A Travellerspoint blog

November 2018

This Country is HUGE!

TRAVELING ACROSS THE GREAT WIDE OPEN.

15.09.2018 - 26.09.2018

No pictures today, just going to try my hand at some prose, relating our thoughts from our journey so far from South Carolina to Colorado.

Van Broke Bad

If you’ve never been on the Elvis Highway, now I-22 from Tupelo, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee, you’ve not missed much. It’s a mostly barren stretch of rolling road through the dense, green southland. And that’s the way it was going for us until suddenly, about two-thirds of the way down I-22, we came across a highway patrolman standing outside his car looking at a half-burned out, old, white van under an overpass, that looked like the back end had exploded and spewed at least fifty small, blue bags, probably about gallon-size, across the cement. Ok, we’ve seen “Breaking Bad” so we knew that, obviously, this was a drug deal gone bad! And it had apparently just happened before we drove by because the cop was on his phone appearing as if he was describing the situation to HQ. No sign of the bad guys, fortunately for us. And yes, we kept driving!

Roadwork Needed

When we got to Memphis, the roads turned terrible and continued that way into West Memphis, Arkansas. Cracks, potholes, bumps, you name it. Not fun for an RV. The next noticeably bad section of roads happened as soon as we entered Colorado on I-70. Jeez, spend that marijuana money on some road work and give a new meaning to the term "pot" hole.

Speaking of Pot

As soon as we arrived at Colorado Springs, weed dispensary signs and billboards were everywhere. In fact, click here to see the new venture Maggie started while I was asleep at the Walmart.

But Let's Back Up a Little...

It's not a big RV trip without a mechanical issue of some kind. This baby is 18 years old, after all. After Maggie's nephew, Dave, cleaned out the radiator for us in Ainsworth, our rig just sailed along humming like old on our way to Hazard. No overheating, it was great. However going over a small hill, we did feel a little jerk in the acceleration and the warning light flashed briefly. It reminded us of when we had a dirty fuel filter so when we parked at brother Rick's house in Hazard, I opened the drain on the bottom of the filter and let about a pint spill into a clean container to see if there was any sediment coming out. Nothing really, so the next thing we did was replace the air filter that was ten years old, hoping that was going to take care of everything. Then, a few days later when we left Hazard, more herky-jerkyness off and on until we got into Kansas when the acceleration effort became very difficult. Fortunately, we had a cell signal in the boonies of Kansas (we were on back roads, taking the scenic route to Colorado) and we were able to locate a Cummins engine service center in Colby, Kansas, about 50 miles away. We limped in, not able to go over 45 mph. They replaced the suspect fuel filter and told us the one we had was missing an O-ring which was letting air into the system and causing the fuel restriction we were suffering from. It was only mildly affecting things until I released some fuel out of the filter which allowed more air in. Way to go Mike! Actually, it was probably a blessing to have discovered the missing O-ring before we hit the Colorado mountains. The RV has been running great since. Fingers crossed! But this incident did put us a day behind because we couldn't get to Great Sand Dunes National Park before dark so we stopped to spend the night, as is our custom on quick overnights, at a Walmart parking lot, this time in Pueblo, Colorado.

We did have another RV issue that tends to occur when driving across the plains in high winds: one of our window awnings came out in transit. Yikes! So I did what I always do when this occasion arises, or should I say "extends itself" and pulled over as soon as safely possible, climbed up onto the RV, and secured the awning with bungee cords. Thank God every day in your daily prayers for whoever invented duct tape and bungee cords!

The Expansive Beauty of This Country

There is only one way to truly appreciate the expansiveness of the United States of America and that is to get out and drive. Drive, Forrest, drive. Every time Maggie and I take one of these trips, once we cross the Mississippi River and head out into the great beyond known as the American prairie, we look at each other and say in unison: "You just don't know how big this country is until you get out and drive it." That sentence becomes even truer when you hit the REALLY BIG states like Montana, Texas, and in this case, Colorado. Here's an excellent example: As we arrived at Limon, CO to get some propane and diesel, we noticed a mountain in the distance. It wasn't until we arrived in El Paso County, home of Colorado Springs, and we saw a sign that said we had entered the Pikes Peak region, did we realize that the mountain we had been driving toward since Limon was indeed Pikes Peak. We had seen it initially from 100 miles away! That's like standing on your roof in Blythewood, SC and seeing Paris Mountain outside Greenville, SC. Ain't gonna happen! It probably helped that Limon's elevation is 5,377 feet and Pikes Peak's is 14,114. But what was also amazing was that on that route, we seemed to drop down twice into two huge valleys right out of the children's classic dinosaur movie "Land Before Time", but every little town we entered, rather than giving the population, gave instead the elevation, which kept increasing by about 1,000 feet. What's with that! And of course, our view is greatly enhanced by the giant RV picture windows we are blessed to be viewing through.

History Lessons

It is so great to have the wonderful companionship of my lovely wife, Maggie, as we traverse this amazing country. Not only does she keep me company while I maneuver the RV through traffic, she serves me food and drink, laughs at my jokes, is attentive to the dog's needs, and disburses history lessons. That's right, we educate ourselves as we travel! Occasionally, we will see a sign or a building or something that we must investigate further and as long as Maggie can get a signal on her iPhone, she opens Safari (what a great name for a web browser while traveling!) and does some research. Probably the most memorable of these instructive episodes was when we saw a sign that said we had entered Peculiar, Missouri. Wikipedia informed us that the town acquired that name because much disagreement amongst the settlers resulted in them requesting of a judge that he name the town and to please give them a name that was peculiar because they wanted to be "different". So they got what they wanted and obviously embraced their new moniker because the town's motto is "Where the odds are with you"! Still not sure if we want to actually visit the place, though...

Here's to more happy trails. We'll be keeping you posted!

Posted by travelswitz 07:17 Comments (0)

Mesa Verde National Park

Pueblo Land

70 °F

Relaxing at the campfire, laying all the way back in our lazy-boy style camp chairs and staring in amazement at the quilt of stars in the sky, following the edge of the Milky Way from one end of the sky to the other...that's camping at Mesa Verde National Park!

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But I'm a little ahead of myself, so let's go back to the beginning of this chapter:

The drive across southern Colorado was spectacular and intense. There were three passes we had to cross through the mountains, the highest being Wolf Creek Pass at 10,857 feet. Whew! We were sure glad to get through without any issues. Lot's of very slow moving trucks and RVs. When we finally made it to the Mesa Verde National Park entrance, we then had to drive another four miles up steep, snaking switchbacks to the Mesa where our campground was. So, needless to say, we were quite happy to finally be at our campsite! Little did we know that we would be driving more roads just like these the next day to see the Pueblo ruins deeper inside the park. No phone signal in the park and although, surprisingly they had Wifi, it was very unreliable and so hence, the delay in getting this update out.

But it was all worth it! Here are some of our favorite pics of the ruins and the canyons they are in:

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We also found two nice trails to hike with some more fabulous views:

Knife's Edge Trail

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Lookout Point Trail

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And then there were two nights of Milky Way mesmerization! Sorry, don't have the right camera for those photos but here's a link to one from someone who does.

Campground Review

We stayed at the park's Morefield Campground. This is an excellent campground with great hiking trails and wonderful archaeological sites. They even have wifi, but don't count on using it for streaming. Even at this time of year the park was very busy and we were only able to secure a dry camping space (no electric, water, or sewer hookups) but that's OK, our RV can dry camp for several days. We had deer wandering through the campground at dusk and the trailheads were very near to our campsite. Dry camping has it's advantages when you don't have a car with you because it's easy to just drive the RV wherever you need to go, nothing to unhook, which was necessary here to see the various ruins at different areas of the park. So overall, a terrific experience and highly recommended!

Now we're off to Moab, Utah for visits to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, just two hours away.

Posted by travelswitz 07:39 Comments (0)

Moab, Utah

Canyonlands and Arches National Parks

rain 68 °F

Moab was only a short 2 1/2-hour drive from Mesa Verde National Park through rolling desert hills filled with giant red sandstone formations. The transition from green (verde) mesas to "dead" (muerto) mesas was almost immediate once we crossed into Utah. We checked into the Moab KOA mid-afternoon, picked up our rental car, and prepared ourselves for a three-night stay.

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Then we used that rental car to head into Moab for dinner (delicious blackened chicken and pasta in a tomato cream sauce) and a brew (or two!) at the Moab Brewery. Yumm!

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The next morning we headed out to the Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park, about 40 miles south of Moab. I know we keep saying this but, here is another AMAZING park. We hiked the Slickrock and Pothole Point trails and our jaws kept dropping! Then the kind folks at the visitors center recommended we also stop at the Canyon Rims Recreation Area on our way back to Moab to see more amazing views, and if we had any jaws left, they completely disappeared here!. We were so high up over the canyons that it almost felt like we were in a plane. Here are some pics:

Driving to the park

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Slickrock Trail

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Pothole Point Trail

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Canyon Rims

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Then, we realized it had been quite a while since we had Thai food after seeing a couple ads in a local guide so off we went to Arches Thai. The Panang Curry was the best we've ever had!

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On Monday, we hiked the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands and then went over to Arches National Park.

