Top 5 Colorado Mountain Towns

Have you ever looked at a map and been so curious about a road or town that you just had to hop in the car and explore?  Well, that seems to happen to me a lot. First off, I love maps and have had an interest in geography as long as I can remember.  I’m always wondering what’s around the next bend in the road.

This summer we’ll be traveling to some familiar and some unfamiliar territory. As much as I love exploring new places, I equally enjoy returning to some old favorites. During the process of planning out our route and schedule for our summer excursion, I found my mind wandering …. squirrel. 😆

Columbine, Colorado, Colorado's State Flower, #columbine, #coloradostateflower
Colorado’s state flower – columbine

Hmm, where exactly did my mind wander off to? Colorado! Ah, the wonderful memories I have in that beautiful U.S. state. After all, Al and I called Colorado home for over twenty years and agree it was a great place to raise our children. These days, Arizona feels more like home to us, but a part of our hearts will always remain in Colorado.

So, while scouring the map, I was met with a flood of fond memories. Could I pick a favorite Colorado mountain town?  Could I pick a favorite scenic Colorado drive?  Absolutely NOT!  I do however have some favorites. And those favorites on my list are mostly due to the memories that were created in those locations. Of course, there are so many more amazing places to visit in Colorado than what I’ve listed here, but that would take me days to share. So, let’s start with these five for now.

Top 5 Must-Visit Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns; towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re just that lovely.

When we lived in Colorado Springs, we would take our children up to either Summit County or Grand County for winter fun.

While the kids were enjoying the slopes, Al and I would either sit by a roaring fire in the lodge or stroll the shops in a quaint mountain town.  There’s no shortage of charm and character AND amazing views in Colorado.

I’m a bona fide flatlander and the thought of shooshing down a mountain slope with mini sleds strapped to my feet never did appeal to me. Once was enough for me! But my children grew up in Colorado, and therefore, they are avid snow skiers. However, snowshoeing, sledding, and snowmobiling were always a fun adventure that I never shied away from.

These days, Al and I save our visits to the high country for summer.  As a matter of fact, some of these mountain communities have become even more popular during the summer months than they are during winter.

Frisco, Colorado

Summit County includes the towns of Frisco, Breckenridge, Dillon, Keystone, Silverthorne and the village of Copper Mountain, and is located about a two-hour drive from Denver’s International Airport.  So it’s super easy to get to and the area offers plenty to see and do.

As much as I enjoy visiting Breckenridge and think that it too is a must-see, I personally prefer the quaint mountain town of Frisco.  Frisco is much more low-key and less touristy than Breckenridge.  Thus, Frisco is our first stop on my “top 5 favorite Colorado mountain towns” tour.

Frisco has a population of less than 3,000, sits at over 9,000 feet in elevation, and was incorporated in 1880 during the mining boom.  Today it’s a gateway to several major ski resorts.  Main Street offers plenty of unique shops, restaurants, and a historical park with a museum. During one of our RVing visits to the area a few years ago, Al and I discovered the Frisco Historic Park & Museum.  This is a free, self-guided museum preserving Frisco’s heritage.

Just down Main Street is a local coffee shop we enjoy. After purchasing a couple of Lattes, we strolled over to the museum. Al and I aren’t huge museum-goers, but we found this historical park to be quite entertaining and worth the stop. I was particularly entertained by the fashions on display as well as learning the importance of red lipstick during World War II … boosting courage.

During WWII, women showed their support by wearing red lipstick. Popularized by the movie industry, women demonstrated their patriotism by wearing makeup, especially the red lipstick.  While mascara and rouge were rationed, lipstick was kept in production because of its benificial effect on morale.

We spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds and the buildings at the museum.  Each building offered a little something different enlightening us on the town and its history over the past century. We found it to be a worthwhile stop, and we’ll probably return someday.

Dillon Reservoir, Colorado scenic drive, friendly chipmunk #chipmunks, #scenic view in Colorado, #Dillon, CO
The chipmunk checks my hand for a treat and is disappointed.

Scenic Road – Swan Mtn Road

Off Swan Mountain Road, between Breckenridge and Keystone, is a scenic overlook high above the Dillon Reservoir. The views from the Sapphire Point overlook are stunning. There’s a short loop trail that can be accessed from the parking lot. We hiked this trail in winter conditions several years ago and I remember the views being very nice.

Aside from the stunning views, there’s the entertainment from the chipmunks to consider. These little guys are used to folks bringing them sunflower seeds and aren’t shy about begging.

Lots to do and see

Rainbow Lake Trail, Frisco, Colorado, #hikingColorado, #hikeFrisco
Rainbow Lake Trail

As many times as we’ve visited Frisco, we always discover some new shop, a new restaurant, or a new hiking trail.  And the scenery never disappoints. During one of our visits, we attended a bi-plane air show which was so much fun to see.

Shopping is not a problem around Summit County. Between the towns of Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne, you’ll find several groceries stores, including a Whole Foods. There’s also a Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, sporting good stores, and even an Outlet Mall.

My favorite is a little shop strolling in Breckenridge. We always look forward to picking up a treat at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and perhaps purchasing a T-shirt (or two) from a local store. I wonder if Al has noticed that I’m encroaching on his half of the closet…. ssshhh, that’ll be our secret!

The dining options are endless. You’ll find everything from fast food places, to chain restaurants, to independent breweries, to fine dining, and everything in-between. Our biggest problem was always deciding where to eat because of all the choices.

Lodging: When we would visit the area during the winter, we usually stayed at one of the chain motels in Dillon like the Comfort Inn. There are so many lodging options through-out Summit County. You’ll find motel chains, ski-in-ski-out condos, high-end resorts, and private properties available. Yep, no shortage of lodging, but keep in mind premium pricing on weekends … all those Front Range dwellers like to head up to the high country on weekends.

Camping: Parts of Summit County are within the White River National Forest (Dillon Ranger District). There are five different campgrounds located around the Dillon Reservoir, as well as some dispersed camping further into the national forest. We never found any boondocking sites that we felt would comfortably accommodate our 31′ Fifth Wheel. Thus, we’ve always stuck with one of the campgrounds. With several campgrounds to choose from, we’ve never had a problem showing up without a reservation, but that’s for dry camping, no hookups, and no dump station on-site. Weekends might be a problem though without a reservation.

Heaton Bay Campground, Dillon, Colorado, #campinginBreckenridge, #DillonResevoir, #WhiteRiverNationalForest
We barely fit into this dry site at the Heaton Bay CG. We loved our views! I think this is site E76, but don’t quote me.

The Heaton Bay Campground does have one loop that has electric, it’s big rig friendly, and the most popular campground in the area. You’ll definitely need a reservation to stay here. The Lowry Campground, least popular and least desirable, also has some electric sites.

Campgrounds Peak One and Prospector are both large campgrounds with a mixture of sites (small, large, level, unlevel) and dry only. For those of you with big RV’s and setup with solar, you might want to consider the Pine Cove Campground. This is nothing more than a paved parking lot style of place, but it sits right along the shores of the Dillon Reservoir with spectacular views. Because the RV’s are parked so close together, generator use is frowned upon at Pine Cove CG.

Prospector Campground, view of Dillon Reservoir and mountains. White River National Forest camping, #campingnearDenver, #DillonResevoir, #Breckenridge
The view from a campsite at the Prospector Campground.

For those interested in full-hookups and/or doing a little bit of winter camping, Tiger Run Resort might be worth checking out. Just be forewarned, it is pricey, but then again, it’s located in Breckenridge where everything is pricey.

Next up

In next Sunday’s post, we’ll move up the road to Grand Lake, Colorado … the west-end gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Heaton Bay Campground, Camping along the shores of Dillon Reservoir, mountain reflections in the lake, #DillonRes, #campingLakeDillon
Camping at Heaton Bay Campground, Dillon, CO. Can you spot our RV nestled in the trees? Hint, we’re on the right.

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6 Benefits of Driving Yourself while Traveling

Driving can be one of the most exciting and easiest ways to get around when traveling. Whether I’m traveling with our RV in tow or my daughter and I are off on one of our infamous road trips in her car, driving gives me that sense of freedom I relish.

Even on trips overseas, I enjoy renting a car or even a bike. Although my favorite would be renting an RV or camper van … renting a camper van in New Zealand remains on my bucket list. That freedom to simply hit the open road and explore as much ground as possible is absolutely the best. Traveling on our own terms, our own schedule, and off the beaten path can be an amazing adventure.

RV traveling down the road with scenic Moab, Utah in the background

Personal time

First, traveling anywhere is all about us. Adventure awaits! After all, we’ve set aside time to travel and do things with family, friends, our partner, or even just our self and organizing flights with potential tight schedules can be stressful and can get in the way of all our fun.

