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

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Lake Havasu City, Arizona

It was shortly after 6:00 in the morning as I sat in the comfort of my RV waiting for the sun to rise. While enjoying my first cup of coffee and contemplating my plans for the day, I admired the view out my large rear window and couldn’t believe my luck in snagging such a great campsite.

Lake Havasu
My view at six in the morning. I’m sitting on the Arizona side of the Colorado River glancing over to California.

I was camped at Lake Havasu State Park in western Arizona. It was the second week in January and although it was a mere 48 degrees Fahrenheit outside at six in the morning, I knew by noon the temperature would be closer to 70 degrees and sunny. Now this is my kind of winter … a gal could get used to this!

sunrise Lake Havasu
A little more light as I wait for the sun to rise.

Al was thoroughly entertained by my morning antics. Every ten minutes I was jumping out of the RV with the camera and tripod in hand trying to capture the amazing light. Unfortunately, some things just don’t resonate in print.

I loved the stillness and quiet of the morning and eventually began to stroll down the beach in search of photo-ops. I’ll admit, I was more focused on savoring the moment than I was on taking photographs.

Lake Havasu State Park Arizona
Lake Havasu State Park, Arizona – morning fog

As the sun began to rise, there was a low hanging mist in the distance. Since it was still relatively early in the morning, there were few other people out and about. It was just me and the birds and I was loving it.

birding at Lake Havasu State Park
An egret flies by while the coot in the foreground squawks. A variety of ducks are floating in the distance.

I managed to capture a photograph of the first ferry run of the morning. This ferry operates daily taking passengers from Lake Havasu City over to the Havasu Landing Casino run by the Chemehuevi Indian tribe. (pronounced; chem-a-wev-e)

Chemehuvei Ferry Lake Havasu
The Chemehuvei Ferry in the distance

During a previous Lake Havasu City visit, Al and I along with our friends hopped on the ferry one morning for the quick boat ride over to the California side of the lake. The cost is a mere $2.00 per person. However, the local newspaper always has a coupon for egreta free pass which we of course took full advantage.

Since none of us is into casino gambling, we opted to enjoy breakfast with a nice lakeside view at the Havasu Landing Casino followed by another fun ferry ride back to the Arizona side of the lake. Hmm, might have to do that again sometime.

After spending two wonderful hours strolling along the shores of Lake Havasu watching the morning unfold, I arrived back to the RV just in time for breakfast …. al fresco style.

With such a fabulous campsite and view, it would be wrong to not take advantage of that picnic table.

Lake Havasu State Park, Arizona
Lake Havasu State Park – site #10 – the lake is behind me

Unexpected Arizona …

Most folks would never associate water and boating with Arizona, and that’s just one reason visiting western Arizona is such an unexpected surprise … a very pleasant surprise. Thus, making it a popular tourist destination.

Lake Havasu Arizona
sparkling clear waters of Lake Havasu

The sparkling clear water is a recreational invitation. There are a wealth of hidden coves and beaches perfect for all kinds of water activities; fishing, water skiing, paddling, or even high-end power boat racing. You’ll see it all here.

Lake Havasu City
I so want to do this!!!
Lake Havasu boating
Boating on Lake Havasu is a popular pastime around western Arizona and my fav!

But there’s more available activities than those associated with water … although anything to do with the lake is my personal favorite. Lake Havasu City is host to a variety of festivals and championship competitions. For a complete and up to date list of events visit Go Lake Havasu.

And then there’s golf, off roading, hiking, gaming, birding, scuba, pickle ball, disc golf, skate park, and a weekly flea market. In addition there are a bunch of interesting sites to see. For starters, there’s the famous London Bridge and all the lighthouses. I’m still working my way around trying to photograph as many of the lighthouses as possible.

lighthouses of Lake Havasu

One unique event I stumbled upon was Buses by the Bridge. This quirky event united VW bus owners from around the world. What an eclectic group this was!

 

Popular tourist event …

The annual Winter Blast is the most popular event of the year bringing in thousands of visitors for the three-day weekend. It’s held each February over Presidents Day weekend. If you enjoy fireworks, then this is the show for you. Pyrotechnic vendors come from across the country to display their pyrotechnic products and skills and the spectators benefit from the fantastic show – four full days of amazing fireworks displays.

Rockabilly Reunion
Rockabilly Reunion – Car Show and Music Festival – Feb 16-18 (2018)

In conjunction with Winter Blast is the Rockabilly Reunion. This is a 1950’s themed music festival and car show. This is one hopping weekend in Lake Havasu City and reservations for any kind of lodging are a definite must.

There’s dispersed camping (aka boondocking) north and south of town, but you can expect to be elbow to elbow even in the desert during this weekend. The rodeo grounds also offers dry camping for this event but reservations are necessary.

During our first road trip with the fifth wheel RV back in 2012, we tried to find an available campsite in Lake Havasu City during Winter Blast. We were complete RVing newbies at the time. Fortunately for us, we found dry camping available at the Crazy Horse Campground during this very popular weekend. We sure learned a lot during that road trip.

Rotary Park Lake Havasu City Arizona
Rotary Park Lake Havasu City

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Lake Havasu City then and continue to enjoy each and every subsequent visit. Although I was feeling under the weather a good part of January, I’m doing much better now and hope to be out and about exploring more of western Arizona soon. My camera has sat idle way too long!

sunset Lake Havasu
Good night from Lake Havasu!

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Ok … I gotta share my newest kitchen gadget. Al loves popcorn, but we refuse to buy the microwave kind – read the ingredients. Microwave popcorn can always be found on those “don’t eat” lists for obvious reasons. Bad stuff! Anyway, making popcorn on the stove top can be kind of a pain … more so for me needing to dig out the oversized pot in my tight quarters. My friend introduced me to this nifty product (affiliate link) Cuisinart Microwave Popcorn Maker
It’s collapsible, hardly takes up any space, and makes great popcorn. The only downside is it doesn’t seem to pop all the kernels and doesn’t make a large amount. Hubby says, it makes only one serving. For most folks it’s probably enough for two.

First stop – Coral Pink Sand Dunes

I love road trips with my daughter. We always manage to find plenty of adventure, and trust me, this recent road trip was filled with lots of laughs, challenges, and new experiences for the both of us.Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

The last time Ashton and I took a road trip she was still in college living in Fort Collins, Colorado. That trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota has always held the fondest of memories for this mother and daughter duo.  We never imagined that we could possibly top that road trip.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Ashton taking a panorama

But oh boy, we topped it indeed.  What an adventure.  One for the books!

sand dune flowersIt all started when Ashton drove up from Phoenix to pick me up in Prescott Valley, Arizona, where Al and I are currently camped with the RV.

