Zion to Bryce to Capital Reef – Phantasmagoric Utah

April 15 to May 25, 2017

What can I say about the state of Utah? Another gem in the priceless tiara that’s the landscape of the American southwest? More like the main attraction, the big kahuna, Shangri-La (except for the politics). In all honesty, if planning a road trip, you could not pick a more gorgeous, vast and empty, real yet totally unreal place.  Ever-changing around every bend you get the feeling you are missing something spectacular over every distant hill.  More for a return trip, but what you do get to see may wet your pants.

New snow on the Henrys

The last place in the American West to be fully mapped by the Geological Survey – The Henry Mountains. Somewhere on the south flank is a huge herd of wild buffalo!

 

I had been to Zion years ago with Ricky McMahan but that was in another lifetime and state of mind. I was now seeing the southwest corner of Utah with new eyes, like the river running by my truck, like a virgin. Probably good since now I was smack-dab in Mormon Country.  The white spires of the Temple greeted me as I drove past St George on the way to my RV park in Leeds. My two main objectives this week were to take a Chicago Tribune columnist who lives here to lunch and to visit Snow Canyon State Park. Both were accomplished along with some other fun.  The weather was stellar and if you are ever in the area, Snow Canyon (most likely named after John Snow the King of the North) is a “have-ta-see”. The pics tell the story….

I guess work got in the way and I didn’t have time to tour Zion NP from the Springdale entrance but my next RV “resort” provided another opportunity I may have otherwise missed. I was headed to Cedar City, just 90 minutes north and 15 degrees colder when I saw a small sign for Kolob Canyons, another, mostly overlooked section of the Park.   After freezing my ass off for the next three days (my waterline didn’t thaw until 10 am) I made the trip down the road to Kolobsky. It was well worth it.  I was wondering where the cover photo for my blog was taken???? Now I know. Great hike, few tourists and another must-see discovery. On my way back to camp I passed a sign telling me I was at the southern end of the Great Basin which used to be a huge lake before the dinosaurs drank it dry.

My rig is humming along with Big Mo in tow and we are headed to a park that’s been on my list for decades… Bryce Canyon. Hell, I’ve been handling images, writing catalog copy and press releases on it since I was a pilgrim fresh off the boat. So I thought I knew what to expect. Checked into Ruby’s Campground and RV Park (Ruby own’s the whole friggin’ park gateway town it seems) and I’m here to report it was one of the most spacious and best situated parks I’ve been at.  Only the wind was a bugger (more on that later).  A cool bike path led from the front drive right into and through the national park. Uphill all the way it seemed. But I humped it and had a very scenic ride.  I stocked up on beer at Ruby’s grocery because I had a two special guests coming… John Beers and lovey new wife Barbara (high school hoodlums we were) and my old Boulder buddy Tim Griffin.  Cooked the Beers a steak dinner and we drained three bottles of wine and told stories. They were on a crazy 100 parks in 50 days rampage but it was good to see them.

Tim and I had decided a year ago that he would hook up with me in Utah and damn if he didn’t keep his word. In a blur of barbecuing, beer and bourbon drinking, cigar smoking and other sundry sins, we attacked the park trails with a vengeance. First we biked then hiked the breathtaking Rim Trail from Fairyland Point to Inspiration (aka perspiration) Point. Wow. The next day we descended into its depths along the Queens Garden trail to the Navajo Loop past weird creatures and twisted spirits frozen in orange, yellow, brown and white stone. Hiking just doesn’t get any better than this. Bryce is a gift to the eyes.

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We had a day to kill before packing up and moving to Torrey, Utah and Capital Reef NP so I perused the detailed map I have (one of my favorite pastimes) and noticed a state park and some natural arches only 20 miles away so off we went.  Double wows… Kodachrome Basin Park was an unexpected marvel of huge monoliths, multi-colored rock, sheer cliffs and after a long dirt road drive – one incredible double arch (named Grosvenor – go ahead, try to find it on a map).  Made a mental note that the park campground would be a perfect place for a future stay.

Utah State Route 12 needs to be on everyone’s road trip dream list.  It’s a marvel from Bryce through the towns of Escalante, Boulder and finally Torrey.  Hard to stay between the lines but even harder for Timmy who was driving with a bashed in windshield compliments of a wind storm that blew Big Mo’s back awning off its track and into Tim’s SUV. We were able to fix it but it took a day drive to Richfield which revealed more unexpected scenic wonders of Fish Lake and the Fremont River on the way back.

Torrey is very cool with quite a few GREAT restaurants like the Rim Rock and Capital Reef Cafe (not to forget Slacker’s burger joint).  But we were in Torrey to explore and visit an old AWE! outfitter, not only pig out. Pat Kearney of Hondoo Rivers and Trails set us up with noble steeds and with her in the lead and two other guests from North Carolina, we headed into Pleasant Creek Canyon as it cut right through the rock bulge of Capital Reef. Not long after leaving the horse trailer I heard Tim yell, “Pat!!#%&”. Well his horse shook his cinch and Tim’s saddle went vertical, Tim went head over ass onto the ground.  Yeehaw!  We had a rodeo.  But that was all the excitement there was.  Tim kissed his horse, Pat re-secured the saddle and he remounted with no more incidents. We saw a rock panel with picto AND petro-glyphs along with settler graffiti and bullet holes. The scenery and silence was overwhelming.

Sent Tim on his way and I had another free day to explore so I checked out the map for the most remote corner of the park and saw a 50+ mile dirt road loop through Cathedral Valley. Triple wow. Had to ford the Fremont river to get to the road but once on it, it was nonstop visual orgasm. I bet fewer than 1,000 people see this hidden wonder every season. I considered myself lucky and fortunate. A fitting ending to a phantasmagoric month and a half in Utah.  Now it’s back to Colorado and old friends until I point my pony east to Michigan, Ohio, Long Island, Pennsylvania and Kentucky!

Some pics of Cathedral Valley….

Death Valley

April 1 to April 15, 2017

Next national park I had never seen and what promised to be a fun stop on my rambling route is Death Valley, site of that 20 mule team Borax childhood memory. What boomer could forget that 1940 western 20 Mule Team starring Wallace Beery as Skinner Bill. Or the TV show Death Valley Days (1952-1970) starring none other than Ronald Reagan. So you can bet my expectations were high.

What also got me chompin’ at the bit was where I was booked to stay… Literally right on the CA-NV border (on the Nevada side) at the Longstreet Inn, Casino and RV Park.  I had visions of blackjack after breakfast, slots and shots the rest of the day.  After a wild drive over secondary roads through the heart of the Mohave Desert, past giant sand dunes, vast military bases and the world’s largest thermometer I arrived and parked in the spot furthest from the casino with the Funeral Mountains jagged against the western horizon (a fitting range to border Death Valley).  Here’s a few picks from my trip and home….

Most people enter Death Valley from one of the main paved highways leading into the park…. not me.  I decided to cast caution to the wind and check out this one-way four-wheel road marked on the map through Titus Canyon.  Wow.  The wildness and multicolored hills were breathtaking.  My truck handled it well but I did get nervous when the track led into a narrow slot-like canyon with only a foot between my dually tires and the walls.  I kept from painting the rocks iridium metallic and exited into the vast landscape of Death Valley.

No super bloom this year although they did get a lot of precip last winter.  The wildflowers were sparse but none-the-less amazing. Stopped into the visitor center where the thermometer read 95 degrees (20 degrees hotter than when I started). Hell with spring, welcome to summer.  Checked out Zabriskie Point (wasn’t that a 1970’s counter culture film with music from Pink Floyd and Jerry Garcia?) and took way too many photos. Then it was back through Twenty Mule Team Canyon to Big Mo.  Tonight is steak dinner time at Longstreet’s Nebraska Steakhouse (not all that bad). After my rib eye it was down to the slots where I proceeded to kill it. A group of Swedes gathered around and OOO’d and AWWW’d while I lit it up. Ended up paying for dinner, drinks and tomorrow’s breakfast with my winnings!

