Chillin’ at Altitude

Duchesne County, UT – July, 2017 Choosing a destination, or even a direction, can be difficult when you have too many options. We hadn’t made any solid plans for the month of July past visiting the North Rim and Bryce Canyon. We finally made up our mind where to go and we headed north.

We first stopped in Richfield, Utah along I-70 because we needed a few things. We stayed at the only campground in town, a KOA, for which we paid almost $50 per night. Other than plenty of retail options there was nothing special about the town of Richfield. It was a flat space between barren hills.

After getting the things we needed we were anxious to move on. We had plenty of time so there was no reason to make any long or multiday drives. Even though our next destination was only 150 miles away I found a campground halfway there and booked it for 2 nights.

Huntington State Park was a man-made oasis in the desert. It was surrounded by fields that, when irrigated, appeared to produce crops to feed livestock. Further away were some brown mountains. The lake appeared clean and the locals certainly enjoyed its waters.

We had a site that backed up to the lake, sorta. The water level was way down so the shore was some distance away. It was a nice site though with a good view and reasonably priced at $25 for water and electric.

My favorite thing about this park was the 3 mile walking path all the way around it. It was relatively cool if you hit the trail early enough in the morning. The only downside was that sometimes you would get a whiff of a truly awful smell. Jim said it was the fertilizer they were spraying on their fields. It was good motivation to pick up the pace through those sections. Other than that it made for a very pleasant walk each morning with bees buzzing, bunnies hopping across the path, and fish jumping in the lake.

We weren’t at all sorry to leave as we were really excited to get to our next stop. Avintaquin Campground in the Ashley National Forrest is at 9,000 foot elevation which sounded like heaven. So even though there was limited information available about it, we took a chance and booked 3 nights. At $5 per night it would help offset some of our more costly campsites as well. It had absolutely no services; no electricity, no dump, no water.

We obviously expected a climb to get there and had no concerns about our 1 ton truck being able to handle the roads. We got stuck behind a semi with tandem trailers that was crawling up the mountain between 8 and 12 miles per hour for the entire four mile section of 8% grade. We then pulled onto the road to the campground which the few reviews we found said was a good road and discovered it was the real challenge. It had somehow escaped me that it was a whole mile of gravel to the camp.

It was barely more than a one lane road with hardly any place to pull off if you were unfortunate enough to meet someone. We also still had several hundred feet to climb and most of that took place on one short hill. It was the only hill Jim has ever seriously worried about this truck pulling the camper up. He had to switch to low 4 wheel-drive, all the time praying no one topped the hill in front of him.

We made it though and gratefully pulled into the campground and found a place to pull over. Jim let the truck cool down, and did a little chilling himself. And I walked the loop our site was located on and made sure it was safe to drive.

I wasn’t crazy about how tight the loop road was but I was confident we could make it. Thankfully our site, #5, was at an angle that would make backing in pretty easy. It also turned out to be the levelest of the ones in that loop. Here we are all snug in our site.

I don’t think Jim will agree to come back again but our 3 day stay has been wonderful. There is one site not too far behind us but thankfully noone has used it during our stay. There is a barbed wire fence about 40 feet from our front door and I will admit the neighbors on that side do sometimes look at us a little weird.

Storm clouds formed each afternoon. Twice they circled all around and we only got a sprinkle. But one afternoon the thunder was calamitous and the clouds were pretty ominous looking.

It rained for a good while and we even got some pea sized hail. In general the weather was awesome though, with highs in the mid 70’s and lows around 50.

The same road we drove to the campground on continues past the camp for 13 miles. It is called Reservation Ridge Road and it is a scenic backway. There are plenty of boondocking sites along the way. If we did return here we would likely choose one of them rather than stay in the campground.

We decided to follow this road on a Friday morning and see what there was to see. There were lots of views of the surrounding mountains but most of those views were only visible through a stand of pines. Rarely did we get an unobstructed view like this one of a valley and mountains to the north.

We finally found an overlook to the South. The spot of blue smack dab in the middle is a little mountain lake.

