Girls Road Trip 2018 - Heading further North towards the Grand Canyon

After exploring the cave we drove North towards the Grand Canyon and looked for a place in the national forest to camp for the night.  We ended up choosing one we could tell was heavily used but luckily we were traveling during the week, and before school let out (and just before Memorial Day Weekend) so it was empty at the time.  We actually drove further looking for a more secluded spot but the road got really, really bad and we knew we could get stuck.  The ruts on the sides of the roads were so high there was no way for me to turn around (some were upwards of 2 1/2 feet) so I put the car into reverse and backed a quarter mile down the road to this spot.  Since it was used regularly (so it looked) the turn it was flat enough my car could drive in fine.

We were about 20 or so miles from the Grand Canyon at this point.

As we prepared our dinner (we opted for pizza this night - from our frozen and dehydrated foods - and I'll post more on the foods in a completely separate post) we had a couple young guys in trucks flying past us on the main road - going towards where our car couldn't really go safely.  I assume they had a camping spot further down... we hoped they stayed there.  But then a guy in his camper pulled in so we no longer had our 'solitude' anyway.  At least this was a middle aged guy and looked to be just him alone - so we were happy we wouldn't have loud, obnoxious neighbors!  We didn't figure him to be one to sit around blasting music, laughing and talking loudly to himself and drinking beers until early morning like the younger guys in sunglasses, windows open, music loud, flying down the road in their trucks might have.

And we were right.  WHEW!  The camper-guy pulled his rig to the other side of the area, and even went behind a tree somewhat to his own 'spot'.  He probably wanted as much privacy and quiet as we did! 

This spot had a few trees so my daughter hooked up her Eno (hammock) and I got the meal prep ready.  But she soon found the trees were giving gigantic red ants access to her by climbing down her hammock so she took it down and we made pizzas together.

The night before was so cold we woke with (literally) numb toes and fingers. It was supposed to get even colder tonight - down to 33 degrees - so we decided to try sleeping in the car. Yes, in a back of a Kia. We set up the tent to store all our things in and then made our beds in the back of the tiny car. In the end, it was a great idea - we stayed much warmer with our body heat helping to keep the car warm enough to rest comfortably.  However that first night was a 'trial and error' of the best direction, positions, etc. to sleep.  It worked out fine but the second night we did a better job at figuring out better 'comfort' tricks and slept even better.

Since this was just a quick sleepover, we packed up our things the next morning and headed into the Grand Canyon...  This would be home for the next night because the campground there had pay showers. We would finally get to shower for the first time in a week! $2 for 8 minutes would be soooo worth it.

Starting to make our dinner for the evening....

Sleeping in the car went well!  Who would have thought two adults could sleep in the back of a Kia Soul?

Good Morning!

Morning coffee... 

As the sun comes up we enjoy some coffee and quiet before packing up our things and getting back on the road.

As we headed back to the highway, this was on the corner - of course we had to stop and take a peek.

It was a quick drive to the Grand Canyon.  Lots of 'round-a-bouts' which I despise and wish they had NEVER been carried over to America from Europe.  But once you get through the stupid things, and get through the tiny little town nearby, you suddenly find yourself in line to enter the Grand Canyon.

You have to pay a fee to enter the park but we had our National Parks Pass so it didn't cost us anything.

The first thing we did was find the campground so we knew where we would be staying that evening and getting our bearings.   We stopped at the front window but we were 1 hour too early to check-in.  I asked if we could at least drive around and see our spot so I knew where to go?  They said yes... but I got a stern warning and reprimand that I was NOT to stop at the site, I was NOT to slow down at the site, I was NOT TO SPEAK TO ANYONE WHO MIGHT CURRENTLY BE AT THE SITE!

Omgosh.  Okay - I get it!  LOL.  Lord knows I don't WANT to have to talk to anyone!  I just wanted to get my head wrapped around the layout of the campgrounds so I knew where to go later.

Well, there was NO ONE at 'our' site anyway.  They were long gone.  So we got to see it, scope it out and then we drove on, to park our car at the Market Place, grab a bite to eat and then hop on a shuttle to start our day at Grand Canyon.

If you enjoy visiting Just the Coffee Talking, please consider using this affiliate link if you are planning to shop for anything (seriously, anything!) at Amazon. -Coffee at Amazon by Coffee Talking


Girls Road Trip 2018 - Exploring Lava River Cave in Arizona

Originally scheduled for Wednesday, being evacuated due to the wildfire, we were free to change our schedule so we opted to do the cave on Tuesday instead.   This is a public cave - but it's not ran by anyone, nor maintained by anyone.  It's rough, and it's pitch black inside as there are no improvements, lighting, etc. it's just a naturally formed cave, carved out by lava to make tunnels. 