One of the coolest things about this road trip adventure is finding stuff you had no idea ever existed.  How could I have known that the entrance to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge was just 1 mile up the road.  Ash Meadows (according to the flier) has the greatest concentration of endemic life in all of the U.S.A.!  A system of boardwalks lead to Caribbean-colored springs bubbling up from the desert. No one else was there. The cactus flowers were orgasmic.  But speaking of orgasmic…. just a little way down the road was a monument to Area 51 (where aliens crash landed). Not a monument of stone mind you, but a must-see roadside attraction, the Area 51 Alien Travel Center and Cathouse. A bordello with not-from-this-world hostesses.  I just took pictures having an aversion to green-skinned ladies.

Time for one more daylong visit to Death Valley. For anyone traveling from the east or south, you must stop for breakfast at the Amargosa Cafe and Opera House in Death Valley Junction, CA.  Great breakfast and a bit of weird local history. Took a new route into the park today – Rt 178 from Shoshone, past mill ruins, Badwater (lowest point in North America at 282′ below sea level), the Natural Bridge, Devil’s Golf Course and Artists Palette (some of the most colorful rocks and hills in the park).  After a drive through Mustard Canyon (the rocks look like they are covered in French’s and Gulden’s) I exited via Daylight Pass and explored the mining ghost town of Rhyolite.  Some big deal back at the turn of last century.  Cool way to wrap up an active two weeks. Now it’s on to St George, Cedar City, Zion and Bryce Canyon NP.  May be another few weeks until I post a report.

 If you want a treat – click on each photo group for bigger versions!

 

Joshua Tree

March 15 to April 1, 2017

After a memorable side trip to Colorado to check in with the tax man and a handful of doctors (they continue to keep me alive and thriving) it was back to Arizona and Big Mo. She missed me. I restocked the fridge and liquor cabinet and checked into the Saddle Mountain RV Park and poultry ranch (I can close my eyes and still smell the chickens). A remote exit off I-10, Tonopah, AZ (not the Nevada one in the song Willin’ – “I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonapah”) where the main attraction is the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant and a ton of desert roads into the Eagletail Mountains and Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Real wild and desolate desert that would kill you if it can.

Eagle Tail Wilderness AZ

Mapped out a day trip to drive by the power plant and try to find the Royal Arch marked on my map, located somewhere near the Kofa.  First part of the route was on good gravel roads with the main surprise being a massive solar power array next to the nuclear facility – dirty energy vs clean.  The second part of the trip was real desert doggin’ over some rough but fun 4×4 roads. This is where it really sunk in – I had better learn to change a truck tire!  Just a mile from the mystery arch I busted through a patch of cholla and boom! I gashed my outside dually tire on the passenger side.  Shit balls. The thing about dual tires – you can drive on a flat since you have 3 more to keep you going so I decided to limp back to Tonopah where I knew there was a tire repair shop. A friendly dude whipped my spare on in 5 minutes (would have taken me 60). But the tire was ruined (side wall gashes are un-repairable as I found out). It was my second trashed tire in 3 months… and a new radial truck tire ain’t cheap (which I found out at Twentynine Palms Discount Tire – my next stop).  (click on the pics for full size)

Bye bye Arizona…. hello Cali-freakin-fornia! Land of fruits, nuts and weird looking trees. My destination was the Twentynine Palms RV & Golf Resort. Friendly place near a strip-town right out of the 50’s.  Tattoo parlors and Combat barbershops lined the main drag. Besides being the northern gateway to Joshua Tree National Park it is the main entrance to the massive Marine Air Ground Combat Center. Side note: Another thing that amazes me on this road trip is the number of and size of government restricted military facilities in the West.  Freakin HUGE blocks of desert and mountain land that you’ll never see unless you are a General. One can only guess what’s going on up there!

