April 8-13, 2021
This Travels With Toohey blogisode features our camp at Homolovi State Park where ancient Native Americans left us lots of ruins, a visit to Petrified Forest National Park to witness really old trees (now rocks that look like the old trees), and to Meteor Crater where the most eminent danger was not a rock blasting into the earth. A visit to this area wouldn’t be complete without us standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona, such a fine sight to see. We moved the expedition to Flagstaff from there for a couple of nights to do laundry and prepare for our visit to Grand Canyon National Park. It is this trip to the laundromat that has spurred the following introduction.
Laundromats have a long history dating back to the first one in the 1930’s to over 35,000 in operation across the USA as of this blog post with annual revenues exceeding $5 billion. Originally called washeterias, they have since been known as laundromats and launderettes, the latter being no relation to Lysette. Beyond the business of coin operated laundries, people watching in laundromats is interesting. These places are a real melting pot of folks who are all on the common unpleasant mission for clean clothes. Since these places have been given a special name then the people who use them should also have a name. I kind of like laundromates. Laundromates go to laundromats exposing their most personal stuff. Speaking on behalf of laundromates, we would all agree that no one would be here if it weren’t absolutely necessary. The laundromates that I have encountered aren’t typically jovial, in fact, doing laundry is possibly the least favorite chore of many humans and doing it in a laundromat makes this chore that much less desirable. Facial expressions on most laundromates are represented by duty of task and focus on getting through the unpleasant process which on average requires 30-45 minute time slots per washing machine cycle (load) and 20 minutes for drying. (Note that I don’t include the folding process in the time calculation as it can range from a crumpled wad to the Marie Kondo method which can get emotional.) Bad things can also happen to personal things at laundromats, like dropping your clean wet clothes on the floor on the way to the dryer, putting your one nice black shirt in a washer that has chlorine on the bottom, and even accidentally washing a camera lens. No wonder people are a bit grumpy. As every laundromat is unique, there is also no common or stereotypical laundromate. Laundomates we’ve seen come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes, some in wheelchairs, some stylish, some frumpy. I feel quite confident in saying that many wear their least favorite clothes to the laundromat and there is also a good chance, I’ll say it, that some laundromates wear dirty underwear, or the extreme, no underwear at all. On this visit to do my laundry, I pegged a couple laundromates as fellow full-time travelers while others were here because they don’t have washers and dryers at home or their washer and dryer, like the Flagstaff KOA’s, were out of order. There were few fellow laundromates who made eye contact over their COVID mask, those who did usually followed with head nods indicating a non verbal hello laundromate, but mostly people just stayed within their space. Some waited outside in their car for machine cycles to be completed while others stood in front of their machines, seemingly standing guard over their work space and clothes. It is safe to say that social media was getting a workout as wherever laundromates stood they did finger exercises on their smart phone.
The cost per load at this Flagstaff laundromat was $3 (on the high end as the price can range from free which is rare to $3.50 with most around $2 per load) for the smaller front load washers we used. The drying cost 25 cents for 8 minutes and the dryers were large enough to hold multiple washed loads if needed. The place was mostly clean relative to the use it was getting on this day except for one large trash can that was overflowing and never tended to by the one employee. For us, we got the laundry done in about an hour to including the 8 minute drive time which is competitive with our best efforts.
We continued to be amazed at the natural beauty of the desert, baron earth with wind sculpted rock features that at times seem to be from another planet. Navajo Reservation Land was fascinating with a mix of red rock features through Monument Valley, seemingly wasteland of light brown desert with nothing surviving, to gorgeous valleys sitting along rivers. As we turned south along highway 89 we began to follow the views of the San Francisco Mountains and Humphrey Peak at well over 12,000 feet still snow-capped. We wound our way around Flagstaff and ended the drive on I-40 for the last leg past Winslow and into Homolovi State Park. The decision for Homolovi State Park was based on its proximity to a few attractions such as Winslow AZ, Petrified Forest National Park, the state park ruins, and Meteor Crater. Oh, and they had showers and, most important, availability.
Homolovi State Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Winslow, and Meteor Crater
Our entrance into the neighborhood of all this included a quick stop in the outskirts of Winslow for some groceries then onto the state park a couple of exits down. Lysette went into the visitors office to secure our spot and ended up getting different sites for each of the two nights meaning we’d have to move. This wasn’t terrible as the next site was only one over. We quickly set up camp and grabbed showers before a calm evening and a good night sleep.
We started our first day here with a quick sunrise run through the desert landscape of the park. The treeless landscape is full of light green, yellows, and brown brush, surface of loose to packed sand. There were several cattle gates to pass through. At the visitors center, I turned down the trail to the Sunrise Cemetery which was used by Mormon settlers as they tried to tame this land in the mid to late 1800’s. It is always amazing to me to think of their life and how difficult it was with the narrowest of lines between life and death. Purely, it was them against nature.
After moving sites, we set off for Petrified Forest National Park. The drive was about an hour east and passed through the town of Holbrook. The town featured much memorabilia from the old Route 66 highway which no longer runs through here. This town with large teepees for hotel rooms and dinosaurs for retail highlights is a slice of Americana from the mid 20th century. It was fun to see.
