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Cameron to Utah - The Best for Last | AZBDR Stage 6

A quick recap...

We knew even before starting the AZBDR that we'd need a permit to cross the Navajo Nation, and we knew we could conveniently pick up the permit just outside of Cameron, AZ just prior to entering Navajo land. What we didn't know for sure were the hours of the permit office.

Knowing that we didn't know, we'd tried calling the permit office earlier in the day - just before visiting Waputki National Monument - thinking that we could pick up our permit well before the office closed for the day. However, when no one answered the phone, we called the Monument Valley office to inquire about hours and were told that the Cameron office was only open between 9:00am and 5:00pm, Monday through Friday. Normally this wouldn't have been a problem - we'd planned to be through this area on Tuesday. However, an astute reader will recall that we were way ahead of schedule, and that made for a problem: it was Sunday!

Not wanting to sit around town overnight just waiting for the permit office to open the following morning, I suggested to my copilot that one option would be to leave a note with our contact info and itinerary at the office, alerting them to the fact that we were crossing Navajo Nation and would call as soon as they were open (and we had cell service) to pay the fees. This seemed like a reasonable plan, and before long we found ourselves pulling into the parking lot of the Navajo Nation office on our way through Cameron.

On to Stage 6...

We arrived at 5:04pm.

As we parked just outside the front door, things seemed a little strange. There were two cars in the lot. The interior lights were illuminated. Hopping out of the Tacoma, I peered in through the security gate and sure enough - there were two women inside!

Catching their attention, one of them came to the door. After acknowledging that they were obviously closed, and apologizing taking up their personal time, I explained the situation of our trip, and asked them if they'd actually been open earlier in the day?

Sure enough, we'd gotten bum info from the Monument Valley folks; if we'd arrived just five minutes earlier, the Cameron office would have been open! Not to worry though, the wonderfully hospitable women assured us, they'd be happy to get us a permit - as long as we had cash, since they'd already closed the credit card machine for the day - so we could legally continue on our way.

Cash. Well, hmm. That might be a problem. We've converted almost entirely to electronic payments these days, and while I always have a few bucks in my wallet, we were surprised that a single night on Navajo Land would set us back $60, of which I only had $38.

Now, it turns out that we probably should have been charged $30 - $15/person/night rather than $15/person/day, but in the end it didn't matter. These wonderful ladies were more than happy to take my credit card info to run in the morning, and spent half an hour of their personal time that evening to get us squared away, so we were happy to contribute a little more to the Navajo Nation than might have been required.

We were provided three copies of our permit - one for the truck, and one that each of us were to keep on our person at all times.

Permit in hand, it was a 45-minute drive from the permit office to the place we planned to spend the night - an overlook of the Little Colorado River. Driving west into the sun, our visors were down and our eyes squinted as we sped across the largest Native American reservation retained by an indigenous tribe in the United States.

Badlands, their copper color accentuated by the evening sun, played games with the light.

A once grand mesa, or perhaps canyon rim, slowly deteriorating over time.

We arrived only a few minutes after the sun dropped below the horizon to a sight as dramatic - perhaps even more-so since it was ours alone - as those we'd seen at the Grand Canyon. Plummeting more than 2,000 feet through red, orange, and white rock, we couldn't help but marvel at the fact that from only a few hundred feet back from the edge, you couldn't even tell there was anything there!

Finding a spot to camp that was level meant that we were way too close to the edge - perhaps no more than 8-10 feet - for @mrs.turbodb. Luckily, I reminded her, the ladder would be on the opposite side of the truck, so there'd be no risk of accidentally wandering "into the canyon" if there was the need to get up and use the bathroom.

She didn't think that was funny.

Sunset over the Little Colorado River Canyon.

We could just make out the distant roar of the river as it rushed by below.

The tent set up, we were eating our dinner - another serving of antipasti salad for me, and Spanish tortilla for the lady - in the truck when we noticed a small field mouse hopping from rock to rock along the edge of the canyon. Knowing that they can sometimes favor the warmth of the engine bay, I popped and propped open the hood so that ours would cool off as rapidly as possible, eliminating any desirable aspects for those looking for new digs.

Dinner was delicious, and after wolfing everything down, we settled in for a few hours of reading, photo processing, and a bit of solitaire - all of which went perfectly normally until we heard a sound that I can only describe as the most terrifying sound ever: the sound of a mouse running around in the Tacoma.

Now, it wasn't technically running around in the cabin - at least, not in a way we could catch it. Rather, we could hear it in the place that I most hoped a mouse would never reach: the air conditioning ducts. It was awful. Little feet scurrying along. The knowledge that if we didn't get that little bastard out of there, that the aftermath of a dead mouse would render the entire cab uninhabitable.

