Where’s Dory?

We have one last post to commemorate the maiden voyage of Dory2! The wonderful Francois at Safari Condo had arranged a few surprises for us that made us so happy. One of those was a photo album he put together with a little stuffed Dory. He had people in the Safari Condo factory take pictures of her through all the stages of construction. Then, at the end, they all posed with her. We were floored by this gesture. It meant so much to us and made this Alto pickup something very special.

So, we wanted to show our appreciation by documenting all the places Dory got to go this summer. This became a daily quest and she went everywhere with us.

As you can see, Dory had an amazing summer. Her message at the end says it all: “Thank you to everyone at Safari Condo! Thanks to all your hard work, look at all the places I went.”

San Luis Creek (5)

Last night out for the summer extravaganza

Well, that was sure a nice trip. We left just before the start of June with one Alto, and came back August first with another. 65 days in all. We had plenty of all the essentials and were able to get everything else on the road. Coffee pods, shake packets, pills, and after dinner mints were all carefully counted ahead of time. We did laundry only twice because we are gross. I used up an entire small size container of Happy Camper holding tank treatment. Had a total fail with the backup dish soap and hand soap containers and will not do that again. I need to explore other options for backup unscented liquid soap. I had plenty of Happy Glass Margarita Mix bottles, thanks to the case I put behind the driver’s seat. And all of the pantry and Blue Apron specialty ingredients were more than enough for two months on the road. We did not need or use eggs, but it was a fun idea. I need to find a replacement for Trader Joe’s sparkling lemon water that I actually like. You can’t carry enough and can’t restock on the road – even at a flipping Trader Joe’s! We added another little 12v fan to our fan arsenal (now we have four) and I like how this one is always there and ready to cool me off in bed at night (waiting for someone to make cheap joke and I have a mental list of who it’s most likely to be).

Richard got in a sunset bike ride at trusty San Luis Forebay

As for car packing, we definitely did not need three different awnings. Good lord. When it comes down to it, I really only ever bother to put up the classic awning anymore. And the Aluminet (I need to get more Aluminet). I have come to accept that I probably won’t put up the screened awning, despite the time and effort I put into making it. On the occasions when there are bugs, we generally just go inside now. I don’t know if there will come a time when I regret leaving it behind, but I think that and the visor need to come out of the car. We didn’t use the extra long dump hoses once. We didn’t use the beefy bike wheels at all and if there were ever going to be a time for that, it would have been Hell’s Backbone. We did not use the generator a single time but should probably still take it on long trips for just in cases. I used my boat very little, but I still want to carry it for those rare moments. I used my bike maybe twice? Now we’re looking at the possibility of doing an E bike conversion with it. But also, I could just rent an E bike in special places. I don’t think I would use an E bike enough to justify the cost and carrying it outside in the rain seems like a bad idea.

We love Dory2 ever so much. In no particular order, here are the things that are new and improved little changes from Dory1:

  • 440 w solar panels – OMG, game changer (you were right Francois. duh.)
  • 2 lithium batteries – same (see above about Francois rightness)
  • Inverter – used twice and enjoyed hot sandwiches for lunch, but not a game changer
  • Truma Combi – absolutely love; so quiet and efficient
  • Backup Camera – best of the three systems by FAR; excellently clear and bright monitor, fast picture response
  • Truma Caravan Mover – literally did not use it until we got home but it worked like a dream, seems great
  • Interior LED lights – a little warmer color and I like it
  • Shower floor – redesign to get the toilet off the floor, which makes it way easier to keep clean
  • Bathroom latch – LOVE! now we don’t need to replace latches
  • Dust pan cabinet velcro secured/no latch – good call
  • Dump hose cap – do not love
  • Suburban stove – MUCH better flame control
  • Fridge (same as Lola’s) – bigger, so much bigger than the 3.5 and I love it; plus interior light
  • USBs everywhere – nice, but now there are little blue lights at night
  • Dual propane tank – used almost one tank in two months, but now we are worry free
  • Blue upholstery – most durable of the three we’ve had and the color is delicious
  • Utensil drawer – preferred the other one
  • Outside lights – nicer and less glarey
  • Outside plumbing – reposition of drain pipe and that seems like a much better location
  • Backsplash – wood tone instead of silver and I like it
  • Control panel for AC – brighter with backlight but a little finicky about button pushing
  • Fridge front – white and it shows drips (I still wonder if it’s a white board…)
  • Hinge crimp – they fixed the thing where the door hinge inner rod slips down over time
  • Outside seals – replaced the black gooey stuff with some kind of rubbery covering and I like it

We could not possibly have enjoyed our Dory2 maiden voyage any more. All of it, even goddamn Spider Bro. It was a perfect adventure and we are so thrilled to be able to say “indoory in Dory” again. It was hard not to say “Dory” when we were in Lola. We hit some of the most beautiful national parks we’ve ever seen and got to spend quality time with good friends. I can’t recommend crashing your Alto, but I can say that if you do, eventually, it will all be ok.