She had her new Honda CRV (lovingly named Charlotte) all loaded up with everything we needed for our camping trip.  She and I had been planning and preparing for this trip for the past several weeks, and just like her mom (me), Ashton is well-organized.

Wednesday – May 17th   After loading my personal belongings into Charlotte along with a few items into the cooler, we hit the road.  As the lunch hour neared, I received a text message from hubby thanking me for the yummy food left in the frig.  Say what?  I had a feeling all along that I was forgetting something. I managed to load the cooler with the freezer items, but totally forgot about the frig; the egg salad, lettuce, and turkey in the RV refrigerator were left behind.  At least Al was a happy camper with a full tummy.Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Having traveled this route in Arizona many a time, I knew exactly where we were going to stop for a picnic lunch, or so I thought …..   The plan was to stop at the famous Horseshoe Bend overlook for some photo-ops and a picnic, but as we neared the turn for the overlook, there was a line of cars and RV’s stretching down the highway waiting to enter the parking lot.  Egad …. no thanks!   And with the food targeted for our lunch left behind, it was time to come up with an alternative plan.

Lake Powell
Lake Powell – A scenic overlook north of Page, Arizona. Perfect stop for lunch.

We continued north on Highway 89 and stopped at the Walmart in the town of Page to pick up some lunch meat and groceries along with a couple of Subway sandwiches.  We then had that picnic lunch at the Lake Powell scenic overlook.  Not a bad plan B, but that weather was not looking good.Coral Pink Sand Dunes

We encountered a steady stream of rain and wind our entire drive from Page, Arizona to Kanab, Utah. It was still drizzling when we arrived at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  Much to my surprise, the campground was full, but they did have a primitive site for us which turned out to be perfect and gave us views and privacy.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Our primitive site F at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Our previous practice pitching the tent in daughter’s backyard paid off in spades.  We managed to battle the wind and rain like pros and had our shelter up in no time.

tent campingWe held off inflating our air mattresses and brought our camp chairs into the tent.

As the rain pelted the tent and the nylon fabric whipped to and fro by the winds, Ashton and I sat inside our shelter wrapped in a blanket watching the weather pass by.  We were warm, we were dry and we were on an adventure.

Eventually, there was a short reprieve in the weather and we wasted no time getting out to explore the sand dunes.  The poor weather actually served to our benefit.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

The Coral Pink Sand Dunes is an off-roader’s paradise.  With 1,200 acres of dunes to explore, the steady roar of engines from ATV’s and dune buggies is to be expected. However, with the poor weather, we practically had the sand dunes to ourselves. There were a few other hikers out and about, but absolutely no OHV’s (off-highway vehicles). We didn’t need to share this amazing scenery with anyone.  How cool was that!Coral Pink Sand Dunes

It was quiet, peaceful, and down right beautiful.  Ashton and I hiked, climbed, and explored the dunes.  There wasn’t a single four-wheeler out on the dunes, allowing us to wander about without concern. What a treat and a privilege to be able to experience this unique landscape in solitude.Coral Pink Sand Dunes

The shutter on our cameras clicked away as we admired the views. We were fascinated by the wildflowers and vegetation. The contrast of colors between the sweeping sand dunes and the mountain backdrop dotted with juniper pines captivated us.  We drank it all in before the second wave of weather began to assault us.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
The dunes were dotted with these lovely wildflowers

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Rain turned to sleet and eventually to snow.  The winds were relentless and the temperature continued to drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  For cripes’ sake, this was the middle of May!  For some reason, we found a great deal of humor in our situation and by 8:30 p.m. we were cocooned in our warm sleeping bags atop our four-inch thick inflated air mattresses and laughing.  Yes, we were roughing it. No glamping for these gals…. at least not this time!Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Just two weeks earlier as temperatures in Phoenix were hitting the triple digit range, daughter Ashton, a Colorado gal at heart, decided to take her ice/snow scraper out of her vehicle for the first time ever.  Having grown up in Colorado and traveling regularly to higher elevations, she’s used to encountering inclement, unexpected weather anytime of year. We found the timing of her ice scraper removal just another laughable moment.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
We woke up to an iced over car and ice topped tent …. brrrr – it was cold!

At some point during the night I woke up.  I was a little disoriented and not sure when we had fallen a sleep. Probably in between giggles and story telling while the tent swayed hither and yon.

And now it was calm and quiet.  No more wind or rain.  It had to be about one or two in the morning.  Not wanting to wake Ashton, I slowly unzipped the tent, and although I was shivering from the cold, I was awed beyond words the moment I exited the tent. The sky was incredibly clear and the stars shone brilliantly against the navy blue background.  For a split second I thought about waking Ashton and had it been even slightly warmer, I would have.  What a sight to behold and oh how I wanted to linger and drink in that breathtaking vision, but alas the warmth of the sleeping bag beckoned.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
The sand was frozen and felt like we were walking on pavement.

The next morning while we allowed the rising sun to melt the ice on Charlotte, we took another hike across the dunes.  The sand was frozen and reminded us of walking on frozen snow.  It was a very different experience from our hike the day before.

So how did we feel about tenting it in these conditions?  I won’t lie, once it started sleeting the thought of a hotel did cross our minds, but in the end, I’m so glad she and I are both stubborn.  Our experience at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes couldn’t have been any better (well, maybe a tad warmer).  Sure, we were cold, but the weather added another dimension to our overall experience, and fortunately, we maintained our sense of humor which definitely helped.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Frost and snow dotted the landscape that morning

 

And this was just our first stop.  Next up, Zion National Park ….


When Travel Gods Smile – Part 2

Let’s continue our easterly trek …… Our stay in Montrose, Colorado, was way too short, but luckily the summer rain held off long enough for me to get in a few hours exploring Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  This would be my third visit exploring this small National Park and I never tire of the view.  It’s like a mini Grand Canyon but instead of the various shades of red sand stone rock that’s common in the southwest, there’s an unusual blend of gray and black granite rock.Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

Moving on toward Gunnison, Colorado…..   Just off Highway 50 about an hours drive east of Montrose, the highway starts to meander along the Blue Mesa Reservoir.  This is the largest reservoir in the state of Colorado stretching approximately 20 miles long with about 96 miles of shoreline.

Elk Creek Campground, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado
Elk Creek Campground, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

It was near the end of July and temperatures were expected to be in the 80 degree Fahrenheit range, and with no large trees to provide shade, we wanted the ability to run our air conditioner.  Thus, we decided to scope out a campground with electric hook-up (our generator will not power the A/C).

