Georgia

Ready to move on from Tennessee I charted a route through the northern Georgia mountains following the pretty Ocoee River. This longer, more northern route around the hell-hole of Atlanta wound me through Blairsville, Athens, bustling Sparta (ha!) and into the Greensboro GA area. Nice drive once I recovered from stupid Siri…

Soon after I left in the morning Siri was routing me through Chattanooga’s ridiculous traffic. She told me to take the US-41 exit off I-24. Dangerously, there is no warning until you’re already committed to the exit ramp that a 12’6” undercrossing lies ahead. Shit. Fortunately I caught a brief break in the line of traffic and pulled a U-turn on the US highway. No jury would’ve convicted me. I ignored the bitch in the box and found my own way out of town.

Other than that heart-check moment the drive was very nice and late afternoon I checked into the quirky KOA on Lake Oconee. It’s a largely full-time resident kinda campground but their sites along and overlooking the lake are awesome. I had perhaps the best spot with a really nice deck, umbrella patio table and grill. Good place to spend a couple days.

After 121 threw me a curveball with an 8am start time I headed out on an uneventful drive to Skidaway Island State Park near Savannah. Georgia does a nice job with their parks and I enjoyed the trails, Tybee Island beach, and downtown Savannah. As with most places, Savannah was still affected by the stupid virus but I managed to find a couple breweries that were bold enough to be open. Two Tides has an interesting and very good lime zest pilsner—Tan Lines. I also stopped briefly into Coastal Empire Brewing Co for a decent but not great IPA and a taster of their Dawn Patrol Imperial Molé Stout.

Having visited Savannah before I walked around town just a bit. As I recalled from my last visit here I think the town would be lots more fun with a group to enjoy the many grills and pubs. Instead, I hung out on Tybee Island beach and visited the outside of Fort Pulaski. While the National Monument was technically open, the inside of the fort was closed. Ya, you know why… Good freaking grief. It looked like a cool fort to explore. Have I mentioned the country’s overreaction yet? 😂

So with that, I checked out Friday morning and headed up the coast to Charleston. I’ll spend the next couple weeks bouncing around South Carolina with plans to get Synko’s wheel bearings repacked and hopefully upgrade her suspension to a Morryde 4000 system (if the parts becomes available now that the company is back to work from, yes, a virus hiatus). Why upgrade? I’m just weary of picking stuff up off the floor and the Morryde product comes with superb reviews to reduce shaking and rattling and improve towing.

That’s it for now. More in a couple weeks…

Seweet Caroline

Charleston

I thought Charles Towne was cool last time I was here a couple years ago. Charleston is still a great town. History. Beaches. Museums. Breweries. Friendly folk.

The few-hour drive up from Savannah was easy. I passed by the campground west of town where I’d stayed last time and checked into the Mount Pleasant KOA about 20 minutes north of town. Mount Pleasant is a really nice community with a Lowe’s near the campground where I picked up more smoking pellets and a good grocery store I happened into. Harris Teeter is like Market Street, maybe better. Back to the KOA: I was given a pull-thru site that you could’ve landed a 747 on. This is a KOA that doesn’t layout campsites based on a compact car parking lot model. I didn’t take advantage of their pool or beach but it’s a solid operation on the grounds of an old plantation. (Can I say “plantation” in 2020?)

Saturday I checked out a couple (ok, four) breweries on the city’s northern peninsula. First up was Revelry Brewing where I enjoyed their Poke the Bear pale ale and a quesadilla. Next up: Cooper River Brewing Company where I had the interesting Mex-Pecan coffee ale. (Can I say “Mex” in 2020? Hell, can I say “pecan”?!) From there I crossed the highway to Fatty’s Beer Works and loved their crisp Italian pilsner High Style. (Italians, what say ye on using that term?) Finally on the way back to camp I stopped into Indigo Reef Brewing Co where I had Cenotes and a Mexican lager (oops, I might be on thin ice again!) And that’s when things got interesting…

As I was sitting there enjoying my beer and minding my own business this guy comes over and says, “where do I know you from?” Fair enuff question, to which I replied, “sorry, you don’t look familiar.”

Him: “no, I know you.”
Me: “I don’t know from where.”
Him: “you’ve been in here a few times.”
Me: “nope, first time.”
Him: “name? family? live where? do what?” And 50 other questions.
Me: “can’t help you”
Him: “I’m retired DEA”
Me: “thanks for your service”
Him: “do I scare you?”
Me: “got no reason to be scared’”
Him: “break bread with me.”
Me: “I’m outta here.”

I dunno if he was high or trying to pick me up or just a ducking idiot. And that’s all I got to say about that.

Sunday I was more of a bum even than I was on Saturday. Yep… possible. I’d taken three racks of baby backs out of the freezer and put one of them on my GMG pellet grill. Half I just applied dry rub, the other half I brushed with BlackBerry Seaweed Gin jam (from Newfoundland) for the last 20 minutes. Those puppies were tasty!

