All posts by cerchie1

Chaco Canyon 2019

We arrived at Navajo National Monument and went into the visitor center to see if there was a tour the next day down to the Betatakin cliff dwelling ruins. There was not one planned, but the Ranger called the guide and he agreed to do one the next day for us – awesome. More folks joined in after us too.

We found a campsite with Clark and Jill and shortly after Kirk and Kathy arrived from their backpacking adventure in Paria Canyon. It was Cinco de Mayo so we had a huge Mexican food night complete with margaritas – ole’. The next morning, our guide left early on the hike, but the Ranger took us down to the trailhead where he and the others doing the hike were waiting for us to arrive.

There are two ways down to Betatakin, the shorter route down a few hundred stairs carved out of the rock wall, or the longer 6-mile route that descends into the river canyon confluence and makes its way back up a canyon to the alcove site. Pam and I like the longer route because its more picturesque and not quite the stair-master on the way back up.

Our guide was a 70ish-year old Navajo gentleman that gave a great tour during the 5-hour trek down and back. Betatakin was inhabited by ancient Pueblos in the 1250 to 1300 AD timeframe. They now know this from dating the trees used in the construction. Hopi clan pictographs can be seen on the walls and Hopis still visit the site for ceremonies and to visit with their ancestors. I think an overnight trek out to Keet Seel, another ancient Pueblo cliff dwelling ruin about 8 miles up through the canyon below, will be on our late summer or fall list of hikes this year.

After the hike the six of us drove to Aztec, NM and camped at Ruins Road RV Park and Campground, another new campsite for Pam and me. The campground had a large RV lot, but we got the entire Animas River campsite area to ourselves for the night. The river was flowing pretty good and the air was still chilly enough that mosquitoes were not an issue.

The next morning, we made our way to Aztec Ruins National Monument, a place we’ve driven by before but never stopped. The ruins there are ancestral Pueblo that were misnamed Aztec by early explorers to the region and the name stuck. Similar to what we were going to see at Chaco Canyon, the 900-year old ruins were multi-roomed, multi-storied quarters constructed from wood and stone. Nearly all the wood used in the 400 room ruins is gone, having been repurposed over the ages, causing some of the stone walls to collapse.

The visitor center was once the home of one of the original archeologists, who repurposed many of the ruin’s roof beams for his home.

The Great Kiva was reconstructed to provide a glimpse of how it looked when the folks lived here. Stone pillars supported the wooden roof and the stone walls and supports were covered in plaster and painted.

After touring Aztec Ruins, we headed just over an hour south to the Chaco Culture National Historic Park. The last 6 miles of dirt road leading into the park from the east is in much need of grading. You are always glad to arrive in the park just so you don’t have to drive on that road any further – lol.

We set up camp and at the Gallo Campground in the park. The campground is being refurbished. While it is under construction, they do not take reservations, only first come first served. Being mid-week there were plenty of sites available.

We then hit the visitor center, talked with the Rangers and explored the five Great Houses along the north side of the canyon drive: Una Vida, Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo del Arroyo. These Great Houses were constructed and used between 850 and 1150 AD before being left by the ancestral Pueblo. This place was the center of the ancestral Pueblos with roads running in the four cardinal directions away from the valley. Trade goods from the Pacific Northwest to southern Mexico have been excavated from the ruins.

The Ranger said we should hike up to Pueblo Alto on top of the canyon wall but given the light rain we saved that for the next day. The climb up (and back down) through the rock was a lot of fun. Here is Pam leading the way back down the trail.

The view looking down over Pueblo Bonito was pretty spectacular from along the Pueblo Alto Trail.

These Great Houses contained hundreds of rooms and Pueblo Bonito was 4 stories high in some places. The stone was brought in from quarries located miles away. The huge wooden beams were cut and carried from the mountain ranges 40 to 60 miles away. It was estimated that only 50 to 100 people lived in Pueblo Bonito year around, and given its flawless construction and care for the materials used, it appears that this place was a pilgrimage site where the ancestral Puebloans learned their rituals and honed their construction skills. These Great Houses must have appeared to be majestic cathedrals in their day when most folks at the time were living in simple pit houses.

