Chaco

Wednesday, September 26th.

6DC5A00E-8951-4FF1-9717-B7662F235F6CWe arrived after driving over 50 miles south on 550 and then 21 miles west and southwest on county roads (rough, gravel) and Navajo tribal roads (washboard rocks and ruts on which you cannot drive faster than 10 mph). Once you reach the National Park the roads are paved and good. After checking in at the Visitor Center, we set out to drive the 9 mile park loop road and take the self-guided hikes at each parking area, starting with Hungo Pavi, the ruins of a great house. The trail passes an ancient stairway carved into the cliff behind the house, possibly part of the road system of the Chaco complex.

Pueblo Bonito comes next. Built in stages between the 800s and 1100s, it was the largest of the great houses, 4 stories high with over 600 rooms and 40 kivas.9E1AE7D5-866B-4911-8B48-488BB234EAF78F3FA38E-D609-4A6E-B3F8-AF726C9D614F1D542A0D-F2C9-4392-8F90-98A1272521DC54535097-BC58-4355-AB5F-71EA0427B07632AAEB63-FD9A-4E23-A6F3-1A13D8FA43C0700612C4-8D93-4976-9B46-151F0B0C0D39D6390E1F-303B-46DB-9F87-C83B590EDBFA

The effort of walking these short trails in the dry heat at 6900’ elevation and reading aloud from the trail guides was surprisingly exhausting. We decided to drive back,to the Visitor Center, have lunch, and then drive back up the park road to the trailhead of Chetro Ketl where we would join a ranger for a guided hike.

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Shady picnic

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View of Fajada Butte from our picnic shelter

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Ranger Debbie Gregory at Chetro Ketl expounding on the Chacoan worldview

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Petroglyphs at Chetro Ketl. What do they represent? Some think Orion’s Belt…

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Chetro Ketl

 

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Fragments of artifacts found in Chetro Ketl excavations

After the Chetro Ketl hike, we drove to the next parking area for the Pueblo del Arroyo trail.

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Keyhole shaped kiva at Pueblo del Arroyo

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Pueblo del Arroyo

Chaco Culture National Historic Park is a good example of what happens when archaeology meets political correctness: the science suffers. More on that later…

Scott’s thoughts on Chaco:

In visiting First Nation sites throughout the USA over the years, one discerns a distinct shift in naming conventions, labels and attitudes, especially in recent years. This is good, but this transition results in a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, too. Chaco and the related sites at Aztec and Hovenweep (there are some 200 satellites sites near Chaco alone) are captivating and mysterious, and speak directly to fundamental issues of First Nation identity and cultural norms.

One can appreciate the conflicted attitudes of the rangers at Chaco. This is an International World Heritage site, under the auspices of the National Park Service, sitting on Navajo land in a formerly Spanish colony, while the Ancient Puebloans, the currently accepted name for what were previously described as Anasazi (a Navajo word, curiously, that, depending on your source, means either ‘enemy of my ancestors’ or simply ‘ancestors’) were probably mainly the ancestors of current Hopi and Zuni tribes, and possibly others. The site was clearly left by these ancestors in the 12th to 13th century, and rediscovered and partially excavated, and unprotected and seriously looted over decades begining in the 19th century. But, although to these early explorers, archaeologists and thieves, and to the modern  visitor as well, these communities were abaondoned, the rangers dare not use this word. According to local First Nations peoples, these sites were never abandoned because their ancestors are ‘still there’ and Chaco was simply one important, stop on their ancestors’ migration South.

Asking about burials and what may have been found at burial sites is touchy. Archaeological exhumation is condemned by native peoples, and many sites in the Southwest show clear evidence of a general abandonment of central communities around the same time, likely related to enduring drought and over-use of local resources, and signs of violence and massacre, including isolated incidents of cannibalism. This does not match up with a simple migration story guided by spiritual signs and symbols, instructing the people on where to settle and when to leave. The First Nations view predominates here, despite its conflicts  with the archaeological science; it is likely that the many unexcavated sites will remain buried.

Compared to the massive sites of Cahokia in the US midwest and the dozens of great cities in Mexico and Central and South America, these sites are not impressive. But, they have a unique building style… the small and great Kivas are especially compelling… and there is clear evidence that the largest sites here in Chaco had a matrilineal society that spanned over 300 years. There are no pyramids… walls are straight, they were plastered in white, and the roofs were white; it must have been striking to  see this series of interconnected towns in gleaming white against the background of sandstone cliffs. Roads, some 30 ft. wide, connected Chaco with far away sites. The sites are clearly influenced by astronomical observations and events, and seem to be centers of learning and culture that drew people from far away places. (But, it gave us pause when our Ranger guide asserted that the site may have been visited by Polynesians!) The elites had special homes, and, as at Tikal, likely maintained power through their knowledge of astronomical events and seasonal changes.

By some modern accounts, the many questions regarding Chaco will remain unanswered, so this will remain fertile ground for competing theories and interpretations. We intend to return.

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztecs never lived here. The name is a misnomer, given by early Spanish explorers traveling north from Mexico, who used the term Aztec to describe many of the ancient sites they encountered. But let’s back up a minute. We left Dolores, CO and the Cozy Comfort RV Park around 10 a.m. I was glad to see that place in our rear view mirror. The town is nice, small, a little shabby. We stayed here because it’s so close to the Anasazi Heritage Center. But the RV Park is noisy, a half block off the highway, crowded, run-down, cramped. I think we were the only travelers there. Everyone else seemed to be long term residents. The guy in the trailer next to ours had such a hacking cough, it caused us to wonder if we should call 911. This place bumps Pagosa Springs campground (where we stayed one night last summer) off the top of our list of the worst campgrounds. But the owner was pleasant and helpful, all the utilities worked (although the electric was not grounded and the polarity was switched), and the restrooms were in decent shape. All this for $28 cash! But we are used to camping in the midst of nature’s scenic wonders for $7.50/night. Oh well… today was a light travel day. The drive from Dolores south and east to Aztec, NM is only about 90 miles, though the lovely mountain valleys east of Mesa Verde National Park. We pulled into Ruins Road RV Park just before noon. As the name suggests, this place is just down the road from the Aztec Ruins. It is the opposite of our previous campsite. Spacious, quiet, full hookups, off the main drag, on the banks of the Animas River, and for the exact same price!

After a quick lunch we drove 5 minutes up the road to Aztec Ruins National Monument. Typical National Park Visitor Center with excellent exhibits on history and culture along with pottery, stone, wood and fiber artifacts found during excavation of this major Ancestral Puebloan site. There is the usual introductory film, and then we trooped outside clutching a trail guide brochure with interpretations of the Ruins based on excavations, research, and consultation with modern southwestern tribes whose members are descendants of the people who lived in this area nearly 1000 years ago. The significance of this site is that it one of the best preserved archaeological sites in the southwest. The excavations revealed a residential and ceremonial village complex with buildings containing over 400 rooms, some 3 stories high.

There is a reconstructed Great Kiva

and a series of probable storage rooms still roofed with original 900 year old beams!DA7B5ACB-9EDE-4B98-8CAA-479E3432DD55 In one of the storage rooms, a doorway is covered by an original willow mat sewn with yucca cord, still hanging in the same location where it was left over 800 years ago! B8AF1FC4-EA31-43E1-8B5B-5B3A69A4B810Another notable feature are the famous T-shaped doorways which may have had some symbolic significance. 60925C9F-2CF1-48FC-8D55-3DF988A82C78Also presenting a puzzle to archaeologists, the vivid lines of green stone within some walls, originally plastered over but now exposed in the excavations for us to wonder at their meaning and intent.C135FEC8-83E7-40B6-BCE1-ACBEF9F39696

Canyons of the Ancients

Monday, September 24th

We awake long after dawn, we put our boots on…

One cannot fully experience this area without at least trying to understand its long history of human habitation. All along the Pacific coast and in some inland sites as well, there is evidence of tool making and hunting dating back some 14,000 years. Modern DNA analysis shows the blood of giant bear, camel, horse, sloth and other great mammals on the edges of finely wrought stone points and axes. How many of these groups settled permanently is unknown. In any event, the emigrants who crossed over the Bering land bridge onto this continent were great mass killers, like their descendents. One wonders, in an alternate history, what might have happened if they had spared the horse… would they have domesticated them, used them in warfare, and been better equipped to resist the Spanish and English?

We have decided today to check out ruins known to have housed the so-called Anasazi, during the 12th and 13th centuries. We travel through Cortez, Colorado (is it named after that same Cortez who murdered Aztec Mexico and if so, why?) on our way to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Hopefully, we picked up enough info at the Anasazi Heritage Center yesterday to understand what we will see.

We take only one  trail at the Canyons, part of the Sand Canyon trail system. To get there, we drive 12 miles west of Cortez through this high altitude plateau, dotted with ranches. The air is cool and the sky is crispy blue. We park at the south trailhead. View to the south: Sleeping Ute Mountain.DAE288D6-2D9B-48FE-A4C1-D3002593FAA3  View to the north: Sand Canyon Trailhead.  29FE6EC9-0285-4015-85BC-0507D19E651DThe information we got at the Anasazi Heritage Center yesterday says that the Castle Rock Pueblo, the remains of a village built and occupied from the AD 1250s to the 1280s, has 40 structures built around a sandstone butte near the south trailhead. We don’t see this… We hike on a tilted, pretty flat table of hardened sandstone, about a mile, until we come to a canyon dotted with Pinyon  Pine, Juniper and of course Sagebrush. The cliffs are white and rusty orange.  Here is where we are expecting to see the Saddlehorn Pueblo. We did see a lot of structures, none of which look like the pictures in the brochures.

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Is the structure on the left the “Saddlehorn?”

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We use our binoculars to spot intact and partially collapsed walls high in the recesses above us. We make out more as we get closer. We are excited to see the remains of stone walls and columns from a distance and take dozens of pictures. But we get closer… and closer… We are very excited and amazed at how close the trail brings us to the ruins of the Pueblos.

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Close…

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Closer…

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Closest!

The entire area is mesmerizing and we walk longer than we expected; it was very hard to turn back. Entrancing scenery and the hope of spotting yet another living space or storage vault keeps us sticking around. 82E3FB5D-B921-4C85-B3AD-B5B1C16FF3ADBut, it is getting hot and we are not packing much water, so we tear ourselves away and head back down. On the way, Helen meets up with a local woman we had seen leaving the parking lot, seemingly on a mission, just before we started off.  She told Helen that she and her husband have a ranch down the road, and that they walk a 5 mile loop (without water bottle… she said “I’m used to it”) here regularly. She called it their “backyard gym.” Asked about the weather here in the summer, she said it’s hot, with temps in the nineties every day during June, July and August. About water worries, she said they usually are able to irrigate through September, but this year they had to turn off irrigation in mid-August because the McPhee Reservoir from which they draw their water is so low. She asked if we are from Florida (she had seen us getting out of our truck) and said she’s never been there… mentioned crowds and congestion. H. noted the crowds and congestion we experienced most recently in Moab and Arches, and she said “yes, Edward Abbey must be spinning in his grave.” What a coincidence! We were just reading Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire” during our stay outside Moab.

Next, we travel some 40 miles over decent road, through flat desert terrain, on our way to Hovenweep National Monument, to do the 2 mile Little Ruin Trail and Tower Point Loop.7D0C6405-9507-4C79-A873-17E7EE411A5BFD1F5811-65D4-4DEA-BCB7-DE83B63C4C56 It is mid-day… air temp is fine but sun is scorching. Parking lot is pretty full… they also have a campground here. We find a picnic table with a rustic pergola for shade, and enjoy a lunch of fresh tomato, cheese and mustard sandwiches, peanuts and raisins, apples, pumpkin seeds… pretty  much our standard fare, of great interest to resident ravens who supervise the picnic tables, and with whom we did not share.550DD114-B1A5-43FE-9804-B67A04DB4663A13943A3-3531-4AAF-A269-50F5AE9F2172 We visit the visitor center, see the obligatory movie, try to take in all of the posted infomation, and take off.

This hike was on a hardened rock trail in most places, clearly marked out by stone. Near the end, it took us down into the canyon and back up again.

Throughout, there were close, outstanding views of the intact and crumbling towers, houses and other structures built by the Ancestral Puebloan people. Very impressive construction, some 2-3 stories high, made with shaped (“pecked”) sandstone rock, using chinks in some places, and mud mortar or no mortar at all in others. Very unlike things we have seen before.

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Close…

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Closer…

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Closest!

In some places, we see the word “Anasazi,” as in the Anasazi Heritage Center we visited yesterday, and which is the headquarters of the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.  At Hovenweep we see information explaining that some modern day descendants of the Anasazi, especially the Hopi, consider it a derogatory term, from the Navajo for “ancestral enemies.” Hopis have lobbied to abolish the word and have persuaded some agencies, including Mesa Verde National Park, to adopt the term “Ancestral Puebloans” to describe the early Four Corners civilization instead of Anasazi.

By the time we are done, it is hot enough and we have seen enough that we forgo the other Canyon of the Ancients site we had planned on visiting today: Lowry Pueblo which is on the way back to Cortez but is 3 miles off the main road up a washboard gravel track. We promise ourselves to do this another time. So, we finish a big circle, end up again in Cortez, and do about a $100 worth of grocery shopping. We head back to camp, tired but very happy to have seen  these places! Much to absorb and to reflect upon…DC6D6BDE-1F76-41EB-A38E-774A13BFD7F6

Dolores, CO

Views from the road, heading south on 191 out of Moab… on the left, the SW side of the “Moab Fault,” where, according to Wikipedia, “the rocks… have been lifted up forming steep cliffs of Triassic sandstone and Chinle Formation;” and on the right, a random roadside arch not within the National Park.

 

We called from the car and were able to get the last vacant campsite in Cozy Comfort RV Park. We got there just after noon and Scott managed to squeak into the smallest, most awkwardly positioned spot imaginable. I don’t know how he did it. We had to park the truck on the street as there is no room for it in this campground which is basically someone’s backyard that was converted to an 11 site “RV Park.” But we are enjoying the convenience of full hookups, the luxury of 30 amp electric service, watching a football game, heating up soup in the microwave!39339086-CBB6-4E70-96A7-CD563AA6A353

But we were able to tear ourselves away from these sybaritic pleasures and drove about 10 miles to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument headquarters located at the Anasazi Heritage Center. This is a wonderful museum preserving and exhibiting thousands of artifacts excavated from sites in the Monument’s 170,000+ acres. There is also a wildflower garden with native as well as non-native species, all nicely labeled.920DB3FB-3BDC-4736-85B3-D1D799B75A1A

 

 

On the museum grounds there are two 12th century archaeological sites, the Domínguez and the Escalante Pueblos. These are the remains of a small family dwelling (Domínguez), and the walls of a larger hilltop village (Escalante) accessible by a 1/2 mile paved nature trail. What a great spot! With expansive 360 degree views of Mesa Verde to the south, the La Plata Mountains to the northeast, and the McPhee Reservoir to the northwest.3BDB4800-72CD-4F38-9E72-A339712A2A3CE61FFE33-FB9E-4E55-89BD-C9E715ABEA1B

Arches, last day

Saturday, September 22nd.

