Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Our foray into Arches came at the tail end of our trip – because that’s when I could get two nights in Devil’s Garden Campground, campsite # 52.
Why site 52, you may ask? Because Sunset Magazine was right – this was a beautiful location with a level of privacy not found in many other sites. To be honest, pretty much any site along the east (or left as you come down through the campground) that is not near a restroom would be spectacular. The restrooms are extremely well lit all night long which means if you like to stargaze -take my advice - and pick a site not next door to the facilities.

I planned the whole trip around the dates for this campground – they are not easy to obtain. It was the first couple days of October and the weather can be a bit unpredictable. I’m not just talking about some showers, no – I’m talking major electrical storms with gusty winds. That sky was rumbling - not the smartest time to take a short hike...

Anyway. Arches…
Any vision you might have from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire will have to be left behind when visiting this national park during the regular tourist season . This is one busy park. Busloads of tourists block off most of the parking lots and if you are not at the trailhead to Delicate Arch by 8:30 - 9 am, there will be no parking to be had. It is not really all that relaxing to hike with hundreds of your best friends along the various trails.

Still, it is a beautiful landscape filled with movement and color. A once in a lifetime visit
because, honestly, this whole region is filled with incredible landscapes that have also lain bare the bones of red and white sandstone - without the crowds. While I applaud Utah’s tourist bureau for creating an amazing destination for the world – the park becomes a place in need of policing and regulation just to manage the human impact on the sites. Ah well, the park service does what it can to offer this region up to the wonder of us all.

Or, in the words of Edward Abby:

“No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs--anything--but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.”
Desert Solitaire

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Peace Tree Juice Cafe - Monticello and Moab

Just go... If you want something tasty, healthy, vegan or vegetarian. If you want a smoothie and - in Monticello - they know how to make a mocha if that's what you are dying for (hello Andy) - this is the spot. And...if you have to have your Starbucks there is one in the local market. With at least an hour line that has nothing to do with the three people in front of you.

Red Cliff Lodge

When we originally planned this trip we didn't have a trailer. I decided to break the trip up with a two night stay near Moab at a place called Red Cliff Lodge. One of the nights also coincided with our wedding anniversary - so what could be better than hot showers and a meal overlooking the Colorado River?

We couldn't have picked a nicer place.

Red Cliff Lodge is about fourteen miles outside of the tourist mecca known as Moab and sits right on the Colorado, nestled between red rock cliffs. The weather cooperated as well and we were treated to two nights of amazing thunderstorms and watched lightning dance along the cliffs while the lights flickered in the dining room. We were feeling very lucky that we weren't out camping in it. Well, to be honest, we were feeling the luck of our daughter who was tenting along with us on this trip.
There is a cute little winery on the property - Castle Creek Winery with a tasting room and friendly staff. The wines are fine and we brought some bottles home to share. The restaurant was great and the morning buffet ample for fueling up. What was definitely fun was the downstairs movie museum that paid homage to all the various movies that have been filmed in the region. As an old western movie buff, I recognized an embarrassingly high number of the films. The film industry provided quite a few jobs in its day to that area.
We upgraded to a two bedroom cabin which had a kitchenette and deck sitting right along the river. The space was gorgeous and comfortable even though I think for the cost of the room they could certainly upgrade the mattresses. However, after camping for over a week, all the other amenities, friendly staff and laundry room  - I really have no complaints that wouldn't have me heading back there when I can.

Island in the Sky - Canyonlands

Really, what is there to say when there are pictures?

Needles District - Canyonlands

 It turned out that our campground at Devil's Canyon below Monticello was a perfect place to launch a day exploring the southern region of Canyonlands known as the Needles District. I don't think we would have come back down this way from our other planned overnight spots due to weather and length of drive. We would have missed out on seeing an extraordinarily beautiful region.

One of the best parts of having visited Needles was that we got familiar with these lowland mazes of color and shape prior to seeing it from the upper reaches of the Island of the Sky district of the park. Once again, there was a noticeable lack of tourists here compared to other park locations which is a loss considering how incredibly beautiful this region is.

