Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

B Loop in the South Rim Campground – with electric hookups

Richard gets crazy ideas sometimes. Like you’d say, “No seriously, that’s a crazy idea.” When I take online personality tests, my profile always comes out as some version of: “The Helper.” So this dynamic plays out in sometimes unhealthy ways where I put a lot of mental and emotional effort into helping him do crazy things. A non “helper” person might smack him instead, or challenge his ideas with an “Oh Hell No” from time to time. We’re working on that.

Lunch stop on lovely Highway 114

Meanwhile, I can report that our drive from Great Sand Dunes up to Interstate 50 via Highway 114 through the Rio Grande National Forest was totally delightful. Once again, my Facebook brain trust came through with great information on that route. What was lacking was our understanding of the scope of the road closure on 50.

Regrouping at Pine Creek upon realizing, “Oh, you mean closed, closed.”

After meandering happily up 114, pleased with the gentleness of the grade and overall lack of traffic, as compared to going over Monarch Pass via 50 like we did before, we thought the hardest part of the travel day was over when we reached Gunnison. Our plan was to re-provision there and take care of some things that required cell service. Neither plan worked very well, due to severely limited bandwidth, both in the way of grocery store stocking, and in cell service. Richard got just enough service to get him frustrated with work and I found basically nothing on the shopping list. And in that mood, we headed on to the road closure at 50.

Waiting it out

We knew there was massive construction. Duh. We did see the signs. And we knew there was a detour recommended via 92. But then we left behind existing evidence and convinced ourselves that when the light up signs said “limited number of vehicles allowed through” that was essentially the same as all the other closures we’ve been through where you line up and wait for a pilot car to ferry you. No big deal. Google literally said it was a “5 minute delay” and taking the detour would have added hours, so we kept on going. Once we got stopped by the flag person, we realized that really they only let people through between certain hours of the day. So we pulled over, did a regroup, and calculated out specifically how much longer it would take to go all the way around via Highway 92 vs wait until 5:30. It was already 4:30, so we opted for the latter and went and got in line.

This is what you’d call major construction

There were already a dozen or so cars in front of us and many people had put out camping chairs to pass the wait. We hung out in Dory and had snacks, enjoying the fact we had a bathroom. Thankfully, it was not all that hot. By 5:45, the allotment of Eastbound cars, perhaps a hundred? had passed by us from the other direction and our pilot car lead the Westbound parade. As we descended the hairpin turns and followed the narrow canyon, it became clear why the whole dang thing needed to be shut down for most of the day. Tons of rocks were being blasted off the canyon walls and somehow shoved into huge boulder piles along the sides. I assume the eventual purpose is to widen the entire highway along that stretch and it is quite a thing to see something of that scope in process. Nevertheless, upon exiting the construction, it had been a long day and I was pooped. We got up to the campground not too long before sunset and collapsed.

Yes please, I’d like a permit to tumble to the bottom of this. I have to wait hours to get a permit to do that? No problem. You won’t come rescue me until the next day? Sounds great. Lots of people get lost on this? Super.

The next day was a fact finding mission and do-over shopping excursion down into Montrose. Both were far more successful. And here’s where we get to Richard having crazy ideas. Ever since the positive canyon hiking experience in Bryce, he has become interested in canyon hikes. And when I say “interested,” I mean pseudo obsessed. The North Rim hike only served to reinforce his new passion, so he had already done a lot of research about the canyon hikes here. I was already a solid “no thanks” on this one, even before the trail conditions were described to me. Over a mile of basically straight down, to the point you have to scramble on your butt and hold onto chains, only to then have to hoist yourself back up did not sound like something I should be doing, even with a healed foot. But he was set on it and went and sat in line for a couple hours at the visitor center in order to be among the first 15 people that would be issued a wilderness pass to do the hike the next day. He was thrilled to have been lucky number 13 in line and we prepped for his descent and (hopeful) ascent.

Successful journey all the way to the bottom! Well done!

He got an early start on the day, had enough food and water for the entire day and then some. He was super nervous about getting lost because he is terrible at directions and relies on me for that. His plan was to stop frequently, turn around, and take pictures, so that he could find his way back. The trail descriptions did state it was a common occurrence to get lost on this largely unmarked wilderness trail, so that added to his anxiety. After he left, I had a half day to kill so I drove all the way, about sixteen miles, back down into Montrose to update the blog and just have a look around town.

Just an easy stroll back to the top.

I got back up a little before 1pm, which was the tentative time we’d assigned when I could start wondering when he might be back. I wasn’t allowed to worry until 2 and wasn’t allowed to send rangers down after him until 3. Happily, just as I was driving out of the campground to go get service to try to text him, there he was, walking up the campground road. He was elated and thrilled to be alive and out of the canyon. He downloaded all the details and, to me, it sounded horrific. In his state of euphoria, he made it sound exciting. I wasn’t until a couple days later, and once the debilitating leg muscle cramps set in, that he started to see this as maybe not something he would want to ever, ever, do again. It was gruelingly steep, mostly following a rocky wash running down the canyon wall. He was on all fours much of the time. He said it was fun to reach the river at the bottom, but it was too cold and swift for swimming or cooling off. He paused there for a little while before beginning the scramble back up. He found another guy to do the ascent with, but that guy kept getting lost and Richard couldn’t look at his phone pictures the way he planned because he needed his hands to climb. Also, the reader glasses he needs in order to see his phone were too covered with sweat to use. The one strategy he used that worked was to name visual markers in the trail. Like he named something “brain rock” which he then recognized on the return and he knew to keep to the left there. When he finally got to the killer switchbacks at the top of the trail, that came as a relief. It’s now been four days after he did this and he is slowly regaining the ability to walk normally. He says it was the down that was the killer part more than the up. He is not so obsessed with being a canyon hiker now, at least not on that kind of trail, and he survived to learn the lesson, so that is something.

