Sunday 17th September – Dan the Tour Guide

It had been way colder than we expected last night and we all suffered for it. We closed the doors maybe too late, letting too much cold air in and spent the first half of the night huddling close to stay warm. When that failed, we put clothes on, but our feet tingled with cold. Even Cleo wasn’t warm enough, having to snuggle in with us to stop from shivering. It was no surprise then that Dan was happy to stay in bed as the sun came up. I would have too, but I wanted so much to warm up and I knew we had some firewood left over.

Cleo and I crept out of the van and into the early morning sun. After giving Cleo some breakfast, I nestled some cardboard into the fire and waited for the smoulder to turn into flame. I ended up getting impatient and using a lighter, but she got going straight away. I washed my face and hair as the fire heated up, then (maybe prematurely) changed into shorts. I sat by the fire blogging and watching the people come and go on the nearby forest road as Dan snoozed. Cleo soon went back to bed too since she hadn’t gotten much sleep.

When Dan stirred, he was keen for my suggestion of cooking breakfast on the fire since I’d got a decent amount of coals going. With his help, we fried up bacon, onions and eggs in the frying pan, covering everything with a plate to stop ash getting into our food. No mishaps this time, though there were a few close calls. Our breakfast burgers were to die for.

We sat around the fire for a bit, giving away the idea of doing the 9 mile hike Dan had planned due to our lack of sleep. Instead, we just chilled out, proper Baja style. When the sun came out from behind the clouds, I determined it warm enough to take my clothes off and sunbake naked, enjoying the heat from both the sun and the fire. As I did so, Dan snoozed in his comfy chair. We stayed this way until past noon when Dan decided he was on for a nap in bed.

I said I’d join him, but only if he played a round of cards first. We got into a good hand of Queen’s Chair (which I won) then crawled into bed for a second try at a good sleep. We both conked out for an hour or two, enjoying the warmth of the van after our chilly night. Fully rested, we decided we should probably face the day. I took the wheel now and drove us out of camp after we killed our campfire and packed up.

We drove back into Flagstaff to hit the shops. After last night, we needed something to keep Cleo warm and we had to do a restock of food also. Our first stop was a FedEx printing center to get our tickets for the motivational talk on Friday, then after a quick look in Ross for a kid’s jumper for Cleo, we left because the lines were too long. We tried at Pet Smart for a warming device but came up with nothing. Now our only hope was Walmart. After Dan stocked up with some new vape liquid, we were at our local shop.

In the kid’s section, we found a perfect fluffy jumper to keep Cleo warm at night, then stocked up on the usual stuff. It was about 3pm by now and we were ready to go exploring! Dan had told me about “The Grand Falls” and when I’d asked what the hell they were, he’d said, “only the largest falls in the US, bigger even than Niagara Falls!” I kept my reservations aside, thinking there was no way so much water could exist anywhere in the desert of Arizona and happily drove us east out of Flag following Dan’s directions.

We took a highway then drove along a dirt road of all colours, out of the forest and into the desert. We couldn’t imagine what people do out here apart from survive and keep their cattle entertained. The road was long but smooth enough and just as I was in the middle of telling a story, we were suddenly on top of the Grand Falls. The road crossed the raging river on a concrete causeway which the Cabana easily cruised over. On the other side of the river, I parked in the middle of a desolate, dry wasteland and we looked out over the canyon that housed the falls.

The only water in sight was in the muddy pools that sat at the bottom of the “falls”. There wasn’t a single drop of dynamic water in sight. We laughed at the patheticness of such grand falls and Dan laughed at how he could have thought this was going to be an amazing tourist attraction. Maybe back in the day, but it didn’t look like this place had seen flowing water in years.

We drove back to the crossing which was also completely dry and with Dan driving, I got out to take a few photos. After he made the crossing in the van, he and Cleo came over to join me in my inspection of the dry and wet mud that sat to the side of the causeway. Upstream of the crossing, there was standing water but it was a dark brown colour and not at all inviting. As we were kneeling down playing with the pieces of mud that had the texture of chocolate, Cleo had wandered into the wet mud to our shouts of despair. This was the kind of mud I’d covered myself in at the Colorado River ages ago and I knew that it would dry and be hard to get off without a pool of clean water.

We got her out then I decided I wanted to have a go. If we were going to have to deal with a muddy dog, I figured we might as well add a couple of humans to the mix. The mud squished between my toes and crept up beyond my ankles in places. It was a weird feeling. My goal was to walk out to the standing water in the hopes of washing Cleo in it, but it was hopeless. Even where the water was deeper, the base was still muddy. There was no way we’d be able to get clean here.

After we’d all had a good wander through the mud and got ourselves proper dirty, we started the process of cleaning ourselves. Using Cleo’s water bowl, I massaged Dan’s feet until they were sort of clean, then he did the same to me. A bit of a scrub of Cleo’s feet and we considered that the best we would get, even though it wasn’t very good. We waited a while for the mud to dry and said hello to a couple that pulled up behind us in a rental car. They’d been fooled too it seemed.

We all got back in the car and drove back the way we came with me taunting Dan about his abilities as a tour guide. When we got back in phone range, my only goal was to find us a camp that had a water source. Without a big body of water, we weren’t going to get clean and neither of us felt like going to bed with muddy feet. When we reached the highway, we crossed over it and got onto a forest road. I was navigating us towards Marshall Lake, hoping that the satellite images that showed a dry bed on Google Maps weren’t an accurate representation of its current form.

Instead of following Google Map’s navigation that took us the long way round back through town, we were soon off tarmac and onto a very rough road. Dan likes a bit of off-roading and we weren’t in a hurry so it was plenty fun. Most of it was pretty easy going, if slow, but there were a couple of sections that required low gear and line picking. After about an hour of romping, we’d passed many a camper within the forest and came over a rise to see Marshall Lake below us. It was a bit of a swamp with reeds poking out of the lake hiding the water, but as we got closer, we saw cars parked at a boat ramp and a pool of fresh, clean water. Yes!

The sun was going down and we were keen to get in and get clean before it got cold so we didn’t waste any time. I serviced Cleo first, getting her in belly deep then giving her whole body a good scrub. Me and Dan did the same while Cleo warmed up in what sun was left. Good thing we hadn’t left it much later, the water was cold and the temperature was already dropping. Next stop, camp.

We drove around the lake, seeing more campers around its edge, surprised at how busy the National Forests surrounding Flagstaff are. After one run up and another run down, we found ourselves a spot that was far enough away from our neighbours and the road to please us. The fire ring was huge, but we were right when we reckoned we’d have to work for firewood. We both split off to scrounge and came back with enough to get us by for the night. I’d gotten creative and salvaged a few fence posts from the barrier surrounding the lake, taking the dilapidated bits of timber that had fallen from the structure. Dan judged me, but it didn’t matter, by the end of the night, I’d burned the evidence.

Dan nominated himself chef for the night and made us steak, mushrooms and onions while I sat by the fire. We ate our dinner watching the last light disappear from behind the silhouetted trees. When Cleo was ready for bed, we put her into her new jumper and were happy to find it fit snugly. She seemed happy with it too, but only a night in the cold would test its real ability.

Another perfect way to spend an evening, we sat out by the fire admiring the stars, having some cheerios and banana for dessert before crawling into the Cabana with its back door open to the remains of the fire.

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