Mom Chronicles: Hints from the road

The Mini Vacation: 2 of Brooke's Favorite Arizona Weekend Trips for the Camping Family

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Short camping get-a-ways are a great first step to getting the whole family out of the house and into remote, scenic places. We are typically what folks would call "weekend-warriors" when it comes to our overland style camping trips.

Yes, we have fantasies of a 6-month trip on the Pan-American Highway in the Frontier, one day leaving Chandler and our jobs behind for some real time on the road. And we do take an annual 2- to 3-week vehicle-based trip during the month of June to venture farther into new terrain. But normally, when people ask what we've been up to, it's the weekend adventures that come to mind and keep us going through the week-to-week routines of life in suburbia.

The Phoenix-area is a great launching point for 2-3 day weekend road trip "mini-vacations." With a young daughter we try to minimize the driving and include more hands-on experiences that appeal to a toddler. Like everyone else, we prefer a short drive, to a not-too-crowded camping area, where it's scenic and there's something fun to do nearby.

That's not too much to ask, right?

Getting there didn't take much skill beyond knowing how to read a map and how to drive a dirt road.

Well, it does help that we have a vehicle outfitted to get off the highway and into places that tend to be

  1. more remote, and
  2. more ruggedly beautiful

I mean, just look at Mark's pictures of the plant life and wildlife we have set up camp next to. Getting there didn't take much skill beyond knowing how to read a map and how to drive a dirt road. As far as having a short drive to get to our adventure destinations, we have found that a second night at camp can make it worth going to a better place that's an hour farther away from town. For instance, we try to utilize our 3-day-weekend holidays as much as we can. Or, we might leave on a Friday night after work so that Saturday has less (or no) driving and more relax- and explore-time. And because we venture a little further, we have made it to some great dispersed camping areas in the last year that also had superb things to do in the area. A win-win for the whole family.


Should I begin with our trip North or South? I prefer heading south out of town, especially on the holiday weekends, because we don't have to fight as much traffic going or coming home. Plus, camping on the BLM and National Forest Land in southern Arizona seems more rare for Phoenix folks. So, southward we will go...

Scrambling in the Dragoon Mountains and Exploring the Tourist Town of Tombstone

Chloe was a year and 10 months old on this trip into southeastern Arizona. Finally with enough hair to pull back into a ponytail like her mama, she looked like a little girl more than a baby.

As the sun dipped lower in the sky that Saturday, Chloe and her cousin Samantha toddled and bounded their way up to the top of some six-foot high granite boulder shelves overlooking our fire ring. This is the trip which inspired Greg to buy Samantha her own rock-climbing harness, by the way; these girls were crazy about the rocks. I was just going crazy about the phrases coming out of my mouth which I swore I would never yell to my child. "Get back from the edge. Too close!!" and so on.

How to get there:

Take the I-10 East out of Phoenix and drive all the way to Benson, AZ (approx. 150 miles SE of Phoenix); turn South onto State Highway 80 toward Tombstone. Just before the town of Tombstone, turn left at MiddleMarch Road (washboard dirt road) and take this back into the Dragoon Mtns. Drive until you are on the Coronado National Forest, find a pretty and flat spot that you like off of the various fire roads, and set-up camp. Google Maps

Coshise Stronghold Map

Description of scenery:

Wild grassland region, contrasting with rugged granite boulders. Not very many trees, just high desert shrubs. Some cactus. Great area for stargazing.

Things to do nearby:

There is a Ranger Station and birdwatching area at Cochise Stronghold to the North. Many of these fire roads are suitable for mountain biking or trail riding with high clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicles. The Las Cienegas National Conservation Area is just west of here, with an opportunity to visit the old Empire Ranch and see more wildlife. Also, the small tourist town of Tombstone is nearby, and they have many kid-friendly experiences there as well as dining opportunities and public restrooms.

Good spot for large groups (4 vehicles or more)? Yes

Paddling a Canoe on The Blue Ridge Reservoir

We had a vision to go on a 2-night camping trip that included some paddling last Labor Day weekend. Not so sure how our 26-month old would handle the command of "sit still" in a boat just yet, we opted to do short outings with the canoe from a base-camp rather than a long paddle-downriver-til-you-find-camp-each-evening excursion. Maybe next year...

Chloe did well, despite wanting to walk all over the canoe at first. The quiet Blue Ridge Reservoir, which does not allow motorized watercraft, was perfect for our first trip as a paddling family. The hardest part was having to reload the canoe on-and-off the truck so we could re-open the tent each evening, and then packing everything back up the next morning to go out again. But there was no rush, and the packing and loading wasn't too cumbersome to take away from the fun. The camping area itself, being up on the Mogollon Rim, had the perfect holiday-weekend feel. The temperature was just right, and there were pine trees everywhere. We enjoyed the great potluck-style meals with our friends, the water during the day, and campfires at night.

How to get there:

Drive North on Highway 87 (Beeline HWY) out of Mesa/Fountain Hills and stay on it for approx. 100 miles; turn right just past Clints Well onto FR 751 and continue driving toward the Reservoir until you feel like turning off onto other FR trails and camping (anywhere on the Coconino National Forest). There will be signage to the Blue Ridge Reservoir from the 87. Google Maps

Blue Ridge Reservoir Map

Description of scenery:

This Forest has many kinds of evergreens and has a mountainous feel; great views of the Mogollon Rim on the way up the 87. Nearby Reservoir is very scenic- narrow lake with canyon walls, covered in trees.

Things to do nearby:

The area has plentiful hiking and mountain-biking opportunities. The Reservoir is a great place to take canoes or kayaks, but the boat loading area is a bit of a free-for-all and is busy on weekends. There are opportunities nearby to drive back-road trails (FR 300 cruises along the rim's edge), and there are many camping sites, some which even have amenities such as toilets. This area is used frequently for elk hunting or target shooting.

Good spot for large groups? Yes, if you don't mind sharing with other groups that will be nearby


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# Young 2015-06-22 06:45
My friends and I intend to go to Coronado National Forest in the next few months. Maybe late in Oct, is the weather nice at that time?

Thanks for great article!
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