Like most pueblos the access to the rooms was from the ceiling above by ladder down to the room below, but some of the lower rooms were connected by doorways. The rooms would have also been plaster covered. They uncovered beautiful designs similar to those found on southwestern pottery on some of the walls during excavation.

Once excavated many of the lower rooms were then filled with earth to provide structural stability and proper water drainage. The Kivas would have looked similar to the one reconstructed at Aztec Ruins. There are 30 visible kivas present in Pueblo Bonito alone. Some were probably used for ceremonies or training, while some were closed and buried for the ancestors to use.

The stone work for these buildings is incredible. While the Great Houses differ in construction techniques, all reflect an incredible amount of skill and patience to fit stones within the gaps of larger stones, producing flush surfaces and square corners prior to being covered in plaster.

The 30-foot wide roads lead to Pueblo Alto as an entry point to the Canyon. The archeologists think this is true because the amount of potsherds are 25 times what would be expected for a pueblo that size. The thought is that once folks arrived, they broke their pots containing the gifts or food they brought as part of the arrival ritual.

We also hiked out to Wijiji, another back-country pueblo that is on the trail in the opposite direction from the other Great Houses to the campsite. This Great House was 225 rooms and 3 stories tall.

It was overcast with light rain the first two days there and that night we set up the alcove as a wind break for our dinner as the temperatures dropped to near freezing. Chaco is located at 6200 feet in altitude so it can get cold most of the year. It is so far from everything that it was designated an “International Dark Sky Park”, a place where the Milky Way is visible and vibrant at night.

Clark and Jill took off for home the next day, and then off to LA to see their daughter for Mother’s Day weekend. Kirk, Kathy, Pam and I headed out along the Penasco Blanco Trail, but Kirk ran into the Ranger who gave a great talk about Pueblo Bonito in the visitor center during an afternoon rain shower. With the sun out now and crystal blue skies above, Kirk followed the Ranger to Pueblo Bonito for some serious photography.

Kathy, Pam and I headed up the trail to see the Casa Chiquita and the petroglyphs along the canyon walls. A beautiful 6-foot bull snake was sunning itself across the trail on our way back. We didn’t make it all the way to Penasco Pueblo this time so there will have to be a future trip back to this magical place.

The four of use left Chaco going the southern route in hopes that the dirt road heading towards Grants, NM would be better, and it was. We then stopped and camped at El Morro National Monument, one of our favorite places. There are only 9 campsites there and its first come first served for these free campsites. Shortly after we arrived and got settled in the place was filled.

The next day we broke camp in a light rain and even hiked the 2-mile loop on and around the sandstone monolith that is El Moro. It was a totally new place for Kirk and Kathy and even new to Pam and me in the rain. Waterfalls and small pools were visible where typically it is just dry rock, which made it a nice stop before home – again.

After the hike we headed back home to end our trip. The Roamer passed through 90,000 miles and maybe we’ll break 100,000 miles sometime this summer. We’ll see.

Wire Pass 2019

Pam and I have been busy this Spring with house related issues which made this road trip a much-needed break. Earlier in the year we had planned two separate trips with four other folks, but ended up combining the trips into one, making it more enjoyable.

We headed out of town with our new travel partners, Clark and Jill, and their Sprinter RV. Given our late start, or it could have been good planning, we ended up at THAT Brewery in Pine for a nice dinner. We then headed up on top of the Rim and camped for the night at Clint’s Wells CG. We’ve driven by the place many times, but never camped there. The four of us had the place to ourselves for the night. Being a weeknight and a little chilly at that altitude, there wasn’t any traffic on Lake Mary Road, which made the evening nice and quiet for us.

We broke camp the next morning and drove by the most water we’ve ever seen in Mormon Lake. It was a good snow year for northern AZ resulting in a very green forest and an abundance of wildflowers around the state. We blew through Flagstaff heading north to the Utah state line. Our stop for the day and rendezvous point with our other two travelers, Kathy and Kirk, was Stateline CG.

The area around there is very picturesque in a high desert kind of way.

The campground gets its name because it is literally right on the state line between Utah and Arizona.

While the campground sits in Utah, it is the starting or ending point of the Arizona Trail, an 800-mile trail that stretches from the Huachuca Mountains in southern Arizona on the Mexico border to the Buckskin Mountains and Stateline CG at the border of Utah.

We hiked a short stretch of the Trail, only about 797 miles left to complete the trail, and talked to “The Warden” at the trailhead logbook on our way back into the campground. He was a retired Alaska Fish and Game guy who had just recently completed the entire trail in 60 days. He showed us in the logbook the other hikers he met along the way and their trail names like “Drugstore”. He told us that the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was still under 5 feet of snow when he reached it a week before, about 100 miles south of the where we were.

Kirk and Kathy had back-country permits to hike and stay a night in Paria Canyon. We enjoyed a nice campfire dinner and the next morning Kirk and Kathy headed to the trailhead for their backpack adventure while Clark and Jill joined us for a day of exploration.

Just south of Stateline CG are “The Maze” petroglyphs, which we had not seen on any of our previous visits. The hike took us through a beautiful sage-filled valley – best smell ever – dotted with wildflowers.

We climbed a ridge to the petroglyphs, just on the other side of the geological wonder “The Wave”. The petroglyphs were amazing and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Maze petroglyph. The number of drawings would indicate that this was a well-traveled route and folks would leave their clan marking to show they had passed through here. Not sure what the square maze near the top of the picture represented.

We then drove back towards Utah and stopped at the Wire Pass trailhead. Wire Pass and Buckskin are two trailheads along the road that lead into slot canyons that join into Paria Canyon.

The rock formations in this area are very colorful and unique.

We hiked into the slot canyon of Wire Pass until we hit the confluence with Buckskin. There was a little bit of water and some mud, but overall a good hike. Someone had built and installed a wooden ladder at the 10-foot rock ledge in the Wire Pass slot canyon, making the hike much easier.

The rock changes color during the hike and the sky was a gorgeous color of blue; the slice of it you could see.

The plan was to meet back up with Kirk and Kathy the next day and head east across northern Arizona. We stopped at the White House trailhead BLM office, filled our water tanks and got a recommendation on a new place to camp along Cottonwood Canyon Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

We wanted to take Clark and Jill to “The Squeeze” and hike the Cottonwood Canyon Narrows, but a recent rockslide had blocked the road heading north. That will have to be a future trip.

Cottonwood Canyon Road was covered in wildflowers as we made our way towards our campsite for the night.

The dispersed campsite was near Lower Hackberry Canyon trailhead. The nearby white rock erosion created a white sand beach site for our camp spot.

We hiked along the rocks above our newfound campsite. The view was spectacular due to the colors and the 45-degree tilted earth formations that make up this valley.

The ridgeline we were on was beautiful, but the jump to the next spire was just a little further than either of us could make – lol.

We had another great campfire dinner, and passed the evening playing Bananagrams, a game Clark and Jill introduced to us a few years back. We carry a couple of dictionaries in the Roamer because in these remote areas there is no Internet and disputes in Bananagrams and Scrabble need to be resolved the old fashion way – lol.

The next morning we started towards Navajo National Monument, but stopped on the way to hike to some Toadstool Hoodoos.

The colors of the land against the sky in this area of the country is so vibrant that you just stop and say, “wow”.

We then headed East to continue this adventure, with a destination of Navajo National Monument for the night.

Death Valley 2019

The year has begun, and so have our travels. We packed up the Roamer and took off on a long weekend trip to Death Valley National Park with Clark and Jill, our Sprinter owner friends. For those who have driven through Death Valley in the summer, your only thought is to get out as quickly as possible due to the heat. However, the place is gorgeous, and in the wintertime the cooler temperatures allow you to enjoy its natural beauty.

I put together a killer itinerary for the Death Valley trip, but as with most trips, nothing goes as planned – lol. We arrived at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in a downpour. Our dispersed camping options were shot due to the weather so we asked for a good campsite. The Ranger said Mesquite Springs campground on the north side of the park was her favorite. Liking the sound of the remote camping option, we started our 40+ mile trip there. For those who have never been there or looked at a map of the place, Death Valley is huge, covering over 5,200 square miles.

Thirty miles from the campground we passed a sign that said the campground was closed. We called back to the Visitor Center and they verified that the sign was in error and the campground was open. The last 10 miles we crossed many newly formed rain water washes on the road. A few of the washes carried mud, rocks and debris from the local desert and deposited it over the road about a foot deep.

We finally arrived at the campsite as the sun was setting and the rain continued to come down. The Ranger was correct, the campground was open, and we had the entire place to ourselves.

By morning the rain had stopped, and puffy white clouds floated in the blue skies. This was the road out of the campsite, where a 2-foot deep chunk of the road had been carried away in the night. Luckily, there was enough solid road left for us to make our way out and start exploring the park.

Our first stop after leaving the campground was the volcanic Ubehebe Crater. You can see our little vehicles parked on the left – center of the picture to give some sense of scale. The crater is ½ mile across and 600 feet deep. The Natives called the crater “coyote’s basket”, and it’s estimated that it erupted only about 2000 years ago.

The rock formations near the crater, and in general all around the park, are incredible. Not only due to the character in size and shape, but in the many vivid colors that are present.

Scotty’s Castle was still closed due to rain damage that took out the road leading to it last year. Also, due to the weather we skipped Titus Canyon this trip. While it’s a beautiful drive, we slipped down some of the wet clay roads in 4-wheel low the last time we visited the park. Attempting it in a 2-wheel drive Sprinter didn’t seem like a good idea given the current weather.

Our next stop was the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. The creek was flowing and we even spotted the elusive 2-inch long pupfish that live in the typically salty water that flows in the creek.

We continued to the southern section of the park to visit the lowest point in the US, Badwater Salt Flats at 282 feet below sea level. The salt flats extend across the entire 20-mile valley from the Amargosa Mountains on the east to the Panamint Mountains seen here to the west. While it was near freezing where we camped in the north, it was a nice 70-degree day on the salt flats at this lower elevation.

Just north of the salt flats is Devil’s Golf Course, an area covered with huge halite salt crystals. While we were stopped there, we chatted with two guys touring the park on their 1940’s Indian motorcycles. I should have gotten a picture of the bikes.

Artist’s Drive is one of the drives in the park that winds through the bare rock formations that are filled with incredible colors.

Our next stop was the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek. Built in the 1880s, the Works harvested and processed 3 tons of sodium borate a day. It was then loaded onto wagons and pulled over the mountains to the west by 20 mule teams – the origin of “20 Mule Team Borax”.

It was nice that some weather was blowing through the area. The clouds help provide scale to the huge mountains that surround the valleys there. We camped the night at the Furnace Creek campground. It was nothing but a parking lot, but due to the soft, wet ground and the howling wind dispersed camping was not a good option.

The next day we headed west, passing by the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Luckily, we were upwind of the 700-foot tall dunes.

We crossed the Panamint Valley and headed towards Panamint Springs.

We hiked to Darwin Falls, just west of Panamint Springs. It’s not a huge waterfall, but pretty amazing to think this lush, green area near the water supply is here year around in the oven of Death Valley.