While Twentynine Palms is nothing to write home about…. Joshua Tree National Park is! Magical, other-worldly kind a place with a playground of rocks and strange vegetation unlike anything I’ve seen. Number of cool drives and trails through what is a Nirvana for rock climbers. Took a stroll around the Hall of Horrors, Jumbo Rocks, and Hemingway one day, hiked 2.5 miles into a hidden canyon with wild native palm trees (Fortynine Palms Oasis) another. Key to this place would be camping inside the park in one of the very cool campsites they have, Big Mo is just too tubby to fit. Ended my stay with a massive dust storm that deposited 2 inches of fine dirt on my decks.  Something else I’m learning that is part of springtime in the desert SW! And if the winds don’t blow me back to Kansas, next stop will be Death Valley!

Tucson to Tubac via Mexico

January 14 to February 25, 2017

No, I did not crash and end up in a ditch near Tumacacori although that was one of my stops this past week.  I’m learning that a blog takes time and effort – two things I like to fill with other mindless stuff.  Not sure if I was going to like this new lifestyle of mine but so far I’m LOVING IT!  So enough of an intro, on to my travels these past 2 months….

My buddy Brad Hendrix suggested that I check out Catalina State Park near Tucson. I booked a site there for the max 2 weeks, little did I know it came with Roadrunners and coyotes cavorting off my deck.  When not working, time was spent hiking, biking, eating amazing Mex food at El Charro and attending two dinners at the annual Dude Ranchers Association meeting at the Tanque Verde Ranch. Got to see some old rancher & media friends; Russell True, Gene Kilgore, Nancy Schretter…. but most faces were new. When the temps hit freezing one night I was glad that I was headed south to Mexico again!

catalina-sp

Picked up my dear friend Marion at Sky Harbor and we hightailed it south across the boarder once again to the Reef RV Park in Puerto Penasco. Our mission was simple, bask in the sun, play bocci, eat fresh caught seafood, drink beer and go on a treasure hunt. You may remember our first trip there and that mason jar of contraband we buried in the Sonoran desert? Good news is that our memories are still razor sharp and we dug it up at the first try. Needless to say the rest of the week was a blur…. But did we have some fun! Dolphins and a sea lion visited our beach. Osprey dove for fish in the tide pool right in front of the back deck. Vendors enticed us with tamales, burritos, Cuban cigars, a cowboy sombrero and a cute handmade cocktail table I just had to have. Took a backcountry road tour of El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve where NASA trained for the Apollo missions. Love this place!  Be back the entire month of February 2018 (booked) so come and visit!

Got back to Arizona and a forgettable RV park just in time to watch the Stupid Bowl. Boo Patriots, Brady and Belicheat! Bid farewell to Marion and headed southeast, past Tucson to the small eclectic hippie artist town of Tubac, AZ.  Established in 1752 it’s the oldest European settlement in Arizona.  Great history, shops, bars, restaurants (all the baby back ribs you can eat on Thurs at Tubac Jacks), and a great RV Park – the Flying W Ranch.  Visited the tumbledown mission of Tumacacori and took a self-guided tour.  Very cool.

On the road, traveling like I do, you are always open for surprises. One evening I saw a new trailer pull into the Flying W and park a 100 ft from me.  Thought nothing of it.  The next day I was heading into town and waived at the cute blonde gal hanging by the door.  Wanting a better peak I walked closed and said “Howdy!” I was not expecting her response…. “Wiggins?”  My God! It was Susie Hendrix, an old acquaintance from Boulder. Then out walked Brad, her hubby and damn, I knew I was in for some good social time and three nights of serious drinking.  You see Brad was the one who told me of this place. This was their 3rd visit.  Small world.  Getting with them for laughs reminded me how solitary a life I lead and how good it is to see friends.  I’m off to Phoenix and the airport this weekend. Flying to Denver to see a bevy of doctors for wellness check-ups, my tax guy and most of my old buddies again! Be good to recharge my social life!!!  Next post…. on my return to AZ trip and Lake Havasu. Then on the Joshua Tree, Death Valley and the parks of Utah!!  Back to Boulder for the month of June. Travel on!!

