St George, UT and Red Cliffs Canyon

It is rarely good to try and find a free boondocking site on a Friday, or a weekend generally.

Of course that didn’t stop me and the first place I looked, listed on freecampsites.net, was completely full…and not a particularly fun road to drive with all the washboards. Camp sites were right on the road and not that appealing so I moved on.

BLM land was listed on the eastern side of La Verkin and Hurricane, south of the road as you head into Zion. It looked promising. I took the first road and quickly found a nice large, flat spot to park and unhook. For some reason there was also a tiny house parked just before me which seemed to be a rental as the cars parked outside were never the same. I can’t find any information on this though to confirm.

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With camp set up I headed into town to locate the Ford dealership. While they were booked out two weeks ahead for newer vehicles, having a 7.3l diesel has its benefits and a simple repair was all that was needed…and they could get me in Monday.

With the truck issue taken care of I went to explore Camping World (an RV “super-store” much like Walmart) as I had heard many things about it but never been in one. It was interesting to wander round and I saw a couple of things of interest, but nothing I needed (still looking for a retractable clothes line). I also visited the mall…just because…but it was nothing special and my favorite stores weren’t even open yet.

I took a back road around St George and discovered the cheapest place to buy diesel in the area. I kept it in mind for Monday. With little to occupy me in the city I headed back to camp, stopped briefly at Walmart and a gas station for some cold brews and sodas.

The weekend was fairly relaxed and we didn’t do much except a couple of short drives around the area and fill out some job applications.

Monday I headed back into St George where my truck was finally fixed (not inexpensively either), and I felt even more broke. These fixes have seriously been eating into my savings and I was starting to get a little concerned about my financial situation. While taking my truck to Ford wasn’t the cheapest alternative it was also a positive as they also replaced a sensor that had been on recall, and thus was done free of charge. With my two other sensors replaced (coolant temperature sensor and exhaust back-pressure sensor for the turbo) I headed back to camp…I immediately noticed an improvement in the power of the truck due to the replaced exhaust sensor which was great.

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A friend posted some southern Utah hiking recommendations and I read through them…three were in my area…and Tuesday morning I headed out to do the Red Cliffs hike with the dogs…a short mile-long hike to a red cliffs canyon (no surprise there!).

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It was perfect weather and it was nice to hike with the dogs again and while I kept Kye on leash for a change I let Cody have some freedom. We had to turn around at a narrow gap as the dogs couldn’t climb the rock and it was too far to carry them, not to mention dangerous. It was an area there would have been a waterfall if there had been any water flowing. I climbed up where the dogs couldn’t go…where ropes had been anchored to the wall for safety…and took a few pictures. It would have been amazing to go further but with my best friends with me I could go no further…they were already looking a little forlorn that they couldn’t follow me up the water-fall cliff.

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Someone had left a plastic water bottle full of water to the side of the canyon which I went to pick up. Upon closer inspection I noticed it had two tadpoles in it…someone had scooped them up in the bottle, sealed it and left them to die there. I dumped the bottle in the pools where there were other tadpoles and stuffed the bottle in my pack…some people are disgusting human beings.

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Back at the truck I dumped the trash in the trash can and headed back to camp for the afternoon. I highly recommend this hike; it is not particularly challenging but I assume it could be tougher once you get further into the canyon.

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During the evening, waiting until it was late in the day, I headed up to Zion’s Kolob Canyons Visitor Center to see if I could get a permit for the Subway hike. I didn’t think it was likely but it never hurts to ask. I arrived 5 minutes before they closed and they were able to issue me a permit…another moment to be thankful for being a solo hiker/traveler. I took a quick drive through the park, past the canyons and the massive walls burning red in the dying sunlight. It was pretty impressive.

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Gear Review: Enlightened Equipment Convert

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Specs: 10F Reg width/Reg length 850FP down quilt wiwith the optional DownTek water-repellent down at no extra cost

Enlightened Equipment is a small cottage manufacturer located in Winona, Minnesota that specializes in quilts, underquilts and other down accessories for sleeping.

After researching for weeks for a new sleeping bag that was lighter than my 7lb Cabela’s mummy bag from years ago I tried a synthetic bag from Thermarest. It was a nice bag, warm and comfortable but still too heavy at over 3lbs, and I wanted something lighter. I would have to invest in a down bag that I hoped would last me a long time.

The more I read the more I narrowed down choices. Western Mountaineering bags were at the top of my list, but were just too expensive at the time for what I wanted, and the Kelty Cosmic 20 down bag at the lower end of the spectrum just didn’t have constant good reviews. That’s when I started reading more and more about people using quilts. I was intrigued.

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Reading forums, hiker blogs and reviews from all over the internet three or four companies kept cropping up with high recommendations: ZPacks, Katabatic, Jacks ‘R’ Better and Englightened Equipment.

Knowing that I wanted a lower-rated sleeping bag/quilt due to the fact that I am a cold sleeper at the beginning of the night, and the areas I generally camp and backpack in, I wanted a quilt that could be used as a sleeping bag in colder temperatures (quilts don’t do great below freezing, according to reports I have read). Both ZPacks and EE offered a zip-up quilt option; ZPacks as an addition to any of their quilts, and Enlightened Equipment as a separate model called the Convert.

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Several things swayed my choice when it came to choosing between the two companies. What it finally came down to was options: Enlightened Equipment gave me the options to fully customize my quilt the way I wanted it, from down fill-power (800 to 950), inside and outside colors, length and width (which ZPacks also does) and the type of down used. I loved that I could choose the colors of my quilt, and there are over a dozen colors (for the exterior) to choose from. I also preferred EE’s baffle construction and orientation since horizontal baffles across the sleeper could allow the down to slide to the sides during the night, especially if you move around a lot.

After ordering, and knowing that all quilts are made to order, I waited. Within a day or two I felt like I’d made a mistake in the sizing and emailed Enlightened Equipment. They adjusted my order and sent me a new receipt with the updated information. A few weeks later I was looking at the website I noticed they had updated their color choices…they had PURPLE. I immediately emailed the company and asked if they could possibly change my order. And they did.

Less than two weeks later my quilt arrived in a cotton storage bag and large box, nicely packaged. I couldn’t believe how light it felt, although at 27oz not quite the lightest on the market but the 850FP down stands up to humidity better than 950FP and I don’t always plan on camping in the dry air of the western US. And I absolutely LOVED the colors…they were true to the colors on the website and I liked that my sleeping bag was unique to me and my personality.

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The material is thin and definitely translucent enough to see the down inside, but it felt like good quality and the construction and stitching were faultless. The zipper works smoothly although I have found that it does catch the light shell material very easily if you are not careful; I always run my fingers along the inside of the zipper as I am closing it up which seems to avoid the issue…keeping the zipper and material taught helps too.

My first outing with the Convert was on my Tongue River Canyon hike. It was only an overnight, and quite warm during the day. During the first use I kept it zipped up in the hoodless sleeping bag mode. I stayed plenty warm and toasty during the night, with heavy winds and some rain.

The second trip was to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Again I kept it in sleeping bag mode and was plenty warm the first night. The second night, having camped right next to a creek, everything got damp, including the Convert. Having my face next to cold, wet fabric chilled me to the point of having to put my down coat on underneath the quilt. I don’t believe this to be a fault with the bag that I got cold, but one of my own making.

The third and fourth trips (Little Horn Canyon and Walker Prairie) I finally used the Convert in quilt mode due to the warm temperatures. I found this set-up to be very versatile and I slept well in both places, staying plenty warm without the need to zip up the bag or even pull it around me. Of course a 10F bag is overkill when the overnight lows are in the 50s.