Since the road was curvy and just one lane we were grateful we didn’t meet another vehicle. We did have to put up with some local traffic. Like this guy who wasn’t taking any bull. He refused to move for a minute but finally yielded the right of way.

The entire trip was between 9,000 foot elevation and just under 10,000. I loved the wildflowers in every color.

The only part of the trip I didn’t enjoy was at the very end of the road where it made a long decent while clinging to the side of a very tall hill. The scenic backway then ended abruptly in the middle of nowhere. We planned to take a different forest road back to a highway and return by way of the blacktop.

We turned down that road and were confronted with barely a tunnel through the trees and a mud pit the length of a football field. Nope, it was back the way we’d come. I didn’t mind at all except for having to climb up the side of that hill. Here was my view straight down the hill from the passenger seat.

I know it doesn’t look that bad but as we climbed higher those aspens got farther and farther away. We had an uneventful trip back and enjoyed seeing the views in reverse. We saw pheasants on the way in and again on the way back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pheasant in the wild before.

I had hoped we’d see an elk or, better yet, a bear, both of which are supposed to be common in the area. We probably saw a thousand chipmunks. They were constantly zipping across the road in front of us.

The next day we drove down from the mountain to the town of Price. We got a few groceries, filled the truck’s tank, and picked up lunch. We then chose a spot on the map we thought would be good for a picnic.

We drove 3 miles of road that wasn’t much better than the scenic backway from the day before except it was paved and they had widened the road on the corners so that it was almost 2 lanes. That was good because there were alot of corners. It was just one switchback after another.

At the end was a parking lot with a few picnic tables overlooking Price Canyon. We had the place to ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch with a view.

On Sunday morning we reluctantly came down off our cool mountain and faced the heat of summer again.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce, Utah – July, 2017 I was beyond excited to finally see Bryce Canyon. When we came this way in early May of 2015 it was still too cold to visit. This national park sits at close to 8000 foot elevation.

The weather forecasts at that time of year were not at all appealing. We weren’t interested in freezing our butts off! Now that we were planning a visit in July, that elevation was very welcome.

We could not get a reservation inside the national park so we chose a private campground about 20 miles from the park’s entrance. Red Canyon RV Park was a good jumping off point. Our full hookup pull thru was around $40 per night.

We arrived and got set up before lunch as is our M.O. After a quick bite we were ready to get a look around and do some hiking. We didn’t want to drive to the national park that afternoon.

We were in luck. We only had to head east a few miles to reach the Dixie National Forest and the scenery changed dramatically. We were soon engulfed in vivid red cliffs.

We stopped at the National Forest visitor center and picked up a hiking guide. Several hikes left from their parking lot so off we went. There were many intersecting trails so we weren’t sure what trail we were on all the time. Around every corner was a new view.

We were having so much fun we had wandered a few miles before we hardly realized it. We found these cool caves toward the end of the hike. We were too pooped to try to get up to them by that time although we really wanted to explore them.

Thankfully we only had to find a path down to the road and there was a bike path on the other side that easily got us back to our truck. Here is a view from across the road of the area we climbed around.

The next morning we jumped up bright and early and headed to Bryce Canyon. We drove to the visitor center, checked it out, and got a map. Then we waited out front for their shuttle.

Bryce has a shuttle that continuously makes the rounds of all the popular spots in the northern portion of the park. We love being able to hop on and off a shuttle at will. And it makes it so easy to hike between stops and not have to hoof it back the way you came.

The shuttle is optional in this park. You can drive everywhere if you want. But we usually choose a shuttle when available. Why hassle with traffic and parking when someone else is willing to do that for you?

This morning our plan was to ride to the end of the shuttle line, Bryce Point, and then hike the Rim Trail back to Inspiration Point. From there we could choose to hike further along the rim or ride a bus to each of the next viewing points. Here is our first good view of the canyon from Bryce Point.

And further along the trail, a look back at Bryce Point from the other side of the canyon.

In no time we put a couple miles behind us and reached Inspiration Point.

We then chose to ride the shuttle to the other easily accessible viewpoints.

