RV No More

After arriving at my friend’s place in Washington I was still feeling that same feeling I had in Arizona…something was missing. I was surrounded by the things I wanted….water, trees, grass, more water, and some snow, and I had friends here…but there was still something that didn’t feel right.

I had spent the last seven years in Wyoming with a good job, quite a few good friends, and family I saw for three months a year when they visited from England…and that is what I was missing. My reasons for moving to and living in the US were no longer the same reasons I had left the UK and stayed in the US.

I realized that my adventures in the US were coming to end after 20 years; it was time to move back to the UK and make memories and create new adventures with my family and old friends, not to mention explore Europr. It was a decision that I had already started to make before I had gone to back to the UK in 2017; I knew eventually I would move back as family got older…I just hadn’t expected it to be so soon. I had thought I would be in the US as long as my dogs lived, and to complete a thru-hike of the PCT when they were gone…and THEN move back to the UK after a four month trip to New Zealand. My, how things change.

With my decision mostly made and 95% certain I chatted with my mom and the decision became 100% after hearing myself talk about it. I booked my ticket home for October 3rd so I could enjoy one last summer in the US and get in more road-trips, a wedding and as much backpacking as possible.

Somehow I managed to pack up everything I owned and wanted to keep and sell the RV within 6 days of arriving in Washington. I didn’t get what I wanted for it, especially with all the upgrades (and the 200W of solar I had JUST installed 3 weeks prior) and everything I let go with it but I did get more than my minimum. I was also able to sell the hitch separately which helped. Everything was either then stored in the hay shed or donated to the local Goodwill.

My friends graciously let me stay with them while I had my truck checked out for a couple of issues. During that time I started getting my travel itinerary and summer organized and packed up almost everything to be shipped to the UK. After a month I knew I was over-staying my welcome. I was also itching to be traveling. With no RV and just my truck, me and the dogs I was ready to embrace freedom and on March 19th I headed to the coast and then on to Canada.

So my RV life is over but my nomadic travels with the pawprints in my life are not. Do I regret it? No; I loved the 6 months I spent with the RV but it was also too big for what I needed, although perfect size for what my original plan had been (work in one place for 8 months and travel for 4). There have been many times over the past few months since selling it that I have felt relief at not having to haul it. I do miss the space when the weather is crappy and the three of us are stuck in 36sq ft of truck cab, or the days it would be nice to just chill and watch a movie and do nothing. I miss the fridge and having my own bathroom and shower, but the convenience of being able to randomly and easily find campsites with just the truck more than makes up for it, not to mention using less fuel.

So it is farewell to RV life and hello to truck life

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Six Months in…my favorite RV campsites

Traveling with an RV is not all rainbows and roses…sometimes it can be damned hard to find a place to camp, for free. RV parks are easy to find and easy to find reviews for them; free campsites that are RV-accessible are less so. Apps like freecampsites.net, Campendium and All Stays help A LOT but aren’t always accurate or helpful with reviews. These campsites are my favorites either due to accessibility, views, proximity to attractions or some other reason. They are all boondocking sites and do not provide services. These are not in any particular order:

Vernita Bridge, Hanford Reach/ Columbia River, Washington

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This site beside the Columbia River offers great views, fishing access, great cell service and has easy access for pretty much any size or type of RV. The grey gravel road boat access is the most popular area but there are other dirt roads that lead to plenty of level parking sites. There is a LOT of room along the river front but the river does rise and fall a lot during the spring and summer. Bugs didn’t seem to be a problem in March or April. Great boondocking location for autumn, winter and spring but probably not for summer as there is little shade and it gets hot. Dogs loved it for playing in the water. A full-service rest area with very clean bathrooms, a dump station and fresh water is available across the bridge. While I did not stay here in my RV I’m listing it here as is very suitable if I had.

The Pads, Death Valley National Park, Nevada

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This was one of my favorite sites due to the proximity to Death Valley National Park and the ease of finding a good RV space. Some of the concrete slabs are usable but most are not, however flat dirt spots are easy to find and there is plenty of space. The views are stunning and the location is quiet. There is no cell service however which made longer afternoons after spending time in the park a little too long and more beer was consumed than maybe should have been. Ease of access to the park is my prime reason for listing this location.

BLM Land, La Verkin/ Zion National Park, Utah

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I utilized this location for a week as I visited parts of Zion National Park and St George. The views are stunning and the proximity to Zion is fabulous, although a slight drive. Cell phone service was great and I was able to get a lot of work done on blog entries and applying for jobs. It was fairly popular with others in all kinds of set-ups from tents to vans and Class Cs to travel trailers and box trucks. The road in is a little rough for Class As and wouldn’t recommend it. There is a lot of space to camp in the area but most seem to congregate in the “circle” for some reason.

