Paulina Lake in Newberry Crater

Paulina Lake in Newberry Crater
Paulina Lake in Newberry Crater

Monday, September 30, 2019

09-30-2019 Three Days in Capitol Reef NP

09-30-2019  Three Days at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

The nights were cold at Capitol Reef during the time we were there.  I woke up at 3AM, cold and achy, and turned on the furnace to warm things up and slept great until 8am.  Generators can run only from 8 to 10 AM or from 6 to 8 PM.  We don’t have solar on the MoHo, so do need to run the generator periodically to keep her charged up.  It also comes in handy to make coffee.  We used to do pressed coffee, but I got tired of dealing with the grounds all the time, so enjoy having the electric pot around. 

The Gifford House opened at 8:30, and I knew that they had great pies made from the fruit grown in the historic orchards in the park.  When I went over to buy a nice little apple pie, they told me that they sold over 40,000 of those pies during this past season.  Wow!  Made me wonder where all those pies were made. 

I drove up to the visitor center to check for maps, brochures, and of course, tee shirts.  Got a really cute one but it turned out to fit Mo better than me, so she lucked out.  We decided that this day would be an easy one, where we would give ourselves a break and simply meander around the local roads and enjoy the stunning red cliffs.

We left Mattie in the MoHo just in case we decided to do a bit of hiking, but with my knee and Mo’s ankle, hiking was kept to a minimum.  It is hard to accept sometimes that we are slowing down, especially in this last year or so.  I might be heading toward knee surgery before too long, I do miss all the hiking we used to do.

It was a perfect day for driving the Scenic Drive, a 20 mile round trip road that extends south toward Capitol Gorge, and passes several trailheads along the way, including the gorgeous trail through Grand Wash.  Mo and I hiked Grand Wash on a previous trip, but for who knows what reason, we have never hiked the easy .8 mile trail into Capitol Gorge.

There wasn’t too much traffic during the early portion of our drive, and we took our time meandering along, getting out at all the wide places in the road to enjoy the views and walk around a bit.  By the time we got to Capitol Gorge, the parking lot was jammed with cars and motorhomes, including quite a few CruiseAmerica rental units.  We drove part way down the dirt road and were extremely surprised to see some folks with motorhomes trying to drive it.  With all the people around, it wasn’t that exciting to get out of the car to try to walk around, and we turned around and meandered back home. 

We were home in time for a great tuna sandwich lunch, and then took Mattie on the 2 mile round trip dog friendly trail from the campground to the visitor center. I was surprised how warm it was in the sunshine, and Mattie loved it.  With all the walking trouble I have been having lately, I was glad to at least get in almost 2 miles.  I did have to make use of my walking sticks and the rest benches scattered along the trail.  Geez.  Anyone who knows me very well knows this isn’t like me, or at least it didn’t used to be like me.

After returning to the MoHo for a short nap, (remember we said it was going to be an easy tourist day!) we drove toward the western edge of the park to walk up to the Goosenecks Overlook and Sunset Point trails.  In all my years visiting Capitol Reef, I have never walked these short trails. 

I was amazed at how beautiful the view was from Sunset Point, with Mt Ellen in the distance and the red cliffs of Capitol Reef above the deep canyon of the Goosenecks below us.  We encountered a lovely couple from the east coast, traveling for the first time in Capitol Reef, and learned they had been to Zion and had hiked Angel’s Landing!  They were newly retired, and she said she just never looked down and they went early enough in the morning to miss most of the scary crowds.  I was impressed, to say the least.

Home by sunset for steaks on the grill at our picnic table on the wrong side of the MoHo.  Our camping neighbors were uncomfortably close in their tent so I introduced myself, apologized for the genny noise, and gave them some of our homemade chocolate chip cookies. They insisted they didn’t mind in the least, and told stories of how their 2 year old little boy hiked all day in the canyons with them.  Nice to have friendly neighbors if they are going to be that close to us.

On our way home returning along Highway 24 to the campground, Mo looked up at a lovely formation and said, “That looks like it should have a name, like the Castle or something”.  We got the best laugh of our day when we approached a turnout with a sign pointing to, you guessed it, “The Castle”.

10-01-2019 Day Trip Boulder Mountain-Burr Trail-No Tom Loop

We woke conveniently at 8 AM, just in time to turn on the generator and heat our coffee. I took Mattie for a nice walk around the campground and returned to our simple bacon and apple pie breakfast.  We gathered up some drinks and snacks and Mattie, and left for our planned road trip sightseeing day by 10.

The morning was cool enough that there was frost under the sprinklers in Torrey and Boulder, but the sun was gorgeous. We took Scenic Highway 12 south from Torrey to Boulder Town, at the beginning of the Burr Trail.  The skies in the canyons the previous two days had been so incredibly clear and blue, I was a bit disappointed to see all the haze toward the east from the high viewpoints on Boulder Mountain. 