Monday I visited Patriots Point and toured the air craft carrier USS Yorktown . Much like the Alabama I’d been on in Mobile, without the guns… And this ship came with a big garage and driveway. In addition to the tour of the ship’s guts I also liked the Medal of Honor museum. Very appreciative of all men and women who served and serve to protect us. And, yes, I will say that in 2020—and every other year.

After a hot & sweaty tour I quenched my parched throat at Ghost Monkey Brewery. Nice, friendly little joint with a decent Keller Pilsner and their flagship Salt Monkey Low Country Ale. Decent brews.

Tuesday was move day—a whopping 25 miles up the road to North Charleston. Moving again in two days … another jaunt caused by crowded campgrounds over the Independence Day (that’s still okay to say in 2020, right?!?!?). 

After setting up and not finding the source of an intermittent water leak I took a lazy nap and then headed over to Snafu Brewing Company to check out their sour ales. They have a lengthy list of sours and Berliner Weisse ales, each unique and tasty. I did two flights including: their IPA, Snafu-Tang orange sour, Sublime in the Coconut sour, Kinky Lola cherry sour, Moscow Mule Tang, Lemon Meringue Tang and Blueberry Cobbler gosé. The Lemon Meringue made me kinda melancholy; it tasted just like mom’s lemon pie—the best the planet ever knew. It was lemoncholy (thanks Ryan!). Anyway, these brewers led by Mo, a really sweet young lady, are nailing it! Very pleased with each of their distinctive brews. 

Wednesday after cleaning my shotgun just for the heck of it I headed across the bays and rivers to Johns Island and the Tattooed Moose. Such a cool place. I was here a couple years ago but missed out on their Duck Club sandwich. It’s been featured on DDD and lives up to its rep. The deal is real!

Back roads across the top of Charleston‘s estuaries took me to Oak Road Brewery, a small joint focusing on German style ales. Ausfahrt, their German pilsner and the Czech Pils were both quite good! This tiny cool brewery fills, cans & labels all their six packs by hand.

Santee Lakes

I think I’m safe saying that most full-timers really dislike holidays. Every family and their dogs are out taking up space in campgrounds. Actually, other than the hassle of finding an open site given my short-term planning habit, I’m glad to see families out enjoying themselves and making memories. Some of my sweetest kid memories are of family vacations. We tent camped and I thought we were living the dream! Great times made possible by great parents.

Gold Cart Independence Day Parade

So the Independence Day Weekend had me at Santee Lakes/Marion Lake, northwest of Charleston. Not much there, not much to write about. Enjoyed the small beach and smokin’ another rack of ‘backs.

Myrtle Beach Mud

I’m truly slow-rolling South Carolina, mainly because I’m waiting yet another week to have Synko’s suspension upgraded and her wheel bearings repacked in Rock Hill, NC.

Upon arrival at the campsite in MB I hastened to get the smoke rolling for the last rack of ribs from the Costco package—and to get the golf tournament on the telly. Another lazy day of smoking animal parts and watching live sports.

 My productive accomplishment was to order new connectors to replace the miserable/poorly designed cigarette lighter connections on my pellet grill with twist-lock connectors. I was weary of glancing touches to the cable (or gentle breezes) causing the power to disconnect. So after a bit of soldering when I get to Asheville, NC I’ll have a reliable power cord. Couldn’t fix it in MB because the persistent rain drove me inside.

 So other than the free meals at Gordon Biersch, thanks to my remaining Stein Club points, Myrtle Mud was a bust. Too rainy.. Masks required on beaches (so very stupid).  In the morning I’m moving on to Asheville. For now I guess it’s back to Netflix with the volume way up. Rain on the roof of a fiver is a noisy time!

 

To the Bears Ears

Finally back on the road my primary destination this summer is the East Coast — by way of the Southwest. I’m picking Julie up at Las Vegas airport the last week of May and then we’re going up to Pahrump to visit Pam & Billy.

But first I planned to visit a few places I’ve missed so far.

The first hurdle is to get through North Texas. It’s such a beatdown drive with simply nothing to see. I do like Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas panhandle but for a stupid reason state parks were still closed due to the Corona virus farce. So I spent the first two nights in unremarkable Lubbock and North Albuquerque KOAs.

Day 3 took me to a Harvest Hosts location—Mancos Brewery, where I stayed last year. It’s a cool spot in a sleepy Colorado mountain town but, of course, they could only sell food and beer to go thanks to the Corona virus farce. Still, good food and a free night with a solid view is a deal.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
After watching church Sunday morning I drove to Monument Valley Utah and pitched camp early, throwing a rack of baby backs on the grill. The lazy afternoon included visit from a small herd of sheep and then ended with a beautiful sunset across the mesa.

