April 27 – May 5, 2020.
It was hot in Ajo. Really, really hot. Pushing 100 hot. The giant saguaro cacti were loving it. The intensity of the sun beating down on their recently sprouted green nubs growing out of their spiky extremities was causing them to burst out into amazing white blooms. We, on the other hand, were wilting by 7:30 in the morning. We were running our little 18 volt Ryobi fan day and night. Morning walks were very short and no longer fun anymore.
So what does a nomad living in a van do when they can’t stand the heat anymore? Head north and even more importantly, look for higher ground. We were at 1100 feet in Ajo. For each 1000 feet of elevation gain, the temperature decreases 5 degrees. If we could get to 5000 feet, we’d be 20 degrees cooler.
So we left the Ajo area, stopping first in Phoenix where, as you may remember, from last month’s expense report, we spent many very hot hours at Walmart searching for a solution to our broken stove. Since we hadn’t had a good internet connection in Ajo (which meant I wasn’t able to really plan where we would land next) we decided to head to a place we were already familiar with, Agua Fria National Monument. We had stayed at Agua Fria back in February after our visit to the Buffalo Soldiers Festival, back when possibilities stretched out for us in every direction, and before the world got so small with COVID-19. Agua Fria is only 3600 feet, but we’d be a little cooler while we figured out our next step.
At our first campsite at Agua Fria, our internet connection was as equally as poor as it had been in Ajo. It was in a bit of a valley. But after two nights we moved much farther into the monument taking a winding dirt road to the top of a canyon to see some Native American ruins. Not far from the ruins we found a better campsite and a much better internet connection.
Not only were we looking for a cooler location, but we also had a few more broken things to contend with. My hiking boots were threatening to completely fall apart and a part on our rooftop fan vent was damaged, making it impossible to open the vent. We needed to find a city where we could get deliveries and camp close by. We were not far from Prescott, so I started looking there.
First I found that there was a sporting goods store open in Prescott that carried the hiking boots I had already had my eye on before all the stores closed down in Tucson. That sporting goods stores were open was surprising, but I wasn’t going to complain since I really wanted to try on the boots before I bought them. Actually, once we got to Prescott we found that most everything was open. If we had needed to get hobby supplies, or some fancy home goods to spruce up the van, we would have been in luck. I also determined that Prescott had an Amazon locker where we could have our replacement part for the vent fan sent to. Next, I just needed to figure out where we could stay while we waited for our Amazon delivery.
The Prescott National Forest borders the city of Prescott so one of the first things I did was look at the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) for the forest. I had already downloaded this map into an app called Avenza. Avenza is an offline mapping app that uses geospatial PDFs. The MVUM would show me where the dispersed (free) camping was allowed in the forest. I didn’t see much near the town so next, I went to my go-to camping app, iOverlander. I found a few free camping locations near town, but I wanted to know if there was more so I went to the website for the Prescott National Forest. There I learned that although all the paid campsites in the forest were closed, there were 11 free designated dispersed camping areas with numbered sites just like where we had stayed in Madera Canyon. I downloaded a map of the sites. Back on Avenza I looked for more maps of the area and found a map of hiking trails for the city of Prescott and the forest.
We were all set! A free, much cooler, place to camp at 5600 feet, a map of hiking trails, and a city that didn’t seem to realize that there was a pandemic going on where we could buy things.
* WARNING – I realize that some people have a fear of snakes so I have decided to separate the snakes out at the bottom of the post. Don’t scroll past the sunset if you don’t want to see the snakes.