We are in the desert. THE DESERT. For whatever inconceivable reason it has rained two nights in a row. Last night was worse. The rain spattered down for all hours of the morning accompanied by some lightning and deafening thunder. It's a strange feeling being in a thunderstorm in the desert. Vast landscapes that you can see 30 miles across make you feel really small. Add in the fact that there are no trees and no buildings, suddenly the RV's metal roof is the lightning rod in the sand. Not the best place to sit. We wait out the wet stuff and watch the storm roll across the landscape.
Today will be our last full day in this landscape. Our waste tanks are nearly full and the water is empty. A grand total of 7 nights has been spent living without hookups and we need to re-charge with provisions. As the afternoon ticks by and the sun finally breaks over the horizon we get a chance for our favorite activity. Taking Eli for a walk. What we didn't expect to run into was a tarantula the size of a clenched fist.
Strolling within a couple feet of us caught me off guard. I stopped and pointed the little thing out to Katie. She then proceeded to have a 10 second long full body convulsion before composing herself. I swear to you, funniest dam thing I've seen her do in years. After collecting her breath she bravely got within a couple of feet and took some pictures. I however still try to act like a 5 year old whenever the opportunity presents itself. What do 5 year olds do to cool spiders? They touch their leg to see what happens. Spidey was frozen stiff and refused to move. A couple of more gentle pokes and I got nothing from it. We let little Spidey go on his way and returned back home. All the while I'm chuckling to myself over watching Katie melt down and re-compose herself in the matter of 30 seconds. It was a good day.
Our third day into boondocking and things are starting to get stale. It's time to shake it up and head into Las Vegas. We are about 45 minutes out of the city. This time we hit the town with a different motive. The last time we were here it was just for two nights. We showed up and parked at an RV park, and then spent the next day walking 12 miles up and down the strip. Now we have a chance to see the regular side of the city. Shirley skews west first and everything appears to be normal. Then it's south until we get to the Las Vegas sign. We missed this last time... so why not today?
So the story goes for the rest of the day. Homeless people are everywhere along with reminders to lock up your stuff, or someone is going to steal it. This was taken in the parking lot for the sign which was filled with tourist and tour buses. Some how you never see this in the brochure.
The line to get your picture snapped in front of the sign was 100 people deep. No way we are going to stand around like a bunch of idiots to get that picture. Back into Shirley and northward bound we go. I take over duty at the wheel and make the executive decision to stay off the highway for the rest of our trip. This proved to be quite interesting. Mile after mile was filled with desolate boarded up buildings and some dam sketchy looking neighborhoods.
Although it looks normal from the picture I can guarantee you it is not. I was busy watching the people and Katie was making sure the doors were locked. I completely blanked out the chance to take pictures of the tents lining the streets filled with people. I'm not talking about stuff for sale either. Just a big tent city filled with people, trash, barbwire, and stray dogs. It was a disgusting site that looked worse than any other place we have been too.
Being back at home safe and sound is a good feeling. A nice little night walk and a desert sunset. Could be worse.
What do you do when you are in the desert with an enduro motorcycle? You ride. That's what you do.
T-Dub is turning out to be the best toy I could have ever bought for our trip around the country. It was $4,600 brand new including tax, title, and license. We discussed the purchase in length before the trip and decided it would be best to just cough up the cash and take it out of our travel budget. So far it's been money well spent and it should only get better with age.
With a couple of hours of my time used up I need to occupy myself for the rest of the day. This blog isn't going to type itself. Let's step into my office and get to slapping on the keyboard.
The rest of the day lazily slips by. A little typing, a little web browsing, and a little bit of watching the clouds go by. It's getting hot and Eli is smarter than us. He's the first one to grab some shade.
An individual can only stand so much black top campingp at a Casino. There is free public land everywhere in the West and we intend to use it. Just 40 miles down the road towards Phoenix is some BLM ground that is just calling our name. It takes longer to pack up than it does to make the drive. We settle in at a bright and early 11 am in our new spot. The temp is in the mid 70's and the sunshine is out in full force. What a lovely day for a walk.
Our little walking tour takes us around the area to see what others have left behind. Over all this place is pretty clean except one section behind a pile of gravel. There we find hundreds of shell casings and a few destroyed computers. Mickey was unlucky enough to get involved in the mix. My guess is that he made some enemy's that wouldn't let him buy his way out. This is Vegas baby. Be careful who you mess with.
Go ahead and be jealous. Not everyone gets to wake up and look at other RV's in the morning. This place feels cozy and many of the neighbors are out chit chatting with one another. Let's go ahead and spend another day here. The casino is cool with us hanging around for 72 hours and we really have no place to be. Eli jumps into the back of Shriley and we buzz a mile down the road to a walking path. Time to get our morning steps in.
I'm bored. What's next? Tripadvisor says that there is a free museum in town. I like free. T-dub gets unloaded from her rack and we don our riding gear to go see the town. What we got was an unexpected surprise.
The museum folks were especially friendly. One of the lovely ladies behind the desk walked up to us after a few minutes with another curator. She just sat down in front of a spinning machine and started making thread out of cotton. All the while explaining the process and town history to us. It was a really nice invitation into the workings of the old town. After that we kept meandering through the building to look at some more stuff.
