Cottonwood Canyon Road

After completing our tasks in Escalante, we packed up our caravan and headed to Kodachrome Basin State Park. It was too late in the day to do the planned hikes in the park, so we asked the Ranger for a good place to disperse camp outside of the park. She directed us to the Rock Spring Bench Campsite off Cottonwood Canyon Road at marker 410. We set up camp in a field with an incredible view of the surrounding geology.

The mouse appeared in the morning and Clark saw it jump outside before it could be captured, never to return. I guess it liked the drier, warmer climate.

Kodachrome Basin got its name from a 1948 National Geographic magazine shoot that called the area Kodachrome Flat after the brand of Kodak film known for its vibrant colors. Utah purchased the land from the US Government and made it a state park in 1962.

The next day we went back to the park and did two hikes. The first was the 3-mile Panorama Trail which lives up to its name. Everywhere you look you are surrounded by natural beauty on this trail.

There are a lot of spires of various colors throughout the park. Some of these formed from water springs that filled with material that became a harder rock than the water spring walls that eventually eroded away. Other spires were volcanic shafts that pushed a different rock material up through a rock formation that has also eroded away.

This is the view from Panoramic Point looking towards the basin. It is hard to believe that less than 100 years ago this area was the beautiful, “undiscovered” region within the US for the National Geographic photo shoot.

After lunch we did the shorter Angel’s Palace Trail. This trail jumps up onto a local plateau that gives a great view of the park below. This is also looking towards the Basin.

This is a view from one of the many narrow elevated pathways along the hike looking to the west, away from the Basin. Besides the incredible beauty, the building along the road was a park laundromat. We will have to remember that the next time through here.

We camped at the same spot that night. The Rangers in the visitor center let us rent their corn hole bags and boards. It was a competitive happy-hour where all three couples won in the round-robin tournament.

The next morning, we packed up, returned the corn hole game, and headed south down Cottonwood Canyon Road. We stopped at Grosvenor Arch for a few pics of this unique rock formation. The 150-foot tall arches were named after Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, the first fulltime editor of the National Geographic Magazine and later the president of the National Geographic Society.

Not all the interesting things are from looking up, or even rocks. Pam found this great looking lizard making his way around the base of the arch. Nice polka dots.

As we continued south you could now see the Magnum Fire smoke cloud that was blowing to the northeast. We dropped into “the squeeze” where the trailheads for the cottonwood canyon narrows are located. The area gets its name from the near vertical tilt of the many rock formations in the area. This must be a geological stress release point where a lot of ground shifting and rotating has taken place over the years.

The narrows hike is a 3-mile hike through a slot canyon wash in the area.

Given the COVID concern, many of our hikes luckily had very few other folks on the trail with us. As we hiked the narrows “downstream”, a young woman was hiking up and stopped to chat with Clark and Jill. It turned out that she was a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) intern and was just getting to know her job area better. The next generation may not be as bad as we think.

The area is also called “candyland” due to the many colors of the rock formations.

We hiked back to the vehicles on the road because the scenery along the road is just as spectacular as within the slot canyon. Also, the road traffic is light – lol.

We left there and continued south to Lower Hackberry Canyon trailhead. The trip so far had been low maintenance for all three vehicles. I had to replace a bolt in our stairs when we were in Blanding, add DEF to the Roamer reservoir when the warning flashed on my dash, and the macerator in our sink drain was flowing slower than usual, which Pam fixed. Clark and Jill had their mouse hunt, and Mike and Nancy had to replace a hold-down bolt and reseat their microwave when it popped out due to the rough roads we were traveling on. However, a bolt through the scissoring support arms of Clark and Jill’s pop-top bent, preventing easy operation of the assembly and the fear if it broke when up, the top would be stuck in the up position. Mike and I headed up Lower Hackberry trail while Pam and Nancy relaxed at the vehicles. Clark and Jill continued south along Cottonwood Canyon Road to find a connectivity signal and figure out how to remedy their bent bolt issue.

The Lower Hackberry hike was pretty, but tough as we made out way up the wash. It was like a beach hike through soft sand. After about a couple of miles, Mike and I turned around and headed back to the vehicles.

We knew we wanted to camp somewhere south of Lower Hackberry so we started heading that way towards Clark and Jill. As we made our way along the road, we ran into Clark and Jill returning to the trailhead. They had found connectivity, purchased a replacement bolt in Page, AZ and scouted a spot just a few miles south while attempting to resolve the pop-top issue. The fix would require internal bracing of the pop-top in the up position while a come-along unloaded the hefty spring mechanism that aids with the lifting of the 350-lb pop-top assembly. Therefore, their top would remain down the rest of the trip and the fix completed upon return to the valley.

The campsite was a dispersed camp spot just off the Cottonwood Canyon Road with a colorful rock wall as a backdrop.

Looking to the south you could see the smoke from the Magnum Fire around Jacob Lake, about 50 miles away. Luckily, we were north-northeast of the fire and the smoke was tracking northeast, just missing us.

We had some hummingbird visitors, so Pam put out our hummingbird feeder on the table as we enjoyed happy-hour, a nice dinner and a campfire. I must have sold Mike on the versatility and safety of our Volcano grill during this trip. He sent a picture after we got home of his new Volcano grill for their future trips. I was amazed how clean it looked. I guess ours has seen about 1000 nights of camping by now and the second carrying bag for the grill is held together with bungee cords. The grills are nearly indestructible and in addition to regular cooking, work extremely well for having a safely contained, off the ground campfire in the wilderness.

The next day we headed to Stateline campground only to find a Ranger there saying Rock House Road south of Wire Pass trailhead was now closed. We camped on the hill above the trailhead parking lot as we had done before with Lou and Nancy a few years ago. The only downside was that the trail to the maze petroglyphs is south of the closure so we could not visit it this time.

Thinking that maybe with the COVID scare less people would be at the daily lottery for The Wave at the Kanab BLM office, I called the office and found out that the previous days all had over 100 people there for the lottery of 10 spots, similar to a normal year. Therefore, we decided to just hike Wire Pass and Buckskin slot canyons.

Jill, Mike and Nancy took off early to hike the canyon. Clark and I hiked into the slot along the Wire Pass trail a little later in the day. Pam was not feeling 100% so she stayed at the rigs and read a good murder mystery in the shade.

There was no ladder at the drop in the Wire Pass slot, but Clark and I were tall enough to reach the rock steps below before we had to let go of the top rock at the drop. It was nice and cool in the slot canyon.

We hiked to the confluence where Wire Pass and Buckskin meet and turned north towards the Buckskin trailhead.

We spotted this lizard that was similar in color to the gold and orange shades of the sandstone walls. Obviously, his camouflage was not good enough seeing that something nearly got him for a meal before he shed the end of his tail and got away.

It was my first time hiking so far up Buckskin and the canyon was wider and just as beautiful as Wire Pass. Near the end of the canyon I spotted a rock formation that reminded me of an elephant head and trunk coming down the canyon.

As we hiked out of the Buckskin slot canyon and approached the trailhead, we ran across a cow that looked a little parched.

Clark and I then turned around and hiked back down Buckskin to the confluence with Wire Pass and then continued south further down Buckskin. This section was rockier on the canyon floor and made for a slower hike. Some sections were sandy, and we caught the light making its way down through the slot at the point we turned around.

We got back to the confluence for a third time during this hike and then headed out Wire Pass. The entrance to the slot canyon looks very narrow as you approach it from the confluence.

The Magnum Fire was now only 25 miles away from our campsite at Wire Pass. We were a little further to the north, so the smoke traveling northeast was missing us still. The area of the fire around Jacob Lake is around 7,900 feet in elevation. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is covered with Ponderosa Pine and Aspen that turn gold, orange and even red in the fall due to the colder air at that elevation.

The original itinerary was to show Clark, Jill, Mike and Nancy one of our secret camp spots just outside the National Park. It is located on the east side of Hwy 67, overlooking the Vermillion Cliffs and the Colorado River entrance to the Grand Canyon. The area should be untouched by the fire because the 80,000-acre fire was contained to the west side of Hwy 67, which runs from Jacob Lake to the North Rim. This campsite disclosure will have to wait for another trip.

So instead of heading to the North Rim we had to turn east to Page due to the fire related road closures and then south to Flagstaff. We stopped just outside Flagstaff for gas and to restock on food. Clark and Jill headed for the dispersed camp sites near Walnut Springs National Monument to find a spot.

Clark found a nice spot tucked in some trees and we had a nice happy-hour in the shade.

The next morning we hiked the rim trail of Walnut Springs National Monument because the visitor center and the access to the cliffside trail was closed.

We then headed into Flagstaff for lunch. We had to wait for the trains to pass so we could cross the tracks and get into town. It was a case where we really were on the wrong side of the tracks.

The last time we were in Flagstaff we found a good butcher shop that also serves meals and beers from the local breweries. Proper Meats + Provisions is right on Historic Hwy 66 and worth a stop if you are hungry and thirsty.

Our travel group split up after lunch to head on home. Clark, Jill, Mike and Nancy headed south back to the valley. Pam and I headed southeast to the Rim Country and our place there. Another fire, the Bush Fire, was between us and the valley once we made it to Payson. It is contained now after consuming 193,000 acres, but had caused the closure of the road from Payson to the valley for over a week. It was a little smokey coming into Payson.

Our place is 30 miles and 2500 feet higher in elevation from Payson. We were not sure how smokey it was going to be there. As with most forest fires, the smoke lays down at night, but gains altitude in the late afternoon before sunset.

While it was nice when we arrived at our place, it slowly became smokier in the afternoon. By sunset, it was pretty smokey at our place, even with the fire about 100 miles away.

The next day we decided to drive back down to the valley. Because of the Hwy 87 road closure we had to drive through the Salt River Canyon between Show Low and Globe. It took a couple more hours than normal to reach home, but the drive was nice, and we even saw another Earthroamer on the road traveling in the opposite direction as we were climbing out of the canyon.

It was a great trip with the three vehicles. COVID did not impact our adventure because we visited remote places where social distancing is easy to do. So the question is – where to next?

The Burr Trail

We headed out of the backcountry and the gnat-infested camping spot to Blanding, UT. We filled our rigs with gas and water and headed to the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum. We’ve traveled through Blanding several times over the past few years but had never visited the museum.

The museum was incredible, especially when you consider that Blanding only has a population of 3,700 folks. Many of the artifacts that have been found in the region reside in the museum. There was an entire room of the pottery collected, representing the four major periods in native history they were created. The pottery also varied in color and patterns by the different people that inhabited the region.

The macaw feather sash ceremonial piece was carbon dated to 1150 AD, but still had the bright colors of the scarlet macaw feathers. Trade was extensive between the folks from this region with folks all the way down into Mexico, the home of the macaw, and folks along the Pacific coast who brought shells other items to trade.

We then went to explore the “house on fire” ruins in the Bears Ears National Monument. The variation in color in the layers of sandstone give the appearance of flames above the ruins.

That night we headed back to Muley Point and another gorgeous happy-hour sunset.

The next day we visited Natural Bridges National Monument. Again, the visitor center and campground were closed, but the trails were open. We hiked down to the Sipapu Bridge overlook.

Sipapu Bridge is named for a Hopi term for the opening of the worlds. It is 200 feet tall, 31 feet wide, with a span of 268 feet.

We then hiked down to the Kachina Bridge overlook. On the way we saw this tree that has somehow figured out how to grow out of a rock and survive.

Kachina Bridge was named after the pictographs and petroglyphs of dancing kachina figures found on the base of the bridge. In 1992, 4,000 tons of sandstone fell from the inside of the bridge, making the opening slightly larger. It is just slightly smaller that Sipapu Bridge at 210 feet tall, 44 feet wide and 204 feet in span.

After our hikes, we headed west towards Hite, UT. Hwy 95 runs through Fry Canyon and some very colorful country.

We stopped at an overlook after passing Hite and crossing the Colorado River. This is effectively the entrance to Lake Powell and was at one time submerged when the water level was closer to the full water level value. Lake Powell is currently 90 feet below the full water level and has been that way for decades. Even at this lower level it currently contains over 4.4 trillion gallons, or 13.6 million acre-ft of water.

This is a view from the lookout of the Colorado River as it flows towards the Lake Powell entrance.

We turned south after Hite on the 276 Hwy towards Bullfrog, UT. Given the boat traffic on the road towards the marina at Bullfrog, I now realize that boat accidents occur because boat owners cannot drive on the road or in the water. Many must have a death wish as they try to get to the marina at maximum speed.

Before reaching Bullfrog, we turned west onto the Burr Trail, a 68-mile backcountry road that connects Bullfrog, UT with Boulder, UT. The drive is spectacular and is paved except for the section that runs through Capital Reef National Park.

At roughly 28 miles after the turn onto the Burr Trail you begin to see the “waterpocket fold”. This geological feature is made up of 100-foot layers of sedimentary rock that were bent into a 100-mile long colorful spine of rocks that formed 60 to 70 million years ago when the Rocky Mountains were uplifted and formed.

This is the approach to the Burr Trail switchback, a true dirt switchback that climbs up the face of the waterpocket fold.

This shot is looking down the face of the waterpocket fold through the slot where the road enters the switchbacks.

Once on top of the switchbacks we began to look for a good camp spot for the night. We found a pull-off just before Long Canyon with an incredible backdrop provided by the local mountains. As the sun was setting, we noticed what looked like a forest fire smoke cloud dispersed across the sky, which are common in the summertime in the west. We did not have a connectivity signal to locate the fire, but I expected it to be from somewhere in the southwest of Utah near Bryce Canyon or the Sierras of California based on the wind direction. We did not know that the smoke meant that our last part of our itinerary was about to change.

When we do have connectivity on our travels I like to look ahead and see if there are interesting places to explore. A few days before, I found a posting for the Singing Canyon, a short slot canyon within Long Canyon that looked like a good stop.

The singing canyon gets its name from the acoustics within the short canyon. It was a nice morning stop and short hike into the beautiful slot canyon.

Before reaching Boulder and the end of the Burr Trail, we stopped for another hike on an interesting sandstone hill. The hill is covered with shattered rocks that appear to have a lot of iron content. It looks like thousands of volcanic iron balls were launched in the air during an eruption many years ago, cooled in the air and then shattered on impact with the sandstone.

We finally made it to Boulder and got some gas at one of our favorite stops in Boulder. When we were there last a couple of years ago, we signed a petition so that they could get support for a liquor license. The closest beer or liquor was an hour away. The little market now has beer and liquor – yeah!

Boulder, a small but very pleasant town, also has a museum we had not visited before. The Anasazi State Park Museum was a surprisingly nice museum with some excavated ruins of an ancient community in the back that you could see.

The museum also had a taco truck in the parking lot. We ordered lunch there while we listened to a band that was playing on their lawn. It was the first “dining out” Pam and I had done since the beginning of the COVID panic in early March. The tacos and the band were good. Hopefully, things will return to normal soon.

We left Boulder and headed into the Dixie National Forest along the Hell’s Backbone Road. Before Hwy 12 was carved through the sandstone rock formations and paved between Escalante and Boulder, Hell’s Backbone Road was the only way to get to Boulder. Hell’s Backbone bridge was originally built by the CCC back in 1933.

The bridge’s location is the “backbone” where two gorges, the Death Hollows gorge on one side and the San Creek gorge on the other, fall off for 1000 feet or more. To build the original bridge the CCC felled two huge ponderosa trees to span the gap. A bulldozer driver, “Sixty” McInelly, moved the construction equipment across the fallen tree span with just a rope tied around his waist in case the dozer went over. OSHA was obviously created after the CCC – lol.

The original bridge held until the 1960s when folks became worried about the groans and creaks it made during each crossing. It was replaced with a steel and concrete bridge and then update to today’s bridge in 2005. The 360-view from the bridge is spectacular and photos just do not adequately capture the place.

We were able to get the last spot in Blue Spruce Campground along the Hell’s Backbone road, squeezing all three rigs into the single spot. The elevation of the campground is roughly 7,800 feet, and therefore, back into the cool forest.

There was a nice stream that ran next the campground.

Being out first campground for this trip, it was also our first campsite picnic table. Jill pulled out their tablecloth for the site’s picnic table. The pink and turquoise flamingoes were perfect.

During the night Clark and Jill picked up another passenger, a mouse that had obviously spent the night chewing through their paper products. It could not be found within the rig, even after the removal of many items, and so we left the site with a possible stow-away.

We stopped in at Posey Lake for lunch along the route to Escalante.

There were a few Ruddy Ducks on the lake, which are a colorful bird with a light blue beak.

Two fishermen headed out with a canoe and a cooler outrigger that one of the guy’s brothers had fabricated. The PVC structure looked like it worked well. We saw them pull in a few rainbow trout while the coolers provided easy access to food and beer while they were out on the water.

We made it to Escalante, UT and did some laundry at a local campground. We had connectivity again in town and found out that the forest fire smoke was from the Mangum Fire located near the north rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. That was to be our last campsite area for this trip so a change in plans would be required.

Four Corners

With the COVID-19 virus dominating everyone’s thoughts and actions, it was a good time to hit the road and explore the natural beauty in some remote places. I put together an itinerary for a southern Utah road trip for Pam, myself, Clark and Jill to get out of town for a couple of weeks. It turned out that other friends, Mike and Nancy, had just purchased a Ford Sportsmobile and were enroute back to the valley when they saw the itinerary and decided to join this adventure. It would now be a Roamer, a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and a Ford Sportsmobile trek.

Due to the heat this summer in the valley, Pam and I headed up north with the Roamer into the cooler mountain forest and waited up there until Clark and Jill could leave the valley. Mike and Nancy would join us enroute in southern Utah after they got home and stocked up their new rig.

Before any trip I like to practice taking some pictures with our camera to learn more about photography and how the camera works in different conditions. While most of my pics are of stationary objects, I would like to get better at capturing action shots. I am not there yet.

I caught this rabbit trying to hide behind some ferns in our yard.

Steller’s Jays are all around our yard, especially when we put the peanut feeder out. I think they eat as many as the Abert’s squirrels and the two are always stealing from each other’s stash – lol.

We have had a couple of bald eagles at the pond near our place this summer. We typically get osprey that come over from Willow Springs Lake to fish in the pond, but the eagles are a new guest.

I caught a couple of Canada geese resting at the pond during a migration stop. It looked like they were possibly staying, but with the eagles keeping an eye on them from above they moved on the next day.

A great heron was fishing in the pond. Fish and Game are stocking the pond this year so there were a lot of small fingerlings to eat in the shallows since the larger stocked fish now command the center of the pond.

A northern flicker was drinking from the water dish on our deck. I guess they cannot suck so they get some water in their beak and then tilt their heads back to let it run down their throats.

Chipmunks are making a comeback to our area. Alfie, our neighbor’s male cat, pretty much decimated the chipmunk and snake population for over a decade. He even attacked a coyote that was in his hunting territory. Now he is getting older, slowing down, and staying close to his house. The local wildlife appreciates his aging. He still comes over for a scratch when we are in the yard.

An Arizona Gray Squirrel was interested in posing for the camera on a fallen tree.

When Clark and Jill arrived, and we took off north for the four corners – that place where the state boundaries of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah all join together at a singular point. We passed through Petrified Forest National Monument to get to the four corners area. The road through the park was open, along with the trails, but the visitor center and campgrounds were still closed due to COVID.

It was nice to see that every bridge in the park was being rebuilt during this period of partial closure. The impact of the COVID shutdown is not all bad. It is a great time for road work and construction with the reduced daily traffic.

As you can see from the pictures, the place is no longer a forest. The large trees that once stood there were buried under layers of mud, volcanic ash, and other minerals. The lack of oxygen prevented decay and over millions of years the wood’s cellular structure crystallized, transforming into petrified wood. Chunks of the old trees are still visible everywhere and the colors within the crystallized wood are beautiful.

The four corners region is on the Navajo Nation lands. While the majority of the Navajo Nation is in Arizona, it does extend into Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. The Nation is 27,400 square miles, roughly a 160-mile by 160-mile square. If it were a separate US state it would rank 41 in size, being just larger than West Virginia in size, with a population of roughly 200,000 people. While the area is sparsely populated and remote, the Navajo family-oriented society has suffered significantly due to COVID relative to the surrounding areas in the West. Because of this, much of the Navajo Nation is still closed, which includes businesses and even the National Parks and Monuments within the Navajo Nation.

We caught an afternoon dust storm as we made our way through the beautiful landscape of the Navajo Nation on our way to southern Utah.

We climbed the Mokie Dugway switchbacks and finally made it to our first campsite of the trip, Muley Point. A rain cloud hung low to the ground in the south over the four corners region as we looked out over the beautiful landscape. Luckily, it did not rain so the dirt roads we were driving on were dry.

From Muley Point you can look past the lip of the plateau and see Monument Valley on the horizon about 10 miles to the south. Having grown up in Western Pennsylvania, surrounded by trees, I now prefer the majestic horizon-to-horizon vistas that most of the West provides.

Soon after we arrived, Mike and Nancy arrived to complete our travel group. We had the plateau to ourselves again, which was why I chose this spot for our campsite given the COVID social distancing requirement. I think the closest neighbor to our three rigs was about a quarter of a mile away on the next plateau.

As an added precaution, we had happy-hour every night during the trip to ensure that the alcohol killed any growing COVID cultures in our throat – lol.

Sunsets up on the plateau are spectacular.

The next day we dropped back down the Mokie Dugway switchbacks and explored Gooseneck State Park. The San Juan River cut this gorgeous formation through the rock on its way westward to the confluence with the Colorado River at Lake Powell. We saw some rafters on the river 1000 feet below from our lookout vantage point, making their way through this section of the river.

This entire region of the country is breath-taking if you like colorful, unique rock formations. To the east of Gooseneck State Park is a mountain side with a few million years of erosion history beautifully displayed.

From up on top of the Muley Point plateau you can see Monument valley on the horizon to the south, Gooseneck State Park just a little way to the south, and a dirt road that runs along the southern base of the plateau that we have always wanted to explore, Johns Canyon Road.

Both the Roamer and the Sportsmobile are high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles so we let Clark and Jill lead with their two-wheel drive Sprinter. We figured if they led and got stuck, we could pull them back to a good section of road with our winches, rather than let them follow and attempt to pull them through a bad spot or force them to scrape their undercarriage to keep up. The idea worked well. Both Mike and I were impressed with the rough road sections Clark was able to get the Sprinter through without scraping the bottom. However, as a future note, the rougher four-wheel drive sections are typically not areas with a lot of room for recovery options. But then again, you only need one good option that works.

Most of the road looks like the picture below, so most of it is an easy drive. However, the sections of easy road turn to clay in the rain and become impassable even for four-wheel drive vehicles.

We ended up stopping near a cattle guard gate that blocked the road. Due to the slope and erosion of the road after the gate, the Sprinter would have modified a few components under the vehicle attempting get through.

Instead of doing vehicular damage, we parked on a nice bluff overlooking the San Juan River gorge and had lunch. The picture below is from the cattle guard gate looking back the way we came.

Here is our Roamer advertisement shot for the trip that Pam took at our lunch spot along the road – lol. It was a beautiful spot.

The original itinerary had us using Muley Point as our social distancing nightly base for a few days as we explored the local area. However, we are always looking for a new and better place to camp so we decided to check out the Valley of the Gods for a good afternoon hike and a campsite.
The colors within the Valley of the Gods are spectacular.

The road winds through the rock monoliths.

We found a good spot for a hike. According to Clark the trailhead sign told of beautiful petroglyphs, so we all headed up the trail.

The trail ran up the rock-bed wash, but no petroglyphs were found.

There were many spots along the road where you could pull off and camp. We found a great spot to spend the night and enjoy the stars.

The next morning, we continued along the road to the other side of the picturesque valley.

One of the rock monoliths was called “sitting hen” for an obvious reason.

After leaving the Valley of the Gods we headed east towards the Colorado border and Hovenweep National Monument. Again, the park and trails were open, but the visitor center and the campground were closed. We hiked the 2-mile loop around the ruins that were built between 1200 and 1300 AD.

It is estimated that roughly 2500 people lived here during that time, and that most of the ruins are the food storage granaries.

After lunch at Hovenweep NM, we decided to explore the dirt roads in the area for a good campsite. We drove up Montezuma Canyon and Montezuma Creek roads until we came to Three Kiva Pueblo.

It was a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) site with a preserved kiva out in the middle of nowhere. As with all kivas, you climbed down the ladder into the kiva, symbolic of re-entering the earth where the ancient Pueblo people originally emerged during creation.

The inside of the kiva was well-maintained and is probably still used by some locals for native ceremonies.

We camped near the kiva that night, which turned out to be a huge mistake. The area was covered in sage, which always smells great, and cottonwood trees running along a submerged stream nearby. It was an active cattle grazing area, which meant there were a lot of biting gnat-like bugs that made for an evening of advanced deet-related skin protection. Clark and Pam were the gnat’s food of choice based on their quantity of bites, but we all suffered enough irritating bites when we took inventory in the morning that should remind us to never, ever camp there again.

McNeal

Every year we make a late winter trip down to McNeal in southeastern Arizona to see the Sandhill Cranes. These 4-foot tall birds with a 7-foot wingspan, along with many other birds, use the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area as their winter migration stop.

The winter weather has been typical this year with day-long rains and snow in the higher elevations across Arizona. A little weather was predicted for the trip, but we decided to hit the road anyway.

We drove east through Globe to Safford before dropping south through Wilcox. The spring orange and red desert poppies were in bloom across the San Carlos Indian Reservation hillsides. Blue lupins lined the roads as we made our way towards Safford. We did stop for lunch in the small farming community of Thatcher at Kainoa’s Hawaiian Grill. The food there is always good, so we always stop there. Pretty simple.

We got to Whitewater Draw on a beautiful evening and squeezed into a camp spot near the old hay barn.

Pam and I found a Great Horned Owl couple in the hay barn. One of the owls was nearly hidden in the huge nest in the rafters, while the other kept watch from his rafter perch.

The Sandhill Cranes has just returned for the evening from feeding in the farm fields to the north when we arrived. There were still thousands around the ponds.

A group of Snow Geese were also calling the area home as they will soon begin their migration north. You can tell the Snow Goose from the Ross Goose by the black lips of the Snow Goose. Who knew a goose had lips?

The Arizona Wildlife Game and Fish Department purchased the area some time ago and fill the ponds with water from a local well. The ponds were lower than usual, but the waterfowl appeared to like this reduced level because it made bottom feeding a little easier. Three female, Northern Shovelers were enjoying shallow water.

These two Long-Billed Dowitchers were also enjoying the reduced water level and larger feeding areas that it produced. While they spend the winter along the Arizona-Mexico border, soon they will fly to their summer home at the northern shores of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean.

Once night approached, the owls took to the skies for hunting. The great horned owl perched on a pole until it spotted something in the grass and became a high-speed, silent glider about to eat. There was also a bat house in the hay barn. As night fell you could see the hundreds of bats take flight to feed on the local insect population.

The sunset turned beautiful colors of orange and gold as we sat outside and enjoyed the evening.

A little rain was predicted for the next morning, and we heard it start in the middle of the night. It was still raining in the morning and the ground was fully saturated. Also, the dirt in this region turns to a slick clay that makes walking and driving a little more interesting.

The folks camped next to use were up and gone at daylight. We didn’t need to be anywhere until noon, so we had a nice relaxing morning in the rain. I even walked out to see the birds again and realized that the ground was just not muddy, but a little slick getting around.

We packed up and left the site and had to travel two miles by dirt road to get back to pavement. I put the rig into 4-wheel high and even then, noticed that the back of the rig was not always directly behind us. We turned north out of the Whitewater Draw area and could see a couple of RVs and fifth-wheels stopped in the road about a half a mile to the south. It soon became obvious that they were not stopped as much as stuck on the road as we fish-tailed north on the road in 4-wheel.

We turned onto the road we came in on and about ¾ of a mile on that road was the couple that was camped in front of us the night before. They had made it 1 & ¾ miles in the clay muck but came up ¼ mile short of the pavement. I stopped a little distance away to leave some recovery options open. The road was luckily flat in the middle, but I didn’t want to get too close to the side and slide into the ditch.

I walked over to discuss options since the Roamer has a front and rear winch. I figured I could winch him back towards us to get him aligned with the road and the get in front of him and winch him to the pavement. The Ontario couple we glad to see us, but they had already contacted AAA and a tow truck was on its way.

Our tire treads were big enough and the vehicle heavy enough that we pushed down the 2 inches or so to the clay surface of the road. You can see their tread mark in front of our back tire, where they were not even pushing any mud away and eventually got stuck. Even our rig was tough to keep aligned with the road as the picture shows.

Unfortunately, they had been sitting there for hours (since daybreak). No regular tow truck from AAA would agree to get them out because they probably couldn’t. AAA called in a bigger tow truck from Douglas, about 50 miles away, to do the job for $425. They arrived a few minutes after we did. The tow truck had nice big rear dual wheels so it left a nice path for us to follow.

The tow truck came with a helper in a 4-wheel drive truck who was driving to all the folks stuck on these backroads and getting them into the cue. The tow team must have made some good money that afternoon. The local sheriff stopped by and said as soon as we cleared the area the roads were being shut down.

Luckily, we did make it out because we were heading to a wine tasting even just south of Wilcox, AZ at the Bodega Pierce winery. Not only is this area known for the sandhill cranes, but it is quickly becoming one of the better wine regions in the state. Twice a year they hold a tasting event to release new wines, in Cottonwood, AZ, near Sedona, and Wilcox, AZ.

We dried off, I shed a layer of mud off my boots and we sat down for a nice afternoon of wine tasting. After a few hours we left with a new selection of wines to compliment future dinners at our house.

We then made our way to Chiricahua National Monument to camp for a couple days. While the rain had finally stopped, the clouds were still very low as we climbed up to roughly 5,000 feet into the Chiricahuas.

We camped at the Bonita Springs campground within the NM. The campground was very nice. The camp sites were big and there was a small stream running though the campground.

We caught some good birds in the campground too. This Acorn Woodpecker was busy digging for bugs and making holes to put acorns into in a tree next to our site. There were also large Mexican Jays flying around the campground but they moved from branch to branch so quickly I never got a good picture of one.

When we have hiked the Chiricahuas in the past, we have driven to the top and hiked down into the canyons and then back up to the vehicle. This time we decided to hike from the campsite up and then back down on the way home. We found out later that the rains had caused some rockslides so the road to the top was blocked most of the day. I did see a backhoe with a big front bucket drive up the road towards the top as we were getting ready to hike. I guess my hunch was right.

We hiked up along the stream into the canyons. The rhyolite rock pinnacles that surround you along the hike are eroded volcanic ash from a volcano eruption that occurred just south of this area millions of years ago.

Here is Pam on one of the few sections of rock steps as we approached the Heart of Rocks loop.

The Balancing Rock is an interesting site.

We made our way back down to the campground after about a 7-mile hike. Because our spot was nicely shaded, our solar panels didn’t get a chance to recharge our camper battery during the beautifully sunny day. I had to let the rig idle for awhile to generate enough juice to take a hot shower, make dinner and have a cup of good coffee in the morning.

We headed home the next morning to finish up a very short, but nice trip.

Madera Canyon

We started our 2020 Roamer adventures with a short trip with Clark to Southern Arizona. Jill was out of town, so we kidnapped Clark, saving him from a boring weekend home alone. Our trip began with a visit to the Titan Missile Museum just south of Tucson. It’s a sobering Cold War experience in its technical construction and its devastating power. Its motto was “Peace through Deterrence”. By assuring mutual annihilation both the US and USSR existed in a stalemate for several decades following WWII.

There were 54 of these Titan II installations across the US, becoming operational in 1963 and keeping the peace by sites like these being on alert 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until their deactivation in 1987. This museum is the only installation left to remind us of the state of the world during the Cold War and what could have happened.

After descending 3 floors you enter the control and living quarters area of the facility by passing through two enormous blast doors that were designed to never be opened at the same time.

The control room was a flashback to 1960’s technology, but effective in its simplicity. A simulated launch was performed by the two-person crew it took to verify and launch a strike. After completing the verification of a legitimate launch command, the missile was airborne within 1 minute. All the systems have been de-classified except the three possible destinations that each missile site could strike. Even the operators who manned the sites never knew the destinations.

The hallway between the control center and the missile launch silo was suspended on springs to withstand the substantial ground movement near a nuclear strike. The blast doors and separation also provided the safety buffer for the crew in case of a missile fuel explosion during launch.

The Titan II missile bay was over 300 feet in height with acoustic and water suppression during launch that made its exit unnoticed by the crews in the control segment. The 103-foot missile carried a 9-megaton warhead to its intended destination up to 6,000 miles away. Our guide explained that if you filled a train boxcar with 9 megatons of TNT the resulting filled boxcars would extend from Tucson to the Canadian border. That’s a lot of TNT. The airburst mode would create a scorched earth patch of devastation 300 miles in diameter. The ground penetrating mode would vaporize the earth to create a crater nearly ½ mile in diameter. That doesn’t even include the additional devastating effects of the resulting EMP, radioactive fallout or seismic activity associated with a blast that large. The facility was designed to withstand everything but a direct hit.

When the missile was developed and tested in the Pacific (without the warhead) the US did not hide the tests from the Soviets. The incredible accuracy of the system was witnessed by the Soviets so that they would understand the ramifications of its use.

In the gift shop I bought a card game called “Nuclear War – The Comic Cataclysmic Card Game of Global Destruction”. It was the fiftieth anniversary edition of the game and when we played it later at our campsite it was probably realistic in that nobody was left at the end of the game.

We had never camped on the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona so after the Missile Museum we headed that way to find a spot. We ended up at Bog Springs Campground up in Madera Canyon, a very popular birding destination.

There were several sites open when we arrived early in the afternoon, but the one we chose was big enough for both our vehicles, so we squeezed into one site.

The campground filled up rapidly after we arrived. Usually the Rangers frown on two rigs in one spot, but the Ranger that stopped in to check up on us didn’t mind. It allowed for another person to grab a spot, so he was OK with us sharing a site in the filled campground. He asked if we had seen the wild turkeys yet, and shortly after he said that, they arrived.

The turkeys were all in the 15 to 25-pound range and would leave and re-appear looking for any food in our site. The Ranger also gave us info on several more dispersed camping sites around the area to try on future trips.

One of the campsites had several bird feeders up to draw in a few of the special birds in this area. We had several Mexican Jays visit our site, but I couldn’t get a picture of one. They are a beautiful blue jay. Maybe next time I’ll get a shot.

There were many trails in the foothills around the camp, so we did a nice 5-mile loop that gained 1,900 feet up the side of the mountain. The weather was perfect for hiking. The loop through the Mt Wrightson Wilderness Area passed by three springs along the mountain side in the shade of some nice trees.

The view looking out over the Green Valley area of Arizona was spectacular.

Mt Wrightson peaks out at 9,453 ft, and although we were only 20 miles from the border, it still had some snow in the shaded crevasses from the recent weather that passed through the region. The late afternoon sun made the rocky peak glow a nice color as seen from our campsite.

Clark had to head home after the long weekend, but Pam and I decided to make one more stop and visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum on the way home. In addition to the beautiful desert flora and fauna on display at the museum, they have a raptor free-flight program where area raptors fly through the crowds for an incredible close-up view of these beautiful birds.

The first birds out were two Chihuahuan ravens. These smaller and more agile versions of the raven were impressive to watch.

Next out was a female Great Horned owl. The huge bird was raised in captivity and she called out during the entire time looking for a response from the crowd who she takes for her family.

The third bird in the program was the Ferruginous hawk. It gets its name from its rust colored feathers that cover its wings and tail. Trainers on both sides of the crowd provide these birds with little morsels of meat as they swoop just above your head from one side to the other.

The last bird was the striking Crested Caracara. The juvenile bird’s neck was still light brown but will slowly turn to white at it matures.

The raptors glide within inches of your head on their way to their next treat and head back to their home when they are full. It’s a great program to witness.

The bobcat and I had a stare-off contest.

However, like most cats the need to take a nap won out.

The had some big-horned sheep there too. At first, the big ram was so still I thought it was a statue. Then it moved and I saw its mate beside him on the rock.

Southern Arizona is the hummingbird area for the world. Nearly all of the 19 species of hummingbirds in the US can be found in southern Arizona.

A broad-billed hummingbird was out enjoying the sunshine.

A rufous hummingbird was keeping a watchful eye on the nearest feeder.

A female costa’s hummingbird stopped from feeding for a nice camera pose.

I also caught a monarch butterfly in the gardens.

It was a nice first trip for 2020 and we found a new camping spot that we will definitely return to in the future.

2019 Almost Home

We stopped in Hanksville, UT after leaving the San Rafael Swell area for some aluminum foil. We cook a lot of our vegetables in an aluminum pouch on the grill and had run out. The key to perfect pouch grilled vegetables is avocado oil, which has a very high burn temperature. With a little avocado oil and even butter, the vegetables always come out roasted to perfection over the coals, never burnt or welded to the aluminum pouch. It may take longer to cook them over the coals, but it’s worth the wait.

Our next stop was Natural Bridges National Monument to do a hike and see the sights. I was wondering how a park within a park was going to work because Natural Bridges was inside Bears Ears National Monument when it was first defined. The redefined Bears Ears park boundaries no longer encompass Natural Bridges so it no longer makes we wonder how it will work – lol.

There is a pretty drive around the Natural Bridges park with many places to stop and hike or just look at the many natural bridges there. We typically pick one for a hike to stretch our legs. This time we picked Owachomo Bridge.

We continued south to Muley Point, another of our favorite camping spots. Muley Point sits at the end of Cedar Mesa in the Grand Gulch Wilderness Study Area at an altitude of 6,400 feet. From the mesa, the ground drops 1,200 feet to the top of the San Juan River canyon, and then another 1,000 feet into the canyon to the river itself. You can just see Monument Valley on the Utah – Arizona border on the horizon 10 miles to the south. It’s a pretty awesome spot.

Pam and I were once again the only folks there when we arrived. We grabbed a nice spot on the rocks and enjoyed happy hour while taking in the breathtaking view.

A family stopped by to look over the edge and one of the guys said that the last time he was here there were a lot of our campers parked on the mesa. It was in 2013 and we were one of the campers. It was just a month after we bought the Roamer and it was the last day of the yearly owner’s rally. This blog’s header picture of our rig was taken on Muley Point at that rally.

We sat there for a while and watched a beautiful sunset and the Milky Way appear.

Other campers showed up at sunset, so we didn’t have the entire mesa to ourselves, but almost. One couple snapped photos of the area in the golden hour of sunset light. Another guy came into our campsite to discuss his proposed website that would let folks know where good places to disperse camp are located around the country. I’m not sure he had a good understanding of his business model, or his proposed users. Dispersed campers tend to be very frugal. If they aren’t going to pay for a campground site, then chances are they aren’t going to pay a website to tell them where they can camp for free. He seemed to be having a good time traveling around the West in his jeep recording camping locations so best of luck on the website.

The moon was a couple days past full, so it lagged the sunrise by a couple of hours. The next morning, we watched the moon set to the west in the glow of the morning sunlight on the horizon.

We dropped down the Moki Dugway, a narrow dirt road with many switchbacks that drops you the 1,200 feet on the face of the mesa to the valley floor below. Pam caught a picture of some wild burros as we climbed out of Mexican Hat, UT towards the Arizona border.

Because we didn’t plan on travelling far that day, we stopped into Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park for lunch. I had the green chili and pork soup, and Pam had an assortment of Navajo tacos. Both were delicious and the view was spectacular.

I had to laugh that we could not drive the Roamer into the park on the dirt roads because it was classified as an RV. You could drive a two-wheel drive Prius, but they were worried about the RV getting stuck in the sand – lol. It was very crowded at the visitor center and a lot of traffic along the dirt road kicking up dust, so I didn’t try to negotiate a better decision. Besides back in 2013 we not only drove back into the rock formations but camped in some beautiful box canyons with the permission of the Navajos. We continued south into Arizona after lunch to Navajo National Monument and camped there the night.

We wanted to do the backpacking overnight hike to Keet Seel (Broken Pottery) ruins, but it’s closed from Labor Day to Memorial Day. It will have to be a next year trip. We did sign up for the morning Betatakin (Ledge House) ruins hike that drops over 800 feet from the visitor center at the top of the canyon to the canyon floor. It’s a totally different ecosystem in the canyon, where pinion pine and scrub juniper trees on top are replaced with huge aspen, oak and Douglas fir at the bottom of the canyon. The aspen and oak where showing their fall colors.

Archeologist have been able to date the Betatakin village construction from their tree ring database to between 1267 AD and 1286 AD using the structural support trees in the village. The farming based Ancient Puebloans that lived here left the village due to drought and moved south. Their descendants became the Hopis.

We drove to Flagstaff, AZ after the hike and had a great lunch at Proper Meats + Provisions, a butcher shop along Route 66. From there we headed on home to finish our Summer Trek #6. The 36-day trip covered roughly 4,000 miles. The eight-year old Roamer has over 96,000 miles on it now, but still looks and runs great.

We had 19 stops along the way which included camping at four national monuments and seven state parks. Five of our camp spots on this trip were new places that we’ll probably hit again, like the San Rafael Swell area. We visited a total of ten national parks and monuments during the trip, easily paying for the yearly parks pass that we renewed again.

It’s cooling down in the valley so it’s time to complete some wintertime projects before our next road trip adventure. Stay tuned.

2019 San Rafael Swell

Pam’s brother, Allan, and his son Rowan were going to join us at Bear Lake, but the weather was a bit cold for tent camping. Therefore, we decided to head south and meet up instead in the center of Utah at the San Rafael Swell. It’s a favorite place for Allan, but Pam and I had never been there before.

Navajo sandstone cliffs line the road as you drop into the swell.

There is a lot of rock art on the cliffs. One place had amazing petroglyphs, images chiseled into the rock, and pictographs, images painted onto the rocks.

The pictographs were very intricate and full of images that archaeologists are still trying to decipher.

There is a campground at the swell, but there are also hundreds of places to disperse camp. Allan brought his dirt bikes so Rowan escorted us from the road to the campsite on his bike when we arrived. It was a nice spot at the base of a cliff and next to the San Rafael River.

Surprisingly there were beaver signs all around our campsite and in the river. They had downed several trees near the campsite.

And they had built a small dam on an offshoot along the river. Again, we never saw the rodents, but they must be around. It’s a good thing because the area could use more water and stop the river from eroding its banks down to the bedrock, both things beavers do for a river.

When we weren’t sitting around talking or “getting our redneck on” by plinking cans with a .22 from what we later paced off to be roughly 140 feet, we explored the area.

This area had a lot of geodes on the ground as the dry wash dumped into the San Rafael River just below here.

Allan and Rowan had to head on back for work and school, but Pam and I stayed an extra night just to enjoy the beauty and the non-freezing temperatures. The next day we continued south on the road through more spectacular country. We ducked under the I-70, and continued on dirt roads at a more enjoyable pace.

The road goes by Goblin Valley State Park, which we had never been to before, so we stopped. Turns out that many movies were filmed there due its unique, alien-looking rock structures, including one of our favorites, “Galaxy Quest”.

We hiked around the cool looking rocks that are roughly 10 to 20 feet in height.

These three are called the Three Sisters.

We entered the swell at Cleveland, UT and emerged near Hanksville, UT. What a great place. It’s now on our list of places to revisit.

2019 Idaho

The first wintery weather of the year was not done yet. When we awoke in Craters of the Moon campground the next day there was snow coming down. The Roamer has a nice diesel heater and the camper is well insulated. We typically have the heater turned just barely on and even open the ceiling vent for fresh cold air. The diesel water heater does a heat exchange with the engine coolant lines so it pre-heats the engine block for easier starts in really cold conditions.

It looked interesting having snow on volcanic rock.

The sun then poked out for a few minutes and the snow all disappeared. Craters of the Moon is a beautiful place when you see the variety of rock formations and realize too that its relatively new earth.

They have determined that the line of volcanic cones across the landscape have erupted every 2,000 years – although they didn’t say when the last eruption occurred….

This game trail cut a clean line through the spare ground vegetation trying to take hold on the volcanic cinder surface.

There were a lot of character-filled dead trees around the park. At one point in the history of the park the superintendent thought these to be an invasive species and had them poisoned. Turns out they are not invasive, just stubbornly persistent.

We did several short hikes around the park, warming up in the Roamer between hikes. I grilled up some awesome burgers outside as the temperature dropped into the low teens that night.

The next morning there were frozen condensation crystals everywhere.

The crystal-covered top of the picnic table looked rather interesting.

We packed up and headed southeast towards the Idaho – Utah – Wyoming border junction. The southeast section of Idaho is potato country. We saw that Blackfoot, ID had the Potato Museum so we had to stop.

There was a lot of interesting information on potatoes and the history of the crop in the area. The café in the museum had everything potato, including ice cream. Pam and I both got a nice bowl of potato soup and I had to get an order of fries just to try them. They were huge cut fries cooked to perfection.

Every small museum is going to have something quirky. One of the displays was a Boy Scout project of many potato mashers.

And what would a potato museum be without a display case of Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead.

While in Missoula, Pam and Leslie were discussing possible family reunion sites. Past sites included two winter ski reunions in Big Sky, MT and Sundance, UT, and a summer lake site in Sandpoint, ID. A possible future summer option was Bear Lake that sits on the Idaho – Utah border. We decided to scout it out on our way home.

The first night we camped at Bear Lake State Park in Idaho on the east side of the 5-mile by 15-mile lake. I always chuckle when we camp in Idaho’s state parks because the price is always weird. This time the cost was $29.38. Seriously? We dropped in a check this time, but the last time we stayed in an Idaho state park we put so much change in the envelope that it barely fit into the pay slot – lol. I’m not sure you can come up with a value that requires more different bills and coins than $29.38 that is under $30. The next price increase will probably change it to $36.41, which requires every bill $20 and under and every coin 25 cents and under.

Although it may look warm in the photos, it never got above freezing the entire time we camped there. There was a nice stiff wind too just to ensure you didn’t forget it was cold.

When we arrived and picked a spot one other camper was in the campground. I had a sweatshirt and a couple of long-sleeved shirts to provide layered warmth as I set up our site. The owner of the other camper came over to talk with me dress in an arctic jacket, winter gloves and knit cap. It made sense when he said he was from Southern California and had never been somewhere so cold. He wanted to let me know that the water in the campground was off. As it turned out Pam spotted a dump and water station in one of the small towns we drove through to get here and had just topped off. He told me about the conversation he had with his 5th wheel maker to ensure the heaters would keep anything from freezing. I thought if I offered him a beer he couldn’t have held it with those gloves or even bent his arm enough to drink it since he looked like the Michelin Man in his jacket.

One of our recent purchases for the Roamer was an inductive cooktop surface. Since we had power at the site, just not water, I used it to cook up some pasta for dinner with some of my homemade sauce. It was a nice warm meal for the night. Although, I think our pot holders may have blown off the picnic table while I was cooking and are now a donated item to the Idaho State Park. I guess they were worth about $29.38.

The next morning there was a fog layer lifting off the shallow side of the lake that looked really beautiful.

The Southern California folks were gone early the next morning, possible heading south. Pam and I drove just over the Wyoming border to one of our favorite places, Fossil Butte National Monument. The fossils they have displayed in the visitor center are amazing. Below is a shot of plant life they uncovered from the lakebed.

Some of the fossils are huge palm fronds or large reptiles, while others are small seeds and dragonflies.

While you can’t dig up anything within the park, there are a few folks that will let you dig on their sites outside of the park. It was late in the year and cold, but our guide agreed to take us out and see what we could find. The fossil beds are just hundreds of layers of rock that can be separated to see if something is preserved in the layer.

You jam thin steel bars into the layer gaps and pop a layer up. Most of the time there is nothing or fossilized fish poo. But sometimes you get a nice fish fossil or plant. We spent a couple of hours up there and collected about 10 fossils that I now need to cut and mount.

This is what a fossil looks like when its uncovered in the famous 18-inch fossil layer, the layer where all the museum-quality fossils can be found.

They will cut these out and slowly remove the thin layer of rock that covers the fossil until it looks like the ones displayed in the visitor center shown below. Very cool. I now have my own carbide tip tool to work off the thin layer of rock. A successful fossil hunt and a new tool – some days are just better than others.

That afternoon we drove back to Bear Lake and camped in Utah on the south side of the lake. It’s a beautiful lake, but after talking with a few locals we’re not sure it would be a good place for a reunion. Water access is marginal unless you are right on the lake, and it’s a busy, noisy lake in the summer.

We’ll keep looking. 

2019 Montana

We arrived at Leslie (Pam’s sister) and Klaus’ house in Missoula, MT. They are empty nesters now, with the youngest of their three kids in his sophomore year at Montana State. They live in the foothills looking down into the Missoula valley. They have a nice walk path around their neighborhood, and it not unusual to see deer and the occasional black bear in the hills around their place.

The population in the area is growing so there is always new places to eat and breweries to try when we visit. Leslie took us to a farm to table restaurant called “roosterloo” that served really good food.

Leslie gave Pam a belated birthday present of a variety of hummingbird decorated items. I got a pre-birthday present of a book titled, “Eager – The surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter” by Ben Goldfarb. I’ve finished the book now and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand what is going on now, and mostly in the last couple of decades, to reintroduce the beaver worldwide. I’ve always been what is known as a Beaver Believer in the rodent’s ability to fix many of the environmental issues we hear about daily. Like the wolf and salmon, the beaver is one of the few keystone species that positively impacts everything around them in an ecosystem.

Pam, Klaus and I went to a Beaver talk at the Great Burn Brewery hosted by the Clark Fork River Coalition on how they are dealing with the re-introduction of beavers into the Clark Fork River watershed and the beaver – human conflicts that arise. Good beer and an interesting topic, what’s not to like?

Klaus left on a business trip to Germany while we were there. Leslie took advantage of his absence to re-arrange and optimize their garage storage capability. For me it involved a drill, stud finder, many hooks, new shelves and a couple of loads to Goodwill – lol.

Just before we left Missoula, we got to visit with our niece, Stephanie, who was returning from shooting one of the gold prospecting reality shows as a production assistant. Oh, to be twenty-something again.

We left Missoula, heading home, and camped at a new spot that Leslie and Klaus had been to this summer, Lost Creek State Park. It was also one of the beaver re-introduction / conflict sites from the talk. The park was in a beautiful canyon just outside Anaconda, MT.

Due to the near freezing weather we ended up having the entire place to ourselves.

The park had a waterfall that dropped down into the canyon.

There were several terraced beaver ponds within the park. The conflict was when one of the beaver ponds became too big and flooded the dirt road leading to the campsites. The solution was a device similar to the “Beaver Deceiver”, originally developed by Skip Lisle in Vermont. The device provides the pond with water leveler hardware that keeps the water level below a set height and the road dry. It frustrates the beavers for a few days, but then they adapt.

You can almost make out the mud-covered beaver den in the middle of the picture between the two large boulders. Beavers are nocturnal creatures, so we never caught a glimpse of the hydro-engineers.

There was no wind in the canyon, so the surfaces of the beaver pools were glass smooth, producing an interesting picture of the reflected canyon wall.

We re-stocked our food supplies for the trek home while in Missoula. Because we spend a significant amount of time on the road, we eat a better diet than weekend “camping” food. For our first night back on the road we did splurge and had some “surf and turf” cooked over coals.

The next day we said goodbye to the beavers and continued south. We stopped at Big Hole National Battlefield where in 1877 US troops conducted a pre-dawn attack on a Nez Perce village, killing many men, woman and children. The Nez Perce would not sign a treaty and move to a reservation, so the US Army pushed them out of their lands which started the 126-day flight towards Canada. The Nez Perce fled the Idaho Territory into the Montana Territory and therefore thought themselves safe from the US Army.

Caught by the surprise attack, the Nez Perce warriors eventually regrouped, captured the Army’s howitzer and pinned down the rest of the US Army while the remaining healthy and wounded Nez Perce village packed up and fled. They were eventually defeated near the Canadian border. One US General stated that they needed to make an example of the Nez Perce otherwise other tribes would follow their defiance. It was a solemn place.

We jumped over Chief Joseph Pass at the Montana – Idaho border and continued down the Salmon River valley. We turned south into the Lemhi River valley with the beautiful, snow-covered Lemhi and Lost River Ranges on either side.

We arrived at Craters of the Moon National Monument and easily found a camping spot due to the now sub-freezing temperatures. It’s a first-come, first-served campground for $8 a night in a truly beautiful place. I guess the sub-freezing weather kept many campers away. Lucky for us.

2019 Yellowstone

We left Burt and Leigh’s place once the storm had passed. At lower elevations, below 7,000 feet, the ground was still warm from the summer, so the snow melted on contact. The Wind River mountain peaks were all white with new snow that made for a pretty drive.

Togwotee Pass, at 9,660 ft in elevation, had a nice blanket of snow, but the roads were clear and dry. The largest accumulation of snow from the storm was around Glacier National Park on the US – Canada border, but we were about 500 miles south of there.

On the other side of the pass we got our first look at the snow-covered Grand Teton Range along the Wyoming – Idaho border.

We dropped down into Grand Teton National Park and enjoyed the view.

The weather was not quite finished yet. Clouds were pushing across the Teton Range with more snow.

We turned north up into Yellowstone National Park and light flurries of snow. We stopped at Old Faithful and did a walk around the geysers. It was a little chilly and my glove got into the shot below of the Old Faithful Inn.

One of the smaller geysers erupted as we walked by.

We caught the tail end of Old Faithful’s eruption.

We retraced our path from last winter when we visited Yellowstone while it was deep in snow. Large herds of bison lined our route on our way to West Yellowstone. From there we turned north again, driving through light and heavy snow along the way, ending up at our most northern destination this trip, Missoula, MT.