On Sunday, we made our escape from Blanding, but I had made a tactical error. I didn’t realize that the solitary grocery stores in both Blanding and Monticello were both closed all day on Sundays. How can you have chicken fajitas without tomatoes? “Where can I get a tomato?” I whined to the gas station convenience store cashier. She shrugged. So I called Janet while I still had phone reception and asked her to bring a tomato and a chair.
We turned off US-191 and drove the 30 miles towards Needles. We stopped at Newpaper Rock, an enormous petroglyph installation with beautiful animals and symbols pecked into the rock. Having made hundreds of images over 35 years, we didn’t bring our cameras, just went and gazed. Then it was onward to find a campsite. We didn’t try to get into the Needles Campground; we had told Janet to find us at Lockhart Basin and couldn’t phone her to change our location. Luckily, we found a great site, the one that Dorothy and Don Malpas had when we first met them. We positioned the LD to protect us from the wind and provide a nice view from our back windows.
Janet showed up around 3 and we hung out. She would have preferred a hike but had hurt her toe in a canyoneering course she had taken at Zion National Park. Canyoneering involves sliding into canyons and hiking out. It sounded good until she mentioned “keeper pools”. They are water holes that you slide into and have a lot of trouble climbing out of. No thank you! So we sat in our chairs, scarfed down tortilla chips and salsa and enjoyed the beautiful country around us.
After the fajitas, we took a short walk to Hamburger Hill, the official dispersed campground. It is unusual in that it is a rock formation eroded down to a shape of a huge hamburger. There are about 12 campsites circling around it. We circled it too, walked back to the rig and had brownies and chocolate ice cream. Janet had a long trip back home so she left before it got completely dark. We settled down and watched the moon rise. I feel fortunate to be able to see so much of the beauty there is in the world.
We set Monday for our one of our favorite hikes of all time: the trail to Chesler Park from the Elephant Hill Trailhead. It’s 6 miles round-trip but easy to extend it in many ways. We had a cloudy day with a cool little breeze when we began walking at 8:30. We quickly came to one of Dave’s favorite rock formations. We’ve walked this trail so many times we come to be familiar with specific parts of it. There are about four canyons to cross encircled by red and white rock formations, filled with flowering cacti and occasional wildflowers.
As we hiked, a large, dark gray cloud was headed our way. By the time we got to Chesler Park, it was over us. We had climbed up a steep incline to eat our lunch and quickly scrambled down when it began to sprinkle. There is a reason why sandstone is nicknamed “slickrock”. It gets very slippery when it’s wet. I put on my stinky (literally) plastic rain jacket. (Yes, Rick, I still have it.) We went in search of an overhang under which to hang while the shower lasted, passing one hiker who curled into a tiny alcove between a couple of boulders. By the time we found shelter, the light rain had mostly stopped, so we headed down the trail, enjoying Chesler Park in the soft light.
Fifteen minutes later, it began to sprinkle again so we shared an overhang with a couple from Portland. One of the best things about hiking a longer trail is that the other hikers you meet are happy to be out there. Walkers get sore and tired, but we don’t meet grouchy hikers because you usually don’t hike if you don’t want to. And this area is so dramatically gorgeous.
I wanted to find the place we had lunch with Don and Janet several years ago, but it’s a long way to the other side of large Chesler Park and I was getting tired, so we turned around and headed back. The dark clouds passed by and it turned hot and humid. Many of the potholes now contained water, reflecting red and blue from rock and sky. Both of our backs were aching when we got back, but it was a wonderful hike.
The next morning we woke to gray skies and intermittent showers. That worked well with our plan, do nothing all morning. We proceeded to implement our plan, reading, computing offline (no reception) and having a late bacon-and-egg breakfast. Finally, when our butts began to hurt from too much sitting, we gathered our stuff and took off for the Park. You might wonder why I mention “gathering” our stuff. Don’t we just grab the cameras and go? Well, no:
- How long will we be out? Decide how much food and water to bring. Will we be out long enough to want coffee later? Do we need to gas the Rav?
- Will we be hiking or not? Make sure we have hiking socks. (The boots, hiking poles, various hats and suntan lotion stay in the Rav.) How much can I cram in the backpack?
- Will it be cold or hot? Decide to wear/bring hiking shorts, shirts, sweaters, coats, rain jackets. If it’s windy, I bring prescription glasses in case my contacts get gritty.
- Are the camera batteries charged? If hiking, do I bring the long lens or not? (It adds weight) Do I bring the tripod? (It adds clunkiness and weight.)
- Will there be bathroom facilities?