Due to the constant 20 mph wind, we decided to head east towards home and a little more shelter for camping that night. We stopped at Zabriskie Point on our way out of the Park, another example of beautiful rock formations in amazing colors.

We made our way to Red Rock Canyon BLM Campground, just west of Las Vegas, NV. We arrived after dark, cooked up some great steaks and Clark secured the Roamer Scrabble title. The owner of the Sprinter van in the picture came over in the morning. It turned out to be the husband of our neighbor’s daughter, whom I had just met outside our house 400 miles away before we left for Death Valley – small world.

Next to the campground is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a BLM-run area. It was our first time there and the place is just gorgeous. The Visitor Center had a lot of interesting exhibits and information.

The loop drive passes some beautiful rock formations with hikes back to hidden valleys and Native history.

A snow storms broke out as we drove through the area, creating some beautiful scenery. We didn’t stop to do any of the hikes due to the freezing weather, but its definitely on our list of places to revisit.

On our way home we stopped for lunch just outside of Wikieup, AZ next to some local art.

A great first trip for 2019.

Yellowstone in Winter

This was going to be our first Christmas without either of our sons. Tom, our eldest, is overseas, and Taylor, our youngest, was spending Christmas with his new wife’s family in California. We wanted a trip to Antarctica (seriously), but it was too late in the year to get a reservation. However, Pam found a Winter Wonderland trip to Yellowstone National Park that sounded perfect.

This trip we had to do without the Roamer. We flew into Bozeman, MT and shuttled down to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone NP. We boarded our snow coach and headed deep into the park for some winter adventures. We had visited the park this fall, but it’s a much better place in the winter. The geological wonders of the park are blanketed in snow and there are almost no people around.

Our Yellowstone Forever naturalist guide, Chelsea and our snow coach driver Brandon made the time there a blast. While it was cold there, the hot geysers and steam vents that flow into the rivers keep them from freezing.

Luckily, they had some snow, but not the deep winter snow that would have made hiking and skiing more challenging.

We saw a lot of geese, ducks and trumpeter swans in the rivers. Here a cygnet, a baby trumpeter swan, was resting along the river bank.

The trip was an active, learning experience where our days were filled with talks on the geology of the area, the men and women that discovered and played into its history, and some outdoor adventures in the snow. Here we took off into the woods on snowshoes to track and identify the animals living in the winter wonderland.

The hike took us through some beautiful forest places, where lodgepole pines are the dominant species of tree.

We tracked this guy to his no-so-hidden lunch spot.

We had visited the park in the winter before, about a decade ago. At that time we took the rear-tracked vehicle shown on the right. They were noisy, diesel-smelling and uncomfortable, but at the time the necessary evil to view the beauty of the park in wintertime. Several years ago, the park tried a new winter vehicle, a modified E-350 van with 50-inch tall, 22-inch wide low-pressure tires, and now they are the vehicle of choice.

We stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, which was a beautiful place near the Old Faithful geyser.

Every morning and evening our adventures ended near Old Faithful. It erupts roughly every 90 minutes, so we saw many eruptions while we were there. The water is so hot coming out of the geyser, roughly 170 degrees, that the eruptions generate a huge steam cloud. Here is the tail end of one eruption.

We hiked the geysers all along the Firehole River. The heat from the water keeps the snow from accumulating near the beautiful blue geysers.

At one geyser along the cross-country trail, Groto Geyser, I pulled out our new travel buddy, a small stuffed Pronghorn we received after “adopting” a pronghorn (donating to the Arizona Antelope Foundation). You may see more shots of him on our future journeys – lol.

Skiing through the park was incredible. We packed our lunches and headed out along the many tracks that are available through the park.

Bison also like the geyser areas because the snow does not build up near the heated wonders, and since the geysers dump into the Firehole River, it does not freeze so drinking water is available year round.

