Author Archives: Kate Payne

Grand Canyon North Rim Day 1

Our campsite at Lees Ferry Campground was no less magnificent the next morning. We watched the sunrise through the tent roof and then had coffee with Dave. He lives on 80 acres in a national forest in Oregon and takes a snow mobile to his home in the winter. After packing up, we swing by the Navajo Bridge and saw another condor. They’re such large birds and kind of ugly, but amazing to see in the wild.

Sunrise at Lees Ferry Campground

The drive to Grand Canyon North Rim was quick with lots of opportunities to stop and take in the sights. To get to Grand Canyon National Park, you have to go through Kaibab National Forest. We read that there were numerous dispersed camping options off designated forest roads and found the reports to be true. After checking on a few spots, we settled on a site at the north end of 270T right off FR 22. The spot was only 1/2 mile off the main road and was easy for the CRV to access, even if things got a little muddy (hint: things get muddy).

After setting up camp, we headed into the park to get maps and check out the facilities. It was a gorgeous day, and we were ready to stretch our legs so we set out on the Transept Trail, so named because follows the Transept Canyon. It also connects the Grand Canyon Lodge with the Grand Canyon Campground. The Transept Trail is 1.5 miles each way and is an easy hike with lots of side trails leading to rock outcroppings, providing incredible views and opportunities to do a little rock scrambling. The side trails are not promoted by the National Park Service. In fact, there are entire books dedicated to how people have died at the Grand Canyon by falling. But we stayed within our limits and lived to tell about it.

Getting off the beaten path was really fun and exciting. We got to see the different sediment layers up close and see the all kinds fossils. I definitely recommend this hike to anyone who visits the north rim. On our way back in to the lodge, a storm blew up so we hustled back, grabbed a beer and a seat on the leather couches, and commenced people watching.

When the storm blew through we returned to camp, made dinner, and drove back to the lodge for a ranger talk about the adventurers of the Colorado River. An alternate name for the talk could be Wild Women of the Colorado River as the Ranger spent a lot of time talking about some of the more colorful women who were among the first to float the rapids. My favorite was Georgie White who favored leopard print wetsuits and optimized the river experience resulting in reduced cost of a float trip from over $1,000 to just over $100. All in all, a pretty good day

Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon

Canyons are formed through years of water and wind etching away the rocky landscape. Floods in particular play an important role in creating the canyons. Page, AZ is known for slot canyons, which are very narrow canyons through the rocks formed mostly by flash floods. Slot canyons are usually shorter in length from .5 miles with some going up to 1.5 miles end to end. Antelope Canyon is the most popular slot canyon, and hordes of people visit each day. Since I don’t really like crowds, I searched for a slot canyon tour that would be equally as beautiful but with less people.

Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours is owned and operated by a Navajo family who have a slot canyon on the Grandmother’s property. Months ago when I booked, the main draw was that they offer private tours of the canyon. What I had not anticipated was the opportunity to hear the firsthand history of a Navajo family and ask questions about their way of life, past and present. Our guide, Trey, also showed me how to use the filters on my iPhone to take better photos. And he played a traditional flute as we walked the canyon which made it feel almost magical.

Learning to use the Chrome filter on the iPhone

Detailed view of the rock texture

The path was not straight but it sure was narrow!

After the tour we picked up a few snacks at Walmart and drove about an hour to Lees Ferry. The campground is first come first served, and we were nervous about getting a spot. We arrived to find 2 other groups camping, and neither of them picked the best spot. We quickly claimed it and set up camp while the Colorado River bubbled by in the background.

Our neighbor Dave had a vintage Aristocrat trailer he’d fixed up and painted turquoise. So cute!

After setting up camp, we visited the Navajo Bridge where we saw 2 California condors. Special thanks to our friends Jim and Bonnie for the recommendation. We returned to camp for sunset and dinner. Dave let us know which direction to face for the moonrise. I have never seen anything like it. It was spectacular.

Sunset over the canyon walls behind Lees Ferry Campground

Moonrise over the Colorado River at Lees Ferry Campground

We did not use the tent’s rain fly so we could fall asleep under the almost-full moon. Camping perfection…

1400 miles from Memphis to Page

Days 3 and 4 were all about getting to Page, AZ in time to see the sunset at Horseshoe Bend. We left Memphis early on Sunday morning and planned to spend the night in the Walmart parking lot in Amarillo. As we were driving, we realized we had not packed the annual park pass we would need to gain admission to Grand Canyon and the handful of other parks we’d visit. Oops… The good news is that there are several parks in and around Albuquerque that sell passes. We drove through Amarillo trying to get as close to Albuquerque as we could.

