Owl Canyon

Bakersfield to Barstow, CA – Nov. 2015 We decided to head into the desert and south to escape the cool Pacific breezes. We had reservations in Palm Springs and had 5 days to make a 6 hour trip. The short route to our next destination would have taken us right by LA so we chose a route that would take us away from major traffic and only added an hour of driving time.

Our first stop was near Bakersfield. We chose to stay at the Orange Grove RV Resort ($36 per night full hookups). We loved our stay here so much we extended it to 3 nights. Something about living amid trees loaded with big orange balls just makes you smile.

They also had Wi-Fi so strong we could watch internet TV on it, a really nice workout room we took advantage of a couple times, and great laundry facilities we were in need of.

Bakersfield was very convenient and had just about everything you could want in retail. We had a return we’d been holding on to and needed to get back to Camping World. It was time to stock up on groceries. Our recyclables were piling up and I wanted to recoup my deposits at a recycling center. You know, boring life stuff. And it was all very conveniently done in Bakersfield.

Next we headed to Barstow. I read a blog by Wheelingit about Owl Canyon Campground outside Barstow that sounded like a great place to spend a couple days. It’s a BLM campground with no hookups for $6 per night, first come first served. The road in was a bit rougher than described but it has probably gone downhill since they visited. It was completely passable though, just very wash board.

We got there early on a Friday and had our choice of spaces. Three large groups of tenters showed up later; a group of geology students from the San Diego State College, a Boy Scout troop, and a group of teenagers with no apparent affiliations. The campground was far from crowded though and all the kids were well behaved.

We were pumped to do some hiking on Saturday but unfortunately Jim woke up not feeling very well. When he said he was going back to bed at 9 am I loaded my backback with camera equipment and a bottle of water and headed out to hike the Owl Canyon Trail solo. The sign at the trailhead said it was 2 miles to the end and moderately strenuous. With so many people in the campground I expected it would be a popular trail but surprisingly I didn’t see another soul the whole time.

I don’t hike alone very often but this seemed relatively low risk. I was a little apprehensive about rattlesnakes and did consider whether there was any other wildlife I should be worried about disturbing. The first mile was pretty easy with only small obstacles, a rise of a few feet or the necessity to scramble up a side ridge.

I came across a cave about a mile in. It appeared to go a ways in but honestly I was too chicken to get any closer than this imagining what might be in there. Poking around in dark spaces is Jim’s area of expertise.

After the first mile there were some larger hurdles to overcome. I was pleased to conquer a vertical challenge taller than I am. Thankfully it was narrow enough to wedge myself in as I took advantage of the only foothold and hauled my bag of bones over the top. A couple more large rocks to scale and ridges with inclines higher than I was completely comfortable with that had loose shifting pebbles, then the trail got easy again.

I was determined after all I had overcome to make it to the end. I realized between climbing and stopping to take pictures that I was not making very good time. I hoped Jim wouldn’t worry but I didn’t have a cell signal to text him so I put my camera away and made a beeline for the end of the trail.

I was only 1/8th mile from the end when I saw it, the one thing that could prevent me from accomplishing my goal. A huge brown tarantula was in the middle of the trail. I quickly retreated several feet, he advanced. I nervously got my camera out and mounted a small ridge beside him to get the proof of my encounter.

I could have followed that ridge past him and continued but then I wouldn’t know where he was when I came back by. No, I was decidedly over this hike. I put my back pack on and hustled out of there now on the lookout for rattlesnakes and fuzzy brown spiders. I refused to take my camera out and snapped only a couple shots with my phone on the way out while still in motion.

It was difficult to climb back into that crevice and reach for that solitary foothold on the way back knowing what else might be in there with me. But I did it! I had planned to take a picture of that obstacle on my way out but that thought was nowhere in my head after my decent. I wanted to get as far away from the overhanging rocks and dark recesses as I could and back to the open trail.

I found Jim enjoying the sun in camp and feeling much better. After a light lunch we drove the loop road through Rainbow Basin Natural Area.

All in all, this was a pretty great place to kill some time.

San Francisco

Morgan Hill to San Francisco, CA – Oct, 2015 We were excited to visit San Francisco but not so excited about the traffic. So we chose to stay outside of town at Morgan Hill Thousand Trails Campground. We had paid for a Thousand Trails zone pass as I explained at the end of my Crater Lake post and now had 30 days free camping so it wasn’t going to cost us anything more. We liked the campground. It was just a few minutes out of Morgan Hill, 25 minutes to San Jose, and an hour drive to down town San Francisco.

