All posts by cerchie1

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.

Idaho 2020

Dropping down out of Montana, we drove to Challis, ID along the picturesque Salmon River valley. Leslie and Klaus had friends that liked the Challis Hot Spring campground. We checked it out, but it was booked for the weekend. We instead headed about 15 miles into the hills outside of Challis to the 7,000-foot Mosquito Flat Reservoir campground, another forest service campground that was open this late in the year and free. The last seven miles of road was a single track through the mountains. It was a little tight in some places, but we did not run into anyone coming the other direction. Leslie and Klaus were behind us pulling their trailer, which would have been more difficult to deal with if the road had some traffic. I guess our job was to push anyone off the road as the lead truck – lol.

The wildfire smoke from California and Oregon was very noticeable when we arrived, but slowly dissipated over the course of the next couple of days. It was a little hazy during our stay, but at least you could not smell the smoke.

The mosquito flats reservoir supplies the water for the farm fields we passed on our way here. The water level was pretty low this late in the year, but it was still deep by the dam. Because it was near a full moon, huge trout were jumping out of the pond during prime fishing time in the early evening. Luckily, the nighttime temperatures were near freezing, so the mosquitoes were all gone, and the campfires provided much desired heat.

Pam’s brother, Allan, pulled into the campsite just as the sun was setting and dinner was put on the table, chicken tacos. The next day we decided to drive the smaller vehicles up the 4-wheel drive road to the 9,000-foot Challis Lakes. As the road got narrower and steeper, we parked one vehicle and then the other along the way. We ended up walking the last two miles to the lakes. We took two vehicles so that Allan could drive alone. He found out on his drive up to meet us that son was exposed to COVID at school and was now in a quarantine period. Social distancing while hiking the trail was easy.

It was a good decision to leave the cars. Even with 4-wheel drive the road became a steep, rocky track more suitable for ATVs than a larger vehicle. There was no room for two-way traffic along many sections of the trail.

As we hiked to the lakes, we noticed this tree and discussed why trees twist as they grow. Allan had heard that the twist direction is different for eucalyptus trees in the northern hemisphere relative to the southern hemisphere.

I research this after we returned and trees do twist both ways as they grow in the northern and southern hemispheres. Some even change the direction of twist with age. The dominant factors are asymmetry of the tree’s crown and the prevailing wind direction. For the majority of trees in the US and Australia the crown grows larger on the sunny side of the tree and the prevailing wind is from the west. In the US, the sun is to the south and with a westerly wind the twist is counter-clockwise as seen on this tree. In Australia, the sun is to the north. The same westerly wind then causes a clockwise twist. Some folks think the difference in twist is due to a Coriolis effect difference between north and south, where this difference can be seen in water running down a drain, but gravity and the earth’s rotation loses this time to just the sun and wind.

We reached the lakes at the top. The water was crystal clear and it will be filling back up with snowmelt soon.

We made it back to our campsite and had another great meal and campfire before saying goodbye to Leslie, Klaus, and Allan the next day. While the single-track road into the campsite felt really narrow when we arrived, it felt huge on the way out after driving and hiking the narrower 4-wheel trail to the upper lakes. We even squeezed by a truck with a utility trailer on our way out with no issues.

Leslie and Klaus turned north to Missoula and Allan south to Salt Lake City. Pam and I drove back to the Challis Hot Springs campground and checked in for a good soak. We saw a herd of bighorn sheep on the hills next to the hot springs.

The weekend crowds were gone. The owner had just this year put in a few non-electric “tent” sites down by the Salmon River. We grabbed one of those sites and enjoyed the riffling noise of the river for the next couple of days.

The hot springs were a treat. They had two hot pools. One was roughly a 20’ x 40’ pool at about 97 degrees and the other was a 15’ x 15’ pool at around 105 degrees. Both had crystal clear water and the pools’ bottom were just loose river rock, allowing the natural hot water to rise into the pools. Cold water was added to maintain the desired temperature.

They also had a walking trail through the trees along the river that made for an enjoyable evening stroll.

