107. Onward to Zion (and Bryce and GC North Rim)

Weds., October 14, 2020

About 50-60 miles north of my destination of Mt Carmel Junction, is the turnoff for Bryce Canyon (between Panguitch and Hatch). Bryce is just 17 miles east of Rt 89 on America’s Scenic Route 12 which is an absolutely breathtaking rim route through The Grand Staircase/Escalante area 120 miles to Torrey. I’ve done the route before and there are a lot of miles riding the ridge without much shoulder on either side of the road. I’ve been getting enough driving lately where a slight, inadvertent turn of the steering wheel can result in using up your entire 18” of shoulder and 19” can result in a disaster. So leaving Torrey this morning, I elected for a 40 mile longer route mostly southbound through what is known as “The Long Valley”.

So I parked the motorhome at the road side, disconnected the Jeep, and headed east to Bryce. Before you get to Bryce, you drive through an area known as “Red Canyon”.

Think that might rate at least ‘County park’ type status somewhere else?

Continuing on, you need to pass a large kitschy “tourist, leave your wallet here” section before you reach the Bryce Canyon National Park entrance. Much of the 17 mile drive thru Bryce is a bit pedestrian. Where are all the ‘hoodoos’?

Bryce is located on the high Kaibib Plateau which extends from the Grand Canyon in the south to Bryce in the north and also encompassing Zion Nat’l Park. The elevations run from 8,000-9,000 feet. So with minor 1,000’ or so elevation changes you are riding the high forested road comprised mainly of pines.

There are also many areas that have been deforested by wildfires in the past few years.

Then you are directed to side roads which end at overlooks and the canyon reveals itself thousands of feet below.

The views are gigantic and, in at least one case, quite surprising!

Autumn has arrived. Although most of the forestation here is of the Evergreen variety, the occasional clumps of Cottonwood and/or Birch provide a splash of color.

Hooked the Jeep back on to the bus and finished the drive to my campground. I’m located right at the Dead end intersection of Mt Carmel Road (Mt Carmel Junction) and Rt 89. There’s a Best Western motel/restaurant and golf course on one of the two corners, a fuel station and campground on another and on the third side another campground. It’s full hookup and backs to a stream at the bottom of the embankment. Campers also have access to the golf course and swimming pool. Zion National Park is about 20 miles west on Mt Carmel and Interstate 15 running between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas is about another 15 miles further west.

I was tipped by a fellow traveler that space on the shuttles, due to COVID, has been restricted and you can only get on with a ticket – $1.00 ea. However a portion of the tickets available each hour are available by reservation 30 days in advance. The remainder go on sale exactly at 9am Mountain Time the day before. So I set my alarm this morning to be sure I was awake and alert by 9 am. Within seconds the tickets for the 9 and 10 am slots for tomorrow were gone. I clicked on 11am but got the message they were gone. Ditto for noon. Saw that there were about 250 left for 2pm and 300+ left for 3pm. Yay, I scored a ticket to board anytime between 2 and 3 pm tomorrow. By 9:04am, everything was sold. By my calculation that would be about 2,000 tickets for the day PLUS I’m probably an equal number sold in the 30 day prior ‘auction’. So I’ll head over earlier and check out the towns of Virgin and Hurricane befNot that I would need to, but I can’t get there via Mt Carmel Rd with the motorhome in that there is a mile long tunnel which is curved. I’m low enough that with a permit I could drive the middle of the tunnel and not scrape (approx 13’ center clearance but a too low 11’4” clearance at the sides). They also limit the width, without a special permit, at 7’10”. With the Jeep, I’m also too long. There are serious curves in the tunnel and the geometry at the curves would put my roof onto the tunnel ceiling, not good! Some decades ago, when I was here pulling a 40’ fifth wheel, I was camped on the west side and for the same reason couldn’t get over to the east side and had to do a 60+ mile detour to accomplish it.

Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020

I left a little after 10 am this morning holding a shuttle ticket to begin at 2pm. The park entry kiosk is about 10 miles east of the Visitor’s Center and the great scenery starts about there. So does the TRAFFIC! It’s a bit of a difficult drive at that point. Between the fabulous views, the drop offs, the little turnouts with 5 cars trying to squeeze into a 3 car spot, pedestrians walking on the road with their faces in their camera viewfinders, there’s a lot to pay attention to.

I finally arrived at the visitor center and it’s many parking lots to be greeted by a sign that all lots were full. I don’t know how many cars can be accommodated but enough for a reasonable sized shopping center. Signs recommended leaving the park to the west and parking on the streets and lots in the adjacent town of Springdale and either walking back in or catching another shuttle. Being me, I decided to just cruise the visitor center parking lot and on my first go round, found an emptying space about 100’ from the center itself. Woot, woot! Another observation. It may be mid Oct and one might think the visitors would be mostly retirees. You’d be wrong! All those people out of work or diligently working from home are actually in the park. Kids! Everywhere! Apparently schools don’t take attendance in virtual school. If you thought it looked like a mid summer holiday weekend, you’d be right.

These first pics and vids are the ride in from the entry to the visitor center.

With apologies for dirty windshield.
Tunnel Dessert – leaving the tunnel.
Traffic waiting for small motorhome to exit before being able to enter the tunnel.
So if you watched the long tunnel video, congrats. You probably noticed 5 areas of outside light filtering in. There’s no power in the tunnel so no electric lights nor fans for ventilation. Instead they bored 5 ‘windows’ from the tunnel to and thru the cliff wall. To the left is one of those windows taken from a vantage point about halfway down the descent. To the right is my iPhone’s telephoto version of the same shot.
This map illustrates my entry to the park. The East entrance is off the map about 7 miles to the right of the “North” symbol. The buff colored road is the paved road. It ‘ends’ just before the ‘Canyon Overlook Panorama’ where the road becomes gray illustrating the long tunnel. The picture of the window is taken from the 2nd switchback. The Visitor Center is illustrated by the darker green shaded area labeled “Zion National Park” and the shuttle route is the white line heading north along the river.

So much for the entry drive to the visitor center. Following are shots from the shuttle. The shuttle rides about 7 miles up the valley and then back to the center. There are 8 scheduled stops where you can get off, explore, hike, picnic, whatever. You can get back on any bus or elect to walk to the next stop or two. There are lots of people who walk the entire 14 mile round trip plus side hikes (and there are many). Outside the park, in Springdale, there’s a cottage industry for bike rentals and bikers are everywhere. The best way to see the park is to walk or bike it as then you can stop wherever you wish. That’s not in the cards for me so I was limited to shuttle stops. Of those, half were off limits due to rock slides and other reasons. Frankly the shuttle, though socially distanced, was not worth it due to the limited stops, the limited views from one side of the shuttle to the other and dirty windows – even dirtier than mine. The windows were opened about 5” where I could put the iPhone. But this is what I saw.

Left: where I found a parking space with the visitor center in front. Right: where I had to walk to get the shuttle
At the Visitor Center they had a nice panoramic display of the canyon. You can see the valley, which is the shuttle bus route, running down the middle. Hiking would branch out from the valley.

This is my third visit to Zion since 1998 and my reaction has been the same each time. Absolutely beautiful and overwhelming in scale but totally underwhelming in presentation. Too busy. All three of the visits involved the shuttles and those are very limiting. If one is to divide the park into two segments, one being the Zion Valley area and the other being the drive from the East entrance to the visitor center, the latter, IMO, wins hands down. The 5 mile or so steep switchback descent/ascent, including the tunnel, down the face of the immense cliff is worth the price of admission – and then some. My preference between Zion and Bryce is Bryce if only that in your own car, you can fashion your trip your way and, frankly, on my trip there have been many canyons, many colored rocks, many mountains and valleys but the hoodoo formations of Bryce are so unusual and plentiful and the view of same from atop so unique.

Friday, Oct 16, 2020

I decided this morning on an ‘add’ and took off on a 210 mile (round trip) side trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Although the busier South Rim is only about 13-14 miles, as the crow flies, from the North Rim, it takes about another 200 miles to actually drive between the two. They are also worlds apart in terms of traffic etc.

Things seemed COVID strange. For example, 25 miles outside the park is a place call Jacob Lake. It’s located on the plateau and in the Kaibib National Forest. There is a large Federal campground there which has always been filled to the brim in prior visits. There are now gates across the entry noting that the campground is closed because of COVID19. About 18 miles down the road, closer to the North Rim, there is another federal campground (DeMott) and it appears to be open.

Within the immediate vicinity of the North Rim, there is the North Rim Lodge. You are able to walk into the lobby but no further. The huge spacious dining room is barricaded and you are not able to walk the 25 or so extra paces to the many rear lobby French doors which open to a large outdoor patio. You can however access the patio from the outside by climbing down rock stairs. Adjacent to the lobby is a bar. Its access is off a small hallway which measures at most 4’ wide. People line up in the hallway to place food orders. No social distancing. After placing the order, the patron has to walk past the line of people to get to another location on the far side of the main lobby to pick up their order. Two way traffic imposed in this narrow hall is puzzling as is forcing additional traffic thru the lobby. All bathrooms are off limits forcing all to use the tiny portable jons – as though those might have adequate air exchange!

Most puzzling are the cabins. The main campground is off limits. Dining and restrooms are limited. But there are probably 25-30 individual log cabins all in a courtyard adjacent to the lodge (actually, they are the lodging of the lodge). The concessionaire operator’s people were all over the cabins, throwing laundry bags of linens on to the yard, hauling in fresh linens, lining up extra roll away beds to be placed inside etc. In short, getting the complex ready for what appears to be full weekend occupancy.

Though all the parks in this blog post are US Govt National Parks, they are completely inconsistent vis a vis COVID. Bryce visitors are pretty much self contained in their cars except when they elect to exit at a scenic turn out (or voluntarily congregate at the food trucks). Zion, on the other hand, is schizophrenic. The shuttles have been modified to reduce seating and capacities are severely monitored via ticketing and employees who match visitors to seats. But if you are early for your shuttle time, you are directed to a small area to wait – yes it’s outdoors but crowded. Then there is Zion’s large souvenir concession shop. Walmart on Black Friday would be delighted with the crush of the crowds. Zero controls on capacity. All sales are directed to only two small checkout areas such that lines of folks trying to pay extend deep into the areas where others are browsing and where hoards of kids are running wild and of course touching every souvenir in sight. Then the North Rim restricts outdoor isolated camping, encourages congregating much more closely cabin to cabin, and can’t decide what’s off limits and what’s not off limits if it promotes a burger sale.

Unfortunately, there was smoke in the air again, especially showing with distant shots towards the west.

In June 2020 there was a forest fire (Jacob Lake Fire) about 16 miles north of the North Rim. It consumed over 70,000 acres and is of unknown origin. The effects are certainly observable driving to the Rim.

In 2015 0r 16 when I was here, I did some dispersed camping (no hookups, no marked campsite, just find a place to park or pitch a tent in a forest or at a lake etc) about 9 miles south of Jacob Lake and about 2 miles down a forest path. I spent 3 nights there and explored many of the more than a thousand forest roads and trails. Many would dead end into some remote Lookout over another portion of the Grand Canyon.

Google earth satellite view of the GPS coordinates where I camped overlayed with a pic of my rig camped there 4-5 yrs ago. The visible white areas are rocks.

I just had to drive down the trail again and see if I could find the site and see if it had burned. It hadn’t😎.

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020

I will be staying here yet Saturday and Sunday. Plan on doing my laundry, some grocery shopping and probably washing the rig. I also need to haul out the Atlas and figure out where I should head to next.

The old paper Atlas is still the way to go for overall planning – as in which direction shall I head and why. Once I’ve determined a general preference, then on line tools are helpful. I primarily use a program called Road Trippers (and others) to see what photo opportunities there may be on the way; I primarily use an app call All Stays to see what camping opportunities there are along with camper reviews of same; a program called RVPark Reviews for even more reviews, tips; websites of the parks of interest, Google to zoom in a sat view of the possible locations, Trip Advisor to see what shopping, groceries , restaurants, POIs etc are nearby, weather app for a one week forecast and an app called TV Towers to see what OTA stations are near and whether the tower they use will reach my campsite (I like local news and weather). If I am going to need Rx refills, I then need to see what pharmacies there are nearby.