Occasionally you will see the snowmobile groups out of West Yellowstone along the paths. However, the number of snowmobiles allowed into the park have been reduced dramatically over the years, along with where they can ride.

We were there during the shortest days of the year so the sun was always nearly gone on our way back home.

One of the days we had heavy snowfall as we explored West Thumb and the Yellowstone Lake area.

Luckily, we had all the cold weather gear we needed to enjoy this beautiful place this time of year. Pam was enjoying the snowfall near Yellowstone Lake.

We skied through the forest and came out along the rim of Yellowstone Canyon, where a snow drift was all that was between us and the Yellowstone River far below.

The lower falls were beautiful as the snow came down.

Yellowstone NP is just beautiful, from the natural wonders that abound there, to the animals that make it their home during the winter.

One bison was not full yet and was digging for some more grass under the snow.

His two buddies nearby decided to rest in the snowpack while more snow fell all around.

Here is our snow coach, complete with skis on the back. The tires only run at 10 psi so they have a pretty big footprint to help get through the snow.

The geysers are biologically interesting as well as beautiful. The deep blue is the hot water zone where no life can live. Around the edges where the water cools, the reds, orange and yellows are microbes that have adapted to hotter climates. Yellowstone is a living laboratory supporting many different scientific studies.

The geysers change too, due to volcanic and earthquake forces. New runoff paths kill trees due to the heat and water, creating some gorgeous pictures at daybreak.

We caught the first light on the distant mountain on our last day there.

Also, this lonesome coyote made his way across the geyser basin in the early morning.

Yellowstone has many different types of geological features. This one is near Mammoth Hot Springs and is similar to the calcium carbonate tiers that we found near Thermopolis, WY.

It was tough to leave this place. Given its 4 million visitors a year, it was very special to see the park with just a handful of folks and no other cars within 100 miles.

We headed back to Bozeman and explored there for a couple days before our flight home. We hit the Museum of the Rockies, which is noted for its “Hall of Horns and Teeth”.

The last time we visited the museum a couple of years ago, the visiting exhibit was on Vesuvius and its last days prior to the eruption. The link being that Bozeman would be in a similar situation if the Yellowstone caldera ever blows.

This time the visiting exhibits were polar photos by Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic photographer that took some amazing shots as he travelled to both poles. His stories posted among the photos made the photos even more precious.

The other exhibit were incredible paintings by Canadian Cory Trepanier of the remote landscapes of northern Canada. A film of his treks with his family to these remote areas to get each painting made us really want to revisit Alaska and the Yukon again – soon.

What a great trip and while a quieter than normal Christmas for us, it was still an awesome adventure.

Hwy 89B in Central Arizona

Not all of our adventures are ”no work and all play”. The rig allows us to do volunteer work away from home while having our “home” with us. We headed to The Orme School, where Pam is on the Board of Trustees, to help with a refurbishing project on one of the old ranch homes.

The house was acquired by the school from the ranch and is in need of some upgrades before it can be used as a future faculty home. We broke out the chainsaw and made easy work of the trees and bushes that had overgrown near the house.

We also removed all the drywall to redo the electrical, plumbing and ducting for the place. It has some nice wooden floors that we’ll fix up and use to keep the old feel of the place. New windows, doors, kitchen and bathrooms are also on the list of upgrades. This should keep us busy into next spring.

After a couple of days of work and getting the place to a good stopping point, we took off to camp for the night off of Hwy 89B between Cottonwood and Sedona. The road used to be FS 525C but has been renamed 89B. It’s a nice dispersed area that gets a lot of use. Luckily, we found a pretty spot where you could see the beautiful rock formations of Sedona in the distance.

The colors at sunset were also something the behold.

The next day we made our way home again, stopping in at the Roadrunner in New River for a nice bite of food. Sometimes the short getaways are just what you need.