Wandering around the Abajo Mountains

The  Abajo Mountain range is part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. If you are traveling, as we were, from Capitol Reef over to Moab, these are the mountains that you are skirting to the northeast. Highway 95 is the way to go and runs along the Glen Canyon Wilderness with a brush past Natural Bridges National Monument and then heads back up through Blanding to Moab.

lunch at Natural Bridges

 From the road this whole area looks rather beautifully uninhabited. I'd assume that for anyone who likes to off-road with ATV or high clearance jeeps; hunters and fisherman, campers and avid hikers - this area is well known to you. Well, if you live in southern Utah, that is. We camped up above Blanding at the Devil's Canyon Campground (not to be confused with Devil's Garden in Arches NP) and then started pouring over our hiking maps to see what we wanted to do for a couple of days.

Devil's Canyon - a great campground. Great spots, lots of privacy, clean bathrooms. Just a little out of the way if you are looking for something near any of the national parks. And just FYI - if you are restocking in Blanding, don't bother looking for beer - the town is completely dry. You can find alcoholic beverages up in Monticello.

Anyway - back to the maps. It took us a little bit of time to realize two things. First, there were more ATV trails than hiking trails in this region. Second - and we learned this the next day - when the map says 'high clearance vehicle', it means something different than my 4WD Tacoma truck. We're talking high clearance jeep preferable with a tow cable front and back. We tried to get to a couple trailheads and literally came up against the perfect places to get stuck out in the middle of nowhere. We didn't but it was close.

We did make our way out to some beautiful canyon country just east of Natural Bridges. What looked like foothills from 95 turned out to be some of the most beautiful rim hiking I've done in a while. Its worth doing some exploring but I also wouldn't head out onto these back roads without some experience, extra water and a 4WD vehicle. Not AWD - 4WD.

Capitol Reef

Personally, I like the fact that Capitol Reef is one of the least visited National Parks in the southwest. The tour buses may breeze by the visitor's center on their circuit between Arches and Bryce Canyon - but it just isn't possible to get the loads of tourists down to some of the more interesting trailheads that exist deeper in the park. What I find quite fascinating about this region is the Waterpocket Fold - a hundred mile wrinkle in the earth's crust. There is no way to visualize this without getting a little distance and/or look down on it. What you end up seeing is the geological layers of fossilized sand exposed after eons of erosion. If you can touch on that in your mind - even for a split second - this concept of time can render anyone quite speechless. This is where the word 'awestruck' comes into play. We are just a blink of an eye on the time/space continuum and we live on the surface of an incredibly rich world. The experience becomes a feast for the senses in colorful canyons, brilliant blue skies, buttery sand and the cool touch of water.

We only touched the surface of what this area has to offer for the hiker or intrepid adventurer. Next time we come down we'll head up to Cathedral Valley which includes fording a river. I have to say, Andy was looking forward to that. Also, I was really glad that we headed down into the park early for some hiking in Capitol Gorge. The traffic jams created by all the RVs that attempt to get back to the parking area is pretty comical. The road is quite narrow in places - it is a sandy streambed when the rains come and closes regularly as the thunderstorms make their way across the area. Most of these RVs are rented and the drivers have various levels of experience and caution. Just because it is a national park doesn't mean that you should be off-roading with your 25 foot Winnebago.

I highly suggest also heading down the Notom-Bullfrog road which is only paved for the first 11 miles. However, there are great spots on BLM land for camping and access for hiking into the National Park that gets you away from the tourists.

It doesn't take long these days to want to escape the busloads of tourist no doubt brought in by Utah's 5 Parks marketing campaign. 5 parks in 5 days is an actual tour. This land isn't mine to claim just because I reside in the country where it sits but I wonder how it can be experienced or appreciated when the red rock canyons begin to blur into each other. If you don't give yourself the time to have your mind blown by this incredible landscape, your missing one of the true gifts - the best connection - this wilderness has to offer.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

That dark crusty soil...

This cyanobacteria - that dark crusty soil that is everywhere in the high deserts of Utah is so important to be left alone. Not only is it often extremely old - it helps keep the soil that is left from eroding and fixes nitrogen in the soil. Watch where you walk!

