Posts By Judy Nichols

Sedona hikes: West Fork, Boynton Canyon and Courthouse Butte

  • The West Fork Trail near Sedona, Arizona, meanders beneath tall sandstone walls.

Sedona has an embarrassment of rich hiking trails. Earlier this spring, we took three:

West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon

Distance: Two miles (You can go farther if you like.)
Time: About 1 hour, longer if you meander, take photos or play in the water.
Elevation gain/loss: 100 feet
Difficulty: Easy

We’ve been on this trail before, and it never disappoints. It’s an easy trail along the Coconino sandstone cliffs that crosses back and forth over Oak Creek. You can tiptoe over boulders, downed trees, or splash right through. Much of the trail is shaded by Ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, box elders, cottonwoods, walnuts, maple and oaks. And wildflowers grow in abundance. There are lots of other hikers here, but it’s cool, relaxing, with the constant sound of running water. In the book, 100 Classic Hikes: Arizona, author Scott Warren says the trail extends up to 6 miles, becoming overgrown and eventually just following the creek bed, with an elevation gain of 200 feet. We’ve never ventured that far.

Boynton Canyon

Distance: Six miles round trip
Time: About 3 hours
Elevation gain/loss: 350 feet
Difficulty: Easy

The Boynton Canyon hike snakes up the side of a canyon overlooking a resort then follows a drainage through sandstone walls. The trail meanders through manzanita, oaks, pines, and cypress and, when we visited, lots of wildflowers. We got caught in a brief rain shower that left everything sparkling with drops of water.

Courthouse Butte Loop

Distance: 4 ¼ mile loop
Time: About 3 hours
Elevation gain/loss: 250 feet
Difficulty: Easy/moderate

The Courthouse Butte Loop circles the large formation and provides amazing views of the red-rock country. You climb along slick rock and through rocky washes on the mostly exposed sides of the formation. Even though we were there in early spring, it was warm, so be sure to bring plenty of water. And your camera, because you won’t believe the panoramas from every side.

Note: Remember to take plenty of water, snacks and proper clothing. Even in Spring, it can get very hot.

How I lost, then found, my mojo

  • When I lost my mojo, even this beautiful road view in Death Valley left me listless.

For the first time in five years, I lost my mojo. Then I found it.

Actually, since we started this amazing adventure, it’s been pretty smooth sailing, and complaining about any small problems just seemed in bad taste, seeing as how most people our age are still working, and we’re living the endless-road-trip dream-life. I mean, come on, stop sniveling, you ungrateful assholes.

But this summer began as the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad summer (with some fabulous, very good, extra great moments).

Ancient cliff art tells of life and death in Canyon de Chelly

  • Chinle, the town at the mouth of the canyon, is named for a mispronunciation of a Navajo word meaning “where the water comes out.”

By Judy Nichols

The day we entered Canyon de Chelly, in mid-May, water, lots of it, was flowing through the canyon.

“Usually, by mid-April, the water has dried up,” our guide, Daniel, told us. “This year, we had more than 15 inches of snow. Last year, we had none. I can’t get my tractor in to plant the corn on my mother’s land. My cousin’s bringing his tractor in today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take the day off to try.”

Both sides of Daniel’s family have lived in the canyon for three generations, growing corn and tending orchards of apple, peach, pear and plum. His mother has two, 5-acre fields and about four acres of orchards. The land, about an hour-and-a-quarter drive into the canyon, has passed from Daniel’s great-grandmother, to his grandmother, to his mother, always to the oldest female in the family.

As a child, Daniel would climb sandstone cliffs, which rise up to 1,000 feet and hold treasures of Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, pictographs, ladders used to escape marauding U.S. Cavalry, and caves that still bear chips from the bullets of Spanish conquistadors who killed 115 defenseless Navajos.

The Coral Castle, one of the oddest roadside oddities

  • This carving of the moon over the Coral Castle first caught my eye as we drive down the Dixie Highway in Florida.

By Judy Nichols

The Coral Castle, not really coral or a castle, is a charming roadside oddity filled with mystery and romance.

We stumbled upon it last year on our trip to the Everglades.

Cave Springs Campground: Cool base for great Sedona hikes

  • The Courthouse Butte hike is a short drive from the Cave Springs Campground near Sedona.

Cave Springs Campground  3 out of 4 stars (3 / 4) 

By Tom Nichols

Cave Springs Campground, about 12 miles north of Sedona, Arizona, in upper Oak Creek canyon is a good base camp for exploring red rock majesty in the Verde valley region.

Double trouble: weather and dash alerts

  • Weather can be an issue when you live in a tin can on wheels.

We live in a metal box on wheels, so weather becomes a demanding taskmaster we can never ignore.

This spring, we faced down the polar vortex and the bomb cyclone.

Tom and Judy rate their camps

  • The Red Wing Iron Works in Red Wing, Minnesota.

By Tom Nichols

Our goal for our fifth year of adventure in The Epic Van is clear. We’re spending more time in the Four Corner states of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.

And along the way, we will search for the best places to camp in The Epic Van and tell you about them with our four-star rating system.

Frolic in Organ Pipe

  • An organ pipe and saguaros in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Each time my Mothers Who Write group came to poetry week, I would groan, not because I hate poetry, but because I feel so inadequate in its world.

Still, Deborah Sussman, our highly literate instructor, (who with Amy Silverman forms the MWW yin/yang) would coax us along like discombobulated chicks, encouraging and praising our efforts, no matter how pitiful.

I’ve also been inspired by my friend David Stabler’s brother, Martin, who each morning sends out Daily Sightings, a collection of his and others photos, poetry and thoughts.

So, this year, as I vow to broaden my self-expression (because those who know me know I don’t express myself nearly enough), I’m dabbling with colored pencils and watercolor (another out-of-my-element endeavor) and trying different kinds of writing.

Hence, I offer this, Desert Invitation.

Deborah and Martin, this one’s for you

Ten reasons I love Tucson, in no particular order

  • The shuttered Catalina Odeon in Tucson.

1 – Driving past old haunts like the Catalina Odeon Cineplex Cinemas and remembering when Tom and I, newly in love in journalism grad school at the University of Arizona, would ride our bikes on dates, coming out after the movie to cycle home in moonlight and warm breezes. The poor shuttered Cineplex is looking a little worse for wear, slightly decrepit, should I say, aged, but don’t we all.

Gathering silver and gold on America’s backroads

  • The Epic Van with two Casita pals perched on the edge of the prairie at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other gold.

So says the iconic scout song I learned as a Brownie, too many years ago to count.

The sentiment is true. The past four years full-timing in The Epic Van has been a testament to this theme. We’ve driveway surfed from Washington to California to Kansas to New Orleans, looking up old newspaper colleagues scattered to the four winds. We’ve broken bread with relatives near and far. And we’ve camped with and made fabulous new friends on the fly in Idaho, Montana and California.