When asked about full timing by people, I usually describe it more carefree as in “I get to a state line, flip a coin to decide whether to head right, left or continue straight.” Actually there’s quite a bit that goes into planning. I’m not quite like a hobo picking a freight car and waiting to see where it lands😎. But I like being closer to a hobo lifestyle than being tied to a piece of ground/dwelling with life, in general, circumscribed/bounded by a few mile radius. I just like my neighborhood to be bigger.

106. Hanksville to Torrey, UT

Monday, Oct 12, 2020

144 Miles on Route 95. I had a malfunction of the tracking program just north of Hite when I stopped to make lunch. Didn’t notice it for 2 miles after I started moving again and I turned it back on. So I had to photoshop this together.

Sad news. Received a message this morning from long time full timing friend, Dale Pace. Sharon and I met Dale and her husband Terry probably 15-20 years ago online, probably Facebook, and with common interests in traveling we maintained a virtual friendship over the years. Sometime after Sharon’s passing, Dale and Terry, traveled deep into FL, squeezed their big Phaeton motorhome into a site at Collier-Seminole State Park and visited me at Port of the Islands. It was fun meeting them for real. We took a boat ride out to or towards the Gulf and Dale snapped some great bird pics and shared them. Dale wrote this morning that Terry passed away last night. He suffered severe heart issues for some 22 years and never let it stop him – though Dale did most of the motorhome driving. RIP, Terry.

Today was a bit windy but a great drive. In my last blog post, I wrote about my Thursday cross country drive along The Comb Ridge. That drive ended when it intersected Rt95 which I then took to Blanding and back to Bluff. What I missed in that blog post was that part of the route on 95 which went over and thru the ridge to get to the easterly side. I missed it because I didn’t realize what was coming and so was unable to react quickly enough. So today, heading to Hanksville, I covered the same 50 miles as far as Natural Bridges as I did last Thursday. I was prepared and ready this time.

So my crossing today was East to west, downhill. But I didn’t think it safe to be piloting the motorhome, towing a car while shooting a video going down this mountain ridge. So after I crossed, I stopped, disconnected the car and went back eastbound, uphill with the Jeep while filming. The next nearest crossing of the Ridge is 17 miles south.

Once west of Natural Bridges (just before Fry Canyon on the above map), the scenery along Rt 95 makes a major change going from an often green ride with mountains in the distance to red rocks ‘in your face’. No more ‘in the distance’. When I was a kid, I wasn’t much into reading Westerns. The Hardy Boys was more my style. I do have a memory though of the covers of Zane Grey type novels and I think I saw lots of them, LIVE, today albeit from a motorhome rather than a horse.

Arrived at the small town of Hanksville and guess what? Instead of a House in the Rock, they have a Sinclair Gas Station in the Rock. People must have too much time on their hands.

After checking into the campground, I took a short nap and then took the Jeep about 25 miles north to Goblin Valley State Park. Strange looking place and you can wander all through the ‘goblins’. There are actually 3 separate valleys but only one accessible by vehicle.

Tuesday, Oct 13, 2020

It was a short driving day but a pretty one driving through Capital Reef National Park on the way to Torrey. Capital Reef derives its name from a long, approximately 45 miles, north south fold, called Waterpocket Fold, or uplift which over time has eroded or folded over resembling, they say, an ocean reef. Since it’s Utah, there’s an abundance of rock of all color and type but, in keeping with the name Waterpocket, there’s a small river that runs thru the valley which provides a number of green an fertile areas. After checking into the RV park in Torrey, I took the Jeep back to Capital Reef to check it out.

One of the stops in the Park was for Goosenecks. Remembering Goosenecks State Park sights of last week, thought I should take a peek. It was a short but steep climb and I pretty much decided it wasn’t going to work for me. But two motorcyclists said I should try and they’d help. Got to the top and found the deepest canyon I’ve seen. No guard rails! My balance isn’t the best and if you’ve been reading my blog posts, you’ve gotten the idea that, unlike when I was a kid, I’m not fond of heights – to say the least. I never got close enough to the edge to see the bottom or the river. My new friends assured me it was there. I assured them as they stood at the edge that they were making me too nervous to even stay. Took me about 3 times as long to get down to the parking lot but I made it without falling. Made a few bucks as I charged $0.25 admission to watch me climb down. Haven’t seen anything in the news about 2 cyclists falling to their deaths.

Within the Park there is a historic site of an old settler’s town, Fruita, UT, now a ghost town. It’s in a valley with the Fremont River (we midwesterners would call it a creek but then again it’s dry season) and probably looked fertile to exhausted settlers. They planted thousands of trees bearing Jonathan, Rome Beauty, Ben Davis, Red Astrachan, Twenty-Ounce Pippin and Yellow Transparent apples, Moorpark apricots, Elberta peaches, Bartlett pears, Fellenberg plums, and the Potawatomi plum. Settlers also planted English and black walnuts and almonds. Grape arbors appeared later. Around the turn of the century, with basic essentials taken care of, settlers turned towards constructing a school, stores and a small lodge. The orchards are now a very very large picnic area, educational nature trails and campgrounds. Visitors are allowed to pick any of the fruit as long as they eat it in premise.

Tomorrow south towards the Bryce and Zion NP area for 5 days.

105. Bluff, UT

Monday, Oct 5, 2020

Why would they name it ‘Bluff’? I seem to be surrounded by bluffs created over time by the San Juan River and by wind erosion.

One of the first sights entering this small town is the Twin Rocks Cafe and Trading Post. It’s really a spectacular location.

The RV park is nothing fancy but more than adequate. Full hookups, level gravel sites, shade trees on wide and long pull thru lot. My lot at the extreme right and looking down the short access street to the bluffs.
Two miles down the road is a BLM (Federal Bureau of Land Management) area which contains a primitive campground (no services but the sites are designated and marked) and river raft put in. It is also the location of numerous petroglyphs. Some have disappeared as parts of the cliff face has sloughed off. A few areas have been defaced by human critters having no sense of history but many, though faint, are quite visible.

Tuesday, Oct 6, 2020

I had a touring plan for today. There are lots and lots of available choices.

My RV site is located in the upper right corner just above the little white arrow. The plan was to head SW on Rt 163 with a side trip into the Valley of the Gods, a stop at Mexican Hat, another side trip to Goosenecks State Park, a stop at Forest Gump Point and finally a side trip in Monument Valley just south of the AZ border. Probably 40 miles one way without side trips.

Side trip into the Valley of the Gods.

Valley of the Gods, a sandstone playground, offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. There are no designated campgrounds but ‘dispersed camping’ is allowed (no services, no designated sites – if you can drive there or carry your tent there, you can camp there. There are many scenic turnout type areas where you can camp with lots of wide open areas to hike and beautiful scenes.

A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections. It provides a fun drive and is a great place to get away from civilization – to get away from everything associated with modern life.

Mexican Hat. Mexican Hat is a small Navaho community (the whole area from Cortez, CO, southern UT and Northern New Mexico and Arizona is basically part of the Navaho Nation) located along the San Juan River. There’s a 7-11, a store of some kind, some dwellings and the bridge across the river. And a couple miles off Rt 163 on a dirt lane…

Wonder how the town got its name.

The bluffs behind the Mexican Hat provide an interesting backdrop which, when viewed from a far distance, look very much like the ^^^^ border one often sees on a sombrero.

Goosenecks State Park.

Since this was a state park and not a National Park or Monument, my old fart (Golden Age) Pass didn’t get me in free. Had to pay a $5.00 tax to UT to gain access. It was totally worth it as I’ve never seen anything remotely close to this.

The San Juan River makes a series of tight turns – goosenecks – below this viewpoint. The river has carved a deep canyon – about 1,000 feet – below the viewpoint. Geologists say this has uncovered a rock record exposing some 300 million years of time. These goosenecks are officially known as an entrenched meander. The San Juan River twists and turns through the meander, flowing a distance of over six miles while advancing only one and half miles west on its way to Lake Powell.  No drinking water is available, no trails and no access to the river. So what do you get for $5?

An amazing and incredible sight!

What had begun as a beautiful clear day was quickly turning thanks to California’s horrible fires. Nearby views were staying clear but the further the distance, the more hazy, smokey. Tall monuments or mountain formations easily visible from 2-3 miles in the morning/early afternoon were now becoming obscured at the same distance.

Forest Gump Point. I must have seen the indomitable Forest Gump movie 4 or 5 times on TV. And when I noticed that one of its seminal scenes was filmed here on Rt 163, I just had to see it. This was ‘the iconic spot’ where Forest ended his cross country run and if you’ve seen the movie, this spot is instantly recognizable. It’s pretty devoid of traffic and it only takes a minute or two to find yourself on an entirely empty highway and safely take your Forest Gump shot from the middle of the highway. Really fun! Too bad the monuments in the distance were being hazed out but it’s OK. 😎

Monument Valley. This turned out to be disappointing for two reasons. This Navaho Nation land one of the most photographed areas in the country. Towering sandstone pinnacles, desert floors, mesas and buttes abound. Some of the ‘good’ areas are off limits unless you purchase a ride with a Navaho guide. All Navaho functions and venues are closed through the end of 2020 and so most/many views would be long distance. This was a known disappointment reason. The previously unknown second disappointment reason was the haze and smoke was getting worse and anything distant mostly appeared as an apparition. What might be visible to the eye became indistinguishable in the camera lens.

The area, for many over the years, epitomized “the West” as it served as the backdrop for many many western films. One area is named John Ford Point inasmuch as the Western movie director filmed so many scenes there.

Though most was off limits due to tribal regs or smoke effects, early on there there were a few photo ops in an area where the smoke failed to penetrate.

I just need to include a stock photo of the views missed

Weds., Oct 7, 2020

Decided on an easy day today and just hang around Bluff. Bluff is a small town of just over 300 people. Bluff’s 20th century economic history is replete with the rise and fall of mining ventures in coal, gold, oil and uranium, together with the challenges of cattle ranching and farming along the erratic San Juan River.

The area, home to the Navaho and Ute, became the focus of the Mormons in 1880 when the church decided to create a settlement to ‘learn the culture’ of the tribes. 85 families were sent to the Escalade area of UT via established routes and trails. From there there was no direct route with untamed mountains, canyons and the mighty CO River (Glen Canyon/Lake Powell) in the way. The settlers planned on 6 weeks to make the trip from Escalade. Instead, via an epic Hole in the Rock expedition, it took them 6 months just to find a way across the river.

Their goal was the 4 corners area but the group was too tired and discouraged to continue when they reached what is now Bluff, UT. Unsure of how they might be welcomed, they first built an outer wall surrounding their wagons and then over time, built a village within the wall. About 10 yrs ago, with the generosity of a patron, a lone remaining structure of the original settlement, was surrounded by a new fort wall and new replicas of each of the early settlement buildings were built. Also built were the teepees of the Utes and Hogans of the Navaho. At each dwelling, there is a keypad to select the language of your choice (6 offered) and pushing the key, you hear a history of that particular building, who lived there and the family history. Extraordinary well done and totally free admission. I visited the Fort and after drove high above the town where on a bluff is located the town cemetery, the current home of many of those settlers.

Thurs., Oct 8, 2020

About 8 miles west of the campground is an interesting geologic feature. It is a monocline named Comb Ridge. I’ve looked up what that means but not sure I understand land folds etc. I do know that the ridge is along side a vast valley or Mesa and rises up very abruptly 1000 or more feet with cliff feature on both sides. In the case of Comb Ridge, the uninterrupted feature runs runs north south for almost 80 miles and is very distinctive as any 100 story or more 80 mile cliff would be.

There is a one lane dirt trail running on the west side and parallel to the ridge. I decided to take the Jeep off road and drive the trail northward for 17 miles till it joined Rt 95. What a drive. Over rocks for a while and then through the equivalent of a foot or so of fine red beach sand with ruts that throw the Jeep in any direction. About a 1.5 hour drive. The trail evades rocks the size of small houses that have over time broken off the cliff and fallen. It’s too bad that the pictures are unable to provide a sense of scale

Along the short drive from the campground to Comb Ridge
A few sights along the 17 mile drive

I was planning on leaving the area Friday morning but have been unable to find a campsite to the north towards Green River, UT, to the northwest towards Hanksville or Salina, to the south towards Tuba City, AZ, Southwest towards Page AZ or west towards Kanab and Carmel Junction (Zion), UT. As I’m finding, campgrounds are filled with people who don’t need to go in to work and have purchased a camper with which they can escape the COVID19 boredom. So I extended my stay here (albeit to a less desirable site) thru the weekend and I’ll try again to figure out my next destination.