Taking the Convert on the Solitude Trail for a week was the longest test and it performed superbly. I mostly used it as a quilt with the top snap closed and adjusted as necessary as I slept. I was cold only one night, when it dropped below freezing, and I realized that I probably should have stuck with the original width I had ordered (slim vs regular)…there was just too much space in the bag for me to warm successfully in sub-freezing temperatures. Part of me being cold was that it was also a damp night. Even with too much space, an added layer made all the difference. Most of the reason I was getting cold was the ingress of too much air at the shoulder area and only a thin layer of fleece shirt to block it.

I like the vertical baffles on EE’s bags; they keep the down where you want it and I don’t find that it moves much after I’ve given the bag a good shake after it comes out of its stuff sack and allow it to loft.

The elastic draw string at the neck of the bag is sufficient for what it does but it is probably my least-liked element of the bag. It is very narrow, non-stretchy cord and I don’t like the tightening location. I’d like to see the cord replaced with a flat, elastic version that doesn’t feel quite so much like a garroting wire when tightened. It is especially difficult if you want to reach a hand out of the sleeping bag to scratch your ear, put on chapstick, grab your flashlight…or pick your nose!!! An elastic cord would alleviate some of this and make the bag more versatile, and placing the tightening location by the zipper with two toggles instead of one would also be an improvement. Of course, these are just my opinions on one aspect of the Convert that didn’t work for me. A neck baffle (as found as an option on Loco Libre Gear’s quilts would really be a plus).

Overall, the Convert (and other EE quilts) are great quality and provide a warm, light sleeping bag/quilt at an affordable price. Their customer service was impeccable and I really appreciated their efforts to make sure I got the bag I wanted, despite all the changes. I don’t think you can go wrong with Enlightened Equipment.

 

 

 

 

Moab to St. George, Utah

Leaving Moab

On my way home from riding I noticed my engine temperature gauge wasn’t registering. I was a little concerned but after having one of the guys check it out with his computer I determined it wasn’t the thermostat and was most likely just a sensor. It was still something I would have to spend more money on to fix.

This morning saw the jack I had previous paid to have fixed at Stalkups RV in Casper quit retracting again. I halted the motor, lifted the manual legs and left both jacks as they were. I was PISSED OFF to put it mildly.

With everything loaded I headed out of the campsite, pausing to say goodbye to a couple of the people in the Class A campsite and hit the road. My temperature gauge still wasn’t working and with the non-working jack an issue again I was feeling pretty stressed and emotional.

I called Stalkups RV and spoke to Dan in the service department who said they would stand by their work but would need me to take it into a repair shop. If the repair shop determined that Stalkups was at fault they would need to call them and inform them before Stalkups RV would cover the bill, but that they WOULD stand behind their work if they were found to be at fault.

I paused in Green River to chat with a mechanic and he informed me of a Ford dealership in Richfield, 120 miles away, who would be better able to diagnose the issue regarding my temperature gauge. I had to cross 3 mountain passes on my way there and I was certainly nervous…I don’t like not knowing what is going on with my engine, especially when hauling a heavy load. Using the AllStays app I was also able to locate an RV repair shop which happened to be right next to the Ford dealership.

I stopped in at Jorgensen’s RV and they were able to get me in immediately (unusual but appreciated). The repair technician pulled apart my jack and determined that Stalkups had indeed used the wrong part (a roll pin vs a shear pin) for the jack. A call was made by one of Jorgensen’s office staff to Stalkups RV informing them of the fault but was apparently rudely informed that they would not cover the work, despite what they had told me earlier.

The repair technician made another discovery in that the repair that should have been done initially was NOT in fact a shear pin issue but a gearing issue. I had paid Stalkups RV a decent chunk of change to fix the jack, which they had not in fact done (I had not been shown the broken part either), and was now having to fork out a lot more money to have it done right.

With my jack finally fixed, and feeling a lot more broke, I wasn’t in the mood to go much further and once again used AllStays to locate a place to camp nearby. South of my location was Mystic Hot Springs, a small RV/tent camping park attached to some hot springs. The reviews called the place funky and the website showed old cabins and buses to stay in. I don’t usually do RV parks but the $30 price per night included full hook-ups and passes to the hot springs. I was in need of a break and since Ford hadn’t charged me for diagnoses of my gauge issue (two sensors needed replaced) I put that money towards two nights at Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe. The place certainly was quirky, and certainly not for those interested in a fancy RV park, but it was my kind of place and I quickly found a suitable pull-through site and set-up, opposite some buses that people either live in or stay in. It definitely recommend it.

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It was nice to have electricity for a change and to use my TV and free-standing lamps as well as start charging some of my AC electronics without having to cart them to the truck.

A large group of tent and truck campers was growing slowly behind me and on my way back from a short walk around the hot springs I asked one of the older guys if it was a bachelor party (no women). I was informed it was a group of para-gliders and hang-gliders in town for a week-long meet-up/event. I was invited to come say hi, which I did.

I spent a couple of hours with the group, meeting a few and getting first names and where people were from…Idaho, Utah, Alaska and more. I enjoyed a roaring fire they got going before excusing myself to go enjoy the hot springs I had, in essence, paid for.

The hot springs themselves were very rustic-looking and included two pools, one large warm pool and a smaller hot pool. Above the pools, after climbing some rough rock steps, there are bathtubs with spring water flowing into and out of them constantly. When checking in the owners inform you about the hot springs rules: no alcohol, no nudity and no pets permitted in or around the hot springs (although all but the nudity are permitted in the RV park).

Two others were in the pools when I arrived but it was dark and didn’t say hi, nor did they acknowledge me. I disrobed and climbed into the larger of the two pools which had a small waterfall pouring into it. I floated for a while and enjoyed the warmth, remaining near the waterfall where it was slightly warmer. The two ladies left soon after and I was alone. It was relaxing and much needed after a rough day.

With the rain starting to fall lightly I moved to the hotter pool and enjoyed the heat for a while before it became too much. Being a little too hot now getting out into the cool night air wasn’t too bad and I wrapped myself in my towel, grabbed my clothes and headed back to the camper. I was glad I had remembered a flashlight as none of the pathways were lit.

I re-dressed quickly and headed back out to the bonfire where things were getting a little raucous. It was fun and interesting to listen to the guys talking about paragliding although I didn’t understand some of it. Paragliding has been on my bucket list for a while and meeting these guys reminded me of that and not to forget about it…they were definitely enthusiastic.

Warmed by the hot springs and then the fire I was getting drowsy, bid the group farewell and went to bed. I’m not sure how long they were up for as I was quickly asleep.

I had two nights booked at Mystic Hot Springs so I enjoyed the day in between doing very little. I made a quick trip into Richfield to get some groceries and fill up with fuel but I spent most of the day enjoying having an electrical hook-up, listened to Pandora,  watched a DVD and wrote. The evening progressed much the same as the night before; hanging around the camp fire, drinking a beer or three, talking with the paragliders, enjoying the hot springs and then the fire again before hitting the hay at 10pm.

I was up before the sun and it was another chilly morning. My heater had done a good job of keeping the inside of the camper perfect (it got a little hot in the middle of the night so I had to turn it down). I let the dogs run one last time and packed up camp before saying good bye to the guys I could see.