The place is a popular camping spot, but during the week the reduced number of campers makes it much more enjoyable. The fall colors were out along the Salmon River.

In the evening time we sat by the river and watched all the birds. We saw great egrets, sandhill cranes and this osprey looking for a late, take-out fish snack. No wonder they can snatch a fish out of the water when you see their talons.

We continued south from Challis to Arco, ID, the first city in the United States to be powered by nuclear power. The first breeder nuclear reactor in the US, EBR-1, is located just outside Arco within the large, unpopulated area that makes up the Idaho National Laboratory. The EBR building is now a National Historic Landmark because it is the site that generated the first usable electricity from nuclear energy in 1951. Unfortunately, it closed on Labor Day so we could not tour the building this trip. We have visited it before, and the place is maintained as if it were still the 1950s, all mid-century modern furniture and office equipment. Given the maturity of nuclear energy when they first flipped the switch, I am sure many of the folks in Arco wondered if their lights would turn on, or would there be a very large, bright flash on the horizon.

We stopped into Arco to replenish some supplies and camped the night at the Craters of the Moon National Monument. By the end of the day, the campground was filled with everything from class A motorhomes to tents. The weather was considerably nicer this year compared to the sub-freezing, snowy weather we had passing through there a year before.

We had a nice hike around Devil’s Orchard in the morning before heading out and further south towards Pocatello, ID.

We passed south through Pocatello and into the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. After a climb into the mountains and cooler air, we found a place to camp at Scout Mountain campground. Two of the three camping loops were closed, and the remaining open loop was free this time of year.

There was a well-maintained walking path that ran right next to our campsite and around the local mountainside, giving us a nice view of the peak.

The hiking path passed through the woods and into some open meadows. The forest is filled with colorful aspen trees this time of year. We don’t see the variety of fall colors like eastern woods, but the aspens provide us with a little bit of fall gold, and even reds and oranges if it’s really cold.

The next day we continued to the other side of the mountain and dropped into the Arbon Valley. This valley in southern Idaho is one of the largest producers of grains and cattle in the world. It was a beautiful drive down the rural roads through the valley to the Curlew National Grasslands.

The grassland areas, while beautiful, were not really the short-grass or tall-grass midwestern plains grasslands where the buffalo roamed, but appear to be taken over by sage, possibly due to the lack of animals on the grasslands. However, there is nothing better than the smell of sage when hiking through the fields on a sunny day, with the possible exception of the vanilla – butterscotch smell of a Ponderosa tree baking in the sun.

We camped at Stone Reservoir campground within the grasslands. We hiked around the reservoir and saw a couple flocks of ducks and a coyote wondering how to get a duck dinner. We caught a shot of some deer coming out of the fields for an evening drink from the reservoir.

The only other folks in the campground were several guys that showed up late in the evening with their campers and were out before dawn on their ATVs. Dove and crow season were open, but waterfowl season was still a week away. We did see the Fish and Game bird wing barrels on our drive to the campsite, where you drop in one of the wings so that they can get an estimate of the birds taken during the hunting season.

We left Curlew and headed a short distance south to the Utah border.

Montana 2020

We entered south-central Montana from the Bighorn Mountains area in Wyoming. I wanted to revisit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument because of a recent addition to the place. As we approached the NM on a back-road we came across a tow truck attempting to pull an 18-wheeler out of a ditch. The tow truck and 18-wheeler blocked the road by this operation. The tow operator came over and asked if he could borrow our jumper cables since the 18-wheeler’s battery was dead and he had misplaced his. Luckily, we have heavy duty cables. He got the 18-wheeler started and was then able to release its brakes.

The Bighorn Battlefield has both 7th Calvary and Native American monuments at the site. This is part of the Native American monument. What I wanted to see was the relatively new, beautiful, metal and glass 50-foot Dignity statue of a Native American woman. However, after we got there, I realized it was 300 miles away in South Dakota – oops.

