November 6

I neglected to report on the most unusual thing we saw on the trip.

Driving along the Alaska Highway (a.k.a. Alcan) in Yukon, pretty much in the middle of nowhere as you can get on a road in North America, we passed a fellow on a unicycle.

We are home.

Our trip took 120 days, plus 20 days on the ill-fated Michigan leg.

We covered a grand total of 18,693 miles (make that 19,000 if you add in the hiking miles).

We visited 32 states.

Thanks for going along for the ride.

First stop, last stop

November 4

New State:  South Carolina

Where's James?

Where’s James? (RT photo)

The eastern continental divide runs down Atlanta’s Peachtree Street.  The Chattahoochee River flows to the Gulf of Mexico, even though it is well east of the Appalachian Mountains that spill into Alabama. If you spit on Peachtree Street there’s a fifty-fifty chance your spittle will go to the Atlantic or the Gulf.

The Blue Ridge escarpment marks the eastern edge of the Appalachians, but any rain that falls on the mountains proper will run west.

The road from Atlanta to Charlotte, I-85, runs through the piedmont, just parallel to real mountains.  Looking off to the north, you can almost see the mountains; in Greenville, you actually can.  Just south of Charlotte you pass close to King’s and Crowder Mountains.  The road is consistently hilly, just enough to challenge your cruise control, or to keep you guessing whether those trucks are going to hold you up or run you down.

There’s been a lot of rain lately, so all the rivers and creeks we crossed along the way were near or over their banks.  And autumn is catching back up with us – the leaves are growing colorful, although they are draped in a gray mist.

There's a signpost up ahead ... (RT photo)

There’s a signpost up ahead … (RT photo)

When we reached Charlotte, we detoured north.  One more stop before finally reaching home:  Troutman.  It was our first stop on the way out, and it is our last stop on the way back, to visit Rebecca’s mother and family.

Our “hike” is up and down Troutman Farm Road.  Despite the “No Outlet” nature of the street, neighbors tend to whiz by, keeping walkers on their toes.  There’s also a state park, Lake Norman State Park, with a trail system along the lakeshore, but we assume it is too muddy right now.

The Troutman homestead is located just off Old Mountain Road, which runs along a ridgeline through farmland from Troutman to Hiddenite (Iredell to Alexander Counties, if you prefer).  Hiddenite is a rich source of gemstones, including emeralds.

Hiddenite sits at the edge of the Brushy Mountains.  The Brushies are not particularly tall, but they are significant:  They mark the true beginning of the Blue Ridge, which has retreated significantly over the ages (op cit).

The Brushies have a lot of exposed rock faces between Hiddenite and Wilkesboro, but alas no public lands or hiking trails (to my knowledge).  They are a good source for apples.


Kennesaw Mountain

November 1

New states:  Mississippi; Alabama; Georgia


Turns out the road home goes through home for both Rebecca and me.

We decided to drive to visit my father who lives at the foot of Kennesaw Mountain, a Civil War Battlefield Park in Marietta, Georgia.

ackyard view of one ofmthe new neighboring mansions.

ackyard view of one ofmthe new neighboring mansions.

Our route took us through Birmingham, Alabama, which is tucked into the lowest reaches of the Appalachian Mountains.  You might be surprised at how mountainous that region is.  The interstate highway just cuts through it, but one can imagine the backroads through the hills could be as steep and winding as those in the Ozarks.

We crossed the border into Georgia in time for our dashboard clock to be correct – for two days.  We’d left it on Eastern time through four time zones, but today it’s off by an hour anyway:  Today is the longest day of the year.

Growing up I did not spend a lot of time on Kennesaw Mountain, but we’ve made up for it since I’ve moved away.  We hike to Cheatham Hill or up the mountain more than once on every trip to town.

