Labor Day is a big camping weekend just like Memorial Day is pretty much everywhere it’s warm in the summer. Going up on the Mogollon Rim is usually one of our favorite places to go camping during the summer but it also seems like it’s everyone else’s favorite place to go as well (it’s only about 120 miles from our house). National Forest campgrounds open up for reservations six months before the arrival date so I have to be on top of six months before we want to arrive in order to get a spot. I was trying to get an adjacent campground that we’ve stayed at and liked before (Spillway Campground) but I was too late. It was completely booked by the time I tried to make a reservation. There is another campground nearby that we’ve never stayed at and it had availability so our destination would have to be Aspen Campground for Labor Day weekend.
Getting the trailer ready
I normally go plug the trailer in a day or so before leaving where it’s stored. This lets the refrigerator cool down so that we can use it right away and load it up at home. This is normally a 10-minute thing to do and then I head home. I got to the storage facility, dragged out the power cord, and connected it to the plug next to the trailer. I go inside the trailer to switch on the refrigerator and nothing came on. I could see the microwave power up so I was pretty confident that the trailer was getting power but the refrigerator was not. I flipped the AC breaker off and then on for the refrigerator and still nothing. I did this several times and still nothing. I keep the batteries at home so I can’t turn on the propane part of the refrigerator and I’m not leaving propane running unattended anyway, so we decided to just keep everything in a cooler until we got to the campsite.
Holiday weekend traffic
I took half the day off on Friday so that I could go get the trailer out of storage, load everything up at home that we’ll need for the weekend, and then start our journey once Karen and the kids got home from school. Aspen Campground has no facilities at individual campsites so we’re on our own for water, sewer, and power. I got the trailer home, got all of our stuff loaded, and filled it with water. The idea was to get out of town and on the road as soon as possible to at least try to avoid traffic and having to set up camp in the dark.
Everyone got home, made sure everything they wanted to take was either in the truck of the trailer, and we started the drive north. The route up is called the Beeline Highway (AZ-87) and is named that because it’s pretty curvy and hilly. It is a divided multi-lane highway all the way up to Payson but towing the trailer I’m not passing many people.
About 10 miles outside of Payson both northbound lanes come to a stop. Everyone else had the same idea we did for the weekend. We’ve experienced this before so it wasn’t a surprise. The problem is that this time of year the sun goes down sooner making it challenging to get in to our campsite before dark.
We finally get through Payson and get to the campground. By this time it’s dark, which makes navigating to a campground and campsite we’ve never been to before even more challenging while towing our 30-foot trailer.
Usually there is a little kiosk where a staff member checks people in for their stays. Since it was late the kiosk was closed. Fortunately a staff member did see us come in and at least told us how to get to our assigned site. Even the host said that the numbers at the campsites are hard to see/read but didn’t give us any kind of map. We basically just got the instruction that it was at the end of the road that we were on. I slowly made my way down the campground road trying to read each sign along the way. We finally got to our assigned site (34) and prepared for the back-in.
I’m not good at backing the trailer up in the daytime so night time is even more of a challenge. It took several attempts and re-attempts to finally get at least in the site somewhat straight so that we could get setup and make dinner.
Once we got set up, I turned on the propane for cooking and to (hopefully) get the refrigerator running. The refrigerator seemed to fire right up on propane so I’m still not sure why it wouldn’t work on 120 volts at the storage place. There may be a blown fuse in there for the AC side of the refrigerator (or maybe the storage place was having power problems).
One of the nice things about this campsite is that out the opposite side of the trailer this picture was taken from is all forested. So when we ate inside, which we had to do a lot, we had a nice view of the forest and no other campsites.
