An excellent way to explore a region, especially a scenic one, is by renting a recreational vehicle to have everything you need in one place so you can enjoy your vacation.
That is just what my friend Sara and I did when we decided to check several National Parks off of our bucket list. We flew into Mesa, Arizona, and made our way to Cruise America to pick up our 36′ RV that would be our home-away-from-home during our trip. We started with a few days in Mesa, then went on to Sedona, Flagstaff, Winslow (in a separate post), and Williams, with a visit to the Grand Canyon (in a separate post) in between.
Renting the Cruise America RV
Cruise America was awesome to work with! We had a bit of paperwork to complete when we arrived at the facility but were finished within 30 minutes.
Since Sara and I were fly-in customers, we opted to purchase the personal and vehicle provisions (housewares) kits, rentals for the necessities that we couldn’t bring with us. The Cruise America RV personal kit ($60) included sheets, a pillowcase, pillow, sleeping bag, bath towels, washcloths, and dish towel. The vehicle provisions kit ($110) had pots and pans, silverware, knives, colander, can opener, and dishes. You can also rent lawn chairs if you’d like to sit outside of your RV.
We had a brief lesson on how to hook our standard size RV up to campsite facilities and operate the vehicle controls. I advise you to make videos on your phone as they are showing you how to hook up the water hoses. Sometimes an adapter is needed for electric voltage, so make sure you have one with you (it should be included). The hook-up is simple and took us about 2 minutes total at each stop, so don’t be intimidated.
Now, time to travel.
Shopping for Our RV Trip
You will need some essentials for your trip if you wish to use it to its full capability. We chose to cook breakfast and a few dinners in our recreational vehicle to save money and get the whole experience of using the RV’s facilities. Walmart is a great go-to place for stocking your RV. Our Cruise America location even had a cheat sheet for the closest Walmart and gas stations, and a list of things you might consider buying.
Sara and I bought bottled drinks, breakfast items, chicken and vegetables for dinner, snacks, paper towels, dish soap, and toiletries. Toilet paper must be a particular grade for RV camping, so be sure to buy extra, which you can also get at Cruise America.
Another investment we made was for two $10 pillows. The pillow that came with our linens package was pretty basic. We are both spoiled with our bed full of pillows at home, so we bought the pillows and pillowcases that we could donate at the end of the weeklong trip.
About the Cruise America RV
Driving the RV is the same as driving a truck; only you have to account for how large it is and chose turn-around spots and parking lots more carefully. This was my second time driving an RV, and it is a great feeling. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt like a total badass being a woman and whipping my cute little Cruise America RV into parking lots like it was a regular-sized vehicle.
Cruise America RVs are mostly made by Winnebago. They are not meant to be luxury vehicles, but have everything we needed for a great RV vacation. There were no TV or back-up cameras, XM radio or pop-outs, but we had everything we needed, including heat and AC, which we used often.
Our RV’s Interior
Sara (of Travel with Sara) slept in the huge bed in the back of the camper. I chose the bunk bed above the driver’s cabin. It was a bit of a struggle to get up there, but it was pretty cozy and comfortable. The Cruise America RV bathroom holds a shower and commode. Sara showered nightly in our shower, while I chose to use the bathroom facilities at the campsites all but once. Good thing for us, the water pressure was always perfect, and there was plenty of hot water.
The hand sink is outside of the bathroom and has storage above and below for your cosmetics and toiletries. We unpacked all of our clothes and personal items and stored them in the big closet and drawers, which was more than enough. There are even storage compartments above the bed and dining table set.
We put the dishes that we rented in the lock-down cabinets. Then, we stored the empty totes and our suitcases in the RV’s outdoor storage, also where we had our lawn chairs and broom. I appreciated the gas cooktop, which made cooking faster than with electricity.
In front of the cabin, there was space for our drinks, my purse, National Park passports, travel brochures, phones, and all of the travel literature we collected along the way.
I love cooking in an RV and made cheesy scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon, and English Muffins for breakfast most mornings. For snacks, we kept cheese, yogurt, snack meats, fruit, and hummus with veggies in the refrigerator. Dinner consisted of green beans and chicken with peppers and onions the evening we stayed in.
Pro tip #1: Bring a cigarette-lighter adapter for your cell phones as there are no USB ports.
Pro tip #2: Learn which side your gas tank is on before pulling into your first gas station to avoid confusion at the pumps. Our tank held around $99 of gas with each fill-up and got decent mileage, even traveling many steep hills.
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Lost Dutchman State Park
Our first stop on the RV trip was to Lost Dutchman State Park to see more of the local Mesa area and the park’s beautiful saguaro landscape. The park (in Apache Junction) is lovely and easy to navigate around the stunning Sonoran Desert. We spent two nights here and used our daylight hours to see Mesa’s downtown, eat at delicious restaurants, and even go for a horseback ride at the lovely Saguaro Guest House Ranch.
Lost Dutchman is within minutes of Goldfield Ghost Town, a cheesy, but must-visit 1890s reconstructed attraction with gold-panning, zip-lining, a train ride, Old West gunfight, and much more. The scenery is very Instagram-worthy.
Read the full post about our Mesa adventures here.
Take Time to Smell the Roses
Or so the saying goes, I advise you to take every stop along your drive that tickles your fancy. If you see something of interest, take five or ten minutes to investigate, get your pictures, increase your knowledge of our beautiful country. Sara and I, both being travel bloggers, make many stops to see art installments, pretty flowers or trees, vintage signs, or grab a snack from an appealing shop. Be sure to factor in free time for these things when planning your itinerary.
Here is a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright Spire at The Promenade in Scottsdale that we happened to see from the highway. We both love FLW architecture, and got a good dose of his style and collection at this random sighting. Taliesin West, circa 1937 and one of his most famous residences, is also at this exit. Tours are available.