Morgan Lake, La Grande, Oregon

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With all but two campsites along the edge of Morgan Lake this location is gorgeous and great for fishing. It is only open during late spring and through to the end of October. The cell service was great for the most part and people were extremely friendly. It is popular with the day-use crowd for fishing but has about 12 camp sites, two of which are away from the lake and all have fire rings. This place has a 3 day camping limit but it is free and it seems very well taken care of with trash cans being provided everywhere which helps with litter issues seen elsewhere.

Warning: The road grade to the lake is 17% (yes, really). Do not attempt if your vehicle does not have adequate power. Reviews on freecampsites.net mentioned one vehicle over-heating. And remember, what goes up must come down (which is actually worse on this hill in my mind since it is pretty curvy, and gravel, with washboards).

Grassy Lake Road, Yellowstone/ Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

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I stayed at this site in 2012 and 2015 with my truck but almost all sites were RV-friendly. Grassy Lake Road is just west of the John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway, a short section of non-national park national forest between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The proximity to both parks made this an ideal camping location if you don’t mind driving a little. I can’t speak to the cell phone coverage in the area as it has been a while but the remoteness and being surrounded by beautiful trees and meadows are well worth the stay. Both sites I stayed in had on-site pit toilets that were clean and picnic tables. Wildlife was also common and I saw a pine marten in one location.

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So these are the six places that stick in my mind that would be great for the majority of RVs, trucks, vans and occasionally tents. There are many other campsites out there that I stayed at but I either can’t remember the exact location or they are only suitable for trucks/vans.

Death Valley National Park Insights

I was not prepared to like Death Valley National Park as much as I did. I am no fan of the desert in general but I actually spent more days in Death Valley than any other national park so far.

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There is so much to do in the park but it is also extremely massive and spread out. If you have a week pick a handful of things that interest you most and focus on those.

Things I noticed about Death Valley National Park that I wish I’d known beforehand:

– Fuel is EXPENSIVE. It is twice the cost of fuel found in Beatty, NV and it is worth filling up before you enter the park. Even in Shoshone it was $2 more per gallon.

– Recommended time to visit the park is October thru April when temperatures are decent and you can enjoy most of the park’s attractions. Even in February I found places like Salt Creek pretty hot. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to visit this place in mid-summer…they’d have to be slightly crazy already!

– Roads in and out of the park have pretty steep grades on winding roads. If you are coming into the park with a large Class A or towing a big fifth wheel or travel trailer I would highly recommend coming in via Death Valley Junction. I drove several of the passes in and out of the park and that was easily the best and least scary when driving a bigger rig…I was on my brakes or in a lower gear with just my truck on most of them. Be prepared to shift down and take it slow.

– The “campgrounds” in the park itself are basically large parking lots with hook-ups…not very pretty. If you want a view there are prettier places outside the park to take advantage of. Boondocking is great at The Pads, GPS co-ordinates: 36.3391221210022,-116.599555313587

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There is also some great BLM land a couple of miles west of Beatty that can be accessed by most rigs and is really close to the park. Wild burros are also plentiful and fun to watch nearby, and Rhyolite and the Goldwell Museum are just a mile down the road on the way to the park.

– While I didn’t do nearly half of what there was to do in Death Valley I would certainly recommend renting a Jeep for half a day and doing Titus Canyon. It was, by far, one of the most amazing and rewarding 4 hours of my life and I will never regret that time spent. Look out for bighorn sheep once you get past Leadville; it is worth stopping and having lunch in the canyon as that is when it was quiet enough to hear them shift rocks and I would never have seen them otherwise.

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– While Badwater is the lowest point in the US I’m not sure it is worth the mile walk out to the exact point…it all looks the same; flat and salty. Some may argue that it was, for them, but there are better hikes in the park. It was definitely worth driving to and seeing how far below sea-level you are but only you can make the decision if the mile-long walk out to the marker is worth it.

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– Make a point to see the sand dunes during the sunrise or sunset when the lighting is best, or even head out when the full moon is out…apparently that is pretty amazing. The dunes don’t hold quite the magical appeal in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead. Watch for sidewinders at night.

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– Carry plenty of water if you plan on hiking and hike early if you can. I carried a liter for the Golden Canyon-Gower Gulch hike at 4.8 miles and it probably wasn’t enough. The warmer the day and the later you start (more sun, less shade) the more water you need to carry. Start hikes as early as you can; in mid-winter this is less important but it still helps.

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– There is almost no cell service in Death Valley (only found at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and minimally at Panamint Springs). If you are hiking alone or in remote areas carry a GPS SOS device and/or let someone know where you are going and when they should expect to hear from you. Death Valley is remote, rugged and dangerous…be prepared.

Death Valley is strangely beautiful and I am surprised at how much I really enjoyed my time there. It may look like a desolate, barren wasteland but there are so many hidden gems that are worth checking out.

Death Valley National Park, Day 4: Mosaic Canyon and Salt Creek

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The one day I wanted to be up early was the one morning my alarm went off before I got up and I wanted to stay in bed. It was 5:30am and it was my aim to be at the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes for the sunrise.