The first Curator came out and started to talk with us once more. We finally made introductions and Val seemed just as happy as could be. Stories of the cotton plants in the back yard gave us a little more in depth look at the thread we had just seen be made.
The conversation turned to the Pomegranate bush behind us and our visit ended with some fresh fruit right from the source. A little gem of a museum right in the middle of town. Turned out to be a really cool place for some out of town visitors.
We go back home for lunch and I conjure up another scheme. Val from the museum had talked about some local attractions down an old oil drilling road. He said the road was rough going and we shouldn't take anything nice. T-dub just so happens to be sitting outside and we get ready to roll out. After 18 miles of the most pot holed "road" I've ever seen, we end up at Whitney Pockets. An out of place hunk of rock with a bunch of smooth holes in it.
Whitney Pockets also has an old make shift dam. I can only presume it was to hold back water for the drilling operation that ceased to exist years ago.
Just a couple of more miles south is a big sinkhole known around here as devil's throat. Val told us back at the museum that when he was a kid they use to walk inside of it. At that time it was only about waist deep, and really wasn't much to see. Over the years it has continued to collapse and the BLM even put up a fence with a stern warning. Stay out or you could die in a collapse.
I can't see the hole from here. I would think that if they really wanted people to stay out the fence would have been built a bit taller. Seems like it's more for the kiddos.
Probably a good 75 to 100 feet deep.
The day is getting late and we have 21 more miles of tough riding ahead of us. The road had went from ridiculously pot holed broken pavement to gravel and sand river washes filled with rocks the size of soccer balls. T-dub earned her keep today. We get the snot beat out of us for an hour on our drive back home. I swing by the gas station and top off the tank. Verdict: 79 miles on 1.015 gallons. Not too shabby little bike. Not too shabby at all. Time to take Eli down the Casino back alley and past a poor looking old dog who's been locked in a cage for many years. Our old boy doesn't know just how good he has it.
Our cozy home at Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation has come to an end. The luxury of full hookups for $12.50 a night is a tough thing to say goodbye too. However not having a cell signal or TV makes it a little bit easier. Phoenix is the ultimate destination for the end of the month but there is still a problem. Between us and Phoenix lies hundreds of miles of the Colorado Plateau. That elevation means cold weather, and cold weather is something we are getting sick of. Time to head west into the low lying desert of Nevada and warm our bones back up. First we'll need to restock at Wal-Mart. Nearly two full weeks have gone by since we have been shopping and the pantry is empty. Cut us some slack. Our house is 31 feet long. That makes the pantry and fridge a little small on space. Shopping complete it's time to do what we do best. Hit the road.
The noise you hear in the video is what we have to put up with when driving in the mountains. That's the sound of Penny's engine making some noise to slow us down for a change. Bascially the gas turns off but the motor keeps everything spinning. The parasitic drag caused by making everything turn takes energy. Downward momentum turns the wheels, and the engine sucks up that momentum to keep us from careening off the highway from going to fast.
Casa Blanca casino will be our home for tonight. There website says free overnight parking for RV's in designated lots. With this comes security patrols, lighted walkways, and a place to let Eli stretch his legs.
Katie eyed up the Del Taco we passed on the way in. Today is Tuesday. Taco Tuesday. Three tacos for $1.39.... dinner plans have been made.
I'll finish up the crap Utah beer (can only buy cold beer at 4% abv or below) and enjoy the rest of the night with some free entertainment. Nothing like an Elvis impersonator at a casino to let you know that you're in Nevada.
Breathtaking vistas and beautiful backcountry trails are the things Zion National Park is known for. When in fact it is actually an extremely crowded place that has nearly zero available parking spaces for visitors. The signs and brochures had warned us. Park your car in the nearest town and a shuttle bus will bring you in. We, being stupid people, opted for the latter and drove in anyways. Luckily we were able to find the overflow parking that's in the campground and walk to the visitor center tram from there.
Want to see the park? Get your ass in line and enjoy a ride on the tram. They leave every 5 minutes and stay on a tight schedule.
The northern section of the park is off limits to personal vehicle travel. What we thought would be a hassle ended up being the best park transit system I've seen.
Our first walk of the day was a lazy 2.2 mile round trip walk to the Temple of Sinawava. This easy paved path lead us to where the canyons narrow and hiking becomes a trip upstream. Don't want to get your feet wet? Turn around and put your butt back on the tram. We glanced at the trail map and decided on Angel's landing. Looked like fun.
And fun it was. This out and back trail was marked as strenuous because of it's 1,488 feet elevation gain in just 2.7 miles. It was a personal mission of ours to hit the hike with a good pace. Eli is holding down the fort at home and I'm sure he doesn't want to be locked up all day. Then I got a glimpse at the entrance sign and started thinking about where we were really going.
Yep. The sign says people die here. But only seven in the last 14 years? That doesn't sound bad when you take into account how many people go there. See that line of trees in between the mountains? That's a sandstone spine that is 1,400 feet to the ground. It's a shear drop if you step off the path. Oh, and by path I mean some old metal pipe with chains bolted to it so you can have something to hang onto. It's not really that big of a deal. The chains are only in places where the trail is less than 5 feet wide so you don't plummet off the cliff when the wind blows hard... like today. Guess I should hand on tight.