Jim suggested we use public transportation to get downtown and I loved the idea. The options were a little daunting and I am grateful I did extensive research on the internet before starting out or it could have been very frustrating. For instance, we would have liked to ride the BART train because it was cheaper but it sounded like parking near their stations was a nightmare. Caltrain came right through Morgan Hill but it turned out it only ran that far out on a very limited schedule. So we chose to drive to San Jose and catch it there. The roundtrip train tickets cost $18 each. We could then ride Muni busses for 90 minutes at a time for $2.25 each or Golden Gate Transit busses for twice that amount (they appeared to make less stops). So loaded with maps and notes and all our standard electronic devices we headed out.

We enjoyed the train ride in. It was interesting seeing the city from the tracks. We walked a couple blocks from the station and caught a bus to China town. At first the bus was almost empty but as we got nearer to our destination more and more people, mostly Asian, many elderly, got on. We happily gave up our seats to older folks. Every time the doors opened many more people got on a bus that I thought was already full. I don’t know how they all fit but they did. We were packed in the middle and couldn’t have gotten off if we wanted to. So we held on till our stop. The throng of people departed along with us and left the bus deserted. It was a fun, interesting experience.

We walked up and down the streets of Chinatown for a while experiencing the very different sights and smells. We looked through gift shops at souvenirs and trinkets we had no use for. I wished we had made this our last stop as it was a veritable farmers market and I would have loved to take some produce home. But we didn’t buy a thing. Just soaked it all in and went away with a couple photos.

We caught a bus headed for the Golden Gate Bridge. We expected to have to change busses along the route. The first bus stopped before we planned to get off and said it was the end of the line. Thankfully we could almost see our next stop so we walked to it and waited for the bus which dropped us off at the visitor center for the bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge was truly awesome! It’s about 2 miles across so we walked to the very center of it and back which made a great 2 mile walk. It was incredibly clear when we got there and the views of the bay and the city were amazing. When we turned around in the middle, a bank of fog was rolling in and by the time we got back to the welcome center we could hardly see the bridge at all.

We planned to catch a Golden Gate Transit bus back to the 4th street train station as it should have been faster. It was a far more confusing bus system than the Muni and ended up taking longer as their busses didn’t arrive as scheduled. It also cost quite a bit more when it didn’t take us all the way to our train station and we caught a Muni bus to take our tired feet the last mile. But we did make it back to the station in time to catch an express train back to San Jose. This train made fewer stops so it took less than an hour to get to San Jose instead of 90 minutes. Next time we will just stick with the Muni busses when in San Francisco.

The most interesting thing we learned from this experience is that the Google Maps app on our phones has all the bus and train schedules on it. Just plug in where you want to go and choose public transportation as your mode of travel and it will give you all the options and usually calculate the cost as well. It is truly amazing the information we now carry in the palm of our hands! Of course, by the end of the day my battery was dead and I had made quite a dent in my data plan, but it really made traveling in an unfamiliar city less stressful.

We planned to make a second trip in to the city to visit Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz. But after having experienced the city first hand, we were more convinced than ever that we didn’t want to drive our big truck in. And when we added the cost of public transportation to the price of the Alcatraz tickets, we agreed it just wasn’t worth it. We look forward seeing more of San Francisco on our next visit someday.

The next day we headed back to San Jose to see the Winchester Mystery House. The mansion tour was a bit pricey at $36 each but had long been on our must see list. Jim was looking forward to the gun museum, a collection of every Winchester gun ever made. It was interesting but paled in comparison to the free gun museum at Bass Pro Shops in our hometown of Springfield Missouri.

The house was very interesting to see, especially since we love architecture. The amount of detail in the woodwork was mind boggling. The stained glass windows and doors were stunningly beautiful. You are not supposed to take pictures inside the house but I couldn’t help sneaking a few with my phone. I loved this beautiful stained glass door.

There is so much to do in this area and we only scratched the surface. We enjoyed a day in Monterey where we had lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf and walked the Bay Coastal Trail. There are wineries galore both north and south of San Francisco and many have beautiful gardens to explore.

We enjoyed our stay in this area immensely and will be back.

