Saturday, September 24, 2011

*END* of US West Trip, Sept 2011

As often happens with us, go-home mode kicked in. Actually, we went to Frankenmuth today intending to camp there for the night, at a campground we'd been to a couple of times before. Well, the campground is gone! The town was so busy, such a zoo, we couldn't wait to get out of there, so no chicken dinner at Zender's this time (sob).

It was still early, about 1:30, and a good driving day, so we decided to just head home. Good time for a border crossing, it wasn't busy at 3:30 or so. We were home a little after 7pm.

It feels like it was a really good trip, although we won't know until we look at our pictures (grin). We saw a lot of things we wanted to, plus some we never thought we'd see (like Rocky Mountain Natl park).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Custer SD to Adrian WI

A driving day today. After some initial park-like roads getting out from the Custer area, we made our way up to I90 and headed east. Tomorrow and Saturday will be more of the same. We expect to take the northern route through Michigan's Upper Peninsula, with a stop in Frankenmuth, likely overnight Saturday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lusk to Custer South Dakota

We had a busy day on Tuesday. First we moved from Lusk to a c.g. here just outside Custer SD (N 43.75043, W 103.64636,  elev 5572ft). It was only a 2 1/2 hr drive, so we were all set up by noon.

Then we went to see the Crazy Horse memorial that's been under construction for years (and will be for a lot more years). There's quite a building complex there now, lots of Indian artifacts and history displayed. It would take days to see and absorb it all.

This is what the statue looks like now, from about 3 miles away. It's just huge, way bigger than the Mt Rushmore presidential heads:

Here's a scale model of what it is supposed to look like someday:

Progress is slow. There's no govt money in the project at all. The original sculptor died in 1982, and 6 of his 10 children carry on the project today, funded by donations and private-money grants.

We did want to see some animals, so drove the Wildlife Loop road in Custer State Park. After a slow start, did we see buffalo! (bison to the purists). 

We saw 2 large herds of bison, likely over 300 each. The park managers are gathering them now for the official annual roundup event next week. They expect to collect some 1500 animals, and since the range can only over-winter about 750, the rest will be sold at a large auction.

We did see other animals too:

These were Pronghorn antelope (above), we also saw a few elk and mountain sheep, and lots of mule deer, all over the place especially near town.

Today we just toured the area a bit, and drove the Wildlife Loop again. We have to bison-watch while we can!

Tomorrow we'll be heading for home, may be coming through Waterloo this weekend if all goes well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Craig to Lusk WY

Another driving day, pleasant but nothing spectacular like yesterday's drive. We're camped in the little town of Lusk Wyoming, 100 miles or so north from Cheyenne, on our way tomorrow to the Custer area in South Dakota, where we'll likely stay put for a few days. It's getting down towards freezing at night now, but it reached 17C today along the way.

Cathie finished a knitting project on the drive:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mesa Verde to Craig CO

Today we left Mesa Verde at 8am, bright sunshine, 4C. We were going to go east to Durango, then take hwy 550 north from there. However there are 2 high passes on that route (10,910 ft and 11,008 ft) and snow on the peaks, so we decided to take a gentler route (the main pass is "only" 10,222 ft), which turned out to be a fantastic drive through the San Juan range! It was sunny all the way, and cool (down to 3C before rising to 9C later on). We were heading mostly north, so the sun wasn't in our eyes, and the peaks just glowed:

Route: Mesa Verde/Cortez/145N/145W/62N/550N/50/I70E/13N to Craig. The 145 and 62 sections make up part of the San Juan Skyway route, just a great drive.

Weather: 4C at 6am, down to 3 and up to 9 through the mountains. 21C here in Craig at 5pm. Sunny all day.

Craig c.g. in Craig CO: N 40.50992, W 107.51374,  elev 6224 ft.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Monument Valley to Mesa Verde National Park

We're sitting in the Cortez (Colorado) Chamber of Commerce writing this. We're camped in Mesa Verde park, but not many facilities there - just real pretty. Cortez offers fast free WiFi.

Yesterday we had a good trip from our cg (Gouldings, near Monument Valley). Some really nice views, here's one that any of you Forrest Gump fans might recognize, it's where Forrest stopped running:

On the way we came into a small town just as their Homecoming parade was passing, so we became the last float in the parade. We disappointed the kids though, as we had no candy to toss to them. Got lots of waves anyway:

We got camped in a really nice no-hookups site in Mesa Verde Natl Park. We're just behind the tree behind the trailer in the pic:

Mesa Verde is know for its assortment of ancient cliff dwellings. There are some 4,000 archeological sites in the park, some well preserved and open to the public:

We had a good tour of the park in good weather this morning, then the rain moved in. At noon it was raining and 7C! So we're in the nearby town of Cortez now. Apparently there is a quilt shop downtown that we're heading for.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Grand Canyon to Monument Valley

Today dawned cool and wet at the Grand Canyon, with very impaired visibility and a lousy forecast. So we decided to leave a day earlier than "planned", and head to Monument Valley (MV). On the way out of the Grand Canyon area, it was so foggy you couldn't tell there was a canyon there at all.