I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start off with the switchbacks on the way up the hill. The backdrop of the canyon is breathtaking. We are getting a good burn and have set a pretty quick pace to make it up the hill.
This is the view from the top of the spine. Take a look at the video below and you'll see what we had to traverse in order to make it. There were a few moments when things got a little tense. Passing people by letting go of the safety chain can wreck your nerves, especially when your foot slips just a couple of inches on the slick sandstone rock. At the 2:09 mark in the video you will see us directly in the middle of the spine. On either side is the shear 1/8 mile drop down. I think I peed a little...
About 25 feet wide here. No chains, no level path. Just don't slip and fall over, or you die.
Today turned out to be something great. Our unexpected plan to take on a trail ranked in the top 10 most dangerous hike in the US paid off. This will be one of those days I'll never forget. This is why we travel. This is why we live on the road.
Today there isn't a whole lot for me to report. We packed up from our spot in Hatch Utah and bombed southeast about 75 miles to the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation. Sound familiar? We were actually here on day 22. We found this gem of an RV park for our last night of hookups before heading down to the grand canyon to help out my buddy Eric. Now we've gone full circle through Utah and hit all of the National Parks except one. We really need to catch up on laundry and just take a day off from the constant movement. Tomorrow we will hit our stride again and see another Utah park. I can only imagine it's full of the same red rock and sandstone arches we have already seen for two weeks.
Today is going to be one of those days. The park is nearly an hour from base camp in the wrong direction. It's also one of the busiest parks in Utah. This is going to be a long day.
We hit up the crowded visitor center and pick out our hike. It's the most popular hike in the park and to top it off we are here on a Saturday. Oh what great timing we have. Queen's garden trail winds 2.8 miles through the heart of the hoodoos, the defining feature of the park. Grab your water and hiking sticks.
After the hike we spent the rest of the day driving to other viewpoints and taking in the sights. We even opted to head further away from home to see a small mossy cave and a tiny waterfall.
It's already late afternoon and time to head home. Another hour in the car will take us to Penny where Eli waits patiently. He's been couped up for about 9 hours and is excited to get out of the house. Our days seem to revolve around walking the dog and making sure he takes care of business. My, my, my, what an exciting life.
Brrrr... it'c cold in Utah. That was something neither of us had planned on. The Colorado Plateau is high in elevation hence the cold weather. There is also a cold front pushing down from Canada and it is chilling this place to the bone. The forecast calls for things to get even colder and we make the call to start heading south. Before we can leave I have some business to attend too. Penny is due up for an oil change and this nice quiet piece of semi dry gravel will work just fine. She get's a nice fresh fill of Mobil 1 and a new filter. This means we have already clocked 3,800 miles on our trip.
We hook Shirley back up and roll through Capitol Reef National Park in order to head south. On our way we past groves of apple, cherry, and pear orchards planted by the mormon pioneers who had settled here a hundred years ago.
From here it's a southwest jaunt through Dixie National Forest. However, there are some hills in the way. Damn this hill is getting steep. Penny is forced to crawl up some of the 10% grades in 1st gear at 20 mph. We give the old girl a break and pull out at a scenic lookout to unhook Shirley.
I can see the temperature dropping on my engine information readout. Holy crap that's snow! Oh you beautiful mountains, you never cease to amaze me.
Another 20 miles of twisty switchbacks wriggles in front of our path. Shirley remains unhooked until we hit the town of Escalante. By then things have calmed down enough that we can hook back up and head to towards the grand staircase. What is that? I don't know. I didn't read anything on it and we don't have a cell signal. It'll will just have to be a surprise for everyone.
Dammit. More twists and turns in the road. The next sign that you can't see says the grades are 14% for the next two miles. Well, it was good while it lasted. Shirley needs to be unhooked once more to err on the side of caution. Going uphill with a load can be a real pain in the ass. Going downhill with a load can be downright scary. There's always a chance of turning our brakes into a ball of smoke and fire if used too much. This is especially true in a gas rig that doesn't have an Jake-brake. At least the view is nice.
We are finally close enough to civilization to have a cell signal again. It's been three days since we have looked anything up online or watched TV. The laundry is piling up and we are both completely out of pants and warm clothes. We find an RV park off the beaten path about an hour outside of Bryce Canyon National Park. It's one of the cheapest ones available but has great reviews.
Upon our arrival Brad comes out to meet us and check us in. He guides us down the 1.5 miles of pothole laden gravel to our parking spot for the night. It's out in the middle of his property which is 1 mile X 4.2 miles long. There is an old golf course on the property and hiking trails galore. We chit chat for a bit and find out the washing machine he had in the clubhouse broke last week. The rains in Utah stopped the delivery service from bringing out another because of road washouts. Great. Another day in the middle of nowhere with no laundry. We forked over $60 for two nights of parking with water/sewer/electric, but could have easily toughed it out in the woods. The whole point of coming here was to park and do some laundry, watch some TV, and catch up on marvelous internet stuff. Now we have no laundry, one station that barely comes in, and 4G cell service that is one bar.... sometimes. At least we can run the space heater in the RV. It's supposed to be in the 20's tonight. Oh well, let's go walk the dog.
