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  • Donna

Trip Report: Arizona

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

November 10 – 17, 2017

“Where is this place?” I asked Wendy.

“I don’t know,” she answered, “but supposedly it’s three miles away.”

In theory, we were approaching Lyman Lake State Park for a two-night stopover before heading into New Mexico. But the terrain gave no indication that any kind of civilization was nearby, much less a lake. Within a few minutes though, a road sign directed us to the left. We drove along a winding lane, past an entrance booth with a bug-smattered 8×10 sheet of paper taped to the window that informed us to check in at the General Store.

“This place looks deserted,” Wendy said. “Think anyone’s actually in the General Store?”

Turns out yes—one person in ranger garb. When I told him I was there to check in, he didn’t ask to see ID. He didn’t even ask my name. “You’re the only check-in we’ve had today,” he said. “Hope you weren’t looking for a crowd.”

“I’m never looking for a crowd,” I told him.

Lyman Lake Campground, AZ
Our campsite at Lyman Lake

“Good, he responded. ‘Cause it’s just you and the camp host. Everybody else left today.” Having just spent five nights at the Grand Canyon’s Trailer Village Campground, the notion of being away from everyone else made my heart smile. That smile grew when the ranger added that he’d be around for a few hours tomorrow if we needed anything, and that Carl would be on the tractor and we could always flag him down.

Polar opposite of our Grand Canyon experience.

The canyon itself? Spectacular. We’ve seen so many great canyons on this trip I was afraid of being underwhelmed by the one I’d wanted to visit for the past 20 years. It didn’t disappoint and I have no regrets about going.

Our campsite at Grand Canyon National Park
Our campsite at the Grand Canyon

But the park? The first descriptors that come to mind are unhappy, rude, and ugly college campus. It started when we checked into the campground and were “greeted” by employees discussing how much longer they had to stay at work. Then we pulled into our parking-lot site, with a sliver of gravel separating us from our neighbors and a black trash bag duct taped to a tree limb, presumably to discourage whatever left that platter-sized poo smatter from perching near our picnic table.

Our campground was also adjacent to housing for park employees who disregarded the speed limit and one-way signs. Rather than have the dogs pee in others’ campsites, we walked them along the campground perimeter: beneath power lines, next to enormous industrial tanks secured behind a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, and past a utility building straight out of Lost with a red light next to a sign that read CHLORINE GAS ALARM.

On the flip side, we had full hookups, Food Network, a decent grocery store, and really nice neighbors with three adopted kids—one of whom played with Darwin and Emerson for hours.

So I’m glad we visited the Grand Canyon, but I was ready to leave when we headed out yesterday morning. We routed ourselves through Petrified Forest National Park, where we took a couple of scenic drives, swung by a few overlooks, and stopped at the Crystal Forest to eat lunch and walk the 3/4-mile loop that winds along fallen trees that are more than 200 million years old, the wood replaced by colorful silica crystals.

Petrified wood in the Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified wood in the Crystal Forest

Anyone who’s ever seen us eating lunch at a turnout or in a parking lot knows we’re kind of a hot mess. We let the dogs out to drink and pee. We give the kids a chance to run around while periodically taking a bite of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was no different yesterday, as the trunk was open so CeCe could hang out while clipped to the van, Wendy was holding Odie and Clark, and I was sitting on the curb reminding Darwin and Emerson to take bites of their sandwich as they focused on picking up rocks and shouting “deer poo!”

It was at this very moment that a woman rounded the corner of our van asking if we had jumper cables. She barely heard me answer yes amid the fits of furious barking that ensued, and I could tell she hadn’t realized what she was getting into by asking this ragtag band of travelers for assistance. But what was done was done, so I dug the cables out of our roadside emergency bag. Twenty minutes later, after which any casual bystander would swear that jumping a vehicle is a particularly difficult task, the formerly disabled car was able to carry its passengers to the next viewpoint.

Then the seven of us set off to explore the Crystal Forest. Wendy walked with CeCe while I led Odie and Clark along the path. Emerson ran ahead while Darwin lagged behind, stopping frequently to inspect the ground and ensure she was still holding the best pebble before moving forward. While I like exploring national parks with my family, moments like this are stressful and I have to remind myself that these are good times. Like any good wife, Wendy assisted with this task by snapping a photo of me holding Darwin as she cried, Odie peed, and Clark took a shit. It’s a hilarious picture and reinforces that while certain moments are difficult, this life we’re living is filled with joy.

And of course that joy is easier to feel now that we’ve spent the day lounging at Lyman Lake. Darwin is napping, Wendy is knitting, and Emerson is removing toys from a Ziploc bag and putting them back in again, whispering “helicopter… car….”

Tomorrow we’re heading to Valley of the Fires State Park in New Mexico, where we’ll stay for a couple of nights before visiting Carlsbad Caverns.

Read the next trip report: New Mexico


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