Redwoods

Northern California Coast – October, 2015 I have always had a fascination with trees. The few years of my childhood when I wanted to grow up to be an artist I usually drew 2 things, houses and trees. I would construct the trees limb by limb and leaf by leaf, if I bothered to include leaves at all. I was mostly captivated by their structure. Jim is equally intrigued by them. As a woodworker, he sees not only the tree’s beauty but imagines the beauty of the items he’d like to carve or build from them.

The redwood forests have always loomed large in our imagination and we had conspired to visit them earlier but could never manage it before. We were excited to cross in to California, a state neither of us had visited extensively. Our first stop was the town of Smith River and the Salmon Harbor RV Resort ($23 avg PN w Passport Am, full hookups). It was located at the mouth of the Smith River and had a great half mile rocky beach to walk. Across the river was a spit of land dividing the river from the ocean. I was taking pics of the scene when Jim commented he thought the rocks on the other side were moving.

Closer inspection of my shots showed they did indeed have faces and were actually harbor seals resting.

We were excited to see our first really big trees, so despite the fact that it was raining cats and dogs we headed out to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The drive alone was spectacular and we stopped the first chance we could at Walker Road. We were floored by the beauty of the forest and the size of the trees. After a short walk we were also very, very wet. So we headed home for the day excited and ready for more.

We went back bright and early the next morning to drive the Howland Hill Road and visit Stout Grove. The road is basically one lane but it does have a lot of pullouts so it wasn’t too bad. The grove was magical.

Parking was fairly limited so despite being there pretty early on a Sunday we got the last parking space. I’m very glad we didn’t try to come later as traffic was really picking up as we left and the trip out was a bit harder. This road can usually be driven round trip and end up in Crescent City. But currently the section near town is closed. Maybe traffic is better when it is open. It would be better if it was one way but I don’t believe that is the case. We went back to Walker Road and drove to the end (there is nothing there, don’t do it!) then went back to one of the many groves along its length and hiked some more. We were continually oohing and aahing and can you believe the size of that thinging!

We moved to Orick the next day and after getting settled we drove the scenic parkway through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It drizzled most of the day but we didn’t let that stop us. When it rained too hard we could generally find shelter under the forest canopy. We visited The Big Tree which was rather underwhelming. But the groves surrounding it were amazing and we hiked several miles this way and that marveling at nature’s works of art, like this tree that grew around a now rotted away fallen tree.

There was not one particular grove or trail that stood out to us. The best grove was the one we were lucky enough to be in at the moment. Often the most interesting trees were the fallen ones or the ones that made you wonder “how is that thing still standing?” Jim found it necessary to climb inside every tree that had a hole in its trunk big enough to get in. He said it was like caving. Some of these caverns were massive.

We chose to stay at the Elk Country RV Resort ($30 PN electric) south of Orick because I read you were almost guaranteed to see the area’s resident elk herd there. We were not disappointed. When we returned to camp at the end of the day we found 30 of them feeding near our sight. I was glad however that we had chosen to only pay for one night. The next morning we were ready to move on. The only problem with having a resident elk heard in camp is that no one is picking up after them and you REALLY had to watch your step.

We enjoyed a stop in Eureka on the way to our next camp. There is a huge dirt lot across from their visitor center so parking (at least during the week) was not a problem. The town is known for its Victorian architecture so we walked up 2nd street to the Carson Mansion which is remarkable.

We saw plenty of other beautiful homes along the route. We then walked back beside the bay.

We camped next at Richardson Grove RV Park outside Garberville. Across the street are several fun touristy gift shops, each with its own roadside attractions to get people to stop. We paid a dollar to see inside the “Famous One Log House” which had wheels at one time and toured the country.

One reason I wanted to stay in this area was to take a day trip to the Black Sand Beach at Shelter Cove. I’d read an article about the Lost Coast Trail that you can access from there. It runs for 20 miles north. I wanted to walk just a little of it and see the black beach.

The 20 miles of twisting road to Shelter Cove took us about an hour to navigate. The parking lot was a long way up hill from the beach but we carried our chairs and beach bag out there and thoroughly enjoyed the sun, the views, and the walk.

We drove the Avenue of Giants one morning and walked the Founder’s Grove. We were less impressed with this area than the others we’d seen. Perhaps it was just as remarkable as the previous forests but after a week of walking among these monstrous trees we were just harder to amaze.

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Oregon – October, 2015 The Columbia River Gorge is a beautiful area full of rushing water, lush forests, and mountains. Jim and I visited briefly many years ago and it made an impression. When we rescheduled our summer travels we knew we had to include this stop in our reworked plans.

We happened to get to town on a Friday and planned to spend the weekend. As full timers we do our best to schedule visits to tourist destinations during the week to avoid the crowds. We often stay close to home on the weekends or travel to our next destination. But Friday is when we happened to get there and we weren’t willing to stay longer for two reasons. We really wanted to get to the coast and we wanted to travel through Portland on a Sunday morning as opposed to a weekday. I hoped to get to the new campground at noon on Friday and do some sightseeing after lunch but when we got set up it was chillier than forecast and very windy so we didn’t see much that day.

Bright and early Saturday morning we ventured out to see the sights. It was pretty chilly so we started with a scenic drive up Larch Mountain Road. I expected it to end at a scenic overlook of the gorge. It was an absolutely amazing drive through an old growth forest. When we got to the top we discovered you had to walk about a half mile to the overlook. This was not what I was hoping since at the top of this mountain it was in the mid 30’s but we’d come all this way already so we threw on every stitch of clothing we had brought and hoofed it out to the overlook. Turns out it was actually an incredible viewpoint where you could see everything for many miles in every direction except the gorge.

Jim had just commented the day before that he’d love to see Mt. St. Helen but that even though it was not that many miles away he wasn’t willing to drive the 2 plus hours google said it would take to get there.

Unwittingly we had planned an outing that included this view of Mt St. Helens, in addition to Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams. It would have also had a view of Mt. Hood if it had not been surrounded by clouds but I thought it was a stunning view nonetheless.

On the drive back down we stopped at the Portland Women’s Forum Park and finally got the beautiful view of the gorge we were looking for.

We visited the Vista House next but even by 9 am we had to do a drive by as there were no parking spaces remaining.

Finally it was warming up and we started visiting the many beautiful waterfalls.

Most were a short walk from the road.

But some were down a trail of a mile or more, like my favorite, Bridal Veil Falls.

We had to pass on some of the most popular ones as they had packed parking lots by 11 am. But we saw at least a half dozen beautiful falls, hiked about 5 miles total, and generally had a pretty awesome day despite the crowds.

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake, Oregon – October, 2015 What a magical place Crater Lake is! And to think we almost missed it. By coming to Oregon so much later than we originally planned I thought we would have to pass on an item very near the top of our bucket list. After all it often snows at Crater by early October and we don’t do snow any more. But as we got nearer Jim pointed out that the weather was holding out pretty well. Lows were in the 30s but highs were sometimes reaching the 60s still.

We planned to pass through Bend, Oregon on our way through to the coast and Crater is only an hour and a half south of there. We debated several options. The main campground at Crater closed at the end of September but there seemed to be some boondocking options at Annie Creek snow camp. In the end we decided to stay near Bend which is at a lower elevation and enjoy slightly warmer nights, then make the 1 ½ hour drive to Crater to explore for one day.

Just before arriving in Bend the landscape changed dramatically. We had finally reached the part of Oregon that looked like we expected; BIG trees, lots of ’em, mostly evergreen. We enjoyed the drive to Crater early on a Thursday morning, arriving around 9 am. We spent the day driving the Rim Drive all the way around the lake.

Each pullout seemed to offer a more beautiful view than the last. And every time you thought the water couldn’t get any bluer, it did. Even from hundreds of feet up you could see the coastline under the incredibly clear water.

The day started out pretty overcast. The temperature stayed around 52 all day. When the sun was hiding behind the clouds it felt more like 30 and we kept adding layers but when the sun chose to shine, which it did for several hours around lunch, it felt more like 70 and we were stripping down to our t-shirts.

We walked the rim at Rim Village and visited the beautiful Crater Lake Lodge.

What a great place it would be to enjoy the sunrise.

We ate the soup we’d brought for lunch among the pines then hiked the Sun Notch Trail for the best view of Shipwreck Island.

The park has been experiencing the worst fire in its history but it is now under control. We passed a forest of what looked like burnt toothpicks on the way in and we drove through a small amount of smoke. The signs say it will continue to burn until a good rain or heavy snow finally put it out. But it didn’t appear that the fire got anywhere near the rim. The views were stunning even when you were looking away from the lake. The mist in this pic is actually smoke.