Tried to get an early start again, in hopes of beating the crowds and the heat. Today is National Public Lands Day, so park entrance is free and there are no lines at the entry booths. We drove straight to the parking lot for the Park Avenue hike, described as a moderate 2 mile round trip: “The trail descends steeply into a spectacular canyon and continues to Courthouse Towers.” The amazing thing about this canyon is that the flat rock passage between the massive, looming red cliffs is wide and broad; hence Park Avenue. It’s a beautiful walk, mostly shaded because the sun is still behind the cliffs to the east, so it’s nice and cool – 60s-70s. The parking lot was full but most of the people in those cars must be going only as far as the end of the paved path at the viewpoint because the hike itself is pretty quiet – a couple of families with children, a few others,  but for long stretches we didn’t see or hear anyone. At the end of the paved path there is a sign warning that the trail is “primitive,” and that we should follow the cairns. 4C399654-7070-4D63-A24F-216D4E0D48FDThis is a nice thing – there actually isn’t a trail. Like the Fiery Furnace hike, you walk mostly on solid rock in the general direction indicated by the cairns. We had a good time trying to identify the tracks of animals in the undisturbed sand at the side of the trail, and promised ourselves we would stop at the Visitor Center to get some info on this but we forgot. We saw some lizard tracks, some small clawed mammal footprints, maybe even some small hoofed animal prints. 

When we finished this walk, we continued driving further into the park. We drove to the Delicate Arch parking lot where Scott heard the siren call of an unimproved, sometimes impassable 4×4 Road, and although this was marked with a sign to Cache Valley Road, there was a high curb which I took as a sign that we should not proceed. Instead, we sat in the parking lot where Scott read aloud from Edward Abbey’s book about his brief time as a seasonal ranger in Arches, Desert Solitaire. During his stay here in the 1950s, he was the only ranger on staff, and the park got 3000 visitors per year. He said “the thermometer nailed to a post reads 110F, but in the shade, with the breeze and almost no humidity, such a temperature is comfortable, even pleasant.” As I write, sitting here in the shade of our trailer with the breeze coming off the Colorado River, even though it’s 90F in the sun and 95F in our trailer, we can agree!AE2FE874-590C-47F7-A2C4-A1D8E65268C8

Anyway, we decided to drive to the Skyline Arch trailhead, but I misread the map and we turned off onto a dirt road that traverses the Salt Valley Wash. This is a rough 7+ mile stretch that leads to the Klondike Cliffs and the trailhead to a 3.4 mile Tower Arch hike. The map says “Soft sand in wash crossings. Impassable after heavy rains.” Some people feel that this type of information represents an irresistible challenge, our intrepid driver among them, so off we go, bouncing along slowly in 4 wheel drive.504CE5E6-0A2E-4486-85F2-1CD0B2C7141426C1BC22-B777-4231-9F52-70AC8AF03F5D90498D56-F0F0-456A-8565-072A3B071840 Actually the Klondike Cliffs are dramatic and intriguing as we get closer, and the Tower Arch is described as beautiful and remote; again, almost irresistible. But it’s nearly noon and we are not up for a 3.4 mile hike at high noon in the desert. Mad dogs and Englishmen, as the song goes… There is an alternate route to another Tower Arch trailhead that’s only a 0.3 mile hike to the Arch,  but that road is 3.1 miles of deep, soft sand. We start down the road but Scott thinks better of it and turns the truck around after less than a mile. We’ll come back in cooler weather and do this hike early in the day.

Another day… that’s our mantra for this trip! We shall return!

We drive back into Moab. First we want to see the county campground where we would have stayed if this BLM campground had been full. We are so glad to be here and not there! The Sand Flats Recreation Area Campground caters to mountain bikers, ATVs, and OHVs, because of its location in the dry, rocky hills above Moab near the trailheads for several very famous and popular bike and 4×4 trails: Porcupine Rim and the Fins & Things 4×4 trail, for example. So we drove back into town and had a quick lunch at Moonflower co-op. As we were finishing up, the cashier came looking for us to say that someone had hit our truck, which was parked in front of the store. At least the driver was good enough to let us know. We exchanged insurance info. She is from Vacaville, CA and was driving a rental that she picked up at the Salt Lake City airport. Just a fender bender… could have been much worse.

 

Then we drove back to the public library and used their WiFi to post photos for our last week of blog posts, from Bryce to Capitol Reef to our first few days at Arches. 

We also finalized our plans for the next few days:

Sunday 9/23 – Monday 9/24 

Dolores, CO: Canyons of the Ancients Museum, formerly known as the Anasazi Heritage Center (Sunday); Day trip to Hovenweep National Monument (Monday, maybe)

Tuesday 9/25 – Wednesday 9/26

Aztec, NM: Aztec Ruins National Monument (Tuesday) and day trip to Chaco Culture National Historic Site (Wednesday)

Thursday 9/27: we drive 187 miles from Aztec to the Cochiti Lake Corps of Engineers campground which will be base camp for our visit to Santa Fe!

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Wednesday, September 19th. 

We left Capitol Reef early-ish for the 2.5 hour drive to Moab. We wanted to get an early start because we had no campground reservations. The National Park campground had no vacancies, and the commercial parks around Moab are incredibly overpriced by our standards ($90/night, for example… and when we got into Moab we discovered that THAT RV Park was full as well). So we had decided in advance to try to get a spot at one of two Bureau of Land Management campgrounds with a total of 42 sites north of town, or at a county administered park with 120 sites east of town. We stopped first at Goose Island, one of the BLM campgrounds 1.5 miles east of the main drag (UT-191) on UT 128 right on the bank of the Colorado River. Big sign at entrance: Campground Full. So we continued east on 128 another 6 miles to Big Bend BLM Campground. Sign at entrance: Campground Full. But this time we drove into the campground and looked around. If there is an empty site with no payment receipt on the numbered post for that site, then it’s vacant and available for the taking. We found one such site near the entrance – a pull-through in full sun, near the highway and not on the riverbank, so not a super premium site, but hey! We pulled right in and counted our blessings! A beautiful, relatively level, easy to park site, and with our Senior Pass: $7.50/ night! Only pit toilets, and no potable water available. But we have our own bathroom in the trailer, we knew there would be potable water available in the National Park and we have our 5 gallon and 3 gallon water jugs with which we can fill our freshwater tank using a handy-dandy funnel. Plus, in full sun our solar panels will keep our batteries fully charged. PLUS, look at the view from our campsite! Red rock walls rising straight up, glowing in the changing light of day and moonlight! What luck!!!

