New Mexico

 

OCTOBER 18, 2010

I’m continuing the entry for today here as most of the activity took place in New Mexico even though we will spend one more night in Colorado. We’ve been so lucky to have followed the Fall color changes from north to south over the past six weeks. The cottonwoods along the rivers and the aspens in the mountains are a mixture of peak and just past peak. Today began with overcast skies and a forecast of intermittent thunderstorms. As I was walking Opal this morning the sunrise was incredible. It lit the sky a deep pink and yellow. I just watched as the best color only lasted ten minutes.

Rio Grande Gorge at Wild Rivers NRA

We had a leisurely morning and decided to drive over to the Wild Rivers National Recreation Area near Questa, NM. This is north central New Mexico. While we were on our way to and from Great Sand Dunes NP, we crossed the Rio Grande River. I always associated it with southern Texas but the headwaters are up here. The Wild Rivers NRA  was created in 1968 to protect the Rio Grande Gorge and the confluence of it with the Red River. This was the first designation of a wild and scenic river. Since then there have been several others like the New River in West Virginia. This is in a very remote area. The two towns of Questa and Cerro are quite small and run down.  The area is under the management of the Bureau of Land Management. There are several overlooks and trails. We pulled off at Sheep Crossing overlook and hiked about halfway down the trail to get a view of the river. At this point the walls of the gorge are a sheer drop to the river. With the Fall color of gold and red and the green of the Rio Grande, the scene was strikingly beautiful. The trail was rated on the sign as easy. This must have been rated by a mountain goat. Steve said he’d call it moderate and if we’d gone all the way down even strenuous. Opal had a ball being off leash. Then we stopped at three more overlooks. All had picnic tables. At Junta Point you can see the two rivers converge. There are several small campgrounds where you can get water only and a few would accommodate our trailer. The Visitors Center is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. I can understand why as we saw only 2 other people at overlooks and 2 other campers. So we’ll have to make a return visit to get our lapel pin. Our travel vest with the pins is about a third full. It’s beginning to look like a Girl Scout on steroids.

Convergence of Rio Grande and Red Rivers

Looking Down the River

View from the top of the Gorge

Then we headed east to drive a loop described as a New Mexico scenic byway called The Enchanted Circle. It goes from NM 522 at Questa through the aspen and evergreen forest of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness and the Taos Mountains to Red River, Eagle Nest and Taos. The loop is 85 miles. We’d said that we would drive to Eagle Nest and then see if we wanted to do the whole loop or double back. As we drove past Red River the temperature had dropped from the low sixties to 41 degrees. It was raining when we reached the decision point. We were afraid the mountain roads might get icy and opted to drive south through Taos. Along the way we found Eagle Nest State Park which looks like a great kayaking lake and future stop. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Taos but we did get out and walk a bit in the historic area looking for a replacement coffee mug. No luck. As we started on the way back, the sky cleared some and there was a beautiful rainbow. Some of the distant mountain tops looked as if they’d gotten new snow.

Rainbow On the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

Back at the trailer we enjoyed a slow cooker pot roast and then uploaded an entry to the blog. Tomorrow we leave for Carlsbad, NM.

OCTOBER 19, 2010

We awoke this morning to 32 degrees outside and frozen water. Fortunately, we had some water in the RV tank for necessities and coffee. We closed the trailer and hitched up. We pulled out by 10AM. This has been the most enjoyable park we’ve stayed in on our trip. I look forward to returning.

We are retracing our route from yesterday down US 285 all the way to Carlsbad. As I write, we’ve just passed Taos and into new territory. Steve just remarked that they must be very exact in New Mexico. We’d just entered a work zone and he saw a sign saying that this project cost $4,678,956.32 and that the project covered the next 4.32 miles! We’ll be on the road approximately 6 hours. This won’t leave us time to do much sightseeing. There are several National Monuments nearby but that’s for another trip. We do hope to make a quick stop in Roswell. I just have to have an Alien or Area 51 T-shirt.

As the trip progressed we found ourselves slowed down by road construction for 30 miles north of Santa Fe and traffic in town. Then we had to stop for gas and lunch. In all it took us almost 8 hours to reach Brantley Lake State Park so we postponed the Roswell stop until another day. We wanted to be in place by sunset and just barely made it. This is a New Mexico State Park about 15 miles north of Carlsbad. The campsite is very level and private with 25 feet between sites. There are eight other RVs here in an area set up for 30 units. The landscape is flat desert and not very interesting after the Rockies. This morning we were in freezing temperatures and tonight we had to turn on the AC. What a difference 300 miles makes.

Tomorrow we’ll go to Carlsbad Caverns NP.
OCTOBER 20, 2010

I’m really happy to be in warm territory again. Today is expected to be in the high 70s and the night in the low to mid 50s. Of course that really doesn’t matter when you’ll be spending the day below ground where it’s always 56 degrees.

Natural Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

Torrey Yucca

Landscape Above Carlsbad Caverns

 

We’re about 35 miles from Carlsbad Caverns NP. The road into the park takes you into the Guadelupe Mountains and the hills are covered with desert plants. This year has been a wet one for them. They usually receive 12 inches of rain and this year they had 40 inches so far. The late wildflowers are blooming and the hills are purple, yellow and white. The Torrey Yucca have already bloomed but their spikes still rise 8 or more feet in the air and are heavy with seed. We’re seeing different kinds of cacti than we’ve seen so far.
As is our habit we head to the Visitors Center for maps and information. There are two self-guided tours; one through the natural entrance of the cave that goes down a steep path for 700 feet (That’s 700 feet vertical… in a mile and a quarter walk.  The grade is about 25% in places, and we’re told it’s very strenuous…  sm)  to the area known as the Big Room. You can also reach the Big Room by elevator. This area is 750 feet below the surface. The Big Room is the largest area in the caverns with a length of 6 football fields. The paved path through it is 1.3 miles long.  Having been to Luray Caverns, I was expecting something similar. This was so much more. I felt as if I were in nature’s Sistine Chapel. Steve and I had carried our tripods with us. We knew that photos would require long exposures due to the dim lighting. That would be longer than you can hold steady by hand. We were taking photos at every turn until a ranger told us that the caverns would be closing in an hour and that we wouldn’t be able to walk the whole course even without taking pictures. That’s when we decided we’d return tomorrow instead of kayaking. We took what is referred to as the shortcut back to the elevators. We looked at some of the exhibits and then watched the movie about caves in the national parks. There are over 100 caves in this park. Most are not open to the public. One of them, Lechuguilla Cave is over 112 miles long and still being explored. Others like Slaughter Canyon Cave and Spyder Cave can be accessed by Ranger led tours. We’d watched a group return from a trip to the lowest point in Carlsbad Caverns at 846 feet. They had to ascend using knotted ropes and “walk” up the face of a rock wall.

The Lion's Tail

Chari Enters the Big Room with Ease

Stalagtite Meets Stalagmite

 

Say Ahhhh!

Nature's Artistry

View of the Big Room

 

Looking Through the Keyhole

 

Then we walked down to the amphitheater to see the Bat Flight program. The natural entrance to the cave is home to between 300,000-500,000 Mexican (aka Brazilian) Free Tail bats. The bats are 1.5 oz. with a 12” wing span. They live 1/2 mile into the cave.  Each night they swarm out and search for insects (mostly moths…sm). They live here from March thru October. They are due to migrate anytime so the ranger didn’t know for sure if we’d see them or not. In the summer the flight time is very predictable. At this time of year it varies about an hour. We waited for about an hour from the 5:30P start time. We watched cave swallows return for roosting. The ranger who led the program was excellent. He was able to keep us interested with spontaneous questions and answers. Then the bats made their appearance. They start at the mouth of the cave and circle. As they exit the cave they circle a little farther and a little faster for three to four levels. Then they fly south or southeast in an S shape line. The bats keep coming, and coming and coming. You can hear the sound of their wings. This goes on for about 2 hours. We stayed about 30 minutes and saw thousands of bats go by. Steve said this was a National Geographic moment for him. They do not allow any photos to be taken so you’ll just have to come see it for yourself.

Opal was very glad to see us. She does well by herself for 8-9 hours in the trailer. She’s become a great travel dog.

Nature's Sistine Chapel

OCTOBER 21, 2010

Chari mentioned that I said that seeing the bats had been a National Geographic moment.  I’ve had a few of them in my life… one was at the Bay of Fundy, being out on a small boat (twelve passengers) on a whale watch.  We came up on a pod of Right Whales, about five or six if I remember correctly, out of less than four hundred left in the world, and were close enough to them that when they spouted, I actually got wet.  Another time was in the Gulf of Maine, also on a whale watch cruise, when we didn’t see any whales to speak of, but found ourselves in the middle of a birthing colony of dolphins.  There were mothers and babies as far as the horizon in every direction… the moms being about ten or twelve feet in length and the babies about two, swimming as if they were still tied together by an umbilical cord.  It was a sight to remember.  Another National Geographic moment was at Rocky Mountain National Park, where I came up on a field where there was a bull elk at either end.  I stopped the car and got out, setting my camera on a tripod and waited.  They tentatively approached each other (this was the rutting season) and when they got close, one gave the other a poke with his antlers.  The favor was returned, and before long, they were locked together in an all-out battle.  I was on the fifty yard line, and couldn’t believe it.  Last night, watching thousands upon thousands of bats emerging from the cave, and flying up into the sky against an almost full moon was again, one of those moments.  Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that a person can be so lucky as to see these wonders of nature.

Today, as Chari said, we figured we’d go back to Carlsbad.  The original plan was to get the paddles wet, but frankly, I was just as happy to have something else to do.  The landscape here is kind of flat desert, and kayaking in a lake surrounded by a whole lot of nothing isn’t my idea of having a lot of fun.  Especially after kayaking in places like Lake Powell, which had to have been one of my all-time favorite paddles.  So, I was happy to go back to the caverns.

Last night when we went to bed, there was a lot of thunder and lightning in the not-so-far distance.  It gradually got closer, and within an hour, it was right overhead.  Being in a trailer in a rainstorm is kind of like being inside a drum.  I love the sound of the thunder and the rain, but Opal wasn’t very happy.  She likes to pretend she’s a big brave dog, but in a situation like this, she huddles up into a corner and tries to hide.  I called her up onto the bed, and naturally, she laid down right in the middle, on top of the blankets, so I was left half bare-assed.  As soon as the storm passed, I kicked her off the bed, which she didn’t like too much.

But by morning, I was forgiven, and after a light breakfast, we drove back to the Caverns.  When we got there, we hurriedly walked back to the point where we had reached yesterday, which was about a third of the way through. 

It’s very hard to describe these caverns.  I’ve been to a few other caverns in my life… Howe Caverns in New York, Luray Caverns in Virginia…  and they were beautiful.  But compare them to a beautiful river gorge.  Then take Carlsbad Caverns…  using the same analogy, Carlsbad compares to the Grand Canyon.   It is just beyond description.

Needless to say, we were taking a lot of pictures.  After a while, Chari’s tripod broke…  the handle used for repositioning the camera snapped, so she wasn’t able to take any more long-time exposed pictures.  She had to make do with hand-holding the camera and using the flash.  I had been taking all long-time exposed pictures, and a little after that, found that doing so ate up my battery time, and I wasn’t able to take any pictures at all.  So, while between us, we’ve got a whole lot of pictures from the first two-thirds of the walk through, there aren’t too many of the last third. 

I guess we’ll just have to come back!

We stopped in town on the way back home to get the oil changed (for the second time this trip) in the car, and to do a little grocery shopping.  Then it was back to the trailer, where I took Opal out for a run while Chari got supper (chicken wings and rice) started.

Another wonderful day.
OCTOBER 22, 2010

Moving day again. We have a 5-6 hour ride ahead of us to Big Spring, Texas. Steve really wanted to see the UFO Museum in Roswell, NM so we drove north for 60 miles and were able to park the trailer on the street next to the museum. The story about a UFO crash with alien bodies recovered and the subsequent coverup by the US government has been kept alive for over 50 years. The museum has numerous clippings and personal accounts on display. Now, I do think there probably is other intelligent life but did they visit? Steve says he’s not sure what but something did happen. One of the most interesting exhibits to me was the interpretation of petroglyphs as probable aliens. Think of the Nazca Lines in Peru. We’d planned to spend an hour. By the time we saw the museum and had a green chile cheeseburger for lunch and bought gas we had lost 3 hours. Now we’d be getting to our destination after dark.

Driving through southeastern New Mexico is flat, featureless and straight. West Texas was more of the same but with cotton fields as far as you could see. We wondered why we hadn’t seen any cotton in NM. We had just passed through a town when I looked at the miles left on the digital display. It was under 50 miles to empty. The next town was 26 miles away. When you’re towing a trailer the ‘miles’ get used up fast. We made it to Lamesa with 6 miles of gas left. Out here we need to remember to gas up whenever you can. It’s a long way between towns. We finally got to the RV park about 8PM. It’s a very nice park called Texas RV Park and another Good Sam and AAA approved park.

We’ll be taking a two day break from the blog while we visit with family. To continue please see our Texas episode.

Posted in Narrative, nature, New Mexico, photography | Leave a comment

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 21 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 414 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 1gb. That’s about 1 pictures per day.

The busiest day of the year was September 18th with 61 views. The most popular post that day was THE RETIREMENT TRIP BEGINS.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were mail.yahoo.com, mail.aol.com, mariaozawa2u.blogspot.com, tips-tools-tutorials.com, and ohamerica.us.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for http://www.vagabonpress.wordpress.com, monument valley national park, utah plants, navajo national monument, and john wayne.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

THE RETIREMENT TRIP BEGINS August 2010
4 comments

2

TENNESSEE and MISSISSIPPI July 2010

3

Getting Started June 2010
9 comments

4

Kansas (Finally!) September 2010

5

Franklin, NC and Great Smoky Mountain NP August 2010
1 comment

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Colorado – Part 2

 

 

 

Park Point at Mesa Verde NP

Mesa Verde National Park

OCTOBER 11, 2010

 

I’m continuing from the Utah – Monument Valley entry. After settling in at the RV park in Mancos, Colorado we headed over to Mesa Verde. It was about 5:30PM and the Visitors Center was closed. The ranger at the gate gave us some general information on the ranger led tours to the ruins. There are a few sites that you can do self-guided tours. The best sites are done on ranger led tours only. We were told that the office opens at 8AM for ticket sales and that we should be there a bit ahead to ensure getting what we wanted when we wanted it.

Then we decided to take a drive through the park. The gate is at the foot of the mesa. You climb rapidly 2,000’ on a curving road. The Visitors Center is 15 miles from the gate. We checked out the campground for future stays. We couldn’t stay there this time as it was closing for the season the next day. Then we drove to Park Point which is the highest point in the park at 8572’. This gave us a wonderful view of Montezuma Valley below. This is also a favorite stargazing spot. There is a photo there taken by a visitor of the Milky Way and a meteorite that is fabulous.

It was late and we decided to drive back to Cortez, CO for dinner. We chose a restaurant with a micro brewery. On the way home we stopped for gas and a few things at the grocery. Here’s a tip for your next trip. City Market is a large chain in Colorado. We’d been in the store in Grand Junction but hadn’t gotten their customer card. This time when we checked out the clerk asked for the card. When we said we were from NC she said if you have cards from there we can scan them and see if they work. Steve handed over his cards and three of our cards (Harris Teeter, Bi-lo and Bloom) all worked. I never would have thought of that. From now on when I travel I’ll ask them to scan my cards.

We set the alarm for the second day in a row so we’d be up and in the park by 8A.

 

OCTOBER 12, 2010

 Well, we almost made it by 8AM. We were in line by 8:15AM. We purchased tickets for the Cliff Palace tour at 9:30 AM and Balcony House at 11AM. After buying our lapel pin, we headed over to the meeting spot for the first tour.

Ranger Clyde

Cliff Palace #1

Cliff Palace #2

Cliff Palace #3

Cliff Palace #4

 

Our ranger was a Navajo named Clyde. He’s a natural at public speaking and has a way of connecting with people of all ages. If you visit Mesa Verde ask if he’s doing tours. We both enjoyed him tremendously. He was very knowledgeable and kept the tour moving but he took time to relate some of the spiritual aspects of the Ancestral Puebloans lifestyle and compare it to today’s Native Americans and us as well. Cliff Palace is the largest of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde with 151 rooms. The cliff dwellings were used for a short time from 1100 – 1300 A.D. The Ancestral Puebloans had been in the area first as hunter-gatherers, then basket makers since 200 A.D. The reason they moved from the top of the mesas to the cliffs is unknown. Several theories are need for more crop space, to be closer to water sources or the need to protect themselves. The entire region was vacated during the last half of the 1300s due to severe drought and a cooling climate.

Puebloan Masonry

Looking Down at a Kiva

They were master masons and the construction of the dwellings shows this 800 years later. How many of our homes will be standing in 800 years?  Mesa Verde was never lost. Native people always knew it was here. In 1886 two cowboys rediscovered it. Besides being a National Park, Mesa Verde is also a World Heritage Site. Direct lineage from the cliff dwellers is known in the Zuni, Hopi and other tribes along

Beams Supported Second Story Construction

the southern southwest and Rio Grande. To do the tour you walk down 100 stone steps. To exit you climb a short ladder and go back up the steps.

Balcony House

We were late getting out of the Cliff Palace tour and just made it the 2 miles to the next tour meeting place. The Balcony House tour is listed as the most strenuous of the tours in the park.

Balcony House Windows

The "Front Door" to Balcony House

Chari Climbs On Up

It’s called Balcony House because it can only be accessed by a ladder … a 32’ ladder! As I stood at the bottom I silently hoped I could make it all right. I found the rungs were spaced very comfortably and climbed up without any difficulty. This time we had a female ranger who also was very good but Clyde had spoiled us. To exit Balcony House you must crawl through a 12’ tunnel. I fit just fine. Steve had to work a bit to fit in. (It was my shoulders that were tight… not my belly!   sm) Then up an 8’ ladder, climb out on a rock with “steps” cut in the stone for 10’, up about 20 steps cut in the hillside with a chain on one side and a flimsy wire fence on the other. I just didn’t look down. There was one more ladder and back on top. I felt very good that I’d made it without difficulty.

The "Back Door" to Balcony House

...And Up the Ladder, Then Over the Rocks

All of this exercise had given us an appetite. We stopped at the Spruce Tree cafeteria before going to the Museum. On recommendation of someone on our tour we tried a Navajo taco. It’s a taco salad on Fry bread. They had raved about fry bread they’d eaten at Monument Valley. Neither Steve or I were too crazy about it. We went to the museum and watched a 25 minute movie then spent another half hour looking at exhibits. This is one of the best museums I’ve seen at a National Park.

Back to the trailer to pick up Opal. Since we’d enjoyed other National Forests, we set off for a drive in the San Juan National Forest. There was a mountain we’d seen from a distance that still had snow on the North side. We followed a road that was headed toward the mountain. We stopped several times to take pictures. Finally we came to an overlook with a great view of the mountain. Until now we didn’t know what mountain this was. We learned this was Hesperus Mountain. The Din’e (that’s what the Navajo call themselves) believe that when the first man and woman came up from the underworld they brought with them 4 mountains. The mountains were placed at the 4 directions and Mt. Hesperus was placed at the North. We also found some beautiful RV sites for boondocking.

Hesperus Mountain

There’s a lot more to do in this area than we have time for on this trip. Again we say, “Next time …”

OCTOBER 13, 2010

 

A leisurely morning and time to pack up and head for Arboles, CO. On the way we passed through Durango, CO. This is an area I want to spend some time in on another trip. We stopped at a shopping center so Steve could buy some new jeans. He’s lost so much weight that his old jeans were really sagging. I’d kidded him about being my “Homeboy”. He didn’t know what that meant. When I explained he wasted no time in getting some new clothes.

On the road, we passed by a pole barn loaded with hay for winter feeding the horses.  Just making silly idle conversation, I said, “Gee… someone stole that guy’s walls.”  Without missing a beat, Chari replied, “I guess he’ll have to go to WalMart.”  (Wall Mart, get it?)

When I was researching this trip, I found Navajo State Park. Navajo Lake is on a tributary of the Colorado River. It is called Colorado’s answer to Lake Powell. The lake crosses the border with New Mexico. Only 25% of the lake is in Colorado and 75% is in New Mexico. The drive there was only 1.5 hours. The afternoon was sunny and in the high 60’s. We took off for the National Forest to collect firewood for a campfire. Opal got some run time as well. We had to have the kayaks inspected for zebra mussels and get a launch permit. Apparently, Lake Powell has just been given a “clean” lake rating after being clear of infestation for three years. That explains why they were so thorough on the inspections.

The temperature really dropped as the sun set. We were sitting outside with the campfire. I had put on my fleece pants and jacket. Steve was just wearing a flannel shirt. I was a bit chilly but didn’t want to be the one to say “Let’s go in.” Steve finally said “I’m freezing.” I agreed.

 

OCTOBER 14, 2010

No alarm today. A very leisurely morning. Our schedule has been packed for the last 5 weeks. It was time for a day just to unwind. I have had a special coffee cup for about 10 years. I remember years ago when my sister-in-law Ann was looking for the Ultimate Picnic Basket. This was the Ultimate Coffee Cup. This morning as Steve was hanging it back on the hook disaster struck. The handle separated from the cup. He made a fantastic save. If the handle was going to separate, it’s a good thing it wasn’t full of hot coffee. So now in our remaining time we’ll add the search for a replacement Ultimate Coffee Cup. The criteria are: must have a thumb rest, must be able to slide my whole hand in the handle and grasp the cup and it must have a thin lip that allows you to sip not gulp.

It was in the low 40s and windy this morning. We’d planned to kayak but decided that this afternoon would be better. We drove down to the New Mexico side of the lake and got some information on that Navajo Lake State Park. The park on the Colorado side is very nice. Our full hookup site is level and has a shade roof over the picnic table. Being mid week and off season there are only 5 RVs here and 2 of them belong to the boat inspectors who are here for the season. On the way back from NM we took a backroad trying to go to a place called Simon Canyon Natural Area. We never did get there. The road went through gas and oil drilling areas. To be honest, it was rather dull countryside. We didn’t see anything green until we were back in Colorado.

By then it was 1PM and the temperature was in the high 60’s. We put the kayaks in at the marina and paddled for about 2 hours. We saw several western Grebes on the lake. We tried to quietly paddle close to take a pic. Every time I’d get within 60‘ they’d dive and swim away.  I always feel so relaxed after I paddle. This is a beautiful lake in the off season. We only saw one other boat. Steve’s still trying to come up with a good way to get his kayak on snuggly and be able to open the rear door fully. We spent some time modifying that after the paddle. We took a walk in a wildlife viewing area before dinner. We didn’t see anything. I think they were hiding behind the trees just waiting for us to leave.

On to Antonito, CO tomorrow where we’ll be for four nights.

OCTOBER 15, 2010

This won’t be a long entry, today was basically a traveling day, and probably for the first time on the entire trip, we took nary a photo.  Not that we didn’t have lot’s of things to shoot, but we were pulling the trailer, and just decided to enjoy the views as we went along.

 We left the Navajo Lake area late in the morning, after having a leisurely breakfast.  We had a couple of hours to drive, so there wasn’t any particular hurry to leave.  We headed east on US160, then hit US 84, which took us down into New Mexico, then took NM 17, which turned into CO 17 to Fox Creek, Colorado, and the Conejos River Campground.  The entire drive was a drive we’d have taken just to enjoy the views, even if we weren’t heading from point “A” to point “B”.  First, we were driving through the foothills of the taller mountains that we hit later.  In the lowlands, in Colorado, lowlands means in the 5000 to 6000 foot range, there were a lot of Gambrel Oaks.  These are relatively short oaks, maybe fifteen to twenty feet tall tops… most were shorter.  The Oaks in the east generally turn a kind of maroon color in the fall, and a few of these did, but most were kind of halfway between green and yellow.  Also in the lowlands, were a lot of cottonwoods, and these also have a yellow color.  Neither of them is as bright a yellow as the aspens, but with the sun shining on them, the drive was very enjoyable.  We could see some higher peaks in the distance, and hoped we’d be driving through them, because the mountains were covered with aspens.

We stopped at Pagosa Springs, while still in Colorado, for some groceries.  While Chari was in the store, I waited in the car with Opal, and without running the engine, left the ignition key in the “on” position, to check some things out on the GPS.  A half hour or so later, Chari came out, and when I turned the key, nothing happened.  That’s when it occurred to me that the trailer was hooked up.  When towing, the trailer battery gets charged from the car, and without the engine running, it was draining the car battery.

 

Lesson learned.

 

Chari wanted to call AAA, but I had jumpers handy, and waved down a couple of guys in a pick-up who were happy to give us a jump.

 

Anyway, shortly after that, we turned onto US 84 which took us into New Mexico, then at  Chama, we picked up NM 17.  That’s when the ride really got beautiful.  We climbed up and up, eventually hitting 10,300 feet.  We were driving through forests of pine and spruce, and into groves of aspens that were at their absolute peak of autumn gold.  The green of the pines, the blue of the spruce, and the gold and sometimes orange of the aspens was breathtaking.  Even Opal had her head out the window taking in the view!

 

And we never stopped or even slowed down to take a picture.

 

We made it to Fox Creek, back in Colorado, by mid-afternoon, and pulled into Conejos River Campground, which is a Good Sam approved trailer park.  The owners are very friendly, and when we mentioned that we planned to do our laundry after supper, they told us they’d leave the door unlocked for us… they usually lock up at 6:30.

 

The RV park borders Rio Grande National Forest, and about a hundred feet from the trailer, we can go through a gate to get into it, which is great, because we can let Opal off-leash there.  She loves it.  And just a short walk down the hill is the Conejos River, supposedly one of the better trout fishing streams in Colorado, and very scenic.

 

Actually, one of the reasons we didn’t stop for pictures on the drive (besides the fact that stopping on mountain roads whilst pulling a trailer isn’t the best of ideas) was because we’ll be in this area for three days.  Tomorrow, we’re planning a trip on the Cumbres – Toltec Scenic Railroad, which will take us back over the mountains we crossed to get here.  We’ll have lot’s of opportunity to take pictures from the train.  While here, we’re also planning on going to Great Sand Dunes National Park, about an hour and a half drive from here.  And the third day is up for grabs.  We may just get in the car and go back into the mountains and find some back roads to drive.  So there will be lots of photos to come.

 

We put some sweet potatoes in the MW to bake, and a ham steak on the grill for supper, then hit the sack early.  Big day tomorrow.

 

OCTOBER 16, 2010

When I was planning the trip, I went through all of my folders for ideas of what to do. I had cut out an article on the Cumbres-Toltec Railroad several years ago. This is the highest and longest narrow gauge scenic railroad in the USA. It runs from Antonito, CO to Chama, NM which is 64 miles. When we called for reservations we found out that we could just do a round trip halfway to Osier, CO because of a bridge being out from a forest fire. This would be a 6-7 hour ride and fine with us. This was the last weekend the train was running for this season. It runs from mid-May to mid-October. The train leaves at 10AM. We arrived at 9:35 which gave us time to pose for some photos by the train. It is a Registered National Historic site and a National Civil Engineering Landmark. If there is a next time, we’ll do the route coming from Chama, NM.

Cumbres-Toltec Steam Engine

She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain...

A bit of history on this line. The railroad as it exists today is a remnant of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway. Originally the railroad was built to service the mining operations in southern Colorado. This meant laying track through the Toltec Gorge at 10,015 feet. Later a passenger service was added. Economic changes and the Great Depression led to a slow decline in use of the railroad. Most of the narrow gauge railroads were abandoned by the 1950’s. This line continued to serve the gas and oil fields into the 1960’s. The Rio Grande wanted to abandon the line in 1967. Fortunately a joint venture between Colorado and New Mexico created the scenic railway. It began service in 1970.

Along the Toltec Gorge

This year marks the 40th anniversary.

Our Railroad Car

We were in car 13 seats 3&4. There are four coach cars, a concession car, an open view car and two upgraded view cars and caboose. The engine is a coal fired steam engine. We found out that the cars are replicas that were built in the 1980s. The route we took went across the CO/MN line 10 times.

 At Osier which is a preserved station we were served lunch as part of the ticket price. Steve chose a turkey dinner and I had meatloaf. Both were very tasty and ample portions. The mountainous countryside and the aspens as Steve described yesterday were beautiful. We were lucky this year. They are having an Indian Summer. Normally by this time, the aspens have lost their leaves and the first snow has fallen.

As I’ve mentioned before, a trip is wonderful on its own but the people you meet make it even better. Today was no exception. The couple seated in front of us was from Mt. Airy, NC. They were also touring some of the National Parks and we exchanged information. They were going on to Santa Fe and Albequerque. I was able to tell them about the walking tour in Santa Fe and Sandia Peak Tramway. The lady behind us was with her seven year old daughter. She found out her camera battery was dead. We offered to take their picture and send them any of our photos that turn out well. She’s a professor of political science at Alamossa Junior College. She has just applied for a Fullbright scholarship to do some study in Greece.

Then while on the open car on the return trip we had a conversation with a man from Australia who was touring in an RV with two of his friends for a month. We started talking about photography and he shared some photos with us of a trip he took to northern Australia last year. Here’s your trivia for today: Did you know that Australia has more wild camels than any of the middle eastern countries? They were brought to Australia years ago by Afghan merchants and turned loose or escaped. He had some pictures of them.

We got back to the trailer about 5PM. Opal was very happy to see us. We all went for a long walk in the woods. She spotted a herd of mule deer but didn’t chase them. Even though we weren’t very active today, I feel ready to turn in.

OCTOBER 17, 2010

Before I begin relating the events of today I want to say that this is the second anniversary of the day Steve and I met again after 40 years. The day that changed both of our lives. We’d talked about going out to dinner but since we returned to the trailer at 8:30 PM, we just had leftovers warmed in the microwave. I guess you call that being flexible! We’re postponing our celebration dinner until we’re in Carlsbad.

OK, now on to today’s events. The newest National Park is Great Sand Dunes NP and Preserve just north of Alamosa, CO. That is 1.5 hours from where we are staying. It had been a National Monument previously. We learned that a National Monument can be established by Presidential Decree but a National Park is created by an act of Congress. The term Preserve means that it was formerly under another agency (in this case the Forest Service) and that hunting and other similar activities are allowed. Sometimes this is done (for example in Alaska) because native people have used the area for food for centuries. Eventually the hunting will be phased out here as there are mountain lions and bears to keep the deer population controlled.

Cottonwoods and Sand Dunes

The Visitors Center has a good orientation movie and exhibits. Dogs are allowed in the park on leash. Opal loves to play in sand and had a great time. The sand dunes cover 30 miles and reach as high as 750 feet. There is an area that is open to climbing, sledding, snowboarding and in Spring when snow melt lakes form even swimming well more like wading). Other areas of the park include wetlands, alpine highlands and grasslands. There are many hiking trails. The only road to the more distant dunes is drivable by 2 wheel vehicles for 1 mile to a place called Point of No Return. After that only 4 wheel vehicles with low gear are recommended. After that point the sand gets very deep. We drove to the Point and had lunch. Then we walked down the road to see if our car could handle it. Steve very quickly said no way. We walked about 2/3 of a mile and took photos of pristine dunes without human footprints. Then we sat on a hill and enjoyed the solitude for about an hour. We were waiting for the sun to set. It was getting chilly so we walked back to the car. We found a place to wait for sunset. The clouds were quite heavy so the sunset was disappointing. We did see several mule deer coming out to eat at dusk. There is a lot of wildlife in the area and I think it’s a place we could return to many times and see different things each time.

Fall Color at Sand Dunes NP

And More Color

One more day in this area. We plan on a scenic drive tomorrow down into northern New Mexico.

OCTOBER 18, 2010

Today’s entry will be split between this section and New Mexico. We set out on a scenic drive beginning in Antonito, CO where we stopped to see the oldest church in Colorado. The original church was a frame structure built in the early 1800s. The existing building is 100 years old. The front door was added to my collection of old doors and windows. Heading eastward, we drove through Manassa, CO whose claim to fame is as the birthplace of Jack Dempsey. Steve tells me he was called the Manassa Mauler. Until now he didn’t know why. The Jack Dempsey museum was closed. We took photos of the statue.

Continued on the New Mexico entry.

Posted in Colorado, History, photography, Travel USA | Leave a comment

Utah – Monument Valley

OCTOBER 9, 2010

We loaded up and hit the road by mid-morning. Our drive along Utah 98 to Utah 160 was expected to take about 3 hours. First we had one more stop near Page. We went to the Gooseneck overlook off US 89 for an often photographed spot where the Colorado River makes a 270 degree loop in a canyon more than 1000’ below. It’s a .75 mile hike to get there and we were carrying cameras and tripods. The view is worth it though.

 

Colorado River Horseshoe Bend

 

The return trip is all uphill and I swear the tripod gained 20 pounds by the time I got to the car.

As we were driving to Monument Valley, we saw a sign for Navajo National Monument. It was nine miles to the north so we turned off. It’s a small park dedicated to preserving one of the best ancestral pueblos in Arizona called Betakin. We walked about a mile to an overlook where we could see the ruins in the distance. They do hikes up to the ruins in the morning. It’s 5 miles round trip. Maybe I’ll be in shape to handle those hills by the time we come back this way.

We’re staying at an RV park called Gouldings and it’s the only game in town so it’s booked solid all the time. It has a lot of amenities and I’d like to have more time here to take advantage of them.

OCTOBER 10, 2010

 

Mexican Hat

 

 

We set the alarm this AM as we have a very full day planned. First we drove to Valley of the Gods (not to be confused with Garden of the Gods in Colorado). It’s 10 miles northeast of Mexican Hat, Utah. We had to stop for the required picture of Mexican Hat rock. Steve had done this drive when he was in Monument Valley in 2003. He wasn’t sure if after being in Utah for three weeks and seeing all the rock formations whether he’d be as impressed as he was the first time. He was. So was I. We had fun naming rocks such as Kissing cousins, Abbott and Costello, Father Knows Best, and Mrs. Butterworth. The drive is 17 miles.

 

Desert Stream at Valley of the Gods

 

 

Valley of the Gods Scenic Drive

 

 

Mrs. Butterworth

 

 

The Chinese Emperor

 

 

2001 A Space Odyessy

 

 

Kissing Cousins

 

The couple we met from Greensboro had told us about a scenic drive near Valley of the Gods on Utah 261 called the Moki Dugway. We had to check this out. It’s a winding gravel road with sharp turns and a sheer drop to Valley of the Gods. It gives you a panoramic view of the valley. It’s only 4 miles long but we stopped every half mile or so to enjoy the view. There’s a big sign as you enter warning people not to take RVs, buses or trailers on this. Just as we’d gotten to the top, we saw a large fifth wheel with a trailer in tow starting down. We were sure he’d get stuck or crash but apparently he made it all right.

 

View from the Moki Dugway of Valley of the Gods

 

 

Scene from the Moki Dugway

 

 

Desert Plants on Moki Dugway

 

 

The Moki Dugway

 

Then we turned left onto a road to Muley Point. This point overlooks the Colorado River canyon. The area is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It overlooks the Colorado River at a point where there are double goosenecks. We spent about an hour there enjoying the view and of course taking pictures. But we wanted to get to Monument Valley by late afternoon so we retraced our steps back the way we’d come.

 

The Vagabonds at Goosenecks

 

 

The Goosenecks

 

 

Gooseneck on the Colorado

 

 

Canyons at the Goosenecks

 

 

Pothole in Slickrock at Goosenecks Park

 

 

Looking down on The Goosenecks

 

Steve was surprised to see how much things had changed in the six years since he was  at Monument Valley. In 2003 you didn’t have to pay to enter but there were only 5 miles you could drive without a Navajo guide. We’d planned on taking a private tour. Now there is a $10 per person fee to enter but you can drive a 17 mile loop with 11 overlooks. We decided that this would meet our needs and opted not to do the tour. There is also a new Visitors Center with a great gift shop and museum. We started the drive about 5PM. One of the first views is of The Mittens. Then we moved on to the Elephant and The 3 Sisters. Next came John Ford Point. If you are familiar with the John Wayne movies, you’d recognize this view immediately. I think it was in every one of his movies. This is where we picked up a pack of local dogs who chased our car for the next 5 overlooks. I don’t know why they picked on us. Opal was in the car but didn’t even bark until one of them jumped up and almost bit her nose. The road is very rough with ruts, sand and slickrock outcrops. The speed limit says 15mph but I think we were doing under 10mph. When Steve would gun the car to lose them we did at most 20mph. Finally, we left the yippy mongrels behind us.  As the sun was setting the light on the sandstone was fantastic. It was approaching 8PM when we made it to Artists Point. We saw one other car along the way and knew we were one of the last cars on the road. It was a bit confusing to figure which was the way out. If we chose the wrong way, we’d have to drive the whole loop again as it’s one way. We have decided that we’d like to see this area again on a full moon night.  As we left Artist’s Point, and got back onto the road to the park entrance again, our friends the yippy mongrels were there to greet us!  We sped up, as much as possible, and left them behind again.

 

Artists Point at Sunset

 

 

Four Flags Fly at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

 

 

The Mittens

 

 

The Totem Poles

 

 

Sentinel Mesa

 

 

Photographing Monument Valley

 

 

Calling All John Wayne Fans - John Ford Point

 

 

 

Artist's Point Silhouette

 

 

 

Elephant Mesa

 

 

The 3 Sisters Silouhette

 

OCTOBER 11, 2010

Moving day again. But first some chores need to be done. We set the alarm and were down at the laundry when it opened at 7AM. Our packing up and hitching up the car took until 11AM which is checkout time. The attendant came by just as we were pulling out. So far we have gotten on the road by checkout time. If you haven’t vacated by checkout many places will charge you for an additional night.

Today we’re on our way to Mancos, Colorado and Mesa Verde National Park. This is about a 2 hour drive. We followed the same path we’d taken to Valley of the Gods and kept going east. We found ourselves on a scenic byway called Trail of the Ancients. Our plans called for a stop at the Four Corners Monument. This is also on the Navajo Reservation. Again Steve found that things had changed a lot from his previous visit. Then there were native artisans manning the craft booths. This time it had turned very touristy and the quality was run of the mill. There were a few artists whose work stood out and we did buy some gifts from them. I had the expected picture of touching all four states simultaneously taken with Opal.

 

Chari and Opal at Four Corners Monument

 

We pulled into the A&A RV Campground about 4PM. This is located directly across from  the entrance to Mesa Verde NP. We were supposed to be in site #4 but mistakenly pulled into #3. When we realized the problem, Steve was going to move the trailer. As he pulled out he must have begun the turn too soon. We didn’t hear anything but the man next to us said “Hey, you just knocked the heck out of the picnic table.” We checked the trailer and no damage. The wooden box on the back was what hit. Unfortunately the picnic table didn’t fair as well. Being the honest guy he is, Steve let the park owner know and made good on the damages. The fellow next to us said, once he’d hit a water line and everyone in the park knew about it. It looked like Old Faithful! I guess that’s just one more chapter in our “Learning to Fly, Our First Year in an RV” book. This is a very nice park and has AAA and Good Sam ratings. The folks here couldn’t have been nicer.

For more about Mesa Verde, see the Colorado Part 2 entry.

Posted in Narrative, nature, photography, Travel USA, Utah | 1 Comment

Arizona – Grand Canyon and Lake Powell

OCTOBER 4, 2010

Bam! Crash! That’s what woke us up this morning. Then Opal was hurdling herself from the sofa to our bed. It was a loud thunderstorm with lightening and a few minutes later some rain. This is the first really rainy day we’ve had since leaving Charlotte. Not bad for 5 weeks of travel. Today is a travel day for us so it doesn’t really impact our plans. It looked like the storm had passed by so we started the clean up and hitching up procedure. Bam! Crash! A hard rain began to fall. Opal was huddling in a corner. I looked out the window to the horse pasture. When the thunder and lightening hit the horses would buck and run around. Then the rain became mixed with hail. They would turn their backsides to the storm and lower their heads. When the wind changed direction, they would turn all at the same time. By 10AM the storm had passed and we finished packing up.

There was intermittent rain as we headed south to Kanab. We’d seen a photo store yesterday when we drove through town. We stopped to see if I could replace the polarizer I’d lost at Canyonlands. He did have one. Then we started talking to him. He does photo tours of local canyons and interesting areas. We took his contact information. Since we plan to return having a guide and instructor lined up would be great.

We drove to Fredonia, Arizona then turned west for about 10 miles to Pipe Spring National Monument. It is located on the Kaibab Indian Reservation and is a joint venture  between the Kaibab Tribe and the National Park Service. We spent time in the museum and watched a 25 minute film about the history of the area. Originally the ancestral puebloans had settled here. Later the Kaibab Indians of the Paiutes were hunter/gatherers here. Beginning in the late 1840’s the Mormons began settlement of Utah and Arizona including Pipe Spring. Because of the consistent water source, this area was coveted by all. Cultural and legal conflicts developed. The federal government wanted to outlaw polygamy. The Mormons wanted statehood. The Kaibab Indians wanted their ancestral land. Gradually each would have what they desired. Polygamy was outlawed by the church and statehood was granted. Utah was the 45th state. Pipe Spring had been a Mormon tithing ranch. When members of the church couldn’t give money for their 10% tithe they could give cattle or supplies to the ranch. In order to get statehood, the Mormon church sold its economic holdings such as Pipe Spring. The Paiute Indians were given a reservation. Equal shares of water from Pipe Spring were given to each entity. In the museum there were examples of various water containers from the different inhabitants. I really loved seeing the Indian baskets and a wonderful papoose carrier that even had a sun shield. I spoke with a woman at the information desk who is doing a two month volunteer job here. She’s done volunteer jobs twice and enjoys it. I picked up a brochure about being a volunteer in the Parks for future reference. Steve and I also talked to her about a remote area of the Grand Canyon called Toroweep. I’d heard of it. It’s supposed to have spectacular views. The problem is it is accessible only by a 60 mile gravel road and the last 2 miles are over slickrock with sharp edges. To make this drive, you must pack extra water and tires. Steve says even for him this sounds like a drive we won’t be doing. By the time we were finished with the movie, the weather had turned rainy and the temperature had dropped to the mid-fifties. So a tour of the site will wait for another time.