The following is from the NPS website regarding the environment in the region known as the Colorado Plateau:

"Biological soil crust is a living groundcover that forms the foundation of high desert plant life in Arches and the surrounding area. This knobby, black crust is dominated by cyanobacteria, but also includes lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi and bacteria.
Cyanobacteria, previously called blue-green algae, are one of the oldest known life forms. It is thought that these organisms were among the first land colonizers of the earth's early land masses, and played an integral role in the formation and stabilization of the earth's early soils. Extremely thick mats of these organisms converted the earth's original carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into one rich in oxygen and capable of sustaining life."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Looking for an RV park near Capitol Reef? Go the Thousand Lakes

I like this place.

Thousand Lakes RV Resort

Yes, it’s late September and the hordes of tourists have dwindled away – but I like this place. Pulling a small trailer and without needing sewer and TV hook-ups, we got one of the prime spots along the north (back) fence of the park looking out over red plateau cliffs and verdant green and yellow hills. We have a fire-pit and a place for the tent. Everything is clean and well-tended with a special grill dinner on Monday nights.

I like that I don’t have to be surrounded by the massive land RV yachts that populate the three long aisles of full hook-ups. I appreciate the small campers, tent trailers and cars that come in beside us. And mostly, I like the reasonably quiet and expansive feeling I can get looking out over those cliffs rather than what was offered down in the National Park.
I’ve heard that the Sunglow campground near Bicknell is great too. This time, however, we’ll stay put until we head out day after tomorrow and see what’s happening down in the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area.

Fruita Campground - Capitol Reef

I’m not sure why anyone bothers with this particular campground.

Under cover of lovely shade trees - that also block out the astounding rock formations that surround the campground in its little valley - Fruita gives you the perfect opportunity to park right next to other campers with no sense of privacy whatsoever. It is a shaded, grassy park with asphalt pads, like a RV park without the benefit of hook-ups and showers. If you are going to basically camp on top of each other, not have any views , put up with all the traffic and noise – then showers would be nice.

The campground host at Fruita told us that on most days the campground fills up around 10am. We were there around 3pm and, due to the rain, had just lost the last site to some other visitor. I am really, really glad that we did. I think I would have been crawling out of my skin within a couple of hours.

Our daughter would have been putting up her tent in the middle of the green, basically surrounded by ten campsites. I’ve had a similar experience at Cougar Rock Campground at Rainier – it’s insane how tight the sites are and how busy those campgrounds get. Every RV rental company is represented.

The ranger at the visitor center has a map to show folks where else you can camp in the area. They pull these maps out practically before you’ve asked the question. Milepost 73 west or milepost 79 east – that’s where the BLM land is just waiting for you to pull over and rough it. Gotta watch the road clearance, though. You think? This little trailer of ours has zero clearance (well, it seems that way) so those weren't options that we could seriously consider.

I know plenty of places to pitch a tent in this area but with a trailer the possibilities shift. Because we had been traveling specifically to spend time in and about Capitol Reef for a few days, I'd gone ahead and made a back-up reservation at an RV park in nearby Torrey. (See my next post). But we had wanted to camp - not get stuck between a couple of traveling buses. Options were slim, however, and after a wonderful meal at Diablo Café (go there if you are in Torrey), we trudged disheartenedly over to the RV site. 

Most of all, I was disappointed - yet again - in a National Park's campground. Cougar Rock had soured me and Fruita was just a plain shock. In the midst of all that red rock glory, the campground gets built in a cramped little corner with no views. So what if the deer walk gracefully through the orchards. I have orchards and deer that walk through my yard daily. I wanted the red rock, the majesty and the resonance grace of this land. Not happening at Fruita - that's all I knew.

Here's what was waiting for us:

Groups Sites - Pros and Cons

Looking for a campsite on a Saturday within an hour (or two) from Salt Lake City isn’t easy two months out. Using the different reservations (ReserveAmerica and systems to scan campgrounds showed full campgrounds, closed campgrounds (anything over 6000 ft. it seems) or campgrounds that catered to ATV enthusiasts – of which I am not.
But I could, however, pay a little bit more and get a group site at what was reviewed as a beautiful campground: Diamond Campground just east of Spanish Fork, Utah. This seemed rather straightforward. It was cheaper than a hotel and got us out of the smog filled basin that is now Salt Lake.

