Friday, November 20, 2015

Afton Canyon-A Favorite Boondocking Spot in Southern California

Hi Kids!

Nothing like a little solitude in the desert to
wash away that Vegas taste in your mouth!
While this is not a "destination" it's a cool stopping spot that we wanted you to know about.

We have stayed here before, on our way to Southern California.

The first time we stayed here, we ventured in there looking simply for a place to sleep.
We had pulled off of the freeway in "Baker" California to have lunch, and Dad was perusing the map looking for a possible boondocking spot.

It's a nice, quiet spot. At night the stars
are so bright it's almost unbelievable.
As luck would have it, we were already there. Afton Canyon is a BLM campground that is way off the freeway just on the edge of the Mojave Preserve off of highway 15.

You drive down a dirt track road for what seems like further than it is, and wind your way into a canyon that is a stunning escape from civilization, and yet just civilized enough to get a truck back there.  It is a rough road, and I would not recommend travelling it with a light duty vehicle or a trailer.  Definitely not if the weather is bad. You can see where water has washed out the road in flash floods and they have had to come in a re-grade it.  There are some steep sections that made me a little nervous, but you know Dad, he just throws it in 4 wheel drive and keeps going.  I was ok, because I knew there would be wine at the end, thank GOD.

There is a lonely stretch of track that
runs through the park.
It's a favorite destination for off-road vehicles and has several small campsites that have tables, fire rings and a small sun shade roof over the tables.

With our discount from our Annual Pass, it cost us a whopping $3 to stay here.  After Vegas, this fit our budget perfectly!

Tomorrow we continue our trip heading to the Los Angeles area and you-know-where, but we will take our time.  We will make one more stop on the way, probably another very low-budget type place.

Our solar panels have been performing as we had hoped, and we are not wanting for anything.  Pretty awesome, not having to have hookups or anything, it opens up a whole other world of choices for places to stop over and we get to see some places that most people never get to see.

More soon! Love, Mom

Saturday, November 14, 2015

LOW LOW Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas

Hi Kids!
The Hoover Dam. Wanted to see this my whole life!
 As we headed west, it got warmer and warmer, especially at night, though it was still dipping down into the 30's.  Finally we got to Lake Mead and wow, what a sight.

We had been traveling along the Snake River for some time. The Snake is one of the nations biggest, most powerful rivers, and not surprisingly, one of the most exploited.  It provides the water and power to a large portion of the desert Southwest, and Las Vegas could not exist at all without it.

It is the Snake river that winds down from the north and cut it's way through the country, creating the Grand Canyon.  It's a tremendous river, it reminds me of the Columbia River at home.  Just like the Columbia, several hydroelectric dams have been built to harvest it's power.  The biggest of these, the Hoover Dam, created behind it the impressive Lake Mead.  It's a gigantic water resource for recreation and more importantly, a water source for millions of people and the cities they live in.

My fears confirmed, Lake Mead is at horrifically low levels.
You have heard me talk a lot about the terrifying reality that the level of Lake Mead is falling quite rapidly now. This has been due to the combination of over use and years of drought and low snow fall in the mountains in the surrounding area that supply water to the Snake River and it's tributaries.  There is much debate as to the root cause of all of this, but the result is the same: The lake is draining itself, and this has catastrophic implications.  There simply IS no other water source that can provide what this lake does to all of the surrounding cities.

As we approached Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, I was curious to see if all of the hype I had been following in the news was just that: HYPE, or reality.  Sadly, I must report that it appears to be at least as bad as I had read, and perhaps even worse.  I have no idea how the people in the area feel about it. Are they concerned? Are they actively trying to conserve water and power?  I hope so.  The clearly marked white "bathtub ring" around the lake is proof that cannot be refuted; The lake is draining.

Our excellent, inexpensive spot at Boulder Beach campground
Only $5 night with our America The Beautiful Pass!
We had planned to stay at a National Recreational Area near Lake Mead. These are great places to stop over, and are almost always near water and fun and are almost always very inexpensive to use and well kept.  This park was no exception! This park was adjacent to a privately managed RV park that was mostly fulltime RVers, and had excellent amenities.  Don't forget to check out these types of parks when you are traveling, we have never been disappointed.

The park wasn't crowded at all and we were able to select from many different spots.  There were no hookups, these parks almost never do have them, but as I always comment, we certainly don't need them with our Lance. We have the solar panels and the radiant Olympian heater, and big water and waste tanks... we just don't need anything!  It opens up a HUGE amount of resources for us to stay overnight just about anywhere.

This park had an RV dump station and a place to take on fresh water so this made it an extra cool spot. Next door, in the RV park with full hookups, they had a clean laundry facility so I was able to get in there and do our wash.  Just can't beat that!

Shipwrecked floating bathrooms, a common sight, really bad.
At left are two restrooms that used to be on the water attached to the dock area.  As the water recedes, they just keep dragging them out further and further. In the distance, you can see where the beach should be and it's like walking around on the moon.  Very unsettling for sure.

 We visited a local marina, actually a HUGE marina full of boat slips and businesses, there were a couple of cafe's there on the water and several boat servicing businesses.  We walked out the long ramp to get out there, just to check things out.

Too bad Carp aren't good to eat. They are THICK in the warm
lake around the docks. They beg for food and follow you around.
Wow, the water is warm in the lake, for obvious reasons, and you know what that means: CARP. I know we have a few carp at home here and there but NOTHING like we saw here!  It's pretty obvious that nobody or nothing eat carp because they are thriving unchecked.  It's hard to depict in a photo, but they follow you along the dock as you walk. They are everywhere, clearly people must feed them.  They come up out of the water, smacking their lips at you.  It's creepy!

 Well, off to Las Vegas after this.  We will be staying right on the strip at the RV park next to Circus Circus like we did last time.

More soon!! Love, Mom.
You can see how far you have to walk and then the long road
down to the water level. It's really obvious that something
has got to change or this lake will be no more.

Route 66-We DID Get Our Kicks!

Hi Kids!

Seligman, AZ on Route 66!
So we were headed toward Vegas and Lake Mead and all that as planned. It was late morning after having left the Grand Canyon and the sun was just shining all over the place, and all was right with the world.  We were traveling down I-40, which is the main East-West connection to Los Angeles from parts East, and we had been on it for a couple of days now. I-40 replaced much of old historic Route 66, which was the main through-fare in bygone days.  I had always wanted to see it.  There are many areas of the historic route that are still there and you can see much of the historic nostalgia that it contains.  The Disney movie "CARS" depicts characters and scenery directly from areas of this famous roadway, if that helps you visualize better!

It was like being in a movie set!
Anyway, so we are screaming down the freeway and we came upon a well-known piece of the old Route 66, so with guidebook in hand, Dad took the exit and we traveled along the old, 2-lane highway that led us into the famous town of Selligman.  I didn't have high expectations, because very little planning went into this little detour, but I have very fond memories of when I was very young, and traveling with Grammy and Grandpa in California to visit Grandpa George and in those days, that is how his town always looked.  He owned a Texaco gas station that looked every bit like the ones we saw today.  I remember big Grandpa George, a former boxer and self-proclaimed ladies' man, he would be there with his hair slicked back with Brilcream and his sleeves rolled up over arms as big as tree trunks. He would pick us up and I remember his hands were huge like a giant's hands and he always smelled of aftershave.

It was a step back in time, so cool.
So we drove in to the town of Seligman, and WOW.  It was SO COOL.  It had just enough real rust and destruction to lend it the authenticity that cannot be faked.  Lots of old-school neon signs and the old style motels that I remember from my early childhood where you drove right up to the door of your room.  I guess it's nostalgic to some of us, and just quirky to others, but the history and Americana here really resonated with me.  We had such a fun time because at this time of year there was a minimum of tour buses and people and we were able to take our time and soak it in.  I doubt very many people have pictures of themselves here without hoardes of people all around.

There was NO WAY we were missing this!
As we were leaving town, there it was: The Roadkill Cafe!  Well, there was no way were driving past that.  Dad parked the camper in the lot and we went inside and enjoyed a really delicious lunch in a very quiet cafe. The waitress actually apologized because it was so empty that time of day! Was she kidding? We were thrilled! We read the endless stuff on the walls and had a great lunch. They have thousands of dollar bills with names and things written on them stapled all over the walls and ceiling. Dad added ours to the collection. They told us where it would be mounted and so we will know where to look for it when we return again!

What a great little detour on our way to TACKY Las Vegas!  I filled up my tank with authentic Americana and will take that with me to the least authentic place on earth: Las Vegas.  I guess there is a certain originality to it's FAKENESS, and God, I love it!  We are having so much fun and talk endlessly about how much we wish we could travel here with all of you.  It would be a HOOT!  Miss you all! Love, Mom.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Grand Canyon NP, South Rim

At last! The Grand Canyon South Rim NP!
Grand Canyon NP, South Rim

Next morning we had our coffee as usual. It was very cold out all night and we had to use BOTH the furnace and the radiant heater to keep things above 60 in the camper.  Unusual, but I have noticed that if there is an icy wind, it stays much colder. Makes sense.  We got ourselves all ready and chose our route to the Grand Canyon.  There were patches of snow on the ground but the sky is brilliant blue and it should be a great day.  We were undecided about whether we would hike much or not.  Grand Canyon hiking is always very strenuous (for obvious reasons) but very rewarding.  Still, we have been going at it pretty hard every day and we were a little tired.

We arrived at the NP gate and showed them our ID and Annual Pass.  Best $80 you can spend if you are going to be visiting several National Parks in the year.  Just the entrance here at the Grand Canyon is $30.  We have been to 6 parks on this trip. Clearly a good investment! Plus, it's just good citizenship to support the National Parks.  They are worth supporting, and the Parks Service is doing a wonderful job keeping them amazing for us all to enjoy for our entire lives.  These passes will allow you free entrance to much more than just National Parks too, they are a bargain.