We pulled into the Elk Creek Campground, the only national forest campground along the Blue Mesa Reservoir with electric hook-ups, and started searching the campsite posts for an available site.  By the way, there are several private RV parks on the north side of the highway that offer full hook-ups.  We wanted to be near the lake.

Elk Creek Campground - Blue Mesa Reservoir
Elk Creek Campground – Blue Mesa Reservoir – west of Gunnison, Colorado

The task of trying to read each campsite pole with the dates quickly became daunting so we drove up to the visitor center to ask if any sites were available.  The ranger didn’t squirrelthink so, but informed us the camp hosts pretty much handle the campgrounds and we should check with them.

Just as we were turning to leave the building, she told us about a couple who pulled out that morning for a family emergency.  It was highly unlikely they’d be back, and we should verify with the camp hosts to see if we could have their site.

Bingo!  We lucked out and scored another great campsite which allowed us to visit Crested Butte, one of my favorite Colorado mountain towns.

Oh, how I wanted to linger around this part of Colorado longer, but responsibilities beckoned along with a campground reservation that I had made just a few days earlier.  I figured our good luck in snagging great available campsites couldn’t possibly continue, and since we needed a place to park for two weeks, I managed to reserve the only electric site still available at Lake Pueblo State Park for our time frame.  Whew, I breathed a sigh of relief when I clicked ‘reserve now’, but I did wonder what might be wrong with the campsite.

Site 313 - Lake Pueblo State Park, Colorado
Site 313 – Lake Pueblo State Park, Colorado

Upon our arrival, we were pleasantly surprised with our view from site #313.  Although it was sloped up and down to the left, it wasn’t a problem for us seasoned RVer’s (I still snicker being referred to as “seasoned” – kind of like a good steak, hehe!). I must admit,  Al and I have become quite proficient at leveling up the 5th wheel.  I knew exactly where and how to stack our Camco 44505 Leveling Blocks – 10 pack and signal Al to back up and stop.  I guess after four years of full-time RVing, we should have this figured out, huh.

A familiar view - For ten years, this was the view from my rear deck. Our sticks and bricks home was located four miles from this campsite.
A familiar view – For ten years, this was the view from our rear deck. Our old sticks and bricks home is located four miles from this campsite.

This would be a working stay!  We had a bunch of things to attend to during our time in Pueblo West.  This was our old stomping grounds and it’s still where we have a bunch of things in storage including our construction/utility trailer.  But first on the agenda was my flight from Denver to Chicago.

Al’s sister had recently moved to Denver from Rockford, Illinois, and we were looking forward to seeing her new place.  So the day before my flight, we took the two-hour drive up to Denver and spent the night at her place.

flyingThe following morning, Al dropped me off at the airport and while I visited with family in Illinois, he enjoyed some time with his sister.

Once again, the travel Gods smiled upon me and my flights, weather and visit were perfect.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Back in August, Delta Airlines had a serious computer melt down which caused massive delays across the country.  I was booked back to Denver the day after the melt down.  I was a tad nervous!  Between possible security lines at O’Hare Airport and issues with Delta, I arrived at the airport three hours early.  It took me a total of ten minutes to get through security.  That’s got to be some sort of record for fast airport security.  I literally walked right up, no line, set my purse and bag down on the conveyer, shoes too of course, and through and out I went.  I remember thinking, “Wow, did that just happen?”

MFlighty flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul (yeah, I needed to connect through MSP) left on time and arrived early and the same with my flight from Minneapolis to Denver.  I felt so badly for all the folks around me who had spent the night at the airport and were still scrambling to get a flight home not to mention the gate agents having to deal with distraught passengers.  It was an unfortunate mess for a lot of people.

Ok, ok… if you’re anything like me, you might be wondering why I didn’t book a direct flight from Denver to Chicago and back?  Well,  I could’ve if I had flown another carrier.  My original airline reservation was from Idaho Falls, Idaho to Chicago, Illinois and Delta was my best choice connecting through Salt Lake City.  Thus, I booked on Delta, and apparently Delta Airlines does not fly direct from Denver to Chicago.   I had to connect in either Minneapolis/St. Paul or Detroit, thus MSP it was.

Let me just say, it was a crazy six months for us with lots of twists and turns. I’ll eventually get around to sharing all the highs and lows of our adventures, but do note, overall it was mostly fun and filled with a lot of unexpected delights.

One of my favorite adventures occurred in mid August when we bid farewell to Colorado and said hello to New Mexico.  In most situations, timing plays a key role in how we feel about a place.  And after a very hectic month, we needed to find a spot to relax and regroup.

Aaahhh! Just what I needed to regroup and rejuvenate the soul - a fabulous hike!
Aaahhh! Just what I needed to regroup and rejuvenate the soul – a fabulous hike!

Our two week stay at Lake Pueblo State Park was anything but relaxing.  I was out of town for six of those days.  Al played handyman for his sister during my absence.  When I returned we cleaned and prepared the utility trailer to be moved, rearranged/sorted through things in storage, worked on our RV air conditioner and all the while Al was dealing with an injured back (he had been dealing with the back issue all summer long since the work camping gig 😦 )  Yep, we needed to find a place to chill and relax.

Camping in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Camping in Santa Fe, New Mexico

And we found it in Santa Fe…….  The travel Gods continued to smile upon us…..

Hmm, what’s on your Christmas wish list?  Al likes this GPS while I’ve been eyeing this pressure cooker!

When Travel Gods Smile – Part 1

I had lunch with a friend last week, and she asked me, “How was your summer?”  Without hesitation, I enthusiastically responded, “I had the best summer”.  Initially I was surprised by my exuberant response, but as I continued to share our summer adventures, it became clear what made the summer so ideal for me.Grand Tetons

First off, I visited some places that have been on my must see list for a super long time, and second the travel Gods smiled upon us each stop along the way.  Quite frankly, our travels couldn’t have gone much better.  Sure, we were faced with some unexpected situations, but with cooler heads, solutions were easily achieved.

Bumble BeeI usually don’t like winging our travels during the most popular travel months of the year (July and August), but circumstances had us doing just that.

The upside – without the commitment of reservations, we were able to change direction and plans on a whim, which we did a lot.  We lucked out in so many ways. This post is about our travel route and the places we camped.  We snagged some fabulous campsites that helped make this summer one of our best since going full-time in the RV four years ago.  I’ll write up the things we did at each location in separate posts.

Jackson, Wyoming – From Ririe, Idaho, our easterly trek took us back to the stunning Grand TetonGrand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  Our first visit to this beautiful National Park was in the early part of the summer, and one visit was not enough… I hungered for more!