An unexpected old train just hanging out by the dam

As for the rest of our time in the park, we enjoyed taking an afternoon drive out to see the Gunnison River in a much, much easier way by going to the Mesa Creek Trailhead at Morrow Dam. There is a very small store at the turnoff where a guy looking like “Conspiracy Santa” sells strange things, but also Klondike Bars next to other frozen things Richard did not want to guess about. We followed the little trail along the river, slowly, and I noted how I too was able to get to the Gunnison River, but without going on the ridiculous Testosterone Torture Trail. The snark goes against the results of my personality test, but those things are probably BS anyway.

Dragons View – see the dragons?

The last day in the park we spent going up and down the national park road, stopping to go out to all the lookouts. This is about when Richard started not being able to walk normally. He can still ride his bike luckily, because different muscles I guess. He just can’t step off curbs anymore. To polish it off, we decided we’d earned a run back down to Montrose where there is a Baskin Robbins. Because my brain is always preparing me for possible future trauma, I ventured, “I hope it’s not closed.” Richard thought that was a laughably improbable thing to even have cross my mind. Guess what though. It was at least only mostly closed, but you could still get ice cream if you went through the Dunkin Donuts Drive Though. They were out of hot fudge. And chocolate sauce. Or strawberry sauce. But they had caramel. And it was delicious.

Unexpected cow.

It was a nice long stay, with some lessons learned in multiple categories. Just about every afternoon it rained. Sometimes it rained hard. Sometimes there were lightning fireworks shows. We never did get to see a ranger talk or a sunset. But we did see a ranger herd a wayward cow, so that seems a fair trade.

Total Miles: 226.3, 18.8 mpg. Site Loop B 15. Electric hookups. Water spigots in loop to fill water bottles or jerry cans, but no hose hookups. No service in campground. ATT can get 1-2 bars of LTE from Tomichi Lookout. Verizon can get 1-2 bars LTE from Rim Road on ridges that look down on Montrose. Occasional service at some of the other lookout points. No dump.

Great Sand Dunes NP

Pinon Flats Campground

National Park #9 on this trip and we are feeling good. We’re probably finally hitting our stride right at the point where we need to start making our victory lap to return homeward. But let’s not think about that yet. It was an easy drive up from Taos and we even saw a blue R-series Alto along the way! I don’t think we’ve had any other sightings “in the wild” on this trip. Which is strange because I think there are quite a few of them on the road either just ahead of us or just behind us.

Tempting fate…

With just about twenty miles left on the drive, Richard hopped out and rode up to the visitor center. Way to bounce back from the hail ride! There were threats of rain on all sides, but leap frog was much easier on the run up to the park, so he kept going. We needed to dump and fill tanks before setting up in our site so we made a quick stop before the Pinon Flats Campground. This is quite a nice national park campground, but you need to be careful reading the dimensions of the pad. We were just fine, but we saw some awfully big rigs squeezing into tight corners. There were rangers and campground hosts patrolling the grounds too, so if you mess up and can’t fit, they will boot you. About the only downside to the campground is that there are mosquitos this time of year – a lot of them.

We took it pretty easy with three nights and two full days. I can happily report that my right foot is now healed enough that I can wear normal shoes! I even went on a couple of 2+ mile hikes and did not feel any ill effects. That makes this about a three week setback from one stupid spider. At least that was all though and now I can get back into person-who-hikes-sometimes mode.

View of dunes from Observation Point

The first one we did was up to an observation point where you can really see the dunes from the top down. That is a beautiful trail. You can continue up further and eventually get out to some wilderness campsites. Or you can take it as far as the “Point of No Return” dirt road parking area and then head down to the dunes. They say you can only take 4wd high clearance vehicles past the Point of No Return road. I asked about the Passport and they did not recommend it. I took them at their word and really did not want to get stuck in the sand, so we didn’t bother trying to drive it. From the hiking trail, you can see the parking area and make out the little Jeeps that continue on from there.

Tiny campground stores are super fun.

As a reward for the small hike, we stopped at the tiny campground store to get an ice cream sandwich. That is a super fun thing to have a store right at the end of your loop! They had just about everything you could imagine being a necessity (ice cream is obviously a necessity) if you are out camping. They are open from 2pm to 7pm daily, at least while we were there those were the hours. Then we relaxed in our Nemo chairs, covered in Deet.

Most excellent water bottle sling

I want to give a huge shout out to my Santa Fe friend, Marcy. She gifted me a hand crocheted water bottle sling, which turns out to be the most handy thing ever for hikes. It hangs at the just the perfect height and means my hands can be free for trekking poles. Thank you Marcy!

The next day we went out to the Zappata Falls trail – I drove and Richard biked the eight miles from the campground to the turn off. Getting to the trailhead involves driving up a very steep and rocky unpaved road for about three miles. They were doing some kind of construction work on that road, which made it extra fun and rocky. The Passport handled it just fine, but boy, Bruce2 needs a bath now. There is a primitive campground way up there, which I cannot imagine is for anything except tents or very small RVs. It’s a climb of about a thousand fee up that dirt road.