It was all hands on deck to get that little bastard out of there.

Working in the dark with headlight and flashlight and only a few feet from certain death, I assessed the situation. My plan - to expose as much as the ductwork as possible - meant that I had as much of the dash apart as I could muster, and I also removed the cabin intake cowl between the hood and windshield.

This was not how either of us planned to spend the evening.

Raising the hood again after cowl removal, we saw it. That little critter made its way back into the engine bay and was sitting right there - taunting us - on the engine's air intake. I tried to grab it. @mrs.turbodb tried to take a photo. Neither of us was successful. The mouse scurried further down into the engine bay.

That meant I was suddenly removing more parts in the engine bay, but at least that little shit wasn't inside the air conditioning and cab any longer! And, after removing the air intake - luckily a reasonably easy bit to remove - we discovered the mouse was gone; only the smallest of mouse terds left as a reminder.

After replacing the cowl and engine air intake - to reduce the likelihood of any more mice getting in through the night - we left everything else as it was; it was time for bed.

The following morning...

It is a good morning when we can lay under the covers and enjoy a view like this.

I had two reasons to get up early on the edge of the Little Colorado. The first - and ultimately more important - was the good deal of work necessary to get the truck back in running order. Besides that, though, I also wanted to capture a few photos of our camp and the canyon before the fiery ball of flame rose up into the sky, casting contrasty shadows into the depths of the gorge.

And so, in reverse priority order, I climbed down the ladder a few minutes before sunrise and wandered about camp, amazed at every turn.

A river runs through it.

Out on the edge.

Watch your step.

Capturing a place like this is nearly impossible. Differences in scale are so large that people - and trucks - are completely lost in the resolution of it all. Still, I did my best to try to capture how tiny we actually were. A blip, nothing more.

Standing on the edge, millions of years, stacked vertically below.

A precarious perch.

My new favorite camp site.

High clouds - especially in the east - allowed me more time to play with the camera than I'd expected, so it wasn't until more than an hour after sunrise that I finally pulled the viewfinder from my face and buckled down to work on the truck.

With much of the dash apart, I had three goals in my reassembly. The first - naturally - was getting everything put back together correctly; I didn't want to have any left-over screws. The second and third were to perform - as much as I could - a reasonably thorough de-dusting of the A/C system, and some serious de-rattling of the various wires and cables that have accumulated behind the dash over the course of my modifications.

I don't often have the A/C blower out, so I took the opportunity to give it a good cleaning. That rock was perfectly clean before a few good taps of the blower.

Ultimately, reassembly took just under two hours, and as I buttoned up the final few screws, I noticed the intelligent camper descending the ladder, a couple extra hours more rested than she might have otherwise been!

With everything back together and after using the last of our milk for a quick breakfast, I was excited to show @mrs.turbodb around some of the cooler places I'd discovered along the rim. Plus, having not seen much the previous evening, and having enjoyed the view from the tent, she was more than ready to look around herself!

Below the rim.

Nearing the water.

Towering walls.

For the second morning in a row, we pulled out of camp well after our usual time of departure. Today, it was 10:30am when we finally got underway, retracing a bit of our path from the night before, then turning north along a series of roads that would deliver us to the edge of the Navajo Nation at Antelope Pass, Lee's Crossing of the Colorado River, and the Navajo Bridge.

Across the high plains.

Now and then, mesas broke the monotony.

In time, we found ourselves approaching the Echo Cliffs...

...before racing along their base toward US-89A and Antelope Pass.

While not part of the official BDR route, having visited some other spectacular road cuts - such as the one at Comb Ridge - Antelope Pass was a place that my copilot had been anticipating, so we climbed to the summit before turning around to admire the buckets of work that went into the construction of this amazing highway.

What's around the corner?

Around the corner you say? The Vermillion Cliffs are just around the corner.

Her curiosity satiated, we followed pavement for the next 45 miles as we traced our way towards and then along the southern face of the Vermillion Cliffs towards the Navajo Bridge.

Construction of the original Navajo Bridge began in 1927, and the bridge opened to traffic in 1929. Paid for by the Arizona State Highway Commission in cooperation with the United States Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (the eastern landing is on the Navajo Nation), the steel spandrel bridge was designed and constructed by the Kansas City Structural Steel Company for $390,000.

Spanning 834 feet, and suspending a maximum 467 feet above the canyon floor, the 18-foot wide roadway had a load capacity of 22.5 tons. Upon opening on January 12, 1929, the Flagstaff paper proclaimed it "the biggest news in Southwest history."

Twin structures, it's hard to tell the new from the old, and that's exactly the point.

