Wednesday, May 24, 2017

GRAND CANYON CAVERNS CAMPGROUND

For those of you Backpacking Havasu Falls (Grand Canyon Area of Arizona) sometime in the future.  Grand Canyon Cavern Campgrounds offers an excellent alternative to sleeping in your car at the Hilltop Trail Head parking lot.

I have done the Havasu Falls trip on numerous occasions. More than once some years.  Until this year I have always left Las Vegas and made the drive timed to arrive at the Trail Head right when I want to start hiking.  At times that meant leaving Vegas at 2am.

Traveling in the dark means missing much of the scenery along the way, or fun stops such as Hackberry, Arizona.  Perhaps missing Seligman, Arizona if you are coming in from that direction from the east.  Both are great photo op stops.

The last 60 miles off old route 66, once you start heading north on Indian Rd 18, is a desolate and hazardous stretch of highway at night.  It is not the road to be driving in the dark due to wildlife and open range cattle crossing or standing in the road.

Our Havasu trip planned for mid May 2017 found us debating the early morning departure from Las Vegas.  After recommending the Grand Canyon Cavern Campgrounds on the Backpacking Havasu Falls website so many years we decided to give it a try.  Then judge for ourselves, and pass the info on to you.

The entrance is a few miles east of the RT 66 & IR 18 intersection.  The view from the road side appears as an old run down gas station, and a small cafe.  Some old vehicles staged around the parking lot up by the buildings.  We stopped in the cafe and the friendly staff pointed us to the road/drive, that snaked around the back of the cafe, and up over a small hill.  We almost got nailed by the cops tucked in behind a tree (Old black & white cop car staged along the road).

The campground is about a mile down this road that winds through low growing evergreen trees.  You eventually come to the restaurant first.  This is some distance off the main road RT 66 and not visible from the main road.

Don't expect RV resort accommodations.  Though they do have power pedestals on many sites.  The campground is typical high desert and appears not well kept.  Sites are dirt.  Some have picnic tables, some do not.  There are rough graded roads and ample sites tucked into out of the way places if you want to enjoy some privacy.   We saw no site numbers.  Once you pay you simply have squatters rights to any open place you want to make your camp.  Bathrooms/Showers.....not the best.  But they are centrally located at the front not too far from the restaurant building.

We made reservations at the last minute, the night before.  Mid May there were plenty of sites.  The grounds are large enough I would think you would not have trouble at any time?  You might not get a level site, or one with power, but I think they would be able to accommodate you.

The prices of $32 a night for 2 with a tent and no power requirement seemed very steep for what was offered.  But we had a picnic table and lots of 15ft Pinyon Pine or Ceders that offered wind breaks and some privacy.  The location makes it near ideal.  We didn't have time to check out the Cavern tours.  That might be another story for another day.

We arrived around 6pm and took advantage of the restaurant that looks like it is open until 8pm.  We can both recommend the Pulled Pork/BBQ sandwich.   We washed those down with several ice cold brews and had a very relaxing visit.  It sure beat driving over in the middle of the night tempting fate driving in the dark.  It certainly beat sleeping in the vehicle at the trail head.
We tried to set up minimal gear to head out right at first light.  It was a very cold night for sure.  I believe more so because of the higher altitude.  We survived the cold, and packed gear about 4am to take off.  Several others must have had the same idea because two other groups took off right before us.

The drive up IR 18, the last 60 miles to the trail head, was a pleasant one.  The sun just below the horizon.  Enough light to avoid slamming into black cattle standing on the road,  or wandering Elk.  Both of which could quickly turn a fun trip into a disaster.

We made a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and coffee on the camp stove stove out the back of our vehicle.  With some hearty protein in our systems we started hiking near sunrise.

So our recommendation is to allot the time to make this your stop.  Enjoy the restaurant the night before.  Even come early enough to check out the Caverns.  Then give yourself 1 hour of driving time, plus packing up your camp, to be at the trail head right at sunrise.   You will easily be down the switchbacks all in the shade.

Those leaving after a trip, and after hiking back out, this is also an excellent place to camp over.  Avoid a long drive after hiking out.  If this is your first trip you will not believe how cramped up your legs will get if you hike out, and drive several hours.

Summer time may be different, due to heat.  Camping could become unpleasant?  Be sure to check things out in advance of your date(s).  Plan accordingly.

For more specific detail info on the area, the trip, and preparation visit Backpacking Havasu Falls

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