Rather rough road

From the parking area, you can hike uphill about a half mile to the falls. We knew that you’d need to wade in the river a little if you wanted to actually see the falls, because it is around a corner. It was surprisingly crowded considering how daunting a drive it was to get there. But maybe southwestern people are more used to unpaved roads than we are. In the end, I decided not to do the river wade. I could have done it barefoot, but didn’t want to slip. Or I could have done it in my shoes, but didn’t want to walk back to the car in wet socks. After three weeks of being careful with my foot, it just didn’t seem worth it to do anything stupid. And I’ve seen plenty of waterfalls. As it was, the river was nice and you could feel the cooling mist in the air from the spray just a few feet away.

Almost like being at the beach

That afternoon, we hiked down to the dunes from the campground. There is a water flow at the base which made for a much safer way to wade in the water. The dunes were ….. sandy. Not sure what else to say about that. Big and sandy and hard to walk up. Richard went a ways toward the top but was getting sand blasted by the wind. I stayed and played in the water a bit and then we headed back to Dory for dinner.

Cool sand dunes; could even call them Great

That evening, three huge RVs pulled in as part of a group from Texas. It was quite the entertainment watching them get all set up. We counted twelve bicycles stowed in one of the truck beds and on a big bike rack. There must have been at least that many children/young adults in their group. Just watching the big trailer next to us getting set up and leveled was an impressive sight. It was a tight fit for all three of their rigs. I will say, considering how many of them were in their group, they were not overly noisy. We noticed their reservations were for one night and that is just a whole lot of set up for a one nighter. I’m tired just thinking about it.

This stay marks the furthest we go on the eastward side of our outer loop. Now we track back west. We’ve still got two more national parks to hit on the way back, and some odd stops thrown in to cut the miles on slog days.

Total miles: 112.6, 16.7 mpg. Site 73 Loop 2. No hookups. Shady site, so minimal solar. Good dump and potable water fill. No or very little service. Tiny trickles of service for Verizon. The whole valley is better for Verizon than ATT.

Taos Valley RV

Nice and safe and predictable

This location was a weather related change of plans. It felt like an emergency to us, but really it was just our shock at experiencing actual weather events that had us seeking the comfort of a KOA type place rather than another state park. Backing up to leaving Heron Lake, our plan had always been to take Highway 64 over a smallish mountain pass and have Richard ride part of that. We looked up weather forecasts for the day and saw that possible thunder storms would be rolling in around 2pm. We figured we had enough time for Richard to ride to the summit and we could meet up there. We were very, very wrong.

Nice pretty start to Highway 64. Gosh, everything is so green and lush…

It started out nice enough, with the only problem being that there were next to no turnouts or places where I could pull over with Dory to wait for Richard. When I SAG him in unknown territory, we usually play “leap frog,” where I pass him, find a pull out spot, wait for him to pass me, and so on. We give each other a thumbs up as we pass to make sure all is well. That gives him the ability to bail if something comes up. The problem happens when I have to drive a long way before I can pull over. It’s easier when it’s just me in the Passport, but with Dory, I need a legit spot, well off the road. It’s also easier when there is cell service so we can communicate.

When southwest people say “monsoon season,” they are not kidding.

There was one spot where I waited a good while, passing the time by cleaning up a water bottle spill that had gone under the Chilewich carpeting. We both saw weather on the horizon but Richard opted to keep going toward the summit. I gave him a good head start and continued up the road, passing him quickly. The grade was getting steeper and the skies were getting darker. I must have had to go another five miles before I found a pseudo safe place to pull off to the side of the road. I got out and took some nice pictures but heard thunder. No sign of Richard. I got back in the car and it all happened pretty quickly. The rain started falling in big huge drops that turned to hail almost immediately. It got really intense and I could not see the road, ahead or behind me. I put on the emergency lights, hoping anyone traveling would see me over to the side, but I was also really worried about Richard being out in that. 

Poor wet Sweetie got hail nailed.

I knew I couldn’t turn around safely with Dory in tow. I pondered unhitching her, which we later decided would have been a bad idea. It seemed an eternity before I saw a small dark spot in the rear view mirrors that could only have been him. The hail was pouring down at that point, pummeling the roof of the car to the point I thought it might break the windshield. I could see Richard was struggling to pedal forward, but slowly he made it up to the car. He dropped his bike and got into the passenger seat, dripping wet and shaking. He lost it for a while, which I totally understood. That was hands down the worst biking experience he’d ever endured. We stayed there for a while until he could get out of the soaking wet clothes and into something mostly dry. Then we just waited for enough of a break to be able to throw his bike in the back.

Better. Clearing in the distance.

We made it up to the summit where there was a safer place to pull over. We both went inside Dory and just sat. Eventually, we decided we’d better get off the mountain. I drove with flashers blinking most of the way down. Happily, everyone else seemed content to go slow and there wasn’t much traffic up there. Once we’d descended a couple thousand feet from the ten thousand foot summit, the skies started to clear and we could see blue over the Taos valley. Cell service started to return and that was when I asked if there was a KOA in town. The idea of driving another forty miles up into another mountain range to get to Eagle Nest Lake was not resonating with me. Plus, my whole purpose in staying in that area was to visit Taos. So Richard called a well reviewed private place and got us set up for two nights with hookups. Bliss.

Touristy Taos things…

The rest of our stay in the Taos area was undramatic. We did touristy things and ate out, all much easier to do from town. Taos Pueblo remains closed, but we knew that going in. We got to see the main drag and central plaza, and found a Baskin Robbins. We also did a load of laundry and dried out all the soaking bike clothes.

Eagle Nest Lake from our intended site

For our full day sight seeing tour, we drove the Enchanted Circle (pronounced “Ed Shannon Circle” if you are hearing impaired and your husband mumbles. I wondered for a while who Ed Shannon was that he got a circle named after him). Instead of starting and ending at Eagle Nest Lake, with a drive through town, we did the reverse. We checked out our site in the campground and it was very pretty. No regrets, mind you. It was not boating weather, but I could imagine it being a nice place for a paddle. Everything up there is green and lush, with wildflowers dusting the meadows in a medley of summer colors. But also, it rained a lot, explaining the dense greenery. We were happy in the nice dry valley with restaurants and stores and service.

“Earthships Way”

We got in a brief visit to the “Earth Ships” in the afternoon. This was something I spotted on the way in that made me wonder what I was seeing. Curiosity brought us their website, which noted tours and a visitor center. We learned that this is a sort of experimental community whose goal is to build dwellings using as many recycled materials as possible and design them in such a way as to be minimally environmentally impactful. They are mostly built underground, using car tires and mud to create an insulated outer structure. They all use solar systems and recyclable water filtration to maximize efficiency. Most of them are built with whimsical and unique designs. Most of them have huge glass walls for greenhouses. You can walk around some of the demo dwellings, but this is also a living community, so there are boundary no trespassing signs letting you know your limits. It was an intriguing stop.

Me on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

After that, we stopped for photos above the Rio Grande Gorge and then onto dinner at Orlando’s. That was fantastic and we were not the only people who seemed to know about it. It opens at 5 and there was a line to get in by then. I recommend the Los Colores Enchiladas. YUM.

It was a short visit and I know we missed the main event by not being able to see the pueblo. But we were happy with the parts we did get to see, and even happier to be out of mountain hail storms.

Total miles: 95.7, 19.1 mpg. Site 49, electric and water hookups. Dump looked ok, not great, but had a line, so we skipped and dumped at Great Sand Dunes. LTE for both of us, but it was slow. Laundry facilities. Looks like it once was a KOA, exactly the same look and feel.

Heron Lake SP

Nice campground with hookups and quite a bit of weather

Monday we drove down the mountain and through the narrow ancient streets of Santa Fe one last time as we continued our journey up north. Had we followed our original plan, we would have doubled back down south to get to Heron Lake. Now we got to see Highway 84 as it entered a very beautiful part of New Mexico.

Echo Amphitheater – Very pretty part of New Mexico

We stopped for lunch at a place called Echo Amphitheater. This is a striking sight just off the highway, with a primitive campground at its feet. There was no water and the bathrooms were closed, but there seemed to be sites available as first come first served. We spotted a New Mexico Whiptail Lizard and enjoyed the view.

The state park campground at Heron Lake has huge sites that are spaced generously far apart. We had electric and water hookups so we could live it up a little. Although honestly, the solar and lithium battery system on Dory2 has been outstanding. Barring the ability to use the AC, there has been nothing we can’t do in terms of power. We got another lightning storm that night, continuing the theme of “monsoon season” in the southwest.

Though my foot was looking and feeling decidedly better, I was not aiming for paddle time in the lake. Had that been part of my plan, it would have been a long drive and/or walk down to the water line. Instead, we planned our full day in the area to go out and see some of the land made famous by the presence of Georgia O’Keefe. Richard started off with a ride south on 84 and a meetup spot at about 20 miles. From there we drove down toward Abiquiu.

“Ghost Ranch” Resort

One of the places we passed on our way up was called “Ghost Ranch,” and I was curious about what that was. The land around it looked as though someone had come out and painted a giant mural depicting the quintessential southwest scene. That, combined with the little cabins and archway made out of antlers at the start of the entry road, made it all seem not quite real. As we continued down the drive, we came to a guy stationed under a shade canopy, who seemed to be a combination security checkpoint and information person. The gist the place seems to be that it is a spiritual resort if you want to rent a cabin, or room, or campsite. You can do restorative activities, like yoga or meditation, or adventurous activities like try the ropes course or explore the wilderness. Or you can check out the archeological museums. Georgia O’Keefe left her mark there by spending a couple of summers there to paint landscapes. That was enough to satisfy our curiosity, so we drove back out.

Road 554 heading to Plaza Blanca

Our real point of interest destination was the Plaza Blanca, but we stopped and had a look at the Georgia O’Keefe information center on our way. That is a very upscale, fancy building where you can watch movies and take tours and learn about her life and work. Just a bit south of that is the way to the Plaza Blanca, where she spent a good deal of time. Continuing down 84, if you turn onto NM 554 to cross the Chama River, and then turn left onto a small one lane road, 155, you go about three miles before you come to a big gated archway with the words “Dar Al Islam.” We expected to be able to go through this, but it was securely closed with a large, yet decorative, metal gate. Off to the sides, there were cameras and an entry keypad, powered by two mounted solar panels, all very high tech. Taped to the gate were instructions for how to “register” in order to enter the area. You can do this online, over text, or over the phone. Richard followed the directions and got an immediate text response.

The land is owned by Dar Al Islam Mosque and Islamic Education Center. They have apparently always welcomed visitors into this special place, but are now requiring registration and an agreement to follow their rules. All of the rules are straightforward: you must be older than 18, groups of no more than 6, no climbing rocks or straying from the trails, no vehicles past the parking area, promise to keep area clean, etc. It all seemed aimed at protecting the land, so one assumes there have been jerks out there. Now they have to be more carful with whom they let in. They also ask that you do not share pictures on any kind of social media, so sorry, you’ll just have to use your imagination.

Once Richard was texted the key code, he punched it in, and the wide metal gates started slowing swinging open. It was exciting, like an Indiana Jones adventure. A short way up the dirt road, we came to another gate. It took the same entry code and swung open just like the first one. It was a short drive to the dirt parking circle where I was able to see a great deal of the canyon. Sadly, at this point, I was not recovered enough for the quarter mile hike down into the canyon proper. But I had a nice view where I could wait while Richard did it. He took lots of pictures for me, but I can’t post any of them. Womp womp.

The best way I can describe the canyon is that it is like a bone white version of a mini Bryce. It’s a very short and narrow canyon, with hoodoos cut by rain runoff. You can tell composition of the rock is very delicate and must erode quickly with every rainstorm. What is left behind is an intricately sculpted valley, where some of the patterns on the walls have a spider webby look. There are deep notches, and wind holes, and impossibly balanced layers, just waiting to come crashing down. I highly recommend finding this place if you are in the area. It’s a short walk, but somehow the magical gates made it even more exciting.

Such a beautiful part of the country

We only had two nights in the area, but this day trip was well worth it and about an hour’s drive south from Heron Lake. We got this tip, along with the plethora of other tips, supplied by Rhea and it was a great one! Definitely the highlight of this stay.

Total miles: 109.2, 19.7 mpg. Site 56 in Blanco campground. Electric and water hookups. Good LTE for both. Good dump but no water for rinsing or for filling fresh tank. Gas station right at highway before turnoff to state park. Boat launch somewhere but we didn’t check it out. Deep gravel for sites and campground roads.

Black Canyon, NFS – Santa Fe

Site 23 – quite spacious

This was our flexibility stop. Full stop. Just stop. Stop and take time for self care. Stop and spend down time with the Kindest People on Earth. Stop for communal dinners and quality chatting. And stop trying to rationalize the whole foot thing, hoping it will go away. It was a good stop and a healing stop. But mostly, it was my favorite stop, with the fewest scenery pictures taken, but the most time spent kicking back with good people.

Highway 66 through Albuquerque

Our drive in took a bit longer than expected because I opted to cross Albuquerque using 66, right through the middle of town, rather than navigate the highway interchanges. I do not regret that, and we got to see some kind of major police activity downtown for a little excitement. About all we know about that city comes from “Breaking Bad,” so we assume it was a drug bust. That’s how little we know about the area.

Long windy drive up to the campground

The campground is about seven miles outside of Santa Fe, all up and into the mountains. It’s a pretty drive, but you lose cell service immediately. We originally had reservations for three nights, split between sites 7 and 8. Then 8 opened up, so our first night was on a different reservation number, but for the same site. This ended up being confusing to the campground hosts, but they had other ideas in mind for us anyway. Apparently, they get a lot of complaints from people in sites 7 & 8 because those are right across from them and they need to run their generator a lot. So they talked us into taking site 23, which was much larger and nicer. The only caveat was that it wasn’t guaranteed for three nights. We decided to take our chances and set up there. Then we came back down the hill to have dinner with Altoistes friends, Rhea, David, and Marcy, at the Tune Up Cafe. That was an outstanding welcome and fun introduction to the area. We left sated, with a robust sight seeing tour, and midday internet access for Richard, all meticulously planned for the next day.

Quite the home improvement project!

Then Wednesday night happened and my foot became much more of a concern. What was dull pain and a sort-of-kind-of sense that things were getting better, took a sharp turn into the land of “no really, this is bad,” and a mostly sleepless night. We decided now was the time to find an urgent care and get it looked at. Meanwhile Richard’s bike tire turned out to have been completely shredded somehow, so that ended the bike ride to Marcy’s house for service. Our downtown historic tour of Santa Fe went out the window, in favor of waiting rooms and CVS. Rhea was awesome and drove up to help with logistics while Richard was on his work call and I was waiting to be seen. For the record, Rhea said way early on that it was probably the spider and should be looked at. And she was entirely right. Always listen to Rhea.

The official most likely diagnosis to the foot mystery is Spider Bro. Goddamn Spider Bro. The urgent care doctor was quite confident that the damage was not caused by abrasion or blisters from hiking, and though she’s never seen anything exactly like this, she was pretty sure it was due to an insect encounter gone bad. It is certainly systemic and spreading. She called in a dermatologist too, which made me feel better. They were both genuinely interested in seeing my day-by-day photo album, documenting the progression, so that now feels like less of a crazy thing for me to have done. In fact, when someone asks me to publish this in a well respected medical journal, I will be well prepared. The dermatologist concurred and they prescribed a course of antibiotics, elevating it as much as possible, and a follow up visit to my primary care when I get home. What a random thing to have happen on a trip and who would have ever dreamed a spider could cause so much trouble! I catastrophize a lot of things in my head, but I’ll admit this one was not on my list of things to pre-worry about.

Richard snuck in a ride, just under the rain

I spent the afternoon at Rhea and David’s. They are in the middle of a major home expansion project, so it was extra nice of them to have us over. They provided lunch on their covered patio, ice packs, and tequila on the rocks. Like really, really good tequila, the kind in a bottle that would look at home in a castle a couple hundred years ago. Richard, Rhea, & David managed some impressive logistics with cars so that Richard could ride across the old Santa Fe Trail, end up at their house with his bike, and get a ride back to our car with us inside, all before dinner.

Wonderful dinner, with cold beer and an elevated foot

We topped off the day with an excellent dinner at Marcy’s. She has the most beautiful home, right in the middle of old Santa Fe. She is very well set up for entertaining and provided an absolutely delicious meal. It was a wonderful evening and all that was missing was Marcy’s husband, Steve the Butterfly Guy.

