Bozeman to Big Sky

Leslie and Klaus traded in their family camping trailer for a nice 2-person trailer, a Little Guy Max, now that the kids are all out of the house. They took delivery of it right before the weekend so it was good to camp together in case they had some issues, and give us more time together for hikes.

We headed up to Bozeman and Montana State University with Leslie and Klaus to deliver some forgotten stuff to Tim, their youngest son who is now a freshman there at MSU. We had lunch in their amazing dining hall and then set off south of Bozeman to Hyalite Canyon for some afternoon hikes.

Our first stop was at History Rock. The sandstone rock was carved with thousands of names, which looked mostly added in the last couple of decades.

From there we made our way out to Hyalite Reservoir and had a nice hike along the lake.

Besides the reservoir, there were several smaller lakes in the woods along the hike.

It was cold in the mornings, near freezing, at the campsite because we were situated in a canyon. I noticed two mice in our fire ring that had spent the night below our campfire we had in our volcano grill. After cooking dinner and starting another campfire they reappeared from underneath the fire again. It was warm at the base of the fire ring, but not too hot so it was the perfect place to spend the night for those two.

The next day we drove further up the canyon and hiked to Rat Lake, a pretty mountain lake.

When the holiday weekend was over, Leslie and Klaus headed back north to Missoula while Pam and I headed south towards Yellowstone NP.

Missoula Revisited

We headed down from Whitefish to Missoula to restock, relax and visit with family. We skipped Missoula last year due to the forest fires all around town that created unhealthy air quality in much of that area. This year there was some light smoke in the air but not too bad. We had the truck’s oil changed and I gave it a much needed bath. We also restocked for the next leg of our journey. The farmer’s market has quite a lot of great produce to choose from this time of year.

I bought some maple syrup aged in local bourbon barrels and used it to baste fresh salmon in Klaus’ smoker. A few future meals for the road. I also made another batch of bolognaise sauce to restock our camper freezer.

Missoula has quite a few micro-breweries in town now. The town has added some street signs to help drivers.

Leslie’s neighbor has beautiful flowering plants all around their back yard. The local deer have not figured a way through or over their fence yet, so they settle for the grass in the front yard.

Occasionally, one will stray into Leslie’s yard and nibble on their front bushes by the window.

We took a trip to Snowbowl, their local ski area, to do a day hike. From the top you could see down into the Missoula city valley off in the distance to the east.

The mountains to the west were holding back much of the forest fire smoke from the fires in northern Idaho.

You don’t get to ride down the chairlifts very often so it makes for an interesting ride.

We left Missoula and headed across to Helena. A favorite brewery for both of us is the Lewis and Clark Brewery in Helena.

We camped south of Bozeman at Spire Rock CG along the Gallatin River for the Labor Day Weekend. It was the spot Leslie and Klaus had reserved back in June, but we arrived a day early and cut a deal with the host so that we could all stay there for the weekend.

Idaho Panhandle

Before leaving Washington, we stopped in Newport, WA for lunch and to tour the town’s historical museum. I had another good Reuben sandwich at an Irish pub in town and we picked up a quart of homemade Huckleberry ice cream at the local corner store for our nephew’s upcoming birthday. Best ice cream ever.

The historical museum contained a lot of old heirlooms of days gone by.

I flipped through the 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog. Horse-drawn carriages were listed for $24 and Winchester repeating rifles for $12. It had everything you could imagine from clothes and funiture to farm equipment. Definitely the Amazon of its day. I can only imagine some young kid pitched the Amazon business model (Sears’ old catalog business model adapted to the internet) at Sears as the internet was coming of age and was shot down by the old guard.

Newport is split by the Washington – Idaho border along State Street (which makes sense), Newport, WA on one side of the street and Oldtown, Idaho and the other. We crossed into Idaho and the drove up the east side of the Pend Orellie River back into Washington to camp the night at Pioneer Park Campground.

The next day we drove through Sandpoint, ID where we had a family reunion 4 years ago on Pam’s side of the family, renting a huge house and ski boat on Lake Pend Orellie. This time we headed further north into the Idaho Panhandle.

