Cabin Fever - The Only Prescription is More Camping!
Camping in Sedona after too much time away from the tent
West Fork Trail: Sedona, AZ - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
Needless to say, the wildfires that have swept California in 2020 have caused much greater harm than preventing some guy from going camping. Indeed, we’ve written about this in the past. Our hearts certainly go out to every person, community, tree, and animal impacted by such a horrible turn of events.
But for me personally, living in the heart of San Francisco, cabin fever hit me like a truck once I could no longer get out of the city for my usual camping, hiking, and other outdoor adventures. In the early part of the summer I was doing all I could to go camping in as many regions of California as possible once the pandemic shut down my usual bar, restaurant, and live music venues that make living in a major city so desirable for me. Once it struck me that camping was the ideal activity for social distancing - each person on the trip brings their own ride, their own kit, their own food/beer, and kept a big ol’ fire between them to ensure they stayed 6+ feet apart - I was out in nature just about each and every week. It was my way to stay sane while the world as we knew it crumbled around us.
Then the whole state caught fire. That put a stop to my camping adventures pretty damn abruptly.
Cave Springs Campground: Sedona, AZ - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
Between the active wildfires throughout California and the entire western portion of the country, and the resulting smoke blanketing the region that made it so difficult to breathe while outside, outdoor activities in the area were now out as well, cast off onto the Covid pile with the concerts and the travel plans and such. Even beta testing our Pathloom app was getting a little depressing - discovering all of these amazing hikes and camping areas that were so close, but still entirely inaccessible due to hazardous conditions choking the area.
(No, I’m not looking for your sympathy. Yes, I realize we all have our own version of these frustrations. Give me a break here, I’m setting up a story. Do you want to tell yours? Then reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk about getting you a guest blogging spot here on Pathloom!)
For the next two months I watched my friends back on the East Coast take advantage of the remnants of the Summer and early Fall - mountain biking in the White Mountains, hiking in the Smokies, beach camping on the Atlantic shoreline. As outwardly gracious as I tried to be, on the inside I was seething with jealousy. Not only were they having these incredible adventures while I was stuck indoors staring at the ever-increasing AQI figures, it was during what might be the most beautiful season of the year to do so (in the Northeast anyway). Cool Autumnal breezes cutting through the thick sweltering humidity of the summer proffered ideal temperatures to sleep in a tent - with a backdrop of leaves turning vibrant with reds, oranges, and yellows. I don’t miss much about the weather in the Northeast since moving out West, but I have yet to find anything out here that can hold a candle to Fall in New England.
Manzanita Campground: Sedona, AZ - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
I had to make something happen, get away from the city, away from the smoke and the fire, back to the outdoors. I’d have to figure things out on the fly, but I couldn’t stay in town for a moment longer. I had an opportunity arise to stay in Phoenix, AZ for a week (I wrote a bit about that trip here), and I jumped on it. I had never explored much of the Southwest before, the area wasn’t entirely on fire, and there were about a thousand camping spots in that part of the country on my bucket list that I was dying to explore - this was my chance to start checking some of them off!
My week in Phoenix gave me ample time to do some research, and I determined that my first stop for camping on this trip would be the beautiful mountains of Sedona, Arizona. A friend of mine came down from Las Vegas to link up with me, and we met up about halfway down Route 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff at Cave Springs campground.
FYI that stretch of route 89A might also be in the running for best driving roads in the country - between the jagged red rock cliffs and the lush green forest, the contrast presented a stunning view around each and every hairpin turn. While I loved driving down that road, nothing made me happier than arriving at the site, setting up my tent, and realizing I had finally gotten out of that depressing cycle of Covid city life and back into nature! A few nights under the (incredible!) stars in Sedona were just what I needed to realign myself.
Sunset over Secret Slick Rock: Sedona, AZ - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
We made the most of our trip, even though we barely had enough time to scratch the surface of all that Sedona had to offer. An easy late afternoon hike around the Secret Slick Rock area on our first day was an excellent start - that magnificent Arizona sunset splashing across jagged red hills covered in verdant forests was an excellent backdrop to a panoramic view of Cathedral Rock and the area’s other striated buttes exploding up from the trees. This was an incredibly easy hike (our CampDog’s little legs were certainly grateful for that!), that led to an area thick with trails and cliffs to explore while out there - highly recommended for any level of hiker to get a taste of the Sedona experience.
West Fork Trail: Sedona, AZ - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
Our Day 2 hike was another easy one, though well worth the (lack of) effort. Our campsite was about a mile up the road from West Fork Trail, which is regarded as one of the top 10 best hiking trails in the US. If we’re that close to something that’s supposed to be that good we kind of have to do it, right? Absolutely no regrets.
This relaxing, lazy hike that cut back and forth across Oak Creek lived up to its billing - food for the soul for humans and CampDog alike. The trail winded throughout the watershed amidst a serene forest, shadowed by brilliantly colored steep cliffs. The babbling water was crystal clear, inviting and invigorating - though judging from CampDog’s expression maybe a bit too cold for the amount of wading he had to do with those little legs. He's tougher than he looks, but not that much tougher. The initial trail ends at a wide and somewhat deep pool surrounded by more red rock cliffs - there are another 11 miles of backpacking trails beyond the pool, but we were not well enough equipped for that trek at the time - we’ll just have to make it happen next time! (For the record, though we were sad to have to turn back, a sodden bedraggled CampDog couldn’t possibly have been happier with our decision.)
If for some sick, twisted, deranged reason Sedona doesn’t have enough to feed your hunger for the outdoors, yet another amazing aspect of the area is its proximity to the regal and imposing mountains of Flagstaff, about 40 miles to the north. Though we could have stayed another month in Sedona without achieving half of what we would have liked to do, we had a schedule to keep, so we packed up camp the next day and set off to meet a local friend for a day hike en route to our next destination.
Inner Basin Trail: Flagstaff, AZ - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
Remember how I mentioned that nothing out West could hold a candle to New England in the Fall? The Inner Basin Trail winding through the San Francisco Peaks might just be up to that challenge. The path up the mountain switched back through an endless glade of Aspen trees, golden Fall foliage as far as the eye could see. The stark contrast of the yellow leaves on branches and strewn on the ground made the grey bark of the trees look an eerie shade of blue. The trail itself was well-traveled, but wide enough to allow parties to pass by each other unimpeded. The number of people on the trail was somewhat surprising, considering we had to hop in our friend’s truck to navigate the treacherous cliffside dirt road that led up to the trailhead at Lockett Meadow - no way was my little sedan going to make that trip.
I still can’t believe that 9000 foot mountains out here don’t get their own name.
And no, the irony is not lost on me that I had put well over 1000 miles on the car just to end up back in a place called San Francisco.
Flagstaff is thousands of feet up in the mountains, and thus has an entirely different climate than the other parts of the state that makes it easy to forget you’re still in Arizona - until the sun sets. I still can’t get over these Arizona sunsets, right up there with the most beautiful I’ve seen in all my travels. After our hike came to an end, as our truck carved down the dirt road back toward civilization, the sky painted itself with pinks, blues, and yellows, looking like a cotton candy machine gone haywire. Of course my phone was long dead at this point, preventing me from capturing such a beautiful image with anything other than my mind’s eye. No worries, I will definitely be coming back to this state as soon as possible, to absorb as many more of these sunsets as I possibly can. But for now, my time in Arizona has come to an end - Utah awaits!
San Francisco Peaks: Flagstaff, AZ - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
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