Sand Dunes in Colorado?

You bet! And they are spectacular.

Funny how maps only show you so much – depending on how closely you look.  The trip from Crawford down to Great Sand Dunes NP looked as though our trickiest part was going to be the drive to Gunnison.  How wrong we were.  We did opt to take the route up and around to the west, going through Delta and Montrose down to Gunnison, reasoning that the easterly route we had traveled the day before was just too mountainous, curvy, icy … all of that, and the westerly route was not closed for construction on the weekend, and this was Sunday.

That was a smart move, since it was pretty much the same time and a much easier drive.  The narrow pass where the rock sides of the road were being blasted back to widen the passage was tricky but not a problem.  So as we drove alongside the beautiful, if low, Blue Mesa reservoir we were thinking we were finally out of the mountains and into smooth valley roads.  That was until we were to pass over the Rocky Mountains and the continental divide toward Poncha Springs.  We passed a tire chain spot and wondered about that, and then a sign announced the Monarch Pass Summit was 10 miles ahead.  Yep, 10 miles of unrelenting 6 – 8% uphill grade.  It was a slow go and as the engine temperature started to climb I pulled over to a nice paved pullout.  We decided to have lunch while the very hot engine cooled down.  Kinda thought it would be good to disconnect the Jeep if we were level enough, so back we went to pull the pins and disconnect.  The last pin gave us some trouble, but we cheered when we finally pulled it out. And, hey, the Jeep is rolling backward … I quickly grabbed the bumper and dug in, Jackie ran around to jump in and mash the brakes and pulled the emergency brake up one more good click (it HAD been on) and we saved the Jeep from rolling off the hillside.  Yeah, that woulda been fun.

So Jackie drove behind me as we slowly made our way up – this was an elevation change of 6,000 ft from where we started.  At the top we paused once again at almost 12,000 ft, surrounded by spruce and alpine hillsides.  Then down we went, shifting into low gear, heater blasting to peel off some of the heat load.  With our 2-way radios Jackie said she would just keep driving the rest of the way and we figured we were home free until the road started climbing again with “Poncha Summit 7 miles” sign staring at us and another 6% climb.  But without the Jeep attached the motorhome did not overheat and we made it back down the other side.  Then the road became the straightest, flattest, most boring road ever through the valley.  A couple of turns and we were at the park, headed for our campsite in Pinyon Flats campground.  Pinyon trees, yes, flat, no.  Tight spots, yes.  Backed in like an expert – yes.

What a view!  Across from our site was a mountain of tan sand dunes, hundreds of feet high.  Shadows played across the dunes and it just seemed so out of place.  The prevailing winds from the west long ago blew the sand from the ancient dry flat lake bottom across to the base of the Sangre De Cristo mountains, where lighter winds from the east blew it back into dunes.  Awesome.

We were set for the night, this being a dry site we had plenty of water and were prepared for no electricity.  We earlier figured out how to power Jackie’s BiPap machine from the house batteries and we were using the propane heater.  If needed, we could fire up the generator to make coffee and charge the devices.

Overnight was not as cold, only got to 34 degrees, and by 9 or so we were out starting our hike to the dunes.  We were layered up, hats and gloves, had water and walking sticks and were going to do our best to climb that sand.  Yep.  Going up, trying to stay on the ridgeline, no real path to follow, soft sand making for slow going.  Many “catch your breath spots” as we are at about 8,500 ft and even tying your shoes gets you winded.  We set a goal of a dune crest that was more than halfway up and figured that would be enough.  I think the summit is about an 800 ft climb.  Since we didn’t have sandboards to slide down, we just slid/stepped our way back down the sandhill.  Loads of fun going down.  And at the bottom we emptied out about a cup of sand from our shoes and socks.  At least I did.

Check out a video of the hike here: Great Sand Dunes Hike

After lunch we hopped in the Jeep to drive back to Visitor’s Center and then to try a 4WD roadway that went up the mountain slope.  They caution you to use 4L and to drive quickly across the soft sand, and lucky for us no one else was on the track.  It was fun as you drove through tight turns banked up the sides and then across pretty deep sandy stretches.  We turned around at the aptly named “Point of No Return” and did it all again.  Had we been serious about going further we would have had to deflate the tires a bit, but with no compressor to refill them, not gonna happen.  On the way back we finally saw a couple of Mule Deer bucks on the roadside, and despite ALL the whitetail deer we see at home, it was still cool.

Tomorrow we start the journey back home and plans are a little fuzzy.  We called in a reservation at a campground in Lamar, Colorado for tomorrow night and are trying to figure whether to drop down to Oklahoma or keep heading east to Wichita, Kansas.  I think we want to eventually drop down to Memphis rather than across to St. Louis, but we shall see.

Thanks for sticking with our western adventure.  I know I can get a little wordy sometimes, but if you ever consider doing the sort of travel we do, you ought to know what to expect – great and not-so-great.

And I have to think that Mom and Dad are looking down on us and helping smooth the way for our adventures – they loved camping, travel and the outdoors so much I am sure they are with us on this adventure.

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Colorado Chill

Ok then, where did we leave off?  Ah, yes, we were in Fruita, Colorado enjoying some beer at three breweries.  We started off at Monumental Beer Works in Grand Junction and had some very good brews in a flight or so.  I really enjoyed one they brewed with some Pinot Noir that had a very distinctive flavor.  Next stop was back in Fruita at Suds Brothers Brewery where we had two pizzas to share (yay it was pizza special night) and some honey wheat beer.  Third stop was at Copper Canyon for a flight of beer and then back the 2 miles or so to camp.  Campground here is excellent – paved sites that are clean and level, with the Colorado River just a short walk away.  Kodi loved the lush green grass, a nice change from the rocks and sand of the desert landscapes we just left.  He probably didn’t get as excited about the afternoon grooming and nail clipping that he got.

I have to share something from the day before.  Driving through a stretch of Utah we had another road sign warning “Eagles on Roadway.”  Really.  Not the shoulders, not in the sky, but on the roadway?  “Next 5 miles”  Of course we didn’t see the eagles, just tire retreads.

Overnight was rain once again, but clear by morning and cold.  Some of the dust grime got washed off the jeep and motorhome, but that will probably soon change.  We didn’t have an especially long drive today, so breakfast was pancakes and we savored two cups of coffee.  Grand Junction had fairly reasonable gas prices ($3.50 instead of $3.99) so we filled up and drove south to Delta, where we took Hwy 92 southeast toward Crawford instead of Hwy 50 toward Montrose.  Ok, that probably makes no sense to you, but months ago we read about the construction on 50 south of Montrose that shut down the road for hours at a time, sometimes half a day.  We routed ourselves on 92 to avoid that delay and thus would be on the north rim of Black Canyon instead of the more popular south rim.  And frankly, the road and drive has been easy so far.

Oops, spoke too soon.  There was a warning about an accident ahead and rather soon flashing lights and police cars had the road blocked and we were sent across the railroad tracks on a detour around this accident.  Smaller 2-lane farm road then, the kind that goes in rectangular directions around the farms, with sharp right angle turns and non-existent shoulders.  That was tolerable, but the first mile or so was an elevation change of 1,000 ft up on switchbacks that were not fun.  I was doing my best at 10 – 15 mph, but we made it up and across and around and down, making it back to the original highway with no idea of this accident.  Exactly the kind of thing we were trying to avoid, however.

The towns of Hotchkiss and Crawford were cute and soon we saw these huge looming mountains – I think Saddleback Mountain, that were draped in snow and clouds, part of the southern Rockies.  The contrast of the golden yellow cottonwoods against the grey blue of the mountains was spectacular.  Ok, well we were soon in Crawford State Park with a campsite lakeside, but no water in the reservoir.  No matter, it is a level site that has a shelter and gravel and nice view of the mountains.  Unhitched, jump started the Jeep and had lunch.  We figured we ought to go straight to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison that was almost across the street (10 miles) so we grabbed coats and such and hopped in the Jeep. 

Oh my, it was suddenly a sleet storm that was blowing a ton of sleet around.  Visibility was bad and the icy bits were sticking to everything but the road.  Well, wouldn’t see much in that storm, so we changed plans and rode it out for a bit in the motorhome.

It cleared up finally and since it was only 2:00 our change in plans meant we would drive to Hotchkiss, hang a right and head toward Paonia.  There were a couple of things on my checklist I wanted to see.  Big B’s Orchard and Hard Cider was one stop.  Crazy place of U-Pick orchards and cider house.  We had a bourbon barrel aged hard cider and a cherry apple hard cider that were pretty darn good.  Not as refined as Etta Place, but perfect for the weather.  Not done yet, though.  Just a couple miles ahead in Paonia we were looking for the Paonia Bread Works and Paonia United Brewing.  Well, bread shop closed early, but brewery was just opening, so guess where we went?  Cute little place in a converted church of all things.  Jackie had some samplings and I had their Belgian Tripel, which was awesome.  We checked in on wifi and chatted with some of the locals, who were clearly regulars.  Talked about the weather just as another snow shower came through and the locals all shrugged it off. 

And back to camp we drove, through another snow shower and some gorgeous scenery.  Stunning mountains.  We might try this drive in two days as a connection up to Crested Butte, but the road through the mountains is dirt, so it depends on weather. It is cold, expected to get into the 20’s overnight with some more precipitation, but tomorrow is expected to be sunny.  Who knows?  The forecast is only good for a couple of hours it seems.  But the plan is for Black Canyon tomorrow and drive (98 miles) to Crested Butte the next day. Check out a bit of video of this unexpected weather: Snow Day in Colorado.

Well the weather prediction was right.  It got down to 19 degrees and once again we had an overnight snowstorm that left us with 2 plus inches of snow.  Everything was coated with snow, but the sky was clear and we started out for Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  Yep, the roads got a bit slippery and the final 6 miles were dirt covered with packed powder, so we popped it into 4WD.  Did manage to see several mule deer in the snow, no bucks though. We drove along the north rim, stopping at overlooks and short walks to the canyon rim. 2,700 feet down sheer black walls was the Gunnison River.  It was a bit dizzying and breathtaking at the rim – this is one of the narrowest and deepest sheer canyons in the US and it does not disappoint.  Hard to capture the depth on camera, since the black rock is also mostly in shadow.  How this river has carved down through this rock is simply unbelievable.

When we turned back towards camp the mountains ahead were brilliant in the sunlight, covered in fresh snow.  The Jeep however was covered in fresh mud.  As temperatures rose the snow turned to mud ruts and … well, it is a Jeep and should be used to this.  I did give it a quick blast of water when in camp to get the worst of the mud off.  Got gas nearby, walked the one block of Crawford, then spent the afternoon relaxing at camp as temps rose into the 40’s.  Grilling steak and roasting brussel sprouts for dinner, then tucking in for another cold night.

We got a nice surprise just as I started grilling:  flocks of sandhill cranes flew overhead and soon dropped down into the dry areas of the reservoir.  I turned down the grill, grabbed my camera and drove closer down the road.  Caught some pictures as they cranes all gathered along the shore.  Not as clear pics as I like, but as it happens we got up early enough next day to catch them before they flew off.  Very cool.

And that was a cold morning again, 21 degrees.  Big drive today around the West Elk Loop – basically driving south to Gunnison, then north to Crested Butte.  About 100 miles one way.  It was a good thing to drive this, as we both decided this was NOT the road to take to Gunnison.  Too much of a mountain road for the motorhome.  So we will instead drive around the Black Canyon by way of Delta, Montrose and down into Gunnison.  That construction we spoke of does not happen on weekends, and our day to drive is Sunday. Ok, matter settled, change of plans for tomorrow.

