Of Moose and Men

Grand Lake, CO I don’t know exactly when I became fixated on moose. Somewhere around 20 years ago I suspect. I have no idea what started it but my love for these beasts is not waning.

Despite this my affection seems unrequited. They do not seem to be a fan of me. I have had very little contact with the creatures.

I was sure we would see lots of them when we vacationed in Alaska in 2006. We rented a class C and drove all over the state for a week. We saw a lot of amazing things but not one moose until our last night in the RV.

We stayed at a park on the outskirts of Anchorage. We were told we would almost certainly see a moose there. Sure enough at dusk a couple ladies made their way down the highway and bedded down near the entrance to the park.

This was my one and only moose encounter up to this summer. And it just wasn’t the kind I was hoping for. It was not the same as spotting a moose, preferably a male with a huge rack, in the wild.

So you can see why I was so excited when we had our run in with the moose near Flaming Gorge. Ok it wasn’t exactly up close and personal. But it was a bull and it was in the wild.

Our next stop seemed to promise more moose encounters. The town of Grand Lake sits on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. We fell in love with this little place and ended up staying 2 weeks.

Our very first morning there we went for a drive in the nearby national forest. We spotted a bull moose in the trees on the side of the road. Jim turned the truck around and the moose had crossed the road and climbed way up a hill.

We also saw a large female nearby. After further driving we saw 3 more moose! A young male …

and two females.

They were pretty near the road so I was able to get several good pics.

Thank goodness we had such a positive early experience because we didn’t see any more moose the remainder of our stay. We know they were around, we saw moose tracks and moose poop. Jim was walking along a river and a fisherwoman said “did you see those two moose that just passed?” Nope, he did not. But that’s OK, because we saw 5 moose in one morning!

Despite not seeing more moose we did have a wonderful time. The town was just big enough with great restaurants and nice gift shops. We had pizza the day we arrived at Grand Pizza and it was so good we went back for more before we left.

We also went out to breakfast one Saturday morning. The Fat Cat had the most amazing breakfast buffet. The chef was English I think and every dish was outstanding. I know, 3 meals out in only two weeks, what were we thinking?!

I don’t think the calories hurt us though. We did plenty of hiking, mostly in the national park. I’ll share that with you in my next post.

The town of Grand Lake is on the shores of Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake. It is not overly crowded and moves at the slower pace that Jim and I prefer. It had everything we wanted and we didn’t have to share everything with throngs of people.

One weekend while we were there they held a regatta. They had races for kayakers, SUPs, canoers, and rowers.

Another weekend they hosted a free corvette show. There were at least a hundred corvettes on Main Street.

We visited Shadow Mountain Lake and checked out the dam where they release the lake waters and they continue on for a few miles as the Colorado River before backing up and becoming another lake, Granby. What we saw there got my fisherman pretty excited. The trout and salmon were going crazy trying to jump up that dam and continue their trek upstream, impossible.

We returned to the spot several times and Jim enjoyed the fishing.

He had some luck and we have some trout in the freezer.

This was the perfect area for us because he was entertained and there was so much for me to explore. I hiked along the east side of Shadow Mountain Lake which is part of the 3,100 mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This is a trail that, when complete, will travel along or near the continental divide from our northern border with Canada to its southern terminus at the Mexican border. It is currently only 72% complete and for now requires some travel on motorized roads.

The mile and a half hike beside the lake was a bit difficult because of the number of downed trees I had to go over, under, or around. There were about 20. I counted them on my return trip. But it was worth it. The lake views were outstanding and I ran across a deer and her fawn. They were a little skittish but in the end they decided I wasn’t a threat.

That trail continued on south of the dam and was less difficult. Jim joined me on it another day when the fishing was disappointing. He is so much better than me at spotting wildlife. He saw this osprey which was just a blob in a tree and I had time to get my telephoto lens out before he flew away.

I also walked many miles through the on-site campground, Green Ridge, chasing photo opportunities. The hummingbirds were plentiful but just won’t be still enough for a good shot. The chipmunks were a little more cooperative.

The lake was just gorgeous in the mornings.

