We left Capitol Reef on our two year “on the road” anniversary. Driving through the amazing views seemed a fitting way to celebrate.
Our route took us down Scenic Highway 12, one of 31 “All-American Roads” according to the brochure I picked up at the visitor’s center in Torrey. The pamphlet alerted us to all the scenic pullouts along the way including mile markers so we had plenty of time to slow down. Nice to have advance warning when you’re towing 9000 pounds! Continue reading “Escalante”
When we left on this adventure, at the very top of our list were the Utah parks. Two years later we’ve finally made it to our first one and I have to admit I’m having a hard time writing this post because we have so many awesome pictures, yet they don’t quite capture the wonder of Capitol Reef.
Capitol Reef National Park is one of the lesser known Utah parks. It straddles the highway so most folks just drive through on their way from Zion and Bryce up to Arches and Canyonlands but boy are they missing out. With it’s campground set among the orchards and the spectacular geology all around, Capitol Reef is an amazing park! It may well turn out to be my favorite in Utah, but I guess I should reserve judgement until I’ve seen the other four. 🙂 Continue reading “To Utah!”
There you are driving through Idaho’s hills and green fields with snow capped peaks in the distance and then suddenly you end up in this strange land.
Craters of the Moon National Monument has been on our list since the start of this adventure. Since it wasn’t too far off our route to Utah we decided to spend a few days there.
Boy did we luck out. Without knowing it we hit prime wildflower bloom. The Monkeyflower’s entire life cycle (sprout, bloom, seed, wither and die) takes only 3 weeks and we were here for the bloom! Those tiny, pink flowersadded a beautiful contrast to the dark volcanic rock.
This place is really strange, especially for being in the middle of Idaho. It feels more like Hawaii, and in fact all the signs explaining the different types of rock had pictures of lava from Hawaii. Mostly this place reminded us of the lava flow we visited in New Mexico, Valley of Fires, especially on our first night when we walked from the campground to the Trail of Lava.
The next day we drove to the wilderness trail parking area. There were two trails, one to the tree molds which are impressions of trees laying flat in the lava. The other trail said it went to Lava Trees, described as an upright version. I thought this sounded interesting so off we went. The trail started out through some awesome lava rocks, then came into more of a meadow with small cinders, almost like lava rock gravel. The wildflowers seem to love these areas.
Finally we saw the sign for the lava trees. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was cool. The lava surrounded the tree and as the tree burned the steam cooled the lava enough to harden it into an impression of the tree leaving tree shaped voids.
On our last day we drove the short loop again, this time stopping at several other areas. We skipped the very popular Inferno Cone where lots of visitor’s were hiking up the barren cone and instead stopped at the nearby Spatter Cones area.
After a quick look into the spatter cones we hiked up the steep trail to Big Crater. We had been joking that there were no craters at Craters of the Moon, but after the short steep climb we found the craters! And great views around as well.
It’s a hike that wasn’t really at the top of the ranger recommendations, but was definitely worth it! Our last stop on the loop was Devil’s Orchard, another great area to view wildflowers.
Overall Craters of the Moon was a great stop with much more variety in the lava formations than we had seen at Valley of Fires, plus the wildflowers were gorgeous!
After a road weary fall, we decided to head to the Texas coast. We loved our stay there last year for Thanksgiving and two weeks at the National Seashore sounded like just the break we needed. We also wanted to check out some RV casitas we’ve been researching as an option for a winter base. Plus, there was a week of nice weather in the forecast. This meant we could hit up two more national parks, Guadelupe and Carlsbad, that we haven’t been able to visit because of their high elevation.
We arrived at Guadelupe Mountains National Park on November 3rd. The RV camping is basically spots in the parking lot so nothing special, but it put us right in the middle of the views. Guadelupe is a “desert meets mountains” sort of place so you have yucca and cactus alongside juniper and pine.
This parking lot was also the major trailhead so we saw a lot of backpackers getting their permits and heading out for multi-night treks. As the weather turned chillier and stormier over the weekend we were glad to be snug in our trailer!
Lucky for us we picked a beautiful morning to hike to Devil’s Hall. Being in the desert we’ve missed out on fall colors so it was a treat to see so much beautiful color on the trees along the way.
Before you get to Devil’s Hall You have to navigate the Devil’s Staircase.
I’m about half way up it here. It was even trickier coming back down. 🙂 The hall is a narrow passage between two cliffs of layered stone. It was pretty cool.
The color was just as amazing on our way back.
We also visited a couple of sights in the park. There are ruins of a Butterfield Overland Mail Stagecoach Stop, the highest on the route at 5,534 feet. Butterfield was the first transcontinental mail service. The coaches ran round the clock, covering the 2800 miles in 25 days or less. The stations were important to provide food and fresh horses.
We walked around the Frijole Ranch. The buildings weren’t open the day we were there, but we peered in the windows. The red building was once the schoolhouse. They also had an amazing spring-fed irrigation system that watered an orchard.
Guadelupe and Carlsbad are about 45 miles apart so we could have driven to the caverns, but we opted to move our trailer to a boondocking spot closer to the park.
By now you should know that caves are not really my thing, but I have to say Carlsbad blew me away. I had researched the options and found you could hike through the Natural Opening and down into the cave at your own pace. It didn’t look like there were any tight spaces so I thought I’d be fine and I was.
Turns out I was too enthralled by all the cool cave formations to feel claustrophobic, plus the rooms are huge!
Every turn brought another amazing view.
Often times it felt like we were on the set of Star Trek landing on a distant planet.