Back to Gunnison and Crested Butte.  Gunnison seems like more of a working town, CB is more touristy, kind of a Bohemian outpost.  It was a great day, temps heading into 60’s as we walked about.  Stopped in to have a beer and lunch at the Eldo Brewery.  Sat upstairs and warmed up as Jackie had a scotch ale and I had a strawberry lime sour.  Soup, dumplings and orange chicken to eat. 

We wanted to try a “shortcut” of 30 miles back to Paonia and Crawford called the Kebler Pass.  This goes from the 8,900 ft elevation of CB to about 10,000 ft through mountain passes filled with the largest stand of aspen in the US.  Partially paved but mostly dirt/gravel road.  Why not?  And the trip was spectacular.  Awesome drive through aspen and spruce, even though the aspen had already dropped their golden leaves.  Yes, mud, dirt, packed snow, slush and winding turns, but much better than 100 miles around the other way.  Oh, and no sign to warn us of “sheep in the road” this time … guess they don’t rate their own sign. 

When we reached Paonia we checked on the bread works, still closed, but found Chrysalis Barrel Aged Beer was open, so we just HAD to try some.  Aged apricot sour for me and Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout for Jackie.  Definitely delicious and a great way to relax from the drive.

Down (we hope) to Gunnison and on to Great Sand Dunes NP tomorrow, another long drive.  Should be nice sunny weather for the drive.  Will try to post this sometime soon – you know, the whole wifi connection thing.  Thanks for joining us.  See you soon. 

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Snowy Goodbye to Utah

It rained pretty steady our last night in Kodachrome Basin, but by morning it was quiet and Jackie poked me “look out the window.”  Oh my!  Winter has arrived … there was a big coating of snow on the trees and ground, probably over an inch.  I jumped out of bed, put on shoes and grabbed the camera.  What a wonderland surrounded us.  It was quiet except for the tinkling of the flakes that were still coming down.  How wild and crazy.

Yep, that excitement was soon replaced by a bit of dread at the thought of the climb up 1,000 feet to Bryce and down through the Red Canyon.  But for now it was up and at ‘em, let’s go dump the tanks and then see what’s out there.  Well, not so fast there guys, we’ve got the famed “Cows in Road” blocking our way.  Oh, and a little further along there were a few mule deer on the shoulder thinking of how to cross the road.  But soon we were starting our ascent of 8% grade upward to Bryce.  It was a slow go, of course, but at least we had a nice cold 32 degrees outside, no – make that more like 23 by the time we got to the top.  Made it to the top and as we approached the Red Canyon descent a snowplow pulled onto the road ahead of us, so we had that to help clear what looked like more than 4 inches of snow.

The drive to Richfield was pretty wonderful, too.  We seemed to drive out of the snow for a bit – stopped to see Butch Cassidy’s childhood home – then we were back in the snowstorm.  One of the really cool mountain passes was through the Big Rock Candy Mountain, a winding path beside the Sevier River that just kept turning left and right between huge, sloping mountains.  Neat.

In Richfield we found our first Wal-Mart in weeks, so loaded up on groceries, jumper cables and another jump start battery for the Jeep (just in case).  We originally expected to reach Salina, but the planned campground stop was not taking reservations, so we are doing a KOA. As we pulled in we saw that the load of wet snow on the trees had left broken branches all over the camp.  It was still in the 30’s with plenty of snow up the mountain sides and a low ceiling of clouds.  Predicted overnight low is 20.  We head to Grand Junction, Colorado in the morning with various predictions for rain, snow or nothing.  We shall see what tomorrow brings. Oh, and yes, the battery in Jeep has run down again, so it is on the charger. Have to figure this one out.

So it only got down to 34 overnight, which was a relief. We got underway for what was a 5 hour drive to Fruita/Grand Junction, Colorado area. I thought it would be a simple drive across I-70 through flatlands, but was I mistaken. The trip was another amazing drive – we drove through areas where the snowfall was still very evident on the mountains and mesas and we passed through some mountain passes and cuts that were mind-blowing. One long cut was maybe 5 miles of a 6% downhill grade that wound between cliffs that towered above you.

Every flat expanse was followed by a drop down into a canyon. Finally, after many elevation changes we dropped down into the valley where the Colorado River winds through and the town of Fruita. We made camp in the James Robb State Park along the river and relaxed just a bit. Of course we had to jump start the Jeep – grrr. But we are in Colorado now, so breweries were on the list!

First stop is Monumental Beer Works, where we are having a flight each and I am posting to the blog. More about our brewery escapades here in town and our trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the next blog, subject to wifi availability. Thanks for coming on the journey with us and thanks also for all the great comments.

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Kodachrome, Bryce and Escalante

Now it is time to head to our third big stop in Utah, Kodachrome Basin State Park. As I mentioned in our last post, we opted to head west and then south to avoid driving up and over the Dixie National Forest. I am sure the scenic drive along highway 12 is wonderful, but I didn’t need the climb in the motorhome. So around to Tropic, Cannonville and then down to the park. In addition to exploring Kodachrome Basin (named by folks who thought the colors reminded them of the vibrancy of the Kodak film) this will be the take-off point for exploring Bryce Canyon National Park, too.

Alas, as we hook up the jeep and start off it begins to rain and it rained the whole way to Kodachrome Basin.  I find it odd we have had so much rain in a high desert zone.  It was an easy drive, though, as we stayed mostly in two river valleys: Fremont River and Otter Creek and the road was in great shape.  We finally experienced what we have been warned about extensively: cows in the roadway.  And they don’t move out of the way, either. Once we got to the campground it was a short drive down a gravel road and we found a level spot to disconnect.  Ah but Murphy’s Law kicked in for us, as the Jeep wouldn’t start.  Well, we went ahead and got the motorhome situated in camp, hooked up water and electric and pondered the situation.  I had a quick charge battery pack that is supposed to jump start you car in an emergency, so I pulled that out … naturally it needed to be charged!  I let it charge and we went back to the Jeep to jump start it.  No luck, just clicking.  Battery was dead, charger was useless. 