We spent the first 10 days of our stay at Elk Creek Campground, an extremely nice, if a bit tight, RV park just outside the town of Grand Lake. We planned to stay 3 nights and then find a boondock in the national forest. But it was just so convenient there so when they said they had a cancellation and could accommodate us for another 7 days we decided to stay. Their daily rate for the full hookup site was $49 and the weekly rate was $309. It was definitely a splurge.

For our last three nights we moved over to our new happy place, Green Ridge Campground. We moved to the first come first served site early on a Friday morning. By early afternoon the place was packed. We paid $21 per night for a sight with zero amenities.

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs, CO – August, 2017  Everyone we know personally in the state of Florida survived Irma with no serious damage. There is widespread flooding in Bonita Springs which is heartbreaking. Nearby Naples took the brunt of Irma’s winds. They don’t expect to have power restored for another week so I imagine it is pretty miserable down there without AC and for many no water or sewer.

Our trailer park in Bonita Springs had only a few trailers blown over but for the most part is OK.   Heather’s trailer is safe and sound and will wait for us to arrive this fall when we can sell it. So I am grateful to get back to my tales of summer fun.

We had spent most of the month of July in Utah and at the beginning of August we crossed in to the northwest corner of Colorado. We didn’t have any solid destination or direction planned for several weeks so we set our sights on Steamboat Springs. It sounded like a neat place with lots of fun things to do.

We stayed at Eagle Soaring RV Park seven miles west of town. They were booked for the weekend so we got a spot for Wednesday and Thursday. The sites were full hookup pull thrus and were $48 per night.

We headed to town to see the sights after getting set up on Wednesday. The Yampa River runs all along the western edge of town. They have an awesome trail system called the Yampa River Core Trail which runs 7.5 miles alongside the river. We stopped and walked a couple miles on it.

We enjoyed the walk which included a couple bridges so it zigzagged back and forth across the river. We stopped at the Steamboat Springs Art Council’s Gallery located in their historic 1908 train depot. And we discovered a half dozen of the town’s 150 hot springs.

You could smell the area’s stinkiest spring, Sulphur Spring, a good ways down the path.

This is Lake Spring, a pond created a long time ago to capture several springs in one basin and in more recent history turned in to a park.

This spring flowed directly into the river.

We also took a walk in Steamboat’s downtown shopping district. There were lots of interesting buildings, fun shops, and people. It was terribly crowded.

What we learned most about the town that first afternoon was that it was not a fun place to drive. There was one major road through town and several construction zones. The town was very congested and basically not our scene.  The fun things we thought we might do there sorta lost their luster when coupled with the traffic we would have to fight to do them.

The next morning we headed out early to check out the mountains to the east of town. The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest was full of possible boondock sites. We weren’t finding very good intel on the area and wanted to scout it out before hauling the 5th wheel up there.

We stopped at the national forest’s office in town right as they were opening. Each office offers a very detailed map for their forest. Many list every forest road in their division and tell you exactly where you are and are not allowed to camp.

Unfortunately you do have to stop in each individual office to get it. Since the forests are so large, they do not always have offices in a convenient location to our travels. It would be nice if they stocked maps for other nearby forests but that is not the case.

So we drove into the mountains with our map and started checking out the side roads for boondocking sites. We drove down a dozen roads and checked out two national forest campgrounds that were first come first serve. You just never know what you might find.

When we scouted our last site near Flaming Gorge there were tons of existing campsites but most of the roads to them were atrocious. In this area there were miles of very good roads but few existing campsites. It’s frowned upon to make a new campsite and the few places this might have been an option would have required a weed eater at least.

We finally found a feasible option on one of the last roads we checked out, Forest Road 296. There were a half dozen existing sites within sight of the highway. The road was a little rough in the beginning but became impossible after the first quarter mile. We would have liked some vegetation between us and the road but at least we would be some distance off it.

We pulled the trailer up early the next morning and started enjoying our new surroundings. About 5 miles up the highway was Dumont Lake and its campground. We would have liked to have stayed there but there were few suitable sites and all were taken. But it was an easy drive.