Spanning the Colorado River, and situated under the Vermillion Cliffs, the dual spans of the Navajo Bridge are a jewel of the land.

By 1984, Arizona Department of Transportation officials decided that the traffic flow was too great for the original bridge and after considering several options, replacement was determined to be the only viable alternative. A new bridge - with a considerably similar visual appearance, and that conformed to modern highway codes - would be built immediately next to the original to carry vehicular traffic, and the original bridge would be maintained for non-motorized travel.

The new steel arch bridge - 44 feet wide and containing nearly double the steel of the original - was completed in May 1995, at a cost of $14.7 million.


After walking the bridge and soaking in the glimmering green of the Colorado River, it was time for our final push to the border between Arizona and Utah; the end of the Backcountry Discovery Route.

That meant another stint along the base of the Vermillion Cliffs. Like so much of the red rock found throughout the western United States, these cliffs are mesmerizing. With a seemingly infinite variety of colors, textures, and shapes, I find it nearly impossible to travel more than a few miles without feeling as though this view, the one I'm looking at right now, is the best, only to feel the same way again, five minutes later.

With white, puffy clouds, this is definitely - at this moment in time - the best view.

Twenty miles shy of the border, the BDR turned north - onto well-graded dirt - following the western edge of the Vermillion Cliffs toward Utah. Just before 3:00pm, it wasn't going to be but a few minutes if we simply pressed the skinny pedal and focused on the finish line.

But that's not our style.

Unnecessary aired down as we ticked off the final few miles.

Instead, we made a few stops along the way. First, at the Condor Viewing Site, where several dedicated birders - eyes glued to their scopes - were chatting excitedly into their radios with phrases like, "Twenty-three just entered the crack," and "Sixty-seven and forty-four are still stationary." Obviously, they'd all gone crazy, because we couldn't see anything with our $89 binoculars, and these birds are supposed to be big.

How can something so big be so hard to see? If only we weren't so darn old!

Too self-conscious to ask if we could sneak a peak through the obviously more powerful optics of those who'd brought chairs, blankets, and enough food to last days, we realized that there wasn't really any point in sticking around, so we headed a little further north - to the West Bench Pueblo site, hoping to find something along the lines of what we'd seen at Waputki National Monument.

We really should have known better. Any major site - like Waputki - that is as accessible as the West Bench site will always be closely monitored and maintained; otherwise, it will quickly fall into disrepair as there are enough people who just don't know how to respect places like these. The West Bench Pueblo was an obvious case of "too little, too late," as there were no structures remaining as we read the BLM sign describing the site. There was, however, a seemingly infinite supply of pottery shards.

Despite the BLM sign clearly requesting that all artifacts be left exactly where they might be found, one of the first rocks along the narrow path was covered in pottery.

Following instructions is hard, it seems.

Seriously people?

We spent even less time at the West Bench Pueblo site than we'd spent looking for the ever-elusive condor, and soon we were kicking up dust on the way to our final stop before the border - the Maze Petroglyph site.

As we sped toward Coyote Buttes, I didn't have high hopes for this panel. After all, it was reasonably well-known and required only a mile-long hike to view. Surely we would find it in similar condition to the West Bench site, or perhaps even worse.

With the wind picking up, light was dancing across the landscape, and the Coyote Buttes were blazing bright in the distance.

The closer we got, the more the clouds cooperated.

Soon we were on foot.

Located near The Wave - a permit-by-lottery hike that I hope to win one day - the hike to the Maze Petroglyph site must be just long enough, or just far enough away, or a hair too close to The Wave, to be a popular site in its own right. As such - though we did see two other pairs of hikers - we had the panel to ourselves as we admired the work of those who came before us, and it turned out to be way cooler than either of us expected!

The glyph for which the panel is named.

The maze is cool, but check out that two-headed snake!

Several spirals adorned the various sub-panels of The Notch.

A smattering of spirals and animate objects made for a wonderful scene.

Thrilled that we'd taken the time - even after two less-than-impressive sites - to visit The Maze Petroglyph site, we slowly made our way back to the Tacoma while we tried to hammer out our plan for both the remainder of the day, as well as the remainder of our trip. We had, it turns out, completed the entire six-stage, 750-mile Arizona BDR in just under five days. As such, we had a full day-and-a-half to fill before our flight home from Las Vegas, a situation I'd neglected to consider as I'd planned our run through Arizona.

Having started near the Mexican border on a Thursday morning at sunrise, we crossed over the Utah border at 4:37pm on a Monday afternoon - by far, our fastest BDR to date!