My layover day gave me the opportunity to visit a couple areas I’ve missed in past trips: Bears Ears National Monument and Natural Bridges NM. Like other massive national monuments, Bears Ears is managed by the Bureau of Land Management while Natural Bridges is part of the National Park System. The entire area with its bluffs, monoliths, arches and bridges is beautifully raw, bold and intimidating. I love it!

Bears Ears is named after an Indian legend:

One of the more popular Navajo stories is that of Changing-Bear-Maiden, who was very beautiful and desired by many men. She would have nothing to do with them. However, Coyote, the trickster, persuaded Changing-Bear-Maiden to marry him in spite of her brothers’ warning that the union would bring evil.

Changing-Bear-Maiden began to change and by winter’s end her transformation into a mischievous bear was complete. Realizing that the only way to save her was to change her into another form, her brother killed Changing-Bear-Maiden, cutting off her ears and throwing them away. They became the buttes seen today.

Ok then.

The area includes Monument Valley and is quite remote. I was impressed that the campground had reliable power and good water. And while I know it defies physics, cell and internet coverage seems to vary with the wind, of which there was plenty. Another interesting feature is the Moki Dugout, a two-mile section of steep, narrow gravel road between two paved state highways. It ascends/descends an abrupt cliff face so I guess would be pretty expensive to widen and pave. It’s kinda cool… Anyway, check the photos below for this period of the trip. They don’t do the landscape justice but you’ll get an idea of why I travel. And with that, and a thin layer of dust throughout my rig, I continued on toward the north rim of our Grand Canyon. Stay tuned!

Two Holes in the Ground

Miffed about the Rift

Welp, my intent to visit the Grand Canyon North Rim was foiled by our country’s overreaction to the #}~*&$!€ Covid threat. So very stupid at this point. Open. The. Damn. Country.

So I hung at Jacob Lake on the Kaibab Plateau, 40 some miles from the canyon rim. I could’ve gotten to the rim by way of forest service roads but they were rough and a 3-hour drive each way in an F250 didn’t fire me up. I’d had done it in an ATV…

The cold, windy weather made it tough to stay outside so it turned out to be a lazy couple days listening to the pine trees sing.

Another Hole in the Ground

When I passed through southern Utah last spring Cedar Breaks National Monument was inaccessible because the roads were still closed. This time I made it! The scenic road had opened just a few days earlier. Thankfully.

Cedar Breaks - Sunset View Overlook
Cedar Breaks – Sunset View Overlook

I dropped Synko at the KOA in Cedar City and then drove the 60-70 mile loop around this really cool, beautiful geological display. Similar to Bryce Canyon, the Breaks displays maybe a dozen layers of rock and sediment types. Very cool. Very pretty. Very impressive.

My added reward for a few extra miles of driving was stopping into Policy Kings Brewery downtown. I’d visited here last year and this time was great too. Soooooo nice to be able to actually sit and enjoy a couple brews, Covid be dammed. Their Chai Saison and Azzaca IPA are both very good. I like this family-run place; they always change up their beer selections, as they run a nano system making very small batches. Kinda like Bonfire in Eagle Colorado. Good stuff.

Friday I dropped in on friends Ed & Kathryn; we visited Snow Canyon state park, Tuacahn Center for the Arts, and then Coyote Gulch for a remarkable dill Havarti burger. (Scratch adjective remarkable; superb is a better descriptor.) Good scenes, a good burger, a good brew, a good venue and good friends made for a really good evening. Thanks to Ed & Kathryn for their hospitality. I’d missed them last year when I was in the St. George area but they away. Glad to have it work out this time!

I made the short drive to Las Vegas better by detouring through the Lake Mead Recreation Area and Valley of Fire state park. Much better than boring I-15. The couple hour drive wrapped up with a quick visit to Blue Beacon Truck Wash to knock the bugs out of Synko’s teeth. It was an $80 bill but the ol’ girl looks much better.

Only Slots in Vegas this Time!
Only Slots in Vegas this Time!

At the Vegas KOA I spent hours cleaning the Utah red dust from every nook & cranny of Synko’s insides. That stuff gets everywhere. My truck got the same treatment. Tedious cleaning—but it’s not like I was distracted by any gaming action. The only slots playing today were the laundry machines! Stupid Corona.  Scratch stupid Corona; stupid Coronoa overreaction is a better descriptor.)

Next up: a week in Pahrump hanging with Pam & Billy, and Julie—a scenario for times unreportable? Oh yeah, here comes the heat tooa few days north of 100 forecast this week. Dang, kinda early ain’t it?… Check back in a week or so for whatever’s reportable from Pahrump and then my 5-day run across country to Nashville the first week of June.