At Island in the Sky, we hiked the Mesa Arch trail, a very popular arch on the edge of a cliff. Then we did the Grand View hike, where we hiked along the canyon edge to end of the Island in the Sky mesa. Amazing panoramic views!

Island in the Sky

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The sole came off the bottom of one of my hiking boots just as we finished the last hike at Canyonlands (great timing!) so we headed back to the RV for a change of shoes, fed and walked the puppy dogs and ventured out again, this time to Arches National Park. We drove to several of the most popular formations: Park Avenue, the Gossips, Courthouse Towers, Balanced Rock, the Windows, Turret Arch, and finally I hiked up to the Upper viewpoint for the Delicate Arch while Maggie took a break at the Lower viewpoint. What a day!

Arches National Park

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We felt like we deserved one more night out after all that we experienced out in the desert. Who wants to cook after that?!? So we consulted the menu guide and chose McStiff's, a bar and grill in the center of Moab's Main St. district. We ordered the flank steak, cowboy beans, salad and local brews. Sounded like something good after a hard day in the wild west. However, we soon saw the waitress deliver an irresistible-looking, brick-oven, homemade pizza to a table near us and decided to change our order but were told it was too late. The beer was very good but the remainder of our order was very mediocre. Should have gotten the pizza. We were "McStiffed!"

Overall, Moab was the perfect place to camp while we visited these national parks, very central to everything, great restaurants (for the most part), and definitely an outdoor enthusiast's paradise. Off-roaders and dirt-cyclists everywhere.

The next morning we were supposed to head to Monument Valley at the border of Utah and Arizona for a night, before traveling to Zion National Park in southwest Utah. But the remnants of Hurricane Rosa from the Pacific Ocean were making their way into that area with flash flood warnings popping up everywhere. So we decided that we had seen enough desert "monuments" to not want to risk being stranded in the middle of nowhere or worse yet, washed away in a torrential flood just because we wanted to see the best monuments of them all. Bummer that one hurricane sent us out of South Carolina one day early only to be derailed by another hurricane in Utah. Yikes!

So we decided to take the northerly route to Zion via I-70 and I-15, stopping overnight at a KOA in Richfield, Utah. Turned out to be a beautiful route through giant desert reefs and many more canyons and "monuments". We stopped at one rest area for lunch right at the entrance to the San Rafael Reef. Very cool!

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Okay, I do have to comment on the speed limit signs on this route. No surprise that the speed limit through the desert of Utah is 80 mph but when I saw a curve approach and read the suggested lower speed limit sign I had to turn to Maggie and say "Hold on Honey, we've got a curve ahead and they're telling me to brake it down to 75! Yeehaw!".

Campground Review

The Moab KOA was in a great location just outside Moab, between Canyonlands south entrance and Arches. Because we had full hookups, we decided this was a great time to rent a car to drive to the two parks and enjoy eating out for a change. We used Arches Repair Center for our rental which turned out great because the owner was easy to get along with, picked us up and delivered us back to the KOA, had the best rate, and the car was new and clean. As has been our experience just about everywhere, the wifi at this KOA was nothing to write home about. But hey, we're camping!

Tomorrow, Zion.

Posted by travelswitz 09:35 Comments (0)

Zion National Park

A Narrow, Straight-Up Walled Canyon

semi-overcast 68 °F

Getting to Zion National Park from our overnight stop at Richfield, Utah was an easy 2 1/2-hour drive through the desert and through some off-and-on rain. We stopped at Hurricane, Utah, a few miles from our campground, to drop Deacca off at a very nice board facility, On The Spot Play and Stay, because Zion River Resort bans pit bulls and rottweilers. We considered bringing her into the campground anyway and just walking her at night but even though she is the sweetest dog, she does bark and growl a lot, meaninglessly, but the noise is still there, so we thought it best for everyone's peace of mind to just board her for two days.

Once we set up camp, the campground shuttle took us to the national park, about 10 miles away, and we got started exploring. The nice thing about Zion, besides the amazing views, is that they have a free shuttle system that takes you to all the locations in the park from the visitors center. Since it was about 3:30 in the afternoon, we chose to go to the last stop and do an easy two-mile walk on the Riverside Trail:

Riverside Walk

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When we got back to the visitors center, we called Dan, the Uber man in town, to take us back to the campground. That's because the resort shuttle only runs from 9am to 3pm. Talking to Dan on the way back we learned that he is also a work-camper at Zion River, getting his site for free in exchange for eight hours of work at the campground each week. He told us that work-camping is actually a burgeoning cottage industry with its own website for news and recruitment. No, we're not interested in joining that trend, but we may know some who could be!