Unlike most BDRs, the final stages of this one had been the best. Still, as we lounged around camp and prepped the final dinner we'd cook on the tailgate, we couldn't help but feel that this one hadn't been our favorite. The initial stages, the plentiful pavement, and a sense that we were never, really, that far from a mailbox, made the AZBDR feel just a little too civilized for our taste. It was a good "starter" BDR, but not one that we'd recommend running - at least in its entirety - to those who've experienced some of the more remote routes.

For our full evaluation of the route, check out the AZBDR Epilogue.



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  1. Skidoo
    Skidoo May 18, 2024

    I am putting Stage 6 on my list. I have had mice in twice. Once on White Rim Trail a kangaroo rat got in, got it out twice and it got back in before we could close up, so it rode with us for 3 days, wife was great putting up with it. Other time was a field mouse in DVNP. Mouse trap with a peanut glued on with Snickers bar caramel, without the "glue" they will steal the nut every time.
    Sorry those condors were hiding from you, shame on them. We have never seen them at that condor viewing site either. Three times we have been over the Navajo Bridge they have been on the girders towards the north end of bridge or on the north canyon wall.

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 19, 2024

      Stage 6 was certainly a fun one. I will say, a lot of the driving through Navajo Nation was monotonous, high-speed, dusty travel. In other words, boring. But camping there at the Little Colorado Overlook was magical - well worth it, and for more than one day if you can afford the time to "sit still" (which is hard for me). And of course, the Vermillion Cliffs are always a sight to see, though since they are so close to pavement, they are always crowded unless you're able to get "into them" on foot.

      I hope to never have another mouse. At least, not inside. I don't mind them in the bed of the truck too much, since everything is in water proof containers back there and there's no risk of them being inaccessible should they die!

  2. Bill Rambo
    Bill Rambo May 18, 2024

    Wonderful trip, photography of open spaces! ready to follow in your tracks and see all this be I get too damn old.

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 19, 2024

      Thanks Bill - as always, glad you enjoyed! Most of this route could be easily done in a stock SUV. Wrote up a bit of our overall impressions on the route, here: Underwhelming | AZBDR Epilogue.

  3. Sherry
    Sherry May 18, 2024

    Those petroglyph pics are spectacular! Well, everything is, but those are so crystal clear!

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 19, 2024

      Thanks! We were pleasantly surprised at how nice they were as well - we fully expected that they'd be "meh" because of their relative proximity to a highly travelled road. And, it was fun seeing something - the maze - that we'd never really seen in other petroglyphs.

    JOHN D MORAN May 19, 2024

    Wonderful photos, beautiful country and a reminder of how small we are in the realm of things. I dislike rodents more than just about anything. I may have mentioned that squirrels ate the wiring in our new car (just a couple of months old) a couple of years ago. Wife was visiting her daughter 100 miles from here, car was taken (flat bed) to dealer. Had to replace entire wiring harness, almost $10K (thank Heaven for insurance) took almost 2 weeks as parts had to be ordered. Since then I have done everything I can to discourage the little bastards! The petroglyph is interesting. I think the two headed snake is arguing with itself as to which path to take into the maze. Thanks for another great adventure.

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 20, 2024

      Thanks John! It was a fun one, with the best coming at the end, which hasn't been our experience on past BDRs!

      I've never really worried all that much about rodents inside the truck (though I've had them in the bed a couple times), but coincidentally, I mentioned the fact to @mrs.turbodb on this particular evening, and even opened the hood so the engine would cool off and make the place "less cozy and inviting" for the little critters. Ironic, then, that we had the little visitor, and *so glad* we got that little sucker out of there.

  5. Christian
    Christian May 20, 2024

    Stunning pictures and beautiful landscapes! 🙂

    With best regards from Europe,

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 20, 2024

      Thanks Christian! Glad you enjoyed them!

  6. Lance G
    Lance G May 20, 2024

    Great story and photos!! I traveled around that area in May of 2023 on my Moto. I visited Buck Farm Viewpoint- which looks similar to your photos of the Little Colorado- and would love to explore some more down there..

    Was that the House Rock valley road there at the end?

    Well done,

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 20, 2024

      Thanks Lance! That was house rock Road at the end of there. Not sure if it has always been this way, but it was pretty much a dirt highway when we were on it, for its entire length from pavement to pavement. Makes sense, given that it’s the entry point to the Wave, so you get all kinds of tourists who are putzing and back-and-forth on it.

  7. Skyhiker
    Skyhiker May 21, 2024

    Enjoyed the photos and the commentary, especially about the little mouse. Glad both Tacoma and mouse escaped unscathed!

    Does "dirt highway" mean I could drive my Prius on House Rock Road?

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 21, 2024

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed, and always nice to hear when you do! 👍 As far as House Rock Road - you might have to take it a tad slow, but yeah, it'd be no problem for a passenger vehicle (assuming it's dry, etc.)

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