Capitol Reef National Park is a 90 mile break in the earth. A long time ago some tectonic plates came together and pushed up a huge wall in the middle of the state. The unique thing about the reef is that the wall is a nice clean break of land. You can see the layers of rock tilted up for miles.
After a couple of miles we wussed out and headed back to the jeep to see a few more viewpoints. The weather is still a brisk 50 degrees and strong winds don't make it any more pleasant. Another day of rain hangs over our heads threatening to make the trails a real nightmare to navigate.
Shirley takes us down the road to the farthest attraction from home. It's another short 1.5 mile hike to a natural bridge in a canyon (It's hard to see in the picture because of the background). Unfortunately for us it isn't that impressive. We are starting to get burned out on the red rock of Utah. Everything looks the same, and we have already seen two of the state's best parks.
Drive down 2 miles of greasy muddy gravel roads in a 31 foot house on wheels
Fill up on water at the local Lion's club park while people stare at you like a weirdo
Drive down to the Maverick gas station for a dump station and wait in line
Drive back to the park to meet the wife and hook up Shirley
Make lunch while planning your next move
Hit the road running to climb out of the river valley and find home for the night
Ah yes another day of unplanned adventure awaits us. We throw a haphazard route together and hit the asphalt at full speed. Today we plan on making it out to Capitol Reef National Park. We know nothing about this place or the mystery that it holds. It's only a couple of hours from Moab... so we are pretty chill about finding a place to call home tonight.
We ended up pulling into a rest area right before the park and unhook Shirley. She takes us up a nearby road for only a couple of miles and we see some beautiful BLM parking just waiting to be claimed.
Eli gets to have his favorite type of walk; unleashed. This gorgeous oasis in the middle of Utah turns out to be a very welcome sight for some wear travelers. No TV, no cell signal, and no radio stations. A little secluded? Absolutely. Guess we'll just have to make do.
Things just keep getting better around here. Katie washes her face in the morning as I’m making coffee. I’m immediately interrupted by “Babe! The water isn’t working. I have soap on my face.” Awesome, another obstacle in the old RV rears its ugly head at an inopportune time in an inopportune place. Katie is forced to rinse her face with some water from a jug and I grab my tool bag and head to the water bay. I diagnose the water pump pressure switch has failed and will need to be replaced. Another 10 minutes go by and I rig the pump up to run without the switch in place to get us by for now.
Crusty old pump from 2004. Motor still works though.
We had originally planned on doing some hiking in Arches National Park but this changes things. Water is a must have for us and we make the call to head to town in search of a replacement pump. This brings up a difficult obstacle for me to overcome. I know I can fix this thing with $25 in parts if I had a shipping address and a couple of days to wait for parts. However I’m forced to buy a new pump, at a 25% premium over amazon prices no less, from a local RV supply store so that we can get our lives back to normal.
This is what $110 looks like when it is connected to a water line. Take note of the soldered and heat shrinked wires, don't be a crap mechanic and use butt connectors.
Now I will say up front that I failed miserably on this day and didn’t take any good pictures. I was too consumed with getting our lives back in order and completely blanked out the fact that I need to include you guys on our day to day survival. Part of this survival includes fixing Shirley up so we can drive her with confidence again.
This repair gave me a little trepidation. I’m more than able to do mechanical repairs, but to do them in the dirt 22 miles from the nearest town with nothing more than a bare bones tool bag is a different story. Well suck it up buttercup. This is life on the road.
New trans mount installed is the black thing
I ended up snapping off one bolt in the frame during disassembly and am forced to go to town. T-Dub gets unloaded and I ride her 22 miles back down to the local hardware store to buy a drill bit and tap. There’s no sense in doing things half assed when I’ve got nothing but time to do it right. Just another day of living in a 13 year old RV with a 20 year old toad. This is life on the road, could be worse.
Know your bolt grades. This metric bad boy is a 10.9 so it doesn't shear off under load.
So my plan of beating on the jeep in the rain puddles backfired on me. The old girl has had a slight rattle from the exhaust hangar hitting the transmission cross-member for a while now and it just go a whole lot worse. The 20 year old rubber transmission mount has finally given up and now there is a whole lot of stuff under the jeep making noise. We head into Moab to kill some time for the day since it is raining. I decide to pull into the car wash to start blasting off a layer of mud in order to either wrench on the jeep myself, or take it to a shop and pay someone else to do it.
A completely different problem that presented itself on the way into town was a terrible vibration and clunking noise in the front end. Turns out I also damaged a bolt that holds the front axle in it's place. The bolt is supposed to hold on to a track bar, except now the hole is a little egg shaped and the bolt has seen better days. Since we were in town I picked up some parts to fix this when we get home. We do some other chores like filling the water jugs and a little grocery shopping. I called a couple of shops and nobody would give me an estimate over the phone for the transmission repair. So we take Shirley back home at a slow steady pace for the front axle repair. I get one repair out of the way and take Eli for a stroll through Utah's back country.
Cold and rainy again. The water trickled down on and off most of the night while we were nestled in bed. It has finally gotten cold enough that I broke down and turned the furnace on during the night. We needed to keep our pets from becoming popsicles during the hours of darkness. With the thermostat set a a balmy 52 degrees the hours of night went quickly. It’s funny how sleeping in the cold messes with your body. Want to have some real vivid dreams that take you on an adventure? Don’t do drugs. Go sleep in a refrigerator.
Katie gets busy with brewing coffee and making breakfast for our day out to the park. I throw on a hoody and a raincoat in order to take care of business. Shirley needs to get her eyeballs fixed so we don’t get pulled over by another park ranger.
The lights for the old cherokee are sealed beam. That means you buy the whole headlight, glass and all, in order to fix the problem. Old school technology that doesn’t exist anymore. I splurged and bought a new set that is much brighter than the cheapy stockers that are in it now. I’ll just swap in the new light and we will be on our way. Or so I thought…
Oh goody. The light wasn’t bad after all. Instead the ground wire in the harness corroded itself into oblivion. Guess I’ll just have to solder that back together so we can go.
It’s finally time to set off and see the park like we wanted too. This place has been on my bucket list since we left on our first trip last year. Let’s see the reason for it’s namesake.
So far the rain has been more of mist and we decide to go for a hike to one of the less visited arches. We make it about a mile in before the heavens let loose on us. You know what? Screw it. We’re here and we are going to keep moving forward.
At the end of every storm is a rainbow they say. This time I’d have to say they were right.
We arrive home late in the afternoon and I get a little stir crazy in the RV. I probably should get out and bash Shirley through some puddles on the sand roads just to make sure the headlight fix is of good workmanship. What a way to end the evening. Life could be worse.
Routine kicks in per usual and the day kicks off with a two mile walk of the dog by our new home. It’s in the 50’s here and the rain has been on and off since Arizona. Remnants of hurricane Rosa are still pushing their way through the southwest making rain fall where it usually doesn’t fall at all.
Luckily our new found spot was Lone Mesa Campground on the highway headed into the park. It’s another tremendous score of free boondocking on some BLM ground. After our daily chores we go and hit up some of the easy hikes that are near viewponts. The drizzly weather keeps us from wandering too far into the park for fear of being soaked to the bone.
Our first look into what the park is all about starts with a sandstone arch that has no guardrail. Get too close to and it’s a 100 foot drop straight down to the rock below.
It’s time to squeeze in a quick hike through the rocks so we can see what this place is all about. A 1.5 mile out and back trail should be fast enough to avoid the precipitation that we can see on the horizon.
With the impending rain closing in we are forced to leave for the day. It’s a steady rain now and we can’t even see the cliffs from the viewpoints. We decide to take a trip 23 miles down the road from base camp back to the town of Moab.
This place is off-road mecca and I want to check out the local vibe. The streets are lined with local shops for everything outdoors. On the drive today I noticed that Shirley had a headlight out. Now we get to do my kind of shopping. We buzz down to the local parts store for some new headlights. While we are at it we also decided to buy some fresh water portable jugs so we can extend our stay without having to uproot Penny from her parking spot. The road in was two miles of rough gravel with some sand in the way for good measure.
All in all it wasn’t the most exciting day that we had been hoping for in southern utah. Hopefully the rain will stay at bay so we can actually get out tomorrow and see the land
Ever wake up in the morning and try to start your RV in a Wal-Mart parking lot but it just doesn't start? I know, happens all the time. There I am at a bright and early 0900. Turn the key and nothing. No noise of the engine turning. No click. Nothing. So I bust out my little tool bag and start going to work on the problem. Follow along as we diagnose our little parking lot conundrum.
Relays- First thing to check is that the electrical relay boxes are in working order. Do they make clicky noises? Yes. That's good. Next thing is to swap them with an identical box and make sure the other thing still works. OK, that's fine. Next step.
Check the starter for power. So it turns out this is getting everything it needs. Well it must be a bad starter solnoid.
Take starter to O'Reillys and get a new one. The new guy who's a little high (we are in Colorado) goes to get a part. Then the seasoned guy will come up and ask if you want the starter bench tested. Heck yeah, I didn't know that was an option. Everything comes back ok.
Go back to the RV with the original starter you thought was bad and be puzzled for the next 1/2 an hour.
Call your buddy Tony and ask for guidance. Tony is a mechanic ninja who can talk you through the most complicated of problems and dumb it down so that even I can understand. He's able to dissect and troubleshoot the problem over the phone with nary a hesitation
Re-install all of the original parts without replacing a single thing.
Turn the key again and the RV starts right up. Ninja Tony explains that sometimes all parts of an electrical system are really OK, but just need to be re-cleaned and re-tightened for proper connection.
Now it's time to leave our pavement boondocking spot and hit the road. Thanks to Ninja Tony and his mad troubleshooting skills life is back to normal. We are full throttle out of Colorado and burning northwest towards Utah looking for home. The rest of the evening is spent with me getting frustrated with Katie in the act of finding parking. We finally score a spot at Lone Mesa Campground after hours of looking around. It's a free place to call home and we are both ready to just call it a night. It wasnt' easy though. The road in was rough and parking spaces were minimal. I said a friendly hello to the neighbors and asked them if we could squeeze in just in front of them. They kindly obliged and our new parking spot was found in the glorious landscape of Utah.
Wal-docking: The act of sleeping overnight at a Wal-Mart parking lot in an rv, bus, van or car.
We rolled into Cortez late the night before and needed to find home with little work. Wal-Mart is usually a pretty solid bet for some free parking. There are exceptions to the rule. Some cities make it illegal to overnight park in any store parking lot. This can be due to a multitude of reasons.
Cities don't want your crappy RV cluttering up there pretty town
Cities site instances of higher crime rates due to an advantageous situation for thugs
RV parks and campgrounds donate money to political members who run for office and they make it illegal (yes this really happens. They site reasons number 1 & 2)
Turns out Cortez Colorado isn't one of these places and we are glad for it. We even decided to be a little greedy and let Penny sit for the rest of the day while we headed out to see Mesa Verde National Park. We bought our tour tickets for 1530 in the afternoon and had some time to kill before seeing the grounds. Time to take care of some mundane chores like laundry and grocery shopping.
Now it's time for the awesomeness that is Mesa Verde. For those of you not in the know it was the first world heritage cultural site. It's a place where the Pueblo indians built their homes inside of cliff alcoves. This was all in the 1200-1300 year range. Drought came and struck the valley hard. Nearly 25 years of dry weather forced the natives from their homes and they migrated south. The structures are still there today, and we get to walk right through them.
What an awesome experience. It's time to cap the day off with some more glorious Waldocking courtesy of you guessed it- Walmart.
A rolling stone gathers no moss. The perpetual movement forward is starting to grind on me. This constant state of motion is difficult and quite expensive. Our bill for gasoline is stacking up and it's burning a hole in the bank account.
Monument valley is on the way to our to Colorado and is definately a bucket list item. It's the picturesque landscape that is Utah. Think of the scene from Forrest Gump when he is running and decides to quit. It's next to jaw dropping monoliths of sandstone surrounded by the backdrop of a clear blue sky.
Son of a bitch. Is that a billboard? An another one behind it? So goes the story of the sacred monument valley. Well folks I'm here to talk the truth and not sugar coat what is really out there. Yes, I could easily grab a picture of some picturesque landscape and tell a fairy tale story. But that's not my style. I'd rather tell you that this whole area has turned into a commercialized tourist trap littered with trash.
We approached the visitor center for monument valley and the fee sign said $20. There is no national park pass accepted here. We are still on native american land and you have to pay to play. I turn my nose up at the imposed fee and Shirley spins a 180 on the road.
Sandstone structures of time stand steadfast in the landscape as we drive by. Their silhouette drapes the backdrop of the modern day native american.
l know it's sad. Sad but true. The city of Kayenta is a little bit scary. It's ranked at 75.3 on neighborhood scout for crime stats. That means it's in the 75th percentile of cities for violent crimes committed against people. Let me put this in perspective for you. We saw a cop walking the parking lot of McDonald's watching tour buses unload. Yeah, it's that bad. We hook Shirley back up to Penny in this very same parking lot and hit the pavement once more. Next on our list is another obligatory tourist stop.
Oh you want to stop and see the infamous four corners do you? That will be $5 a person. We are still on reservation land, and that means we have to pay to see where imaginary lines come together to tell us where the states are. Any other place in the country this would be a free place in the middle of a town or desert. Nope. Not here my friend. This isn't 'merica. This is Navajo land.
Welcome to the Four Corners. Buy your trinkety crap here.
A glimpse out of our windshield in the early morning reveals another surprising desert experience. An additional day in the southwest with a misty rain. Not a whole lot, but enough to mess things up. We're ready to give up this free spot and go in search of another. I've been checking the forecast and it's rain no matter where we go because of hurricane Rosa. Our plan is to head to southwest Colorado before it gets too cold so that we can experience Mesa Verde National Park. That being said we still need to take care of the normal things in the RV lifestyle. One gas station gets visited for gas, water, and sewage dump. The other across the street provides us with propane to fill our minuscule 24 gallon (100 pound) tank. It's enough to last us about 5 weeks at our current rate of consumption. That includes cooking, water heater, fridge (yes fridge), and a little bit of furnace when the temp drops below 50 degrees inside. All that luxury rings up to about $38.
With Penny filled up we hit he road at full steam. The elevation here never ends. It's a tough task for a gas motorhome to pull steep grades at high elevation. On the horizon is a coal plant that gets it's fuel from 80 miles away. The whole reason for it's location is Lake Powell. Water from the reservoir provides ample cooling for the electricity process. It's an ugly scar on an otherwise beautiful landscape, but that's the price we pay in order to turn on our lights at home.
Moving closer to our target I decide to take a shortcut to our next parking spot. Bad move on my part. The road turns to gravel and we are forced to turn around in a neighborhood that isn't made for outsiders. We are still on the reservation and this town is made for locals only. It's very pre-planned and dowright sketchy. The yards are terrible, the windows are boarded up, and a sign upon entrance stated some grim reality: "The reservation police has the right to search any vehicle at any time". No thank you.