The people staying at the campsite across the street from us were a little annoying. They would come across the street here to go cut firewood in that forested area behind us. In doing so they would come pretty close to our trailer breaking the unwritten rule that you don’t go through another person’s campsite. There aren’t well-defined lines for campsites but these people we’re probably too close. Also, I was giving them the benefit of the doubt about the firewood cutting. You aren’t supposed to cut down anything live (it wouldn’t make good firewood anyway) so I think they were over there cutting some deadfall but I’m not completely sure about that.
Fortunately, the people across from us packed up and left on Saturday. Later that day a lady pulled in to their spot. She just had her small SUV and began setting up a tent but it was quickly obvious that she hadn’t set up a tent (or that kind of tent) before. I didn’t want to be one of those people to just go over there so I waited until it looked like she was getting frustrated. Her neighboring campsite was watching too because we both ended up going over to help her at the same time. To be fair, those tents that use the flexible poles that hold up the fabric can be a pain to set up especially for one person. As the day began to turn to night it looked like she was trying to get a fire going but not having much luck. Again, I waited to not be one of “those guys.” Eventually I went over to check on her and she had her firewood arranged very well for maximum airflow with some fire-starters. The problem was that she was using paper matches, which wouldn’t burn long enough to get the fire-starters going and she was down to her last match. We use a propane fireplace now but I did have a bunch of paper fire-starters in the trailer that I made consisting of a toilet paper tube filled with shredded paper. I took those over and went over with my butane lighter and got her fire started. I also left her with a bunch of wooden matches for the morning if she needed them. From talking to her it sounded like this was her first camping trip by herself but we all have to learn sometime (I’m still learning things all the time).
Fortunately northern Arizona has gotten quite a bit of rain this year, which is good for fire prevention. It’s also good for mosquito breeding and they were out in force this weekend. During the early mornings and early evenings was the worst. We normally like to eat meals outside but we wouldn’t be on this camping trip without feeding the mosquitos too.
Woods Canyon Lake
The big draw to all of the campgrounds up there is their proximity to Woods Canyon Lake. There’s a small store at the lake where you can rent boats and kayaks. We have an inflatable boat but I didn’t think to throw it in the trailer to bring with us this time. We walked over to the store and it’s always crazy over there. The store’s parking lot is tiny and there’s a constant stream of cars trying to get in to it. They have someone in the parking lot just to keep the chaos under control.
There’s a trail that goes all the way around the lake. We’ve done that before. This time we just started out on the trail to just see how far we would go. It was already about a mile walk to get to the store where the trail starts (and we’d have to walk back to the campground that same distance). We didn’t make it all the way around the lake but we probably did get half way.
Rim Road/Forest Road 300
One of the painful things about camping up here (especially on holiday weekends) is that the traffic back to Phoenix can be pretty bad. Going back through Payson can add an hour to the return trip just from the traffic trying to get through town. In looking at the satellite view of the area I could see there may be an alternate way back that avoids the bottleneck in Payson but I wasn’t sure if we could pull the trailer that way.
There’s a road that basically follows the Mogollon Rim up there called Rim Road (also known as Forest Road 300). This road does connect back to Arizona 87 north of Payson. This camping trip we decided to try the road out to see if it would be feasible to go home that way towing the trailer. On the satellite view it doesn’t look too bad. It does turn to dirt not far after the campground.
The road is pretty well-traveled with lots of conventional cars and trucks on the road as well as recreational vehicles like side-by-sides. It’s mostly smooth (definitely not a primitive or four-wheel-drive only road) but there are some pretty rocky spots so going through there with the travel trailer is probably not a good idea. It would be doable but it would be pretty rough on the trailer and the things inside it. It also took us at least two hours in the truck to go the entire distance so it would take longer pulling the trailer. We decided it’s best just to deal with the traffic going back through Payson instead. The trick is to leave right after breakfast and you’ll miss the worst of the traffic. Waiting until check-out time is not ideal. But even in the worst traffic on a holiday weekend, going this way probably wouldn’t save us any time.
True to its name, the road follows the Mogollon Rim not far from the edge of it most of the way, so it has some nice views.