I dragged myself out of my warm and comfortable bed, let the dogs out and made lunch while eating breakfast. I loaded the cooler and we headed for the truck, the early morning sun just barely turning the eastern horizon cerulean.

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Once again we crossed Daylight Pass into the park and paused at a parking area at the junction of 190 and 374 to watch the first rays of light hit the mountain peaks and the sand dunes. It was worth the early rise and braving the chilly morning to get some good pictures. The sand dunes look very out of place when seen in the grand vista of the basin and are only found in two places in the park; Mesquite Flats, and Eureka in the north (a lot tougher to get to). The only reason for the sand dunes in these places is due to the geographical locations and climate anomalies these places share.

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From Mesquite Flats we drove through Stovepipe Wells Village and turned onto a dirt road that took us 2.2 miles to the base of Mosaic Canyon. I was the first one there for the morning and quickly got myself and the dogs situated.

If you know me at all by now you know I like to make things difficult for myself and without much guidance except a very poorly-diagramed map in the parking lot I wasn’t completely sure which way to go. Two tracks led away from the parking area and having seen the one that traversed the hillside, and knowing that the elevation gain was 1200ft, I hiked up the steep side of the mountain. Now the view from the top was incredible but it certainly wasn’t easy.

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From the top I looked down into the wash of the canyon and carefully made my way along treacherous, scree-clad paths to the safety of the flat, gravel wash. I was once again surrounded by copper-colored majestic peaks although a myriad of colors could be seen complimenting the common copper and yellow tones.

I hiked up the flat wash and made detours to check out other narrow canyons and washes that flowed into, out of, or parallel to the main thoroughfare.

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After about a mile the canyon started to narrow and some rock scrambling was required. I was excessively careful as I still didn’t have the strength or dexterity in my right hand to grip rocks or save myself from slipping if I needed to. I am always careful when on my own (even when carrying my GPS SOS device).

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Slot canyons made up the last 1/4 mile of hiking and there were certainly some tough places to get through, despite my being constantly careful. The trail finally ended at a 30ft rock wall although a trail (50ft earlier in the canyon) seemed to continue further up if one was inclined to climb more.

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I paused for a bite to eat as I was once again feeling shaky after the 1200ft of climbing and needed an energy boost. I also made sure to stay hydrated.

With my belly full and feeling a little more energized I headed back down the canyon, surprised to not have run into the couple that had pulled into the parking lot less than 15 minutes after I had left. I had the canyon all to myself and I continued to take some amazing pictures as the sun provided some really amazing lighting.

Upon reaching the trail I had followed down earlier I decided to check out the lower canyon, thinking it would be blocked by a massive boulder that was could not be traversed…and hence the reason for the up-and-over trail. But, NO! This was the actual Mosaic Canyon trail and it was much easier than the route I had taken. Oh well…saved the best for last and was pleasantly surprised and got the best of both worlds….views and the narrows.

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One side of the narrows was smoothed white marble while the other was a compact mixture of pebbles such as you see on pebble-dashed houses…and hence the name Mosaic Canyon. The whole thing was beautiful and I’m actually glad I made the mistake in taking the upper trail so to be surprised on the way back…I’d actually recommend it.

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From Mosaic Canyon we took a short drive to the top of the pass into Panamint Valley where I had thought we might hike Darwin Falls. I, however, made the mistake in thinking it was a 6 mile hike (I’d looked at the wrong hike on the visitor guide)  instead of the 2 miles it actually was…something I now regret not double-checking…and I made the decision not to continue on to the trail head and save on fuel.

We paused at the Devil’s Cornfield, a salt flat near to the sand dunes that is home to strange corn-sheave-shaped plants. These are caused by the roots of the plants forming a solid base that resists erosion from water and wind as the dirt and other sediment is washed or blown away around it.

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Salt Creek

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So with my mistake not quite computing yet I drove to Salt Creek and took a short 1/2 mile hike on the interpretive boardwalk trail. It is times like these that people REALLY PISS ME OFF when you see the remnants of the actions of people who think the rules don’t apply to them. Salt Creek is a very fragile and delicate habitat and stepping off the board-walk is prohibited to protect it…but everywhere you look people have left footprints in the salt marsh and mar the landscape…there were even tiny kid’s footprints with adult prints which tells me that parents are teaching their children that its okay to break the rules. It makes me so mad!

Moving On…

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Salt Creek is the only home of the very rare Salt Creek Pupfish.

Thousands and thousands of years ago Death Valley was the home of Manly Lake. When the climate changed and became drier the water from the mountains needed to sustain the lake disappeared. As the lake dried up pockets of pupfish remained in various locations, all now different and distinct species from one another despite all descending from the same ancestors.

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Salt Creek Pupfish have a pretty tough life, having a one year life-span on average, and they rely on small pockets of water from a small spring to remain consistent throughout the summer. They retreat to these pockets during the heat of the 120*+ summers when the rest of the creek dries up. The Salt Creek pupfish have adapted to living in water that is often many times more saline than sea water, and unlike many salt-water fish they actually have to drink water or they get dehydrated. There are around a dozen different species of pupfish in the deserts of California and Nevada that can all trace their ancestry back to the same locations.