The best trail climbs Pigeon Hill, then ascends Little Kennesaw, drops to a saddle, then rises to the top of Kennesaw at 1800 feet, an elevation gain of 650 feet over two miles, not counting the extra hundred feet resulting from the saddle.  There are great views of the Atlanta skyline from several places on the mountains.

Visitors' Center

Visitors’ Center

There’s a new trail, the 24-battery trail, that starts close to my dad’s house that goes to the visitors’ center, aother four-mile round trip.  The 24 battery placements are the most interesting artifacts of the war in the park.

The Civil War was lost, or won, by the time Sherman reached Cobb County, but there was plenty of dying left to be done, along with the burning of the state.  The battle was especially ridiculous.  The Confederates were dug in in an unassailable position, but Sherman, with his superior forces, tried to take the mountain. Fought in heavy rain in June, 1864, the assault accomplished nothing more that convincing Sherman to go around the Confederates to get to Atlanta instead of through them.

When I was a kid on the other side of Atlanta, near Emory, Kennesaw Mountain was way out in the country.  We might have gone there once, before we moved to Marietta.  Now it’s just another suburb.  The park has become a major recreational destination.  The parking lots are always full, and the trails are crowded.


When I was in college, my family went on a trip in an RV to the Gaspe peninsula.  When we got back, my father got involved in a business venture, leasing a prime location on Highway 41, the major southbound artery into Atlanta, near Lake Alatoona.  He built an RV campground.  It was very nice, in the woods with hillside, private sites.

I was the first manager of Lakeside Campground, which wasn’t on the lake.  It was a depressing job, as there were never more than two or three campers in the campground on any night.

Battery atop Little Kennesaw

Battery atop Little Kennesaw


October 28

Does this picture resonate with you?

Does this picture resonate with you? Looks like a ghost in one of the rooms.


Coming east out of the Ozarks, the landscape gets really flat.

It’s agricultural country. We passed huge fields that had just been plowed. Further west it would have been corn, or maybe at this time of year wheat. Giant silos suggested grain. We saw a telltale sign:


EB1A0063Rice, in Arkansas? Turns out Arkansas is the Vietnam of the U.S., rice-wise.

Over the 10,000 years of its existence, the Mississippi River has created a rich delta that reaches north at least to Tennessee.

We checked into our first-ever AirBNB suite in Memphis. It was a few blocks south of Beale Street and two blocks from the Lorraine Motel.

If you are my age, you will immediately recognize the Lorraine Motel as the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination almost 50 years ago. It’s weird to make a public shrine and museum (Civil Rights Museum0 out of a place where somebody was murdered, but I found it moving and appropriate.


The monorail to Mud Island.

Memphis is a curious town. We learned from our walking tour guide, Rooster, it was named after an Egyptian city located in a position on the Nile similar to Memphis’s on the Mississippi.  It’s got a rich history as a distribution center, especially for cotton and slaves. It’s strategic significance in the Civil War is less than that of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

EB1A0044Present-day Memphis is a typical middle-sized Big League city with a lot of older warehouse-type buildings being converted into condos. We were a little cEB1A0033onfused by the lack of traffic in town: We walked more than a mile through town at several different times of day and barely had to look out for cars when crossing the street.

One peculiarity of the town is the duck march inside the Peabody Hotel at 11 a.m. every morning.

The biggest tourist attraction is Beale Street. For two blocks, every establishment is a bar with live (mostly) electric blues. We went to B.B. King’s Blues Club, where we caught Preston Shannon, a Memphis legend who can play a guitar. The food was mediocre and the drinks overpriced, but the music and ambiance were worth the effort.

Oh, and Beale Street has great neon.

A cotton bale weighs almost 500 pounds.


We ate real Memphis food on the visit:  Ribs at Central BBQ (no relation to BB King), fried chicken at Gus’s, and breakfast (I had the red neck eggs breakfast with four biscuits and gravy over sausage patties, yum) at the
Arcade.  Simple settings, portions to get my girth back.


