Have now been here about 10 days and getting a bit acclimated. The Rio Grande Valley is a series of cities along the Rio Grand River/Mexico border from the Gulf’s S. Padre Island inland some 100 miles to the Rio Grande City. It encompasses 5 of the lowest per capita income counties in TX and has a population of about 1 million. It is also home to a great number of snowbird RV parks with a heavy Canadian snowbird population.
I am in a park named Pleasant Valley RV Park which is one of 4 large parks adjacent to each other all under the same ownership. Pleasant Valley has about 320 RV sites with probably half developed with park models etc. I am told it is normally full. Not so this year. From my rig I can count about 35 non park model sites next to me, in front and behind me. On those, there are 5 RVs including mine. There are probably another 15 or more park models within easy eyesight and I’ve not seen one occupant. With the Canadian/US border closed, the Canucks have pretty much stayed home. No trouble staying socially distanced anywhere in the park including the in the massive club house and heated pool.
The reason, as I earlier reported in the blog, for leaving AZ and going to TX was COVID19. AZ wasn’t taking COVID seriously. Where I was, no one was masking up. Social distancing was a concept for avoiding the Russian gulag system. Centralized rules for vaccine distribution changed daily and seemed to push seniors down in the system while elevating, well, everyone else. TX, on the other hand seemed to have it all together. Their rules for vaccine access were steady and well publicized including listings by county of where the vaccines were going and how many dosages. While states like AZ and FL debated whether “their” vaccine supply would be restricted to residents or not, TX was overtly welcoming to snowbirds recognizing that it was federal, not state, tax dollars responsible for the vaccine.
So how has that worked for me? While in AZ I was completely unable to find out when (or even if) vaccines would arrive in Mohave Co. Mohave Co absolutely had no plan whatsoever what they would do with the vaccine if and when they got it. AZ had the distinction of having the highest per capita rate of infection in the WORLD. It’s ICUs statewide we’re reported at 115-120% of capacity and there was not one available bed within 100 miles of Lake Havasu City. And the maskless community seemed to not have a clue.
While still in ARIZONA(!!!) I was able to register for a vaccination in Hildago County (Rio Grande Valley), TX. I did not need to lie. Where I lived or where I was wintering was not an issue. Upon arrival in the RGV, I registered in 3 more sites (out of dozens listed). They were following CDC guidelines, ie, 65 and over were phase 1b (not over 75 yrs as per AZ). Late last week there was a cattle call type inoculation with people lining up overnight for the next day. Sunday the 10th they announced a modified cattle call. The 1st 6,500 people to arrive would get a bracelet guaranteeing an inoculation on Monday. Those people in their cars would be sent to a large parking area where they could stay the night and groups should then be escorted by the police to the inoculation site on Monday. A one, perhaps two, second debate with myself decided that I would be patient and wait for my name to bubble up via the registrations (the first list signed up for while in AZ was now up to 50,000 names and was closed).
Monday evening my phone rang from Ashley Pediatrics (one of the 3 other lists) and I was instructed to call another number at 9 am Tuesday at which time I’d be given an appointment for my shot. Made sure my alarm was set and I called promptly at 9 am. Several times. Finally got through only to be given the news that the vaccine had not yet arrived and so ‘no appointment’. Tuesday noon, my phone rang and I was given an appointment for Weds at 11am with directions to download an info form, complete it and to bring it in. I found my way there Weds, got my vaccination by 10:50am, waited the obligatory 15 minutes to assure them I was not adversely reacting, received my CDC card recording my vaccination with instructions for the follow up vaccination and was back on the road back to the RV park by 11:05am. On the drive back the radio was reporting AZ’s plight as the worst in the country and that they were going to do a statewide cattle call at the State Farm Stadium in Phoenix. As I write, Friday, the only side effect was injection site soreness which is now gone.
In other news… Last Friday afternoon my email delivered to me a bunch of documents from the service hired to accomplish the closing of the sale of my boat. Compared to the sale of a car, it’s a relatively complicated set of paperwork to transfer ownership from my corporation to a buyer via the US Coast Guard for the vessel and via Montana for the dinghy plus my signature needed to be notarized on some (9) of the documents. Late Friday was too late to find a Notary in a strange, to me, area so it all waited till Monday. Monday morning/early afternoon I got all the documents executed and delivered to UPS for overnight delivery back to the documentation service in Florida. As of this morning (Friday), the boat has mysteriously transformed itself into a deposit in my bank account. Last Resort now refers solely to a motorhome vs a motorhome and a boat. Bucket list item checked and now officially in the rear view mirror.
Have arrived! Palm trees. 78 degrees, full sun. No more white stuff on the ground. Good start. Hope to finish the winter here. Also hoping to hear soon on an appointment for COVID19 vaccination.
Here a public service announcement for you spread all around the country. Watch your “Sales Flyers” for an upcoming national tenderized venison meat sale. The last 3 travel days across TX disclosed more deer road kill than I’ve ever seen in my life. There had to be a carcass every 5 miles and there’s a whole lot of 5 mile increments crossing this state.