Holidays in Cactus Country

November 2016 to January 13, 2017

I’ve been incommunicado for some time now. I hear that’s a big No No for a blog. Can’t blame anyone who has given up on me and bailed. But if you do you will miss some fun stuff. Kicking around Arizona the past couple of months reminded me just how nice it is here in the winter – especially when I see it’s ZERO and snowing in Colorado!

First stop of note was a two week stay ‘Out Wickenburg Way’ where I used to book dude ranch vacations by the wagon-load. Nice town outside the Phoenix madness that made their politics clear… Big billboards urged you to Vote for Trump and Hillary for Prison! The sole highlight was an unforgettable gourmet dinner with bro Don & wife Fay in the small town of Congress at a place called Nichols West. Some 5-star chef escaped here and opened up a truly wonderful restaurant!  One other place of note is the Hassayampa River Preserve – a cool place to hike and see nature.

nichols-west

It was back in the spring of 1973 when I had my first exposure to the West. Five Penn Staters (yes, one of whom was our beloved Gary Smith) and I spent six months supposedly “helping” the Yavapai Apache tribe at Fort McDowell Reservation. The experience was transformational and made me want to live out West upon graduation.  In an ironic twist of fate the tribe was then facing near extinction and total inundation due to the Orme Dam being considered at the confluence of the Salt and Verde Rivers. Low community morale and poverty was dominant. But turning the pile of poop they were thrown by the whiteman into pure gold, they later organized and opened the first casino on Indian land in the state. Now the tribe is mega wealthy, the dam is a bad memory and the white visitors are now paying them millions in gambling losses!  Way to go I say.

A cool thing for me was that they also opened up a nice RV resort near where I used to sell Coors beer at Kill’s Grocery. I booked the entire month of December there! Had an incredible unexpected visit from Annie Thomas to celebrate my birthday! Talked my boys Jake and Luke into visiting me over Xmas. We had a blast. Hit the casino (more cash for the tribe) and hooked up with Don & Fay for a great hike to Tom’s Thumb in the McDowell Mountains.

Life often throws you unplanned opportunities and with Penn State winning the Big 10 and going to the Rose Bowl… my brother Jim and I HAD to go!  I booked a site at the Pomona KOA (a dump) and Jim flew out on a red-eye from NYC on New Year’s eve. The Jan 1 pep rally was awesome and the Jan 2 game was one of the best I’ve ever seen although I would have enjoyed NOT sitting in the USC section (thanks Jim). Score: 52-49. The USC (used Trojans) ended up on top but win or lose you HAVE to experience a Rose Bowl in your lifetime.

For the past two weeks I’ve been camping at the MOST beautiful site to date – McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I literally parked the rig next to endless Sonoran Desert with Saguaro cacti, teddy bear cholla, bands of barking coyotes and endless views of the distant Superstition Mountains.  If you are a mountain biker – this is YOUR place!  Miles and miles of trails. The sunsets (and rises) are breathtaking and the closest neighbor is 500 yards away!  I’ll be back.

Tomorrow I head south to Tucson and yet another awesome park – Catalina State Park…….. stay tuned.

Puerto Peñasco Paradise

October 30 – November 6, 2016

My very bestus buddy Marion talked me into picking her up in Phoenix and driving 3 1/2 hours south, across the border into Old Mexico. I agreed first because I love to travel anywhere with her and second, there was a beach and funky little Mexican town at the end of the drive. The bonus was it was before the election and there wasn’t a Trump Wall to keep us out. In fact the border crossings were a breeze. Seems like they don’t want to scare away the gringo tourists.

I fell in love with *Puerto Peñasco the very first day (aka *Rocky Point).  Our park was right on the beach. A kickin bar and restaurant were a stone’s throw away. The back deck of Big Mo was just 150 feet from the Sea of Cortez. Over the course of the ensuing days we snorkeled the reef right off the beach (endless schools of multi-colored fish), played bocci, drank gallons of tequila and Mexican beer, took a timeshare tour (to get discounted horseback riding and ATVing), ate fresh seafood (this place is known for its shrimping), basked in incredible sunsets and helped recharge the spiritual world by fulfilling our crystal burying mission (more on that later). Check out our spot in paradise….