After walking the paved trail from the Natural Entrance, you end up 800 feet below the surface in the Big Room, which has a 1.25 mile loop trail.
This room is gigantic, the size of 14 football fields, and filled with formations.
By the end we were on overload and happy to take the elevator back up 38 floors to the surface.
If you only visit one cave in your lifetime, this is the one. What an amazing journey into a strange underground world. Even though I’m not a cave person I loved it. Although I do think I’ve now fulfilled all my cave needs for a lifetime. 🙂
Well that brings our grand total to 15 National Parks!
It’s been a while since I last posted. We’ve been covering lots of ground visiting family, which I’ll get to in another post, and there hasn’t been much time to write. But I realized I never posted this blog about our great time at Lake Mead in April. Reading it over, I’m wishing I was back there right now…
Las Vegas Bay Campground
After boondocking at Trona Pinnacles we needed a place to dump our tanks and get fresh water. We also needed a city so we could run errands (Easter basket traditions must live on!). Las Vegas Bay Campground on Lake Mead didn’t get great reviews, but it was close to Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas with lots of shopping.
As we were driving toward Henderson we were following the tail end of a huge storm that dropped hail and rain on Vegas. Luckily we only caught a little of the rain and by the time we made it to the campground it had cleared up. We had our pick of spots since much of the place was empty.
Sadly this campground had an abandoned, sketchy feel to it. We couldn’t quite put our finger on why, but it partly had to do with a couple of run down trailers that looked like they had been parked there a while. This campground had the longest stay limit we have ever seen, 30 days, and they looked like they had been there longer than that. Plus this wasn’t a campground active with people walking their dogs or anything. We did see the host a couple of times out pruning the landscaping and there was a great view from our site, but it just didn’t feel like a place we wanted to hang out much. That’s ok. We were here to get things done.
Reading the park brochure I discovered we were only 10 miles from Hoover Dam so we decided to go there first thing in the morning. Of course for us that means about 10 am. 🙂 I had been once as a kid, but didn’t remember much about it and I have to say it wasn’t what I was expecting. Other dams we have seen are massive and can be viewed from a distance. Hoover Dam, while very tall, is wedged in a narrow canyon. It was crazy-filled with people like Disneyland. For some reason I thought there would be a big parking lot and a visitor’s center that overlooked the dam, but parking was $10 or in a couple of small lots on the hillside.
They do however let you drive across the dam. So after going through the security check-point and letting them look at all the gear stowed under our bed cover, we followed the line of cars winding their way down into the canyon, across the dam while avoiding the pedestrians crossing, and up the other side to a viewpoint high above.
I snapped photos out the window and we parked on the hill, but didn’t want to trek all the way down to the visitor’s center with Chuck’s bum knee and all the throngs of people to contend with.
So we were satisfied to see what we did and headed back across. Instead we stopped at the small Lake Mead Visitor’s center which was pretty informative.
Then we headed into Henderson to get some lunch. We wanted to go to REI so found a BBQ place nearby that wasn’t great. Traffic and lots of freeways in Henderson made us want to get out of there. It just didn’t seem like a great area. We shopped for Easter goodies for our daughters’ baskets, did a grocery run, stopped at the post office and headed back to the trailer.
The next morning we were hitched up and ready to leave the area. As we headed north through the park we got a big surprise. This area is stunningly beautiful. Colorful cliffs rise out of the desert and wildflowers dot the side of the road. If you’re ever in Las Vegas I recommend taking the drive along the western side of Lake Mead and exploring the natural beauty of the area.
Our destination was Stewart’s Point, a very large boondocking area at the northwestern edge of Lake Mead. It was strange driving in because you suddenly enter a section of houses before coming to the boondocking area, but it turned out to be perfect. We parked the trailer and took the bikes around to explore since there were huge ruts in many of the roads. We settled on a large open gravel area on a high point overlooking the shoreline and the distant mountains on the other side. Turned out to be a great spot with views all around.
There is plenty of room here to explore and all sorts of cool pebbles to discover underfoot, even some kind of small white shells. Just like at Trona, we had very strong winds one day making it hard to go outside (I guess that’s just something you find in the desert), but other days we rode bikes around and sat outside enjoying the views.
Another Airstream pulled into a spot nearby and soon we met Rhonda and Bruce, full-time RVers for 8.5 years. They invited us over for a delicious dinner in their vintage trailer. Bruce made chili and homemade gluten free cornbread, yum! We swapped stories for quite a while and hope to cross paths again so we can return their hospitality.
We took a very worthwhile trip to Valley of the Fire State Park. It is only about 12 miles away, but a whole different world of amazing red rock scenery.
We drove out the White Domes Scenic Byway. It was a beautiful drive and we were surprised when the stunning red rocks gave way to pastel ridges of white and peach and gold.
The hike down into the canyon was definitely worth it. This is another place that has provided a backdrop for movies. The way the wind and water have eroded the sandstone it so cool.
In another part of the park we found these cool rock cabins build by the CCC in an area with petroglyphs.
Another day we walked the short 1/2 mile loop around Redstone, a smaller area of red sandstone in Lake Mead. It’s a nice picnic stop if you take the drive to explore the lake.
We celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary while we were here. I never would have thought that this is where we would end up all these years later. Chuck kept saying let’s spend the whole day together for our anniversary. Ha Ha. We do that every day.
But to make it special we opened a bottle of wine, broke out some appetizers and enjoyed the view. And after dinner we lit a campfire. We’ve only had 3 or 4 campfires since hitting the road. We don’t really like to end up smelling like smoke, but once in a while a spot really calls out for a campfire and this was one of them. It was a fitting end to our special day.