The crisp early morning air of Southern California should have been a clear sign that further down the road would be very much cooler, but it didn’t stop or deter us from starting on our journey at the beginning of December. I was bound and determined to get to Sedona, Arizona, come hell or high water. I had wanted to go, and spend time there, for years, and I plowed my way there without much planning or stopping. I learned a lot from this first trip, which was supposed to take 3 weeks but ended up around 4 days.

We drove through all the familiar places, passed through Palm Springs (which was the furthest we had been in that direction) and found ourselves at our first stop, the Salton Sea. It was a very interesting place. Many warned us about the smell, but we arrived on a cool day and there was almost no smell at all aside from the smell of salty water, like the ocean. We enjoyed lunch here among the birds and the beach. It didn’t have sand like a standard beach would have had, although from a distance it looked like it was endless white sand, upon further investigation I found that it was tiny pieces of dead barnacles and fish bones. Like an aquatic graveyard, both surreal and a bit horrifying as I crunched over millions of little ‘dead bodies’ to get to the water, where I snapped some pictures of the hundreds of birds that flew and swam around the water.  *Don’t let my edited pictures fool you, there were hundreds!! I edited a bunch of them out of some of my shots because I was trying to focus on one certain bird.* It was a peaceful afternoon and I will most definitely be going back there again soon, in the early morning air though 😉

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We piled back in the car and continued on our journey. I wanted to make it to the Petroglyph Site in Southern Arizona before night fall. What was supposed to be a 6 hour drive was closer to 10!! I was ready to get out of that damn car! I had had just enough in cash for 2 days (this was including a ton of change) but we decided to stay only one night. First lesson learned, if you can stay somewhere longer, do it! I attempted to erect our tent in the evening wind, and the whole damn thing actually flew away from me a few times! I am sure if there were anyone else around I would have been very embarrassed, along with amusing as it would have been a silly sight for sure! The Petroglyph Site was interesting but we were expecting a lot more than a huge pile of volcanic rocks in the middle of a vast nowhere. There were some large mountainous hills in the distance, which if we stayed we probably would have tried to go up and explore them, but I let Cardin talk me into heading out the next morning. 2nd lesson, take in consideration the wishes of a 10 year old (almost 11) but don’t base decision solely on that! I think if we had stayed that 2nd night I wouldn’t have been as ragged, because I would have had a chance for a bit of rest.

After trying to get a good nights sleep on some pointy rocks the morning came and we ate some rice from the night before that tasted like dirt… Won’t be buying that brand again (also didn’t help that Cardin got some dirt in the bowls haha :D) packed up the tent and headed toward the Sonoran Desert National Monument, which I was never able to find. I drove and drove all over that damn place and I couldn’t figure out where the hell it was! So we kept driving, and when we reached a town I got gas and pulled out the trusty road map to figure out where the hell we would go next. I decided on the Petrified Forest, mind you it was now mid day and we were a good 5 hours away, but we went for it anyway. After endless driving through the Tonto National Forest I started to realize that we wouldn’t make it there by night fall, or it would be pretty damn close. So I looked where we were and realized that Sedona was the same distance as the Petrified Forest! 3rd lesson, take time to smell the roses. I should have just found a spot closer to where we were and enjoyed the area we were in. We pulled into Sedona after 5pm and it was pitch dark, I couldn’t find camping anywhere! It was too dark to see anything, I felt defeated and exhausted after driving around for a couple hours, we finally made ‘camp’ in the car. We have a very little car, after maneuvering items, Cardin had the back seat and I tried to sleep in the front seat in a seated position. Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep. 4th lesson, make sure that, whatever vehicle we may be traveling in, we have equipped it for more comfortable emergency car camping.

(picture from another adventure, just to show how small the car is)

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As the morning crept in, we sat and waited for the sun to continue rising and for the defrost to completely dry out the windows. I searched on my ‘not so reliable’ phone for nearby visitors centers, only one open for the season. We drove all the way there for it to be closed until 9 am…. Not knowing the area and stressing about cash flow I was leery on just going into some diner for warm drinks. Lesson 5, don’t think so much. Sometimes you have to let go and go with a peaceful flow, knowing everything will be alright, even if you have just one little decadence, like a warm morning drink until the center opens. When the visitor center opened we were told that the pass we needed could only be purchased from a ranger, and that they only came into the city during certain times. So, we drove a while longer to the nearest ranger station that was open to get the Beautiful America Pass (which also got us our campsite for half the price). Finally, pass in hand, we made our way all the way back, near the place we ‘car camped’, and setup camp at the Manzanita campground. Campfire roaring we made breakfast and then headed for a couple hikes.

I am not sure why the Manzanita campground got voted most beautiful campground. It was very pretty, but very small and there was no real way ‘out’ of the grounds. There were no hikes close by and we were sandwiched between two bluffs, so it was cold! Since we exhausted the extent of ‘hiking’ around our campsite we decided to try out one of the hikes that was further up the road, The Midgley Bridge trail. There were a couple different options to take with this trail but as it was nearing 2pm and the sun would be going down in a few hours we decided for the shorter loop. It was amazing, and so very beautiful. The hike also got our blood flowing so we were all nice and toasty! Which didn’t last long when we got back to our camp. We headed to bed as soon as the sun went down, so pretty early, which was fine because we were both exhausted! However, it got below freezing that night so Cardin and I tried to share sleeping bags with not much luck. We were both freezing all night, Cardin more than I as he decided to sleep in his undies.  Lesson 6, when it comes to warm clothing more is better, especially in terms of thick socks and super warm fuzzy pajamas! Maybe even a two person sleeping bag would be a good idea, since body heat is what got us through that night with a tad of sleep.

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The morning sun began to illuminate our tent, not bringing warmth but fear. Neither of us wanted to crawl out of the somewhat warm blankets and sleeping bags to brave the crisp frosty air. We quickly dressed in all of our coats and laced our shoes, and exited the tent with already frozen toes and fingers. Cardin was NOT happy, not one little bit. I did my best to start a fire quickly, but it wasn’t big enough to really heat us up, and he began to breakdown. Every two seconds he complained about how cold he was, and that his feet hurt so very badly. I didn’t know what to do, he wouldn’t stop. He started crying, so I finally decided to put him (along with Luna, who I have found also needs warm weather gear and doggie boots) in the car and turned on the heater. But that took a while to heat up and the entire time he wallowed in the car. Screaming and crying. I felt like I was going to lose my mind, I am very sad to say that I didn’t handle this situation very well at all. And to make matters worse the campers next to us were looking at me like I was some sort of child abuser. It was not a very good morning at all. Lesson 7, breathe and don’t get so upset. Try to be more understanding and compassionate, being tired and exhausted is no excuse. I packed the tent as best I could, put out the fire and decided to call this adventure done.  Feeling defeated, we started our journey back home. We stopped a couple times for gas and to eat but we made it back that evening. And I would like to add that the stretch of highway 10 from Arizona to California is the most torturous stretch of flat nothingness road I have ever been on, it felt like it would never end. I was so relieved when that stretch of road was done! 280 miles of straight dessert and very small towns about every 60 miles or so. This was by far a huge learning trip for us and a great reminder that we need to slow down, slow down a lot, and know that it is okay hibernating our traveling shoes for the Winter, and that planning needs to be more thought out and more in depth. We are going to be heading out again for Arizona and Utah mid April. Until then, we will be exploring Southern California a bit more ❤ I would also like to say thank you to Hanna Elaine Harmon and Ian Catchpole ❤ your donations covered most of our fuel cost along the way, we love you!! ❤

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