Do you know what magic feels like? Some call it goosebumps, chills, willies, or God bumps. Magic is that moment it feels as if everything is aligned, and you’re truly one with the universe. I’ve had many of these moments in life, and they seem to happen more often when I detach from the hustle and bustle and surround myself with nature.
When I left Los Angeles, after living in California for ten years, I knew that I couldn’t switch to a slower pace of life without some type of reset. I needed to do things differently, more so with this move than any other I had made in the past. After weeks of planning, my husband and I set out on the nearly-fourteen-hundred-mile drive to begin a new chapter of our lives in Austin, Texas. We had planned stops along our route, ultimately taking two weeks to reach our destination. One of the overnight stops we made was at a campground in Flagstaff, Arizona.
"After weeks of planning, my husband and set out on the nearly-fourteen-hundred-mile drive to begin a new chapter of our lives"
Flagstaff is a gem that isn’t mentioned nearly enough. Whenever someone mentions Arizona, it always seems as if I only hear about the capital city Phoenix or the famous landscape of Sedona. Winding through Sedona’s red rocks was nothing short of beautiful. But it was incomparable to the beauty in Flagstaff – a beauty I had no idea was tucked away down a long dirt road.
We pulled into the entrance of the Marshall Lake campgrounds, in the Coconino National Forest, late in the afternoon. One thing you must know about a first-come-first-serve campground is that the best camping pitch is never saved for last. Typically, unlawful long-term stays happen on the best sites, or people arrive early to claim their stake and set up as quickly as possible. If you arrive late, rest assured you aren’t getting the best or most convenient camping site.
On this particular day, that theory proved to be wrong…
"There was a heavily walked path that led us down a hill and opened up into the perfect pitch, with a dreamy view of a meadow full of wildlife"
We made our way down the bumpy dirt road, dodging mud puddles as we passed campsite after campsite, making our way further into the wilderness. We wanted to make sure we were far enough away from people to have a quiet night of sleep so that we could get an early start and return to driving the following morning. As we made our way around a curve in the tree-lined road, there was a parking spot on the left. But the campsite itself wasn’t visible from the road, so we decided to park the car and investigate – a decision we will never regret.
There was a heavily walked path that led us down a hill and opened up into the perfect pitch, with a dreamy view of a meadow full of wildlife. Every other campsite we’d passed along the way had been surrounded by trees with little-to-no view. How did we get so lucky to find the perfect spot, tucked away from other campground guests?
It was a warm afternoon. The sun was still out, but we needed to move quickly if we were going to be set up before sundown. We hurriedly unpacked the car, set up our tent, and unpacked the few belongings we needed for the night. When we booked the campsite, we weren’t sure if it would have a fire pit for cooking, so we had stopped by Chipotle on our way to the campgrounds. This wasn’t a survivalist camping trip (you could even call it “glamping” if you want). This was us enjoying nature on the path to our new home.
"When we booked the campsite, we weren’t sure if it would have a fire pit for cooking, so we had stopped by Chipotle on our way to the campgrounds. This wasn’t a survivalist camping trip. This was us enjoying nature on the path to our new home"
After getting our fill of Chipotle, we sat with the tent door open, taking in the night air and looking at the stars. It was a breathtaking night. The type of night you don’t see in the city because the bright lights pollute the sky. After playing a little fetch with our pup, we decided to settle down for the night to continue our road trip early the next morning. Sleeping in our tent, on nothing more than a comforter and a pillow each, was one of my happiest moments on that trip. My tiny family all snuggled up together in nature was such an amazing feeling…
I quickly fell asleep to the sounds of the insects chirping.
Sometime in the middle of the night, we awoke to yelling, laughing, and loud music at the campsite adjacent to ours. It seemed like some local kids were also enjoying being outdoors by living it up and partying. It would have been OK – if I didn’t have to wake up early and drive the following morning. Just hours before, we were peacefully drifting off to the sounds of nature, and now we were being abruptly awakened by rural party animals. The quietness of nature and the loudness of the campsite party were nothing short of juxtaposed. Perhaps this was why our campsite was empty??
But after a few hours, the rowdy crowd finally left, and we were able to fall back asleep. We didn’t have time to imagine what we would be waking up to next.
While finding the perfect campsite the afternoon before was magic in itself, the morning revealed the main attraction. We woke up naturally around sunrise and opened the tent door to soak in the landscape’s surrounding beauty. A chipper bird’s song danced along the crisp morning breeze and filled our ears, as we allowed our bodies to wake up and sit in silence with nature – just taking it all in.
"During the hasty unpacking, we totally missed the breathtaking mountain on the other side of the meadow. I found myself in awe of the incredible layers of scenery"
Somehow, during the hasty unpacking and set up the day before, we totally missed the breathtaking mountain on the other side of the meadow. I found myself in awe of the incredible layers of scenery. I had only seen things like this on TV! Hues of blue, green, yellow and hints of autumn littered the landscape, and all I could do was smile in gratitude.
I felt so thankful for that morning: being with my little family and sharing the experience with them. It wasn’t a fancy hotel. There wasn’t a luxurious bathroom, a bed or even running water, but it felt like we were in paradise. We took a few photos in the meadow, made a quick breakfast over the fire pit, and hit the road, travelling on to New Mexico.
The photos capture our morning in the Coconino Forest. It was the reset I was looking for: all I needed was that one moment, surrounded by nature and filled with gratitude; all I needed was one magical morning in Flagstaff.
About the writer:
Christalle Bodiford is an epilepsy advocate, activist, and artist. Transformations—broad, fundamental, positive, forward-moving changes—power her work across these fields.
Frustrated by the negativity dominating many of the “support” groups for epilepsy, Christalle founded Life Elektrik to fulfil a pivotal need among those it impacts. Christalle’s epilepsy story is a tale of surprise, fear, misdiagnosis, and misdirection but one that has taken a positive turn. Find out more about Christalle on her website www.ChristalleBodiford.com.