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Winter and spring are a good time to see the creek at its best and to see the rare pupfish that live in its waters.

After having learned about this unique and intriguing habitat I headed home to get fuel without the trailer in tow and get ready to depart Death Valley.

Death Valley National Park, Day 3: Titus Canyon, Or the road that left me speechless

The day started at a more reasonable hour for a change but I was quickly dressed and out the door as I wanted to be ahead of whatever crowd Titus Canyon might draw, and to appreciate the drive in the early morning sun. Not to mention the joy of seeing two wild burros, a momma with last year’s foal, as I left camp.

The turn off for Titus Canyon was only a few miles from my RV on the main highway. Unfortunately the dirt road was nothing but washboards for four miles and the going was rough and slow. The National Park Service only recommends a high-clearance vehicle and not four wheel drive for this road.

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After crossing the valley we started climbing into the foothills where the terrain was very reminiscent of Wyoming and I felt instantly at home. The gradual climb was the easy part as the road suddenly dived steeply down into another valley, complete with sharp twists and turns and harsh grades. It was fairly easy to navigate in low gear for my truck but I wouldn’t recommend attempting it anything much larger (even a dually may struggle). What amazed me the most was the huge variety of color in the rocks…something neither of my cameras could pick up very well…blues, greens, red, purple, yellow, black, white…every color of the rainbow.

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After dropping into the valley the road turned across the draw and started another steep climb to Red Pass. Another narrow road with another steep drop-off…but nowhere near as bad as the track that led down to the Colorado River from Canyonlands NP. On this road I felt safe, and of course knowing that it was one way traffic helped…I wasn’t going to run into someone coming the other way.

I paused briefly at Red Pass to assess the road, snap a few pictures and let the dogs take a break, especially since Cody hates bumpy, windy roads and tends to destroy anything left in the back of the truck. One or two of the remaining buildings of the ghost town of Leadville could be seen in the distance.

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The road down from the pass was definitely a little more hairy than the drive up; it was narrower and steep cliffs threatened mirrors and paint work. At one point I was hugging the cliff so close I had barely two inches between my mirror and the wall of the cliff. The steep descent was short and we were soon in the valley and paused to take a look at the old mining town of Leadville.

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A jeep passed by as we were parked and headed down into the canyon. We followed a few minutes later and soon we were swallowed by the towering walls of Titus Canyon. The road followed a wide wash and we were hemmed in by massive slabs of sandstone and granite. It made me feel extremely small.

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The road remained good and confirmed what the ranger had told me…it was the best he had ever seen it. If it hadn’t had been for an occasional large rock in the path with a large drop or a couple of large holes it would almost have been suitable for a high-sitting car.

The wash widened slightly and yellow grass covered some of the slopes. I really started looking for big horn sheep but wasn’t having much luck, despite knowing what I was looking for. My stomach was growling and I found a place to pull over to eat lunch. I let the dogs out and grabbed my cooler, and that was when I heard the skitter of loose rocks down the wall of the canyon. Expecting to see a rock slide I saw nothing, but then caught the flash of movement of two big horn sheep traversing the scree and knocking rocks loose.

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I watched the sheep for a while and took some pictures…easier said than done since the sun was almost to bright to see the LCD screen of my camera. I enjoyed watching them for a while as I ate my lunch. I was still watching them as another vehicle passed by; I was staring up at the mountain and I’m surprise they didn’t stop to see what I was looking at…but I didn’t have my camera out.

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With a full belly and with the dogs having had their fill of water we continued down the canyon and into the narrows/slot canyon section. I can honestly say that I have rarely felt so amazed by a road (hiking trails, yes, but not roads) and I felt dwarfed by the narrow path that led me between sheer rock walls. I stopped so many times to take pictures that I lost count…but of course the pictures really don’t do justice to how it looks and feels.

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Four more miles of windy canyon paths and following the gravel wash finally dumped me out in the parking lot of Fall Canyon trail head. In hindsight I am glad that the one way road ends where it does…the slot canyons are absolutely stunning and a great finale to an incredible drive.

A couple of videos of this amazing drive…forgive their length and the wind

A quick stop at Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station to report the sheep sighting (something they request you do if you see any) and I headed home.


Titus Canyon Road is a 27 mile gravel track limited to one way travel from the east to the west and the access point is well sign-posted about 6 miles from Beatty, NV on the way into Death Valley National Park. A 2WD high-clearance vehicle is required due to infrequent rocks and a number of washouts in the road but with gravity on your side there is no need for 4WD. Experience driving on narrow canyon dirt roads would be beneficial but certainly not necessary. If you don’t have a suitable vehicle for this drive I highly recommend renting a jeep for half a day and taking your time…I rarely got out of 1st gear as I wanted to soak it all in. This trip was the highlight of Death Valley for me and something I would put on the must-do list if you are visiting the park.

Death Valley National Park, Day 2: Golden Canyon Hike

Day two in Death Valley started at the more reasonable time of 6:30am…although reasonable for me it may not be for others.

With the sun barely peeking above the eastern horizon I packed my lunch, loaded up the dogs and headed for the Park. The Visitor Center at Furnace Creek didn’t open until 8am and I filled the time with the Harmony Borax Works Interpretive Trail.

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Despite many mining hopes and claims for gold in Death Valley the area’s most lucrative mineral was Borax, a salt mineral used by many professionals including blacksmiths, meat packers and housewives. Borax was mined and concentrated in a handful of places throughout the valley and then transported by twenty-mule teams 165 miles south to the railroad city of Mohave. It was due to the distance and the high costs of transportation that Borax was refined on site in Death Valley. To this day Twenty Mule Team Borax is a well-known and recognizable brand in many stores.

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A quick stop at the visitor center to get a map for Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch, and to inquire about the road through Titus Canyon preceded my hike.

The parking lot for Golden Canyon was small and half full at 8:30am. As always I parked so the dogs had shade in the back of the truck and left them a bowl of water. With a liter of water and my cameras ready I headed up the canyon.

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The first section was pretty and easy and I quickly passed a photographer who had set out before me. After the first mile the pathway splits and a half mile out-and-back trail leads to the Red Cathedral, a towering red rock formation that can be viewed while hiking up the canyon. I chose not to do the side trail and from the split the path climbed high into the badlands and was in sun exposure. Even at 9am in the morning, in February, the sun was hot and brutal and I quickly drained a third of my water.

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The height of the trail peaks just beneath Manly Peak and then winds its way down through what looks like ancient sand dunes. I was starting to feel the effects of the heat already despite drinking plenty of water before I left and remaining hydrated while hiking.

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Thankfully the trail continued to go down and there was no more climbing.

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The trail flattened out and to the left was the turn-off for the Badlands Loop, another 0.8 miles I chose not to do. I was still feeling a little nauseous and weak when I remembered I hadn’t really eaten anything for breakfast (a serious oversight for me) and I paused in the shade of Gower Gulch’s towering cliff walls to eat my sandwich. I quickly began to feel better.

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Gower Gulch started as a wide open wash for a half mile before narrowing between steep rock walls and jagged peaks. There was more shade and it was far more rugged than the first half of the trail, including a few rock scrambles down to the lower canyon. It was beautiful and the colors easily rivaled those of the Artists Palette I had seen the day before.

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Ninety minutes after starting the hike I found myself escaping the canyon and looking down over a dry waterfall…I can only imagine how amazing it must have been with water flowing through the gulch. The trail led along the edge of the cliff face and above the sandy wash for another half mile before taking me back to the parking lot and my truck.

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I quickly grabbed a cold diet Pepsi to cool my body temperature down and then let the dogs out for a brief potty break before heading back to the visitor center to peruse the museum.

The museum would be worth seeing prior to the hike (and really any excursion in the park), as well as the 30 minute movie, but I also don’t recommend starting to hike the Golden Canyon/Gower Gulch loop much later than I started, even in winter. I carried a liter of water and my lunch but I could have done with another half a liter of water. Shade is sparse but available in winter due to the lower angle of the sun…I wouldn’t recommend this hike in the height of summer unless done very early in the morning.

 

 

Death Valley National Park, Day 1: Artists Drive, Badwater Road and the Devils Golf Course

I forgot to change my clocks to Pacific time. With that in mind I looked at my alarm clock…it said 5:30am. It is not unusual for me to be up at that time due to work…however on Pacific time that is 4:30AM!!!

Well I was awake and had slept decently although suffering through some very strange dreams. Of course I didn’t realize just how early I had crawled out of bed until I was about to step out of the door and head to the Park for the sunrise…way too early.

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We left anyway and stopped at the information kiosk for a map and visitor’s guide. Dante’s View sounded like a great place from which to watch the sunrise…and I’m sure it would have been if it hadn’t been closed. I made it half way up before the road was closed due to construction. “Insert sad face here!!” I watched the sunrise anyway and got a couple of nice pictures of the multi-colored peaks in the dawn light, complete with the moon. I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to see the Super Blue Blood Moon here at the end of January.

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With the sun rising above the mountains and creating some great picture opportunities I headed towards Zabriskie Point. A brief detour took me through a one-way canyon called Twenty Mule Team Canyon…a windy and stunning moon-scape that took some ingenuity to build a road through. Of course something that amazing is always ruined by at least one person…for me it was the idiot driving the wrong way on a one-way, one-lane road. And of course, with me having the large truck, I was the one to have to maneuver around him because I had the capabilities…I made sure to let him know I was not impressed.

Zabriskie Point was a short walk up a steep paved path to a stunning view over the badlands. The early morning sun created some amazing texture and contrast for pictures between the peaks, ridges and valleys.

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I had previously decided to take a loop route south from Furnace Creek and turned onto Badwater Road, a 72 mile route that ended at Shoshone.