It was sunny and clear and beautiful, could not
have been more ideal to see one of the worlds wonders!
Long hikes were not on the agenda today.  Really the only hikes in park are grueling, into-the-canyon hikes or the 13 mile long rim trail.  We opted to start at one end and drive to the several viewing points and visit the exhibits there, taking time to enjoy the well-done displays the park offers, including the excellent movie shown in the beautiful theater at the Visitor's Center.

Before we began our tour, we paused in the parking lot for our brunch, and took our time as we always do. It's a great benefit to us not to have to try and find something healthful to eat at the expensive snack bars.  We are into day 11 of our trip and only one time have we purchased prepared food, and that was at a casino buffet.  (Exempt from the healthful eating rule!)  The upside to this (besides saving a ton of dough) is that we feel great during our travel.  Many people comment on a long trip that they have digestive upset or just don't feel their best, and they blame the trip, but I think it's more about the DIET. Works for us anyway.
it's the diet.  Never underestimate the impact of strange, low-quality food and drink on your body.

Inside the watchtower, built of rock from the canyon in
meticulous detail by a WOMAN no less!
As everyone always says about the Grand Canyon, it's impossible to describe, and I will have to agree.  It's just the most amazing, awe-inspiring sight, and every American should see it.  I would add that our choice to visit in the early winter was a great idea.  There were plenty of people there, but we had no problem with crowds or parking or annoying throngs of people in super-hot summer heat.  YUCK!  It was breezy and cool, requiring a coat and hat, but beautiful blue sky and blazing sun. The air was crystal clear and we could see for many miles. Ideal conditions for viewing the Grand Canyon!  Highly recommended. (This is early November).  We commented often on how miserable it would be with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and 100 degree temps.  NO WAY!!

Boondocking, our favorite, only 4 miles outside the park gate.
Forest Road #688

We use the "Allstays" app to help us (among other tools) navigate to various things.  Places to sleep is the main reason we use it. We like it because it gives you the option to filter in or out whatever categories suit you.  We always monitor the Forestry Departments campgrounds because they are always located in National Forests (which are almost always vast stretches of wilderness in our western travels).  Luckily, only a couple of miles outside of the Southrim Grand Canyon you are back into the Kaibab National Forest, and that means Forest Service roads and campgrounds!  Most are very cheap or free and almost never full.  They often don't have entrance signs, only a small "FR" (Forest Road) marker with a number on it. We have enjoyed some of our most memorable, scenic and FREE stays on these forest roads.  Often, it isn't even a "campground" but just a long, dirt road and you can boondock on these for no cost, nation wide.  PERFECT for us truck campers!

Butterscotch trees, I love them. Their bark smells of butterscotch.
The downside? Well, there isn't one really.  Sometimes we come across a mess left by some LOSER people who leave their garbage, but that's not the norm.  Last night we were awakened by a sizeable pack of coyotes literally right outside our camper yipping and carrying on and playing and arguing.  Not such a bad thing, right?  They were probably searching for where the BBQ chicken smell was coming from, but we know to pack everything up and put it away inside when we stay in these remote areas, the wildlife is no joke there and you don't want to encourage them, also it's illegal and causes them to form bad habits around people that end up getting them shot.  Always put away your food and cooking items at night!

It was more brilliant sun the next morning as we headed south toward Williams, and then to an as-yet-undecided stopping point.  We are leaning toward Lake Mead and Hoover Dam and Vegas.  Sounds good to me!  I am really interested in seeing the devastatingly low level of Lake Mead. I have seen pictures, but I want to see it in person.  Even though we have been all over this area before, I have never seen Hoover Dam.  Must rectify that! And Vegas? Vegas is always on the agenda!

Petrified Forest NP

Hi Kids!

Here we are at Petrified Forest NP!
 Petrified Forest is not actually a forest, well it IS, but not any more.  There isn't really any trees anywhere, it's the desert.  But what a crazy, amazing place it is.  As with several of the National Parks, this place, the "Painted Desert", started out as a tourist attraction. Rail was laid through park boundary and soon the railroad began promoting America's scenic wonders hoping to boost passenger service.  Luckily, John Muir, the greatest friend that our National Parks ever had, put a stop to all that and set in motion the process to preserve this national treasure for all generations to come.

Again, there are more than 600 ruins of the Puebloan cultures here, and they are still studying them to this day.  It's difficult to imagine, when you are there, how anyone could have even survived in such an arid, hostile environment, but then maybe it was a little more hospitable then.  It's a long drive through the park, and you can stop at several view points and attractions throughout.  There is some hiking, which is optional, and you can view the various geologically significant landmarks there.

The hike through Blue Mesa trail is easy and paved.
 We hiked the 1 mile "Blue Mesa" hike through huge hills of bentonite clay.  They are literally CLAY, you can reach out and pinch off a piece and squish it in your fingers.  All around you, scattered everywhere, are pieces of broken petrified trees. You are warned repeatedly when you enter the park not to touch or take any of the petrified wood.  In the old days, before it was protected, it's surprising to know that they used to haul trainloads of the stuff out of the park to grind the petrified wood into powder for industrial grit.  Shocking.  If you want to get your hands on some petrified wood, don't worry, there is loads of the stuff on the ground outside of the park and you can get it there!