"This mile-long lava tube cave was formed roughly 700,000 years ago by molten rock that erupted from a volcanic vent in nearby Hart Prairie. The top, sides and bottom of the flow cooled and solidified first, after which the insides of the lava river continued to flow emptying out the present cave.
Ample evidence of how the tube was born is written in the rocks of which it is formed. Small wave-like undulations in the floor are the remains of ripples frozen in the last trickle of molten rock that flowed from the cave. Stone icicles hanging from the ceiling show where a final blast of volcanic heat caused the rock to partially re-liquefy and drip.
Dress appropriately when you come to visit, with warm clothes and sturdy shoes. The cave is as cool as 42° even in summer, and you may even find some ice inside. The rocks are always sharp and slippery, too. Bring two or three sources of light, in case one happens to fail, it can be very dark one mile from the nearest light source."

Basically you follow some rough dirt roads to find this place and then you park and look around and... there are no signs to tell you where the cave is.  So basically just start walking - either following other people or following a big wide open space that is actually a trail and then...boom.  there it is.  A pile of rocks that is actually the opening to the cave.

We were going during early May, on a random Tuesday so although it was busy, it wasn't busy.  There were a number of people milling around the park and the entrance to the cave so we didn't know what to expect.  It ends up we were super lucky; not busy inside the cave at all!  We managed to pass maybe two small groups of people coming back while we were going in and then two more small groups on our way out as they were going in. 

What this meant is that for 90% of the time we were on our own in the cave which was fabulous because we didn't have other peoples LIGHTS or VOICES.  It was truly pitch black and silent outside of the noise we made walking, or sometimes talking. 

You simply cannot go into the cave without lighting; and their website and all information will warn you to have at least 2 light sources in case one goes out.  If you get to the end and your light goes out, you are basically a mile away from the nearest available light source and no - you can't maneuver through the cave without some source of light.

We had bought headlamps at Lowe's in preparation for our trip.  I wrote about the headlamps we chose here:  Headlamps Post.

We opted for headlamps so our hands would be completely free.  This was a GREAT decision.  And invariably, the groups we passed commented they wished they had thought of it, as they held flashlights in their hands.  One other person we met also had a headlamp.  We also had two small LED lights in our daypacks and you can see in some photos we were using both.

I have tried to lighten some of the photos on my computer so you can see them better.  The ones we took with our iphones I had to lighten, although we took some with our NIKON camera using a flash an d those lit up the rock and the cave quite nicely in the photos so you can see details.


This is usually our view of each other...  a nice bright headlamp shining in our eyes.  Ha ha.

The cave is a mixture of smooth and rough, rocky and flat, wet and dry, chilly and warmer...  ever changing in just a few steps.

This is a typical photo of being in the cave.  I've lightened up most of the pictures so we can see them better.  In real life, it's pitch black down there.

Our headlamps had white, red and green light settings.  We liked the white the best as it was brightest but we did try all the different settings.

This is a typical view....

Part of the cave has ceilings 30 feet tall.  Other parts are so shallow you have to crawl.

Loved this - someone left a waterproof notebook at the end of the cave along with a pen so people could sign in and leave comments and inspirational quotes for others.

Don't attempt to do this cave in flip flops.  At the very least have regular tennis shoes - but preferably hiking boots or hiking shoes.  We opted to use our Salomon Ellipse hiking shoes for the cave.  We LOVED them.  They were great for gripping the rocks, yet were light weight and not heavy to weigh us down and they were like a tennis shoe so they were comfortable.

I wrote about the shoes we chose here:  Hiking Shoes

Have you seen the movie The Descent?  About the group of women that go caving in Kentucky?
Climbing out of the cave was so very much like the end of the movie... except we were climbing out over rocks, not bones.  (Link to the movie at the end of this post).

Yes, we often talked about the horror movie "The Descent" while were in the cave.

After we finished, we walked back to the car just in time to see 3 small buses pull in.  Off came youth leaders and 3 bus loads of teenagers, all outfitted with gear to go into the cave.  Although I was happy for them and the chance to go, I was even happier for US that we had just finished!  Had we been in with a large group like that, it would NOT have been the same awesome experience we had. 

For my readers; if you go, I hope you get a nice pitch black, dark, quiet cave exploration experience like we did.  This was actually our favorite part of the trip, activity wise even though we saw and did so much.  Because we were basically alone during this whole time it made it fabulous and it became a highlight of our Girls Road Trip 2018.

You might also be interested in some related products to this post - available through Amazon:

The Descent 
Headlamp LED  

Salomon Women's Ellipse GTX Hiking Shoe      


Girls Road Trip 2018 - Tonto National Forest and Trying to Find a Campsite For the Night

Still stranded for another day, we packed up everything and we continued our way North, keeping with our original plan... roughly.

 Breakfast time.... before packing up and hitting the road again.

Shelf stable milk (doesn't need refrigeration) and blueberry granola cereal packed from home in a re-purposed heavy plastic container

Because Chiricahua didn't have bathrooms, showers, etc. and didn't allow solar showers either, I had previously booked 1 night tent camping at a campground in the Grand Canyon so we could use their pay showers.  ($2 for 8 minutes) which would have been our only shower that week.  That reservation was still in place, but not until Wednesday evening so we had Monday and Tuesday to travel, look for another camp site and to do the cave exploration we had planned.

Our drive was completely open with no plan except to head northwest to get north of Flagstaff to where the cave was.  Having never really 'visited' Arizona before (we've driven through it... but it's never been an actual destination before) we had no idea where to go or what to see (since at this point the original plan had been to be hiking and camping in the Chiricahua area...).