I was on the road by 9 am and heading for St George. I chose to stay off the interstate and instead took the scenic route to the east. It was generally a pleasant drive and we stopped on the way up the pass going west to make a sandwich. Coming down the other side was beautiful but a lot less fun and I allowed the pressure of traffic behind me into making a mistake…I tried pulling off too fast, on too steep of a grade with too much momentum and almost lost my brakes. Thankfully I was pulling off against the mountain and the only thing I would have hit was a pole, but it was still not a good moment. I let my brakes cool for a while before heading down…and I waited for a large gap in the traffic before pulling out. Anyone behind me from here on out was just going to have to be patient as I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

The view at the top of the pass before making an error in judgement:

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A brief pause in Cedar City at the bottom of the pass gave my truck and me a break before continuing south. I used one of several apps to find a good and free boondocking location but the first place I looked was full. A little frustrated I did another search and found a place above La Verkin on BLM land, above the Virgin River and the dam (although not visible from my location as I didn’t want to drag the camper too far on rough dirt roads).

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Moab – Day 7: Arches National Park, Delicate Arch and The Windows; Horseback Riding in the Canyon

Arches National Park, Take 2

Another early start to the day saw me arriving at the Arches’ visitor center at 6:45am and directed into the parking lot to wait until the park opened at 7. This gave me time to dump some trash and recycling, unfortunately the bathrooms were closed at the visitor center so I was going to have to wait.

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With the barriers moved a line of cars streamed out of the parking lot. I was fifth out of the gate and those of us in front soon left the rest behind (while still obeying the speed limit). Two of the front cars soon pulled off the road into turn-outs or turned towards ‘The Windows’ section, presumably for the sunrise. I continued on to Delicate Arch where I was the third on the trail for the morning. I quickly passed a slightly older couple and a younger Asian couple (the young lady had twisted an ankle) about half way through the hike.

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I pushed myself hard and followed the cairns to the top, rounding the corner of a narrow rock-ledge trail to behold Delicate Arch in the early morning sun. I was the first one there and enjoyed a few moments of having the park’s most famous arch all to myself. The others I had passed soon arrived and the older couple were kind enough to take a picture of me under the arch.

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More and more people began to arrive and I decided it was time to head back down the trail. A few people asked how close they were to the arch as I hiked down, and some asked me what time I started since I was already almost back to the parking lot by 8:30am…when most people were just starting up the trail.

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From Delicate Arch I made the short drive to see Double Arch, Turret Arch and the North and South Windows arches, all of which are massive and awe-inspiring. With the parking lots getting busier and busier I finally headed out of the park at 10:30 and headed back to the camper for a few hours before heading back out for some riding.

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Horseback Riding: Moab Horses/ Hauer Ranch

I had booked a 4pm ride with Moab Horses at Hauer Ranch and left camp at 2:30pm, not quite sure how long it would take me to get to the riding facility. I had chosen this particular place due to the location (near the Fisher People and Castle Valley) and also because they were one of the smaller operations in the area, and I like to support those kinds of places. I also tend to find they offer a more personal approach to guests.

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I took the dogs with me and stopped to let them play in the Colorado River before heading to the ranch. I arrived way too early and sat chatting with the wrangler, James, and the owner, whose name I didn’t get. James was still saddling horses while I signed yet another waiver and paid. I had forgotten my water bottle AND my sun block so I chugged some water from a hose and borrowed some sunscreen from the ranch’s supply (those bottles left behind by many guests ahead of me). I chatted with James, the farrier and the owners while they saddled up or brought horses in for shoeing. We talked about the ranch I used to own and the kind of work I used to do with horses and cattle.

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Four other guests arrived and we were soon ready to go. A quick safety talk was followed by us being assigned our horses. I was given a black and white paint by the name of Cash. The others were on Hondo (a spotted appaloosa), Sassy (a dark dun), Gem (a halflinger) and a red and white paint whose name I also didn’t catch. James’ directions were mostly decent but balance and foot placement in the stirrups was not addressed, and that later became painfully obvious with the nervous novice rider on Sassy.

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With everyone mounted in the round-pen we headed out into the desert. The initial half hour was flat but with stunning views of the red cliffs and Colorado River, and we also saw a bald eagle…a rare sight for so early in the season. I got to talking to the older couple (both pyschotherapists) behind me who were in the Moab area for a week on vacation. They both seemed to be enjoying their horses.

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With the easy part behind us we followed Onion Creek east towards Fisher Towers, crossing and re-crossing the creek. Onion Creek is so named for the wild onions that grow in copious amounts along its banks. Still following Onion Creek we rode beneath the highway. The young lady on Sassy was struggling to control her mount who really had a mind of her own, took her through bushes and off the trail. James did a pretty good job of helping her out and instructing her in what to do.

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I was very much enjoying my horse, Cash, who was fun, spirited and very light on the mouth. He listened well but would have been a handful in less-experienced hands. I also discovered that he was a gaited horse after trotting through a couple of wash crossings.

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We finally left the creek bed and climbed up and up, following trails and other washes until we had the best views yet of Fisher Towers, a group of over 100 towers and each of which is named. James was good about talking about the history of the area, including the filming of many of John Wayne’s movies and City Slickers 2, as well as Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” video.

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After 2 1/2 hours we turned back across the road and found ourselves back at the ranch, where we were greeted very enthusiastically by the ranch dogs. We all dismounted and handed our horses back over to the ranch. I was a little sad to say goodbye to Cash…he is exactly the kind of horse I would buy if and when I get back into horse ownership.

I headed back into Moab to get gas and then headed for home. I let the dogs out to run and fed them before heading over to the Class A camp to enjoy a couple of drinks with new friends on my last night in Moab.

Moab Horses at Hauer Ranch were courteous and professional and the scenic ride was gorgeous. For $80 for a two hour ride they are right where I think they should be (after having worked in the industry for many years). Moab Horses are located located 21ish miles north of Moab along Highway 128 (the River Road). The ranch can be reached by calling (435) 259-8015 or you can find their website at www.moabhorses.com.

Moab – Day 6: Arches National Park, Fiery Furnace Hike

Access to the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park is restricted due to the dangerous nature of the area; the ease of getting lost and the lack of water. Those who wish to access the Fiery Furnace require a permit and are required to watch a short safety video and it is recommended you go with someone familiar with the area, or you can join a guided hike into the area. I chose the latter. Fees are associated with both options.

I met the guide at the Fiery Furnace parking area at 9pm. The ranger’s name was Travis and the group quickly learned that it was his last guided trip into the Furnace and also in Arches National Park…he was moving on to other things.

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The reason I chose a guided trip for the Furnace was for all the great information that the rangers can provide as you visit certain areas.

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We hiked down hill a short way and Travis explained the geographical history of the area; the formation having had two parents to create it, one being the salt valley that resided below us, and the second being the powerful force of water (and a little wind). As we hiked down into the sandy washes we were confronted with some rocky, boulder-strewn trails. It was a minor test for what was to come but a good indicator about who might have problems and it was the last chance people had to turn back. Despite the quirky knee of one group member (not me) and the “experienced years” of another gentleman no one chose to turn back and we continued on.

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With the sandy washes behind us we entered into the towering spires, narrow slots and rocky footing of the Furnace. Sometimes it is good to be small and many of the climbs, canyons, and sliding between two almost-touching rock walls were much easier due to my size. Climbing the boulder field below Jackass Pass in the Wind River Range made this look pretty tame.

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Travis led us into a handful of dead ends to show us a few of the formations that had been carved and formed over the years including a small land bridge (although all land bridges in Arches NP are called arches, no matter how they were formed) and Skull Arch which looks like the eye sockets in a skull.

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There were many tight spots and a lot of rock scrambling, climbing, leaping, tip-toeing, leaning and sliding on your butt in many places but that was what made the hike even more fun. I tended to follow right behind the ranger as I was the youngest person in the group, other than a family with two small girls.