104. Back Into Colorado

…But not too far

Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

Left Monticello this morning for a short 60 mile or so drive across the border to Cortez, CO. An uninspiring drive. Part of the reason for leaving was that I could not extend my stay at the campground and there are some things I’d like to try to see in this SW CO area anyway.

As a side note, this has been quite an unusual summer. In all my past years of traveling full time, I’ve taken some pride in the fact that I roam with no plan and only made campground reservations to get me through holiday weekends or to make sure I had a spot if I had a specific plan and time to visit someone. Otherwise it was just find a nice spot early or mid afternoon, stop and stay. This summer, campgrounds seem to be full or at least not available for several nights at a time. Reservations seem to be a must. I’m guessing that in the past, most campers were at work most of the summer and just taking up campground space for their vacation time. This year, with COVID, I’m thinking more people are out of work and getting stir crazy or working remotely and in both cases, if they have a camper, they’re doing ‘their thing’ on the road.

Saturday, Sept 26, 2020

The campground for this week is just outside of Cortez, CO and about a 6 mile drive from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.

Distant view of the tops of Mesa Verde NP from my campsite. Miles of pinion and juniper surround the campground.

The park was created in 1906 to preserve the archeological heritage (1150-1300 AD) of the Pueblo people who grew crops and hunted on the mesa tops and lived in the canyons and its alcoves.

Sight from the Park entry. A part of the Park’s 44 mile long road system is visible as it begins its climb. while there are several forks, all the roads deadend returning you back the way you came. The cliff dwellings are basically located at the far end. The drive is high (elevation to 9,000’) with lots of steep inclines and drop offs. The views of the Montezuma and Mancos valleys below are magnificent.
Mancos Valley from about 7,509’
Overlook towards Montezuma Valley
More Montezuma Valley from 8,004’ elevation
Cliff Palace. Ranger tours were closed for 2020 so it was not possible to hike down and then be take thru the complex including climbing the ladders to individual segments. Not that I’d have physically been able to anyway but, having never seen cliff dwellings anywhere before, I was impressed with the view from this overlook. Amazing place!
If you were to take the tour, the hike goes down thru here. A portion of the path is visible beneath the retaining wall at the left.
A mile or so away was another cliff dwelling called Balcony House. It too was off limits and from the overlook presented a more difficult view. I kinda think this probably housed the neighborhood mall. I did find it interesting that an Indian (I presume) couple had a table set up in the overlook parking area and were selling carvings, jewelry etc. While they were engaged with a shopper, I strolled up, knelt down to look at the boxes under the table – all shipping boxes labeled “Made in China”.😠
Juniper, pinion and yucca
Trees, at this elevation and with heavy winds, have a tough life
Along the drive there were several large areas with signs denoting the fires of 2002, 1997 etc. leaving kind of an eerie sight.

Tuesday, Sept 29, 2020

Today I took a sightseeing trip (100 mile round trip) to see Hovenweep National Monument which is located west of Cortez and is within or surrounded by massive The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The area straddles the UT/CO border. I’ve known about the area since 2003 but never had a chance to see it.

The area is so named as it was the home of the nomadic Anasazi indians. The now favored name is Ancestral Puebloans. By the 1200’s increasing numbers of people concentrated at the heads of canyons where there was water available and they became farmers raising maize or corn, squash, beans and a grain called amaranth. They congregated in small villages and in this area they more or less constructed stone shelters and buildings arising above ground level vs the below ground level cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde.

Many ruins from these times are located in The Canyons of the Ancients but are accessible only by off road vehicles or multi mile hikes. Hovenweep National Monument is a small section developed for accessibility and contains 6 such village clusters with portions of some of the buildings still standing. Even though the park facilities are basically closed due to COVID19, the trails (and primitive campground) are open. The trail, which circumscribes the canyon, is about 2 miles long passing by each of the village areas. I’m not able to hike that far but I did manage about 1/2 mile before returning. I got as close as 10-15’ from one ruin while others I was able to capture with the zoom feature if my iPhone.

It really is amazing to be viewing up close unretouched ruins of buildings built 8 centuries ago. It also boggles my mind how close (a foot or so) to a cliff edge they built or balanced the structure atop a rock. One building (I didn’t get that far) was built straddling a chasm with felled trees creating a bridge upon which part of the structure was built. The trees have long ago rotted and the middle part of the structure collapsed to the bottom.

With few people around (it really is a long way in the middle of nowhere) it is remarkably quiet. What you hear are the noises in your own head. A part I really enjoyed was the vegetation. So many Juniper Trees for miles and miles, all decked out with their little bluish berries. As quiet as it was is as fragrant as it was. The air was awash, not with viruses but with the sweet woody cedar aroma.

A heads up.
The canyon is barely visible running just below the hill line.

Built at cliff edge
Across the canyon you can see “Twin Towers” structure

Thursday, Oct 1, 2020

Hard to believe it’s October already! Today was another Jeep sightseeing trip. I headed to Durango and then north another 20 miles to the Rockwood Station. I’m taking a nearly 50 mile long ride thru the San Juan mountain range of the Rockies. The transportation mode of choice is a narrow gauge coal fired steam locomotive with about 20 open air cars behind – The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, established in 1882.

The ride starts high in the mountain and runs close to (like a foot or two) the edge of the canyons’ cliffs (assuming you are on the right side of the car). You can lean out the train car and look straight down and see the Animas River far below. If you are on the left side you literally can extend your arm and brush the rock comprising the vertical canyon wall arising above you. My timing was OK but probably would have been better in another week or so. Leaves are beginning to turn color. By far most trees in the area are pines and so the overwhelming tree color is green. Interspersed are lots of cottonwoods and some birch lending brilliant yellow leaves. A few others and bushes were showing the beginnings of orange/red.

It was cool hearing the sounds of the steam whistle and seeing the cloud of steam when it sounded. Likewise when the engine labored going uphill, a great cloud of smoke would linger in our wake. There was probably 5+ miles of ‘top of the canyon’ ride before the train started descending for probably another 5 miles towards the valley where it then ran next to the river rapids and in the forests.

About midway down, the train crossed crossed above the river by bridge. At about mile 15, the train stopped for 5-10 minutes while it took on more water for the steam boiler. Also along the way we passed a small hydro electric plant, a small dude ranch type place and maybe 3 or 4 houses. How those were accessed, I’m not sure. At the end of my ride (there are different ride options) we stopped at a railroad picnic park while the crew moved the rail switches. We then backed up about a quarter mile onto a spur, waited for another train to go past, moved two different rail switches and proceeded forward again (a Y turn) back to the beginning of the ride. If you didn’t switch sides of the train, you got an entirely different view on the way back. Total train time was about 2.5 hours and then another hour plus back to the campground.

I had planned on driving about 40 miles south to the Four Corners National Monument, the only place in the country where the corners of four states meet (CO, UT, AZ and NM). It is located on the Navaho Nation land and even though it’s a National Monument it is on Navaho sovereign land. The Navaho Nation had/has a high COVID19 rate and visitors on their land are not welcome, the entry road is chained off. I also wanted to go to Farmington, Shiprock and maybe Gallup NM but NM requires a 14 day quarantine if entering from a high risk state. Amongst the 30 or so states so labeled, all of the states surrounding NM are high risk so the only way to enter without quarantine is to begin in a low risk state and without stopping fly or take other transportation in. I thought perhaps Oct 1 would bring an easing but NM has spiked so that’s not happening. There were also a number of other places in NM I wanted to visit but that’s not going to happen now. Will have to pull out the map and look for other alternatives. I should be able to figure it out by Monday morning.

103. Monticello, UT

Friday, Sept 18, 2020

Today was my travel day for the week and I’m heading to Monticello, about 40 miles south of Moab, UT/Arches Natl Park. I spent time in The Arches area in 2003 at Portal RV Park and 4 yrs ago, I think, at ACT campground, both in Moab. I priced campsites in the heavy tourist area of Moab and found pricing between $75-90/nite. Moab comm’l campgrounds with services just aren’t worth that kind of $. On the other hand, the next nearest town is Monticello, 40 miles away. I opted for a nice full service, treed campground in Monticello for $200/week.

It was kind of an ugly drive. Having been here before, I know the scenery is fabulous. It’s just that I have a nephew and wife in California who apparently are entertaining their grandmunchkins around the campfire and the smoke is drifting this way. It was beyond a hazy drive – more like a smokey fog obscuring most of the views. Thankfully the wind has shifted out of the East and is predicted to continue that way for the weekend so it should start clearing this evening and be much better tomorrow. In addition I didn’t feel well last night and got very little sleep.

As one can see above, on the turn south from I70, there is a marked change in geology as the mountains change to a distinctive red color. Not obvious is the increase in the number of buttes, standing rocks and other evidence of lots of wind erosion.

Saturday, Sept 19, 2020

Far less smoke this morning close in and at semi ground level. Still very hazy in the distance and the higher up you look. The campground I’m at is not fancy but the sites are long enough, level and easy to back in. Shade, water, electric (50A) and sewer, what more do you need?

Across the side street is the 18 hole Hideout Golf Course. So I drove over to see what kind of course they might have in this arid rocky area. What a surprise! The entry and clubhouse are at ‘high ground’ with the lush green, treed course rapidly descending into the valley and then back up the incline. Greens are visible in the far distance nestled in the hills and trees. It seems that in the 1940’s through early 1960, Monticello was the site of a private and then US Dept of Energy uranium/vanadium mine and processing plant – in fact one of the largest in the country – contributing radioactive material for the Manhattan Project. In 1960, with demand for uranium diminished, the mine and plant were shut down. The area suffered from heightened incidence of cancers.

The current golf course site was the location for the plant’s tailings and uranium/vanadium sludge. In the 80’s it was the location of 2 superfund cleanups and in the 90’s the community received millions to rehabilitate the land. The golf course became part of that rehabilitation and is considered the second best course overall in Utah and the 23rd best Municipal course in the country. It and the local Morman temple are the highlights of the community.

I got quite the local story on the mine from the lady running the very nice information center and museum. Her dad worked in the plant and her mother corresponded with her dad about 6 months before coming west to marry him. Amongst the first things her dad took her on a plant tour (no security) and he opened a regular door in the plant into a big room to show her the big pile of yellow rocks in the middle!

I decided not to drive the nearly 60 miles north to Moab. First, Moab would be only the beginning then of the sightseeing day; second Moab, due to its closeness to Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Deadhorse SP, is a tourist Mecca and even though it’s mid Sept. the town was teeming yesterday when I went through it. They were turning cars away from Arches yesterday when I drove past and I heard a report from my former Last Resort crew member who is camped some 20 miles further north of Moab that visitors were being turned away from Canyonlands, north of Moab, today. Third, I’ve spent time in Moab, Arches etal in 2003 and again 4 yrs ago so I really don’t need to see it all again.

Canyonlands NP is effectively divided into 3 huge areas, though contiguous. This is because of the paucity of navigable roads. US 191 (from Flaming Gorge/Vernal) runs north south along the eastern edge. Access to the most popular part of the park, ‘Islands in the Sky’, is off US-191 about 10 miles north of Moab and Arches and dead ends some 50+miles south against basically impenetrable rock, mountains and canyons. Adjacent to the west is ‘The Maze’ part of the park accessible only by off road vehicles. The 3rd part of the park, ‘The Needles’, is accessed about 10 miles north of Monticello or about 65 miles south of the north entrance. That south access road runs westerly about 20 miles before coming to the actual park boundary and then runs another 30 miles in the park before it too runs into impossible canyons. You then have to reverse course and return the whole distance. Never having seen this part of Canyonlands NP, I decided to explore The Needles.

Many road intersections are identified as ‘by the Walmart’ or the ‘3rd traffic traffic light down’. Many inlets are identified by a lighthouse or break walls. The intersection of US-191 and the turnoff to ‘The Needles’ is identified as Church Rock; you’ll know it when you see it.

The drive along the road to access the park is interesting in its own right…

…but the sights within the park are amazing.