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We set up and drove 10-15 minutes back up the road into the Park. We stopped first at the Visitor Center to pick up maps and advice. The first thing we wanted to do was to make reservations for the famous ranger guided hike through The Fiery Furnace (so called because the rocks look like fire in the sunlight, not because it’s so hot – although it probably gets pretty toasty in midsummer!). When I told the Ranger we were interested in making reservations for this hike, he said that it’s fully booked through the end of the YEAR! Oooops. But we learned that you can do this hike yourself, but first must get a special permit which entails sitting through a 10 minute orientation film and Q&A with a Ranger, and then paying $3 each. So that’s what we did. We scheduled our hike for day after tomorrow, and left with instructions to display our permit on one of our backpacks, tape a special tag to our windshield, start early in the day, take plenty of water, and a list of other do’s and don’t’s.

I also asked the ranger for other hike recommendations, and duly noted his suggestions on our map. Since by now we were in the heat of the afternoon,we decided to drive towards the end of the park road (18 miles from the entrance to the Devils Garden Campground at the end of the road), and stop at scenic pullouts along the way. We soon discovered that the parking lots at the most popular scenic overlooks are packed, with people circling and waiting for spots. Nonetheless, we did stop at a few places, notably the Delicate Arch Overlook, which is a 1/2 mile walk from the parking lot. We also stopped at the Fiery Furnace Overlook which is the parking lot for people without permits, who can only get a distant view of the rock formations that people WITH permits get to hike in, among, and through. But we got tired of battling the traffic and decided to drive out of the park and into the town of Moab for supplies. We found the sweet, funky Moonflower Community Food Co-op, E07A664F-CBE0-4F56-B5D5-49EA0DB7769Ebut it was so overpriced for nonmembers that we only bought some beautiful red organic pears, and drove further downtown to the City Market supermarket for the rest of our shopping list. After that, it was getting to be sunset so we drove back to the campground and marveled again at the luminous cliffs, and our good fortune!2B4CC73D-6958-4D7D-B128-E92216429D99

Thursday, September 20th. We knew we should get an early start to beat the crowds, but with one thing and another… we stopped at the bike/pedestrian bridge and walked across the Colorado River and back… we stopped at the parking area for a short trail to View rock art panels above the river… read the information kiosks but did not take the trail… and finally at about 10 a.m. we joined about 120 other cars lined up at the entrance station waiting to get into the Park. We waited about 20 minutes to get to the front of the line, and then sailed into the Park, along with the hundreds of others doing the same. We drove to the end of the road and got virtually the last empty spot in the Devils Garden parking lot, with a Ranger directing traffic. Then we joined the hundreds of intrepid hikers who braved this 1.6 mile round trip to see Landscape Arch, with short spur trail to Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch along the way.707318E2-C3E3-4675-AD0C-9894E370C47B As in other National Parks in Utah, every European language was heard along the trail along with Japanese and Chinese, but very little English. The trail was moderately strenuous in spots, but the bigger challenge was finding a clear shot to photograph the arches without hordes of others in the picture. 6F9A79B4-0573-40FC-8CA9-5490782A5977

We thought it would be interesting to check out the campground, so we drove in and parked near the Amphitheater. We took advantage of the (deserted) flush toilets near the Amphitheater and then followed some unofficial trails behind the Amphitheater to a gorgeous, unheralded Arch with no signage, no name (that we know of, couldn’t find it on the park map… maybe it was the back side of Skyline Arch?) no crowds, no one around! But we didn’t want to use these “social” trails and possibly step on and destroy the “biological soil crust” that holds the desert together, according to the latest Park Service research. So we walked down the road through the campground, admiring the view from this campsite and that. Almost every campsite has a stunningly scenic view of the LaSal Mountain range in the distance, with red Entrada sandstone and buff Navajo Sandstone in layers and spires and monumental formations of all sizes in between. What a spot! FDA67437-7499-4D6B-9CFB-17FBAC2B1C69We found the trailhead for the Tapestry Arch and Broken Arch 2+ mile Loop. By contrast, this trail was empty! We met about 4 others on the way to Tapestry Arch, and had it all to ourselves once we got there. There were a few more folks at Broken Arch, but we were able to take endless photos without having to go through contortions to avoid crowds of people in the shot. A gorgeous spot, a wonderful hike, and a great recommendation by Ranger PT Lathrop!

 

Tomorrow, the plan is the get up super early and be at the park no later than 7:30 a.m. for our Fiery Furnace adventure!

 Friday, September 21st. Happy Fall Equinox!

We got out early and met our goal of being at the trailhead before 8:00 a.m. It was cool and breezy. There was one other car in the parking lot, and one more pulled in behind us. The permit specifies that you should not follow nor join up with other hikers in order that all may experience the solitude and peace of being in nature among the rocks. So we set off alone, and saw only a handful of other people on the trail. We had been instructed to look for little directional arrows posted on the rocks or on posts more or less 10 minutes apart because there is no clearly defined trail, and we are supposed to be careful to step on the rock surfaces rather than on the sand, to avoid crushing the microorganisms in the biological soil crust. Finding these arrows became a sort of game, and a challenging one at times, since the arrows are in some places glued to the rocks, and over time the glue had come loose, and the arrows are just laying on top of the rock, perhaps pointing in random directions. The first two people we met had gotten as far as one of these arrows, and not knowing which way to go, they were just retracing their steps. We wandered around a bit, at times scrambling and climbing quite a distance up a side canyon which turned out to be a dead end. But we retraced our steps and ultimately spotted an arrow high up on a rock face, and then we headed in the right direction. In between playing Find the Arrow, we were gazing in awe at the ever-changing display of spires and fins and rock faces shining as the rising sun hit them.

We were happy to have had this direct experience without the intermediary of the ranger providing interpretation to an organized tour group. This way, we were able to go at our own pace, in silent communion with rock and wind. 68F4F8CC-49AF-4C10-98B4-30F1B78B5E135EB96AAA-AB09-4E8A-BA64-B3037F8EC37E593E3049-FCDA-4E8B-9A7A-7B75E1DEA4B093364412-0369-42B3-8CFC-6F376EFD87EB

It took us about 2 hours to complete the Fiery Furnace loop, and by the time we got back onto the park road, it was like Nascar meets Grand Central Station, so we drove out of the park, back to our campground, picked up our laundry, and drove into Moab.

Since we hadn’t had any breakfast, we stopped first at the Datura Cafe in the Moonflower Food Co-op and bought vast quantities of their nice prepared food: split pea & kale soup, quinoa & sweet potato black bean chili, a tofurkey and veggie sandwich, a Thai tofu salad, a pumpkin ginger muffin, a vegan pear almond muffin, and a local apple cheddar scone. The hazards of shopping while hungry! After snarfing this up, and saving the baked goods for later, we found a barbershop for Scott, while I walked 4 blocks up the street to check out the local public library – a winner! Then Scott came and found me after his haircut and we drove further downtown to the laundromat, where I am writing and posting this blog entry. 4042DA60-18BA-4EEE-9C17-BC3ACFB335E9Current up to the minute! Scott tells me that Norm the barber says that the most popular months for tourism in Moab are March through May, but the nicest time is October-November. The busiest day of the year here is Thanksgiving!