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I did get talking with a very nice couple from Kansas City who had only started hiking within the past 4-5 years. They lived part time in their travel trailer in Tucson, AZ and were pretty determined to get out and do things while they still could…and they did great. In fact everyone did amazing, including the older gentleman who looked to be in his late 70s. I was very impressed.

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The tour took about 3 hours and we were back at the parking area at noon. I enjoyed it very much and highly recommend it. Tours do need to be booked in advance and they usually fill up 2-3 days ahead of time; I booked mine Thursday for Monday which was the next available guided tour.

Moab – Day 5: Canyoneering at Ephedra’s Grotto

Apologies for the delay in getting the blog updated. I have been dealing with a broken right hand from an accident at my current job and I am right-handed. I am at the tail end of healing and should be getting more posts out in the near future.

(As with the zip line tour I booked a half day canyoneering excursion on Friday directly with the tour company. There are a handful of places in Moab that can book multiple adventures (biking, hiking, horseback riding, canyoneering etc) all from the same place, like the Moab Activity Center in the middle of town).

My tour was booked for 8 am and so I was up at 6:30 in order to let the dogs out, eat some fruit and organize my pack. I headed out at 7:15 am, dropped my keys with one of the RVers up the road so she could let the dogs out mid-morning, and headed into town again.

Once at the office for Moab Cliffs and Canyons, the tour company, I again signed my life away with the standard waiver…the one that I almost never read because they all say the same thing (I do read some of them). I met John, our tour guide, a handsome young guy (yes, of course I noticed how attractive he was) who directed me to the packs of gear we needed to take. I transferred the harness and helmet to my pack and topped up my water as we weren’t scheduled to be back until 1pm. The shuttle driver, John and I jumped in the van and headed to the Moab Activities Center to pick up three other ladies who would be joining the tour.

Bev, Sabrina, Sandy and I quickly got acquainted as the shuttle driver, also called John, and our guide chatted together during the short 20 minute drive to the trail head. Our guide also asked if any of us had rappelled before…the others said no, I could actually confirm I had for a change although it was many years ago.

From the trail head we hiked about a mile to the first rappel, walking through recently-flooded washes. One thing that was quickly pointed out to us was the black, crusty-looking soil in many places. It is actually a very sensitive and easily damaged crypto-biotic soil that provides an unusual eco-system which helps the desert thrive by keeping water in the soil and building a nutrient-rich environment. It is also the slowest growing thing in the desert, taking 100 years to grow an inch…in other words DON’T step on it!

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Another group of two, plus their guide, passed us before we reached the first rappel and it was as good a place as any for a pee break. (It should be noted that any solid waste MUST be packed out in this area…it cannot be buried).

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The first obstacle in our path was minor and involved a slight jump/large step across a shallow gully. It seemed fairly easy and I made the crossing with ease…the other ladies made it look a little tougher, but John was spotting at the bottom in order to help those who needed it.

From the gully crossing we hiked a little further along one of the many sandstone fins to a sheer drop into Ephedra’s Grotto. We were quickly warned not to get too close to the edge as it was curved and easily mis-judged…but I sooo wanted to look down and probably got closer to the edge than I possibly should have (10 feet was plenty safe).

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As John set up the ropes and carabiners for our first descent the other ladies and I talked and took pictures, we also put on our harnesses and helmets. The other group ahead of us were in the process of descending.

With ropes and safety equipment set up in the anchors John checked our harnesses, borrowed my rappelling equipment from my harness and showed us how to hook up, detach and control our speed. The reminder was good to have, and seeing that I had actually rappelled before the ladies were quick to offer me up as sacrifice and go down first. I would have volunteered.

John tossed a safety line to me which I hooked up before getting close to the edge then proceeded to join him at the anchor. He hooked up my rope and the safety line and I was good to go. The scariest part of rappelling is backing over the initial edge, right up until the harness feels secure.

While I hadn’t rappelled a very long time ago it all seemed very familiar and the correct form and actions came back quickly. My only mistake was in trying to fight gravity and guide/walk myself away from the natural direction I was supposed to go. I reached the first level after about 100 ft and got my feet wet in a foot of water…thank you rains from yesterday!!! I was regretting not wearing my hiking pants and wool hiking socks, but you live and learn. I crossed the pool and backed down over the next cliff into the dark abyss for another 40 feet. I managed to avoid the water at the bottom, unhooked the safety rope and sent it back up then unhooked my rappelling carabiner and stepped into the canyon to watch the others.

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Sandy was the next to come down and I watched from the bottom. It was fun to watch others rappel and I yelled encouragement and tried to help improve her passage down with a little guidance regarding legs being out in front and not underneath (a hard habit to break as you want to reach for footing). She arrived at the bottom and I helped her unhook. Bev and Sandy made it down slowly but safely, both of them with the same trouble in keeping their feet in front of them and bracing against the rock. John was the last to come down, for obvious reasons, and it takes the guide a while as they have to reconfigure ropes to make sure they get both ropes down and don’t leave anything behind. Somehow John managed to keep his feet dry…it was either magic or some kind of aerial acrobatic rappelling we weren’t privy to!

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A short hike out of the slot canyon took us 100 yards to the second and final rappel. This one was located at Morning Glory Bridge at the end of Negro Bill Canyon. Sandy went first on this one as I asked her to video me coming down (the bane of being a lone traveler and adventurer). I went second.

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The initial drop-off you have to back over was a lot more pronounced on this rappel than the first and thus a little more nerve-wracking. I don’t find it scary but there is still a slight adrenaline rush as you lean over the edge, backwards. The first 20 feet or so is flat, vertical rock and thus a little easier to step down than the convoluted walls of the descent into Ephedra’s Grotto. However, after 20 ft the wall disappears inwards and I was left hanging in mid air as I dropped down, keeping a good and mostly even speed (although a little stilted with the safety rope) and avoiding spinning for the most part (speed makes the difference on how much you spin when descending without a wall). I looked down at Sandy and waved at the camera, and at the same time noticed the audience I had in the form of several hikers who had made the trek to see Morning Glory Bridge (land bridges and arches are formed by different acts of nature, hence the difference despite often looking the same).

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I made it almost to the bottom but John hadn’t quite been keeping up with me on the safety rope and I stopped two feet from having my feet on the ground. Slack was quickly given and I unhooked the safety rope, untangled the lines (happens when you spin), sent the safety rope back up and unhooked the rappelling rope. Bev and Sabrina followed, both coming slowly and turning into that dreaded spin that comes with canyon winds and a slower descent.

Yay, video of my descent from Morning Glory Bridge:

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At the bottom of Morning Glory Bridge was a pool and a very unique spring looking as though it was flowing from the very cracks of the rock…it was very cool and very unusual.

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John got his ropes in order and descended quickly. He packed the ropes up and said we could remove our harnesses and helmets which we did with haste and then packed them away. We then had a mile and half hike to a different trail-head where the van was waiting for us. Sandy, John and I had a good conversation about Moab’s best eateries, the history of Negro Bill Canyon, and what he does in the off-season (guides mountaineering trips in Washington). The canyon itself was gorgeous and had the run-off from multiple natural springs flowing through it (we had to get our feet wet again at one crossing, even John) which seemed to make it a natural hike for those with dogs and we saw plenty on the trail.

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Back at the van we made the short drive back to the office, dropping off the other three ladies at the MAC on the way. I tipped John and grabbed a bite to eat at a local quesadilla food bus he recommended before heading home for the afternoon.