In the third picture above, immediately below the Wooden Shoe Arch, there is a horizontal band. Could you read the inscription? It says ‘Albertus Van Raalte was here’.😎😂 (For my West Michigan Dutch friends and relatives)

You may remember that I bought a Jeep as a toad behind the motorhome. The model was Trail Master and it is officially “trail rated” by Jeep. Among the five criteria each vehicle is rigorously tested and evaluated by includes vehicle traction, maneuverability, ground clearance, water fording and off road articulation. Well, I’m old and not going to make my own tracks up a mountain but I did see a trail off shoot near the end of the Park road. The sign warned that it was for off road vehicles only on this trail. Why not???

So off I go on this dirt, gravel, natural rock ONE lane trail with hairpin blind turns, steep climbs and descents and beautiful views. Upon meeting any oncoming traffic, agreement was needed who would go off the trail, and where, to pass. Numerous areas at the bottom of swales where flash flooding took what little trail there was necessitating a 10’ or so “no trail” ride. Fun. Glad I got the ‘trail rated’ model even if this is the only time I use it as such. All the pictures from #5 on in the above slide show, were from along the trail.

Monday, Sept 21, 2020

After some chores this morning, I took a ride to check out two sights I saw when driving the motorhome to Monticello. I couldn’t find a safe place to stop at the time. One is called Wilson Arch and it’s not part of any park system. It’s just sitting there on the side of the US191 road,

It’s an immense arch and people are free to climb to it, around it and in it. There was a group up there under the arch and as best I could tell, it looked as though they were eating a picnic lunch.
And next to the arch formation was a fin formation. I couldn’t really get a good picture angle but that big rock is probably only 20-25’ thick. Kind of like a fin on a fish.

About 10 miles further up the highway was a tourist trap called “Hole N the Rock”. A very kitschy looking place. I had to look it up online and decided it was probably worth a stop.

Also note the ultimate off road driving experience on the top of the rock. A white Jeep Wrangler displayed as though it’s about to drive off the rock. Also note to the left of the large “H” a huge gecko type sculpture crawling on the side of the rock. Also note the niche blasted in the rock beneath the “OC” with a rock sculpture of FDR within. Finally note the projection sticking out of the ledge above and to the right of the “K”. That’s two 10” bores through the rock ceiling to provide a chimney for the fireplace inside. The white Souvenir Shop used to be the Hole N the Rock diner and to the right of it are two of the three facades providing natural light to the cave inside.

In the 1940 a Mr Christensen started blasting a cave in this rock. He and his wife worked on it for 12 years. He was a former miner, an artist, a sculptor and taxidermist. Over that time they built and blasted a 5,000 square foot interior structure which became their home and business. The business was a diner blasted into a large cave. Adjacent was another cave room which was the commercial kitchen. In addition to regular appliances, the carved a large stone bowl in the wall with piping from a propane tank to a burner within. The stone bowl served to hold frying oil in which they made their French fries. Ice boxes are blasted into the rock. No heat or air conditioning inside as temps stay between 65 and 72 degrees year round.

Thru the back door of the kitchen, you enter their home. IT IS SPACIOUS AND WELL OUTFITTED. 3 bedrooms, either 2 baths or 1.5 baths (large deep tub is carved out of the rock wall), home kitchen, dining room, huge living room with beautiful fireplace, an large office, a studio for his painting, sculpturing and taxidermy, and an equally large studio for her rock collecting, sanding, polishing and jewelry making. In one corner of the living room is the start of a planned 100 step interior stairway which he was building to the very top of the rock where they were planning on a patio and garden. He died, in his 50’s, of a heart attack shortly after starting it and she continued the diner, tours and jewelry businesses for 17 more years. The interior guided tour of 12 minutes duration was $5.00.

No pictures are allowed inside. I was fortunate enough to snap a pic into the diner’s kitchen before being reminded of the rule. The kitchen is the only painted room to conform with health regulations that a restaurant kitchen must have walls, ceilings and floors that can be cleaned. I’ll try to find some online pics that may show the inside of this incredible dwelling. The outside (and inside) is littered with eccentric sculptures. There is also a zoo of some sort on premise which I did not visit.

Kitchen for the diner

Stock photos; Art studio, taxidermy and sculpture studio, and child’s bedroom.

Final resting place

Jeep sculpture

Will be leaving Friday for my next stop.

102. South to Fruita/Grand Junction, CO

Monday, Sept 14, 2020

After 2 weeks in Vernal/Flaming Gorge area, I left this morning heading south. I’ve spent the last few days trying to decide where to head. I didn’t want to head back north or west as that would just have me heading towards CA or Oregon/Washington and fire country. Anything north in UT, WY or MT is at best hazy with the western fires. Denver and East is not on my radar as I’d end up crossing the Rockies twice (going to spend some winter time in AZ). It’s still too early and hot to really head a lot further south. So it seemed like a good compromise to head south along the Rocky Mtns where hopefully the temps will stay below the 90’s and the smoke may stay further north.

There’s really no direct or semi direct road to the Fruita/Grand Junction and as shown in the above map, it’s a lot of mountain driving. Very pretty but not a lot of opportunity to take pictures. Then besides typical mountain driving there is a 20 mile or so section of steep southbound ascent followed by even steeper southbound descent with lots of hairpin turns. I think there were only a few places on the 10 mile long descent where the official speed limit was higher than 20mph. The road is narrow two lane and the drop offs aren’t life threatening, they are life ending.

The mapping program I use is set up for boat cruising and so doesn’t incrementally chart speeds above 20 mph. Below that speed, the route taken shows in different colors depending on speed. On the map above there is a small section which appears generally in the color yellow (a slower boat like speed). That is the Douglas Pass. A blow up of that area and color chart of my speed is below

I saw a lot of snow in Douglas Pass as well. Thankfully, none on the road. Well before the Pass there were some places to stop and look around. Additionally past the apex of the Pass there was a spot where I could see no traffic and could stop on the road and take a picture of the road below me where I would soon travel. That portion of the road shown in the pictures is probably only half way down.

I arrived in Fruita, CO, about 8 miles west of Grand Junction on I-80. I was unable to get a site at Fruita – James M Robb-Colorado River State Park Campground but did manage a spot across the road at the commercial campground Monument RV Resort but was only able to snag 4 nights. The main draw in the area is the Colorado National Monument (CNM), about 6 miles down the road.

Tuesday, Sept 15, 2020

This is my second visit here. I think I was last here, with Sharon, in 2003. Many travelers have never heard of CNM. It was awesome on the last visit and even more so today.

The highcountry of CNM rises far above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River at the edge of the Uncompahgre Uplift. The park is part of the greater Colorado Plateau which also includes wonders like the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands national parks. In many ways it reminds me of Bryce but without its multitude of hoodoos and of a smaller Grand Canyon. In all, you basically drive your car atop the canyon and look down vs Arches or Zion where most of the view is up above you. At CNM, for me, the road began at Fruita and ended about 27 miles away in Grand Junction after having completed a rough semi circle atop the numerous named canyons. Grand Junction could also be a starting point ending in Fruita. Either way, one will spend about an equal amount of time driving on the canyon side, or for me the wrong side, of the road.

The road, either way, is basically cut into the steep sides of canyon walls. I lost count, at 26, of the extreme hairpin turns. On the Fruita side there are two tunnels cut thru canyon walls and on the Grand Junction side, one. All three narrow and somewhat curved tunnels are 10’6” high on the sides by 16’ in the middle. When the road is not on the side of a canyon wall, it is a basically a ridge road meaning steep drop offs on both sides with little shoulder. For the most part, it seems the Natl Park Service ran out of guard rails. Since ones choice, as a driver, is to keep your eyes on the road OR drive off a 2000’ canyon wall, it’s a good thing that they built a lot of little one or two car turnouts and a number of real parking lots or else the driver wouldn’t see anything other than his/her white knuckles.

I must have aged some since 2003 ‘cause I remembered it as very scenic but didn’t remember how scary it was. I’ve never loved heights and the older me now has some balance, stumble and height induced weak knee issues. Even at the stops, I took my pics quite far back from the railing. There are many many miles of designated trails (46+ miles) some of which are from top to the bottom. I chose to walk about 1/2 mile on a short one thru the really pretty pinions and stunted junipers to the edge (or close) at Ute Canyon. Atop the canyon like that, the pinion and juniper trees showed what a hardy lot they are growing in the rocky and windy conditions. The ‘trail’ degenerates into whatever route you find thru the trees and on the way back I followed some footsteps in what I thought was the right direction and I got lost. I finally remembered I had my car fob in my pocket and pressed for the horn. Nothing. I walked further, this way and that and finally heard a very faint ‘beep’ which I followed and which eventually led me back to the Jeep.

I had one other most remarkable thing happen. On a steep climb, shortly after coming out of a curve and shortly before entering a hairpin, I saw a bighorn sheep crossing the road maybe 25’ in front of me. Now having seen one close up, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one before. It walked like it owned the road. Sadly there were no shoulders for me drive to/on so I had to stop right on the road. There was a vertical cliff across the lane on the drivers side and a steep ravine culminating in a humongous drop off on the passenger side. Thankfully, traffic is about 1 car from one direction or the other every five minutes. Unfortunately the sheep was off the road and down the rocky ravine before I could grab my iPhone and get a picture. One time in my life I get to see one in nature and I’ll only have a memory. It was magnificent! I probably stayed parked right on the road with my hazard lights on for 10 minutes or more. I got out and walked close to the road edge but it was gone. Where, I have no clue. As far as I’m concerned that ravine was so steep as to be impassible.

One other thing worth mentioning. I saw about a half dozen people who had lost their minds. I can only hope they’ve come to their senses. They were riding their bicycles! While I can’t imagine being able to make the climbs, I surely can’t imagine riding the downhills!! From the number of cars and RVs toting bikes, it appears that biking at 8,000 feet is a popular sport here. Go figure!

CNM route. Fruita shown at the top and Grand Junction mid right. The red line is the paved road while several of the long trails are shown with dotted lines. Straight line from Fruita to Grand Junction is about 8 miles while the red route thru CNM is nearly 30 miles and over 3 hours.

Tomorrow and Thursday will be easy days for me, I think. I plan to do some laundry, some grocery shopping and pick up some prescriptions between now and leaving Friday morning.

101. Rock Springs WY to Jensen, UT (almost)

Depending on your internet connection, it may take some time for photos to download.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Left Rock Springs for what should be a short, mileage wise, mountain and gorge drive south on East Flaming Gorge Rd (Rt 191) to my next campground in Jensen. It was to be 124 miles and the purpose was to position myself at the more picturesque UT section of the Flaming Gorge. For the most part it would be mountain driving (up to 10,100’ elevations) on a narrow shoulder 2 lane road bounded on one side by rocky walls and on the other generally by drop offs of several hundred to thousands of feet. At least it is very lightly trafficked.

Fifty seven miles south of the nearest WY town of Rock Springs and 57 miles north of the nearest UT town of Vernal is the State Line between the States. About two miles north of the State Line, descending a substantial grade on a curving road, my dashboard panel changes digital messages from the normal trans. temp`etc to blank and then flashes on and off a single message in bold CAPS – STOP ENGINE! There was about a 2’ shoulder with a steep drop off, on a steep downhill grade and curve. No place to stop.

After about another mile downhill (easy on the engine), the descent started flattening, the shoulder increased to about a slanted 7’ with only a damaging but not deadly drop off beyond. I continued till well into the straightaway where vehicles would be able to see me as they came off the curves and then pulled over as far as I dared, put on the air brakes and shut down the diesel.

At the top is the starting point from the Sweetwater campground to the point where I stopped. At the bottom is Jensen, UT, my hoped for destination. Basically, in between, is nothing but mountains until the road empties, with an 8 mile, 8 and 10% grade descent with 10 major major switchbacks and numerous truck runaway ramps, into Vernal, UT.

It’s about 12:30 pm. Virtually zero cell service. I see something blue colored further down the hill. Disconnected the car and drove only to find it was a blue roof on an old building. Another mile down the road was a level turnout with some cell service. I called my insurance which has roadside service, and they gave me the number of their call center (with fragile cell service thought it best to limit the number of connections) which I called, gave the pertinent info such as vehicle size, my GPS coordinates and the fact that the Motorhome was a safety hazard as it was not completely off the road.

Short version, they had difficulties finding a willing tower. I was googling in outward circles also trying to find one. By 3 pm I got a call that they had located 1 tower out of Rock Springs willing to come and tow me. The bad news was they would charge $4,500.00 and the worse news was that I, having used the same insurer used by me some 10+ yrs before, neglected to determine that their coverages had changed from unlimited then to max of $250 per tow now. Both I and the insurer thought the tow company was being predatory. We both continued trying. Soon the insurer determined they were not finding anyone and said they’d call the WY State Police about my hazardous location and that some times the police had ‘powers of persuasion’.

