Grand Canyon National Park + Boondocking on Forest Road 302

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon has always been one of those places that I knew I'd have to see for myself at least once in my lifetime. It did not disappoint. 

View of the canyon from the Rim Trail

View of the canyon from the Rim Trail

What a tremendous feat of nature, and what an amazing experience to witness it in person! We attempted the Bright Angel Trail  which takes you 6 miles down to a plateau point that overlooks into the canyon below. There are resthouse stations along the way, the first being 1.5 miles down, but we only made it down 1 mile and then went back up 😂 The views from the trail are spectacular, so you don't really notice how steep the trail is until you make your way back up and then you're like 😰 

Bright Angel Trail.JPG

Thankfully there are plenty of places to rest in the shade, catch your breath and take some photos as you make your way back up.

Views from the Rim Trail are also beautiful, but during the time we were at the Grand Canyon, the North Rim was (actually still is...) on fire. You could see the smoke in the distance. 

The Rim Trail is paved and flat, so it was convenient to take the dogs on an evening stroll. We tried to show them the wondrous views of the canyon, but alas, the effort was lost on them... 

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Hannah and JoJo Looking Out.JPG

During our stay there, Bach and I celebrated our 9 year wedding anniversary! Bach made a reservation at the historic El Tovar Restaurant inside the park. The service was excellent, the food was delicious, and it was a night to remember, celebrating our anniversary at the Grand Canyon!

Boondocking on Forest Road 302

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Overall, our boondocking experience here was not the best... It wasn't terrible for being free, but 5 days was more than enough for camping here.

Pros:

  • Forest Road 302 is very close to town, and we were in one of the first few spots at the beginning of the road.

  • There were plenty of great camping sites available for all sized rigs.

  • The condition of the gravel road was good and well maintained. No huge potholes or muddy ruts. Some of the side dirt roads going into the campsites were a bit rutted, but there were plenty of other sites with decent roads you could go down.

Cons:

  • Starting early in the morning, helicopters and small planes would fly overhead nonstop and the noise was really distracting... Thankfully the tours ended by early evening so at least at night it was fairly quiet.

  • Cell signal speeds were terrible, despite having 3-4 solid bars on all of our devices; Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon and AT&T had unusable speeds, while T-Mobile was the only one with decent speeds enough for streaming.

We did also see a family of horses and a group of elk walk through our campsite! 

Horse Family.JPG

The weather was also blistering hot and dry when we were there, but cooled down significantly at night. We managed without the AC during the day, but it was not a comfortable experience... Overall, the experience of the Grand Canyon was amazing! Next time, we'll have to go during the spring or fall and tour the North Rim! 

Mesa Verde National Park + Boondocking on BLM MC Road 34

Mesa Verde National Park

Bach and I have a fascination with historical sites and we love taking tours to learn about different cultures and ways of life. Mesa Verde National Park has proven to be an amazing testament to human ingenuity and creativity. Tour tickets for the dwellings sell out fast and you have to purchase them in person, so I would suggest getting to the Visitor Center as soon as they open. Tickets are only $5 per person! 

Balcony House

We took a tour of the Balcony House first, which starts off with a 32 foot ladder climb up to the dwelling! I was quaking in my shoes at the thought of having to do that climb; but I did it, I survived, and after calming my nerves as far from the edge as I could get, I did realize that the tour of the dwelling was worth it! We learned that the Pueblo people had left the region during the 1300s, and had built and lived in these cliff dwellings only for the last 100 years while they occupied the area. The cliff dwellings have survived for 800 years! 

A very short ladder climb up to the next level inside Balcony House.

A very short ladder climb up to the next level inside Balcony House.

View of the canyon from Balcony House. 

View of the canyon from Balcony House. 

One of the Kivas at Balcony House.

One of the Kivas at Balcony House.

Kivas were used as living quarters, and normally, there would be a thatched roof with a hole in the center and a ladder to climb down into the room.

The balcony at Balcony House. 

The balcony at Balcony House. 

The Pueblo people who lived in these dwellings were on average 4 to 5 feet tall! I would've fit right in, and would've even been considered "tall" at a whopping 5'. Bach would have been a monstrous giant at 5'10" 😱

Bach's too tall for these dwellings... 

Bach's too tall for these dwellings... 

Perfect fit!

Perfect fit!

Tools for grinding corn.

Tools for grinding corn.

The last 10 foot ladder to the exit. 

The last 10 foot ladder to the exit. 

I survived! Rewarding myself with water after all that crazy ladder climbing.

I survived! Rewarding myself with water after all that crazy ladder climbing.

Cliff Palace

After Balcony House, we did a tour of Cliff Palace which also required some ladder climbing, but not nearly as tall and scary as the climbs at Balcony House! When touring Balcony House, I thought that was pretty amazing, but Cliff Palace is like nothing else. 

View of Cliff Palace.

View of Cliff Palace.

A much easier start to get to Cliff Palace than Balcony House!

A much easier start to get to Cliff Palace than Balcony House!

Cliff Palace is much larger than Balcony House and back in the day, about 120 people would live in this dwelling. It extends further into the back of the cliff, which we weren't allowed to go into.

The climb up is high, but the climb down is far too...

The climb up is high, but the climb down is far too...

We loved learning about the Pueblo people and their lives in these dwellings!

We loved learning about the Pueblo people and their lives in these dwellings!