Still and all, it’s good to be home and at least Kitty missed us. She later gifted us a bird. bleh

Total miles: 318.0, 16.7 mpg. Site 4 hookups. Total miles to home: 106.8, 15.0 mpg. Just a note that the “upper dump” on the right hand side as you exit is not as bad as the lefthand one. Do not ever ever use that side. No.

Calico Ghost Town

Did not expect a nice sunset.

Ugh. This was a slog of a day with a surprisingly happy ending. But the slog, omg. It made us question whether we ever want to do that stretch again. It’s a tough area though, with miles of nothing, then Las Vegas, then nothing until Barstow. And it adds days to trips when you cut up the slog into bite sized pieces. Still. Yuck.

Going through Las Vegas, we hit road construction, which is a mixed blessing. I mean, at least people had to slow the hell down. But it took a long time to get through. We looked at future options for staying at casinos or RV parks just so it’s not a 300 mile day. We found a couple of recommended places, so who knows. Maybe we are Vegas people now.

Oh come on.

Then with that past us, we eventually hit a wall of rain again. Over the Mojave Desert, of all places. Again we were heading straight into lightning and a deluge up ahead, so rather than get stuck in it, I pulled off at the huge solar farm just past the state line. We were thinking maybe there would be a visitor center or information kiosk or something to pass the time. There wasn’t, but there was a nice security guard who came around making sure we were “ok” (probably actually making sure we weren’t causing trouble, but it was a nice cover story). He told us there are over four hundred thousand mirrors on that facility, each costing upwards of five thousand dollars to produce and ship. When the weather is not windy, the mirrors all tilt to reflect the sun’s rays into the giant space ray looking towers. The collected solar energy heats up water which powers turbines, thus producing electricity. Pretty wild. It was an informative chat and helped distract us while the storm dissipated.

At least now we know all about the solar array.

We made it to Yermo, the town just next to Barstow, in the late afternoon. It was a hundred degrees there. This time, instead of defaulting to the KOA, we got a tip to try Calico Ghost Town, where there is a campground with hookups. Already this was more interesting than the Barstow KOA by a lot. The loop we were in was past the entrance into the park, but everything closes at 5, so they just post a security guard who sits in her car making sure anyone coming in or out is camping and not going into the ghost town. We left to let the AC get started and found a diner that serves breakfast 24/7.

Campground road looking back toward town.

When you approach Barstow, you will see signs telling you about two things: Calico Ghost Town, and Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner. We would have gone to Peggy Sue’s but they are lame and only serve breakfast for breakfast. Penny’s Diner on the other hand, is the real deal and is housed in a train car shaped building, sitting next to a TravelLodge. I mean. What could actually be better?

Classic diner

Richard has gone to his fair share of 24/7 diners when he’s been on crazy multi-day bike trips. So he has learned that the real ones are there for the express purpose of serving railway conductors. Conductors come and go at all hours of the day and need periodic places to sleep and eat. So the railroad companies contract with hotel and diner chains. Penny’s is one of the major diner chains that still contracts to stay open for them. They are usually located next to a hotel, where a certain number of rooms are always set aside and paid for so they can get their ten hours of mandated sleep time. The diners are required to be open all the time and typically serve breakfast all day. Because if you are a train conductor, you just never know what hour of the day breakfast will be. It was actually really fun to talk to the owner and learn all this. Plus, we had the absolute best french toast and pancakes for dinner.

Just out of frame is an Elvis fortune telling booth. I’m sorry, I don’t know how that escaped a photo.

We did swing over and check out Peggy Sue’s, but this is more of a commercial, tchotchke selling operation than functional diner. They sell food, but also Elvis paraphernalia. They had good ice cream though, and I got some silly gifts. When we returned, I was treated to a very nice sunset show indeed. All of this was way more than I expected for Barstow and we hadn’t even seen the ghost town yet!

There’s even a little train you can ride around in a tiny circle!

We had to wait until 8am the next day to get in and we figured it would be best to be fully hitched and ready because it was only gonna get hotter after 8. There is actually a lot to see there and we spent about two hours going into historically recreated dwellings and shops. Apparently, this used to be a huge boom town when they struck silver. For a while, it was the place to be in Southern California, until silver prices plummeted. People moved on, except for a few dedicated settler families, and eventually the town became abandoned. Much later, the town was restored to its functional mid 1800s appearance and got county park status. For ten bucks, you can spend an hour or two checking out the old timey buildings. You can even get lunch, souvenirs, and yes, ice cream. We did all of those.

Restored school house. So fun!

I feel pretty confident in saying our Barstow KOA days are done. If we are passing through this area again, which we likely will, we will stay at the ghost town. We honestly had so much fun! And maybe next time I’ll let Elvis tell me my fortune.

Total miles: 316.5, 19.2 mpg. Site A11 hookups. Gravel pads but pretty level. There is a loop around the bathroom as well as a spur farther back into a mini canyon. There is also a loop outside the kiosk that is a bit more slotty and close to others. This loop felt more spaced but that is probably because it was all but empty. Decent bathrooms, good dump. Not great cell service for either, but it was out there if you walked toward the entrance more. Penny’s has excellent wifi, like so fast.

Zion NP (4)

Watchman Campground – it doesn’t get better than this.

Alas, we finally had to come to the bookend national park of our epic summer trip. We end where we began, in Zion. After this stop, it’s all slog and lots of miles. But for this last spot, we had four days reserved in Watchman and fingers crossed the temperatures did not exceed 100º. Turns out, heat was really not the issue to worry about for this southwest summer trip. Like, at all.

Big Rock Candy Bike Trail

We started off with a beautiful drive down 89 where Richard got to bike the Big Rock Candy Mountain Bike Trail for about fifteen miles. We met up at the trailhead, which I really thought would have a candy store or somehow be involved with candy. That was a disappointment. But I get how it came by its name and the views made up for the lack of crystalized sugar. From the meetup point, we started the drive down, knowing there were thunder storms expected in the afternoon. It was a race against time that we lost in the final stretch.

This California girl is just not emotionally equipped for real weather.

Just a few miles before we got to the junction with Highway 9, the one that cuts down into the park through the tunnel, we got hit with a downpour. I am jittery enough about getting rear ended, but add water and I am a slushy mess of anxiety. I pulled off the road to wait it out and didn’t move until there was a good break. That break lasted long enough to get us up onto 9 heading west, like at a high point on the plateau. There, the storm bursts were even more intense, with lightning strikes touching ground not too far from where we were. The water made it hard to see anything at all out of the windshield and again, I bailed and pulled off at the first pullout. Another car did the same and we sat there with our blinkers, hoping anyone coming would be able to see clearly enough to not hit us. It was at this point I told Richard we might not make it the remaining ten miles to the campground and would have to just find somewhere up top to hunker down. But the burst died down eventually, and the deluge turned into just rain, which then just disappeared. There was more coming, so we decided that was the time to make it through the tunnel.

When the views are too good to be scared about the rain.

We passed through the national park kiosk on the eastern entrance and continued on toward the tunnel. It was all drenched, but even in my heightened state, I could appreciate the beauty. Streams and waterfalls formed spontaneously and the sandy soil showed off its deepest reds. By the time we got down and into our campsite, it was over. The only evidence of what had transpired was the color of the Virgin River. If the Green River looked like chocolate milk after a flash flood, this looked like cake batter. It was running fast and furious and carrying tons of muddy debris along with it. Right then I knew that hiking The Narrows might not be a thing on this trip.

Whew. Made it.

We got Dory all set up and then ventured out for a walk into nearby Springdale where we got an excellent pizza dinner. And a big IPA on tap. While waiting for our table, I noticed the place next door sold Oboz hiking shoes. Since all the hoopla with my foot, I have become fussy about shoe fit and decided I needed new ones made for wide feet. I’d already done some online research and was intending to get these shoes once I was back home and could get deliveries. As luck would have it, they had exactly the kind I wanted, and in the right size, but only in blue. Sold.

Going up….

