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

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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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Leaving Wyoming

For so long, especially when the world had been hanging heavy on my shoulders, I have wanted to hook up the fifth-wheel to my truck and get on the road. I have spent three years ready to do something different after my ranch partner passed away in 2014, and two years getting my truck and trailer ready for full-time living. I saved money and spent money on upgrades. I made friends and I lost friends and I ended up in court, twice, and that is a story best left off the internet but I’ll leave you with the knowledge that I was not on the losing side either time.

August 2nd was my move-out/move-in date. The camper was finally ready with solar, fully-functioning plumbing, a sealed roof and seams, new tires, heavier rims and axles than she had come with and an interior redesign that would rival even Ragnar Lothbrock’s long-house. I was so ready, but I was also sad too. I had spent 6 years in an amazing house that would soon be in the hands of others to take care of…I had a lot of good memories with my parents in that house and it was a little heart-wrenching to walk, or drive, away.

However, I was only moving about 300 yards down the road to a friend’s property. Her and her family had recently purchase another property and were no longer on the premises so it was perfect for me to work out the last kinks I could find while living in the trailer and still finish up with some final commitments in the area. Very little happened during my time on the vacant property and I was fairly bored most of the time while my feet itched to get on the road…and finally we did.

I left Story on September 2nd, a month after I had moved into the fifth wheel, and headed for Casper where I was due to drop it off at Stalkups RV for a repair on a jack that wasn’t fully retracting. I also discovered during my trip down that the brakes were still not functioning right and also asked them to check out what the issue was during the week they would have her. I would be in the Wind River Range backpacking for a week with a group of four people I had never met (see previous blog post here) and would be out of contact for a week.

With the backpacking trip over I returned to Sheridan to pick-up mail, wait on a check and a couple of packages to arrive and to have a beer or two with a few friends before I left. I talked to Stalkups RV about the issues with my camper: the jack was a simple fix thankfully and didn’t require a replacement. However the brake issues were a little more serious with pads falling apart, incomplete wiring, bad magnets etc) and I authorized them to complete the work so that I would have a road-safe RV finally…it would be good to have brakes that actually worked!

Again, despite only being back for two days, they dragged by slowly and I was ready to leave again. It wasn’t until I was completely loaded, with the food in the coolers, my packages unboxed and put away and the dogs in the back of the truck that I really felt truly sad about leaving…this really was it and there was no coming back for a while.

Once I was on the road and heading towards Casper, some good country music on the stereo, my melancholy mood quickly left and I was bopping down the interstate towards my home on wheels. It was a good site to see as I pulled into the lot and quickly unloaded some of the gear that had been cluttering up my truck. I went to pay for the work and was shown exactly what the brakes had looked like…certainly not a pretty sight.

I spent the night in the RV service lot so I could visit a friend early in the morning and then head out with plenty of hours to spare in the day. Another sad farewell was made with Megan, a former room-mate from Sheridan and now good friend…we had shared several fun days at renaissance faires together.

With nothing left to do I hooked up the trailer, made my final checks (including brakes) and drove out of Casper towards Muddy Gap.  On the way I passed Independence Rock but with no warning signs and the only sign being 20 yards from the turn-off I didn’t have the time or distance available to stop and so I just got to enjoy it from the road. A little further on I did have enough warning to be able to stop for Devil’s Gate a couple of miles to the west, info for which can be found here and is part of the old Oregon Trail. There is also an old settlement on the west side of the gate which use to be a ranch and homestead but was sold to the LDS church in 1997 and is now the Mormon Handcart Historical Center.

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The weather was perfect for a first day out on the road with my home on my back and we made good time over the pass and into Rawlins. I didn’t want to travel too far on my first day and used one of the free apps on my phone to locate a good boondocking spot for the night. The closest one I could find was Teton Reservoir south of town and I followed the directions.

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I never made it that far as a sign for Rim Lake Recreation Area caught my eye a few miles along the road and I pulled off, driving the mile-long dirt road to something more akin to a cattle pond than a lake…but it was quiet, easy to get to, had clean toilets and was flat. I didn’t see any “No Overnight Parking” signs but nor were there any purpose-built campsites either. I pulled into the unused (unusable too) boat ramp area and called it good for the night. Plenty of hours of daylight left gave me a good chance to get more organized and finally put away all of my camping gear and de-clutter the camper while enjoying a glass of wine and texting friends. Cell phone service was limited to non-existent but I’m not on the road to be constantly connected to the outside world. I did watch a movie and was a little shocked to see how much power the TV and PS3 pulled from my four batteries.

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I was up early after a restless night listening to the incessant rain and wind on and around the camper. It was certainly a gloomy and wet morning. I used the recreation area facilities and let the dogs run in the rain for a while before I loaded them up into the truck, unplugged the extension cord from the inverter and left Rim Lake.

We pulled back on the highway, got diesel in Rawlins from a rinky-dink Sinclair station that was 20 cents cheaper than the larger truck-stop Sinclair station three blocks away…it was worth maneuvering into for that price difference. I’m glad my rig isn’t larger than it is.

From Rawlins we drove through intense rain and wind, almost feeling like we were blind as truck after truck passed us and kicked up spray that was more like a wall of water than airborne droplets. It was a slow journey but finally it cleared up and we could pick up a little speed. Of course the wind picked up speed and it was a constant fight to maintain a straight line, not to mention I could see the sway of the back of the trailer behind me.

We exited at Green River and filled up, again. I try to keep my truck’s tank above half full so I never have to worry about running out of fuel and it is also less painful to look at the pump when paying for it…psychological, I know, but still the way I do it.

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A camp ground in Flaming Gorge was our destination for the night and the drive in was beautiful. The campground itself was empty except for a lone Class A and I asked if there were campground hosts to pay…nope, they just come around and ask for money. It was $12 for the night and the view was pretty amazing; I had picked a nice secluded spot right along the edge of the lake and I spent some time uploading previous blogs and pictures since I had a couple of bars of 4G service.

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With the sun going down I decided to explore the local area and headed into Manila for the evening…a two bit town whose only bar seemed to be on the Wyoming side of the state line…go figure that one out!!! I enjoyed a cold beer and then got involved in a couple of games of pool with some locals and some guys up from Salt Lake City who were in the area to hunt bear. A fun evening, and meeting new people is half of what being on the road is all about for me. I called it quits at 9pm and headed home with some damp dogs (it had apparently rained a little while I was inside) and went to bed.

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So far, a good first couple of days on the road albeit very little to share.