It was a very picturesque mountain lake.

Jim wouldn’t pose so I had to.

The wildflowers were extreme.

The mornings in the mountains were quite chilly, around 40 degrees if I remember correctly. So we spent some time driving down the long gravel roads and taking short walks. As soon as the sun was fully up it would warm up quickly though and by mid-morning we were usually shedding several layers.

I was surprised how little wildlife we actually saw. There were plenty of deer of course. Jim swears he saw a big moose in a deep ravine beside the highway early one morning while I was driving. There was no easy place to stop but we kept an eye out the whole weekend and never saw another.

We hiked one morning near that area but didn’t see any sign of moose. It was a beautiful hike nonetheless.

There were signs all over the place that said there were sheep herds in the area and to be cautious of sheepdogs. I guess they are vicious if they feel you are threatening their flock. One morning we saw three sheep some distance away when we turned on to our camp’s road.

We stopped the truck so I could get the telephoto lens out and take some pictures. Instead of running away, they started cautiously running to us. They must equate trucks with being fed.

Before I knew it they were right in front of the truck and allowed me to get pretty darn close to them. It appeared to be a momma and baby brother and sister.

They were so darned cute. When I advanced a bit too close they closed ranks to protect baby sister so I returned to the truck. Later from camp I heard dogs barking and saw more of their flock up the road. I hope they were reunited.

On our last day on the mountain I was determined to hike to the high point in the area, Rabbit Ears Pass. Jim’s feet weren’t up to the task so he dropped me at the trailhead and headed to nearby Dumont Lake to do some fishing.

I wasn’t worried about making this hike alone because I knew it was a fairly well travelled path. I didn’t expect quite as many fellow hikers as there were though. I guess I arrived at prime after Sunday brunch or post church hiking time.

I started the hike surrounded by hikers but soon pulled ahead of the pack. I like to attack a hard trail and get as much distance in as possible while I am still energized. I generally push as hard as I can to reach the end then I take it easy on the return trip. My destination:

Once I was away from the throngs I passed a dozen more hikers but generally had some solitude.

It was 3 miles to the pass and 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The last half mile was the hardest with much of the rise in elevation saved for the finale. The hardest part for me was dealing with the thin air at around 10,000 feet. I pressed on though primarily because I didn’t want all those people catching up to me and hearing how hard I was breathing! LOL

I finally reached the top and paused to catch my breath and take some pics. The rabbit ears themselves were not terribly interesting and too rotten to climb.

But the views were amazing.

Once I had rested a bit I started the relatively easy walk back at a leisurely pace. Jim got bored fishing the crowded lake. He said he almost caught a kayak and a paddleboarder. He hiked a mile and a half out to meet me.

We loved the few days we spent in these mountains. The weather was on the chilly side with lows under 40 and highs of 75. That meant we could enjoy campfires in the middle of the afternoon and wear our much neglected long sleeve wardrobe.

Our site was fairly quiet. There was one spot, about a football field away, that was always occupied by a parade of people. Otherwise we had few neighbors. Our first night, a Friday, a party did erupt just behind us. It started well after our bedtime so we assume it was kids, but we were surprised that we recognized all their music and that it was good. So we really didn’t mind so much!

Irma on my Mind

With hurricane Irma poised to strike the west coast of Florida today I’m going to take an intermission from my stories about our trip west this summer to tell you about my week. I was trying to finish and post my next blog about our first stop in Colorado at the beginning of August. But I just can’t concentrate on that while worrying about all our friends in Bonita Springs, Florida.

We had returned to Missouri at the end of August and planned to spend the month of September remodeling one of our rental houses that had become vacant and that needed a complete overhaul. So we were diligently working on it when we started hearing about Irma. We kept an eye on it hoping, like everyone else, that it would head harmlessly out to sea.

At the beginning of this week that started looking more and more unlikely to happen. So we started talking to our daughter about preparing for the hurricane and for evacuation. Heather had moved down to Bonita Springs last fall while we were there and was living in a small trailer in the same RV park we spent last winter in.