We are so very happy that we didn’t miss this opportunity to visit Crater Lake. Sure we expect to visit again for a longer period of time someday. But life is unpredictable and if that opportunity eludes us we will still have some amazing memories of this day and beautiful photos to remind us of the experience.

In Bend we stayed at our first Thousand Trails campground. They now participate in Passport America so we got it for $28 per night. The sight was water and electric and offered pretty good privacy tucked in to the trees but we were expecting this previously members’ only campgrounds to be a little fancier. To be fair, it had a lot of amenities that we didn’t take advantage of including a heated outdoor pool and hot tub that were still open.

Since this first visit we have stayed at more Thousand Trails and discovered they are just like any other campgrounds, some have better sites and amenities and some are a bit rustic. We have since joined their club. They currently offer zone passes for only $550 per year and had a buy one zone, get one zone free deal. You get 30 days of free camping with your pass so as soon as you take advantage of that you just got 30 days of camping for only $18 per night. After that, you can camp an unlimited number of nights for $3 per night. I estimate we will use it at least 90 nights just this winter and expect it to save us over $1000 in lot rent during that time.

There are some rules that are designed to limit peoples’ use of the parks so that everyone has a chance to enjoy them. You can stay up to 4 nights at a park then move to another and continue to stay at various parks 4 nights at a time. Or you can stay at a park up to 14 days. But any time your stay exceeds 4 nights you have to stay out of the system for 7 nights before you can stay again. So you can stay in the parks 2 out of every 3 weeks if you’d rather not move often.

Even though we bought the pass in Oregon we were almost finished visiting the northwest so we chose the southwest and southeast zones so it includes pretty much the entire southern half of the US. I was assured I shouldn’t have any trouble getting reservations in California throughout the winter and so far I haven’t. I’m certainly prepared for the possibility that I might not always get into the park of my choice, especially on the weekends.

Getting High in Colorado

Durango, Colorado – June 2015 There is only one direct route from Delta to Durango Colorado but the road is a doosey. It has three very high mountain passes over 10,000 feet in elevation. This section of Highway 550 is part of the San Juan Skyway and the portion between Ouray and Silverton is known as the Million Dollar Highway. We actually considered the 8 hour alternative route since we did not have a good time the last time we drove this way because it rained cats and dogs and even hailed for a while. We weren’t sure we wanted to try it with the 5th wheel. But everything we read said to take it slow and it would be fine, so we chose a Monday morning with little chance of rain and off we went.

I’m very glad we did. It was an easy 3 hour drive. For me at least! Jim had to deal with the 7 percent grades up and down and back up again. And the 10 mph hairpin curves! The sign in this picture says it all.

I had a lovely ride with spectacular scenery. I love tunnels. The second one was interesting with a waterfall cascading over it.

Jim had to keep his eyes on the blacktop. There was no room for error. There are places where there is no guardrail, no shoulder, just a drop of thousands of feet next to the road. We will take this route again but try to avoid rain and we wouldn’t even consider it if snow or ice were a possibility. I understand they try to keep it open year round for those souls braver than us.

Durango was another town we had fond memories of from our family road trip 15 years ago. This might have had something to do with the fact that our family of 3 spent that 10 day vacation in a small tent and Durango was the one place that we splurged on a hotel room. I really didn’t remember much about Durango except wishing we could stay longer.

It is definitely worth a visit. The downtown has a ton of beautiful historic buildings and is still bustling. It has great shops (including five recreational marijuana dispensaries for anyone interested). We don’t have many reasons to shop these days but enjoyed walking down Main Street a few times and were entertained by the wares offered by the stores, the variety of people, and the pets. This town is very dog friendly and although we do not currently own a dog, we still love interacting with four legged furry friends.

Durango is very walkable with a 7 mile riverwalk called the Animas River Trail. It is paved and has many pedestrian bridges making it easy for locals and tourists to walk or bike to where they want to be. It goes through many parks and has lots of art and sculptures along it.

In addition to walking much of the riverwalk during our visit, we spent one morning hiking the first couple miles of the Colorado Trail which begins in Durango and travels 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains to Denver. We also drove 8 miles up Junction Creek Road to the Animas Overlook. There is a 2/3 mile paved path there with several picnic tables, grills, and beautiful views of the river valley below. It’s a great spot for a picnic. Jim cooked us an amazing lunch with hot sausages, potatoes, and green beans.

