Navajo Lands

Before leaving Utah, we traveled north to Natural Bridges National Monument. We did a nice hike down to Sipapu Bridge and the Horse Collar Ruins.

Sipapu bridge is the second largest natural bridge in the US, and the sixth largest worldwide.

We then turned back south and headed down the Moki Dugway, which compared to the Shafer trail, was a super highway. The road was wide, graded and had a berm or guardrail on much of the cliff side. The road was easy passage for even two-wheeled sedans. Although we did see one Audi turn around at the bottom when the pavement turned to dirt.

Continuing south we hit the spot just north of Monument Valley that was the background of the movie scene in Forest Gump – “I’m pretty tired, I think I’ll go home now.”

We dropped back into Arizona and camped at Navajo National Monument. Usually it’s an empty park with great spots, but our favorite spots were taken so we tried a new one this time. The Ranger told us that someone had put the campground on the free camping app so the number of folks staying there has gone up significantly.

We signed up for the hike down to Betatakin, or Ledge House, an ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling. The guide we had was Navajo and gave a great talk on the land, the plants and the people of the area.

We left there and drove across the Navajo Nation and through the Hopi reservation. We enjoyed an awesome lunch of lamb, white hominy and green chili soup with tostadas on blue corn fry bread. We then stopped for the night at Cottonwood CG just outside Canyon De Chelly National Monument.
The next morning, we drove the southern rim of the canyon out to Spider Rock. The views along the way into the canyon were beautiful.

We also did the hike down to White House ruins, the only place within the canyon you can go without a Navajo guide.

We then drove to our place on the Rim to end our fifth summer trek.

To recap this trip, we covered roughly 8,000 miles in 65 days.

We camped in 8 states (Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado).

We visited 14 National Parks and Monuments along this trek – Sunset Crater National Monument (AZ), Grand Canyon National Park (AZ), Cedar Breaks National Monument (UT), Great Basin National Park (NV), Haggerman Fossil Beds National Monument (ID), Mt Rainier National Park (WA), Olympic National Park (WA), North Cascades National Park (WA), Yellowstone National Park (WY), Rocky Mountain National Park (CO), Canyonlands National Park (UT), Natural Bridges National Monument (UT), Navajo National Monument (AZ) and Canyon De Chelly National Monument (AZ).

We hit several very good breweries along the way, and I now have a greater appreciation for a well-made Rueben.

Our biggest culinary surprise on this trip, other than using the Volcano grill heat top after it sat in my cook box for a year, was the mouth-watering, freshly made everything served at the Front Porch Grill House in Eureka, MT. It’s way out of the way from everything, but I think we’ll figure a route that takes us back there again in the future.

People always ask, “where is the best place you have been?”. The answer is that they are all awesome. Any place that brings a smile to your face due to its natural beauty, makes your mind examine the wonder of the natural forces and ancient people that shaped the area, or just simply stirs a desire in your heart to see around the next bend is that “best” place.

Not sure what will be our next adventure, but stay tuned…..we’re not done Roaming yet.

2018 Owner’s Rally

EarthRoamer had a 20th anniversary rally just south of Moab, UT. Bill gave a great talk about how the company took shape and became what it is today. The original prototype was built in 1998 on a Dodge chassis, but Dodge would not give him a meeting to discuss the future commercial design, while Ford did. That’s why today the design is build on the F-550, with the first Ford version completed in 2003. Since then just over 200 have been built by the EarthRoamer team, where ours is S/N 110.

Roughly 40 vehicles from all over North America showed up for the rally. They had classes in the daytime to help owners understand the subsystems better and even covered winch and sand recovery techniques.

They also had a couple of drives out to the local Canyonlands National Park for some off-road fun. The rally stopped in Dead Horse Point State Park to see the expansive beauty of the area from the overlook. There was still some smoke from a forest fire to the west, but the view was incredible. If you look closely at the center of the picture you can see the dirt road we came down later in the day from the ridge off in the distance.

We then went to Canyonlands and took the Shafer trail down into the canyon. This is a picture of the rig we were following. What a great road and drive. It was two-way traffic too. Luckily, we were on the inside lane.

The road ran along many beautiful vistas within the park.

At one of these vistas we stopped for lunch. We jumped off the Shafer trail and onto the Potash trail that runs along the Colorado River and dumps you back into civilization right at the entrance to Arches National Park.

A great band from Salt Lake City, Opal Hill Drive, played that night at the rally camp at Area BFE. The band’s equipment and lights were powered by the single EarthRoamer’s camper batteries parked next to the stage – impressive. We even had a bright, full moon for the show.

We left the rally heading south towards Arizona but were quickly distracted by the southern entrance to Canyonlands NP, a place neither of us had been to yet. Along the way to the park entrance we passed Newspaper Rock, a rock filled with petroglyphs from native clans that marked their passing through the area for hundreds or even thousands of years.

We did a nice hike in Canyonlands, but it was a little warm and not much shade.

After the hike we continued south to Muley Point. Being Saturday night, I figured it would be hard to find a good camping spot on this majestic point, only to find out we had the place to ourselves. The San Juan River cuts a beautiful gorge through the valley below as Monument Valley sits on the horizon to the south.

The sunset lights up the plateau of Muley Point for a beautiful evening campfire.

West-Central Colorado

After spending a couple of days with Lou and Nancy in Fruita, CO we hit the road again. We had not camped in this area of the Colorado, so we went to explore a new spot. Just east of Grand Junction the ground rises to a large plateau above 6,000 feet that forms Grand Mesa. The recreational area was filled with dirt roads, campgrounds and lakes.

We talked to the Ranger at the visitor center and while they do have a lot of campgrounds, dispersed camping was permitted in the forest. We found a spot where many of the local aspen trees had begun to turn into the yellow fall colors.

EathRoamer, the builder of our rig, was having an owner’s rally south of Moab to celebrate 20 years in business. We hopped off the Mesa and onto Hwy 141 through the canyons heading west towards Utah.

The canyon made for a peaceful and beautiful drive as we closed in on Moab, UT. We even spotted a Big Horn sheep, but weren’t quick enough to get a picture.

The Dolores River canyon was beautiful and was once the sight of gold mining.

The flume used to move the excavated soil along to separate the gold still is visible today. This section of hanging flume ran for miles along the rock face. The gold flakes were too small to effectively separate out using this technique so the mining stopped many years ago.

We arrived at the owner’s rally at Area BFE, just south of Moab. The site was remote and had spectacular views. If you look closely there are a few EarthRoamers camped on the ridge in the center of the picture.

Colorado Once Again

Last year was exceptionally bad for truck and camper maintenance issues. This year the only real issue we had was that our camper batteries needed to be replaced. They said we would get 5 to 7 years out of the batteries and they are on year 7 so it was time. We scheduled an appointment at the Earthroamer plant to get new batteries, rotate our tires and get a new roof hatch motor, which was sounding bad and it too usually lasts 5 years.

We stopped in Fort Collins at the Coppersmiths Brewery for another round of beers and a Rueben. Both were very good. The Front Range was in the 90s, which we didn’t expect for September weather, especially after dropping out of the cool mountain air.

We camped at the Boulder County Fairgrounds the first night. This was quite a change from the quiet campsites we had the previous weeks with the Longmont traffic and trains. Plus, the fairgrounds always has something going on, which is a nice thing.

Our truck took more than a day to finish so we camped the second night at St Vrains State Park. This is a beautiful bird sanctuary very close to the Earthroamer plant, but unfortunately is right next to I-25 so the freeway noise drowns out the birds.

The next day we met up with my cousin Fred, and his wife Cathy who were in Denver visiting Matt, their son. We all went out to lunch at the Bierstadt Brewery and spent the afternoon catching up on family news. We picked up our truck that afternoon and decided to camp at the Fairgrounds again.

They had a Roller Derby tournament ongoing for the weekend at the fairground’s exhibition hall and we watched Denver take on a team from Victoria, Australia. Both were ranked in the world and Victoria edged out Denver in a close game.

The next morning we walked over to the farmer’s market on the fairgrounds and stocked up with some produce before hitting the road west.

We left Longmont and headed over the front range into Rocky Mountain NP. It was a beautiful Saturday and there was a lot of traffic into the park. We were just passing through on our way to northwest Colorado, which is another benefit of the Parks pass – the ability to drive through a beautiful park without paying every time.

Fall colors were out in force along the drive to Steamboat Springs. The aspen along the mountain slopes and cottonwood trees next to the rivers were all golden, reds and orange.

On our way to Streamboat Spring we ran into the Silver Creek Fire, a lightning started fire which has burnt over 12,000 acres and is still uncontained.

Our original intent was to head to Dinosaur NM and camp there, but Pam found Juniper Hot Springs off the beaten track just outside Craig, CO. We camped there the night and enjoyed soaking in the funky pools that night and the next morning. While the pools looked black the water was actually crystal clear.

We were greeted to gorgeous sunrise the next morning before our soak in the hot springs.

We packed up and headed south to visit with some friends in Fruita, CO.

Wyoming North to South

We turned south back into Wyoming and drove along the beautiful Clarks Fork Yellowstone River valley before climbing over Dead Indian Pass. The view from the top was spectacular.

We headed into Cody to do laundry and were greeted by the owner who knew everything there is to know about doing laundry correctly and a lot of other interesting facts on the various people visiting his place of business. Who said laundromats can’t be fun.

We dropped out of Cody into Thermopolis, WY. It’s known for two things: hot springs and dinosaurs. We got a camping spot in town at the Fountain of Youth CG, where they had their own hot springs right at the campground. I’m not sure it worked since we both got more wrinkles the longer we stayed in – lol.

The hot springs in town is part of a state park that is very interesting to see.

The other major attraction is the dinosaur museum that has an incredible collection of dinosaurs and fossils from all over the world.

We also visited the new local brewery in town – the One Eyed Buffalo. The beers and food there were good after soaking in the hot springs.

A few of the hot springs within the park charge entrance fees and have slides and other attractions. Pam and I enjoy the simple Bath House with just the pools. It’s also free, or $1.00 if you want to rent a towel. Which we do so that our own towels don’t smell like sulfur from the hot springs.

From Thermopolis we made our way to Bert and Leigh’s place along the Wind River. Their pet longhorns are still there and based on their age will be there for another decade or more.

I helped Bert load up some firewood that was way up in the mountains northwest of Dubois, WY. We hauled three full loads off the mountain so they are set for wood for awhile.

We also took a drive up into the Absaroka mountains north of their place to see the beautiful scenery.

Their jeep got a flat and while Bert and I changed the tire, their Blue Heeler, Shamrock, found a “stick” in the woods for Pam to throw. It was now his new, best chew toy.

After a few days on the Wind River we headed south again due to scheduled service on our rig at the Earthroamer plant in Dacono, Co. We stopped to camp at one of our favorite places, Sugarloaf CG in the Medicine Bow National Forest west of Laramie, WY. The place is just gorgeous and our campsite had an awesome view.

We hiked around the next day with the beautiful mountains and many alpine lakes. The elevation there is over 10,000 feet.

While warning signs are up for the bears in the area, the only wildlife we saw during our hike was a couple of marmots, a western version of the groundhog.

We also ran into two women with five Bernese Mountain dogs and a Golden Retriever. On the way out we came across three moose in the clearing.

This area is high on the campsite list for a reason. What a great place.

Firehole River – Yellowstone NP

We travelled south to a dispersed campsite we both enjoyed along Beaver Creek, between Hebgen Lake and Earthquake Lake. It has been a couple of years since we last camped there and the creek had carved a new path in the canyon, so unfortunately our favorite spot is now day use only. We were camped a ways from the water, but it was still a nice night even with the creek noise much further away.

The next day we entered Yellowstone NP and got a first-come spot in Madison CG for the night, at the junction of the Madison and Firehole Rivers. We spent the day exploring the Firehole River geysers. It’s been a couple of years since we have been to Yellowstone. You forget how beautiful and iconic the place really is. We hiked to one geyser that, like many of the geysers, empties into the Firehole River.

We also saw a herd of bison off in the fields by the river.

The geysers stretch for many miles along the river, but a lot of the smaller roads do not allow RVs, trailers or buses. Forest Fenn’s treasure could be hidden near here in the land of his summer youth, but the Roamer is not the vehicle you want to explore the many remote areas.

The geyser pools vary in size and color due to the mineral content. The water looks clear and blue, but very hot.

We pulled off the road and set up a table in the shade for lunch while we enjoyed the views there.

The largest geyser in the string of geysers is Old Faithful which erupts regularly a few hundred feet into the air. You quickly realize that many of the folks watching Old Faithful are from all over the world.

The next day we decided to head west and leave the park via the Lamar Valley and the northwest exit. On our way there we ran into a little congestion when a herd of bison decided to use the road to pass through the canyon.

The Lamar Valley is a beautiful area with wildlife all over the place.

We spotted herds of pronghorn and bison, but no wolves or bears.

There were several hundred bison in various herds along the valley.

We left Yellowstone and headed east towards Cody, WY. We camped just outside the park at Soda Butte CG, near Cooke City, MT. Due to the local brown bear population, no tents were allowed. As I was talking to the host in the morning, the lady next to our camp site came up and told the host that someone had stolen her husband’s shoes from under their camper in the night. The host explained to her that it was the local foxes that will take anything with salt on them. He had already lost two pairs of work gloves that year when he mistakenly left them out. Based on the look on her face, I’m not sure if she believed him or not.

Bozeman to Big Sky

Leslie and Klaus traded in their family camping trailer for a nice 2-person trailer, a Little Guy Max, now that the kids are all out of the house. They took delivery of it right before the weekend so it was good to camp together in case they had some issues, and give us more time together for hikes.

We headed up to Bozeman and Montana State University with Leslie and Klaus to deliver some forgotten stuff to Tim, their youngest son who is now a freshman there at MSU. We had lunch in their amazing dining hall and then set off south of Bozeman to Hyalite Canyon for some afternoon hikes.

Our first stop was at History Rock. The sandstone rock was carved with thousands of names, which looked mostly added in the last couple of decades.

From there we made our way out to Hyalite Reservoir and had a nice hike along the lake.

Besides the reservoir, there were several smaller lakes in the woods along the hike.

It was cold in the mornings, near freezing, at the campsite because we were situated in a canyon. I noticed two mice in our fire ring that had spent the night below our campfire we had in our volcano grill. After cooking dinner and starting another campfire they reappeared from underneath the fire again. It was warm at the base of the fire ring, but not too hot so it was the perfect place to spend the night for those two.

The next day we drove further up the canyon and hiked to Rat Lake, a pretty mountain lake.

When the holiday weekend was over, Leslie and Klaus headed back north to Missoula while Pam and I headed south towards Yellowstone NP.

Missoula Revisited

We headed down from Whitefish to Missoula to restock, relax and visit with family. We skipped Missoula last year due to the forest fires all around town that created unhealthy air quality in much of that area. This year there was some light smoke in the air but not too bad. We had the truck’s oil changed and I gave it a much needed bath. We also restocked for the next leg of our journey. The farmer’s market has quite a lot of great produce to choose from this time of year.

I bought some maple syrup aged in local bourbon barrels and used it to baste fresh salmon in Klaus’ smoker. A few future meals for the road. I also made another batch of bolognaise sauce to restock our camper freezer.

Missoula has quite a few micro-breweries in town now. The town has added some street signs to help drivers.

Leslie’s neighbor has beautiful flowering plants all around their back yard. The local deer have not figured a way through or over their fence yet, so they settle for the grass in the front yard.

Occasionally, one will stray into Leslie’s yard and nibble on their front bushes by the window.

We took a trip to Snowbowl, their local ski area, to do a day hike. From the top you could see down into the Missoula city valley off in the distance to the east.

The mountains to the west were holding back much of the forest fire smoke from the fires in northern Idaho.

You don’t get to ride down the chairlifts very often so it makes for an interesting ride.

We left Missoula and headed across to Helena. A favorite brewery for both of us is the Lewis and Clark Brewery in Helena.

We camped south of Bozeman at Spire Rock CG along the Gallatin River for the Labor Day Weekend. It was the spot Leslie and Klaus had reserved back in June, but we arrived a day early and cut a deal with the host so that we could all stay there for the weekend.

Idaho Panhandle

Before leaving Washington, we stopped in Newport, WA for lunch and to tour the town’s historical museum. I had another good Reuben sandwich at an Irish pub in town and we picked up a quart of homemade Huckleberry ice cream at the local corner store for our nephew’s upcoming birthday. Best ice cream ever.

The historical museum contained a lot of old heirlooms of days gone by.

I flipped through the 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog. Horse-drawn carriages were listed for $24 and Winchester repeating rifles for $12. It had everything you could imagine from clothes and funiture to farm equipment. Definitely the Amazon of its day. I can only imagine some young kid pitched the Amazon business model (Sears’ old catalog business model adapted to the internet) at Sears as the internet was coming of age and was shot down by the old guard.

Newport is split by the Washington – Idaho border along State Street (which makes sense), Newport, WA on one side of the street and Oldtown, Idaho and the other. We crossed into Idaho and the drove up the east side of the Pend Orellie River back into Washington to camp the night at Pioneer Park Campground.

The next day we drove through Sandpoint, ID where we had a family reunion 4 years ago on Pam’s side of the family, renting a huge house and ski boat on Lake Pend Orellie. This time we headed further north into the Idaho Panhandle.

We found the Kootenai River Brewey Company in Bonners Ferry, ID and stopped for lunch. All their beers were really good, including the local Huckleberry Wheat. I had another good Reuben sandwich, washing it down with the Badger Rye IPA. We also got a growler of the Huckleberry Wheat to enjoy at the campsite later.

We refilled the Roamer’s gas tanks while in Bonners Ferry and this old suspender-wearing character came up to me asking about the rig. He had more bullets in his sidearm on his belt than teeth in his mouth, but was fun to talk with. Turns out he was a retired railroad banker. He runs shooting competitions in northern US and Canada and wanted a winterized RV. He liked the many winterized features of the Roamer that make it operational to -20 degrees so maybe we will see each other again at a future owners rally.

We continued north to almost the Canadian border again, but turned south at Good Grief, ID along the Moyie River. We camped the night at Meadow Creek campground.

Even though it was smoky there, we did a nice hike and had such a nice spot we decided to stay an extra day. It was the first campground in about a week we could cook with charcoal and have a camp fire. We planted our chairs by the river and listened to the water run over the thousand of rocks in the riverbed.

Caught another local squirrel keeping an eye on us at our campsite and the possibilty of a future meal if we left food around. However, all of this northern area is bear country so you don’t leave food, or anything else that smells good out. Most campsite have bear boxes to secure the good smelling stuff away.

We found this frog in the stream hoping for a few of the insects to land within tongue range.

Late in the evening we were treated to a group of female Common Mergansers that were feeding in the river. They swam upstream with their heads in the water catching whatever they were eating. After their fill they turned and floated away down river.

Even though it was not cloudy there, the smoke was thick enough to reduce our solar panel’s power generating efficiency to roughly 25%. We barely recharged to 90% over the entire day, when we usually are recharged to 100% by mid-day.

We arrived in Whitefish, MT meeting Pam’s sister and her family coming from Missoula, MT. We parked the Roamer and shared a condo at the Sherpa Lodge in the Whitefish Mountain Resort. It was correctly named since it was a four-story condo with no elevator – and we were on the top floor. I thought the place should have come with a flag that we get to plant after hauling all our stuff up to the top – lol.

It was our first couple of nights out of the camper for over a month. It always feels so decadent to take a hot shower and have the water run over you for minutes on end, and not worry about how much water you have left. It’s the simple things in life we should all enjoy.

The smoke there became worse over the weekend. We were there to celebrate our nephew’s birthday – hence our huckleberry ice cream purchase from before. While we were there a fire broke out near the peak and they had a Huey and Kmax with bambi buckets filling and dumping water to put it out quickly.

While Klaus, Ben and Tim took their bikes and headed for the slopes, Stephanie and I made our way to a tree-wire obstacle course. They had five different courses of various degrees of difficulty, but even the easiest was tougher than it looked.

We had a dual carbineer system that only allowed one to be unlocked at a time, ensuring you couldn’t stupidly unhook yourself while on the course. We also had a zip line wheel to ride the several zip lines along the courses. Pam and Leslie chatted the afternoon away on the ground as we traversed the courses up above.

While in Whitefish, we also stopped into a local restaurant and bought a huckleberry – cherry pie. It went quickly.

We left Whitefish and headed to Missoula to restock, get the oil changed on the truck and give it a bath before continuing south through the Rockies on our way back to Arizona – slowly.

Northern Washington

Being a Saturday, we were worried that finding a camping spot on the outskirts of Seattle would be difficult. However, we figured it may be easier to find a spot in the rain, as we left Whidbey Island in a downpour. We pulled into a campground by Grandy Lake and found a spot as the rain continued to come down. We looked next to us and the guy that just arrived before us was setting up his camp in his tee-shirt, where the temperature was roughly 50 degrees in the cold rain. Obviously, folks in this part of the US are very comfortable in the rain – lol.

About an hour after we arrived the rain stopped, and the sun even poked out for a nice evening. The small lake had what looked like some old structure that once was built out over the lake. All that remained were the wooden support logs buried into the lakebed. I took this shot from our campsite and then we noticed the lone red pine tree on the far side.

Not sure why the beetles only attacked and killed this one tree on the entire hillside, or if it was just a different type of tree, but it was very interesting.

The camper next to us was an older guy and his Dachshund named Lucky, each with a chair around their campfire. While he went inside to grab something, Lucky came over to our site and jumped into Pam’s lap. Lucky was enjoying a good scratch when his owner looked over and called. I didn’t know dogs could look so guilty, but Lucky slinked back to his own chair and campsite for the rest of the evening – lol.

As we sat out in the late evening and watched the lake, we saw a lone beaver slowly making a smooth path across in the water.

We also noticed a bird that moved so fast from spot to spot it looked like it was teleporting. We tried to identify it, and could not agree, but I still think it is a female purple finch. If anyone can confirm this to settle our bet I would appreciate it – think (female purple finch) ….. (Pam’s guess is some type of wren.)

The next day we headed into North Cascades National Park. Neither of us had been there before. Unfortunately, it was still very smoky and overcast, and the steep mountains rose up into the clouds, but what we could see was impressive.

As we traveled west the clouds began to clear. We camped at Colonial campground in the park. We had stopped at the visitor center and the ranger told us that the campground is usually full due to online reservations (recreation.gov), but to check the tags on the campsite posts because sometimes there is an open campsite. The campground sign said “Campground Full” as we pulled in, but we decided to drive through for future reference. As we rounded the last corner in the campground there was a campsite open for one night.

We set up camp, which takes about 5 minutes with the Roamer, and headed out for a nice hike.

The trail took us from the lake level to a nice overlook. The steepness of the mountains for their size is something I had never seen before. It was beautiful.

When we camp around the west we always hear the chipmunks and squirrels, but they are so quick and elusive that it’s tough to get a good shot of them. However, I caught this guy at the summit hoping we were going to share some of our lunch – which we didn’t.

The rivers and lakes are all glacier fed so they all have the “glacier milk” color that is unique to the runoff generated waterways. It’s a striking color when you are expecting the normal fresh water deep blue or green.

The east side of the park was deep in smoke due to the forest fires in the area. We’ll have to come back here to see the parts of the park hidden in smoke. What a place.

Just east of the park, we stopped at Hank’s grocery store in Twisp, WA to restock. For a small town the grocery store it was immaculate and well stocked, but it also had animal mounts everywhere, including lions and gazelles. Turns out the owner loves hunting and there is a story unique to every mount there.

As we continuned east on Hwy 20 we came to a sign that informed us that the road was closed 35 miles headed and we would have to detour around the closure. In this part of the country it meant a detour of about 100 miles due to the lack of roads and bridges that cross the upper section of the Columbia River. Luckily for us Curlew Lake State Park was along the detour so we stopped there for the night.

I picked and paid for a spot at the entrance, using their self-help system, which turned out to be a horrible spot. The host down in the campground said we could park anywhere so we pick the tent camping area that was deserted. Sometimes you just don’t want to answer questions about your rig. A good book and a beer do wonders at those times.

We both read a lot during our travels. I average about two books a week, while Pam reads easily twice that amount. She reads lots of thrillers and murder mysteries, so has probably compiled about 1000 ways to dispose of me and not get caught if I piss her off – lol. I’m a little more eclectic in my reading choices but tend to read more sci-fi just to see what technologies are created in the boundless imaginations of the authors.

We watched a Huey with a bambi bucket scoop water from the lake and head off to a local forest fire.

We also spotted an osprey nest and caught a shot of the parent bringing a fish snack back home for the nearly full-grown kids.

A tree by the lake also had a number of raven nests.

The next morning, we completed the detour, coming dangerously close to the Canadian border once again. We crossed the Columbia River at Kettle Falls, WA and continued eastward.