By 4 pm I had a trooper with flashing lights guarding my rear (visible behind me in the above picture). Talked with the trooper several times as he said dispatch was trying to find a tow company. By 5pm I had found a tow company in Salt Lake City that would come out Tues morning and tow me to Vernal if I could just get the motorhome to the level, off the road turnout a couple miles away. Shortly thereafter the trooper advised they had twisted the arm of a tow company which would come all the way out and tow me the two miles for $1400. The combination of the two tows would still be less than the $4,500 so I agreed. The tower made good speed and arrived by about 6pm. Outside temps were already down to nearly 50 degrees and snow was reportedly possible at elevation this night. Upon arrival of the tow truck, the trooper did a hurried UTurn and disappeared.

I learned that towing a diesel pusher up and down mountain grades was more involved than I thought. In addition to just hooking it up, it is REALLY hooked up. Since the motorhome had sat for the afternoon without running and without the air compressor operating and because temperatures had gotten colder, a lot of air had gone out of the air suspension so truck air line had to be hooked up to ‘reinvigorate’ the air suspension. Then the drive line is taken off the motorhome.

The motorhome has air brakes which are just the opposite of regular brakes. Regular brakes on cars etc have a default position of the brakes being separated by a distance from the wheel hub and when brakes are applied the brakes are forced against the hub to stop the car. On big trucks and motorhomes with air brakes, the default position is for the brake drum to be firmly mated to the wheel. When brakes are ‘off’ the air compressor forces air to the brakes which then are released from the wheel drum allowing the vehicle to move. No air equals brakes are on and vehicle isn’t going to move. So then they needed to run an airline over the motorhome axles to the rear so that the tow truck’s air compressor could keep the motorhome brakes from actuating. By 7 pm ish, we were ready to leave.

The tow crew was two men. The driver was obviously in charge and the other an older man who did all the hard work but very much seemed to know what he was doing with little direction. Watching their interactions, the driver was the boss of the crew but ‘very gently’. I figured that maybe he was the owner and his gentle treatment indicative of not wanting to have the other guy, a good worker, quit etc. So during one of the times we were both watching the older guy work, I broached the subject of them towing me all the way to Vernal, 57 miles away, rather than 2 miles to the turn out which would save me the time and expense the next day of getting the SLCity company all the way out to complete the tow. He kept saying it would be so much more expensive but we finally broke down that his averages speed towing thru the mountains would be 30 mph or 2+ hours to Vernal and that his return trip to this point would be about 1.3 hours and he finally decided he’d do it but that the total tow would be $2500.

They’ve got the coach moved off the shoulder and onto level surface. Southbound lane was blocked off for about 1.5 hours

Shortly after 10pm (and after a couple of brake and security checks before descents) and with me following in my Jeep we arrived at Cummins engine shop in Vernal. I had lots of time during the drive to think and decided that the driver indeed was the owner (he made the decision to go on, price etc without checking with any dispatcher or boss) and that the worker bee was pretty important to him. So in the Cummins lot I asked him if he was the owner, he stuttered and finally said he technically wasn’t. I explained that it had been decades since I had been towed and would it be appropriate if I tipped both of them $100 apiece for their help. He was thrilled that his sidekick would get a C note.

They finished up, I gave each of them $100 and “sat back” while he figured out the invoice. When done, he said he figured that I should only pay $2,000 so I’m thinking the $100 to his sidekick ended up saving me considerable. It was then he said the business had been his dad’s and now was technically in his wife’s name. He told me the State Police had begged him to take the tow and that he had said “No.”. That it was really a difficult tow both in terrain and because of the motorhome. His wife told him “you will do it” and that’s how I got to Vernal, 10 miles short of my campground destination.

They left at 11 pm. My car, which instead of being towed the whole trip, had been driven and had been idled for some hours while waiting, showed the ‘low fuel’ light when I pulled into Cummins so I decided I probably should go to the nearest gas station and fill up before settling in for the night. While at it, I got my first McDonalds cheeseburger, in probably 10 or 20 years, for a combo lunch and supper. Even though hungry, it tasted like the same old crap of years gone by. How is it Mickey D is still in business?

It was a cold night and I was up and waiting by the time the sole Cummins employee got in to work. I knew what the problem was. The coach had leaked a lot of coolant which I could see and smell at road side. However the leaking coolant was not coming from the engine in the rear but rather was flowing from a compartment ‘mid ships’. In that compartment is the AquaHot. AquaHot provides instant hot water and heat to the coach either by propane, electric or by transferring engine heat to the water and furnace air. That transfer, like on the boat, is by routing the hot engine coolant to the AquaHot before returning it to the coach radiator (or in the case of the boat, heat exchangers). Coolant coming out of that compartment meant a busted hose or broken hose clamp in that location. Not something I was absolutely certain about not had the tools and supplies to fix on the side of the road.

By 11 am, Tuesday morning, the Cummins tech had replaced the feed hose which had split longitudinally and added 6 gallons of additional coolant. No damage of any kind to the engine or the AquaHot system ( are just shy of $5k to replace). He explained to me that if the coolant gets below a certain threshold, there is an automatic complete engine shutdown to protect itself. Glad to hear that on one hand, concerned of a shutdown at the wrong time on the other hand. Arrived at my destination campground about 15 minutes after leaving Cummins. The balance of the day was spent taking it easy.

Vernal is a town of 10,000. It is also known as Dinosaurland. More on that in days to come, I think. One thing that is spectacular is the mile plus long Main Street. At the curb on the sidewalk on both sides of the street are huge concrete pots brimming with petunias. I would guess there is a pot every 100’ or so. Actually interferes a bit with street parking and opening the passenger doors. Anyway, I’ve never seen pots of petunias that large and I’m betting along the way that there are over a thousand. The streets are lined with street lights on both sides and on each pole hangs not one but two immense hanging baskets of petunias. Not a dead one visible. None are ‘leggy’ as ours used to get. The fragrance is amazing as you walk the streets. I asked and am told that each pot gets watered, fed, dying flowers pinched off every night by city staff.

Alongside a restaurant parking lot and sidewalk cafe.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

I decided that today I would take the Jeep back up the same road to see what was in total darkness Monday night. Basically a 50 mile or so drive up the east side of the Gorge, past the Flaming Gorge Dam and the Dutch John marina and fuel stop, ending maybe 10 miles short of the WY/UT line plus maybe some little side trips like to Antelope Flats campground. Thursday I’ll drive what I think will be the more scenic west side of the Gorge to Manila and beyond.

Boat Ramp at Antelope Flats. The peak in the middle is actually an island
In this shot of that mountain peak/island, you can see the lake flowing between the two land masses.

Another good thing for today. Got an email from my mail forwarding service that I got mail. So I went on line and looked at the envelope scan. A large envelope from a title processing company. It appears as though Avis has finally got my car titled and plated to me, nearly 120 days from sale and after 60 days of my having to illegally drive the car. Fed Ex should deliver to me tomorrow and we’ll see.

Thursday, Sept 3, 2020

My phone woke me up this morning. I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t take the call and it went to voice mail. Surprise! It was an attorney from Avis Corporate. A recent news release by a large law firm had indicated that Avis had hired that firm plus 6 others to help streamline their business and legal operations. Of course, a senior partner needed to have his face and name displayed in the news release and I obliged their wish to streamline by emailing this partner about my Avis experience, my complaints to FL DMV and FL Atty Genl. I mentioned that the problem of not delivering title appeared to be systemic, indicative of perhaps Avis using customer money for general corporate purposes rather than paying down a line of credit to obtain the car titles (another form of a Ponzi scheme) and that I’d contacted a law firm to see if the would be interested in doing a Class Action.

So after leaving me a voice mail message, the Avis staff attorney also sent me an email expressing his wish to talk to me. Attached at the end was a copy of the outside firm’s email to the Avis staff atty to take care of this and appended to that was my email. The two sentences in my email about there being so many similarly affected buyers across the country that I’ve contacted legal counsel about a possible Class Action were highlighted in yellow. Sure wish the news release had come out 2 or 3 months ago! I might have been less stressed always looking to see if there was a police officer around that might hassle me.

Left about 10 am to drive north along the west side of Flaming Gorge to Manila, UT. As I thought from looking at the maps, the west side would be the more spectacular side. I probably took over 100 pictures.

After getting further north of Manila, over the WY line and back south a bit onto a Utah peninsula, I stopped at a Natl Forest Campground , Lucerne Campground. There are probably 100 or more Natl Forest Campgrounds around the Flaming Gorge, this one, I believe, is the only one that has any sites with electric service (no water, no sewer) and I wanted to see it. I was surprised. It was on par with many Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds- mowed, defined sites with fire pits and ramadas. From there I headed back south retracing, almost, my route back to my campground.

Almost because about 10 miles south of Manila I took a sometimes asphalt, most times gravel 21 mile loop side road called Sheep Canyon Geological Loop. The name was intriguing. It turned out to be the absolute best part of the two days. The ‘road’, with no traffic, basically followed a brook deep in a valley with canyon walls bordering both side. No hills to climb or descend.

It was an absolutely lush verdant canyon and the canyon walls were spectacular evidencing several dozen forms of rock and formations. Sandstone, red stone, granite, shale, boulders, hoodoos, peaks, massive overhangs, fins, a rift/cleft/split in the mountain, uplifts of rock, volcanic formations, horizontal and vertical striations plus one amazing massive arched rose striation bordered by an almost black slanted vertical one on one side and white slanted vertical on the other side. Didn’t see any glacial influence on the rocks and formations. There was one couple mile long caldera. Also saw some mountain top glaciers in the distance. There was a plethora of trees with fine spidery white flower bushes climbing the tree. If no tree was available, the bush was just freestanding. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this flower. A picture of one such is the second slide picture below. Maybe someone can comment if they know what it is? Also saw what appeared to be a mountain ram but too far to be sure.

I stopped at what used to be Palisades campground (NFS) where there was a large rock with a metal plaque attached. It commemorated 7 campers who, in 1965, lost their lives to a flash flood through the canyon campground. It has been closed since. There was another spur off this side road to Spirit Lake which I did not take. After 21 miles, the Sheep Canyon loop rejoined State Rt 44 and I headed back to Vernal, exhausted.

And yes, the 12th photo above is oriented correctly. It is a huge rock overhang towering over the road.

Returning to Rt 44 there were, again, several areas where the cattle competed with the vehicles for space.

Friday, Sept 4, 2020

Today was a different day. Destination only 6 miles away. Dinosaur National Monument covering the northeast corner of UT and northwest corner of Colorado. It’s a massive area of the Rockies but only 6 miles from the campground is the Visitor Center and Quarry Exhibit Hall. A Natl Park Service shuttle took me from the Visitor Center up a steeply graded road about a mile to the Quarry Exhibition Hall. There is a large but not tall (maybe 15-20 stories) mountain ridge which has been quarried since the early 1900’s. It was a bonanza of fossils and bones. As water receded and the sharks and fish and shell fish died and all the varieties of dinosaurs, their bones etc. lays on the ground. At some time and at some age, rivers returned and bones were washed away and accumulated in specific areas in layers and over time covered with silt, then rock, lava, upthrusts etc. This ridge was one such depository.

In the 1950’s the Federal Government was persuaded to make the area one of learning for the public and an exhibit hall was constructed. It was poorly engineered and its foundations crumbled with the shifting earth. It has been rebuilt with piling down to bed rock. The ridge itself over time has had several hundred lineal feet excavated to the point where that section is now only 60’ or so tall. The rebuilt building is about 10 feet short of that height with an exterior ramp to the highest level where you enter. The building has 3 walls and the 4th is the sheer rock vertical wall of the ridge. You enter at the top and walk the length of the building along the rock wall. Many bones and fossils are plainly visible in the wall in front of you as you walk with many explanatory signs on the railings (you are very high up with this steep wall going far below you) and displays behind you. At the far end is a ramp taking you down another level where you can again walk the wall and see the bones/fossils from a new level. Etc. In effect you zigzag yourself down alongside the wall until you get to the bottom and the return shuttle. It was a good 3/4 hour and extremely interesting.