We found the Kootenai River Brewey Company in Bonners Ferry, ID and stopped for lunch. All their beers were really good, including the local Huckleberry Wheat. I had another good Reuben sandwich, washing it down with the Badger Rye IPA. We also got a growler of the Huckleberry Wheat to enjoy at the campsite later.

We refilled the Roamer’s gas tanks while in Bonners Ferry and this old suspender-wearing character came up to me asking about the rig. He had more bullets in his sidearm on his belt than teeth in his mouth, but was fun to talk with. Turns out he was a retired railroad banker. He runs shooting competitions in northern US and Canada and wanted a winterized RV. He liked the many winterized features of the Roamer that make it operational to -20 degrees so maybe we will see each other again at a future owners rally.

We continued north to almost the Canadian border again, but turned south at Good Grief, ID along the Moyie River. We camped the night at Meadow Creek campground.

Even though it was smoky there, we did a nice hike and had such a nice spot we decided to stay an extra day. It was the first campground in about a week we could cook with charcoal and have a camp fire. We planted our chairs by the river and listened to the water run over the thousand of rocks in the riverbed.

Caught another local squirrel keeping an eye on us at our campsite and the possibilty of a future meal if we left food around. However, all of this northern area is bear country so you don’t leave food, or anything else that smells good out. Most campsite have bear boxes to secure the good smelling stuff away.

We found this frog in the stream hoping for a few of the insects to land within tongue range.

Late in the evening we were treated to a group of female Common Mergansers that were feeding in the river. They swam upstream with their heads in the water catching whatever they were eating. After their fill they turned and floated away down river.

Even though it was not cloudy there, the smoke was thick enough to reduce our solar panel’s power generating efficiency to roughly 25%. We barely recharged to 90% over the entire day, when we usually are recharged to 100% by mid-day.

We arrived in Whitefish, MT meeting Pam’s sister and her family coming from Missoula, MT. We parked the Roamer and shared a condo at the Sherpa Lodge in the Whitefish Mountain Resort. It was correctly named since it was a four-story condo with no elevator – and we were on the top floor. I thought the place should have come with a flag that we get to plant after hauling all our stuff up to the top – lol.

It was our first couple of nights out of the camper for over a month. It always feels so decadent to take a hot shower and have the water run over you for minutes on end, and not worry about how much water you have left. It’s the simple things in life we should all enjoy.

The smoke there became worse over the weekend. We were there to celebrate our nephew’s birthday – hence our huckleberry ice cream purchase from before. While we were there a fire broke out near the peak and they had a Huey and Kmax with bambi buckets filling and dumping water to put it out quickly.

While Klaus, Ben and Tim took their bikes and headed for the slopes, Stephanie and I made our way to a tree-wire obstacle course. They had five different courses of various degrees of difficulty, but even the easiest was tougher than it looked.

We had a dual carbineer system that only allowed one to be unlocked at a time, ensuring you couldn’t stupidly unhook yourself while on the course. We also had a zip line wheel to ride the several zip lines along the courses. Pam and Leslie chatted the afternoon away on the ground as we traversed the courses up above.

While in Whitefish, we also stopped into a local restaurant and bought a huckleberry – cherry pie. It went quickly.

We left Whitefish and headed to Missoula to restock, get the oil changed on the truck and give it a bath before continuing south through the Rockies on our way back to Arizona – slowly.

Northern Washington

Being a Saturday, we were worried that finding a camping spot on the outskirts of Seattle would be difficult. However, we figured it may be easier to find a spot in the rain, as we left Whidbey Island in a downpour. We pulled into a campground by Grandy Lake and found a spot as the rain continued to come down. We looked next to us and the guy that just arrived before us was setting up his camp in his tee-shirt, where the temperature was roughly 50 degrees in the cold rain. Obviously, folks in this part of the US are very comfortable in the rain – lol.

About an hour after we arrived the rain stopped, and the sun even poked out for a nice evening. The small lake had what looked like some old structure that once was built out over the lake. All that remained were the wooden support logs buried into the lakebed. I took this shot from our campsite and then we noticed the lone red pine tree on the far side.

Not sure why the beetles only attacked and killed this one tree on the entire hillside, or if it was just a different type of tree, but it was very interesting.

