Dodging Thunderstorms

It was a quiet evening at the free Crystal Forest Campground. With no trees, Starlink worked perfectly, both for my evening’s entertainment as well as for work the next morning. Unlike the previous day, I got a lot done, and without stress or time crunches. It’s amazing how productive I can be when I’m not stuck in meetings.

We had a visitor at lunchtime. First I heard some interesting bird noises, the same as I heard during a stop in Petrified Forest National Park yesterday. I also heard the sound of something big walking across a metal roof. Finally, I saw a giant raven hanging out on the roof of my trailer. We exchanged a few stares, but neither of us bothered, or was bothered by, the other. We were both just hanging out.

“Some Native American tribes link the Raven deity with the theft of the sun. As per animal totems, which hold great importance in the Native American culture, raven totem symbolizes a change in consciousness and also represents a shapeshifter.” — World Birds

I was born on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. So one might consider me the one who stole the sun. While I’ve never managed shapeshifting like Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I do have a way of blending in with my environment. I don’t know if there’s any deeper meaning here — I just find it interesting. I’m also glad neither Lister nor the raven decided to eat each other.

After lunch, I made preparations for warp speed. My intended destination was the Cracker Barrel in Flagstaff, where we spent a night during the Route 66 trip. I was just about packed, then saw the approaching wall of black in the top photo. I knew there were thunderstorms in the forecast, and in the desert, they’re a Really Big Deal (TM). Because it rains so rarely here, when it does, particularly heavy rain like a thunderstorm brings, flash flooding can happen before you know it. Although the campground parking lot was crushed gravel and pretty solid, I wanted to be on solid pavement if I had to sit through storms. It was time to go.

Fortunately, the storm was approaching from the east, and I was heading west. Even US 180 had a 65 mph speed limit, so I could safely and legally speed away from the approaching wall of blackness. In Holbrook, I picked up I-40 again. Although the limit was 75 I could only maintain 65-70 or so. But traffic was light, and anyone who wanted to go faster had no problem getting around me. Because I could see for miles and miles, I saw several other storms around me on all sides. I drove through the outskirts of one, but it didn’t last, and the rain wasn’t that bad. But the washes I crossed, which are normally dry, were full of water for once. One section of the median was even flooded, but the road itself was fine.

About half an hour outside Flagstaff, I saw the Twin Arrows Casino and Resort. This is very close to the ruins of the old Twin Arrows Trading Post, a Route 66 landmark where we stopped last year. The resort was built in 2006 and still looks brand new. And then the words “Overnight parking” flashed by on the electronic billboard. On a whim, I took the exit and decided to investigate. The Cracker Barrel parking lot in Flagstaff was quite crowded last year, and I wasn’t sure if I’d fit there with the trailer this time around.

I followed the signs to the resort and found several outer parking lots with RVs and a few custom campers. I parked and decided to stay here tonight instead. There isn’t much cell service, but that’s what Starlink is for. Then tomorrow I could blast through Flagstaff, only half an hour away, and head straight up to Kaibab National Forest, just outside the Grand Canyon.

I started catching up on some work, and soon an approaching voice said, “Smokey?” It was one of the guys from the HOWA caravan I’d camped with in Pahrump back in April! He, too, is slowly on his way back toward the Arizona desert for the winter. He told me he’d actually been camped here for a couple of weeks! Casinos are usually like Walmart or Cracker Barrel — good for a quick overnight, but then it’s time to move on. He told me he talked to security, and they said they don’t care how long people stay. Some have stayed for months. All they care about is that you don’t make a mess or cause trouble. They do patrol the lots frequently, but that just makes the place safe. We talked a bit more, then got back to work.

The forecast showed thunderstorms at the Grand Canyon through Thursday. I didn’t relish the idea of driving my van and trailer down wet Forest Service roads where I could potentially get stuck, and I was already safely parked on pavement. I decided to stick around a couple more days until it stopped raining, then go find a place to camp out in the forest. The Grand Canyon would still be there.

It’s a little bit strange not seeing the Stars and Stripes in the center and above the other flags, as usual. But this is Navajo territory, a sovereign nation, so their flag gets center stage. In fact, a friend of mine confirmed that even the US State Department says this is the proper way to display these flags, as he confirmed it for a similar situation at a Boy Scout camp when he worked there.

I’m not a gambler, but the casino is still useful to me. For one thing, it has real bathrooms. For another, the restaurant and bar has good food, a good beer selection, and is quite affordable. I had a meal and a couple pints of Sam Adams Oktoberfest (a reminder of where I came from) for less than $20. I left the friendly bartender a generous tip as well. Spending a little money here is the least I can do for their hospitality during my extended stay in one of their outer parking lots. I have no pictures inside because casinos tend to frown on that.

While the rest of the country seems to believe that COVID is over (it’s not — friends of mine keep getting it no matter how careful they are), the Navajo think otherwise. Masks are still required inside. They’re still social distancing and have taken away a lot of tables and chairs to enforce it. I haven’t seen measures this strict in almost a year since I visited Los Angeles. But I don’t blame them at all. Historically, this isn’t the first time they’ve been at risk from deadly diseases spread by white people without a care. I gladly respect all their rules and regulations around this. I’m a guest in their territory.

The nights were extremely quiet, with no trouble or hassle at all. The days weren’t exciting, as I was mostly stuck in my van between work and the rain. Lister did manage to get some time outside between rainstorms, so he was happy. This isn’t the first time I’ve ridden a storm out. It’s just a less serious storm than a hurricane, over a longer duration, and on the opposite side of the country. Better safe than sorry, or stuck in the mud.

This morning I’m seeing the sun for the first time since I’ve been here. According to the forecast, the rain seems to have pretty much gone away. So I’ll be hitting the road again after getting some work done. I’ll have to remember this place. While not exactly scenic, it’s a good stop if you have a good reason to, especially if you need to park on solid ground during rain.

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