Arizona 2020

We intended to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon earlier in the year, but the area was closed due to the Magnum Fire. I was worried that the beautiful meadows leading down from Jacob Lake to the North Rim would be burnt, but the fire stayed further north and to the west, leaving the meadows untouched by flame. The fire did burn the forest around Jacob Lake and down the hill towards Fredonia, AZ, but the crews were able to save the few buildings at Jacob Lake.

The North Rim bison herd was in the meadow just past the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. Somehow, they know not to stray out of the park. However, they are not native and are seen to negatively impact the local deer and elk populations. Studies are in progress now to determine the extent of the damage and possible solutions. I saw recently that bison herds from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota were moved to a nearby Indian Reservation for the same reason after both parties agreed with the relocation.

We used to have a bison head mounted in our cabin, from a bison taken from this herd back in the 1950s. We no longer have the head, but that’s another story. We now have a pronghorn mounted in its place. The pronghorn is not as majestic as the bison, but it is much better looking – lol.

We continued to the North Rim and found a nice place to park. I was a little worried about finding parking, given the number of tourists we saw in southern Utah. It was still early in the day, so the park was not that crowded yet. Also, the North Rim is a little out of the way of normal traffic. The South Rim has significantly more tourists relative to the North Rim because it is a little easier to access. I still think the North Rim area is much prettier.

We hiked out to the rim to see the Grand Canyon. It was a little hazy from the smoke blowing in from the California fires, but still awe inspiring.

While El Tovar hotel is a picturesque building on the South Rim, the rock structure that is the Grand Canyon Lodge is still my favorite Grand Canyon building.

The dining room in the lodge was closed for the season due to COVID. The view from the lodge porch overlooking the canyon at sunset should be on everyone’s bucket list.

We also stopped at the back-country office to talk with the Ranger on possible dispersed campsites within and outside the park. We found out that our favorite spot, Fire Point, was closed due to a fire in that area last year.

Packed with a list of possible new places to camp, we instead went to one of our other favorite dispersed places, along FS611 just outside the park. The spot is right on the rim and looks over the eastern entrance to the Grand Canyon. The rock formation in the valley below looks like a huge sea serpent making its way across the plains.

The morning sun lit up our campsite with a golden hue, while the temperature was just above freezing.

We left the area after a warm cup of coffee, heading for Flagstaff, AZ.

California condors are released into the wild in two places in the US, around Big Sur, CA and on the west side of the Vermillion Cliffs in AZ. The Arizona released condors sometime fly to the Grand Canyon to the south, or Marble Canyon to the east. As we passed over the Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon, we nearly did not stop this time, but decided to stop just to stretch our legs.

You can see the Vermillion Cliffs rising in the background of this picture of the bridge over Marble Canyon.

The Colorado River flows 400 feet below the bridge. There are two bridges at this location. The newer bridge is used for vehicle traffic, while the original Navajo Bridge is now just for pedestrians. As we made our way across the pedestrian bridge Pam spotted a condor on the lower beam on the far side of the vehicular bridge. Luckily, she had her binoculars, but I did not have the good camera with the zoom lens, so you’ll have to find the condor in the photo. His name is Waldo – lol.

Just upstream is Lee’s Ferry, the launching point for all the Colorado River traffic through the Grand Canyon. Usually we see boats floating down the river to begin their journey through the canyon. No boaters this stop, just our first ever condor at Marble Canyon.

We made our way to Flagstaff next and had lunch at Proper Meats + Provisions, a nice butcher shop in Flagstaff with great food and local brews.

After lunch we decided to head to our cabin and call Summer Trek #7 complete. We put on another 3,000+ miles on the Roamer during this COVID shortened two-month trek. In our seven years of Roamer trips we have covered just over 98,000 miles in the US and Canada. We have now camped in 307 different camping spots in the US; in 38 of the 50 states, and 24 camping spots in Canada; in 7 of the 13 Canadian Providences and Territories.

Places where we have hit double digits in camping spots are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Our utility box collection is a couple of stickers deep in many spots now – but with room for a few more.

Summer Trek #8 may have to be a return to Alaska and northern Canada. Stay tuned…

Utah 2020

We dropped out of Idaho and into Utah through the small town of Snowville, UT. Pam looked over and spotted a zebra coming out of a barn, not something you expect to see in rural Utah. Ocean Star International is a fish food producer in town that also owns the farm with several exotic animals, including the zebra.

Just south of Snowville, we passed under I-84 and continued south along a nice dirt road to the northern end of the Great Salt Lake.

It was a pretty drive through the remote salt flats on the northern edge of the lake. The road emerges at the Golden Spike National Historic Park. Promontory Point, within this park, is the location where on 10 May, 1869 the Union Pacific railroad from Omaha joined the Central Pacific railroad from Sacramento to complete the first transcontinental railroad. The golden spike was the final spike driven in by the president of the Central Pacific line, Leland Stanford, to complete the track. The actual golden spike now resides in a museum at Stanford University.

The visitor center is a beautiful rock building, and the park has replicas of the two locomotives that were there that historic day.

Usually, the two locomotives are next to the site where the golden spike was driven into the rail. However, this time of year they are taken to a maintenance facility just a short distance away where they have their yearly check-ups to keep them operational.

We went to the shop to see the two locomotives. The Ranger gave us a great overview on the history of the one wood-burning engine and the other coal burning engine, and how they were duplicated from pictures for the National Park Service. He was a history major who now works for the NPS. When he joined, he was surprised to find that they even had train engineers and maintenance folks within the Park Service to keep these two beautiful machines running.

The Union Pacific engine 119 was one of the two historic trains.

The Central Pacific engine 60, named Jupiter, was the other engine there that historic day.

After the visit, we stopped in Brigham City, UT to pick up supplies and do some laundry. We then dropped down into Salt Lake City to visit with Allan, Pam’s brother. Alayna, our niece, was there visiting from her job in California, but had to head back the day after we arrived.

Rowan, our nephew, was out of COVID quarantine after one of his classmates tested positive, so we got to see him too. We helped Allan with some fall yard work, cleaning up several trees on his property and taking a huge load of trimmings to the dump. We had a nice visit, pickling some of his beets and carrots from his garden, and playing a very competitive game of cornhole out by a nice campfire in his back yard.

We left Salt Lake City and dropped south into the San Rafael Swell. We dispersed camped off the San Rafael River Road, next to the San Rafael River. Our spot turned out to be an incredible site, surrounded by the sandstone cliffs that are much larger than they look.

As we sat outside enjoying the beauty that surrounded us, Pam kept hearing people talking, but we could not spot them. Finally, Pam pulled out some binoculars and found two climbers on the cliff face. Their voices were reflecting off the rock wall about a half-mile away. Zooming into the right side of the wall behind our rig you can see the rock face a little closer.

Zooming in even further into the overhang about half-way up the face, we spotted the two climbers. They were ascending the crack below the over-hang. That is when you realize how large that rock face really is.

We had camped near this location with Allan and Rowan last year and there were many signs of beavers – dams, downed trees, and willow shoots downstream, but we never saw the beavers themselves. Our spot this time looked right down a small section of the river with beaver dams at both ends to create this nice pool in this arid place.

They were not large dams, but effective in creating enough deep water for the beavers.

As dusk approached, we spotted the first beaver coming out for a snack and some dam maintenance. Instead of lodges, the beavers burrow into the side walls of the riverbank.

Soon we spotted more and realized that a group of four beavers lived along this stretch of the river. They are very interesting to watch. Beavers are one of the best environmental engineers around and have a way of transforming the entire ecosystem for the better. It will be interesting to revisit this area in the future to see their progress. Hopefully, folks will leave them alone to do the wonderful work that they do.

When you see what four beavers can do and consider that millions of beavers were extracted from the West during the early days of expansion, much of the West must have been very lush and retained significantly more water due to these animals. Their numbers are growing again, and conservation groups are working to deal with the beaver – human interactions now instead of just killing them. Hopefully, beaver pelt hats never come back into fashion.

We woke up one morning to see three hot air balloons flying around the rock walls. They landed over by the campground about a mile away after traversing the rock faces. Again, it gives you the scale of the surrounding area because hot air balloons are not small.

The wind was calm, but they had enough of a predictable wind to guide their balloons very close to the rock walls.

The evenings in the swell were very beautiful and peaceful. This remote place is rapidly climbing on our list of favorite places to camp.

We continued south to Hanksville, UT and picked up some beer, which is not always easy in Utah. We thought we would camp in Capitol Reef National Monument, but it was very crowded when we arrived. Of course, after a few days in the swell, “crowded” could mean just two cars, but it was quite a bit more. We stopped for lunch at Capitol Reef and then continued south towards Boulder, UT. I caught this group of deer in the field enjoying the grass near our lunch spot.

We pulled off Hwy 12 at Oak Creek Campground, one of the few Dixie National Forest campgrounds still open this time of year.

We had a nice short hike through the forest near the campground, enjoying the colorful aspen that were changing at this altitude of about 7,000 feet.

The next morning, we grabbed some tasty breakfast burritos from the food truck parked at the Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder, UT. After breakfast, we drove the picturesque Hwy 12 from Boulder to Escalante. A lot of folks were on the road, and it looked like a film crew was also filming along the road. The Calf Creek falls are in the canyon near the center of the picture. Cars were packed at the trailhead for the falls hike.

We stopped to enjoy the view at the top. As we entered Escalante, we noticed the sign for the marathon that is run every year from Boulder to Escalante. The climb up the road to this view would be roughly mile 15, or no fun even with the gorgeous views to distract yourself from the pain – lol.

We turned south at Cannonville, away from the many tourists in the area. Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase, and several other notable places to see are all in this area, drawing in the large crowds of tourists. We continued down the dirt Cottonwood Canyon Road at a peaceful pace, with little traffic. Just before our intended camp spot a herd of bighorn sheep ran in front of our rig and up the hill along the road.

We camped about 7 miles up from the south end of Cottonwood Canyon in a nice rock formation. The sides of the hills were covered with bighorn sheep tracks, but we didn’t see any more that night.

The following day we continued into Kanab, UT, refilled our gas tanks, restocked our food supplies, and headed south into Arizona.