Capitol Grief (what we feel upon contemplating departure from Capitol Reef National Park)

Monday, September 17th

Scott used the electricity at Ruby’s Inn campground to vacuum the inside of the truck and made progress with at least the superficial layers of dust coating the outside. We took our time packing up and left Bryce Canyon City at 11:20 a.m., heading east on UT-12. Apologies to Charles Kurault, who dubbed the Beartooth Highway in Montana “The Most Beautiful Road in America!” But we have now driven both and Beartooth and UT-12 between Bryce and Torrey, UT (where we turned east on UT-24 10 miles from Capitol Reef National Park). Without question, UT-12 is the most stunningly beautiful road we have so far encountered. The Beartooth runs through high alpine country with views of snow covered mountains. Beautiful, yes, but UT-12 takes you through layers of rock representing 19 eras of geologic time, stunning desert and mountain vistas, glowing red rock canyons (Escalante Canyon), intriguing rock formations, winding, steep valleys and summits reaching 10,000 ft. elevation, with those brilliant yellow and orange aspen shimmering among the dark green pine and juniper in Dixie National Forest. Wow! On this drive we started thinking again that we would like to spend a lot more time exploring this area. Even as we spent a few minutes at a pullout to let the overheating truck cool off, we could see hundreds of miles all around, with not much evidence of human activity, other than the road itself.

We pulled into Capitol Reef about 2:30 p.m., breezing past the “Campground Full” signs, filling our fresh water tank with potable water at the entrance to the Fruita campground, and finding our reserved site #37 directly across from one of the several working Apple orchards within the park which are part of the legacy of the Mormon pioneers who lived here in a small settlement they named Fruita. This place is an amazing, Green oasis in the desert, an Eden complete with the Apples, as well as peaches, grapes and other fruit, irrigated by the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek, using gravity irrigation ditches originally created and used by the Fremont culture, an indigenous people who lived here from 300 to 1300 AD. D5E4E894-3D50-4AFA-AF69-111EF82DCD85D8C4B85C-B748-4469-9E63-3ED95CB600E3

This apple orchard is directly across from our campsite. It is equipped with ladders and a scale for U-pick, $1/pound, on the honor system! We set up, had lunch and took off for the Visitor Center to see the orientation video and pick up maps and other info. 

From there we drove 3 miles back west to the Panorama Point and Gooseneck overlooks. There were short hikes from the parking lot. At the Gooseneck Overlook we could see layers of rock all the way down to the Permian and far below, the winding waters of Sulphur Creek making gooseneck shaped oxbows.CD60B727-95E4-43A3-B863-70CB9678C0A2B5D1D27F-0767-4E3B-9878-7A7914FD8AB9

Maybe a mile down a dirt track from the parking lot there was another parking lot for the trailhead to Sunset Point. We walked out to the point where we sat on a bench facing east and watched the light of the sinking sun glow on the rock walls. Scott did some independent exploration, channeling his inner mountain goat and clambering over the red rock cliffs and tables.E580C9DC-1C35-4230-B68F-43652755818AABC0BBC8-0794-4E3B-828D-EFCFF0A6CD0C350E9A73-8157-4425-8EC4-B7261ABA6D67

 

8FD3DE49-3792-43C4-BE28-D2BE9D6CFAC9Back at the campground after dinner we walked to the Amphitheater for a ranger program given by Stephanie, an Americorps  volunteer who spoke about the hidden histories of women in and around Capitol Reef — specifically the Southern Paiute (featuring Sarah Winnemucca), the Mormon pioneer women who are typically omitted from the historical record, and Black women who settled here after Emancipation. After the talk, we told Stephanie about our visit to Seneca Falls, particularly what we had learned there about the seminal role and influence of the Haudenosaunee (aka Iroquois) women in the development of the Women’s Bill of Rights by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.

Tuesday, September 18th. 

  1. Cohab Canyon hike & Geology Talk by Ranger Allison: fantastic! We learned that the green colored stone is not green because of copper content but that it’s iron in a ferrous rather than oxide state, in other words, formed in the absence of oxygen. We saw this clearly when Allison pointed out these green formations apparently the residue of ancient tree roots.90C200E9-2549-4943-8E5D-DD51A6F2E05E0288059A-443B-4CF4-8860-9943B36C3EDB00EA4A23-1363-4E8C-9573-4F437B7416816DD0B82E-0B40-4D03-9FFC-9D7812C715B1 

  2. Apple pie from Giffords Store. We felt we deserved a treat after the moderately strenuous Cohan Canyon hike, so we stopped at Giffords store and plunked down $6 for a tiny apple pie. We told ourselves this was made from apples grown in the Capitol Reef orchards, but were told by the cashier that they are Utah-grown fresh frozen apples. Oh well, it disappeared so fast we didn’t have a chance to take a picture of it! 
  3. Petroglyphs panel on UT-24. Here we saw Americorps volunteer Stephanie about to give a talk on the Fremont Culture at the Petroglyphs panel, so we took the opportunity to give her the Haudenosaunee book we bought at Seneca Falls; we had earlier put it in the car, just in case we might see her today.
  4. Scenic Drive to the end of the paved road; then the rough, unpaved 2.5 mile Capitol Gorge road and trailhead with more petroglyphs, prehistoric as well as historic (Mormon names carved into the rock wall) along the trail.9620EF87-9B7B-49EA-8469-8B9F229C3168DA7910AF-F473-40C4-850F-E450A1C7131BCE20BF3E-A395-4F21-82D4-4D047CE234E0E7259FD5-F874-4606-8D31-E8EAB580A8B4 

     

     

    5. Amphitheater program on the Fremont culture by SCA (Student Conservation Association) intern Jake.

Bryce Canyon

Saturday, September 15th.

Left Cedar Breaks for the 60 mile drive to Bryce Canyon. Beautiful drive: Rte. 143 to Panguitch, then right on rte. 12. Brilliant blue sky, yellow aspen, distant mountain ranges, lava beds. C23EF964-6935-46E5-BBBE-F261BDB3A9A9Panguitch touts the fact that it is near Butch Cassidy’s boyhood home. Shortly after, red rock cliffs and canyons started to appear, and then the clusters of motels and souvenir shops. We turned right onto 63, the Park Road, and 2 miles later, pulled into Ruby’s Inn RV Park and Campground. This is a huge establishment, a town unto itself one mile from the Park gates. Ruby’s has not only a campground with full hookups, laundry, teepees and cabins and a swimming pool… in fact the campground seems almost an afterthought. There is a big Ruby’s Inn Best Western hotel, restaurants, cafe, gift shop, every service you might need, and it is the only bus stop for the free Park Shuttle outside the park. Our campsite is actually pretty nice, near the road, but set among the trees. Quick set up, lunch, short rest, and then we drove into the park.

At the entry station there is a sign stating that the park road is closed 11 miles ahead, at Natural Bridge Overlook, due to wildfires. D1D9160C-412B-4D44-B289-C390F4192B0BWe decided to drive directly there and then slowly back, stopping at every scenic overlook accessible from the park road. The first thing we noticed was a park service employee blocking off the entrance to the parking lot at a popular viewpoint, Sunrise Point, and placing a sandwich board sign on the road, “Parking Lot Full.” That sort of sets the tone for the weekend at a National Park. But this park is smaller than the giants like Yellowstone or Grand Canyon or Zion, crowded but not as crowded, more manageable. They have people-moving down to a science, encouraging you to park your car and take the free park shuttle between viewpoints and trailheads. 

