Missoula

We are now in Missoula. We did some awesome hikes this morning at Craters NP. That place is so interesting. I now want to add a foundry to my list of things to do and melt down some of the volcanic iron slag into some interesting projects. But that is another story for the future.

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We made our way north to Missoula through the Sawtooth National Forest, down the Salmon River valley, over another pass and down the Bitterroot River valley into Missoula. Saw a couple of bald eagles and tons of hay and potatoes. The area is just beautiful and every turn presented a better vista than the previous. The Salmon River road (Hwy 75) could have been a little wider, but it helped to improve my skills driving the Roamer. I think all four tires were touching at all times, but in reality only 3 are required and possibly two if you really lean hard.

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Craters

I’m catching up from yesterday since we had no bars in Craters NP. The trip from SLC to Craters was interesting. It covered a few hundred miles, but the stops we made along the way made the trip. First one was at Promontory, Utah. For those of you that know the significance of this place get bonus points. We saw the sign for the “Golden Spike Historical Monument” and pulled off the highway on a 58 mile off-course adventure that turned out to be well worth it. Promontory, Utah is where the railroads met to join the east and west. They had replicas of both of the steam engines on the track and in operation, each with a very interesting story on how they got to be the engine of choice. The building itself was made of iron and copper quartzite that was very striking. Definitely on the building material list for our next house. Well worth the 58 mile detour if you are in the area.

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Next we stopped at the Shoshone Museum and gift shop. They had some great stories of the local families, very beautiful beaded apparel, but we only walked away with a bag of buffalo jerky for the road. It was good.

The final stop before the Craters was EBR-1, or Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 located out in the middle of nowhere Idaho. It was the first atomic reactor that was brought online in 1951 to show that atomic energy could replace coal and oil. A very interesting place and the period furniture in the place made the trip. Took a lot of guts to try what these guys did, not knowing if the lights would flick on or if the entire place would go up in a mushroom cloud. I wonder who decided who throws the switch the first time, and did someone say “bang” when he did?

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We made it to Crater around 4pm expecting all of the camping spots to be gone. In fact only a few were gone and we picked a rather nice one. We did an evening hike with a Park Ranger and sat through a great night show on the moon. By sunset (around 9:30 this far north) all of the camping spots were filled. All around good day.

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On to Idaho

The Roamer is fixed and ready to go. Best thing is that the price was $0.00. I love warranty work. Turns out the valve melted a few other things other than just the windshield wiper tubes. It drove nice all the way back to Allan’s house, where we will spend the night. We had to make one stop at the Wasatch Brewery on the way home to try some new flavors. I had to get some “Polygamy Porter – Why have just one”.

Also River’s owner, the Great Pyrenees we found in the woods, called and came over to pick her up. Turns out that he found her and her sister abandoned in the woods about 10 years ago. Her sister too has been all out of sorts for the last week. River slept, drank some water and ate, but was pretty unemotional the whole time until Jason arrived. I now know what it sounds like for a Great Pyrenees to cry for joy when she spotted Jason. He was pretty stoked about us finding her too. He bought the first round for the Germany soccer game today.

Roamer back and running, River back with her owner, had Allan’s pet squirrel Marley race over my body in quest of a nut (or she thought she had just found the biggest nut of them all.. ) spent the day building new toys in the yard (rocket sling shot launcher) for my nephew, doesn’t get much better than this.

We’ll spend the night here in SLC, down a few cold ones with Allan and Stuart, Pam’s cousin flying in from Australia tonight, and hit the road tomorrow morning for Idaho.

Utah and Bust :C

We did a good hike in Arches, but Pam got a little over-roasted and needed to cool down the rest of the day. We then left Arches yesterday and headed up to Kamas, UT and the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest to meet up with Allan (Pam’s brother) and his two kids. The drive there was very nice (stopped for dinosaur tracks along the way), but seemed to be all up hill past the various reservoirs and through the passes. Strawberry Reservoir was beautiful and covered with white pelicans. Who knew? After meeting up with Allan, we picked a camping spot near Alexander Lake off 041 and Hwy 150. You can see why it is called the mirror lake rec area.