The Black Hills

Devils Tower

After leaving Teddy Roosevelt National Park I rolled south, following the North Dakota/Montana border into South Dakota and then Wyoming to arrive at Devils Tower. Pretty cool looking piece of rock! The trail around the dome is interesting and has great views of the tower. Sighted lots of climbers and one guy looking over the side from the top. Have never had any desire whatsoever to climb rocks but respect the skills and strength of those who do.

Deadwood & Lead

A quick 89 mile drive to Deadwood, SD wound through eastern Wyoming’s farmlands and through the Black Hills National Forest. I checked into the cool, cozy and cramped KOA. Nice place tucked into the side of the mountain but the terraced sites leave little room for maneuvering or parking. Regardless, I got one of the better sites and was good with that. Once settled I headed into the historic mining and brawling town.

Deadwood is cool, kinda touristy. I hit a couple of the historic saloons and left the cemetery and other historic sites until Brad & Julie arrived. Back at camp I grilled a pork loin and just chilled.

Friday was laundry day. I’d rather have my teeth drilled. It had been a couple weeks so I filled all four washers at the campground and at least killed the miserable chore in an hour or so. Rewarded myself with a visit to Dakota Shivers Brewery in Lead (leed). Ubercool place. Yes, it’s my latest favorite brewery! Bought their stainless mug and a t-shirt. I only get shirts from breweries I really like, and then the shirt needs to be cool. Theirs are.

Hill City & More

En route to Hill City to meet up with Julie and Brad I rolled through Rapid City and got a haircut and a much needed bath for Synko. Nearly an hour later I was set up in our adjoining campsites, put a hoodie on to battle this chill and waited for Julie & Brad to arrive. Kay & Dave came over and we all headed out for a brew at Miner Brewing Company in town, followed by pretty decent buffalo/elk burger at Slate Creek Grill.

Needles Highway (7539)
Needles Highway (7539)

In the morning we headed out, got a check in the box at Mount Rushmore and then drove through Custer State Park and onto the Needles Highway. Needles Highway is yet another wonderful road that winds through trees, across a couple ridges and through very narrow and low tunnels among outcroppings of wind chiseled rock. The Eye of the Needle had us folding in side mirrors and ducking low. Extremely cool! A couple videos of the tunnels: A Fairly Wide Tunnel and Eye of the Needle.

From Needles Highway we made the couple hour drive back over to Devils Tower so Julie & Brad and Dave & Kay could enjoy that pretty cool site. Then we headed back to camp but this time through Spearfish Canyon. Another wonderful road. This part of the country is full of ’em! Our day culminated around a campfire enjoying a couple cocktails in the chilly evening. ‘Twas a perfect way to wrap up a week in the beautiful Black Hills.

Next, on to Yellowstone!

 

New Mexico Redo

The five hour drive from Caprock Canyons to Villanueva State Park in New Mexico was easy and uneventful. As I neared the park, I had to use both lanes of the small winding road to avoid overhanging tree limbs but the campground in the narrow canyon was rewarding. I backed into a site on the Pecos River next to friendly camp hosts. Really cool little state park. As a side note, I let my newly installed inverter handle the power chores for the day and night, and it performed great. So cool to run the necessities of life (Keurig and TV) on just batteries.

Friday I made the short 90 minute drive to Santa Fe and checked into an in-town RV Park, as the nearby state parks on the road to Ski Santa Fe were booked for the weekend. Had lunner at Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery, perhaps the least compelling meal I’ve ever had in a town of outstanding restaurants. I was underimpressed by the food and the two brews. But Saturday morning brought a new day and I thoroughly enjoyed my chile rellano at Cafe Pasqual’s. No trip to Santa Fe is complete without breakfast here! They assemble all-organic ingredients into simple wonderful food. It’s a favorite spot.

After my late breakfast I wandered the farmers market at the rail yards and chilled for a bit at Second Street Brewing, chatting with locals and a couple headed to Alabama for a RV rally. Laid low in the afternoon, flipping between the NCAA Super Regionals and Rangers’ games, and the Adrian Beltre number retirement ceremony. So cool that Tommy Lasorda attended!

Sunday started with camp church on TV followed by a visit to REI to replace my lost Keen sandals, a drive up the mountain, a couple creative margaritas in town at La Fonda & Coyote Cantina, and then more college ball on the tube. The wind drove me inside: rats, I like watching sports outside at a campsite.

Off to Taos Monday midday… The drive to Taos was great once I cleared the traffic clutter of Santa Fe and its outlying towns. Enjoyed following the Rio Grande River upstream as it tumbled down the canyon. And then the road crested the upper mesa, dropping into Taos. After setting up camp I headed over to Taos Mesa Brewing on the north end of town. Very brutál place—my first favorite brewery of the trip! Enjoyed music, a sampling of their tasty brews—Solstice Pale Ale, Kachina Peak Pale Ale, Jonesy’s Cross Eye Rye IPA, and Hop Kof IPA—along with the 70 degree patio with views of the snow-capped mountains. Dinner from my campsite grill: pork loin, new potatoes & coleslaw.