She had already decided she didn’t want to become a permanent Floridian and was looking for jobs in other states. So when faced with evacuating she decided she would just move. She agreed that coming back to Missouri where she had lots of friends and family would be a good idea and she could figure out where to go from there.

On Tuesday, amid talk of traffic snarls and gas shortages, Jim and I decided that we didn’t want her facing all that mess alone. I bought a one way ticket to Fort Myers for Wednesday morning for myself. It was a one person job and Jim would be most useful keeping the remodel going.

My plane left Springfield in the dark.

And the sun rose as we did.

I changed planes in Chicago. The clouds over Lake Michigan were gorgeous.

I spoke to or overheard about half a dozen other passengers. Everyone on the plane seemed to be doing the same thing I was; flying in to get mom, dad, aunt so and so, and drive them out of the state.

I arrived in Florida just after noon and Heather was there to pick me up. We went straight to the trailer park and checked in with the office. Heather let them know her intentions and settled her bill.

They only charge a small storage fee if you leave your rig there in the off season. A lot of snowbirds choose to do this rather than haul their trailers back and forth for the season. So the park looks pretty full but most of the rigs are empty.

I thought a lot of folks would come down to drive their rigs out but that didn’t seem to be the case. In fact, some people that were there and capable of hauling their trailers chose not too because of fears of gas shortages. They knew they’d get much better gas mileage if they weren’t towing and have a better chance of escaping the state.

I was pleased to find that Heather was all packed and had her car loaded. I had brought a car top carrier bag and all that was left was to load it and strap it down. Then we just had to do what we could to make her trailer ready for the storm and vacancy.

We cleaned up everything outside and what was left we strapped to the trailer. We filled the water tank to make the trailer heavier and less likely to tip over. Then we disconnected the water and electric and turned off the propane.

We were getting all sorts of travel reports. The most reliable were from the park staff who said residents who had left super early Wednesday morning (like 2am) had made it out of the state, no problem. But that those that had left late morning were still stuck on the interstate just 90 miles away.

We were all done at 4 in the afternoon. We considered trying to rest and leaving in the middle of the night. But we were both too wound up and knew we couldn’t sleep.

We made the decision to start the drive and just roll with the punches. We figured we were two smart, resourceful, females and we were confident we could handle whatever came our way. And we were tired of wondering what was in store and ready to go out and see for ourselves.

Thankfully Heather had managed to fill up her gas tank on Tuesday. We had heard there was no gas in the area but we checked a few gas stations on our way out of town just in case we could find a place to top of her tank. No dice!

We jumped on the interstate for only about 20 miles and exited in Fort Myers before Google showed the traffic backing up. Then we took state highways for a long way. There were plenty of turns, and traffic lights, and even some construction but the traffic wasn’t terribly heavy and at least we were moving.

We kept an eye out for gas but didn’t see any signs of it. We still had ¾ of a tank when we saw the first station with gas just south of Bowling Green. The lines were long and we figured if they had gas so would the stations farther north.

We were right. A little ways up the road we stopped at a Murphy station and only had to wait behind one person before filling up. There were no problems finding gas from there north.

At this point we had some idea where we hoped to end up for the night and we started trying to find a room. We had the granddoggy, Sasha with us so we were looking for a pet friendly room. Later we started asking for any room and kept getting the same answer.

For several hours one of us would drive and the other was surfing for a place to stay. We exhausted every possibility in the state and started looking toward Georgia. Finally around 12:30 we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were gonna drive through the night.

My dad lives in Alabama. It would normally have been a 10 hour drive but it took us 15. We got there around 7 am central time on Thursday.

We stopped pretty often. We made laps around the insides of several Walmarts. We hung out at truck stops and walked Sasha. The rest areas looked like parking lots so we avoided them.

We finally hopped on the interstate at Ocala just after midnight. From there on out traffic kept moving, usually at or above the speed limit, for the rest of the night. Traffic was still heavy though. It was like rush hour all night long until we turned on to I20 in Atlanta and headed west.

We never saw any wrecks and only saw one semi-truck swerving dangerously. It was really a miracle that all those sleep deprived drivers were keeping it together and not making any stupid mistakes. I know there were plenty of wrecks on Florida highways this week but we were lucky and didn’t witness them during our trip.