During our week in Durango we stayed the first couple days at the National Forest Service’s Junction Creek Campground. We were lucky to find an amazing site in the pines for 2 nights for $20 per night with the assistance of the most helpful campground host we have ever met. The campground does take reservations, which I would recommend, and has electric sites for $24. However, we found out we were going to have company for the weekend so we chose to splurge on a full hookup site at Alpen Rose RV Park ($45 per night) so we would have better access to town, cell service, and a pool. Of course, as soon as we moved it got rainy and cold so we never did get to use the pool. The park was really nice though and they had the most reliable wifi we have found of any park since we started full timing.

Delta Colorado

Delta, Colorado – June 2015 We drove a whole 39 miles south from our last camp to the town of Delta. The house we had last occupied back in Missouri was supposed to close at the end of the week and although we had signed the bulk of the documents at a title company before leaving Grand Junction, we needed to be reachable until the actual closing on Friday afternoon. There were still a hundred things that could go wrong between now and then and we did not want to be out of touch for long.

Delta kept us in civilization with 4 bars and 4G but nearer to the places we wanted to visit. Because we knew we had to sit tight for a whole week we chose to take advantage of the weekly rate at Valley Sunset RV Ranch. Most campgrounds weekly rate is equivalent to about 6 days at their regular rate. Valley Sunset’s rates were no exception at $25 per day or $150 per week plus tax. The park had about a hundred sights and all but about 20 appeared to be occupied by full timers. It was pretty well maintained though and a good value.

We were most excited about visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We had made a brief stop there on a family road trip 15 years ago and were smitten. If we hadn’t needed to stay in cell phone reach we would definitely have camped near it. As usual, things worked out for the best. Although we were still very impressed with the canyon, there really was not that much to do there. There were not many developed trails on the South Rim, and even fewer on the North Rim (a 2 hour drive away). I would like to go back and spend a couple of nights camping there the next time we are in Colorado. It is very remote and I bet the night sky is amazing.

I still love this place. It is like a mini Grand Canyon but in greys and greens instead of red hues.

We took the hike to Warner Point. It was a little over 1 ½ miles roundtrip with around 500 feet in elevation change. I was surprised how winded we got. This was our first hike at any sort of altitude and the 8500 foot elevation really made a difference. But the views were definitely worth it.

If you visit I recommend taking the time drive the East Portal Road. The Gunnison Diversion Dam is very scenic and you can walk down to the river below it.

The road down to the dam was fun. It is about 8 miles, paved, and has up to a 16% grade. I wouldn’t want to try that with the trailer in tow!

Wednesday we took a drive to Basalt, Colorado to some fishing. Google said it was a 2 ½ hour drive. We hoped to make it in 2 but with road construction we were lucky we made it in 3. The scenic drive alone was worth the trip. There were gorgeous waterfalls everywhere from the snowmelt. And we stopped to check out these strange ovens along the road in Redstone. They were used to make coke fuel from coal mined in the area in the late 1800’s.

Jim had a great time fishing the gold medal waters of the Fryingpan River just below the dam 14 miles upstream of Basalt. We expected crowds and were pleased to only see a half dozen other fisherman while we were there. They have very strict guidelines regarding what trout you can keep. He caught 3 trout; a brown too small to bother with and two rainbow which have to be released. One rainbow was probably 3 pounds and he was pleased to have landed it on a 2 pound leader. I rarely fish but enjoyed walking along the river while Jim did. I think he got the better workout, trudging around in soaking wader boots and fighting 14 inch trout.

Thursday and Friday we had to stay close to town because of the closing and then about noon Friday, when we found out the deal was done, it started raining and poured for two days. By Saturday afternoon we were so stir crazy we said to heck with the rain, threw on our coats, and drove to the Gunnison River for a walk. It was not one of our best hikes, but we were grateful for the fresh air.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny. We packed a lunch and headed to the Grand Mesa area, another beautiful drive. Our original destination, Island Lake, was still frozen over. But we found a group of lakes at a slightly lower elevation that were not. The fishing wasn’t great. I think the fish were still hibernating. Jim did get one bite and the fish snapped his 2 pound leader without ever breaking water so we’ll never know what he had on the line. We only saw one person catch anything, a small rainbow trout. So we took a hike. Some of the trails were still covered in several feet of snow but the trail around Beaver Lake was mostly clear. The snow melting and running into the lakes was beautiful.

It was a lovely day and a great ending to our week in Delta.

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Moab, Utah May 2015 – I knew Moab was a very popular place on Memorial Day and that all the RV parks were booked for the weekend but I justified heading that way without a reservation because it was only the Wednesday before the holiday weekend and there were so many first come first serve campgrounds listed in the directories of the area. I stopped at a campground in town that was reported to offer water and a dump for only $5, Slickrock Campground. Without much optimism I asked if they might have a site for the night. They said they did but only for Wednesday night and I gratefully paid them $43 for a water and electric site so that I didn’t have to drag my rig all over the countryside looking for a campsite.

I dropped my 5th wheel in a site and headed out to find a place to plant myself for the remainder of the week. I drove over 70 miles to a half dozen BLM campsites and an area called Sand Flats Recreation Area. I looked at about 200 sites only to find few large enough for my rig and all of those taken. I was about to head back to camp to rest and look again after dinner when I decided to try one more spot. I read that Ken’s Lake, 8 miles south of Moab, had 31 sites, all large enough for a medium sized rig. I arrived and found this was not completely true but was happy to find 2 sites large enough to accommodate me still available. I gratefully paid $15 per night for the next 6 nights including the one I had already paid for in town. I locked up my scooter and cooler in plain sight, put my paid receipt on the pole, and a line of rocks across the drive, and headed back to Moab for the night. I am grateful I found this campsite when I did. By the time I moved in Thursday morning every site was full and stayed that way until Monday.

Ken’s lake turned out to be an amazing camp. My site was HUGE. A stream runs behind the campsite and a half mile walk downstream brings you to the lake and a half mile walk upstream takes you to a large waterfall. They diverted water from the other side of a mountain, through a large pipe, and let it flow down this side of the mountain. Then they built the lake to hold the water. They call it Faux Falls but only the source of the water is manipulated. The rocks and stream are natural.

The falls were a welcome sight when I was driving in to camp.

And they were a great destination walk on a hot day.

I was dying to see Arches National Park so I headed there on Friday knowing it would be a madhouse with so many people in town. I drove first to the windows section and hiked a total of about 3 miles to see everything that area had to offer. I loved the North and South windows from the primitive trail that loops behind them. They look like two eyes.

Double Arch was quite remarkable as well.

I then drove to the Delicate Arch area. The trailhead parking was full so I proceeded to the viewpoint parking area and was happy with the short walk and the view of the arch in the distance. I saved the Devil’s Garden area for a second visit.

I returned the next week on Tuesday. The last hike I wanted to do was one of the most popular in the park. So I arrived before 8 and walked the developed portion of the path to Devil’s Garden where you can see half a dozen arches from the trail. Landscape Arch was my favorite.

I was glad I arrived as early as I did. I still had to share the trail with dozens of people but by the time I left the expansive parking lot was almost full and groups were pouring down the path.

I went to the Islands in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park on Memorial Day. It was a beautiful place. I hiked to Upheaval dome which is a deep, unexplained crater with a gray mountain range jutting up in the middle of it.

I then hiked the rim trail. It was just gorgeous but a rainstorm was threatening so it was hard to get a good shot. If you are viewing this on your mobile device zooming in on this pic may give you a better idea of what an interesting landscape it was.

Canyonlands has its own pretty incredible arch. There were no signs against standing on this one. So I did! It was a few feet wide in the middle so not difficult to get out on at all. But there is about a thousand foot drop behind the arch if you happen to make a misstep.

The two ladies that did it before me were doing yoga poses and standing on one tiptoe. I was happy to just stand there firmly planted on two feet.

I passed through Moab about 2 on Memorial Day. There was an incredible traffic jam. Apparently the visitors who had been filing in all week all had to leave after lunch Monday. The two lanes leading north toward interstate 70 were packed all the way through town, about 5 miles. Thankfully I was headed south to camp. The campground was fairly deserted when I got back and stayed that way till I left on Thursday.

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah – May 2015 A fellow camper told me about a boondocking area outside Goblin Valley State Park. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and most of the people there were packing up. There are tons of trails here where people can ride ATVs and dirt bikes. Most of the campers that I’ve seen come and go this week had one of these large toys. It has been a great location, totally free, and mostly quiet. Right outside my front door are white sandstone monoliths which I’ve climbed several times during my visit. Here is a view of my campsite from the road to the state park. You may have to zoom in where the arrow points to see the campers. There are many other possible campsites in the area down dozens of dirt roads but I was happy with this big gravel parking lot just off the paved road.