Gal taking a photo of a zebraWhen driving ourselves, we get to make our own schedule and if we don’t want to keep to it, we don’t have to. During the process of us driving, if we discover a pristine beach or find that perfect mountain meadow and we want to stay a little longer, we can.

Let’s not forget about photographic opportunities and the freedom to stop, snap, and stay. It’s all solely based on ourselves and how we want to spend our day.

Ah, doesn’t that sound wonderful? Yep, I’m looking forward to our summer excursion!

Ultimate freedom

The number of new things we can discover when driving ourselves is pretty amazing. We’re more likely to go off the beaten path with the freedom we have traveling with our own transportation.

I’ve never been one to enjoy taking public transportation unless I have no other option, and the thought of making plans around an airline schedule no longer appeals to me. And this coming from a former Flight Attendant. These days, air travel is the last resort for me, but necessary at times, especially if I ever want to rent that camper van in New Zealand. Yeah, it would be a necessity to take that long flight from America to New Zealand to check that adventure off my bucket list.

But once I’m in my own transportation, I try to set aside time to explore something new each day to make the most of that sense of freedom.

Road tripping, gal hangs hand and arm out window causing a sense of freedom

Cost efficient

Let’s face it, road trips are usually more cost effective. Flying can be expensive, and taxis can cost a lot of money if we rely on them regularly while on vacation. Sure, sometimes we’re left with no option. Yeah, I don’t think there’s an easy way for me to get my RV to Hawaii (or New Zealand). So, flying it is, and then I’ll rent a car.

By renting my own transportation, I can explore on my terms, stop at a grocery store for healthy eating options, and save some money from having to go out to eat all the time, especially when traveling with a family of four.

One of my families most memorable trips was to Hawaii several years ago. My family still likes to tease me about our day excursion to the top of Haleakala, dormant volcano on the island of Maui. There was a thick layer of low-lying clouds along with a slight drizzle of rain, and I was convinced that if we drove to the top, we’d be above the clouds. Wrong! Once at the top, the thick layer of fog made it nearly impossible to see anything. After a few laughs, we headed back down the mountain. Near the base of the volcano, we noticed a newly opened zipline venue and quickly turned in.

I had packed a picnic lunch that day. The money we saved by not eating out or not booking a guided tour to Haleakala National Park, allowed us to go ziplining for the first time. It was so much fun and made for great family memories.

Transporting luggage

One of the biggest benefits of driving is packing. This is probably my favorite benefit to road tripping. I have the extra room to take a few more frivolous items … you know, like that cute pair of shoes that I may not even wear.

Luggage in an airport can be a nightmare not to mention the fear of it getting lost. Therefore, I’ve always been a ‘carry-on’ only kind of traveler. Even when I’ve traveled to Europe for a week, it was just with my carry-on. So, those cute shoes were always left behind, sigh.

RV traveling down a deserted road in Utah

Comfort

There’s no better feeling than being comfortable when traveling, and with your own mode of transportation, it’s so much easier. I think we’ve all been on a flight or bus with screaming kids. That’s the worst!

With our own vehicle, we don’t have to worry about sitting next to strangers and we can come and go as we please. Yep, that’s the ultimate comfort while traveling.

Chance to be spontaneous

I love the spontaneity and freedom of driving. Spontaneity is an amazing luxury that I don’t take for granted.  A random day trip, a detour along the way, or even just the decision to go somewhere different for happy hour is all at my fingertips when I have my own vehicle.

Final thoughts

Whenever and wherever I travel, I always keep safety in mind. It’s also important to understand the rules and laws of the states or countries we visit.

Did you know there’s a law in France for having an unused breathalyzer in your vehicle? I guess it’s still a controversial law, but even so, I found that tidbit of information interesting.

Here in the U.S., we need to think about laws regarding cell phone usage while driving. Every community, county, and state has its own laws about talking or texting while driving.

As my daughter and I do more research and brainstorming on potential travel locations for our next mother/daughter adventure, we’re finding a lot of useful information. 1Cover’s The Secret Traveler offers tips on how to stay safe while on the road along with other helpful information and travel ideas. Hmm, our travel list seems to be getting longer instead of shorter!

Research and knowledge are the best ways to plan for any travel journey. Happy road tripping!

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Uphill both Ways

Images of challenging hiking trails accompanied by beautiful scenery are most likely not the first thoughts that come to mind when envisioning city living, but Phoenix isn’t your typical city. Phoenix, Arizona, and her surrounding suburbs have done an amazing job with urban planning. There are parks everywhere … from small neighborhood playground type of parks to large picturesque, rural feeling parks complete with challenging hikes and even campgrounds.

Hiker on the trail at Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale AZ with wildflowers lining the trail

I’ve made it my mission to visit as many of these larger parks as possible. During each of our winter visits, I try and explore a new to me park. Although, I do have my favorites that I find myself returning to time and again making it difficult to check out the dozens of other amazing parks throughout the Phoenix valley. I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoy the Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park … a definite favorite, but I do have a couple more favs to share.

a red cardinal sitting on a cactus in Cave Creek, Arizona

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

I love hiking at Spur Cross Ranch so much so that I’ve introduced this park to a couple of blogging pals, as well as several local friends.

I never tire of the scenery. There’s something about the diverse eco-system found at this park that makes it incredibly special.

All the trails start off with the usual desert scenery, which in and of itself is stunning, but eventually, you’ll find yourself hiking among cottonwood trees and crossing streams, an unexpected surprise in such an arid desert climate.

There’s a wide range of trails to choose from making it perfect for every level of hiker. Our hike at Spur Cross with Liesbet and her husband turned into a longer hike than we originally intended, but with near perfect hiking weather, I believe we all enjoyed the three-hour six-mile hike.

We saw wildflowers, birds, folks riding horses, stood next to some of Arizona’s oldest living saguaros, crossed streams, and generally had a fun time.

two hikers among a forest of saguaros
Liesbet and me at Spur Cross Ranch

One word of caution about visiting Spur Cross Ranch …. flash flooding. Although the road to get to the trailhead is paved, the last couple of miles or so gets narrow and a little rough in spots. The biggest concern is during heavy rains, including rains from the night before. There’s a couple of low-lying places/washes that are known to flood making it impossible to cross the road until the water recedes. Normally those sections of road are bone dry.

flooding at Spur Cross Ranch, Cave Creek, AZEarlier in the year, I tried introducing a new neighbor at my RV park to Spur Cross Ranch, but our hike did not go as planned. Although we had no issue driving to the trailhead, we did have a problem on the trails.

The moment we started walking on the Dragonfly Trail, I could hear the rushing of water, a sound I hadn’t experienced before.

I knew the creek would be running fast but wasn’t prepared to see exactly how fast it was flowing. The nice little boardwalks that we normally use to cross the creek were washed away.

Hiking crossing a creek in Arizona
Blogging pal, Liesbet, having fun crossing the creek on the Dragonfly Trail. Look how gentle the creek looks here.
a flooded trail at Spur Cross Ranch, Cave Creek, AZ
There was no way Karen and I could continue the hike – trail flooded.
The water was flowing dangerous fast during my visit with Karen in mid-February.

One of Arizona's oldest living saguaro cactus

Unfortunately, my hike with Karen was short-lived due to trail flooding. I’m hoping Karen and I can try again next winter.

The upside to all this water results in a lush landscape. The saguaro cacti along the Metate Trail are said to be some of the oldest in the state of Arizona and have more arms growing than the usual saguaro. I’m guessing the healthy dossing of moisture they receive is due to their growth and longevity. Some of these cactus are supposedly over 200 years old.

Spur Cross Trail Map

Our three-hour hike with Liesbet and Mark started on the Dragonfly trail (DF). We then connected to the Spur Cross trail (SX) to the Metate Trail (MT) where we admired the huge saguaro cacti before returning to the parking lot. Great hike!

Pinnacle Peak Trail … uphill both ways

We’ve been visiting Phoenix, Arizona, regularly every since our son moved here nine years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that I discovered Pinnacle Peak Park. Sure, I’ve admired the peak off in the distance while driving the 101 freeway on the north side of Scottsdale but had not seen it up close until this past winter.

Pinnacle Peak trailhead in Scottsdale, AZ
The trailhead at Pinnacle Peak Park

The Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale, Arizona, offers an amazing out and back hike. However, the trail does connect to other parks if you wanted to extend your hike. Personally, the 3.5 mile out and back uphill both way hike is enough of a butt burner for moi. It usually takes me about 2 hours to complete depending on how frequently I stop to catch my breath or take a photo. The wildflowers have been absolutely stunning lately requiring extra stopping!

wildflowers along the Pinnacle Peak trail in Scottsdale, Arizona
The trail is lined with wildflowers – stunning!

Pinnacle Peak is a super popular trail and the parking lot usually fills by 9:00 a.m. and then hikers start parking along the road. The only time I couldn’t find an open spot to park in the parking lot was during my recent hike with my daughter. We arrived before 9:00 on a Friday morning to a full parking lot. What I failed to take into consideration was spring break … families and kids everywhere. Somehow the crowd had very little impact on us. Perhaps it’s because the trail is wide enough to easily pass one another.

trail marker in Scottsdale, AZ
We made it to the end of the trail.

Also, most of the families turned around at the summit which was a smart move. The most challenging part of the hike is on the backside of the peak where the last quarter mile is rated strenuous. I can definitely attest to that!

uphill both ways

Once we arrived at the end of the trail and it was time to turn around, we noticed exactly how steep the trail back up was and tried to focus on the pretty wildflowers instead of our huffing and puffing. Okay, my huffing and puffing. Daughter is in a lot better shape than I am. Let’s stop and look at the pretty wildflowers was my excuse for needing a rest.

desert wildflowers
Let’s stop and smell the wildflowers!

Pinnacle Peak is another beautiful trail in the Phoenix valley not to be missed. For those not wanting to hike the most difficult part of the trail, my recommendation would be to hike to the “Owl’s Rest” viewpoint then turn around. You’ll still experience a little of that uphill both ways scenario but nothing as strenuous as it gets beyond that point.

Pinnacle Peak Trail Map Scottsdale Arizona

My daughter waiting for me on the trail.

Do these images look like we’re in a city?

If we look through the images on this post, do we feel a sense that we’re in a large city … the fifth largest city in the United States? Boasting an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, a boatload of nature, and all the happenings available in a large city, it’s no wonder tourism is huge business around here.

Scottsdale wildflowers

Rural parks, award-winning chefs, and tons of shopping … yep, go for a strenuous hike in the morning, be a shopaholic in the afternoon, and go out for fine dining in the evening. What more could a gal ask for? Hmm, maybe I need to start checking out some of that fine dining … ya know, purely for blogging purposes 😉

Pinnacle Peak Park, Scottsdale, Arizona
Pinnacle Peak Park
This image was taken from the Pinnacle Peak Trail, Scottsdale, AZ –  photograph was taken after a rare snowstorm in February.

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Visit Phoenix and Step Back in Time

Are you an adventurous traveler?  Are you looking for a scenic memorable day trip near Phoenix, Arizona?  Well, I’ve got just the day excursion for you.  Al and I first drove this 80 mile scenic loop several years ago and it still ranks as one of our top favorite day trips in Arizona.Salt River AZ

Arizona History

On the far southeast side of the greater Phoenix valley lies Arizona’s oldest highway. This former stagecoach trail which runs through the Superstition Mountains was Lost Dutchmanoriginally used by the Apache Indians, thus aptly named The Apache Trail.

The Apache Trail is officially known as State Route 88 and links the town of Apache Junction with Theodore Roosevelt Lake.

The trail was developed into more of a road in the 1930’s to support the development of dam’s along the Salt River, creating some beautiful lakes in the process.

There’s oodles of interesting sights and beautiful views along the way which necessitate lots of stopping.  Photo-op anyone?  Thus, the Apache Trail Circle Loop requires an entire day.  It’s also not for the faint of heart, which I’ll explain in a minute.

Be sure and pack a lunch, snacks, and plenty of water because you’ll be exploring some desert backcountry during this scenic day trip drive. It helps if you have a high-clearance vehicle, but we saw plenty of regular cars on the dirt portion of the road from Tortilla Flat to Roosevelt Lake. That doesn’t mean I’m saying a basic car is a good fit for the terrain. It means, I saw regular cars navigating without apparent issue.

My recommendation; be sure it didn’t rain the day before, take your time, watch for bumps, and be prepared for washboard road conditions. When in doubt, check with a Tonto National Forest Ranger for further clarification and up to date road conditions. 
Apache Trail

We’ll start our journey from the town of Apache Junction, Arizona, and head north on State Road 88, aka The Apache Trail.  Our first stop is the Superstition Mountain Museum.Superstition Mountain Museum

A picturesque museum

The Superstition Mountain Museum collects, preserves, and displays the artifacts, history, and folklore of the Superstition Mountains.  Even though we knew we had a long day in front of us, this picturesque museum is worthy of a photo-op and stroll around the historic buildings. We made a note to tour the museum another day.

Exploring a Ghost Town

Just a short drive north of the Superstition Mountain museum is our next stop; the Goldfield Ghost Town.  Goldfield was once a happening gold mining town back in the 1890’s. It’s now a popular tourist attraction which is rooted in Arizona history. It’s a fun and interesting stop. They still actually mine gold here, but that’s blocked from public view.  Guess they don’t want to share them there gold, huh!

Goldfield Ghost Town offers free parking and free walking around, but there is a fee for each attraction.  You can click on this link for more information on those attractions. We don’t usually do the tourist type of thing, so I can’t vouch for any of the paid attractions.

Superstition Mountains

The quaint little shops at the Goldfield Ghost Town offer unique trinkets specific to the area along with the typical tourist stuff … T-shirts, shot glasses, coffee mugs, postcards, etc.  The grounds are loaded with original mining equipment, and it’s obvious, these are the original buildings and have stood for a very long time.  As a matter of fact, during our visit, a museum building was closed while construction workers were busy shoring up a second floor balcony.

Goldfield Apache Junction Arizona

As I strolled around Goldfield Ghost Town, I could envision the harsh realities of life over 100 years ago. These were hardy folks living in an unforgiving and harsh environment. However did they survive living in the desert without air conditioning? And no A/C in that covered wagon either 😱

I found it funny that the Bordello was located near the church. How convenient is that? Play hard …. pray even harder. Sow your wild oats on Saturday, and pray for crop failure on Sunday!

During this particular visit to the east side of the Phoenix area, we happened to be camped just up the road from the Goldfield Ghost Town at one of our favorite campgrounds; the Lost Dutchman State Park. For those unable to secure a campsite at the Lost Dutchman State Park, Goldfield Ghost Town does have a campground.  It’s a bit rustic, but at least it’s a place to park the RV in a pinch.

A favorite state park

Lost Dutchman State ParkSpeaking of Lost Dutchman State Park, this is one of our favorite places to camp while visiting the Phoenix valley.

The hiking trails are amazing and the campsites are comfortably spaced. And the views are absolutely stunning!

For those interested in visiting the Lost Dutchman State Park but not interested in camping, there is a day use area. For a small fee, you can enjoy the trails all day. The day use area offers plenty of shaded picnic tables, restrooms, and easy access to all the trails. Seriously, this is a “must see” place during any visit to Phoenix, Arizona, especially in March when the wildflowers are blooming.

A beautiful body of water in the desert

As we continue our scenic drive north of the state park, the road starts to climb, twist, and bend. I highly recommend driving this stretch of road without an RV for the first time due to potential length and height issues.

Shortly after passing the Lost Dutchman State Park we enter the Tonto National Forest.  The scenery becomes more rugged and stunning with each new mile.  March is particularly beautiful as the road is lined on both sides with yellow blooms from the brittlebush and desert marigolds.Canyon Lake AZ

Twenty miles north of the town of Apache Junction, we round a bend and are graced with the sight of an oasis in the desert.  Canyon Lake with it’s deep blue waters surrounded by rugged cliffs and rocky terrain is a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

Definitely worth a few photo-ops around here, wouldn’t you agree?  Canyon Lake itself is a great day excursion; perfect for a picnic, kayak adventure, or even a cruise aboard the Dolly Steamboat.

Canyon Lake, Phoenix, Arizona, kayaking in Phoenix
Canyon Lake, Arizona. Located on the far east side of the Phoenix valley.

Canyon Lake offers a marina for daily boat rentals; powerboat, kayak, and even SUP’s (stand up paddle board). There’s also a campground, but it is rather pricey for what you get, in my opinion anyway. The last time I checked, it was over $50 a night. With that said, the drive is also something to consider. It could be quite challenging for larger RV’s due to length and height. Considering we all travel with different types of RV equipment and have our own comfort level, I recommend checking it out first without the RV.Canyon Lake

A town with the population of 6

A few more miles up the road, past Canyon Lake, is the cute little town of Tortilla Flat – population 6.  This is the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat, especially if you forgot to pack a meal, like we did.  The restaurant serves up great burgers and has a fun décor.

(to enlarge photos in a gallery, simply click on any image)

The walls are covered with dollar bills stapled all over, as well as old mining tools and historical photos. The bar stools are saddles and the ladies restroom has entertaining painted stall doors. I think this is the one and only time that my daughter allowed me to photograph her in a restroom. I had to bribe her with ice cream. The little general store serves up some of the best ice cream around and the fudge was pretty good also.

The adventure begins

The Apache Trail, Phoenix, ArizonaWith tummies full, it’s time to brace ourselves for the truly adventurous part of the drive.  Just past the town of Tortilla Flat, the pavement ends.

