one lane road that went up the side of the mountain, quickly gaining elevation and twisting and turning all over. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared, but we made it, and decided that we would just eat our snacks and not go back down the mountain today.
Thankfully there was room for us to camp, and so we set up our tent before putting on our hiking boots and heading to the trail, which was conveniently located at the end of the campgrounds.
The Inner Basin was our destination for tonight. We were already losing daylight, and so we decided we would go as far as we could go with the sun and elevation. The one thing pushing us to the end was a letterbox – well, one that hadn’t been found since 2009 at that.
The trail was so beautiful – it looked like this for the first mile at least before it became all pine trees. The white bark on the aspen trees made it lighter than it really was, and it felt like we were walking through a magical forest. The trail wasn’t too steep, it only gained about 700 feet in elevation, but starting at 9000 made it good practice. I could tell that my training was paying off, I really didn’t need to stop for breaks on the way up, and my hip was the only thing that hurt toward the end. That’s normal for me though, for the past 2 years I’ve had pain in my right hip every time I’ve been in places of higher elevation, or whenever we hike more than a couple miles. More on that later, though!
Just 2 short miles to the basin – the end had mountains all around us, from the South, West, and North sides. Pine trees also surrounded us, but we were in a large clearing with a great view of all the peaks. The above picture is facing North
Above: facing West. The mountains blocked the view of the sunset, and daylight was fading at this point. Curtis went to look for the box while I took a rest, but he came back quickly – he had found the small letterbox! We were so excited to have an extra reward for finishing this hike. The one thing that was troubling me at this point was seeing little patches of snow on the mountain sides – I was really not wanting to come across any on our hike!
The picture is blurry because it was dark. We felt great physically, but a little nervous about walking back in the dark. The trail sign at the beginning had warned us of black bears and cougars that came out at dusk, but we felt comfortable as long as we were talking or singing our way back. We made it safely to our tent, ready for a night of the “off and on” sleep you get when you go camping.
End of day one: Hiked 5+ miles, drove 300 miles, found 6 letterboxes.