Beale Street

The Ozarks

October 27

New state: Arkansas

Eureka Springs area

Eureka Springs area

Rebecca’s fiftieth state would be Arkansas. Since we were taking the northern route home, we headed for the Ozark Mountains.

EB1A0418The first route we took, toward Eureka Springs, is called the Pig Trail. It’s one of those winding mountain roads favored by motorcyclists. The road was not overrun by bikers.

We finally have gotten out front of autumn. The roads through the Ozarks are famous for fall leaf colors the last week in October, but the leaves are just starting to change. Around here, at least, it’s a late fall.

Our first stop, Eureka Springs, is an old “Victorian” village built around the tourist traffic that came to town seeking a cure in the springs. The center of town is down a steep street, with shops built into the side of the hill. EB1A0420On the ridge above town are lots of motels, RV parks, and B&B’s.  We’d hoped to dine at the German restaurant but it was closed.

Eureka Springs

Eureka Springs

The town really decks out for Halloween.

Just outside of town is the Thorncrown Chapel, regarded as the fourth most important architectural design of the twentieth century.

We stayed the night at our first KOA, which was really nice.

The next day we drove a serpentine route through the mountains to the town of Mountain View. For all our travels, I don’t recall a drive with steeper hills or sharper curves.

The next day we set out for the town of Mountain View. We followed a path set forth by National geographic Rebecca found on the ‘net.

Thorncrown Chapel

Thorncrown Chapel

It was a fantastic drive, taking thirty miles on the hour. We came upon the Buffalo National River, where I caught a glimpse of a dramatic gorge with sheer cliffs rising hundreds of feet above the river.

A half hour later we came down a long, steep grade, and there it was again, the Buffalo River. We encountered the river, steep walls and all, another two or three times in the course of the afternoon.

We made it to Mountain View, where they were prepping for their annual Bean Festival, just in time for Patricia, which was less intense than she was when she hit Mexico. We dined that night at Jojo’s Catfish Wharf, which was even better than advertised.

Tuesday we went to see the Blanchard Springs Caverns, part of the National Park system. Another worthy diversion.  Our tour took us through two huge chambers which had been lighted by a European technician who specialized in opera houses.

Inside chapel

Inside chapel

We learned the Ozarks were formed by the “Great Upheaval’ some 50 million years ago, an event unrelated to the formation of the Blue Ridge.  (The Mississippi River is only 10,000 years old.)

Imagine the road is a river and the cliffs are four times taller: Buffalo River.

Imagine the road is a river and the cliffs are four times taller: Buffalo River.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving through the rain to Memphis.

I think I’d like to return to the Ozarks.



The Avis of Canyons

October 24

New states: Texas; Oklahoma


The Texas panhandle may be the world’s largest wind farm.

We came up a rise on I-40 just after crossing over from New Mexico to be confronted by a line of wind turbines that stretched to the horizon. Some 40 miles later, they took a break for the city of Amarillo. They would resume on the other side of the city and continue, though somewhat less contiguously, well into Oklahoma.

EB1A0386The astute geographer among you may note that Big Bend National Park is nowhere near I-40. We decided to reroute north to avoid the flooding from Hurricane Patricia.

Fortunately, a Texan we’d met earlier in the trip told me the second largest canyon in the world is in the Texas panhandle.

So we set our sites on Palo Duro Canyon, which actually lays claim to being second in the U.S. At 800-feet deep, it does not threaten to steal the title “Grand,” but it is an interesting and worthy stop along the way.

The campground is located on the canyon floor. We parked the Wegwam and rode our bikes along the park EB1A0400road.

The next day we hiked the favorite park trail, to the Lighthouse. It’ a six-mile round-trip hike along a fairly level path through red-grounded desert. The canyon walls display excellent stratification and a variety of colors. In the heat of summer it would be a really testing endeavor, but in October it is a walk in the park. We were not alone.

