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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.
Another good thing for today. Got an email from my mail forwarding service that I got mail. So I went on line and looked at the envelope scan. A large envelope from a title processing company. It appears as though Avis has finally got my car titled and plated to me, nearly 120 days from sale and after 60 days of my having to illegally drive the car. Fed Ex should deliver to me tomorrow and we’ll see.
Thursday, Sept 3, 2020
My phone woke me up this morning. I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t take the call and it went to voice mail. Surprise! It was an attorney from Avis Corporate. A recent news release by a large law firm had indicated that Avis had hired that firm plus 6 others to help streamline their business and legal operations. Of course, a senior partner needed to have his face and name displayed in the news release and I obliged their wish to streamline by emailing this partner about my Avis experience, my complaints to FL DMV and FL Atty Genl. I mentioned that the problem of not delivering title appeared to be systemic, indicative of perhaps Avis using customer money for general corporate purposes rather than paying down a line of credit to obtain the car titles (another form of a Ponzi scheme) and that I’d contacted a law firm to see if the would be interested in doing a Class Action.
So after leaving me a voice mail message, the Avis staff attorney also sent me an email expressing his wish to talk to me. Attached at the end was a copy of the outside firm’s email to the Avis staff atty to take care of this and appended to that was my email. The two sentences in my email about there being so many similarly affected buyers across the country that I’ve contacted legal counsel about a possible Class Action were highlighted in yellow. Sure wish the news release had come out 2 or 3 months ago! I might have been less stressed always looking to see if there was a police officer around that might hassle me.
Left about 10 am to drive north along the west side of Flaming Gorge to Manila, UT. As I thought from looking at the maps, the west side would be the more spectacular side. I probably took over 100 pictures.
After getting further north of Manila, over the WY line and back south a bit onto a Utah peninsula, I stopped at a Natl Forest Campground , Lucerne Campground. There are probably 100 or more Natl Forest Campgrounds around the Flaming Gorge, this one, I believe, is the only one that has any sites with electric service (no water, no sewer) and I wanted to see it. I was surprised. It was on par with many Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds- mowed, defined sites with fire pits and ramadas. From there I headed back south retracing, almost, my route back to my campground.
Almost because about 10 miles south of Manila I took a sometimes asphalt, most times gravel 21 mile loop side road called Sheep Canyon Geological Loop. The name was intriguing. It turned out to be the absolute best part of the two days. The ‘road’, with no traffic, basically followed a brook deep in a valley with canyon walls bordering both side. No hills to climb or descend.
It was an absolutely lush verdant canyon and the canyon walls were spectacular evidencing several dozen forms of rock and formations. Sandstone, red stone, granite, shale, boulders, hoodoos, peaks, massive overhangs, fins, a rift/cleft/split in the mountain, uplifts of rock, volcanic formations, horizontal and vertical striations plus one amazing massive arched rose striation bordered by an almost black slanted vertical one on one side and white slanted vertical on the other side. Didn’t see any glacial influence on the rocks and formations. There was one couple mile long caldera. Also saw some mountain top glaciers in the distance. There was a plethora of trees with fine spidery white flower bushes climbing the tree. If no tree was available, the bush was just freestanding. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this flower. A picture of one such is the second slide picture below. Maybe someone can comment if they know what it is? Also saw what appeared to be a mountain ram but too far to be sure.
I stopped at what used to be Palisades campground (NFS) where there was a large rock with a metal plaque attached. It commemorated 7 campers who, in 1965, lost their lives to a flash flood through the canyon campground. It has been closed since. There was another spur off this side road to Spirit Lake which I did not take. After 21 miles, the Sheep Canyon loop rejoined State Rt 44 and I headed back to Vernal, exhausted.
And yes, the 12th photo above is oriented correctly. It is a huge rock overhang towering over the road.
Returning to Rt 44 there were, again, several areas where the cattle competed with the vehicles for space.