We spent 24 hours at my father’s. We got caught up on our sleep and had Heather’s vehicle serviced. My father and stepmother were incredible hosts and fed us till we thought we might pop.

We couldn’t face the 10 hour drive to Springfield in one day so we started looking for a room half-way, around Memphis. Even there the rooms were filling up with evacuees. The only pet friendly rooms we could find were outrageously expensive.

My brilliant daughter finally found us an awesome place on Airbnb. She snagged a one bedroom duplex in Memphis’ Cooper Young neighborhood. It was pet friendly and even had a yard for Sasha to run in. After fees and taxes she paid $120.

We got there around 1. We checked out the house and got Sasha settled then we walked a mile to a restaurant. We had an awesome lunch at Imagine Vegan Café, the first meal we had eaten at a restaurant the whole trip. We had snacked on the remains of Heather’s frig and the things I had brought with me throughout our long night’s drive.

We shopped along the way during our walk home. It was a very neat neighborhood with used book stores, a record store, and our favorite, an Urban Outfitters. Loved the way they decorated this overpass.

We stayed in during the evening, enjoying the free wifi and satellite tv. The neighborhood was super quiet and we never felt unsafe. We got another great night’s sleep and woke up ready to finish our trip.

So we are now home safe. Heather will be doing some couch surfing for the near future until she decides her next step. We are keeping an eye on the tv and Facebook for news from Florida.

If the worst happens Heather’s trailer will likely be destroyed. If it doesn’t sustain any wind damage, the storm surge is expected to reach a level where it would at least reach the door. It is only worth about $5,000 so it is not the end of the world. But we are still hoping we may somehow escape that reality.

The last we heard the employees of the RV park were all staying put and the couple we sold our old 5th wheel to, the Alpenlite, were as well. They text us last night with a question about pulling in the slides. There was a mandatory evacuation for all trailer park residents so we don’t know if they will actually stay in the park, whether in their trailers or in the rec hall, or if they’ve gone to shelters.

Jim has family just north of Fort Myers. We know they’ve left the state but are very worried about their homes. I have family on the east coast who have evacuated and I’m sure are worried as well. Heather has plenty of friends in Bonita Springs, most of which have evacuated.

So we will all just wait, and watch, and hope …

Dinosaur National Monument

Jensen, UT – July, 2017 We got an early start to get down off our mountain near Flaming Gorge. It was only 70 some miles to our next campsite but it was 4000 feet down. There were about 10 miles of 5-8% downgrade and switchbacks. Jim had not enjoyed the drive up and was not looking forward to the drive down so he wanted to get it over with, hopefully while traffic was light.

One of the dangers of traveling at this time of day though is that wildlife is very active. In that area there were tons of cattle grazing alongside the roadway. Jim is pretty cautious, going below the speed limit and scanning the sides of the road for movement.

That is the only reason he managed to avoid hitting the deer that sprang in front of us. Thankfully we were on a long straight stretch and he saw her on the side of the road some distance away and started braking. Neither of us was sure we weren’t going to clip her though.

We were holding our breath when the tiny foal we hadn’t even seen made the rather late decision to follow her. Jim was already trying to come to a stop so there was nothing more that he could do. We didn’t think it possible that the babe would make it and weren’t sure it had until it emerged unscathed within inches of our bumper. Whew!

After four days on a mountaintop, coming down to 5500 foot elevation felt like descending into hell. The highs were only in the mid-90’s with little humidity so it couldn’t have been that bad. We were just spoiled to cooler temps and it took some getting used to.

We arrived at Outlaw RV in Jensen before 10am. We had a full hookup site for $36 per night but there was no shade so our AC was going to be working double time the next couple days. Once we got set up our next order of business was getting some groceries. There were no stores in Jensen so we drove 8 miles to Vernal.

Vernal is a very nice town. We had stayed there one night at the Fossil Valley RV Park ($39 full hookups) on our way to Flaming Gorge. A lot of people stay in Vernal when they visit Dinosaur National Monument.