The aspens were starting to turn, but weren’t as brilliant as I remembered from past years. In spite of the haze I never tire of the views of Canyon Country from Boulder Mountain. I love seeing all the landmarks that I know so well, especially Mt Ellen, right in the center of everything.  I drove up that mountain only once, back in the days when my 94 Dakota was having a bit of engine trouble.  Had to get a new engine when I got home from that trip, and I’ll never forget the gasping sound of the poor thing trying to make it over Mt Ellen.

Another place I have never visited in all my years traveling through this landscape is the Anasazi Museum in Boulder.  The entry fee is just $5. and is well worth it.  The museum is done well, with great information.  One of the parts I loved was the comparison of archeologists view of the Anasazi and the Native American view of the same history. 

Sadly, however, many of the display cases were empty, with captions describing what would eventually be in them.  Currently the museum is trying to fulfill the environmental requirements to protect the artifacts that will eventually be housed there.

Another first on the list for the day, was lunch at Hell’s Backbone Grill, a very famous restaurant located at the beginning of the Burr Trail in Boulder.  The restaurant was charming, and most of the food is locally sourced from their own farm.  The women who started the restaurant have become very well known in the localvore food scene, and have won all sorts of national awards.

Mo had a salad, and I had some rather incredible pumpkin corn enchiladas with habanero cream sauce. My meal was different, interesting and tasty, fun to try, but I might not have to do it again.  The place is rather expensive but it was nice to say that we ate there at least once.

After lunch we meandered down the famous Burr Trail through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.  In the old days when I first started driving this road, it was all dirt, 75 miles of dirt all the way to the switchbacks.

On this day, for Mo and I, the road was paved and an easy drive.  We found several boondock sites near Cottonwood Canyon, and enjoyed the magnificent drive through Long Canyon.  This 7 mile stretch is breathtaking, and may have the reddest rocks anywhere.

Once we reached the Capitol Reef park boundary, the road was no longer paved, and we continued to the overlook of the famous switchbacks of the Burr Trail.  I love this place so very much.  Nearby is the trailhead for Muley Twist, and to the north of the road is the Strike Overlook.  I would love to boondock again in the BLM land just west of the park boundary and spend days wandering around the wild red rock country. 

This day was our road trip day, however, and we descended the Switchbacks with Mo driving and me trying to take pictures out the window.  It was fun, and I didn’t even remember to count just how many switchbacks there were in the 1 mile long 12 percent drop to the valley floor.  I think there are at least 9.  They are tight, but not as tight as some on the Schaeffer Trail in Canyonlands that require a three point turn in a pickup to navigate.  We didn’t have to back up even once.

Once on the valley floor, the magnificent nearly vertical slabs of overlapping sandstones that form the Waterpocket Fold are dramatically visible.  The Fold is almost 100 miles long, and is the main geologic feature that forms the dramatic landscape that is called Capitol Reef.  The No Tom road follows the north-south extent of the fold from Highway 24 at the north end to Lake Powell at the southern end.  The scenery is magnificent, stunning vistas open up at every turn, and secret canyons disappear into the fold to the west of the sometimes rough and washboarded dirt road.  I took a fifth wheel on that road with my friend Shera, only once, and will never do that again.  I think when we reached Lake Powell all her valances were on the floor and most of the blinds were shaken loose in her trailer. 

Needless to say, we won’t take the MoHo down the No Tom road, even though there is a sweet little campground called Cedar Mesa about midway along the route.

We arrived back in the campground by 5, in time for a supper of leftover steak and played a half a hand of cards.  We were tuckered out and in bed by 8pm.

10-02-2019 Leaving Capitol Reef heading toward New Mexico

We woke again to a frosty morning.  Packing up for the road was easy while we waited for the 8am generator time to make some coffee and homemade grilled sausage mcmuffin’s for breakfast. On the road by 8:30, I drove first toward Hanksville for fuel, and then turned south on Highway 95. I drove first since I was beginning to feel a little bit better, at least in the mornings. 

Highway 95 traverses some of the most beautiful scenery in Utah, crossing the Dirty Devil River, and the Colorado River, gradually climbing upward toward Cedar Mesa and the Bears Ears.  Part way down the road, we stopped to hike at a small canyon wayside, but changed our minds when we saw that the hike would require quite a bit of wading.  It wasn’t a hiking day, it was a travel day, and we really didn’t want to change our clothes to prepare for a wading type of hike. 

As we were contemplating our choice, we met a lovely young Israeli girl who was traveling the US by herself for a year.  It was delightful to talk with her about her adventures, and to tell her about some of what she might find on her way north into Capitol Reef.