I’m at an inland park having elected to stay away from camping at South Padre Island. The Rio Grand Valley (RGV) is known to be quite windy, much more so than S. FL, and I don’t want to have to rinse wind blown salt spray off the rig every morning. If not actually camping on the Gulf, why pay for the much higher Gulf prices. So I’m inland but within easy driving distance to the Gulf. (When I lived in Naples for 6 yrs, I think I actually walked the Gulf beach twice.).
I’m also very close, I think within 10 miles, of the nearest border crossing to MX (Reynosa) and hope that I can visit MX. Maybe I can stock up on my meds as well like I did early summer, 2019. I still have a vial left of one of my meds from then. It is an absolute blessing to not have to deal with the Walgreens and CVSs of this country as they botch their way through their own computer systems. And I’ve never had a US pharmacist come around the counter to shake my hand and hug me when I left. And to not have to see the Dr. for an appointment solely to get another set of refills (or from the Dr’s point of view, solely to get another crack at billing Medicare for a useless 3 minute appointment plus 1 hour more in the waiting room) is priceless. And pricing less than 1/4 of the US Medicare Part D Rx charge ain’t bad either.
You may remember from a prior post that I signed up for a fleet fuel card via trucking company. I finally got to use it on this leg and I’m going to love it. Adjusting for leaving Lake Havasu City with only 1/2 tank of diesel, I used 190 gal of fuel for 1448 miles or about 7.6 mpg. Using my card, the diesel I purchased cost $506. at the published posted pump price. For the use of the card, I paid 3 fees totaling $1.95. plus the fleet company ‘raked’ off 10% of the negotiated savings or $10.24. My checking account has been credited $110.15 with the balance of the savings. Works for me!
In other news, news of probably little interest to you but which makes me happy, I finished a little project. Sometime ago I mentioned that I found, on the net, 3 prior years of my summer RV wanderings that I had published on another blog site that I thought had been lost. I’ve reformatted, primarily grouping pics at the end, and now have published ancillary to this blog. They are available via the index and below
Sharon and I also traveled full time in our RVs from 1997-2011. During that time I posted travels and pics via Facebook and individual emails. Those are now irretrievable, I think. Hence my desire to aggregate what I can, for myself, under a single controllable source. I am pretty sure that I did put together an annual map of the US showing our travel and I’m going to try to find those amongst probably my 10,000 or so pics on the cloud. What I find, I will, in some form, also add to this forum. The gap from 2011 to 2016 was one of no RV travel as Sharon & I hung up the keys and bought a condo in Naples.
I left this morning from Van Horn, TX – about 140 miles east of ElPaso and the New Mexico border and ended 508 miles east of ElPaso without leaving the confines of I-10. But I’m now only 315 miles from the goal. What happened besides miles and macadam?
In New Mexico I would strain my eyes to see something other than brown desert soil and grey barren mountains. Maybe that’s a trace of white snow on that mountain top! Entering TX I read news reports of a snow storm that occurred a day earlier stranding traffic. Van Horn showed some traces of white snow on the ground when I actually arrived. This morning my black car was completely frost etched in white.
About 50 miles into today’s trip, it was no longer a patch of snow here and there in heavily shaded areas. It was the Michigan white that I grew up in and work hard to avoid. For 200 miles the ground was a white blanket left from the earlier storm. Multiple times per mile there were tracks of vehicles crisscrossing the median, from some vehicles presumably pulling of, others skidding of and others just trying to reverse course. I enjoyed the humor I’d see every 1o or so miles of snowmen constructed along the roadside with stick arms waving me on. Not so numerous were the sights of overturned cars in the median, a flipped pickup and cargo trailer, large trucks at the roadside while machinery uploaded on them remnants of what appeared to be at least two semi trailers down in the gully. No sign of the tractors. All remaining of a snowstorm that passed 2 days prior.
After about 200 miles, things changed rapidly. Snow rapidly disappeared from sight. And then I saw something I could barely describe much less name. I consulted my friend Dr Google and my iPad screen was filled with a color wheel! I saw it!
They call that color ‘green’. It’s been so long!! Large vistas of greeeeen trees. Not just coniferous but deciduous as well. Amazing treat for the eyes. And these were not trees planted like soldiers lined up a grove. These were planted 40 yrs or so by nature’s own breath distributing seeds all over.
Terrain changes. AZ and NM and far west TX were home to barren craggy mountain peaks. Then it seemed, in the space of miles, I no longer saw the peaks but a hundred or so miles of mesas and buttes. And now those have disappeared as Kerrville is in the large TX area called “Hill Country”.
One other sight of note today. In about a 15 second snippet of driving time, I received a history lesson on a hundred years of change to power and verticality. To my right I saw the stereotypical view of a ranch windmill that last drew water from the ground probably 100 yrs ago. One vane left and it looked like it might fall off tomorrow. Behind, stretched across the vast basin were at least 50 oil wells, some still pumping, others retired with a lone derrick in my view. Further, atop the distant mesa, lined up like an army of soldiers, were phalanxes of the new wind turbine windmills waiting for Don Quixote.
My thought for the day: While there’s always change, nothing’s new.
Last night after I finished writing, I did what I normally do before a days travel. I take a good long view look at the next day’s probable route (I use my GPS while driving but it’s good to have a solid mental picture since the GPS screen maybe shows you what’s up in the next mile or so). I figure out a logical end of day stop or two, what would be nearby for an overnight, make sure there’s adequate big rig fuel stops (not sure why cause there’s always a multiplicity of them well within range but I’m anal), check the weather forecasts at various places along the route and use my elevation finder app to see what, at this time of year, nighttime temperature changes there might be due to staying in a higher elevation.
So I’m planning on a longer than normal (for me) day taking I-10 across New Mexico, southerly at Las Cruces to El Paso and then easterly stopping for the night in Van Horn, TX. Checking weather – oops. Much of I-10 between El Paso and specifically Van Horn is bracketed by the White (Sierra Blanco) Mountain range and the Quitman range at the TX/Mexico border, is higher elevation and received a foot of snow, ice and black ice (is that a permissible term in this PC culture?). News reports were that both sides of I-10 had been closed due to weather, traffic snarls and accidents. Many reports of people stranded in cars and trucks for 12 and 13 hours. And that’s going to be tomorrow’s route?
The overall forecast though showed highs for New Years Day generally near 50 degreesand it would be at least early afternoon before reaching that area and no forecasted new precipitation. And that’s how today unfolded. East of ElPaso there were some snow remnants still near the road. The roads themselves were clear and dry and relatively deserted. There was a lot of snow on the mountain sides. And almost the entire route across NM was subjected to very high cross winds so even though traffic was light, it was a lot of work.
Outside of the wind, it was a boring drive. Desert morphing into near desert morphing into scrub land. Lots of time to think and let your eyes and mind wander. Some observations:
—- whoa! What is that? What am I seeing? I haven’t seen that for at least 3 months! Hmmm. Last time must have been in middle UT or just across the CO border. Not sure I can remember what those are called. I think they are called cattle or steers. Sure enough, there were about 10 head in sight munching on, it looks like dirt, except for that one trying to eat leaves off a scrub bush.
I don’t think in that interim, I seen a horse or a mule or a deer or any non domesticated animal in the wild or in an agricultural setting. During the rest of my travel day, I actually saw three more small groupings of cattle.
—- hmm. I wonder why there is such a plethora of places selling saddlery, etc. Where are the horses that would get saddled?
—- Oh I’m not seeing anymore Saguaro cacti; they’re all flowering yucca cacti now and lots of them. Wonder what causes such an abrupt change in species?
—- My goodness! Out here in the desert type landscape, I’m seeing actual trees. Miles, literally, of them all planted in nice even ongoing forever rows. This section is very mature and that section is quite immature. For sure it’s not an citrus grove like I’m used to seeing. No leaves – It’s winter. I finally decide they are nut trees and settle on pecans as the likely culprit. A quick google this evening shows a number of pecan growers in that area. And here I thought I was in New Mexico as opposed to GA.
—- Another time occupier. When crossing dry gulch/wash overpasses, it’s not unusual to see gravel or more likely dirt 2 lane roads that stretch to nowhere in the distance. Wonder where those go? Do they lead to someone leading their life at the end of the trail? Wonder how they live? What do they do here in the desert? What might it cost to live that lifestyle and even if and probably minimal, where do they get the money?
—- What’s that in the distance? It’s so far away. Am I really seeing what I think I’m seeing? I think so.
Google this evening provided the answer and a far better picture
I hope this first night of 2021 is a better one than the last night of 2020. It was a cold one and I was ‘camped’ in a truck stop parking lot; ordinarily no big deal. But during the night my generator, while it kept running, stopped charging my house batteries. About 3 am I awoke with interior temp at 59 degrees and not enough battery power to run either the heat pumps. I started the diesel which is in the coach’s rear to charge the batteries and turned on the diesel ‘mid ships’ AquaHot to provide and maintain some heat. So I’ve got a diesel running and exhausting below/behind my bedroom and a diesel boiler exhausting right in front of my bedroom slide. So now warm enough, I start to have my eyes get heavy only to get concerned if there’s enough little breeze to keep the exhaust outside and not infiltrate my bedroom. Not aware enough to remember I have a functioning carbon monoxide detector about 2 or 3 feet away. Am I sleepy 💤 or am I passing out, that’s the question that kept me coming back to an awake state till 5:30ish. I haven’t investigated yet, too cold, but believe I probably tripped a breaker or relay at the genny. Tonight hooked up to real 50 amp power in a campground.
An auspicious New Year start! My boat is sold as of today. It’s been under contract for some weeks subject to the buyers getting to Jacksonville to see it, subject to it being hauled onto dry ground for a thorough inside and out marine surveyor’s inspection and subject to sea trials and lab analysis of the oil and fluids of the various engines, motor and transmissions. All has been completed and the buyer has signed an acceptance so it’s a done deal awaiting closing paperwork in the next couple of weeks. It is my understanding that the buyers have done their research on the Last Resort name, found this blog and have read it. If so I’m pleased that they had the fortitude to wade thru my meanderings. In the event they still read the blog, let me just say to them –
“You’ve purchased a fine vessel that will take you wherever you want to go in fine style and in exceptional comfort! Congratulations and I hope you have as great a time as I had taking care of this bucket list item.”
A very productive travel day! On the road by 8 am which is daybreak that far west in the Mountain Time Zone. Headed south on Hwy 95 to Quartzsite and then east on I 10. The drive up until near Phoenix was thru the Mohave Desert. That means arid, colorless and rather boring.