The next day we took a guided tour of the southern two thirds of the park which is not serviced by the shuttle. The park service offers free tours each morning and afternoon. We reserved a spot on the 9:30 am tour. The bus can pick you up from any of several points in the park; the campground, the visitor center, the lodge. We chose to board at the bus terminal.

For this tour you stay with the same bus, driver, and group of passengers for its entire length. The tour is about 3 hours. You are driven to the southernmost viewpoint in the park, Yovimpa Point. Then the tour stops at each of the viewpoints along the way back.

I didn’t think the views were as spectacular as the ones in the northern part of the park. But they are still pretty awesome.

My favorite stop of the tour was Natural Bridge.

The tour was fun and better than driving the whole route ourselves. Our driver had lived in the area for something like 30 years and had worked for the park for more than 10. He was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining.

The next day we headed to Utah’s Kodachrome State Park which is about 20 miles southeast of Bryce.

We hiked the Grand Parade Trail before 9 am. This trail included a couple of box canyons which were fun to explore. It was challenging to photograph them at that time of day. But it made for a comfortable hike.

We then got back on Scenic Byway 12 and continued east through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It was an incredible drive with plenty of oohing and aahing, and head turning (on my part, Jim had to keep his eyes on the road). There were unfortunately hardly any places to stop and take it in. One of the only scenic pullouts afforded you this incredible view.

The pink cliff at the top is called Powell Point and the area below it is dubbed the badlands. According to the placard this was the “last uncharted territory in the continental US”. By 1879 Powell’s men had filled in the blanks.

We continued on to the town of Escalante and visited the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center there. We wanted to take a back way home and they gave us a Forest Service map and assured us that our truck could easily manage the route. Turns out almost any vehicle could drive the well maintained but gravel FH 17. It took us up and over a mountain for some spectacular views. Do you see the rain coming down on the left side of this picture?

We then headed down the other side of said mountain to the ghost town of Widtsoe. There are only a couple old buildings standing and there are some newer residences in the area.

The way the light played inside the building was really cool.

We then visited their old cemetery which was pretty interesting.

By then that storm was catching up to us so we headed the truck toward home.

Our last morning we again hiked in the national forest. Arches trail was only 2 miles from our campground.

Depending on whose description of the trail you were reading, there were one to two dozen arches that could be seen from the trail. This is probably because unless you inspected them closely it was not always clear what was a true arch.

It was also not entirely clear where the trail was much of the time. Nevertheless, it was fun trying to spot as many as you could while scrambling up and down the hill and around the various hoodoos and formations. And it was an enjoyable hike that was easy to complete before we got on the road to our next destination.

Cuteness Overload

July, 2017 – Kanab, UT While researching RV sites in the southwest corner of Utah I came across a very unique place that I just had to visit. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is a no kill rescue facility. It turned out they only had two RV sites and both were booked weeks in advance but my interest was piqued and I was determined to spend some time at this special place.

Best Friends started this sanctuary in 1984 on more than 3,000 acres outside Kanab where they have created a home for over 1,600 animals. They shelter not just dogs and cats but horses, pigs, goats, birds, bunnies, and more. Their primary goal is to find forever homes for as many animals as possible.

Their ultimate goal is to make the USA a no-kill nation by 2025. That seems a bit unrealistic until you consider that our tour guide claimed that when Best Friends was first organized there were almost 20 million animals being euthanized in shelters each year. He said that number has been reduced tenfold to less than 2 million per year currently.

Their website is sorta vague and suggests you can stop by any day between 8 and 5 for a tour of their facility. I stopped at their visitor center in Kanab for info where I was informed it is best to schedule tours in advance. I was able to schedule a general tour of the facility for the next morning.

We arrived at their lovely welcome center on Monday morning. The tour was scheduled for 8:30.

At about that time we were ushered into a room and shown a 20 minute film. We then boarded an almost new van with our tour guide and about 10 other guests. We were driven all over the grounds explaining what almost every building was for. I did expect to get to interact with more animals but this general tour only had two stops.