I walked back to the Visitor’s Center in the rain to see if one of the rangers had a jumper cable.  Probably, but it would have to wait just a bit for another staff member to return.  I trudged back to the camper, noting to add jumper cables to our supply list for the Jeep.  Then Hayley showed up and said, sure she had cables and we jumped the Jeep from her little Nissan.  Once back at the campsite I hooked up a battery charger I did have in the motorhome (the kind you use to trickle charge over the winter) and left that hooked up overnight.  It started up in the morning just fine.  I think what happened is this.  Because it was raining I had the headlights on in the motorhome.  That must also turn on the lights for the Jeep and it probably runs them off the battery AND since the generator and alternator are not operating to replenish the battery, it dies.

We woke to clear blue skies and 45 degrees – perfect for hiking and exploring the park.  We started with a mile and a half hike on Angels Palace Trail and had great views of the park. 

The trail followed several muddy washes up the canyon and opened up on red shale plateaus that were fun to wander.  The park is filled with unique pipe structures that jut up out of the red sandstone.  Hiking down the canyon wash that wall filled with cedars and pines you could smell the pinyon pine – a definite evergreen fragrance that was wonderful.  Altogether it was a very cool morning.

Lunch back in camp and we discussed the afternoon choices.  Decided to drive 11 miles further south on a sand/dirt/washboard Cottonwood Canyon Road to see Grosvenor Arch, named for the original president of National Geographic Society and located in Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.  Pretty amazing double arch of white sandstone that really popped in the afternoon sun.  Walking from the parking lot toward the arch there were a couple of folks stopped halfway chatting on their phones.  Somehow this spot in the middle of nowhere, a true cell-phone desert, they were able to get a signal right there.  Ok, that was crazy.

Jackie drove back to camp on the road and got her first 4WD experience.  Hit one muddy ditch pretty hard and splattered mud all over (“hey I’m learning”) but on another creek crossing she maneuvered into the deep mud ruts and drove up and out just fine.  “That was fun.”  Dinner was just as spicy – a nice taco salad.

We expect good weather for tomorrow, so that is to be our Bryce Canyon day.  The final day we might go up Hwy 12 toward Escalante and Boulder City.  There is a stretch of road called the Hogsback that runs along the spine of the mountain.  Might be fun.  Oh, and there are predictions of snow for the day we haul out of here.  Really?  We shall see, since the weather changes by the hour around here.  But, the night sky is clear and filled with stars.  A sliver of a moon sets early and the milky way is very evident.  How wonderful.

Indeed the weather was beautiful on our second full day, not a cloud in the sky and 41 degrees.  Packed a lunch and all our hiking gear and drove the 20 miles or so to Bryce Canyon NP.  I figured our toughest hike of the trip would be the one down into Bryce Amphitheater along the Queens Garden Trail, which is a 1.5 mile one way trek down the canyon.  Wasn’t sure about the return trip.  Well, from the overlook at Sunrise Point we were amazed once again.  The famous hoodoos are outstanding – orange, red, white and yellow sandstone spires that spike upward.  Down we went along the sometimes very narrow trail, through the fins and spires until we reached the white structure called Queen Victoria.  As you can see, even though we got a start before 10 am, we had the place to ourselves (NOT).  This was our busiest park and trail so far, reminiscent of Arches and Grand Canyon.  As kids and parents and others bounced along and zipped past us, we just took our time and gazed up at a perfectly dark blue sky like you almost never see.

After a few tunnel passes and more meandering, we reached a much more wooded canyon and walked among the spruce, cedar and pine with chipmunks scattered about.  There was a pinyon pine that had a couple of Steller’s jays bobbing around eating the pine nuts.  Such dramatic blue and black birds.  When we reached the end of the Queens Garden Trail we, along with many others, debated the way back.  Map said we should link up with the Navajo Trail for a return trip of 1.7 miles, and not wanting to repeat ourselves we pressed on.  Another junction offered two ways up: Two Bridges or Wall Street. Again, more debate among all of the hikers pausing there until Jackie declared “Wall Street” for us. 

A challenge of an uphill hike until we hit the sweet spot.  Crazy.  There was a cautionary sign of falling rocks at the start of a stone stairway into a crevasse that really looked intriguiging.  We let a larger family group go ahead of us and as we got to the top of the stairway we were speechless.  We were standing in a huge slot canyon with sandstone walls that went hundreds of feet up above us.  The air in the slight bowl at the base where we stood was rather cold but the experience was goose-bumpy anyway.

This section of trail was the last ascent, and it was amazing.  Switchbacks wiggled endlessly up and out of the shady slot canyon and into the sunshine.  It was hard to take it all in, since you were mostly watching your feet as you walked.  That’s ok, we needed to pause MANY times at the switchbacks to catch our breath.  We were pretty much at 8,000 ft, so it did take your breath away.

Finally at the top you could look down across the valley of hoodoos we had walked among and back from our spot on Sunset Point to Sunrise Point.  Pretty much 3 miles, although our fitbits said closer to 6, but why quibble.  It was an accomplishment.

One more drive further into the park to Bryce Point – another amazing overlook, and we sat to have lunch.  Wow.  Lots of folks here.  On the drive out we stopped to watch some prairie dogs (yeah, wildlife!) and made our way back through Tropic to camp.  A short nap and “breakfast for dinner” followed.  We have heard various weather reports that change with the elevation.  At Bryce they are expecting lows in the teens; in our spot, a thousand feet lower, we are expecting 20’s overnight.  Everyone says snow for Tuesday, our departure day, so who knows?  I unhooked, drained and stored the water supply hose, since we are full in the water tank.  Since it is so clear out, it should also be a wonderful night sky filled with stars, planets and constellations that befuddle me, even with a guide.