The camper next to us was an older guy and his Dachshund named Lucky, each with a chair around their campfire. While he went inside to grab something, Lucky came over to our site and jumped into Pam’s lap. Lucky was enjoying a good scratch when his owner looked over and called. I didn’t know dogs could look so guilty, but Lucky slinked back to his own chair and campsite for the rest of the evening – lol.

As we sat out in the late evening and watched the lake, we saw a lone beaver slowly making a smooth path across in the water.

We also noticed a bird that moved so fast from spot to spot it looked like it was teleporting. We tried to identify it, and could not agree, but I still think it is a female purple finch. If anyone can confirm this to settle our bet I would appreciate it – think (female purple finch) ….. (Pam’s guess is some type of wren.)

The next day we headed into North Cascades National Park. Neither of us had been there before. Unfortunately, it was still very smoky and overcast, and the steep mountains rose up into the clouds, but what we could see was impressive.

As we traveled west the clouds began to clear. We camped at Colonial campground in the park. We had stopped at the visitor center and the ranger told us that the campground is usually full due to online reservations (recreation.gov), but to check the tags on the campsite posts because sometimes there is an open campsite. The campground sign said “Campground Full” as we pulled in, but we decided to drive through for future reference. As we rounded the last corner in the campground there was a campsite open for one night.

We set up camp, which takes about 5 minutes with the Roamer, and headed out for a nice hike.

The trail took us from the lake level to a nice overlook. The steepness of the mountains for their size is something I had never seen before. It was beautiful.

When we camp around the west we always hear the chipmunks and squirrels, but they are so quick and elusive that it’s tough to get a good shot of them. However, I caught this guy at the summit hoping we were going to share some of our lunch – which we didn’t.

The rivers and lakes are all glacier fed so they all have the “glacier milk” color that is unique to the runoff generated waterways. It’s a striking color when you are expecting the normal fresh water deep blue or green.

The east side of the park was deep in smoke due to the forest fires in the area. We’ll have to come back here to see the parts of the park hidden in smoke. What a place.

Just east of the park, we stopped at Hank’s grocery store in Twisp, WA to restock. For a small town the grocery store it was immaculate and well stocked, but it also had animal mounts everywhere, including lions and gazelles. Turns out the owner loves hunting and there is a story unique to every mount there.

As we continuned east on Hwy 20 we came to a sign that informed us that the road was closed 35 miles headed and we would have to detour around the closure. In this part of the country it meant a detour of about 100 miles due to the lack of roads and bridges that cross the upper section of the Columbia River. Luckily for us Curlew Lake State Park was along the detour so we stopped there for the night.

I picked and paid for a spot at the entrance, using their self-help system, which turned out to be a horrible spot. The host down in the campground said we could park anywhere so we pick the tent camping area that was deserted. Sometimes you just don’t want to answer questions about your rig. A good book and a beer do wonders at those times.

We both read a lot during our travels. I average about two books a week, while Pam reads easily twice that amount. She reads lots of thrillers and murder mysteries, so has probably compiled about 1000 ways to dispose of me and not get caught if I piss her off – lol. I’m a little more eclectic in my reading choices but tend to read more sci-fi just to see what technologies are created in the boundless imaginations of the authors.

We watched a Huey with a bambi bucket scoop water from the lake and head off to a local forest fire.

We also spotted an osprey nest and caught a shot of the parent bringing a fish snack back home for the nearly full-grown kids.

A tree by the lake also had a number of raven nests.

The next morning, we completed the detour, coming dangerously close to the Canadian border once again. We crossed the Columbia River at Kettle Falls, WA and continued eastward.

Northern Olympic Peninsula

We have been traveling on the road for the last four of Pam’s birthdays. Last year we were with Dave and Kathy in the middle of Rainy Lake, north of Minnesota. This year we headed for the most northwest spot in the US, Cape Flattery on the Makah Indian Reservation, located on the very tip of the Olympic peninsula. We stopped at the Makah Cultural Center. No pictures were allowed inside so I only got a shot of their door.

It told of their history along the coast. One of their villages was buried by a mudslide hundreds of years ago, and the recently excavated items show an interesting snapshot in time of their life back then.

We drove out to the Cape and hiked out to the point. The trail out to the point was interesting with much of it on cedar boardwalks.

Some of the cedar path was not actually made of boards.

Getting there was fun along the path, but Cape Flattery point was just gorgeous.