It was cool to see the nostalgic "Painted Desert Hotel.
We stopped in at the "Painted Desert" hotel, where all kinds of people stayed to come and marvel at this wondrous place.  You can see photos of all of the people, motoring out in their Model A's and Studebakers.  Really interesting stuff.  It must have been insufferably hot in those days with no air conditioning and no shade.  I mean, there are rattle snakes and scorpions, this is bonafide desert!  I wouldn't want to visit here in the summer, it would be like being in hell.

Old Route 66 passes through this National Park.
As always, we were amazed at the scenery and history here.  We are so blessed to be able to tour this part of the country.  I spent most of my life unaware of some of the stunning resources America has, and I sincerely hope you all don't wait as long as we did to go and see it.  Truly inspiring.  Love, Mom

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mesa Verde NP

HI Kids!

Here We Are Kids!
Mesa Verde National Park!
We just left Mesa Verde NP.  We were only there for a few hours, because of the time of year that it is.  Just a few days ago they closed all of the tours of the cliff dwellings, which are the main attraction for this park.  You can still view them from overlooks, high up on the mesa plateau, but you cannot hike into them.  That's OK, we will do that next time, maybe on a trip here with you!  We usually leave any National Park with a list of things we want to do next time we go... I cannot wait to go back to Zion and hike more, or to Bryce and hike the Queens Garden loop because when we were there they had experienced a recent washout and it was closed. This happens frequently in the parks, because they are so susceptible to the weather.  That's ok, it's a good reason to return someday.  Mesa Verde is no different.

It's all about the Puebloan Cliff Dwellers here at
this park.  This is just one of many cliff dwellings they built in
the 1300's.  It may look like a toy model, but it's actually huge
I am just far away from it up above.
There was an older Park Ranger talking to a young couple who was sharing that their parents had been to this park in years past. The Ranger was saying that he had been working in this park and giving tours since 1976! That's a LONG time! He said he was visiting with a couple who had been in the park when he was a young ranger and he thought the should check their picture album because he thought he would be in the pictures. They couple went home and checked, and sure enough, there he was!  They emailed him 2 weeks later the photo. Isn't that cool?  There are some really awesome people who work the National Parks.

This park commemorates the Puebloan people who inhabited this area from about 900-1300 AD.  The park is huge, and you drive from one exhibit to another and see the different cliff dwellings they constructed.  These people farmed the mesa above and then lived in the villages they built into the cliff overhangs which gave them protection and shelter from animals, weather and each other.

Sometimes, you are literally right on the edge of a cliff! Dad is
OK with posing there, but it makes my knees weak!
There are more than 600 cliff dwellings in this vast area and more than 4500 archaeological sites.  You also have access to museums and other displays to help you understand how amazing this place is.  The history of the discovery, exploitation and then finally the preservation of this site is extremely interesting. What an incredible history exists within the boundaries of our Nation.

Mesa Verde is in Colorado, and it's my first time in Colorado!  Appropriately, the landscape has a light covering of snow, almost from the moment we got into the state, and that is just how I pictured it.  It's much colder now, too.  The low here at Mesa Verde NP tonight is 17 degrees!  Quite an adjustment from just a couple of days ago!  This is as far east as we are going to travel in the state, and now will turn our grill toward the south again for the next few days.  We will be stopping at the Towaoc Casino for the night.  As you know, we are avid users of boondocking opportunities!

Dad is out topping off the diesel before we head out of town. The sun is just starting to go down and it's very chilly outside.  I will be glad to be on well-traveled roads again because I don't want any part of icy, snowy roads!  Driving in Colorado in November would probably assure this, so I am glad that we will be back into warmer climates by tomorrow!  We will be traveling through New Mexico on our way to Arizona tomorrow, and of course stopping at "Four Corners" so dad can plant his feet in all 4 states at the same time. The next National Park we will visit is Petrified Forest NP, and it's not a forest, it's actually in the painted desert in Arizona, full of trees that are pretty darned old and dead. Miss you all to bits! Love, Mom.


Well, here's irony for you.
So last night, we stopped at a local tribal casino to sleep.  Naturally we patronized the casino.  That meant leaving whatever cash jangling in our pockets in the Willy Wonka slot machine, and in the Wizard of Oz slot machine.  We are getting really good at this by the way, if you got points for losing, we would be winners.  Anyway, so on the way to the Petrified Forest National Park today, we took the route that would allow Dad to visit the "Four Corners Monument", something he had his heart set on.  When we arrived, we were confronted with a sign stating that the "Navajo Nation Four Corners Monument" was upon us, though the sign was so covered in graffiti that we could barely make out what it said.  I had a bad feeling about it...