The first was at Dog Town. The facility houses several hundred dogs and they are spread out over the grounds. There are buildings just for puppies, others just for old dogs, and facilities to meet the needs of every dog in between.

We stopped at a small hexagon shaped building that may have sheltered 20 dogs. The dogs each had indoor and outdoor space available to them.

We were ushered inside where the dogs were being provided positive reinforcement to not bark. The quiet dogs were given treats and we were instructed to ignore any dogs that were barking. Considering there were a dozen strangers in their midst I thought they were all very well behaved.

We were then taken outside where we got to interact with one dog. This fellow was a cutie and really enjoyed the undivided attention of all the guests.

You have to volunteer to be allowed to walk a dog but almost anyone can volunteer for as little as 3 hours, even children as young as 10. Since it was early and not extremely hot, there were many volunteers walking dogs in the area.

This facility does not just house dogs. They train them and treat any medical conditions they have and do their best to make them adoptable. It was inspiring.

We loaded back into the van and headed for cat world. They were almost at capacity with over 600 cats.

We passed a building devoted to cats with AIDS (FIV) and another for those with feline leukemia. I was not even aware of these conditions in cats. Apparently neither condition makes a cat unadoptable and neither are transmittable to any other animal or person except felines. They just have to be in a home where they are the only cat or with other cats with the same condition.

We finally stopped at a building called The Colonel’s Barracks. It was named for a cat that was court ordered to live out its life at the refuge because of a bad habit of killing chickens.

The cats could freely walk between an indoor room and an outdoor area of roughly the same size. There were lots of structures for them to climb and plenty of places to take a nap.

It’s hard to say how many cats were there because they were moving in and out of each area and curled up in nooks and crannies sleeping. Jim thought there were less than 10 cats in the area we visited while I thought there were more than 20. I guess we were too busy playing with them to count.

We were allowed to interact with the cats for quite a while until the guide apologized for having to drag us away.

They have focused tours of certain areas like Horse Haven, Pig Paradise, and the Parrot Garden. You need to schedule these separately and they do not take place every day of the week.

If you want to stay at the sanctuary they have cabins for rent in addition to the two RV sites. Be sure and schedule them well in advance. I believe the RV sites are full hookups and $50 per night. We drove by them on our way out.

Like much of the sanctuary you will have a stunning view from your site.

Another awesome option is their sleepover program. You can borrow a pet for a day or two and take them to your rental cabin, home, RV, or one of the many hotels in the area that participate in the program.

The sanctuary is located in Angel Canyon just a few miles outside the town of Kanab. The main road through it is a public road that anyone can drive on. The views throughout the drive are magnificent.

There is a mile and a half hike from the road to a hidden lake, apparently a pond in a cave. We meant to go back and do the hike and take more pictures but just ran out of time. Even if you don’t take any tours I’m sure the folks at the welcome center would be happy to tell you how to find the trailhead and point out other places you can visit on your own while in the canyon, like the pet cemetery.

They have a couple of very reasonably priced dining options if you happen to be there at lunchtime, one of which comes with an outstanding view of the canyon. If I had it to do over again, I would schedule a specialty tour and the general tour on the same day and enjoy lunch on the grounds in between.

If you are ever in the Kanab area I highly recommend a visit, or several, to this exceptional place. You can’t beat the outstanding scenery, friendly people, and cuddly creatures.

Kanab

Kanab, UT – July, 2017 We headed next to Kanab, Utah, just over the Arizona border. It was meant to be a stop on the way to the next place we wanted to be. But we ended up enjoying the layover very much.

We had driven straight through Kanab without stopping our first year out. We were on our way from visiting Zion to seeing Lake Powell. I recently read a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Ingrid at Live Laugh RV, about tent camping in a state park near Kanab called Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. I thought “we were right there, how’d we miss that?”

So bright and early our first morning in the area we drove over to check it out. The park seems specifically designed to appeal to those with ATV’s (all terrain vehicles) or as they are often referred to in these parts OHV’s (off highway vehicles). The campground loop was pretty tight and I wouldn’t want to try to get my 5th wheel through it.

