It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

Camper in hospital parking lot
In this installment of our crazy trip out west, we drive from Ganado, Arizona and almost make it to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon before our car breaks down at Jacob Lake Inn.

When last we left the Kendrick family, they were camping in the parking lot of a hospital/community center complex in Ganado, Arizona, deep in the heart of the Navajo Reservation. Now, let’s resume the story:

The next day Jones reappears with a battery, and he and Justin install it and then take the van and head to Window Rock, the closest town with an auto supply store. Will and I walk to a gas station to buy ice.

I consider buying a Ganado High t-shirt at the gas station to commemorate the occasion (Go Hornets!), but decide not to (opportunity missed: next time buy the t-shirt).

In the daylight we see that we are in a really beautiful area. We return to the hospital lobby to charge our phones and use the bathroom (what would we have done without the hospital lobby?).

We make a new friend, a dog we dub Alternator who takes up residence under the camper.

Camping Trip Arizona Navajo Reservation Breakdown

Justin and Jones return triumphant; NAPA has decreed that the alternator is solid, it was just a battery issue. New battery under the hood, we crank the camper down and set off for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The drive from Ganado to the North Rim was beautiful. In the eastern U.S., we just do not have the vast, unbroken views that are so plentiful out west. The mesas were amazing, then the painted desert and the vermilion cliffs as we headed down Hwy 89 and 89A. We seemed to be back on track.

Camping Trip Arizona Car Breakdown
We got to Jacob Lake high on the Kaibab Plateau in late afternoon, about 45 minutes from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

When we got out of the van to use the bathroom and go to the Visitor’s Center at Jacob Lake, the van smelled ominously of gas. Sure enough, the lurching started back again. (For those of you keeping score at home, this is breakdown #5.)

There was a National Forest campground across the street from where we were parked. While we let the van rest, I walked through the campground to see if there were any open sites, and there were. I came back and told Justin I thought we should just camp there and try to visit the Grand Canyon in the morning. Justin said he thought we would be fine since we had already done the big climb onto the plateau and the road should be pretty level going into the North Rim campground.

So off we started for our final push, but there was still just enough of an uphill pitch to the road that the van said NOPE.

Justin managed to get it turned around (on a two-lane road with soft shoulders and the camper attached, that is no small feat) and we limped back down to Jacob Lake, cruising through stop signs and hoping it didn’t die in the middle of the road. I was glad I had scouted the campground, because I could direct him to the entrance which was not readily apparent.

As we turned in, the campground host started walking up to the van, clipboard in hand. Without stopping, I rolled down the window and yelled as we drove by, “We’re having car trouble! We’ll pick a site and come back to you!”

We go through the loop that seemed to have more spots available, but then
I see that many are only available for one night and we figured by that point we would need two. While Justin idled the car at one potential spot, we asked Will (our cross-country runner) to sprint through the other loop and see if there was a site available for longer than one night.

Poor Will. Not his favorite moment as he raced through the campground in his Nike slides, looking for open campsites.

Good news, though, there were two spots with multiple days available. As we passed the host again, he called out, “Site 3 or 9, but you better hurry! There are other people circling!!!!”

Drama down to the last minute, I tell you what!

We chose a site and got out, exhausted and frustrated again.

We were 45 minutes from our campground, 45 minutes from the Grand Canyon.

All of my carefully-planned trip itinerary was so much dust in the wind.

Are we having fun yet?

camper at jacob lake
Justin had talked to one of the guys that worked in the gas station (Jacob Lake is actually a great place to break down, with a gas station, cute little motel with a restaurant boasting world-famous cookies, and a campground right across the street!). He suggested taking the van to Kanab, Utah, about 40 minutes down the other side of the plateau.

We made a plan that Justin would take the van to Kanab in the morning, drop it off at the mechanic’s, get a rental car, and we would spend the rest of the day sightseeing as much as possible along the North Rim.

We even considered abandoning our camper at Jacob Lake, buying a six-man tent and just tent-camping until the van was ready. At one point, I found myself Googling car dealerships in Las Vegas. Our vacation and car repair budget was completely blown out of the water, so why not just buy a new car?

jacob lake inn

On the other hand, how thankful were we to be camping in an actual campground right across the road from this cute little inn with delicious treats available? It could have been much worse. We rested and waited to see what the next day would bring.



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