Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

10-02-2021 Sheldon NWR to Grants Pass Oregon 289 Miles

We woke in the early morning after a great night's sleep to crystal clear skies.  I took some time to walk around the campground again in the early light.  The pond that supplied water for the pool reflected the silky sky.  A pair of ducks flapped and quacked as I walked around the small pond, but seemed unbothered by my presence.

I took a few more photos of the campground noticing how many campers had come in last night after we did. It was clear that volunteers who loved the campground and the spring took excellent care of the place. 

A free little library sponsored by the Friends of the Denio Library was full of books and magazines, and even a pair of rubber boots.

The little campground was beautiful in the early morning.  With a light breakfast, we were on the road by 9 am. 

Driving back toward Highway 140 on the 2 miles of gravel road didn't seem as troublesome as it had yesterday. Mo drove slowly enough that the shaking and rattling was minimal.

The woven fences around the main buildings at the refuge headquarters were fascinating.  Much of the infrastructure around the refuge that is still being used today, including roads, stone buildings, water control structures, and entrance portals were built by the CCC between 1936 and 1942.

Mo continued a slow pace as she drove through the refuge, hoping to see a few wild animals.  There are pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and burros throughout the refuge. While many of the wild horses have been removed to protect the rangeland from overgrazing, we passed a couple along the highway.

East of the tiny town of Adel is a long, steep grade that I remembered from previous trips on this route.  With the torque converter feature of the MoHo keeping our use of brakes to a minimum, we descended easily and slowly.

We passed the road leading to Hart Mountain, and from that point on, the route was very familiar.  Highway 140 goes through Bly, Beatty, and Klamath Falls before reaching the southwestern shore of Klamath Lake. 

At the Howard Bay public dock, we stopped to give Mattie a break and walk around a bit to enjoy the view.  We saw pelicans roosting at the dock,  but there were so many people there that I didn't bother to attempt to get a photo of them.  At the lower end of the bay, we saw hundreds of coots staging for their winter flight south. 

We arrived home around 4 PM, happy to be there.  It was early enough in the afternoon that we unloaded all the food. We collected a few personal items, but the rest of the clothes and "stuff" of travel would have to wait until morning.

Everything at home was in great condition.  The rains that began just as we left Grants Pass turned the dry brown pasture green and the flowers were bright and happy.  My friend Maryruth's husband Gerald checked in on our place each morning.  He made sure that all the drip sprinklers were working.  It was very important to have someone check the well to make sure all was running as it should. We appreciated his care so much.  It made it much easier to come home without worrying that something may have happened to the place while we were away.
It may have been because we had been in the desert for so many days, but everything seemed especially lush on this sunny afternoon.  After a great trip, it was good to be home.

09-30-2021 The Long Trek Home (Almost)

Storm clouds over the La Sals east of Moab on the morning of our departure

Traveling home from canyon country requires a commitment of at least three days for us.  We usually can travel 350 miles in a day, but prefer 150 to 300 and have been known to cross 500 miles or more when the conditions require it.

There is much to see along the route home, but after 10 days exploring miles and miles of such a magnificent red landscape, it is hard for me to get excited about dallying in the vast expanses of the Utah and Nevada desert that are part of the Great Basin.

We have visited Great Basin National Park in the past and had no desire to camp there this time of year.  Many of the wonderful wildflowers are past peak bloom season and the fall temperatures make the nights quite cold.  We thought maybe we would enjoy a leisurely stay in Eureka or Austin, but when push comes to shove, we are simply ready to be home.  As I have said before, that horse to the barn thing is inescapable.

The night before our departure from Moab great loud thunderstorms crossed over the valley, lighting up the sky and rocking the MoHo in the wind.  Heavy rains pounded on the roof and when we woke in the morning it was still raining.  By the time Dan and Chere pulled out near 8am, the skies were clearing and we could see snow on the highest peaks of the La Sals.

Bye to Dan and Chere as they depart from the Moab KOA RV Park

Their route would be different from ours.  They planned to drive north through Price toward Salt Lake City, camping in Snowville, Utah on the first night and on the Oregon/Idaho border at Farewell Bend State Recreation Area on the second night before returning home to Beavercreek on the third day.

We planned to return the way we had come, after traveling north to I-70, and west to Highway 50 at Salina, then toward Delta and crossing Utah to the Nevada border at Border Town RV Park.  Our original plan was to continue west on Highway 50 to Fallon and then north to Susanville, crossing the mountains from Susanville to I-5 at Mt Shasta and then north to Grants Pass.  We have traveled this route many times returning from trips east and south from our home.