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The first point of interest was Artists Drive, a 9 mile loop that carves up above the valley floor. It has a 25ft vehicle restriction…and they mean it. Artists Palette is the well-known highlight of the loop but I found the entire drive to be well worth the time, and I marveled at the route and construction of the road more than the scenery. Tight turns, steep dips and rises, and walls that risk your paint job mean that this road isn’t recommended for anything wider than a pick-up or van, and vehicles longer than 25ft are prohibited…and I can see why.

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I wasn’t back on Badwater Road for long before I turned off again to the Devil’s Golf Course, a rough “field” of salt spires. Salt was initially deposited by thousands of years of floods and the spires were then shaped over the millennia by the erosion of wind and water. Care should be taken when walking in this area as the footing is treacherous and lacerations and broken bones are a real possibility.

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I paused briefly at Badwater, the lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282ft below sea level, before continuing south to Mormon Point and Ashford Mill. The Mill was owned by three brothers who used the mill to crush ore from a mine 5 miles to the east before sending it on to a smelter in another location. It was run by the brothers and lessors for a short time before finally closing.

Badwater; about a half mile out in the valley:

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Can you see the tiny Sea Level sign on the cliff above my truck?

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The highway then took my up and over Jubilee Pass which gave me a great view back over Death Valley from 1200ft. It then climbed another 2000ft to Salsberry Pass before dropping me back down and into the rinky-dink town of Shoshone where I had to sell a kidney on the black market for 15 gallons of diesel…I cringed at the $4.79/gallon cost. Cost of fuel…one of the many reasons I wanted to avoid California for my drive to Oregon.

Back at camp I took the dogs for a quick walk before settling in for a quiet afternoon and working on some pictures.

Kingman to Death Valley National Park

After a final appointment with my orthopedic doctor I headed back to Golden Valley to finishing packing up. It was bitter-sweet as I would miss the folks I had been renting from for the past three months, but I was ready to get on the road. A brief stop with one of the few friends I had made in Kingman to air up my tires and fix my steps had me leaving Kingman later than I planned and I didn’t get on the road until 1:30pm.

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The now-familiar Hwy 93 stretched out to the northern horizon, banked by the Black and Cerbat Mountains to the west and east respectively. I by-passed Las Vegas as much as I could but stopped to pick up a couple of packages from an Amazon locker in Enterprise. It was getting later than I’d planned and I filled up with fuel before heading west on Hwy 160 towards Pahrump. With the remaining daylight available to me I was not going to make it to my planned destination outside Death Valley National Park.

I braved my first over-night in a Walmart parking lot, grabbed a quick burger at Sonic and watched some NCIS on my tablet in a cramped RV (no putting the slide out). I didn’t sleep particularly well (the semi that parked next to me that kept turning his engine on and off didn’t help). As soon as it was daylight and the dogs had had their chance to relieve themselves I hit the road again.

The Pads, a remote off-highway RV parking area, came recommended on freecampsites.net and it did not disappoint. It is understood that this place was originally supposed to be an RV park and the concrete pads (hence the name) had been poured but no other services were ever installed. I pulled in around 9am and was set-up by 10.

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I had installed two new solar panels less than a week ago and my Amazon locker pick-up was the wiring to hook them into my current system. With this in mind, and already having lost some of the day and thus not inclined to head into Death Valley National Park, I spent the rest of the morning deciding on the best way to re-wire my solar system. What I had initially envisioned was not going to work as I had inadvertently left the connectors in such a manner that the wires could not be pulled out to their full length. I had a quick think and went with a plan that was backwards to what I had originally thought. It worked and by noon I had 600 watts of solar panels set-up in a 3×2 series/parallel system. It was time for a beer.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent taking the dogs for a long walk up the hill behind the camper and having another couple of beers as I watched the traffic and people go by. As sunset approach I hiked back up the hill to take some pictures of the sunset, which wasn’t nearly as pretty as I had been hoping.

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After watching half of a movie I took the dogs out one final time and got stuck staring at the heavens. Even in the wilds of Wyoming I’m not sure I’ve seen so many stars so visible and bright. I was awe-struck and I think I laid on the ground for a good 30 minutes just staring up at the millions of tiny lights.

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Kingman, AZ – All Work and Very Little Play

KINGMAN, AZ

After looking at the historical winter temperatures for southern Utah I made an educated decision to head further south for the winter…something I would later come to regret.

I had been to Kingman, AZ some years earlier and thought it would be a small enough town to enjoy but not so large as to be overwhelming to a small-town girl.

I initially found a decent boondocking location fifteen miles east of town which gave me the chance to get a feel for the area and start looking for work. Within a week I had found a piece of property to rent and from there, with power and good cell service, I was able to search for and secure a decent job for the winter.

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Almost immediately I realized my chosen rental site was not going to work…the dreaded puncture vine was everywhere and my dogs were suffering, not to mention the amount of stickers I was pulling out of my shoes daily.