The hike culminates with a steep scramble up to the base of the Lighthouse formation, which of course is a lot bigger than it looks from across the canyon. There’s also a great view of the canyon there.

EB1A0374We heard a familiar noise from above. Sandhill cranes. Over the course of two day, more than a thousand passed overhead. I wonder if we’d seen any of them in Fairbanks.

The park was booked for Saturday night, so we drove to Oklahoma City, where we “camped” in an RV park on the edge of the city bordering the Interstate, with what appeared to be 400 RVs. Not our favorite stop of the trip.

I should note that east of Oklahoma City the landscape suddenly changes with the appearance of trees. Definitely getting closer to home.



Santa Fe


October 22

As previously reported, my birthday started out with rain. We hung around the casita playing Scrabble waiting for a break in the weather. I won three straight, a statistically significant event given I usually lose two out of three to Rebecca.


Oldest house

Sometime after noon the rain slacked off, so we set off for the International Folk Art Museum. It was a three-mile walk, and the sidewalk ran out halfway there. Then the rain kicked up, and about a half mile from the museum thunder joined the mix.

We survived and toured the museum. There were lots of dolls and village scenes comprised of dolls. I learned three things from the exhibits: that the weeble was probably derived from a traditional Japanese doll that is a tall cylinder with a simple ball for a head; that there is a protective talisman, a khamsa, derived from a representation of a hand; and I forgot the third one.

The other wing of the museum featured a temporary exhibition of pottery from the American South, whichEB1A0291 turned out to be mostly from Seagrove, North Carolina. Small world.

When we were ready to leave it was pouring rain and about 35 degrees. Where you could see the nearby mountains through the clouds you could make out snow about 400 feet up.

We caught a city bus back to the flat.

Next day we had better weather, so we went walking around town. We started at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. There was a room of her paintings and then an exhibition of American Modernism. O’Keeffe married a photographer old enough to be her father, posed nude for him, painted sexually explicit flowers, and was apparently shocked when she was regarded as a sensual artist. She moved from New York City to New Mexico, and her husband never visited her there.


The best discovery of the exhibit was Marsden Hartley.

EB1A0285The rest of the day we just walked around town looking at shops, churches, and old buildings. We walked the length of Canyon Drive, where every house is a gallery of unaffordable fine art and sculptures.

One of my most favorite songs is “Santa Fe,” by Eilen Jewell.  Check it out.

Inside oldest house

Inside oldest house



Unaffordable whirligigs


Tuhot and Tuwet


October 21

New state:  New Mexico

This desert weather is really weird.

It’s the morning of my sixty-fourth birthday.  We’re sitting in a warm casita just off the Plaza in Santa Fe, and it’s raining.

EB1A0142This isn’t really the desert, but we’ve just spent several days to the south, especially three nights in Tucson, which boasts 360 days of sunshine a year.

We managed to see storms every day.

The first night in Tucson was spent in a little rv park near downtown where, had they had showers, we would have stayed, especially given the free foosball table.

The other two nights we moved to an rv “resort”  little north, or else east, of town (having some real directional issues here).  We ended up wasting an entire day in the rv park.  The resort was for the 55+ crowd.  Most of the spaces were permanent little units like mini mobile homes.

EB1A0154We did not make it into downtown Tucson, which is serviced by light rail that runs near the campground we left.

Our main exploration was to visit the Sonoran Desert Museum.  It’s more of a zoo than a museum, with trails winding through the desert to see a variety of plants and animals.  We saw a wolf, a mountain lion, fox, coyote, river otter(!), javelin, and butterflies.

We arrived just in time for the first raptor demo of the season – ravens, owl, and falcons swooped at our heads.

And lots of saguaro.  We learned saguaro can live 300 years.  They send out arms when they are dense EB1A0196enough to withstand freezing.  Each arm (and the original head) supports a single bloom.