I was brought up to not believe in the existence etc of dinosaurs. Decades ago when I went to the GR Museum they had a reconstructed 2 story dinosaur in the lobby. Though I’m sure it was a reproduction, I didn’t believe the concept was believable. Later, my grandchildren were ‘enamored’ of the various types of dinosaurs, playing with miniatures fighting etc. and I didn’t know what to think. It was contrary to my inner core. Decades have passed. I looked today with as much of a critical eye as I had to be sure I wasn’t looking at plaster of paris etc. I’m now convinced these fossils and bones are real. That there were sharks in the Rockies. That these huge animals did roam the earth and that their remains after time were embedded in mountains.

Stock photo to help illustrate my clumsy description. Wasn’t nearly this busy and mostly masked.

Most of the above pictures are my iPhone ‘telephoto’ pics of the granite or sandstone wall. It was hard to believe so many fossils and bones in such a relatively small location. One exhibit showed how many places in the country have received complete dinosaur reconstructions from bones found in this Jensen, UT quarry. Something like 20.

Going through the exhibit brought to mind a remembrance in my past. I’m quite positive I’ve never been to an exhibit such as The Dinosaur Natl Monument but there was something. I searched and this picture is from August 4th, 2004. Looking at the map of stops of that year, it appears this was probably taken at a Rest Area in western Colorado where Sharon and I stopped

Also within the park are a hundred miles or more of passible roads (some by means of high clearance vehicles) to locales such as Split Mountain, Echo Valley, Moonshine Rapids, Gates of Lodore, Cactus Flats, Starvation Valley and many more (including several petroglyph areas). I didn’t take any of these as I have had enough mountain driving where I had difficulty keeping my eye off the scenery and on the road. I’ve always considered the whole of southern UT worthy of being a National Park in its entirety and thought of Northern UT in terms of unimpressive Salt Lake City. Wrong. This area rivals the Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Arches, Zion, Bryce and others. Different but equal. Not up to the standards of the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs perhaps, but a worthy rival.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Sept 5-7

No sightseeing planned. I made a major reprovisioning trip to the local Walmart and basically sogged. I am supposed to leave on Tues, Sept 8th. Tuesday is supposed to bring wind and a major cold spell. Current forecast shows a high for Tues here in the valley of 45 degrees and a low of 33. Unfortunately you can’t drive all that far without going up and elevation equals colder. The mountain areas featured in my pictures above are forecasted to get 6.5” of snow. I don’t have to be anywhere and I’ve not yet decided where to head to next, so I think I’ll stay wrapped up and warm in the motorhome for an extra day or two.

💯 Rock Springs, WY

Monday August 24, 2020 (100th Blog Post)

Easy drive today of 200 miles. About the first 1/3 was valley type driving – mountain ranges to the east and west driving in a relatively flat and green (much of it irrigated) miles and miles wide valley. Did I mention the valley is also a major US oil and gas producing region? No evidence of the kind of ugly, at least to me, derricks, rocker pumps, flaming torches; instead just hundreds, no thousands of neat vertical storage tanks with an occasional 6 or 8” pipe coming out of the ground with a valve attached and then disappearing back underground. Very little to disturb the beauty of the landscape. Then the valley started narrowing and narrowing some more followed by an easterly turn over the mountain and voilà, I was on the Wyoming high plains. Totally different geological features. Generally flat, rocky, arid and replete with massive buttes – beautiful in a very different way. The highway finally dead ended/merged with I-80 which I traveled for about the last 40 miles of this segment.

I had been unable to get a weeklong campsite at a National Recreational Area campground south of the town of Green River and in the huge Flaming Gorge NRA nor at a number of other public and private campgrounds radiating out from the Gorge area. So I elected for a ‘sure thing’. The northwestern corner of the Flaming Gorge NRA is anchored by the town of Green River and the Northeastern corner by Rock Springs, WY. The southern portion of Flaming Gorge is in Utah. Rock Springs is a town of about 25,000 and is a hub of WY’s oil and gas industry and was a hub of its coal industry. The old coal section of the town is just plain tired. The outskirts exhibit the wealth of the oil/gas industry with modern major buildings for storage tank suppliers etc, for industry servicers like Caterpillar, Cummins, Peterbilt etc and facilities for actual oil & gas exploration companies like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger. City and county buildings, roads and parks reflect the immense financial contributions of this industry.

Though these facilities still look sharp and new, the current worldwide slump in oil prices is evident wherever you look. Baker Hughes, Halliburton and Schlumberger buildings stand empty and vast parking lots vacant. The huge Caterpillar facility has two cars and a pickup outside. COVID19 and the oil recession has closed many restaurants. It’s not a ghost town by any means but it is suffering.

So, back to camping. In the recent glory days couple of decades or so, the County – Sweetwater County – built Wyoming’s largest and likely most modern fairgrounds/events complex.

Huge indoor and outdoor arenas, exhibition halls, livestock areas, barns, halls, large 1,000+ seat dining hall, moto cross track, BMX track, stock car track, rodeo arena with covered grandstands and an 18 hole golf course. Oh, I almost forgot, 3 campgrounds for over 1,200 RVs with full hookups all with 50 amp service. As one might expect, the campsites, though barren of trees and grass, are of ample size and are set up as though each rig is in its own really nicely fenced corral. This events complex hosts 800 organized events per year ranging from country western concerts, summer stock car races, rodeos, roping competitions, roller derby exhibitions and of course typical fairground events.
A stock aerial photo of two of the three campgrounds with golf course and its clubhouse in the background. Occupancy, due to COVID19, is now a shadow of its former self. All the events once associated with and attended by the oil and gas exploration and drilling industry are gone. What longer term tenancy, that existed of RVs associated with the industry, is no more. What is left is a very expensive, well designed RV facility with maybe a 1% occupancy at least at the present time. There are maybe 30 rigs scattered around. This facility hosted the annual US High School National Rodeo Competition which requires the ability to accommodate 1400 RVs in order to compete for the event. It of course was canceled this year.
Here is my rig backed into my corral stall with power pedestal, water and sewer hookups in the reserved utility area which runs behind the ‘stalls’.
Imagine, over 1,200 nicely built RV stalls complete with modern utilities and facilities.

Reservations for a night, a week or a month or more are no longer required. Just drive in, pay a very modest fee, drive around and pick any site you wish and settle in. No stress. And though not along a beautiful riverbank etc., it is very centrally located to many interesting, at least to me, things to see. I’ll be here a week, perhaps longer.

Tuesday, Aug 25. A complete rest day with a couple easy chores like ordering Rx refills etc.

Wednesday, August 26.

Ambitious plan to see the 2nd largest living (shifting) sand dunes in the country, petroglyphs and a drive through a wild horse sanctuary. Accomplished the sand dunes and petroglyphs. About 14 miles north of the campground is a dirt road towards the petroglyphs and then further to the dunes. Two lane gravel with shoulders about a full foot to 1.5’ below. You better not wander and if there is an oncoming vehicle, best to slow to a crawl while passing. Pictures absolutely do not do justice to the vastness, the buttes in the distance, the incredible amount of sagebrush, the arid conditions and emptiness. What was completely surprising was the occasional cow/steer or even several grazing on what, I’m not sure. And these animals are LARGE. Even got to see a pronghorn antelope which startled me by jumping across the road and running into the distance. Unbelievable speed. Of course it was way too fast for me to grab the camera and snap a picture but I’ll remember the sight. Never have seen one before.

Petroglyph area

This is known as the Boars Tusk, an isolated remnant of a long extinct volcano. Heavily eroded, all that remains of the volcano is part of the erosion resistant volcanic neck rising 400’ above the plain.

And at the end of the 28 miles is the beginning of 72 miles of sand dunes (but with a maximum width of 3 miles) headed by an ATV area and primitive, though not dispersed, camping area. No water, power or sewer. A primitive toilet, a dozen or so concrete picnic tables and fire rings. Evening silence, no light except stars and moon = solace.

Thursday, August 27th.

Today proved what a smart decision it was yesterday to postpone the drive through the wild horse sanctuary. I did that today and though it was just ‘driving’, it was exhausting. It is known as the Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Tour. Directly across the road (Yellowstone Road and yes, it does run the 200+ miles to Yellowstone) from the campground are the White Mountains, more like a Mesa -flat top vs jagged peaks).

Rising up to 8,000’. Don’t be fooled by the perspective in the bottom picture where the mountain seems to recede at either end. This is a panographic picture which just emphasizes the curvature of the mountain making it look like the height is lowering at the ends. Not so.

The scenic tour starts about 15 miles north of the campground where a “gravel” road climbs to the top of the White Mountains. The “gravel” road runs some 25 miles along the mountain flat top and bluffs until it once again descends the side of the mountain to the town of Green River. To one side are the steep bluffs to the valley while to the other side are miles and miles of flat top rock and scrub brush. Extraordinary scenery. First let me tell you why I put the word gravel in quotes when saying “gravel” road and why driving the 25 miles is so tiring.

I wonder where that pothole goes?😀. Those pieces of “gravel” are tough on your tires, back and butt.

‘Wild Horse Scenic Tour’? What’s with the ‘wild horse’? What is so scenic?

WY tries to maintain a population of about 6000 wild horses in the state. About 2500 are in the Rock Springs region and this sanctuary on the White Mountain Range is home to many. The sanctuary comprises about 400,000 acres but without any border fences, it is whatever the horses say it is. It is also home to elk, coyote, pronghorns and multiple other animals, most of which you will not see. Indeed, I saw only two groups of wild horses. One was too far off the ‘road’ that my iPhone pictures could barely show them. Another group of five I saw and took some distant pics while I could for fear my car might scare them off. Not so and I was able to get closer and even better pics. Amazing animals. I felt very fortunate that I got to actually see any in their natural vast habitat

The wind was whipping from the west at about 40mph. All five horses stood stock still with four facing into the wind and the last facing away.

So that’s the horses, what else is there to see? In a word, vistas!

The drive is very well populated with descriptive plaques. If I had any complaint, they were too well done, glossy, variegated light backgrounds, all of which made them difficult to photograph and at some angles, even difficult to read
Eastward and to the far right, some 30+ miles distant, you can see the butte pictured in yesterday’s photos
And then, if instead of looking eastward over the bluff, you turn and look across the vast plain atop the White Mountain, there appears the Pilot Butte named because it served in early days as a marker for the Oregon Trail and Overland Trail and as a reference landmark for 1920’s mail planes.
Far below this bluff is the City of Rock Springs and perhaps that dot is the campground where I’m staying. It’s actually steep enough and far enough down in person such that your knees can be affected.
The roads finally lead down past some smaller buttes to the town of Green River
WHAT A LOCATION FOR A HOTEL. It’s totally dwarfed in the foreground by small buttes in the background.

Friday, Aug 28, 2020

I’ve decided to make a slight change of plans. I was going to drive the Flaming Gorge yet from here. It would be an approximate 200 mile route south from Rock Springs along the east side and around the ‘bottom’ in Utah returning north up the west side to Green River, WY and back to Rock Springs. Instead I’ve decided to relax through the weekend and then move south along the east side to a campground in Utah. The southern end appears to be more scenic per the brochures and more accessible to the water. Also from the Utah location I’ll have more exploring opportunities.

So today I went into the historic district of Rock Springs where they have an area museum. It was a bit disappointing. No real theme and somewhat unorganized. Other than a few ‘built in’ exhibits (like the building used to house the county jail and court) the rest sort of appeared to be that folks cleared out their attics, donated the stuff to the museum in return for a tax write off and placard “Donated by the XXX family”. While one jail cell was ‘dedicated’ to Butch Cassidy it was mostly pictures. Another cell was all Calamity Jane but I can’t find anything that shows she spent much if any time here or that she was in a jail cell, anywhere, anytime. Another cell had a display of women’s formal gowns of the day. From what I can tell, there wasn’t much call for satin gowns in this hard scrabble country and even if so, in a jail cell? Nonetheless a few items that I actually have memories of caught my attention.

Not exactly the TRS 80-100 that I used, it is similar to the folding suitcase type of “portable” computer I would lug to some bank here or there in TX to valuate a possible bank purchase for my employer. And a 5.5” floppy disk!
Though our frig, as a kid, was larger, the icebox part looks about right. And the mix master is right on.
And I sure had a box camera like this when I was a kid

All in all, if any of you really want to go back in time for the largest collection of anything and everything Americana and old, go to Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village in Minden, NE. Twenty six very large, some multi story, buildings spread over 20 acres. Guarantee it’s good for 3 full days of browsing.

