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Archive for May, 2015

When I went outside after a soggy night of showers, the worms were out. Hundreds of 4-inch thin worms were taking their morning wiggle, many on the campground road. Yuck! I really didn’t want to sqush any but there were so many of them. It looked like we might experience a little sun, so we chose to exit Badlands on the viewpoint drive going north. But we saw few gleams of light. Very disappointing.

We skipped Wall Drugstore, a famous tourist trap just north of the Badlands. We went there once and we wandered around stores in an old-timey mall. The historical pictures are interesting, but that was about it for us. So we drove I-90 for 100 miles west to Spearfish, SD. It’s always a little sad for me when we stop heading east and start heading west (home). Usually it happens around the middle of the trip but we have less than 3 weeks left now. Other than vibrant green ranchland, the notable item we noticed is the 80 mph speed limit on I-90. I guess they figure its harder to kill yourself speeding among all the grasslands. We can’t join in the fun; the Lazy Daze wouldn’t enjoy that speed.

Spearfish has a beautiful canyon that runs 25 or 30 miles along the river. It has steep walls, waterfalls and trees that change color in fall. The last time we were there it was very cold and snowing. This time, it was raining, so we skipped it. Another opportunity lost to weather. The campground hostess told us that it had basically rained through April and May. Not good for tourism in the Black Hills. We went to the Spearfish City Campground, expensive and crowded, but pretty and convenient to Safeway. I wanted to do a big shop before we hit Yellowstone.

It was sunny on Tuesday morning so we took a walk along a rushing stream, then took off for the short drive to Devil’s Tower. We camped at the Park, Belle Fourche River Campground for $6 per night. Thank you America the Beautiful Senior Pass! It’s a beautiful campground that is plunk next to a prairie dog town. Prairie dogs are in the uncomfortable position of being endangered……unless they settle anywhere near your property. Then they’re like miniature, chirping developers – they want to expand into your neighborhood.

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We drove up to Devil’s Tower in the afternoon. After Memorial Day, it is unofficially summer and there were lots of tourists, so the parking lots and paths were busy. The sun was coming out from and going behind the clouds. We walked the 1-mile circuit around Devil’s Tower. Created by magma, it’s got the tallest basalt columns in the world – 600 feet high.

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Later in the afternoon, we went over to a meadow that has a great distance view of the Tower. We got some fleeting sun on our subject. Dinner was interrupted by a big thunderstorm. One peal was so loud, I shrieked. Then, back to chopping vegetables. We returned to the meadow after dinner because sunset is now around 8:30. We hoped to see the last red rays of the sun on the Tower but we were out of luck again.

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We had debated staying an extra day, but heavy clouds the next morning convinced us to move on. It was a heavy driving day across Wyoming. We continued on I-90 all the way to Sheridan. Just south of the Montana border, we turned left into the Bighorn Mountains. No gentle foothills here. The road rises several thousand feet via dramatic switchbacks with a few spots big enough for the rig to pull over.

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We wended our way through valleys, canyons and gulches and once again, had to pass up visiting the Medicine Wheel. We reached the 9,430-foot pass and found the pass sign obscured by vandals.

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The descent on the western side was harrowing. It was very steep and very long. I had the window open and had to close it to block out the smell of our burning brakes. If we ever do it again, we’ll unhook the Rav.

We had already decided to go another 50 miles to Cody, WY but I wanted to check out the free Lovell town campground. I’m glad we didn’t stay; it looked like an Occupy-movement tent city. Probably nice people but way, way too crowded. We finished off our 311-mile drive at the Absaroka RV Park in Cody. It’s $33 per night but has a nice view of the Absaroka and Carter Mountains. It worked for us as yet another couple of rain showers washed our vehicles.