Moab Cliffs and Canyons was another very professional tour company for canyoneering and rock climbing trips. (The family of four from the zip lining had done a rock climbing trip with them the day before and also raved about them). John was exceedingly safety-conscious/oriented but was also friendly, fun and courteous. He really made the trip a lot of fun and the small group was nice.

Moab Cliffs and Canyons is located at 253 N. Main Street, Moab, Utah or you can call them at (435) 259-3317. You can also visit them online at www.cliffsandcanyons.com. They offer multiple options from the easy half-day trip to Ephedra’s Grotto, which involved minimal water, to three-quarter and full day trip, to multi-day, multi-canyon over-night excursions. Rock-climbing and hiking trips are also available and if they are anything like my canyoneering experience they can be recommended.

Moab – Day 4: Arches National Park and Ziplining

An earlier night last night (9:30pm) had me in bed in much better time to be okay with a 5:30am wake-up call, although I still groaned as the alarm on my cell phone went off.

I let the dogs out, made a sandwich, loaded the cooler and was out of camp by 6am and heading for Arches National Park.

From Arches National Park brochure: The story of Arches begins roughly 65 million years ago. At that time, the area was a dry seabed spreading from horizon to horizon. If you stood in Devils Garden then, the striking red rock features we see today would have been buried thousands of feet below you, raw material as yet uncarved. Then the landscape slowly began to change.

First, geologic forces wrinkled and folded the buried sandstone, as if it were a giant rug and someone gathered two edges towards each other, making lumps across the middle called Anticlines. As the sandstone warped, fractures tore through it, establishing the patterns for rock sculptures of the future.

Next, the entire region began to rise, climbing from sea level to thousands of feet in elevation. What goes up must come down, and the forces of erosion carved layer after layer of rock away. Once exposed, deeply buried sandstone layers rebounded and expanded, like a sponge expands after it’s squeezed (though not quite so quickly). This created even more fractures, each one a pathway for water to seep into the rock and further break it down.

Today, water shapes this environment more than any other force. Rain erodes the rock and carries sediment down washes and canyons to the Colorado River. In winter, snowmelt pools in fractures and other cavities, then freezes and expands, breaking off chunks of sandstone. Small recesses develop and grow bigger with each storm. Little by little, this process turns fractured rock layers into fins, and fins into arches. Arches also emerge when potholes near cliff edges grow deeper and deeper until they wear through the cliff wall below them.

Over time, the same forces that created these arches will continue to widen them until they collapse.

(Usually open 24 hours a day road construction has limited the park to only being open 7am-7pm except on weekends. This is what made me decide to come on a Saturday and be early).

With most traffic turning off towards Delicate Arch first thing I was mostly alone on the road as I headed further north to the Devil’s Garden Trailhead where I let the dogs run briefly. I loaded my day pack with water, donned my hiking puffy jacket and headed up the trail towards Landscape Arch. It was quiet out and I only ran into a couple of people when I finally reached the base of Landscape Arch. It was a short 0.8 mile hike on a graded gravel trail to one of the most famous arches in the park, and the world.

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In 1991, with a group of tourists sitting beneath the long, narrow span, a 60ft section fell from the lower side of the arch creating an even narrower bridge across a massive space. With the possibility of the arch collapsing the trail beneath the arch is now closed and I could only view it from a short distance away.

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Landscape Arch was not my final goal and I headed out on a more primitive trail to hike the 1.3 miles to Double O Arch. “Primitive Trail” seemed grossly inaccurate to me since I am used to following “normal” hiking trails but I guess it means “not graveled or paved”. The trail cut across sand washes and climbed massive slick rock fins all the while following cairns that marked the way…or at least most of the time.

The trail is the lower section of smooth rock between the two fins. You can see where it has been worn smooth beneath decades of hiking boots:

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There were definitely times, after scaling a rocky fin or outcropping, the cairns disappeared and I was left to wander around or make an educated guess about the right direction. Thankfully I have enough trail experience to know what to look for in most instances and I eventually came across Partition and Navajo Arches, Black Arch in the distance, and eventually Double O Arch. I had the whole trail and all the arches to myself which was awesome, until I turned around to head back to the truck…then I was passing a lot of hikers and photographers.

Yes, the trail goes up and over and it sorta has a ladder:

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90% of the parks visitors probably never see some of these lesser-known arches and being a hiker and willing to get out an explore definitely helps to find some of the more remote and less-visited locations. National Parks are often crowded but an early start and a willingness to get away from the road and the graded trails helps to provide a better experience, at least for me.

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With the crowds coming in every increasingly bigger waves it was time to depart the Landscape Arch trail. I made a couple of brief detours to see Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch, grab a photo or two, and leave. I was ready to be done and had been hiking or climbing for the best part of 2 hours…I wanted a cold drink despite having two liters of water with me that I hadn’t touched.

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I had planned on taking a dirt road out of the park and checking on a couple of other sites (Tower Arch and Marching Men) but I missed the turn off and just decided to head out the way I came in at the main entrance. Of course the line to get into the park was now pretty long and I was ready to leave the masses behind.

Balance Rock (trail closed):

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I headed back to the camper to eat lunch and get some work done, and relax before I headed back into town for some epic zip lining with Ravens Rim 4WD and Zip Lining Excursions at 4:30pm.


Raven’s Rim Zipline

I had booked a 4:30 excursion with Raven’s Rim for Saturday afternoon and arrived at the office half an hour ahead of schedule as requested. Backpacks and water were recommended, cameras were a necessity.

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Our guides, Ron and Nate, quickly introduced themselves as they got our gear ready and lined up on the pavement outside. The whole group was ten people which is their maximum group size; me, a couple of ladies who were trying to zip line in all 50 states, and two families, one with a 13 year old girl. We were all handed our waiver and signed our lives away as we put pen to paper.

After being reminded, multiple times, to use the bathroom before we left (two and half hours without access to one, or even a bush) we headed outside to the line of harnesses and helmets where we received a quick safety talk and a check to make sure we all had long pants, close-toed shoes and our hair tied back (even under a cap) and then instruction on how to put on our harnesses correctly. Ron and Nate checked our rigging and added the handles and line to the front of the harnesses which made them awkward and heavy. Helmets were next and then we all loaded into some beefed-up, six-person side-by-side vehicles and headed up a slightly crazy and steep trail (cake walk for the side-by-sides though).

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One of the ladies behind me was a little freaked out by the speed and the angles, and the steep terrain and narrow trail and I could hear a constant barrage of “Oh my God” and “Woaaahh!” Everyone was friendly though.

After a 20 minute ride over some pretty tough terrain including slick rock, rock scrambles and ramp climbs we made it to the top and our first zip line. It was here we received our first instructions on how to zip and land safely…DON’T put your feet down and try to brake yourself at the end, or you MAY break yourself (a former patron had broken an ankle in that manner).

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The first zip was short and sweet and I used the handles on the rigging to get going but felt no need for them as soon as I was airborne and let go. The feeling was amazing, like flying, but very short sadly. It was their shortest and shallowest line and the 13 year old, Elliot, didn’t make it to the end and had to be retrieved. Weight and head winds make a difference in how fast you go and if you make it to the end or have to be “rescued”.

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We hiked a short way on slick rock (the term for the kind of rock referring to what it was like for horses with metal shoes, not because the rock was slick) and took our turns on a longer, steeper zip line. My speed was faster and I could feel my stomach getting left behind as we dropped and sped towards the end. Again it was too short.

