Camp Verde, AZ – Tempe, AZ

Odometer: 18,250

At 7:30 we leave the hotel and are glad to leave Camp Verde behind us. The hotel was ok though and I even found something eatable (without sugar) for breakfast.

From Camp Verde it’s about 36 miles to the Mogollon Rim Road (NF 300). The first 34 miles are on HWY 260 and then we drive about 2 miles north on HWY 87 before we turned right into the Rim Road, which is as 45-mile gravel road with lots of trails and roads leaving to the right and to the left to small lakes or camp grounds or where ever, a few miles into the Rim Road we follow a sign to Potato Lake which is another 3 miles into the woods. It is a small lake (more like a pond) located in the middle of the forest. The grass is still wet and there are two cows and a calf grassing: such a peaceful atmosphere and out here we experience once more complete silence not a single sound not even a fly or a bird – nothing! We stay for a while and then drive back to the Rim Road.

A few miles later we drive along the rim and, to our right, have the amazing view over “the back country of Phoenix”. We are up on about 7,500 feet elevation. From here we can see vast forests, hills and mountains as far as the eye can reach. This once again shows us how big this country is. We stop here and there to enjoy the view and to take pictures. After 21 miles we turn left towards Knoll Lake, a larger lake which attracts a lot of campers and fishermen.

At around noon we arrive at the other end of the Rim Road, all in all, including the two round trips to the lakes, we drove about 60 miles gravel road. Even with this car we are glad to be on pavement again (we can’t believe that we did this with an old Toyota Camry back in 2003!). Besides some squirrels, nice gray and white ones, which didn’t want to pose for a picture, we didn’t see any animals though.

Back on HWY 260 we head south, pass through Payson and 15 miles later take a left onto HWY 188. This road leads us along Theodore Roosevelt Lake, a deep blue lake amidst the desert landscape. Since we left the Mogollon Rim we have seen Saguaro cactuses everywhere, here and there we also find Ocotillos and other cactuses we are amazed how green everything is at the end of summer. About half way along the lake we take a right onto HWY 88, Apache Trail. Soon the pavement ends and we find ourselves on another gravel road, no pavement for the next 35 miles! But the scenery is magnificent, we drive along Apache Lake and over hills and through valleys. It’s indeed a very scenic route and well worth it.

We “enter civilization” again in Apache Junction and from here drive through Mesa, another 30 miles (this time on a real HWY with 6 lanes) to Tempe.

In Tempe we find a room at the Sleep Inn, close to the airport. For dinner we drive back about 2 miles on University Drive, we pass a few fast food places and suddenly see a sign “Thai Elephant”. We pull in and check it out. There are hardly any guests, even though it’s Saturday evening at 6:30, but we still give it a try and are very positively surprised – probably the best Thai food we ever had and the price is very reasonable!

I guess this was our last real vacation day, tomorrow we will take HWY 8 back to San Diego, another 400 miles.

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