 

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We took our time and finally got off to Badlands on Thursday. It’s 120 miles and we managed to avoid going through Rapid City. We reached Badlands around 2:30 or so. There were already quite a few rigs here and we were glad we had made reservations ahead of time. Memorial Day is effectively a week early this year and this is where we chose to be for 4 nights. It wasn’t an ideal space but not bad considering it was the last site available with electricity. If nothing too big parks behind us, we have a okay view. Dave wanted to check out sunset at his favorite spots and was severely disappointed that road construction had usurped the entire lookout spot he wanted. We went to another one and got some nice shots. It was 8 p.m. by the time we got back to “his” spot. The construction guys had left for the day so we sneaked in but the best viewpoints had been fenced off; we couldn’t get to them. Too bad. 480MG9104Badlands 481MG9108Badlands 483MG9124Badlands 484MG9133Badlands 485MG9141Badlands 486MG9143Badlands The next morning, I layed in. I was very tired and didn’t want to bounce up and out. So we eventually had a nice breakfast and didn’t get out until 11:30 or so. We stopped at Cedar Pass Lodge to ask about our campground reservation. Usually National Parks give us half-price camping with my Senior Pass, but the online reservation system I used didn’t allow for any discounts so it was $37 per night. The girl at the desk said “Oh yes, I can refund you $10 per night with your Senior Pass.” So once again, ask for those discounts. That’s a pretty sneaky way for them to get more money; I’m sure many campers don’t bother inquiring. The day had clouded up and the light was very even. Sometimes this can make for dull photography but the shots came out nice. 490MG9170Badlands 492MG9185Badlands We continued north, visiting almost every overlook. The “relentless Prairie wind” was in full swing. It wasn’t cold but the gusts were very strong. We passed a large prairie dog community that I didn’t remember from our last trip. We reached the Yellow Mounds area where I found the Oreodont fossil in 2009. I looked around but didn’t find anything of note this time. 494MG9189Badlands 495MG9200Badlands We got to the spot where we have seen mountain sheep before and saw them once again, this time with a bouncy lamb. 497MG9210BadlandsBighorn 498MG9212BadlandsBighorn 499MG9215BadlandsBighorn After eating lunch, I drove back towards camp. The light got better; the sun was making a few appearances here and there. 500MG9230Badlands 502MG9239Badlands 503MG9243BadlandsDave 503MG9250Badlands We got back to camp with strong winds blowing and felt a little sorry for the tent campers. It was so nice being in a vehicle where we could cook dinner, watch TV and go to bed protected from the constant gusts. While there were grey clouds on Saturday, it wasn’t raining so we decided to go for a hike. We had never done the Castle-Medicine Root Trail and there was a new trailhead to get to the trails: Saddle Pass. When I got there and looked up, I hoped we weren’t going to have to climb up to the pass but that’s exactly where the trail led. The 150-foot rise got us onto the mesa where the other trails met. From there, it was flat all the way. There was a whole different view of formations and the appellation “Castle” fit them well. 505MG9293Badlands The light wasn’t ideal; no sun peeking out to illuminate the peaks, but it was still fun to photograph. We got a closeup view of how the tabletop erodes down and down until it’s a 3- or 4-foot high mound. Soil forms on the top of it and a few plants establish themselves, especially cacti. As the clay melts away, it releases all its rocks and pebbles in an even skirt around it. 507MG9277Badlands 508MG9269Badlands 510MG9296Badlands 511MG9285Badlands There were lots of hikers out, it being Memorial Day weekend. It was hard not to get them in the images we made. The trail turned into viscous mud in many spots and we crossed several plank “bridges”, our weight causing the mud to rise up over the surface. After 2 miles, the Medicine Root Trail returned us back north. It runs through the prairie on the edge of the badlands, with lots of grasses. Not spectacular, but nice. 512MG9321Badlands 513MG9317Badlands 514MG9316Badlands 515MG9311Badlands 516MG9312Badlands 518MG9287Badlands 519MG9330Badlands We skidded down Saddle Pass and went back to camp to eat our lunch and hang out. The campground is pretty full, but the tenters come and go; the wind and rain showers take the fun out of camping. The full rain day came Sunday. There were many showers during the night and more when we woke up. We alternated among reading, updating the blogs and watching campers deal with the wet weather. One guy was walking around barefoot and didn’t seem to mind being drenched. Some waited in their cars. Others converted the covered picnic benches to rain shelters. We took a drive around 3:30 but their was only one break in the gray skies and it wasn’t near us, so we returned back to the rig for a night of Orphan Black, Game of Thrones and Nurse Jackie. 520MG9334Badlands 522MG9336Badlands 523MG9342Badlands 524MG9348Badlands