I was interested in seeing Quartzsite. It’s a crossroads in the desert with a very small eclectic town of about 3,000 people centered around RVs. The vast desert area is managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is open for off road dry camping for 14 days at a time. There are also BLM areas that are designated LTVA 9long term visitor areas) where you can get a camping permit from the BLM for either $10 or $20 which is good for up to 6 mo of camping. You need to be self sufficient as there is no power, water or sewer.
Though COVID19 has negatively impacted the area, there were still campers in every direction as far as the eye could see. I’d never been thru that area before so I thought it fascinating. In a typical winter, thousands of RVs park in every direction, some seeking isolation of miles between rigs while others ‘circling the wagons’ in impromptu social ‘towns’. In Jan and Feb there are normally 9 major gem shows and 15 swap meets drawing 1.5 million people. So many RVrs in one place that there is annually the world’s largest RV show held in the desert. Probably every camper, tent, RV manufacturer is there. Major solar suppliers and installers set up shop. Same for awning mfrs, RV equipment mfrs, portable RV weigh stations, wheel alignment, food trucks etc etc etc. The vendors sponsor entertainment venues. Water and sewer pumpout vendors set up weekly routes to service those RVers who don’t want to pack up and drive into town for free or cheaper water and dumping. Quartzsite as an event is a HUGE deal, not one I would actually go to (too many people) but it was interesting to see.
Heading east on I10 reminded me of why I dislike interstates and use them only when I really want to go from point A to B in the shortest time. You see interesting things that flash by in 10 seconds with zero places to park, explore and take pics.
About 15 miles east of Quartzsite there was a 20mile stretch full of mostly large (15-20’) Saguaro Cactus. Really made for an interesting stretch and then as suddenly as they appeared, they morphed back to plain old desert. Again not one place to stop and look and take a picture. Further down the line I passed a large facility which was obviously open for people to look. I couldn’t stop. It was named “Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch”. Googling it later proved it would have been a worthwhile stop. But there were miles to go. Wanted to end up in a slightly lower elevation than the mountains in that temps tonight would be sub freezing above 4,000’ with snow likely. Snow and freezing not on my agenda!
I had an hour plus stop in Tonapah AZ (not Nevada). I fueled up and got a Subway footlong for lunch and probably a snack later on tonight. Fueling was a bit different for me and took extra time. I always fuel in the truck lanes at truck stops. For years I’ve carried a Flying J/Pilot card and a Good Sam card which should get me a $0.03/gal discount on fuel. While in Lake Havasu City I signed up with a major trucking company which offers their trucker card to RVers. It’s free. It’s not a credit card but instead it’s linked to your checking account. You buy fuel on the card and the transaction is transmitted to the company which then debits your checking account the next day or two. With all the fuel they buy through their system, they negotiate with the truck stop chains for pricing discounts. The current winning truck stop chain is TA (Travel America) which is nationwide. The current discount is $0.55/gal. So your checking account is only debited for the discounted amount plus, if I remember right, a $0.65 processing fee. The card is good at all truck stops in the truck lanes but only TA provides the discount. I needed less than half a tank but the discount should be something over $45.00.
It took awhile because I’m old and feeble minded. I’ve had the card for 6 weeks but this was my first usage and I forgot how. I know how to use the fuel pumps and all their selections (ICC#, DEF Y/N?, Carrier, truck number etc. but you need to put in an identifier for the card (like you do with a credit card and your zip code) and I could remember what the ID was. So I had to call the trucking company and the nice lady took me thru the process. Thankfully there wasn’t any truck behind me waiting to fuel up. Sure wish there was a program like that for the more expensive, usually, marine diesel.
So I’m now 400 miles into a nearly 1500 mile change in venue. I’m safely ensconced in a vast truck stop parking lot that is virtually empty for the holiday. All toasty warm and watching a Gaither Homecoming Classic DVD “Songs of Freedom”. Not sure what or if I’ll queue something up after. I broke out a couple Omaha Steak filets and my cast iron skillet, some yellow potato and sour cream and enjoyed a delightful New Years Eve parking lot dinner. I have it so rough😎😂😎! Wondering if there will be party favors in the parking lot at midnight. Not that I’ll be awake to notice. Have a Happy New Year and here’s hoping 2020 is soon long gone in the rear view mirror.
Postscript: comparison of two states. AZ truly epitomizes the Keystone Kops when it comes to both Covid precautions and the vaccine. The statewide priorities basically are everyone who isn’t old and who doesn’t have have compromising health issues. In fairness, they now have at least move 75 yo and older from the bottom of the list. Sun City must have some pull.
In contrast, I’ve previously posted how transparent TX is vis a vis the vaccine per their write ups. In practice, they seem to be doing well also. I’m still in AZ but have filled in the TX form and received email confirmation of my place in line and vaccine registration/location. 😊
I’m now writing on the day after Christmas so I’ve been here a little over a month. I cooked a spiral cut ham, with veggies and pumpkin pie for Christmas dinner and today took the bone and made a big InstantPot of delicious pea soup.