Jacob Lake is our destination and was a 20 mile drive from Pipe Spring. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is much more remote than the South Rim. I’m guessing only about 10% of the visitors ever see this side. There is only one lodge and one developed campground serving this area other than the Grand Canyon Lodge and cabins in the park.. We’re staying there. It is called Kaibab Campground.  It is located about 40 miles north of the park in the Kaibab National Forest. When we arrived I was surprised to see how many other RVs were there at this time of year. Our site is a private one on the outer loop backing to woods.

 

Our First Look At The Grand Canyon

 

We set up, made a fresh pot of coffee for our REI mugs and jumped into the car to get our first look at the Grand Canyon. The temperature had fallen to 45 degrees and it was raining. As we drove toward the park the skies began to clear. The sun came out and I needed my sunglasses. We were getting excited about catching the light at a good time for photos. We drove through Kaibab NF and saw more aspens at peak color. About a quarter of a mile after we entered the park the clouds reappeared. By the time we reached the Visitors Center, rain again. Not to be outdone, we went to the Lodge observation deck and took a few shots. After all, anyone can take photos of the Grand Canyon in the sun!

 

Chari Takes Photos Rain or Shine

 

We even walked down to an overlook but by the time we got there my camera lens was covered with raindrops and the photos were poor. We checked with a ranger about tomorrow’s weather. It looks like a 50/50 chance. The ranger said yesterday it had rained most of the day and cleared for a spectacular sunset. Steve remarked that it sounded like what he heard a lot when he went fishing … “You should have been here yesterday, they were really biting.” Then we bought a Christmas ornament and the CD from Ken Burns “The National Parks – America’s Best Idea”. Here’s some trivia. The Grand Canyon is 10 miles across but it is 203 miles by road to get from the North Rim to the South Rim.

We were cold and wet so a hot bowl of soup and crackers for dinner sounded good. Steve checked on the level of propane as we didn’t want a repeat on running out of gas in the middle of the night. It’s going to get very cold tonight.  I turned on the faucet and no water. Steve checked to see that the source was turned on. No water. Then he removed the hose, filter and anything else he could think that might be blocked. Each trip out into the cold rain. About 20 minutes and ten trips later we still had no water and no idea of what was wrong. Finally, we filled the RV tank and decided to use the pump as if we were boondocking. At least we have water. We’re not sure if we’ll have to do this all the way back home or not.

We’re planning to leave Opal in the trailer and hike a 3 mile rim trail tomorrow. Then we’ll drive to another part of the rim to some overlooks. With the weather being so uncertain, the mule ride will wait until another trip. Pray for good weather!

 

Our Best Day At The Grand Canyon

 

OCTOBER 5, 2010

They tell me that the North Rim of the Grand Canyon gets about ten more inches of rain than the South Rim.  They didn’t tell me that it all falls on October 5…  well, actually, some of it fell on October 4, when we got here, but the rest came down today.

 

North Rim Beauty

 

 

All night, last night, it rained…  sometimes hard, sometimes a little easier, and sometimes there was some lightning and thunder, and sleeping in the trailer was nice.  The sound of the rain on the roof and once in a while a gust of wind, and being nice and cosy inside was very relaxing.  We both slept well, and when we got up around 7:00, it was still raining, but beginning to break up somewhat.  Chari made some huckleberry scones from a mix that we bought at Bryce, and with eggs and bacon, we had a nice relaxing breakfast.  Then, knowing that it would probably be an off-and-on day, sometimes rainy and cold and blustery, we put on a second pot of coffee to fill the thermos and take along with us.  We left Opal in the trailer, and headed out to the Grand Canyon.

With the weather the way it was, we were hoping that during the breaks in the rain, we might have some views, with maybe the sun shining through a hole in the clouds lighting up the canyon below us, with some wisps of fog here and there creeping out from some slot canyons.  We took a turn off the main road and went out to Point Imperial.

And, we saw exactly what we were hoping for!

Almost.

The rain didn’t break, there was no hole in the clouds for the sun to shine through, but there was a single wisp of fog below.

And what a wisp!  It was a mile deep, ten miles wide, and two hundred miles long!

So, we headed on to the next point.  From Point Imperial, we drove to Vista Encantada, where we kept on driving, because the rain was coming down so hard it was pointless to stop.  Eventually, we got to Roosevelt Point, and the sun was coming through a little bit, and we did get a picture or two of the tops of some of the rock formations below us through the fog.  We kept driving toward Cape Royal, where the sounds of the thunder rumbling through the canyon were like a continuous drumroll.

The rain mixed with sleet.

But off in the distance, there was a wisp of blue sky!

 

The Canyon Appears At Last!

 

 

As we turned back from Cape Royal, looking from the road, we actually got a view of the canyon!  We stopped at a wide spot in the road, walked over, and the view was absolutely breathtaking.  Really!

It was all we had been hoping for.  There below us was the canyon in all its glory, with the sun hitting some spots, wisps of fog here and there, and it was beautiful.

We drove back toward the Visitor’s Center, stopping here and there for more views, and naturally, some more pictures.  In some spots the views were spectacular, in others, the rain and fog were moving in again.

Eventually, it started raining steady again, and we headed back to camp.

It might sound like we didn’t have all that good of a time, but really, we did.  We laughed a lot about the weather, and had a lot of fun anyway.  And not everyone gets the chance to shoot the Grand Canyon in stormy weather.

We only planned one day here, knowing that one day is not enough.  We’ll be saving this place for another trip, when we’ll be spending a lot more time, and hopefully doing some hiking and seeing the canyon from the bottom up instead of just the top down.

Tomorrow it’s off to Lake Powell, and maybe getting our paddles wet again.  It’s been a long time.

 

The Vermillion Hills National Monument

 

 

OCTOBER 6, 2010

The wind and rain beating on the roof woke me up about 6AM. I stayed huddled under the covers for another hour. Then staggered to the coffee pot and hit the button. Nothing happened. I checked the connection but nothing worked. Then I looked at the microwave and the panel was dark. I knew then that we had no electricity and the lights were running on battery power. It turned out to be an area wide power outage. We’d thought to bring a percolator but hadn’t bought any ground coffee. So a cup of tea had to suffice. We lingered over breakfast hoping the rain would end. No luck. Steve had to hook up the trailer in the cold, wind and rain. It was 39 degrees.

Our trip to Page, AZ would be about 90 minutes. We stopped for gas at Jacob Lake but they were without power too. The next gas station was 30 miles away. We drove through rain and wind and fog. The day looked like it would be a lost day. At a town (and I use that loosely) called Cliff Dwellers, we stopped for gas. While there Steve learned there was a tornado watch in effect. Yesterday 2 tornados had touched down about 20 miles away. Steve didn’t want to be on the open road in those conditions, especially with a trailer. So we drove as fast as weather and road conditions would allow. The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument looked like it would have been beautiful, if we could have seen it. We noticed that many of the dry washes were full of “blood red” water and some even had waterfalls. No photos today! We made it to Page and found the Lake Powell Campground without difficulty. We waited inside the trailer for 20 minutes hoping it would clear. Steve donned his rain gear and went out to set up the trailer. It was cold and nasty. I had a cup of hot coffee for him when he was done. Within an hour the rain stopped and the sun began to peek through the clouds.

 

A Wash After The Rain In The Vermillion Hills

 

We quickly gathered up our things and got into the car. We hoped we might still see the washes when they were full. We drove back about 20 miles the way we’d come down US 89 to 89A. The Vermillion Cliffs were magnificent as they dropped straight down with clouds and fog whirling around them. We stopped for several pics. Once while walking across what seemed to be solid ground we both wound up half submerged in mud. We looked like 2 kids who just couldn’t keep themselves out of a mud puddle. The washes had a little water in them but nothing spectacular. It must be all or nothing. Then we saw a sign for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and turned in.

 

A Rainbow At Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

 

This area along the Colorado is also known as Marble Canyon. The Glen Canyon used to be 200 miles long. When Lake Powell was created in 1963, most of the canyon was submerged. The National Recreation Area protects the remaining 15 miles. Here the Vermillion Cliffs are on one side and the Colorado River making a canyon on the other. With the unsettled sky and fog it was amazing. As the afternoon progressed, the weather got better. We visited an area called Lees Ferry where a cable ferry had operated from 1880-1928. There were some old buildings and relics of the ferry and gold mining days. The Paria River merges with the Colorado River here. We noticed that the Paria carried a greenish silt while the Colorado carried reddish silt. For a mile or so after the confluence you could see the two colors of water running together. Just as we were getting ready to leave the GCRA a rainbow appeared over the river. About a dozen pictures later, it was disappearing and we left too. Then we went to the Navajo Bridge which has a Visitors Center and a pedestrian walkway for viewing the river. The land adjacent to the GCRA is the Navajo Reservation. Part of the walkway is under the NPS and part under the Navajo Tribal Council. We were looking at the river when someone pointed out to us that there were three California Condors on the rocks. We ran to the car for our big telephoto lenses. These birds really are ugly. I was fascinated every time they unfurled their wings. I saw one bird finishing a meal he’d stowed away earlier. It was an unexpected thrill to see them.

 

A California Condor Drying Its Wings

 

On the way home we stocked up on groceries. It’s so tempting to buy the way you would at home. You have to keep in mind the limited storage space.

Here’s hoping the weather tomorrow is suitable for kayaking. We also want to get over to the famous Horseshoe Bend Overlook.

OCTOBER 7, 2010

 

Glen Canyon Dam

 

 

Ah, sun today! We started out with the idea that we’d do some sightseeing this morning and go kayaking this afternoon. We went to the Glen Canyon Recreation Area Visitors Center and looked at the exhibits about the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam and some history of the area. We spoke with a Ranger about kayaking put-ins and areas to see. She suggested Antelope Canyon which is nearby or two places uplake. She said there was a 30% chance of thunderstorms this afternoon and recommended we wait until tomorrow. We followed her advice.

 

Generators 500 Feet Below The Dam

 

This gave us time to sign up for the dam tour at 12:30P. We had time to give Opal a run along the river before taking her back to the trailer. The Glen Canyon Dam tour is about 45 minutes long and takes you down into the bottom of the dam which is over 500’ from the top. The guide was very knowledgeable and related many facts about the dam which (I’m sure you’re relieved to hear) I can’t recall. It is the second largest concrete arch dam, next to Hoover Dam and the fourth highest. It is the widest dam. There is enough concrete in the dam to pave a four lane highway from Phoenix to Chicago. The town of Page was created to house construction workers beginning in 1956 as they plotted the exact location and began blasting. The dam itself was constructed from 1960-1963. Then the power plant was built from 1963-1966. I’d recommend the tour if you’re in this area.