During our previous visit, we camped at the Gros Ventre Campground, and although it was very workable, I had concerns that we wouldn’t find an available site large enough for us during peak tourist season. I also wanted something with a view.

This was my home for 5 glorious days
This was our home for five glorious days. Photo taken the day we arrived. Two days later, the place was packed with fellow campers. One night we even had a tent pitched right behind our RV.

And oh my gosh, did we have a view.  After doing a little bit of research on Campendium.com, we decided to scope out the boondocking (free camping) sites in the area.  Normally, we like to explore back country gravel roads without the 5th Grand Tetonswheel in tow, but Al and I were in serious winging it mode and threw caution to the wind.

We arrived at the Teton National Forest on a Tuesday morning with no other campers in sight with the exception of one small domed tent.  Someone was doing a happy dance!

The gravel road was well maintained until we reached the designated camping area. We navigated slowly through some very deep rutted road before deciding on a little slice of land to call home.  Later that evening, we enjoyed watching the sunset as more campers arrived.Grand Teton

There continued to be a steady stream of new campers arriving well into the night. Most were tent camping or sleeping in their cars. We didn’t realize how lucky we were snagging that site or having the ample room to maneuver until we woke the next morning amongst a dozen new neighbors.

Many campers would move on the next morning while others stayed a few days, and by the time Friday night rolled around every square inch of available designated camping land was taken up either by tents or small RV’s. We even had a young man knock on our door and ask if he could pitch his tent right behind our RV. We didn’t mind and even enjoyed visiting with the him.  We were all there to savor the majestic landscape.

Each morning, I sat in bed drinking coffee while watching the sun rise. This was the view out of my bedroom window.
Each morning, I sat in a warm bed drinking coffee while watching the sun rise. This was the view out of my bedroom window.  Free camping at its finest. It was 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside in mid July!

Yep, we got lucky snagging that site when we did and were able to call it home for five glorious days (five day max stay is posted and enforced).  Had we shown up a day later, we would’ve had difficulty maneuvering and wouldn’t have found a spot big enough for us.  Our good fortune snagging great campsites continued throughout the rest of our travels.

During travel days, we occasionally stop at historical pull-outs. History abounds!
During travel days, we occasionally stop at historical pull-outs. History abounds!
Interesting historical site - note the animal bones bottom left.
Interesting historical site – note the animal bones bottom left. Life in the west can be rough.

Since we did have a time obligation requiring us to be in Denver in early August, we ended up two stepping across Wyoming and Colorado….  quick, quick, slow, slow or other times it was more like quick, slow, slow, quick 😉

We did a quick overnight at the Yampa River State Park in Colorado
We did a quick overnight at the Yampa River State Park in Colorado

Craig, Colorado – Reluctantly we bid farewell to the Grand Tetons, and embarked on a long seven hour travel day.  As much as we wanted to linger in Wyoming, that time commitment loomed.  We arrived at the Yampa River State Park in Colorado on a Sunday evening and had plenty of nice sites to choose from.

We originally wanted to Elkovernight at the Walmart in Craig, but there are signs all over posted ‘No overnight parking’.  Al even confirmed with a store manager.

This northwest part of Colorado is known for excellent Elk hunting.  We even passed a herd of Elk grazing near the side of the road.   Could be too many hunters were trying to set up camp at Walmart and thus they ended any RV overnighting. Fortunately, the Yampa River State Park had plenty of room for us.

Rifle, Colorado – The next day was a quick travel day to a Colorado State Park I’d been curious about for years.  As many times as we’ve traveled Interstate 70 through Colorado and stopped at the excellent rest area near the town of Rifle, we never took the time to visit Rifle Falls State Park.  Now was the perfect opportunity to check out this lovely state park.

Rifle State Park - Rifle Gap Campground
Rifle State Park – Rifle Gap Campground. We’re by the water on the left.

Of course, I wanted to camp as close to the falls as possible, but wasn’t sure if that was possible.  There are two campgrounds at the Rifle State Park.  We stopped Rifle Fallsat the main park office for the Rifle Gap Campground where I was able to ask all my questions.

Turns out the Rifle Falls Campground, located further up the road, was full. Had we gone there first, we might have found it somewhat challenging to turn around.  Although the sites do seem large enough to accommodate most RV’s, they do not have a convenient turn around road set up.

Also, the paved road to the campground is a little narrow in spots.  Therefore, it turned out to be more ideal for me to drive just the truck to see the waterfalls.Rifle Gap Campground

We were given a very nice pull-thru campsite near the water at the Rifle Gap Campground. The camp host gave us the option of driving against the one-way so our door could face the picnic table, but due to winds we opted to park with the door to the south.  The next day I drove to the waterfalls for a little hiking and photography.  Stay tuned for photos on that hike!

Our next stop would be Grand Junction, Colorado.  The James Robb State Park Fruita Section is a regular stopping point for us.  It’s the perfect location for me to visit with my brother as well as get in some fabulous hiking.  Without a reservation, we knew snagging a campsite at this popular state park over a weekend would be highly unlikely, but we figured a couple of weeknights shouldn’t be a problem….. wrong!

Our good fortune led to us spending five nights here.
Our good fortune – we were able to spend five nights here.

We were able to get a site for only one night.  Apparently there was a fundraising concert being held the following evening in the day use area, and thus the campground was all booked up, but the ranger did recommend stopping by the next morning to see if there were James Robb State Parkany cancellations.

That morning, we hooked up and were ready to roll, but before doing so I stopped in at the office, just in case.

While the gal was checking the reservation book, I made polite small talk.  And then I heard the preverbal, “Sorry, no cancellations”.   Just as I turned slowly to exit with my head hung in a dejected feel sorry for me stance, the gal said, “Wait one second”.  She then radioed one of the rangers, and I overheard her ask, “Did we decide to open the group campground to the general public because of the concert?”

Our awesome site backed up to the pond.
Our awesome site backed up to the pond.

As my ears perked up, I was told, “If you don’t mind not having a sewer connection, you can stay in the group campground through the weekend”.  YES!  We even got to pick out which site we wanted.  Sweet!  Turns out this was indeed a rare situation proving once again, lady luck was certainly on our side.  We not only had a great campsite at the James Robb State Park, we enjoyed a nice concert.

