Page, Arizona to Great Falls, Montana

Thursday, June 1, 2006 - Arrived at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The view above is actually a side canyon, Bright Angel Canyon. We checked the campground and no one had cancelled their reservation or decided to leave early. We went down to the rim and I hiked out to Bright Angel Point. Carol chickened out. It is an awesome vista but you could not see the river. After one more check at the campground we left the park and got a campsite at Jacob Lake Campground which is 44 miles from the North Rim, outside the park. This campground is run by the Forest Service and has no hookups and no dump station - $14 a night.

The North Rim Campground is one of the better National Park Service campgrounds. Spacious sites spaced far apart. Roads and sites were paved and all sites were pull-thrus. Some sites required sharp turns around trees but most sites would pose no problems for large rigs. No hookups but a dump station and water spigots were in the campground. Bathhouse, laundry, and campstore were nearby. Overall clean and neat appearance - $18 a night.

Since it is a 125 miles round trip, we are debating whether to return to the park and visit Walhalla Plateau and its overlooks. We could not do that today with the RV attached because signs discouraged anything over 30 feet from going down that road.

I got up during the night and could see stars through an open ceiling vent. So I went outside and the view was awesome! I can't remember the last time I saw the Milky Way. There it was, a wispy cloud across a night sky filled with a million stars (or so it seemed). It is sights like this that make this lifestyle so enjoyable.

Friday, June 2, 2006 - We decided to return to the Grand Canyon. After all, that's what we are here for, right? I am glad we made that decision because the views from Cape Royal were much better (in my opinion) than the views we saw yesterday from Bright Angel Point. We got to see the river, too. This section of the park is much less crowded that the main area near Bright Angel Point. Maybe the additional 20 mile drive down a narrow winding road discourages a lot of folks.

Saturday, June 3, 2006 - It was a short two hour drive to Zion National Park. This is one of the smallest and busiest of the National Parks. Until a few years ago, finding a parking space anywhere in the park was a real chore. Then a free shuttle bus system was introduced and private vehicles were banned from most of the park and the situation is much improved. Shuttle busses run every 6 or 7 minutes so it is real convenient. The nearby town of Springdale has plenty of parking and offers free shuttle bus service to the park Visitor Center.

We were hoping to get a site in the Watchman Campground which has electric hookups. Today is hot, 100+ degrees, and air conditioning would be nice. But Watchman was full so we camped next door in South Campground. Around 10:00 PM, it finally cooled down enough, with fans, to be comfortable enough to sleep.

If you enter the park from the east, you must go through a tunnel about a mile long. This tunnel was constructed in the 1920's and was designed for the vehicles of that era. The ceiling is curved and the height along the edges is too low for a large vehicle, like an RV. If you want to drive a large RV through the tunnel, you have to go down the middle of the road which means that the rangers must stop traffic in the other direction while you transit the tunnel. All this will cost you an extra $15 and you may have to wait up to a half hour. We drove an extra 30 miles to avoid the tunnel.

Sunday, June 4, 2006 - We were up early this morning to hike Riverside Walk up to The Narrows. The weather was nice and cool and we avoided the crowds. The Narrows is at the far north end of the park where the canyon walls begin to close in to only 20 feet wide and you have to walk in the riverbed. We didn't go that far. Then we hiked to Emerald Pools. Before the morning was over, we had put about seven more miles on the soles of our shoes. Not too bad for some out-of-shape (almost) senior citizens. After all that hiking, I cooled off in the Virgin River which flows by the campground. I wasn't the only one, either.

Monday, June 5, 2006 - It was so hot last night, even with the fans running. It didn't cool down until almost dawn. So we moved over to the Watchman Campground which has electric hookups. The A/C is running!

Some of you may be saying, "I thought this was an Alaska trip. These Simpsons are not much closer to Alaska than they were when they left home five weeks ago." Well, tomorrow we head north. We have had our fill of canyon country and deserts. But we want to revisit two of our favorite places before entering Canada - the Grand Tetons and Glacier National Park.

Tueday, June 6, 2006 - We arrived at Hill Air Force Base about 25 miles north of Salt Lake City, UT. The FamCamp is not the nicest we have seen nor is it very well managed. There is an air show this weekend and all sites are reserved starting Thursday. So we will spend the first two days with full hookups and then move to dry camping.

As we were setting up, the front landing jack broke. A pin sheared off and we are unable to lower (or raise) the front landing gear. Fortunately, the front legs will telescope and can be pinned every inch or so. So with the aid of a 6-ton bottle jack, we were able to get the RV off the truck and levelled. I called Cedar Creek and they are sending me a new landing jack at no cost to me. Considering that my RV is no longer under warranty, that is a good deal. But we have to wait around here until it arrives which may not be until Monday. It looks like our trip to the Grand Tetons will have to be scrapped because I have an appointment with McCollum Modern RV's in Great Falls, MT on June 14th to replace the landing jack. We were in Great Falls two years ago when McCollum repaired extensive damage to the roof of my RV.

Thursday, June 8, 2006 - Hill AFB sits at the base of the Wasatch Mountain Range and the view is pretty impressive. We have moved to a dry camping area and the Thunderbirds, the Air Force precision flying team, is practicing over the nearby airfield in preparation for the weekend air show. We almost have a front row seat.

Saturday, June 10, 2006 - We spent the day watching the air show. The FamCamp manager put on a pot luck lunch with hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. It was quite a feast. It sure was nice being right here on base instead of fighting all that traffic. It was a zoo! Two hours after the show ended, it is still stop-and-go traffic leaving the base.

The landing jack is scheduled to arrive Tuesday so looks like we will be here until then. We will have to skip not only our planned stop at the Grand Tetons, but Glacier National Park, too. We will try to see these on our return from Alaska.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006 - We were hitched up and ready to go by 9:00 AM but we had to wait around for UPS to deliver the jack. UPS arrived at noon and we were on the road immediately after that. I had an appointment with McCullom RV the next day to install the new jack, so we drove as far a we could that night, arriving at Wal-Mart in Helena, MT about 9:30 PM.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - We were up early and on the road by 7:00 AM and arrived at McCullom RV before 9:00 AM. Fred, the service manager, said he could install the jack at 1:00 PM, so we went over to the FamCamp at Malmstrom AFB and checked in. This is a very nice FamCamp, just outside the base. All sites are pull-thoughs with a large concrete pad and paved interior roads. Lots of neatly mowed green grass between sites. The bathhouse and laundry are immaculate.

After setting up camp, I unwrapped and examined the new jack and decided that this was not rocket science. Within 30 minutes, I had removed the old jack and installed the new one. I called McCullom RV and cancelled my appointment. Since I saved myself $50-$100, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner. We went to Jaker's Steak, Ribs, and Fish House and it was the best meal we have had in years. If you want a great meal in Great Falls, MT, it is located at 1500 10th Ave. South.

Great Falls is an interesting place to visit. I am fascinated by Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery and their trip up the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast. Great Falls has an first-class interpretive center on this subject. Great Falls is also the location of Black Eagle Falls and Rainbow Falls, the last in a series of five falls that presented an impenetrable barrier to Lewis and Clark's trip up the Missouri. They had to portage around these falls, carrying their large dugout canoes, equipment, and supplies over this 18 mile detour. Great Falls is also the home of the late Charles Russell and the museum containing most of his works of art. Charles Russell and Fredric Remington are the most renowned western artists.

Great Falls, Montana to Tok, Alaska