Month: October 2021

Camping in the Valley of the Gods

There are more beautiful lands on this planet than one could hope to explore in one lifetime. Camping in the Valley of the Gods is a trip you should add to your list now.

Monument Valley’s Less Famous Sibling

On the Utah-Arizona border, lies Monument Valley – the setting of Hollywood films and a location that one critic called, “five square miles that have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West”. With its 1000ft tall, sandstone buttes it’s no wonder the Navajo people consider it to be sacred land.

To anyone who’s had the privilege of taking in this place firsthand, they undoubtably agree.  Monument Valley is spectacular (and sacred) country.  Driving the highways that divide this land is inspiring – not only because Forrest Gump once ran these same roads – but because the views are otherworldly.  Mother nature has not been kind to this land in terms of erosion, but much to the delight of modern-day viewers, pinnacle after pinnacle rise above the desert floor in shapes that spark the imagination.

If only we could exist here for a few days – to take it in – to experience this sacred land.  Well we can……sort of.

The Valley of the Gods

Just 1 hour north of Monument Valley, a special place is waiting for those whose spirit awakens in the outdoors.  It’s called the “Valley of the Gods” and it’s unlike anywhere else you’ve spent a few days.  Imagine your favorite good-looking celebrity had a lesser-known, but equally as good looking sibling than was approachable and accessible. This is the Valley the Gods.  The beauty of Monument Valley in a BLM managed area that for a few days you can claim a piece of as your own.

Camping in the Valley of the Gods is free and for up to 14 days, you and your crew can enjoy every gorgeous second of it without paying a single cent.  As a result, the VOG is rustic – as a proper escape to the wild should be.  There are no bathroom facilities to rely on, no water sources to depend – only the solitude and space that the VOG rewards those who enter with.  It’s the wild as it should be.

Those who aren’t survivalists shouldn’t fret though because cold beer, bottled water, ice, convenience-store snacks, and fuel are only a 30min drive away in the nearby town of Mexican Hat.  The beauty here is that you can take in the Valley of the Gods on your own terms – as a tough-guy/gal (I don’t need to depend on anyone) or as a poor planner (like myself) who appreciates the flexibility of picking up a forgotten item.  In my opinion, the VOG is the perfect balance of off-the-grid camping with amenities in reach and I’m not ashamed to admit that I feel a bit safer with food, water, and civilization nearby.

Valley of the Gods, Utah
The Sandstone Giants

How We Discovered the VOG

We had discovered the Valley of the Gods on Campendium – a great resource for RV’ers and campers who are looking for a wide variety of camping options. Being community-driven, Campendium allows you to search “free” campsites for boondocking (free camping without amenities).  After doing a search for the highest rated free campsites in Southern Utah, we stumbled upon this place.

Arriving in the Valley of the Gods

Our overland trailer loaded up, we entered the Valley of the Gods unsure of what to expect.  We LOVE camping, but our list of ideal camping spots usually includes forest land with nearby rivers or streams.  The VOG is a desert locale and water is scarce, We knew that a different, but exciting, adventure awaited us.

Camping in the Valley of the Gods
Campsites are well spaced in the VOG

Arriving in the Valley of the Gods, we travelled the main dirt road for about a half an hour, looking for the perfect spot to claim.  There are miles of roads on the VOG with campsites every 1/4 mile or so.  The land is pristine, open, and just about every spot is secluded.  We found a great spot perched on a small hill, overlooking the valley and in the shadows of sandstone giants.  Other than an airstream parked about a half mile away and the occasional truck traveling the main road, we had the place to ourselves.

The Days

Days in the VOG are spiritual experiences.  The silence is refreshing and the postcard views surround your every move. October seems to be the perfect time to visit with temperatures in the mid-70’s and clear skies. Being a desert valley, the VOG can be windy and anything that can blow away will if the gusts pickup.  The wind overturned our pop-up canopy at one point because we neglected to secure it properly.  With a lot of rock just below the surface, look to place your tent and other “stakeable” items in areas with some sand/dirt depth.  We placed our Kodiak Canvas Flex-Box Tent higher on the hill where the soil ran a bit deeper and had zero issues with it moving during our visit.