Chiricahuas

Owning an Earthroamer is a joy and takes us on great adventures, but occasionally you need to deal with the frustration of a mechanical issue. On the last leg of our summer trip the front passenger shock attach-bolt broke and departed the rig, leaving the front shock dangling from its upper mount. We were alerted to the problem by the loud squeaking noise…. we sounded like a wounded whale. A quick call to the ER service rep and we had a plan for the repair.

Earthroamer has an outstanding customer support team, headed up by Spencer, and they will either talk you through the fix (if you want to tackle it yourself), or help you find a local repair shop and coordinate details so the process goes smoothly. Spencer tied us up with Sierra Expeditions in Mesa, AZ. Will and his guys at Sierra had helped us out before replacing a broken winch gear, so we were confident they could handle our broken shock. Seeing that our rig has nearly 90,000 miles now we decided to rebuild all the shocks, getting new shims and some spares for future failures that might occur away from civilization. In the process of our shock overhaul we found a crack in the frame that would have been a huge issue in the future, but it had just started so we caught it in time. His guys welded the crack, rebuilt the shocks and Pam and I were itchin’ to travel again.

Our friends, Clark and Jill had just purchased a Sprinter van to start their backroads exploration, so we decided on a nice extended weekend trip to southeast Arizona. We met up at Whitewater Draw, south of Elfrida, AZ to check out the birds.

Whitewater Draw is the winter home to thousands of sandhill cranes. The bird habitat is tucked in between thousands of acres of corn fields that the birds visit daily. Only a few hundred cranes were at the Draw this early in the winter migration, but there are always interesting raptors and other water birds. Camping at WWD is free, which is always a bonus.

There were a host of other birds also there in the ponds and grasses.

A Northern Harrier Hawk was also sunning himself in the fields.

The hay barn at the Draw has a bat house that exploded with hundreds of bats at sunset. While the white-nose virus that killed thousands of bats across the country is still an issue, we’ve seen bats nearly ever evening camping, which is a great thing since they do an incredible job keeping the mosquito and other insect populations in check. Plus, they are pretty cool when they swoop in and out of the glow of the campfire.

The next day we drove into Chiricahua National Monument to hike the trails. The rock formations at Chiricahua are spectacular and provide a beautiful backdrop for a very enjoyable hike.

We did one of the shorter loops, only about 4 miles, that wraps in and through the rocks.

It was a beautiful day and the views were gorgeous.

We had lunch at the visitor center and were greeted by the local Arizona white tail deer. They are a very small deer, only about 100 pounds or less, but their huge ears make them a joy to see.

We camped the night in the forest off Pinery Canyon Road. We cooked up a nice dinner and had smores over the fire for dessert. Who said kids have to be present to enjoy smores?

The next morning we explored the wine region that is booming south of Wilcox, AZ. We caught a few hundred Sandhill Cranes in the air making their way to a local field for breakfast. We headed instead to the Zarpara Vineyard for some wine tasting, which was very good.

We then took off to the north side of the mountain range to hike to Ft Bowie National Monument. It’s one of the few National Monuments where you park on a dirt road and hike in about 1.5 miles to get to the place. It used to be along the stage coach trail between El Paso and Tucson due to the spring near the Fort, but now no roads run next to the place. It was also the command center for the Indian Wars that took place in the area against the Apache Indians following the Civil War.

After our hike back out we were parched so we made our way to another of the local wineries, Bodega Pierce Vineyards. We caught the tail end of a wine tasting event and ended up closing the place after tasting many good wines while discussing cooking, politics, grapes and life.
As the sun set we made our way to CattleRest RV Park & Saloon just outside Wilcox. The saloon did not serve food so we cooked up dinner in the parking lot and enjoyed great burgers while Clark and Jill attempted to teach us Pinochle. We made our way back home the next morning.

Another great trip to southeast Arizona and hopefully the first of many with Clark and Jill.

Navajo Lands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Owner’s Rally

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

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

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

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

The road ran along many beautiful vistas within the park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

West-Central Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado Once Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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