The sand really was a very nice shade of coral.

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We were most intrigued with trying to guess which animals the many footprints in the sand belonged to.

There was basically just the one viewing platform in the park. From there you could hike off across the sand if you wanted. We didn’t relish starting our day with sand in our shoes so we passed and left the park.

The views from the road just outside the park’s gates were so enticing that we stopped at the first pullout. From there you had no option but to climb a pink mountain if you wanted a better look. We decided to go for it and shake out our shoes later.

When we tackled the mountain we found that the sand had a wonderful powdered sugar quality to it. It was amazingly soft and for some reason not prone to getting in your shoes. You didn’t sink into it as much as expected and it didn’t fly around as much as normal sand.

At the second pullout after we left the park was a very large parking area. It appeared boondocking (free camping, dispersed camping, etc.) was allowed. It was too hot to consider this option in July but if we returned during the spring or fall we would absolutely consider camping there and exploring the fluffy, pink mounds some more.

You could easily stop at either of these pullouts to explore the sands and avoid the $8 per day state park fee. But we don’t begrudge the state a reasonable fee for protecting such an awesome area. We enjoyed meeting the work camper that collected that fee and talked to her about her and her husband’s life as hosts and full-time RVers.

Since arriving in Kanab, we had seen several of the same type of snake dead on the road. While in the state park we finally saw one alive, thankfully from the safety of our truck. He was crossing a parking lot.

He was quite lively so we didn’t really get close enough to tell if he was poisonous. We didn’t think he was. Even so it reminded us to stay on trails where we could see that there was a clear path in front of us.

Kanab was a very nice town with an outstanding visitor center, two small but excellent grocery stores, and a pleasant vibe. We inquired about hiking trails and were directed to a hike around the hill that dominated the skyline to the east of the town. The hill proudly displayed the town’s initial K on it. We stayed on the path but this entire family chose to scramble up the hill and onto said K.

The hill provided welcome shade at the beginning and the end of the hike.

And the path afforded excellent views of the town and the surrounding red cliffs.

Highway 89 through Kanab was the main thoroughfare we drove each day while exploring the area. It is a scenic highway and the views all along it are incredible. There is no reason to explore beyond the highway when it affords you views like these.

And this cool pond we passed every day. Apparently there used to be a campground here but it was bankrupt by a snail. According to our RoadsideAmerica app there was an endangered snail in this pond and the powers that be gave them so much trouble they had to shut the campground down.

I kept seeing the same striking blue bird in the area but never could catch a pic of it. I finally saw one that stayed still long enough for a photo op.

Jim was taken by this beautiful bloom. It had such detail for a small flower. It wasn’t much bigger than an inch in size.

I chose a campground 10 miles north of Kanab as the attractions in the area I was interested in were all just north of the town. The campground was called East Zion Riverside RV Park but it was part of the Thunderbird Lodge in Mt. Carmel. The rates were reasonable at $40 for full hookups but the perks were priceless.

They had a nice pool and a hot tub that were available 24 hours a day. We only made it to the pool one afternoon. But we were in the hot tub by 7 every morning of our stay and had it all to ourselves while the rest of the guests slept.

There is one day of our stay in Kanab that deserves it’s very own blog. I’ll get that post up within a few days!

North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 2

North Rim, Arizona – July, 2017 Once we set our sights on returning to the North Rim this year, I started looking at camping options. They were basically booked through the end of the summer but I checked back every now and then to see if there were any cancellations and I finally saw a spot available for two days right after the July 4th holiday. It wasn’t in the national park campground but in the national forest campground just a few miles outside the park’s gate. We would have preferred a longer stay but I continued to check back and never saw another option.

We made good time getting across the country so when we got to our destination a whole day early we decided to boondock our first night. We had thoroughly researched the area through freecampsites.net, the Days End directory available from Escapees, and on Google maps. We had a couple promising locations scouted out.

