We’ve had enough of cold mornings and not using our water system for fear of freezing our holding tanks over night. This was supposed to be a warm retreat for the winter months after all. With that in mind, we left Flagstaff, which was still dipping below zero for a few hours each night, for Phoenix. The forecast was overnight lows of 7-8 Celsius there. We followed highway 98 South from our campsite to Sedona. That drive is a real unexpected treat. After a quick descent of 1000 feet or so, we found ourselves following a snaky canyon floor, lush with green and the first flowing river we’d seen in weeks. Oak Creek Canyon was beautiful. Still covered in green growth, the brown canyon walls began to brighten until they became a rich red, littered now with cacti and sparse leafy growth of almost a neon green color. The contrast is stunning. Along the hour or so drive through this canyon we spotted numerous campsites and parks we took note of to visit upon our return. I’m beginning to think 6 months is nowhere near enough time to see all we want to, as everyday our list of places grows.
We stopped briefly in Sedona for wireless service to figure out where we were going next. A highway side RV campground provided a spot to stop and rest for the night, as well as a nice long hot shower in their facilities, unburdened by limited water supply. Arriving in Phoenix late in the morning gave us time to do some shopping and errands, empty our tanks, fill up with fresh water, and consult some locals we met while doing so on where to go next. Bartlett Lake was tagged as a maybe, but after a keen suggestion from another camper at the dump station we opted to give it a go. It was evening by the time we were getting out of Phoenix, driving through a town called Carefree. What a fitting name it was as a last greet before entering Tonto National Forest. Just outside of Carefree we were forced to stop and take in a stunning sunset. From high over Phoenix area we witnessed a lively orange and pink sky drape the mountains in the distance in layers like you’d see in a painting.
It was dark when we arrived at Bartlett Flats dispersed campsite. We stopped on high beach and slept, waking early as the sun rose to explore the nearly vacant beach and pick our spot to set up for the next week. The miles-long beach had only 3 other campers scattered around it, leaving us with choices galore. We opted for a sandy little peninsula at the water’s edge that offered a 200-degree view of water out our door with cactus-covered mountains all around. The first day it rained, as forecasted. That allowed for some maintenance work on the trailer to get done without feeling like we were missing out on the outdoors. The second day is when we felt we’d made it to the warm vacation we were in pursuit of. The near vacant peace of the lake and the endless beach was soon interrupted by a low growl in the air, quickly followed by a roaring flyby directly above us of a fighter jet. This repeated every couple hours, Monday to Thursday. The air force training base just outside of Phoenix seemed to take advantage of the lake and river valleys for swooping, high-speed training exercises.
The next couple of days the beach slowly began to line with campers. When I say campers, I mean rv’s. It was the start of a long weekend.
We basked in 25 degree afternoons with Margaritas and Coronas, periodically getting out for a paddle in the kayak or on the board. One thing we didn’t buy (and I never will) is firewood as I’ll happily collect it from the surrounding dead-fall and keep my $6 in pocket. However, a cactus covered desert doesn’t provide much for burnable dead-fall. The opposite side of lake didn’t seem too far away, so I took one of recently acquired, used kayaks out for it’s inaugural paddle to go explore. I found on the other side, in one of the runoff valleys feeding the lake, a pile of dead-fall hardwood branches and logs that had washed down from higher elevation. With dreams of an evening fire I loaded up the kayak with enough wood for a couple nights, cautiously climbed in and planted my feet firmly on my find and began to paddle back. Sound travels quite well across water, so as much as I could hear the comments from nearby boaters as to what the hell I was doing, I’m sure they could hear my expletives as I almost lost my load a few times breaking through the wake of other boats. Maybe if I put a Canada flag sticker on the kayak next time they’ll understand, or at least not question my actions so much and just acknowledging me as yet another crazy Canuck. What wood I had gathered would later that evening fuel one of the stinkiest bonfires I’ve ever sat around. I’m still not sure what it was we were burning, but despite the odor, we burned the rest the following night. No way was that hard earned haul going to waste.