Pam and I hiked the trails through the monument and read the information boards along the way. The initial attack by Lt. Col. Custer and the 7th Calvary was on a two-mile long village by the river and trees in the valley below. His less than honorable tactics of attempting to capture the woman and children to force a surrender did not work and the combined forces of the Lakota – Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors drove the calvary away from the village and up the hill to the place of Custer’s last stand. The news of Custer’s loss arrived back in Washington, DC during the 1876 centennial celebration, which led to an increased military response in the months that followed.

We camped near the National Monument at the 7th Ranch RV Camp, which is now within the Crow Reservation. It had a nice hiking trail that we enjoyed as the sun set.

The wildfire smoke from the northern California and central Oregon fires was becoming very noticeable. Not too long after this shot the sun disappeared from view as it approached the horizon, due to the smoke layer, before it actually set.

There are a few apps we use when we travel to help decide our route relative to air quality and weather. One is “Smoke Sense”, which shows the air quality, fire locations and even the projected smoke path for the next couple of days. A second is “NOAA Weather Radar” to get the current and future weather patterns. A third app is “Wildfire Info”, which shows the current wildfire locations along with more detailed information on closures and fire containment. A final app is “Windfinder”, which shows the current and projected winds for the entire globe for at least a week into the future, and surprisingly it is very accurate.

We then drove west to Bozeman, MT to visit with our nephew, Tim, who is currently attending Montana State. We planned to meet for dinner, so we camped close to town at the Bozeman Hot Springs. It was the typical close-quarters parking for RVs, but it was handy to downtown Bozeman and the soak in the hot springs was very relaxing.

We followed up the nice soak in the hot springs with a dinner at the Montana Ale Works with Tim. We talked about his studies and his lab work on a NASA grant looking at new technologies on weather balloons. Before leaving town, we visited one of our favorite museums, the Museum of the Rockies. One of the best attributes of this museum are the two temporary exhibits that always display interesting items. Unfortunately, both were closed the day we were there. A Thomas D. Mangelsen exhibit was to open the following week, showcasing his incredible wildlife photos, and probably the great stories behind each shot. The other exhibit on 20th Century Japanese woodblock prints was due to open a few weeks after we left. We’ll have to go back again in the future.

After our tour of the museum, we drove to Missoula, MT during a long-desired rainstorm that helped to clear the air of the wildfire smoke. It was great timing for us with the rain because the air quality in parts of western Montana was into the unhealthy zone. We arrived at Klaus and Leslie’s place (Pam’s sister) in the rain. The next day Missoula had blue skies and puffy white clouds, and everyone was outside once again to enjoy the clean air. We hiked Mt Sentinel, or “M” mountain that overlooks the University of Montana and Missoula.

During our stay in Missoula I restocked our supplies with huge batches of chicken and rice soup and Bolognese sauce. Pam shopped for winter clothes for our new granddaughter, which are hard to find in Phoenix unless you only need a long sleeve shirt. Leslie and Pam baked up a variety of yummy plum desserts after a neighbor dropped off a few bags of freshly picked Italian prune plums.

Leslie and Klaus had made reservations at Holland Lake CG for the last weekend they would be open. The campground has some first-come, first-serve spots so Pam and I drove up towards the end of the week to grab one of those. The campground was very nice, where each spot was nearly 1/8th of an acre in size. We ended up getting a spacious spot next to Leslie and Klaus right on the water.

The lake was beautiful and the view from our campsite was gorgeous.

While watching the lake a merganser landed and swam around. Usually we see them floating and feeding on running streams, so it was odd to see it on a lake.

It had a unique hunting / feeding style, where it would swim with it head partially submerged, and then dive for the food. I guess they can see under water.

We hiked to the upper falls with some friends of Leslie and Klaus’ who were also camped there for the last weekend. Pam, Leslie, and I turned back at the falls for about a 6-mile hike. Klaus and their friends continued further up the mountain to the lake that feeds the falls before returning to the campground. The view of the lake and the snow-capped Mission Mountains was majestic from the upper side of the falls.

The next day we hiked to the lower side of the falls. The morning broke with not a breath of wind, so the lake was glass smooth.

It was a new campground for us and one that will definitely be added to the list of favorites.

We only got a short visit with Stephanie, our niece, from a safe distance because her boyfriend had tested positive for COVID and she was in her 14-day quarantine period. She ended up testing negative so that was good. She took up crocheting during her quarantine and showed us her beautiful shawl that she finished. She was going to attempt knitted hats next.

The following weekend we left Missoula on our way to Idaho to meet up with Pam’s brother coming up from Salt Lake City. Rather than make the 6-hour drive to our intended rendezvous location, we left a day early with Leslie and Klaus and camped roughly halfway there in Sula, MT. Sula is a sparsely populated rural community. The community has the most compact post office. No bulk mail through this place.

We camped the night at Martin Creek Campground, a nice little spot about 15 miles up into the hills past Sula. After Labor Day, the forest service campgrounds are either closed or open and free. Luckily, this campground was one of the latter.

On the drive back through Sula the next day we encountered a few bighorn sheep on the road. This guy decided to join the flow of traffic for awhile before bounding up the hillside to join his buddies.

Just south of Sula the road peaks at the Montana – Idaho border through the 7,300-foot Chief Joseph Pass. We drove through the pass and into Idaho, saying goodbye to Montana for this trip in 2020.

Wyoming 2020

We left Colorado heading up Hwy 287 into Laramie. We turned west out of Laramie heading up to the Medicine Bow National Forest and the Snowy Mountain Range. As we started the slow climb into the mountains our truck engine temperature spiked. This was the second time in seven years our cooling hose back by the diesel water heater blew a hole and drained the engine coolant. The design does let you shut that extended coolant line out of the system with a set of valves so we refilled the coolant with water and headed back into Laramie and the Ford dealer to flush and refill our truck with coolant since we were expecting cooler temperatures in the future.

Luckily, the Ford dealer was able to fit us into their service schedule, and we were back on the road in a few hours. We arrived at the first-come, first-serve Sugarloaf CG a few hours after we intended but luckily found an open spot.

The Sugarloaf CG is located at 10,800 feet, and the Snowy Mountain Range peaks out at just under 13,000 feet. We like the area due to the gorgeous views and the many hiking trails. The campground does not open until 15 July due to snow from the previous winter and closes again by late September / early October when snow begins again.

The mountains, rocks, alpine vegetation, and lakes make for beautiful hikes.

Pam and I hiked a couple new trails this year. First, we hiked the 6-mile loop to Lost Lake passing many lakes on the way.

We had never been up there during a holiday weekend. Typically, we are there with about 20 or less people that we see the entire weekend over the 40 square miles, either in the campground or on the trails. However, the place was packed for the holiday weekend with cars parked for miles on both side of the road leading from the trailhead to the highway. Usually we carry bear spray when we hike there due to the local bear population and the fact that we are out there by ourselves. This weekend, there were a few hundred people, so we did not even worry about bears.

We did see a huge bull moose on our second hike up over the mountain saddle and towards Mirror Lake. A guy had a tripod set up and when I asked what he was shooting we saw the moose laying in a small pond. He got up when the sun got too much for him and made his way up the mountain into the shade of some trees.

Up on the saddle you could see many of the lakes that dot the area. Pam found another Pika to talk to along this trail.

As you drop down from the saddle towards Mirror Lake there are a series of ponds that keep the hike breathtaking.

The fires in northern Colorado shut down one of its largest camping areas along Hwy 14. With nowhere to go within Colorado, most of the folks headed to the Snowy Range, where a significant majority of the car plates were from Colorado.

Ben, Emily, and Tippet came up from Fort Collins on Sunday for a visit. We did an easy hike with Tippet due to her age, but they loved the place and I am sure they will be back. Ben mentioned that the weather forecast had changed, and snow was expected for much of Wyoming and Colorado starting the following evening. There is no cell service there (another nice thing about that area), so Pam and I hiked to a nearby overlook the next morning to get enough of a signal to see what was projected for Laramie and the Snowy Range.

Most of the folks had left the campground by Monday afternoon and when I talked with the Ranger driving through she said that about a foot of snow was expected that night. We had plans to visit with friends the following week in central Wyoming, so we packed up and left the Snowy Range.

Most of the western states were smokey due to the yearly forest fires. Wyoming was not too bad, but you could see the smoke prior to the storm rolling in. We could also see the temperature rapidly dropping as the storm front moved overhead.

We camped at Sinks Canyon CG in the hills above Lander, WY. When we got there is was starting to get cold, but we cooked dinner outside. The rain started when we went to bed. During the night, the rain turned to snow and dropped about 6 inches, drifting to well over a foot deep due to the wind.

About this time, I realized I did not have an ice scraper either (another thing you do not think about packing when it is 110 degrees outside). My O’Reillys Rewards card seemed appropriate to use until we made it to one of their stores to pick up a scraper.

We were toasty in our rig since it has a nice heater, but we decided to leave this winter wonderland and head to our friends place up towards Dubois, WY. The snow was covering slush on the roads and the campground was unplowed and hilly, but the Roamer made it out easily.

As we drove down the canyon we had to pull over to allow a couple of cowboys and their dogs to push a few wayward cows that did not want any part of the snowy weather back up the canyon to their grazing areas. The weather prediction was that this snow would melt within a day and return to more normal fall weather, so it was too early to leave the grazing area for winter.

We stopped in Lander to do laundry and restock with food and gas. The town was a wreck from the storm. The heavy, wet snow had caused hundreds of tree branches and even some trees to snap and fall. The houses and roads in town were littered with downed trees, with crews everywhere busy at work cleaning up the area.

As we left Lander, the landscape was nothing but white, except for the road. Unfortunately, the local birds were resting by the warmer road and would take flight as you approached, sometime too late to clear the rig. We had not hit a bird with our rig in seven years but ended up hitting three along this stretch of highway. Bert had one stuck in his truck grill when we arrived at their place, so it was not only us thinning out the local bird population.

Bert and Leigh have a beautiful place on the Wind River. It was even more picturesque when the sun broke out and the snow was still on the Wind River Mountain peaks.

They were having a small class reunion, so I helped Bert set up the place. We even cut up an old culvert and welded it together for a great reunion evening fire pit. Taco, their Blue Healer, was always ready to go when things needed to be done.

Near Dubois, Dan Starks has built the $100M, 14,000 square foot Museum of Military Vehicles. His private collection of military vehicles and weapons that is just impressive. They were just laying the building’s foundation last year when we drove by, but it opened this year. The finished section focuses on WWII where most of the vehicles have been refurbished to operating capability. Part of the recent deliveries were the manuals for all the vehicles so that they can be maintained.

The collection is so complete that you can see the evolution of the various designs from the late 1930s when WWII broke out, until 1945 when both the European and Pacific fighting ended. Each vehicle has its description and its production rate versus time to illustrate a staggering display of the manufacturing capability during the 1940s in the US.

As well as the amphibious and armed vehicles, the Red Ball Express logistic vehicles are on display and the incredible amount of material they moved through Europe during the later stages of the war.

An impress vault is also in the museum as a door to the display of guns.

The collection spans from the Revolutionary war to current times. The gun that fired the “shot heard around the world” to start the Revolutionary War at Bunker Hill is part of the collection. They know this because it was part of a family heirloom bought by Dan from the family of the person who did not wait until he saw the whites of their eyes. He was reprimanded for firing (that’s how they know it’s the gun), although he was a very good shot and hit his target.

Half of the museum is just open warehouse storage for the Korean and Vietnam era vehicles. This area is to be completed to the same display quality as the WWII section in the future.

Back at Bert and Leigh’s, Bert and I visited the NAPA Auto store in Riverton to pick up some super-duty coolant hose that I spliced into our rig. Hopefully, this will end the coolant line failure at the same point every few years. James, Bert, and I removed and painted his tractor hood that was flaking off the New Holland blue paint. It was definitely a three-person job to get the hood off and on again.