Miles of Hiking in Any Direction

There is some great hiking on the VOG. Formal hiking trails are few, but pick any direction on the compass and you can explore that direction for miles.  We hiked the dry riverbed that runs along the valley floor and enjoyed every second of it.  The sun can be relentless, so don’t neglect the sunscreen and headwear for your trip. The nearest town is Mexican Hat, located about 30mins away, so you’ll survive if you forget something. However, the hour round trip drive on the dirt road will keep you from making the trip often.  Dumping your trash is a challenge as Mexican Hat is small and all of it’s dumpsters are off limits for campers to dump.

Valley of the God Sunset Camping
Sunsets are extra-special at the VOG

The Evenings

The evenings in the Valley of the Gods are star-filled masterpieces.  Far from the lights of town, you can see the nights sky as it was meant to be enjoyed.  On our visit, the nights were chilly with lows hovering in the low 40’s – but our Kodiak Canvas Flex-Box Tent (highly recommend!) along with our Big Buddy Propane Heater kept the cold at bay during the evenings.  Due to fire restrictions, we were unable to have a campfire, which only helped our view of the night sky. If a campfire is vital to your camping experience, I recommend picking up a Propane Fire Pit to make it happen. Sleep comes easy in the VOG, so be sure to take advantage of the rest.

You Should Visit the VOG

The Valley of the Gods is worth putting on your camping bucket list. While a bit of a drive from most cities, The VOG is more than worth the escape. Just make sure to keep your phone charged to be ready for a instagram-worthy photo at every turn.  Be ready to take in the landscapes and you’ll come out refreshed and recharged after having discovered some of the most beautiful land in the American west.

 

 

Fly Fishing in Greer

Arizona isn’t known for its trout fishing. Much of the landscape doesn’t allow for the ideal conditions for trout to grow big. But in Arizona’s White Mountains, there is some really fun fly fishing in Greer, Arizona.

Growing up, some of my best memories were fishing with my dad.  We weren’t very good fishermen, but the reward of landing a fish was a feeling unlike anything else. Back then, we were lazy fishermen, usually resorting to some sort of smelly bait left on the lake bottom overnight.  We would wake in the morning hoping that a catfish was on the other end of the line.

As an adult, my interest in fishing waned.  The time and effort required was no longer worth the reward.

As I had my own kids, I wanted them to experience the thrill of landing a fish and my interest in fishing grew again. This time though, I wanted to approach fishing differently.  I had begun to fall in love with the outdoors, looking forward to camping, hiking & exploring the wild areas around me. A camping trip on the Dolores river in Colorado, I tried fly fishing and have never looked back.  That first time, I had no idea what I was doing, but the skill required captivated me. That first trip, I spent hours each day on the water.

Since then, I’ve picked up some better gear, learned more about bugs, and have a lot more experience.  I’m still not very good at fly fishing, but my love for it has only grown.

Arizona’s White Mountains

For years, I have heard that the White Mountains held some of the best trout streams in Arizona. The village of Greer was often mentioned as the ideal place to base to explore the nearby fishing. Greer is a beautiful little town that sits in a small valley with the Little Colorado River running through the center of town. Along with the Little Colorado, the Greer area has 3 lakes, multiple creeks, and more private stocked ponds than you can count.

This summer, I stayed in a small rental cabin in the heart of Greer to try to explore as much of Greer’s fly fishing as my time would allow. In the few days I was in Greer, I fished only a small portion of what Greer has to offer, but here are my thoughts.

Greer Lakes in Greer, Arizona
River Reservoir (left) & Tunnel Reservoir (right) in Greer, Arizona
Fly Fishing in Greer, Arizona
Fly Fishing at River Reservoir

Greer Lakes

Just a few miles north of the town of Greer, lie the Bunch, Tunnel, and River Reservoirs – otherwise known as the Greer Lakes. Surrounded by the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, these lakes are absolutely gorgeous and uniquely peaceful. A lot of water can be covered quickly at these smallish lakes. I don’t have a float tube, so I casted from the shoreline on all 3 lakes.