We went from there to the western section of Saguaro National Park.  That’s where to go to see saguaro.  It’s also where we saw a serious storm brewing on the desert, so we didn’t stick around.  Besides, it was hot as the desert, which we’d already spent two hours in.

That evening we walked to dinner from the rv resort to a nice Mexican-food restaurant.  The two-mile walk turned out to be three, and it rained the whole way back.  Silly desert.

EB1A0181Let’s not forget the rain in perpetually dry Canyonlands.

The next day we hung out by the pool and watched storms roll across the horizon.  It did ‘t rain until after dark.

On the way out of town, we drove through the eastern division of Saguaro NP.  I was looking forward to a walk through the saguaro forest.

As we drove the loop road, Rebecca asked, “Where are the saguaros?” The area wasn’t devoid of the giant cacti, but they were much sparser than in the wesrtern section.   Turns out, there were two hard freezes, both over 50 years ago that wiped out most of the saguaro.  And cattle grazing in the park kept new baby saguaro from sprouting.


Presumably keeping cows out and global warming will combine to restore the saguaro forest.

Our next stop was Elephant Butte Reservoir state park in New Mexico.  Dammed on the Rio Grande, it’s the largest lake in New Mexico, but it’s not the kake it once was.  Our “beach”campground is now a fifteen-minute walk from the shoreline.


It was a very nice campsite, but still subject to desert weather.  We took a long walk along the edge of the lake, eventually retreating to the Wegwam for shelter from a severe lightning storm that did not arrive until after dark

We had interesting company in the campground – a covey of Gambel quail., which ran around the campsites, very seldom venturing to fly.EB1A0275


Oh, at 64 I still have my hair.



October 14

New State:  Arizona

The drive from Canyonlands to the Grand Canyon went through Monument Valley, where we didn’t see many “monuments.”

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

We went back up to Page and checked in at the campground at Lake Powell.  Turns out, it’s a national park, with a well-above-average-for-a-national-park RV facility.

But before that … we found a carwash in Page and gave the Wegwam a good bath, and when we got up the next morning in the campground gave it a thorough cleaning inside.

Otherwise, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to take advantage of Lake Powell; Rebecca still wants to rent a houseboat on the lake for a few days, some day.  We did avail ourselves of access to the hot tub at the “resort” in the park, to which our campground stay entitled us; and Rebecca did go for a quick dip in the lake.

Lake Powell

Lake Powell

The road to the Grand Canyon from Page hasn’t changed much since we were there last (two years ago?).  They’re doing some serious road building in Cameron, the turn off point for the Canyon.

The Grand Canyon itself is still Grand.

The weather was excellent, not too hot in the daytime and not too hot at night.  On our first afternoon, we tooled around on the bikes a bit, riding out along the road toward Hermit’s Rest which is closed to cars.  We parked the bikes and walked for close to a mile, then determined to return the next day to take the shuttle out to Hermit’s Rest and walk the rim trail all the way back, a hike of around seven miles.


There’s an interesting geological education feature along the paved portion of the rim trail.  There are brass markers that mark off every 10 million years, with markers to demonstrate the various times at which different things occurred, like the formation of the first rock in the canyon, and various other events like (one assumes, we didn’t follow the entire trail) the steps of the formation of the canyon itself.

EB1A0109We did see the first marker along that trail:  The beginning of the earth.  The

Desert View

Desert View

Grand Canyon, property of the U.S. Government, puts the age of the earth at 4.56 billion years.  It would be interesting to ask the various Presidential contenders how old they think the earth is.  Any who suggest the earth is only 4,000 years old should be asked, in follow up, if they would remove that geological timeline from the Grand Canyon rim trail.

It’s actually a pretty daunting concept.  The Blue Ridge was formed something on the order of 250 million years ago.  It’s eroded from the Brush Mountains back to Sheets Gap Overlook over the course of those 250 EB1A0094million years (probably give or take a few tens of millions of years).  Just for grins, suppose that’s 20 miles of erosion in 200 million years (for arithmetic simplicity’s sake).  That comes to one mile every 20 million years, or one foot every 3787 years.  Or one inch every 315 years.

