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!

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!

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.

 

Four Corners Area

With the splendor of southern Utah in my mirrors I headed south to the Four Corners region. Snow flurries met me near Monticello but didn’t slow progress to the geo-marker that defines the intersection of four States. The monument is kinda kitschy but I wanted to get that check in the box. I would not advise driving more than 30 minutes out of your way to see this. The Navajo taco I had there filled my gut. I was glad it stayed there…

My plan was to overnight at the nearby Teec Nos Pos Trading Post but given it looked like I’d be the only RV in their parking lot, across from an interesting looking bar in the middle of nowhere, I opted to drive into Cortez where there was a legit campground—and people.

In the morning I headed over to Mesa Verde National Park, unhitched the fiver in the visitor center parking lot and headed up onto the Mesa to see the Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings. Gettin’ culture be ‘portant dontcha think?!

After driving, some hiking & picture taking I recoupled my home to the truck and headed a short eight miles to the Mansco Brewing Company, where I’d spend the night as a Harvest Hosts member.

HH is a member network of breweries, wineries, farms, museums and golf courses where RVers can stay free overnight (with an annual $70 fee). It’s a great gig, as you get to meet cool people and not spend much on campsites. To my delight, Mancos Brewing crafts excellent beers and serves up excellent food. Score! (Plus, my rig parked right in front was good advertising for Grand Design RVs!) I liked every beer I had at Mancos: the Dizzy Blonde pale ale, Desert Drifter rye ale, Mancos sh’Ale dark ale, Extra Dizzy IPA, and their Cherry Stout.

And with that, the Four Corners was history. After camp church I headed downhill to Albuquerque and then to Ruidoso for a couple days to visit friends before turning east and into the flats of North Texas. Leave a light on… I’m slowly headed home—for a little while!

Southwest Spring Summary

An alliteration of S’s for my spring in the southwest: stunning, superior, scenic, sensational, spectacular, striking, splendid.

From the boldness of Big Bend to the uplifted canyons of Utah to the fun of spring training and a week visiting Pam & Billy, this was an awesome six weeks! Checkout my posts for this phenomenal Southwest trip.

Trip stats:

  • Racked up a total of 5752 miles
  • The trailer hung with me for 3956 miles (69%); lots of non-towing driving in Big Bend, Death Valley, Bryce, Canyonlands)
  • Drove a total of 151 hours
  • Traveled through 7 states
  • Stayed in 21 different campsites over 44 days
  • Averaged 12 MPG in fuel consumption (that’s as good as I got last summer towing a traditional trailer that was 5 thousand pounds lighter; I’m very pleased!)
  • Used 90-100 pounds of propane for cooking, cooling, and lots of heating

I’m now back at the Vineyards Campground on Lake Grapevine until mid-May when I take off for the Rockies for the entire summer!

I appreciate God giving me this awesome opportunity and for looking over me while I traveled this region of our great land. And thanks for your prayers for safety. Love y’all. God’s best,

Mark