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Archive for October, 2012

It’s been quite an adventure getting home. We stopped around Salina, Utah for lunch and then Dave went out to pet the local ponies. They were pretty friendly (and short!).

We made it to Ely, Nevada and went to bed thinking we had beat the weather. The next morning we woke up to a white world. It had snowed more than an inch. But the snow had stopped and luckily, by the time we got on the road, US-50 was clear. We crossed about 8 summits during our 300-mile day, from 6,300 to 7,900 feet. Each had snow flurries, but minimal; no snow was sticking. The clouds were absolutely fantastic, one of the best drives we’ve had across Nevada.

We stopped at the defunct Shoe Tree that has been replaced by the tree next door. It is beginning to look more like the old shoe tree. Then Dave noticed a macabre addition to all the footwear: the foreleg of a deer. Yuck!!

We raced on to Fallon, Nevada and tuned into the first Giants-Tigers game. Wow!!! Pablo Sandoval hit 3 home runs. Historic!! Fun!! The Giants spanked Justin Verlander; the Tigers premier pitcher didn’t last all that long. We were still on the road for Game 2. Wow!!! It’s like the Giants have magic going for them.

We made it home Friday and are ready for Game 3. I may do a special edition of the blog if the Giants win the World Series. Go Giants!

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Saturday was a boring chore day but things improved when we met Don and Janet Curley, our friends from La Sal, at the Moab Brewery for dinner. I had another beer with my burger – a nut brown ale. Later that evening, we went outside during the balmy evening and looked for meteors. Nada, nil, nothing. So went went inside and watched Saturday Night Live. Either the writing has improved or my beer really influenced me because I thought it was pretty funny.

Another sunny day dawned in Moab (not that we saw dawn). Despite the clear skies, we decided to go out to Rainbow Rocks, a wonderful ridge of sandstone on a dirt road 9 miles off the road to Island in the Sky (Canyonlands National Park). We found the right road and bounced our way into the wilderness. Dave got us close to the formation and off we went. Dave quickly shinnied up higher; I stayed at ground level until I found a place I could do a hind-end ascent, basically going up facing away from the rock. The rocks were as wonderful as we remembered, with fantastic swirls, crosshatching and even polka dots. We had a great time for a couple of hours. To descend to ground level, I tried to find the place I had come up, but all the likely spots looked like they had 6 foot drops. Dave scrambled down and I wandered the upper layer for about another 100 yards before almost getting stuck in a deep dried-up pothole. I avoided that and finally managed to perform a reverse hind-end slide back to earth.

We then drove a little way down a 4-wheel-drive road on the other side of Rainbow Rocks to revisit a neat spot we stopped at with Don and Janet in spring. The spot we like is around a mile or so in and I gritted my teeth as the poor Rav jounced along. I think Dave believes that I have no faith in his driving, but off-roading, especially in our car, just makes me nervous. Among all the other desert habitat, this area has white or pink rock with fairly large eroded boulders sprinkled about. What really makes it interesting is that the base rock is speckled with small black lava rock but there are no black rock formations in view. So the rock must have come from a long ways off, a long time before, probably a big volcanic explosion.

After getting back, we watched the Giants win Game 6 of the National League playoffs. A great game by Volgelsang and company resulted in another win. We decided to drive 150 miles west to Torrey, Utah near Capitol Reef National Park and stay at a campground with network television to watch Game 7. This would allow us to either hightail it for home if they won or proceed more slowly through Utah if they lost.

Well!!! Because the Giants won the National League Championship (Unbelievable!!!!!), we’re going to drive home as quickly as possible. The city is just too much fun to be in when it’s in a great mood. That means a 300+ mile drive today and tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll make it home Thursday.   What a great way to end the trip, just like two years ago.