Sara and I hit the open highway for the beauty of Sedona–a place in the Coconino National Forest that I had visited before and couldn’t wait to show her. We drove 17 North for 2 1/2 hours to finally arrive in Sedona. The landscape changes, and the red rocks and enormous rock formations begin to peek at you, starting around Camp Verde. They are stunning; however, the parking lots in Sedona are not RV friendly.
We drove back and forth, around side roads and parking lots, trying to find a place to park our RV. After about 90 minutes of trying, Sara and I bid adieu to Sedona. We left with only a handful of pictures. Pay special attention to the pull-overs and take advantage of the parking options there. Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock (magically striped red and white) were our favorite stops.
Scenic Route: Sedona to Flagstaff
Highway 89A (Oak Creek Canyon) is an unforgettable drive from Prescott to Flagstaff, Arizona. We picked it up in Sedona as we made our way north to Flagstaff, then on to Williams.
Between the hairpin turns, elevation climbs and change in scenery (which was gorgeous on our fall trip), you are in for a real treat. I can say without a doubt that this was the most scenic part of our North Arizona trip. The elevation gently reached 6,900 feet. Between the majestic pine trees and natural springs; we were in awe the entire drive. The trees seemed to frame the windy 23-mile road, keeping every treasure hidden until we were nearly upon it.
Every time we came to an elk crossing sign, I had my eyes peeled watching for a herd, but didn’t see a single one.
After finishing this route and sharing our travels with friends, we learned that it often gets voted one of the most scenic drives in America, and rightfully so.
Welcome to Williams, the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. Here, thousands come to take the train ride to the Grand Canyon at the Grand Canyon Railway. Williams is located on Old Route 66 and, just as the address would imply, has plenty of classic cars, soda fountains, neon signs, and the kitschy stuff we all know and love from Route 66.
We stayed at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park, which was perfect. The check-in location had sundries and basic grocery needs, maps and local flyers, and the process was quick and easy. The RV Park had swimming pool access, clean shower houses, a hot tub, and laundry facility. Sara and I were not there until late night and left early the next morning, so unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to use any of them. If you are traveling with a pet, the check-in building offers pet boarding, a great asset.
The downtown is walkable, so consider parking in the huge lot near the railway and walking through it. Sara and I did some shopping in the local stores. I enjoyed a coffee from Brewed Awakenings, and then we had a down-home cooked dinner at Pine Country Restaurant. I chose the spaghetti with meat sauce while Sara had fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. We were both too full for the honkin’ big homemade pies, which Pine Country is famous for.
Tip: We found Williams to have the best and most reasonably priced souvenirs.
Bearizona Wildlife Park
Bearizona, one of Arizona’s most visited attractions, is also in Williams. The year-round drive-through park uses the tag line “bringing the Wild back to the West,” which I found so fitting. We easily navigated through the park in our Cruise America RV and enjoyed animal sightings at every turn. It is laid out in a friendly fashion, and the selection of animals is immense.
Besides bears, there were donkeys, white bison, Arctic wolves, and bighorn sheep. Dozen of other animals offered an overload of cuteness in this Ponderosa Pine Forest setting, too. A walk-through part of Bearizona should not be missed. It has a petting zoo, prairie dogs, otters, bobcats, and many birds. I love that Bearizona has loops in the most popular areas so you can circle through as many times as you want. The ones that had an abundance of bears kept us looping five or six times.
Sara and I experienced the Grand Canyon next, but you can read about that in a separate post.
Sara and I left the Grand Canyon and headed over to Flagstaff. Having heard about Flagstaff our whole lives (Route 66 by Depeche Mode/Nat King Cole), we had to check it out. This is a town that many stay at on their way to the Grand Canyon. You’ll find hotels and motels, along with several historic restaurants, right along Route 66. There is also a huge Flagstaff visitor center in the center of town. We wanted to go inside and check it out, but the parking lot was not RV-friendly. This was surprising since many people travel to the Arizona National Parks via motor homes, campers, or trailers.
You’ve got to try the delicious breakfast at the Toasted Owl Restaurant, decorated with hundreds of kitschy owl items. Toasted Owl’s upscale menu was a palate pleaser. Sara and I shared the Flagstaff Omelette with lemon-herb chicken, avocado, cheddar cheese, bacon, onions, and a creamy balsamic drizzle.
A KOA campground was our home for the night, and it was easy in and easy out in our RV. The KOA shower house was clean and had plenty of hot water. The high-speed WiFi was a godsend.
Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments
Throughout our Arizona road trip, Sara and I got several new stamps in our National Passport books. Two of our favorites were Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. We drove through Sunset Crater for an hour or more (34 miles of a scenic loop), admiring the lava fields and scenery that featured a few wildflower blooms along the way. At times there were desolate grounds with only a few trees, and in some places, the trees were thick and healthy.
At the end of the scenic loop road is Wupatki National Monument, so the two parks are connected, but you can enter from either side. Wupatki is stunning, nestled between the Painted Desert and ponderosa pines. Vivid red rock ancient pueblos (once inhabited by ancestors of the Hopi and Zuni people) seem to pop in front of the gorgeous blue skies and endless grasslands. There are over 800 ruins throughout the entire property.
Leaving these gems, Sara and I made our way back to Mesa to return our RV and get ready to fly home the next morning.
Arizona: Food for the Soul
Visiting the attractions and sensational scenery in Northern Arizona is nothing short of spectacular. A Cruise America RV trip is the perfect way to see the sights, save money on hotels, and bond with those you are traveling with. We survived, and the memory bank is full of amazing memories to choose from.
Northern Arizona Photo Gallery
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Read more about my adventures with Sara at: