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.

2019 Wyoming

We left the Denver area and went to another one of our favorite places, Sugarloaf campground in the Snowy Mountain range in southern Wyoming, just west of Laramie. The campground is at approximately 11,000 feet and the vegetation there is in the boreal forest to arctic tundra zone.

The area has a rugged beauty, with its small pines, colorful ground cover, granite rock and snow-melt lakes and ponds.

We knew we couldn’t stay here long with the first winter storm just a couple of days away. It was windy and cold, but clear, crisp and vibrant with colors. These are the places where the milky way is so huge and clear at night that you can really enjoy its beauty.

The next morning a very fast-moving fog bank, or clouds at this altitude, whipped across the peaks just above our heads, swirling and morphing in cloud shapes that were huge before dissipating on the mountain’s downslope to the east. At first, I thought the storm had arrived early and we were in for an interesting day, but as the sun rose further the cloud bank disappeared producing a clear blue-sky morning.

Pam and I went on a hike to explore the lakes and mountains in the area. There was still snow on the ground and in the mountains from last winter. The campground is typically under feet of snow until late July and then closes again at the end of September, so there is a short window of time each year to enjoy this magical place.

We saw three moose here the last time we stopped last year. We carried bear spray on our hike because they too are here. We did see a pika in the rocks that then came over to investigate the strangers to its territory. They are a cute tail-less, short-eared cousin of the rabbit that sounds like a squeak toy when they call.

We thought we hiked eight to ten miles, but afterwards we realized we had only covered about half of that distance where the altitude or lack of oxygen was causing most of the fatigue.

We joked that not only do we have favorite campgrounds we now have favorite spots within the campgrounds. It’s, “our spot is open”, or “someone is in our spot!”, when we roll into the campgrounds now – lol.

With a couple of days to kill until our next scheduled stop, we decided to head to Thermopolis, WY and warm up in the hot springs there. We camped at the Lower Wind River Campground in Boysen State Park at the mouth of the Wind River Gorge. The gorge is an optical illusion. You would swear that you are driving up a significant hill to Thermopolis until you look at the river beside the road and its flowing towards Thermopolis.

We enjoyed a couple of days warming our bones in the hot springs, doing a little laundry and sampling the beers at the One-Eyed Buffalo brewery in town.

While we were at the campground a lady pulled up in her car and asked, “Where are the animals?” I said that it’s Wyoming so they are everywhere. In fact, Pronghorn, or the American Antelope outnumber people in Wyoming. You always see small Pronghorn herds in the Wyoming fields. She clarified that, “No, the sign where I pulled in had a warning to look out for bighorn sheep.” About this time you realize the type of person you are dealing with and tell her they are all hiding – lol.

Last year Pam picked out a “birding” camera that has an amazing zoom capability. If you look at the picture below there is a golden colored field near the center of the picture in the mountain range beyond the more visible rock range next to the campsite. The field is about a mile away and after the wildlife lady left unsatisfied, I scanned the area for bighorn, but saw something else on the far mountain range.

The picture below is from the same spot as above, but now zoomed into the golden colored field on the far mountain. Pretty impressive, with magnification better than our binoculars. It zoomed in even further so I could count the points on the bull elk near the top of the field, but the view gets a little grainy at that point and it’s very difficult to hold on an image without a tripod.

The news made the advancing winter storm sound like the end of times so we decided to shorten the distance we would have to travel the next day (after the end of times – lol) to Burt and Leigh’s place. We stopped in Lander, WY to visit the Museum of the American West, which was very interesting. I was reading the book, “Journal of a Trapper” by Osborne Russell during the first part of our trip. The book was the actual journal he kept of his life as a beaver trapper in the west during the 1830s. It was a great book to read as we were covering the same area on our travels he was writing about, seeing the same places he described nearly two hundred years ago. Once a year between 1825 and 1840, the era of the beaver trade, the mountain men got together at “The Rendezvous”, and several of the gatherings were held in the Lander, WY area.

We left the museum and picked a new spot in the foothills outside of Lander we had driven by before but not camped at, Popo Agie Campground along the Popo Agie River. The Popo Agie River is interesting that it disappears into a crevasse in the rocks as it flows towards Lander and then reappears out of the ground about a mile away. There are some huge fish-hatchery-sized trout that swim up the stream and are stopped where it reappears out of the ground, but you are not allowed to fish there.

The clouds were descending and the storm about to start as we were getting settled into our site.

Pam then got a note from Leigh to see what time we would be there for dinner that night….. Apparently, we got our dates mixed up. We broke camp and drove the short distance to Crowheart, WY. As we made our way there, the front of the storm hit us, but it was clearly not an end of times storm.

Burt and Leigh have a great place along the Wind River. Their pet longhorns were out to greet us as we arrived.

Pam and Leigh had attended the same high school and two other alumni were guests there when we arrived. We had a great dinner and visit with everyone.

The storm was still drizzling the next day and the two visitors wanted to get on their way, but the washes on the drive to the highway were a concern due to the low clearance of their car. We loaded their car onto one of Burt’s trailers and he hitched it to his tractor.

While the Roamer had no issue with the road, I doubt their car would have made it across the two washes to get to the highway. It easily made it on the trailer being pulled by the tractor.

Burt saves a project that requires two folks for when I arrive, but due to the weather we couldn’t get to this year’s project. We did grind, pound and weld a piece on the trailer that needed fixing, so it wasn’t a total loss of a day in the rain.

2019 Colorado

As we continued north, we decided to drive to the Great Sand Dunes to camp for the night. However, when we arrived at the dunes the park campground was full. There is another campground down the road at the San Luis State Wildlife Area that was barely occupied so we stayed there for the night.

The next morning, we went back to the Great Sand Dunes National Park to hike around. The mountain runoff river that runs between the dunes and the visitor center was dry this time of year, giving access to the dunes. The 30 square miles of dunes reach up 800 feet at its maximum height but are dwarfed by the 14,000 foot Sangre de Christo mountain range to the north.

Pam and I have hiked several dunes during out travels and it always better to see them in early morning so you can see the tracks of the nighttime wildlife. We saw this mule deer track in the sand, and following the tracks, the deer was still in sight at the edge of the vegetation leading into the mountains.

After our sandy adventure, we drove just a little further north on HWY 285 to one of our favorite campsites, Ruby Mountain campground at the headwaters of the Arkansas River. We drove by a cluster of four mountain sheep along the dirt road leading to the campground. The three adults jumped the fence and came over to say hi.

The smallest sheep couldn’t figure out how to get over the fence while the three adults visited with us in the Roamer. We drove off before the agitated small one did something stupid along the barbed wire fencing and hurt itself. I saw in the rearview mirror that it did jump the fence and join the adults as they made their way into the nearby hills.

The campground was a rarely used spot back in 2014 when we first discovered it on our first summer trek. You showed up, picked a spot at this first-come first-served campground, filled out an envelope, paid and relaxed in near total seclusion.

The surrounding area was then made into a National Monument with jeep and ATV trails into the hills beyond the campground. The campground itself got a huge face-lift with beautiful boulders lining the camp spots in the campground. The boat launch then became one of the busiest rafting launch points for busloads of folks wanting a little rafting whitewater from here down to Salida, CO.

The camp host recognized our rig from a couple of years ago when we pulled in this time. I asked which spots should we take and he said, “Do you have a reservation?”…… what! All campgrounds in Colorado now require online reservations.

After a few years of camping you accumulate accounts on nearly every camping reservation site. I had just made our reservations with the Colorado State Park folks for our upcoming stay in Denver, so I called them back and luckily scored a spot at Ruby Mountain for us for the next two days.

One of the things we wanted to do during this trip was to stop into Fruita, CO and visit with Lou and Nancy. Before leaving on the trip Lou and I traded e-mails that looked like meeting up with them going north or then south on our projected itinerary was not going to be easy due to business trips he had planned and weekend outings he and Nancy had already planned with other friends.

The last time we were at Ruby Mountain was with Lou and Nancy, since it’s one of their favorite spots too. I took a shot of our camp spot and texted it to Lou with the message, “guess where we are?” Less than 10 minutes later Lou and Nancy pulled into the campground in their FJ pulling a camping trailer they had rented for the weekend. They had reservations at the campground for the next two nights at the camp spot next to us. What are the chances?

We had a nice visit with Lou and Nancy, and always enjoy our time together in the outdoors. (Although, Fruita is a pretty cool town and a good place to live or visit.) We didn’t do any fishing due to the stiff wind, but we did do some hikes into the hills where you look onto the Collegiate Range. The Collegiate mountain range has nine peaks over 14,000 feet with names that include: Mt Harvard, Mt Princeton, Mt Yale, Mt Oxford and Mt Columbia.

Lou and Nancy headed back to Fruita and although we wanted to stay there 3 nights, we could only get a reservation for two since it was fully booked. Therefore, I booked at another campground in the headwaters area for the final night. However, our host buddy knew our desire to stay so he said that someone with a reservation that was too late to cancel asked him to find someone to use it, which we did. We stayed there a third night before heading to Denver.

Another goal of this trip was to get a new set of tires in Denver, and to get a leaky rim on one of the tires fixed. We left Ruby Mountain and headed up HWY 285 into Golden, CO. There is a pizza place called Woody’s that is always worth a stop. Golden, typically a quiet little town, was packed with traffic when we arrived on a Sunday afternoon. The only place to park the Roamer was the Coors tour parking lot, seriously.

We took the tour, which was interesting and included a few beers. Coors now makes a few “Colorado Native” beers that are only available in Colorado. We picked up a sample case and the beers are good. They had a lot more flavor than Coors or the yellow water called Coors Light.

We camped at St Vrain State Park due to its proximity to the tire place. The Earthroamer facility farms out their tire work to a place down the street, or freeway in this case. The guys at BestDrive Commercial Tires did a great job installing new tires and ensuring no leaks in the split rims. They removed the external weights on the rims and balanced them instead with the ceramic beads inside the tires. Not sure which method works better. Both have their pluses and minuses. It would be nice to use both and get all the advantages, but I expect there’s a good change you would get all the bad issues combined. We’ll see how the beads work out for the next 20,000 miles with these new tires.

Sometimes when we get to a camp spot, we’ll find something left behind from a previous camper. At St Vrain I’m not sure if this little guy was left behind or if he is the camp spot guard. Nothing bad happened while we were camped there so I’m going with awesome guard.

Nice job little man.

2019 Summer Trek North

Once you have the travel bug and feel comfortable living on the road away from your house and the things that are in it, it doesn’t take long to want to hit the road again after you get “home”. Our neighbor saw me packing up the Roamer again for a trip and I told him “Pam said take me to Montana”. He laughed and said that he has been waiting for his wife to say that his whole life – lol.

We started this year’s trek, Summer Trek #6 for those counting, with a trip to Prescott, Arizona with our friends Clark and Jill. They had never been to the Palace Bar in Prescott where a few scenes from the movie “Junior Bonner” were shot so it was a good excuse for a trip launching spot.

We camped outside of town at Yavapai Campground, which used to be way outside of town, but Prescott has really grown over the last decade. Now the campground is just a short walk from homes and new development.

We hiked around Watson Lake Park on the north side of town. The rock formations around the lake make for an interesting hike.

The trail circles the lake and drops into a valley that was lush with vegetation and a creek full of floating color.

The area is a big recreational area where you can rent kayaks and paddle around the lake. We may have to add that to the list of things to do for another fun weekend.

We headed over to downtown Prescott and the Palace Bar that night for dinner and some drinks. The bar is located on the historic Whiskey Row in Prescott and has been open since 1877. It has a beautiful hand-carved bar, and when a fire broke out in downtown Prescott in the early 1900s the patrons ran in and saved the bar from damage.

Our next stop with Clark and Jill was just a little further north in Cottonwood, AZ, camping at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The park got its name from the ranch that used to own the land the park now sits upon. The ranch got its name in the 1940s from the family that bought the land after looking at several plots of land for a ranch. They chose this land due to its surrounding beauty and location on the Verde River, but was remembered from their searching due to the fact it had a dead horse on it, and so the name stuck, Dead Horse Ranch.

We toured several of the local wineries in Page, AZ. We ended up at the Javelina Leap Winery at a shady picinic table where we played corn toss and drank some of the wine we purchased. By the time we left, the tasting room was closed, the staff had left and the sun had set. A good day.

Clark and Jill took off the next day back to the Phoenix valley while Pam and I took a stroll around the several ponds within the park. The last time we were at the park we saw river otters in the pods that were as big as beavers. The ranger said they made the short walk from the Verde River to the ponds and since the ponds are stocked they decided to stay. We didn’t see them this time, but they could have been sleeping off another good feast of stocked fish – lol.

The day we left home we were waiting on our tire pressure guage to be returned from a shop in town since one of our tires has had a leak in the rim seal and needs a daily top-off of air. It’s a pain to have to check and fill the one tire daily, but with the rig’s onboard air compressor it’s not impossible, just annoying. One of the reasons for this trip, besides going to Montana, was to get new set of tires and possibly a new rim for the one tire to eliminate this issue.

However, in our haste to make up time when the tire pressure guage arrived we left town and later realized that we had a forgetten several items needed for the trip. Most importantly we forgot the entire freezer full of meats that we had prepared for our dinners on the road. So after leaving Cottonwood we headed back down into the valley, picked up the missing items and headed on our way north.

Our first stop outside of Arizona was one of our favorite trip launching spots, El Morro National Monument in western New Mexico. We camped there for the night, amazed by the Milky Way which is very clear so far away from cities, and did the hike over and around the sandstone outcropping.

Since our last visit there in the spring, a lot of work has been done at the park. The trail was now a beautiful stone edged pathway and the ruins were in the process of further excavation. They estimate that roughly 600 ancient Puebloans lived here from 1275 to 1350 AD in the 300 room pueblo. A group of young Native Americans from the local area were doing the work. It looked really nice. In fact, we noticed that a lot of the national parks and monuments we have visited are doing more rebuilding and much needed maintenance work in the last year or so.

The hike at El Morro takes you across the top of the rock promontory of sandstone. It’s a beautiful hike with a great view of the local area. It’s also interesting to hike past the inscriptions in the rock where Spanish explorers in 1605 to the American settlers in the wagon trains heading west in 1858 have recored their names and phrases in the soft rock. The pool of water at the base of the rock was the only year-around water source in the area and the reason for the many early visitors.

It always has a beautiful sunset looking at the rock from the camping area.

The next day we had intended to head to Bandelier National Monument outside of Los Alamos, NM, but discovered that the campground was closed for the week due to road resurfacing within the park. Instead we headed to the Rancho de Chimayo restaurant for some great New Mexican food with prickly pear lemonade to figure out a new destination.

After a great meal, and a lot of the day left, we decided to find a place in the northern New Mexico forests or cross into Colorado and camp near the Great Sand Dunes in south-central Colorado. We jumped into the Roamer and continued north.