On Tuesday we got to have a full day in the park with temperatures predicted in the high 80s. We chose that day to attempt the Angel’s Landing trail. I wrote this trail off as impossible years back and had never really considered doing any part of it. But now, with a couple of successful canyon hikes under my belt, a healed foot, trekking poles, and new shoes, I wanted to do it. My only goal really was to try to get up to “Walter’s Wiggles.” This is a series of 21 tight switchbacks just before you take the trail to Terror and Certain Death (I think they call that “Angel’s Landing” but my name for it is more accurately descriptive). If I could make it to the bottom of that, I’d call it a good day, but I was also ok with just going as far as I could and then back down. That’s the nice thing about a reverse Grand Canyon hike: you go up first and are pretty likely to then be able to make it back down.

Walter’s Wiggles

We got the shuttle to the trailhead by 9, which is really really early for us to be up and out. But by doing so, we got to cover the long switchbacks up the side of the canyon before the sun hit the trail. I think that made a gigantic difference for me. I arrived at “Refrigerator Canyon” feeling pretty good and I knew that this stretch would be mostly level before the wiggles. You do hit five or six longer switchbacks before you finally arrive, but once you see them, there is no mistaking. And still I felt pretty good. There are 21 corners to count on the wiggles and I announced each one until I made it all the way up. When you get to the top, you are at Scout’s Overlook and you are treated to a jaw dropping view of the whole valley, as well as the Terror/Death area.

As close as I’ll ever come to the Big Nope.

There were so many people up there. It would be inconceivable to me to try this trail, even with no one else around. But with a line of other humans also grabbing for the chain – literally the only thing preventing you from falling a thousand feet – there is just no way I understand how/why people do that. But clearly they do. And we watched. But only a little. I was happy that there was a “bathroom” up there, but I will say, it was extremely pungent. I had to hold my nose actually, but was glad for it in any case.

Going down…

While I was feeling pretty pumped at having made it up, Richard was now worried about whether he would be able to make it down. He suffered a lot after the Black Canyon hike and was only just feeling fully recovered. But now that he had to sustain that same kind of downward stride, his legs were shaking and he was taking it super slow. But made it he did! And so did I! And we were stoked. And we had soft pretzels at the Lodge and there was much rejoicing.

Almost perfect for a paddle… except lightning.

It’s hard to top a day like that but the next day we planned to go out to Kolob Reservoir where I could maybe get my boat in the water. Richard rode the second half of it and it offered beautiful views from high above the canyon. There was one stretch of road, after a hairpin turn going up, that was narrow and deathy on the uphill side. No guard rails. I did not like that, especially when I had to pass a construction truck going down. Otherwise Kolob Terrace Road is spectacular. Unfortunately, even though the weather said no rain, there was a small storm centralized over the water. It was so small that I hoped it might just pass by, so I got my boat almost all the way set up. Then there was a lightning strike. I’m out. Pack it up. Instead, we drove out to Lava Point Overlook and enjoyed the views. We saw a Bald Eagle perched high atop an Aspen, so that was cool. And we checked out the Lamb’s Knoll climbing site. We weren’t interested in the climbing part, but the rock formations and surrounding valley were quite pretty.

Pretty desert colors by Lamb’s Knoll

For our final day in the park, I just could not unhook from wanting to do The Narrows. The water had calmed to a nice cafe au lait consistency and I figured I might be able to do at least some of it. We rented me an E bike so I could get my butt all the way out to the trailhead, carrying a walking stick in a tube at the back. This was my first foray on an E bike and I likey. It made it just easy enough to do the uphills that I was not totally spent by the time I got to the starting point. Richard had to do a work call, but said he would do his best to find me out there. While I had decided to try going in the water with my (former) hiking shoes, he was a strong no on water time. But then, as I was approaching the trail, there were rangers telling all hikers that there were storms happening up river and that flash floods were very likely. They advised against doing anything more than going very short distances in the river. Richard apparently had gotten a much more emphatic warning from the E bike rental guy. The words “lethal” and “deadly” were both used in the same sentence, which better explains his firm nopeness.

That’s The Narrows – at the top of the canyon, under those thick clouds…

I did go in the water a bit. There were plenty of other people who did not seem alarmed and were going past where I could see them. But after just a couple steps, I was absolutely sure that if something were to happen suddenly, running through the water would definitely not be an option. Every single step was done blind, feeling around for spaces free of large slippery rocks. It was cooling to go in and kind of fun to try it out, but I would really want that water to be pseudo clear if I were going to try walking any distance. Oh and no threat of lethal deadly flash floods too.