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After the two shorter zips we crossed a suspension bridge, a place that apparently many cameras, cell phones and water bottles go to commit suicide. Many have been retrieved from the bottom of the rock crack over the years, and then sold on Ebay according to our guides! I was the last to cross and of course one the guys ahead of us wanted to make things difficult for his family and was making the bridge bounce. The movement didn’t bother me, especially as we were hooked on to a safety cable, but I was trying to take pictures and didn’t want to lose my phone to an Ebay auction (it has only recently been replaced in the past two weeks).

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We still had four more zip lines to do; a mid length one, two 1/4 mile lines and short one.

The mid-length was the longest we had done so far and I asked one of the girls to film me. Sadly she was on Team iPhone and couldn’t figure out how to make the video on my phone work. Her male companion (brother/cousin or something) was on Team Samsung and offered to video me on the next zip…the 1/4 mile line.

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Ron, the guide who had gone down first, had called up to Nate and mentioned that anyone under 150# might have a tough time making it all the way due to the shallow grade of the line and a stiff head-wind. I started looking around for a 40lb rock to shove in my pack. Pat, the guy who had offered to video went down a head of me and was followed by the last one in their party of four, then it was my turn. I barely made it to the end and had to be pulled in the last few feet. Elliot, who had gotten stuck on the shortest zip due to her tiny size went tandem with her mom on this line.

Here is the video of the epic zip line. “Look Ma, no hands.”

The next zip line was another short one so to make it more fun an challenging the guides strongly “suggested” we run backwards off the edge without holding on. I was up for it and ran off the rock, while filming, and didn’t hold on (except to the camera). It was definitely an eerie feeling running backwards off the rock but I had faith in my harness.

Elliot going off backwards…she was the first to go:

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Everyone else went off backwards although some ran and held on, some walked and held on, a few did what I did; running and NOT holding on. I definitely look as though I am enjoying myself here:

The next and final zip was also a 1/4 mile long and a little steeper than the other. With a tail wind and a slightly steeper grade even Elliot was able to go down by herself. I held back, taking pictures of a massive storm that was almost overhead. A couple of rainbows formed in front of the La Sal Mountains just as a few rain drops started to fall. With the rain came the sound of thunder but no visible lightning…and I was standing out in the open, on a massive sandstone hump/rock just about to be attached to a zip line aka GIANT lightning rod. It was a little hairy for a few seconds as I headed down. I got one more piece of filming in before I reached the bottom…the view I had as I zipped down the line:

With our zip lining done we walked a short distance into a wash where a cooler of ice water was waiting for us. I hadn’t consumed much of my water so I left it for the others. The guides went to retrieve the side-by-sides and then we loaded up and headed down the same hairy-scary trail we came up. With a little more familiarity between our group and the guides Ron made the trip down at a slightly faster pace than he had coming up, including a couple of intimidating drop-offs, which he backed up over and did again.

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We had been watching the rain and thunder clouds gradually edging closer and the downpour finally hit us just as we reached the bottom. We all hurried inside to escape the deluge.

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We divested ourselves of our helmets and harnesses, thanked the guides and tipped them, and said goodbye to the others in the group. I forgot my jacket (are you seeing a pattern here?) but thankfully Nate knocked on my window and returned it to me before I left the parking lot.

Raven’s Rim provided an excellent and unusual zip lining experiences as they are one of the few that doesn’t use or have access to trees. The guides were professional, safety oriented and fun to go out with, being both personable and professional. The experience is well worth the time and money and I highly recommend them.

Their office can be found at 998 N. Main Street, Moab, Utah or you can call them at (435) 260-0973 to book a zip line and ATV excursion. They can also be found online at www.ravensrim.com

Moab – Day 3: Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands

The Legend of Dead Horse Point:

Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck. There are many stories about how this high promontory of land received its name.

According to one legend, around the turn of the century the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30-yards-wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush. This created a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs straight down on all sides, affording no escape. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and let the culls or broom-tails go free. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.

I was up well before dawn in order to make it to Dead Horse Point to watch the sunrise. It was a tough alarm clock to wake up to as we hadn’t made it home until 11:30 last night. More than a glass or two of alcohol also doesn’t agree with me and I had not slept well, so it made for a rough start to the day.

It was a chilly morning and it was obvious that a others had a similar idea as I followed, and was followed, by other vehicles. The drive was probably scenic but I couldn’t see much in the dark except the road, which was not necessarily a bad thing as I didn’t have to see just how narrow “The Neck” was driving over it the first time…sheer drops to either side makes one a little nervous…even for one not afraid of heights.

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I made it to Dead Horse Point by 6:50am, just in time to find myself a spot and wait for the sunrise. With a few clouds overhead I was worried that it might not be as pretty as I had hoped but it ended up being beautiful and I was glad I had made the effort to get up at 5:30am to see it.

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I wandered the paths to check out other vantage points and views, and every way you looked was stunning. It is not a huge park and with the sun rising well above the horizon it was time to leave and head to Canyonlands National Park a few miles down the road to the south.

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Canyonlands National Park

From the National Parks’ Website:

Canyonlands National Park cover 527 square miles and preserves one of the last relatively-undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau, a geological province that encompasses much of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits, this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possesses remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem.

The foundation of Canyonlands’ desert ecology is its remarkable geology, which is visible everywhere in rocky cliffs that reveal millions of years of deposition and erosion. These rock layers continue to shape life in Canyonlands today, as patterns of erosion influence soil chemistry and where water flows when it rains. At center stage of the park are the two canyons carved by the Green and Colorado Rivers. Surrounding the rivers are vast and very different regions: Island in the Sky on the north, The Maze on the west, and The Needles on the east.

Known as a “high desert,” with elevations ranging from 3,700 to 7,200 feet above sea level, Canyonlands experiences very hot summers and cold winters, and receives less than ten inches of rain each year. Even on a daily basis, temperatures may fluctuate as much as 50 degrees.

With the time on the clock still relatively early the park was fairly empty, with a few cars on the road and a only a handful of people enjoying the vistas. There were so many things alongside the road, which travels atop a plateau called “The Island in the Sky”, that you don’t have to drive more than a mile or two before there is yet another thing to see.

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The first pause in the drive was for Shafer Canyon Overlook, a massive canyon looking like it reached down into the depths of the earth. It was also possible to see the narrow and winding Shafer Trail Road that led down to the lower plateau. Dozens of other view points dotted the highway including Green River Overlook (looking down on the Green River canyon), Buck Canyon Overlook, Orange Cliffs Overlook and finally Grand View Point Overlook where it was starting to get pretty busy and crowded.

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Other than the massive views and unreal-feeling vistas the two highlights of the park were the hike up to see Upheavel Dome, a strange pointed dome at the head of Upheaval Canyon, and Mesa Arch.

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A short but steep half mile hike to the top of Upheaval Canyon from the parking lot was moderately strenuous but not arduous. Occasionally the trail was a little unclear (as I found out coming down and took the wrong path) but mostly it was easy to follow. The view from the top was impressive and looked down into the canyon to Upheaval Dome, a jagged dome of pale peaks and troughs that seemed very out of place when surrounded by all the red sandstone. Geologists are still unsure as to the exact reason for Upheaval Dome and there are two theories about how it came to be:

Salt Dome Theory: A thick layer of salt, formed by the evaporation of ancient landlocked seas, underlies much of southeastern Utah and Canyonlands National Park. When under pressure from thousands of feet of overlying rock, the salt can flow plastically, like ice moving at the bottom of a glacier. In addition, salt is less dense than sandstone. As a result, over millions of years salt can flow up through rock layers as a “salt bubble”, rising to the surface and creating salt domes that deform the surrounding rock.