This motor coach couldn’t be more comfortable even if the weather has been chilly. It has a system called AquaHot which was completely foreign to me. I wasn’t sure how to operate it but it seemed to me to not be working. Couldn’t figure out if something was broken or if I just didn’t know what I was doing. I was surprised when googling AH to find a mobile AH authorized service man in the area (he winters here and lives in Michigan’s UP) so I texted him with my guess as to a problem, asking if he could look at it and let me tag along and learn. He was willing, he diagnosed the problem and fixed it and I learned a lot on operating the system.
While my air conditioners will also function for warmth, via heat pumps, they are not very effective below outside temps of 40-45 degrees. The heat pumps only put out about 2000 BTUs (typical gas grill range between 8-12,000 BTUs). The coach does not have, like most RVs have, a propane fired furnace. nor is there a traditional propane/electric water heater. AquaHot handles the furnace, water heater functions and then some.
About in the middle of the coach is a basement bay with the AH. It has a boiler containing boiler fluid. There is a flame that can be ignited in the boiler to heat the fluid and through a heat exchanger (like on the boat) the hot boiler fluid will transfer its heat to the fresh water for the showers etc while the same hot boiler fluid (which stays hot much longer than just hot water) provides heated air to the floor vents via fans. The burner is fired using diesel from the main engine fuel tank (which also fuels the generator). The AH also has an electrical element which helps maintain temps during burner intermissions or when I turn the diesel switch ‘off’. The diesel burner is 65,000 BTUs. So when on diesel, water is always immediately and continuously hot at the taps.
AH has another function as well and that is to pre heat the big Diesel engine. Diesels are not only difficult to start when cold but starting them cold greatly reduces their life expectancy. ‘Cold’ would be considered most ambient temperatures. Many diesels have a battery glow plug or 110v heater block to warm up the fuel and/or the engine itself before starting.
AH is plumbed into the regular engine cooling system (see earlier post #101 when the coolant between the two burst and I needed a mountain side tow) so when you are driving, hot engine coolant will run the AH heating functions enroute and for hours after. Conversely, before starting the motor coach engine on a cool morning, you can fire the AH boiler and its hot coolant (not the boiler fluid) will circulate thru the engine block and warm up the engine before starting.
So anyway, the AH flame sensor wasn’t working and there was no flame lighting the boiler. The fuel injector was pumping raw diesel out. A relatively easy fix putting in a new sensor. I had normal maintenance done at the same time to the fuel injector, new fuel filter etc.
In case you are wondering, it takes very little fuel and the fuel pickup is a third of the way from the bottom of the tank so it will never run me out of fuel. It uses about 1/2 gal per hour but it is off most of the time. Then when it is on, it will bring everything up to temp at which time the electrical element will hold temp (assuming I’m hooked up to electricity or running the generator). My typical use on a cold night will be to run the diesel AH for one cycle (15-20 min) and then turn off the diesel part. Elec will hold temps comfy then for the night. If it gets real cold and if I wake at 5 or 6 am, I’ll turn it on again for a cycle and reheat everything including enough water for a long shower later in the morning. So I figure I’m using about 1/6th of a gal per cold night. Heat during the day, if needed, is easily handled by the AC heat pumps. So now I’ve told you much more than what you wanted to know.
It’s been a very quiet month. There’s really not a lot around here. On top of it, it’s been quite chilly. Mostly nightly lows in the high 30s and highs of 60-65. An occasional 70 and some sub 60 days. All in all, not the weather I expected and not conducive to exploring.
Another reason for not going out too much is COVID19. I’m trying to be careful without being paranoid. When I go out, I do stay distant from fellow humanoids and if I need to go inside somewhere, I put my mask on. When reservations were made to winter here, AZ and this area were doing quite well statistically vis a vis Covid.
That has changed. AZ is now, per capita, the worst in the country. I think I commented when I was in Vegas how impressed I was with how 99%, nearly, of the people on the street and 99.9% of those inside were masked up. I now know what the flip side is. They don’t know what a mask is here in AZ or at least in Lake Havasu City. Grocery stores and Walmart are plastered with signs on the doors saying their policy requires masking up. That’s as far as they go. Even employees are maskless or wear them at half staff. I asked a manager and was told that it was up to customers to make other customers comply. Really??? Even LabCorp employees,including phlebotomists, were maskless. On Edit 1/8/21. AZ is now the worst, per capita, of any place in the world. https://abcnews.go.com/US/arizona-hottest-hot-spot-covid-19-health-officials/story?id=75062175
I don’t like getting Amazon packages or my mail here. To get to the office to pick up ones mail, you go through the clubhouse. Inside you walk past a dozen or so tables with 6 or more filled with 8 people each playing cards – all day, all maskless. Walk-in and they all look up, see you are not one of the ‘regulars’ and go back to cards – never one wave or greeting of ‘hello’ in over a month. Enter the office past 4 separate areas posted with ‘you must wear a mask’ sign to find 3 or 4 maskless people at the small table where mail and packages are strewn and all these maskless folks are leaned over the table pawing through the envelopes and packages. I brought it up to the mgr – why cover all your windows with “you must wear a mask” signs and then not enforce it – even she, not once, has been seen wearing a mask. She just looks at me like I’m crazy.
So now a vaccine has been released! All of it has gone to Phoenix so far. Not a trickle in the backwaters. Check with the Mohave County Dept of Health and they have no clue. Local (Phoenix) TV news shows, night after night, spend at least 1/2 of their half hour show on COVID19, deaths, hospitalizations, ICU bed utilization (not one available ICU bed available within 100 miles), etc. and still people don’t take simple precautions. The AZ Dept of Health in Phoenix is writing the priority rules for the State. Each day it seems a new group is listed as essential and moved up the priority chain. Literally, over 60% of the population is now a higher priority in this state than the 65 and up and people with chronic health conditions groups. Starting to wonder if the next group to take precedence will be illegal aliens (don’t laugh, CA is toying with prioritizing inmates). Also wondering, but can’t find out, how AZ will deal with non resident snowbirds who are spending their $$ in the local economy.
So doing some serious research. CA is out as is New Mexico (too bad as I’d like to spend some more quality time in NM but little is open in the way of campgrounds and other services). Two southern states that have released their priorities to follow the nat’l guidelines for seniors and health compromised are FL and TX. TX also has committed vaccinating the snowbird population in the state and daily publishes the most comprehensive daily supply vaccineschedule I’ve seen. Each county is listed with every vaccination site in each county along with the number of doses available at each site by vaccine manufacturer (Moderna or Pfizer)
Additional pages show the same breakdown by provider/county as to how many actual vaccinations have been given by age group and by priority type. They appear to have their act together, have committed to populations actually in the state vs those who are registered residents etc and their transparency should help against politicalization.
So am seriously considering abandoning my paid reservation here (reserved thru the end of January) and heading to the Rio Grand Valley (Gulf Coast along the Mexico border/Mission/McAllen, So Padre Island area of Texas). There are a multitude of resort type parks that traditionally are populated with Canadians. With the borders closed, most Canadians are still ‘UP NORTH’ and web sites are reflecting vacancies and reduced pricing. I’ve asked for and received some info from a good friend and reader who has wintered in that area for many winters. It would be somewhat of a commitment as the drive is just under 1,500 miles with no open parks, as of right now, across New Mexico. Can always ‘camp’ overnight in a truck stop etc.
I’ve really only gone on one side trip while here – a 50/60 mile drive south to Parker, AZ and the Parker Dam.
Well I’ve been here about 10 days, 10 quiet days. The RV park is more than OK but not resort like. It has a smaller heated swimming pool and newer club house. Neat and clean but utilitarian. I think most of the rigs here are at least monthly. I see but a few rigs coming and going and it seems management prices the place for longer stays. It should be just great for a couple of months. I had made arrangements for a site at a very nice condo park a few months ago. I was negotiating with a private owner. In an email he mentioned that the park limited itself to 10 year old or newer rigs. This is done in an attempt to regulate appearance and it doesn’t work that well. Our old park, Silver Lakes in Naples did the same thing and there were plenty of newer rigs that came in that were falling apart before they even left the showroom as the buyers purchased based on price. Older rigs were admitted after being looked at to see if they met some subjective aesthetics standard.
Mine is now 12 yrs old and I didn’t want to write a check for a couple of months to some stranger and then, when I finally arrived, find that some HOA member who got out of bed on the wrong side that morning, didn’t like something and turned me away, paid rent receipt notwithstanding. The lot owner suggested that I just lie about the age. I don’t do that plus many/most parks renting on a seasonal basis want a copy of your insurance coverage and the age of the rig clearly shows. So I took a series of exterior pics of my motorhome and emailed them to the lot owner and told him to talk to his HOA friends, show the photos and get the issue resolved ahead of time. The HOA response was that all looked fine but they’d need to see it in person when I arrived. The date of arrival is not the time to find out that you can’t stay where you planned to for a couple of months and then have to scramble for an alternative and try to get a refund from an absentee landlord, so I passed. Well, the Canadian border is still closed and that source of snowbird funds has pretty much dried up. It’s still early in the season but driving by that resort, it appears they have plenty of vacancies.
Three campers organized a Thanksgiving dinner for which I signed up. You could eat outside or, as I did, take it back to your rig. I wasn’t sure what it entailed but at $5.00 I signed up for two dinners figuring I could either combine them or otherwise have leftovers. Five people were allowed in at a time and they had those large styrofoam restaurant doggie boxes which they filled up with white or dark turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, a cup of turkey gravy, a cup of cranberry ‘whatever’, a dinner roll and butter and another styrofoam container for your choice of pumpkin or apple pie. Definitely more than enough for me to have another full meal the next night.
Overall, besides that event, masking and distancing doesn’t seem to be high on anyone’s agenda around this town. Certainly not strictly observed like it was in Vegas. All of which makes me more vigilant.
Kind of a strange area compared to what I’m used to. Definitely a desert (Mohave) valley town nestled between north/south mountain ranges with the Colorado River (well downstream of the Grand Canyon and of the Hoover Dam). The River separates Arizona and California. What the cartographers call Lake Havasu I would call a decent sized widening of the River. It’s not that big compared to the area reputation as a wintering spot.
Why though do I say it’s kind of a strange area? The full time population of about 55,000 swells by 25%+ in the winter. I’m used to the East, Midwest and even many Western areas where towns take great advantage of their waterfront, especially with condos and rentals. Here, not so much. Nothing, or almost nothing, is really waterfront. It’s all at least 1 or 2 good blocks away from the water with the intervening land desolate and undeveloped, even unappetizing to the eyes. There are 3 main roads, all north/south roads (Lake Havasu Ave, Rt95, and London Bridge Rd) but all three, paralleling each other, are only one short block apart. Commercial, industrial and residential abut each other with what seems to me to be little planning. Inelegant, at best, commercial and industrial generally populate the near waterfront rather than residential or touristy. What city has a Motel 6 featured on its so called waterfront?
I haven’t asked any locals yet, but am guessing that Spring mountain runoff may raise the flood levels of the Colorado such that insuring buildings closer to the waterfront is prohibitive. On the other hand, the back water of the Hoover Dam (Lake Mead) is huge and at half or less pool with doubts that it will ever again be full pool, that I find it hard to believe that Spring runoff would be uncontrollable. Haven’t been to the CA side yet but it appears from a distance as though the waterfront is better developed.
Off of ‘downtown’ is an island called Grand Island which also is strangely developed/underdeveloped. Vast, vast areas of vacant desert scape. Abounding this entire area are hundreds of miles of 4×4 trails and on the roads, you are as likely to be passed by a 4×4 ‘rod’ as you are by a car. Linking the mainland and Grand Island is The London Bridge, transported here stone by stone from the Thames, and re-erected mostly to stimulate tourism. I’ve driven it and it is shorter than I imagined though I really had no reason to imagine anything. The drive was disappointing as any olde English architectural features roadside seemed to be obscured by Christmas decorations. The balustrades were pretty but how much detail do you see at 25mph? During my time here I will walk it and see if my impression is better.
However, below the bridge is a commercial development, marina etc more befitting the area and it includes views of the lower side of the bridge of from that vantage point it is a really impressive bridge. Especially so when you realize every stone, balustrade etc was numbered when it was dismantled and exactly reconstructed. Unsurprisingly, the touristy area below the bridge has quite the English flavor – also incongruous in the desert southwest – and quite nice.
I have a few other places to check out while here and will post about them in the next two months as they occur.
It’s been a pretty quiet month sitting in Las Vegas. It took about 10 days after getting my tooth pulled to feel up to par again. The swelling subsided and finally I realized I wasn’t favoring that side anymore. Glad it’s done.
Reserved a site at the Oasis RV Resort, at the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd (“The Strip”) and Blue Diamond (the road to Mt Charleston and Pahrump). It is way on the south side of the strip a bit more than a mile south of McCarren airport and probably 2 miles south of the southernmost so-called Strip resorts – Mandalay Bay. Remember being here when the Mandalay Bay was near completion to become the largest hotel in the city and they discovered that one of the tower’s foundation was settling and the tower was exhibiting a tilt. Big news at the time as engineering companies debated the severity and possible solutions. Don’t know how it settled out but the building’s still standing.
Sharon and I have probably stayed at the Oasis something close to 10 times over the years. It’s older but still a premier RV park. It’s a large park consisting of 935 pull thru, full hook up sites. It has a pitch and putt 18 hole golf course, bocce ball courts, relatively large restaurant, store, a couple of ballrooms and two large heated pools plus spas. It hosts quite a number of weddings and receptions both indoors and in a special area of the patio.
Haven’t done much ‘Vegas-ing’ but one does does need to drive downtown to then walk around Fremont Street. The Fremont Street Experience, as it is officially named, is a 5 or so block long length of this downtown street which has been blocked from traffic. The abundance of neon signs, like cowboy Vegas Vic and Vegas Vickie and casino signage lit 24 hours per day, earned the street the nickname of “Glitter Gulch“. To compete with the rapidly expanding ‘resorty’ “Strip” not only were the streets closed to traffic but a large barrel vault canopy was constructed the ceiling of which is a completely comprised of computer controlled LED lights – over 12 million multi colored LEDs. Light and sound shows are programmed with the displays moving quickly and progressively down the length of the canopy. One of the coolest displays I’ve ever seen there, I think, are the Thunderbird jet formation screaming from one end to the other just over your head. The progressive movement of the jets in real time speed 130’ over your head with the jet roar moving down the street is something one doesn’t forget. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see them this year overhead.
About 1.5 months or so ago there was an loud explosion on my roof. Literally thought something exploded or hit my rig. I was inside and the bang was so loud that I ducked. My front air conditioner was the source of the racket so I turned that one off. A little depressing in that a new one would run about $1k plus install but even more, the time and hassle to get it done. been there, done that. When that happened on the last motorhome while in CO, also in the summer, it was so busy I couldn’t get any RV shop to even talk to me for weeks and I ended up buying a new AC online, having it shipped to a town on the IA/NE line and having a mobile RV repair install it. Everything RV is extra busy this summer and word is that due to COVID19 AC manufacturing production is down.
With the prior motorhome there was only one roof air and there are two on this rig. The system is ducted and the front and rear roof units, working in tandem, share the duct work. So I still had one working unit but less efficient. The roof systems not only provide air conditioning but also participate, via heat pumps, with the furnace to provide heat. Towards the end of Oct there was a significant cold front predicted to come thru – not a good time to have a unit crap out cutting off one heat source.