Our first choice was my favorite because there was a large pullout at the intersection of the gravel road, Forest Road 257, and Highway 89A. We pulled over and walked what turned out to be two roads leading into the woods. There were plenty of options and we chose a lovely site that was far enough from the highway to significantly reduce road noise.

We never saw another camper and the only traffic on the road was a few forest service trucks going by. It was a little hot until the sun went down without electricity, and therefore AC, but we persevered. The only other downside to this campsite was the flies were occasionally thick.

We were eager to explore the area and see how it compared to the way we remembered it. We set off for the Jacob Lake Inn where we spent that fateful night during our first visit over 20 years ago. It was pretty much how we remembered it except the phone booth is now a closet.

We didn’t really plan to visit the rim that afternoon but we were so excited to finally see it that we made the 45 mile drive anyway. The parking areas were almost full in the early afternoon so we parked some distance from the rim. The lodge sure looked different than I remember, mostly it seemed bigger. But a sign out front confirmed the lodge hadn’t been significantly modified since the 1930’s. The only other difference was that we both clearly remember a large parking lot right next to the lodge and there are rental cabins built there now.

We hurried through the lodge and finally got our first look at the Grand Canyon from the North Rim.

We then walked down to the viewpoint below it for a good view of the canyon and an even better view of the lodge.

We followed the path under the lodge to more views. I was surprised to see an abundance of lizards. The winters must get awfully long for these cold blooded fellows.

It was HOT and very crowded so we happily called it a day and headed home to enjoy our private camp site.

The next morning we went for a hike in the national forest while we waited for it to be late enough to move to our reserved campsite. After the heat of the last week’s travels, the cool morning at 7900 feet elevation was welcome. The air smelled strongly of the fresh scent of pine and we had the trail to ourselves.

About a mile from the highway we saw a flock of turkey and a herd of deer grazing in the same area. We also saw several Kaibab Squirrel, a very unusual squirrel that only resides on this plateau. It is black with a white tail and fast. I never could catch one in my camera’s sight so I finally swiped a pic from the internet.

After lunch we moved to the Demotte campground which had no hookups and cost $20 per night. The weather was a little more pleasant over the next two days. It still got a bit warm in the afternoons but cooled down by dinnertime instead of by bedtime as it had our first night in the area.

We jumped up the next morning and made the 18 mile drive to the rim before 8 am. We wanted to explore it while it was still cool and before the crowds arrived. It was around 50 degrees when we left camp so I brought a couple layers. But as the sun rose higher it warmed up fast. I chose to start the hike with a light jacket and I shed that pretty quickly.

We headed out to the main lookout near the lodge, Bright Angel Point. It’s a quarter mile hike with some ups and downs but the view is fabulous. As we’d hoped there was only a trickle of people coming and going at that hour.

We then hiked the rim trail. The 2 mile hike was mostly through the woods and the shade was already a welcome relief at 9 in the morning. There was one good viewpoint along the trail that included a bench under the trees.

We hadn’t had a cell signal since entering the park the day before so when our phones started pinging in our pockets we pulled them out and checked all our media outlets, posted a photo or two, and made sure nobody was missing us. Throughout our visit we only got the occasional cell signal on the edge of the canyon. We often found people hanging out at a beautiful viewpoint and talking on the phone. They were usually talking to the office, poor suckers.

After our hike we headed home for lunch. Our plan was to take a scenic drive to another part of the park during the heat of the day. When the time came to leave I wasn’t sure I was up for a two hour adventure but I knew it was quite possible we’d never come back this way so I sucked it up and we hit the road.

It was a 23 mile drive to the end of the scenic Cape Royal Road. It was a curvy, narrow road and the speed limit was 30 but curve after curve often necessitated going much slower. There was only light traffic on the road and it was mostly a joy to drive.

We skipped several pulloffs and drove straight to the end of the road. I was primarily interested in seeing something called Angel’s Window. The trail from the parking lot to the viewpoints was less than a mile round trip. There were plenty of people around but it was nowhere near as congested as it was near the lodge in the afternoon.

The views were amazing!

Angel’s Window is in the middle of that bluff. You can see the Colorado River through it if you zoom in.