By the time we reached our camp site at Border Inn we had decided that we would go home a different route this time.  Traveling from Border Inn on Highway 50 we would exit at Highway 278 north toward I-80, then west toward Winnemucca.  There we planned to stay the night at the RV Park that Dan used on his trip south, New Frontier RV Park.  We would then travel north on Highway 95 to Highway 140 and west through the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, Lakeview, Klamath Falls and then home over the very familiar High Lakes Pass to Medford and then the last few miles north to Grants Pass and home.

This route would be about 30 miles farther in total than our original plan through Fallon and Susanville but we were both happy to do something a little bit different.  It also would give us a chance to pass through some favorite refuges, including Upper Klamath Lake NWR very close to where we used to live in Rocky Point on the west side of Klamath Lake.

09-30 Moab, Utah to Border Inn RV, Nevada  322 miles

Once on the road from Moab, the clear skies gave way to heavy rain as we approached Green River on I-70.  The black clouds hid the views and the windshield wipers were on full speed as we crossed the gorgeous San Rafael Swell.  The overlooks weren’t very inviting in the pouring rain so we forged on west.

Last of the red rock sandstone along I-70 before we drop down from the Colorado Plateau to the Great Basin 

Once we crossed the high point of the swell the rains let up and we could see the last of the Colorado Plateau landscape as the highway dipped toward the west and the edge of the Great Basin.

Above is a map of the Great Basin, dominated by the ups and downs of Basin and Range landscapes.  Once on the flat basin west of Delta the road opened up and the vistas expanded far and wide with only a few ranges to climb between basins.

We arrived at the Border Inn around 5 and settled in easily.  This park is a funky, dusty place in the middle of nowhere with a sketchy Verizon signal that only works well before 6am in the morning or after midnight.  We still love it.  The open space and low key vibe of the place is very relaxing after a long drive. 

Above is a view of the Border Inn RV Park from the south where you can see how isolated it is on the landscape

There is a café and casino which we have never tried, happy instead to simply enjoy our own space with fresh breezes and very few people around to bother us.  Sometimes there are very big rigs with very large oversize loads that stop and stage at this location before continuing north toward Ely.

After settling in by late afternoon we cooked a very simple meal that was incredibly delicious.  The burger is from our Grants Pass butcher shop, cooked on the grill with my favorite seasoning, Weber Chicago Steak Seasoning.  The scalloped potatoes were stored in our freezer for the trip. The tomatoes were from Chere’s garden.  All topped off with blue cheese crumbles and dressing.  We couldn’t believe how good it tasted!

09-30 Border Inn to New Frontier RV Park Winnemucca, Nevada  331 miles

When we left Border Inn around 9 the skies were crystal clear and gorgeous.  The night had been chilly, but not so much that the little space heater we use on cold nights when we have hookups couldn’t keep up.

Within a few miles, we found ourselves behind a huge flotilla of rigs with official police pilot cars in front of and behind a huge “thing” being hauled on the highway.  The big box thing took up almost both lanes and no one was allowed to pass in either direction.  The front pilot car traveled at least a half mile in front of the wide load and moved all oncoming vehicles off the road before the big thing approached.  We traveled about 20mph over the steep ranges but on the flats the whole group could go almost 45 miles per hour.  Made for an easy relaxing drive to Ely where we broke away from the trail to fuel at the Love’s where we fueled on the way east two weeks earlier.

Something to keep in mind about fuel in Utah and Nevada; the price posted is for the lowest octane fuel, sometimes only 85 octane.  We ended up paying  over $4.00 per gallon for 87 octane.  We found that gas was priced as high throughout Nevada and Utah as we were used to paying in Oregon, and almost as high as the stations we passed when traveling through California.

Once west of Ely we lost the slow wide load and continued over the passes without incident.  There were a few cars parked in Eureka but I saw no sign of a bakery, which is something I had been searching for since we were in Moab where none were open early enough in the morning for us to enjoy.

Just beyond Eureka we turned north on Highway 278, the route Dan took from Winnemucca toward Baker on the way south.  We noticed that a northward trending route like this one lay between ranges and traveled through a long basin.  We didn’t have to cross a lot of high ranges as we did on Highway 50 which travels east and west.  However, the route north was terribly boring, with very little change in the view.  By the time we reached I-80 Mo needed a driving break and I took over for the last 100 miles or so west to Winnemucca.