We turned in and drove up to the rusty gate, and there was a stop sign, and a notification that it would be $5 per person to get in.  Keep in mind, we just drove 20 miles off of our route to see this thing.  Big, tattered sign: "CASH ONLY".  Uh oh.  We didn't stop and get cash yet. I'll just cut to the final chapter here: Dad's not happy and he did NOT get to stand in four states at the same time.  Things can just go wrong sometimes, and this is one of those things.  We could try and explore the reasons why a "legitimate business" does not accept credit/debit cards at a very popular tourist attraction... but we still would come up with the same conclusion: a 40 mile side-trip that returned zilch.  Thankfully, we have an annual "America the Beautiful Pass" for the National Parks so that won't happen there.  But then, it wouldn't have anyway, would it?  Definitely will be stopping at the ATM in Gallup, NM!

Remember Kids, if you want to get notified every time I put up a new blog post, then subscribe to it! Love, Mom.

Twin Arrows Casino, 20 Miles East of Flagstaff, AZ

We decided to boondock at this casino for the night and then travel the next morning up to the South Rim Grand Canyon NP.  On our 2013 Big Trip we visited the North Rim Grand Canyon NP, and it was really amazing.  Lots of nature and trees and it was COLD!  So beautiful, and we said at the time, if we get the chance, we want to visit the South Rim (the most popular by far) in the OFF season when it is cooler and a lot less people.  This is the year!

It's always a gamble (haha, pun intended) when we go to a new casino for boondocking. But we really can't lose, because we are there to sleep.  If it meets our criteria for a fun place to play, then that is just a bonus.  Ok, I admit, our criteria for playing is pretty low... most casinos make the cut.

As we approached the big city of Flagstaff, it had gotten dark and we were definitely hungry and ready to get off the road.  It was a long stretch of highway cutting into the dark, and off in the distance we could see one of those huge led signs and a lot of lights spread out in the desert.  Wow, I thought this might be a bigger casino than I had thought.  Well, it was.  In fact, I would say that outside of Vegas and Reno and the like, this is the biggest, nicest tribal casino (Navajo in this case) we have been to.  WOW it was nice!  Really felt like we were in Vegas.  Huge, flat parking lot, NON-smokey interior (BIG plus for us, hate smokey casinos) and affordable, decent food.  They gave us a nice little present of $10 to start off with when we joined their players' club and off we went.  We didn't leave empty handed, though not big winners either, so in other words, we WON!  Haha! Love, Mom.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Arches NP

Hi Kids!  We are still alive and still trying to beat the weather! We plan to spend 2 days here, there is a lot to see.

Arches NP! We have been wanting
to visit this park for a long time!
We had high expectations of Arches National Park. We have seen all the photos and seen the Utah State License Plates with "Delicate Arch" on them.  With our weather window quickly closing, we headed into the park and secured a campsite in the VERY nice campground-still, no hookups of any kind and only water near the bathroom, no ability to fill up tanks with a hose. We part from our usual routine of staying in a campground when we are IN the National Parks simply because it saves tons of mileage if we are going to be there hiking and recreating.  MOST of the National Parks offer only primitive, small, though very nice campgrounds.

Normally, we do a good job of planning, but for some reason, we were a little absent minded about taking care of business before heading into the park.  Our holding tanks were on the full side, and our water was nearly gone.  Don't make that mistake!  Luckily, we brought along our handy portable water fill tank that usually rides, unused, in the rear of the truck cab.  We were darn glad we had it!  Dad was able to use it to add some much needed water to our holding tank.  A toilet that doesn't flush can quickly make Mom MOODY.  No worries, mission accomplished!  We got settled in and studied our guidebook to make sure we saw as much as we could of the park before the weather changed on us.

Arches Day 2:

Good Morning Kids!

It's so amazing hiking in this area.
Yesterday we did quite a bit of hiking.  Probably covered about five miles in total all day, but they were "Moderately Difficult" which meant rock scrambling and steep climbing involved, and boy, does that make a huge difference.  I am really feeling it today.  We hiked up and saw the famous "Delicate Arch", this is the one you see on the Utah State license plates.  I was shocked at the hike, I guess I was envisioning the arch being on a plateau and we would drive up and see it from a distance. Not at all.

We hiked up a mile and half at a very steep and (for me) hair-raising climb, around a cliff edge and then the arch itself was part of a large, slickrock bowl... very precarious, and terrifying for anyone (like me) afraid of heights.

There it is! Delicate Arch! Wow, what a hike.
I wouldn't want to do this hike in gusting winds like we have had the last couple of days... you could get blown right off the side with very little effort.  Of course I was forced to endure watching a group of very athletic 70-somethings clamoring around the bowl and posing in the arch... I could barely even LOOK at it, let alone run over there.  There are no "guard rails" or anything, and people must die here, I am convinced.

We left Arches this morning to head for Colorado. You know Dad, he wants to go to "Four Corners" so he can stand in 4 different states at the same time.  We will be going to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado as well.  The weather is not improving for us, and it is supposed to snow there today, so we are going to do the best we can.

Check out the slickrock in the far distance, upper left.
Those little specks are people,
on the wayto Delicate Arch.
The nights have been stormy and cold, but we have been very comfortable in the camper, as always.  We have been using the Olympic radiant heater every night.  Our batteries would never make it otherwise, because of lack of daylight hours, the solar would not be enough to keep us totally charged with the furnace running.  We have yet to plug in anywhere or use hookups.

We let ourselves get a little too depleted on water and full tanks and yesterday and we finally got into the town of Moab to "refresh" (empty tanks and fill up freshwater)  Luckily there is a local gas station and convenience store called "Maverik" that allows free RV dumping and fresh water filling. Super awesome of them to do this, and we are certainly grateful. We filled up our diesel there too.  We stopped at a small laundromat there and did our one load of clothes (first since we left a week ago) and while that did it's thing, we walked next door to a small grocery and bought some food.  I bought some salad, because I feel like we haven't any fresh veggies for a while and Dad looks like he might be getting scurvy.

Everything was nice and fresh after the stormy night.
Last night, right after we arrived back at the camper after the very satisfying day of hiking, we no sooner got in the camper than another squall blew in with cold air and rain.  It's so different when it rains in the dessert, the water rushes down the slick rock faces into "washes" which are like little flash-floods the appear almost immediately.  Then, it disappears almost as quickly as it arrived.  It made for a beautiful hike yesterday morning, with the red sand all wet, there was no blowing grit getting into our eyes and mouths and the colors against the blue sky were electric! Plus, there were tons of fresh animals tracks of all kinds as we traveled further away from people... deer, squirrels and all kinds of birds left clear markings all over the place.  The place must come alive at night with creatures everywhere!

Well, one thing I can tell you for sure, don't wait and visit all these parks when you are old and creaky like us. You will miss the very best parts, because you need to really hike out into the wilderness to fully experience the wonder they have to offer.  Our National Parks system has done an amazing job of making all of this available to us all in a very affordable, accessible way.  I have yet to go to any of them and not be absolutely slack-jawed at how amazing they are. They are all very different and unique and have their own special qualities, but they share the same quality in that they are just amazing-just like the four of you!

This morning it's on to Colorado and Mesa Verde National Park.  We took off early after morning coffee and pulled in the slides to head to new adventures.  We stopped at the Visitor's Center of the park because I had forgotten to get the obligatory T-shirt from Arches NP.  I chose a nice long sleeved one in honor of the colder place we were headed.  Todd's credit card was declined at the register so after reluctantly using our debit card to purchase my T-shirt (Debit cards are NOT a safe option these days kids) we got to the truck and I called our bank to find out what was going on.  Sure enough, our traveling gave them the heebeejeebees and they shut off our card.  I guess we are just too transient for them!  It's nice they make sure though, but it's a little bit embarrassing when your card gets declined!  Oh well. They apologized and turned the spigot back on, so we are off to CHARGE IT!

Literally took less than 30 minutes to get
the rock chip repaired!
Just as we were about to head out of Moab, I noticed a small but nasty looking rock chip on our windshield with the "star" effect starting already. Knowing we were headed for much colder climates tonight and tomorrow I dialed up USAA, with whom we have our auto insurance.  After a few minutes with a very polite and professional technician on the phone, they directed us to a glass repair shop only about 1/2 mile from us.  They called them and made arrangements, and with just a signature and 10 minutes of our time, we were back on the road with a repaired windshield! I don't see how it gets better than that! Thank you USAA!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Canyonlands NP Is COOL!

Here We Go! Canyonlands National Park!
Hi Kids! We sure miss you already. Dad told me to quit whining and being a weanie, he's worried I won't travel much, especially after the new granddaughter arrives. Hmmmm.  A good question, I admit.  We know why he is really worried, as you know, he only knows how to make pancakes. I am the chief chuck wagon chef.

We weren't sure what to expect at Canyonlands National Park.  If I had to sum it up, I would say: It's like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, but it's much more than that.  Certainly worth the effort, and I am really glad we were able to include it in this trip.  You must go see it.

I told Dad, you can only take a photo if there is one of us IN IT.
The Utah National Parks have that surreal, prehistoric feel that elevates the whole experience into something really special.  I will not even attempt to describe it to you, I don't think it's possible.  We often feel as if we are playing inside of an episode of "The Flintstones".  It's amazing. Huge, colorful slickrock hills and canyons and red sand with the sagebrush and juniper growing where it can manage to.  Just beautiful, and so hostile.

The weather app on my phone told us that our unseasonably beautiful weather was not going to last, so inevitably our thoughts were turning to trying to maximize our hiking opportunities and planning accordingly.  The National Parks system has done an outstanding job of making most of the most stunning highlights of the parks accessible by car and only a short to moderate hike.  This was a blessing this trip as we were trying to cover a lot of ground while the sun was shining. The weather is usually great here, but the winters are not to be trifled with.  Powerful wind storms with rain and snow threatening kept us thinking of being efficient.

Yes, he really is standing on the edge of infinity... It was hair-raising
One of the standout features that will remain with me about Canyonlands (not in small part due to my uneasiness with heights) was the "Rim Trail" that is accessed from the "Grand View Overlook".  Absolutely stunning as you stroll, with NO guardrails, along the edge of a enormous precipice into eternity.  It was exciting, and scary and awe inspiring.  I shudder to think of anyone bringing small children or pets (pets are prohibited) because you are literally steps from certain death.  On this particular day, as foul weather was on it's way, the wind was gusting mightily.  It was scary to even be near the edge with the wind enticing you to fall over the edge. I have all kinds of demons inside of me, pulling me toward the edge, beckoning me to infinity.

Beautiful sites, but small, no hookups of any kind.
We continued to tour the park with an eye on the sky, ever thankful that we were afforded the good weather we have enjoyed so far.  We knew we were on borrowed time.  Our Lance camper has been performing flawlessly, keeping us fed, comfortable and clean while we played in this giant, wild playground.  There are a few very small campgrounds, but no hookups, not even water to be had.  It's strictly dry-camping and we know that we were some of the most comfortable people there.  We watched one poor campers tent flapping from the one brave remaining tent stake like a flag in the wind as we played "Farkle" and sipped our wine at our cozy dining table. The sites are all extremely small, not intended for much more than a vehicle, and not many can accommodate more than that.

Tomorrow we hit Arches National Park!

Here We Are Kids! Capitol Reef National Park

HI Kids! It's us, your vagabond parents;

Here We Are Kids!
Capitol Reef NP!
We are at Capitol Reef National Park

The weather is beautiful right now.  Low 70's and sunny, unseasonably nice.  We missed all of the fruit in the historic orchards of this park (park visitors are welcome to partake of the 2700 fruit trees) but other than that, we feel we hit this one just right.  We took advantage of the extremely clean and well-cared for RV park near Fruita Homestead, only $20/night.  There are no hookups, but as I say over and over, we don't need them at all.  There is a dump station and fresh water access so we will be able to "refresh ourselves" before moving on to the next stop, which will be Canyonlands National Park.

Hiking Cohab Canyon.
Yes, Dad ran like a thief
after he put the camera on a tripod.
After we arrived at the visitor's center, we got our passport cancellation and I bought a new T-shirt. I love having National Park T-shirts from parks that we visit.  It never fails I end up meeting great people who comment about it when I wear it: They have either been there, or want to go there and it's always fun sharing our stories.  Then we got settled in at the campground and decided to do the approximately 3.5 mile hike into Cohab Canyon which was right across the road from our site.  The first 1/3 mile of the hike, as our guidebook said, truly is grueling, especially if it is your first hike of the trip in new hiking boots!  Very much climbing up, up, up and then you get to the entrance to the beautiful canyon.  Well worth the effort.

It was quite eery to be so alone. Not another person did we see on the entire hike, and we could almost feel wild life eyes upon us.  It was a little disconcerting to see fresh tracks where we were walking-is that a coyote or a mountain lion??-we were unarmed (unusual for us).  A scary thought, but we would be completely helpless if something of that nature happened.

Don't try this with your "Big Rig"!!
We got back to the camper, and relaxed a bit and then Todd decided we needed to drive up the road and see some of the scenic drive.  So, up we jumped, put our hiking boots back on and pulled the slides back in on the Lance.  We drove down the road for several miles and enjoyed the views as the sun was beginning to get low in the sky.  The light playing off of the red, black and tan canyon walls and hills around us was breathtaking.  We got to the end of the road and a couple was grilling in a small shelter there in the parking area.  He shared that we could keep going down the dirt track and into the canyon, where there would be a small parking area and then we could hike even further into the canyon.  Well, Todd put the truck in 4 wheel drive, and down the track we went.

This is what is called a "wash" where flash floods
rage through after a storm.
Wow, it was gorgeous.  Clearly there had been torrential rain in the not-too-distant past, and the road had been re-graded.  The National Parks do a great job of making everything accessible. It made me shudder to think of being in the canyon during a rain storm and flash floods.  Clearly it would be perilous.  But on this evening is was gloriously beautiful and hardly anyone about.  We traveled deep into the canyon and got to the end of the dirt road.  We decided to hike in a ways and see some petroglyphs and whatever treasures the canyon might offer.  We walked for some time up what is obviously a dry river bed that probably flows in the winter.  We came to a sign indicating that "the tanks" were nearby, up the side of the canyon. It was quite a scramble getting up there, and somehow we got off of the trail.  We tried and tried but could not find the Tanks (large holes in the rock filled with water in which entire ecosystems exist).  We traversed the rocks and climbed, but to no avail.

Having A Blast!
Suddenly, we noticed that it had gotten quite late and that the sun had set some time before.  Todd said, "We better get outta here, it's getting dark!"  Yes, we were "those people" who got off the trail and then it started to get dark.  I commented that the park ranger was probably going to come back here and cuss us out for being on the trail after dark.  This was better than talking about what I was really thinking about, which was, once the sky goes dark, we will not be able to see anything and might get lost in this canyon!  There are mountain lions out here! But, you know how brave I am, so I just toughed it out.  So we hiked back at a brisk pace, expecting any moment for something to punish us for being out here in the wilderness as late as it was: either eaten by a mountain lion or berated by an annoyed park ranger.

Really, it was just gorgeous and surreal.
Neither happened, and we got safely back to the truck.  It was now completely inky dark outside and we had to drive back to the campground with the bright lights on.  It was such an adventure though, and we saw some jaw-dropping sights.  We were so tired that dinner only consisted of two grilled steaks and some potato chips!  I had a big, painful blister on my right heel. I know better than to head out in new hiking boots on such a strenuous hike, but hopefully, my supply of thick band-aids will hold out.  Our warm bed felt good, for sure!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Hello Utah!

Thursday, October 30th

We just traveled today and arrived in Mountain Home, Idaho.  It was a given that we would be staying in one of our favorite boondocking spots (or dry camping, depending on your preference, we call it boondocking).  It turned out to be a Walmart, and we got settled in with a few other rigs in the rear of the lot and then did some shopping inside. We always need a few things, never fails.

On a fairly regular basis, we get comments from other people when we talk about stopping over at a Walmart, or a truck stop or some other spot, that "that doesn't seem very fun".  These comments always come from a person who either does not RV much, or if they do, they only go on quick family trips to a destination, like the beach or a campground.  This is all very well, and completely normal behavior.  We do that too, frequently.  We have 4 children who all grew up RVing a LOT, and it is still our favorite mode of recreation, and I think, always will be.

When we stay at a non-recreational spot, a Walmart for example, it is NOT for recreation.  It is a place to sleep on our way to recreation.  Like now, we are on the move. Truck camping is particularly well designed for this type of recreating.  We don't go to a campground, park, setup camp, put out chairs, awnings, washer-toss games and all that.  We are on an excursion.  Sleeping at night is not part of the excursion.  It is like when you stay in a hotel. The hotel is usually NOT the destination, rather, it is NEAR your destination.

The beauty of this kind of travel is that you never back-track. You see much more, for less money, in less time than in the traditional camp-ground type trip.  Those are great when the campground IS the destination, but we are moving always forward, and make a "loop trip" that allows us to see a LOT of places very efficiently. We usually move every single day, and that is not a problem when you have an RV that is road ready in less than 5 minutes. We are like turtles, if you will.

You see, the camper looks the same inside when the blinds are drawn for the night. We could be at Yosemite or in a parking lot, it doesn't matter to us, because we are SLEEPING.  In the morning we are up early and on the road again, headed for the next adventure, usually a national park or other treasure.  We park in the regular parking lot (yes, you can do that too with a truck camper!) and spend the day playing.  When it's getting late, most times, we climb in the truck and head for our "sleeping spot" which will be on the way to our next stop, sometimes a campground, sometimes BLM land, sometimes a parking lot, it just doesn't matter.

What's the downside?  We spend a lot in gas.  Fuel, when you drive nearly every day for 2-4 hours, is substantial.  But, on this trip, we will have visited 9 states and several national parks and countless other side-trips and attractions.  We love traveling this way, it is sort of an "immersion" experience, and it's something we look forward to all year.

This morning we left our parking lot sleeping spot and headed east again, toward Utah. We will sleep in Provo tonight and it will be our last "travel day". The fun starts after that as we are then within range of our chosen attractions!  We stopped at a very picturesque state park in Idaho simply to dump our tanks and take on fresh water, all for a very fair $5.  Now we are good for 3 days on the move!  You gotta love it!

Friday, October 31

We had a nice, uneventful travel day today and arrived in Provo as expected.  We had consulted our ALL STAYS app and learned that there was a Walmart AND a Cracker Barrel there just off the freeway that would allow us to boondock for the night.

We chose Cracker Barrel, because we love them, and we don't have them where we live, so it's a real treat to go there.  Since we are "Gluten Free" there unfortunately isn't very much on their menu that we will eat, but their food and their little Country Store are so cool!  Breakfast is so good at Cracker Barrel!

And while I am at it: A big THANK YOU to all the businesses on the road who offer up their parking lots for us transients.  We appreciate that you do this, and we hope others do too.  We always patronize your stores and restaurants, and we will always be respectful of the privilege and courtesy you extend to us by making as minimal a presence as we can, and leaving the spot cleaner than when we arrived. Thank you!  I know I speak for RVers across the country when I say that it is in great part due to your generosity that we are constantly inspired to HIT THE ROAD and keep on travelling!

Before leaving Idaho, I had thrown dinner into my Thermal Pot (LOVE this thing) and so dinner was waiting when we arrived.  We had a nice dinner and then decided to take a good long walk to get the travel kinks out.  The weather was awesome, which was a nice bonus.  Not even a sweatshirt needed.  Upon returning, we chose a DVD from a big collection that we always have in the camper and settled in for the night.  Tomorrow we hit our first adventure! Capitol Reef National Park!  Yay! I get to use my new hiking boots!