Montrose is a great place to camp to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Montrose is a great place to camp to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison

After a wonderful six night stay in Grand Junction, it was time for us to move on down the road to Montrose, Colorado.  This would be a quick two-night stay so we decided to give the Elks Lodge a try.  We snagged the last electric site available.  Maybe we should’ve bought a lottery ticket (we didn’t).  But our luck didn’t end here……

LEGO Creator 31052 Vacation Getaways Building Kit (792 Piece)

Beauty Abounds

Beauty comes in many forms.  Sometimes beauty is in your face obvious while other times it takes a little longer to seek out.  From my first scenic overlook sighting at Bryce Canyon National Park to each subsequent visit, wow was usually the first word I uttered.  The scenery was breathtaking, stunning, mesmerizing, and obviously beautiful.

beauty abounds when we open our eyes
beauty abounds when we open our eyes

After spending an incredible week exploring Bryce Canyon Country, it was time to move on.  Although I must admit, I could’ve easily spent another week staring at those mind-boggling hoodoos.Bryce Canyon

Willard Bay State Park, South Campground
Willard Bay State Park, South Campground

Our journey from Panguitch, Utah took us north through Salt Lake City, Utah.  We enjoyed a quick overnight stay at Willard Bay State Park camped near the shores of the Great Salt Lake.  We thought about spending a second night which would allow us to explore the main part of the state park, but the bugs were rather bad and the next day a severe storm was heading in our direction.

Note all the bugs in this photo. Traipsing through the tall grasses for photo-ops was probably not my smartest move. I left with more bug bites than photos :-(
Note all the spots in my photo in the sky, those are bugs. Traipsing through the tall grasses for photo-ops was probably not my smartest move. I left with more bug bites than photographs 😦

Thus, with high wind warnings in the forecast, we hightailed it out of there early the next morning before the 66 mile per hour gusts of wind arrived.  A little over three hours later, we were setting up camp at our summer home at the Mountain View RV Park in Arco, Idaho.  Al and I decided to give “Workamping” a whirl this summer which is how we ended up here.  Once I get a chance, I’ll do a separate post on life as a Workamper.

Craters of the Moon National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument

The biggest draw to this part of Idaho is Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  Since arriving in Arco, Idaho, I’ve had the opportunity to visit this park a few times.  During my first visit, Al and I gathered information at the visitor center and drove the scenic loop while stopping at a few points of interest.  Knowing we had the entire summer to explore Craters of the Moon NM, we focused on a general overview.

entrance to a Lava tube
entrance to a Lava tube

On our next visit, we embarked on a hike that took me out of my comfort zone.  I’m not usually a fan of enclosed spaces like caves or crowded elevators.  So, I didn’t exactly jump at the  thought of hiking a Lava tube tunnel, but I am on an adventure after all, and the last thing I was going to do was allow a little phobia to hinder my explorations.

inside Indian Tunnel - Lava tube cave
inside Indian Tunnel – Lava tube cave

On my third visit, I focused on the beauty found around this harsh landscape.  Just like at Bryce Canyon National Park, I uttered the word “wow” routinely, but more in a strange and curious tone as opposed to wow that’s beautiful.

Sometimes it takes looking at the smaller details to see the beauty.
Sometimes it takes looking at the smaller details to see the beauty.

When I first laid eyes on Craters of the Moon, the word beautiful was not at the forefront.   I think my thoughts were more along the lines of …. stark, harsh, unforgiving, barren, mean, bewildering, and maybe even ugly.  With each subsequent visit my opinion seemed to change …. intriguing, fascinating, perplexing, and yes, beautiful.Craters of the MoonIn my attempt to find the beauty, I visited the morning after a heavy rainstorm.  As I meandered along a trail, I could hear water trickling between the rocks.  Birds were chirping.  Chipmunks were running around foraging for food, and the wildflowers were springing to life.  There seemed to be a bevy of activity.Craters of the Moon

I found myself surrounded by a strange beauty, and couldn’t help but feel a level of respect for all things surviving in this severe landscape.

I found beauty in the strangest place.  I assure you, there will be more posts about Craters of the Moon.  Stay tuned….

finding beauty in the smaller things
finding beauty in the smaller things

Moon Idaho (Moon Handbooks)

It’s a rock thing

When we hit the road in the RV full-time almost three years ago, we weren’t sure what to expect or if we’d have any regrets.  Considering we sold the house and moved into the RV on a whim and all within ninety days of deciding to do so, one can’t help but wonder, “Whatever were we thinking?

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico
City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

But it’s those hidden gems, those unexpected discoveries that have Al and me wanting to keep those wheels on the RV rolling.  The first time we pulled into City of Rocks State Park, I was giddy with delight.  This time was no different.  There’s something surreal and unworldly about this place.  It’s all about the rocks… it’s a rock thing.

interesting shapes abound !!!
interesting shapes abound !!!

City of Rocks While hiking around City of Rocks State Park, voices swirled in my head, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”  I know, I’m dating myself, but I couldn’t help thinking what a fabulous location this would make for a Lost in Space episode.

It really did feel like I had stepped onto another planet.  Around every corner was another fascinating rock formation, another cluster of interesting shapes accompanied by a multitude of color and light.

I’m afraid I could wear out the use of the word unique around here.  How about dazzling, splendid, delightful, superb, appealing, awe-inspiring …… ?

campsites nestled amongst the rocks
campsites nestled amongst the rocks
We are in site #1, first RV on the right. It's the shortest electric site.
We are in site #1, first RV on the right. It’s the shortest electric site.

Since we didn’t have a reservation….. as a matter of fact, we made the decision to overnight at City of Rocks State Park while driving through Las Cruces, New Mexico, only an hour away.  Remember in my last post when I talked about flexibility?  When Al and I are transitioning between locations or reservations, we have a tendency to wing it and find ourselves changing our minds numerous times.  The original plan was to do a quick overnight at a RV Park in Deming, New Mexico, but how boring is that?

Visitor center at City of Rocks State Park
Visitor center at City of Rocks State Park

City of Rocks So at the last minute, we decided to go someplace fun and maybe stay a couple of days, considering we were running ahead of our loosely planned schedule anyway.

But we needed to ask ourselves, what if all the electric sites were taken?  After all, we were driving thirty miles out of our way – 60 miles round trip back to interstate 10 and the town of Deming, NM.  We always have a backup plan and sometimes a backup to the backup.  One of the backup plans was to pick out an awesome dry camping site  – and they are one-of-a-kind, unique, and awesome – but with freezing overnight temperatures predicted, dry camping was our last choice regardless of how distinct and amazing the dry campsites are.  I wanted to run that RV furnace to my heart’s content without worrying about the RV batteries or running the generator like crazy.