With our first set of Santa Fe touring abandoned, we intended to follow up the next day with an all day trip through the Jemez Mountains, with Rhea and David as our own personal geologist guides. But then Friday morning happened and we found out our campground hosts were confused and befuddled and insisted we did not have any kind of reservations at all for that night. Given there is very little you can do with no service, combined with a call Richard had to be on at 10am, we ended up spending that whole morning getting cell service, sorting things out, and moving to another site. We didn’t get it all taken care of until after 1. Rhea was endlessly patient with us and trimmed our full day tour down to about four hours, starting with the already packed picnic lunch at her place. It was a drive-by Jemez tour, but it was still very beautiful and had the benefit of me keeping my foot up instead of driving. I did get a couple of pictures of the Valles Caldera and the Bandelier National Monument, but the true beauty was in the metamorphosis of the landscape as we drove. The caldera is huge and climbs several thousand feet. So when it was 104º down below, it was 50s and raining up above. It really was a nice tour, though the slow version sounds like it would have been nice too.

Rain over Bandelier

We got to enjoy another dinner out at Arable, where Marcy met us. Then we did some rethinking about the weekend. Originally, we were going to be back at Durango, then switched to Mesa Verde to meet up with other friends. Then the reality of all that driving settled in and we decided it was best to just stay put and continue with our Monday reservations at the not too distant Heron Lake rather than do the whole up and back.

This freed up a lot of downtime on Saturday and Sunday, and much of it for me was spent sitting in my Nemo chair, foot up, zoning out or looking at caterpillars (I need Steve the Butterfly Guy to identify an interesting one!). We also chatted with our neighbors, Dave and Cindy. They are from Borrego Springs (near Anza Borrego) and own two restaurants there. They are super nice and have been hit hard by COVID related closures. If you are anywhere in the area, please check out The Red Ocotillo and the Coyote Steakhouse.

We did need to dump tanks over the weekend, since we weren’t being mindful of waste water at all, thinking we would only be there three nights. We came to find there is no water whatsoever in the Black Canyon Campground. Nor in nearby Hyde State Park. Luckily we had one more dinner planned at Rhea and David’s and they were kind enough to let us fill jerry cans from their hose. Marcy got to bring her sister along too and a wonderful time was had by all. Seriously, what great people.

Sudden hail storm – took shelter under a tree (did not help)

Saturday night, we weathered an overnight lightning storm that lit up the whole sky and shook the trailer with the thunder booms. Sunday, we did some grocery shopping in town, got caught in a major hail storm, and said a fond farewell to Rhea and David. We really cannot thank our Santa Fe friends enough for all their hospitality. They are the best hosts ever. They let us use their laundry facilities, showered us with care, and helped us tremendously when we really needed it. This was a far cry from the “Plan A” sight seeing trip I had imagined. I have very few pictures of lovely Santa Fe but a whole album chock full of spider-based foot grossness. I am confident that if we had not done a full stop here, things would be worse now. This was a good call and we are so incredibly lucky to know such kind and wonderful people.

Total miles: 172.6, 16.4 mpg. Site 23 and 28. Very nice sites actually, with paved level areas for picnic table(s). Sites 7 & 8 are actually quite small, so this was an upgrade. Beautiful wooded campground with sites nicely spaced. NO water at the moment, NO cell. Verizon can get LTE if you go to the ranger station at Hyde State Park, but that’s it. Dump is a narrow bumpy approach with gates you need to open and then close, but otherwise good. This is a good place to stay for a Santa Fe visit as long as you don’t mind the 7 mile drive. There are really no other places that are convenient to downtown.

Bluewater Lake

Nice site, eventually

This was a one night stand along the way that seemed like a good idea on paper. The driving was going to be mostly slogging Highway 40, though I will note that almost as soon as we crossed the border into New Mexico, the landscape became more interesting. Expanses of yellow slowly gave way to rusty mesas rising up out of the ground. There was a storm on the horizon almost the entire day, just to our north, so we didn’t want to dawdle and get caught in it. With one stop at a Walmart in Gallup, NM, we cut it close, but scooted just under it.

Entering New Mexico

Richard got a lot of work done during the drive and we had pretty good service the whole way. We took a couple of little jaunts onto Highway 66 when it skirted 40 and it is always nice to get a break from trucking traffic. We made pretty good time though and got to the lake in the latter part of the afternoon. Here’s where it is really difficult to determine trailer worthiness of sites when you reserve them online.

Level site, glimpse of the lake

I had read the site descriptions quite closely and it seemed like the site I chose in the Pinon Cliffs loop would offer a nice view  of the lake, with plenty of room for Dory. When we got there, we slowly drove past the other loops as the road got narrower and less paved. By the time we got to our loop, it more resembled a wide hiking trail than a campground road. The turnoff to the sites was steep and sharply angled and I became concerned about whether I’d be able to get out once I headed down. Richard got out of the car and walked the whole loop to check it out before I committed to the turn. I really don’t think that loop is meant for trailers, although we did see one set up right across from our reserved site.

No photographic evidence was collected during aborted backing job – here’s a pretty sunset

I tried backing in a couple of times into our site, and although we technically fit, we were at such a slant that it felt I might roll. At one point, Richard attempted to build a tower out of leveling blocks. With layers five high, Dory was still tipped so far to the downhill side, there would have been no way to even unhitch. I pulled the plug at that point and was mentally preparing for driving all the way back to the Walmart parking lot if need be. Instead, we drove back through the campground, looking for an office or camp host at least. We found neither. We tried calling the number for the park and never did end up getting anything more than a recorded message.

North Campground is a much more reasonable loop than Pinon Cliffs

Luckily, down in the North Campground loop, we stumbled upon some First Come First Serve sites that were normal sites. I pulled into the first one, site 70, and was oh so done for the day. Sorry I didn’t take any pictures of the rejected site (37 in the Pinon Cliffs loop). Neither one of us was in the mood for documenting in that moment.

Had we gone to the North Campground first, the arrival would have been far more pleasant, with glimpses of the lake in the background and a couple of horses meandering their way around the park. But at that point, I was getting frustrated with the progress, or lack thereof, of my foot situation, and the aborted site situation did not help. I was tired, Richard was tired, and it took until after dinner to unwind.

I don’t know if this place would be a fun destination in better circumstances. It might. Certainly there were lots of other people out enjoying the lake, even thought the water levels appeared to be very low. There was some guy down at the shore, with an impressive and long projecting voice, shouting “STEVE!” so much that it made us laugh. I hope Steve found him. It seemed important.

Onward to Santa Fe. I can fill you in on the visit to Urgent Care.

Total miles: 178.0, 16.5 mpg. Site 70 First Come First Serve in the North loop. Was 37 in the Pinon Cliffs loop. Abort. Very unlevel. Good dump and potable water. Enough service for Verizon to make calls and check ReserveAmerica. Spotty ATT.

Homolovi State Park

Homolovi State Park

I’m coming back to catch up on posts, as things have been rather busy and my right foot has been quite a distraction. It did require a visit to urgent care and I’m on antibiotics now, but I’ll tell that story later. As for Homolovi State Park, this was a dual purpose stop. I wanted to make tracks towards New Mexico, but also stop at Petrified Forest National Park, and this is only about an hour’s drive.

Highway 260 up to 87

We took highway 260 out of Cottonwood and up into the mountains. I wasn’t sure about that route because our campground finding tool, Allstays, noted that this was a “dangerous” stretch of road. Here’s what I love about Facebook though. Say what you will about social media, and you’re right about it all, but if you post a question about routes, you will get informed answers within an hour. I also happen to have a super solid social media community with friends all over the place. Personally, I really loved the 260/87 route because it kept me off busy trucking highways and made for a much more pleasant traveling experience. If you’re going east to west, that will be a long descent, but with engine braking, it still should be fine.

Arizona, approaching Winslow

Once we came out of the high places, the temperature rose as the tree cover fell. We entered Winslow on a long, straight, flat runway with nothing but golden prairie grass and sandy soil for as far as the eye could see. The state park is about six or seven miles outside of town and boasts several important historic dwelling sites. The feel is very open range in the desert. While we were there, we experienced some good summer storms, complete with lightning and thunder, that came and went in about an hour as they made their way across the open plains. There are even some free range donkeys and horses hanging out in the park (I have no idea what you should call those). They seem used to people coming through, but did stare at Richard judgmentally as he passed them on his bike.

Standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona

Because of my foot* (*that will be a theme for a while here), I wasn’t up for cooking, so Richard cooked a Bertoli pan dinner the first night, and went into Winslow and grabbed some excellent take out for the second. Of course we had to go into town and snap some obligatory pics with the “Standin’ on the Corner” statues. And yeah, we had to buy the song from iTunes so we could really get the full Eagles experience.

Badlands with bling

Monday we dedicated to Petrified Forest National Park. We thought there was a lot of petrified wood lying around in Escalante. Hahaha. That was nothing compared to this. It is a twenty five mile drive to go from one side of the park to the other and, in addition to it being lousy with petrified wood, there were all kinds of really colorful dunes and mounds all along the way. We first stopped at the famed gift stores at the south entrance to the park. You can actually camp there, but it’s not as though this would be a scenery based decision. It is exactly what it sounds like: a parking lot next to some gift shops. It seemed like some of the sites had hookups, but it’s not like there is anything else around there. In retrospect, I was happy with the state park plan, even though it required a drive out and back to the park.

Riding the national park road

Richard rode the national park road while I drove it, stopping at any of the overlooks and points of interest that did not require a lot of walking. On that day, I was feeling better, but certainly not to the point of “normal.” We both loved this national park and I especially liked the Painted Desert views up at the north end. And the plethora of jewel encrusted petrified wood scattered all over the park is just amazing. It’s like Badlands with bling.

The Painted Desert

Due to the rains, it was nowhere near as hot as I feared it might be. In the national park, it hit mid 90s, but Richard seems to have no problem with that. I was in the air conditioned car, so not really a concern for me. At night it cooled off a lot. Great stop along the road and another national park checked off!

Total miles: 119.7, 17.1 mpg. Site 26. Electric and water. Great solar with one extremely well placed shade tree. Good LTE for both. Close enough to see Highway 40, but not close enough to hear it. Richard saw fireworks coming from town on the 4th, but I was staying put with my foot up inside. Good dump and potable water.

Dead Horse Ranch SP – Cottonwood & Sedona

Dead Horse Ranch State Park – Cottonwood, AZ

Ok, before I talk about our stay in the Sedona area, I’m going to talk about my right foot. Don’t worry, there will be no pictures or colorful descriptions. Instead, I’ll insert pictures of lovely pink, deep red, and purple rocks; lovely colors for landscape, less so for feet. Just know that I have Googled everything, my eyes cannot unsee what they have seen, and the term “zombie feet” makes sense to me now. You know how I was so brave and strong and had new trekking poles and new shoes and did that Grand Canyon hike like a person who hikes? Well I want to make it very clear, I felt no ill effects during or immediately after that hike. The only thing I felt was maybe a little rubbing under the pinky toe of my right foot that I figured was a pebble. The next day I did not notice anything either, except yeah, maybe I got a teeny tiny blister near my pinky toe. Not a big deal. It wasn’t until after we left Page, AZ that things started getting alarming. I for sure developed two enormous blisters on the bottom and outside of that foot, but then this dark area started growing on the top of my foot, above the outside, and that did not make any sense.

Sedona Landscape

Now I’m going to tell you about “Spider Bro.” Spider Bro appeared at night when we were both doing pre-sleepy time iPhone things. Lights were out except the glow from our phones and Richard suddenly started moving around frantically, making the oddest sounds I think I’ve ever heard him make. It turns out a large spider ran across his iPhone screen in the dark. You can imagine. All the lights went on and all the bedding got thrown back and urgently examined. No sign of Spider Bro. That’s the worst, isn’t it? We had no choice but to ultimately try to go to sleep knowing we’d be sleeping with Spider Bro.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Chapel of the Holy Cross

Cut to three days after the Grand Canyon hike and my right foot is now causing me to wonder what life would be like with a prosthetic. I tried getting in to see a podiatrist in the Sedona area, but having only three days to do this, and with a holiday weekend coming up, I knew that was far fetched. I was therefore left to my own devices, which primarily means Googling symptoms and trying to determine when it might be time to head for an urgent care (I was always well aware of how far the nearest one was and had directions pre-Googled). We went to a couple of pharmacies and basically said, “Give my every kind of bandage you have.” Richard is now a rockstar at field dressings. I also have a new pair of Tevas and a bunch of liner socks.

Bell Rock

At this point, you should be really worried. Believe me, I was. But mostly because the upper foot injury made no sense. It has now been just over a week from the onset of the really alarming colors and I can allay your fears by saying it’s getting better. Like I may survive this, y’all. I still don’t know if it was the combination of the Grand Canyon hike for someone who does not normally do that, plus new shoes, leading to an abrasion bruise that took a while to color. Or it was Spider Bro’s poisonous little fangs, causing deep tissue damage that my body has finally managed to fight off (I Googled those pictures too). I would actually prefer it to be Spider Bro because I was really proud of how well I did with that hike and I do not want to believe that this was the cost. I have been off this foot basically for seven days, except for driving. I have elevated it, bandaged and Neosporined it, and kept out of closed shoes entirely. My right foot is normally super wide, so it is always a challenge finding shoes that fit. Plus I wear orthotics for arch support. I was very happy with my new shoes. So this is all a big bummer, but as I said, I think I might live to shoe shop another day.

Highway 89A – Oak Creek Canyon – Gorgeous! (Slide Rock SP was closed too)

I led with this story so that when I tell you about how the Coconino Forest closed completely just before our arrival, due to wildfire concerns, you will believe me when I say this came as a welcome relief. Sure, we missed out on hiking some of the most beautiful trails in the country, whose renowned spiritual energy and multiple vortices attract travelers from all over the world. But for me it meant I got to keep off my feet without regret or second guessing. Richard got to ride every day and I got to sag him, listening to music in the air conditioned car the whole time. I got excellent advice from friends (thanks Lynne!) on which roads to see and they did not disappoint. We did so many of the scenic drives this way that there were basically no “Pink Jeep” tours left that would take me anywhere I hadn’t been. One day we need to come back when the forest is open and do one of those as an off roading adventure. Sadly, those were all as closed as the forest.

Example of architecture not blending in with surroundings – Red Rock Loop Road

As far as Sedona goes, I had no idea. It was like a more spread out version of Zion, with a lot of people living in it. Crazy beautiful with some equally crazy architecture, and housing prices that approach the boring areas of California. Cottonwood is a cute town with plenty of hip restaurants to keep us busy. Dead Horse Ranch State Park ended up being a nice home base. It is a drive from Sedona, but I found that to be calming. There are sure a lot of people in the big city, with very few RV friendly places. The state park was spread out and quiet. When the weather turned stormy, it was cool to watch the rain dump over the desert, and we were never in a position to worry about flash floods.

Richard riding between a Pink Jeep and a pink flamingo on Red Rock Loop Road

Oh, that reminds me. On our drive down, we hit an intense rain dump going through Flagstaff. Like the heavens opened up and let loose right on Highway 17. That was way way too much for me and I had to pull off at the first exit. We sat in some county park for a while and then found out there was a Walmart about three miles away. I don’t know why Walmart parking lots are calming when there is stress, but they are for me. We had a soft pretzel inside and waited out the worst. It had already been a stressful day of driving for me, so taking a break was important.

Silly touristy place in Cameron

Earlier in the day, just before we came to a tourist trap place in Cameron, AZ, a police car came screaming down the highway with lights flashing and siren blaring. We happened to be stuck at a one lane construction stop a the time. Everyone sort of tried to move over to the side, but there was one lane open, cars coming through in the opposite direction, and the rest of us skooched as far over as we could get onto the shoulder. I saw the police car in my towing mirrors, weaving through cones, and oncoming cars, and people stopped behind me. I swear, he must have come within inches of rear ending Dory2 and all I could do was watch. That triggered some PTSD right there. So when the rain came later on, my brain was like, “Yeah, I’m out.”

Hippie Emporium in Cottonwood – “Don’t worry, be hippie.”

Overall, our four day stay in Cottonwood was recuperative. It was less hot than we expected and more crowded in Sedona than I pictured. We got in some nice drives, ate out at some great places, and took in the cool hippie energy. Some day I’d like to go find all the vortexes. I bet I’ll have new shoes then.

Total miles: 210.7, 18.5 mpg. Site 94. Electric and water hookups. Good dump. Good LTE cell service for both. Sites nicely spaced apart. Nice free unlimited hot water showers (we each partook given this was a long stay for us). Plenty of solar. Note to future self: remember not to be tempted to take 89A south from Flagstaff as a way to avoid Highway 17 if you’re towing. Just suck it up and do 17. Unless it’s raining. Then just stop.