When geologists first suggested that Upheaval Dome was the result of a salt dome, they believed the land form resulted from erosion of the rock layers above the dome itself. Recent research suggests that a salt bubble as well as the overlying rock have been entirely removed by erosion and the present surface of Upheaval Dome is the pinched off stem below the missing bubble. If true, Upheaval Dome would earn the distinction of being the most deeply eroded salt structure on earth.

Impact Crater Theory: When meteorites collide with the earth, they leave impact craters like the well-known one in Arizona. Some geologists estimate that roughly 60 million years ago, a meteorite with a diameter of approximately one-third of a mile hit at what is now the Upheaval Dome. The impact created a large explosion, sending dust and debris high into the atmosphere. The impact initially created an unstable crater that partially collapsed. As the area around Upheaval Dome reached an equilibrium, the rocks underground heaved upward to fill the void left by the impact. Erosion since the impact has washed away any meteorite debris, and now provides a glimpse into the interior of the impact crater, exposing rock layers once buried thousands of feet underground.

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The second highlight of Canyonlands was Mesa Arch. Another short half mile uphill hike on a graded and mostly gravel or rock trail brought me out to one of the few easy-to-get-to arches in Canyonlands. I had almost run the trail to see it as a tour bus had pulled into the parking lot behind me…and I wanted to be well ahead of a massive influx of camera-toting, bus-riding tourists. I got lucky and didn’t run into them until I was heading back down.

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Mesa Arch looks out over some incredible formations and canyons below and with few people around I was able to get most of my pictures without others in them. I hiked a little higher for a better view point and then headed back to the truck, suddenly bombarded by a stream of Asian tourists all carrying massive cameras, iPhones or iPads. While I don’t like tour buses or massive parties like that I do understand how much money they pour into the National Park system and that it may be the only way some get to enjoy the stunning land we call America.

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I had eaten lunch at the Green River Overlook early since I had had an early start and with most of the park now firmly embedded in my memory, and the memory card of my camera, plus it was getting too busy for this introvery, I headed out. The road and visitor center was certainly much busier on the other side of the road as I drove north.

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Upon exiting the park I had decided to take a short drive off pavement and down into the canyon. A two-wheel-drive road provided access, and with a boat ramp at the bottom I figured it would be an easy drive. And it was, for the first 12 miles. The last mile down to the river was one of the scariest roads I have ever driven…it was extremely narrow, very winding with sharp hair-pin turns and few places to pass someone…I was praying I wouldn’t run into someone coming the other way. Once committed to the road there was only one direction to go…down. I white-knuckled it the whole way down in granny gear and was definitely sweating by the time I reached the bottom. The road’s only saving grace was that it really was suitable for a car and was only a little bumpy in a few places. I couldn’t believe vans hauled trailers loaded with boats down that thing!

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At the bottom I talked briefly with the park ranger who was taking care of the bathrooms before letting the dogs out to run for a while and play in the river. Once again the cliffs towered above me and made even the Colorado River look small in comparison.

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With nothing left to do but enjoy the scenery I was forced to drive out the same way I came in…straight up that terrifying road. I actually found it slightly easier to go up than down, maybe because I wasn’t looking down into the chasm that would swallow me up if I made even a slight driving error and maybe because the ranger was behind me…a little like a security blanket. Two UTVs were coming down the road when I was at the bottom and I waited for them to pass, while taking a picture of the road ahead of me, before checking the rest and confirming that there were no other vehicles coming down. Upon reaching the top I parked and went to take pictures looking down on the hairy-scary road. It would probably have been less nerve-wracking in a smaller vehicle, like a UTV or Jeep, but a large truck like mine is pretty wide and the long nose and tail make her less a mountain goat and more of an elephant.

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There is a road in there somewhere…if you can find it:

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Back on flat, wide and straight gravel I cranked up the speed a little and headed home.

Another invite to go into Moab came from the RVers in the Class As just down the road from me and we headed in to check out the farmer’s market. Unfortunately we managed to get a flat tire on the way (ironic since we had been talking about that exact subject not 10 minutes earlier as we left camp) but we made it into town safely and met up with the rest of the group; there were now 14 people altogether. A unanimous agreement was made to eat dinner together again (eek on my bank account) and we wandered away from the park and to Zax restaurant. Somehow they were able to seat all 14 of us within a reasonable amount of time.

A lone and very small glass of wine and a non-alcoholic O’Douls were all that I drank but I did order another plate of ravioli albeit a different flavor. I had thought about the Cobb salad in order to be a little healthier but I can stomach spending $14 for two meals (which ravioli always is for me) than $14 for a lone meal. It was just as good but different than the previous night’s ravioli and I could have eaten more, I just chose to save enough for left-overs.

Once again the conversation was great and I sat with Joni (my camp site “roomie”) and Ben and Lanni who had recently arrived in our camp area that day. When you meet new people for the first time in the normal world a good conversation starter is asking what people do for a living…not so much in the RV full-timer world…we ask how long someone has been full-timing, where they are originally from and what prompted them to become a full-timer. And that was exactly what our conversation mostly revolved around.

Moab, Utah: Days 1 and 2

Moab – Day 1 and 2

Having scratched my brand new glasses the first day on the road (they fell off the table and weren’t in a case…dumb ass me) I made a slight detour via Grand Junction to get the lenses replaced. It was the only town nearby that had places that did glasses in an hour.

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A quick jaunt back via Dinosaur National Monument and then south via Rangely then had me climbing a narrow, winding and steep road over Douglas Pass and down a slightly less steep and windy road on the other side as we covered the 40ish miles to Grand Junction. I don’t like cities and I wanted to be there as short a time as possible. Thankfully I found a place quickly and had new glasses within 2 hours.

From Grand Junction we headed west along I-70 to a campsite just inside the Colorado state line. It was nothing fancy but it was a flat spot to park for the night. Three others shared the RV parking and camping area for the night but the two vans were gone before I even got out of bed.

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A few miles along I-70 was the turn off to Moab going the back way through a narrow canyon and following the Colorado River. The road was much narrower than I expected and it was a little nerve-wracking at times with the edge of the road and the water so close to my passenger-side tires. The views were stunning and it was really hard to keep my eyes on the road. I risked a few photos where it was safe to do so but mostly I just enjoyed the massive red cliffs rising up all around us.

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With 20 miles of canyon behind us we reached Moab. I headed to the south end of town to the gas station with a potable water supply for RVs, topped up with fuel and then headed back north on 191. I followed some Google directions I had been given to an open spot to park on BLM land several miles north of town, and setting up within visual distance of some fellow full-time RVers I had been in contact with. I relaxed for the afternoon and did some writing and made dinner before my camp site “roomie” returned from her day in town. We chatted for a while until it got dark and then we both headed for bed.

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Thursday wasn’t a particularly productive day. I made a sandwich, loaded the cooler and headed into Moab to get a feel for the area. I paused briefly at the visitor center in Arches National Park to book a ranger-guided hike in the Fiery Furnace for Monday. It was fairly quiet when I arrived but by the time I left at 9:15am the line at the entry gate was already pretty long. I am planning on getting to Arches early on the days I go.

I stopped at the visitor center in the center of Moab for brochures so I could decide what activities I want to do and which companies/destinations sounded the most interesting. I walked downtown and peered into stores without really walking into any (I’m not a good window shopper and there is nothing I generally want to buy). I made a note of the Jailhouse Cafe that bragged about having the best Eggs Benedict…I am going to have to stop there on my way out of town next week to check out how good they really are (I didn’t, sadly).