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We packed up and moved to the west side of Denver on Thursday. The Prospect, in Wheat Ridge is nothing really fancy but it is next to a horse pasture, has cottontails running through it, and is quiet. A good base from which to reach the Denver festivities around Stephanie and Eric’s wedding.

On Friday, we lolled about, trying to upload to the blogs with inadequate Bluetooth or WiFi connectivity. Didn’t expect that in this urban environment. We went to visit Rupert Jenkins in the afternoon. He runs the Colorado Photographic Art Center (CPAC), a non-profit community-based organization promoting photography. The current exhibition is “Mixed Bag: Marijuana in the Highlands”. The subject of marijuana legalization and it’s various impacts on Colorado is an interesting one and the images picture the practical, social and political aspects of growing and using pot.

We then hung out for a couple of hours doing online stuff and reading. The location for Stephanie and Eric’s rehearsal dinner was the Breckenridge Brewery and we found it about a block away from Coor’s Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. The wedding party began to show up after having a chilly rehearsal at the Denver Zoo. The weather changes here about 5 times an hour so there was no telling how the weather would be for a wedding at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The wedding reception, also at the Zoo, could be partially inside or all the way inside. A logistical issue for 150 wedding guests.

The brewery laid out a nice spread of goodies and there was lots of room for all the little ones to run around. Emily and Neil’s daughter, Camille, can really run fast and various people chased her around all evening. We met Eric for the first time and I encouraged him to come to California for Christmas Eve and run the gauntlet of meeting 25 or 30 Gardners.

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We woke up Saturday morning to a clear blue sky, so we went for a walk. Our campground is adjacent to greenbelt that runs for miles along a fast-moving creek. The remainder of the day, we lounged around, watching the clouds come over. Around 4:45 we took off for the Denver Zoo for the wedding of Stephanie (our niece) and Eric. At the entrance, a woman at a table recognized our “wedding clothes” (such as they are), gave us two tickets and told us to go to the carousel for the event.

We perused a map and purposefully started walking until we saw the pussycats…er, lions taking their afternoon siestas.

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We kept walking and found some sleepy-looking bighorn sheep.

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We got to the carousel and asked some other people dressed for a wedding, where the wedding was. “We were told it was back this way.” They were headed back the way we came, so instead we headed for the birds. The flamingoes looked like they could be in the Seminoles in Florida…except for the Canadian Goose in the middle. (Of course, there are probably Canadian Geese in the Seminoles because they are everywhere.)

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Where was the wedding? Guests were walking in different directions everywhere we went. Finally, after taking a look at a Sandhill Crane and listening to its raucous cries, we finally realized the wedding was in a recessed glade next to the carousel. We took our seats and watched the skies darken as the clouds headed in our direction. But all went well and Stephanie and Eric were wed.

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The guests headed into the reception and noshed away at really good meatballs and other other delicacies while the wedding party froze their patooties off outside, obtaining the obligatory wedding pix. Finally, Eric and Stephanie made it in to the reception. It was a fun party; everybody was having a good time.

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The dancing began after the buffet and toasts. And then Camille, Stephanie’s niece, hit the floor and never stopped dancing, still going when we left around 9:30. What intensity! This child, almost 2 years old, was absolutely transfixed by the music. Her parents, Emily and Neil, tried to keep an eye on her as she moved around the dance floor. Eventually, her doll joined her in the dancing, although she did deign to shimmy with other people also. Amazing. It made me tired just watching her.

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Sunday was takeoff day for us. We were going in search of the Pawnee Buttes in the middle of Pawnee National Grasslands, an area about 60×90 miles. We checked out the Crow Recreation Campground and found it had been closed by floods in 2012 or 13. So we moved on to dirt roads, County Roads 110, 112, 113, 116; some ran north-south, some ran east-west. The Colorado Atlas showed different roads from the Ultimate Campground app on our iPhones.