Here are some highlights from the hundreds of photos we took at each stop:

Natural Bridge: this was the furthest point we could drive on the park road. We learned that  “bridge” is a misnomer; it is actually an arch.1FC9C1C0-033C-43C2-8F11-E7DB76B7392E

Farview Point: From Farview Point there is a short, easy rim trail to:

Piracy Point: This is where we could really start to see the smoke from the Riggs fire. For some reason, we found this fascinating and we stood here for a long time, snapping endless pictures of the changing color, shape and extent of the clouds of smoke in the distance to the south.

Swamp Canyon: at this Overlook there are trailheads that lead to backcountry campsites. The descriptions on the trailhead signs are intriguing and tempting. Someday… when we have Sherpas to carry our backpacks laden with everything we need for backcountry camping adventures. Scott always says “I’ll be your Sherpa!”D20E734F-46E9-42E7-AE05-890BC74CBB92

Paria View: This was down a spur trail along the Amphitheater rim from the overlook parking lot. More good views of smoke billowing from the wildfire, which did not seem to affect overall visibility too much. 

Bryce Point: here is where the overwhelming grandeur of the rock formations started getting to us. Where to look first? Look here! Look there! From the overlook we noticed a gravelly trail leading along the rim to the north and started following it. We realized that this would lead to Inspiration Point, 1.5 miles further up the Amphitheater rim. From this trail there were amazing views of windows in the rocks, seemingly precarious fins of rock, hoodoos standing in formation, too much to take in. Plus, the trail started descending and at that point I didn’t want to do much more uphill climbing, so we decided to hike the Bryce Point-to-Inspiration Point Trail tomorrow.

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It was getting late, so we bypassed Sunset and Sunrise Points, and went to the Visitor Center. They have a terrific exhibit on the geology of the area, and a beautiful 22 minute video about the park. 76B0F521-D41B-48F7-B372-E98523F929C7We saw that there was going to be a ranger program tomorrow morning at 9:30, a guided walk starting from Sunrise Point, and down under the rim through the hoodoos along the Queens Garden Trail, so we decided to do that first, and then take the shuttle to Bryce Point, walk the 1.5 mile section of the rim trail to Inspiration Point, and then take the shuttle back to our car.

Sunday, September 16th. We drove into the Park before 9, joining 3 lanes of cars lined up 5-6 cars deep inching along at the entrance station. But once past that little bottleneck, we drove straight to the parking lot at the Bryce Canyon Lodge and easily found an open spot. We walked through the lobby of the lodge and asked for directions to Sunrise Point. Straight out the back door, down the trail and turn left. Very close! The rim trail between Sunrise and Sunset points is a paved, easy half mile, the most popular walk in the park. So we dodged the early throngs of tourists and soon saw the ranger on the path under the Sunrise Point Overlook near the Queens Garden trailhead.

Our ranger is a seasonal park employee, Keith Moore, from JUPITER, FLORIDA! He attended the JERFSA environmental program at Jupiter High School (in support of which we participate in the Riverbend Park 5K Green Run/Walk every February!), and then graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University’s Environmental Studies program, majoring in Ecology and Geology. He said right off the bat that Bryce is a geologist’s dream, and proceeded to interpret that dream most expertly and engagingly. We told him that he represents the best in Florida public education!C9884BDA-037A-4D5F-BE47-804E2DD8CD28

He showed us some of the very few fossils to be found in Bryce: Fossilized wasp cocoons!E9D808D9-151B-4B59-8BC5-CA0B1457CC7C

Keith led us to the end of Queens Garden trail at the hoodoo resembling (if you only squint a little) a statue of Queen Victoria. 23AD6564-6BD1-48C9-A053-060464A5D52AThen we took the option of continuing along the Navajo Loop trail/Wall Street fork to a steep series of switchbacks between towering canyon walls, and leading back up to the Rim trail near the Lodge.

We walked back through the lobby of the Lodge, a few steps past our truck to Valhalla Pizza, where we treated ourselves to a 16” red onion pizza. Mmmmmm! The manager of the pizzeria, Kelly, about our age, told us that he retired to St. George, UT from Winston-Salem, NC (where he had a chain of restaurants) about 25 years ago, and that he has been a seasonal park employee for many years. He said that over the past 5 years when the state of Utah launched the “mighty five” program, marketing Utah’s parks to European tourists, annual attendance at Bryce alone has climbed from 1.5 million to 3.5 million. He said it’s just too crowded for him now. He highly recommended that we visit Great Basin National Park next chance we get. Less crowded, spectacular scenery, high elevation, including Mt. Wheeler, at 13K+ elevation, Nevada’s highest peak!

Back to the trailer for an afternoon rest.

Around 4 p.m. we returned to the Park, caught the shuttle outside the Visitor Center and got off at Bryce Point. Interestingly, on this Excursion, we had forgotten any of our cameras or phones! No way to take any pictures! A good opportunity to practice being in the moment and enjoying the direct experience without the intermediary of the camera! And enjoy we did! There were only a few moments when we regretted not having any means to preserve the visual effects of light on rock. Next time…!!

We just missed the shuttle at Inspiration Point and sat at the bus shelter for more than 20 minutes eavesdropping on the conversation of two mental health counselors from Portland, OR. Scott heard some very familiar stories.

After getting back to our truck, we drove out of the park to the turnoff for Fairyland Canyon. This Overlook is the trailhead for the Fairyland Loop Trail and we fantasized about taking this ambitious 8 mile loop hike on our next visit to Bryce!

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Tuesday, September 11th-Friday, September 14th

Tuesday. Whoever decided that US-50 should be named the Loneliest Road in America, apparently had never driven on US-93 heading south from Ely, NV. Now that’s a desolate road, but in a good way. Wild scenery, sparse traffic, few settlements. Another beautiful drive! 60572B55-37DD-49F6-A551-173A6C061948We passed Cathedral Gorge State Park, and thought we might like to return and spend some time exploring its intriguing geological formations. After we passed into Utah there were more irrigated farms and more development, although still very wide open spaces.A1426D58-134C-414F-8D3E-D5A688CB0A7B We drove through Cedar City, the gateway to Cedar Breaks National Monument, and were impressed with the cleanliness of this relatively big town, home to the campus of Southern Utah University and many cultural attractions,  including the Utah Shakespeare festival, not to mention its proximity to the famous parks of southwestern Utah. 

Cedar Breaks is a 20 mile drive up a very steep, winding road that passes through increasingly dramatic red rock canyons. The road climbs about 5000 feet in those 20 miles. For the first time on this trip, our truck started to overheat so we turned off the AC and let the truck rest for a few minutes. It cooled off quickly and did fine the rest of the way.

 

 

 

It probably helped that the air temperature dropped as we climbed, and when we reached Point Supreme Campground in the Park located at 10,000 feet elevation, it was about 66 degrees F. Cool, refreshing! 1569F5E5-2466-4DC3-985D-5F6C362AEDA4

This park seems to be at the top of the world, on the subalpine Markagunt plateau. In the higher elevations the aspen are already turning brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. 07E5CA3E-7A0A-4AAF-83E3-5D7696E6402BThe high country forests and meadows fall away abruptly, opening onto 2 vast amphitheaters of rock walls, columns, hoodoos, sharp knife edges (called fins), parapets, towers, ramparts, minarets, and many other fantastic formations in glowing shades of orange and pink and mauve that change as the light changes. BCAF97CA-7ACA-4734-B0BE-664E4CCDC99D685077E8-0B17-4E8F-944B-80AEF63C10707E0764EA-3802-4DF6-97C4-AE53BC299C63We stopped at the Visitor Center and walked out to the Point Supreme Overlook there. Then we drove the 6 miles to the north end of the park road, stopping at each of the 4 scenic overlooks there. Then back to the Visitor Center where we took a 1 mile hike towards Spectra Point. E0E6D9C6-D800-4C9F-A911-56653D273925Another mile would have taken us to Ramparts Overlook, but we were still getting acclimated to the altitude and the cool, drying wind. So we turned around and were back at the Visitor Center in time for a glorious sunset that turned the rocks deep red. D854CF48-D34E-476A-BD82-6DD53B9F7922

Then, the stars! This is designated as a Dark Sky Park, and the stars are incredible, the Milky Way splashed across the sky as the crescent moon set.

Wednesday, September 12th. I awoke at 5 a.m. and realized all the indicator lights in the trailer were dark, including the fridge, the switches for the gas hot water heater and the water pump, and even the digital clock on the entertainment console display. Our batteries were totally depleted. We still don’t know why, but we do know our campsite is quite shady and our solar panels aren’t getting much sun. But we drove here yesterday 4 hours through the desert in the blazing sun, so the batteries should have been fully charged at the end of the day. If we come here again, Site 21 gets full sun. But Site 14 gets a lot of sun too, and has the advantage of being on the outside of the loop overlooking endless alpine meadows stretching to the east.

Scott’s turn: We can get by with none of these systems working, but not having the fridge working would cause problems. The fridge and freezer run off propane, but that system needs some electricity to power the electronic starter to light the gas. As the sun rises, we gradually see the solar charging system and controller wake up. Thankfully, after two hours of very weak rays, the fridge wakes up. Huzzah! By the end of day, we get the batteries to half full… this means that we are likely to have enough power to pull in the energy-hungry slide, which we must do before we leave here. Stay tuned.

No, we did not spend the entire day looking at the solar charger display! We head out to traverse some more paths along the edge of the Amphitheater. The sky is brilliant blue, with intense sunshine, temps in the high sixties. By late afternoon, with snack and lunch breaks in between, we cover 3 plus miles, which does not sound like much, but at 10,000 feet we have to walk slowly, drink often, and rest. The trails are great… we took the 2 one-mile loops of the Alpine Pond Trail, winding through high altitude forest, meadows, rocks and boulders; we learned a lot and at least got moving. 6583E881-AEE4-46D9-8869-49F66AB713AAE9D6CE67-4DFE-41F4-8290-46035BDEA9A0We drove North toward the ski resort of Brian Head for a while to check things out. The Aspens were even more brilliant in their Fall colors at those still higher altitudes. We pretty much collapsed late afternoon, after spending an hour or so searching near the Visitor Center for any kind of cell signal to coordinate things at our house in Florida. Thank goodness no hurricanes there.

Early dinner was a hot Thai tofu soup. Warming. Delicious. Now the question is… can one or more of us get up the energy to tackle the 4 mile roundtrip Ramparts hike tomorrow morning? 

Thursday, September 13th. Answer: Yes! After some early morning phone calls from the parking lot of the ranger station (the only place with any cell signal in the Park), we had some breakfast and got ready for our hike. Before leaving the campsite though, we talked with Chris, a young man who has been traveling full time for 2 years with his wife and their husky, Koda, in a Nash 17 trailer, slightly smaller than ours and without a slide. 4F85F3E2-5E97-4A2A-A001-730E2EEDE478Chris had made some great improvements to the energy systems in his trailer and was happy to share his experiences. This was of great interest to us, especially in light of our recent drained battery episode. He promised to email us his parts list. On this trip he has been doing volunteer work along the way, most recently with the Peregrine Foundation doing releases of California condors. 

Then we drove to the Visitor Center and the trailhead for the Ramparts Overlook hike. The Spectra Lookout is one mile in, and the Ramparts Overlook is another mile further up the trail, so it’s a four mile roundtrip. We took it slowly, and were pleased to be able to do this moderately difficult hike without too much huffing and puffing, but there was a lot of oohing and aahing! The views of the Amphitheater were spectacular and ever-changing. We took hundreds of photographs, but they can’t do justice to the clarity of the air, the quality of the light, and the fantastic shapes and colors of the rock formations.

 

 

F962D0A6-1FA9-4D3D-A7D7-0ED70B905917We were very excited to get up close and personal with a grove of bristlecone pine trees at the Spectra Lookout, some estimated to be at least 2000 years old!

 

 

 

 

We got back to the Visitor Center just before 2 p.m., in time for the daily Geology Talk. This was given by Regina, a volunteer park ranger, retired elementary school teacher from Louisiana, who is also serving as part time campground host in exchange for a free campsite with full hookups. She has been here since mid-May and will be here until the campground closes September 30th when they start winterizing the facilities. She said right off the bat that she is not a geologist. This was pretty obvious, but she was able to impart some interesting info about the geological history of the area… 60 million years ago it was part of that vast inland sea… then a shallow lake…  then came Volcanic explosions about 60 miles to the west which deposited ash and mud that became rock known as Rhyolite Tuff stone… then there was uplift… then the ongoing process of erosion still forming and transforming the landscape. Cedar Breaks is part of a geological formation known as the Grand Staircase, which includes Bryce Canyon and other parks in southwestern Utah, as well as the Grand Canyon.

As we drove back into the campground there was a signboard at the entrance announcing a Star Party tonight at 8:30 p.m. We’ll be there!AAA2B865-C534-43A0-86C3-3992EC88542B

Friday, September 14th.

The star party was fun. Two volunteer amateur astronomers from St. George, UT (who also spend the summer in the park in free campsites with full hookups in exchange for their astronomy programs) set up their telescopes just up the campground road from our campsite so we walked over and took turns viewing the rings and moons of Saturn, and the craters of our own crescent moon. They said it was 100 degrees F in St. George that day, while the high was in the 60s up in Cedar Breaks. During the star party it was in the 50s and falling fast so we said goodnight and retired to the relative warmth and coziness of our trailer!

Friday morning we decided to explore some of the surrounding area and take a waterfall hike in Dixie National Forest.54523C16-FBE2-4EC5-802F-A3F57A97C804 On the way to the Cascade Falls trailhead, we stopped first at Brian Head, an 11,000 ft. Peak at the northern border of the park. There is s 3 mile dirt road leading up to the summit, and at the top there is a stone shelter built by the CCC, our heroes! 

 

Then we drove beautiful winding back roads to the Navajo Lake recreational area and tried without success at first to find the Cascade Falls trailhead.