I ate lunch in a small non-descript park with a creek and let the dogs out to play and go potty. I booked all the activities I wanted to do while I was in Moab…this town is going to make me broke (joke, I had money set aside for this kind of thing)…but I figured I’m out on the road to live life and have experiences and create memories so why not do the things I really want to do. Each day has a different thing going on; hiking, zip lining and ATVing, canyoneering, horse back riding and maybe even a short guided mountain bike tour.

With my money well-spent, or at least allocated, I headed back to the camper and relaxed for the rest of the day while planning out my one free day…Friday.

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The fellow RVers who had invited me to share their camping location contacted me as it was getting dark and asked if I wanted to join them for dinner. Seeing as I hadn’t any plans, and half of the reason for me choosing to stay in this site was to meet fellow full-timers, I agreed and they came to pick me up about 7:30. We headed into Moab to “Pasta Jay’s” where we were seated in the protected outdoor patio. A couple of glasses of wine and a large bowl of amazing ravioli had me sated for the night plus gave me left-overs. I also ordered a desert to go, which I never do, but they had tiramisu on the menu and it is my one dessert weakness (not included pavlova which I have never found in the US).

We had some fun conversation and I got to know everyone a little; three couples in Class As, one van-dwelling couple and one van-dwelling solo who is my campsite “roomie”.

Another campsite “room-mate”:

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Three Days in Vernal, Utah

Everything was pretty wet this morning leaving Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, including the sandy soil…thankfully this made for an easy hook-up and pull-out at 8am.

From the campground we headed south, crossed the Utah state lane and followed highway 530 south towards Vernal. Initially the road was moderate but it quickly got steep as it climbed into the Uintah Mountains. There were no easy grades here. A steep decline into Sheep Creek Canyon was stunning but hairy (another thanks for finally having good brakes) and I passed a handful of Big Horn sheep on the side of the road. Sadly, due to the road and the lack of pull-offs I was unable to get a picture. I did try to capture some of the scenery when safe driving permitted.

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None of the highway to Vernal was easy and I rarely got above 4th gear, often being in either 2nd or 3rd due to the incline or decline. However it was very suitable for hauling and the views were spectacular and I enjoyed the drive. Hwy 530 finally joined 191 and we made more steep descents and climbs as we made our way to Vernal.

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Coming into Vernal was simple and well sign-posted and we turned right onto Hwy 40 towards Salt Lake City as we kept an eye out for a Walmart. I didn’t need to pick up anything but they are almost always guaranteed to have RV friendly parking lots in which to look at maps, phones and GPS devices.

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I oriented myself in the town, ran into Walmart for the bathroom and headed back out…turning west on Hwy 40, back the way we had come, before turning south on state or county highway 45 towards the Green River and BLM land where we found an empty dispersed camping campground. We set up quickly, relaxed for a while and then headed back into town to explore.

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Our first stop was the museum in town to learn about the geographical and geological history of the area. The Uintah Field Museum of Natural History is combined with the visitor center and is a good place to start off any visit to Vernal and the surrounding area.

The Uintah Basin was originally a massive lake that eventually evaporated over time leaving layer upon layer of sediment that entombed the history of the area for us to find millions of years later and helped us to understand what happened here and how.

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The museum provided multiple brochures that were each listed as a day hike/activity in the area. There were 12 to choose from and I picked the couple that I had been recommended; Dinosaur National Park and Fantasy Canyon. From the museum I crossed the street to the Vernal Brewery, a recommended place to try a local brew before heading back to the camper for the night.

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The dogs and I were up early to head to Dinosaur National Monument where we finally got our annual pass (they had been out of them in Grand Teton NP when we were there a few weeks ago). We briefly stopped at the visitor center where we were told we could drive up to the quarry as the shuttles weren’t starting until 9:15am. Being an early bird has its perks.

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The visible quarry is housed in another massive building to protect it from the elements but in the rock wall it is possible to see hundreds if not thousands of bones. The reason for the huge amount of dinosaur bones in the area was due to a lengthy drought during which many hundreds of dinosaurs perished on the banks of the dry river. When the rains came again and the river rushed back through it carried the bones and bodies into the Uintah Basin and the surrounding area. Sadly the Fossil Trail was closed for maintenance (the bane of coming in the shoulder season) so we headed down the road and turned left, further into the park.

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The Tilted Rocks Scenic Drive is the main road through the park and it is obvious to see why it gets its name, even more so from a distance outside the park. The geological formations of vertical and split rocks, enhanced by the gentle flow of the Green River, made for a stunning drive and I found the beauty more intriguing and interesting than the bones of old dinosaurs…of course their history is intertwined but there is something about the upheaval of the earth and the erosion by wind and rain that inspires me.

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The end of the paved road crossed a cattle guard and turned to dirt as we drove towards Box Canyon and a small homestead long abandoned. A short hike into the box canyon was stunning and I felt particularly small as the walls towered above and dwarfed me. Rain came quickly as it had been threatening all morning and I stashed the camera quickly and made for the truck. Sadly the Hog Canyon trail as also closed so we got turned around and headed out of the park.

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A glance at the clock confirmed it was barely 11 am and I wasn’t ready to be done for the day yet. I am out on the road to do and see things, not sit in my camper and watch TV.

We headed for Fantasy Canyon, a remote canyon 40 miles south of Vernal on mostly-paved roads. After leaving the Green River/Red Wash Highway the views were not inspiring with all the pumps, wells, pump jacks and other industrial equipment. Fantasy Canyon is located in an area surrounded by all this ugliness but is worth the drive.

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The canyon itself is incredibly delicate and you can see where nature has already felled some of the spires and creations. It felt like I was in Mordor or some other fantasy realm where Orcs or other evil creatures lurk…I half expected to walk out into Middle Earth. Sadly that didn’t happen. The canyon is only a little over 10 acres in size but the formations are pretty incredible to walk between and around…just be careful of Prairie Rattlesnakes…they even warn you on the bathroom doors!

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With Fantasy Canyon toured we called it a day and drove the long way back to the camper, almost getting lost in the process (thanks Google Maps for not being obvious).

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Drove to Horseshoe Bend (not to be confused with the one in Arizona) for the sunset:

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Our last day in Vernal saw us heading to check out Moonshine Arch, a little known arch and tourist “attraction” north of Vernal. The brochure gave good directions and I still missed the almost-invisible turn-off and had to turn around. The dirt road is easily navigable and the way fairly well signed with rust-colored or green signs pointing the way. A gate and fence line was where we parked due to a massive washed-out gully in the way but it is possible to drive up further with the right vehicle, and even to the bottom of the arch with and ATV. I chose not to beat the hell out of my truck.

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A short mile-long, well-marked, up-hill hike brought us directly to the base of Moonshine Arch and the shadowy caverns behind it. You don’t actually see the arch until you come around the last corner and are right beneath it. It would really be a sight to see water rushing through the channels and washes of the canyon and caverns but of course that would also make the trail dangerous and difficult to navigate like many of the trails in the area.

 

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We spent a few minutes exploring and climbing on the rocks and into the caverns around the arch before starting to head back to the truck, and then realizing half way down that I had left my jacket hanging in a tree. I hiked back up, retrieved my jacket and started back down…again.

I gave the dogs some water and headed back into town for lunch. I had been recommended a restaurant called Swain Bros Steak House. It was on the east end of town and I ordered the California Burger with sweet potato fries…it was definitely as good as the recommendation.

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Our last activity in Vernal was a short drive up Dry Fork Canyon and a quick stop below the memorial for Remember the Maine, a battleship destroyed in 1899 during one of the many wars in America’s history.

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Back at the camper I re-heated some food, organized everything for an early departure, played with the dogs and went to bed.

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