It was another nice visit with Bert and Leigh. They even had one of their prairie dogs at the exit to their place to say goodbye.

From there we headed north to Thermopolis, WY to enjoy the hot springs. The Wyoming State Bathhouse was still open for business. The changes due to COVID were limits on the number of people inside at any time (a number larger than we have ever seen there at any one time), no towels for rent (had to use our own), and a limit on how long you could be within the facility (soak limit of 20 minutes, total time in the facility 30 minutes). We had a nice soak and headed for a camping spot for the evening.

Like Colorado, the Wyoming campgrounds have gone to an online reservation system. However, our favorite campground, Lower Wind River CG, has no cell reception so you cannot make a reservation once you arrive. Because we had to drive back down the Wind River Canyon to Thermopolis to get cell reception, we just found an RV park in town to stay, the Eagle RV Park. It was the typical RV park where folks are packed in way too close, but she gave us a great deal on the price that made it lower than the campground back up the canyon where we intended to stay. Plus, it had its own laundry machines.

We headed north out of Thermopolis the next morning with clean clothes and into Wyoming’s cattle country. We climbed up Hwy 14 into the Bighorn Mountain Range. As you can see from the picture, it was a very steep climb, and the air quality was rather poor in the valley below due to the forest fire smoke from other western states.

At the top of the climb we stopped to visit the Medicine Wheel National Historic Site, a sacred Native-American site. You must hike the 1.5 miles from the parking lot to the site on top of the 9,600-foot plateau. Usually it is a gorgeous view out over the valley below, but visibility was greatly limited due to the smoke.

The last time we visited the site there was a prayer ceremony ongoing, so no pictures were allowed. This time is was unoccupied so we could take a picture of the site. This site dates back roughly 1,000 years, but other medicine wheels in the northwest and southern Canada date back 5,500 years. Archeological digs in the area date this region’s use by Native-Americans back 7,000 years, where some of the radial spokes of the medicine wheel align with stars.

The national forest campground we had stayed at previously near the medicine wheel was closed this late in the year. We drove to the eastern side of the range and found a spot open for two nights at Sibley Lake CG.

The campground had two loops: one for big campers with all the hook-ups and the other for tents or RVs that required no hook-ups. We were on the side with no hook-ups and had a nice spot. Sometime after we pulled in a 45-foot Class A RV parked in the spot next to us. Apparently, they wanted to stay there and the only spot open to reservations was next to us. They booked that with the hope that when they arrived a full hook-up site would be open. They were a nice couple from Minnesota that have been RVing for many years. I thought a rig like that would need hook-ups, but I was wrong. The second day they ran their generator, but it was quieter than other generators running near us.

On the other side of us was a couple setting up a tent for the very first time (right out of the box and plastic wrap). As I watched, eventually the Boy Scout in me kicked in and I had to give them some pointers to save then future agony in poor weather. They were heading to Yellowstone so hopefully they looked like experienced campers once they arrived there.

We hiked around the lake, but a more interesting hike was along the Nordic track surrounding the campground. There were several loops that are groomed in the winter that provide cross-country skiing through the forest near the campsite.

All three loops meet up at a common point in the forest at a warming hut, complete with two wood burning stoves and wood. I guess a complete enclosure is not required.

The trail we hiked was the Prune Creek Loop, which followed the crystal-clear Prune Creek from the warming hut to the campground. We saw what I originally thought was a black martin along the hike, but it looked more like a mink after some research. Pretty cool sighting. It was sleek and beautiful as it moved in and around the forest.

We dropped out of the Bighorn Mountains and into the smokey valley air as we said goodbye to Wyoming and headed into Montana.