Boondocking at MC RD 34

We boondocked for the first time on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land near Mesa Verde National Park, at MC RD 34 (County Road 34). It was conveniently located, about a mile from Mesa Verde Visitor Center and close to two different towns; Mancos to the east and Cortez to the west.

There were many things to like about this camping spot, including the views of the mountains!

View of the mountains from the campsite.

View of the mountains from the campsite.

It was also very private, as all the marked camping sites were well spaced from each other with a lot of trees in-between. Best of all, it was FREE! There's a limit of 14 consecutive days of camping. While there's no camphost on the premises, we did see a cop car roll through at one point, and also a ranger a different day; most likely to just keep an eye on things and keep track of how long people are staying at the campsite. It's close to the highway however, so you'll hear traffic noises at night, but not too bad. 

The sign is pretty small, so you have to be on the lookout. 

The sign is pretty small, so you have to be on the lookout. 

MC RD 34 - Drive down about 1/2 a mile and the entrance to the campsite is on the right.

MC RD 34 - Drive down about 1/2 a mile and the entrance to the campsite is on the right.

Entrance to the campsite. 

Entrance to the campsite. 

There are 12 marked and cleared spots available for camping. Spots 1-8 are suitable for tent camping and small rigs (like a van at most, or tear drop camper). Spots 9-12 have enough space for bigger rigs, but only spots 11 and 12 can handle a 30' trailer like our Airstream. A 30' trailer would be the max length though because we barely squeezed in... There is a very small, very tight turnaround at the end of the road but I wouldn't recommend using it. Our F-250 truck by itself would barely make that turn. Good thing we managed to squeeze into space 11 without going down to the turnaround because we would've gotten stuck!

Site 11 that we barely squeezed our 30' trailer into.

Site 11 that we barely squeezed our 30' trailer into.

Initially, we tried to pull through into site 11 from site 10, but halfway in, we realized it was a bad idea! There's not a lot of clearance on the sides because of trees and bushes, but at that point we were too far in to be able to easily back out onto the main road again... I had to hold back some branches to try and minimize scratching on the trailer and Bach eventually managed to maneuver far enough into site 11, but that was NOT fun... Only sites 11 and 12 open in the right direction for you to be able to back into the spots without having to turn around at the end and come back the other way. 

Don't try to pull through from site 10 with a 30' trailer! 

Don't try to pull through from site 10 with a 30' trailer! 

Site 11 was pretty level and provided a lot of privacy. The front door opened up to a small clearing where you could set up a table and chairs. Campfires were prohibited however. 

Side view - No campfires

Side view - No campfires

The front door opened out to this small clearing.

The front door opened out to this small clearing.

If boondocking's not your thing and you'd rather stay in the park, they have lodging at Fair View Lodge with rooms looking out into the canyons, and Morefield Campground that's open to tent, trailer and RV camping. They also have a dog kennel at the Morefield Village which we took the dogs to for the day while we toured the cliff dwellings. Our dogs were the only ones there and each got their own crate, bed and water bowl. 

Cell Signal for Working Remotely

Cell signal is terrible in the area... We have Verizon for our personal phones, an AT&T hotspot, and T-Mobile on an Android phone. Verizon gave us 2 bars but with unuseable speeds, the AT&T hotspot gave us a few bars with barely useable speeds (with an antenna and booster), and T-Mobile was similar to Verizon. Bach went into Mancos to work at a coffee shop and use their Wi-Fi for one day and then decided to just tough it out at the campsite for the rest of the week using the hotspot. 

Antenna setup

Antenna setup

If you work remotely and are staying at this campsite, or in the area, Mancos is a very small town with not a lot of coffee shop options to work out of. They do have a small library, but we didn't go in there to try out there Wi-Fi. Cortez on the other hand, is larger, also with a library and more options for finding a place with Wi-Fi. Mancos is a cute little town though, and worth exploring! 

Traveling with Dogs - Emergency Veterinary Care

During our boondocking stay, one of our dogs, MooMoo, got sick from eating/licking something off the ground! After 2 days of having diarrhea every 2 hours, we found a veterinary clinic to take her to. Montezuma Veterinary Clinic in Cortez was excellent! Dr. Hawkins determined that MooMoo had a digestive bacterial infection and prescribed antibiotics and probiotics. Now MooMoo's on the mend and right back to her normal crazy self 😝

We survived!

We survived our first true boondocking experience on BLM land and I'm glad we did it! Most days the heat was bearable because of the thunderstorms in the early evenings, but we did have to use the generator a couple times to run the AC for a few hours during the day on the other days when there weren't storms.

As for our water supply, we were able to use water very conservatively, while not having to sacrifice taking showers and ended up with still a lot of water by day 7! We were prepared with 2 extra water totes (6 gallons each) and didn't even have to use them. We also lasted the whole week without having to dump our waste tanks. Since there aren't any services on BLM campsites, you have to find other campgrounds or RV parks that will let you use their dumpsites for a fee. We pulled the trailer to a nearby KOA and paid $10 to dump our tanks. If you need to fill your water, it's another $10 (which is really steep considering the average fee to dump and refill your water tank is $15 at most places...). We didn't have to fill our water tank however because we still had 12 gallons of water from the extra water totes and the next campground we were headed to has full hookups. 

Overall, we had a great time visiting Mesa Verde National Park and boondocking at MC RD 34