Highway 95 crosses the Colorado River at Hite, and the beautiful bridge brought back lovely memories.  After being on the Colorado River for 6 days in a raft, the bridge at Hite was the first sign of civilization we had encountered as our raft trip came to an end. 

Hite Crossing Bridge from the Colorado River in 1993

The other sight I will never forget is the pointed peak of Mt Ellen, in the Henry’s, viewed through the canyon walls from the raft. Our guides always loved to see the Henry Mountains as they rafted downriver, it meant they were getting close to Hite.

  First view of the Henry Mountains from the Colorado River 1993

We stopped along the road for lunch with a great view of the famous or should I say infamous Bears Ears.  Anyone not aware of the controversy surrounding the Bears Ears National Monument should read up on it.  Or better yet, maybe they could wander around Cedar Mesa for a time and see the countless archeological sites that appear at every bend of the trail.

The rest of the afternoon after we reached Highway 191 south of Blanding was much less spectacular.  I navigated as Mo drove, following the Google recommendations for getting to Shiprock on the shortest route.  There are several choices, and I don’t think any of them were particularly easy.  Our choice to take roads that traversed the Navajo reservation through the ups and downs and crooked bumpy pavement wasn’t the best. 

We noticed that the air was getting more murky the farther east we traveled toward New Mexico.  Roads were rough through the rest of Utah, through the tiny part of Colorado that we traversed, and into New Mexico toward Shiprock.  We were happy to finally arrive at Kirtland, our destination for the evening, just east of the city of Farmington.  Homestead RV Park had great reviews, and I would have to agree.  Sites were level, hookups were great, everything was well kept and the owner and manager were very helpful.  It may be just a gravel parking lot, but it is a good place to land for a quick overnight with full hookups after being away from such amenities for a few days.

On October 3rd we traversed northern New Mexico, and arrived at Albuquerque around mid day to settle in for the next ten days on the grounds of the Balloon Fiesta.  I know things are a bit out of order here, since I decided to write about the beginning days of the Balloon Fiesta before backtracking to write about the rest of our trip.  You can find that post here.


Friday, September 27, 2019

09-27-2019 Traveling To Albuquerque for the Balloon Festival

We pulled out of our Grants Pass driveway at exactly 8:45 AM, just as planned, in excellent weather.  We felt well prepared for the trip and there wasn’t a single last minute glitch to handle.  Love it when that happens. 

Dropping down the grade toward Susanville on Highway 44

Deciding on the shortest route over the mountains, we traveled Interstate 5 south as far as Mt Shasta and then turned east toward McCloud on Highway 89.  The two lane road meanders through the beautiful mixed conifer forests of this southernmost portion of the Cascade Mountains, with views of Mt Shasta and Mt Lassen peaking through the slight overcast as we traveled east.  The road was quiet and gorgeous, with very little traffic.  We stopped at the beautiful Bogard Visitor Center on Highway 44.  It is a great rest area, and we discovered that in a pinch we could park there for 8 hours if we needed a break or the weather turned iffy. 

Just under 400 miles in a day takes us closer to 8 hours in the MoHo rather than the google estimate

I have to admit I wasn’t quite up to snuff due to a tough head cold and sore throat that attacked me on the day before we left.  I had been to Urgent Care to be sure it wasn’t a strep infection, but that surely didn’t make traveling or driving with a stuffed up head much fun.  Mo had to do a lot of the driving during the early days of this trip.

Using Gas Buddy we tracked down the cheapest gas we could find in Susanville, CA. Mo had driven all the way to Susanville, and we did a bit of meandering before we managed to find lower priced fuel with an accessible driveway and overhang.  After fueling, I took over and drove for just two hours before Mo took over once again and drove through Reno afternoon traffic while I navigated.  The route through Reno was fast and easy, and within a few minutes we were heading east on Highway 50 toward Fallon.

We had planned to boondock in the free parking lot at the Bonanza Casino in Fallon, NV, listed in the AllStays app, but it turned out to be crowded and tight, and didn’t look the least bit inviting or accessible.  On our way through Fallon looking for the casino, we saw that the WalMart on the west end of town had some RV’s parked, and decided to return there for the night. 

Best little travel dog ever!

I talked to a couple of the people parked right under the signs that said “no overnight parking”, and they said it wasn’t a problem.  I did go inside and attempt to speak with the management, but got three different stories about whether or not we could overnight in the lot.  Bought some Robitussin and a few other items and decided that it would be fine to spend the night between the other two rigs parked on the west side of the lot.  There were lots of lights, but our shades keep the interior dark and the night was beautifully quiet.