 

Bridge Across The Colorado At The Dam

 

From the dam we went to the John Wesley Powell Museum. I’d heard of him but did not know much other than that he was responsible for the exploration of the Grand Canyon. Steve bought a book about his first trip on the Colorado in 1869 while we were at Grand Canyon. He’s read a few paragraphs to me. The fact that Powell and his party came through alive is amazing. If there ever was a more unlikely person to shoot the Colorado River rapids than this one armed, slightly built, geology professor in a wooden boat, I can’t think of one. There is a movie called “Ten Who Dared” that tells the story of Powell’s expedition. When Powell went through the Grand Canyon rapids the flow was estimated to be 45,000 to 90,000 CFS. Now when the flow gets that strong the NPS closes down the canyon to all rafting. His wife must have been unique in her own right. She was the first woman to climb Pikes Peak. Her name was Emma Dean. That’s what Powell named his boat. Maybe her thoughts and prayers were what got him through safely. There were also paleontological exhibits and an interesting display about western authors, photographers and adventures. One I hadn’t heard of before was Edwin Ruess. I’d like to read more about him. There was also a display of western artists and authors. We learned who Maynard Dixon was. When we were in the Zion area, we saw a sign for the Maynard Dixon House and Museum. We didn’t have a clue who he was. Now we know that he was a painter. Next time we’re in the area we’ll go to the museum.

I know it’s become a bit of a joke about our menus but I have to brag a bit about Steve’s delicious Chorizo and chicken enchiladas we had for dinner. Then Betty Crocker (or was it Duncan Hines) and I whipped up fudge brownies for a brownie sundae. While I waited for them to cook, I worked on pictures for our long overdue Capitol Reef blog.

OCTOBER 8, 2010

 

Chari and Steve Kayak Lake Powell

 

 

A cloudless blue sky and sun with temperatures in the high 60’s today. A perfect day for kayaking. We were out on the water at Antelope Point by 10:30. When you enter the Glen Canyon Recreation Area they ask whether your boat has been in the water in the last 30 days. Ours hadn’t so they issued us a Mussel Free Certificate that we had to display on the dashboard. This is to prevent the introduction of Zebra or Quaggi mussels. The certificate is good for 7 days. I’m not sure what they do if your boat has been somewhere else within 30 days. Steve says they might make you steam clean it. We got our certificate yesterday when we came by to check on the ramp. Today as we entered they rechecked our certificate and then a NPS employee was at the ramp double checking certificates.

 

Canyon Reflection On Lake Powell

 

 

Canyon Entrance

 

We paddled around to the left of the ramp about a mile and then another 1.5 miles into Antelope Canyon. After 3 weeks in Utah and Arizona you begin to think you’ve seen everything possible to do with rocks. We were fascinated with the canyon as it rose 80’ above us. The water in the lake was 400’ deep and in the canyon about 75’ deep. At the mouth the canyon was 60-80’ wide and narrowed to 40’ at the end. We paddled until the water became very muddy with recent rain silt. I’m not sure how much further the canyon goes. We met 3 boats and 1 other kayak all morning. There were times you could sit still and hear absolutely nothing. After the boats came through the water was a little choppy. I can see where in the prime season with many boats that the water could get quite rough. OK fellow kayakers, you need to put this paddle on your life list. In all We paddled between 4-5 miles. While we were loading the boats, Steve pulled a bit too hard and one of the side mount kayak carriers broke. So he had to put the boat flat on the roof rack. This was OK but now we could only open the rear hatch halfway. Later he found two pieces of lumber on the side of the road which he has used to lift the boat up so we can open the door almost all the way.

 

Upper Antelope Canyon #1

 

A quick change of clothes and off we went to do a walking tour of the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon. We found out that they didn’t take credit cards. We had to merge funds to come up with the cash. The 2 o’clock tour was just ready to leave but they waited for us to grab our cameras and hop on. It is 3.5 miles into the canyon and you can only go in with a Navajo guide.

 

Upper Antelope Canyon #2

 

 

Upper Antelope Canyon #3

 

The tour truck bounced along (deja vu Botswana game drives). There were eight people in the tour group including a couple from Greenville, SC. Our guide was excellent. He’d played in the canyon as a child. His grandmother’s home includes this land. It’s hard to relate the experience we had. The canyon walls swirl and dance and form fascinating shapes. They recommend not using a flash in the brighter parts of the canyon to capture the natural colors of the sandstone. As the canyon gets darker you need both a high ISO and a flash. We really needed to have tripods and more time to get great pics. The few that turned out should give you a sense of what’s there. FYI they don’t take credit cards so come with cash. This is a MUST for anyone coming to this part of Arizona. There is a lower Antelope Canyon that is a separate tour. Between April-September at mid-day there is a place that catches the sunlight and forms a shaft of light through the roof to the floor. We’ll have to come back! I don’t think you can see a place like this and not believe in a higher power.

 

Upper Antelope Canyon #4

 

It was time to get Opal and give her a run. We returned to the same area near the dam. She found a hole and began sniffing and digging. Steve thinks she was after ground squirrels. She kept digging until she had a hole 3’x2’. We kept walking and she kept sniffing and digging. At one time she kept going until she had dug a 5’x2’ trench. I think she’d have kept going longer if we’d have let her. She never did catch a squirrel. I don’t think she’d know what to do if she had.

As I’m writing this, Steve is outside talking to another RVer here who had noticed our carryall box when we were at another park. Steve is showing him how he built it. This is the fourth person who has asked about it. This couple is from Greensboro, NC. They bought their trailer this spring and this is their first long trip too. They’ve been on the road about as long as we have. It turns out that they enjoy kayaking, hiking and bike riding too. We’re going to swap contact information and hopefully stay in touch.

Time to wind up. Tomorrow we’re heading back to Utah and Monument Valley.

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Utah – Zion NP

SEPTEMBER 29, 2010

Today we drive to Zion which is a 4 hour drive from Torrey. We’ll be taking Utah 24 west to Utah 64 south then US 89 south. Our routine has become smoother with each move. I had everything inside almost secured when Steve said, “I’m going to bring the car around and hitch up.” Just as I stepped outside I saw Steve back up to the trailer to our right. It was smaller than our trailer but white with the same color design. He rolled down the window and said,“I can’t see my yellow marker.” He’s been using a yellow magnet on the trailer ball to guide him in when backing up. I said,“That’s because it’s not our trailer!”  He got out and looked surprised. Then he shrugged his shoulders and moved the car to our spot. Fortunately the owner of the other trailer wasn’t home. One of the neighbors got quite a laugh out of it too. Steve said, “If it had been a better trailer that would have been good but ours is better.”

As we headed west on Utah 24 we passed through a small town called Bicknell. Yesterday as we headed there to the ABC store the speed limit dropped from 65 to 35mph. Steve saw the Sheriff’s car with someone in it and quickly slowed down. Today the car and “cop” were still in the same spot. Steve looked and laughed. “It’s a mannequin.” US 89 is a scenic byway that runs past several national parks from Arizona to Montana.. I think it would make a good trip to start at one end and go all the way visiting each park. We had reservations at an RV Park managed by Best Western at US 89 and Utah 9 called the East Zion Riverside RV Park. This would have put us about 6 miles from Zion. We were to register at the motel which we did. Then we drove across the street to choose a site. The website had described it as backing to a river and made it sound very appealing. In reality, it was a gravel parking lot not more than 50’ off the intersection for about 8 RVs. There were full hookups (services) but no picnic tables, no showers and no restrooms. We looked at each other and said,“This won’t make it for 5 nights.” I have to admit Best Western was very good about refunding the fee. The clerk said there weren’t any RV parks on Rt. 9 closer to Zion. Later, we found 3 parks on Rt. 9 and closer. We’d seen a KOA park as we came in and tried to call. We found out we’re in a Verizon dead zone. So we drove up to KOA and they did have room. This put us about 20 miles away but beggars can’t be choosers.  (It actually turned out to be a very good park…  one of the better ones we’ve been to, so nothing lost…  sm)

By then it was after 4P so we just set up camp and settled down with a beer.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2010

Again we’re lucky as the KOA is located in a country setting with a quiet dirt road behind it. This makes a perfect place for Opal to be off leash and get some exercise. We loaded up the car for the day and headed to Zion National Park. The entrance to the park is phenomenal. One minute you’re driving along through rolling countryside and the next sheer 1000’+ mountains appear. The textures and colors of the sandstone are constantly changing. Trees grow out of cliff faces and look like bonsai. The first place we stopped was called Checkerboard Mesa. Then on to another overlook where we walked around mesmerized by the swirls and shapes of the rock. About a mile from the main tunnel into the park we stopped to enjoy the view. Some people there were looking through binoculars and pointed out 2 desert bighorn sheep lying on a ledge about halfway up the mountain. We set up the tripods and spent the next hour taking pics. The sheep were watching us as much as we were watching them. Just after we put away our cameras, they got up and walked up the hill. This made my day. I had wanted to see big horn sheep on this trip so badly. I hope the pictures come out well.

 

Desert Bighorn Sheep

 

(The two sheep were a ewe and a ram… not full grown, but an adult with about a half-curl on the horns.  The first time I saw sheep was a few years ago, in Glacier.  That was three ewes and a lamb.  The next time was a few weeks ago in Colorado, where we saw a band of young adolescent rams.  This was the first time seeing an adult ram.  I hope the next one we see is a full-curl!

One of the few problems with traveling the National Parks after the major tourist season is over is that they seem to try to get most of their road construction and repairs done then.  The main road leading into the park is actually the most scenic views we had, but almost the entire ride was through a construction zone, and we weren’t able to stop at very many spots to enjoy the views.  Oh well…  guess we’ll have to come back! sm)


We went through the tunnel and wanted to turn right and head on up the scenic drive but found ourselves heading in the opposite direction and soon out of the park. We turned around and re-entered. At the gate we asked the ranger how to get to the scenic drive. That’s when we found out it was only accessible by shuttle bus. No dogs are allowed on the shuttle. It was 90 degrees so leaving Opal in the car was not an option. Change of plans, we’d do the scenic drive tomorrow. There are two other sections of Zion besides the main drive. In the western part is a backway through a remote section that eventually connects with Utah 14 a.k.a. the Markagunt Scenic Highway. This took about 3 hours to do and provided us with some great scenery and a large aspen forest. There aren’t many cities of any size in this part of Utah. We saw that we were close to Cedar City and found a large grocery store. Then we followed Utah 14 through another portion of Dixie National Forest back home.

 

Scene in West Zion

 

A quick dinner of burgers on the grill and a campfire completed the day. We had a brief talk with our neighbor who was from Switzerland. He and his wife are taking two years off to travel the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Then they’ll go back home and back to work. Can you imagine playing for two years and then returning to work? Neither can I. I’ve only been retired for a month and I can’t imagine working full time again.

OCTOBER 1, 2010

 

The Narrows in Zion National Park

 

 

A month on the road and we have just seen the trip odometer reach 5,000 miles. Today we left Opal in the trailer. She’s gotten accustomed to staying alone and is no longer anxious when we leave. This would be the longest we’ve left her about 8 hours in all. Back to Zion to catch the shuttle up to the last stop called the Temple of Sinawava. We planned to do a mile hike along the Virgin River which is a small river when you compare it to the Colorado. Time and soft rock have turned the landscape into this beautiful canyon. Zion is the oldest of Utah’s national parks having been upgraded from a national monument to a park in 1919. At the end of the Riverside walk is a place called The Narrows. You can hike this canyon to it’s end which is 8 miles and return the same way. The trick here is that the hike is mostly in the river. As with most canyons, it is safe only in dry weather. Flash floods change the scene from beautiful to life threatening. Today would be no problem as the skies were clear and the temperature a perfect 70 degrees. We planned on doing only a small portion of The Narrows today so we could see the other overlooks as well. It’s a very popular hike and there were at least 30 people that we could see. In we plunged and submerged our hiking boots well over the ankles. The water was COLD. I moved cautiously on the river rock making sure I had my footing and using the hiking stick Steve had made. I wasn’t so much afraid of falling and getting wet as I was of drowning the camera! We had to crisscross the river to stay in water at or below knee level. In a few spots the river current was strong. Steve mentioned that he wouldn’t want to do this in the Spring when the water level would be higher. There were some sandy places that felt like an interstate highway after the rocks. The canyon walls block most of the sunlight so it was cooler than the walk down. A few places had deep pools that were 5-6’ deep but you could see them well ahead by the blue green of the water. We only went about 1/2 mile and stopped for lunch. Then we went a bit further and found a waterfall. I would have loved to hike on but I was worried about Opal and wanted to return by 4P. We’ve already put returning here on the “list”. When we do, we’ll camp closer by and get the first shuttle up here so we can do the whole canyon. There’s no doubt that we are canyon lovers. On the way back, we passed a man who was our contemporary. He said “I’ve been waiting 35 years to do this again. The last time I was with my kids.” We both have noticed a lot of boomers out in the parks being very active. It feels good that a few gray hairs aren’t keeping people from doing what they love.

 

Chari and Steve Hiking The Narrows

 

We hiked back and took the shuttle to The Grotto and Weeping Rock. Weeping Rock is beautiful with plants growing all along the rock face like hanging gardens. It pours water constantly. The water that is coming out now has been working its way through the rock for 1200 years. We went back to the car and home. What a greeting we received! She’d done very well.

 

Weeping Rock at Zion NP

 

Last evening we had a new neighbor who was from Germany. He and his wife are on vacation for 3 weeks. This is his eighth time visiting the USA western states. He says that there is so much to see he’ll have to come back again. I’ve lived here all my life and this is only the second time I’ve been in the West.

A campfire used up the wood we’d collected while we had an after dinner drink. I was so relaxed after a day outside and a lot of exercise that I slept very, very well.

October 2, 2010

Today was one of those days that started out well and just seemed to get better as it progressed.  We planned to drive to Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is closer to the trailer park we’re in than the one we were scheduled to stay at originally.  Since we were going to be spending the day driving locally, we were in no rush to get started and took our time with a nice breakfast.  There is a view from our park of some cliffs with hoodoos not to far away, and rather than take US89 up to Utah 14 to get to Cedar Breaks, we decided to take National Forest roads, which are dirt and twisty, and generally quite scenic.  This was no exception, and we drove past several of those red and pink colored cliffs, through pine and aspen forests, and really enjoyed the ride.  We had re-arranged the car to put in some empty tubs to load firewood in if we came across any, and saw quite a bit here that we’d pick up on our way back.

 

Stream Exiting Aspen Mirror Lake

 

 

Eventually we made our way back to Rt. 14, and after driving on it a bit toward Cedar Breaks, we passed a road with a sign pointing to Aspen Mirror Lake.  Well, the name sounded intriguing, so we turned onto it.  It went a little ways in, then stopped at a parking area, where there were several cars.  I asked someone, and he told me there was a hiking trail, about a quarter of a mile long, that led to the lake.  We couldn’t let Opal loose… there was a sign saying dogs must be leashed, so we put her on the leash and walked in.  The lake was very pretty, with golden and orange aspens all around.  There were a lot of people there, some walking around enjoying the view, and some fishing for trout in both the lake and the stream that flowed out of it.  We walked around for a while along the stream.  As I said there were a lot of people around, so it was hard to get nice pix, but by waiting for them to walk out of the way, and maybe positioning yourself so that they were hidden behind a tree or a rock, we did manage to get some good shots.

 

Cedar Breaks National Monument

 

 

Then we headed on to Cedar Breaks.  Neither of us can figure out why it’s called Cedar Breaks…  there wasn’t a Cedar to be found.  But, it’s listed as being a “mini-Bryce” with a 2000’ deep amphitheater shaped canyon about three miles across, filled with red and pink and orange hoodoos, and was very pretty.  We stopped at the visitors center and bought our obligatory hat-pin.  We drove through the park, and on toward a place called Brian Head.  This is a mountain, that apparently was named because someone thought it looked like William Jennings Bryan, a hundred or so years ago.  Well, from the angle we saw it, if I was WJB, I’d be pretty happy that the name was misspelled.  To us, it just looked like a mountain… but maybe from some other angle it may have resembled him.  There’s a road leading to the peak, so we decided to drive up.  On the way, we stopped to take some pictures of the views, and there was another car stopped  at the same spot.  The husband was out with a hammer and chisel, digging up and chipping off pieces of rock.  His wife told us that he’s a ‘rockhound’ and was digging up agate.  I went over to talk to him, and he told me that this was one of the premier spots in the world for finding agate.  He told me that in other places throughout the world where you find it, you’re lucky to find bowling ball size pieces.   Here, there is a vein that runs through the mountain for about two miles, and comes out on the other side of the mountain, with huge outcroppings on both ends,  He had gallon jugs of water with him, and he poured water on the rock to bring out the colors…  red and black and white and orange…  so that I could take some pictures.  I’m not a rockhound, but I do enjoy seeing interesting and colorful rocks, and like all hobbyists, when he found someone to listen to him, he really enjoyed talking.  We took quite a few pictures of the rocks, and picked up a few small pieces to take home (probably, after another month and a half, when we get home and I’m emptying out the car, I’ll find these pieces and wonder what they are and why I have them, and toss them away…  but I hope not.  He told me how to polish them up, and I’d like to try). When they leave here, they are going north to Delta to search for Trilobites.

 

Agate In Situ

 

Then we drove to the top of the mountain, which was about 11,300 feet high.  The views from the top were spectacular. The temperature at the top was down to 57 degrees with a wind chill about 10 degrees below that. A bit chilly for shorts! The top was scattered with small boulders and they were covered with the most colorful lichens. We even found one hardy alpine plant with 1/4 inch white flowers.

 

View From Brian Head at 11,303 Feet

 

From there, we drove to Panguich  Lake.  This is a nice sized lake where at some future date on another trip, we may do some kayaking and fishing.  I was talking to a guy who comes here from Las Vegas where he lives to fish it, as it’s one of the best spots he knows for rainbow and cut-throat trout… he’s caught them up to nine pounds. While Steve was talking to the fisherman, I was watching a group of 6 women in their thirties who had met for a day of fishing and friendship. I though to myself, you don’t see that happen very often on the East coast.

From there we were going to head on back to camp, but we had passed some lava fields on the way, and there was a National Forest road leading into them, so we decided to take a little exploring drive.  We were stunned.  As we drove into this area, there were hills, some of them a few hundred feet high, of lava rocks, kind of a reddish black in color and covered with a greenish lichen, with brilliant yellow and orange aspens growing all over.  The sky had been unsettled all day, with some places showing bright blue and other black storm clouds, and against this background, the place was a photographer’s dream.  Nowhere, in any of our maps or brochures, did we find any mention of this place, but it went on for a few miles at least that we saw, and was every bit as impressive as Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.  Maybe even more so! We took about a half hour to load up some more firewood. Hopefully we’ll have enough for two or three nights.

We made it home by about 5:30 or so, and Chari wanted to take a little snooze before supper, so I sat outside reading a book.  After a half-hour, Chari got up, and all of a sudden, the wind started to blow.  We hurriedly took down the awning before the wind could do any damage, and decided to have our supper indoors, as it looked as if it might rain.  It never did, and after supper our neighbors, Steve and Vicky from  Eugene, Oregon, came over and we sipped a glass of wine while visiting with them for a while. They have been traveling about the same length of time as we have. Vicky and I agreed that Bryce was our favorite park. Steve also has a blog on WordPress. After I take a look, if it has some interesting information about other places, I’ll post it for you. Then it was off to bed.

Tomorrow, we’ll be going to some pink sand dunes (I forget what they’re called… Chari will know) but first it’s going to be a laundry and housecleaning day, so we’ll be getting a late start.  But then, all our chores will be done and we can forget about them for the next week or so.

OCTOBER 3, 2010

As Steve said we scheduled the morning for chores. Five loads of laundry included sheets, towels and blankets that we hadn’t done for a while. Then we had Sunday brunch.

 

Aspens and Lava Mounds

 

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is about 20 miles southeast of Zion NP just off US 89. These are the only sand dunes of any significance in Utah. The area is 7 miles long with some dunes 100’ high. The pink color is from the high iron content in the sandstone to the south. There is a prevailing wind through the canyon that increases in velocity as it passes through a notch between two mountains. It is this increase in force that causes the dunes to build. Just before entering the park there was a spot we could let Opal out for a run. She loves sand. She ran and jumped and dug her way with ears flapping and tail wagging. If a dog could say “Yippee”, I think she would have done so. In the park we went to the observation platform and then took the .5 mile nature trail. Mid-day isn’t the best time for photos in the dunes but we took a few to show the lovely pink color against  the deep rust red of the Vermillion Cliffs in the distance. It looks like we missed bloom time for a type of yellow daisy that grew in large clumps by about a month. The park brochure says that peak wildflower bloom is mid-June. I’ve always wanted to see the desert in bloom. That’s another reason to come back to this area.

 

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

 

It was only 2PM so we decided to take a drive into the backcountry along Long Canyon Road off US 89. This goes through ranch country and brought us back into the Grand Staircase National Monument. We’d been on the East side before and now we were on the West side. The varying textures and colors of the cliffs were fascinating. We turned onto Skutumpah Road which is a dirt road and drove for about 45 minutes. If we’d stayed on it to the end it would have come out at Cannonville just south of Escalante where we’d been earlier. On our way back we noticed a large thunderhead building. We’d been warned that the dirt roads turn to slick, slippery mud when it rains and not to be on them or we might get stuck. So we kept a close eye on the storm. Just two miles from reaching US 89 again we hit pavement and our worries were over. We got back to camp just before a light rain began. The major storm went west of us.

We realized that tomorrow when we enter Arizona that they might not let us bring in any fresh fruits or vegetables. I’d forgotten that 30+ years ago when I drove to Las Vegas from Oklahoma that I had to go through a checkpoint and no fresh fruits were allowed into Arizona. So we ate a big salad with dinner. Then Steve thought about the firewood we’d collected and thought that would not be allowed to cross into Arizona. So we had a lovely campfire and sipped our chocolate vine. Can life get any better?

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Utah – Capitol Reef

Temple of the Sun and the Moon

South Desert View in Cathedral Valley

 

Steve at Glass Mountain

 

We Named These the Coke Bottles

 

Desert Plants at Capitol Reef

SEPTEMBER 26, 2010

 

 

Today will be a short entry. Even on the road, tasks such as laundry require attention. Since we had only a 1 1/2 hour trip to Torrey, Utah today we decided that this was a good day to catch up. But the clothes took longer to dry than we thought and breakfast became brunch became lunch. After hitching up the trailer, we stopped in Escalante at the Golden Loop Cafe. Normally this small eatery would be quiet on a Sunday. Timing is everything. We arrived about ten minutes after a bus tour from Christian Tours. So our burgers and fries took about 45 minutes to appear.

We headed back up Utah 12 which by this time felt very familiar. The 14% climb made us slow down to 30mph but no trouble making it up the hill. I’ve always been attracted to the colors of nature  and the texture and shapes that intermingle with them. The soft colors of the sandstone against the deep blue sky and even the yellow, white and rose colored weeds made for a beautiful vista. Then we headed west on Utah 24 through Torrey to the Thousand Lakes RV Park. This park is one of the AAA and Good Sam approved sites. What a difference this makes. From now on we’ll definitely follow their lead. We were set up by 4P so headed down to the Capitol Reef Visitors Center. We watched the orientation movie and of course picked up our souvenir pin. We spoke with a ranger about various drives and hikes in the area. We wanted to see some of the backcountry and needed to check about vehicle clearance and road conditions.

Capitol Reef is a long and narrow park. Originally it was a National Monument and later was given Park status. We drove on the main Park road through the historic area of Fruita (pronounced Froo-ta here). This was the original Mormon community along the Fremont River in the area. As you might guess by the name, they raised fruit. It was a small community of ten families in the 1880s. I’m not sure if polygamy was practiced here but by the size of the schoolhouse I don’t think so. Then we drove the official scenic drive of 10 miles to Capitol Gorge. This road was the original wagon road used by settlers. It was the only road until 1962 when Utah 24 was completed. It passes through a steep gorge that floods and can strand travelers. There are signs everywhere about not entering the gorge if a storm is threatening. Fall is a great time to visit as it is the dry season. The gorge is 400-500’ high from the roadbed and made of 3 distinctive layers the Moenkpi, Chinle and Wingate sandstone. The Moenkopi layer is rust red soft mud and shale from tidal and coastal areas when Utah was located near the Equator 2.5 million years ago. The Chinle layer is a gray/green and was formed in woodland river floodplains and rivers.It also contains ash from distant volcanoes. The Wingate layer is pink and white  and is the the hardest layer. It represents the remains of sand dunes from an ancient desert. There are black basalt boulders strewn along the area that were washed down from mountains to the west of the park. Then you notice some sparkling strands in the rocks. This is gypsum.You’ll see these layers and colors in our photos. The rocks have weathered into interesting shapes. Some have large holes. There was one large enough for me to recline in as if I were taking a nap. The sun was beginning to cast deep shadows so i’m not sure how the pictures came out. We’ve been so busy we haven’t even looked at them.

Chari Takes Five at Capitol Gorge

 

Sandstone Colors at Capitol Reef NP

 

Sunset at Capitol Gorge

 

Lower Cathedral Valley

 

Upper Cathedral Valley

 

SEPTEMBER 27, 2010

After talking with the ranger yesterday, we decided to drive into the northern part of the park on a dirt road to an area called Cathedral Valley. I’m glad we have the Highlander and that Steve is comfortable driving in four wheel drive conditions. This route requires a high clearance vehicle. This is a very remote area. We estimate that only 2-3% of the people coming to Capitol Reef ever see this part. We drove for 8 hours and only saw 5 cars. This area is crisscrossed by Washes which are normally dry but during rains or snowmelt can flood causing roads to be impassable. We’d purchased a self guiding auto tour brochure at the Visitors Center. The 60 mile route crosses both Park and BLM lands. We began by turning off Utah 24 onto private land and driving for 60‘ in the Fremont River bed before turning left onto the Hartnet Road which later became Cathedral Valley Road. This drive turned out to be one of the best either of us has ever done. We were stopping so often to take pictures that it took us two hours to go the first seven miles! We decided that we’d better pick up the pace or we’d be out here in the dark!. We passed through the Bentonite Hills which were brightly colored sandstone. Then we came across an old pick-up truck and drilling rig circa 1950 that was just begging to have it’s picture taken. On to the South Desert with 500‘ high Jailhouse Rock. About halfway around we looked down on Lower Cathedral Valley. The BLM portions of the route gave Opal some off leash time. She really enjoys running in the sand and taking dust baths. There was one spring that had water in it as most others were dry. Steve tasted it and said it was mildly salty. We’d noticed salt deposits in the dry washes. Ranching is a major occupation in the area and Capitol Reef is one of the few Parks that allows grazing on Park land. Then we hit the switchbacks taking us down  400‘ to Upper Cathedral Valley with spectacular monoliths. There is a cut-off at this point that will take you over to Thousand Lake Mountain and Fishlake National Forest. We opted not to take this and just enjoyed the fall color from a distance. We planned to go over that way tomorrow. The road then became very sandy. During our side trip to the Gypsum Sinkhole we had to ride through a very sandy spot where if you slowed down, you’d be stuck. The sinkhole is about 200‘ deep and 50‘ wide. Yes, it is the Bottomless Pit. Toward the end of the drive we passed a sign designating the area Carl’s Reservoir. It was dry so we think Carl must have died of thirst! In Lower Cathedral Valley there are some large monoliths called Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Moon and Temple of the Stars. All along the drive we’d seen dark red brown hills that we’d named The Chocolate Hills. A large area of them were at the Caineville Mesas. Remember this as you will see how this develops later. One of the last stops was one of the most fascinating. It’s called  Glass Mountain. Its not really a mountain at all but a 20‘ high by 12‘ wide conical mound of selenite (crystalized gypsum) with gray, white and black crystals in interesting patterns. It came out of nowhere. There wasn’t anything else like it around. We were fascinated.

Chari's Favorite Tree Pic

Capitol Gorge View

 

Sandstone Shapes

 

By now, it was pushing 7P as we turned back onto Utah 24. Sunset was to be at 7:18 so we hurried to Sunset Point. We got there about 7:10 which was too late for pics but we were able to sit on a rock that made a natural bench and just enjoy the view. We realized that the pork roast we were going to grill would be put off for another night. We’d already postponed this for two nights. Steve suggested stopping for a nice dinner. You didn’t need to ask me twice! We spotted the Rim Rock Inn and Restaurant and pulled in. It was cool enough to leave Opal in the car. She’d had a big day and was happy to go to sleep. It was a very good restaurant and we tried some different local beer. At the end of the meal, the waitress presented the check with a large piece of “Chocolate” on it. Really, It did look just like a hunk of good candy or fudge, especially in the low lighting. Steve said “Hey, look at this.” He began to try to break it in half. Grunt. Then he picked up his steak knife and started to cut it in two. “Hard as a rock” he said. I looked and saw fine sand on the plate. By that time I was beginning to laugh. I said “I think it’s a rock on top of the bill” Steve looked up as the reality began to dawn. We both were laughing like fools. I was laughing so hard that I buried my face in my hands lest I make some of those involuntary snorts or other noises. The tears were running down my face when the waitress came to collect the check. Steve admitted to her what had happened. She said “I told them they need to change this. People think it’s chocolate.” Then
Steve showed her where he’d tried to cut it. I think that was a first for her. At least he didn’t try to bite it and ruin his new $1500 crown. This will go down as one of THE STORIES.

The Benntonite Hills

 

Dry Salt Wash

 

SEPTEMBER 28, 2010

When we’d checked into our RV park in Torrey, the clerk had mentioned to Steve that the aspens were at their peak in Fishlake National Forest and that we should take a drive over there. Imagine. It was already on my list of scenic drives. Opal was so tired she didn’t even want breakfast and we decided to leave her in the trailer. She’s gotten very comfortable in the trailer. She acts just like when we leave her at home. There’s always the squealing and ‘happy to see you‘ when we return.

Fishlake National Forest is just 15 miles west of Torrey. We turned off to the right from Utah 24 and began to climb. You could see acres of bright yellow, orange and red mixed with green deciduous trees and evergreens. I’ve seen spots where aspens have turned but never a whole forest. You know we were in and out of the car like Jack-in- the- Boxes to take pictures. The road went around Johnson Valley Reservoir to Fishlake.  At one point we got out and just walked through a large aspen grove. I grew up on a street that was lined with white birch and have always had a weakness for this tree. Aspens are the West’s answer to white birch. I’m in love with them. we decided to pick up some of the dry branches covering the ground and have a campfire tonight. Good thing we didn’t have Opal with us. She’d have been buried in wood. There were also turnoffs with interpretive signs about the Old Spanish Trail and the Fishlake Cutoff that ran through here. Kit Carson had led many paries through this area. The lakes are beautiful and we plan to come back again when we can kayak.

We needed to do some grocery shopping and stopped in Loa. It’s the only town for 20 miles around with a major grocery store. While shopping, the waitress from the previous night was in the store. She greeted us with a very friendly, “Hi There”. I told Steve, it isn’t often you make an impression on waitstaff. It must be like teachers. They remember the really good ones and the really bad ones! We also needed some wine. It’s only since 2009 that Utah has had state liquor stores. The closest one was in Bicknell. As we entered Bicknell the speed limit dropped from 65 to 30mph. There was a Sheriff’s car sitting right there too. The liquor store was tiny. I’d guess that the public area was 8×10’. There wasn’t a big choice of wine. We did find some red for Steve and Pinot Grigio for me. Finally, we got the roast cooked and had a leisurely dinner. The campfire was lit and we made S’mores. Steve had never had a S’more, can you believe that? There was a man two trailers down sitting by himself so we invited him over. He was a retired accountant from Yakima, Washington. He loves to hike and travel. He and Steve seemed to hit it off. Steve said later that it was as if he were talking to himself from 3 or 4 years ago when he traveled alone.

We know we could make this whole trip again and do different things at the parks and have just as good a time. Tomorrow we pack up and head to Zion NP. One of the other RV folks told me we’d saved the best until last. I can’t wait to see if he’s right.

Cathedral Valley View

 

Opal Takes a Dust Bath

 

Old Well Drilling Rig with Our Car

 

 

The "Chocolate" Hills

 

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? (Can You Find Him?)

 

Aspen Woods at Fishlake National Forest

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