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.

Glacier.

Getting There

US Highway 2 leaves Whitefish, MT and winds through Columbia Falls (a cool tourist burb), Coram (home of Glacier Distilling and their tasty North Fork Rye) and past West Glacier (Gateway to the Park). And I went past the entrance to the park because vehicle combinations longer than 21 feet are prohibited on Going to the Sun Road. As the crow files, it’s 49 miles from my campground in Whitefish to my campground in St Mary, on the east side of the park. So I had to roll down the longer 122 mile route—which was just fine because the route was fine (mostly!).

Winding along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and through a couple towns/outposts was awesome! I love how clear the rivers are! As you approach Marias Pass stunning views of Glacier National Park’s peaks appear. So hard to keep my eyes on the road.

On the east side of Marias Pass I passed by East Glacier (another route to the park) because the railroad bridge wouldn’t let Synko pass under (and because long loads aren’t permitted on MT 49 either). So I continued to Browning and then headed back westward to St Mary, the real eastside entrance to the Park.

US Highway 89 to St Mary
US Highway 89 to St Mary

That highway, US 89 was also under severe construction and I ended up shifting into four-wheel-drive to gain traction over the loose dirt and steep grade. I would not have wanted to drive that road in a half-ton truck or without 4WD. Anyway, I arrived at the nice KOA in the junction town of St. Mary and grilled up some wings for dinner, also mapping out my itinerary into the park on Saturday.

Glacier.

I bought the GNP t-shirt that just said “Glacier.” on a background of Montana because I though it was simple & solid. The national park is anything but simple & solid. It’s stunning & spectacular! I’ve wanted to visit here since high school (you know, for the past 20 years!) and my dream was coming true.

Jackson Glacier
Jackson Glacier

Going to the Sun Road is phenomenal. From the lower land meadows and large lakes on each side through craggy peaks and sheer cliff faces the road winds 52 miles across the Continental Divide and between the Park’s western and eastern portals. Exhibits in the visitor centers pique your interest in the incredible geology of the mountains. The power at work, through an awesome Creator’s hand never ceases to amaze and humble me. God, I love the mountains!

Crowds were fairly heavy but not overwhelming. I took advantage of the park’s shuttles a couple times to avoid parking hassles but I wanted the experience of driving Going to the Sun myself. It. Is. An. Experience. For the most part, the road is good and provides outstanding views of peaks, waterfalls, meadows, creeks, lakes, trees. The rivers simply amazed me in how the sparkling water rushes over colored rocks, so clear and pristine. In slower-moving pools, the glacier water reflects beautiful turquoise colors. It’s unreal beauty.

In other sections the road narrows considerably along the sheer cliff face and I knew I wasn’t being too cautious by folding my mirrors in when I saw other F250s with their ears tucked in too! There were a couple spots where I slowly snuck by oncoming traffic. On the east side of Logan Pass I passed an oncoming rig towing a 25-30 foot Airstream. What a fool. Back in camp later I was chatting with my neighbors who had advised the Park Service of this errant dude. The rangers said they’d intercept him but by that time, he’d have significant damage to his trailer. Yeah, the tunnels and cliff overhangs are real. I dunno how he missed the restriction signs, or if he was just “special.” Wasn’t my problem…

When I reached the west side (where I’d been with Synko in tow the day before) I fueled up to save $1.00 a gallon vs. the price in St. Mary and headed back across the Continental Divide. I enjoyed a quick stop at 1913-era Lake McDonald Lodge for a TwoSki Brewski Pilsner from Kalispell Brewing and then headed back up the hill. About three hours later I was back in St Mary and chatted with a cool lady from Hawaii by way of Calgary. We enjoyed a couple drinks at the local pub and then I headed back to camp (alas, alone, lol). My first visit to Glacier was so great; I’d be returning in a week to take in the “Many Glacier” section of the park.

Leaving There

But until then, in the morning I stowed my good wines and shotgun at the KOA since Canada is averse to such evils. Clearing customs 20 miles from St Mary was a breeze this time, quite different than last year when I tried to take my gun with me. The customs official asked if I had any firearms and when I said, “no” he replied, “you’re from Texas and don’t have a gun?!” I told him I’d left them at the campground in St. Mary and he waved me on through.

The drive through southern Alberta’s green and yellow farmland was easy and in a couple hours I arrived in Calgary and checked into the biggest hole of a campground I’ve found. But it was just for the one night to position me close to Banff and my next destination in Golden, BC. I was headed toward a couple more national parks (this time in Canada) that I’ve wanted to visit in the 20 years since high school!

People I’ve talked with tell of wonderful sights in Banff and Jasper. I can’t wait to get there!

Glaciers to Badlands

Glaciers

The drive from Cranbrook back toward Montana through the Kootenay mountains was very nice. Small towns, rivers, hills, and Fernie Brewing. I stopped in there to spend my remaining loonies, toonies and the rest of my Canadian money. A quick flight of tasters and then a 12-pack and a bomber of sour for Julie, to go.

After clearing US customs at the border of Canada’s Waterton National Park I again encountered wildlife on the road. Cows on the free range, lol. The day’s cloudy, rainy, cold drive ended back at familiar St. Mary KOA. My spirits were kinda sorta crushed when the NFL network, which I was so happy to receive on Dish, blacked out the Cowboys pre-season game. (Prolly a liberal made that stupid decision.)

After camp church Sunday morning I headed over to the Many Glacier region of the national park. Pretty area, pretty congested. I did sight a golden eagle soaring above the canyon probably on the hunt—or perhaps just enjoying the view God set before him. Back at camp I slow-smoked a rack in the afternoon (seasoned only with freshly ground pink Himalayan sea salt & coarse Malabar black pepper, also freshly ground), making sure to keep an eye open for any hungry bears enticed by the smoker. Paired the ribs with red skin potato salad and a Fernie IPA.

Plains

Monday brought a 10½ hour drive from St Mary, MT to Williston, ND. I took the campground’s suggestion and avoided US 89 south of St Mary, taking a state highway a few miles north to avoid the construction zone I’d tolerated a week or so before. Good call because it was a pretty drive to Browning.

There’s hellauvalotta Montana east of the Rockies! I breezed along US 2, dubbed the Lewis & Clark Trail, with a steady tail wind and occasional rain showers. I don’t know that it increased my fuel economy any but it didn’t impair it and wasn’t an annoying side wind. I’ll take tail winds any day, and I could see the heavy rain stayed a few miles north of me on the Canadian border. As I finally crossed into North Dakota, adding the 48th state I’ve visited to my resume, I decided to check into a nearby motel and avoid having to search for a campsite so late in the day. Good call, I was tired and went to sleep without dinner, even though I hadn’t been bad all day.

Badlands

I know why they call ’em badlands but from my vantage point they ain’t bad at all. These lands are extremely pretty in their own way. It’s easy to love mountains; they’re so impressive in their grandeur. But prairie lands and canyonlands offer their own style of beauty.

At Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit I dragged Synko up and down the scenic drive, impressed by the sights of the grasses, rocks, rivers, vistas and buffalo. While probably not as well know as the big-name parks, this refuge is absolutely stunning. I chatted with a couple about this and we all agreed our pictures don’t capture the immenseness, depth or scope of the scenery. For me, the pics will always remind me of just how grand, how intense, how intricate, how beautiful God’s creation is.  You cannot truly experience and appreciate this and not believe.

Next up: The Black Hills of Wyoming and South Dakota.

 

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!

Arizona

Getting There

As I crossed into Arizona from New Mexico on US70 I was treated to beautiful displays of pale green grasses dotted with yellow and purple flowers. God’s sky also was on full display: broken clouds, patches of blue, and many rainbows. The clouds hugged nearby mountain peaks but occasionally allowed last night’s snowfall to show through. It was a gorgeous drive! As I continued toward Apache Junction the weather vacillated between sunshine, rain showers and a patch of snow-mixed rain. US70 became US60 as I continued west. Together, these solid roads made for a wonderful drive, and I was glad I’d left early enough to miss the brunt of the wind and enjoy the last fringes of the winter storm as it blew eastward. I’m tagging this route a wonderful road! And I lifted a prayer of thanks for safe travels and for the opportunity to enjoy the Creator’s fine work.

Spring Training

The Apache Junction KOA got us by. Pretty disappointing site but not the end of the world. Brad & Jonathan joined me Wednesday night (well, at midnight!). We enjoyed good times at the Rangers/Cubs game Thursday—including the biggest bestest Chicago Dog ever. Sunday we drove miles & miles to Surprise Stadium for the Dbacks/Rangers game. ‘Twas a more interesting game but the long drive made the visit to Sloan Park a little nicer. We took a couple-hour drive into Tonto National Forest Monday before I ran the boys back to the airport across town. Nice drive; the picture credits go to Brad.