Colorado 2020

When we first began our summer treks seven years ago, we stumbled upon Ruby Mountain CG on the Arkansas River Headwaters near Salida, CO. The first couple of years when we stopped there the campground was a remote, deserted campground with first-come, first-served camping and great trout fishing in the river. However, the land next to the sleepy little campground was designated Brown’s Canyon National Monument a few years ago. Seemingly overnight, the off-road trails were improved causing a continuous stream of jeeps and ATVs through the campground. The campground itself had an extreme face-lift with big, beautiful rocks lining each campsite and local businesses started running rafting trips down the river, eliminating the fishing. Last year all Colorado state-run campgrounds went to an online reservation system only, including our once favorite hidden place. Being only a couple hours from Denver, the campground has now been found and was booked full as we checked on our way out of New Mexico. We realized that we needed a new spot, the Ruby Mountain CG we enjoyed was now gone.

Heading up through central Colorado on Hwy 285, we found a campground near Fairplay, CO. Horseshoe Campground was located several miles into the national forest along a nice dirt road.

The campground sites were reservable, and most were taken for the upcoming Labor Day Weekend, but many were open when we arrived Sunday afternoon.

The campground was in a lush valley along Fourmile Creek. The entire valley leading up to the campground was a multi-tiered waterway of beaver ponds and dens. It was great to see. We did not see any beavers at work in the daylight, but it was obvious they were slowly working their eco-magic downstream into the valley below.

The campground itself was nice and lush, with small pools of water and moss between the campsites.

I spoke with the camp host and asked where the trailhead next to our campsite led. He said folks come from all over to hike up to the Bristlecone and Limber Pine trees.

We hiked up to the see the trees along a nice path through the forest.

The Bristlecone and Limber pines live at the higher elevation along the tree line. These trees’ lives are measured in centuries instead of decades as with most trees. Similar Bristlecone trees we have seen in other places were over 1000 years old, one topping out at 5,000 years old.

They are rugged trees given the conditions they live in, rocky soil and buried in snow most of the year.

We heard the “meep” of Pikas in the rocks around us, but it took a few minutes to spot one. Pikas are short-eared, tailless cousins of rabbits that live at the higher elevations. One is in the center of the photo below, if you can spot the rock-colored rodents.

It looks like we have found a new favorite campground near Denver.

We had scheduled a service appointment at the Earthroamer plant, so we made our way into Denver and camped at St. Vrains State Park, just down the road from Earthroamer. The park is a wildlife reserve with several ponds and many birds. However, it is next to I-25 so there is a constant hum of traffic that is always difficult to ignore after extremely quite nights in the forest.

It was a two-day service, so we dropped off the Roamer, moved some of our stuff into a loaner car and headed to the laundromat. While doing laundry we found a local breakfast place, Gabe’s Café, that made great corned beef hash and breakfast burritos while our clothes spun away the dirt. We then stopped into Duluth Trading Post to grab some gloves and a hat I had forgotten for the trip seeing that it was over 110 degrees when we packed and left. Who thinks about freezing weather in 110 degrees?

We then headed north to Fort Collins, CO for the night. We met up with our nephew Ben and his fiancé, Emily, and their 60-lb Newfoundland / Great Pyrenees mix puppy, Tippet, at a local brewery for a nice outdoor dinner. We spent the night at the Armstrong Hotel in downtown Fort Collins. It is a historic hotel that had nice rooms, but thin walls, as we had drunk, singing hotel neighbors that night. It makes you appreciate your own rig at times like this.

We walked around downtown the next day and picked up a few things and mailed some others while we were in civilization.

We also visited the Fort Collins Museum of Art, where they had pieces from artists all over the west. The hanging piece was a “blanket” stitched together from 35mm film negatives. It was an interesting piece. However, there is always that one piece that makes you think the artist just threw something together in an afternoon to meet the delivery deadline and declared it “art”.

Fort Collins has a nice cooking store called the Cupboard that we visited on our walk. I picked up some huckleberry chocolates with fishing flies painted on them. They were made in Missoula, and now I am hooked. Lol.

We headed back down to the Denver area, picked up the Roamer and went back to St. Vrains to camp since it was late in the day. We had the yearly tune-up for the camper and bought a new wheel rim. One of our split rims had been leaking slowly for a couple of years, and while we do have an onboard air compressor to refill the tire, it was becoming a daily requirement and tiresome.

We took off for Wyoming the next morning as the Labor Day weekend approached.