Most rental car companies will not want you driving this road and it’s not recommended for any vehicle over 25 feet in length….  definitely no RV’s. Although, we did notice some guys pulling their boats 😮

The gravel road is wide and in pretty good condition up to the scenic view parking lot.  The vista and scenery is worth the dusty, bumpy gravel road to get to it. For those less adventurous, this would be the perfect place to turn around and retrace your journey home. In my experience, the gravel road from the town of Tortilla Flat up to the scenic overlook is usually in good condition for any vehicle to navigate, but beyond that point, it can get dicey and very interesting.

Tortilla Flat, Arizona, Century Plants
My daughter fascinated by the Century Plant located at the scenic overlook.

Al and I are used to driving unpaved mountain backcountry roads with steep cliff drop-offs with no safety barriers or guard rails.  In other words, this next stretch of road between the scenic overlook and Apache Lake is not for the faint of heart. (Tip: if you’re interested in visiting Apache Lake, but don’t want to drive over Fish Creek Hill, access from Roosevelt Lake. The road between Roosevelt Lake and Apache Lake is much easier to navigate and without the high drop-offs.)

Fish Creek Pass, the Apache Trail, a scenic drive near Phoenix
Fish Creek Pass is the most challenging stretch of the Apache Trail and not recommended for folks with a fear of heights. It’s a one lane gravel road, intended for two-way traffic with  drop-offs and no guard rails. Check out the portion of road on the far right side of the photo… a little ledge of road with no room for error.

As we continue past the scenic overlook the road narrows and winds.  This two-way traffic road narrows down to about a one to one and a half lane wide road. There isn’t enough room in most spots for two vehicles to pass each other. Those going down hill supposedly have the right of way and it’s not uncommon for someone needing to back up to a wider spot in the road so vehicles can pass by each other.

Fish Creek Pass, aka Fish Creek Hill, is the worst part of the journey with sheer drop offs,  a very narrow road, lots of turns, and a steep elevation change. Fish Creek is the most stressful and challenging part of the drive and not for the faint of heart. Once we navigate Fish Creek Hill, one lane bridges and washboard road conditions continue to add to our adventurous day.

Apache Lake

Apache Lake

Once we reach Apache Lake, another beautiful oasis in the desert, the road becomes a little easier to traverse.  Due to the washboard condition of the road and our extra long wheel base on the F-250, it was very slow going for us. This is when my Tacoma or a Jeep would be perfect, but my Tacoma was back in Colorado during this excursion. Even a Honda CRV would’ve been a better choice for this road than the long wheel base of our Ford truck.

Two and a half hours after leaving Tortilla Flat and 22 miles of gravel road later, we finally arrived at the Theodore Roosevelt Damn and Lake. We averaged about 10 miles per hour with lots of photo-op stopping along the way.

Roosevelt Lake, Phoenix, Arizona
Roosevelt Lake

We leisurely tour the campgrounds and the boondocking opportunities along the lake shore. We are pleasantly surprised and make notes.  We will definitely keep Roosevelt Lake as a possible place to camp in the future. It’s pretty. It’s remote. It’s inexpensive, and located within the Tonto National Forest.

I’m entertained by using the term “forest” around this barren looking land. You won’t find any of the usual trees that most folks would expect in a National Forest.This is still the desert and you’ll find a forest of saguaro cactus and their cousins in lieu of any oak or aspen trees.

spring wildflowers, poppies, Superstitions Mountains, Phoenix, Arizona
Spring wildflowers

This unusual forest may look barren at first glance, but upon closer inspection, you’ll discover an amazing ecosystem with the ability to survive and flourish in some of the harshest weather and terrain.

The beautiful scenery continues

poppiesThe fascinating and majestic scenery continues from Roosevelt Lake to the active mining towns of Miami and Superior and onto the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Oh, how I wanted to stop at the Arboretum, but by this point in our journey, we were tired, photo outed, and ready to just get home. Besides, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum would require its own day.

There are so many interesting sights along this scenic loop that we wanted to stop and explore further, but we realized we couldn’t see and do it all in one day.

We took notes for future day excursions, as well as future overnight RVing spots and promised ourselves to return again and again. I always look forward to spending time in the Phoenix valley. Whether one is looking for solitude or a host of activities, this part of Arizona seems to have it all, and it rarely disappoints.

I remain in awe by Arizona’s raw beauty and fascinated by the plants and animals that survive in this harsh land. What an adventurous day we had!

discover beautiful lake in the desert surrounded by rugged terrain, road twists and turns lined with yellow flowers, ghost town with old historical buildings

(affiliate links)

Picnic Bag Backpack
Amazing Places National Parks Game
 “Love Pie” Pie Irons

Cooking Up S’more Campfire Fun
Marshmallow Roasting Sticks – Telescoping
Stainless Steel Travel Tumbler with Lids

Wandering Wednesday – Water

With temperatures heating up and an abundance of sunshine gracing the skies, it’s time to hit the water. I love hanging around a picturesque lake or soft sandy ocean beach. I’m not the greatest swimmer, but I do enjoy and embrace all kinds of boating. You’ll even see me jump at the chance to float down a meandering river on an inner tube … throw in some tiny rapids, and the ten year old within me will emerge complete with giggles and screams.

Oh yeah, I never tire of the sight of a beautiful body of water!

reflection at the Grand Tetons Wyoming
Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Considering nearly 40% of the United States population live in coastal counties, counties directly on the shoreline, I’d say I’m not alone in my passion for water.

Jackson Lake Grand Tetons Wyoming
Jackson Lake – Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Photo inspiration

For this weeks photo inspiration … theme … challenge (whatever we want to call it) I’ve chosen WATER. Let’s share some favorite water images.

Lake Havasu Arizona sunset
sunset over Lake Havasu, Arizona
San Diego cruise ship pulling into port
San Diego – cruise ship pulling into port

From my archives

Digging through my archives I came across a couple of old photos that brought back fond memories ….

Boundary Waters Canoe Area northern Minnesota Canoe trip
Canoeing – Boundary Waters Canoe Area – northern Minnesota

We loved our canoe trips to northern Minnesota …. especially to Gunflint Lake which is located north of the town of Grand Marais and Lake Superior. I wish the quality of this photograph was better. If you look close, our 2 year old daughter is sitting between my legs while our 4 year old son sits in the center of the canoe. The white blob behind our son is our first Brittany Spaniel dog, Dallas … great dog who loved these adventures.

We started these camping / canoeing vacations to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area years before we had children. Once the children arrived, they added another element and joy to our adventures and never stopped us from embarking on these excursions.

open bow boat
I loved this little boat – so many fun times spent out on the water. Me driving while Bear sits behind me.
Horsetooth reservoir Fort Collins Colorado
I’m not sure who enjoyed the boat rides more – Bear or me!

Share and connect …

Feel free to join in – comment and share your “water” photos!

Upcoming prompts to keep in mind …

  • Next Wednesday – Flowers
  • the following Wednesday – Patriotic (think fireworks, picnic, flags, etc)
  • then – Food
Lake Powell
Lake Powell

(affiliate links)
 Inflatable Sport Kayak

Beach Chair with Storage Pouch and Towel Bar

When my Gut is Right

Ever get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that says life has been so good lately that something bad is bound to happen? Just how bad, I never know, but my gut is usually right.

April 2018 – We had a fabulous month hanging out at Lake Powell. As a matter of fact, it was one of our more enjoyable stays anywhere, which was totally unexpected. Although we’ve visited Page, Arizona, on several occasions in the past and always enjoyed our visits, we didn’t have any high expectations for this excursion.

sunrise at Lake Powell
the view from my RV – a beautiful sunrise over Lake Powell

Over the years, I’ve noticed when I am super excited about a certain trip, my expectations are rarely met. Yet, when I have low expectations, I’m usually pleasantly surprised and sometimes whelmed beyond my wildest dreams. And such was the case this past April.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t what I’d call a perfect trip, which we all know doesn’t exist, but it was still awesome. We’re still trying to rid ourselves of all the sand we accumulated during those sand storms while camping on a beach. Even a month and several vacuumings later, we’re still discovering sand in various nooks and crannies. Ah, but it was so worth it!

camping at Lake Powell
camping at Lake Powell

On the one hand, we were very sad to pack up and leave, but on the on the other hand, we were ready for a change of scenery as well as moving closer to our children.

It was the end of April and a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. After dumping our tanks, we were rolling down the two lane highway by 8:00 a.m. Al took the lead in the F-250 pulling the 5th wheel while I followed behind in the Toyota Tacoma.  With my Tom Petty CD playing, I settled into the drive while admiring the view. That contentment didn’t last long as I was startled by the sound of a loud boom followed by debris flying in the air.

highway 89 in northern Arizona
A beautiful day for travel – Heading south on Hwy 89 in northern Arizona

Only thirty minutes into our drive, a tire on the RV blew. (This post contains affiliate links). Fortunately, I was following far enough behind the RV that I wasn’t hit by any flying debris. I quickly radioed Al to inform him of the blown tire, which he seemed aware of but was glad for the confirmation.  We quickly found a safe spot to pull over and began to get to work.

