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By Karen Emslie

Starting the next leg of the Arizona road trip was the drive into New Mexico from southern Arizona winds over scenic SR-78 and down through the Gila National Forest. On Google Maps, I’d tagged Cosmic Campground as my ‘by nightfall’ destination—because, with a trippy name like that, you would, wouldn’t you? It’s about 5 hours from the Escape Campervans Phoenix rental site.

The campground, it turned out, was ‘cosmic’ in the astronomical rather than the hippy sense. Spread over a remote plateau, far from artificial light, this tranquil site is a dark sky sanctuary. As the sun sets, the stars and planets ping into sight; soon I was immersed in the heavenly firmament—the only sound was an occasional coyote call. The campground is free to use and offers pit toilets and level concrete pads for telescopes (should you happen to have brought one along).

Pioneer Pie Town New Mexico

Pie Town has…Pie

Heading north, I made a beeline for Pie Town, another navigation choice based on name alone. This surreal hamlet straddles US-60 and is home to a quirky windmill museum and several pies shops, naturally. Check out The Pie-O-Neer or The Gatherin’ Place, which offers a friendly welcome and speedy Wi-Fi; I hauled for the day to eat pie and work.

An aside for digital nomads: As a freelance writer with deadlines to meet, I had to break my digital detox on occasion during the Arizona road trip. I hooked up to Wi-Fi in campgrounds and cafes or used a portable hotspot (I opted for the Verizon Jetpack 4G). The pop-up table in Matrix, my Escape camper, was the perfect place to write and I did so in rest areas, National Parks and any old scenic spot I fancied; my ‘office’ views were to die for.

Meteor Crater National Landmark

Campgrounds Found During my Arizona Road Trip

Throughout New Mexico, Pie Town included, there are free and cheap campgrounds. In quieter months, you may have the luxury of having the place to yourself. As a solo female who had recently binge-watched The Walking Dead, this was spooky at times—but invariably I ended up loving it.

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is a space geek’s paradise. Laid out in a Y-shape in the desert, 20 miles east of Datil, this massive radio telescope is composed of 27 dish-shaped antennae that monitor the universe day and night. The futuristic dishes make for some surreal photo ops, and the VLA was the setting for the 1997 Sci-Fi movie Contact starring Jodi Foster.

In keeping with the extra-terrestrial theme, I had intended to drive on to Roswell, but changed my mind (as a solo traveler can so easily do!) and headed north via Show Low Lake and the Meteor Crater National Landmark instead. The crater is, apparently, “The best preserved and first proven meteorite impact site of Planet Earth”. I believe the hype; it is a very large hole.

Arizona Road Trip

Getting a Bit of Heating and Wifi on the Arizona Road Trip

In Flagstaff, I booked into a motel to get a fix of heating and Wi-Fi, and because I was in the mood for a beer or two in a cozy bar; all those needs were more than satisfied in this buzzy, welcoming town. The nearby Lowell Observatory is also worth checking out.

The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona is astonishingly beautiful and there are plenty of campgrounds along the way; winter travelers should check ahead as some are seasonal. Rancho Sedona RV Park is handy if you want to explore the town. The red and ginger-colored landscape of odd rock formations has a mesmerizing pull and many trails will take you into the heart of it.

Grand Canyon National Park

Next stop of the Arizona road trip was the Grand Canyon. This tourist hotspot is easy to navigate; there are well-marked trails and regular buses shuttle visitors from point-to-point. In winter at least, it’s easy to escape the crowds, who tend to congregate around the main lookouts and visitor center. I strolled alone along the rim for an hour or two. The canyon´s wild depths offer activities for adrenalin junkies and chilled out walkers alike (info online).

Campfire by the Campervan

Final Leg of my Arizona Road Trip

I slept in Matrix for the final time in a laid-back campground somewhere on Route 66, drinking Pacifico beers by the campfire and watching freight trains passing; a sweet and simple last night. As the sun rose, I headed back to Vegas, stopping at the nostalgic Hackberry General Store and the Hoover Dam along the way.

What a grand loop it had been! I´d driven (and hiked) miles and miles and miles, taken a zillion photos and Instagrammed the heck out of it. Matrix was the just-right Goldilocks camper for my solo female, digital nomad, winter road trip; I´m already drooling over Google Maps and planning my next.

Route 66 Signs

Karen Emslie is a location-independent journalist and writer. You can follow her on Instagram @karenemslie101.

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