The town is very dinosaur themed.

It is also picturesque. Main Street is decorated with more flowers than I have ever seen in one town. There are hundreds of arrangements like this one lining the street.

We happened through Vernal the first time on a Utah state holiday, Pioneer Day. We were treated to an awesome parade.

Apparently it is otherwise known as bring your tractor to town day. Now here is something I’ve never seen before.

After stocking up in Vernal we returned home for lunch and later made the short drive to check out the visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument. We picked up some information, saw all the displays, watched their movie, and were back home in about an hour. It was really crowded mid-afternoon and did I mention it was hellishly HOT.

We returned the next morning just after the park opened at 8 am. For the first hour or so you are allowed to drive directly to Quarry Exhibit Hall. After that you are required to take the shuttle bus from the visitor center.

It is a very short drive and we were the first visitors in the building. In fact, we did not have to share this incredible place with more than a half dozen people the entire hour we spent there.

The hall was built over the original dig site and now protects the remaining bones. There are thousands of real, really old bones sticking out of the earth. There’s even some you can touch.

There are some great interactive displays telling you about the original owners of these bones you see in front of you, what type of dinosaurs they belong to, and where the bone fits into their skeleton. I’m sure later in the day it would have been impossible to get your hand on these displays. We were able to play with them for as long as we wanted.

There is also plenty of information about the people who discovered this site, the process of excavating it, and where the bones dug from here ended up. It was all very interesting and I’m so grateful we had an unhurried and uncrowded opportunity to explore all this place had to offer.

After thoroughly exploring the hall we left to explore the remainder of the park available from this location. The mountains here often look otherworldly, like a dinosaur peeking out from behind them would not seem out of place.

There is a river through the park, the Green River, which flows here after leaving Flaming Gorge.

We drove to the end of Cub Creek Road to an old homestead. Jossie Morris lived here, mostly by herself, for over 40 years. She used two nearby canyons to coral her livestock. We enjoyed a hike into Box Canyon.

The colors of the rocks were unbelievable.

The final thing we were interested in here were the ancient petroglyphs. We made a few stops along the road on the way back. Sometimes the petroglyphs were a few steps from the road and sometimes we hiked up the hill to see them.

Some were obvious but others were easy to miss. There were hundreds of them, apparently etched into the rock by the Fremont people around 1000 years ago.

We left by noon before it got too warm. We really felt like we had seen all we had come to see. We had been willing to stay another day to explore more but it just wasn’t necessary. We were satisfied with our brief visit.

Dinosaur National Monument is actually millions of acres and is accessible via several roads hours apart. It would take a week and a lot of miles to really cover this park. But we were primarily interested in the dinosaurs and the petroglyphs and they are both found in this little corner of it so that is why we concentrated our visit on this part of the park near Jensen.

We LOVED our 3 week stay in Utah and definitely plan to return again and again. It offers so many varied environments. But we were ready to move on to Colorado.

Flaming Gorge

July, 2017 Manila, UT We made our way northeast to a little town on the Wyoming state line to visit Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Manila was a quiet town, especially midweek. We stayed at the KOA ($43 per night, full hookups) as it was the only option I could find with electricity.

Flaming Gorge was aptly named for these beautiful red cliffs.

When it was named there was no lake but the Green River flowed at the base of the cliffs. When the river was damned up in the 1960’s, the resulting reservoir was named for the gorge it filled up.

The lake is very remote with few accesses so we decided to splurge on a boat rental so we could get a better look at it. Like much of this part of Utah, the views in each direction are vastly different.

You are just as likely to see imposing brown mountains.

Or you might see green hills.

But the red hills steal the show, especially when the sun lights them up.

We enjoyed our morning of boating very much even though it was cloudy most of the time and even rained for a while. We thought the rates at Lucerne Marina just outside of Manila were quite reasonable. We rented a 24 foot pontoon for 5 hours for only $165 plus the cost of gas which was less than $20.

We took a scenic drive another day along a road called the Sheep Creek Geological Loop. It was very aptly named. We spotted some bighorn sheep.