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We’re back in Utah, camping by the Colorado River, near the Fisher Towers. After settling into a nice site at Hittle Bottom, we drove out to the chocolate-colored Towers and walked up a short trail to a good viewpoint. The entire area has sandstone eroded into wonderful buttes, spires and towers with weird bits and pieces left on the top. Ant-sized climbers are also on the tops; this is a very popular area for rock climbing. The sports enjoyed out in the middle of nowhere are fun to watch: climbing, hang gliding, sand boarding, floating. I still want to go zip lining but haven’t found a good place to do it yet.

We don’t get network TV out here but do get pretty good phone reception so we found that the Giants won yesterday but don’t know details about the game. So there will be at least 3 more games to see. We started to watch a recorded movie last night but our power pooped out after an hour so the remainder of the evening was spent reading. Nice stars out; there is certainly no ambient light problem out here.

What a hike! My right knee and thigh had gotten stiff from our short, rocky scramble at Colorado National Monument, but that has always disappeared after a day or two. So I set off on the 4.4-mile round-trip Fisher Towers Trail with no thought except it was going to be hot. The sky was cloudless, there were almost no trees and we were going to be hiking into the sun on the way out. Usually we would start a hike like this early in the morning, but our photography book of the area said afternoon light was the best. After our departure at 2 p.m., it was indeed quite warm, but a slight breeze helped and the views were great. But I had forgotten how up and down and rock-jumbly it was. My leg started to hurt a little on the way out but felt okay after our 30-minute rest. So I perked up enough to make some images. But it really started to hurt badly on the way back. The last mile was a hot, miserable slog for me. Eight Advil, a cold shower, a chilled bottle of Chardonnay and leftover chicken enchiladas improved the end of my day considerably. I’m not sure if the presidential debate helped or not.

After settling down in Moab, we went on one of our favorite hikes in Negro Bill Canyon. A larger-than-usual stream runs through the canyon, encouraging a lot of oak, cottonwood and other foliage to thrive. I was surprised at the variety of wildflowers still in bloom. We ambled along, enjoying both the sunny and shady spots. The end point of the hike is Morning Glory Bridge (a natural rock bridge) but we didn’t go that far. We wended our way back and returned to the campground to watch the Giants lose Game 4 of the National League playoffs. They were pitiful, which of course doesn’t mean they couldn’t win all of the last three games…..

On Friday, we decided to drive the La Sal Loop, a 63-mile road that rises from Moab to 8,000 feet into the La Sal Mountains. Alas, it was not to be. Major road work is happening and the entire top part of the road is closed. So we went on a shorter trip through Castle Valley that wasn’t too exciting. We did get to see some dinosaur prints embedded in rock, which was neat.

Back to camp and slurp dinner in the back, watching the Giants do or die. They did. Barry Zito pitched a great game and they shut out the Cards. So that means back to San Francisco for the next game and another day at a campground with cable TV for us.

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We’ve been doing chores at Grand Junction for a couple of days now. The handle on my 41-year-old Revere Ware saucepan gave out so we shopped for a new one. Emeril’s stainless steel pot won me over. It has a long metal handle that would fit in our oven at home, but not in the tiny oven in the motorhome. And it has pour spouts that are great for pouring but means I can’t get a vacuum to do rice. Speaking of tiny, we found a very petite motorhome at the RV store we visited. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the inside but it was cute.

It was still raining Saturday so we went to see “Seven Psychopaths”, a very black, funny film worth seeing, though there is a lot of murder in it. Christopher Walken walks away with the movie in every scene he’s in. He is just wonderful: sweet, menacing, philosophical. Hats off to writer/director Martin McDonagh.

Sunday was cloudless and sunny, not the best choice for viewing the Colorado National Monument. The Monument is a 23-mile long ridge that runs along the south side of Grand Junction. It drops off around 2,000 feet into various types of eroded rock. We headed out fairly early and quickly went on what we thought would be a short 1.5-mile hike to Devil’s Kitchen. Wrong! We went up a narrowing canyon, followed some rock cairns until the trail petered out among boulders and slippery slopes. We eventually gave up and started back. Another couple pointed out a turn we missed and we ended up in the right place. It is a semicircle of eroded monoliths, neat but almost impossible to photograph without a fisheye lens.