Further along the path were more stunning views. Of Vishnu Temple…

… and my favorite, Wotan’s Throne.

The views from Cape Royal were way more expansive than at the lodge which was basically the same view from several different vantage points. It was so worth the drive and I’m very glad we didn’t miss it. We thoroughly enjoyed our return to the North Rim and are glad we finally got to actually see it.

North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 1

North Rim, AZ – October, 1996 Our initial destination for this summer’s adventure was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We’d visited the north rim once before over 20 years before but we’d never SEEN it. Let me explain.

Jim and I took our first real vacation for our 5th wedding anniversary in October of 1996. Other than our honeymoon in Branson, Missouri and some road trips to visit family we had never really gotten away. So only five years after our nuptials my cousin graciously agreed to watch our youngest and we flew to Las Vegas for a 5 day weekend.

Jim and I had done very little traveling up to this point so to say we were green would be an understatement. We enjoyed what Las Vegas had to offer but we very much wanted to see the country and the Grand Canyon seemed like an attainable goal. I had been there once when I was too young to remember it well and Jim had never been.

The North Rim must have looked closer on the map because that is where we set our sights. We rented a car in Las Vegas, a white Mustang convertible, and we headed north east. We planned to make this a day trip.

On the way we drove through Zion National Park. Then we pointed the car toward the North Rim in Arizona. We knew little of altitude but we learned quickly when white stuff started falling on us as we ascended the Kaibab Plateau. It was time to put the convertible top up and look for some warmer clothing as we were dressed for the desert.

We stopped at the turnoff to the North Rim and bought sweatshirts at Jacob Lake Inn. We spoke to a park ranger who said that the road to the north rim was currently open but that snow was forecast all day and it could close at any time. We’d come too far to stop now!

Snow flurries continued to fall as we made the 45 mile drive from Jacob Lake to the North Rim. When we reached the rim all we found was the North Rim Lodge, all boarded up for the winter, and an expansive parking lot with only a few cars in it. We hurried to the rim for a view of the canyon but we were standing in snow laden clouds and we could barely see 5 feet in front of us.

We stood on the precipice of one of the world’s natural wonders but we couldn’t see it! We hurried from one viewpoint to the next with no luck. I was cold and returned to the car but Jim stayed on the edge furtively hoping the wind would blow away the mist and allow him one good view. The only view he got was when he brushed the snow off a sign like this one and it revealed what he would normally see from that viewpoint.

He finally gave up and returned to the car. We were the second to the last car to leave the parking lot that season. It was around 4 o’clock when we left and with the falling snow it was almost dark.

The snow began falling in earnest and before we knew it it was almost a foot deep. It was hard to tell the sides of the road from the meadows and we were getting anxious. Jim switched the headlights on and that’s when things took a turn for the worse.

There appeared to be an electrical problem with the Mustang. The headlights only worked intermittently and then not at all. The car began to lose power and eventually Jim had to pull over to what he supposed was the side of the rode.

We were woefully unprepared for the conditions. We were underdressed with no back up plan and white stuff in every direction. Thank goodness there was one car behind us.

Within a half hour a couple pulled up and offered us a ride. This may be politically incorrect but it would be remiss of me to not mention that they were a flamingly gay couple. Jim has come a long way since the 90’s but at the time he was seriously homophobic. So suffice it to say that we only got in the back seat of their car as a very last resort.

They kindly dropped us off at Jacob Lake Inn. Jim headed for the payphone (yes they still had those) to call the rental car company. I headed for registration to request a room.

Jim was told the rental company would send a tow truck from Las Vegas as soon as possible. I had less positive news. There were no rooms available and the lodge was closing within the hour. I was told that when the lodge closed we would be forced to wait outside the lodge in the snow for the tow truck.

We anxiously waited to be evicted from the warm lodge. Just a few minutes before the anticipated expulsion I was gratefully ushered to the registration desk and informed that they had one no show. A cabin was available if we wanted it.