Two big events would take place during the week…. Halloween and a day later, Marion’s birthday.  Seems that in Mexico, Halloween is strictly for the kids (unlike the adult holiday in the US). Another camper warned us to get some candy. We went into town and got a shit load but we soon figured we didn’t have nearly enough! Every kid in town must have come out to the park to get treats. “Tricky, tricky Halloween!” was the chant. I ran out for a second load of sweets and when they ran out we popped all the popcorn I had and bagged it in 50 freezer bags I had.  Must have been well over 200 kids.

The next day being Marion’s birthday and start of  Dia de los Muertos we just had to start celebrating. Got quite toasted at our bar, Wrecked at the Reef. Made the bartender whip up a Velvet Hammer for the birthday girl. Partied well after the park’s curfew but what the hell – this was Mexico. No rules!  Pretty nice impromptu dress-up wouldn’t you say?

We were also on a mission for peace in the world. We were designated emissaries acting as vital instruments in the cosmic world of crystals and positive energy.  Our quest was to find the perfect place to bury a beautiful arrangement of ten golf ball-sized Merkaba crystals with Tetrahedron Geometry somewhere in the surrounding desert, log the GPS coordinates and report back to mission control in Colorado.  We actually did this last year (although we dropped them in the water) further down the Baja Peninsula near Las Animas eco-camp. See the video from last November.  We ATV’d it up a nearby hill and found the perfect spot overlooking two bays and the Sea of Cortez.  Now that they are in line with others in the universe, I can feel them working!  Yes, I’m sunbaked and weird.

Funny story, as it turns out the crystals weren’t the only thing we buried in the desert. Three days before we were to check out and return to the US, I was rummaging around the RV storage area and came across a large Mason jar of Westcliffe-grown medicinal herbage I forgot that I had stashed for emergencies.  No bueno for that possibility of a border inspection awaiting ahead. Not wanting to spend life behind bars in an Arizona prison we decided to bury the weed so we could return some day and smoke it up. We motored into the desert and made a mental pirate’s map. Never thought I’d be a drug runner INTO Mexico! We buried it and celebrated with a beer. Vaya con dios Mexico!  I WILL be back!

 

Tombstone Territory

October 22-28, 2016

As luck has it, I rolled into Tombstone, Arizona on the perfect weekend.  First indication… a pair of 1880’s period dressed cowboys walking down the sidewalk packin six shooters and carrying rifles. It was Helldorado Days and the town had gone Wyatt Earp-Doc Holliday-crazy. Over the next few days there were more gun battles and shootouts than the south side of Chicago on a hot summer night. The RV park was full of horse trailers, chuck wagons, role-playing undertakers and working girls from the bordello all dressed to the T and waiting their stage call.  I entered a Wild West time capsule and was loving every minute of it.

Vital to every western town full of good and bad guys is a large cemetery and Tombstone is no exception. A visit to Boot Hill was in order and well worth the $4.00 donation to get in. Here are the graves of those Clantons and McLaurys who met their maker at the OK Corral along with scores of other unfortunates who got shot playing cards, stealing a horse or thru bad luck, were mistook for someone else.

You don’t come to Tombstone for great food or nightlife.  For that you head to nearby Bisbee (a town full of old mines, California hippies, artisans, musicians and great restaurants). Worth an afternoon (the local beer is excellent). For adventure and wildlife I decided to check out the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area just west of town. Very cool desert river environment where I saw owls, hawks, a white-tailed deer and no other humans for miles. At the Old Charleston Bridge there is a funny monument to a band of Mormon soldiers who were attacked by a herd of wild bulls.  I heard the bulls lost.

Time to move on!  Next post will be on my trip into Old Mexico to the shores of the Sea of Cortez!