Tunnel Reservoir

I had no luck at my first stop, Tunnel Reservoir (the smallest of the Greer Lakes), but really enjoyed having the lake to myself for the morning.  Next, I walked about 10 minutes to Bunch Reservoir.

Bunch Reservoir

Bunch is a bit bigger than Tunnel and some of its small cliff shoreline makes it difficult to fly fish.  I landed a small rainbow at Bunch and noticed a large amount of wildlife footprints at the water’s edge.

River Reservoir
Little Colorado River in Greer, Arizona
The LCR downstream of River Reservoir

My final stop was River Reservoir, easily the largest of the 3 lakes, and in my opinion, the most beautiful. Bunch and Tunnel mostly spring out of flat terrain, but River Reservoir has more of a small canyon-lake feel. The water in River is held back by a 30-40ft rock dam, from which the Little Colorado continues on the back side of.  This span of the LCR north of the dam is dazzling. I’ve heard there are some big browns back there, but my time spent fishing it yielding nothing.

River reservoir was really fun to fish.  I netted a few small bass here that were fun to catch on my fly rod. I was not fortunate enough to run into the rainbows that the float tubers here seems to be constantly hooked up with. The fish are there, but as with all 3 of these lakes, fishing from out on the water is the way to go.

While the Greer lakes aren’t the best fly fishing in Greer, the experience  this water provides is a great way to spend a few hours. If you’re more interested in “catching” than “fishing”, bring a float tube or other type of boat to get out to where the fish are.

The Little Colorado River (in town)

Molly Butler Lodge in Greer, Arizona
Molly Butler Lodge: A great spot for a break in fishing

One of my favorite parts of Greer is the path that winds through town known as the Greer Village Walkway.  The northern part of the walkway starts near where the LCR crosses under the main road.  There are a number of spots which you can throw your fly here. In the summer months, AZ Game and Fish stocks the Little Colorado in Greer. I’ve seen fish holding near the walkway, but haven’t had much luck netting any.  The great thing about this section of the LCR is how easy it is to access.  It was a short 5 minute walk from my cabin in the middle of town, so I found myself fishing these stretches when I only had a few minutes.

Another great part of this area is that you can take a break and grab a beer at Molly Butler Lodge which is a 2 minute walk away.

Note: you can’t park or fish from the bridge. There is a small area you can park for short period just north of the bridge on the west side of the road.

The West Fork of the Little Colorado River

In the middle of the town of Greer, the West Fork of the LCR meets the East Fork. Both of these stretches are Apache trout recovery streams which means they hold Apache Trout – one of only two trout species native to Arizona. The Wallow fire devastated much of the area in 2011 and the trout population of the East Fork of this river was severely damaged. Fortunately, the West Fork fish sustained minimal damage and it’s a destination to fish for Apaches in the Greer area.

I fished the West Fork right on the edge of town where Highway 373 dead ends.  At the end of the 373 lies is the Government Springs Trailhead and includes parking and a bathroom.  The Government Springs Trail travels upriver along the West Fork and it is specularly beautiful. This trail is lush and green in the summer months. It can be followed for just over 5 miles to Sheep’s Crossing – an area next on my list to fish.

The water of the West Fork can be difficult to access.  The brush along the water grows thick and is dense, but just following the trail further will yield plenty of spots to throw your line. Honestly, I’m not sure sure if the best approach to this area is to “bring your rod along on your hike” or to “get some hiking in while you fish”.  Either way, this is an area not to be missed while fly fishing in Greer.

Searching for Apache Trout

Apache Trout in Greer, ArizonaWhen I visited, I did more hiking than fishing, but searching out the holding fish was the highlight.  The Apache trout in these waters, while not overly abundant, exist in enough quantity to assure you’ll catch one. In the summer months, this water is stocked regularly with Apaches.

I’ve had success here both fishing pockets of deeper water and shallower riffles that I didn’t think were holding fish.  The water runs really clear and can be pretty shallow at times, so prioritize your surprise to be most effective.