Still brown river, but beautiful anyway.

Richard met me at the start of the river trail and we had lunch on the shore, kind of excited actually, to see at least some kind of flash flood. But nothing happened and we walked back to the bikes. With an E bike, I can actually keep up with him. Mind you, he was in his “civvies” rather than bike shoes and clothes, and his legs were still probably sore, but that turns out to be a fair handicap. I was zooming along in Turbo mode telling him to try to keep up. E bikes are fun.

Aluminet over the top + covering the back wall + awning over the door wall + fans inside to blow around the air = nice and cool inside even in the mid 90s outside.

We finished off our last night with a tasty grilled steak and provolone sandwich, with mixed veggies on the side. This was the cherry on top of our southwest summer sundae. It had all the thrills. And so many places to get ice cream, or shoes, or E bikes. It’s the Disneyland of national parks, but it was the perfect bookend; the first and the eleventh national park of the summer. Temps started to get exciting, but with a little Aluminet covering, plus a few daily thunderstorms, the AC had no problem at all keeping up. I’m so glad it all worked out as well as it did.

Total miles: 143.7, 17.8 mpg. Site A20 hookups. Water spigots at the bathroom. No showers in the campground, but nice bathrooms. Good LTE for both. Good dump and potable water. Lots of space in the site, but no shade until late afternoon. Good solar.

Fremont Indian SP, Castle Rock

Nice rocky backdrops in this campground

Even though we cut our stay here down from two nights to one, it was still a very nice stop. It helped that the weather never got above 90º while we were there, because there were no hookups. The drive though was something I didn’t remember being so pretty. That is probably because the last time we came across this section of 70, we were traveling west to east. It is really a completely different show when you go the other direction.

The appearance of the San Rafael Swell on the horizon

The highway crosses over the San Rafael Swell in this part of the state and what we have learned about geologic anticlines is that they can look very different on the steep side than they do on the gentle slope side. When you come out of Green River, it doesn’t take long before you can see the “reef” appear rising out of the landscape. We stopped at several view points to take pictures and buy some gifts from the local artists.

Helping out some travelers from France

It was at one of these stops when a woman approached Richard asking if we had any gas. As it so happened, we always carry a gallon of gas for the generator and we had not needed to use that even once the entire trip. We were happy to help them out, but also really worried about them because a gallon was only going to get them about twenty miles and there was nowhere anywhere around there to get gas. They were visiting from France and had come all the way from Monument Valley, not realizing how long these stretches of No Services could be. After we left them, we both spent a lot of time worrying and trying to figure out where the next gas on the road was and how far. I think I might have tried to go back for them, or would just have continued to worry forever, except they later passed us on the road. And at that point, we knew they’d be able to coast to the next town. There were lots of happy highway waves, and a big sigh of relief, as they went by.

Beautiful geology all along the way

We took advantage of the Walmart Super Center in Ridgefield as a good place to restock and wait out an impending storm. What an excellent call that was. It dumped so hard while we were inside that it sounded like the roof was going to come down. No one looked alarmed so I guess that is just something that happens when you live in weather areas. I looked outside to see if golf ball hail was coming from the sky, but it was just sheets and sheets of water. By the time we were done, there was not even a drizzle and you would never know.

Hoodoos in the house

We arrived in the late afternoon and just chilled in the campsite with a bit of rain now and then. It is a very pretty campground up in a small hoodoo filled canyon to the south of the highway. You can’t hear any road noise at all and it makes for a scenic and quiet place to spend the night.

Hard to see, but there are petroglyphs up there

The next day, Richard rode down a bike trail that parallels Highway 89 south while I checked out the interpretive trail at the visitor center. There are lots and lots of nice examples of petroglyphs there. From there, I hit the highway with a pin to meet up with Richard at the Rock Candy Mountain Trailhead. It’s a beautiful area with lots to do and I would stop at this campground again.

Total miles: 149.6, 17.3 mpg. Site 16, no hookups. Sites were nice and big with trees for screening in between. Some are small though so be careful to look at the descriptions. ATT is less reliable than Verizon out there. Back at the intersection of 70 and 89, I had service, but then it disappeared. Nice newish bathrooms. No dump.