We got a nice site at Goulding's RV. It's a little family empire in the desert, in southern Utah just north of MV. It's in the midst of a huge Navaho reservation. MV has been the backdrop for a number of films, particularly John Ford westerns with John Wayne. Here's the view from our site:

As I was setting up, Cathie found there was a tour leaving in a few minutes, so we decided to take it. It was 4 hrs of back roads, amid these fantastic rock structures:

At one point dark clouds rolled in and the rain came down. Luckily the open tour vehicle had roll-down sides.

Then the skies cleared again, only a 20 minute rain. It sure did get muddy though - glad we weren't in our own vehicle. We stopped at some very clear petroglyphs (click on the pic to enlarge):

We didn't get back to the trailer until after 8pm, hungry but glad we took the tour. We're planning on heading to Mesa Verde Natl Park tomorrow morning, so won't be here very long. 

It's a really nice night, we were able to sit outside until after 10 pm (!) for the first time in a while, just down to 17C from the day's high of about 19C.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Zion to Grand Canyon

Yesterday we drove from Utah to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Along the way we passed the Glen Canyon dam. A large dam on the Colorado River, it holds back Lake Powell, a huge reservoir also used as a recreational lake.

Once in the Grand Canyon (GC) campground, we were greeted by some elk, that roam freely there:

...and by some loud thunderstorms. We did manage to get out to the canyon rim later in the day, but no pics. This morning was gorgeous, as we set out early, using the park shuttle buses. We rode out to a point called Hermit's Rest, and started an 8-mile walk back along the Rim Walk trail, intending to get back on a shuttle partway back. Some beautiful views along the way.

After a couple of hours hiking though, thunderstorms again, with lots of scary lightning. We had walked back about 3 miles of the 8, when it started to rain. We thought we'd better get a shuttle, but the few that came by were all full. So we kept walking another couple of miles until a Good Samaritan gave us a ride back to the shuttle terminal. Great timing, as it really started to pour rain while we were in his car, and then it hailed! We did get back to our camp eventually, wet but safe, along the now-muddy campground trail.

It was 5C at 6am today, and only reached 11 or 12C. Not real nice right now, but we're quite happy it's not the 100F+ that we would have seen here last week.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday - western Zion Natl Park

Today we toured the western side of Zion Park. It has quite a lot of red sandstone, dramatic sheer cliffs, very changeable viewing depending on the light intensity and direction. It was a very comfortable temp today, almost cool in the canyons, apparently because of yesterday's unseasonable rainstorm. Very nice for hiking.

The main park road in Zion is closed to cars. You need to park and take shuttle buses. We like this approach, as we could get on and off at will, or hike between stops.

The area we were in is a channel caused by the Virgin River. This is Mormon country, and the blessed virgin figures large into their religion apparently.

The one trail we went on ended here for us, but quite a lot of people came prepared to carry on up the river. The trail crosses the river several times from here on, and for some stretches the trail is only in the river.

Cool and damp as it felt in the canyons today, we were surprised to see claret-cup cactus plants quite common, making it clear that today's canyon climate is the exception. These cacti usually grow best in hot dry climates.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Moab to Northern Zion National park

We left Moab this morning, and are camped in Red Ledge RV Park in Kanarraville UT. We'll be here 2 nights, seeing some of Zion Natl Park, then Tuesday morning will head to the Grand Canyon South Rim, where we'll be camped for 3 nights. We weren't sure whether to go to the North Rim or the South. When it came time to decide though, there were no sites available for reservation in the North Rim (and reservations are apparently required), but lots of sites at South Rim, which is normally busier. ??  So we reserved at the South Rim for our Grand Canyon visit.

Weather was cool today, up to about 20 but down as low as 14C. An hour from our stop we ran into some rain and gusty winds, but now it's pretty clear and 21C.

Later today: we went for a short drive and hike to the northern part of Zion park, called Kolob canyons. Gorgeous!

Our hike was pretty short (a mile or so) luckily, as a storm rolled in while we were on the trail. We'd been watching it from a distance, but the thunder and lightning got too close for our comfort, so we really legged it on the way back to the car!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saturday - back roads

Today we went on much the same trip as yesterday, except in the reverse direction. It was clouding up in the hills already, likely to rain there this afternoon. This was looking back the way we had come today:

A lot of the greenery is juniper, but a lot is a kind of scrub oak, much of it just loaded with large acorns:

We did some mild off-roading today, going a few miles up an easy-rated trail (pic above). The trail was certainly easy, well-graded, crossing and re-crossing Onion Creek. It still would have been nice to have a "buddy vehicle" with us though - the trail may be easy, but could be a long walk back!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday - circle tour

Today we took a really nice morning drive around a back road loop in the area. First was about 11 miles of scenery along the Colorado River.