Flat tire on a 5th Wheel RV
Al retrieves the spare and rolls it over to install

Sure we have roadside assistance, but it was a Sunday morning and who knew how long the wait might be for help to arrive. Plus Al and I were on some sort of roll. During the past month, we’d spent a fair amount of time exploring some remote back country on some rutted dirt/gravel roads. In so doing, the bed of the Tacoma was loaded with emergency provisions. In other words, we prepared ourselves for a flat tire, breaking down, or getting stuck in any number of ways. We do our best to be self-sufficient.

using a mobile air compressor after changing a flat tire on the RV
Spare tire installed. Al makes sure it has the proper inflation

This is the second time our Viair Portable Compressor has come in handy. We normally keep it stored in the belly of the RV, but because of all the off roading we had done during the previous few weeks in the Tacoma, the air compressor, hydraulic jack and lug wrench were all in my backseat and easily retrieved.

changing a flat tire on a RV
Al and his supervisor.

I’m not sure why we maintained our jovial spirits, but we did. Five years ago when we first started this journey, I would’ve been near tears and concerned when confronted with this mishap. Today? I view it as a mere inconvenience that had me recalculating the schedule of the day. And when you think about it, a flat tire is so much easier to deal with than engine trouble!

Highway 89 in northern Arizona
On the road again! Highway 89 in northern Arizona

Less than two hours later the spare was installed and we were on the road again heading south on highway 89 in northern Arizona. We had about a three hour drive in front of us, but we had planned to break up that drive by pulling over somewhere for lunch …. which was all prepared and waiting for us in the RV refrigerator. Traveling with your home in tow is the best and the only way I like to travel these days.

The rest of the day was uneventful and smooth sailing, thank goodness. When we pulled into our planned boondocking location near Cottonwood, Arizona, we snagged a nice slice of land to call home for a couple of nights.

Black and White photography of Verde River near Cottonwood Arizona
Verde River near Cottonwood, Arizona

Two days later, we hit the road again and an hour later we pulled into our summer ‘home’ (with the spare still on the RV). Fortunately, our one hour drive went without incidence.

Fairgrounds RV Park Prescott Valley Arizona
Our ‘home’ for the summer. I love watching cattle and antelope graze in the open field across the street. Prescott Valley, Arizona

I had concerns that I wasn’t going to like my RV site since the RV Park wouldn’t confirm which site they intended to assign us when I called a few days earlier to confirm our reservation. Turns out, they did assign us the site that I requested. This was one time I was glad my gut was wrong. I’m super pleased they were able to accommodate my request.

Yep, this’ll work nicely for the next few months while we tend to some maintenance on our equipment as well as some dental issues. Oh and did I mention my son (who lives in Phoenix) is getting married this August? The wedding planning is in full swing and I love being only an hour away so I can join in on any preparations or festivities. Should be a fun summer!

RV Fairgrounds Prescott Valley Arizona
Sunset seen from my RV site in Prescott Valley, Arizona

Products we used during the day of our travel. Note – affiliate links

Viair RV Portable Compressor Kit
Two-Way Radio
Hydraulic Jack
Lug Wrench

Toadstools and a Slot Canyon

When Al and I awoke to a beautiful and calm morning, we were quick to agree on an early morning hike …. early meaning out the door around 8:00 a.m. The previous two days kept us indoors due to high gusting winds. Ah, those pesky winds.

Toadstools

But while a sculptor may use tools like a chisel or rasp, Mother Nature sculpts with wind, water and time. Without all the annoying sandblasting wind, I wouldn’t have all this perplexing scenery to go gaga over. So I endure the bad along with the good, and plan our excursions around the weather.

An easy hike

With an eagerness to get out an explore, we hopped in the truck and traveled about twenty miles north of the Arizona – Utah border. This trailhead and hike will lead us toward what is known as the Toadstools.

This relatively easy and well-marked short trail starts out in a sandy wash.

Therefore, it’s probably not a good idea to hike this trail after a rainstorm. As it was, we encountered a few muddy patches and it hadn’t rained in days.

the trail is clearly marked

The trail is pretty nondescript until you crest a hill and are greeted with the first and most impressive toadstool.

These mushroom like shaped rocks had Al and me tilting our heads in wonder. Bewildered, we were duly entertained and found ourselves drifting from one interesting rock formation to another.

By starting the day early, we literally had the place to ourselves ….. that is, for at least fifteen minutes ….. it was ours, and ours alone, and we loved every minute.

We found the land very strange and a bit surreal.  We briefly felt like we were on some old movie set like Star Wars or Game of Thrones … perhaps, we even spotted ET!

Not having to share this landscape with other visitors allowed Al and I to have fun with the self-timer on the camera. Yeah, there were a few laughs and retakes as I didn’t always run and pose quick enough. It was me against the ten second timer and many times the timer one 😆

If you find yourself visiting Page, Arizona and looking for a fun way to spend an hour or two, consider visiting the Toadstools. It’s easy to get to. It’s an out and back hike and is less than 2 miles total. But be sure to linger amongst the toadstools and stroll in all directions before returning to the trail. You never know what else you might see!

A slot canyon hike with an obstacle

The weather was dictating our schedule and as much as we didn’t want to embark on a well known trail on a Saturday, we did exactly that (April 14, 2018). This time we were out the door by 7:30 a.m.  (Arizona time). After all, we had about a one hour drive in front of us to get to the Wire Pass trail located in southern Utah.

Wire Pass Trail Utah

Upon arriving at the trailhead, we found plenty of room to park. After grabbing our packs and paying the $6 per person trail fee, we were eagerly on our way. Once again our hike started off in a sandy wash which continued for about the first mile.

Eventually, the landscape started to get interesting as the red rocks began to surround us. We entered a small short slot, of sorts, before the rock walls opened again. I felt the canyon was teasing me, and giving me a little taste of what was to come.

Not long afterwards, the fun began.

Before deciding to hike Wire Pass canyon, I had done a fair amount of research about the trail. Al and I do not consider ourselves avid hikers. As such, I wanted to make sure we didn’t get ourselves into a situation beyond our abilities.

I read somewhere that there is one major obstacle in the slot …. an eight foot drop. Hmm, sliding down might be doable, but since this was an out and back hike, I had concerns about getting back up that 8 foot drop. Therefore, Al and I agreed ahead of time that we’d probably turn around at that point.

This is the major obstacle on the trail – 8′ drop

Guess I was wrong!

Before I knew it, Al had negotiated the drop. Of course, I’m always lagging behind with my camera as I snap away. Turns out, someone had placed some rocks and an old tree trunk at the base of the drop to aid in the navigation.

Al was encouraging and quick to help me on my scramble down. I have to admit, I was really glad he was game and wanted to hike further. I felt this obstacle shows up rather quick in the slot canyon. Actually way too soon in my opinion, and at the point, there was no way I wanted to turn around. I wanted …. needed to explore further!

Once over the drop, the canyon proceeded to get narrower and deeper. The lack of light made it difficult to photograph, but oh so fun to hike. The slot canyon was long and deep and we were glad we didn’t need to pass any other hikers. Eventually, the canyon opened up and we were at the intersection where the Wire Pass trail meets the Buckskin Gulch trail.

Wire Pass Trail ends at Buckskin Gulch trail.

Buckskin Gulch is considered the longest and deepest slot canyon in the U.S. Its towering walls make it difficult for the sun to reach the canyon floor and hikers can expect to encounter water and mud. We were here in mid April and according to hikers exiting the slot, water was waist-high in one direction and knee-high in the other, and the water was very very cold.

Buckskin Gulch
Buckskin Gulch Trail – I tried staying out of the mud

My curiosity got the better of me and I had to peek around the corner, but I didn’t get very far before I felt my shoes sink into the mud. I walked Buckskin Gulch in both directions before that mud had me retracing my steps back to the Wire Pass trail. We weren’t prepared or equipped to hike in water nor did I have the inclination.

With hubby antsy to keep moving, I quickly took some photographs of the Buckskin Gulch trail and then we started our return trek.

There was a time when I would prefer and seek out loop trails instead of out and back hikes, but I’ve discovered when hiking in the opposite direction, the scenery can look quite different on the exact same trail ….. and I found that to be very true on the Wire Pass trail.

The scenery in the canyon was spectacular and it looked as though we were hiking a completely different trail on our return. Ah, but this was the same trail, and therefore, we would need to climb up that eight foot drop. Would I have a problem, I wondered?