The south park entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park sits about 15 miles outside of Holbrook where the petrified rock retailers start hocking their rocks for profit. Just prior to the gate is one retail establishment selling authentic Indian stuff, the place includes RV camping, and offers free rocks to folks who simply come inside, sort of removing the value of even going beyond there to a place to see petrified wood in its natural environment. We buzzed past all that and then through the ranger gate. The park is a 27 mile road through arid desert landscape, badlands with colorful sand landscape features in a variety of colors. All along the way are pull offs and overlooks with short paved hikes. Several of the hikes are called “forest” because they were lush tropical forest millions of years ago. There are large amounts of petrified trees lying now as rocks that resemble trees, uncovered by erosion after millions of years, pressed by the weight of earth on top of them. The fallen petrified trees, are broken in nice even sections as if the forest service cut them but in reality, that is just how the rock breaks. Some of the petrified wood looked so real and fresh that I thought it would be funny to place a real stump in the middle of it all with an ax stuck in it and a red plaid Paul Bunyan style lumberman’s jacket draped over it.
The north end of the park was more about the landscape features, Native American culture, petroglyph art features, and the last bit being a red desert valley floor with mounds of hardened earth. Actually, the last bit was a road side attraction of where the old Route 66 highway went through the area, the only remanence being the old wooded telephone poles that lined the highway.
We headed back towards our campground and decided to use the afternoon to drive into Winslow to check out the famous corner. We saw the girl, although painted on a mural on a fake wall, the red flat bed Ford parked along the road which was legit, and the statue of the man she was slowing down to take a look at was present. There was a dude on the opposite corner playing guitar and broke into his rendition of the original Eagles song (Take It Easy) as many people were snapping selfies and videos of the famous corner. In the middle of the intersection was a large painted emblem of the Route 66 icon and 2 of the 3 corners were selling all kinds of paraphernalia for Route 66 and the corner made famous by the Eagles. We grabbed a few selfies and TWT promotional photographs for our sponsors before heading back to camp.
Of additional interest in Winslow, we would later learn from some other travelers in camp of a little posh boutique hotel, the La Posada, designed by a famous architect. It is located in Winslow along the Amtrak train route with a depot along the backside for guest so we returned later to see it.
We once again had a short move the next morning after deciding to stay a third night. We moved camp around the loop to site 10, a handicap spot sitting next to the bathrooms. Being conscious of the handicap spot we first checked with the ranger who said we were fine to use it. After resetting the rig, we headed off to explore the Homol’ovi ruins inside the park. The ruins sit about five miles from our camp along a paved road that rolls through the desert landscape. We enjoyed seeing all the park burros who roam wild and besides jack rabbits, birds and the sounds of coyote howling, would be the only wildlife we saw or heard. We got to the ruins with the parking lot empty and made the short paved walk to the old village. There are big signs that warn of being prosecuted for removing any artifacts and when you see the damage that treasure hunters have done to the old place you understand why. The adobe buildings are now holes with crumbled stone. There are still millions of small shards of pottery all along that are amazing to see especially given their age. The place, once populated by humans living off the water from the Little Colorado River, must have been quite a sight to see. They built their village on the top of the hill overlooking the river and surrounding desert. They constructed kivas which are built into the ground and used by the male members of the tribe as a ceremonial place. There is one example of a kiva still there to see as well as a few walls that are suggested to be old storage outbuildings. We had the place to ourselves to wander and enjoy, meandering around looking at the small bits of pottery everywhere, talking about what life must’ve been like for these early inhabitants. It is also interesting to note that some 600 years later, modern Mormans with their technology and knowhow tried to settle this place but only lasted a few years. Seems old school might have had a hand up.
We left the park to then drive about 30 miles west to see what all the fuss was about at Crater Meteor. I was thinking this was a national monument of sorts but it turns out it is a private venture coming with the high price of $22 per human to see inside the crater. We bit on the experience as how often can you see inside a crater created by a meteor traveling 50,000 mph striking the earth’s surface. It was worth seeing once and now that you got the photos, you can save yourself from having to work another hour of your life to afford this experience. Actually, it was kind of cool and included entry to a small museum that did a good job of providing information on this meteor as well as the threat of others in our future, and past current ones that have already done damage. It is pretty astounding and makes the threat of other mainstream disasters pale in comparison. Live life now my friends.
We left faster than we intended as I realized that my phone was sitting on the dashboard of the Tacoma with the windows rolled down, and even with Toohey on duty in the back seat, made me nervous. That, and most of the unhealthy people in the region were there touching and breathing on things with no mask mandate.
We drove back to camp and spent some time chilling before donning the bikes for a quick short ride to the last of the park ruins. This one, sitting closer to the river, wasn’t as developed or as large but still provided lots of interesting old stuff to explore. They too were of the same tribe but a different village working the Little Colorado River for growing crops. We enjoyed the late afternoon stroll and conversation before riding back to camp for a quiet evening that included showers, dinner, and another wonderful walk around camp at dusk to enjoy the dry cool desert air.