Wednesday’s drive to Eagle Nest was another short one, up Taos Canyon alongside the river and green meadows and then over the hill into high elevation Moreno Valley. Snagged a great $10 campsite at the state park on the lake. No utilities, but I’m getting pretty confident with my new inverter so I still had the comforts (necessities) of glamping. Enchanted Circle Brewery in Angel Fire served up a good gyro washed down with their tasty Bodacious Brown Ale and Fly Dawg IPA. That filled me up so I put chicken thighs back in the reefer to brine: I’d smoke ’em Thursday.

Thursday came and went without smoking the chicken. The wind just wouldn’t let up and I knew it was a losing prop to try to keep the smoker lit in 25 knot winds. But I achieved halfway decent smokin’ success Friday at my riverside campsite in Red River. I think my smoker runs a bit hot because I checked the thighs an hour earlier than what I thought would be my cook time and caught them just before they went over the overcook cliff (as opposed to an overlook cliff).

While watching the US Open on the outside TV next to the river, I noticed a duck float by in the quick current. I’ve never seen a duck just ride the current and I’m pretty sure the smile on his bill meant he was simply going for a joy ride! 🦆

Saturday went for a hike and then stopped by Red River Brewing for lunch and a couple brews and to watch the Michigan/Texas Tech CWS game. The popular brewery restaurant makes a very good Back 40 Farmhouse Ale and Catskinner IPA. Watched the 3rd round of the US Open back at camp, then turned in when it got cold & rainy.

Sunday morning I attended camp church and afterward wandered around town, through the town’s annual arts festival, just enjoying the beautiful day. In the morning I’ll be heading out to Pagosa Springs. My third visit to New Mexico this year was great. New Mexico hasn’t grown old on me but it’s time to move on!

Western Colorado

Pagosa Springs

The drive from Red River southeast toward Taos and then northwest through Carson National Forest was beautiful. West of Tres Piedras, New Mexico the highway winds through rolling mountains, past lush meadows and across a couple ridge lines where there were still a few patches of snow hanging in there. Eventually the route crosses into Colorado to wind its way up and then down into the cool town of Pagosa Springs. It was really a pleasant drive, despite the jackelope in the Class A holding up a long string of traffic who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—squeeze more than 40 miles an hour out of his rig. I got around the lineup using a few straightaway sections of passing lane.

Tuesday started with phoning in to my 121 life group to hang with the guys for an hour. Followed that up with a hike along the raucous Piedra River. Started out as a beautiful day—sunny, warm, fun trail. Then a thunderstorm built up and dropped rain, small hail and lightening bolts. Like a dumbass, I’d forgotten a rain poncho (always carry rain gear in the mountains!) and I quickly got soaked and cold. But the rewards of the mountain rain aromas, the echoing of the bone rattling thunder and the dramatic colors of cloud and sun sparring were worth every shiver. Just before the storm blew in I’d spent maybe 20 minutes just sitting on a rock enjoying creation. The storm reminded me of what a thunderous God we have!

Finally back at camp I took advantage of their shower facility because I knew I wanted lots of hot water and didn’t wanna fill my holding tank. LOL, I felt a lil bad abot how much hot water I used but so it goes.

Wednesday I ventured outside my comfort zone and hit the hot springs at the resort in town. Going for a quick soak after a workout or rough day, sure, but just sitting around for a couple hours soaking in communal juices is kinda a stretch. But I gotta say, it was cool (the water was hot, lol) and I got a check in that box. Followed that up with a visit to Riff Raff on the Rio for their Yak & Tequila Chorizo meatloaf. It did not disappoint! The brewpub’s beers are good but didn’t really knock me back. The view of the river and mountains sure did.

Durango

The easy 90 minute drive to Durango landed me at the Riverside KOA north of town. Nice campground nestled in the trees alongside the fast-flowing Animas River. This location flooded out last year after the rains followed a pretty devastating fire and it’s been nicely rebuilt.

Historic Durango is a cool town with several hotels, restaurants, pubs & breweries. I bypassed the numerous gift shops to sample a few brews instead. While meandering around Durango I wandered into the railroad museum at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This donation-only eclectic museum is packed with railroad memorabilia, antique cars, an old Indian motorcycle and tons of other seemingly random stuff. It’s definitely worth a visit if you like trains.

D&SNGRR

I’ve wanted to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for as long as I can remember. So I ponied up $200 for a seat in the Alamosa parlor car. The four hour trip, each way, is nothing short of amazing! The Alamosa is the last car in the train so you get outstanding views from the back platform.