I decided to go first. I tried one foot there. Hmm, that didn’t work. How about this foot there? No, that wouldn’t work. At 5’4″ tall, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get a firm hold on anything that would allow me to get high enough so I could fling my body over that boulder.

“If I could just hoist myself higher, I’d be able to crawl over that boulder”. Nope! I couldn’t do it. The sandstone walls were slick and didn’t provide any leverage. I couldn’t get a firm grip on that boulder. I could feel a little panic build up inside me. I realized the only other way out of the canyon was hiking miles via the Buckskin Gulch trail that was filled with water 😥

Hopefully, Al’s 6’3″ frame would be tall enough to get us out of here. Fingers crossed!

At that point, we both put on our gloves to help grip the boulder better (yep, we came somewhat prepared). After Al struggled a bit, I lent my hand as another foot hold for him, and then up and over he went. Whew! Now that he was at the top, he helped pull me up and over.

This was the only area in the slot canyon where we ran into other hikers ….  they were coming down, and all appeared to be about half our age. Some navigated the drop like mountain goats, while others were more tentative like yours truly. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to watch anyone else climb back up this obstacle.

I think the trail is actually more interesting on the return

With a new-found spring in our step and a few pats on the back later, Al and I took our time hiking the rest of the way back to the truck. I found the scenery even more amazing on our return trek and I wanted to savor it.

The Wire Pass Canyon trail is a relatively easy hike with the exception of that one major obstacle. Al and I promised each other that we’d hike it again next time we’re in the area, but we’ll be sure to bring rope or some other aid in climbing back up that drop.

The Wire Pass trail is about 3.4 miles round trip. All in all, the hike took us about 2 1/2 hours, but that included lots of stops for photos and lingering on the Buckskin Gulch trail. My Fitbit registered 4.3 miles.

This was a leisurely stroll for us through a fascinating canyon. It was a beautiful day and a fantastic hike that we’d repeat in a heartbeat. BUT if  photography is your goal, I would recommend Waterholes Canyon. It’s much more photogenic yet equally fun to hike 😊

Additional tidbit – near the Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch intersection is an interesting arched alcove with a hanging garden. Along a nearby wall are some petroglyphs…. signs of an ancient civilization. We also noticed water weeping down the walls in the narrowest part of the slot.

Finding the trailhead – From Page, Arizona, take US 89 into Utah for about 34 miles before turning left on House Rock Valley Road (near mile marker 25). The turnoff is in the middle a 50 mph right-angle curve making it a little precarious with impatient traffic. The trailhead is 8.5 miles down this gravel road. From Page to the trailhead, the drive took us close to an hour.

(affiliate links) Next time we’ll be sure to take rope. Our gloves and hiking shoes were perfect for the hike.
Outdoor Climbing Rope       Outdoor Sports Gloves

Women’s Hiking Shoe

Merrell Men’s hiking shoe 

 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

After our back country excursion to Alstrom Point, I knew I had to explore more of these 4×4 dirt roads. The landscape is so perplexing and surreal that I couldn’t leave the area without delving deeper into Mother Nature’s handy work.

The land here is remote, harsh and unforgiving, and therefore I knew we shouldn’t explore without being prepared. Before embarking on our exploratory excursion into the back country, I made the short drive up to the nearby visitor center located just a few miles north of the Arizona – Utah border in the small town of Big Water, Utah.

Grosvenor Arch
Grosvenor Arch – Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Big Water Visitor Center

The visitor center is a worthwhile stop and the staff are a wealth of information regarding everything Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Don’t expect to get BLM info or any other information pertaining to the area outside of Grand Staircase-Escalante. This visitor center is all about the monument.

In the courtyard before entering the building, guests are greeted by a replicated dinosaur dig along with informative educational signs. Inside the visitor center is a large topographic map of the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, as well as a fascinating dinosaur display complete with pamphlets describing the exact dinosaurs that once roamed the area.

After receiving a map and having all my questions answered regarding the condition of Cottonwood Road, I felt more comfortable about embarking on our trek through the Grand Staircase-Escalante. It also helped that fellow blogger and friend, Sue, had driven this road just a couple of weeks earlier and was able to share additional information.

The drive begins …

The following day, Al and I loaded up the Toyota Tacoma with plenty of food, water and emergency equipment. We knew we’d be traveling through some very remote territory without cell phone connection and running into another vehicle wouldn’t be a common occurrence. Thus, we’d be on our own!

The start of our excursion

From our campsite along the Arizona – Utah border, we traveled northwest via Highway 89 for about 17 miles and then turned north onto Cottonwood Road. The land starts off stark and barren and the road is easily navigated with the exception of some washboard areas.

Paria River valley – here’s some of the washboard road which had our teeth rattling

Eventually, the scenery changes and we rolled into the Paria River valley. Cottonwood trees line the river’s edge and free-ranging cattle dot the landscape.

I found the speed limit signs and the ‘reduced speed’ sign humorous.

A few miles later as the road bends away from the Paria River, the landscape gets barren once again. The road gets rougher, narrower and we spot a sign … Reduced Speed Ahead. After reading that sign, the first thing out of my mouth was, “No sh*t, Sherlock!” Hmm, single lane road made for two-way traffic, a blind curve, and a rutted road … exactly how fast should I go?

Cockscomb range

As we rounded a bend, we were greeted with a perplexing range of hills called the cockscomb. Each mound seems to emulate the crest of a rooster. Therefore, we can see how this range got its name.

Cockscomb
Cockscomb range
Are we there yet?

The landscape seems to go on forever. At this point we’ve driven over twenty miles (from the time we turned off Highway 89 onto Cottonwood Road) and it has taken us somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours to travel that distance and although the land exhibits a raw beauty, I can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed with the scenery.

Finally wowed!

I’m not sure what kind of landscape I was expecting, but a few miles later when we crested a hill, my mouth dropped open. Wow!

cottonwood canyon
Cottonwood Canyon – now this is what I hoped for!

Okay! Now we’re talking drop dead gorgeous mind-boggling landscape. Of course this calls for a photo-op stop … don’tcha think!

In the above photo, at the bottom of the hill is a pull-off to the right for a trailhead called Cottonwood Wash Narrows. I could see portions of the canyon/slot from the road and was tempted to lace up the hiking shoes, but today was about the drive and I made a mental note for a future outing. Although, I think the hike would be better attempted when camping in Kodachrome State Park or any number of options near Highway 12. The drive to the trailhead would be easier and shorter from Highway 12 than driving up from Highway 89.

Crème de le crème

After lingering and savoring this unique sight, it was time to finish those last five miles to set my eyes on the real gem of our journey …. Grosvenor Arch!

It was a Sunday morning and I couldn’t believe our good fortune. We literally had the place to ourselves … that is, until it was time for us to return to the truck. I’ve wanted to see this famous arch ever since I first heard about it seven years ago.

When we visited Bryce Canyon in the past, I attempted to see the arch, but recent rains made the road to Grosvenor Arch impassable. This is another place you’ll want to check on road conditions at the Cannonville visitor center before embarking on the drive. From Kodachrome State Park to the arch is about a 17 mile drive on a gravel road with a small stream crossing.

A stunning state park

And speaking of Kodachrome State Park …. it was near noon by the time I was done photographing Grosvenor Arch and our bellies were growling. What better place to have lunch than at the state park!

I wish we could’ve stayed longer to explore Kodachrome State Park, but we knew we had a long and dusty drive back to camp and didn’t want the day to drag on too long. We enjoyed our lunch at the group picnic area and afterwards strolled the short nature loop taking in the magnificent scenery. This place needs to go on the list of must see places. It is stunningly beautiful!

Cottonwood Road

And then we were on the road again, traveling the return 47 miles back to highway 89. It was a loooong day, but a fantastic day. We encountered few other people traversing Cottonwood Road on a Sunday (April 15, 2018). Although much of the road can be driven with a 2 wheel drive car, there are portions where a higher clearance vehicle would be preferable.

Driving Cottonwood Road through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should not be attempted if rain is in the forecast or it has rained the previous days. The road does become impassable even with a 4×4 high clearance vehicle. And do note – a GPS should not be used to help navigate your travels within the monument. You WILL be lead astray.

We are but a minuscule blip in history

Later in the year, I’ll be celebrating a mile-stone birthday, even though I don’t have birthday’s anymore 🤗 It’s a number that has me questioning where has the time gone, but in comparison to this land, I’ve been on this earth but a small faction of time …. a minuscule blip in history.

As I peruse the literature on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, I read the monument has been quietly doing its thing for 50 million to 275 million years. Who’s the spring chicken now 🤣

This Delaware-sized piece of land is the last part of the lower 48 United States to be surveyed and cartographed. Fossil excavations have yielded more information about changing ecosystems and the end of the dinosaur era more than any other place in the world. This remote unspoiled land is a dream for many: geologists, paleontologists, archeologists, historians, biologists, and tourists like myself.

