Setting Out and Fleeing Fire

We set out for the Grand Canyon, finally freed from the chains of mechanical maintenance, performance was…not great. Frankly, it was worse than before things started going wrong. We were the slowest thing on the road, but we were moving again. I could deal. Too much sitting. Dachary wasn’t thrilled, but she knew how frustrated I’d been with giving up so much of our trip to the van so she was willing to go along with it, until the squealing.

It was obviously a belt in the back, and we’ve only got two: the timing belt, and the alternator. The former will ruin the engine if it goes. The latter will leave you dead in the water. The squealing was loud, and obnoxious, and began just as we got into the line of traffic waiting to pay their entrance fees for the Grand Canyon. We fretted. We turned off the van whenever we stopped. We apologized to the man in the booth as we optimistically purchased an “America the Beautiful” pass, which gets you into all the National Parks.

“Let’s email Andrew, and go see the canyon while it cools. Then do whatever he says when we get back.” [Side note: I love living in the future.] So that’s what we did.

Grand Canyon Pano 1

Dachary, Bandido, and Ben at the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon View

Grand Canyon View

Dachary at Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Pano 2 w/ Dachary

We walked maybe 3/4 of a mile down the trail before `Dido’s bad leg started acting up. We had a van to deal with anyway.

Andrew was sure it was the alternator belt, and instructed us on how to adjust it. We were stymied by the inability to figure out one of the bolts, and a lack of crescent wrenches (we’d remembered the socket set but forgotten the wrenches). So, with his ok, we got in and squealed our way back to Flagstaff. Fortunately, it seemed to be fine when you got past 10 MPH.

There we discovered that the “pivot bolt” for the alternator was simply gone. It wasn’t hidden in the hole as we’d suspected, it was just gone. New bolt inserted, belt adjusted, then back to the performance issue. Tweak, drive, tweak, drive, tweak… this is very strange…drive, swap drivers, insert temporary gauge…. OHHHH… your turbo’s barely working.

*bangs head* Of course it isn’t.

This of course, explains why the turbo injector pump he’d just added for us was having essentially no effect. The turbo wasn’t creating enough pressure to make it do anything.

I had, frankly, had enough. He’d told us how to take off the turbo, and suggested it “probably” wouldn’t have any negative effect while driving. We could do it when we got home. I was depressed about missing Overland Expo, and I surely didn’t want to give up a full week of my limited vacation to poking the damn engine.

It’d be a very different story if we didn’t have a limited deadline, but as it was I was willing to compromise power (he’d gotten it back to where it was before the trouble) to just get back on the road again.

Dachary disagreed. She felt it was a sign. Not only was the universe shouting at us to get this work done now, it was logically the right thing to do since it was obvious this guy knew a hell of a lot more than our local shop. He is literally the most qualified person in the country to work on our Frankenvan.

She was adamant, and I think it’s stupid to go against something your partner is so determined to do, especially when it makes logical sense, even if not emotional sense… well not to my emotions. I wanted to go.

Andrew couldn’t touch it again until Thursday night, and it was Tuesday. We disagreed. We argued. We compromised. We went and got lunch.

Baby steps.

We’d go somewhere. Somewhere close. Because she knew I’d go effing crazy if I had to sit around in some town watching the vacation slip away while waiting for a mechanic. I wasn’t going to cut it short and fly home, because frankly, there’s not a lot I want to do vacation-wise in the Northeast, and while I wasn’t in a great mood, I would still enjoy getting back on the road with her and driving home, even if we didn’t get to see any more National Parks, or giant balls of twine.

The Flagstaff Visitors Center proved surprisingly useful. We found a brochure for Montezuma Castle, which happened to be close, and seeing Native American cliff dwellings was actually something that had been on my Bucket List. “Let’s go there!”

So we did. Dachary was mostly just trying to help assuage my frustration, I’m sure, but I’m damn grateful for it.

As we needed to kill time and Sedona was between that and us, we made our way there. Many of the folks back home had told us we had to see Sedona while we were in Flagstaff, and Andrew had suggested we go there, so after checking the map and finding a way back that didn’t involve 2nd gear and switchbacks, we headed out.

Red rocks around Sedona

Sedona is a pretty town, but it’s nothing compared to the drive from Flagstaff down to it through an incredible tree-lined valley with a small river at the bottom. Red rocks, trees, wind whistling through it all…. amazing.

We found an RV campground, took the last spot that didn’t have full hook-ups, and took it easy. It was a nice change. We just chilled.

Our spot was beside a Little Egg. Technically it was a Scamp trailer, but after following one for many miles in Oklahoma, we’d nicknamed them Little Eggs. Seeing the owners out and about I asked if they wouldn’t mind me taking a look inside, and after putting away their groceries, they did.

You would not believe how much space those things have inside. They’re awesome. They’d also be magnets for corrupt cops in foreign countries (might as well paint a big sign on our front saying “Rich Tourist Here”). But damn if they aren’t tempting little things.

They came to see our van, and then we sat down for wine (Dachary and I had Coke) and a chat. To Elenor and Steve I’d like to say Thank You. They’re great people and they really helped to end the day on a positive note.

We were going to cook dinner afterwards, but our plans had been borked for so long that the meat in the fridge had finally gone, so we made a last minute dash into town to find some “to-go” food. That’s when we saw this:

Fire ahead! 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff closed

It was followed by a road blocked by flashing police vehicles. Ok…. nervous now. Still need to eat. Grabbed food, and heard the fire siren begin to wail outside. The girl at the counter said they’d evacuated everything starting 2 miles north, which was up that amazing road from Flagstaff.

The siren stopped, and the cops didn’t seem interested in attempting to evacuate Sedona’s downtown, so we took our food back to the campsite, saw the plume of smoke from the fire rising over the mesa, and kept our ears pealed. The internet informed us that the road was, in fact, ablaze, and that they suspected someone had started the fire intentionally, although I don’t understand how they could know that so early.

We made sure we were able to take off at a moments notice, but the night was blissfully uneventful.

Wednesday morning we checked the status of the blaze (bigger, badder) and headed out for Montezuma Castle, only to miss our turn-off when Dachary’s Grandfather called. The missed turn ended up leading us to Montezuma Well, which was described, essentially as a big hole in the ground with water and some ruins. Thrilling! But, it was only four miles away and we’d already taken the exit for it to turn around… screw it. I’m going on! I’ve got an America The Beautiful pass! Amortize!

Montezuma Well

Stay on the Path

Turns out Montezuma Well is free, and actually cool. Small, but cool. it’s also an abject lesson in the need for Wheaton’s Law because humans can be real dicks sometimes. Greedy fucking vandals from the 1800’s and later.

Shortly thereafter we were actually amortizing our pass at Montezuma Castle, and I have to say walking up to a teller, flashing a card, and getting in without paying a cent is pretty cool.

Montezuma Castle

The “castle” was also pretty cool, but it was “up there” in the cliff. They had to stop letting people into it years ago because of more fucking vandals, and the simple deterioration from so many people walking through it.

Dachary at Montezuma Castle

I seriously want a shirt that says “Wheaton’s Law”.

Afterwards we headed for Bearizona. Seriously, this day just wouldn’t end. This involved rising 4,000’ in elevation. We thought it’d be a long gradual process, but no, it was two hills. Fortunately we weren’t the slowest thing on the road, and we got to come pretty close to the fire.

Like much of our travels, seeing things made them real for us. We had, of course, believed in forest fires before, but when you actually see the smoke coming up out of the trees on a nearby hill, and smell the smoke… things change. They are no longer abstract things for us.

Forest fire outside of Sedona

Eventually the plume was overhead, and the world took on an amber tint, like we were permanently wearing sunglasses. It was eerie.

We passed underneath, after a stop at Arbys (while the world was ablaze to the south), and continued on to Williams which was described as… well a kind of kitchy, but cool old west / route 66 tourist town. We figured we might stay there for the night, but the campground we saw from the road was sad, and the town was even sadder. It was a …. it was a bad attempt at a tourist attraction. They hadn’t taken it far enough, and the result was depressing. We turned around, went back to Bearizona (we’d passed it on the way in to town) payed our entrance fee and went in. First though, we closed the side curtains, because the dogs don’t tend to bark at what they can’t see.

Bearizona did not fail to deliver. Goats, bison, wolves that encircle your car, white bison, and of course, bears. We came at the perfect time it seems, because everything was out and close to the paths.

Wolf at Bearizona

Bear leads us out of Bearizona

At the end, we were informed that the petting zoo was closed. There was an “incident”. The girl said that we’d know if it was going to re-open if the gates to it opened. So, we decided to chill for a bit in the shade. Have a drink. See what happens.

We listened in on the workers as the described an escaped chicken, that was followed later by an escaped bear. Oh my!

We waited, then went through again. We didn’t have anything better to do and I was going to get my money’s worth, because frankly it’s a pretty short drive through the park, and while it was definitely cool, I think you need the petting zoo, and it’s associated things (see inside a living bear den and such) to really justify the $22 per person.

When we exited the second time we were informed that it wasn’t actually an escaped bear, it was a wild born bear that was trying to break in to Bearizona from the outside… Maybe it wanted the chicken.

The petting zoo area wasn’t going to be reopening, because the bear was currently tranquilized up a tree and it’d be a while before they had resolved the situation, and the very nice lady, encouraged us to go and get a refund on our way out.

Normally I’d have said screw it, and just let them have the money, but we’re kinda broke because of the van, and $44 actually helps. I would have at least asked for a partial refund instead of a full one, but I wasn’t really able to do that.

The wolves were damn cool though.

As we left we saw a sign for the Grand Canyon KOA, which was at least somewhere different to stay, so we headed for that, then saw a sign for a National Park campground (sadly not covered by the America the Beautiful pass) which would probably be better. The road didn’t want me turning around until I was actually at the KOA, which turned out to be more like a dusty patch of ground with power and water poking out of it at regular intervals. We got gas next door, were disgusted by the bathroom habits of some Indian tourist women, and headed back to the campground, which was open, and quiet, and cheap (compared to everything else these days), cooked dinner, and read into the night.

Van Pano

'Dido looks out

About Kay

An old-school geek, addicted to travel, with a love of programming, writing, Esperanto, and starting businesses. -- @masukomi on Twitter.

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