We returned to the car and the next couple of hours were spent driving and stopping at various overlooks that are spectacular but limited in what you can do photographically. By the time we got to the campground, we had decided that it wasn’t worth driving the motorhome up there. It might be worth it if there was going to be a cloudy day, but that wasn’t indicated until Wednesday. So once again, Colorado National Monument didn’t really work out for us.

We went home, hauled out the potato chips and settled down to watch the Giants play the St. Louis Cardinals in the first National League playoff game. Our team rallied in the fourth inning, but eventually lost 6-4. It was a good effort. We may or may not get reception at the next couple of campgrounds we plan to be in, so we’ll have to decide what to do.

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On our continuing quest for fall foliage, we drove to Cedaredge, a pretty town on the lower (6,800 feet altitude) edge of Grand Mesa, a huge island that runs around 10,500 feet high.  From a distance, some swathes of pale yellow showed up against large gray areas, a sign that most of the aspen had dropped their leaves. We found an expensive campground whose store had ice cream sodas, my old favorite. But when I ordered one, they said they didn’t put chocolate syrup into it, just ice cream and soda (real soda water, not 7-Up). Not that great. I still remember Jeanne Dugan taking me to a Friendly’s Ice Cream Parlor out on Long Island for a real ice cream soda. Yum! Thanks again, Jeanne. Do they still have Friendly’s out there?

Ice cream soda in (my) hand, we set off to see Grand Mesa. As soon as we got up over 9,000 feet, the aspen began. There were still some very nice small groves with the salmony-orange color leaves that we haven’t seen much of.  That started us looking for places we could park the rig up there. We could also hear, but not see, cranes in the distance. But as we drove further up and got to the top of the mesa, most of the aspen disappeared, and we were among the evergreens and loads of lakes with very low water levels. It was nice, but not our thing. We drove to the north end of the mesa and looked down on completely finished aspen. So we gave up on the idea of exploring Grand Mesa further. After some discussion, we decided to return south and visit the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We’ve been to the South Rim a few times but it’s a long way from the North Rim, which we’ve never visited before.

                              Warning:  Aspen alert!!!                                                   

There are no aspen images below. If you feel the need for Aspen images, scroll down to older blogs.

On Monday, we drove the 54 miles to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Our tiny 13-site campground has no services except pit toilets and garbage, so for us seniors, it’s $3 per night. Hopefully, nobody here sleepwalks; go about 15 yards downslope from half of the campsites and you’ll fall off the cliff edge. That would result in a 1,800-foot drop. Ouch. We went out before dawn (7:15 or so) to the nearby Chasm Overlook and watched the light rise. Unfortunately, the sunlight was immediately harsh when it reached the canyon. It’s still neat, though. In the afternoon, we walked the North Vista Trail, a short 1.5 miles. It meanders along the side of the Canyon and has a few great overlooks, better for contemplating than photographing. Okay by us. Another neat thing was hearing crickets. That and the warm sun made it still feel like summer here. We got back in time to watch the Giants-Reds third game. Having lost the first two games, the Giants had to win. Potato chips and Cuba Libres accompanied the game and helped us get through 10 innings before the Giants eked out a win.

Unbelievable! We got to Grand Junction in time to see Inning #7 of the final game between the Giants and the Cincinnati Reds. After an hour or more of torture, the Giants won! They are going for the National League Championship. We are going to have to be sure to have reception starting Sunday. There’s no pictures here but be assured, we are smiling.