More than rocks …

Although they are an interesting photographic subject, dead trees are an important part of the desert ecosystem. These dead trees provide nesting habitat for insects, birds, reptiles and rodents. These Junipers also help prevent erosion by holding the soil in place.

dead trees

As trees decompose, they release vital nutrients and minerals back into the soil making it possible for new growth to occur. Mother Nature is a wonder!

Grosvenor Arch

If you’re looking for solitude and quiet recreation amongst an amazing landscape, you’ll find it here in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But come prepared – the land and weather are harsh and unforgiving, but the beauty is like none other.

The finest workers of stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time – Henry David Thoreau

(affiliate links) These essentials made us feel a little more secure exploring this remote land. Being self-sufficient while exploring the remote back country is vital considering you may not see another vehicle for hours and cell reception is rare. Note – a GPS is not to be trusted in Grand Staircase-Escalante

Viair 40047 Automatic Portable Compressor KitColeman Folding Shovel with Pick
Maxtrax
 Tow Strap
Utah Road & Recreation Atlas

Best Spot for Lunch near Page, AZ

After our amazing slot canyon hike just two days earlier, I wasn’t expecting any more epic adventures. Boy, was I wrong! Our back country 4×4 excursion to Alstrom Point was packed with plenty of adventure and spectacular scenery.

Alstrom Point

Best overlook on Lake Powell

Before arriving in Page, Arizona, I did a little Googling on best photographic spots near Lake Powell. Alstrom Point kept popping up and my interest was piqued. It’s known as the best scenic overlook on Lake Powell, and therefore, my camera demanded she be taken there. Needless to say, a drive out to Alstrom Point was put on my ‘must do‘ list during our time in northern Arizona.

Our friends, Faye and Dave, were still in the area, and after spending a couple of nights at the Wahweap Campground, they joined us out at the Lone Rock Beach area for a little dry camping. This would be Dave’s opportunity to try out his new portable solar paneland new generator. Yep, he and Faye were ready for a little boondocking.

camping with friends

Once they were comfortably parked, the four of us set about planning a few exploratory adventures. Since Alstrom Point was at the top of my list, the next day we packed a picnic lunch, cooler full of water and jumped in my Toyota Tacoma for a little back country exploring.

Lake Powell, Page, Arizona

The scenic two-lane highway from the town of Page, Arizona, to our turn off in Big Water, Utah, was about 15 miles. Once in the town of Big Water, we turned east …. opposite direction from the nice visitor center. It wasn’t long before the pavement ended and we crossed a small trickling stream and were greeted with the most perplexing and fascinating landscape.

Lots of stopping for photo-ops. Dave can be seen in the photo, giving scale to the landscape
four-wheel drive was not necessary on this fine weather day

About an hour and a half and a few turns later, this foursome were uttering wow’s at the most incredible jaw dropping scenery laid out before us. The truck was quickly parked, so we could all walk over to the edge and take in the stunning sight.

We weren’t quite to Alstrom Point just yet. So after a few photo-ops, we hopped back into the truck to continue the journey, but we didn’t get much further before needing to stop to assess the road condition. There was a section of road that we all agreed the Tacoma was unable to traverse safely. The length of her wheel base was just a little too long for the hill, rocks, and deep ruts, and going any further might result in the Tacoma turning into a teeter-totter.

Oh well, time to park the truck, strap on the hiking shoes, and get in a little walking. I don’t think we made it all the way to the official Alstrom Point, but none of us were complaining. The views were fantastic and Dave and I were giving our cameras a good working out.

The four of us were enjoying a near perfect weather day. The temperature was in the low 70’s with a slight breeze, and clear blue skies. But at 4,000 feet in elevation the sun was intense, but we were all well prepared. The day before, I got a little too much sun on the left side of my face and neck. Thus, the big hat and cover, but this was definitely T-shirt and shorts weather here in northern Arizona at the end of March.

Our little stroll along the canyon edge had us working up an appetite, and therefore, it was time to find the perfect spot for lunch. And I believe we found it!

lunch at Alstrom Point
The perfect spot for lunch near Page, Arizona (well, 90 minutes from Page, but who’s counting)

I think this has to be the best spot I’ve ever had lunch. We admired the beauty and enjoyed our sandwiches in near silence, which if you knew Al or Dave is a rarity 🤣 After letting our food settle and savoring the scenery, it was time to slowly head back to camp.

But not without a few more photo-ops ….. what a fun day!

Memories of a bucket list destination

I remember well the first time I heard about Lake Powell. It was the early 1980’s. I was a Flight Attendant for a regional airline based in Chicago, and a die-hard magazine reader at the time. One day, in-between flights, I was at one of the airport’s news stands scouring the racks of magazines when I picked up a copy of Outside Magazine.

Lake Powell

This was definitely a far cry from my usual choice of Vogue, Cosmopolitan or any number of fashion magazines that I was partial to reading, but the photograph on the cover captivated my attention. I had to learn more about where that photograph was taken. Hmm, Lake Powell???

I didn’t know how or when I’d have a chance to visit Lake Powell, after all, it seemed so remote and out-of-the-way from my home in the Chicago suburbs. At that point in my life, my vacation travels revolved mostly around cities with trips to Florida, the Caribbean, Hawaii and even Europe, but somewhere in the recesses of my mind, Lake Powell was stored as a must see travel destination.

Lake Powell

That magazine was stored in a dresser drawer for the longest time, but by the late 80’s Lake Powell was forgotten when my focus was juggling a job, children and a household …. until…. until 1993 when Michael Bolton filmed a music video there.

Lake PowellBack then I would use the television for background noise, and quite often, I would have the TV channel set to either MTV or VH1.

Okay folks, no judging here! Those were the days when these channels played music all day long and it was cool at the time and so was Michael Bolton. Therefore, that was my form of background music while doing household chores.

It didn’t matter what I was doing, when the video for “Said I loved you but I lied” came on, I sat down and watched and listened and dreamed. (You can view that video toward the end of this post)

The video renewed my interest in Lake Powell. At the time, we were living in Las Vegas, Nevada, and all of a sudden, Lake Powell didn’t seem so far away. The following April, we packed up our camping gear, two little kids, and dog and headed to the Wahweap Campground along the shores of Lake Powell near Page, Arizona, for a camping trip and the fulfillment of a dream.

Still being a bonifide flatlander at the time, I hadn’t wrapped my head around elevation and weather. In Illinois if you want colder weather, you head north. If you want warmer weather, you go south. Ah, not in the west! It’s all about elevation. You go up in elevation, it gets colder. You go down in elevation, it gets warmer. With that said, it may have been 90 degrees in Las Vegas in April, but not so hot yet in this part of Arizona.

So although I did get to set my eyes on Lake Powell near Page, Arizona, and it was amazing, it wasn’t the kind of trip or experience I had hoped for. The overnight temperatures were still a little too cold for tent camping, and the needs of small children and care of a dog, took priority over my scenic quest.

boating on Lake Powell

Fast forward

It was somewhere around 2006 or 2007. One child was off to college and another was staying at a friend’s house while Al and I loaded up the truck camper, hitched up the boat and headed for Lake Powell. Finally, I’d be able to delve into this fascinating landscape…. only twenty-five years after first hearing about this unique lake. Better late than never, huh!

We were living in Colorado at that time, and therefore the Bullfrog Marina would be the closest location for us to access Lake Powell. It is also in the fricken middle of no where, which made this former city slicker a little uncomfortable. My how times have changed, or rather, how I have changed. Back then, I found the harsh and barren landscape foreboding, and now I love it and embrace its unique beauty.

Unfortunately, that boating excursion out of Bullfrog didn’t meet my high expectations. Don’t get me wrong. It was still a great trip exploring Lake Powell, but the lake feels more river like than lake like around this section of Lake Powell. We loved exploring the various canyons via our boat, but those tall canyon walls had an interesting effect on the water that Al and I had never experienced before and made us feel a little uncomfortable.

houseboats on Lake Powell
lots of houseboats on Lake Powell

Think of sitting in a bathtub full of water and pushing your hands through the water making waves. The walls of the tub don’t allow the waves to disperse creating bigger and bigger waves the more you push the water. Hence, boating through the smaller canyons with a bunch of other boat traffic, boats much larger than our small 20 foot bow-rider, putting out a steady stream of wake, results in the water swishing back and forth between the canyon walls creating constant wave activity which was scary at times in our little boat. The thought of being capsized was not entertaining!

Antelope Point
Lake Powell near Antelope Point Marina

We learned to head out onto the water early in the morning before the boating traffic picked up and returned to the camper around lunch time. By then, the temps were already nearing the 100 degree F range, and we were ready for a little A/C.  After all, it was July. Another lesson learned …. it’s hot 🔥 at Lake Powell during the summer …. and crazy busy.