09-28-2019 Crossing Nevada on Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America

After a good night’s sleep for Mo and a rather awful night for me, in spite of the Robitussin and Extra Strength Tylenol, we woke at sunrise around 7 and were on the road by 8:15.  Once again we realized how very much we love traveling Highway 50 through Nevada.  Eastern Nevada is no doubt the very best example of Basin and Range topography in the country, and the road climbs over countless mountain ranges before descending  onto open playas and stick straight stretches of highway.  Nevada must be doing something right because the pavement on Highway 50 was in great shape, smooth as butter. 

Huge rain clouds were all around us, but we only got hit a couple of times with raindrops big enough to clean the windshield. We passed through the tiny towns of Austin and Eureka without taking time to stop for photos.  We have traveled this road in the past, several times, and while the towns are cute and historic, they are no match for the magnificent vistas that open up around each curve in the road.

Once again, our plans shifted with timing and weather.  We fueled up in Ely, to be sure that we had gas for boondocking if needed and continued past our original destination of the Ely KOA.  We have camped there in the past, but it is expensive, right on the highway, and we still had some driving time in us so continued east toward Baker.

AllStays was helpful again and we decided to camp with full hookups for a mere $25 bucks at the Border Inn RV Park.  The clouds were darkening, the winds were increasing and we were happy to be indoors enjoying warmed up leftover enchiladas and cozy warmth. Only funny part of the evening was that neither of us could hear each other because of our stopped up ears thanks to all the Basin and Range ups and downs.

Easy day for us, just over 300 miles

09-29-2019 Continuing on US 50 toward Capitol Reef National Park

The winds blew hard most of the night, and when we woke, it was very cold.  Nice to have hookups so we were cozy without having to use up propane.  We knew that we would be without hookups for the next few days and planned to be sure we had water and empty tanks before arriving in Capitol Reef.

Unknown to us until I stepped outside, was that the water hose was leaking from the inlet point and there was water puddled all over the place under the rig…right where we needed to hookup the sewer line to dump.  Not fun!  We managed to get the tanks dumped, although for some reason unknown to us, there was effluent in the pipe and it ran all over the ground.  We didn’t realize at the time that it was a hint of what was to come later, but that story will be saved for the end of our trip. 

We managed to get it all cleaned up and the tank dumped and water filled in spite of the cold winds.  Mattie wasn’t very interested in her walk and when I turned back to head for the rig she was in a BIG hurry to get back to a warm place.  She also wanted to visit with the very sweet little tabby kitty who visited us at our site, but Mattie isn’t very polite around cats, and her idea of play isn’t nice so the cat stayed away from her.

We left by 9, knowing that our 233 mile day ahead of us would be easy and enjoyable.  Continuing east on US 50 we had many miles of open rangeland, passing large saline lakes and playas before we did the meandering route where Highway 50 crosses over I-15, follows it for a bit, and then takes off east toward Scipio. 

I was feeling much better this day and drove as far as Aurora, Utah.  On the far end of town we found a beautiful city park with plenty of parking space, lots of open grass, and not a single “no dogs allowed” sign anywhere.  Mattie loved running on the soft grass and I loved the warm sunshine.

Once again checking in with Gas Buddy, we decided to fuel up in Loa, Utah rather than paying the much higher gas prices closer to the National Park.  I picked up a few groceries at the surprisingly well stocked grocery store and we continued east, arriving at our campground by 4pm.

The Fruita Campground in the heart of the Capitol Reef National Park, in Utah, just a mile east of the Visitor Center is lovely, although there are no hookups and now it is reservation only.  I’m glad I made our reservations several months ago since everything was completely full each day we were in Capitol Reef.

Mo was a bit frustrated because it was obvious that the campground was laid out before RV’s were popular, and the sites are angled such that your door opens on the opposite side of your table and fire pit.  Kinda dumb.  We did discover that the newer Loop C has sites angled correctly.  We were in Loop B

I do love Capitol Reef so much, and couldn’t believe that it had been 5 years since our last visit.  For many years I spent most of my time in this national park in the wild outskirts, but this time I was looking forward to the simplicity of a “real” campground, and exploring the local sights around the Visitor Center.

We settled in for the evening, took a short lovely walk to the nearby historic Gifford House, and enjoyed the gorgeous setting sun on the cliffs.  Time for a favorite soup, Martina McBride’s Bowl of Comfort, pulled from the freezer. We didn’t need to worry about the fire pit and picnic table location, and were perfectly happy to sit inside at our comfy dinette.

As we knew beforehand, there wasn’t any sign of a cell signal to be found.  I warned my kids and friends that I would be out of touch for a few days so it wasn’t a problem.  Funny how often I go to google to answer a question that one or the other of us has raised.  No google for a few days is an eye opener for sure.