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Flagstaff, Arizona

View of an RV campground with snow and pine trees
Flagstaff RV Park, Flagstaff Arizona

The Backup Plan to the Backup Plan

We almost didn’t make it up to Flagstaff this time; the weather called for 5-10” of snowfall, and Route 40 was closed for a portion of the weekend. Jamie called ahead to check the weather conditions and to see if there was any advice that could be gained through the knowledge of the park owners, yet they could not be reached due to a family event. So, he put a backup plan in place and booked another site at a lower elevation while I researched alternatives from the passenger seat.

What should have been the backup plan turned into a ‘heck no’. The lot was poorly taken care of, covered in weeds debris, and mud across from dilapidated buildings and signs that appeared not to have been repainted since the 1950s, all pleasantly nestled next to some train tracks. We pulled up next to the lot, put the truck in park, and talked about our options. We made the choice to press on through and brave the possibility of snowy weather. Nothing short of necessity would have us stop here. On to Flagstaff, we would go.

Setting Up Camp

Jamie and I haven’t camped in snow (or near snow) since our Sedona trip at Christmas time in 2021, and we really weren’t sure what to expect. The last time we were in Flagstaff was when we returned from a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in early October 2023, so this would be a new set of terms.  For starters, the temperatures would be hitting below freezing overnight, and we don’t own an insulated water hose. Our camp guide informed us that the best practice would be to unhook the freshwater hoses before the temperatures hit below 32 degrees and to reattach them the following day once the weather improves.

Secondly, Benny and Vito have never experienced weather this cold before, so beyond bathroom breaks, we weren’t really sure what level of outdoor activity they would be up for. Breaks would need to be swift, and they would need to don their winter coats to go outside until we were able to get a better grasp of the situation. They certainly aren’t sled dogs (though they will attempt to “mush” when the mood strikes them in a silty situation), and they are not designed for rough terrain.

Jamie and I elected to keep things simple and see how the day would treat us in the morning. Skillet dinner, everyone to bed early, and a good book would keep us occupied. Leaving home (mostly) behind us for a while, I’ve packed a number of large chapter books that will no doubt ably fall on my face during an afternoon nap. For the time being, my book of choice is a biography, “Stalin’s Daughter”, by Rosemary Sullivan. Perhaps not the most uplifting, but it adds to my escapism when we are settling down to sleep.

We were pleased to discover that the camp had a decent connection to both Wi-Fi and Satellite TV, so I was able to conduct some work, and Jamie was able to navigate reruns of M.A.S.H. and The Beverly Hill Billies. While not important for our visit, but perhaps for yours, the paperwork from the office notes that there are no public restrooms or showers available in big, bold letters, as well as notifying us that we must pick up after our dogs (totally fine) or risk a $25 fine and possible expulsion from the park. Noted.

Relaxed, fed, and slightly more educated, we hit the hay and hoped our pipes would be safe from any freezing experiences.

A Chilly Morning

Waking at 5:30 am purely by habit, I turn on our 5-cup Mr. Coffee and wait for it to brew. Benny has long since evicted himself from the bed and relocated to the couch somewhere between 3-4:00 am, so he happily snuggles with me while I wait for my daily dose of kick-in-the-pants to get the day started. The perfect blend of Crema Gusto and a shake of ground cinnamon is just the sort of magic to set the tone while the sun just peeks over the crest of the mountain between the pine trees that adorn the lot. Perfect hues of red and orange rise above the hills, creating a vibrant painting through the condensation hitting the windows of the Airstream. I’m fortunate for this moment; we don’t have next-door neighbors today, so my view is virtually unobstructed while I take my first few sips of coffee.

At this point, Jamie wakes up to the aroma and begins to discuss the weather conditions and plan the day ahead. The temperature dropped significantly during the night, down to 25 degrees, and he ended up turning up the heat a bit to bring the interior of the RV back to an ambient experience. I mentioned the snow stuck to the ground (not much) and my curiosity about the coffee shop hours near the front of the park.

The Matador Coffee Roasting Co. has two locations in Flagstaff, and the coffee is roasted in town. We had their coffee the last time we were here but never made it to one of the shops. As luck would have it, when you depart the RV Park, there is a Matador within walking distance. Having downed two cups of coffee a piece, we strapped on our hiking boots and geared up the dogs for a short excursion to see how the boys fared with the weather and new grounds and to check out the Matador’s offerings.

There was some ice layer on the steps when we climbed out of the Airstream but at first stab, the briskness of the weather was not half bad. Turning down the path, we pass the office, and at just about the point that we turn left toward The Matador, the wind hits us, blasting us in the face with traffic whipping down the 89. We push through the parking lot, and Jamie sits outside on a bright blue metal bench with the boys, savoring the sunshine and the ounce of warmth it provides while I go into the counter and scrounge up a couple of blueberry scones, a green tea for Jamie and a Black and White chocolate mocha for myself.

Mornings are busy there, but I can quickly see why. The food was worth it and did not disappoint. The scones are light, not dense, and not crusted with an excessive amount of sugar, which I believe just ruins it. These were perfect. Light, flaky, but not too messy, freshly made and wrapped in a bit of Saran wrap. The bottoms had the right amount of give – they broke with a pinch but were soft and buttery inside. I couldn’t wait to dive into this deliciousness, but I wasn’t about to leave our pack outside without sharing, so I returned to the cold to discover that Vito was NOT having the weather and that we needed to return to the RV post haste.

Inside the RV, we were able to enjoy our hot beverages and scones, gathering up the warmth from inside and out. At this point, it’s about 10:30 am, and with no place we are required to be, I return to the bed to read for a bit till we are ready to sort out lunch and choose an afternoon activity.

Proper Meats

When we last visited Flagstaff, a number of places landed on our “next time” list. One place in particular was Proper Meats, which carries an assortment of sandwiches and salads, among other things. Given our having the boys with us, we chose to grab food and bring it back to the RV since it was still a bit too cold to eat outside at a park. Jamie ordered the Greek Salad with Po Boy Chicken; I had the Pork Chili Verde with fresh bread slices. Both were great, and my chili had the right level of spiciness that gives a fruity kick on the back end, but I am convinced it had a whole onion in it. I love onions, but sadly they no longer love me. There was a bit of moving around of ingredients, but that didn’t stop me from finishing up what I could. Jamie enjoyed his meal so much (the salads are HUGE, by the by) that his meal became lunch AND dinner.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Down the 89 and if Waze is given license, through a few neighborhoods, you’ll find yourself spit out onto the 40 only to arrive a few minutes later at a small exit sending you down a road that eventually lands at the entrance to Walnut Canyon National Park. You can pay $25 for entry. You can also use your America the Beautiful Annual Pass and bypass this fee. Walnut Canyon appears simple at first, then opens up to deep canyons covered in plants and trees, where one has the fortune of pivoting to see across the canyon where the cave dwellings still remain and are protected through conservation efforts. The view is majestic at a minimum, with soaring birds of prey circling the valley as the sun hits their wings. There are benches available to rest your legs and appreciate the sun and the canyon, which gives the illusion of eternity. The path toward the clearing is dog-friendly, as is the path to the pueblo dwellings off to the right. The Island path, which is the closest you can hike to the cave dwellings, is not.

Remains of ancient building structures in Arizona
Pueblo Dwelling Ruins, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

This turned out to be just fine for us, allowing a 20-minute walk through paths with yucca plants and Rocky Mountain Junipers, just long enough to take in the sights and snap a few photos. Benny and Vito were fully entranced by all the new smells and, in all honesty, did their best to keep their excitement contained. We skipped the visitor’s center, piled back in the truck, and headed back out in search of another short hike that the dogs could manage.

Mt. Elden and Fatman’s Loop

View of a hiking path with pine trees
Mt. Elden, Flagstaff, AZ

Yes, that’s the name. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, and at some point, it will probably get changed for sensitivity reasons unless there's some inside joke where this started that I'm unaware of. It’s the shortest loop at that trailhead at 0.2 mi and feasible for two small dogs with tiny legs and big personalities. Parking is relatively easy and free, but there are ZERO trash cans, so it is a “pick it up/pack it up/load it out” situation. The hike is easy but does include some rocks and logs to clammer over, but many a child is able to go through, so I wouldn’t define it as “difficult”. We made it about halfway up the trail when Vito’s right hip started to irritate him, so we turned around and carried him back to the truck so he could rest…and rest he did. Having his brain thoroughly exhausted, he and Benny slept from right after their dinner till our bedtime.

Two dogs sleeping on a couch with blankets.
Benny and Vito, asleep after a walk.

Dinner was simple. We devoured the leftovers from lunch, making the cleanup easy so we could plan for the next location.

And with that, it’s time to sign off. We have a long drive to Albuquerque, New Mexico, tomorrow, so I encourage all of you to Unhitch, Unplug, and Unwind.

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