Well our last day in camp started cold, 33 degrees, but we were just looking to complete two things on my checklist:  Drive to Escalante and Boulder to find the Burr Trail Road and then find Long Canyon slot canyon.  That was just over 60 miles (long distances are nothing out here) and some elevation changes up and down 1,000 to 2,000 feet.  Off we went, stopping at the Grand Staircase/Escalante Visitor’s Center in Escalante.  Very helpful information about how to find the unmarked slot canyon.  Town was cute, just a few markets and eateries along the main road, but it was way bigger than little Boulder.  The scenery was the star, however, as the drive wound around, up and down, with the rock formations changing grey shale and stone to white, rather smooth stone mounds and hills to red rock and shale once again.  In the canyons the aspen and the cottonwoods were turning a bright yellow-orange.

Once in Boulder we stopped for lunch at the only eatery – the Burr Trail Grill, just at the start of the road.  Awesome little place with a delicious lamb burger and some sugar wings.  Never had them, but now I know they are hot wings with a sweet coating of sugar.  Lips burning kind of hot.  They also had homemade hand pies big enough for two, so we bought spicy cherry and caramel apple with cardamon.  Should be good later tonight with some hot cocoa.

Studying our information closer, it looked as though the Burr Trail was a paved road at least as far as the slot canyon.  It turns to gravel/dirt, but much further south.  That’s good, because I wasn’t looking forward to 11 miles of washboard again.  Soon we found the big cottonwood that stood outside the slot in the red rock and pulled over.  Clearly a well-worn stop and the path was pretty obvious.  Into the split in the rock we went, the cool breeze blowing outward.  How perfectly wonderful!  It was maybe only 100 yards in until you reached where the little gap let in only a dribble of water.  But the sheer walls rose up hundreds of feet and echoed your voice around the space.  Not surprisingly we were followed in by several other folks, but there was room for all and time for plenty of pictures.

On the way back to camp I hooked up the GoPro to the bumper and filmed the Burr Trail Road and parts of Scenic Highway 12 back to Cannonville.  Hope to put that on our youtube channel when back home so you have a idea of how this landscape looks.  Totally amazing.  For the weather tonight there are various reports of rain, snow, mixture and maybe temps in the 20’s.  It all depends on your elevation.  Bryce is the highest spot around, so on our trip out of here tomorrow, which climbs relentlessly uphill to the Bryce Canyon entrance and then down through the very scenic Red Canyon (with two short tunnels!) we might see some flurries.  Yippee! Yet another reason to lose sleep tonight.

Thanks again for joining us on the journey.  Shout out to our hardworking teacher daughter Karina and her equally hardworking husband Jason and our two grandsons!  And to Alex, Bethany and Jim for teaching us how to get our Jeep all muddy.

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Capitol Reef and Rain

Sadly, it was time to bid farewell to our beautiful campsite at Dead Horse Point State Park and drive southwest to Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park.  We made it six days with the water stored onboard and without having to dump, but of course we made sure to empty the grey and black water tanks before leaving.  Jeff, you should know that Jackie declared the dump site “best ever” in her rating scale.  So off we drove, north to I-70 and west to Green River, leaving the red sandstone cliffs for dry, dusty, grey sands that had little vegetation.  Despite seeing signs for “Cows in Roadway” and “Open Range” there were no wildlife sightings or cattle. There was, however, gas in Green River, so we loaded up both vehicles.

The interstate was easy driving, flat and straight and uninteresting terrain, frankly.  We made a turn off to the south and after a while dropped down from the desert into another lower scrubland, crossing the Dirty Devil River toward Hanksville and Caineville.  There the terrain changed dramatically.  Suddenly the road passed through grey and beige hills and what looked like huge piles of cement or gravel.  Cones of grey stone and sand looked like you were in the gravel pit of a quarry – but all naturally occurring.  A line of rough black ridges jutted upward like a line of giant teeth, giving the landscape an otherworldly look.  Definitely the spot for a science fiction movie shoot.  

We were soon on the approach to Capitol Reef and dropped into a rather fertile valley where there was hay and other crops being grown.  We were now entering the historic town of Fruita, where Mormons once had a small town and extensive orchards.  These orchards are maintained by the Park Service and are open for you to wander and pick in the harvest season (picked out now). 

We drove another 10 miles or so to Torrey, a town with no stop lights, stop signs and little activity, though nicely tree-lined.  Camp was a private spot, Sand Creek RV, with full hookups and a wonderful view of the scrub field and backdrop of sandstone cliffs.

It was such a nice day, temperatures in the 60’s, that we ate a quick lunch and set off back to the Visitor’s Center to explore Fruita and beyond.  Once again, the colors of the sandstone cliffs and the eroded crags made for impressive, breathtaking views.  I have taken so many pictures, but can’t help taking more, as each view seems better than the last.  Capitol Reef got its name from a formation of white Navajo sandstone that looks like the Capitol dome in DC and the reef is a reference to the Waterpocket Fold that runs north to south and was long a travel barrier. 

We still have not seen much wildlife, despite the many signs for deer crossing, cattle crossing and even this new one: Marmot crossing. Capitol Reef is supposed to be home to mountain lion, but the chances of seeing them are well, not likely.

At the Visitor’s Center we caught the forecast for rain the next day and decided to travel the Scenic Drive and Grand Wash before any flooding occurred.  The Grand Wash was a gravel road that could require 4WD in wet conditions, but there were all sorts of cars and vans driving in to the trailhead.  Several times you crossed or drove along the dry wash, even on the paved Scenic Drive, and it was evident there had been recent flooding.  We hiked the wash into twisting, turning passages lined with sandstone that had huge pockets carved out – not quite a slot canyon, but a very cool hike that was relatively easy in and out with a cool breeze blowing up the wash.

Exploring Torrey didn’t take long – there are two gas stations, several places to eat that are closed or out of business, one gift shop and that’s about it.  However, the campground has decent wifi, which has allowed me to upload pictures and post two blogs so far, and Jackie is going to clean some clothes in the camp laundry.

It was good that we drove the Grand Wash when we did, as rain began on day 2 and may continue for another day.  There is too much possibility of flash floods and road closures around here to drive where you clearly see where the creeks cross the roadways.  We are declaring this rainy day a recovery day, taking a hot shower, working on crochet, writing the blog and just relaxing a bit. Although, I would like to make a run to Fruita and buy a homemade pie at the historic Gifford House so we can enjoy a nice dessert as we cozy up with our comfy pants tonight.