That’s really, really slow.

Erosion from paved surface areas occurs much more quickly than that.

EB1A0030But back to the canyon.  We did in fact hike the rim trail from Hermit’s Rest to the Bright Angel Lodge, and it was well worth the effort.  It’s along the rim the whole way, and at walking pace you really get to see a lot of the canyon (when you’re not looking at your feet while walking the edge of the Abyss, the sheerest walls of the canyon in the park).  Oops.

There are a lot of parking lot elk in the Grand Canyon.  The cows were congregating on the rim trail at one point, forcing us to detour into the road.

For our last day in the canyon we hiked down Bright Angel Trail to the three-mile rest house.  Not a particularly taxing venture, especially compared to the couple we talked to who intended to hike rim-to-rim in one day, let alone their friends, who were planning to hike South Rim to North Rim and back in a single day, some 50 miles, with over 11,000 feet in elevation change.  Makes the 2,100 feet we went down and back up sound like a flat stroll.


We left the Grand Canyon and drove to Phoenix, where we are holed up on the top (eighteenth) floor of the Westin Hotel.  Rebecca is meeting with a committee from the National Association of Counties, while I take advantage of WIRED internet to catch up on the blogging.

Bright Angel Trail from Bright Angel Trail.

Bright Angel Trail from Bright Angel Trail.

To catch you up, we’ve been on the road for 96 days and covered 12,487 miles (not counting the 3300 miles from the first attempt).

Phoenix Canyon

Phoenix Canyon as seen from our room

One never knows what kind of internet will be available from here, although there is less uncertainty than there was in, say, Watson Lake, Yukon.  Actually, we had pretty good cell coverage throughout the trip; much better than expected.


Our itinerary from here may include stops in Tucson, Santa Fe, Carlsbad Caverns, Big Bend, and San Antonio.  From there it could be a bit of a zig zag as we try to hit two of Rebecca’s last states, Oklahoma and Arkansas, thence back south into Mississippi and Louisiana before turning for home.  There still could be several stops along that way as well.  Stay tuned.

Driving up Stairs

October 8

Canyonlands from Island in the Sky Overlook

Canyonlands from Island in the Sky Overlook

Someone put a bug in my ear about Canyonlands many years ago, so it was high on my list of destinations for this trip.  I’d since heard the park is sprawling and almost inaccessible.

EB1A0758We drove into the main entry into the park, at the Island in the Sky visitors’ center, where we got a taste of Canyonlands.

The Island in the Sky overlook is perched on a sheer cliff a couple thousand feet above the Canyonlands floor.  Two rivers flow through the park, the Green and the Colorado.  There’s a viewpoint for seeing the Green River from the Island in the Sky section, but the best view of the Colorado is from a bridge across it on the way into Moab.

We hiked the fairly short rim trail, which hugs the top of the “mesa” (really a cuesta – see Mesa Verde) and includes someEB1A0765 fun scrambles up slanty rocks.  Off in the distance you can see the Needles, a series of spires downstream from the overlook, accessible via a second entry and visitors’ center.  Although the Needles are only about 20 miles from the Island in the Sky overlook, it’s close to a 100-mile drive by paved road.

Another thing you can see from the overlook is roads that zigzag straight down the sheer cliff to the canyon floor, then shoot across the desert.

Tour guide John

Tour guide John

Since I’d heard the only way to really see Canyonlands was by four-wheel vehicle, we looked for tours and found a company, NAVTEC, that was authorized to drive into the park.

The weather forecast was for good weather on Sunday, with rain coming in on Monday, so we called to try to book a trip to the Needles on Sunday.  We were informed they need at least three customers to run the tour, but they had two on a waiting list for Monday.  We suggested they contact the two on the waiting list to switch to Sunday, but they never did, so we wound up booking the Monday tour.