The water was crystal clear, and the colors were spectacular.

The island off the Cape had a lighthouse station and both Pam and I wondered how you get that posting.

The small rock outcroppings were alive with life. We spotted sea lions sunning themselves on one of the nearby rocks.

There was a black oyster catcher on another local rock outcropping, another lifer for us.

We left the Cape and camped at Hobuck Beach Resort, an open field campground next to the beach on the reservation. We had an evening beach walk and delicious steaks for a nice birthday dinner.

The next day, we headed just a little south and camped at Ozette Lake campground. The lake and sky were beautiful shades of blue. No forest fires or smoke here. A couple floating on paddle boards in the water said the lake was warm for the first few inches, but all bets were off below that thin layer. So we kept to the forest and hiked instead.

The hike out to the coast was about 3 miles through the forest. Similar to Cape Flattery, the trail was a series of raised cedar walkways that made the trip out and back cruise by quickly due to the interesting walkway.

The walkway snaked through the forest all the way to the coast.

When we arrived at the coast, the morning fog was just lifting. We pulled up a log, of which there were many to choose from, had lunch and hiked along the beach for a while before heading back to camp.

The next day was Friday and we had been having such good luck with camp spots we decided to tempt fate and go to Sol Duc Hot Springs in Olympic National Park to find a campsite. They were all taken, but we did refill our water tank there. We headed further east and took a turn along a very narrow road to the Log Cabin Resort on Crescent Lake, still within Olympic National Park. We didn’t need a cabin, but they did have a camping spot that we snatched for the evening. Crescent Lake was also beautiful. Being a resort as well, we decided to try their restaurant for a nice evening out. The dining room had a dozen tables, but only ours and two others were occupied for dinner. The food was very good and it took quite some time to finish the bottle of wine as we watched the sunset.

The next day we left the Olympic Peninsula, taking the ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island.

As we left Port Townsend a weather front full of rain was right on our heels.

The weather front and rain caught us as we made port in Coupeville and proceeded to pour on us as we crossed Whidbey Island, and back onto the mainland. Our time on the Olympic Peninsula came to an end as we headed for the North Cascades in the rain.

Hoh Rain Forest

We began our exploration of the Olympic Peninsula heading north into the Olympic National Forest, and to Quinault, WA. The drive was through very lush vegetation that broke into a clearing with a beautiful lake. We saw a sign for the world’s largest spruce tree and had to stop. The spruce tree was 191 feet tall, 59 feet in circumference and over 1000 years old. Standing at the base, I was barely visible.

Along the drive to Quinault we passed a huge hydrangea bush with bright blue flowers in bloom.

We made our way to the Olympic National Park lodge at Kalaloch, WA and had a tasty lunch while overlooking a foggy coastline.

Continuing north we passed a sign for the largest cedar tree and it too was equally impressive.

Finally, we arrived at the Hoh Rain Forest campground in the Olympic National Park. It was a first-come, first-served campground and luckily there was a nice spot for us to stop for a couple of days.

We did a couple of short hikes after arriving to see the beauty of the rain forest. It gets over 180 inches of rain per year, but luckily it was sunny weather for our time there. The trees were draped with moss.

There were unique trees everywhere.

Some of the conifers there were just huge, rising a few 100 feet into the sky.

Even the older ones that have fallen years before shape the trails, because they are too tall to climb over. They also act as a source of growth for new trees to sprout, known as a nurse log.

Compared to the desert, the place looks prehistoric. Instead of bears I expected to see a T-Rex appear around the next turn in the trail.

It was green, lush and beautiful everywhere.

The next day we took off on a longer hike along the Hoh River, which is a glacier melt river fed from Mt. Olympus. The 18-mile trail leads into the backcountry and to Mt. Olympus. We only hiked 4 miles of the trail.

It was a nice hike and we stopped for lunch along the river, using a tree root for our lunchtime bench.

There was also a small stream flowing under a bridge along the trail.

When the signs in the bathrooms say, “Do not wash your boots in the sink”, you know it’s usually raining there. Therefore, we were extremely lucky to have two days with nothing but sunshine. The Roamer, however, was parked under the tree canopy at our campsite so the solar panels did not see much sunlight for a couple of days. To recharge our batteries, I had to start the truck to kick in the engine’s generator so that Pam could have her morning coffee on her birthday before we continued north. Priorities!