New Mexico 2020

2020 has been an interesting year so far. Taylor and Lucia made us grandparents in February to a beautiful granddaughter, Beatrice. Tom, our eldest son, was home from his job overseas and we enjoyed 6 weeks with him before he headed out again on his next assignment.

Once he left, Pam and I decided to take another road trip. The valley hit a new record this year of 50 days over 110 degrees, so we were ready for some cool air in higher elevations. We headed up to our place on the Rim as a first stop for a couple days to let the poor Roamer shed some of the heat it had been soaking up all summer.

The weather up at 7,600 feet was nice and cool. The forest was healthy, the sky clear of forest fire smoke and the pond was still holding a lot of water even with the below average rainfall this monsoon season.

We found a recent carcass that had been picked clean by the local coyotes and birds on our walks around the pond.

We planned to visit Bandelier National Monument on our way north this year, but New Mexico has been one of the more restricted states relative to COVID. When I called the Ranger station at Bandelier to see what restrictions were in place, I was reminded that the National Parks and Monuments are federal lands and not state lands. With this information, we then took off on our summer trek #7 to skip across New Mexico via National Monuments.

We headed for El Morro National Monument, which is just east of the Zuni reservation in New Mexico. The road through the reservation was closed so we had to back-track into Arizona and north around the reservation. The bright side was that we got to see a new section of New Mexico, arriving at El Morro after our 100-mile diversion. Typically, arriving as late as we did, there would be no camp spots remaining at the first-come-first-serve campground. However, it was nearly empty due to the lack of tourists given the New Mexico COVID restrictions, so we got a spot and had a nice first night on the road.

The visitor center was closed, but the trails at the park were open. This would be the case at many of the parks we would end up visiting. The rock of El Morro looked unchanged.

As we made our way to Bandelier, we took the back way up the Jemez River valley. We had not been this way since a trip with Lou and Nancy a few years ago. We stopped at the Soda Dam, a 300-foot dam made of calcium carbonate (soda) and travertine.

The Jemez River valley was a pretty drive.

The road continues by Valles Caldera National Preserve. This beautiful valley is the site of Walt Longmire’s house in the Wyoming TV series Longmire. I am sure places in Wyoming look similar, but this is one spectacular valley.

We arrived at Bandelier National Monument and while only two of the three camping loops were open, we were only one of about 10 folks there so finding a spot or social distancing was not an issue.

The next morning, we hiked from the campground down the Frey trail into the Frijoles Canyon valley.

The walls of the canyon are volcanic, where the air pockets of the cooling lava could be seen in the erosion of the rock wall.

This area was settled by the Ancestral Pueblo people between 1150 and 1550 AD. The multi-century drought that hit the entire southwest during this time forced the Frijoles Canyon peoples to the nearby Rio Grande after 1550 AD. The outline of the main community living quarters and kivas can be seen in the picture below. When it was in use, the many rooms around the central area were accessed from a ladder through the roof instead of a door.

Also, along the canyon walls you can see the remains of the homes that extended up two or three stories high. The holes where the structural tree timbers were mounted into the wall are still visible.

A few of the homes were rooms carved out of the volcanic rock in the side of the walls.

The inside of the room has the handprints on the lower wall left by the past residences. The upper part is black from soot of their fires inside the home.

The visitor center was closed, but the café was open for lunch. In fact, just before we arrived at the café the head Ranger told the crew that they could now serve food inside. Pam and I split a New Mexico great green chili cheeseburger while we dined in the café alone before heading back up the canyon to our camp site.

We ran across this guy on the campground roads soaking up the afternoon heat. We shooed him off the road before he ended up a little flatter from the occasional traffic.

The next day we had an enjoyable rest day at the campsite. I taped off and spray painted our utility box on our rig. Luckily, the paint dried before the afternoon rains showed up. It rained off and on for most of the evening, driving away the few tent campers that showed up for the weekend ill-prepared for the weather.

It was a nice stay at Bandelier, but we headed north out of New Mexico and into Colorado to keep our upcoming appointment for our Roamer.

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.