Ah, but the Gifford House was closed for lunch as was the Visitor’s Center, so we drove back to town and stopped at the Chuckwagon for lunch. It is almost the only place in town open during the week. It was Taco Tuesday, so we had a nice hot plate of steak tacos and sides. Very busy, although the shopkeepers say they are closing at the end of October. Seems this is a big month for leaf peepers – the nearby Fishlake and Dixie forests have color. We walked across the street to the Trading Post and poked around a bit before going back to the motorhome and relaxing. This morning’s rain has stopped, but the temperature has dropped to almost 50 degrees. It is expected to drop to 39 degrees tomorrow night. Brrr.

It seems our decision to drive the Grand Wash yesterday was smart, since it is posted as closed until further notice due to the rain and flood potential. Not sure how the next few days will work out, but we plan to try for some overlooks and short hikes. The trail to Hickman Bridge warns of pesky, aggressive yellowjackets, so if we do that one I will definitely take my EpiPen.

Day three brought the predicted low of 39 degrees, with overnight rain, but the day started clear and bright, so we packed our hiking gear and water and headed the 12 miles back to the Visitor’s Center and Gifford House to get some of that darned pie! We had an early tip-off about it from “Adventures of A+K” that we had been following. The small house that served as museum about the Mormons who settled Fruita did indeed have pie. So I bought Cherry and Apple and an awesome cinnamon roll for breakfast. Yummmm. Next to the orchards were some huge cottonwood trees that dated to the early 1900’s.

Back to driving, we stopped to look at some of the Hopi and Pueblo petroglyphs scratched into the rock face and then on to find a parking spot at Hickman Natural Bridge trailhead. With water, snacks, trekking poles and camera we headed uphill once again on what was to be a 1 mile hike, 1 mile return. But we know how these distances go … always a lot longer than when you walk the same distance in your neighborhood. But it was turning partly cloudy and still on the cool side, so the uphill hike wasn’t too bad. It changed from steps to a sandy wash to more slickrock and sand, and finally there it was. A magnificent arch of stone overhead that was worth the hike. We paused at a rock overlooking the canyon below, drank water, and ate grapes before heading back down. Very cool.

We finished the afternoon with some more overlooks, we drove the dirt Goosenecks Road and Doug took a short hike to Sunset Point before we packed it in for the day and joined Kodi and Merlin back at camp. Dinner was a no-fuss meal of baked beans, burgers and salad. Doug picked up a pack of Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen brewed in Salt Lake City (so only 4.2%) but it was cold and wet and had a nice tart snap to it.

On our last day in town we drove west a few miles to the towns of Bicknell and Loa. Filled the jeep with gas in Loa and stopped in Bicknell once the State Liquor Store was open. Tiny, itty bitty shop, but I picked up some Wasatch Beer and vodka. I learned that ABV less than 5.2% can be sold in grocery and convenience stores, but the higher ABV beers are sold in state stores. That helps explain some of the beer confusion in Utah.

On the way back to camp, in fact right next to camp, was a cidery we had not noticed. Of course we pulled in to Etta Place Cider and were soon very glad we did. Owners Robert and Ann were such friendly ciderists – we learned so much about the process of making hard ciders that were really wine quality and their effort to grow heritage varieties of apples, pears and other fruits. Ann called Robert in from picking the current crop of apples to host a tasting for us that was just wonderful. Robert shared a few slices of a red-fleshed apple that he had just picked – delicious. We bought several bottles of their hard ciders, including the Bourbon Barrel Aged cider that Jackie was very excited about. I can’t say enough about their place, which is only 5 months old, and encourage you to stop in if you are ever near Torrey.

We also mentioned the restaurant Hunt & Gather across the street. Well, Ann and Richard were headed there for dinner tonight and raved about it. Lucky for us it was Thursday and they were open through Monday before closing for the season. Jackie called in a reservation so we are prepared to have a great meal tonight. Just before we headed across the street we heard a clap of thunder and in the distance a storm was brewing. Never actually made it to the campsite though. For dinner we had a delicious Cabernet with beef tips marsala for Jackie and elk steak for Doug. What a delicious end to the first three weeks of our adventure and a toast to the next three.

Looking at the various maps we have, it looks like we will scrub one excursion we planned: Burr Trail Road and switchbacks.  It is about 75 miles one way and we really have done our fair share of driving lately.  We also changed plans not to take the Scenic Route through the Dixie Forest south to Tropic and our next stop, Kodachrome Basin State Park, since it looks like a 4,000 ft. elevation gain with 8 – 10% grades for a few miles and I just don’t care to drive 20 mph through the mountains again worried about overheating.  So there is a slightly longer route that circles up and around to the west that should be just fine.

Kodachrome Basin State Park has no cell service, so we will likely be totally out of touch for almost a week. Thanks for joining us on this journey — and stop kicking the back of the seat, please.

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Long Canyon and Corona Arch

We wanted our last day in Dead Horse Point State Park and Moab to be memorable, and I still had a few things left on my checklist, so we packed up the jeep for a 4WD down one of the best drives in the canyons: Long Canyon. It isn’t a very long drive, about 8 miles, but it sure packs some excitement – and it includes Pucker Pass, so how could you not do this drive?

The road starts out from the access road to Dead Horse Point, but it is a very bumpy washboard road – even though straight and level.  Maybe it isn’t always this bad, but 5 mph was still too fast for the bumps.  You reach a spot where there is a BLM campground along the rim (very cool) and then the road takes a pretty sharp left turn, with a “Road Damage” sign warning you of conditions.  Ah well, we have a Rubicon – it was made for this stuff.