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On Monday, we headed north on CO-133 over McClure Pass. It looked pretty good and we were checking out the Forest Service campgrounds. It was tough: McClure CG was really pretty, covered with aspens, but the trees might block the solar panels. Bogan CG would have been perfect, right where we wanted to be, but we dead-ended at the barred gate. It was closed for the season. After unhooking to turn around, we rehooked and went on to Redstone CG. Very nice with water and electric, but $25 per night with no senior discount. So we ended up in Carbondale at the city campground. We wanted to see the famous Maroon Bells near Aspen. We knew the trees were past their peak, but that can present some great photo opportunities. So we headed out Tuesday morning on CO-82, noticing that one of the two lanes was for high-occupancy vehicles during the morning hours. It’s 30 miles from Carbondale to Aspen, but I guess there can be a serious rush-hour problem during ski season. There sure wasn’t for us. As we entered the Maroon Creek Valley, things got pretty pretty quickly. When we reached the Maroon Bells Recreation Area, we checked out a couple of the campgrounds and found they had a few spaces available but weren’t really suitable for our Lazy Daze. We stopped at a few spots that really impressed us. Big plots of aspens were bare, with either a couple or a small plot of trees that still had their leaves. That’s always appealing to me. This one pullout also had aspen framing the Maroon Bell Mountains and with a pure blue sky, the scene was very nice. So we stayed there for a while, as other people pulled in and out to take their pictures.   Finally, we reached the end of the road at Maroon Lake. The famous shot everyone wants is the Maroon Bells reflected in the still waters of the lake, especially with dawn light on the Bells. Didn’t happen for us. It was much later than dawn, the lake was very low and a small breeze was riffling the water. Oh well, it was still nice. So we walked along-side the lake and enjoyed the day. There were some pointy red mountains to the west of us (Sievers Mountain?) that were interesting so we had something to shoot besides the expected Bells. I think I was experiencing post-Kebler letdown. My expectations are going to have to change now that we’re in the latter half of the fall foliage season. We ate our lunch and when we returned to the parking lot, it was full and Forest Service rangers were directing traffic. I didn’t expect that many people to show up this time of year, but I guess this place is always popular.

 

We visited the Forest Service Station in Aspen to ask about dispersed camping possibilities in the area. The ranger said there wasn’t much around. Aspen is so popular and there are always people who want to “camp” in the area for an indefinite amount of time. He mentioned the end of Castle Creek Road, a road parallel to the Maroon Bells. Since Castle Creek also ran past Ashcroft, an old mining ghost town, we decided to cruise down. This road was also nice, although not enough to make any images. Ashcroft is a well-maintained ghost town, sitting on a grassy plain by Castle Creek. Ghost towns differ enough so that they are always fun to photograph.

We decided that the Aspen area was not interesting enough to us to find camping in the area. So we decided to head south back over McClure Pass and hang around there for a few days. We had to load up on propane, gas, groceries and wine in Carbondale, so we hooked up the Rav to the motor home and headed off. As we turned off the highway to park, something weird happened with the Rav. One of the two tow hitch arms had come loose and punched a hole in our new bumper. The pin that holds the hitch arm on the Rav was missing; we found it back where we turned. The cord that maintains the electrical connection between the LD and the Rav had been damaged. Amazingly, Dave was able to fix everything in about an hour and we were on our way. Thirty minutes later, we pulled into the aspen-filled McClure Campground, the prettiest campground we’ve been in on this trip.

We had enough energy to drive up and down CO-133 and take a short side trip down Buzzard Ditch Road. The clouds were great and the views were expansive. Finding cattle to stand still as foreground for a mountain shot was fortuitous (although it’s not hard to get cows to stand still).

We woke up late on Thursday, but the day was cloudy so it really didn’t matter. We got out and headed north over McClure Pass again, back to see the Coke Ovens at Redstone, a cute little town once devoted to coal. Now it has a bed and breakfast, a couple of lodges and a genuine small General Store with fresh-baked pastries. After that, we headed to Marble, a town full of slabs of Marble and a marble quarry somewhere up in the mountains. After checking out Beaver Lake and realizing quickly that we weren’t going to be able to drive up the Crystal Mill (a famous photographic shot), we took another road up a canyon that was easy to drive and got some great views of Mount Sopris (at least I think it was Mount  Sopris). There were a lot of clouds but occasional bursts of sun made for good shots. As the wind picked up, we stopped at one point to see if we could get images of aspen leaves flying around, but the wind pooped out on us after one good blast. Oh well, we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Dave found us a hike on our final day at McClure Pass. A Forest Service Road took off right at the pass, so we parked at the beginning of it and hiked 2 or 3 miles up it. There was nothing too exciting, just lots of aspens covering up what views there were. We were very tired when we got back.