I was contacted by a wonderful couple (via my Craigslist ad) who had a fenced area and full hook-ups available and after three weeks I moved my RV to the new spot, in a much nicer area of Golden Valley, the day before I started my new job.

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For the next two weeks I also had a friend in town and we explored the area together. These are the highlights of the Kingman area:

Route 66

The famous highway goes straight through Kingman, AZ coming in from Peach Springs and Seligman to the east and heading out to Oatman in the west. The old downtown of Kingman, Beale Street, has been run down for a long time but new investment and new businesses in the area are beginning to revitalize and renew the beautiful old town. Places of note include the Black Bridge Brewery, Floyd’s Wood-Fired Pizza Company, Diana’s Cellar Door Wine Bar, the Arizona Route 66 Powerhouse Museum and the Mohave Museum of History and Art.

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Oatman

Oatman is a town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona, west of Kingman. Located at an elevation of just over 2700 ft on Route 66 it began as a small mining camp soon after two prospectors struck a $10 million gold find in 1915, though the vicinity had already been settled for a number of years.

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Oatman’s most famous attractions are its wild burros, which freely roam the town streets. Many can be hand-fed hay cubes otherwise known as “burro chow,” readily available in almost every store in town although this is highly frowned upon and not recommended. Burros all have “Do Not Feed Me” stickers on their foreheads. Though normally gentle, the burros are in fact wild and signs posted throughout Oatman advise visitors to exercise caution and I saw a couple of people threatened with kicks and several received bites.

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The burros are descended from pack animals turned loose by early prospectors, and are protected by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Weekends in Oatman can see anything from classic car rallies to mock “Wild West” shootouts right down the middle of old Route 66

Keepers of the Wild

Thirty miles east of Kingman is a non-profit sanctuary for dozens of wild indigenous and  exotic animals that were rescued, surrendered or re-homed with the facility by other animal welfare agencies. Housed within large enclosures you will find wolves, lions, leopards, monkeys and many more animals who have found a secure and safe home for the rest of their lives. The animals are healthy and happy, and while the entry fee may seem a little steep it all goes towards continuing rescue, rehabilitation and education. This is not a zoo and do not expect it to be as such.

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We did not take the guided tour but I suspect it would have been worth it; the tour provides the history and stories of each of the animals in the sanctuary.

They are currently hoping to expand their operation and continue the process of providing a safe and secure home for rescued exotic and indigenous animals.

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For more information, or to donate to their wonderful cause, please check out their website: Keepers of the Wild

Hualapai Mountain Park

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An afternoon drive up into the Hualapai Mountains is worth some time. From scrub desert you climb swiftly into pine trees and beneath moderate peaks. It is the gem of the Kingman area. We were lucky enough to see a large herd of elk, including a couple of large bulls, in the yard areas of some of the homes. The area is reminiscent of any alpine settlement and it reminded me of my home back in Wyoming, although slightly warmer and a lot drier. There are a handful of good hiking trails as well as a nice lodge where decent food and cold beer can be acquired.

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Other Kingman recommendations:

Food: Kingman Chophouse (amazing steaks), Bangkok Thai Cuisine (pretty good Asian food for a desert town), Five Guys Burgers (is there any where else for burgers?), El Rancho Restaurant in Golden Valley (very good authentic Mexican food).

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Things to Do or See: Any of the copious abandoned mines in the area especially one just north of Chloride, Secret Pass hike or four wheel drive trail, Fort Beale (free permit required), drive to Lake Mohave on the Colorado River.

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Unfortunately I came to really dislike the area and its barren and dead-looking landscape. Some parts of the desert, like southern Utah, are beautiful…this area of northern Arizona is not. I was not doing the things I wanted to be able to do in a warmer winter, like backpacking trips, due to the lack of time, money and places where I could go to do such things. With much contemplation and discussion with family I made the decision to leave Arizona early and head up to the Pacific North-West where trees and water were abundant (the things I missed the most).

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Hiking ‘The Subway’ at Zion National Park

With a few unproductive days behind me, a city that felt overwhelming and no job prospects on the horizon, as well as some research into winter weather for the area, I decided to make the Subway hike my last day in St George.

The Subway is another hike that requires a permit that you can either apply for online via lottery or hope you’re lucky and try to get a permit the day before from one of the ranger stations/visitor centers.

I was up fairly early and took the dogs out, packed a sandwich and filled my Nalgene bottles. The trail head was fairly close to camp so it only took 20 minutes to drive to. I let the dogs out briefly before the trail head as they would be chilling in the bed of my truck while I hiked (with shade and water of course) and I wanted to make sure they weren’t crossing their legs for long towards the latter part of the morning. The brochure suggests allowing 5-9 hours for the hike…I was hoping I could get 6.5 miles done in the lesser amount of time.

I filled the dogs’ water bowl, donned my pack, used the facilities and headed down the trail at 8:45 am. A nice flat first 1/2 mile was misleading as the trail quickly descended 600ft, steeply, into the Left Fork Canyon. I was wondering if I would be regretting not bringing hiking poles on my way out (I don’t usually use them when day hiking).