Our first night of boondocking in the CRV was at Cline’s Corner, a run down little gas station off I-40. When you tell people out east that you’re planning to sleep in your car, they look at you like you’re deranged. But it seems to be fairly common out west. That night at Cline’s, we shared the parking lot with several RVs, a few SUVs, a VW bus, and 2 semis. And we got to see a beautiful sunrise over the desert.

We finished the drive to Albuquerque and stopped at the Owl Cafe for breakfast. Pancakes, bacon, and coffee. The perfect vacation breakfast. There are several old-fashioned diners along historic Route 66. We picked Owl Cafe because it was the only one open on a Monday.

Then we shuffled off to Petroglyph National Monument. After purchasing an annual pass we took a few quick little hikes. It was a great opportunity to get acclimated to the heat and the elevation.

Driving through the night put us about 4 hours ahead of schedule which was just enough time to drive out to Canyon de Chelley. This Canyon was originally on the itinerary but was crossed off because we didn’t think we’d have enough time to see it. What a treat to be able to see it after all!

As we drove, the temperature started rising and the landscape became distinctly desert-ish. It was so hot and I got winded on a quarter mile hike. The Canyon was so lovely and a great way to acclimate to the greater Grand Canyon region.

And we made it to horseshoe bend in time for sunset. We fought with a crowd of drivers for a parking space and jostled alongside them to get as close to the rim as possible but it was worth it! The pictures do not do it justice…

We tried to sleep in the car in the Walmart parking lot in Page but it never dropped below 80. So around 10:30 we drove over to the Quality Inn and spent a luxurious night in a hotel.

Walking in Memphis

Days 1 and 2 of the great 2017 roadtrip took us to Memphis, a city that I love more than may be rational. We drove the 10ish hours from Charlotte to Memphis and went straight to Rhodes College. The campus was close to deserted given it was Friday at 5 on a holiday weekend. I’d forgotten how quiet and peaceful it feels. After a quick stroll around campus we checked in at our Airbnb, took a nap, and grabbed dinner at Memphis Pizza Cafe. We were still tired even after a nap so opted for an early bedtime.

Saturday we hit the ground running. We were out the door by 7:30am and didn’t come home until 9:30pm. To fuel up for our day, we went to Brother Junipers. This is hands down my favorite breakfast place in Memphis. From the hostess to the waiters to the menus to the decor, little has changed in the last decade. And the food is still so delicious. Unlike in my early 20s, however, I was unable to clean my plate… but I still loved every bite!

Next, we headed to Graceland to pay our respects to the king. There are 3 places in Memphis I recommend visiting: Graceland, Sun Studios, and the National Civil Rights Museum. We had time to visit only 1, and my husband really likes Elvis, so to Graceland we went! It has grown so much in the 10 years since I last visited. There are so many more artifacts on display helping to piece together the life and time of Elvis.

The front of the Graceland Mansion that Elvis bought for $102k when he was 22.

We’ve all got bills to pay…

We worked up an appetite and headed to Central BBQ. I almost drove past the place because they added a permanent shelter above the patio. And the line went to the sidewalk. It took 10 minutes to find a parking space…a block away. But it was worth it. And we took a small bag of chips for the road.

Next we intended to walk along the river but it was hot and muggy. We were driving along riverside when a giant logo on the pyramid caught our attention. Bass Pro Shop bought the pyramid. As we got closer we could see people walking on the top! I wanted to do that! $20 later we were riding the largest freestanding elevator to the top of the pyramid and walking out on the viewing decks. Talk about an amazing view of the Mississippi. It was incredible. Definitely adding it to the list of Must See Memphis attractions. You can grab a drink or a bite to eat at the top. It would be awesome to be there when the sun is setting.

But we still had several hours of daylight left and Jeremy wanted to see the drinking goats at Silkys. Turns out PETA intervened a few years back and the goats are now on the wagon. We drank a few for them and enjoyed the live music and people watching. We moseyed down to the new Beale Street landing and watched the sunset. A lovely ending to our Memphis visit

Why the 2000 Honda CRV is the perfect roadtrip & camping vehicle

As summer turns into fall, my husband and I are headed out on a 17 day roadtrip to the Grand Canyon. Going on a road trip requires a vehicle, and, in our case, something that will hold up over many miles and enable us to camp in the desert. The original plan involved our Subaru Forester, but an accident on the highway left the Subie unfit for travel. The car did its job and no one was injured, but we suddenly found ourselves in the market for a new set of wheels. Continue reading