The electric loop is in a meadow setting while dry camping sites are dispersed amongst the rocks
The electric loop is in a meadow setting while dry camping sites are dispersed amongst the rocks
One of the dry camping sites. Works well for either tents or RV's
One of the dry camping sites. Works well for either tents or RV’s

We pulled into the loop that offers electric and water hook-ups around 1:00 in the afternoon and snagged the last electric site available.  Site #1 is rather short and required us to unhook the truck from the 5th wheel.  We didn’t mind and were thrilled we procured an electric site.  Although the intention was to stay a couple of nights, I paid for one just in case we changed our minds, a gals prerogative ya know!  And remember, state parks don’t give refunds.

a sweet spot to call home... for a bit, anyway.
a sweet spot to call home… for a bit, anyway.

I absolutely love City of Rocks State Park, and it’s these kinds of discoveries that have me living in the RV full-time with NO regrets.  However, this was February, aka winter, and with daytime temperatures barely reaching 50 degrees Fahrenheit and in the 20’s overnight, we decided to hook up and move on the next morning in search of warmer weather.  Hmm, have we turned into winter wimps?

love this place - my RV is front, left
love this place – my RV is front, left
unique dry camping site
unique dry camping site
a pull-thru dry site on the left.
a pull-thru dry site on the left.

The state of New Mexico never ceases to amaze me with all its splendid landscapes.  There’s so much untapped raw beauty to explore around here, but let’s keep that a secret between us.  After all, we don’t want to share this amazing solitude and gorgeous scenery with hoards of tourists.  So mums, the word 😉

Brought to you by the letter 'd'
Brought to you by the letter ‘d’

By the way…. White Sand Dunes National Park is another unique New Mexico site not to be missed.  However, for those looking for an experience a little less remote, Santa Fe and Taos are definitely worthy of a little exploration.City of Rocks

amazonClarks Women’s Mission Parker Chelsea Boot,Brown,9.5 M US

Stinky Feet and a Bust

Whew!!!  The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, keeping hubby and me on our toes.  I’ll share more about our shenanigans in an upcoming post.  For today, I’ll focus on getting caught up on our travels.

Bayard, NebraskaIn my last post, we were working our way south through western Nebraska; America’s Heartland.  Much to our surprise, we found the prairies in this part of the country incredibly enjoyable.

As we meandered down Highway 385, there was virtually no traffic.  We took in the scenery and although mostly agricultural, the land rolls with the occasional rock butte.free campingThere’s a beauty to the land AND the hard-working people who call this place home.  The area is rich in farming and rich in history.  The iconic Chimney Rock served as one of the most recognizable landmarks for the great western pioneer migration in the 1800’s.Chimney RockChimney Rock is now a National Historic Site.  This slender rock spire rises over 300 feet from a conical base and can be seen from nearly 30 miles away.Chimney RockPioneers used Chimney Rock as a landmark to guide them along the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail.  The trails ran along the north side of the rock following the Platte River and continued on to Scotts Bluff, another important landmark.

Scottsbluff
The Platte River with Scotts Bluff in the background 20 miles away

Chimney Rock

It’s no secret that I’m not the history buff in this family, but I’m fascinated by the tale of those gutsy Pioneers.   This was, after all Indian territory.  As a matter of fact, the Lakota Sioux referred to Chimney Rock as Elk Penis, a name I find much more entertaining.  Indians, rattlesnakes, and harsh weather were just the beginning of the difficult journey west for those enterprising pioneers.  The fortitude and determination it took to embark on such an ambitious venture is astounding.  Many made it to their destination, and many did not.

covered wagon
my horse and covered wagon parked at the Bayard City Park

So while the Pioneers of the 1800’s could park their horses and covered wagons anywhere they saw fit, hubby and I need to abide by rules and laws governing where we can park our modern-day horse and covered wagon.

free campingFree overnighting with electric AND water…..

We find ourselves frequently using the site  Campendium.com  for camping reference and quickly noted a place to camp for the night.   We find the Bayard town park easily.  It’s located across from a large grassy picnic area in a small gravel lot with electric and water pedestals for 3 RV’s.  What a great find and it’s located only 3 miles north of Elk Penis Chimney Rock.

As much as Al and I enjoyed our free campsite, later that evening we accused each other of having stinky feet…. that is, until a gust of wind brought the rather light stench to one of sheer on assault.  Ah yes, we were quickly reminded that we were indeed camped in cattle country.  The next day, it was time to take our clean feet and move on!

By the way…  there were a total of four bloggers all traveling through this part of Nebraska within days of each other.  For a different view on the same area, I’ve attached a link to the other bloggers.  First up was Pam and John followed by Mona Liza and Steve, then us (although we didn’t visit Scotts Bluff), and lastly Nina and Paul.  I find it interesting to read four very different and distinct blogging accounts on the same subject.Morman Trail

Corn HuskersWe continued our journey south through western Nebraska. We could not possibly pass through Sidney, Nebraska, without a quick stop at the original Cabela’s store.   I love success stories and this is certainly a tale of the American dream.

Dick Cabela turned $45 worth of fishing fly materials into the number one outdoor retailer.  You can read the entire story here.

We also appreciate the RV friendly facilities found at most Cabela locations.  The Sidney store offers a couple of dump stations along with plenty of free overnight parking PLUS a campground complete with full Sterling, Coloradohook-ups for a nominal fee.

On to Colorado……

We pulled into the North Sterling State Park in northeast Colorado.  It was midweek with no ranger in sight and plenty of open campsites.  We drove around looking for a nice site with a view and noting any reservation notices on the site posts.  We pulled into site #6 which required a little creative leveling but nothing we couldn’t handle.  A mere two hours later, the camp host came by and reluctantly said, “I’m sorry folks, but I’m going to ruin your day.  I need you to move to another site”.  Apparently, the ranger failed to post the reservation notices that morning and this site was already reserved for the evening.  We responded in a very understanding manner.

North Sterling State Park
Site #49 at North Sterling State Park, Colorado

With the camp hosts assistance, we found a site that was available for that night and into the up coming weekend.  Within 30 minutes we were all set up in our new spot – site #49, which turned out to be equally as nice as #6 with even more spacing between sites and more privacy.

North Sterling State Park
Who knew we’d find white pelicans and herons at this lake in northeast Colorado.

That evening the camp host dropped by bearing a gift of the most delicious full SLAB of BBQ ribs that he had slow cooked all day.  Yum!  A little visiting over drinks ensued.

Pawnee National Grasslands
Where am I? Pawnee Buttes are in the distance on the left.

Pawnee National GrasslandsThe next day I was off on my adventure; an excursion I had planned a few months earlier and one not of interest to hubby.

I wasn’t optimistic about by sojourn to the Pawnee National Grasslands, but I was curious since a blogger recommended I might enjoy it.  I drove, and I drove…. down this gravel road and that gravel road.  I encountered one 18 wheeler after another.  At one point, I was sandwiched between two.  The cloud of dust was blinding at times.