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We headed vaguely in the correct direction and finally found the Pawnee Buttes and a dispersed campground. We were set! Only the cloudy sky was a little dull. But we ate an early dinner and set off on a 4-to-6-mile hike to the two Buttes at 5:30. We were hoping to catch that last glimmer of light right before sunset at 8:05 p.m.

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We experienced a little bit of sun as we left on our walk, but soon enough, it clouded up. At least we didn’t see lightning or hear thunder, as the prairie doesn’t have much cover in a thunderstorm.

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It was a nice walk but certainly nothing spectacular. We took a few images, met a nice couple who were familiar with the area, and got back to the Rav around 8 p.m. Dave went out to the overlook; I headed back to the car and read the placard talking about how the BLM works closely with the energy mavens in Colorado to spike a nice balance been raping the land and letting the peons wander about on it. In the distance, 4 or 5 flares of small oil rigs were burning in the dim light.

We went home and ate some gorp (for you young people: raisins, peanuts and M&M’s) and drank a sip of Glenlivet 15-year-old single malt Scotch. Oh yeah! It began to sprinkle during the evening and continued on and off as we dozed through the night. Morning didn’t bring much improvement. It looked like it was going to be a very gray day. We decided to head towards South Dakota and see how far we got. We drove separately to reduce the amount of bumping and yanking on the poor Rav on the gravel roads. That enabled us to stop more often to photograph the beautiful grasslands in the soft light.

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We hooked back up about 15 miles away when we hit pavement again. We started driving north and as we went 250 miles, we consulted with the weather app (rain, a 28-degree evening on Wednesday and possible snow in the Black Hills of South Dakota), the Ultimate Campground app (various cheap places to stay in the hills around Hot Springs, SD), the Good Sam Campground Guide (a KOA near Hot Springs). This is all in the middle of nowhere with only one or two bars on the iPhones. It sure makes life easier. We finally decided to stay at a KOA. It was a quite a bit outside Custer State Park, where we originally wanted to camp, but if the weather got really cold we had non-stop electrical heating.

