Trek from Albuquerque, NM to Sedona, AZ
April 30, 2018
It doesn’t matter how long we stay in a place – whether we are there for 3 days or 3 weeks, the last couple of days end up being a rush to fit everything in before we leave town. That’s what our final days in ABQ were like – rushing around from zoo to aquarium to botanical garden to art museum to pow wow. We had to fit in one last visit to the library to return everything, one last shopping trip at the awesome “Savers” 2nd hand place, drop a thumb drive of vintage camper images to the Enchanted Trails office, grab final souvenirs, refill the propane, buy all the groceries…there’s no end to the to-do list.
So when we finally rolled out of Enchanted Trails on I-40 in ABQ, the flurry of last-minute activity felt complete. We breathed a sigh of relief as we settled into our seats for a long day on the road, a scenario that weirdly enough has started to feel like “home”. The girls drew in their sketch books, Brad turned on some Beatles discography, and every 10 or so minutes Coral asked if it was screen-time yet. We enjoyed some extra-banana-y banana bread that I baked the night before, and watched out the window for hillside pueblos.
The plan was to stop mid-day at Petrified Forest National Park (the half-way point on our 6 hour drive), and to make the most effective use of our time, intended to eat our picnic lunch in the truck before we arrived. With about 20 minutes left until the park, we began making our turkey sandwich rolls since Coral had already been saying she was starving for a half hour. I served her first since she was complaining the loudest, but she took about 2 bites and then just sat staring at her meal.
“Are you OK, Kiddo?”
“I don’t know…I feel funny.”
“Do you feel like you’re going to throw up?”
“No, I just feel weird.”
She continued to sit, staring at her food until I offered to take it out of her lap for her.
“Do you need anything, Coco-bean?”
“No, I just want to take a break from eating.”
“Do you feel like you might throw up?”
About 10 seconds later the unmistakable sound of a kid tossing their cookies came from her corner of the vehicle, and I quickly grabbed a small trashcan & held it underneath her just in time to catch absolutely none of it.
We made a quick job of initial clean-up on the side of I-40, but with all the semis flying by us at 75mph, we continued to the Petrified Forest Visitors Center parking lot to complete the task more thoroughly. We cleaned Coral up and made her a nest on the couch where she napped for the next hour or so.
Brad stayed with her while Sunny and I explored the Visitor Center exhibits and video.
We tried to let her sleep as long as possible, but with a Jr. Ranger program to complete and 3 more hours to drive before dark, we felt like we had to head down the road about 2pm. She was so miserable and ashy-colored that we let her continue to lay down, even as we drove, carefully and slowly through the national park.
It was such a shame because Coral LOVES interesting rocks, and this park had some of the most beautiful rocks I’d ever seen! But she felt so crumby that she didn’t even want to go for a short walk to check them out.
In Coral’s stead, I completed a Jr. Ranger book with Sunny, and earned the Petrified Forest N.P. badge – my first!
In the process of chatting with the Park Ranger giving out the badges, we learned that the strengthening southwest winds would not be calming down anytime soon.
“We are heading to Sedona from here,” I told the park ranger, the gruffest I’ve met in the past 20 months. (Think Sam Elliott.)
“Don’t do it,” he warned. “My wife came back here from an appointment in Flagstaff today, and she saw 2 trailers blown over on I-40.”
Another older man in the visitors center overhead and joined in the conversation. “We are RV’ers and we just came from there today. The winds are getting really dangerous out there right now – they always pick up in the afternoons. If you want to make the drive between Winslow and Flagstaff you have to get up early to beat the afternoons winds.” He showed me the wind forecast on his phone, showing strengthening winds throughout the rest of the afternoon, only slowing about 7:00pm, then reappearing the next morning even stronger about 9:00am.
“There’s free dry camping in a parking lot right outside the park,” Sam Elliott advised. “If I was you, I’d wait it out there for a little while. You can’t need to get anywhere that fast. Whatever you decide, good luck and be safe.”
I thanked both men for the advice, and talked through our options with Brad. We decided to sit still for a few hours at the dry camping lot to wait for mischievous cousin wind, who had apparently followed us from ABQ, to put his hands back in his pockets.
We’ve always made it a priority to drive only during daylight, and we still had 3 hours to go to get to Sedona. But we decided NOT blowing over on the interstate was a higher priority, and it would also give Coral some more time to rest before she had to be upright again. So we spent about 3 hours in this interesting parking lot with a few other RV’s and cars, waiting for better conditions.
There were 2 businesses, one on each side of the road, just outside the park gate. It seemed that they had turned extra parking lot space into “free camping” just outside the park, perhaps in hopes of attracting more customers to these 2 establishments in the middle of nowhere. One was a restaurant and one was a rock/souvenir shop. Despite being in this remote locale, there were quite a few cars parked at each, so Sunny & I braved the wind to explore.
We tried the “Crystal Springs Museum & Restaurant” first. To our surprise, the door was locked. That’s when we realized that all of the cars in the parking lot were all old run-down junk cars – some sitting on blocks, some with flat tires, and all obviously in no condition to drive. It seems that maybe this business had placed junk cars in their parking lot to make it appear that other people were there!
We crossed the street to the rock shop and noticed the same thing about the parking lot. At least this place was open. They operated the only bathroom for miles, and we heard the cashier (who told us the highlight of her day was coming up in 15 minutes when the shop closed) tell multiple people that it was for customers only. And they could only take credit/debit cards for purchases of $10 or more, so I’m thinking this is a really lucrative bathroom. We marveled at the large blocks of petrified rock for sale in the $6K-$12K range, picked up a pretty geode as a get-well-gift for Coral, and took some pictures with the strange dinosaurs out front.
The wind was finally starting to show signs of slowing, so we packed up and headed on down the road about 6:30pm. Towing down the interstate in the dark isn’t ever ideal, but it wasn’t the hardest drive ever, so as our exhaustion from the day turned to frustration-masked-as-silliness, we crept closer to Sedona, grateful for almost zero side-wind.
We made great time to Flagstaff, and as we exited I-17 onto Hwy 89A to Sedona, we breathed a sigh of relief that only 35 miles remained between us and rest.
“Why does google say it’s still an hour?” I wondered aloud.
We passed a couple of signs that said “max length 50 ft”, and we are pretty close to that, but we are articulated in the middle and we knew that lots of RV’ers visit Sedona, so we weren’t too concerned. We still weren’t too concerned at the 7% grade warnings. But these 2 things combined with the 90degree turn warning signs and the 10-15mph recommended speed warnings led us to a very exciting section of 89A, where I think we dropped about 2,000 feet of altitude in about 2 miles.
We laughed about the fact that this happened on my driving shift, because such things almost always do, and we laughed about all sorts of other things because it was more fun that arguing and less tiring than freaking out. We rolled into “camp” (aka the 1st gravel pull-out we found on Forest Service Rd 525) after 10pm in whatever new time zone we had arrived in, parked, carried sleeping kids to their beds, and collapsed into our own.
I have to say that it seems that things often happen in groups of 3. Once Coral started puking, the thought did cross my mind, “I wonder what else this day will have in store for us.” From the sickness to the high winds to the crazy road…I’d call that a complete set.
A couple of days later Sunny & I visited the Palakti Ruins, a National Forest Service Historical Site. I ended up chatting with a ranger about road conditions and asked for advice about a better route to leave Sedona.
“Well, which way did you come in?”
“We came down 89A,” I replied.
“With a 5th wheel? You know there are length restrictions on that?”
“We aren’t 50 feet…” I countered, sheepishly.
“That’s combined length…” He looked at me incredulously.
“Yeah, it wasn’t fun, but we didn’t realize what we were getting into.”
He turned his head to one side, squinted his eyes at me a little, and said with a fake smile, “You shouldn’t have done that.”
I have to say that I agreed.