18 wheelers at work - fracking all over Pawnee National Grasslands
18 wheelers at work – fracking occurring all over Pawnee National Grasslands

Pawnee National Grassland

You see, this is serious fracking country.  Beneath the surface of the Pawnee National Grasslands are oil and gas reserves that are being extracted.  The land is dotted with production facilities and evaporation ponds (the waters used for fracking turn toxic after use and need to be dealt with).  Not exactly fitting of the scenic category.SterlingIt took me awhile to find the trailhead to the famous Pawnee Buttes, but after a little Pawnee National Grasslandsmeandering down various gravel roads I eventually found my destination.  I spent 15 minutes looking around and talking to the cows before hopping back in the truck.  No hiking for me.  My interest had totally waned.

I wanted so much to like this place.  I tried really hard to find the beauty, but after 4 hours of driving one gravel road after another and sharing the dust with semi-trucks, I turned tail and headed home.  I would categorize this visit as a bust (aka failure, flop, fizzle, dud).  Don’t get me wrong, there is a beauty to the land and I enjoy communing with cows, but the industrial aspect took away from the experience.

Picnic area and trailhead to Pawnee Buttes.
Picnic area and trailhead to Pawnee Buttes.  A wind farm can be seen in the distance.

Perhaps birders might find this place of interest as the Colorado State Bird the Lark Bunting was flying around in abundance, or perhaps the western region of Pawnee NG offers something more photogenic, but the area I explored held little interest to me personally.

facilities like this, dot the landscape
facilities like this, dot the landscape

When I returned to the RV, hubby and I looked up reviews for the Pawnee National Grasslands and discovered the majority of the reviews were negative.  I’m glad I went with an open mind and read these reviews AFTER my visit.  Even though it was a bust, I’m still glad I visited.  Not all places in Colorado can be labeled majestic.

Let’s move on to Denver……Sterling

Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband, Slate
SPRI ES501R Xertube Resistance Band (Red, Medium)

 

Crickets, Mooing & Stars

Highway 385 NebraskaWe hit the road bright and early the day after Labor Day (Sept. 8) waving good-bye to the Black Hills.  With South Dakota in the rear view mirror, we vowed to return another day.

The roads appeared to be rather quiet this Tuesday in early September.  Just the way we like it.  We allowed ourselves five days to travel 400 miles (643km).  Aaahhh, this is just the pace we like to travel.

Alliance, NebraskaWe didn’t have a reservation anywhere until the 13th, thus we were able to meander along highway 385 south into Nebraska foot loose and fancy free.  I did however have one quirky little stop that had been on my radar for the past two years.  Other than that, no items on the must see list.

Before we hit the road, we do like to have a general idea about where we plan on overnighting including a backup plan.  Al and I are all about “backups”.  The evening before our departure while hubby and I were relaxing and enjoying a couple of drink’s, we each had an atlas on our lap.  As we perused our route south, hubby noticed the little green marker on the map indicating a state park with camping.  Hmm, that was only twenty miles away from my must see target in Alliance, Nebraska.

Although I consider myself a planner, I do have my moments when I find it adventurous to wing it.  And the next few days of travel fell into the winging it category.

Nebraska State Park
camped near water at Box Butte

Box Butte Reservoir State Park was our stop for the evening.   While setting up camp near the shores of Box Butte Reservoir, the birds were chirping and the cackle of a Great Blue Heron was heard as he flew across the water.  Yes, we were off to a good start!

That evening the sky was wonderfully pitch black except for a crescent moon and stars.   We went to sleep to the sound of crickets and with the blinds left open.  It was so incredibly peaceful having this little slice of America’s heartland to ourselves.Falcon

The next morning we woke up to the glow of the rising sun and the sound of mooing cattle in the distance.  After a great rather a fantastic nights sleep, we both agreed this turned out to be such a wonderful and unexpected little find in western Nebraska.  Crickets, birds, water, mooing, and stars sums up our stay here perfectly.  And this is why we RV!

But what about that quirky must see stop, you ask?  I’m a little old school and maintain a three-ring binder which includes a calendar, info on our reservations, and travel ideas.  Oh, I have plenty of items bookmarked on my computer, but somehow I always forget to check the electronics (I did say old school, didn’t I).   That three-ring binder remains my favorite source of reminders.

Tucked in amongst some other Nebraska sights to see paperwork was information on Carhenge.  Turns out, the route I had chosen through Nebraska was taking us in the direction of this whimsical sight…… making it a must see.

Carhenge, Alliance

Since I figured I most likely would never visit the iconic Stonehenge in England, a site that has always fascinated me, I’d settle for the next best thing; a replica made from old cars.Alliance, Nebraska

Here’s what the Carhenge website has to say…..
  
   The artist of this unique car sculpture, Jim Reinders, experimented with unusual and interesting artistic creations throughout his life. While living in England, he had the opportunity to study the design and purpose of Stonehenge. His desire to copy Stonehenge in physical size and placement came to fruition in the summer of 1987 with the help of many family members.Stonehenge

    Thirty-nine automobiles were placed to assume the same proportions as Stonehenge with the circle measuring approximately 96 feet (29m) in diameter. Some autos are held upright Stonehengein pits five feet deep, trunk end down, while other cars are placed to form the arches and welded in place. All are covered with gray spray paint. The honor of depicting the heel stone goes to a 1962 Caddy.

    Carhenge was built as a memorial to Reinders’ father who once lived on the farm where Carhenge now stands. While relatives were gathered following the death of Reinders’ father in 1982, the discussion turned to a memorial and the idea of a Stonehenge replica was developed. The family agreed to gather in five years and build it. The clan, about 35 strong, gathered in June 1987 and went to work. According to Mr. Reinders, “It took a lot of work, sweat, and beers”.

Reinders donated the 10 acres of land where Carhenge is located to the Friends of Carhenge who have preserved it till 2013. On October 1, 2013, Friends of Carhenge gifted the site to the Citizens of Alliance. Stonehenge

While I was wandering the grounds with camera in hand, hubby stepped inside the Pitstop, aka gift shop, and started up a conversation with the gal manning the store.  I joined the conversation mid stream and talk about a small world.  We all lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the same time in the 1990’s, during the building boom, plus she was originally from Wisconsin; the same area where we visited just a few weeks earlier.

Carhenge

The conversation flowed freely and we discovered how she came to live in Alliance, Nebraska.  The short version:  Farmer from Nebraska goes to Las Vegas on vacation.  StonehengeFarmer meets cocktail waitress in Las Vegas.  A romance ensues followed by a marriage.  Cocktail waitress moves onto a farm in Nebraska and now works for the town of Alliance happily married to said farmer and loving life.

We’re always interested in the paths people choose and hearing those entertaining life stories.  It was a delight visiting with her.

Along with the mimicking Stonehenge, over the years other sculptures by various artists have been added to the grounds.

Carhenge
Toward the right; Fourd Seasons sculpture (Fourd seems to be a combo of the words four and Ford). On the left; guests are encouraged to leave a message on the white car.

CarhengeWhile most folks stop by Carhenge and spend about ten minutes strolling around, we found ourselves hanging around this novel site well over an hour.   Between the unique quirkiness of it and the engaging conversation inside the Pitstop, this was an amusing and worthwhile stop.Carhenge

Next up; more compelling sights in Nebraska 😉Carhenge

Technology is wonderful, but I still like having a backup in the form of a hard copy. So we keep a library of maps handy along with a daytimer that helps keep our travels organized. We don’t always have internet connection and occasionally my phone battery dies (when I least expect). Having a backup has saved our rears more than once.

DayTimer Essentials Monthly Planner 2016, 8.5 x 11 Inches Page Size (452221601)

 

Wildlife is the Best

Custer State ParkWe thought a week in the Black Hills would be enough time to see all the sights that were of interest to us, and although we touched on the ones at the top of our list, we could have easily spent another week exploring.

Al and I were both curious about the towns located at the northern end of the Black Hills:  Deadwood, Sturgis, and Spearfish.  As we embarked on a scenic drive, our first stop was a quick drive through Sturgis; famed for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  Not our thing, but we were curious.  I’m sure this place can get really crazy during the cycle rally.  During our excursion, it appeared to be just another small town with a twist; businesses geared toward motorcycles.

Bear Butte State Park
Bear Mountain is sacred to many American Indian tribes who come here to hold religious practices

While in the area, we checked out Bear Butte State Park and its sacred mountain.

It was then on to Spearfish where we took the Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway.  Twisting and turning through towering limestone cliffs, along mountain streams and waterfalls, the drive was reminiscent of Boulder Canyon in Colorado and very pretty.  We didn’t stop much for photos as our bellies were growling which kept us focused on moving along.

Deadwood, South Dakota
Main Street, Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood, South Dakota

We arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota, just in time for lunch.  Al and I were really curious about Deadwood and this was the focus of today’s drive.  We’ve watched the complete series of the HBO production Deadwood ….. a couple of times, which was the catalyst that piqued our interest in laying eyes on this historic town.   The series tried to stay true to history with a little Hollywood thrown in for amusement.

We ate lunch at Diamond Lil’s located inside the Midnight Star Casino and owned by Kevin Costner.

Diamond Lil's
The place is adorned with costumes from Kevin Costner films. Even Whitney Houston’s costume from “Body Guard” was hanging in the place. The wall décor provided a level of entertainment.

The food at Diamond Lil’s was average, but the walls decorated with movie costumes made it interesting.  Gaming in little casinos, average food, tourist attractions playing off of the Wild Bill Hickok days, and plenty of cigarette smoke sums up my take on Deadwood.  I can check Deadwood off my list with no need to revisit!

Pactola Reservoir
Pactola Lake, west of Rapid City, South Dakota

Beautiful lakes in the Black Hills

On our way back to Rapid City, we stopped by Pactola Reservoir and fell in love with this picturesque lake.  It reminded us of the many lakes we enjoyed paddling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota; surrounded by granite rock and pine trees….. pristine and beautiful.

The next day found us returning to Custer State Park and meandering along some of the scenic byways around this part of the Black Hills…. again!

mountain goats
mountain goats along the side of the road
mountain goats
Which one do you want?

mountain goats

Is there anything better than coming across wildlife when you least expect it?  How cute are these mountain goats?  Wildlife is the best!

mountain goats
“I know, I’m cute, but you can’t take me home”!

I could’ve sat there watching these agile hikers for hours, but lunch was calling. (Lunch is our fave)  We’d heard Custer, South Dakota restaurantsfrom a couple of bloggers that the Black Hills Burger & Bun was the place to have lunch in the town of Custer, and boy, it did NOT disappoint.

The food was delicious and we wanted to go back on another day before we left town, but they closed for a few days for some much-needed time off.  They grind their own meat daily and everything was very fresh.  Al had the bison burger while I enjoyed Angus.  Seriously, for anyone looking for a great meal while visiting the Black Hills, this is the place to go.  FYI – it is a busy place, for obvious reasons.

scenic byways
The scenic byways are a main attraction in the Black Hills

Sylvan LakeOur last day in the Black Hills had me longing to go back to Sylvan Lake just one more time.  We met fellow blogger, Lenore, and her beautiful Golden Retriever, Honey, for a stroll around the lake and a picnic lunch.  We had a lovely visit and the weather was perfect.

Our time in South Dakota’s Black Hills went by way too fast.  I know we’ll need to return for further explorations.

Sylvan Lake
above the damn at Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake
Al and I at Sylvan Lake

Visit Mt. Rushmore

George Washington

A few of the things that Al and I didn’t get around to doing that my daughter and I did do……

No trip to the Black Hills would be complete without a visit to Mount Rushmore.  After all, it is the American thing to do, isn’t it? 😉

Be sure and stroll this memorial leisurely and take in some of the displays sharing the model and the history of this spectacular sculpture.

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore
Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse Memorial in the distance
Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse is another monument not to be missed.  Once complete, this sculpture will be the largest mountain carving in the world.

A hike to remember

Daughter - Harney Peak hike
Daughter – Harney Peak hike

Black Hills hiking

And then there’s the fabulous hiking in the area.  When Ashton and I visited, my hiking abilities at the time consisted of the necessary walking required in a super Wal-Mart or Mall.  I was twenty pounds heavier than I am now and called a workaholic by my children.  The thought of hiking a seven-mile round trip trail with something like a 1,000 foot plus elevation gain was beyond my thoughts….. AND abilities.

Ashton and I started our Harney Peak (now known as Black Elk Peak) hike via the less popular trailhead off Needles Highway and quickly took a wrong turn which lead to us enjoying the view of the Cathedral Spires before retracing our steps and taking the correct turn.  This, of course, added a little distance and a few chuckles to the day.

Black Hills hiking

The hike took us about 4 hours, which included some hanging around time at the top.  Upon our return to the trailhead, I was exhausted but felt incredibly alive.  I hadn’t felt that way in years and I credit this hike with sparking the hiking bug within me.  Even though I was so sore and moaned with each step taken the following day, I looked forward to embarking on my next hike.

Black Hills, South Dakota

So that about wraps up our time in the Black Hills.  Next up, we move down into Nebraska.

Longhorn