Well, one quick, tight turn to the right and suddenly you were looking at a steep drop down a narrow track between huge boulders – definitely a one-vehicle stretch.  It was actually a very quiet Sunday morning, so we had not spotted any other vehicles on the road, which made this stretch easier.  But woah, what a wild ride through the winding, narrow pass.  Man that got the adrenaline going!  Sure glad there wasn’t anyone coming up the road. And then we saw “the rock” that we had to drive under. Looked like a tight squeeze but we slipped through. Really wanted to stop and get a shot of the jeep under it, but we didn’t want to press our luck.

Every turn, every rise changed the scenery and roadway.  For a while we were driving along a wash, glad it had not rained, the next we were up and over some slickrock.  It was crazy fun.  I think with the Shafer Trail and this Long Canyon we earned our 4WD creds for sure. Watch a video of the adventure through Long Canyon here: Long Canyon Road

The road is something of a “shortcut” across to the paved end of Potash Road.  Once there, you are driving beside the Colorado River between the redstone cliffs.  Just as we turned onto the road there was a pull-off to view the Jughandle Arch.  Great shot of a slender archway in the sandstone.  Further on was the parking spot for Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch.  Even though it was early Sunday morning, there was already a good crowd getting started on the hike.  This was marked as a mile and a half in with a 450 ft. elevation gain.  It was pretty much all uphill, winding around the canyon and across some dry washes.  Once we rounded the final bend and along a cable-assisted crossing, both arches were quite visible ahead.

We stopped at a landing of sorts and drank water, ate grapes and apples and caught our breath.  The next section to the arch itself was pretty strenuous, so Jackie opted to watch me make the cable-assisted climb up the rock and up a ladder and across to the arches.  Bit winded by the time I got there, and the temperature was getting warmer, but it really was an amazing thing to see.  Since we had not made it all the way to Delicate Arch on our hike in Arches last time, I wanted to be sure to make it to this one.  In fact, I think I like Corona Arch better.  And Bowtie Arch was a cool round hole through which you could see the clear blue sky.  Made for a really nice experience. I posted a video of the hike here: Corona Arch Hike

The trek back to the Jeep seemed awfully warm as the sun was pretty darn strong in the clear, dry air.  Once you got in the shade of the overhanging cliffs it cooled down nicely.  Jackie has said more than once that the trekking poles have made it much easier on these uneven, up and down hikes. Good hike and one more on the checklist!  We ended the day’s adventure back in Moab, since it is kind of a circle back to camp, did some souvenir shopping, more groceries for the next week or so and treated ourselves to some ice cream.

Camp was another quiet night under a star-filled sky.  The Milky Way was very evident as we searched for shooting stars to no avail.  Still, you have to wonder how unique we are with all the stars and all the planets that fill our universe – it overwhelms you sometimes.

I have to share a giggle with you. The day we were hustling in to Canyonlands early in the morning to drive the Shafer Trail, we got to the gate to show our Senior Pass and drive in. The ranger on duty was a very helpful young lady who pointed out “you know you have a small bag of garbage on your front bumper, don’t you?” Oh my, how crazy. We forgot to stop at the campground dumpsters and toss it. Good thing she told us, as we might have left a scattering of garbage all the way down the canyon! Blame it on the altitude air-headedness.

So tomorrow it is off to Capitol Reef and more adventures in Utah’s state and national parks.  Thanks for coming along with us.  A shout out to all our friends and family – Laurie we have you in our thoughts – and Alex and Jim:  you trained us well for these exciting 4WD adventures.

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Rafting the Colorado and Doing the Shafer Trail

Rafting the Colorado

All set in our quick dry shorts, long sleeves, water shoes, and of course my GoPro camera, we drove early into Moab to check in at Mild to Wild Adventures and get set for our rafting down the Colorado River.  Originally we were set to rent a 2-person kayak but opted to join one of the 6-person rafts instead.  There was a nice family with young children set for one raft and we paired up with two couples who were visiting Moab together.  We loaded into the bus after getting fitted with our PFDs and totally enjoyed the drive along the river, through the canyon with massive walls of red sandstone and the black-burnished Wingate layer.  Our guide Nick just checked the flow rate and announced that it was double what it had been yesterday, due to rain in Colorado, so there probably wouldn’t be much paddling needed.

We launched and got a good start in the muddy, brown water that was moving along pretty swiftly.  Even though it was not on the scale of our rafting in the Snake River, we had some pretty good, sloppy splashing at some of the rapids.  Up front, Nancy seemed to get pretty soaked – which she was certain was intentional.  Didn’t matter, as we all got splashed at various times. 

The beauty of the trip was really passing between the tall canyon walls, as you marveled at how effectively the water had carved through the layers of rock.  Our only wildlife was a merganser bobbing in the water, although how it would have spotted fish in the murky brown water was a mystery.

Watch a video of the adventure here: Rafting the Colorado

Once we were back at the rafting HQ we changed into dry, warmer clothes and shoes and drove to a spot we visited previously: Moab Brewery.  We were definitely ready for an early dinner and a beer, so we washed down a Moab Monster burger and Jim Beam BBQ burger with a Dead Horse Ale.  It was a lot to finish off, and once we were stuffed we drove the 45 minutes back to camp.  Cloudy night, so we didn’t get to see the stars.

Jeeping the Shafer Trail and Potash Road

Next day was not as early a push, so we ate a hearty breakfast and prepped for a drive down the Shafer Trail/Potash Road to Moab.  The road starts near the Visitor’s Center in Canyonlands, descends 1,500 ft. down the cliffside on some crazy switchbacks, then heads across the mesa toward the Colorado River and nearby potash ponds.  It is posted at just over 50 miles to town, but the speed limit is 15 mph — as if you would even get that fast.  I connected my GoPro camera to the mount I put on the front bumper, sync’d the camera to my phone for remote operation, put the Jeep in 4WD and we started off.  Jackie’s job was to watch ahead for any oncoming cars so we would know if we needed to pull to the side and let them pass, and my job was staying on the road.