A couple of times in the interim I’ve restarted the front unit and it would start albeit with a tremendous racket. Thinking it thru, I decided, since it started, that there probably wasn’t anything wrong with the ac and heat pump units themselves but probably an issue with the fan that moves the air. A little googling of this model revealed that the fan, a drum made of plastic vanes, was indeed the weak link. When the vanes start breaking away from the drum, at hi speed, they make quite a racket hitting the side of the enclosure.
Unfortunately, I can’t get up on the roof anymore to check and so would have to accept the real time diagnosis of a repair person. But I felt confident and comfortable with my assessment. The RV park has a pretty long list of approved vendors (the criteria being minimal complaints) so I texted what seemed to be the biggest one. After 24 hrs I had not yet received a response so at 11:28 am the next day I texted another one. Got an immediate response and he said he’d come over in 1-2 hours to take a look. He actually arrived before noon. He took off the shroud and verified that half or more of the blades were destroyed. He had a new one in his immaculate and organized truck and he installed it. According to my credit card receipt, the time he ran my payment was 12:26pm. 58 minutes from texting him and only $183 parts, service call and labor and all was fixed. Nice to have both zones working and to have redundancy again – all with a minimum of hassle.
While here,I tooka long afternoon ride to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. I thought I had been there 10 or 15 yrs ago but I mistook it for Valley of Fire State Park. Red Rock is maybe 20 miles west and Valley of Fire probably 40 miles northeast. Both are red rocks areas. Red Rock Canyon is a 13 mile loop road through sandstone (red) and limestone (white) formations against a backdrop of granite mountains. It includes some massive valleys, lots of full as well as collapsed Joshua Tree cacti and miles of hiking trails. Climbing is also permitted. It was quite an interesting ride and am glad I visited.
And I found a fossil
Some days later I also visited a major man made monument in the area
Last time I was in Vegas I didn’t even get to the Strip so I thought I should walk a portion of it now. Due to COVID19, the crowds are relatively light (while casinos are, for the most part open, seating is socially distant, many of the restaurants are not open and almost all of the fancy resort shops are closed). Some of the hotels are closed or closed Monday thru Thurs and all the entertainment venues are closed (the first one in Vegas just reopened 11/13. After a week cold spell with daily highs 60 degrees or less, it started warming up. And so an a bright sunny day forecasted to reach 72 degrees, I thought it was a perfect day for a walk and drove to mid south Strip.
I parked at the massive MGM Grand and walked the ‘yellow brick road’ through the resort (probably a half mile) to Las Vegas Blvd. There are no crosswalks across the Strip (nor across many cross streets) but rather elevated pedestrian bridges every block (the resorts are so large that the block is very long). Access to the bridge is by steps and by outdoor escalators and by outdoor elevators. They want to make it as easy as possible to get around. Decided to walk a few blocks north on the west side of Las Vegas Blvd and then back along the east side. So I took the pedestrian bridge to the west side and to New York New York.
I will admit that I miss all the fabulously extravagant buffets in Las Vegas. One of the better ones from days of yore, Carnival of the World, is not only closed but so is the host hotel, the Rio. Caesar’s, Golden Nugget, Paris buffets etc., all closed. Good for my waistline and wallet but 😟😢
My month is up so it’s time to leave. There is a high wind warning to begin at 10 am this morning for the Las Vegas valley and extending south between the mountains along the Colorado River – my exact route. Winds are supposed to increase to 30 mph with gusts to 45 as the afternoon progresses. So I got a relatively early start (9am).
I arrived without incident in Lake Havasu City where I will stay for the holidays – actually thru January 2021. Lake Havasu City is now the home of The London Bridge.
Some years ago I lost a cap on a lower molar. It did not bother me and so I did nothing. In April/May of this year, after arriving with the boat in Jacksonville, I started having some ‘twinges’ and immediately switched to using Sensodyne. Twinges went away and I’ve been traveling for months. Friday the twinges reoccurred with more vengeance. By Sat/Sunday it was a problem. My jaw was swollen and the pain and sleeplessness increased. No dentist nearby Zion National Park. Not even nearby pharmacies. It’s when I made the decision to go to a bigger city and preferably one dealing with tourists. Las Vegas met the criteria and it was not experiencing low temps in the 30’s.
Yesterday (Monday), after some poor sleeping nights, I made what seemed to be a never ending drive to Las Vegas and checked into a park familiar from prior stays – the Oasis RV Resort. I found a dentist office and found ‘specialization’. Some dentists do fillings etc and some do extractions. So I got a recommendation for a couple of ‘extractionists’ and made an appointment for one today (Tues) at noon. As I write, mid afternoon, the offending tooth has met the tooth fairy or goblin. I was put to sleep, never felt anything and still don’t. The swelling in my jaw is still evident but the antibiotic course should handle that. Meanwhile, I’ll have to find some attractions around here to visit. That may not be easy as much is closed down. I just heard, for example, that access to walking across the Hoover Dam just opened up today after having been closed since March. I’ll probably stay for awhile since the economics today overwhelmingly favor a month’s stay.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, Oct 6, 2020
I had a touring plan for today. There are lots and lots of available choices.
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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,
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.
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.
Stock photos; Art studio, taxidermy and sculpture studio, and child’s bedroom.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.