Usually, for us to get up, eat breakfast and get into the Rav, it takes a minimum of 45 minutes. If we forget something, as we often do, it can mean thirst, hunger, sunburn, nearsightedness, a dead camera battery, etc. And that leads to grouchiness. So all the above is to avoid grouchiness!
We drove out to Pothole Point, a point full of potholes that now had water in them. I wanted to make an image with the sun reflected in the potholes but there were too many clouds. Then I went in search of the “perfect spot” I had found years ago, with a small waterfall that looked all silvery when water was flowing. Couldn’t find it. Dave was waiting for the sun on another shot. We spoke with a European man for a while about the park. He said that he had been out to the Needles Overlook yesterday and that he thought the view there was “better” than the Grand Canyon. I like the accessibility of the landscape here. It’s easy to get into it.
After Pothole, we went down the road a little and went on a short version of the Slickrock Foot Trail. Because rain looked imminent, we shortened the full loop to the part that gets the best of the western sun. We didn’t go far or stay long as we began to get sprinkles.
By this time it was around 6:30. Heavy cloud cover and sprinkles were preventing the mesa, buttes and spires from lighting up. But then we spotted a rainbow forming and soon it strengthened and then evolved into a double rainbow. So we stayed quite a while. Sunset isn’t until 8 p.m. but we departed around 7:30 or so and had a very late dinner.
The next morning provided a big shock: all of the images in Dave’s photo file from Tuesday were gone. He had downloaded them from the memory card onto the laptop when we got home late last night. This morning, when he went to look at them, the file was empty. Somehow, either he or I deleted the images. He had already reformatted the memory card so they were no longer visible there. Depression. He had lost the images with some of the best light on the trip.
Leaving that problem behind for a while, we went out on our final hike in Needles. We had decided to do part of the hike to the Confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. As we prepared to take off, a raven landed next to the car, then flew onto our door. He looked ready to fly into the car, looking for food. Those birds are so intimidating when they are near you.
The first few miles go up and down over 4 or 5 canyons. It’s a bit strenuous but since we planned to go only 2-3 miles out, we figured we could handle it. It was nice to see all the different types of rock and terrain.
The skies kept changing. Dave noticed that a lot of dark clouds were headed in our direction – maybe. After watching them and watching a heavy rainstorm dumping its load in the distance, we decided it was going to miss us. But the winds built up for a while as we were on the outskirts of it.
We were tired when we got back but it felt good to get so much hiking in at Needles. Back at the rig, Dave began to work on getting those picture files back. He still had an old program to retrieve data from the laptop and eventually found a few images but not close to the 150 he took.
We packed up fairly early on Thursday and drove the 150 miles to Durango. It’s very pretty country that changes from high desert to farmland. We were staying 3 nights at a KOA outside of Durango. As soon as we were settled, Dave started finding and testing programs to retrieve data from the memory card and finally found one that worked. He got all his images back. I admire his persistence. What a guy! I was very happy for him.
We had dinner reservations at the Ore House in Durango. Janet Curley had recommended it. It’s basically a steakhouse and so I expected good steak. But the calamari appetizer was fantastic. I ordered a Maple Cinnamon Old Fashioned and was blown away by how great it was. (Of course, it did have a cherry in it.) I ordered the Surf & Surf & Turf and got 2 tenderloins, lobster and crab. All wonderful. The only thing that was disappointing was the chocolate truffles we brought home and ate later. They were only good, not great.
Friday required a big grocery shopping expedition and I went to Walmart because it’s very close. It was okay. Some items were cheaper than I usually pay and others as much. Some of the produce looked okay and some, like the corn, looked terrible. I also picked up a pair of jeans, which is not possible at Safeway.
The weather wasn’t great that evening, but we could do the Art Walk on the streets of Durango without our coats. We stayed for 90 minutes or so at Open Shutter Gallery where Dave’s Life on Wheels images are hung in the Red Room. Dave had sent his images to Margy Dudley, the owner and a photographer; she hung them. They looked good. (My iPhone doesn’t do them justice.)
After a while, we wandered along Main Street to visit some of the other art galleries and stores participating in the Art Walk. Despite the chilly weather, there were a lot of people visiting the venues. And then we went back to the Ore House and I had another Maple Cinnamon Old Fashioned. It was as good as the one I had yesterday. I may have to learn how to make these at home. We returned to Open Shutter, mingled a while longer and returned home.
We were awoken early Saturday morning by a loud thunderstorm. When we finally pulled up the shades, we discovered it was snowing. Surprise! We watched some little kids jumping around, trying to catch snowflakes on their tongues. It snowed for a couple of hours, but nothing was sticking to the ground and it all quickly disappeared.
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