An intermittent drizzle was falling when we were picked up by the tour driver in his four-wheel-drive Toyota SUV, with two German gentlemen already in place in the van.  The man in the front seat wasn’t feeling well and spoke little, but our partner in the back seat, Thomas, was excited about the adventure and a worthy conversationalist.

Our ride

Our ride

Our tour guide, A.H. John (not his real initials) seemed to have a chip on his shoulder.  He was an old coot, a grizzled veteran of 20-plus years of hard living in the Moab desert, who would have fit the profile for a prospector in previous years.  EB1A0081(I don’t think he was as old as me, although he looked it.)  We never figured out what his problem was, maybe he just resented people who thought sleeping in a van was camping and had enough money to pay for his tour.  At any rate, he was thin-skinned and defensive, and it made for an uncomfortable trip.  His was not the prototypical personality for a tour guide.

He didn’t like that we were concerned about the rain.  “This is the kind of weather where you see professional photographers.”  True, the fog that enveloped the Needles made for a ghostly effect, but blue sky and visibility also contribute to interesting pictures.


He said something about seeing Alfred Hitchcock in one of the rock formations as we were driving into the park, and when nobody laughed he groaned that apparently this was going to be a humorless trip.

Now, you can probably imagine if somebody said that to me there’d be plenty of attempts thereafter to match wits.  Apparently, though, A.H. John had no wit, because he never recognized that anything I said was intended to be funny.

EB1A0085As we were bouncing along a dirt road a few miles beyond the visitors’ center, he said, “I guess nobody wants to take pictures.”  I dug my camera out of its case and said I guessed I’d have to accept that challenge, which only angered him because he insisted he had not issued a challenge.

Actually, it was a real challenge to take pictures.  If I rolled the window down, it would start raining and I’d have to roll it back up.  The ride reminded me of trying to take photos from the boat we took into the Kenai Fjords, rocking on ten-foot waves.  The image stabilization in my camera lens was no match for the jostling of the drive.

We arrived at Elephant Hill, a parking area and trailhead for one of the park’s most popular hikes, but instead of parking, John swung the car up the hill.EB1A0073

I guess you could call it a road.  Rebecca said it was like driving a car up a flight of stairs.  In hindsight, it would probably be easier to drive up stairs.

The drive to the end of the road, and our own trailhead destination, climbed two more hills like the first.  There was one stretch where we drove a rock-bound alley where there wasn’t more than an inch leeway on either side of the car.  It required masterful driving not to knock off one of the rearview mirrors.


Squeeze. Rebecca took this.

The best trick of the drive was a point where, going up one of those rocky hills, the hairpin curve in the middle of the hill was too sharp, requiring the vehicle to pull beyond the turn, then back up the remainder of the hill.

A better day

A better day

Understand, when we booked the tour, we had no clue what we were in for.  We expected something like driving down one of those cliff-side roads we’d seen at Island in the Sky.  This ride was jarring and breathtaking; the longest drop-offs weren’t more than 50 feet, nothing like the thousands of feet of sheer rock face we’d seen, but still, more than enough to kill you.

In truth, the trip was exhilarating, a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.  (I repeated frequently I thought the ride was “fantastic,” but there was no appeasing John.)

So we were ready to stop and go on our hike after the hour-or-so drive of six-or-so miles.

It was only 11:30, so it was agreed to hike first and eat lunch second.EB1A0530

We got out of the car, and as usual I was futzing with my camera gear and the last one ready to go.  John waited for me, but the other three went tramping up the trail without us.

This further annoyed John.  About a hundred yards into the trail he suddenly turned to me, stuck his finger right into my face, and said I’d done nothing but insult him the whole ride in; and complain about the weather.  He acknowledged I had a bottle of water, but accused the others of going off totally unprepared.  “I guess I’m just the chauffeur,” he said.