Southern Washington

While in Idaho, we called a fellow camper we had dinner with while on the road in southern Arizona. Ward lives in Olympia, WA and said, “if you are ever in the area”. He gave us some great things to see and places to camp. Unfortunately, he was out enjoying the outdoors as we passed Olympia, so we never did get together this trip.

One place he recommended was Steptoe Butte State Park in southeastern Washington. The park is a lone butte rising a few thousand feet above the local farm country. As can be seem by our navigation system, the road spirals up the butte to the park located at the top.

The road was not much wider than our vehicle, but luckily there was no traffic. As you spiraled around you were treated to an incredible view to the horizon in all directions.

The wheat and potato fields below and the puffy-white clouds above provided some gorgeous colors as you looked out over a good chunk of southeastern Washington.

The potato fields were either just sprayed to get them ready for harvest, or the nighttime weather was getting near freezing to cause the gold to green hues on the top of the plants.

We headed eastward and stopped at Palouse Falls State Park. The 200-foot waterfall, and the local rock formations were stunning.

The Palouse River flows into a mysterious-looking gorge downstream of the falls.

Being Friday and with no camping reservations, we didn’t want to get too far west and into higher population areas where campgrounds would be booked full. We stopped for the night at Lewis and Clark Trail State Park near Dayton, WA and took their last open spot – complete with a teepee.

The next day we continued west through Yakima, WA and were greeted with the largest hops fields either of us had ever seem. There were acres and acres of hops that went on for miles. It really made me thirsty for a good, cold beer.

As we neared Rainier National Park on a Saturday night, all of the local campgrounds were full. We headed into the forest along a road that was closed a little further ahead due to fire.

We found a great spot off the forest road near Rimrock Lake to disperse camp for the night that was out of sight and sound of all other campers in the area. This was much preferred to some of the full campgrounds we passed, where folks we so close to next campers that you might as well have camped in a parking lot.

The next morning, we drove into Rainier National Park and purchased our National Parks Pass for the fifth year in a row. We got a cute green tree frog on this year’s card. We visit so many parks in the west that our Parks Pass pays for itself many times over during the year.

We came into the park through the south entrance, which was not busy at all. Ward had told us that the flowers were in full bloom at the mountain’s base, so we headed toward Paradise. Soon into the park, the mountain, which reaches up to 14,411 feet, becomes visible and it is something to see.

We stopped at Reflection Lake to do some hiking; and reflecting. The melting glaciers on Mt. Rainer provide most of the drinking water for Seattle. I guess its good for them they are melting then, right? Had to pick up some Rainier Beer to get my share of the glacial water. Raaaai-neeeeir Beeeer; I can still see the motorcycle climbing up through the forest – best commercial ever – lol.

It was the first sunny day in the park for a few days; and being a weekend the parking lot in Paradise was overflowing. You can’t really squeeze the Roamer into a crowded parking lot, so we found another place to stop and hike along a stream.

While it wasn’t the place noted for flowers they were out and beautiful along our hike.

We exited on the west side of the park and there was about a five-mile line of cars coming from Seattle, waiting to get through the gate. I was glad we got there early, and on our out way opposite that traffic. The nice thing with the Parks Pass is you don’t feel like you need to stay for the entire day.

We drove to the coast and camped for the night at Ocean City State Park. The beach there was huge. We found out you could spend the day with your vehicle on the beach, but you had to leave by 11pm, so no overnight camping allowed.

It was peaceful on the beach and we ran into another couple who camped at many of the places we had visited over the years. Their favorite restaurant was even Hell’s Backbone Kitchen in Boulder, UT.

We talked for some time, got some good tips on spots to aim for in the future and watched some riders go by along the beach.

We were finally in a new unexplored area for us – the Olympic Peninsula.

Nevada to Idaho

Great Basin National Park is in east-central Nevada, or more correctly, in the middle of nowhere. We stumbled onto this Park a couple of years ago and it is truly a find. The Park is located in the small South Snake mountain range that rises out of the local sage covered plains that make up the western Utah and eastern Nevada landscape. Wheeler Peak is the highest point of this range, rising to 13,063 feet. There are several campgrounds within the park, but the one we prefer is the Upper Wheeler campground at 10,000 feet. Even when the rest of the surrounding area is blistering hot, it’s nice and cool up there.

Still worried I had lost my cooking touch, I attempted another meal but with one major change. The Volcano grill is a collapsible, double-walled steel grill that weighs in around 30 pounds. Given this weight and the continuous jostling in our storage box when we travel, the original cloth carrying bag slowly disintegrated. We got a new bag last year, and more importantly, at the same time also a cooking heat-resistant cover for the grill (Pam got it, but let’s not dwell on the who – lol). I gave it a try and the steaks and potatoes came out perfect. Grilling problem solved. The heat that was dissipating too rapidly without the cover was now retained longer to create a much better grill.

The campground was a combination of forest and meadows. The meadows had a lot of wildlife that we enjoyed in the evenings around the campfire, including deer and turkeys.

I tried to get a shot of the Uinta Squirrels that race around the place, but I’m not that quick yet with the camera.

We did a couple of hikes in Great Basin NP, where one leads to a huge bristlecone pine area. These trees, living two miles up in elevation, are some of the oldest trees in the world. A few of them in the rock-soil “forest” were well over 3,000 years old.

Individual trees have areas that are both alive and dead. However, even a few of the dead ones took over 1,000 years to realize they were no longer growing. When scientists first found the grove, they attempted dating core samples on what they suspected to be the eldest tree. The samples did not make sense to them so they cut it down to count the rings, only to find that it was over 5,000 years old. It’s now in the visitor center to remind us of stupid things we do in search of the unknown.

At the higher elevation, the air was clear and blue. As we descended back to the basin floor, we entered a smoky landscape from the forest fires that have been burning in northern California and southern Oregon. Nevada has these 10-mile wide valleys of sage and grasses between north-south running mountain ranges that ripple the state from east to west. Even in the smoke it’s still beautiful.

We headed north out of Great Basin NP and passed under a wildlife bridge that are becoming much more common throughout our travels. Game can cross the road over traffic, greatly reducing accidents on these lone stretches of highway. Some animals, like big horn sheep, will not use an underpass. State Fish and Game agencies are working closely with the highway departments to identify critical areas and how best to address game crossings. I like that.

We camped in the Ruby Mountain range in northern Nevada at Angel Lake Campground. While we climbed back up to roughly 8,400 feet to get there, it was still a little smoky, but beautiful.

We heard a strange sound from the campsite next to us and looked over to find this grouse calling from its picnic table perch into the local brush. There was also a large group from the University of Arizona geology department camped there on a field trip, exploring the local rock formations.

We crossed into Idaho and stopped in Twin Falls for lunch at a nice Irish pub, Dunken’s Draught House. I never really appreciated a good Reuben sandwich. However, our eldest son sent me a side of pastrami and rye bread from a good New York City deli for my birthday last year. Therefore, I’ve decided to try one on this trip where I can. The Reuben and the local beer there were very good. More testing is required – in both areas.

We camped the night along the Snake River at Banbury Hot Springs. We enjoyed a nice soak in the water, and meeting the 90-year old lady who put our swimming endurance to shame.

The stretch of the Snake River to the northwest of Twin Falls, ID is interesting to see because spring water gushes out of the river rock walls into the river below. There are many of these along this stretch. One is in the picture below just to the left of center. They are not just a trickle, but a small stream of water appearing magically out of the rock wall.

We like to stay off the Interstates because back roads are so much more interesting. We took the back way to Boise, ID through some cattle country. The Roamer much prefers these roads.

After jumping around Boise, we headed north up the Payette River gorge, stopping for lunch along the river.

We camped that night at Big Sage campground along the banks of Lake Cascade in central Idaho. The campground was named for the awesome smelling sage that lined the campground. Personally, I think more than just cooked poultry should come in sage scent.

We scored a campsite right next to the water and watched an eagle and osprey aerial fight over local fishing rights. There was a large forest fire over the next mountain range to the west, which created a spectacular sunset.

We use the inciweb.nwcg.gov website to locate and try to adjust our route around the many forest fires during our travels. We drive by many firefighting camps during the summer as the northwest seems to ignite from June to August, before their seasonal rain arrives in late August – early September. Hopefully one day forest management will be allowed to be implemented in the forest by forest rangers rather than dictated by lawsuits and city folk. One can always dream.

We continued north up through Idaho along the Salmon River. Over the mountain range to the west is the Snake River gorge that defines the boundary between northern Oregon and Idaho, Hells Canyon National Rec Area. We didn’t explore that area this time, so we’ll have to come back this way.

We camped the night along the Snake River near Lewiston, Idaho, on the Idaho – Washington border. Hells Gate State Park is situated on the northern border of the Rec area.

We stopped at a hardware store along the way to pick up some new elastic cord. After four years of traveling, and much relaxation in our zero-gravity chairs, the elastic chord holding the lower seat canvas to the frame was a mass of frayed repair knots. I could only find white, but they look and function much better now.

Now that we have entered the state of Washington, we turn west and head for the Pacific Ocean.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Pam and I departed the roasting Phoenix valley in mid-July for our fifth summer trek this year, adding another chapter in the P&D Earthroamer Adventures logbook. We had a late start this year due to our youngest son getting married, but it was worth the wait.

After four years of road trips we’ve found that campground reservations are only required for Friday and Saturday nights during the summer. Any other day and there will usually be one spot, except for the more popular National Parks, where you really need a reservation if you really want to stay.

We decided to head north, get to higher elevations and out of the heat. I made one campsite reservation this year the week before we left home. I found one open spot at Cedar Breaks National Monument for the Friday after we planned to depart and took it (there are some first-come spots, but we didn’t know how early we would arrive). I figured we would roll the dice for the rest of the summer and see what happens.

The monsoons had arrived in Arizona, and the forest on our way to Flagstaff was a vibrant green. This was great to see since we didn’t have a very good snow year this past winter. The forest was extremely dry and closed to camping prior to the monsoons. We stopped at Bonito Campground in Sunset Crater National Monument for our first night in the Roamer. I fired up our volcano grill, cooked our first meal and we had a nice campfire in the cool 7,000-foot air near Flagstaff.

We continued north on Hwy 89 and then onto 89A heading towards the Vermillion Cliffs. We crossed the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry where all the Grand Canyon river trips load up and depart. We saw a couple of boats heading out as we watched from a few hundred feet above the river. While the river water is cold, the folks on the boats must roast in the triple digit heat on the river this time of year.

We turned south at Jacob’s Lake and headed towards the Grand Canyon. The north rim of the canyon is about 1000 feet higher in elevation relative to the south rim, and therefore cooler. As we entered the park we passed a heard of bison grazing on one of the many beautiful meadows that line the road to the north rim.

There were some good-looking bison and a lot of calves among the herd. They are not native to the area and seem to know exactly where the Park boundaries are that keep them safe from hunters. They are displacing the native deer and elk populations but thinning or moving the herds is very political.

The Grand Canyon is always a sight to behold. The scale is just mind-boggling, and the canyon stretches as far as you can see to both the east and west.

The patio of the north rim lodge was nearly empty but is always standing room only near sunset and into the night.

We didn’t camp within the park this time. We have a favorite dispersed camping spot just north of the park in the national forest along FS611. The road, and the camping spots, run right along the ridge.

From the east facing ridge you see the Vermillion Cliffs on your left and the entrance of the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon on the right. It’s also at about 8,000 feet so a cool air temperature compliments this majestic view.

I broke out the Volcano grill and made dinner but was disappointed with the results. I use a Weber charcoal grill at home and the uncovered Volcano grill did not yield the grilling perfection I wanted. The dinner was good, just not great. I needed a remedy, or this trip was going to be mediocre with just good dinners. The view made up for the shortfall in cooking.

We jumped into Utah and headed to a BLM campground we discovered last year near the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Ponderosa Grove campground. It was a nice stop and we watched the evening rains fall all around us but missing our campground.

The following day we climbed up to Cedar Breaks National Monument, which sits at about 10,700 feet. The white, red and orange colors of the rock formations are just spectacular.

We did a couple hikes around the lip of the monument. On one side there was a small group of bristlecone pine trees, some of the oldest trees in the world. They have so much character in how and where they grow, and their needle boughs are so thick and soft.

The hike around to the other side of the monument gives a better view down into the gorgeous rock canyons. A few years back we cross-country skied from Brianhead to here in the winter, where all the rocks were snow capped for an entirely different look.

We even spotted a new bird (lifer) along the hike, a Cassin’s Finch. Our new camera allows us to catch a good shot and identify the bird later at the campsite with the help of an adult beverage, or two.

The night we were there was the night of the lunar eclipse on the other side of the world. However, even though not eclipsed, the moon rose golden colored and beautiful.

Our next stop – Great Basin National Park.

Whitewater Draw

With the Christmas season over and our holiday company returned home, it was time for a Roamer trip. I signed us up for an Arizona Antelope Foundation (AAF) volunteer project near Ajo in southern AZ. It was in a remote area, which made the trip even more enticing.

Pronghorn, or the American antelope, are the fastest land animal in North America, but will not jump a fence like a deer. They will slide underneath, if possible. Otherwise, their range is bounded by the barbed-wire fencing through the west. Therefore, nearly all of the AAF projects are to replace miles of existing barbed-wire fencing with a smooth lower wire to increase the pronghorn range.

This particular project was a collaboration between AAF, AZ Game and Fish and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) to fence in and protect a water tank (pond – when water is present) from wild burros and errant cows. They foul the water because they relieve themselves wherever they stand, which tends to be in the water on hot days. The wildlife in the area that depend on these tanks will not use them if fouled. The fence we erected had a lower smooth wire for the pronghorn to slide underneath and a smooth upper wire for mule deer to leap over. The middle two wires were barbed.

The AAF folks were great to work with and now we are AAF members looking forward to the next project, which will probably be lower wire replacement on an existing fence line.

From Ajo we headed east across Arizona to just south of Elfrida, AZ and the Whitewater Draw. The significance of this area is that is the wintering grounds for many Sand Hill Cranes. Thousands of cranes were there this year.

The other reason to go there was to test out our newest acquisition. After traveling for a few years now we finally broke down and bought a nice camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900. Still a point and shoot, but much better than our phone cameras.

The Sand Hill Crane is a four-foot bird that spends the night at the draw, and feeds in the nearby farm fields all day.

They leave in huge flock with a great noise just before dawn and return in the afternoon just before sunset.

It’s a remote area, but there are a few camp spots there. We luckily got the last one upon our arrival.

The moon was nearly full while we were there. Our new camera does a great job capturing the moon. The zoom is so great that the toughest part is holding it still enough during the finger push to capture the shot.

Pam is the birder of our family. She would point them out and I tried to get a picture. This was a male Vermilion Flycatcher. Slowly we’re learning how to capture the entire bird, not most of it, with a crisp focus.

These two are a male and female Pyrrhuloxia.

This is a Northern Shrike with its striking pattern.

In the water, there was a Northern Shoveler. This was one of the few photos I could get with it not foraging for food in the water with its but in the air.

I was able to catch this Northern Pintail during the end of a nice morning bath.

This American Wigeon couple was enjoying a meal along the shore banks.

This Killdeer was taking a moment to reflect – lol.

And of course, to keep all these birds in line, there were a few birds of prey, like this hawk.

This juvenile Cooper’s hawk had a future meal in the brush in his sights.

As the sun set, the Great Horned Owl began his nightly hunt.

Stay tuned as we learn how to use this camera. Hopefully our blog photos will improve.

The night before we headed home, we shared dinner with Ward, a fellow traveler there to see the birds. He suggested we stop at the Amerind Foundation Museum near Dragoon, AZ. The museum is hidden in the beautiful Dragoon foothills, and was once a horse ranch before becoming a museum. It’s definitely worth the stop if you are in the area.

We took the back way home from southern AZ. North Cascabel Road runs from Benson to Mammoth along the San Pedro River on the eastern side of the Mt. Lemmon.

It was a pretty drive with a lot of huge, impressive saguaros to see along the way.

There was even an amazing field of cholla cactus that I’m glad we didn’t have to walk through.

The road meets up with Hwy 77 into Superior and from there we took US60 home. The dirt road sections in Cochise and Pinal Counties were well maintained and enjoyable to drive on through the towns and ranches along the way. However, the short section of road crossing into Pima County was horrible and obviously not maintained. The nine-mile extreme washboard road section was the only negative aspect of the drive home. I wonder if the Roamer comes with a road grader option?