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The trail reached the creek fairly quickly and I took note of the surrounding area and the sign where I would need to make sure to head up later in the day (apparently people have missed it before, enough to make it a note in one of the guides I read).

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Initially the trail was moderate, sandy (ugh) and slightly rocky and I covered some good ground. There were a lot of “social trails” that were often misleading and I’m sure I ended up on some of them because I couldn’t find the official trail. Thankfully, being beside a creek, most of the trail was easy to figure out. There were many, many creek crossings, constantly back and forth from bank to bank, around rocky outcroppings or steep cliffs. The guide says you WILL get wet but I suspect this is mostly in reference to spring run-off as I found it easy to boulder hop and cross with dry feet at every time.

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I passed a few small groups of people, mostly in pairs, as I hiked. With such a small window of time I knew I had to cover ground fast if I wanted to make it to the end and see the Subway and waterfalls.

Sometimes the trail followed sand, sometimes it was rocky and other times it involved some serious bouldering and clambering. It often involved some intuitive trail finding and keeping a sharp eye out for cairns. Remembering what the place you crossed looked like would also prove to be helpful on the return trip.

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I kept an eye on my watch, definitely aware of how much time I was leaving the dogs and put a cut-off time limit to turn around at 11am. By 10:30 I was flagging in energy and really hadn’t seen much sign of waterfalls or subways…I was pretty concerned that I wouldn’t make it. I paused for a sandwich to boost my energy and re-read the guide I had downloaded to my phone. The instructions made it sound like I didn’t have too much further to hike so I determined that I might be okay.

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The trail got rockier and more climbing was involved but I finally reached the first of two 15ft waterfalls the guide mentioned. Finally I was getting close. Not far around the bend I found the second waterfall below a sheer, under-cut cliff that echoed loudly. The easiest way to get above the waterfalls is by climbing them around the sides. There were definitely some slippery spots but you can avoid them easily.

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Walls of sandstone towered overhead and I finally got my first view of the Subway, a semi-subterranean water channel that has under-cut the sandstone cliffs above it…and this is the only area my feet got a little wet (could have been avoided). Inviting-looking pools dotted the floor of the tunnel although the water was cold and not actually that appealing. It was a stunning piece of natural architecture and I can see why it is so popular…I have never seen anything like it.

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As always I took some pictures, appreciated the beauty for a while, and then headed back out. Sadly, being on a time constraint, I had less time than I would have liked to appreciate the canyon. But there was little more that I could do anyway other than stand and stare at the walls and the pools and the thin strip of blue sky above. If I had been brave, or had a wetsuit, I might have headed in further to see the waterfall but it required a lot more wading than I was prepared to do.

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I enjoyed my 15 minutes in the Subway but with my dogs’ needs in the back of my mind I started my hike back, avoided getting wet on the way out, and headed down the trail. I ran into the people I had passed, almost all of whom asked me how much further it was…10 minutes turned into an hour by the time it was 12:15, but of course I had hiked fast (somewhat to my detriment when I fell and got some cactus spines in my hand and cut my arm on a sharp branch).

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At one point I got slightly disoriented when I didn’t recognize part of the trail. I was watching for the black outcropping that marked the point where the trail climbed back up. I ended up passing a black cliff, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to go beneath it so I back-tracked a ways before being sure I hadn’t missed the upward trail. I continued on and was soon seeing familiar things again, confirming that the black outcropping was not actually the one I was looking for. This is where looking back and recognizing creek crossings was a huge help.

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Finally I found the well-signed turn-off to the upward climb…I wouldn’t have missed it even with one eye closed. The climb back up was a little brutal and I was chugging water. What started off as a cool hike in the shade of the canyon cliffs in the morning turned into a harsh climb in the midday sun going back up…I can’t imagine doing this in the heat of summer.

Back at the top, finally, I ran into a park ranger checking vehicles and permits. I handed him mine and he asked how long it had taken me to do the hike and if I made it to the end. I told him how long it had taken me…4 hrs and 45 minutes; 8:45-1:30 (including a stop for lunch and 15 minutes at the Subway). He was impressed and surprised by how fast I had done the hike as it is pretty unusual to do it so quickly. I pointed to the dogs and explained how small of a window I had to do the hike in but that it had been worth it.

Tired, hot and slightly dehydrated I grabbed a cold soda and headed down the road, back to camp. I was grateful to be able to relax for a while with a cold beer and let the dogs play outside before getting things packed away for the morning departure.

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If you are interested in hiking The Subway here is much of the information you need:

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/the-subway-trail

While I managed the hike in such a short period of time I wouldn’t recommend it. Allow 6-7 hours to do the trail at a more relaxed pace and enjoy it. Not a trail recommended for anyone not able-bodied and fit as there is a LOT of rock-clambering and trail negotiation, not to mention all the creek crossings that require some pretty good balance and some jumping. However, it is definitely worth doing if you can.