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We ran a few more errands on Saturday. We picked up my free birthday mocha latte at Starbucks and went to view a couple of potential campgrounds for future trips. We finally found where you can camp at the La Plata Fairgrounds in Durango. They only have 110 voltage and the spaces are in a parking lot, so not much use to us except for pure dry camping. I got a good haircut in town and we checked City Market to see if they carry Dare chocolate cookies. We’ve been out of luck for them so far this trip. Another chore was to fill up our depleted wine rack. I went to a small liquor store (they don’t sell liquor except for beer in supermarkets in Colorado), perused the shelves and suffered sticker shock as I do in every state outside of California. I struck up a conversation with the lady in front of me and I heard her ask for a senior discount. At this store, at least, they will discount seniors on wine. They won’t ask you if you qualify; you have to ask them. I keep forgetting to ask stores if I can have a senior discount, but it’s worth doing. We happily drove home with all our discounted wine. On Mother’s Day we took off and headed east to Walsenburg, Colorado. We planned to overnight there and then go Colorado Springs for a few days before going to Denver for Stephanie and Eric’s wedding at the Denver Zoo. Dave drove over the two mountain passes on CO-160, Wolf Creek Pass at 10,550 feet and La Veta Pass at 9,400 feet. Wolf Creek had fresh snow but the roadbed itself was clear, so it was not difficult. 340MG8256WolfCreekPass Lathrop State Park had nice Martin Lake and a quiet campground. Pleasant but nothing spectacular. We ate dinner and watched what I thought was going to be the last episode of Mad Men. Nope, still one more. I noticed some noise on the back vent and when I peeked outside it was snowing. The next morning, we woke up to about 2 inches of snow. We hopped out to photograph and I found a trail down to the lake. Wow!!!! A mountain was peeking out from above the fog. Wait!! Two mountaintops were coming out. The fog dissipated, then returned. The sun shone, then disappeared. The mountains came out, then retreated. It was magical. 347MG8308LathropSP 348MG8314LathropSP 349MG8306LathropSP 351MG8319-23PanoLathropSP 352MG8340LathropSP 353MG8348LathropSP 355MG8355LathropSP 356MG8361LathropSP 357MG8373LathropSP 358MG8381LathropSP   359MG8387LathropSP 360MG8389LathropSP 361MG8392LathropSP We eventually returned to the Lazy Daze for warmth and coffee and reviewed the photographs. It is so gratifying to be able to look at your images right after you’ve made them. 362MG8398LathropSP We eventually pulled it together and drove the 100 miles to Colorado Springs. We selected the Goldfield RV Park, closer to Highway 24 and the hike locations we might do. It’s about $38 per night, very crowded and noisy, but convenient. On Tuesday, we got up, ate breakfast and got out to do a hike up part of Pike’s Peak. It went as far as Catamount Lake through the Valley of Eden. We took off about 9 a.m. and realized about 10 a.m. that as it continued up it’s 1400-foot elevation gain, it would get snowier and snowier. So we turned around and trudged back down. Too bad. I wasn’t feeling great anyway, with a persistent headache that Ibuprofen didn’t budge. So we came back to the rig and lounged around. I made a good beef stroganoff with a couple of nice tenderloins for dinner. 363MG8407CatamountTrail   Thunderstorms were threatened for Wednesday, but we decided to go 40 miles east to Painted Mines, a county park in grasslands country. It’s amazing how the landscape flattens out once your east of I-25. Half of Colorado is flat prairie and farmland and ranches. We got out there about 9:30 and the “unrelenting prairie winds” were going strong. There was also a heavy drizzle or light rain that made shooting a pain-in-the-lens. Oh well, we tramped up a long path and descended into some nice but not spectacular colored mud hills. 365MG8414PaintedMines 366MG8454PaintedMines As we continued, the formations got more and more colorful and interesting. There were many short canyons and I’d tramp up almost every one of them, looking for attractive colors or forms. The wind wasn’t so bad there and it was fun, except for the drizzle. Each little canyonette had a little wash and they were getting mucky with all the moisture. We ate lunch under an overhang that I hoped wouldn’t fall down on us. Many of the hoodoos had lost their “doos”, that is, their caprock tops had fallen off and either crumbled or lay as a large boulder. 375MG8489PaintedMines 377MG8512PaintedMines We walked back to the car, read for a while, hoping the weather would improve which it did: it stopped raining and the wind died down to about 15 mph. We drove up to the Painted Mines Overlook and got a great view of the badlands. What an amazing place! I’m so glad I discovered it. 379MG8516PaintedMines 381MG8523PaintedMines 383MG8526PaintedMines 385MG8524PaintedMines 386MG8531PaintedMines 387MG8541PaintedMines 388MG8552PaintedMines 389MG8551PaintedMines That morning it was Dave who remembered that it was our 26th anniversary. I’m not looking at calendars as much on the road and I forget some things I’d remember at home. So we celebrated by ordering a pizza delivered (so we didn’t have to go out in the rain) and toasted each other with a bottle of our Tobin James’ Sangiovese.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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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On Tuesday, we drove up Moki Dugway. It rises from Valley of the Gods up to Cedar Mesa, somewhere from 600 to1,000 feet. The views are dramatic, but we made no images as I was lead car in the Rav with Dave following in the Lazy Daze. The gravel road is actually pretty wide except for the hairpin blind curves where you can’t see what’s coming. Nobody wants to have to back up on Moki.

We got to Cedar Mesa and drove across it for 20 miles to Kane Gulch Ranger Station. They gave us information about some day hikes that the Rav and us can handle and told us we could dry camp at “the gravel pit”. The gravel pit turned out to be right at the intersection of Highways 261 and 95 and right next to a cowcatcher that is noisy when vehicles go over it. Depressing, but convenient to our hikes.

