Catching Up and WOW

Springfield, MO – Aug. to Oct., 2017 We had reservations for the last week of August at Glacier Basin Campground on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Our intention all summer was to wrap up our visit to Colorado there. But several things caused us to rethink that plan.

The 45 mile road across the RMNP between Grand Lake and Estes Park is not big rig friendly. It has MANY tight switchbacks. We saw some big rigs crossing it but the more Jim thought about it the less he wanted to attempt it. We even got mixed answers as to whether it was allowed. One park ranger said there was no length limit on the road, another said they had only recently enacted a 32 foot limit. The 150 mile trip around the park was doable but did put a damper on our enthusiasm.

We had visited Estes Park briefly and even checked out the campground. Glacier Basin was nothing to write home about. It was an open area with few trees. The roads through it were rather tight and lined with large rocks. The pull thru we had reserved was so awkward we were certain we’d have to pass it and back into it.

Then there were the crowds. Even on a Monday the eastern side of the RMNP had lines of traffic, congested parking lots, and the stores in the little town were packed. No thank you! We finally decided to cancel our reservation all together and head back to Missouri to get a head start on remodeling one of our rentals.

We hoped the remodel could be completed in as little as three weeks but allowed five weeks for good measure. Good thing we did. I left Jim for almost a week when I flew to Florida to help our daughter evacuate.

I was only home a couple days when I badly sprained my ankle. This laid me up completely for almost another week and slowed me down considerably for the remainder of the month. So Jim got stuck remodeling the house mostly by himself. It took the whole 5 weeks and we finally delegated a bit of the work and made our escape on October 2nd.

We kept our nose the grindstone most of the time we were there (or at least Jim did). But we did have plans to keep our granddaughter the last weekend in September. We were thrilled when we realized the much anticipated and long awaited Wonders of Wildlife (WOW) National Museum & Aquarium was opening just in time for our weekend with her. It is part of the Bass Pro complex in Springfield and has been closed for remodeling for many years.

We arranged to meet my cousins and enjoy the tour with them. They have a daughter almost the same age as our granddaughter. Here is our picture taken by our 7 year old granddaughter.

We started our tour on the museum side.

So obviously this included a LOT of stuffed animals.

Their dioramas were amazingly detailed and quite stunning.

There were also rooms full of artifacts and informative displays on everything from indians to conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt. It took us about 2 hours to tour the museum and then we proceeded to the aquarium.

This is when things got really interesting.

I’m talking 3 story circular tanks you can walk around on multiple levels. This picture gives you some idea what I am talking about. We were standing on the second level on the outside and you can clearly see the other side of the tank and people standing on the first level.

After traveling up and down and around this amazing display we thought we were about done. No. This was just the beginning. The aquarium went on, and on, and on!

One of mine and Jim’s favorite places was this bait ball display. Being able to see the fish’s reaction when a predator swam by was very entertaining.

We also really enjoyed the jelly fish display.

The kids were pretty much enthralled with everything in the aquarium.

They especially enjoyed the touch tanks. The first, smaller one is in the middle of the tour. Isn’t this the oddest looking shark ever?

The tour ends at a really big touch tank full of rays. The rays swim around in a pool that circles another massive tank. So the ray at the bottom of this picture is in the touch tank and everything else is swimming in an aquarium. There is so much reflection going on it is hard to tell where one tank ends and the other starts.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and were completely worn out by the end. It took us around 4 hours total and that was a bit rushed. The ticket is good for the entire day so if we had it to do over again we’d probably visit the aquarium first, then go have lunch (and maybe a nap), then return to visit the museum. If you are taking kids and are short on either time or money you might consider skipping the museum.

The one day admission tickets may seem steep to some. Compared to the aquariums we’ve visited throughout the country it was an average price for an above average experience. The adult aquarium tickets are $30, the museum tickets are $15, or the combo ticket to visit both in one day is $40. Children 4-11 are $20, $10, and $24 respectively.

If you live in the area I would highly recommend the annual membership. I like that it includes two adults and their designated children OR grandchildren under 18. It is $250 or for $300 it includes two guest passes. We may consider a membership as we definitely want to return.

Georgetown Loop RR and Silver Mine

Georgetown, CO – August, 2017 Jim is as much a fan of trains and mining as I am of fire towers and moose. So while exploring the mining communities west of Denver I read about a train ride to a mine tour. Well that was a no brainer!

The community of Georgetown, Colorado was once known as the “Silver Queen of the Rockies.” They had a narrow gauge railway that carried silver ore from the mines 2 miles uphill in Silver Plume. The railway and mines were shut down for 50 years but were reopened in the 1970’s by the Colorado Historical Society.

We stopped in historic downtown Georgetown for a quick bite before our scheduled departure. We couldn’t resist a café called the Happy Cooker and we were not disappointed. Jim’s French dip and my meatloaf sandwich were both exceptional.

We walked around the area admiring the many neat old buildings. Their firehouse is very distinctive and serves as the town’s historical symbol.

We then headed up the hill to the Georgetown Loop Railroad. We passed under a train trestle and Jim exclaimed “I hope we get to ride over that”. I was not as excited about the prospect. It soon became apparent that we would be traveling over it as a train came around the bend before heading to the station.

We picked up our prepaid tickets in the gift shop and headed for the platform to catch the train. We didn’t have to wait long until we were boarded and on our way.

The train ride is about 4 miles each way. Even though the stations are only 2 miles apart the tracks zigzag back and forth to keep the grade at an acceptable level, 6% or below. The path crosses the beautiful Clear Creek again and again.

In less than 30 minutes we pulled in to Silver Plume. The engine pulled away to take on water and then reattached itself to the other end of the train for the downhill return.