Jim made a quick call to the rental company to tell them where they could find us and then we were ushered out of a back entrance of the lodge but with the key to a cabin. Upon exiting the lodge it was pitch black and we were wandering toward what we hoped was our room. We soon questioned that this was our salvation as it began to resemble a scene from Deliverance.

Apparently that time of year the lodge is taken over by deer hunters as we were soon assaulted by hunting dogs tied to bumpers. Trying to avoid the hounds, I almost ran in to a skinned deer hanging from a tree. We finally made it to our assigned cabin, a single room with a double bed on one side and the facilities in the corner. Above the sink, instead of a mirror, was a sign that read “do not clean fish in sink”.

We gratefully laid down in the bed to rest. A few hours later came a knock on the door. I didn’t want to be left alone in that place but Jim insisted I rest and that he would soon be back for me.

He hoped that he would just be collecting our new Mustang in front of the inn and returning for me. Instead the rental agent insisted that they had to first recover our broken down rental from the side of the road before he could hand over the keys to the new car. Jim reluctantly climbed in their tow truck.

So the rest of this story is what Jim told me the next day and what he has repeated to family and friends over the years. Jim has never been prone to exaggeration so I’m sure you can believe every word of the following story.

Jim was picked up by a young man who was born and raised in Las Vegas. Since corporate policy dictated that he not come alone he had invited the receptionist from their office to join him. Neither had ever seen snow.

Jim opened the passenger door to find a Latino woman in a leopard print miniskirt, 6 inch heels, and super long fake nails. She scooched over to the middle and they headed down the snow laden road to find our lame car. There were no snow plows as the road was destined to be closed for the season. At one point the large truck started sliding on the snow and before the driver regained control Jim swears the young lady peed her pants.

When they finally reached the car they handed Jim the keys to our new ride and he hopped up on the tow truck and backed her off. He then took off like a bat outta hell leaving the tow truck driver to do his job. He last saw him in his rear view mirror scratching his head.

It was about 3 in the morning by the time Jim got back to our room. Neither of us wanted to stay there another minute so we hopped in our new green convertible and took off for Vegas. We reached the rim of the city just as the sun was rising and we headed to our hotel room and slept until checkout time.

Obviously we had to return to the North Rim at some point and we decided this was the year.

Westward Ho

Missouri to Arizona – July, 2017 We left Missouri and headed west. The first day, we drove all day and put the entire state of Oklahoma behind us. Then we slowed a bit, averaging about 3 hours a day, and only taking one day completely off during that first week.

It wasn’t a bad trip but it wasn’t terribly exciting either. There certainly wasn’t much to write home about. We found Tucumcari, New Mexico the most interesting stop of the trip.

We pulled in to the Cactus RV Park before lunchtime.

We thought it was one of the more interesting RV parks we have stayed at. RV spaces are in the courtyard of an old Route 66 hotel originally known as the Cactus Motor Lodge. The property was built in the early 1940’s and originally included a dance hall.

The motel rooms are no longer in use but are still cool looking.

They have some neat features including this detail in the handrails.

It’s a shame the buildings have fallen into such disrepair. Here is a postcard I found online promoting the hotel in its heyday.

Tucumcari turned out to be an interesting little town full of similar establishments. Some were in operation despite being a little rundown.

Others were lovingly restored.

There were some fun gift shops with classic Route 66 souvenirs.

We walked the strip a couple times, first in the afternoon, and again early in the morning while some of the neon still glowed. The Blue Swallow is a 1939 built motor court with garages attached to most rooms. It is beautifully restored.

Following is my favorite picture of the Blue Swallow. I took some liberties with it and the photo editor app, Snapseed.

The town of Tucumcari is relatively flat but is lorded over by the imposing Mount Tucumcari. You can see it from almost any place in town. We thought we might drive up it but didn’t get too far before the rough road made us turn around.

I doubt we could have entertained ourselves in Tucumcari for a whole other day. But it was a pleasant stopover on a long road trip and we certainly would stop again. The Cactus RV Park was peaceful and clean and you can’t beat $20 per night for a full hookup site with a Passport America discount.