When I started van life I had aspirations of doing much more writing than I have been. I also thought it would be fun to document all of my travels on video and share them with my friends and family and even strangers who are just curious about the lifestyle.
I discovered very quickly that since I’m working a full-time job, often times 50 or more hours a week, staring at a computer screen, at the end of the day, the last thing that I want to do is stare at a computer screen longer no matter how inspired I am to write and share. I also discovered that I need a lot more downtime than I thought I would.
I was talking with a friend the other day and sharing how I felt like maybe I just needed an entire year off. It was actually said in passing, almost in a joking manner. We were talking about work, naps, motivation… and I was saying how I’ve been through so much in the past years (heck, in the past decades) that I felt like maybe I just needed an entire year to not focus on anything at all other than myself. He agreed and reminded me that often times you’ll hear about athletes who take extended periods of rest, some people are able to take sabbaticals, and high-profile celebrities are known to “disappear” for a while. It wasn’t until I actually said the words that I realized how true they were for me. I’d never even really thought about it. It’s interesting how with just a regular conversation with a friend things can come out, and all of a sudden you have this epiphany and aha moment.
So all that being said, going forward, instead of pushing myself to do things because I think I should, I’m just gonna focus on what makes me happy. I’m not going to keep pushing myself to create content unless I’m inspired to do so. I’m not going to force myself to write blog posts just because I feel like it’s been too long since I’ve posted some thing. I’m not gonna post a YouTube video because I haven’t posted one in a while and I’m worried that my few subscribers might be let down. I’m going to be my authentic self and share when I’m able to and hopefully be a resource to those that reach out.
I currently have so much to share and I’ve had so many amazing experiences that it’s overwhelming to try to compile it all into something that’s digestible for an audience. so I thought it might be nice for me to write a little synopsis about the last few months and the places that I’ve been. If something resonates with you, or you have questions about an area that I’ve been to, please don’t hesitate to reach out! I found that I do much better with one on one human connection these days. I love sharing my experiences and helping other people, especially other solo women, have the courage to get out there and explore this outstanding world that we live in.
My blog post “The First 30 Days” shared our traverse from Seattle, WA to Utah. Looking back that was a lot of moving for the fist 30 days! I’ve since slowed down quite a bit, and when I find a great location that meets my needs (good cell service, quiet, trails nearby) I tend to stay for weeks… and that’s what happened when Utah had snow in the forecast so I headed to Sedona, AZ.
Sedona is very, very popular and therefor very touristy, which I’m typically not a fan of. When you get there it’s obvious why – it’s just magical.
I was lucky enough to find a great spot 10 miles back on a FS road that had good enough cell signal to work with, and right on some trails that no-one seemed to know about. I didn’t do any of the touristy things, or go to the popular trails everyone raves about. I was so happy here, I stayed nearly a month.
I few places that I did explore here were Mescal Mountain, Robbers Roost, Sycamore Canyon, and a handful of “unnamed” trails in the Coconino National Forest that were literally right out my front door. I barely saw another person the whole time I was there, sans a friend coming to visit over Thanksgiving weekend. It was bliss.
While my friend was visiting, we took a day trip down towards Cottonwood to explore Dead Horse Ranch State Park, and Tuzigoot National Monument. I don’t think I would have seen either of these on my own, so I was so happy my friend suggested it. It also was a good reminder to always take time to stop in to places like this if you can, even if it’s not on your “list”. I’ve never been disappointed with an extra stop.
From Sedona I started to move south, and spent a week in Prescott National Forest. Saw my first tarantula in the wild here, as well as many, many deer. I had a wonderful spot right near some trails. I would have stayed longer but it started getting very cold and my heater wasn’t working at the time, so we moved along to Tonto National Forest to do some exploring there.
I can’t wait to go back and explore more of Tonto National Forest, but there was limited cell service in the areas with trails so that trip will have to be during a time hat I don’t have to be tethered to technology.
Cold weather and poor cell service fueled us to head further south, this time to the Mesa, AZ area. I found a spot that was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I stayed until the week before New Year’s, went to Vegas to spend New Year’s with a friend (very low key at her home, not a “typical Vegas” style New Year’s), and then came right back and stayed nearly another month. I was at the end of a dead-end road, and right over a hill was a huge network of trails with so many options I never had to run the same route twice (although I did have a few favorite routes). I really hope people don’t ruin this beautiful place and force a closure (a local was talking to be about how people weren’t expecting the land, dumping garbage, not staying on roads/trails and they may have to shut down some of the access roads) because I could totally see myself just coming here every winter.
More out of guilt from staying in Mesa so long than actual need, I moved on to Tucson, AZ and found it to be equally satisfying. I had a spot right off the Arizona Trail and ended up staying so long I had to move spots because a mouse thought he could stay with us in the van. Sorry dude, no rodents allowed!