Flagstaff

Tuesday brought a nice 3-4 hour drive up I-17 and AZ 89A thru Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. The road sign disallowed trucks over 50′ on the road north of Sedona but since I was not a “truck” per se, and measure just 53′ from bumper to bumper I fudged it and went ahead. Beautiful drive but. yep, tight turns. NTL, made it to Flagstaff and settled in for a few days at the attractive KOA on the north side of town. Some winter weather is forecast in a couple days and I’ll hang here until Saturday to catch the first couple rounds of March Madness. More later… …

It’s now “later”… A few snow showers Wednesday night & Thursday during the day. Made for pretty views outside Majerle’s sports grill where I  watched a few Madness games. I also found my newest favorite brewery—Mother Road. They’ve got an excellent lineup of IPAs, including Tower Station and Lost Highway,  plus a bourbon barrel stout which I’m going back for Friday.

Sunset Crater Volcano & Wupatki National Monuments

Gotta admit, I didn’t know these National Parks were here until I saw the road sign. They are just up the road from Flagstaff and turns out, they’re really cool. Sunset Crater Volcano is raw beauty. Stark. Powerful. Rugged. Fragile. It draws you in.

I took a couple short hikes, enjoying the lava rock trails and surrounding snow-capped mountains. As I was finishing up I encountered Eric, a parks volunteer. Nice old guy (I suppose I need to be careful how I say that!) who shared some info about the park and its geology. And he gave me a good restaurant tip for when I’m in Boulder, Utah in a week or so.

Continuing on toward Wupatki, the drive was incredible, overlooking Arizona’s Painted Desert. Not sure what I expected but the puebloan ruins were really interesting. Nice to see such old (circa 1100 A.D.) structures preserved. The day had warmed from the low 30s to the upper 40s and by the time I’d finished visiting the two parks I was ready to taste another of Flagstaff’s fine breweries.

After refilling a propane bottle (I’m blowing through them pretty quick in this long-enduring winter) I headed into historic downtown and Dark Sky Brewing where I had a flight of five tasters. The Magnum PI’s Pilsner was very good; I had my first Grisette; an interesting Kook Juice IPA featuring pineapple & coconut (good but a taster is enough); and wrapped up with their west coast Strength in Numbers and Send Me an Angel, both very good IPAs. Another favorite brewery discovered! Side note: their music comes from a vinyl LP player (Brett, that’s for you!).

Dinner was a great change of pace, visiting with my friend Maryann, who I hadn’t seen in (yikes!) about 25 years. We had a really good time chatting and catching up. Good friends, good times!

The Grand Canyon

After attending 121 “camp church” online, I headed into Williams for my ride on the Grand Canyon Railway to The Grand Canyon. I kinda feared the event would be a little skitchy but it wasn’t bad. The old west characters were actually entertaining and Annette, our purser, was great, sharing insights and some humor. The two-hour ride to Grand Canyon went by quickly.

I’d been to the Canyon before and it still impresses and amazes! Beautiful, stark, grand beauty. I walked the rim trail 3½ miles from Mojave Point to the El Tovar hotel where, given I only had about 30 minutes before needing to board the train again, I had a Tower Station IPA in the iconic lodge. The train was cool but it sure limits time at the park (about 3 hours).

I didn’t get down into the Canyon—my stupid knee would only gripe at me for the downhill. So seeing the creation from the rim had to do. (I just wish people knew how to get outta the way and walk to the right! It just ain’t that hard. All-in-all ’twas a good day topped off by an excellent Carne Chile de Molcajete at Fiesta Mexican Grill in Williams. Worth returning for that dish!

And with that, Arizona is done. Headed down the hill to Kingman then up remote US-93 to the Las Vegas area for a week. Gonna hang with Julie & Pam!

Utah

Settle in with a cup of coffee, a glass of vino or a cerveza ’cause I got lots to tell about traveling through southern Utah!

Zion National Park & Dixie National Forest

Once you finally leave the traffic jerks of Las Vegas heading north, the canyonlands of a slice of Arizona then Utah reveal themselves. its a pretty drive through Red Rock Canyon, Saint George and into Cedar City, where I base camped for three nights to checkout Zion, Cedar Breaks and some of the Dixie National Forest.

Zion rocks. It just does. A beautiful slot canyon with stunning cliffs, fun roads (including a partially washed-out highway and a tunnel too narrow & low for my fiver) and plenty of picture and hiking opps entice. The Zion Canyon Brewing Company at the National Park visitor center is a nice complement, too! I had visited Zion a couple times before so I moved on, up Highways 9 and 89 through Long Valley Junction and across the Dixie National Forest toward Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Unfortunately, Cedar Breaks was still in the throes of winter and the roads into the Park had not been cleared yet so I missed that geo-feature. Rats. The Monument also was not reachable from the north side near sleepy Brian Head, where it seems they could be skiing for another month. The surrounding mountains are spectacular. Three nights in Cedar City were just about right for what was accessible. I was ready to move on to Bryce Canyon!

Bryce Canyon

Having traveled state highway 14 through Dixie National Forest the day before, I decided to not repeat that route with the trailer in-tow. The road has some significant grades and curves and isn’t recommended for large rigs, so I headed north on I-15 to state 20 where I headed east toward Bryce Valley. Nice drive, including through two arch tunnels that left just 6 inches to spare between my rooftop air units and the harder rock. Whew! A quick two hours later I was setup at snow-covered Ruby’s RV Park, just outside the National Park entrance.

Once again, I was a few weeks early in the season as the trails below the canyon rim were still closed due to snow & ice. But I’d hiked them years before on a day that was perhaps the best day hike of my life. I still remember how cool that hike through Fantasyland and Queens Garden was that October day, with snow flurries capping the hoodoos. I was actually okay with not hiking below the rim this trip as I wouldn’t want to dilute my memories of that special hike.

So I enjoyed the Bryce Canyon amphitheater from the rim viewpoints. Such stunning vistas! This truly is a special place on the planet. Hiking (well, more like walking) between Sunset and Sunrise points, I ducked into the iconic Bryce Canyon Lodge for a bison burger and Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale. Ryan, the kid who waited on me was an awesome server. Very friendly, interested in my travels, excited to be working at the Lodge. Nice to meet solid young people when there’s so much negativity surrounding the millennial generation.

After lunch I headed downhill to Mossy Cave trail, a short hike up a canyon that terminates in a waterfall and cave full of icicles. Although short, the trail grabs the oxygen outta your lungs as it traverses the steep canyon. Felt good.

Back at camp, I wrestled with getting online streaming to work so I could watch the Final Four. When CBS All Access failed me (“we’re not able to steam live TV in your area”) I was able to get coverage through the ESPN app, which uses the CBS video feed. Go figure. I fired CBS. Was fun to watch Texas Tech make it to the championship game and, as I now write, I’ll be watching the game tonight on digital TV over-the-air in Torrey, UT. No more sport cussin’ trying to get streaming to work!

Grand Staircase Escalante

Utah State Highway 12, also known as Scenic Byway 12 and Highway 12 — A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway is an All American Road. Rightly so. What an incredible, wonderful road! The byway winds through slick rock canyons and cliffs, across a narrow ridge line, and through beautifully colored canyons and hills. If you’ve followed along the past year you know I’ve seen some pretty sights and navigated some awesome roads. This is yet another special route I’ve been blessed to enjoy! If not for fear of driving off the ridge into the canyons on both sides of the road, I would’ve had a really hard time keeping my eyes and mind on the driving task. Nevertheless, I was able to pull off a few times to get pictures of this stunning drive.

A National Park volunteer I’d chatted with at Sunset Volcano near Flagstaff had recommended the Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder Town. This very cool joint serves up fantastic food with super-friendly service. I had the patty melt with Guyere cheese and housemade potato salad complemented with a Porcupine Pilsner from Moab Brewery. Thanks, Eric, for the restaurant tip! If you’re ever in Boulder Town don’t miss this eatery. They’re only open March to November.

The drive across another mountain ridge to Torrey, near Capitol Reef National Park, passed through snow-covered mountains then dropped into a picturesque valley where I unhitched at the small yet very friendly Sand Creek RV Park for a couple nights to take in my next National Park. Torrey is designated as an International Dark Sky Community, one of only 18 communities in the world to enjoy the distinction. And it is so cool! Standing outside at night the stars seem to reach down to earth. It’s amazing. So grateful for a clear night to enjoy the beauty of the universe!

Capitol Reef

I have no words.

Ok… I have some words to describe Capitol Reef National Park. But I’m going to start by borrowing a few from Maltbie D. Babcock in 1915: “This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought, Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.”

That beautiful phrase ran through my mind all day as I marveled at the raw beauty of the landscape. I’m not ashamed to say the splendor of creation brought a tear to my eye.

The park features “Scenic Drive” that more than lives up to its name. You could also call it Splendid, Stunning, Superior, Stupendous, or several other synonyms. I drove it’s ten miles, slowly, to its end in Capitol Gorge where a mile-long trail leads through a narrow canyon with a steep, knee wrecking climb to a few tanks—natural collectors of water in this desert. Great hike on a beautiful day in the mid 70s.

As I was hiking and driving through the park, I was thinking about how visitors centers at National Parks all give such comprehensive coverage to the eons of time and science of geology, but never much is attributed to the undeniable beauty wrought by the Creator. And I’ve read books about old earth vs young earth theories, about 24 hour creation days vs. creation era/days in God’s timing—and I could likely debate myself into either corner and never be fully convinced. In the end, that’s a good thing. Who wants a God they fully understand and completely comprehend? He has given us enough to know Who He Is, and His Son gave himself for me. That’s it. That’s enough.

So it was a great day, hiking and hanging out with my God!

Arches National Park

The 2-3 hour drive from Torrey to Moab was uneventful, across high desert and a short section of I-70. I motored through the town of Moab and settled into a good KOA on the south end of town. Dinner was at Moab Brewery with a good chicken sandwich and a Moab Pale Ale and a FMU IPA. Good food, too!The next day I headed into the Park…

Raw. That’s what the landscape is and that’s what the day was. I got a mid-morning start and after visiting the visitor center (and snagging a pretty cool T-shirt) I headed into the park. There are tons of viewpoints, interesting rock formations, colors & feels. Arches is a very cool place.

It was especially cool this day, as blowing snow followed me much of the morning and early afternoon. It was pretty in its own way but did hamper some of the long-range views and definitely got under my thin hoodie’s collar a few times. I wasn’t expecting snowy weather—and I shudda brought a hat!

Several short hikes, a bunch of pictures and frozen ears & hands later, I headed back down the park road, wrapping up my visit to Arches and headed across the valley to Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

The drive up onto the ridge of the Canyonlands Island in the Sky district took me back into the blowing snow. It’s a pretty drive although, again, the weather really limited visibility. There are lots of hiking opps here but given that the day was running late and I was still shivering away, I opted for stopping at the main viewpoint pullouts.

Was kinda a joke, as the views mainly were of blowing snow. Oh well, I got a few decent pics of Upheaval Dome and an appreciation for the immenseness of the Canyonlands. I was hoping that tomorrow’s visit to the Needles district of this immense National Park would provide better views after the storm blew through.

The next day did not disappoint! As the bottomlands of the Needles district is primarily 4WD roads and crowds were minimal and roads were muddy from the recent rain & snow and I was traveling solo, I opted for viewing the canyons from above, from the Needles Overlook. Discretion, dontcha know…

The overwhelming vistas were on full display! As grand as the Grand Canyon is, I feel like Canyonlands is its big brother, an opinion shared by another camper back at the KOA. The pictures fail to communicate just how awesome this country is. Visiting the five (I tried to get to Cedar Breaks, after all) was a lifetime experience. Such phenomenal beauty, power, serene places. I truly appreciate the opportunity to have visited here but it’s time to move on, slowly headed back home for a few weeks starting with Easter.

 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Beautiful. Rough. Expansive. Sandy. Excellent. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is an awe-inspiring piece of land. The dunes are just so massive, creating incredible vistas, sheltering delicate flora, changing over time.  I drove the very pretty Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive with its overlooks of Sleeping Bear, Lake Michigan, and heavy forests and sweeping dunes. Spent about 90 minutes enjoying the 7.4 mile loop road. One of the best roads anywhere.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

 

From there I headed up to Glen Haven Village, which the NPS website describes as a “visit to Glen Haven, the small village on the Lake Michigan shoreline, is a step back to a time when small villages and docks supplied fuel to steamers along the Great Lakes. Glen Haven is the best preserved cord wood station on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and perhaps the entire Great Lakes. Glen Haven was a company town and eventually diversified into farming, canning of fruit, and tourism.” Spent some time chatting with Patrick, a college professor during the winter and national park volunteer during the summer. Cool to get a couple background stories on the area.

Next I headed over to Sleeping Bear Point and trekked out on the dunes loop trail, a short but strenuous 2.8 mile trail that traverses several dunes and forested areas. Walking in sand that swallows your ankles is tiring! And since the sand is always moving, at times you follow the trail only by finding the next blue-topped marker post. I was sure to keep at least one post in view all the time. The workout was worth it, as I got to experience great views, ghost forests (part of ongoing environmental changes in the dune landscape), and fields of ferns (and some poison ivy which I was able to avoid). Great hike for an afternoon that was quickly turning late. Enjoy the slideshows!

Sleeping Bear Point