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After our amazing trip on Cimarron Road, we headed to an expensive, but nice, Montrose RV park. The laundry and most other amenities seemed to be closed, but they had a resident owl (see Dave’s blog) and an itinerant small flock of sheep that wandered in from a neighboring farm. The weather was gray and rainy, so we did the mundane chores.

On Thursday, we drove US-550 from Montrose to Silverton, about 60 miles. Silverton is one of our favorite towns, 9000-feet high, nestled in the Red Mountains. Ouray, to the north, has a nice main street, but its real appeal is the fact that the road drops like a rock into town. Too add to the interest, Mineral Creek runs alongside a lot of the road, with colors ranging from golden yellow to a murky turquoise. Old mines are sprinkled about the hills here and there. US-550 is called the million-dollar highway between Silverton and Ouray because it cost so darn much to etch it out of canyons and rock.

Over the course of the day the weather was changeable, veering from sunlight to clouds to sprinkles to sleet to a heavy shower to a well-placed rainbow. We encountered an overlook we hadn’t seen before, permitting us to get some neat shots of a steep waterfall. We found a spot we had photographed years before: three old buildings, one of which is now totally flattened. As the canyon narrowed, our aspen shots became more numerous.

When we finally got to Silverton at 1:30, we were hungry and had burgers and beer in the town brewery. I liked their Oktoberfest beer, even though it was still September. We walked around town a little, heard the Durango-Silverton train whistle a farewell, visited the 1906 unchanged Carnegie Library, and started on the trip back to Montrose. I was sleepy, but Dave had enough energy to try a drive up County Road 5 out of Ridgway. It’s another road with aspens and views. The view was very expansive, but the 4 or 5 openings in the roadside brush already had photographers in them. So we called it a day and went home.

We were on the move again on Friday. We wanted to camp near Kebler Pass, supposedly one of the best aspen photography sites in Colorado. We reserved judgment, finding it hard to believe anything could best what we’d already seen. We bumped along 6 miles of unpaved CR 12 (Kebler Pass Road) to Erickson Springs Forest Service Campground. Being late in the season, everything in the campground is closed except the gate. Since it’s free, that’s fine with us. We squeezed into a narrow but nice site and decided to drive further up Kebler Road. I think we left around 3:30 p.m. and returned around 7:15, have driven about 24 miles. After rising a few hundred feet with boring scenery, we came around a bend and our jaws dropped. It was a 180-degree view of striking mountains and miles of aspen in varying colors. We started to play road tag with a couple of cars full of Asian photographers (speaking Cantonese, I believe), an unusual sight in the mountains. I took a picture of a couple celebrating their tenth anniversary by trying to find the aspen grove where they got engaged. This dirt road was busy! As the light began to disappear behind the trees, we finally decided to head back. What a day!

We lazed around Saturday morning, had bacon and eggs for breakfast (I’m hearing that bacon may become hard to come by. Does bacon freeze well?) We then went on a hike up Dark Canyon. It’s a nice trail, following a stream, surrounded by scrub oak and lots of colorful brush and amazing rock walls. Unfortunately, some horses had trod before us, leaving a lot of muddy hoof prints as well as few piles of other stuff.

Sunday was an early-rising day, up at 6:30 a.m. and out by 7:15 to beat the traffic on Kebler Pass. It worked. We mostly had the road to ourselves until about 10:30. The light was coming from the opposite direction from our last trip, so we found different areas interesting. By 11 a.m. there were scads of vehicles including what looked liked convoys. But there was always room to pull over so it was no big deal. We were back to camp by 1:30, ready for our showers and a quiet afternoon.

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