This took about 20 minutes and we had an opportunity to get off and visit their gift shop if we wanted. They also took on new passengers at this station as you can begin your tour at either Georgetown or Silver Plume. Finally we were back on the rails.

In about 10 minutes they stopped at a platform and those of us who had purchased a mine tour departed. Some people chose to just ride the train. The mine tour is optional or not an option for anyone with children under 5 or those who can’t handle the walk to and through the mines.

We had a brief safety talk and then the passengers broke in to separate groups for the 3 different tour options. We had chosen a tour that would take us 900 feet in to the Lebanon Mine. Everyone donned a hard hat and we headed underground.

The first part of the mine looked like this. The timbers were spaced close together until they got through the part of the hill with the smaller stones.

Once they reached bedrock they only shored up the ceiling where it was needed. The height of the cavern became much shorter and anyone over 5 ½ feet had to spend much of the walk hunched over.

Thankfully they had the hard hats so it wasn’t painful when one found a particularly short spot. I even bumped my hat on a couple low spots. When the tour stopped for a talk everyone was usually able to find a spot where they could stand upright and straighten their backs.

The tour was fascinating and incredibly informative! Much of the mine equipment had simply been abandoned when the mine closed. This scene is practically as they found it when they reopened the mine.

You see the ladder to the above tunnel but can’t see that there is hole in the floor to the lower tunnels. This winch was used to haul the ore from both to the ore carts. We were walking on the carts’ tracks now filled in with gravel.

In another side tunnel the hole down was closer and you can clearly see the ladder descending into the depths of the mine, now flooded.

Our tour was on the 3rd level of a 6 level mine. They are continually trying to open new tunnels to tours. They work over the winter when they are not giving tours. They expect this tour to be about 100 feet longer next season.

The mine didn’t close because they ran out of silver but because the price of silver dropped below an amount that made it profitable to mine. There was silver ore all over the place. The miners called this a dragon tongue.

It apparently means that there is another rich silver vein above it. Several of these have appeared since they reopened this mine. It’s not like you can just pick up the silver though. It is embedded in granite and has to processed to extract the silver.

They don’t anticipate the price of silver ever reaching a level that would make it lucrative to mine these veins in today’s economy. There are working silver mines in the area though. The tour operator said the Phoenix mine down the road does OK and supplements their mining profits with tours during summer.

After about an hour long tour filled with tons of information we were totally satisfied with our experience. We didn’t at all mind leaving the 40 degree mine and Jim especially appreciated being able to stand upright again. We were very happy with our choice of tours as the Extended Lebanon Mine Tour had only 10 participants. Each of the other available tours had at least double that amount which would have made it pretty crowded in the narrow tunnels.

We walked up the hill to the platform and stopped to visit their very gentle pet donkeys on the way.

Our train showed up very shortly and we boarded it for the brief 15 minute ride back to Georgetown. Of course, we had to cross the trestle for the second time but it wasn’t really bad as there were so many sights and sounds to distract you.

I highly recommend this tour if you are in the area and interested in trains and/or mines. I thought the prices were very reasonable. A train ride was about $26 and the mine tours were $11 to 14 more. You could upgrade any ticket to first class which let you ride in a covered car with windows for another $10.

The train ride was rather short but you got to experience all the facets of a train excursion without a serious commitment of time. When we took the Durango & Silverton train a couple years ago it took all day and we were a bit uncomfortable by the end of the trip. This train ride along with the mine tour took a little under 3 hours but we were plenty tuckered out by the end of the day.

We stayed at Dakota Ridge RV Park 35 miles away in Golden, Colorado. We paid $49 per night for a full hookup, back-in site with our Good Sam discount. It was an extremely nice park with a pool, which we never managed to get to, and a hot tub, which we finally visited our last evening there.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Lake, CO – August, 2017 We treasured our time in the town of Grand Lake on the western edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). It was so convenient to slip into the park for a quick visit or for an entire day.

One of the most popular hikes from Grand Lake is Adams Falls. It is an easy half mile walk from a parking lot on the edge of town.

Our first foray into RMNP proper we saw a heard of elk in a field beside the road. We stopped for some photos. A storm was brewing and the wind was fierce. I had to lean on a sign to steady my shot.

They were a group of females and young’uns. I believe there was one young buck among them. See his little horns on the right hand side of the photo? On that same day I stared into the forest as Jim drove and saw a large buck with huge horns. I swear they stood at least 3 feet straight up.

We ventured in on a weekend thinking we would visit one of the sites close to the western edge of the park but couldn’t even find a parking space. Traffic was crazy so we turned around the first chance we got and hightailed it outta there. We returned on Monday morning and crossed the park on Trail Ridge Road. The views along the road were breathtaking.

We visited the Alpine Visitor Center at almost 12,000 foot elevation just as it was opening at 9am. Here is the view from their patio.

There are several elk grazing below that glacial ice. We climbed the Alpine Ridge Trail for more astounding views.

It was drop dead gorgeous in every direction.

And we had it pretty much to ourselves at that hour of the day. It was a bit chilly, around 40 degrees.

We briefly visited the eastern side of the park and checked out Estes Park. Then we drove back via the incredibly scenic AND rustic Old Fall River Road. It was a gravel road with one switchback after another. We had to back up to make several of the sharp turns. Soooo worth it!

We enjoyed a stop at Chasm Falls.

And found a quiet place to enjoy our lunch.

We continued on to where the one-way gravel road brings you back to the Alpine Visitor Center. Here is a view of the center from below. It’s that tiny rectangle to the right of the snow.

We passed through the almost full parking lot of the visitor center. The trail up to the ridge was now crowded with hundreds of people. We were very glad we had braved the chill and had those moments alone with the views.

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!

Cuteness Overload

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The views were amazing!

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

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

… and my favorite, Wotan’s Throne.

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

North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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