We dropped by the airport, picked up our oldest daughter and headed south. It took about an hour to leave the Salt Lake basin behind and wind our way through the foothills to the valley where this campground sits. The air clears, shadows lengthen - fall shows itself in the yellowing leaves of the cottonwood trees.
All of this was ours for the evening

I’m going to guess that some group sites are meant for multiple campers and others, like the site at Diamond (which is up the road from the main campground approx. 3 miles), is meant more for day use. The various trucks with trailers in the parking lots showed that both horses and ATVs were out and about on the land nearby. The group site is fenced in – obviously to keep those pesky cattle out of the morning coffee pot – and the only place to put up a tent was in the corner that also happened to be the lowest part of the campsite. Okay, so it was a bit odd but certainly workable for a simple overnight on our way south.

We had two bonus situations to help us feel right at home: a wedding was happening up in the hills beyond our group site and teenagers with grand hopes of reaching The Hot Springs – wherever the hell those were – kept dropping by to see if we could give them directions. All we knew was they weren’t at our site. Thankfully, the last batch (about twenty kids in three vehicles) came breezing into our site around ten pm and Andy sent them cheerfully on their way again.
It was a mellow evening by the fire and our daughter talked about not putting her rainfly on the tent since it was so balmy. I noticed some flashes of light back beyond the hills and suggested that she just might want the extra protection. I was tired and forgot that she was in a depression. Sure, the rainfly worked great but all that runoff had to go somewhere, right?  I'm actually surprised that so little got wet.

All in all - I would hesitate in reserving an unknown group site again. It was pretty obvious that these group sites only exist for the day use of large groups of folks who want a place to serve a big meal and have a campfire. Or, if you have numerous RVs – the paved parking lot was huge. I think we should have taken a run through the main campground to check and see if any spots were open. Most campgrounds have some spots that are not on the reservation system.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Antelope Island

I love Antelope Island and would really like to visit it sometime when it isn't snowing or the "biting insects" that the rest of us call mosquitoes are not issues. Is it one or the other? I'm sure that isn't true but I had hoped that late September would mean less bugs and no snow. The later wish came true - it was warm and balmy but the bloodsuckers were out in force. Swarms that materialized and zeroed in as soon as you dared step out of your car.

We discovered that the wonderful screens installed in our T@B actually have gaps around the edges and anything that is as big as a - yep, you guessed it - a mosquito can get in easily. This means, of course, that everything smaller has no problem whatsoever. We had been so smug.

It was too bad because Antelope Island is worth exploring.

Whether its the Buffalo or the birds or the wildflowers - its a great campground. Biking would be great - as long as you have some protection from the bugs.

Last time I was on Antelope it was March and supposed to be in the 60s. We got half a foot of snow instead. I think I'd take the snow over the hovering swarms of mosquitoes...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

First RV Park

Pulling into an RV Park with our little trailer is like pulling into a marina of huge yachts - in a sixteen foot fishing boat.

That made us smile.

We always did call marinas the nautical equivalent of RV Parks.

Anyway, here we are in Walla Walla at the Four Seasons RV Resort on Dalles Military Road and I have to say that all in all, this was a pretty good place to stop. It may seem slightly out of the way from our route down to Utah, however, our youngest child just started college out here and we wanted to pop in, see her dorm room and take her to dinner.

And so we did.

While we were heading into Walla Walla from Seattle, I brought the RV Park up on my Google maps which had about ten Google reviews on it. I was rather surprised to see how negative the reviews were. I'd checked out the resort on a couple RV sites that had pretty positive feedback but nothing like what these reviews had. I get a bit suspicious - especially when there are less than fifteen reviews.

I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly staff and well kept grounds. I'm a camper, not a connoisseur of RV Parks, so just having electricity and a clean shower nearby felt great.
Off to Utah in the morning...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Change number one : More head room

This is my first blog post on this blog so I'll keep it short and to the point so that I actually get this posted.  I've been having fun modifying our trailer for comfort.  The first project I did was take a look at the inside as it was made up into a bed and think to myself "hmm... I'm going to whack my head several times on the storage space cabinets above my head."

There were a series of cabinets along the back wall that were very convenient for storage but when the setup was made into a bed, the headroom was a bit lacking.  Yes, we could sleep with our feet at that end but then my head would be hanging off the edge (not acceptable).  Here is a picture of the cabinets in a different trailer (off of the manufacturer's website of the same model):

I thought to myself "I wonder how hard it would be to drop those" and it turns out with about ten screws and a razor blade to cut some silicone sealant, the cabinets drop right down like this:

One difficulty was trying to figure out how to get the cabinets out of the trailer without cutting them since they are too wide to turn.  Turns out there isn't an easy way so I had to cut them to get them out.  No going back now. 

