Durango, Colorado to Page, Arizona

Thursday, May 18, 2006 - It was only an hour drive from Durango to Mesa Verde National Park. The park has a huge campground, spread out over eight loops and 15 sites are full hookups. The price is a little higher than I expected. I paid $26 for a full hookup site. The campground I just left in Durango charged $30 for a full hookup site and that included a pool, cable TV, and free Wi-Fi. The primitive sites are $21. I paid $14 for a similar site at Great Sand Dunes NP. Also, the Golden Age Passport discount does NOT apply to the full hookup sites.

Mesa Verde is a big place. The distance from the entrance to the main attraction at Cliff Palace is over 20 miles. It rises more than 2000 feet above the surrounding countryside and many deep canyons and beautiful valleys cut through the southern end of the mesa. This place is best known for its well-preserved dwellings built high on canyon walls by Ancestral Pueblo people 800 years ago.

As we plan our trips, we choose not to make reservations until we know when we will be in a particular area. We value the flexibility this gives us but there is always the risk that a suitable campsite may not be available when we plan to arrive. We decided to plan our stops in Utah to arrive at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon after Memorial Day but, when we called for reservations yesterday, the campground was full until well into June. I really wanted to visit the North Rim so I may check out nearby private campgrounds.

We also want to spend some time in Page, AZ and visit the Glen Canyon Dam. I admit that I am a dam fanatic. If there is one nearby, large or small, I've gotta see it. But Lake Powell is a very popular place as summer approaches so I may be out of luck there, too. So, stay tuned to see how these problems unravel.

I am surprised at how easy it has been to find free Wi-Fi access - public libraries, military base libraries, visitor centers, and campgrounds. Today, when I was at the visitor center at Cortez, CO, I asked about Wi-Fi access. Although none was available at either the visitor center or the local library, free access was available across the street at a small nursery amd garden center. Inside the garden center was a coffee shop with several small tables like a mini Starbucks. Who would have thought that free Wi-Fi could be found there? Great tasting coffee, too! They even grind their own coffee beans.

Sunday, May 21, 2006 - Arches National Park - slickrock country. We arrived early this morning so we could get one of the first-come-first-served campsites. We got the last one. That's cutting it a bit close. But there are over six private campgrounds nearby and at least three had vacancies. We will be moving to one of them on Tuesday.

Over the eons, the wind and rain have done amazing things to this sandstone landscape. Double Arch at left shows just one example. If you click on that photo and display the larger version, you can see people climbing the rocks at the base of that large opening. Here are some more pics.

We were able to squeeze into our campsite with inches to spare. Surrounded by huge sandstone boulders and desert shrubs, our campsite is secluded and hidden from our neighbors. This campground does not have any hookups, so no air conditioning, but we are willing to forgo life's little luxuries to be out here in this beautiful setting. The temperature is in the 90's today but the awnings are out and the fans are blowing. The night temps were in the low 70's but, because the humidity is so low, the fan kept us comfortable.

Monday, May 22, 2006 - We hiked our butts off today. We went to Landscape Arch early in the morning, an easy (well, easy for most people) two mile round-trip hike. This is one of the most popular and most photographed landmarks in the park. It's difficult to show the scale in this photo, but the length of the arch is about as long as a football field. In 1991, a 180 ton slab broke off the lower right portion of the arch and fell to the ground below. A video camera caught it all on tape which is shown as part of a movie at the visitor's center.

Later in the morning, we hiked to Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Then, we went to the Windows section which I thinks is the prettiest part of the park. Short, easy hikes to Double Arch and the Windows Arches. The exercise was good for both of us.

We had planned on hamburgers over the campfire tonight but, starting around 4:00 PM, the skies got dark and the wind began blowing. We quickly got the main awning stowed. Wind gusts over 40 MPH began blowing the sand around and it soon found its way inside the RV. The RV began to shake and the outdoor carpet had notions of becoming a sail. We stowed the window awnings and all the loose gear outside. I put a big rock on the outdoor carpet. The slideout topper awnings sounded like they were taking a beating so we brought in the slides and hunkered down.

Boy, I sure am glad we were home when this happened, otherwise, the wind gusts would have destroyed one or more of my awnings. When we arrived at this campground, I asked the park ranger about winds this time of year. He said they get pretty strong in early spring but shouldn't be too bad now. I think it was asking too much of a park ranger to predict the weather.

Around 7:00 PM, we gave up on the idea of hamburgers over the campfire and settled for beans and franks over the stove. And just as Carol was serving dinner, the winds died down and the skies began to clear. Oh, well. You win some, you lose some. We still enjoyed the campfire.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - Carol and I have a short attention span so we headed for Dead Horse Point State Park. We were not able to get reservations for the park so we moved to a private campground in Moab and made a day trip to the park. That was O.K. because full hookups, Wi-Fi access, and a long, hot shower were what we needed. I had sand in every crevice on my body! The photo above is a panorama of the view from Dead Horse Point showing the Colorado River winding its way past the park. The curved horizon is the effect of stitching six photos together to create the panorama photo.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - We made a day trip to Canyonlands National Park. This place looks like a mini Grand Canyon. Unlike Arches NP, where there are many sites to see throughout the park, there are two or three grand views at Canyonlands and none require any serious hiking. So, we were able to take in the park in less than a day. Here are some pics.

If you are visiting this area and all of the usual RV parks and campgrounds are full, try Horsethief Campground. It is a very nice BLM campground and it seems that very few people have heard of it because it was almost empty. A more primitive (and free) BLM camping area, Big Mesa Camping Area, is located 3.4 miles east of Horsethief Campground. It is easy to miss. I know it exists because I saw the RVs parked on top of the mesa and drove up there to take a look.

Thursday, May 25, 2006 - We arrived at Capitol Reef National Park at 11:30 AM and the Ranger said that only one campsite remained open. When we arrived at the campground, the site had been taken. We could have stayed at a private camground in Torrey, UT, about 12 miles away, but we decided to continue on down to Bryce Canyon.

The truck got a real good workout this afternoon. The only route from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon, without going far out of the way, is state route 12. From an altitide of 5400 feet at Fruita Campground at Capitol Reef, the road climbed to 9500 feet in the next 27 miles. Then it dropped 3000 feet in the next 20 miles to Boulder, UT. Lots of 7% grades. And if that were not enough, the section between Boulder to Escalante was really tough, especially in the area around Calf Creek Recreation Area - hairpins turns and steep grades. In some places the grades were as steep as 14% but only for short stretches. We spent a lot of time in first gear doing 25 MPH. Engine and transmission temps stayed below 200 degrees. I think the truck did just fine. Now, for Carol, it was a different story.

She freaks out on high, winding mountain roads, especially if there are no guardrails and the shoulders of the road drop off sharply for hundreds of feet. A short stretch, called The Hogback, follows the top of a ridge line and the road and shoulder were less than 100 feet wide and dropped off steeply for several hundred feet on both sides. It was pretty scary! I was pointing out some of the views and glanced over at her. Her gaze was fixed straight ahead, her hand had an iron grip on the door handle, and she was speechless - frozen in fear!

We arrived at Bryce Canyon about 4:00 PM and the Ranger said campsites were still available but when we went to take a look, none were big enough to accommodate our rig. So, here we are at Ruby's RV Park & Campground. We could only get a hookup site for one night - everything was reserved for the Memorial Day weekend. We asked about overflow sites with no hookups and got a nice site away from the crowd for the entire weekend. We paid $18 a day instead of $31 and have access to all the amenities (pool, laundry, Wi-Fi, showers, etc.). Tomorrow we go hunting for hoodoos.

Friday, May 26, 2006 - We were up and on the road before dawn and found a whole herd of hoodoos at Inspiration Point. We shot a few (with our cameras, of course). Saturday night we went to the rodeo and then roasted hot dogs over the campfire.

We remained at Bryce Canyon through the Memorial Day weekend because we figured that the campground at our next destination, Lake Powell, would be full. Saturday and Sunday nights, the temperature dropped to the mid 20's. Brrrr. It can get quite chilly at 8000 feet of altitude, even in late May. The furnace blower draws a lot of current and we didn't have electrical hookups, so I set the thermostat to 55 degrees and that, plus a double layer of blankets, kept us nice and toasty without draining the batteries.

Monday, May 29, 2006 - After a three hour drive, we arrived at Wahweap Campground at Lake Powell. The campground wasn't full this weekend and we could have been here a few days earlier. That is the downside of not making reservations. We were assigned a nice big pull-thru site with a great view of the lake. This is a very nice campground. We are in the A loop with huge sites spaced far apart. The interior roads and sites are paved. The campground sits on land that gently slopes down to the lake and, combined with site spacing, almost everyone has a view of the lake.

The drainage area of the Colorado River and its tributaries has experienced a drought since the year 2000 and, as you can see from the photo at right, the lake level is 106 feet below the spillways. The bleached area of rock shows the high water mark and the back of the Glen Canyon Dam can be seen in the distance. Of course, there is plenty of water remaining for the boaters. Houseboats are very popular on this lake. You can rent one that sleeps eight for only $6,500 a week.

It amazes me that so many folks from other countries like to visit our national parks. This is especially true of people from Germany, France, and Japan. More often than not, I heard a language other than English being spoken. Many of these folks rent class C RVs and stay in the park campgrounds. I guess I wouldn't be so surprised if I met them in large cities but to find them out here in the boonies is surprising.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - Ahhhh, this is the life. A beautiful sunset, a cozy campfire, a sky full of stars, and the buoy lights twinkling on the lake. We like it so much here that we extended our stay for another day. We were up early this morning and on our way to Lee's Ferry. This place is about 15 miles downstream of the dam as the Colorado River exits Glen Canyon. While down there, I came within five feet of stepping on a rattlesnake about three feet long. The little rascal never rattled once. I just happened to notice him stretched out on the path. This afternoon, we took the tour of the Glen Canyon Dam. Quite impressive and it's free. This dam is almost identical to the Hoover Dam in every statistic but it doesn't receive nearly as much attention.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 - Called again to get reservations at the Grand Canyon North Rim Campground but they are full and no one cancelled. We are going to show up anyway and see what happens.

Page, Arizona to Great Falls, Montana