Another reason I stayed in Tucson area so long was because I had to have some mechanical work done on the van. I even had to give up my van for 5 nights and stay in an AirBnB. That in itself is for another blog post…
After being “stuck” for so long, I decided I wanted to get moving again, now that my van was up and running safely.
I decided I wanted to head to New Mexico, but wanted to check out a few areas along the way that friends had told me about.
Kentucky Camp bear Sonoita, AZ was next on my route. While I was driving up, I was wondering why there wasn;t anyone else around, because it was SO beautiful! I found a spot right near the Arizona Trail again, up on a hill, and soon realized why it wasn’t as popular as the “lower” lands… it got cold. Very cold. We stayed a few days, got in a run along the AZT, and then decided to go to lower elevation back where it was a bit warmer.
I had spent a weekend with a friend near the Dragoon Mountains a while back, and it was so amazing I decided to go back and explore for a weekend. As usual, the trails that are unmarked and not on maps always seem to be the best. This area is probably one of my favorites to date, although cell service can be spotty in some areas.
I took a weekend to disconnect and visited the Chiricahua National Monument next. I couldn’t take Snow on the upper trails, but there were some nice relaxing trails in the lower end of the park that are dog friendly. There was zero cell service in this area but if you’re up for a long washboard road to find some true wilderness campsites, this is the place to go. The spot we ended up at came complete with a deer carcass…
Still headed towards New Mexico, our next stop was a place called Indian Bread Rocks. Reviews showed it to be quite popular, and I didn’t see many trails nearby, so I didn’t have high expectations other than a place to park for the night. I was so wrong! This area is outstanding and although popular, there was plenty of space and places to explore. You guessed it – I stayed longer than planned.
My first night in New Mexico was right on the Continental Divide trail with strong enough cell service to stay a few days so I could work and explore the area. The few miles we traversed on the CDT made me want to attempt a through hike… or at least explore a lot more of it!
From there we went a little more south and stayed at a winery via Harvest Host for a night, then headed over to the Orgon Mountains. I ended up staying here for nearly a week due to work being exceptionally busy and me not having time for much else.
I wasn’t really planning on going to White Sands National Park, but I was less than an hour away and it’s all dog friendly so I figured what the heck? We took a day trip to White Sands and then came back to Las Cruces and stayed at another winery. Here I met some new friends and spent the evening talking with them, which was a wonderful surprise. In our conversations they asked if I had seen the Gila Cliff Dwellings yet. I had not, and although it looked interesting, it was a long out-and-back drive that I wasn’t planning on. They convinced me, and I’m so glad I ended up going! Gila National Forest stole my heart, and I could have stayed here… forever…
Unfortunately I only had two days here due to no cell service at all, but it’s a place I will be back to when I can visit longer without having to worry about work. If you ever have a chance to go here, it’s worth the drive and I highly recommend it.
I tooled around Gila National Forest for another week or so, in areas that had cell service. We stayed near Silver City, then moved to Cosmic Campground which is a designated dark space, and explored Mineral Creek.
I was planning on heading up to Santa Fe and Taos, but as I got close to Albuquerque, I realized I was about a month early, weather-wise, for my liking at least. That’s one of the many cool things about vanlife: area not up to par with what you’re in the mood for? Just move!
So back to Arizona we went, but this time a little further north. Among a few other stops, we stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park which was, yet again, another National Park I wasn’t planning on going to yet, but there we were… I stayed here three nights and went into the park two days in a row it was so amazing. It’s also 100% dog friendly!
From there we went to Flagstaff, which I absolutely love! I could see myself living there someday… I will definitely be back there to explore more as well, but we only stayed a week this time.
My plan was/is to head back to Utah, meet up with a friend there, and explore some before it gets too hot. Then slowly head back north to Bend, OR and Eastern Washington to visit my parents. On a whim I decided to check out the Grand Canyon, even if just to drive through for a day. I found some dispersed camping a mile from the south rim entrance and someone told me about a little-known trail that is dog-friendly and takes you right to the rim, without the crowds. The weather ended up being perfect, the camp spot has great cell service, and now I’m just chillin’ under some ponderosa pines trying to decide how long I might stay here…
Funny to think in a week (maybe) I will be right back in Utah, near the same spot I was at back in October of last year. I have yet to spend one single night in city limits, other than one night in friend’s driveway in Bend, staying (not in the van) at a friend’s place in Vegas over New Year’s, and the AirBnB in Tucson. I’m so looking forward to seeing where the next months take me, and hope to have time to share more photos, videos, and van life tips with you all along the way. Meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out!