Once in Winnemucca we easily found the huge New Frontier RV park and settled in quickly before dinner to relax a bit.  Full hookups, cable tv, a dog park, and showers that we never bothered to use made it a nice stop.  We were thrilled to discover that it was a Passport America park and we paid  half price for our site, a total of $21.69 with tax.  Can’t beat that.

The dog park was roomy but the space was all deep rounded gravel.  Mattie didn’t seem to mind and still always seems to know where the dog park is when we go there for the first time.  She has the routine down well, and runs right to the gate of the park, even when she has never seen it before.

The night was cold, with the temperature reading 27 degrees F when we woke on Friday morning.

10-01 Winnemucca to Virgin Valley Campground, Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, Nevada  127 miles

This was to be the day that we planned to push hard to drive 411 miles and reach home by late afternoon.  Instead we languished a bit this morning, both of us feeling a bit tired and a bit lazy.  We fueled at the Flying J, where gas was a few pennies higher than the nearby Pilot. More importantly, the Flying J had a Cinnabon kiosk and I was really wanting something bakery sweet so I didn't mind paying more for fuel.

Once on the road north on Highway 95 we settled in to the wide open landscape of Northern Nevada.  Here the distant hills are barren, not a juniper in site, not a leaf, not a shrub or a tree for miles.  The wide basins are thick with low sage and very little else.  About 29 miles north of Winnemucca we turned west on Highway 140.  I wish I could have taken a photo while driving because I am pretty sure this is the longest, straightest stretch of road that we have encountered on our entire trip.  I know that Highway 50 has the reputation for being the loneliest road in America but I would say that Highway 140 in northern Nevada has it beat.  We drove for 100 miles with absolutely nothing to break the monotony.

At the Denio Junction, Highway 140 makes a sharp turn west toward the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge.  The landscape is still open and empty but the landforms begin to shift.  In the distance the mountains have a bit more shape and shadows and I could see huge black lava flows on the horizon.  We stopped at the information kiosk at the entrance to Sheldon NWR and looked at the map. 

I would have been perfectly happy to stop right there and spend a night listening to the silence and watching the skies.  We decided that we would drive north and west a bit more into the refuge and explore the free Virgin Valley campground.

Turning south on the refuge road, we were bummed that it was graveled and the washboards were intense.  With all the shaking and rattling Mo forged ahead 2 miles till we reached the tiny campground.  What a treasure!  The campground is open, with little shade, but there are picnic tables and wide open sites that are quite level.

There is an old rustic stone bath house with water flowing all the time from the nearby spring.  The warm spring pool is clean with a ladder to enter and clear water that stays about 87 degrees.  Not hot, but warm enough to be enjoyable. 

The shower comes from the same spring and is a steady 87 degrees.  Not hot, but definitely not a cold shower.

We settled into our site, put out the slides and relaxed with cool breezes.  The evening was perfect for a walk around the campground, a dip in the pool and a nice warm shower.

For most of the afternoon and early evening we were one of a very few campers in the campground.  After supper, as evening approached, quite a few more campers appeared.  It was a night for campfires and stars.  I stepped out at midnight to see the stars and saw a few campfires surrounded by people quietly enjoying the night.

I have yet to learn how to take photos of stars so will have to remember how clear the night was and how magnificent the stars were in that desert sky.

The next morning we would get on the road one last time heading for home.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

09-28-2021 Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Dead Horse Point State Park

Photo taken from the Dead Horse Point Overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park

Waking to a morning of mixed clouds and sunshine, I knew that we might not have the right light for taking a photo of the early sun rising in the east and reflecting on the underside of Mesa Arch.  The image of sun on the underside of the arch is used to advertise Canyonlands in many places.

Just for fun, I inserted a screen shot below of only a tiny portion of the photos that show up for a google search of Mesa Arch images.

Located on the east side of the uplift called the Island in the Sky, Mesa Arch was a must see for me on this visit to Canyonlands

We left at 7:30 this morning, an hour later then yesterday, but still early enough to beat the worst of the crowds, I hoped.  Our first destination was the Mesa Arch trail but we planned to view the rest of the easily accessible viewpoints at the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands.

I have been to Mesa Arch a few times in the past, and even 25 years ago the trail could be crowded.  Especially at dawn, there are often hordes of photographers with tripods set up to capture the famous light on the underside of the arch.

My boss and friend, Eva, walking across the arch in 2000 before the park sign said no climbing on the arch 

Chere decided that the steep parts were not fun and waved to us when we reached the arch

The short half mile trail out to the arch is “moderately easy”, but there are some stairs and a few steep areas.  Still, there were many people on the trail walking toward the arch and many more walking back from the arch carrying their tripods.  Who knows if the morning clouds allowed them to get the famous light on the underside of the arch.