It rained all night, and with the campground right on the banks of the Virgin River, I kept waking up thinking we might be swept away in a flash flood. But no worries, nothing happened. Our shuttle driver (into the park) told us that the river had only risen a few feet overnight and that they have a complete monitoring system with all the warning bells and whistles. It had only happened once where the river rose over 20 feet and washed away the wall protecting the campground, but they had plenty of advance warning and moved everyone to safety.

Once we arrived at the park, we embarked on the Watchman Trail, where we walked about 3 miles and 400 feet in elevation to some amazing panoramic views of Zion Canyon. Along the hike we saw a family of bighorn sheep up on a ridge. They kicked a few small boulders our way then went galloping down the ridge, across the trail and toward the other side of the mountain. It was really cool to see and I wish I could have gotten my camera out before they disappeared. A ranger on the trail told us later that we were lucky to see them because they rarely come onto the trail side of the mountain.

Watchman Trail

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Afterward, we took the shuttle to Zion Lodge and enjoyed some pizza and beer at their outdoor cafe. During lunch, a big piece of the mountain cliff next to the lodge broke loose and crashed nearby causing lots of gasps and oohs and aahs. Once again, the camera wasn't fast enough! After lunch, I ambled down the Lower Emerald Pool Trail across from the lodge while Maggie stayed and watched the horseback riders head out. Just past the waterfalls at the lower pool, the trail to the upper pool was closed due to a big rock slide. The pool and the Virgin River were far from "emerald" or clear because of all the rain overnight.

Lower Emerald Pool Trail

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Campground Review

We really liked this VERY NICE campground. Their free shuttle service to the park was handy for folks like us who don't tow a car. We wish they would consider changing their dog policy though, because most pit bulls, etc. are very nice, harmless dogs. It's just bad owners that ruin it for the rest of us.

We picked up Deacca (who had a great time without us, apparently - would definitely recommend the boarder-very nice folks) and headed to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas, Nevada.

Posted by travelswitz 09:39 Comments (0)

Red Rock Canyon

National Conservation Area - Las Vegas, NV

overcast 62 °F

The most amazing thing about our drive to Red Rock Canyon was coming through Las Vegas, a mega metropolis, now the 28th largest city in the Unites States, and after turning onto the last highway toward Red Rock, we drove through some subdivisions, the road went down to two lanes and all of a sudden we were in the desert again. Maggie and I looked at each other and said, "Wow, that was weird." I mean, we were just looking at all the homes, some still unfinished, the road narrowed, and everything was gone! Anyway, five minutes later we were at the Visitors Center at the Canyon. We asked about the campground availability and they said we just had to go there, a mile back down the road, and see if anything was available. The web site said they only had six RV sites so we were expecting to have to look somewhere else because, after all, it was Friday afternoon and we've noticed that the number of outdoor enthusiasts seems to be growing exponentially the farther west we got. But we picked up some Vegas luck and snagged the last space available...that is, we thought it was luck until the camp host came over to tell us that we could have also taken any of the tent spaces that had covered picnic tables (and those were actually nicer!) and there were several of those available that could have handled our 38-footer. So if you go, now you know, because the web site didn't mention that useful fact.

After securing the campsite, we drove the RV around the 13-mile, scenic drive, one-way loop through the canyon. We stopped at a few of the pullovers, took some pictures, did a small amount of hiking, watched a few rock-climbers (the first time we've ever seen any in-person - hard to see on the photo though, can you find one?), then headed back to camp. Maggie served up some delicious pan-seared scallops, jalapeno-cheese grits, and a kale salad. Yumm! There was a nice, small hill/plateau next to the RV, about 50 feet high so we took a couple chairs up and enjoyed the sunset, watched planes coming and going from Vegas International, and even saw a shooting star!

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The next morning, we returned to our seats on the hill and watched the sunrise, the planes again, and this time several hot air balloons rising over the skyline (If you look close at the bottom right corner of the photo showing the dramatic sun beams coming through the clouds, you'll see some small dots: those are the balloons - sorry but I all I have is an old iPhone 5 camera!). Then, I took off for a 20-mile round-trip bike ride back through the canyon. It was a nice, but difficult at times, ride, with the first half spent climbing some steep grades in thin air, followed by the rush back down. There were many cyclists inside and out of the canyon with a 58-mile cycling event happening in the area. Lot's of cool air on a nice overcast day, perfect for cycling. Although we were told to be on the lookout for wild burros and (if you can believe it) desert tortoises, we never saw any. Maybe next time!

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Campground Review

Would definitely recommend the Red Rock Canyon campground. The location was great, excellent for bicycling, and really enjoyed taking the fold-up chairs up onto the hill next to our site for sunset, sunrise, and star gazing.
Refer to our first paragraph of this entry for more tips on this campground.

Next stop: Death Valley National Park in California.

Posted by travelswitz 09:41 Comments (0)

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