This was a drive like no other I have experienced.  We drove oh so slowly down and around the cliffs and rock formations and stopped every once in a while to catch our breath, take a picture and maybe just take it all in.  We passed very few other vehicles on the way down, thank goodness, and almost had the road to ourselves.  We drove on, up and over some hills, around blind corners, down into some river washes and stopped at a magnificent Colorado River overlook to have lunch.  Words cannot describe what you experience down in these canyons.  It was like driving down into the Grand Canyon, maybe even better. 


As we got closer to Moab we passed the evaporation ponds of potash with their blue and white in sharp contrast to the red rocks around them.  The day has cleared to a nice sunny 70 degrees and it was great that we had taken off the back windows of the Jeep.  Sun was strong, so we kept the top on.  We finally reached the paved portion of the road and as we hit 45mph it felt like we were flying along!  This stretch meanders along the river just at the base of the cliffs, with the rail line from the mining company alongside us.  Once in Moab we grabbed some grocery essentials, filled the gas tank (it was only 4 gallons, but you get gas when you can out here), and headed back to camp. 

Watch the video down the canyon here: Shafer Trail and Potash Road

It was a cloudless night so I tried to get some night sky photos with my camera, tripod and remote shutter, but I need to work it out a bit more, since the star-filled sky and milky way just didn’t get captured on camera yet.  Little more practice and maybe tomorrow night I will be successful.  Our plans for tomorrow are an easy day in camp, short hike with Kodi to the canyon rim next to the campground (video is posted here: Exploring Dead Horse Point) and otherwise resting up for our last hike here tomorrow – a 2.4 mile hike to Corona and Bowtie Arches.  After that we pack up and head north, then west and south to get to the other side of Canyonlands and make camp in Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Thanks for coming along with us.  There is much more in store, so keep checking back.

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Buttes, Mesas, Plateaus, Oh My!

Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands

After such a great visit to Mesa Verde we weren’t sure how we could top that, but our next destination is the spot that inspired this whole trip to begin with and might just beat it: Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah.  Funny name, but it came from a time when horse wranglers used the high desert mesa to corral the mustangs and let them pasture until they were ready to drive them off further north.  The sheer cliffs were a natural fence line.  It was said that one of the last roundups left the horses to perish, hence the name.

We took nice hot showers in the morning at the Ancient Cedars RV park, since we would have to rely on our own supply of water at DHP and hooked up the Jeep to start the trip from Cortez to Moab.  Another amazing drive, with some rain showers tossed in.  Every bend in the road brought a new sight.  We left the mesas of New Mexico and were suddenly in gently rolling farm fields in Colorado.  As the clouds broke off the horizon revealed a gorgeous mountain range of colorful shrubs and trees – a backdrop to the town of Monticello.  As we drove closer to Moab the La Sal Mountain range was visible and below it red ridges and cliffs.  

Most of the drive seemed like a long slow incline, but once in a while you would see signs for a 6% downward grade, and suddenly you would drop down into a canyon.  That never ceases to amaze me – out of nowhere you suddenly drop into another environment, with plenty of sandstone formations and red rock palisades.  One of the odd rock formations that stood out was Church Rock, which was a rounded spire pretty aptly named.  Not long after, we stopped at a rest stop to eat lunch that had an amazing backdrop of rock.

As we approached Moab we stopped to fill both the RV and the Jeep with gas so we would be ready for the next bit of driving and exploring.  We drove through town, which looked a lot busier than our last visit, and then past the entrance to Arches National Park, where you could see cars slicing up the rock hillside. A left turn and we were headed uphill to Dead Horse Point, albeit a bit slow with full tanks of gas and water — plus I didn’t want a repeat of the overheating in Hyde Memorial.  So, 20 mph suited me just fine up the incline.  Another left turn and we were in the park headed to Wingate Campground.  And OMG what a wonderful campsite it is.  Long, flat and level spot that was so totally easy to disconnect and level.  You can see by the pictures that this spot on the top of the mesa is well designed and nicely spaced out.  Concrete pad, picnic table, sun/wind shelter and a raised “sandbox” for tents.  Wow.

The weather all day was overcast to partly cloudy and the temperature went from 50’s to maybe 70 degrees.  Dry air, cool breeze, no bugs!  We sat for a bit, had a beer and chatted about what next.  Since it was still early, we hopped in the Jeep to ride out to the point to have a look at the canyon.  Wow, how amazing.  We looked down on the Colorado River, some potash evaporation ponds and the Shafer Trail/Potash Road that we plan to drive in the Jeep. Yippee, we made it to this fabulous spot.

Over dinner at the picnic table (steak and grilled veggies) we discussed the next 6 days here.  We have a rafting trip one day and will visit Canyonlands Islands in the Sky section, plus the Jeep drive down the canyon.  BTW we are at 6,000 ft elevation in camp.  I will have to let you know what it is at the bottom of the canyon after we drive it.  There are rainstorms to the left and right, so it won’t be a sunset or dark sky viewing tonight (and yes we got a sprinkle).  Texting with Alex, he asked about the looming government shutdown in two days.  Well, we really had not been paying attention to news, and yes it looks like we only have one more day before national parks close.  That means, despite the forecast for rain tomorrow, we are headed into Canyonlands while we can.

So into the Canyonlands we went and how wonderful it was.  At first you see only the relatively flat high desert plateau you are driving across, with some fat red and orange sandstone “lumps” on the landscape, but once the road takes you to an overlook and you look out and across, everything rips open below you.  Cliffs drop down, with rubble below them, another plateau extends and then it drops down again to the Colorado and Green Rivers.  Amazing and breathtaking.  We drove to each of the overlooks, which were pretty easy walks from the Jeep, and one challenging hike.  Upheaval Dome is a wild crater with greenish white rock at the bottom that juts upward in a very angular manner.  I’m not the geologist here, but the various layers of sandstone are simply amazing.  That hike was only a half mile in and half mile back down, but the steps up to the rim made it a pretty slow ascent.  That’s ok, we have all day.  Worth the hike to see this view. Watch a video here: Exploring Canyonlands Islands in the Sky