Camping near Sedona and lunch in Cottonwood

Camping near Sedona and lunch in Cottonwood

Late last month, I went on a research mission to northern Arizona to investigate a new investment. I'm considering building an off-grid cabin near Grand Canyon Junction. I'll share a bit more on that in the bottom of this post, but in the meantime, I wanted to share with you a bit about my solo dad camping trip with the kids and the night I took that photo of the Milky Way with my iPhone.

The plan

Earlier this year I went skiing for the first time at Arizona Snowbowl. (I'll share more on that in an in-depth post ahead of this ski season.) I loved it. The kids, my wife and I stayed three total nights in an Airbnb in Flagstaff and skied two days, and it was enough to convince me that this is something I want to do. Plus Snowbowl is relatively cheap. The real cost is in paying for lodging, which is never less than $200 per night for a family of four.

There's gotta be a better way, I thought. What would it cost to buy a place up in that area?

Answer: Way too much. At least for me.

OK, so what about land then. Maybe we can buy some land and put a tiny home on it.

This is something much more feasible, it turns out. I'm still in the beginning stages of formulating this plot, but it's still on the table. Before I invested a bunch of time and energy in researching the idea of building a second vacation cottage six hours from my home in Tucson, I decided to go see if I even like the area. Is it a place I want to be?

I had been meaning to hang out with my buddy Matthew for a while. And my wife was out of town. So it was just me and the kids for the weekend. Why not do something fun?

Let's go camping. Matthew was in. We settled on a free, dispersed camping location he knew about in Sedona as our weekend base camp, and on Saturday we would drive way up to Grand Canyon Junction to look at some land.

The campsite

We set up camp at a dispersed camping site west of Sedona at 34°50'44.5"N 111°54'49.1"W. It's the first time I've ever camped for free on public lands, so this was a great experience for me.

Matthew arrived on that Friday night and pitched his two-person tent there alongside the other campers. In the morning, most of those other campers had left. When I arrived with the kids the next day, the place was basically empty except for Matthew, and we claimed a far corner of the campsite.

We've got a big four-person tent we bought in Brazil from Decathon. I forgot to bring a proper breakfast, so the kids are eating Clif bars.

There's not much to note about this campsite except that:

  1. It's free, so you can't complain about the price.
  2. It filled up pretty quickly in the afternoon, so if you can, try to arrive early and claim the spot you want.
  3. There were more sites if you drive up and down Loy Butte Road, but this is the one we picked, more or less at random.
  4. No fires! This was a bit disappointing because I'm generally a fan of campfires, though I'm aware of and sensitive to the criticisms (the personal action myth is a smokescreen perpetuated by Big Oil, FYI). Anyway, whenever fires are banned in a location in Arizona, I support it and strictly respect it. Everyone else at the campsite did too. It didn't stop us from hanging out after dark and watching the stars.

Visiting Cottonwood

After pitching our tents, we were hungry and started thinking about where to eat. We needed to make it up north of Flagstaff before sunset, but we had enough time to stop in Cottonwood for lunch.

We deliberately avoided Sedona. My impression from the two times I've been to Sedona is that everything is about 30% more expensive than it has any business being. Plus, I wanted to see new places. Matthew recommended Cottonwood, so that's where we went.

The main commercial strip in Cottonwood has tons of restaurants and shops. And there's plenty of on-street and nearby free parking.

We ended up eating at a place called The Tavern Grille. It was a scorching hot day, and I wanted something lighter so I ordered the seared ahi tuna salad on the server's recommendation. It lived up to expectations.

If I come back to Cottonwood with friends or family, I would go back to the Tavern Grille. It's a safe choice.

The seared ahi tuna salad came with avocados, mushrooms, pineapple and a light dressing.

I'd definitely return to Cottonwood. There are a surprising number of bars, restaurants and wineries, plus several hiking trails and an ancient hilltop settlement called Tuzigoot National Monument. I left a lot unseen, so I'll share more in my next post someday when I make it back.

Visiting Grand Canyon Junction and camping

As I mentioned, part of the purpose of this trip was to go visit some land for sale in Northern Arizona. I'm not going to share too many details of that just yet because the plan is still in the works. However, what I can say is that I'm drawn to the idea of developing a piece of land within one hour of Flagstaff and Arizona Snowbowl where my family can visit during ski trips and to give us a base of operations for seeing places in the radius east of Las Vegas, south of Salt Lake City and west of Santa Fe.

Land up north in some parts is fairly cheap because it's completely undeveloped. I think part of the reason for that is that the underground water supply is so deep (over 3,000 feet below the surface). It's prohibitively expensive for single-home developments to build there. I'm not sure why more large-scale developments haven't taken aim at an area with such abundant tourism (i.e. the Grand Canyon), but I'm glad they haven't.

The landscape reminds me very much of one of my favorite places in the world: Chapada, in central Brazil. Here's a picture of the Cerrado region:

And here's a picture of the area near Grand Canyon Junction:

If you squint you can see a family resemblance. At least I can. And that's what matters, right?

When we got back to the campsite it was already dark, and the place was jam packed with campers and cars. It was a good thing we arrived early and set up our tent unrushed. I can't recommend that enough. You never want to be stuck at 10 p.m. looking for somewhere to sleep.

My son was up coughing all night from a sudden cold (of coure), so I slept terribly. But being awake at 3 a.m. had a benefit: I got to take the picture of the Milky Way on my iPhone that you can see above.

Fun fact: If you put your iPhone 12 or later on a tripod or other immobile situation (I used my shoe), the phone will recognize this lack of movement and take a longer exposure. In this case, I took a 30-second exposure, which allowed me to get such a clear shot. It's not a perfect image (the ISO is cranked way up), but it's pretty impressive for a phone.

That's all for now! Be sure to subscribe to follow my adventures. And we'll see you next time.