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The Roamer however, blew out a turbo charger sensor valve that spewed out some hot exhaust gas under the hood and melted the windshield wiper fluid lines. This required duct tape and wire to hold the spring-loaded valve together so that we were not stranded in the forest. The vehicle is now in a Salt Lake City Ford fleet service center under repair (under warranty thankfully). The service tech stated those words that you know this is going to take some time to fix – ” huh, never seen that before”. It still drove ok, but in the engine degrade mode the Roamer is not as nimble as it typically is for its size. Zero to 60 in about a minute or two.

Unfortunately, the service lot is riddled with every RV that died on the highway over the holiday weekend, and in the service queue in front of ours. I think we should get a higher queue rating seeing that we made it there under our own power. However, I guess this is the beauty of being retired, there is no schedule. Luckily Allan lives in SLC so Pam and I have a place to stay until we can hit the road again, possibly Wednesday.

After being in the heat of Arches, the lake was a very nice change. Rowan, Allan’s 7-year-old son, had his new compound bow with him. I showed him how to use it and after a few hours it was clear that the old tree stump would not live again. We never lost an arrow, which given the lush area where we were shooting was pretty good.

We also found what we think is the lost dog that was posted on a few paper plates along the road to the lake. It was a big, old, white Great Pyrenees that was literally on its last legs after a week lost in the woods. It wandered into camp early this morning. I fed it some food since it looked like it had missed a few meals recently. It then walked off into the woods, but Allan tracked it down where it had crumpled in a stream bed not too far away. We lifted it into Allan’s truck and brought it back to Allan’s place (he has two big dogs that also came camping – Maizey and Nali) and we are waiting to hear from its owner soon.

Morning campsite picture.

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First Night

Yesterday was an epic drive day, the longest planned for the trip. We covered 423 miles from the Rim to Arches. We made a few stops along the way to break up the drive. Our first stop was at Petrified Forest National Park. We did 2 hikes there. The Blue Mesa hike is definitely one not to miss. The guide said it was a strenuous 1 mile hike – come on. When has strenuous and 1 mile ever gone together. Maybe if you were going straight up El Cap, but if you end up at the same place (the parking lot) at least half the hike is down hill. Besides the small incline at the start and finish, the hike was very pretty. Here’s a shot along the hike. The chunks along the wash areas are sections of petrified wood.

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We then stopped at Painted Desert National Park for some more beautiful scenery. Took a couple of pictures and then stopped into the visitor center. I have one of the National Parks passport books (typical retirement folk now) so I intend to fill it with stamps from the National Parks along the way. Two stamps already for the day – leaving Lou in the dust on the stamp count.

Our 3rd stop was Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Ganado, AZ. Pam and I have stopped there several times on previous trips to take a break and “window shop” in the trading post. Had lunch there under a shady tree at a picnic bench and instantly made a friend with the local dog (possibly because I fed him). One of the hosts said I could take him since we hit it off so well. The dog is still there, with the pack of prairie dogs that rule the local area, but I did leave with another stamp in my book.

We got to Arches just before sunset and set up camp. I had booked it online and used google satellite to help choose the best spot. That method worked pretty good. Here is our spot. The picnic table and chairs are below the road; can’t see our neighbors so it feels almost like dispersed camping.

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On our Way

Pam and I packed, had lunch with our boys and headed out of the 109 degree valley heat up to the Rim around lunchtime today. The monsoon thunderheads were forming to the east and may bring some rain, and a drop in temperature, to the valley tomorrow. However, today when we got to Payson (around 5,000 ft) it was raining. A nice change since it has been 112 days with no rain in the valley. We got to our place (around 7,600 ft) and the temperature was in the 80s. The rain had just ended, but the air was still moist and it held down the dust on the dirt roads. I opened the Roamer up to let the heat out since it has been heat-soaking outside in the valley for the last few weeks.