The hike was fantastic.  We hiked among giant rock formations.  We climbed steep rock faces.  We squeezed through narrow rock alleys.  We got closer and closer to giant red needles.


But we were right to worry about the weather.  By the time we reached our trail’s destination, an elevated space with a nice view of a few needles in the gloaming, it was raining pretty hard.  I’d neglected to bring any cover for my camera, so I was struggling to keep it under my rain jacket, which did not enhance my hiking ability.

If you’ve ever hiked on rocks, you probably were glad it was dry.  Rocks look like they could get really slippery in the rain.  Miraculously, the rocks in Canyonlands are “sticky when wet.”  Footing was not an issue.

However … when we got to one of the narrow rock alleys on the return trip, there was more than a trickle of water running through it.  And then within a couple of minutes, before we’d gotten through, there was more than more than a trickle, and as I passed a side- alley that connected to the main passage, the little stream building up in it was breaching into the main channel.


About 20 feet before exiting the alley, there’s a drop of about five feet facilitated by a log with steps cut into it.  I was last down that “ladder,” and the bottom of it was submerged.  John was there to assist, and verified that when I’d stepped on the last visible step that there was still one more.  I made it down to the bottom, where the water was lapping at the hem to my shorts.

EB1A0557Meanwhile, John was busy taking photos with his phone.  “I’ve never seen it like this,” he said.

There’s one tree at the trailhead, so we sought shelter beneath it was we ate lunch.  Then we battened down for the return ride, which was even more challenging than the ride in.  Perhaps John was going a bit faster than he usually would, given the nature of nature that day.  Going up one of the hills, we bottomed out a couple of times with really hard bumps, and on two occasions we almost got stuck in a near-vertical position.  Only once did it seem we were about to slide off a cliff.

It’s possible John had softened by the end of the trip.  He had to admire the intrepid nature of his group that day.  We handled the adverse conditions with aplomb.  He repeated more than once that he’d never seen conditions like that in the canyons before.

Having sampled the interior of Canyonlands, we were ready to see it on a clear day, so we came back to the Needles area from our visit into Colorado.  We had been told the park campground usually filled up by noon, so we hightailed it from Cortez and arrived at the park just after eleven, to be told the campground had filled up before ten.


It was our good fortune to find a single accessible camp site in the Super Bowl BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground a few miles outside the park gate.  It was a beautiful setting surrounded by giant cliffs and two huge formations known as the Six Shooters.  Best of all, it was free.

We staked out our site, drove into the park, dropped the Wegwam at the parking area in the park campground, and set out for Chesler Park, a nine-mile round-trip.


It was a beautiful day, and it was one of the Best Hikes Ever (Rebecca still likes the hike to Harding Ice Field better).  We crossed long stretches of exposed rock trails.  We twisted around one canyon and then the next.  We squoze through rock-sided canyons (this time with no stream running with us).  We climbed up and down, round and round, finally reaching the destination, Chesler Park, an area with a view back into the Canyonlands offering a different view from the giant red rock formations we’d hiked through.  Lots of rounded gray mounds with white tops beyond a foreground of desert grasses.  We were close enough to rows of towering red “needles” to nearly touch them.  We had an elevated look back up the canyons toward the Island in the Sky.

Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky

In fact the perspective from the Needles area led me to a greater understanding of the Island in the Sky than I’d gotten from its overlook.  The Island in the Sky is a True Mesa, a near circle towering two thousand sheer feet on all sides above the Canyonlands floor.  From below, it really does look like an Island in the Sky.

The other reason we came back to Canyonlands was to experience the night sky.  The International Dark-Sky Association has granted Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park status to the park.

The sky, even on a moonless night, was not as spectacular as we’d hoped.  There was a bit of haze left over from the previous days’ rain, but there were plenty of stars.  The milky way stretched from one horizon to the other, probably the most milky way we’d ever seen.  But the stars were all-in-all no better than what we see on a clear night at Bunky’s Hill.