After a little confusion, we found the road to South Mule Canyon and started a nice hike to find the “House on Fire”, an Anasazi ruin that looks like it’s blazing when the low sun reflects off the rock overhang. We met Randy and Crystal there, who were very into photography and Crystal lent me her wide angle lens. That made a dramatic difference from my lens. We kept the hike down to 3-4 miles as we were going on a long one the next day.

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Randy and Crystal also told us about the dispersed camping on a side road off Highway 275, the road going into Natural Bridges National Monument. We checked it out with the Rav and quickly decided to move. There are several primitive campsites carved into trees and we squeezed into one about 300 yards from Highway 275. Much nicer! We celebrated with Cuba Libres and potato chips.

Wednesday was the day of our long hike -10 miles. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve done one that long (intentionally). The trail goes 4 miles through Kane Gulch before it reaches the Grand Gulch Wilderness Study Area. Then there are a couple of ruins and an arch in the next mile. We took 3 quarts of water, more than we usually take. It was mostly gone by the time we returned, eight hours later.

We thought the first 4 miles would be boring, trekking across sagebrush mesa country but after half a mile or so, we found a narrow tunnel, one side black rock and the other with incredible patterns on it. After that, great walls with overhangs and bare aspens. We made a turn and began a gradual descent into Kane Gulch. A little bit of flowing water added interest to the scene as we climbed up and over the canyon sides or crossed the wet or dry creek. It was quite warm in the sun but wonderfully cool in the shade.

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We met a nice couple from Ojai, California and they proved helpful to us, walking much faster than we did and finding the ruins that are tucked away in side canyons. Junction Ruins were okay but not anything spectacular.

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We tried to find the next ruin, Turkey Pen, and went up a side canyon that wasn’t it. I was tired and preparing for a 4.5-mile return hike, so I chose to sit in a shady cool spot while Dave looked for Turkey Pen. It turned out to be another 5 minutes up the trail, but I got a nice half hour rest while Dave got some great pix of Turkey Pen. Check out his blog for pictures of…yes, a turkey pen and some great unreconstructed ruins.

Then it was trudge, trudge, trudge. After 4.5 miles, another 4.5 miles is a long way. And it was hot. But we had a lot of water and took many sit-downs in the shade. We also had Ibuprofen that helped our aching backs. We finally got back to the car at 5 p.m. and drove the 2.5 miles back to camp.

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We turned on the hot water heater – showers! While waiting, it was beautiful under the trees, gazing at the Abajo Mountains, sipping on the last of the ice cold, gasp-inducing Lemoncello. Once again, thank you Mary and Rick and Jeff and Betty. We had a group of adolescent girls camping next to us but they were fine, practicing a camp song and chatting.

Thursday was a down day, enabling us to catch up on the blogs and our books. Phone reception out here isn’t great so Facebook isn’t a temptation. Dave had asked our friend, Rick, to check our mail, looking for a check from Cordelia RV that would pay for all the expenses incurred from tire damage. He reported that he found no check in the mail. But he did find jury notices for both us. Rats!! I hope we haven’t already passed the report date. It’s pretty easy to change the report date to a time when we are back home but we haven’t had to do it if the report date has already passed. Something else to do when we get home.

We did take a drive into Natural Bridges National Monument since we were camped 4 miles away. It was a hot afternoon and it wore us out just walking to the overlooks. (Hey, some of them are long!) The cloudy weather set off some of the bridges nicely. We reminisced (argued) about which trails we took on past visits. We drank our coffee and ate our cookies. That was enough activity for that day.

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On May Day, we went to town, Blanding, Utah that is. We got an okay full hookup for $38 per night. Our scenic back window looked out on a berm protecting us from US-191. Actually, the noise wasn’t that bad, but it certainly wasn’t an idyllic site. We decided to stay 2 nights because we were going to the Needles section of Canyonlands and Saturday wasn’t the best day to go looking for a campsite there.

