Last you heard we were soaking up the Sedona scenery back during the first week of November. The weather was holding until then, but a check of the forecast indicated it was time to get out of town, a cold front was coming in and it was time to head down into the desert.
Only one problem, though – we had to head up the hill first to pick up a Care package in Flagstaff which had been mailed to us, so we drove up Oak Creek Canyon and got it. We did laundry and shopped while there, since we had been out boondocking for a week, and the weather was moving in while we did. Small hail and many close lightning strikes accompanied us during these tasks, so it is with relief that we headed south on I-17 in mid-afternoon, knowing that the overnight forecast in Flagstaff was for 4 to 6 inches of snow.
We almost waited too late: we passed spots where the thunderstorms moving through the area had dumped enough hail to look like snow alongside the interstate – I was grateful that our timing was such that we weren't there for the big event. At the edge of the Mogollon Rim – the big descent down onto the Sonoran Desert – we hit ice fog. The sudden cooling of the hail had created a pea soup of ground fog which we crept through cautiously as we descended, but it was either that or sit up on the plateau and take our chances with hail, which was getting bigger the longer we stayed. Hail smaller than a half inch is entertaining – bigger hail is not, especially when your whole roof is solar panels.
I knew I had to drive at least as far as Camp Verde to avoid overnight freezing temperatures, so we spent the night at the Apache casino there, got some propane the next morning since we were running low and were using the Alde heat a lot in this weather, and pulled out our trusty Coconino National Forest map, looking for a place to camp for a while. The unpaved roads were iffy with all the recent rain, so I was looking for a Forest Service campground nearby.
Clear Creek Campground was just east of Camp Verde on Highway 260 and open, so we settled in for a few days. Riparian corridors are great places to camp in the desert – we had hummingbirds, many squirrels, gophers, and similar creatures to keep Fiona the Fearless Kitty entertained, and a nice creek to listen to. Huge cottonwoods lined the creek, so although we didn't get much solar power while there, it was a nice change from camping out in the desert flats as we had been doing for the previous weeks. Most of the time it was just us and the campground host – the campground had pretty much cleared out for the season.
Once again, though, the weather forecast told us it was time to head south – another front was coming through, with temperatures in the 20s where we were. Up and over the 7000 foot mountains we went, getting sleeted on for our troubles, through Payson, AZ and down into the Tonto National Forest. They have a strange camping permit system there, since it's so close to Phoenix, and we didn't feel like hassling with it, so we kept driving on to Globe, where we had a nice above-freezing night at another casino, and drove another hundred miles down to Safford through the desert cotton fields of the Gila River valley. All this was territory we had never seen before, so it was interesting to explore.
After WalMarting it in Safford, we decided enough was enough, declared winter officially here, and reconciled ourselves to going down onto I-10 and heading east. We stopped at one of our favorite parks, Rockhound State Park south of Deming, since our New Mexico annual camping permit we had bought this spring was still good. It was nice to sit out in the Chihuahuan desert, even though we still had to watch the weather forecast. You just have to be vigilant this time of year.