99. Grand Tetons and Environs

Star Valley, home of this RV Park and others and a number of towns, is surrounded by the Bridger-Teton Mountains and Carribou and Targhee Natl Forests. It was originally known as the Salt River Valley named for the river running through it. The valley is 12 miles wide and 45 miles long. The altitude of the RV park is about 6,200’ with surrounding peaks rising to 10,ooo’. The major outlaw who surfaced as a Star Valley resident was Butch Cassidy who earned his nickname working in a butcher shop. For my nephew and nieces, I should report that the park, in addition to a large pool ets, has 12 pickleball courts!

I drove 10 or so miles further south of the campground to Afton (the town in WY and not the Scottish River). Afton boasts the world’s largest arch made of Elk antlers.

It is big, spanning the 75’ highway. It’s made with over 3,100 antlers (which were gathered from an area where the Elk go annually to shed their antlers).

I am going to be here a week so I thought I’d take it easy for the weekend. in the local neighborhood of the campground, I saw a couple other things of interest.

Ranching/farming is pretty much going in circles. The fields have to be irrigated and most are done with the giant sprinklers, hundreds of feet long and riding on tractor tires. One end is anchored to the well head and the whole contraption rides in a circle around that pivot point.

About a mile away is one of the prettiest and natural looking church edifices I’ve seen in years.
And even closer, a rancher is raising Alpacas. Not sure I’ve ever seen one, other than in a picture, before.

So Monday, I decide to drive to Jackson to take the gondola ride up to the top of the Grand Tetons. Best laid plans! It didn’t happen.

After lunch I’m driving north heading to Jackson doing the speed limit/65. A much faster suv comes up behind me, the road is open and he/she passes me. When along side, my drivers side window literally explodes. Right next to my ear. Tremendous noise. A shattered piece of tempered glass about 6”x8” is on my lap. Fragments on the floor, on the seat, on my arms, my shirt, the center console, even the cup holder. I pulled over on the side and composed myself, opened the door and removed what was still hanging from the door window frame.

I’m about 35 miles from the campground. What to do. Was able to get the internet so googled ‘auto glass near me’. Nothing. Not a good sign. Googled Safelite and NONE in the State of WY. Not a good sign. Googled and saw two auto glass installers in Thayne – where the campground is so turned around and headed to the one that had the best looking building. Thurs night is my last night here and the campground is full for the weekend so I can’t stay longer.

Good sign. Autos in the lot with blue tape on windshields. A truck in the lot with one of those glass carriers on the back. A real place!

They tell me they have only seen a complete explosion like that once before. They looked up what glass was needed for the vehicle/model. They don’t have it but called their supplier in Salt Lake. Yup, they have one in stock. I waited while he ordered 3 windshields and one rear window for other cars and one drivers side front window for mine, all to be shipped overnight for morning delivery. He’ll call me in the am when it arrives and will need 2 hours to install and vacuum up all the glass. Whew! Feeling lucky.

I was worried the next morning that I’d get an ‘I’m sorry’ type phone call telling me the common carrier dropped my new window en route and it broke. I did get a phone call but it told me the window arrived and they’d install it at 1pm. It took them a fair amount of time to remove the door panel and then they meticulously, very meticulously, scraped, vacuumed, blew out all the glass shards out of the window track. It was explained to me that if the new window encountered fragments as it the window raised or lowered, there was a good possibility it might ‘explode’ again. The cleaning took the better part of an hour and once done, the new window was quickly installed and the door panels reinstalled. I was happy ‘cause my air conditioning can’t keep up with mid nineties temps and the window open. I had filed a glass claim the previous evening and was pleased and surprised that all the paperwork had been sent to the glass shop and all I needed to pay was my $50 deductible. Many thanks to that little green Gecko.

I also have had some paperwork to take care of today. Not sure if anyone would be interested but it has consumed a fair amount of time in the past month+. It really has nothing to do with the ‘traveling’ so to skip it, drop down 7 paragraphs and start again at the ****.

Prior to buying this motorhome from a small consignment dealer, I had purchased my Jeep from AvisBudget Orlando used cars. They got paid for the car, for the So Dakota sales tax due, for the SD plates and for the title transfer with the excess to be refunded to me. From both dealers, I received a 30 day FL temp registration and paper tags and that’s where the similarity ended. FL law says the dealer has 30 days to accomplish the retitling, reregistering and plating process.

Little old motorhome consignment dealer had it together and the motorhome got registered, titled and plated in MT in the name of my LLC within the allotted time. Avis not so much. 30 days passed and no progress. Spoke with Avis Orlando and they were of little help. General manager said that all paperwork etc is handled at the corporate level and that he had heard they laid off 70% of staff that handles sales. He also said “corporate is inept”. However he would not give me contact info for the responsible ‘corporate’ department. He did email to me a second 30 day FL temp registration and paper plates. Under special circumstances, a dealer may do the 30 day extension.

So now I was good till very early July and well before that deadline I started the process of following up for a progress report. I separately wrote Avis’ President, it’s Genl Counsel and the Corporate person in charge of used car sales. I’ve not even gotten the courtesy of a acknowledgment reply much less an on point response from anyone. I’ve called the Orlando Genl mgr but only get voice mail. To date my messages haven’t been returned. I’ve emailed and texted him as well, numerous times, and no response. Thru the internet, I’ve found quite a number of people with the same problem and not just with the Orlando facility. At the end of the 2nd 30 day temp registration I contacted and then filed a 10 page (incl exhibits) formal complaint with the section of the FL DMV that regulates titling etc and licenses dealers to sell vehicles. I since have had many phone calls with the examiner in charge. She says that FL is well aware of the “Avis situation” and of the many who are still waiting for title and plates. She said the department is working to get it solved. But I get no promises. She told me that FL has set up a temporary solution, that all I have to do is go into any FL DMV, tell them I’m caught up in the “Avis problem” and for $4. the DMV will issue another 30 day permit. This could be done over and over again. I asked how I do that when I’m 3,000 miles from the FL border and she had no answer. Unlike a dealer, the DMV does NOT have the ability to email the permits. You have to appear in person. I asked if FL is the authority which allows Avis to do business in FL, why FL doesn’t shut Avis down throughout the state instead of saddling citizens with the burden of visiting the DMV and forking over $4 each month. No answer.

I also filed a similar documented complaint to FL’s Attorney General alleging fraud (I haven’t gotten what I paid for – title, tax bill paid, registration and plates and overage refund ), embezzlement (Avis hasn’t paid the So Dakota Sales tax and registration fees that I’ve funded) and Elderly Abuse (I’m old; deprived of legal use of the vehicle on the alleys, roads, streets and highways of this country; can’t sell the car since I have no title; I can’t finance or refinance without ownership; and my insurance requires me to have a properly licensed vehicle in order for my ins to be effective). It’s been 60 days and I’ve yet to hear from the AG’s office.

I’ve filed the same complaint with the BBB responsible for AVIS Orlando and AVIS/Budget Corporate. The BBB has managed to get a response from Avis Corporate – a short letter stating ‘thanks’ for advising them of the issue and they will contact Avis Orlando to find out what happened and get back to BBB. BBB asked if I would accept this response. Of course I didn’t. Corp has 3 letters as yet unanswered. It is reasonable that a national fleet of vehicles (any vehicle of which can end up anywhere in the country; a fleet probably centrally pledged as collateral for Corp financing) would have centralized control over the used car sales and transfers. I furnished BBB with the Orlando Genl Mgr’s text stating that everything post vehicle delivery is a Corp function and I argued that the letter from Avis was pure BS. 99 days into this transaction as of today and Avis is doing a Sgt Schultz “I know nothing” routine!?!

As a career banker/lender, I have been blessed/cursed with skepticism of anything I’m told (all/most borrowers lie thru their teeth about how much they make or owe when borrowing and about how little $ they make or have when defaulting). Knowing that a local Avis office wouldn’t have physical title on hand (and confirmed when I asked) I wanted a partner with me and so I told Avis Orlando that I wanted 100% financing including taxes, plates etc. They provided a national lender happy to accommodate. So I have no money in this deal other than 2 payments in 3 months for an amount less than a total of 3 weeks rental. Of course if the car hasn’t been titled to me and no title has been issued, the lender has NO lien. I’ve been in similar correspondence with the lender’s Genl Counsel asking if they have a preference where I should abandon the car (closed industrial park, an off road canyon somewhere?) and if they wanted to hazard a guess where in the continental 49 states it might be. And if they did look for it and find it, they had no basis to repossess in that Avis still owns the car and the lender has no lien as a basis for repossession. I don’t need the car. There’s many for sale with titles available and all I need to do is wire the funds.

So why tell the story. In case you are thinking of buying an Avis fleet car, be forewarned. More likely amongst those I know, you may be an investor. Avis/Budget PR and investor department has been working overtime touting the company as a stock investment and separating itself from the bankrupt Hertz. Maybe the Orlando manager is right and Corporate truly is “inept”. I think it more likely, based on number of people whose complaints I’ve seen, that Avis is collecting the thousands and thousands from each sale and rather than reporting the sale and paying down the fleet loans and thereby obtaining the title or MSO (manufacturers statement of origin for a car that has never been titled), Avis is just using the $$$$ to pay for toilet paper, lights and other general operating expenses and using subsequent car sales proceeds to liberate titles owed from months (or even longer) earlier. Can you spell P O N Z I? Just my theory. And wondering why the Avis/Budget President/CEO and also its General Counsel both resigned within the last 6 months and why the Avis CFO resigned just last Thursday? Connect the dots. Investors, take heed.


I think I’ve come down with a head cold. Congestion, runny nose, watery eyes. That together with more difficulty breathing due to an even higher altitude (the Valley is at 6,200’ elevation) makes me feel a bit miserable. I’ve been here for 5 nights already and haven’t managed to even get to Jackson, Grand Teton or Yellowstone yet. I’ve extended my stay from 7 to 10 nights. Gotta be flexible! An article today in an Idaho newspaper pointed to N CA as the source of all the smoke in eastern ID and pointed out resulting shortness of breath and, runny nose and watery eyes. Maybe I’m not sick after all.

I think I’ve come down with a head cold. Congestion, runny nose, watery eyes. That together with more difficulty breathing due to an even higher altitude (the Valley is at 6,200’ elevation) makes me feel a bit miserable. I’ve been here for 5 nights already and haven’t managed to even get to Jackson, Grand Teton or Yellowstone yet. I’ve extended my stay from 7 to 10 nights. Gotta be flexible! An article today in an Idaho newspaper pointed to N CA as the source of all the smoke in eastern ID and pointed out resulting shortness of breath and, runny nose and watery eyes. Maybe I’m not sick after all.

Nonetheless, I’m taking a whitewater rafting excursion tomorrow (Thurs, 8/20). I’m told this late after spring runoff, the whitewater shouldn’t be real bad. Instructions require wearing tightly laced shoes and suggesting a swim suit. It’s an 8 mile trip. A bit nervous. I’ve done the Snake River with this rafting company before but then I chose the lazy river ride – and enjoyed it. This should be fun🤞.

As I now write, I’ve finished the whitewater rafting. I’m beyond tired. It was fun and WET. Thoroughly wet. I know absolutely nothing about the sport but am told these were Class 2 and 3 rapids (rapids are rated from Class 1 to Class 6 depending on difficulty. Class 6 rapids are too dangerous to be run commercially anywhere in the US). The Snake River, in this section and at this time, ranges from a shallow 2’ deep to 100’ deep. During Spring runoff and lasting to July, the river rises over 30 feet and of course the speed of the current is much much higher than now. It was a little disconcerting to see debris (humongous trees trunks) scattered on mountain sides, where the Spring flood water tossed them, so high above your head. During the Spring runoff, these same rapids are classified from Class Three to Class Five.

The adventure starts in Jackson, WY where you board the bus of the tour operator, in this case Lewis & Clark River Expedition. Masks were required and the dozen or so passengers were well spaced. Other participants of the the 10:30 am either followed in their own vehicles or met us at the launching site. Our group was 4 rafts of 8 persons each (16 person capacity rafts). The trip to the launch site was about 40 miles. The equipment van and trailer was already there when we arrived. Sanitized life vests were provided as was a dry bag to attach to the vest. Rubber boots were furnished to those who hadn’t followed instructions to wear laced shoes. Safety instructions on what to do if capsized or thrown out of the raft were given. Nervousness increased. Also given were instructions on proper paddling. We were told that in a rapids, you paddle or you risk going overboard as the paddle provides you with a third point of balance, the other two being your butt sitting on the outer tube and your inside foot wedged under the cross raft tubular ‘pillows’.