Although, I wasn’t wowed by that section of Lake Powell, it was still a worthwhile and memorable trip.

camping near the shores of Lake Powell

I’m finally wowed!

The boat was sold along with the wave runners and canoe. As of 2010, we were no longer proud owners of a watercraft 😔 So a few years later, what do we do? We head to Lake Powell with a RV and camp along her shores.

This has become one of my favorite stops while passing through northern Arizona and this recent visit finally left me wowed … seriously wowed! Although, I believe the scenery was more breathtaking when the water level was higher, this gal ain’t complaining. Yeah, water level is somewhere around 60 to 70 feet below the full level established back in 1980.

It’s been a great couple of weeks and I already look forward to returning. Hmm, but next time we may need to rent a boat! Anyone care to join us? 😀

Alstrom Point and Gunsight Butte can be seen from the Antelope Point Marina. To think, we were driving somewhere up on that mesa. Although, we didn’t make it all the way to the point, fun none the less!

Alstrom Point

Me in the back country overlooking Lake Powell with Gunsight Butte in the background. Somewhere off to the top far right is where Michael Bolton stood while filming that music video. Gunsight Butte can be seen in his video as well as he filmed in a slot canyon. (I could do without the corny flames in the video, but then again, it was the early ’90’s 😄 still a good song …. remember, no judging)

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have, if we only seek them with our eyes open – Jawaharlal Nehru

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Hiking a Slot Canyon with Friends

Last week, I took the best hike ever! First off, the hike involved a slot canyon, and second the experience was shared with friends. Yes sirree, it was an awesome morning filled with amazing scenery and lots of laughter.

Up until we started RVing full-time five years ago, I had never heard of a slot canyon. I had no clue what folks were talking about, but by reading blogs, I was introduced to Antelope Canyon. The photographs intrigued me to the point that I had to see and experience this magical sight for myself.

What is a slot canyon?

The first time I heard the term slot canyon, I remember asking myself, “What is a slot canyon?” I was totally clueless. So what exactly is it? A slot canyon is a narrow canyon formed by rock wearing away by water rushing through it. The split rock crevasses are polished by water and time and are a photograper’s delight. A slot canyon is much deeper than it is wide and many slots are formed in sandstone and limestone rock …. the perfect conditions here in northern Arizona and southern Utah.

Water Holes Canyon slot

The most popular and world-renowned slot canyon in the United States is Antelope Canyon which is located in northern Arizona near the town of Page. Folks come from around the world to see this unique and stunning red rock slot.

Since Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo Indian land, the only way to experience these canyons is via a paid tour. Tours are usually not my thing, but ever since I hiked my first slot canyon at Kasha-Katuwe, I was eager to hike one of these red rock wonders. I pondered the thought of a tour …. but then ….

Friends plan a hike together

Mona Liza on the left, Faye in the middle and me on the right

So let me set the stage for you ….. A couple of months ago, these three RV blogging pals began discussions on a potential rendezvous.  You see, Mona Liza and I met online via our blogs over five years ago. A couple of years later, I introduced Mona Liza to Faye, another friend I met via blogging.

friends made via bloggingOver the past few years, the three of us have crossed paths rather happenstance. I’ve bumped into these ladies separately in Texas, Arizona, Colorado and even Idaho.

The three of us have serendipitously  found ourselves camped in Texas and Arizona while Faye and Mona Liza have stumbled upon each other in Utah and Canada.

This past winter, Faye and I spent a month camped at the same RV park in Phoenix, Arizona, but it had been quite a while since either one of us had seen Mona Liza. Thus, a little planning was in order. Since Mona Liza (and her honey bunch, Steve) had a well planned RV travel itinerary scheduled with firm reservations, Faye and I did a little rearranging of our own schedules so the three of us could meet up.

After comparing notes, it was decided Page, Arizona, would be the best place for us to connect even though we’d have less than 48 hours to hang out together. With that said, we didn’t waste any time. During our first happy hour, we discussed potential hikes for the following day.

We all love hiking slot canyons and our first consideration was the Wire Pass Trail, but that would require at least an hours drive north into Utah and the group didn’t want to waste our short time together driving. Plus, Mona Liza and Steve would be heading out-of-town and traveling the next day anyway.

hiking near Page, Arizona
Our group – me center front, Mona Liza on the left, my hubby Al in the red, then Faye, Steve, and Dave

Unanimous decision

After a short discussion over drinks, we agreed on Water Holes Canyon for the hike of the day. Since this self-guided slot canyon trail is located on Navajo land, a permit is required. Obtaining the permits turned into a little laughable fiasco since much of the info we found online seemed to be outdated.

As of this writing, the only place to purchase a permit to hike Waterholes Canyon is at the  Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park Office located on Coppermine Road, 3 miles south of Page and next to the LeChee Chapter House. The cost is $12 per person and the office is closed on weekends.

Note: The state of Arizona does not participate in daylight savings time. We never change our clocks. BUT the Navajo Nation does. Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll want to verify and double check the time so you arrive at the appropriate time for any tours or stopping by a Navajo business. Nothing like keeping tourists on their toes!

the trail from the parking lot to the canyon

With permits in hand, we hit the trail around 9:00 a.m. (Arizona time). The trail is clearly marked with rocks leading from the tiny parking area down into the canyon. Once we navigated the steep descend into the canyon, we took a left heading east.

The trail also goes to the right, but once you pass under the highway bridge, you’ll need some serious Canyoneering skills…. as in ropes, ladders, strong upper body strength, rappelling, experience – I think you get the picture. So take my advice and go left, east of the highway.

Once you pass under the Hwy 89 bridge, the trail is for experienced hikers with canyoneering skills.

The trail starts out wide and sandy. Our group ooh’s and ah’s at the unique red sculpted sandstone. It was a beautiful morning with few other people on the trail …  just yet.

Eventually the canyon starts to narrow … hence the term slot canyon. More ooh’s and ah’s were heard!

As the trail narrowed, there were a few obstacles for those of us a tad more vertically challenged. But we all excelled in a our team building efforts.

The most challenging part of the entire hike for me was that first ladder because it wasn’t quite tall enough for my comfort level. Thank goodness I had help at the top. Mona Liza needed help being pulled up as well.  The two ladders strapped together made for a rickety setup and we all took caution climbing it.

Once past the ladder, the slot canyon continued to wow us with her beauty. With three out of the six of us carrying cameras, there was plenty of stopping. With all the stopping to admire the canyon and snap photos, there was no cardio workout for this group.

Dave and I compare camera settings

Photographing a slot canyon can be a challenge due to the light, but that’s also what makes it so interesting. I’ve heard great things about the Indian guides at Antelope Canyon instructing photographers on the best camera settings. Dave said he learned a  lot about his camera and the best settings from his guide when they hiked Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon a couple of years ago. Hmm, I may need to take one of those tours yet.

Depending on the time of day you visit, the colors of the rocks can vary greatly. So I highly recommend taking the time to admire the ever-changing light.

A word of caution …. Be sure to check the weather before embarking on any slot canyon hike. Remember how a slot is formed …. rushing water. You’ll want to avoid a flash flood, which can occur even if the rain is many miles away and upstream. This is not something to be taken lightly and even experienced hikers have lost their battle with a canyon flash flooding.

Once we reached the end of the trail (near the overhead power lines), it was time for us to turn around and view the canyon from a new direction. The hike is just as amazing on the return, but this is also when we starting running into crowds. Seems as the day progresses, it can get busy.

Time to climb back out of the canyon. We need to join Al up there!

The climb back out of the canyon is a bit steep and this was another area where I was glad I wore good hiking shoes for traction. In the above photo, the hike up is around that bend and up to where Al is standing. Seems I failed to photograph the trail back up 😏

But here’s one of Dave’s photos showing us hike down, and showcases the kind of rock we had to walk on. This could get real slick if wet. As it was, the rock is dusted with sand and gets a little slippery in spots.

slot canyonWaterholes Canyon is about a 3 mile (total) out and back hike. I loved it! It was so much fun …. partly due to the stunning scenery but a bigger part due to the wonderful camaraderie.

Yep, this was one great hike … a great hike with great friends. Doesn’t get much better!

I’m so glad we rearranged our travels so we could all connect for this fantastic hike. Unfortunately, as full-time RVers, it’ll be awhile before we bump into each other again. Seems we’re all heading in different directions this year.

Laughter and adventure near Lake Powell – Thanks for the memories!

slot canyons
Hiking a slot canyon with friends

Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment. – Grenville Kleiser

UPDATE – As of May 2018 access to the Waterholes Canyon trail has been changed. Supposedly permits are no longer being issued and a guide is required. The information regarding this trail is ever changing and confusing. Please do your homework for the latest information before embarking on this hike.

(affiliate links) Good hiking shoes are a must for this trail for sure-footed traction. Al and I love our Merrell’s…..

 

 

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