Then we had a choice of continuing along the river for one loop, or heading up into the hills for a different loop. We headed for the hills.

We came to some cliffs about 1500 ft high, driving up the valley. Pretty soon we were looking down on those same cliffs - it was quite a climb. This isn't a park area, it's just a road in the Moab area. Our pictures just don't do the scenery justice, especially downsized as they are here.

This afternoon it clouded over, did some rumbling and flashing off in the hills, then it actually started raining in Moab. We could pretty near hear the locals cheering! We were browsing the town at the time, and have been back in the trailer since mid-afternoon, it's raining just enough to keep us in. It didn't get so warm today, barely up to 20C, and at 6:30 pm it's still 20. The rain is the first we've had this trip that hasn't been a travel day anyway, so no problem.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thursday - Canyonlands Natl Park

Yesterday evening we went for a nice drive on a back road along the Colorado River. This is a pretty important river all through the dry areas where it runs.

As often happens, the back roads we take aren't too busy...

Today we headed in to Canyonlands National Park. Where in the Arches park we were usually looking up at the sights, in Canyonlands the sights are mostly looking down at the canyons. The canyons mostly follow the Colorado and Green river routes, and often reach 2000 feet deep.

Here's the only wildlife we saw in the park today:

There are a few arches in this park too. This one is Mesa Arch, and a picture of that Arch showed up as a standard Windows screensaver image (a better photo than these of course):

Today it reached 34C for an hour or so in the afternoon. The climate here is strange, I guess it's normal desert stuff. Even in the low 20sC it can feel quite warm in the sun, and kinda chilly in the shade. At 34C it was still quite comfortable sitting outside in the shade, but the trailer heated up a lot, so the AC had to go on to keep the trailer somewhat cool. Only for a couple of hours though, by 6pm it was cooling off, and now at 7:45 is down to 25C. It will be good sleeping temps again tonight. 

Cath thinks this is worth mentioning: for the first time since I retired, I got a commercial haircut. Couldn't stand to have it as long as it was, in this heat. It's nice and short again now!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Arches National Park

We took a drive through the nearby Arches park this morning. A good 4 hours for the drive, with lots of stops. Arches is known for spectacular rock formations, including many with arched holes in them. We didn't do much hiking, so only scratched the surface.

It's sunny again, up to 28C at 3pm. This seems usual this time of year. Even though the forecast shows chance of thunderstorms, they're pretty rare now. The people here would actually like a thunderstorm, as it's getting pretty dry. It's about the end of the wet season, which is why there is so relatively much greenery around. Very comfortable temps for sleeping last night too, it cools off quickly as the sun goes down.

We've decided to stay camped where we are through Saturday night, leaving to head further south on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Yesterday we went in to town over lunch, so had an anniversary lunch out. What a senior's cliche eh! Last evening we went elk-watching again, took our camping neighbor Jim with us. No real excitement, but nice watching the pre-rut interactions of cows, mature and immature bulls.

Our neighbor Jim took these pics after we had left the Park, right in the campground:

After a great 5 days in RMNP, we woke today to a warm (14C) overcast day with some drizzle. Good getaway day. We saw several large bull elk on the way out of the park, then a sizeable herd right in the nearby town of Estes Park. We headed south from Estes Park on hwy 7, aka the Peak-to-Peak highway. Lots of hills. Pretty, but not exciting. At one point the road dipped down into a small valley, and as we went down, a sign advised us "in case of flood, climb to safety". Good to know!

We were aiming for a c.g. near Moab Utah, but weren't sure how far across I70 we were going to get today. It turned out we got all the way, and were camped by 5pm.

I70 followed a Colorado River valley for quite a ways. At one point the highway was 2 levels. Hard to tell in this pic (remember you can see a larger picture by clicking on it), but our 2 lanes were on top. About where our lanes disappear, the oncoming lanes dive down under us. And the Colorado R is down there too.

I70 along the river.

Quite a difference in the towing heights of us and some of the 5th-wheels... and this one wasn't especially big!

The rocks got prettier as we approached Moab Utah.

Weather: overcast 14C to start, warmed up to 27C and mostly sunny in Utah.

Route: RMNP to Estes Park, South on 7, south on 72, then 119 S to Interstate 70. Took I70 west for a looong ways then south on 119 to Moab UT. Camped at OK RV Park, N 38.52011  W 109.48895, el 4600 ft. 

We're signed up for 2 nights, but are considering signing up through to Sat night. There's a lot of nifty stuff to do around Moab. It's a Passport America park, so it only costs $20/night for a full hookup site, onsite laundry, WiFi, cable TV, and best of all after 5 days of "dry camping" in Rocky Mtn Natl Park, hot showers!