I finally managed to coax my GoPro Studio to stop crashing and I have some videos of our trip our west this fall (2021). Some pretty amazing sights, a few classic drives and “bucket list” adventures … and yes, some of the driving ones are a bit on the long side. But heck, you want to see the whole experience, right? Put them on your widescreen TV, grab a brew and sit back to enjoy (or chuckle) and maybe plan your OWN adventure!
It is hard to describe just how vast and beautiful the landscape of Canyonlands National Park is, even pictures don’t fully capture the breathtaking beauty. Our Western adventure in October 2021 took us to the Moab region of Utah to camp in an amazing campground: Dead Horse Point State Park. We explored the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands in this video, with a snippet of our drive down the Shafer Trail in our Jeep.
Camping at Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah was an unforgettable experience for us. This stop on our October 2021 trip to Colorado and Utah was the highlight for sure, with 4-wheeling adventures on Long Canyon Road, Shafer Trail and Potash Road plus grand overlooks and hikes across the mesas and slickrock. This is but one of the videos of that adventure in Canyonlands and more.
While camping at Dead Horse State Park in Canyonlands we booked a half-day rafting adventure on the Colorado River. It was a pretty amazing trip between the red sandstone cliffs as our guide navigated the muddy rapids and our raftmates had a wet and wild time.
Part of our big western trip in September and October, 2021 – we were camped in Crawford Lake State Park, Colorado and planned to visit the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. But an afternoon sleet storm postponed that till the next day – which turned out to be our second snowy day of the trip. Absolutely gorgeous and made for a nice trip over to the Canyon later in the day. We were a bit worried about the 19 degree overnight temperature, but everything worked out fine.
A fall 2021 hike to the Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch outside Moab, Utah. This 3 mile out-and-back hike was surprisingly tricky for a Sunday morning, traversing some dry washes, rocky climbs and slickrock outcroppings with cables and ladders. But the view and interaction with Corona Arch was worth the effort, though, and in some ways more spectacular than similar ones in Arches. Easy access from a parking lot along the Colorado River and a good addition to a drive along the Potash Road/Shafer Trail.
This was an amazing down-the-canyon drive even the video can’t fully capture. A trip from the Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park to the Colorado River outside Moab, Utah. The GoPro Hero9 is so good at image stabilization that it looks like a smooth ride – and it was anything but. No guard rails, either, so you had to hope you didn’t run into someone coming the other way!
Another “bucket list” off-road drive not to be missed in Canyonlands outside Moab, Utah. Who wouldn’t want to experience “Pucker Pass” and this massive chunk of rock you drive under … very slowly. Watch for Jackie to jump out for a closer look (that I missed on editing). We love our new Jeep.
An otherworldly landscape that we experienced on a beautiful, crisp fall day. The day was perfect and the scenery was breathtaking – literally, since we were huffing and puffing our way along the 3 mile hike that dropped down about 600 feet at the 8,000 ft. elevation — and then back up again along some challenging switchbacks. You don’t want to miss the Wall Street section of the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop trail. The next day we left the area in a snowstorm that dropped about 6 inches of snow, so our day turned out to be the best chance for hiking.
While camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park we headed out to hike up to the summit of the dunes. Well, it was a pretty cold start to the day, about 35 degrees, and gradually became more windy. But we hiked our way about halfway to the top, we figure maybe a 450 foot elevation gain. Given that we were already at about 8,200 feet elevation, it was a surprisingly “breathless” hike – plus, we learned that sand dunes are not the easiest to climb. One unintentional glitch was with the lens shade I put on the GoPro. I was hoping to cut down on lens flare, but in the widescreen mode it caught it in the edges of the picture. Ah well, another learning experience. The hike was worth it though – seemed like something out of Star Wars – how the heck did C3PO do it?
Up early after a windy night, the temp down to 41 degrees, we quickly got dressed, drove to dump wastewater and hooked up the Jeep. The dunes were highlighted by the sun but the backdrop was pretty ominous. The wind was whipping the sand off the tops of the dunes, not a good day to be climbing.
Already the mountain peaks had disappeared as dark clouds drooped over them and tentacles of precipitation (looked like snow) reached downward. Good thing we were headed south, ahead of the incoming cold front, as a wintry mix chased us to our next thrill – a 9,000 ft mountain peak that should finally be our last climb.
Before we started to climb, we unhooked the Jeep at the chain station (emergency brake fully engaged this time) and Jackie drove to the other side where we connected back again. Not nearly as tough as we expected.
We now drove straight and flat across the grasslands to Lamar on a 2-lane road with no shoulders at all. Saw a few pronghorn, but little else. We were pretty much alone, except then an 18-wheeler pulling half a house “wide load” came toward us. Nowhere to go except the white line to the right and “whooosh” it zoomed past, probably with only inches to spare. At 65+ mph. Sigh… until the other half came barrelling down the road toward us. A repeat of the “whooosh” as we white-knuckled it past, holding our breath as if that would help.
But we were soon in Lamar (home to a pretty large cattle feed lot), getting gas and making a quick stop at Walmart (yippee!) for some fresh food. The campsite was nearby and what a cool spot. At Sundance-High Plains RV Park we were given a “deluxe” spot along the grassland, facing the western sunset. Wonderful. Electric and water with a nice shower facility. We are told that pronghorn might be in the grassland along with quail and roadrunners, who apparently eat the quail. Only one night to show yourself, roadrunner! Whoops, just as I am writing this a covey of quail ran across in front of the motorhome… let’s see if I can get a shot. Yep, but they are fast runners.
Since we also have great wifi here, I was able to upload two posts to the blog! And saw a news report that the cold front we were out-running had dropped major snow in Monarch Pass – where we drove through just two days ago, Sunday. An overnight Monday photo was posted, and as you can see, we would NOT have made it through that pass in that condition. Yikes.
The overnight temps only got down to low 40’s, but we had some pretty strong gusty winds to start off the evening. This area, due to their drought, has a red flag warning, which means a high risk of wildfires. Since we got up early, we both had a chance to use the showers at Sundance High Plains before heading east toward Wichita, Kansas.
The drive was straight and mostly flat, as you would expect, and very gusty and windy. We were driving a nice 2-lane highway, which gave you a good look at local life. The dry, scrub pastures and high plains of eastern Colorado gave way to irrigated fields of hay, alfalfa and sorghum. It was harvest time for all of that and we saw loads of hay bales in the fields and on trucks, plus sorghum being cut, trucked and massed into huge piles. Trucks of livestock, hay and grains would rush past (speed limit is 65) the motorhome and those with sorghum would splash a blast of grains on the windshield as they passed, quite a jolt. You got a good sense of the scale of work involved in making the harvest of all these crops.
We also passed many feed yards of cattle and a couple of processing plants in towns like Garden City and the outskirts of Dodge City, which explained all of the livestock trailers. We drove through micro-towns like Cimmaron and Ingalls, Ford and Mullinville. So many have the remnants of 1950’s storefronts, motels and gas stations long abandoned. One of the little towns had a crazy display of metal folk art that was spinning in the breeze. Quite the installation, along with some commentary.
Always a Story …
We kept driving east until Wichita, where Jackie called in a reservation inside the city limits at Air Capital RV Park. This was a well-developed spot, all concrete drives with patches of lush green grass between the slips. We asked for a back-in site and at the front office we disconnected the Jeep, ready to follow Melvin in his golf cart. Except that the Jeep would not start again. Tried the instant jump, no good – several times. Took out the jumper cables and hooked to the generator to jump it, not working. By this time we had Melvin looking on, another helpful resident who wanted to jump it from his semi, but it was all to no avail. Battery was dead beyond reviving.
Well, what do you do? Melvin said it was fine to leave the Jeep parked where it was, but we still needed a replacement battery. Two blocks away there was an O’Reilly Auto Parts shop, we were told, so we drove the motorhome there, parked in the next door Dillon’s lot (one of the Kroger stores) and I went over to the auto parts store with a picture of the battery. Hmm, well they had a battery that was recommended for the Rubicon but which was stronger and slightly longer than the one I had. But it was at their other location. Could they get it here today? Yep, would be on the truck and here by 5:30 (it was like 3:30 now). Ok, so you will call me when it comes in? Yep.
Back to RV park, slipped into our spot but only plugged in electric. I went over to unhook the battery, while Melvin looked on, got a call the new battery was ready, Melvin drive his golf cart with me and battery to RV so we could return it for the core refund. Unhooked electric, drove over to O’Reilly’s and swapped batteries. Back to park, dropped battery at Jeep, parked motorhome in site, hooked up electric, leveled and put out slides. Then I went to Jeep to lift and insert the new, slightly longer, slightly heavier battery. A passing dog-walker stopped to help me negotiate the battery into place, I clamped it all down and connected terminals and accidentally set off the car alarm. Ok, it works. Started up, drove to the slip and collapsed on the couch. Maybe we finally solved the battery problem.
Not for long, though, as we had plans to find breweries in Wichita. Not hard, as we have driven through here before. We went back to River City Brewing in Old Town and soon ordered up Mediterranean Pizza and something I loved before: BBQ Mac ‘n Cheese. Yummy, creamy, smoky flavor that went great with a house Dunkel. Jackie ordered a strawberry kolsch but promptly swapped beers for the Dunkel (which really was good). We later walked a few blocks to Third Place Brewing and had one more beer each. We sampled several they had and then Jackie had a gose she liked and I tried their Red Truck IPA. Good conversation with the bartender (we were the ONLY folks in there) who was a theater major teaching special ed. The stories, the stories … Oh to be retired – we love it!
Back in minutes to our motorhome in a Jeep that runs and we are set for the night. Tomorrow we head to Springfield, Missouri to find an easy spot for the night.
Yes, we drove eastward toward Missouri on the continuation of the 2-lane road from the day before. Early start, but since we are now on Central time, we lost an hour to start with. Pretty much the same flat fields to start with, more hawk sightings on fence posts, electric wires and low flying – I think they were mostly rough-legged hawks. The fields gradually turned to rolling tree covered hills as we traveled eastern Kansas toward Missouri. It began to remind me of northern New Jersey with juniper, oaks and sumac.
Our stop for the night was at Missouri RV Park in Mountain Grove, Missouri just east of Springfield. Actually, for an older park just off the highway it was quite nice. Heck, all we need is a level spot with electric and water, but this had grass and trees and room between sites. Kodi enjoyed some “fetch” for a while and I had time to fix a bucket of soapy water and washed down the Jeep, plus cleaned the bugs off the motorhome windshield. Losing some of the Utah and Colorado dust that is pretty persistent. And Kodi is happy not to be picking up burrs or spikes on his feet. Speaking of dogs and cats, both Kodi and Merlin have been wonderful on the trip. Merlin soaks up the sun on the dashboard (parked) and while on the road, Kodi is great about getting in his crate on the couch and curling up.
Get up, drive, stop, sleep, repeat. This last run home is kind of like that. Our next day goal is just east of Memphis. The drive in Missouri took us through rolling fields and pastures with plenty of green trees and then across the Ozarks in Arkansas. Some uphill climbs, but nothing like the Rockies. Then the drive drops down to the Mississippi River valley and there are plenty of fields being harvested. Mostly cotton, but also soybeans and some hay. The drive was pretty easy and soon we were crossing the Mississippi and circling to the south of Memphis. We were soon in Mississippi heading toward with a couple of good prospects for camping. We stretched the drive to reach beyond Tupelo to stay at Tombigbee State Park. Not far off I-22, but the final 5 miles or so were a narrow, curving squiggle of a road to the park. An absolutely delightful spot in the trees with plenty of room and full hookups, so no complaints at all. Kodi got some fetch time in the playground, which helped get the kinks out from the drive.
This should be our last night in camp, as home is supposed to be four and a half hours away. I know that by the time we reach Birmingham I will want to just press on until we are in the driveway. Then comes the task of unpacking the laundry, the fridge, the bathroom — but it will be just fine, considering the trip we have had. A couple of soapy washings of the Jeep and motorhome and maybe the blower to get the Utah red dust out of the Jeep.
So by the time you read this we will be stretching out at home, not banging into things, taking at least one or two nice long hot showers in something bigger than a phone booth and thinking back to the many hikes, 4WD trails, jaw-dropping scenery, small towns, breweries and just a few minor “learning opportunities” with overheating engines and battery life.
I really do enjoy posting the pictures and stories and hope you enjoy them as well. So, until our next adventure . . .
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.
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.