Wild Hops from Greer, Arizona
Wild hops harvested from the Government Springs Trail

I’ve caught a number of apaches here and have spent hours roaming this trail. From what I’ve seen, this is my favorite place to fish in Greer.  Even if the trout aren’t biting, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Note: we found an abundance of wild hops growing along the Government Springs trail last time we visited.  I’m planning on home-brewing some beer with the wild hops I harvested soon.

Private Stocked Ponds

Greer has countless small ponds, many of which are stocked with trout.  Many of the cabin rental properties have stocked ponds.  I did not have a chance to check out the fishing in any of these, but I plan to visit the Greer Meadows Lakes on a future visit.  There is a cost involved, but I’ve heard of large trout being caught in the private ponds in Greer. Guides are also available at Greer Meadows Lakes to ensure your success.

Greer has become one of my favorite places in Arizona. It’s the highest elevation town in Arizona giving it perfect summer temperatures and snow-filled winters. The best part is the area’s abundance of nearby water to fish – often just steps away from your rental cabin.

If you do explore fly fishing in Greer, I highly recommend Antler Ridge Resort Cabins. I stayed in the Mountain Vista Cabin (#4) while I explored Greer.  Antler Ridge is perfectly located in the middle of town, steps away from the walkway, Molly Butler’s and the Little Colorado. They have cabins of all sizes and if you make Antler Ridge your choice for your next trip to Greer, you won’t be disappointed.

Sailing to Ensenada

Sailing to Ensenada, Mexico from San Diego is a short trip by sailing standards, but it’s a fun and exciting day on the water….if you’re lucky enough to find some wind. The last time I sailed this route about a decade ago, we bobbed around in flat seas having to resort to using the boat’s engine the entire trip.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sail from San Diego to Ensenada on a gorgeous, 46ft sailboat.  The journey, approximately 60 nautical miles, lasted about 8hrs and was filled with dolphins, beautiful landscapes, and just the right amount of “relax”.

This time, we had plenty of wind, but it was blowing the same direction as we were headed.  Without a spinnaker, we utilize a combination of engine and wind to propel us the majority of the way.  Downwind sailing, (sailing with the wind to your back) is typically a blast and a comfortable sail, but without the right gear for the job, this sail wasn’t as exciting as it could have been

I LOVE sailing. Utilizing the wind to propel yourself across the sea wild with potential is a special experience. It’s romantic. It’s ripe with adventure. It’s life-giving. We all gravitate towards the activities that help us disconnect from the stresses of life.  I gravitate towards sailing.

Sailing around the safe confines of a harbor is fun, but sailing to a destination is exhilarating. The weather must be adequately accounted for.  The course needs plotted ahead of time.  Calculations are required to ensure an on-time arrival based on local conditions.  Destination sailing take preparation. But it’s the unknown that creates the adventure.  What sea life will we encounter?  Will we catch some fish for dinner during our travels? What business are the commercial vessels we pass enroute engaged in?  Will weather conditions change and surprise us?  Will rough seas leave us clinging to edge of the boat heaving the contents of our stomach?  Or will a strong breeze carry us swiftly leaving only the sound of the hull piercing through the waves? Once you embark, your fate is the hands of mother nature and with the sturdiness of your vessel.

Sea Life

While most people think of the “wild” as lush forests or desolate deserts, the sea is equally wild.  On a sailboat in the open ocean, you are adventuring where only a small percentage of humans have. The ocean (certainly all that is below the surface) is relatively unfamiliar and untraveled. Lose sight of land and the isolation can be unsettling.

At least until you encounter a pod of dolphins, a whale, or even a school of fish churning the surface in search of food.  In these moments, the aloneness gives way to a certain comfort.

On our sail to Ensenada we were met by a small pod of common dolphins.  As they often do, the dolphins quickly headed toward our boat when they noticed us and playfully cruised in our boat wake for a few moments. No matter how many times you stand on the bow of a boat and watch dolphins play alongside, it’s always magical. It’s something everyone should have the opportunity to experience at least once. They are beautiful and inquisitive creatures and can make even the worst day of sailing a little brighter.

The Quiet of the Sea

My favorite part about sailing is feeling the boat move through the water toward your destination in silence.  Once the boat is in open water and its sails are hoisted, there is nothing quite like the moment the engine is killed and the sounds of the sea take over.

Sailing provides the time and space for reflection that we often struggle to find in our lives. While at sea under the power of only the wind, we are captive to the experience. The myriad of tasks we are compelled to complete in our everyday lives are silenced with only the task of utilizing the available wind to most efficiently make headway toward our destination.  As the world around us quiets, our mind can’t help but follow.

Experiencing the wild is therapy. It disrupts our routines and adapts our perceptions. Sailing connects us with our sea-faring ancestors, nature, and ourselves.

This trip sailing to Ensenada was no exception.  With the journey feeling not long enough, we arrived into the harbor in Ensenada at nightfall, greeted by the twinkling lights of this Mexican city.

Ensenada: A Charming City

Ensenada is a city of more than 500,000 people located in Baja California, Mexico’s west coast. It’s a charming Mexican city with great food and plenty of nightlife, but it’s also a cruise ship destination and a focal point for the Valle de Guadalupe, its nearby wine region.

Having not been to Ensenada for a number of years, I was surprised to see how much the city had changed. The coastline just north of the city has significantly more development than I remember and we stumbled upon some amazing restaurants.

As anyone who’s been to Ensenada will tell you, one of the more memorable sights of the city is the enormous Mexican flag that flies near the harbor.  This giant flag greets cruise ships entering port and tourists alike – welcoming them to a welcoming city. The people of Ensenada are overwhelmingly generous and hospitable.  With a large cruise terminal, a decent amount of the Ensenada economy counts on tourism dollars. Like many Mexican towns, you can find just about anything by asking around for it.  But in Ensenada’s case, you feel less like a tourist target walking around town. You are always invited in to just about every place you pass, but never feel dragged in or pestered.

For those arriving by boat, Ensenada has two main marinas, Marina Coral and Cruiseport Village Marina. While we’ve enjoyed Marina Coral in the past, this time to Ensenada, we chose to stay at Cruiseport Village.  Marina Coral is just north of Ensenada attached to a wonderful hotel with all the amenities of a resort. Cruiseport Village is inside Ensenada’s harbor right in the middle of town.  This central location provides the ability to walk into town and explore the city just a few minutes away from your boat.

Getting Back to the States

The owner of the boat we sailed to Ensenada was leaving his boat in Ensenada leaving us to find an alternative way back home.  Luckily, many of the larger hotels in Ensenada can arrange a shuttle to take you back to the US.  Having ridden one of these shuttles on a previous trip that took us only to the border then dropped us in a 2-hour long line to walk across, I was excited to learn that this time we would be driven all the way to the airport in San Diego. Getting transportation across the border is the way to go.  We arrived at the airport in San Diego in 2 hours – the same amount of time we stood in last at the border last time.

Another option for back to the US border is by bus. ABC buses run from Ensenada to Tijuana every hour and cost about $10 per person. ABC offers nice busses and typically show movies during your travel – a nice mindless distraction to pass the time. There are a couple of places to pick up these busses in Ensenada, so be sure to plan your route to the bus station and give yourself enough time before departure.

The trip back to San Diego is breathtaking.  The drive is along the coast most of the way with endless ocean views from the cliffs above.  Much of this coastline had been heavily developed in recent years. This makes perfect sense once you lose all track of time watching the waves roll endlessly from the deep of the Pacific Ocean.  I could spend some more time in this region.

Conclusion

Sailing to Ensenada is a fun, all-day sail from San Diego.  Conditions are usually good and there’s a good chance you’ll spot some wildlife on your journey.  Ensenada is a beautiful and modern town with plenty to keep you occupied while there. Ground transportation between Ensenada and San Diego is an adventure in itself with beautiful views along the ocean and many options to choose from. I’m looking forward for my next excuse to visit Ensenada.


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