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

On the way back to the visitor’s center and campground we stopped to have a look at the Shafer Trail and Potash Road we will be driving in another day or so.  The initial descent down the switchbacks is about 1,500 ft. and it looks like it should be taken slowly.  Yippee, we will definitely earn our chops with the Jeep on this drive!  I hope to have some video to post when we get home.

Shafer Trail Switchbacks

Back at camp we watched our first sunset, a nice surprise since we are getting rain and overcast cloud cover nearly every evening.  Hope we get some night sky and stars soon.  We also packed our things for a rafting trip down the Colorado River in the morning.  Since it has been getting into the 40’s overnight and only in the 60’s daytime, plus the likelihood of getting wet, we had to figure out the layers to wear.   Next post I will let you know how both of these adventures went, plus when I get back home I will try to edit videos and post them to our YouTube channel.  See you again soon.

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Durango and Magnificent Mesa Verde

A new day and we have things to do!  Since we changed our plans for a Sunday drive and tour of one of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde for a day in Durango, it was up and out of the campground and off to our “beer tour” of Durango.  As we drove along the route, we decided it would be best not to connect across to Mesa Verde from Durango in the motorhome, since it looked much more mountainous a trip.  There was a route that went west toward Farmington first, then up to Cortez that should be a bit easier approach.  We shall see.  Despite everything you see on a map or on the maps app, it is hard to get the true scope of elevation changes and switchbacks.

Durango turned out to be a delightful town along the Animas River.  Like most towns in the west, it was an outpost of the railroad in hopes that it would grow into a hub of commerce.  The historic downtown was reminiscent of Colorado Springs.  Very easy parking, wide streets and lots of places to eat, shop and drink.  Of course we started at Animas Brewery along the river for a nice flight of their beer – four pours for each of us.  Nice flavor, good beer.

Further downtown Jackie found the Visitor’s Center and got a street map.  We put our names in at Steamworks and looked around the shops until we got our table.  Here Jackie ordered a kolsch and Doug had a “mojo ito” or something.  It was a sour with lime and mint, and it was definitely a pucker sour.  Lunch was a Southwestern salad for Jackie and a chimichanga for Doug.  Each paired very well with our beers and were excellent meals.  Doug tried loading some photos to wifi, but it didn’t upload.  After lunch Doug tried the wifi in the visitor’s center while Jackie shopped and was able to upload and post from our Santa Fe segment.  Jackie was also able to confirm a campsite across from the entrance to Mesa Verde for tomorrow night, so no worries, that worked out after all.

Third stop on the brew tour was Carver’s Brewery.  At the bar with the front open to the street we enjoyed a flight of their selection.  The bartender added a sample of their pilsner to our nut brown ale, red ale, raspberry wheat and black ale flight.  All very good, but Jackie heard mention of a Brewmaster Reserve on tap that was a bourbon barrel aged special.  One taste and she wanted a can to go.  Yep, at $10 a can, that better be good.  And it really is.

Time to make a quick stop at the grocery for some fresh veggies and juice and head back to camp.  Altogether it was maybe an hour away.  Back across the bumpy dirt road to camp and Kodi and Merlin happily greeted us.  We had a chance to chat with some of the other campers, who were all great folks and had all sorts of tales to share.  A big part of this campground is the trout fishing, and there were rainbow, brown and brook being caught all weekend.  We all groaned about the 2 mile drive to the campground — the one that was hard packed sand and full of holes, lumps and washouts – that we all drove at about 5 miles per hour at best.  Sure wouldn’t want to drive that after a rainstorm!

Next morning it would be off to Cortez and across to Mancos area of Colorado, the Ancient Cedars RV park.  Hoping we can catch a little time in the afternoon to run into Mesa Verde and see some of the sites.  Oh but before bed we had one big CLAP of thunder and the rain started.  Sounds worse in the motorhome, but it wasn’t something any of us wanted.

So as we gingerly made our way out of the campground over the wet dirt road, it was better than expected.  Maybe the rain softened the potholes a bit.  Still, one shaky start.  As we reached pavement and drove northwest toward Cortez, Colorado the landscape just amazed us.  Over each hill or around each bend was something totally different.  As we were about to descend one mesa we saw mountains to the left and one very odd, dark silhouette on the horizon to the right.  It looked like a huge, fat skyscraper, which made no sense.  Turns out it was Shiprock, a rock formation that is the remains of a volcano and which is sacred to the Navajo people.  It was a spectacular site and I was surprised I had never heard of it.

There was rain on the horizon, some dark clouds and we were sprinkled over a few times, but it was mostly overcast and in the 50’s to low 60’s.  Nice drive that brought us to Cortez and then just across the street from Mesa Verde National Park.  Our elevation is now about 6,500 ft. We were able to set up in Ancient Cedars, hook up, eat lunch and pack some things for a trip into the national park.

Ok, I think I have said that the entrance into Arches National Park is one of the most spectacular, but it has been outdone by Mesa Verde.  You enter by winding up this massive rock structure and look to the side to see huge mountains and mesas.  Up and up you wind, on switchbacks and even through a tunnel.  I think the elevation gain is 2,500 ft.  Wow, and it is miles until you reach the southern part of the park where the cliff dwellings are.  There are plenty of overlooks and pull-offs so you can take in the view.  At one we found a tarantula walking along the walkway, at another spot we caught a coyote loping along the shoulder.   There was a pull-off just ahead, so I stopped and waited for him to come our way – which he did – and made his way across the road and on down the canyon.  Great looking animal.  Spectacular Day! You can stop right now, it can’t get any better.

But the cliff dwellings did not disappoint.  We got to see Spruce Tree House, even though the walkway into the dwellings was closed.  Across the canyon we saw Cliff House, another spot closed for renovations.  Several pit homes were also excavated and fascinating stories about the Pueblos who lived here barely 700 years AD.  I will let the photos speak for themselves, but will add that as we were headed back, a very dramatic thunderstorm was crossing the valley and over the mesas.  It made for some amazing photos, plus a rainy descent down from the mesa in the rain.  Back in camp Kodi told us all about the thunderstorm, that also included hail.

Time for a nice meal: sausage and peppers, garden salad and a bottle of wine to celebrate a great day.  Jackie did some laundry, I filled our water tanks, fixed supper and will try to update as much of the blog as I can.  Jackie just got back from the laundry and was shouting “what a great day … a tarantula, a coyote nd two loads of laundry done!” In the morning we head to Moab and the highly anticipated Dead Horse Point State Park.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

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Santa Fe to Navajo Dam

I hope you feel my frustration here … the entire second day that I was snapping great pictures of the landscape and campsite, plus more great pictures in Santa Fe … it was without my SD card in the camera!  It was in the laptop.  So, you will just have to imagine how awesome it was.  Fortunately, Jackie took a few that I can add here.  Dangit!

Up early again, we got packed up for the drive to Navajo Dam and our next campsite at Cottonwood Campground in the Navajo Dam State Park, New Mexico.  Since the drive down from 9,000 ft. to 7,000 ft. was bad enough in the motorhome, we decided to have Jackie drive the Jeep down behind me until we found a large parking lot downtown to hitch up to the RV.  Smart decision.  Once hitched, we were headed to the northwestern corner of the state.  The scenery kept changing around every bend, as we dropped into canyons, then up over mesas and around all manner of hills, cedar lined valleys and eroded rock.  Mostly scrub, sagebrush, pinyon pine and juniper, with cactus mixed in.

We stopped briefly at the welcome center for Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch homestead and then made a very quick turn to stop at a natural amphitheater in the rock: Echo Amphitheater.  Very cool eroded hillside with an easy walking path.  These are some pictures Jackie took, as mine were on the missing SD card.  Beautiful sight.  Even saw our first magpies.

I had my eye on the road and the engine temperature, but it was all good.  Outside it was in the upper 60’s until we got close to Navajo Reservoir.  Umm, and what a last few miles it was.  We wound our way to the dam, drove down the winding road until we drove across the dam, then switched back across and below it.  A few miles further we crossed the river and turned right … gravel/dirt road!  Nooooooo!  So for the next 2 miles it was back to the dusty and very lumpy road I thought we left back in Glenrio. 

Ok, camp road was paved, so in we went, disconnected, found our pull-in spot and crashed for 2 hours.  Well, I did anyway.  Jackie found we had a cell signal, checked her emails and elevation (5,700 ft.), drank water and checked her pulse-ox.  Back into the 90s!

We watched a group setting up a pretty massive camp next to us, many plastic storage tubs, a huge superstructure erected over the picnic table, lots of pipes clanging, drill drivers … sorry, but my first thought was “this is how engineers go camping.” And I have two wonderful engineer sons. But we had a nice chat with the group, who had been high school buddies and did this fishing/camping excursion every year – and yes, funny you should say, one of them is an engineer/contractor. (nailed it)

Before dinner we tried to figure out the next two days and a planned visit and hike in Mesa Verde.  We just aren’t close enough to the park to get there and get to the trailhead for the tour, so we canceled our tickets and tried to find a Monday night camp spot near Cortez.  Our only hole in the reservation schedule.  Not much luck online, but we will try again in the morning.  Our change in plans means we are heading to Durango for a day of sightseeing and beer sampling.  Cliff dwellings will have to wait.

Thanks for coming along on the adventure — more to come!

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Two Days in Santa Fe

We spent two days in Santa Fe and the weather was wonderful.  Nice crisp fall temperatures, humidity non-existent (on Jackie’s curly/fuzzy hair scale we were definitely on the curly side).  Our first trip into town meant we had to find antifreeze and some fresh fruit and veggies.  Of course there was a Walmart, so that task was accomplished.  However, Santa Fe has very narrow streets with houses and landscaping close to the road that curve around and are often suddenly one-way.  It is a beautiful town, with all buildings done in an adobe style with courtyards and covered patios, everything brown, tan and orange and lots of native xeric landscaping. 

Parking is tricky and all paid.  We figured out the meter system this time (shades of our Chattanooga parking problems) and found a spot near the main square downtown to start our walkabout.  Lots of shops, lots of restaurants, many museums and art galleries and a lot of public art.  We wanted to have lunch at one of the breweries, but had to wait until 4 for them to open.  We did stop for ice cream and to rest, drank a small bottle of water and saw as much as we could.  Jackie was getting out of breath and feeling the elevation, and the shop owner mentioned a product called “Boost” that was canned oxygen.   We both soon realized that we had not had enough water to drink and the 7,000 ft elevation was taking its toll.  Since our parking meter was up and it was not yet even 3:00, we drove to a Walgreens and I bought 4 cans of Boost. Her pulse-ox was very low, so Jackie sucked a few bursts of the oxygen to get it back up, along with some water.  Getting better, but still low.  We drove to the Santa Fe Railyards where Second Street Brewery was and waited for it to open at 4, since we were pretty hungry.  

Jackie sat for a bit while I went off shooting pics, and we finally got inside the brewery to order WATER and dinner.  Beer was good (just for Doug, as Jackie was still light headed) and the meal was delicious.  I was able to upload the last post with pictures in between bites of the chicken enchilada plate (huge) and we just tried to recharge a bit.  The wait staff was great and overall we loved the spot.  The entire area is quite a transformation area and as you can see, they have a cool excursion train that departs from there.  Big spot for Saturday farmer’s market, too.

Getting back to camp, up the long, winding road into the mountains, we realized that we were camping at 9,000 ft elevation and hence our gasping.  In the motorhome Jackie checked her pulse-ox, hit the bed and I insisted she use her BIPAP machine.  Boost, water, BIPAP and rest seemed to help get it back into the 90’s.  We learned a lesson and were prepared to drown ourselves in water if we had to.

Second day in town we took much slower and our goal was the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and lunch at The Shed.  Well, the museum was on limited capacity (we stood in line, but it was not going to happen for us) so we scrubbed and went to lunch in this delightful courtyard restaurant.  Very colorful and just memorable.  We both gulped down glasses of water, but had a beer with lunch of course.  Two beef tacos for Doug and a Frito pie for Jackie.  Just the right amount of food and a relaxing lunch.  Back to the Jeep as the meter expired and off to find cheap-er gas.  Actually found a Kroger with gas so I got my discount of 20 cents a gallon.  Jeep was full and we were back at camp to catch our breath and clean up for departure in the morning.

Our new neighbor campers were a wonderful family from Oklahoma – the Spencers – with young children who just adored Kodi.  They managed to get plenty of licks from him and came over many times to pet him.  A really wonderful family (they left us a nice note before we left).  How they had the energy to ride bikes, hike and run around was mystifying.

We have had a lot of nice comments from our friends back home, and I thank them for following along. I enjoy keeping the blog and am especially heartened that folks actually read it. Marcie gets the prize for fastest read and response (must be the teacher in her). We are fine, yes we have had some glitches, but that’s what this is all about. Something different, and as my daughter would say, an appropriate retirement activity. Oh, and a shout out to our grandsons who seem to be having an amazing time .. Hi Wyatt. Hi Owen!

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Do You Know the Way to Santa Fe?

Ok, I took a little liberty with the song title – couldn’t help it.  Now then, back to the blog!  Yes, by the time you see a new post it is a delay of several days, but the priority of this adventure is not the blog, that’s just a bonus for all our friends and family – and to help us keep the memories straight.  We are driving most of the day, after all, and then enjoying where we are at, plus we once again learn that strong wifi and cell signals are not universal!  So … news travels slow. 

As we complete our first week on the road, it has been a transition for sure.  Just a day ago it was 104 degrees yet we woke up in Amarillo this morning to 45 degrees.  The temperature stayed in the upper 60s most of the day, which made it pleasant.  Elevation changes have surprised us, too.  For the heck of it we checked the elevation at Texarkana and it was 300 ft., near Wichita Falls it was 970 ft. and in Amarillo it was 3,600 ft.  I was kind of surprised it was so low in Texarkana and the drive must be a gradual climb, since you really don’t notice it.  

We knew it was going to be a long haul today, so we were sure to fill the gas tank for the drive and the water tank for the dry camping stay in Santa Fe.  This was going to be on I-40 most of the way and we certainly did experience a LOT of truck traffic.  Much busier than our trip along Hwy 82.  One stop I wanted to make was just at the New Mexico border for what is listed as a ghost town of Texas: Glenrio.  So at exit “0” we turned off onto Business I-40 to Glenrio.  Hmm.  Well, there is another shack of a homestead to the left, the remains of a gas station, but that has been a pretty common sight along this trip.  Nothing that looked like a photo opp. Oops, the road turns to gravel and dirt with a bit of a turnaround.  We stopped, talked it over: “was that it? Do we turn around? Do we keep driving?”  Google maps says this is the remains of historic Route 66, not much else, so well …. maybe we can go just a little farther? We decided to go a bit farther, which might have been a mistake.  There was clearly nothing further ahead, plus no way to turn around.  To our left was the long-abandoned rail line, with trestle remains and occasional ties, ahead were narrow bridges over dry creeks and to the right were the trucks on I-40, maybe 2 miles distant, but parallel.  

We kept on, figuring at this point it was quicker to reconnect to I-40 than turn back if we even could, and eventually that is what we did.  But it was 25 mph, washboard, dusty … and a few patches of the original pavement, but also kind of fun as we drove across dry pastures and scrubland.  Lost a little time there, but we did drive Route 66, albeit an long abandoned section.

Once into New Mexico we saw some of the first mesas around us, reminding me of Monument Valley, but not quite as spectacular.  Soon the flat farmlands and cattle ranches dotted with solar arrays and wind turbines changed to rolling hills covered with cactus and shrubs, oaks and cedars.  We saw our first group of Pronghorn, too.  As we made the turn off I-40 toward Santa Fe it really started to change to hills and valleys, with mountains in the distance, but still a very straight 2-lane that we had to ourselves.  That changed once we got to the outskirts of Santa Fe.  Houses on the ridges and valley slopes were all tan and red adobe and blended into the landscape.  Once in the town proper, the housing remained adobe, but tightly clustered, with courtyards and lots of native landscaping.  Streets were narrow and tight and we had a heck of a time finding a gas station (we were getting low).  Did mange to squeeze into and out of one, tanks now full in case we had to run the generator.  

Ok, Jackie says our campgound, Hyde Memorial State Park, is about 8 miles out of town.  Things changes as we drove along, the road turned into the Sante Fe National Forest and definitely started climbing.  Curving upward through conifers, pines and aspen, the road was a challenge and we were getting road weary – it was almost 7 hours since we started off.  I noticed the engine was running warm, but we were almost there and I shut off all accessories running.  Finally the campground sign was on our left, we gingerly made the turn and paused to check site numbers.  These are nice, level, paved back-in sites just off the park road – we just have to find ours.  We shut off the engine, ours was on the left, we were pointed downhill, all we had to do was unhitch the Jeep and then back into to site.  Ooops.  “Check Engine Overheat” comes on the dash and suddenly we are gushing antifreeze out the front of the motorhome.  It looked like a waterfall cascading down the front grill.  Dangit!

I was concerned we wouldn’t be able to unhitch the Jeep, since it was pushing against the hitch, but surprisingly it came off with no problem.  Next biggie was to restart the engine and back into the site without any further drama.  Did that, leveling jacks down, slides out … shut engine off and crash at the picnic table for a moment and regroup.  Well, no more dripping.  Hey, we weren’t supposed to have electric, but it looks like we do, so we connected the shore line and popped the front hood to see the situation.  Well, the top of the coolant reservoir had popped off and we lost fluid of course, but looks ok if we fill it back.  I have some onboard, but in the morning we will head to town to buy more.

We checked our phones (no signal, but a hotspot at the Ranger Station will allow 30 minutes per day), walked the dog, grilled a steak and sat by our first campfire as the temperature dropped and we plotted the next day’s outing in town.  It is a remarkable campsite, with blue spruce, conifers and aspen around us  – but surprising that so much traffic goes up and down the park road during the day. It hit 44 overnight but we were bundled up warm in the RV.  More about Santa Fe and on to Durango area in the next post. 

So, a check of elevation: Santa Fe is 6,900 or so and our campsite is at 9,000 ft., so no wonder we are both gasping for air when walking around!

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Prairies and Plains of Texas

We are now on day … 5? It is Monday and we got up early to clear out of Bonham and drive west on Hwy 82 toward Amarillo.  We won’t go all the way, but will stop south of Vernon in Copper Breaks State Park.  It started out just fine, temp in the mid 70’s, road was straight and easy, passing right through some small towns along the way.  For the second day in a row I kept seeing little donut shops, but there was no easy way to stop and park, so my hunger for some local donuts is yet to be satisfied.  Many of these dusty towns look empty and abandoned, the brick storefronts and porches boarded up and in disrepair.  What a shame, as the towns back home would die for such cool architecture for their downtown scene.

One of the towns we did make a stop in: St. Jo.  This was a very cool, big and empty town square with absolutely nothing open but lots of historic storefronts.  Man, I would love to have had a coffee in their cafe or some tacos in the Windmill Grill.  My brother will be excited to learn that Secondhand Lions was playing at the local movie theater, but it was definitely closed (maybe since the premier?) The town was a stop on the Chisholm Trail, the route of the famous livestock drive north, and before crossing the Red River valley, the cowboys would resupply and recharge at the shops and saloons in town. 

We determined that Wichita Brewing in Wichita Falls would be a perfect stop for lunch, but Mondays are no good with breweries – nearly all are closed, as was this one.  But wait? There is a brewery in Nocona, according to a billboard.  But sadly it was also closed.  We passed it in town, a cute place in part of a boot factory.  Sigh.  Ah well, next town.

The prairies and bottomlands of the Red River valley continue, with junipers and oaks sprinkling the grassland.  Starting to see the oil pumps and wind turbines as we go along.  The horizon is flat and vast around us.  The temperature is starting to climb into the 90’s and by the time we get to the state park it is 104.  Good thing we are stopping for the day.  Campground is a nice flat, open area amid red rock valleys along a small reservoir.  It is a Dark Sky site, so we shall see what we can film tonight if it is clear.  The moon has been pretty full, so that might make it less dark.

So, a question for you:  what do North Texans do for fun when it is 104 degrees?  They have their kids run cross country!  I kid you not, there is a meet happening in the park and through the campground.  These kids are dropping like flies!  Looks like middle and high school students, boys and girls, and they are awesome for doing this.  The radio confirmed this is the hottest day of the year, but we should get a cold front tonight and temps should go down to 85.

Well, my effort to upload and publish the previous blog page was not successful at Bonham, but I was able to work off the tailgate at the Copper Breaks HQ building with pesky flies biting my ankles and got it published.  I am sure there are some wacky errors and the photos didn’t get placed the way I wanted, but it was hot, and you get what you get.  Next one should be better.

Oh, I did manage to see a roadrunner cross the road in front of me … cool stuff, but I couldn’t get the camera out fast enough!  They are on my list, however, so I will keep trying.  As the sun set, we watched an armadillo move across the campsite, but run in terror when Kodi came out on the leash.  As fast as they can run, I am surprised so many end up roadkill.  We sat out at night to watch the night sky, but the bright full moon that rose made it tough to see much more than Jupiter, Saturn and Venus (which were pointed out to us by fellow campers with a telescope). 

Next day our goal was Amarillo, Texas, which was about 3 hours or so northwest.  It was a windy night and we were hoping for a change in the weather and woke to – can you believe it – 67 degrees!  The entire drive to Amarillo stayed breezy and 70 degrees, over 30 degrees less than the day before.  Nice.

So the trip was across flat plains, pastures of horses and cattle and farm fields of cotton and soybeans.  We made a stop at a beautiful rest area that had great views of the landscape.  Oh, and the pet walk area had some clear warnings for critters.  Umm, are you sure we should be walking the dog here?

Speaking of crazy signs, as we left the Texas town of Memphis a bright yellow sign warned “Hitchhikers May Be Escaped Inmates” … really?  Bad enough that it might happen once, but if you have to print up and post a sign about it, maybe you need to check your security. 

We saw a golden eagle soaring over the fields and plenty of tumbleweed bits blew across the highway, so it was definitely an all-Texas drive.  More small towns that we drove through that seemed barely hanging on.  Amarillo, however, has plenty of everything along I-40, including a spot that called out to tourists big time.  Naturally, we had to eat a late lunch of ribs, brisket and prime rib and enjoy a 10 glass sampler of beer at Big Texan Brewery and Steakhouse.  The beer was good, but frankly we have some better choices back home.

Oh, and no visit to Amarillo would be complete without stopping at a cornfield to admire the Cadillac Ranch – an installation of Cadillacs face into the ground.  There had to be more than a dozen cars of tourists pulled off the road to have a look, paint a bit and take selfies.  Of course we did the same.  A can of paint was being shared around so we added “D&J” to the car – which will likely be covered up again soon.  Fun.

We will pull out of the Ft. Amarillo RV park in the morning and make our way to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  That is going to be a long drive of almost 300 miles, so we want to get an early start.  We got a phone message that the next spot at Hyde Memorial Park is out of water and power until later in October.  We knew there would be no water, but the electric was a surprise.  Ah well, we shall see how well the next 4 days go.

Thank you for all the great comments!  More adventures to come.

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Tuscaloosa to Texarkana and Beyond

Well, I figure it is about time to post something about the start of our third western trip. But the “getting there” part of any road trip is usually not that exciting – lots of driving, interstate highways and gas stations. However, we planned this trip to travel more on 2 and 4 lane roads and avoid the interstates as much as we could.

After leaving Georgia on I-20, skipping through bands of rain and down to Alabama’s university town of Tuscaloosa, we pulled into Lake Lurleen State Park just outside of town. A very nice campground where we had a lakefront spot, but no cell service unless we walked toward the gatehouse and pointed our phones just right. Ah well, didn’t need the phones.

Intermittent rain and thunderstorms overnight were the remains of tropical storm Nicholas – and we are pretty familiar with hurricanes and tropical storms while camping, so it was fine. Dinner these first few nights was easy, since Jackie does a great job of preparing pasta salads, frozen ravioli lasagna, stroganoff and fresh salad makings. Don’t have to mess around with the grill when you are only one night in camp.

Back on the road early and we were headed across Mississippi on Hwy 82, the road that would take us all the way just past Amarillo, Texas. No complaints, since we had almost nobody on the road with us and it was mostly a straight run. The pines of Georgia turned into rolling hills and then flat farmland as we drove past fields of soybeans and cotton in the Mississippi delta.

Our second stop was just over the Mississippi River along the largest oxbow lake in the US: Chicot Lake. The campground was a county park along the shoreline of what was once the main channel of the river and we had a nice site that overlooked the lake. It was a back-in, so we had to disconnect the Jeep and hook up the electric. But one look at the electric post told me I was glad I had our surge suppressor attached to the shore line. Actually, as I flipped the breaker, expecting anything from sparks to bugs flying out, the power came on and we had no problems. I chose not to connect to the water supply, however, as the general disrepair and horrendous condition of the bath house shouted “danger Will Robinson.” I think the county needs to increase their park budget. And of course more rain and thunderstorms overnight. But, we catch an osprey on a shoreline perch near us, so that was nice.

On the road again early and Hwy 82 was still a quiet, straight road west. If we passed or were passed by a handful of trucks all day it was a lot. Rain on and off, which has left a nasty grime over the front of the Jeep, but it has kept the temperature in the upper 70’s. Our destination is Texarkana, but we had a lunch stop planned mid-way. As we drove through more farm fields in the flat Mississippi River floodplain we were surprised to learn that Arkansas is the birthplace of and second largest warm water aquaculture, growing baitfish, striped and largemouth bass and catfish. They started with goldfish years ago. Well, the egrets and herons were certainly happy, from what we saw.

Our lunch stop was in the town of El Dorado at Three Birds Brewing. It was adjacent to a strip mall, which made parking the rig easy, and we were some of the only folks inside for lunch. Well, the folks back home know we always manage to find a brewery along the way, so of course we had to have a flight of their beer with lunch. Pulled pork nachos and poutine with cheese curds and pulled pork were a pretty hearty fare – but the blonde, Octoberfest, pilsner, Mexican lager and Imperial stout helped wash it down. Kodi was disappointed we couldn’t include him in the visit, but was happy to be on the road again.

Texarkana wasn’t much farther and again our spot was on a nice lake managed by the Texas Corps of Engineers: Clear Creek Campground. The rain had finally quit around lunchtime, so the sky cleared off for a nice sunset. This was one of the best sunsets, just watching the cloud colors changed and reflected in the water, with egrets and herons flying off to roost for the night. Magical.

We loved our spot along the lake, but we had one strange event. When we got to the site there was no water from the spigot. We kind of needed to add water to the tanks, since we had been using only what we had from home, and that was maybe a third of a tank to start with. This was the point where we would fill with fresh water and finally take a nice shower.

Folks in a nearby site said they didn’t know about it, but … oh, wait, did this help? They turned on some valve and suddenly we had water. Lousy pressure, but ok, I can fill it later. While doing a walkabout with the dog we noticed water leaking out of another nearby site – figured that was why the water was shut off. Hmm, maybe I better fill before they shut it all down. Yep, they decided they couldn’t make a repair and would have to shut off our water and move us to another spot. “Wait! Just let me try to get more in the tank! We want to stay where we are.” So we added a bit more to the tanks and stayed to enjoy the sunset and went ahead and had our showers in the morning. (They were down to only one operating shower anyway, so the motorhome worked just fine).

The next leg of the trip was a bit shorter, so Jackie and I had time to drive into Texarkana and play tourists for an hour. But it was dead. Other than folks at church (this is Sunday), the wide streets of the town that straddles the Texas and Arkansas border were empty. Not that it looked like there was much that would have been open anyway. Sad to see these cool brick buildings fall into such disrepair and downtowns just become ghost towns.

Connected the Jeep and headed out once again on Hwy 82 for another straight run through towns like Blossom, Stamp, Paris and Bonham. We are staying at Bonham State Park with another nice view of a lake. This time we were hot enough to go for a swim. Mid 90’s and it felt good to cool off in the lake, even though the fish kept poking Jackie. This was a pull-thru spot, so tomorrow we can hit the road for the run just beyond Wichita Falls. For the most part we are driving 4 hours a day with one stop for gas and/or a Walmart (oh, we forgot …) stop. We could have pushed it farther each day, but what’s the rush?

I am going to try and post this with pictures, since I think we can get wifi at the HQ building next to the swimming area. Watch for another update soon. Thanks for coming along on the journey with us.

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Goin’ Local and Gettin’ Ready

Yep, it’s summer and we are staying local, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t busy.  This summer in particular is one where EVERYONE hit the road to go SOMEWHERE – but we are trying to avoid those crowds and just enjoy some time with the family.  So what did these two busy retirees do, exactly? 

A new 4-wheeling adventure?

Well, we took our grandsons to the Georgia Aquarium for some underwater adventures.  That was an amazing day and we just wowed the boys, sitting in front of the huge tank of fish, with the whale sharks and rays sailing past.  They loved the beluga and the sharks and couldn’t stop pointing out all the fish in the underwater tunnel as we were transported along the moving walkway. “More big fish, Pop pop, come on” was heard more than a few times.  Crazy moment in the main hall when someone called out to me to stop … turns out it was our former assistant principal Dr. Davis who is now President and CEO of the aquarium (and who also encouraged me to get certified to teach the engineering and technology classes).  Well, that led to a behind-the-scenes tour of the big tank and some private viewing moments.  What a nice surprise!

I was back to baking bread, with some camping coming up we needed burger and hotdog rolls and a Pullman loaf for PB&J sandwiches.  Had to keep feeding the sourdough, too.

We also camped along the shores of our local Lake Allatoona, something we thought would be a good opportunity for the grandsons to learn what the motorhome and camping are all about.  Even though we were in a cycle of daily pop-up thunderstorms, it was a very fun few days at the lake.  Our campsite was next to the swimming area, so when the boys, Karina and Jason joined us it was easy to walk back and forth.  The boys loved it and Wyatt took to the kayak like a pro.  Paddleboards and floats made it fun to splash, paddle and bob in the water, even when the rain came down.  Owen and Wyatt stayed the night with us, ate all our snacks plus a hearty pancake breakfast and we all splashed around in the lake the next day.

A few days later we drove to Chattanooga to visit with Alex and Bethany and most importantly to go off-road Jeeping with them and some friends.  It was important to Alex that we properly break in the Jeep with mud splashes and off-road bumps and bounces – and the long and winding Big Frog Road through the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest certainly did that.  It was good to learn how to put it in 4-wheel drive, disconnect the sway bar and generally get the feel of off-roading, since we have our fall trip to the canyons of Utah coming up.  Kodi seems to enjoy the back seat of the Jeep, at least we heard no complaints.

We added a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium the next day and had fish tacos at Big River Grill (was that wrong?).

We also had the grandsons over for another night at home, since Karina was busy setting up her classroom for students this school year.  This time we pulled out the trusty inflatable pool and our “redneck trampoline” to entertain them (the old RV mattress is awaiting a bulk pickup).  We were also dog-sitting Allie, so there was much noise and movement around the house at feeding time.

And we are getting everything ready for another big adventure to the Southwest.  That meant getting 4 new tires for the motorhome, a check of the brakes, propane fill and new springs on one of the hydraulic leveling jacks (it still retracts very slowly).  Replaced a tiny spring in the screen door latch and pulled out and replaced the diverter in the shower faucet. I also replaced the very fogged up and yellowed headlight assemblies, replaced the amber clearance lights on the front with new LED ones and switched to LED bulbs on the red ones in the rear.  Even though we rarely drive at night, it just updates the motorhome and certainly improves the look up front.

A few extra accessories for the Jeep (storage nets, overnight cover, decent cooler and storage sleeve for the soft-sided windows), a GoPro mount attached to the front bumper and I think it is ready for off-roading.  And for Labor Day weekend I got to try it out in the Prentice Cooper WMA in Chattanooga. Alex invited us up to join Bethany’s parents on a trail ride just a few miles from their house and as you can see, it was a bit muddy, bumpy and dusty. We had lunch at an overlook of the Tennessee River with Chattanooga in the distance. Unfortunately the ride was cut short by a front driveshaft breakdown on Jim’s Jeep, which meant we had to go have a beer at Heaven & Ale in Chatt. Not so bad. And yes, I washed off the mud from Tennessee, both trips. 

I’ve got my various cameras ready for photos and ran through night-sky and sunset photo settings.  We’ve gone through our hiking boots, neoprene booties, trekking poles, backpacks and essentials to be sure we are ready.  Watched some great videos of hikes and drives in the areas we are heading (we particularly like “Adventures of A + K”) and feel like we know what to do in Canyonlands, Moab, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and … well, you will just have to wait for the pictures and stories. Our highlight Jeep drive will be the Shafer Trail from Dead Horse Point State Park to Moab. (I am trying a new app for hikes called AllTrails, which looks VERY helpful).

So, off we go in mid-September for another adventure.  Kodi and Merlin will be our back-seat critics, Jackie will navigate and of course we’ll have stories to share.  As our good friend Rich said “you always manage to find some cool brewery.”  What we won’t find much of is good internet, cell signal and WiFi, so it may be some slow postings on the blog.  But I will do my best to share our adventure. (Bit disappointed that Roadtrippers app is now very limited in their free version).

Part One of the Adventure – Atlanta to Canyonlands, mapped on Roadtrippers

Oh, and in case you were just a bit confounded by our 4-wheeling adventure through the sand, pictured as the white Jeep at the top of this post, maybe this will help put it in context for you (look closely):

Just having a little fun, there. Thanks for coming along on the journey as we explore Utah, northern New Mexico and the Gunnison River Valley with our Jeep (the big one) in tow!

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