 

But we did check out all the National Forest campgrounds along the shore of Navajo Lake ($8.50/night for us with our Senior Interagency Pass!). It was here that we met John, a park ranger and asked for directions. He said I’m going there… Follow me!ADBF3601-477B-44FC-A70A-447CD80A50CC So we did. We never would have found it following the printed directions we got from the Cedar Breaks brochure. John said it was because the county and the state were having a disagreement over where to place the new road signs. Where there should have been a sign for route 14, there was a sign for route 70. And where there should have been a sign for forest road #70, it said #54. Confusing! Anyway, we got there, thanks to John. He also told us that the best forest service campground in the area was Te-Ah, from the Paiute word for Deer Lodge, and that the movie My Friend Flicka had been filmed there! Anyway, the Cascade Falls hike was spectacular, and the Falls were the least spectacular part, since they were completely dry.89C5EA11-2EB7-4135-B00C-F48974173DB4 But the surrounding scenery was breathtaking. This was a short 1.5 mile hike with some steep sections that we took slowly. But we were encouraged that our stay at 10,000 feet seems to have benefited our cardiac capacities so there was not much huffing and puffing. F945031A-BA56-4896-8DB0-1C0EE7932DD0B3511107-6079-40DE-8911-886A2EB469339836ECC7-F20F-40E1-85C2-2B5BB35A89952E93172E-5261-4CEF-A715-521EEDB5B40CAF40199C-576D-454C-8C2B-66E60EDB917D0D8DACF4-F24C-45C3-8E7C-FD5B3DF752D9A61EE064-2E89-4CFF-AA66-537DFC7526A03C80E39E-4489-4647-9C19-B7080527EC11At the Falls we met a school group of about 20 teenagers from Williamsburg Academy, an online school which they pronounced “awesome.” Scott asked how often they have to meet in person, and they said “we don’t HAVE to… we CHOOSE to.” One of their instructors said he was from Hollywood, FL. (The second time that day someone mentioned Hollywood: earlier a French Canadian man asked us for directions in our campground and said he had once been in Florida visiting an old girlfriend who had a double wide trailer in a mobile home park in Hollywood!)

When we got back to the trailhead, we struck up a conversation with a bicyclist, Kevin from Mesa, AZ, who had just finished a punishing ride from Strawberry Point, and was supposed to be meeting someone 11 miles away at that very moment. We offered to give him a ride so he put his bike in the back of the truck and we took off to meet his wife at Navajo Lake Marina. A303FFA9-45D5-439C-AD25-495B93E77FB9This was also on the way to Te-Ah campground which we wanted to check out anyway, and Kevin and his wife were very grateful! And Te-Ah did have some beautiful spots. The flush toilets were not working however. 

 

We drove back through some amazing lava fields, the result of an eruption some 1000-5000 years ago, relatively recent in geologic time.829CCDDE-A8CB-4736-AFE7-E491C44B9EF2

8475234D-18D7-4156-B457-F3D597B9655BWhen we got back to the trailer, we realized that we were out of propane since the fridge was off and the stove wouldn’t light. We have been carrying around a small propane canister for just such an occasion but when Scott hooked it up there was the characteristic propane smell plus a pronounced hissing sound that indicated a leak. Plus, when Scott tested it with his propane sniffer gadget, it loudly and unmistakably confirmed a leak.

We ended up jumping back in the truck, for the 20+ mile drive to Cedar City, hoping to find someplace where we could fill our empty propane tanks at 6 p.m. on a Friday evening. We found such a place about 3 miles north of town at a Love’s truck stop just off I-15. Then we stopped at the local grocery store to stock up on some supplies. When we got back to camp and Scott hauled the heavy canisters out of the truck and got them hooked up… still leaking! We really couldn’t figure it out, so we settled on the working hypothesis that it’s because of the altitude. It’s not the tanks that are leaking… it’s the hose connections. So Scott wrapped them with electrical tape and we are hoping they stabilize when we get to a lower elevation. In the meantime, we have propane so our fridge and stove work fine, and the propane sniffer no longer detects any leaking gas. When we get internet access we will look up behavior of propane at high altitude.

The Loneliest Road?

Sunday, September 9th – Monday, September 10th.

We left Lassen Sunday morning and enjoyed clear skies and smooth sailing out of the mountains, through the wooded slopes of Lassen National Forest, over the California-Nevada border with no signposts to welcome us or bid us farewell. Easy drive through Reno and its sprawling suburbs on I-80, and then south to the town of Fernley, NV, home of Desert Rose RV Park, our stop for the night. E19C5257-4B6E-438E-AFC0-321DC8889A99This is very conveniently located near gas and groceries, both of which we stocked up on since we were about to embark on a long drive across northern Nevada on US-50, AKA “The Loneliest Road in America.” As is my wont, I worried about the hazards of driving 280 miles (a long drive for us) along a road famous for having very few services, but we started out Monday morning with a full tank of diesel, and my GasBuddy app assuring us that there are in fact gas stations every hundred miles more or less along the way.961A9B89-023D-43E0-9104-2B768881D360

As it turned out, this was a spectacular drive. Instead of the Loneliest Road, it should be called the Loveliest Road, but if this becomes common knowledge then it would no longer be so lonely, and this contributes to its loveliness, so shhhhh! Don’t tell anyone!

The Works of Man are not much in evidence, except for some naval air installations far in the distance near Fallon, NV, widely scattered farms and mining operations. Past Fallon there is not much along this road as it winds between sagebrush hills and up and down 7 mountain passes reaching 6500-7500 feet elevation.

We got gas in the small town of Austin, and 70 miles later passed through the smaller mountain town of Eureka, with many beautifully restored old western style buildings housing municipal and county offices, as well as gift shops selling turquoise, and a sign on the edge of town pointing to the Roping Arena. Here is where we started fantasizing about organizing guided tours along this road for European tourists who have romanticized notions about the American Old West. Along this road there is so much of interest… something for everyone! Steer roping, and turquoise shops! There are also significant archaeological sites with petroglyphs and dinosaur fossils (Grimes Point near Fallon, Hickison Petroglyphs Recreation Area, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park), all sorts of outdoor activities in the Toiyabe National Forest and Toiyabe mountain range, the Toquima Range, the Simpson Park Mountains and the Shoshone Mountains. We passed a sign to Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 67 miles north of this road in the middle of nowhere. This is one of the most remote refuges in the Lower 48 States. Wouldn’t this be a great volunteer gig for someone who likes solitude? Someone has to staff that Visitor Center! Also, guess what? “Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is looking for Volunteer(s) for Light Maintenance. For a more detailed description on Volunteer Opportunites …please click on “What we do,” / “Get Involved.” If you would like to volunteer, please send a letter of interest or inquires for further information to rubylake@fws.gov or call (775) 779-2237.” Scott? Are you listening? According to Wikipedia, Ruby Lake NWR, “Established in 1938, …encompasses 37,632 acres (152.29 km2) of wetlands in Ruby Valley, just east of the Ruby Mountains and just south of Harrison Pass. It is 16 miles (26 km) long, up to 3 miles (4.8 km) in width, and lies at an elevation of 6,000 feet (1,800 m). Once the bed of a 200-foot (61 m) deep lake, it is now a network of spring-fed marshes and shallow ponds serving as a habitat for hundreds of species of native and migratory birds and mammals.” The greater sandhill cranes arrive in March to mate here. Exciting!

Our destination today was Ely, NV, and we are comfortably ensconced in our trailer on a gravel parking pad in the Ely KOA campground, using their WiFi and relaxing. We went out to get diesel at the Chevron station on the Ely Shoshone reservation, and saw this sign out front:839689B7-1BB4-4C3D-BC97-6C01E15A7FDEWe asked in the gas station if this is legal in Nevada or just on tribal lands, and the clerk said yes, it’s legal statewide. We did not know this! Here is the sunset from the gas station parking lot – once again, we are reminded how great beauty can be found in the quotidian : D7CF45D0-ECEC-4E45-B543-EBB01DDEEAD4Other accomplishments of the day: Scott got his backup camera working at long last! This shows the cars backed up behind us in a single lane construction zone on US-50: E006F8BE-DB86-4B12-887F-08726D118CC1