And we’re off in nice calm waters. In the front was an ER doctor and his youngish son and daughter. He was experienced in rafting and kayaking (and climbing) around the world and even spent some time as a member of a rescue team. Feeling a bit better. The two children did not paddle. Then sitting ahead of me was an experienced couple from Naples, FL and ahead and behind were two grown daughters. Filling up the crew was an old man, me. Behind us all was our guide and steersman, Jesse. He would tell us when he wanted us to paddle and how many strokes when actually in the rapids. In the calm areas, no paddling was needed, the current kept us moving. Seated low in the water like this, often the rapids were hard to see as you approached. The biggest clue was Jesse saying “I’m going to need 4 strokes in a few seconds…..NOW!”

The doctor had a yellow helmet mounted GoPro. A good idea. This calm section was the only time I had time to get my iPhone out of the dry bag to take pictures. I’m sitting directly behind the guy with the beige hat. The 2 orange rafts and the blue raft were also part of our party. The views were spectacular. Smokey haze was just starting to become apparent this early in the day. By the time I arrived back at the campground late in the afternoon, most mountaintops were totally obscured. Per the TV news, some smoke from the Beaverhead fire in the Dillon MT area (sound familiar?) but mostly being carried from the Northern California fires.

At one point downriver, there was a clearing on the side of the mountain and it looked like a log cabin type lean to. What’s that, I wonder. 10seconds later, it appeared as though there were a couple of people there and…what’s that equipment?

It was two photography companies taking rapid sequential pics of each raft going through the rapids at that location. Probably 15 seconds of pictures and then your raft would be through the rapids. Once back at Jackson we received the brochure of each company with instructions how to buy and download digitally or buy prints.

Watch the below slideshow and you can see why you keep your money, wallet, iPhone, bottled water etc. in a dry bag and attached to you. Totally soaked from head to toe. I had my foot jammed under the white cross tubular pillow so hard, in order to stay aboard, that I needed both arms and a fair amount of strength to pull it out. The sequential ‘slideshow’ below covers about 15 seconds, or less, time on the water (out of @ 2.5 hours total water time).

It was, I’ll admit, a fun ride. Don’t think I’ll do a white water ride again but the views in a canyon are so spectacular that a float trip again might be in the future, somewhere. An hour drive back to the campground and I collapsed into a two hour nap 😴 💤 💤 💤 from which I wasn’t sure I would awake. Thinking of what to do next. Skydiving??? NOT!

The smoke from the California fires (according to the weather reports, all the smoke we’re seeing here is coming from N CA, over Nevada and Idaho. The smoke from the MT Dillon area fire is being carried further north. I still have on my list taking the gondola up the Grand Teton mountain but I don’t think that’s going to happen. The smoke was even heavier the day after the whitewater trip and Saturday heavier yet. I can’t see the mountains which start their rise about 6 blocks from the campground. If you look back at the picture above of the church, the background mountain range is completely, totally obscured. No sense dropping a tourist dollar or two or thirty to ride up a mountain you can’t see for a view that doesn’t exist.

So I’ll just hang today and tomorrow and head out Monday. I think I know where I’m heading, generally, but that could change. If relatively smoke free, I’ll stay a week or so before moving even further south.

98. On to Jackson Hole, Grand Tetons (and Yellowstone?)

What a fun drive today!

Not even ten feet of Interstate driving. All cross country driving with mountain climbs and descents, twists and turns plus beauty thrown in for good measure. A bit windy but for the most part a tail wind.

Use two fingers to enlarge

I’m actually in a RV park (Star Valley Ranch Resort, RV and Golf ) in Thayne, WY. It’s about 45 minutes south of Jackson Hole. I wanted a week stay and campgrounds are generally either full or don’t have 1 week availability. It’s a very large (700-800 sites) park with most sites individually owned. Am hoping that this is the ‘last gasp before school starts’ weekend and it becomes a little less congested.

I plotted my general trip so far on a map. I think it’s a good overview. It doesn’t represent each stop, just enough to map my route. 4,550 miles/17 states. Don’t know yet where I’m heading after next week. I probably won’t post again until I’ve finished checking out Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons next week. Whether or not I head into Yellowstone with the Jeep will, to some degree, depend on time and traffic. I think I’ve ‘done’ Yellowstone three times already so it’s not a high priority.

97. Idaho

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Another reasonable starting time this morning even though my planned drive wouldn’t be that long. Weather forecasters are predicting heavy winds of 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 35 today. Additionally, the wind would be out of the SW which would be partially headwind and partially broadside. The motorhome is much more affected by wind than was the boat. With cool morning temps (48), with the wind, and the temps building to the hi 80‘s in the afternoon, the morning’s lighter wind was advantageous.

Some 70 miles south of Dillon, I crossed into Idaho and nearly immediately entered a small portion of the Targhee National Forest, a major change of scenery from Montana ranch land to heavy forest.

The forest scenery soon morphed to endless vistas of brown and sagebrush entering the northern border of the Great Basin Desert, one of four North American Deserts.

After roughly half of the segment on the Interstate, I left it at Dubois to get on the Nez Perce Trail. Every once in awhile the landscape would jump in my face as some acres of real green would appear together with those huge sprinkler systems rotating around a central pivot point. I even passed two corn fields. I was shocked. At the second one I slowed way down (no traffic so it didn’t bother anyone) to make sure it was corn. As far as I can remember, the last corn fields I have seen were in Eastern South Dakota.

At some point the Nez Perce Trail turned more due west over the mountains (the mountains probably didn’t bother the Nez Perce indians as they fled the US Cavalry to try to escape to Canada) while my road angled southerly to skirt the mountains. Soon the road joined and became the Oregon Trail.

I arrived at my destination for the next three nights, Arco, ID and checked into the Mountain View RV Park. Arco is a town of about 900 people and is sited at about 5,300’ elevation. Even though I’ve been generally at a mile high for a week to ten days, I’m still not comfortable with it. Ain’t age wonderful? Again this is a minimal amenity park but well designed/built i.e., long enough sites, level, well placed utilities and relatively green and trees. I have a great view of the nearby mountain right out my living room window.

As you can see, it’s a bit breezy. This is the view standing by my motorhome door. I’ve zoomed in on Graduation Mountain a/k/a Numbers Hill. Every year since 1929, the graduating high school class climbs this mountain to paint gigantic numbers of their graduation year on the side of the mountain. Those are some steep cliffs that the numbers are painted on.

So why Arco? The world’s first peacetime use of nuclear power occurred when the U.S. Government switched on Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 (EBR-1) near Arco, Idaho, on December 20, 1951. The town of Arco became the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power from a reactor on July 17, 1955. Nearby is the Idaho National Laboratory facility, one of the 7 national research parks of the United States Department of Energy (Fermilab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, Nevada Research Park and Hanford). It is on a 890-square-mile complex in the high desert of eastern Idaho, between Arco to the west and Idaho Falls and Blackfoot to the east.

Twenty miles south of Arco is the large physical laboratory complex. It is located a long way off the public road too far to get a recognizable photo. There is a self guided tour but it as well as the entry road was closed due to COVID19 🙁, a real disappointment. About 30 miles from Arco and on the south side of the laboratory physical complex is Atomic City, population 29, up from 25 in 2000. It is located maybe 10 miles down a dusty gravel road.

At one time, some 7 decades ago, this road to the nuclear future bisected Atomic City.

Today, all this place has going for it is a funny name. It is an isolated ghost town-to-be. The gas station is also the post office and bar.

I saw one of the 29 residents and she was pulling up to the bar. It would be with some degree of apprehension that I would ever get out of my car. The thought crossed my mind that if ever some manufactured illegal drugs were found contaminated with radioactivity, they might have been made here.

At 9:01 p.m., on January 3, 1961, a nuclear reactor the size of a small grain silo exploded in the nearby desert. All three men inside the Stationary Low-Power Plant Number 1, or SL-1, were killed. To this day, they are among the only recorded nuclear fatalities ever to occur on U.S. soil. Even in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown, in March 2011, no one in the mainstream media mentioned the SL-1 disaster. 

The reactor went critical and in 4 milliseconds, the surrounding water became steam slamming against the lid of the reactor like a piston. The lid was blown 9’ in the air. The men’s bodies were wrapped in several hundred pounds of lead, placed in steel coffins, and buried under a foot of concrete.

On my drive back, I wondered if the research labs were actually operational etc. As I approached the entry road, I decided they were. I passed at least 40 beautiful new luxury passenger buses, each painted the same and labeled with the laboratory name, complete with electronic signs for their various routes to the populated cities of Pocatello and Idaho Falls, 80+ miles distant. It was 4:40pm and obviously the facility draws its large workforce from long distances. Also obvious is that the facility is productive.

The Arco area has a long history of military testing

One Small Step for Man… a/k/a
Al Does the Moonwalk

Eighteen miles west of Arco is Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. CoM are definitely of volcanic origin but not of the stereotypical Mt St Helens type where the mountain blows its top, not of the caldera type like Yellowstone, a giant bowl that sinks into the earth but of the rift type, a giant fissure . CoM is a 52 mile long fissure called the Great Rift. The vast volumes of lava cane not from one volcano but from a series of deep fissures that cross the Snake River Plain. In addition to horizontal lava flow from the fissure, there are a number of craters stretching from south to north. Geologists say the earliest of the craters is in the south and occurred some 15,000 years ago while the younger, north craters last erupted 2,000 years ago.

The publicly accessible portion of the Park is located on the north side and includes the “North Crater” and “Big Craters” along with a number of spatter cones and an area of lava formed caves. There is also a visitor center (mostly closed due to COVID19) and a primitive (no utilities) campground with sites widely dispersed among tall and rocky lava formations. Additionally there is an excellent 7 mile long loop road with numerous turnoffs and trailheads.

I stopped at all the turnoffs and walked some of the shorter trails while skipping a few with steep climbs or long distances. The trails leading to the North and Big Craters are nearly 2 miles long, each way, and I skipped those. I did manage 2 short but very steep trails to two spatter cones. Spatter cones are small eruptions or vents. One such climb was only .2 mile but was 18 degrees steep with no guard rail protecting one from a drop off. Climbing up took all my breath but coming down was scary. Not a downslope to be wearing flip flops (I wasn’t). The trail, though paved, was about 30” wide. Up & down traffic passing each other needs to pass carefully or better, sideways. On the way down, I was alone the whole way, thankfully, and I made good use of holding on to the lava rock sides next to me. The other spatter cone I climbed is named “SnowCone” and was a shorter climb. It gets its name from the fact that there is constantly snow and ice at the bottom of the crater. It has steep straight down interior sides such that direct sun light never reaches the bottom and thaws the snow. There is a chain type fence right at the top and if you lean over or, as I did, hold your camera over the edge, you can see or get a picture if the snow. 90 degrees outside and you are probably 100’ from snow!

Other areas of note are the cinder hills and flats. While some of the eruptions result in lava, many are so hot that the lava is incinerated leaving just black cinders. Over the years, decades and centuries prevailing winds deposit the cinders into hills, much like black sand dunes, and accompanying flat lands interrupted here and there by giant boulders or lava formations. The cinder fields are often populated by what looks at a distance like patches of white mold. Closer inspection reveals 6” or so patches of tiny white flowers. They are spaced from each other with such precision that one would think they are planted but they’re not. Since the area is so arid, the little plant has a root system of about a 3 foot radius to sip what water is available and thus the plants are separated by available water. The flowers are white to reflect as much of the sun’s heat as possible.

There are also lots of area of scrub brush and rugged looking Limber Pine trees. One of the walks I took was in a flat area called Devils Garden, a cinder, brush, Pine tree and rock strew area. No path, you just wander clearing areas between the scrub brush listening for the sound of rattling. Didn’t hear any 😀. The cinder is really thick and it is the softest walk I can remember. It almost felt like I was walking on pillows or a mattress. Also in this area small yellow lichen manifested itself growing on the lava. Almost looked like veins of gold. There were also some petrified trees and other pretty flowers. It was an unworldly section in an unworldly fascinating park and well worth the visit.