On Saturday, I called Jan Curley and arranged to meet at Lockhart Basin, a dispersed campsite outside of Needles. Janet lives in La Sal, a small town on the south flank of the La Sal Mountains. We wanted to do something but still felt lethargic – the aftermath of our hiking extravaganzas. We lumped ourselves into the Rav to explore some areas in the Abajo Mountains we hadn’t had time for on earlier trips. It was a nice day, warm enough for air conditioning in the car. Butler Wash Ruins had a pretty short trip to the overlook but it was uphill on glaring white rock most of the way up and it was hot. There were a couple of benches in the shade on the trail that we gratefully utilized.

Butler Wash Ruins is a large installation with structures in three different alcoves that I could discern. Unfortunately, we were about half a mile away at the overlook, but that’s what long lenses are for. After satisfying ourselves, we traipsed back to our blessed, air-conditioned vehicle and bagged it for the day.

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The drive up to Canyon de Chelly was very pleasant after we got off of I-40. The highway was nicely maintained and wound through desert shrub country. We showed up at Cottonwood Campground around 3 p.m. and reunited with Don and Dorothy Malpas, proud owners of Koko, their Lazy Daze, and Pelli, their Jeep. We’ve met them a few times in past five years or so and it’s always fun to spend time with them. It was our first happy hour with company on this trip and it was nice enough to sit outside. DDMD1 Cottonwood Campground was pretty, with the cottonwood trees leafing out. But other than no garbage being strewn about, it hasn’t changed much from when we were here in 2001. Although a sign says no vendors allowed, we got a knock on the door most nights. One was Marc Begay Sr. selling pieces of sandstone that he had painted. It was very nice work. Two nights later, his young daughters showed up selling more of his work. If his family shows up when you visit, it is worth checking out his artwork. Dorothy answered a knock on her door and it was a man asking for food. The other thing that hasn’t changed is the town dogs who amble through the campground, looking sad. After happy hour with Dorothy and Don, we ate dinner by ourselves, then they brought over some “Heavenly Hash”, a Dorothy dessert made with Cool Whip, pineapple, maraschino cherries (Yes!!) and other ingredients I’ve forgotten. The next day, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center to get a birthday card for Dave’s Mom. While there, we heard a couple ask a Navajo to take their picture and asked him what the Navajo word for “cheese” was. His straight-faced reply? “Cheese”. We went on a drive along the South Rim of Canyon de Chelly. There are quite a few overlooks along the rim. It is always neat to see the farms 600 feet below. The White House Overlook is great, but the ruins are only a small spot even with a long lens. 165MG7260CynDeChelly 166MG7272CynDeChelly 167MG7274CynDeChelly 169MG7293CynDeChelly   170MG7289CynDeChelly Another big draw is Spider Rock, an 800-foot sandstone spire that soars up from below. 172MG7299CynDeChelly We had another happy hour with Don and Dorothy and after dinner, went over to their rig for a while. Canyon de Chelly is their last stop before the trek home to Alabama. They’ll have a lot of driving in the upcoming days. Because Navajos live down in the canyon, there is only one hike visitors can take into the canyon, the White House Trail. The trail is only 3 miles long but the first and last mile is a 600-foot change in elevation. Because late light shines best on White House, we left around 2:30 and began the hike around 3:30. The trail switchbacks down and there are great views. 175MG7331WhiteHouseTrail 176MG7329WhiteHouseTrail 179MG7344WhiteHouseTrail 181MG7350WhiteHouseTrail White House is not visible until you cross the Chinle Wash and then, all of a sudden, it is there, nestled in and against a 600-foot cliff. We were surprised to see a 5.5-foot-high cyclone fence about 60 feet from the cliff, making it difficult to photograph the ruins on the ground. I know the ruins need protection, but they could do it in such a way that photographers can get a decent view. 183MG7402WhiteHouseTrail 185MG7376-82Pano   186MG7447WhiteHouseTrail 188MG7433WhiteHouseTrail While trying to get shots over the fence, I got into a position that made the ruin look like a belly button sunk into a very big cliff belly. 