I’m not sure why I like trains so much but I do. The coal-fired steam engine just sounds so cool as it chugs up the track. And the screeching and clacking of the wheels really is the rhythm of the rails is all (you) feel. The four-hour trip was over before I knew it. The slideshow pics simply fail to render how gorgeous the scenery is.

Our porter, Ellie, was wonderful. Her knowledge of geography & history and a commitment to superb service made the trip so enjoyable. Each round trip up & down from Durango to Silverton consumes five to six tons of coal (all shoveled by one guy) and about 10,000 gallons of water, which we replenished at a couple stops along the way.

The short layover in the mining town provides only time for lunch and a quick shopping stop for those so inclined. I didn’t mind since I was spending the next two days in Silverton. I was glad I did not opt for the quicker return via bus. The train ride is just too good and is clearly one of, if not the best tourist attractions I’ve ever experienced. If you’re ever near Durango be sure to take this trip. If you’re not near Durango go there.

Our return trip downhill was cold, sometimes rainy & the skies threw down some sleet and hail. But that didn’t dampen the experience I just threw on a heavier sweatshirt.

D&SNGRR Videos

Rhythm of the Rails
Animas River & Train View #1
Animas River & Train View #2
Animas River Rear View #1
Animas River Rear View #2
Cliffside View #1
Cliffside View #2

As a side note, I’ve added a page that shows the National Parks & Monuments I’ve visited. Check it out here.

Western Colorado Part II

Wonderful Risky Road

Heading north from Durango the Million Dollar Highway weaves its way up-valley, crossing a few high mountain passes. US Highway 550 requires diligent attention to downhill speed, several times as slow as 10-20 MPH. With 14,000 pounds behind me and sheer drop-offs, I heeded the speed warning signs! As risky as the road might be it’s a stunning drive. I arrived in the historic mining town of Silverton for a couple days. Silverton is base to tons of off-highway roads and the economy has transitioned from mining to renting ATV & OHVs. There’s a popular loop that runs between Silverton, Lake City and Ouray and I headed up that road for several miles before it was still closed due to slides. I probably wouldn’t have gone all the way anyway, as the road is pretty narrow and rocky, best suited for jeeps and OHVs. A long-bed truck runs the real risk of high-centering. Outside of the D&SNGRR crowds who flood the town each afternoon, Silverton is a pretty sleepy village. Even the bordellos have closed up (dang it!). Lunch at Thee Pitts Again, which has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, was only fair (think Spring Creek). Meat U Anywhere and AJs on Main in Grapevine serve up much better BBQ. Half a pizza for dinner and a Pizza Girl Black Lager at Avalanche Brewing were great!

Welp, the drive from Durango to Silverton is nothing compared to the northern section from Silverton to Ouray. Gorgeous, but I’d never consider this road at night or in the rain while towing a fiver. There’s a few videos from my newly acquired dash cam below.

Ouray

Ouray is a really cool little mountain town. A bit touristy but still very cool and very friendly. Troy’s crew at the Ouray KOA are awesome. I’m kinda jealous; he just bought the campground. Gonna be looking into that…

Ouray Perimeter Trail
Ouray Perimeter Trail

Friday I hiked the Ouray Perimeter Trail. This isn’t your typical walk around town. Yes, the trail has great views of Ouray but it also gets away from civilization with sections that wind into canyons and across plateaus. Clockwise from the visitor center the trail climbs constantly until it drops into cool Cascade Falls canyon. After that it rises & falls until the final stretch drops steeply back into town. The southern section through Ice Park is mosquito city and doesn’t add a lot to the overall loop; I should’ve taken the Ice Park shortcut. The reported 6-mile loop took me 5 hours, with a few stops at waterfalls and river crossings. I ran outta water the last mile-ish and got super dehydrated. I laid very low the rest of the day and the next. Lesson learned (dumbass). 🥵


Ok, I’m always skeptical of food offered at a campground. But I got to visit with Troy, the new owner of the Ouray KOA, and he insisted their weekend BBQ was very good. I’d had breakfast at the small café and it was, indeed, excellent. The combo BBQ plate Saturday evening (which I got halfway through for just $20) was some of the best I’ve had anywhere. Props to this campground for such a good operation in a beautiful place!

Made a day trip, backtracking 23  miles to Silverton. I wanted to drive the Million Dollar Highway again, this time without Synko in tow so I could easily pull off to enjoy the sights. Took another spur near Silverton, up South Mineral Creek about six miles. On the way out I saw two moose head off the road into the brush. Very cool!

Check out a couple video slices from my dashcam of Million Dollar Highway in the links below. It’s a beautiful, wild drive—especially towing 35′ Sykno!

Video Links

Million Dollar Highway I
Million Dollar Highway II
Million Dollar Highway III
Million Dollar Highway IV
Cascade Falls – Ouray
Bear Creek Falls

That’s it for now. I’m headed to Montrose for an engine oil change, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Gunnison, Lake City and Crested Butte to wrap up my western Colorado travels in the next week or so. Happy trails!

 

Western Colorado PART III

Montrose

It’s a short drive from Ouray to Montrose but there ain’t nothing wrong with rolling slow! Checked into a mediocre site at the KOA in town then headed over to Montrose Ford for an engine oil change. Great, quick service! Then a restocking visit to City Market and a stop by Horsefly Brewing for a couple quick beers. The Bug Eyed Blond was nondescript but their Green Chili Lager was pretty decent.

July 4th I headed over to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. What a rugged, remote, forbidding canyon! Pretty amazing history of its exploration and the 10,000 foot tunnel they built through the mountain to bring water to Uncompaghre Valley farmers. Spending time in one of our National Parks seemed like a good fit to our national holiday. Wrapped up the day enjoying President Trump’s Salute to America and then listening to local dogs bark at the fireworks going off. Friday’s drive over the hill to Gunnison was very pretty through rolling hills, mountain canyons and alongside the reservoirs of Curecanti National Recreation Area. Really nice. I see why it’s another scenic byway.

Gunnison

Gunnison is another town on my short (but growing) list of possible long-term stay towns. Made the drive up to Mount Crested Butte for a quick revisit of a weekend ski trip years ago. It wasn’t as cold as it was then (minus 27 Fahrenheit). High Alpine Brewing Company on Gunnison’s Main Street serves up really good groceries and good brews. I especially liked their Basil Pale Ale, though the ? Double IPA was pretty fine too.

After an attempt to attend camp church Sunday morning I gave up, as the Internet gods kept throwing inconsistent bandwidth my way. Got too frustrating so I clicked off and headed into the hills to see what Lake City was all about. Lake City is a cool mountain town, not as quaint as Silverton but nice nevertheless. Lots of avalanche debris on the road outta town toward the season-long closed Engineer Pass. Lake City Brewing Company on the OHV road in town has decent brats and good beer; I enjoyed their San Juan Pale Ale and ’74 IPA.

Got back to Gunnison in time for a good downpour and lingering rain for most of the early evening. The rain, happily, washed tons of cottonwood pollen out of the air. Earlier the stuff had been falling like snow showers.

Colorado, for Now

As I started heading north and west, away from Colorado for now, I took the much less direct road from Gunnison to Grand Junction. State highway 92 runs north from Gunnison area, following the Black Canyon lands for a while then rolling up & down across a few ridges. After a couple hours state 65 heads north, onto and across Colorado’s Grand Mesa. Beautiful drive that is probably 2-3 times as long as the direct route through Montrose, but worth it. The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway earns its stripes.

Before heading out to destinations beyond Colorado I visited the Colorado National Monument and Dinosaur National Monument. Cool drive through the rimrock of Colorado NM and then a nice drive north to Jensen and Dinosaur NM. Really extensive finding of dinosaur bones in very good condition.  Glad they had the foresight to preserve these fossils as they were uncovered.

The drive up the hill took me out of Colorado and into Utah’s Ashley National Forest and Flaming Gorge Recreation Area than spans Utah and Wyoming. Snagged a nice campsite nestled in the trees at Mustang Ridge. Where to from here tomorrow? Stay tuned!

Idaho Part I

A Bit of Utah before Idaho

From Mustang Ridge I headed to the west side of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Nice drive across open brush-covered land with surprising grades along the way. In just a couple hours I arrived at Buckboard Crossing, a sleepy marina and sparsely occupied campground. But the campground’s dripping water sprinklers did draw the local pronghorns. Very cool to watch these animals.

Neighbors a couple sites down gave me two awesome filets of freshly caught Kokanee salmon. Sure beat the hell outta the frozen fish I had planned. Simply seasoned with lemon pepper and grilled skin side down, the pink flesh was incredible!

There’s not a lot of attractions between Flaming Gorge and Idaho so I put in a 6+ hour drive to Arco, Idaho near Craters of the Moon National Monument. I did stop by Fossil Butte National Monument for a few minutes. Anyone who’s into fossils would love this visitor center and quarry. I was impressed by the quality of the displays and knowledge of the Rangers.

Eastern Idaho

Arco, Idaho is a sleepy town (outpost?) near Valley of the Moon National Monument & Preserve. This national park land is awesome in its starkness, rawness, ruggedness, fragility. You can imagine the incredible power that created all the cinder cones and spatter cones and lava flows in this region. Truly amazing! I’ve pretty much come to learn that if you’re near a National Park or Monument, visit it!

After two nights in Arco, including a truck wash that unfortunately would not also accommodate Synko who is needing a bath in a bad way, I headed north.

The drive up Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway (which I did in the direction of Craters to Peaks) is gorgeous, winding along the Salmon River through wide valleys and tight canyons. I pulled into tiny Shoup Bridge Rec Area and snagged one of the seven $5 campsites alongside the Salmon. Pretty good digs for Mark.

The town of Salmon has services sufficient to get one by—just not on a Sunday, as the hardware and grocery stores were closed (kinda a nice throwback to better days!). I did sniff out Bertram’s Brewery on Main Street and, while lunch was good, the brews were only fair. I returned to my riverside retreat for the evening.

I continued heading up the Salmon River Scenic Byway to North Fork and camped at the very cool Wagonhammer Campground near North Fork. My site on the river was awesome! Beautiful views of the Salmon as it ran past, hills on both sides of the valley and lush, green grass throughout the campsite. A near-perfect campsite.

Without Synko in tow I drove up to Lost Trail Pass which separates Idaho and Montana. Nice hour-long drive to the pass, checking out several Lewis & Clark historical sites along the way. Those dudes were men.

Sawtooth National Rec Area

After a couple days in North Fork I headed south again to Stanley, the gateway to the Sawtooth National Rec Area. I see why they call ’em sawtooths—them are some rugged peaks! By the time I got to Stanley and got my bearings the most desired campgrounds were full. The friendly volunteer at the NFS ranger station recommended an area of dispersed camping off the Sawtooth Scenic Byway near Pettit Lake so I checked it out. It was a few miles up a dirt road and was pretty enough but, it just did not feel right; my spirit was not comfortable with it. So I ended up in an ok site at the NFS Salmon campground, just outside Stanley. It was fine for an overnighter after a full day’s drive but I wanted something better.

So in the morning I scouted out a couple other dispersed camping areas and landed in a cool spot off the road to Stanley Lake. The forest was mine and without any facilities I gave my new inverter and solar panels a workout; they performed flawlessly, powering the TV, Dish antenna and a couple quick microwave spurts. I did question, though, the wisdom of watching the movie The Edge while camped remotely in the woods. Sounds of wind and probably a few squirrels or deer outside in the middle of the night had me thinking bear and reaching for the shotgun, just in case!

After a couple days of remote camping near Stanley Lake I planned to spend another night in the Boise National Forest along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (lots of scenic byways in Idaho!). Unfortunately a wildfire was burning across the area, even requiring NFS escorts through a couple sections where fires and work crews were active. The air quality was less than stellar and signs of previous fires a couple/few years ago were prominent. I checked a couple campgrounds and dispersed sites along the way but didn’t find anything particularly compelling. (I’ve come to dislike weekends and especially holidays, as they bring out all the weekend campers. Just stay home, willya.)

Boise

I continued rolling down the hill and ended up in Boise about 3pm. Now that I’d finally returned to cellular coverage I called a couple campgrounds in town and found them to be full—thanks to the Garth Brooks concert Saturday night. (So I guess I’m not fond of concerts, either, lol.). As I was headed across town to a Harvest Hosts winery for the night, Brighton at Mountain View RV called me back and said they’d had a cancellation for the night. I told her I was enroute to Huston Vineyards but a minute later Huston returned my earlier voicemail to let me know they were in the midst of their release weekend and had no room at the inn. So I called Brighton back and took her up on the offer of the cancelled site. The tour of I-84 across southern Boise and back was oh-so-beautiful. Ha.

After setting up camp I drove by the apartment where I’d lived a few months after high school. Kinda cool to see the old place again, even if it had weathered some. Hell, I’ve weather some too! Also recalled the motel bar where my high school pal Joe Gomez and I would hang out Friday nights until they closed at 2am. Then the bar would reopen at 3am and we’d last another hour or so before going to work at 7am. I was less weathered way back then!

Seeing the old haunts also reminded me of the scam we pulled while working as receiving and checking clerks at the local grocery store chain. The story went something like this:

The milk delivery driver would hit Joe’s store first and leave a few extra cartons of milk which Joe would trade cookies for. Then the cookie driver would visit my store across town where we’d trade cookies for RC cola. And then the RC cola guy would pick up a couple cases of Coors back at Joe’s store. By the time we’d perfected our thievery the RC cola driver was delivering Coors beer to our apartment. We had cases stacked in the corner of our kitchen. We made only enough money to pay the $215 rent, drink, chase a few girls and watch TV at the coin-operated TVs in the Boise airport concourse. I’m not saying I’m proud of that caper today but we had a good time—as best I remember! I’m more weathered and wiser today (for the most part!).

After checking outta the Mountain View RV park near the airport I headed across town to the local KOA for a few nights to get Synko washed and my back adjusted by a Max Living doc in Boise. I’d also plot out my itinerary for the next couple weeks up the west side of Idaho and into Montana and Glacier National Park. Headed north in a couple days so I’ll get back to the blog in a week or so. Cheers!