With our turnaround complete we finally get back on the road towards our destination. A glimpse of the NPS website shows us that a free campground lies at the base of Navajo National Monument. On our left lies the road to the campsite at 7,200. But there's a catch...
Well crap on a stick. We are 31' 9" long without the motorcycle on the back of the big girl. It's a 9 mile drive one way so we need to make a choice on the gamble. Katie looks at me and says "what are they going to do, bring a tape measure?" Sounds good to me. Let's see if we can find a spot.
We score a spot that we can fit in and head out on the trail. Out in the wilderness of the national monument is a few highlights that we can see. These are the first villages we see of the ancestral puebloan people.
Eli still needs to get walked regardless of the persitant drizzle. A little cold wet weather isn't enough to keep us inside all day. After all, life could be worse.
Rolling out of base camp at the grand canyon wasn't easy. Beautiful forest, splendid weather, and dark quiet nights made that place boondocking heaven. Heading east towards Mesa Verde park is our next goal. We'll see what we can find along the way.
Horseshoe bend shows up on our map searching as we travel. In my mind it's this pristine lookout with a few cars parked on the side of the road. The reality is that the parking lot is extremely cramped and haphazardly thrown together. There are multiple tourist buses unloading mass hoards of people.
Hundreds of people walk the 3/4 mile trail down to the bend and back. It's actually quite disappointing for both of us. We like to think everything in the USA is made for us too see. Having to wander through a crowd of a thousand people to look at a river bend really takes the intimacy out of the experience. We find a piece of viewpoint and snap a quick couple of pictures.
We travel on and see that the nearby town of Page, AZ has a dam that we can tour. Glen Canyon dam holds back the water that is lake Powell. We spend a couple of bucks and take a little walk with the tour guide.
500 ft down to the base. Crap that's a long way to the deck.
One big ass turbine for the hydro power plant
On our way out of the dam tour we spot a brown sign on a gravel road. Shirley points her nose that direction and we read the sign for "Beehive Campsites". Wait a second. Campsites with no fee station? Holy crap this is a free place to stay. We hustle back to town and grab Penny. After a few minutes of driving Penny is perched at her new home for the night. Our view from the windshield is Lake Powell and the rest is Utah countryside. Life could be worse.
Eric and Adam had few options on where to sleep for the night. Our RV is really designed for just two people. They volunteered to sleep in the car but we insisted they could sleep on our couch or kitchen floor. The temp drops down into the low 40's here at night and the RV has a beautiful propane furnace. Everybody rises up at an early 0800. Katie whips together some chocolate chip pancakes and we all spend the morning just shooting the breeze. Eric has been a friend of mine for let's see... 18 years? Shit I'm getting old. Anyways, we've been best friends for a long time. In fact Eric and I bought motorcycles within a couple of months of each other so we could go out and ride. Fast forward nearly two decades and we still get together to cruise. I've got a Yamaha V-Star 650 and he's got a Yamaha V-Star 1100 and a Harley V-ROD. He's excited to take the small enduro out for his first ever off road ride.
Eric scoots out for some off road fun with my gopro strapped to his head. There's no better way to enjoy your day outside the grand canyon than riding through the forest service roads.
The time comes to say goodbye as Eric and Adam pack up to finish their vacation. Watching their car roll out of our campsite makes me realize just how much we give up to live on the road. That will be the last old friend I see for a couple of months. Katie and I look at each other as the realization sets in that we are alone once more with nobody else to break the silence.
We spend the rest of the day just sitting around and relaxing in the woods. The time has come to take our old boy Eli out for a walk. We go just down the road to grab a piece of gravel without any traffic Some flat forest roads will be a great place to get out and stretch our legs.
Huh. Those clouds are gray. Katie looks at me when the first rain drops hit us and we turn around. We didn't plan this well enough and the rain starts pouring down on us.
What a weird way to end our trip to Northern Arizona. A thunderstorm in the woods caps off our weekend excursion.
Just a whole of lot of pavement action today. A friend of mine flew into Vegas and stayed at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon last night. His goal: Hike from one side of the canyon to the other in a single day. It's 21 miles of steep descents and ascents in order to reach the other side. His dilemma: how is he going to get back to his car? That's where we come into the picture of his journey. Shirley is stripped of the kayaks and bike rack in an effort to lose as much weight as possible. We are going for a 400 mile road trip today. Kayaks don't make for good aerodynamics and the cost of poor gas mileage will add up quickly. We'll pick up Eric and Adam's rental car and bring it back to base camp for them.
No Outside of the National park entrances is nothing but Navajo tribal land. The evidence that the tribes have their own laws sprinkles the highway for hundreds of miles. Every scenic pull out installed by the state or federal governmet along the highway is littered with plywood structures filled with trinkets. The only way to pull over and take in the view is to get past the peddlers on the side of the road. This is also true for a lot of the unique land features we would like to see. They are "owned" by the tribe and considered sacred holy land. Coincidentally you can take a look at their sacred grounds if you pay a fee for a guide service to show you around. One of the villages in the Hopi Reservation does not allow tourists to see the town unless you pay $150 a person for a guided tour. No thanks.
The south side of the canyon is extremely crowded and full of tour buses. I'll spare you the photos that you could easily look up online and instead show you something much more exciting. Shirley ticked over the 160,000 mile mark today and we celebrated with some full throttle action. This 4.0 inline 6 is finally broken in and ready to due some major exploring.
Want to poop on the floor? No. The sign says no.
Eight hours into the day's drive and we need to get out for a good stretch. These precariously balanced rocks provide a place to let the Eli get out so he can tell the world he owns that rock, and another, and another...
Look close and follow the squiggly dirt line. That's the trail in the canyon.
We get back to the RV with both cars and drop Shirley off for some rest. It was a total of 380 miles and 10 hours of driving to make the trip. She pulled down an extremely respectable 27.3 mpg on the trip. Most people who know Jeeps would call BS on this. I have been tracking the mileage of every tank and without the kayaks we are getting about 23 mpg on average. Not too shabby. The rental gets packed with our hiking gear and we set off to rendezvous with Eric at the trail head on the north side which is another 25 miles away. A quick glance around and he is nowhere to be seen. I guess we'll hike down into the canyon and provide some emotional support to complete the trek.
Just a tad over two miles down we find Eric and Adam still plunking away. They are 11 hours into the hike and nearly finished. The heat of the day made them smell about as pleasant as a musk ox. Katie and I back off a little bit further to let the breeze dissipate the stank. We breach the top of the cliff at sunset and find the car seat once more. It's back to the RV for beers and spaghetti before everyone turns in for the night. Life could be worse.
Wait a second. This is Northern Arizona? How come it looks like eastern Nevada? I'm confused. Growing up in Wisconsin I've seen pictures of Arizona and Nevada. Every one of them was dirt, mountains, and sage brush. Throw some cacti in for good measure and you've got yourself the typical southwest. How come nobody ever shows pictures of the tree lined hillsides? Admittedly there aren't a lot of trees we have seen in either state so far. One thing they have in common is that they all seem to be high up in the sub-alpine elevation. Stay low.. sand and sage. Go up high and life burst from the soil in acts of defiance.
Moving on to the visitor center at North Rim gives us what we came to see. A giant crack in the earth. I thought for sure that I wouldn't be impressed after all the things we have seen on our travels. I was wrong. The views are astonishing but still a bit limited. The north side of the park is only seen by approximately 10% of all visitors to the Grand Canyon. It's more intimate than the south rim. The crowds are smaller and the visitor village is quaint. The price for the small crowds is a limited view of the canyon. It's in kind of a U shape and we are at the wrong side of the U to see it all.
It's here that Katie and I mend our broken fences when we both realize that our fight was over something stupid. It's time to move on and make up in our own special way.
Some local suds on tap is an indulgence on the trip. Our budget is tight, so these beers at $7 a piece are the first time we have spent money on anything not from a grocery store. We are both a little snobbish when it comes to our hops and enjoy the craft brews much more than cheap swill you can buy by the case. From here we travel back to home and take a side trip up to imperial point. It' a 20 minute drive up a steep twisting road to catch another view of the park. It's nothing special, so we head home. On the way home Shirley is using up her brakes and I spot a Park Ranger coming at us head on. Just out of instinct (it's a long story) I watch his truck in my mirrors as he passes. Shit. I saw his brake lights come on just before disappearing around the corner. You never use your brakes going uphill. Sure enough smoky the bear turned around and was barreling towards us. Katie realizes that she saw one of Shirley's brake lights out just before we left. I crack a smile and wait for the inevitable.
After smoky tailgates us so close I can't see his license plate for 3 miles he finally pulls us over. I've got all the windows down in the jeep and turn it off to hopefully put him at ease. My hands come up and I put both of them on top of the steering wheel (again... it's a long story) He comes up to the rear driver window and sticks his head in just a little. While asking us normal questions about why we are being pulled over he is looking pretty hard inside the jeep. He runs our plates, and then returns to ask us more questions. Where are we coming from? Where are you going? Where are you staying? What brings you guys here? Now this whole time I'm playing nice because an hour ago I had a single beer. Unfortunately for me a single beer means my breath smells like alcohol for the next 4 hours. I know I'm not intoxicated but I just don't want to go through the hassle if the question comes up. This guy didn't pull me over for a brake light. We were profiled for driving an old vehicle and he is looking for more. We are, in essence, being harassed.
Nearly five minutes of questioning and chit chat disguised as more questioning passes until he is satisfied enough to let us go on our merry way. It's the first time I've dealt with a police officer on duty since April of 2008, and it does not bring back fond memories. We finally get home for the night and settle in for the next day's adventure. My buddy is on his way and he needs a little help.
Some free National Forest parking for the next few days
Twenty three days of being locked up in a 30 foot box with the same person is starting to take it's toll on us. Katie and I decided it would be best if we just didn't talk to each other for a day or two. We each have our own outlets for blowing off some steam. My activity of choice is making Penny look a little more presentable as we travel down the road. The next 6 hours of my day is spent washing, waxing, and polishing the old girl to make her as pretty as possible. The hand waxing is what did me in and my fingers are sore from all the buffing. We get together for a quick dinner and decide it's still quiet time for both of us. Not all days are perfect, but that's just the way it goes. This is life on the road.