The obvious draw here is Goblin Valley State Park. It was a very short drive from the visitor center to the end of the road and a scenic overlook. And I thought “is this what I paid $10 to see?” But a walk down in to the valley full of strange looking hoodoos changed my perspective. It really is a fascinating place. It is also impossible to give it justice in photographs but here’s my best effort.

It is easy to let your imagination run wild in this place and see the forms of fanciful castles, goblins, dragons, and other whimsical creatures in the strange landscape around you.

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I enjoyed a great hike nearby, my favorite so far this year. Wild Horse Canyon is next door to the state park and impossible to miss if you are visiting Goblin Valley. There is no fee to visit. It is a very popular hike of a slot canyon because it is accessible to all skill levels. It doesn’t require any special climbing abilities to traverse. It’s about a half mile down a wash where you have to climb a bit to get around an obstacle, and then you are at the beginning of the canyon which is about 3 miles long. Sometimes it gets a little tight in the canyon. This is a pic of one such place. That skinny sandy path scattered with rocks is what you have to walk on and sometimes you have to lean hard left or right to squeeze through.

Even on a Tuesday afternoon with rain threatening this place was crowded. I saw at least 30 other hikers and often had to wait for a group to pass before making my way down a narrow section. This would have normally diminished my enjoyment of the hike. But this particular hike was well worth battling the hordes. This hike is often hiked with nearby Little Bell Canyon for an 8 mile roundtrip.

I first planned to stay at this camp for a week. But there was zero cell service for a 20 mile radius of my camp and I had a couple business transactions in the works that I really needed to be reachable for so I decided to leave after 3 days. The night before I planned to leave a group of a dozen campers pulled in about 5pm. They circled their wagons at one end of the parking lot. Not a single camper had solar panels. I fell asleep to the drone of their generators thankful I was packing it in in the morning.

Lake Powell

Glen Canyon NRA, Utah – May 2015 Lake Powell had been on my must see list since reading a blog a few years ago about a kayaker paddling its slot canyons. Fortunately it was also the warmest destination in Utah so that is where I set my sights. I found a campground near its southern end that looked promising called Lone Rock. It was a beach with no designated campsites so you could set up anywhere you could find an open spot. Everything I read said it was free but when I arrived I found you are supposed to pay $10 per night but there wasn’t anyone around most of the time to collect it or enforce it.

The view from my front door was lovely and I enjoyed it so much I stayed for 10 days.

The weather was mid 70s and sunny most days. This was plenty warm enough to get wet and the lake water was clear and inviting. I kayaked out around Lone Rock my first day and explored the shoreline beyond. I discovered a cove that just kept going with many twists and turns creating many private lagoons, a couple with nice beaches. I made plans to return later in the week with all the provisions for a private beach party.

I set out the next Wednesday morning loaded up with lunch, a few adult beverages, a beach chair, and music. There were a few other people in the area and my location of choice was occupied when I got there. But I found another even better spot a little farther inside the cove. Here is a shot of it from the rocks above.

Within an hour the other parties (two kayakers, a jet skier, and a paddleboarder) had explored to their heart’s content and departed. I didn’t see another soul the rest of the day. I enjoyed the rare solitude until my beverages were gone and I had a pink hue.

One afternoon I drove 30 miles west to a place I had seen on my way in called Toadstools. It is on the very edge of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It’s an easy hike of a couple miles to an area that has many toadstool shaped hoodoos. This is a picture of the main formation of them but there are many others scattered behind them and on the ledge above.

I noticed not much further west of Toadstools and still inside the national monument the map said “Paria ghost town”. It was 6 miles from the highway on a very well maintained gravel road. It turned out it was actually the site of an old town and later the site of a Hollywood movie set where several movies were filmed. Both the real town and the set built nearby could not withstand the constant flooding of the Paria River that flowed past, and too often through, the area. I was disappointed not to find any remains at all of either; not a single board, piece of rusted metal, or pile of rock.

But the scenery more than made up for my disappointment. The view of these mountains was stunning. You could clearly see every layer of rock, each with its own vivid color. My favorite layer was a beautiful purple color. I wish I could have taken a picture that did them justice. But this is the best I was able to do.

I didn’t realize until later that these distinctive layers of rock are the grand staircase they are referring to in the name of the national monument. I was grateful to have accidentally included it in my itinerary.