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.

Green River State Park

Shady site with hookups and good spacing from others

What an unexpectedly pleasant place! We had passed through the town back near the start of our trip. We got gas and groceries and left solidly unimpressed. I knew I had the place reserved for the future, but honestly, in the back of my mind, I was thinking I might cancel. It is situated in a very convenient location though, so I just figured it would be a meh one night stand. Glad to be so wrong!

Intense rains off to our right

After we left Black Canyon of the Gunnison, we hit the major highways. Interstate 70 would be our friend for the next two stops and there is an abundance of not much of anything on this leg. We noted a pretty serious thunderstorm off to the north as we were driving. It was far enough away that we weren’t worried about getting caught in it, but man, the mountains above Green River were getting hammered.

We pulled in to the campground and got the AC going right away. It wasn’t too hot, probably approaching 90, but we were glad to have electric hookups. We were feeling a bit low coming off our last new-to-us national park for this trip, so I did some Googling and found there was a road that tracked the river, ending in something called “Nefertiti.” I was intrigued and we had some time to kill while the AC got into its groove, so we went for a drive.

So many people say not to do this…

Not too far along on the quest, we came to a major dip in the road. This was clearly an intentional flood wash but when we arrived, it looked more like a full fledged river. The water was running really fast and strong across the road and I figured that ended the quest right there. We stopped and got out of the car to just watch it from a safe distance when two other vehicles pulled up. Turns out they both work for rafting companies and they felt obligated to attempt the crossing because it was their job. I figured I was about to get some shocking pictures and YouTube video footage of why you should never attempt flash flood crossings. The guys were trying to be careful by first walking out, testing with their feet, to make sure the road was still there underneath. But the driver was understandably concerned about having the trailer get swept away. I was like “Yeah, exactly,” but he was undaunted and unstoppable. I was just there to document. I had no idea what I would do if anyone got swept away, short of driving back toward town to get enough cell service to call 911.

I really thought this car was going to be toast.

Slowly the pickup forded the river and didn’t even seem to struggle. Out came the trailer with no wavering to be seen. There were whoops of triumph and the van driver then had the courage to do it too. Off they drove, disappearing down the road while we did risk assessment calculations in our heads. No matter how we ran the numbers, the output came out “stupid and unnecessary” every time. Then another couple of cars came and crossed as we watched anxiously. Every one of them made it, with cars of lesser beefiness than ours, we thought. Still nope. And so we left to see if there was another way to get down to the river.

By the time we tried it, it was barely an inconvenience.

Failing that, we eventually drove back to take another look and the water levels had calmed considerably. We were pretty sure we’d seen the storm that had caused the flood upstream and it had moved on. There weren’t any other rainy looking clouds in the sky. So we went for it. And it was no problem at all. I think that sums up a lot of life for us. We do a lot of risk assessment, look on with consternation as we try to determine the most reasonable course of action, can’t quite unhook from wanting to take the leap, and when we finally just go for it, it’s no big deal and we wonder why we were so worried. The things that clobber us are the things we never thought to worry about.

A picture perfect oasis

In any case, once we were across, we enjoyed a really nice drive out to something called Swasey’s Beach. This is an absolutely beautiful little oasis with an expansive, sandy beach right on the river. There is a boat launch, restrooms, and a small primitive campground. From there the road continues unpaved another eight miles to get to “Nefertiti.” At this point though, it was getting late and we were hungry, so we called it a day.

Then we had to decide what to do the next day. We had only booked one night because we assumed we’d be bored. Our next location was a two night stay Fremont Indian, a place we’d already visited before, and it had no hookups. I kind of toyed with the idea of putting my boat in the water and floating downstream. Richard checked and our site was free the next night, so we took it.

Not so green anymore

The next day we returned to the wash road and it was practically devoid of water. There was a muddy bump, a few puddles, and lots of debris on the road, but no other evidence of what had been a rushing torrent just the day before. There was a lot more activity at the beach this time and we could see lots of rafting groups either putting in or taking out from the boat launch. We’d spoken to a rafting guide who gave us some intel on this part of the river and it sounded like most people do multi-day trips, starting a hundred miles up river, and ending either at Nefertiti or at Swasey’s. It would be a very calm float to put in at the beach and end up at Green River State Park, but also less scenic. Also, following the storm, the once greenish river was now chocolate brown from all the mud. I eyed the water and imagined spending the day trying really hard to think of it as chocolate brown, as opposed to any other kind of brown. I am not nearly as committed to boating as Richard is to biking, so I came away with a “nah.” Instead, I pushed to continue the off road drive because I was still curious about Nefertiti. Also, Richard could barely walk at this point following his Black Canyon hike, so he was kind of a captive passenger.

Yep. That is definitely Nefertiti.

It is becoming a thing that I like off roading more than Richard does. So this was not his favorite adventure. It was a long and bumpy eight miles for him with no reward of hidden cake at the end. I really loved it. It took us a while to look in the right direction to see the hoodoo that is the namesake. Once we saw it from the right angle, it was obvious. We also found the petroglyphs after just a little bit of searching and they are really cool. There are some of the best and clearest depictions of animals I think I’ve seen in petroglyph form. Well worth the trip out, even Richard will say so.

Petroglyphs

When we got back to town, we put Bruce through a fancy car wash, complete with colorful foamy stuff at the end. We were both surprised by how much we enjoyed this stop. Also, the food from the taco truck downtown is super delish. Appearances can be deceiving and it’s nice when that works in our favor.

Total miles: 176.8, 18.2 mpg. Site 34 hookups. Good dump, potable water. Nice place with a golf course nearby and a little pond behind the loop. We saw people fish there. Ice cream sandwiches can be purchased from the kiosk. LTE for both of us. Good place to get gas because there isn’t much else around there.

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. It 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.