189MG7426WhiteHouseTrail We did the best we could and I started back about 30 minutes before Dave. By this time it was around 5:30 pm. What was interesting was that Navajos, in twos and threes were walking down the trail. I guess a lot of them live in the canyon, although we didn’t see a lot of dwellings from the rim. As I trudged up the cliff, a teenage runner passed me going down and then stopped to catch her breath on the way back up. I asked what her time was and she said she could get down the trail in ten minutes and thirty minutes was her best time going up the 600-foot mile. She told me that when she reached the top, she would walk back down to the canyon; I guess she also lived there. It was a great hike. 192MG7470WhiteHouseTrail 194MG7475WhiteHouseTrailDave After dumping at Canyon de Chelly, we had a pleasant drive west across Navajo country to Kayenta on the way to Monument Valley. 196MG7477TheBlackTank 200MG7499ChurchRockKayenta From there it was a short jaunt up to Monument Valley. We dry camped at Gouldings for $22 per night, with an added $8 to dump and take on water. But that was reasonable compared to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park campground. Dry camping for RVs was $50 per night. That was for a few sites that at least look over the Valley. The rest just got to park close to each other with no amenities other than a restroom. The camp fee doesn’t even cover the entrance fee. Yikes! I don’t think we’ll ever camp there again. 201MG7502MonumentValley We didn’t go out Friday night to do the 17-mile drive through the valley. Instead we got up early on Saturday and headed out into a very chilly, cloudy landscape. Even without changeable light, images can still look saturated and interesting. We were going to go out again that evening, but the weather got completely overcast and windy, so we decided to hole up, stay an extra day and try Sunday afternoon. 202MG7509MonumentValley 203MG7510MonumentValley 207MG7528MonumentValley 205MG7525MonumentValley 204MG7521MonumentValley Gouldings has a few short hikes, so on Sunday we went looking for Hidden Arch. We almost didn’t find it but I saw another faint trail and BOOM! there it was. 208iPad0114HiddenArch 209iPad0116HiddenArch It was breezy when we left at 2:30 for Monument Valley. We stopped at the entrance of the Park to record an image of the bronze Navajo Family ensconced there. It was funny to me – Navajo’s don’t really like tourists taking their picture so they built a fake family for people to photograph. 210MG7534MonumentValleyDave The afternoon light was good, with lots of clouds, near and far. The downside was the wind, very blustery, blowing sand all over. We took our time, stopping here and there, waiting for the light to change. 212MG7577MonumentValley 216MG7612MonumentValley 214MG7605MonumentValley 213MG7586MonumentValley We finished up at 6:45 and drove home. We found our front vent cover sitting on the ground near the rig. We had made the mistake of leaving it open a little, and a strong gust of wind got under it and ripped it off. It’s the first time in 10 years we’ve lost a vent cover. Dave duct taped the cover back on and we proceeded to BTA sandwiches (avocados instead of lettuce (Hey, it’s green) with cheese sauce and a nice bottle of chardonnay. And then, Orphan Black and Mad Men. Two more episodes and it’ll be over. I have a hunch as to what will happen to Don, but I’ll keep it to myself. Dave drove back to Kayenta on Monday morning for some stuff to fix the vent cover. Then we proceeded about 30 miles north to Goosenecks State Park, It is the San Juan River that provides the gooseneck turn and that’s about the only thing to look at in this remote park. The San Juan is pretty low right now but still has lots of rafters on it. 218MG7702Goosenecks With some dark clouds hanging over Cedar Mesa, we ventured out to traverse Valley of the Gods. It’s a very fitting name for this area, with erosions of all types and sizes. As in other spring trips, some nice wildflowers were blooming here. But the real focus of the place to me is the sky. It was exceptional this time, raining up on the Mesa with just a few little sprinkles down where we were. Which was lucky, because the dirt road turns into a gluey mess when it’s wet. 220MG7623ValleyOfTheGods 221MG7644ValleyOfTheGods   223MG7655ValleyOfTheGods   224MG7668ValleyOfTheGods   226MG7687ValleyOfTheGods   227MG7697ValleyOfTheGods 228MG7692ValleyOfTheGods 229MG7709Goosenecks

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