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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.

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Tuhot and Tuwet

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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.

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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.

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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

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Oh, at 64 I still have my hair.

Grand

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Groceries by Gondola

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New State:  Colorado

We were heading to Mesa Verde but the web site said there was a crack in a wall and it was closed. Fortunately, A.H. John of Navtech (see Canyonlands) said there was more there, so we kept it on the itinerary.

Telluride

Telluride

Rebecca saw Telluride is within range of Mesa Verde, so we decided to check it out. Telluride is home to one of the premiere bluegrass festivals.  We will probably go there some day, especially after seeing the town.

The road to Telluride was breathtaking. It climbs through the San Juan Mountains, culminating at Lizardhead Gap, at over 10,000 feet. The mountaintops were draped with a fresh coat of snow.

We were glad to get a taste of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, especially at this time of year, with the aspens turning yellow. These Rockies are a lot taller than most of the Rockies we saw further north.

Telluride is a ski resort situated high in a valley between two high mountain ridges. We stayed in the city park campgroundEB1A0272, which is a nice, wooded space on a babbling stream an easy walk from town. Our timing was excellent, as we were between the crowded summer and ski seasons.

We went into a bank to get a roll of quarters, where we were asked, “Have you ridden the gondola?” Er, no. We generally don’t like to pay for lift rides; we prefer to hike up and snag a free ride down. Walking around town we saw the gondola base station, so we moseyed over to discover the gondola ride is free.

Turns out the gondola doesn’t just run to the top, where it connects to the ski slopes, it continues down the other side to the Village of Mountain Valley, with a change of gondolas to a grocery store and a big parking lot.

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That evening, after sampling a good pale ale at Smugglers and (at the recommendation of an Atlantan at the bar) a Detroit-style pizza, we boarded the free gondola (for the second time) and went grocery shopping.

EB1A0246The road back through Lizard Head Pass was equally beautiful as we headed for Mesa Verde.EB1A0406

The entrance into Mesa Verde National Park is a winding road up the exceptionally steep face of the mesa. Although it’s technically a cuesta rather than a mesa, since it slopes to the south instead of dropping off on all sides.

We spent the afternoon in the park.  We saw the remains of several cliff dwellings, and the best part of the visit was climbing down stairs and up ladders into Balcony House. Our guide, Thespian John, was informative as well as animated, and welcomed questions.

The Pueblo Indians who occupied Mesa Verde lived there for 750 years. They abandoned the mesa in the thirteenth century. They had moved down to the cliffs less than a hundred years before moving away.

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Arches

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October 2

Arches National Park was not on my radar.

EB1A0544I’ve been pointing to Canyonlands. Fortunately, Moab  is the base camp for both parks.

The entrance to the park is a good indicator of what awaits. You’re confronted by a cliff face with a road zigzagging up it. Around the first bend are towering red rock walls and formations.

As national parks go, Arches is fairly compact. Out and back takes not much more than an hour.

Of course, if you want to see the park, you have to get out of the car.

We went on a couple of short- to mid-range hikes, but we were really challenged by Devil’s Garden. There are several arches along the way, culminating in Double O arches, but the hike itself is the star of the show.EB1A0587

There are two stretches where we hiked up rock ridges five-feet wide with sheer drops to either side. Most of the trail went along solid rock.

The logo for the park is based on Delicate Arch. We had used up our hiking energy so we went to the lower view of the arch. Delicate Arch stands alone, unlike most of the other arches in the park. Alone, that is, if you don’t count the tourists, The procession climbing to Delicate Arch looked like a parade of ants crossing the kitchen counter.

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Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

SLC

Logan Canyon

Logan Canyon

Miles: 300

September 30

New states: Utah

The trip from Jackson to Salt Lake City first goes through Kalispell, where we walked out of a McDonalds, then consulted with a Pleasure Way dealer. It was decided not to unfurl the damaged awning since they didn’t have the parts and it would take days, if not weeks, to order them.

Down the road, we passed a very large lake, where we turned uphill and quickly climbed 2000 to a pass. The other side of the pass led to Logan River Canyon, a great route through steep rock walls that never wanted to quit.

City/County Hall

City/County Hall

Capitol

Capitol

City Creek

City Creek

We finally bottomed out in the Wasatch Valley, where we drove to the burgeoning metropolis of Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City turns out to be a very attractive city. The streets downtown are very wide, with bike lanes. I’m told the streets had to be wide enough for a wagon train to turn around. I may not have that right. There are trolley lines running N/S and E/W.

There’s a nice mix of older buildings in the 10-15 story range and modern reaching to 30 or more stories. The state capitol sits atop a hill on the north end of downtown. It strikes a commanding presence, and it has a great view.

The downtown strikes a sharp contrast to Raleigh, a state capital with a comparable metro population base.

There downtown shopping mall, City Creek, has a creek running through it, reminiscent of the stream running through ATC in Durham, except not as fast-flowing.  We discovered upon exploring a canyon below the capitol that it is an actual creek.

EB1A0505The temple for the Church of Jesus Christ’s Latter Day Saints does not dominate the skyline like European cathedrals, but their compound of a dozen or more buildings does have an obvious presence. All the buildings except the temple are open to the public.

We stayed in downtown motel rooms (we switched motels after an unsatisfactory night in the cheap place) so Rebecca could get some work done.

The brewpub we visited was somewhat disappointing, not offering an IPA on tap, so I had a Polygamy Porter (why have just one?).

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Driving south out of town, we saw the downside of SLC: sprawl. Despite being hemmed in on the east by a mountain range, the city sprawls endlessly to the south, and it’s not a pretty sprawl.

Just south of Provo, we turned east through another canyon, and headed for Moab.