Before the trip gets too much further I thought I would create a baseline list of top campsites with the Roamer and see if future ones can bump these off the list.

Number 1 is Fire Point located within Grand Canyon National Park. You need a back-country permit to use it, but you will find yourself and maybe one other couple there if you can get there (Roamers can go anywhere with a chainsaw in hand). Fire Point is like having your own personal Grand Canyon because the entire point is yours for the night. We were there with Nancy and Lou, and had a great dinner and some wine to go with the panoramic view of the canyon.

Number 2 is a spot we pulled off of Hwy 300 (dirt road), about half way between its junctions with Hwy 260 to the east and Hwy 89 to the west. It was just Pam and I. The view off the Rim was beautiful. The dinner of lamb chops slow cooked on our baby Weber was great, and we got to use the heater because it was a little nippy in the morning.

Number 3 was along Rock House Road near the Vermillion Cliffs. It was a long-standing joke during our many adventures through that area that we would see the condors as we passed the Cliffs. Over the years we have driven by at least a dozen times and never saw anything, but this time we saw the condors. Lou and Nancy were there with us again since it was part of a great tour we did together from Mormon Lake and up through the Grande Staircase of southern Utah back in May. We just parked in the condor view lot for the night and watched them soar above the cliffs that evening and the next morning.

Number 4 would be Mulie Point. It was one of the sites for the Roamer Owners Rally last year just after we bought the vehicle. Getting to the Point via the Valley of the Gods and up Mokie Dugway is why you have a vehicle like this. However the best thing about that campsite was a B-1B fly by in the morning at an altitude below the rim and close enough to see the colors of the pilots suits. Those of us lucky enough to be on the edge at that time (with our morning coffee mugs in hand – jaws dropped) just watched in wonder. By the time anyone thought to pull out a camera the aircraft was halfway to Flagstaff.

Number 5 would be Burr Trail Road near Boulder, UT. The site was just a pull-off, but I got to put our shade canopy out for the first time (very cool since we learn more about the vehicle daily). We did a great hike up a nearby hill that was covered with what looked like molten metal volcano fallout. This one also rated high because Lou and Nancy introduced us to Hell’s Backbone Grill. Go there. I’d camp in the parking lot to eat there again.

Given our proposed trip and the places we will see, I wonder if any of these current campsites will be on the final top 5 when we get back to the valley. I hope not. It will mean we will have to find even better sites in AZ and UT to bump the new ones to come. Can’t wait.

Trip Prep

Retired today. I’ll stop there although many can guess how I feel. Pam and I opened a bottle Cervantes Mountain Cuvee to celebrate. Man that is good stuff. Packing is in progress and our departure is set for sometime tomorrow. We are only going as far as our place on the Rim tomorrow but it will be the last time in the valley and the scorching heat for some time.

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I was thinking today about what criteria would make for the ultimate camping site? What rating scale should be used? Ideas are welcome to help set the rating scale to be used for our upcoming trip. The obvious ones are beauty, access (tougher to get to must rate higher) and people (where camping with good friends can tip the scale on many normal looking sites). There is always the intangible element like a good Porter or IPA beer taps on every tree surrounding the site that could easily propel any site to the top as well.

Ideas welcome.

Departure In Sight

This is my first post on the blog that will track our travels in search of the ultimate campsite in our Earthroamer. I retire tomorrow after 30 years of work to start a new adventure of searching for the ultimate campsite with my wife Pam. She retired earlier this year so we both now have the freedom to hit the back roads, forests and wide open spaces that make up North America. I can hardly wait.

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Our objective is to travel the US and Canada during this first trip not using any freeways. Should be very easy out west, but may be a little tricky when we get back to the east coast. We will see.