The road followed a creek for much of the way and we were surprised by this beautiful spring and its resulting waterfall. It’s called Big Spring.

The rock formations were the highlight; big, beautiful mountains of rock in every direction.

Near the end of the loop was a spur road that led to a fire tower. I had read that it was closed to tours but I was still hoping we could climb the stairs. We were headed down that spur road and about to turn onto the fire tower road when we saw a big black spot in the road ahead.

We figured it was a cow as we’d seen lots of black cows roaming freely during our backcountry drives. But we decided to proceed past our turn anyway and check it out. As we got nearer we saw our “cow” lift up its head and we both clearly saw a HUGE moose rack!

We were beyond excited and drove slowly forward hoping he wouldn’t disappear before we could get close enough for a picture. Alas, it was not to be. By the time we got to the spot, he had moved into the woods.

We spotted his massive shadow moving through the timber and then nothing. We drove slowly up the road a ways and then back but didn’t see him again. We were still elated to have had the encounter.

We proceeded to the lovely Ute Fire Lookout Tower. It had a small sign across the stairs that said closed. But it was easy to slip under and I decided if they really wanted to keep me from climbing it they would have tried harder.

The views were great.

Two of my favorite things are moose and fire towers, so to say that was a good day would be an understatement.

While we were on the mountain we checked out a few possible boondocking sites. The KOA was booked for the weekend and we weren’t ready to leave the area so early Friday morning we moved about 15 miles south and 1,200 feet higher in elevation. The site was just off Highway 44 on Forest Road 508.

We then enjoyed three more days of exploring on the mountain. We visited the Flaming Gorge Dam and took the free dam tour.

Jim fished in mountain lakes while I walked and photographed.

Here’s his first lake trout. As usual I was walking when he caught it so he got a quick shot with his phone before releasing it. The fish’s coloring is so striking, I asked Jim if he had enhanced the photo. He said that no, in fact he couldn’t even see the screen when he snapped it because it was so sunny out and he just hoped the fish was in the viewfinder. So here it is unbelievably unenhanced.

I made a new buddy, the Yellow Bellied Marmot.

He’s shy but he warms up to you.

We didn’t have cell service at our new campsite or on much of the mountain. We discovered that Dowd Mountain overlook had the best views and closest signal.

We went for a drive early one morning hoping to see more wildlife. We mostly saw more cows and more mule deer until we spotted these 3 guys in a field. They were crazy big and prehistoric looking.

I couldn’t imagine what they were. We finally got a chance to look them up in a book and our best guess is they are sandhill cranes. If anyone has a better answer I’d love to hear it.

Jim fished the Green River a few miles below the dam one morning. I wanted to walk up the river trail but I only got a half mile before the head high weeds were too thick to proceed. I turned back and just before I got to the trailhead I was stopped by this blocking my path.

He was the same kind of snake we saw in Kanab. We did not suspect it was poisonous but we still had not positively identified it either. He did not want to budge off the warm path and back into the chilly weeds. But I finally kicked a little gravel his way and he slithered off.

When we got off the mountain and had cell service again, we finally did look the snake up on the internet. We believe it is a gopher snake. I read on two seemingly reliable websites that there are only 6 poisonous snakes in Utah, 5 rattlers and a sidewinder. I know he wasn’t any of those.

I walked back to where Jim was fishing (OK I might have ran a little ways) and sat with him for a while. He’d gotten a few nibbles but his one solid bite of the morning had gotten off. This guy had dove into the river nearby him and was now perched high in a tree on the other side.

Apparently the bird wasn’t having any luck fishing either so Jim didn’t feel so bad. I got my telephoto lens out and got some good shots of him. We though he was some kind of kite but later realized it was an osprey.

Isn’t it amazing that I can be a football field away from a beautiful predator like this and with a few snaps and the aid of technology we can look him right in the eye and possibly catch a glimpse of his soul?

Our time on the mountain was just about perfect; great weather, campfires, lots of wildlife, and fresh air. We were sorry to leave but we’d already pushed back our next reservation once. So we somewhat reluctantly left our idyllic location.

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.