We arrived in Flagstaff after a short 60 mile westerly drive along I-40 and quickly found the KOA which is AOK, on the outskirts of town. The fine folks here allowed for an early check-in. The spot, number 72, wasn’t the most level site so we spent some extra time adjusting the trailer side to side. The other non interesting fact to report is that the cap to the grey water pipe was stuck, requiring me to borrow a larger channel locks from the park to remove it.
Once all the drama of setting up was done, we packed up the laundry and headed to the park KOA laundry. We attempted to use the machines on premise which is one of the main reasons for staying at a KOA but found that only 3 of 8 machines were in working order and one was being used. We didn’t bother counting the ratio of out of order dryers to working dryers but instead Lysette found a laundromat only 8 minutes away, so we were off. From here you can refer back to the top of the blog for my rant on laundromats and laundromates.
When we finished enjoying life with our laundromates at the laundromat, we decided to look for a nice historic downtown which most older towns out west have. The way this sentence was written you’d think we had not researched the town of Flagstaff, which we hadn’t. In fact, we knew very little of the place which makes our wandering so delightful.
We drove about two and a half miles and found the really cool historic downtown. A hip place with narrow streets and mid 20th century structures. The town has a train line cutting it in half with frequent and long trains passing quickly along the railroad tracks. As with most towns with tracks, there was a place on the other side with smaller old buildings that have been gentrified into restaurants and breweries. As we started to like the feel of this place Lysette did a quick check of the prices and of course, we are late to the game here with list prices starting at $500k to over $1 million. But it is understandable why people are attracted to this small metro area in northern Arizona as the town is inviting and appeared fun with access to all sorts of outdoorsy stuff in the surrounding national forest.
Back at our little slice of KOA heaven, we unload the laundry and restuffed the trailer and clothes bins. Afterwards, we did a quick easy but late lunch and then headed to the back of the campground where there is access to national forest trails. Yep, this one little Holiday KOA jewel backs up to a series of trails in the Kachina (the K here is legit) Peaks Wilderness area. We opted for a quick trail kalled Fatmans Loop. The trail winds up the side of Elden Mountain with little pines, large boulders, and best, light crowds. There are several other trail options from this loop which we decided not to take as the day was getting late.
The evening conversation with our fellow travelers who were avid cyclists uncovered a possible gravel bike ride on Forest Road 420 which leads into the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area on the other side of Flagstaff. Historically, the road was a short cut to Flagstaff through the mountains instead of the longer route around it. It runs up and over the pass, passing by trailheads such as Sunset. The area also has many mountain biking options.
With this as background, we headed through town and found the road off of Highway 180. We found a large parking area among the shade of lodgepole pines. With Toohey comfortable in the Tacoma with a cookie on his paw, we left him to protect the assets. The ride was a slow uphill with a slight incline over well packed but large gravel rocks that create a bit of an unstable surface. We climbed over the pass only seeing two other cyclists and one car. The forest on both sides were healthy and beautiful. We went a mile or so on the downhill side of the summit before turning back. I opted for a short detour down another road while Lysette headed back for her descent. While cruising up this road, a small herd of mule deer crossed in front of me. Soon after seeing them I passed around the side of a gate that was there to prevent motorized vehicles from continuing. The view opened from there across a large burn scar from a previous forest fire and as it turned out, a good place to head back. My ride down to the car was fun only requiring use of my brakes. I got back and Lysette was there in the shade of the truck with Toohey still resting nicely in the Tacoma.
With the workout in the bag, the team made the decision made to take the scenic drive south towards Sedona to see what all the fuss was about. The first bits of the drive were most like where we have been camping with nice healthy pines along both sides and rolling low hills and mountains. At about the 10 mile mark we came to an overlook. The valley beneath is a spectacular scene much more “Rocky Mountain” than something I’d envisioned for Arizona. A lush valley with large rock outcrops, heavily treed, and a drop down to a river bed. No cactus, sand, road runners, scorpions, etc… Interesting to say the least. We made the driving descent into the valley and continued on for a few miles until we started seeing the rich red rocks mixed with green trees, a sort of eden. We wanted to stop to let Toohey play in the water but all the pull offs were fee areas and crowded. We pulled a brodie (Hunt for a u-turn) and headed back home.
The evening was nice, getting set for our next adventure into the Grand Canyon. With morning, we said some good byes to our new friends, hitched up and set off, north.
Update: We spent the last 6 days boondocking in southern Utah. We hiked spectacular slot canyons and drove some crazy roads through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. In short, this place is amazing! Our process of staying clean however became futile as the red desert dust being moved by many consecutive dry windy days overtook our wet wipe cleaning process, so we became dirty. We had planned for a night in Bryce but the forecast for bigger winds and snow drove us to the small town of Escalante, UT where we now occupy site 14 in a small but cool RV park with a convenient little BBQ place called Circle D at the entrance. I’m happy to report shower one was amazing and I now feel I am back closer to my Caucasian looking bearded self. Shower two in the morning will proceed our move closer to Fruita where we need to be on the 28th for our second COVID vaccine punch on the 29th.