Friday, Sept 4, 2020
Today was a different day. Destination only 6 miles away. Dinosaur National Monument covering the northeast corner of UT and northwest corner of Colorado. It’s a massive area of the Rockies but only 6 miles from the campground is the Visitor Center and Quarry Exhibit Hall. A Natl Park Service shuttle took me from the Visitor Center up a steeply graded road about a mile to the Quarry Exhibition Hall. There is a large but not tall (maybe 15-20 stories) mountain ridge which has been quarried since the early 1900’s. It was a bonanza of fossils and bones. As water receded and the sharks and fish and shell fish died and all the varieties of dinosaurs, their bones etc. lays on the ground. At some time and at some age, rivers returned and bones were washed away and accumulated in specific areas in layers and over time covered with silt, then rock, lava, upthrusts etc. This ridge was one such depository.
In the 1950’s the Federal Government was persuaded to make the area one of learning for the public and an exhibit hall was constructed. It was poorly engineered and its foundations crumbled with the shifting earth. It has been rebuilt with piling down to bed rock. The ridge itself over time has had several hundred lineal feet excavated to the point where that section is now only 60’ or so tall. The rebuilt building is about 10 feet short of that height with an exterior ramp to the highest level where you enter. The building has 3 walls and the 4th is the sheer rock vertical wall of the ridge. You enter at the top and walk the length of the building along the rock wall. Many bones and fossils are plainly visible in the wall in front of you as you walk with many explanatory signs on the railings (you are very high up with this steep wall going far below you) and displays behind you. At the far end is a ramp taking you down another level where you can again walk the wall and see the bones/fossils from a new level. Etc. In effect you zigzag yourself down alongside the wall until you get to the bottom and the return shuttle. It was a good 3/4 hour and extremely interesting.
I was brought up to not believe in the existence etc of dinosaurs. Decades ago when I went to the GR Museum they had a reconstructed 2 story dinosaur in the lobby. Though I’m sure it was a reproduction, I didn’t believe the concept was believable. Later, my grandchildren were ‘enamored’ of the various types of dinosaurs, playing with miniatures fighting etc. and I didn’t know what to think. It was contrary to my inner core. Decades have passed. I looked today with as much of a critical eye as I had to be sure I wasn’t looking at plaster of paris etc. I’m now convinced these fossils and bones are real. That there were sharks in the Rockies. That these huge animals did roam the earth and that their remains after time were embedded in mountains.
Most of the above pictures are my iPhone ‘telephoto’ pics of the granite or sandstone wall. It was hard to believe so many fossils and bones in such a relatively small location. One exhibit showed how many places in the country have received complete dinosaur reconstructions from bones found in this Jensen, UT quarry. Something like 20.
Also within the park are a hundred miles or more of passible roads (some by means of high clearance vehicles) to locales such as Split Mountain, Echo Valley, Moonshine Rapids, Gates of Lodore, Cactus Flats, Starvation Valley and many more (including several petroglyph areas). I didn’t take any of these as I have had enough mountain driving where I had difficulty keeping my eye off the scenery and on the road. I’ve always considered the whole of southern UT worthy of being a National Park in its entirety and thought of Northern UT in terms of unimpressive Salt Lake City. Wrong. This area rivals the Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Arches, Zion, Bryce and others. Different but equal. Not up to the standards of the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs perhaps, but a worthy rival.
Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Sept 5-7
No sightseeing planned. I made a major reprovisioning trip to the local Walmart and basically sogged. I am supposed to leave on Tues, Sept 8th. Tuesday is supposed to bring wind and a major cold spell. Current forecast shows a high for Tues here in the valley of 45 degrees and a low of 33. Unfortunately you can’t drive all that far without going up and elevation equals colder. The mountain areas featured in my pictures above are forecasted to get 6.5” of snow. I don’t have to be anywhere and I’ve not yet decided where to head to next, so I think I’ll stay wrapped up and warm in the motorhome for an extra day or two.