This is as good as it got for me on this slightly overcast morning

The fun thing about Mesa Arch is that the drop on the mesa side of the arch is only 20 feet or so, but the drop on the canyon side is more than 1300 feet.  It is a dizzying feeling that triggers some intense vertigo if you are trying to stand anywhere near the top of the arch. 

Thanks to my lack of balance at this point, you can see me holding on to Mo for dear life in this photo. I realized later something I forgot about.  Take off the dang progressive lenses!  I remember this when trying to go down steep trails and steps and should have remembered this when I climbed up to a high point above the arch for the view.

Dan, Mo, and I had fun waiting our turn for photos at the arch, with most people being kind and thoughtful and not dominating the site for others wanting that same photo.

 See the famous “Washer Woman” in the upper part of this photo?

The Island in the Sky is bisected by a paved road that goes to the end of the mesa, with a “grand” view at Grand View Point.  I learned on this trip something I never knew after all my years traveling the Colorado Plateau.  Until 1921, the Colorado River didn’t start in the state that bears the same name. It began in Utah, where the Green River from Wyoming and the Grand River from Colorado met at the infamous confluence of the two rivers that can be seen from space in the google maps image below.

We planned to visit each of the scenic viewpoints that could be reached by car in Canyonlands.  We would then return to Dead Horse Point State Park on the northeast side of the plateau to view the iconic landscape from another perspective.

From our previous day visiting Arches, we knew that it was wise to get to the most important viewpoints first, knowing that the parking lots and trails were likely to be crowded.  When we left the Mesa Arch parking lot, we headed immediately for the most distant spot on paved road to the Grand View Point Overlook.

As expected, the parking lot was already full and one more time the handicap hang tag gave us access to the only open parking space at the overlook. The view from this site is breathtaking. 

A ranger working near the parking lot said that the overcast sky was actually a blessing for viewing the expansive landscape since bright sunshine often wiped out much of the detail in photos.

We returned to the main road and traveled northwest to the Upheaval Dome Overlook parking lot. What I had forgotten is that there is no view from this point.  Instead of hiking the steep, rocky trail to the overlooks, we settled at a nice picnic table to enjoy some snacks for lunch.  Later, we returned to the road toward the Green River Overlook where we were gifted with expansive views toward the west. 

The views from the Green River Overlook were awe-inspiring.  We could see the far northwestern part of the White Rim Trail, a 4-wheel drive road that is the destination of many a mountain biker and 4-wheeler enthusiast.

Yes, that is Mt Ellen in the distance on the left side of the photo below, at the high point of the Henry Mountain Range.  Dan and Chere got a bit tired of me continuously pointing out Mt Ellen and I promised that this was the last time I would do so.

We drove back to the east side of the mesa for a great view toward the La Sals at the Buck Canyon Overlook. We could see virga, “streaks or wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground” in the distance. Rain was predicted on the mesa by noon, but for us, so far so good.  No rain while we were on our explorations of the Island in the Sky.

Dan and Chere at the Buck Canyon Overlook

We continued to the Shafer Trail Overlook.  There are actually two spots with parking where the Shafer Trail is visible.  We chose what appeared to be the less crowded site a bit south of the main overlook.  The Shafer Trail is a narrow dirt road with sharp switchbacks that descends to the White Rim Road that circles around the Island in the Sky on the White Rim Sandstone. 

We stayed a bit at this overlook, watching the tiny vehicles negotiation the sharp turns.  There were quite a few rigs traveling up and down the road and it was fun to watch them passing each other and bumping around the steep, sharp switchbacks.  I knew exactly how it felt, because I drove the Shafer Trail in my Dakota pickup back in 1997.  I only drove about 50 miles of the White Rim Road before my friend Shera said she had enough of all that rough driving, and we backtracked up the steep part of the Shafer Trail.  It was an experience I will never forget. The next three photos are grainy scans of photos from that trip in 1997.

We ended our day’s travels with a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park. The legend of Dead Horse Point originates around the turn of the 19th century when cowboys would round up the wild mustangs that roamed the mesa. It is said that a herd was driven down the neck of the peninsula, its sheer cliffs forming a natural corral, and the 30-foot-wide entrance was then fenced off with branches and brush.

This was to be our final shared day in Utah’s red rock country.  A friendly guy at the overlook agreed to take a photo of the four of us.  It was a fitting tribute to what has been a wonderful trip.