What a surprise we had...  The Tonto National Forest.  Breathtakingly beautiful.  We had no idea the colors could be this vivid... seriously. No filters or color enhancers.  Most of these pictures were snapped on my cellphone, and others on the camera as my daughter took some pictures - while we were driving.  As in... through the window.  Still so incredibly gorgeous.

We didn't have time to stop long - we actually wanted to hike to see the cliff dwellings in that area but we would be pushing it as we had to get a few hours north yet and try to find a place to make camp.

Good thing we didn't dwaddle.  We had a rough time finding a place to make camp and sleep.  We traveled some insane forest roads, saw supposed 'dispersed' camping spots only to see they were literally a tiny asphalt pull out about 2 feet off of a busy road.  Found non-existent lakes that were dried up prairie land, endured dust storms, fire alerts and fire hazard conditions...  we finally found a place to call home for the night.

This is actually our 'least' favorite camping spot of the whole trip.  It was fairly busy with a lot of other campers in the area and it was rocky and uneven.  The deep (deep!) ruts in the road were difficult to maneuver with the car as some were almost 2 feet deep - and the sharp, large rocks in the area also made it difficult to manage.  But we chose this site in part because it was getting late and needed to set up camp and didn't have any better options at the time - and because of the view.

We decided waking up to the view in the morning with our hot coffee would be worth it.  (And it was... I guess.)

But the other thing about the site that I saw AFTER I had pulled the car up, parked and started to set up camp.. the glass and nails.  What kind of stupid-ass losers do this!?  Seriously.  It's like the idiots sat around their campfire and threw an entire case of beer bottles on the ground just to watch them explode, left them there, then threw a couple handfuls of nails in the pathway of the cars just for fun.  And maybe they did.  But boy was I pissed.  Some of those shards of glass were 2-3 inches big - mostly embedded in the ground just enough to hold them tight in place with the sharp edges pointed up to puncture a tire.  And if the glass didn't get ya, the nails would.  Now, I could see if morons had brought in some pallet or used wood to burn that had nails in it (Ok - stupid, but whatever) but then the nails would be IN the firepit.  But they weren't. So they would have had to pull them out of the fire ring and toss them in an 8 foot long radius right where a car or truck would pull in to set up camp.

So... a big 'fuck you' to the people that do that.  

Anyway!  Where was I?  (On my 4th cup of hot, strong, black coffee this morning so I might be prone to getting off topic... it's just the coffee talking again.)

One thing we didn't know - cattle roam the national forests in these states.  So we obviously didn't know what the noises were in the middle of the night (the deep, dark, pitch black, cold night) when I heard someone walking, then many 'walkers' and then heard something LARGE right next to our tent - and it start to 'chuff' and snort.  Talk about terrifying.  There are bears, cougars, bobcats, etc. in these woods... so at the time I had no idea what was outside the tent.  Remember it was pitch black outside.  You couldn't see anything at all; and when I was peeking through the zipper of the tent I still couldn't see even with the moonlight.  It was all 'noise' in the deep, dark of night.

I listened as a large group of something passed literally through our camp - within inches of our tent - and then crossed to the almost-dried-up 'lake' across from us; which apparently was their watering hole.  I was thankful to hear them slowly moving on about an hour later.  In the morning we were greeted with prints in the dirt within inches of our tent, and many fresh cow pies near the waters edge.

 Not a site we would have chosen had we had more time and options but it was good enough!

Our own private bathroom set up.
I've mentioned this before but I'll say it again.  Before this trip I'd never bothered with a portable camp toilet or privacy tent.  I bought it this time and debated right up until the last second if it was worth packing and taking with us, as I debated the space needed for every little thing we packed.
OMG YES.  This thing ended up being AWESOME to have with us.
It's fairly cheap, folds up pretty flat, doesn't weight much and we said over and over again
how absolutely happy we were that we decided to invest in one this time.
It's a MUST HAVE on our car tent camping trips from here on out.

(Links to some of the items I bought are at the bottom of this post)

 Boshen Portable Privacy Tent Shelter Bathing Fitting Room with Window and Carrying bag(Green)
Reliance Products Fold-To-Go Collapsible Portable Toilet


We set up camp just in time to make dinner...

 The view was nice...


So... it went down to about 33 degrees that night.  Our toes were numb.  LOL.

You might be interested in these affiliate links to the items related to this to post that I purchased for this trip.  You might be able to find some of them locally but if you can't, I bought mine through Amazon and as of this posting they are still available:

Boshen Portable Privacy Tent Shelter Bathing Fitting Room with Window and Carrying bag(Green)
Reliance Products Fold-To-Go Collapsible Portable Toilet
Biodegradable Poop Bags | XL Cat Litter/X-Large Dog Waste Bags, Vegetable-Based & Eco-Friendly, Premium Thickness & Leak Proof, Easy-Tie Handles, Supports Rescues
Reliance Double Doodie Toilet Waste Bag 6 Pack
Cleanwaste Mini Bulk Poo Powder Waste Treatment - 55 Scoops