Then it was just a matter of cutting the cabinet section up so that I could put the speaker/light corner units back up.  I glued/screwed in some small pieces of wood to support the exposed side:

The exposed side was covered by a piece of wood that was a separator between the cabinets.  The hardest part was taking a razor blade very carefully along the back wall to remove the silicone sealant still on the wall without cutting through the veneer.  When it was finished, it looked like this:

I think this looks pretty good.  Still had to put some silicone sealant around it to cut down on any rattles and fill in some screw holes on the back wall.  Here's what the back of it looks like now:

Another change I made at the same time was to remove the small 2" x 2" board along the front of the storage area there and replace it with a larger 1"x5" to make it taller to increase storage. 

The 1"x5" is a nice piece of maple and I finished it to match the interior wood.  The only problem is that for strength I have it dropping down on the existing plywood a bit more than the 2"x2" and so now when I need to lift the cushion up to put the bench back up, my fingers get caught on the wood.  I'll need to possibly fix that somehow.  I also put a small piece of trim along the back wall since the factory hadn't put a trim piece covering the plywood end.  This can be seen in the picture as the darker wood at the bottom of the back wall above the storage.

Anyway, I think it turned out well and it feels much more spacious.  The storage will be missed but that's what we have a pickup for as a tow vehicle. 

We head off to Utah next week and at the very least we will have decent headroom.  Safe travels.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Boat to Trailer

We’ve spent the last fourteen years primarily spending our time navigating the Pacific Northwest with a boat. These have been good years spent anchored in quiet inlets or docked for another crazy summer weekend at Roche Harbor. The marine world has its own version of campgrounds and RV parks, they just use different accessories and yes, there’s always some annoying jerk that uses his generator late into the evening. There are tipsy people on the docks and folks comparing dinghies. If you are a camper who travels with trailer or RV this might just sound familiar.

Selling our boat filled a room in our house with all manner of things. From dishes, pots and flatware to downriggers, flotation devices, fenders and tow ropes. It’s been a challenge to figure out how to downsize and think as a camper instead of a boater.

As a boater, I always wanted to be prepared for just about anything. Whether it was having six people sleeping on board for two weeks or feeding a small army of marauding teenagers, I had the supplies to do so. The first aid kit was created for the amount of hours it might take the coast guard to get to you. There was enough non-perishable food onboard to last us weeks. Every old towel for the last ten years had been relegated to storage cupboards.  I had no idea how much stuff had been stashed in our boat until I started cleaning out all the drawers and cubbies.
It’s pretty obvious that this little trailer of ours isn’t going to be pulling the same kind of duty. Campgrounds just aren't that far off the beaten path and most towns have markets and fuel.

There are RV’s out there that rival the boat we had in luxury and size – but that’s not what we’ve chosen for our land adventures. Picking a trailer that is basically a glorified bed with some limited storage and a small water tank is a running leap into a very different direction.  As with boating, how you choose to be “out there” dictates a particular style. Cruising and sailing are very different styles of being on the water. Choosing a fifteen foot teardrop trailer over anything larger – or smaller like a tent – was a choice on how we want to camp and travel.
And so I’ve been picking through all of the boxes of supplies from the years on the boat to see what can fit into much smaller spaces and cabinets. What’s necessary, what’s overkill. Don’t need flatware for twenty or a dozen wineglasses. I’ll keep the kettle and find a home for the small electric drip coffee pot.  We’ll be cooking on an outdoor stove, sitting in a living room called a campsite. There are some luxuries in this trailer that still feel odd. Who needs an air conditioner or a DVD player? The solar panel plug seems pretty awesome though.

Andy’s spending a lot of time upgrading and customizing the trailer.  He knew our boat inside and out, worked on most of the systems and understood how and why it all worked together. I suspect its – dare I say – been fun to figure out the best ways to manage the limited systems on the trailer even if I do think the 120 watt solar panel is overkill.

To be continued…

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Coming back to where you started

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky