Archive for November, 2009

We had three lovely days at Zion National Park. It has been many years since we’ve been there because it’s a little bit out of the way for us – too far south for our usual route into Utah and too far north for getting into Arizona, and it’s difficult to find a campsite there. But it’s a beautiful park. We drove in from the east and I was struck by the amazing variety of rock formations contained within the park. I think that the east side of the park is more striking than the west, but overall, Zion matches Yosemite easily in the drama of its canyons.

We had to pay $15 to drive the Lazy Daze through the 1-mile-long tunnel in the center of the park. It was never made for big vehicles and when a big rig goes through, traffic must be stopped the other way. So it keeps several park employees busy doing vehicle control. At the end of the tunnel, the driver descends into the valley on several short switchbacks with incredible views. At the campground, there are two loops with electricity, and we got the very last site available, though we had to move the next day because it was reserved. The great thing about the Zion campgrounds is that in the morning and evening, the sun turns the surrounding cliffs an amazingly vibrant shade of orange.


We wanted to do a hike on Friday, and the ranger suggested one on the east side of the park. So we got to drive back through the long tunnel in our spry little Rav4, stopping often to photograph the rock formations. Though they are difficult to photograph, it’s fun to wander around, looking at everything. We took off on our hike under cloudy skies, and though it was a gradual ascent, it wasn’t an inspiring walk. We tired after a couple of miles and decided to turn back. The sun came out during our return and the same trail looked quite different under bright light.


Zion has two roads, accessed by leaving the park, that go into it from the west. On Saturday, We drove the Kolob Terrace Road, which took us past more great rock formations. On the way back, it was mid-afternoon light that lit up the Zion cliffs from a distance. The view, in my estimation, is more spectacular than the close up view from within the valley, because you aren’t looking straight up all the time. We also went down the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a road that has so much traffic that cars aren’t allowed on it most of the year. We walked the trail to The Narrows, to the point where the canyon closes in so much that there is no room for a trail, and you must wade through the Virgin River with the high canyon walls looming above. (No thanks!) In summer, waders must be careful of flash floods, because there are few places to scramble up to safety – the cliff walls go straight up. In winter, the water is cold and has some deep spots. A couple of wader-hikers walked out of The Narrows when we were there, and they wore full-body wetsuits with waterproof packs. (No thanks!)



On Monday, we regretfully left Zion and started the long trek across Nevada. After driving 315 miles, we spent the night at a nice rest stop, about 30 miles east of Tonopah, Nevada. The next day, it was a short 150-mile cruise to Lee Vining. We were pleased to be going across the Sierra Nevada on Tioga Pass in Yosemite. The pass is often not open this late in the year. After dropping the RV at a closed gas station, we drove up for a look at Tuolumne Meadows and Olmstead Point. Although dry and brown, it still looked beautiful to me. The next day it was up and over and we ended the day in Merced, with friends Jeff and Betty. They have a lovely home in Merced and the weather was balmy enough to enjoy some wine and goodies in their yard. They are now retired and Jeff spends a lot of time tending his fruit trees and vegetable garden. He then conserves a lot of it, along with other valley produce, making pomegranate juice, jelly and syrup, fig conserves and our favorite – limoncello. (What a heavenly use for lemons!) During breakfast (Jeff made popovers), we were entertained by Mac, their Cockatiel, a gorgeous bird who has a large vocabulary. It was a lovely way to end the trip.



Read Full Post »

From Needles, we headed south to Monument Valley, a spectacular area, with orange and crimson buttes all over the place. We spent a night in the town of Mexican Hat, a tiny hamlet named after the rock formation above town. We drove around the Valley of the Gods, a dirt-road circuit that meanders past dramatic rock outcroppings. We then ascended the Moki Dugway, a dirt road that switchbacks up a cliff about 1,000 feet in 1 or 2 miles. It was a good thing to do in the Rav4 (the Lazy Daze was safely in the campground). In the 1980’s, we had taken this road in our Chevy Van, although I remember it as being a scary occurrence.


The next day, we moved 30 miles south. On previous trips, we’ve always camped at the Navajo Tribal campground, a flat patch of gravel with few amenities, but absolutely beautiful views. This time, their campground was on the other side of their property, where the views were okay, but there were no facilities – just an uneven patch of dirt and rocks with no picnic tables. The thing is, they hadn’t done anything with the old camp area; it was just sitting there with a “No Camping” sign. Very disappointing. We camped across the highway, at Goulding’s, a guy who developed a small town to accommodate tourists and movie companies who filmed Westerns in the area. There is a museum with a lot of movie memorabilia and John Wayne’s movie cabin is somewhere on the property. We had never stayed there before and were not pleased to pay $42 for the privilege of camping one night, although the campsite was surrounded by beautiful cliffs and included a young black cat. She hung out there most of day, sleeping under a small tree, and climbing it once.

We took the Navajo scenic drive (17 miles of rough dirt roads) around the buttes in the late afternoon light. The clouds had interesting patterns, which enhanced photography. I pitied the tourists who were getting plastered with dust in the open cars that Tag-a-long Tours use. There were absolutely no Porta-potties anywhere (there used to be a couple) but almost every large pullout had natives selling jewelry. (Where do these people pee?) So, although the light became gorgeous as it got lower, my feelings were mixed about the way visitors are treated.




We took a road we had never taken before (there are not many roads in Utah that we’ve never been on) to get to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, a location we hadn’t been to for many, many years. When we first went there, it was a quiet, out-of-the-way place with wonderful dunes that aren’t extensive or high, but that are colored a warm orange tone and backed by dramatic multi-colored cliffs. Its camping highlight (to us sand-showered tent campers) was free solar-heated showers in the bathroom.  After some years, we visited and found that over half of the dunes had been set aside for use by off-roaders. Neither the dunes nor the campground was quiet, full of noisy ATV’s.

That wasn’t a problem on this visit. It was very chilly when we arrived, but we went for a solitary walk in the dunes anyway and caught some beautiful afternoon light. It was good that we took that walk, because the next day was gray and really cold. We huddled in our warm little abode all day and I did the Susie-homemaker thing and baked brownies (I thought of you, Don and Janet). The next morning was cold, but sunny, so we went out to the dunes again. It was a nice visit.





Read Full Post »

Alamosa, 40 miles from Great Sand Dunes, was the destination for Sunday afternoon. They had a wildlife reserve and I wanted to see if there were any cranes there. I drove out to look and what a disappointment. Not only had the water been drained from most of the land I was driving around, but some areas had been burned. (Draining and burning different areas makes better habitats for various kinds of birds.) I saw about 3 little birds in the entire 6 miles. I declined the idea to make a 4-mile round-trip trek to the Rio Grande River on the hope of seeing more birds. So Alamosa was a bust.

Durango, CO was our next destination. We figured there wasn’t going to be much color left, but Durango, at 6,500 feet, had a lot of cottonwoods in glowing yellow. Unfortunately, Tuesday was not glowing yellow; it was gray with a chance of showers/snow. We drove up the “million dollar highway” (it cost a lot to build the highway through the mountains) to Silverton (9,300 feet high), one of our favorite small towns. Its claim to fame is the Durango-Silverton steam engine train that rises 2,800 feet up through the mountains. Twice a day the train comes in, filled with tourists, who have 60 or 90 minutes to rampage through town, looking for souvenirs and food. We hadn’t been there for years and wandered around town, looking for decrepit old buildings and cute little houses from previous visits. Aside from historical buildings, most of them were gone, either replaced by pre-fab houses or spruced up beyond recognition. The town was also larger, with many new houses.  But the cemetery hadn’t changed much. We splurged on lunch and had the best piece of chocolate cake on the trip (so far). The sun had come out for a while, but a light snow started to fall as we left that turned to rain as we descended towards Durango. We wrang the best we could out of a crummy weather day.






From Durango, we headed directly to our old favorite, the Needles District in Canyonlands. As in the past 2 or 3 trips, the campground was full by the time we got there, so we spent the night at the Needles Outpost, the nice campground right outside the park. On Thursday morning, we were at the Squaw Flats Campground by 9 a.m. and met a nice couple who were leaving. So we got a great campsite. We were feeling a little lethargic so we only went for a 2.5-mile walk in the late afternoon. It was pleasant, but not outstanding, visually.

Friday was going to be our big hike day – 11 miles to Peekaboo Campground and back. (Thank you, Mary P., for making me realize I can hike 11 miles and live.) We took off at 7:30 a.m. and everything looked so good in the morning light. There were glowy cottonwoods, scrub oak in green, russet and brown, and all the red, orange, white and purple rock. We bounced along through canyons and bounded up and down slick-rock formations. It got warm quickly, but it was cool in the shade and there was a lot of rock shadows. We descended into Peekaboo Canyon via a narrow crack between two boulders on a straight vertical ladder with long reaches between rungs. Below that, we had to step backwards down 4 enormous steep rock steps. After another quarter mile, we arrived at the campground. (It’s remote because it is only accessible via a 4-wheel-drive road or a long hike.)





The attraction there is petroglyphs – many handprints, some stylized in a strange way, as well as some oddly shaped figures. So we meandered around the area, envied the couple brought in on a Jeep tour who was going to ride out in comfort, ate lunch and prepared to return back the 5.5 miles to our campground. We hiked through 5 canyons and traversed 4 canyons (hiked around the canyon on slick rock ledges). It wasn’t super hot, but the rock reflects heat and the breeze tailed off to nothing here and there. Around 3:00, I had a meltdown, whining that my knee hurt and I didn’t want to do this anymore. After a sitdown in the shade and a quantity of chocolate, I trudged the last two miles back to campground. Oh, it was so good to sit in my camp chair, sipping on some ice tea, knowing I could take a shower in a few minutes. I love our motorhome.



Back to civilization in La Sal, Utah with Don and Janet Curley. Lucky for us, they had just returned from a trip to California the day we called from  Needles, and welcomed us to their home. It was a quick trip, but we finally got to see the “alleged” Jeep that they have had for a while, but is never around when we’re in town. It is, in fact, an attractive, very high clearance, green Jeep. We caught up with each other and reintroduced ourselves to the cats, Chewy and Spence, who were not particularly happy to see us. (They were still upset that Don and Janet had left them alone – with periodic visits from a neighbor – for a week.) But after dinner, Chewy chose to sit on my lap for a while, which, I was told, is an unprecedented honor. Janet made a fantastic dinner (it tastes so good when somebody else does the cooking) and the evening passed pleasantly. The next morning, we gathered around Franklin the Frog for a group shot in front of their wonderful view of the La Sal Mountains. Then we were on the road again.


Read Full Post »