It’s most certainly not a reality I envision for us. But if we ever had to live or even spend an extended amount of time at an RV park, I’d like it to be similar to the one we found in Prescott. Willow Lake RV Park. We knew right away it was our type of place given its almost cottage-like setting, the personality of the “interesting” guy behind the desk, and the vibe we got from other guests wandering around. Throw in surprisingly great laundry facilities and clean showers and, as RV parks go, it was a treat. Even with a neighbour (behind us) who spent his days propped in a padded executive chair watching us go in and out of our camper like we were the action on a big screen TV – the Roland and Kat reality show. When we pulled in, we liked seeing one of the other campers in the short-term area, a pleasant bearded guy in his late fifties, getting a hair cut outside his Class-C. Seeing his wife happily snipping away, Roland called out she cuts my hair too (meaning me of course) and we all laughed and felt good.
The info on Allstays says there are a lot of permanent residents at Willow Lake RV and that’s true. The area reserved for short-term visitors is relatively small compared to the rest of the campground and it’s obvious most of the people at the place live there full time, in a motley collection of motorhomes. There’s no pool, no game room, no fancy outdoor play area, and a noticeable lack of the septuagenarian snowbirds in big rigs who seem to dominate so many other Arizona RV parks. Also, despite a long list of rules handed to us on registering, there was a decidedly relaxed approach to how those rules were enforced. From what I saw, a number of them were pretty much ignored. As to the permanent residents, most of them seemed quirky. Quite a few looked like old Dead Heads, permanently landed in this place now that, Gerry Garcia gone, there’s no one left to follow.
Most wonderful of all though, the thing that led us to stay for two nights and almost tempted us into a third, was the location. Willow Lake RV Park is a ten-minute walk from the Willow Creek Reservoir and from some incredible hiking through a landscape that took us totally by surprise when we stumbled into it. Just go to the end of the park here, the guy in the office pointed to a place on the map he gave me when I asked if there was somewhere to take Melo and Pix, and there’s a trail that’ll take you to the lake right there. What he didn’t say was: get ready to be blown away, lady, because it’s freaking jaw-dropping awesome.
We followed his directions and within minutes were in an alternate reality, a magic kingdom of rock, climbing over and down massive slabs of granite with postcard views at every turn. There are several trails, some more than a few miles long and most of them directly over and through the granite monoliths. There’s something deeply grounding in walking on solid rock – in good runners – and we spent a major chunk of the next day exploring, constantly stopping to take a picture and then one more and just one more. It was such an astounding and fantastic area and we had it mostly to ourselves. It’s incredible that such a place should sit on the doorstep of a modest little RV park but it does. What a place to have for a backyard!
There are guides and spirits along the way,
who will befriend us…
— Van Morrison
There, on one of the trails, we met a lovely and lively woman. I might have said this before, I can’t remember, but sometimes it really does feel as if random events weave together into a nebulous pathway forward. When I consider how our trip has unwound at times it’s hard not to believe some coincidences were far more than coincidence. Like this woman, for example. She was hiking from the opposite direction with two dogs a similar size as Melo and Pix. We stopped to talk and she was soon telling us about a boondocking place she likes just outside of Sedona. Although probably in her sixties and, yes, sort of a snowbird from someplace out east, she didn’t fit the mold. She seemed to be a bit of an adventurer. An avid hiker, the only way to keep my arthritis in check is to hike, she laughed, she’s been spending her winters in Arizona for years now. But not in RV parks – those are too expensive for her. She stays in remote forestry campgrounds and/or boondocks. Alone. In Sedona, to which she returns each year for the hiking, she stays for free just ten miles outside of town.
She had such positive things to say about the Sedona area that by the time we parted she pretty well had us sold on checking it out. Until then, although we were a mere hour’s drive from there, Sedona wasn’t on our list. Spectacular as the surroundings are, the last time we were there we found it too touristy and expensive. Our wise friend Ardel always insisted Sedona is a very spiritual place but in our eyes it’s more a pseudo-spiritual money-grab. Now, after our conversation with a woman I secretly believe was sent our way on purpose, we did a “maybe we should check out the hiking around Sedona” rethink. We were so close…We looked at the weather forecast, I did some research and found a few different dispersed camping options, and we headed towards the red rocks.
It was, again, a Friday morning and a week after our horrible stay at Bartlett Lake. We were gambling on the odds being in our favour this time. Blessedly, they were. There are apparently several different options for boondocking around Sedona and we opted for those along F525 (Forestry Road 525 or Loy Canyon Road). Several randomly spaced spots on both sides of the bumpy red gravel road are designated for camping and the first few we passed were already occupied. Even so, a drive of about ten or fifteen minutes brought us to a site that looked promising. Iconic red mountain ranges shone in the distance and the red, brush-dotted desert stretched out for miles. Although there were a couple of smaller RVs already there, the area was large enough and they were far enough away for us to not really see them or hear them. Not least of all, the site was almost clean, with only a few bits of foil in the fire pit and a couple of shreds of old TP at the base of one of the prickly pears. Ok, we’ll stay.
We didn’t stay alone for long. Within a couple of hours of our setting up, a large fifth-wheel was parked within shouting distance of us and, by Saturday night there was a group of other big fifth-wheels and a glossy Class-A bus arranged in a semicircle behind us. We left for a meandering six-mile hike to Loy Canyon early on Saturday and got back a few hours later to find the bunch of them in place. Yes, we were dismayed. There goes our peace, we thought, envisioning loud celebrations around blazing fires, generators growling in the background.
But this was a different crowd from the one we camped with at Bartlett Lake. We found out later they were all friends who had, before we got there, scouted out that very spot as the ideal one to accommodate all their sizeable rigs. It just took them a while to get there and in the meantime we unknowingly sort of crashed their reunion party just as much as they crashed our desert solitude. They were all full-timers, all with at least five years of on-the-road-life behind them. And while it was their reunion, they weren’t there to party or to raise hell but only to camp in a beautiful remote place with a good amount of space to expand out into. They were respectful of the surroundings and respectful of us. Even our generator phobia turned out to be somewhat overblown this time because most of the people relied on solar panels for power – the one guy who did have a noisy generator limited its use and came over to apologize each time it was on. So they were a good bunch of people and great neighbours in a place that ended up being plenty big for all of us. I envied them their community, knowing it’s one we can never belong to.
We left on Monday morning, chased out by a night of rain and the threat of snow for the next few days. We were reluctant to be caught in mud-bath similar to the one we’d endured at Bartlett Lake. The full-timers stayed on and maybe they had a party then, with us gone. Somehow I doubt it though. But, as we drove away into the rain and then through Sedona to Camp Verde, to do laundry and clean house at what turned out to be another restrictive RV park, I felt a wave of gratitude. We did it. Finally, after almost nine months since leaving BC, we camped at a remote camping place that didn’t suck. For free. So what if we shared it with a handful of other people!
If you’re curious about Roland’s take on Willow Lake and our Sedona boondocking adventure, go here: