Spring Fever in Utah
Posted 01 March 2009 - 08:12 PM
"It's Spring Fever. That's what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't know quite what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"
- Mark Twain
"Spring is nature's way of saying, 'Let's Party!' "
- Robin Williams
April 25th -28th
On the tail end of the longest winter I can recall, I awoke from this virtual hibernation and I wanted out. A few local day trips in the area and the numerous trip planning threads on various forums weren't helping. I couldn't take one more snowy weekend sitting inside. With the urgency of an Ob-Gyn with a baby in the breech position, I declare to my ladyfriend, "We have to get out of here! We have to go to Utah and we have to go this weekend!"
She knows me and she has been to Utah with me. As if a spontaneous 4 day weekend trip to Utah were a rational request, she wholeheartedly agrees. We spend the next 48 hours prepping for a run down Hwy 191. I plan a rough itinerary of some favorite spots, email Ara about a possible meeting and check the weather. All systems are a go, so on Thursday evening, we fire up the truck & camper and begin our all night, 8 hour drive down to Moab.
Arriving in town Friday morning at sunrise, we have a hearty breakfast at a favorite eatin' joint. Then it's over to the City Market where we stock up on enough rice, peanut butter, Doritos and cookies for 4 days. Soon we're off to our first stop, Canyonlands National Park and the White Rim Trail. We arrive before I would normally even be in the office. This is going to be a good day.
Looking back up to the Shafer Trail and switchbacks -
I have been fortunate enough to do the 100 mile White Rim Trail on two prior occasions. So this time I opt to do only the Shafer Trail before joining other nearby trails. At the bottom of the Shafer switchbacks, we turn off and begin the Potash Road. Another scenic trail, less crowded than the White Rim. After descending the Potash Road we turn up Long Canyon, finishing the day nearly where we started near Dead Horse Point State Park.
With a view of the La Sal's to die for, we find at the top of Long Canyon, the ideal campsite. It's 5 pm and I've been awake and driving for 34 hours straight. I propose (she wishes...) a little nap before dinner. So we pop the top, throw out the bedrolls and I promptly begin snoring loud enough to scare away any critter in eastern Utah. I awake from my quick nap at 11pm.
Too late for sunset, too late for a campfire and too late for dinner. So I roll back over and quickly begin snoring and dreaming about the next day in Arches National Park.
Posted 01 March 2009 - 08:15 PM
The day begins early with my brain in a fog. From not enough sleep to almost 15 hours of straight sleep was more than my mind could sort out. Two cups of camp coffee and I come out of it, telling my brain the day is only going to get better. We pack up quickly and begin the short trek over to Arches NP.
On the way out of Long Canyon, two campers from a nearby site stop us and inquire about the length of time to drive out to the highway, down to Moab and back up Long Canyon. Apparently this couple had attempted Long Canyon in the dark in a car the night before. When they reached Pucker Pass, their car would go no more and they had hiked up to the top of the trail and pitched a tent. Now they were stuck.
I improved my travelling karma by sharing what I knew and giving them a spare map of the area. They had other friends nearby so they didn't need a ride. But without a map they had unknowingly driven up Long Canyon in a sedan. Not smart. Feeling good about myself and wishing them the best we took off again. Looking back at the guy and his girlfriend, all I could think was, "That poor guy is never going to hear the end of this...."
Skyline Arch -
A Saturday in any national park is not the best time to avoid the crowds but we took our chances. Once through the bottleneck of traffic at the entry station, we put on our tourist hats and took in the spectacular scenery. A brief hike to the Delicate Arch overlook yielded tremendous views, different than the standard fare. Moving on to the Sand Dune Arch, we found another geological wonder.
We narrowly avoided an international incident when a small group of German tourists came upon us as we were taking a goofy self portrait of ourselves in front of the arch. A man offered in his best broken English to take our picture for us but as I attempted to explain we like to take our own goofy self-portraits, I could see he thought I was either an ugly American or didn't understand his generous offer. Perhaps if I had offered him some Feurzangenbowle, we could have had shared a few laughs instead of a few confused looks. But hey, danke schoen anyway.
Willow Flats Trail -
I had planned on taking the dirt road out to Klondike Bluffs and the Eye of the Whale arch. However the gate was closed. A little disappointed, we turned back south to exit the park with the masses. A brief stop at Balancing Rock revealed the Willow Flats trail was open, so we quickly proceeded out of the park on the 7 mile two track headed west toward the highway and Moab.
But on that trail I saw something. Something that just wasn't right. Something I will forever associate with Arches NP unfortunately....
A couple of miles out on the Willow Flats trail, in the soft sandy two track we were bouncing along, enjoying the blue skies, warm temps and soft squeek of my dirty hood latch on every bump. We crested a small hill and maybe 100 yards in front of us pulled off slightly to the side of the road was a newer silver Jeep Grand Cherokee. Standing on the roof of the Jeep was a man. And he was.... well,.... he was butt nekkid. Southern writer/humorist Lewis Grizzard defines "naked" as having no clothes on. But according to Grizzard, "nekkid" is when you have no clothes on and you're up to something.
In addition to nekkid Jeep guy on the roof of his Grand Cherokee, is a guy standing on the ground, fully clothed, looking up at his nekkid companion. Taking pics? Drawing a nude portrait? Enjoying the view? Getting Brokeback? I have no idea. From our distance it was unclear what they were doing. I really don't want to know anyway. When they saw us, nekkid Jeep guy quickly jumped off the roof and hopped in the front seat. His companion, laughing, ran around the Jeep and jumped in the driver's seat.
I passed by them, desperate not to make eye contact and hoping they didn't try to wave us down. I thought about offering nekkid Jeep guy some sunscreen but I changed my mind. The remainder of our trip back into Moab was spent speculating about why some guy would be standing nekkid on top of his Jeep, in front of his friend in the middle of nowhere. We concocted some terrific reasons which had us both in tears laughing the rest of the drive back into town.
Must be a Jeep thing. I wouldn't understand -
Posted 01 March 2009 - 08:21 PM
Posted 01 March 2009 - 08:25 PM
After a morning in Arches and an afternoon in town, we left Moab headed south on Hwy 191. Our plan of sorts was to meet Ara that evening about 100 miles away in Bluff. We had spent more time in town than anticipated due to the unexpected classic car cruise. By the time we left at 5pm, I was wondering if we would make Valley of the Gods for sunset photos before catching up with Ara.
I overestimated the miles by just a few but we made it to the Mokee Dugway and down into Valley of the Gods at last light. It's on this leg, when I am attempting to chase the sinking sun, that I'm reminded how much I truly enjoy running this truck and camper combo. The truck offers such a steady and smooth ride on the long stretches of blacktop and hauls the camper around effortlessly on slow going trails. From Utah to California to Colorado, both truck & camper have handled it all. I love my 'new' Landcruiser, but this set up was made for trips like this.
I try to remember where I am when I visit Valley of the Gods. It's a special valley to the Native Americans. Although I am not Native American, I try to be extra respectful in places they consider sacred and magic. I mean, it can't hurt to have a little magic rub off on me, right? So I move at a slower pace, like a paranoid guest and I try to take extra moments here to let it all soak in. Valley of the Gods is not only someplace you want to see, it's a place you want to feel.
Cheesy? Maybe, but I'm on vacation.
Mokee Dugway -
So we take a leisurely drive through the valley when the sun finally calls it a day. Ara is somewhere on the other side of the 17 mile road. At this rate we'll be rolling up on him in the dark. And his dog Spirit, the Pit Bull. I pull over to let that thought percolate and to snap a few last pictures. Looking around the red sandstone pinnacles and buttes, I find myself right where I want to be.
It was looking at photos of places like this that got me through such a long Wyoming winter. I know Ara may be waiting, but he's been out here living it for weeks and I only have this moment. I make the selfish call to camp in Valley of the Gods and find Ara in the morning. I can only hope and assume that he'll understand.
Like a sign that it was meant to be, as soon as I suggest camping in VOG that night, she spots a beautful campsite under a giant red spire, looking down on the valley around us. When we make the short drive up to the campsite, we can see a small cluster of 5th wheels and RV's about a half mile down the trail from us. It's too far to even hear a generator, so we make ourselves at home and light a campfire. We spend the rest of the evening gazing around us and saying, "Wow, what a great spot" to each other.
The end of a unique day -
Posted 01 March 2009 - 08:29 PM
It's fair to say we had been having a wonderful trip so far. Aside from the all night drive and nekkid Jeep guy, we had taken in beautiful scenery, dusty trails, cool cars and some awesome campsites. With little more than the desire to go, we found ourselves having a trip we couldn't have planned any better if we tried. And somehow it was about to get even better.
I was eager to get up on that Sunday morning. Eager to see our campsite and surroundings at first light and to spend some time sipping coffee in the tranquil valley. While the water was heating up, I stepped outside to survey the area. Looking down the trail towards that group of RV's and 5th wheels, I spotted what had to be a hot air balloon blowing up. As if I had just spotted Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, I jump back into the camper frantically digging out my camera.
I begin hollering at Mia, still sleeping peacefully in her bag. "Get up! Get up! There's a hot air balloon down there!"
With more enthusiasm than I have ever seen, she rolls out of the bunk scrambling for her camera as well. Like two little kids at the circus, we look at each other in a state of disbelief as one after another giant balloon slowly inhales to life and slowly drifts off over the red buttes and sandstone spires that fill this valley. With little thought of composition, lighting or scale, we just start snapping off picture after picture as a dozen or more balloons fill the horizon.
Now I have had some amazing moments in travelling around the west over the years. I have seen freaky weather, kitschy tourist traps, historic battle sites, serene alpine lakes, moving rocks, grizzly bears and wolves, sunsets in Monterey and expedition rigs from around the world. But nothing I can recall gave me the feeling of elation and wonderment as watching those balloons seemingly pop up like bubbles from the red spires of Valley of the Gods. There are moments and then there are moments. This moment, was one of my finest and most memorable.
As the last balloon lifts off for it's silent ride over the area, the chase vehicles take off in hot pursuit, leaving a dusty stream over the trail. Nothing left for us to do but shake our heads in disbelief and sip coffee, amazed by our good fortune. What had seemed a selfish decision the night before now felt like the smartest move we'd made the whole trip.
Posted 01 March 2009 - 08:32 PM
It was going to be hard to beat waking up to an unexpected hot air balloon festival but we had planned some special places to visit that day. We allowed ourselves enough time that morning for some coffee and a brief walk before regretfully packing up to head out. Neither one of us said it outloud, but it was clear we had found a great spot and if we had stay there a couple of more days, well that would have been just fine.
Nice campsite -
The day started off with a tremendous amount of promise and it continued to get better. The winds had died down and the sky was clear blue. We took a few pictures of our campsite and a few goofy self-portraits. I make some notes in my journal and it's clear to me we're both stalling, not at all eager to leave.
I even offered to set up the Zodi shower for her but then I noticed the one mishap of our trip. At home I had filled a 2.5 gallon water jug just for showers. As I went to retrieve it, I found it nearly empty. A pinhole leak had allowed most of the water to escape and (fortunately) drain out of the icebox. So scratch the whole shower idea...
Nestled under a giant spire -
So we exited Valley of the Gods somewhat reluctantly. But I always say the same thing when I leave a place too quickly, "I'll be back." I have no doubts we'll be back again sometime. Hopefully with more time to linger and lurk about, respectfully.
Valley of the Gods -
Posted 01 March 2009 - 08:36 PM
Goosenecks State Park -
A few miles away from VOG, lies the remote Goosenecks State Park. The park offers unique views of the San Juan River by looking down into a 1,000 ft chasm and series of gooseneck turns. This amazing and rare geologic formation is known as an entrenched meander. The river meanders back and forth, flowing for more than five miles while progressing only one linear mile toward the Colorado River and Lake Powell.
Almost 2 years ago, I had the good fortune of staying in this park. I was on a three day weekend adventure with good friend Mark D. Stephens and his super cool wife Brooke. We home-based in the park while we visited many of the unique nearby areas in SE Utah. One of the funnier/not so funny stories of that weekend was the Stephens' losing their shower tent due to high winds and the high altitude. It flew the coop in a windstorm one afternoon while we were out shooting pics and we never could find it. And we looked and looked and looked...
It wouldn't have been hard to spot but it was nowhere to be found. I thought Mark was an incredibly good sport about it. Maybe he pouted on the way home, but he made the best of the situation while we were all there. It always makes for a good campfire tale if nothing else.
I want to show Mia the park and where my buddy Mark bid adieu to his Paha Que tepee tent. So we travel out onto the mesa where we all camped years before. Nothing had changed. We brought out our cameras and peered into the giant chasm for a bit. A few minutes later Mia asks, "What's that white thing down there? It looks like a tent or a tarp?" Knowing the story, she jokes, "Maybe that's Marks' tent."
That white thing down there -
My camera doesn't have enough lens to give me a decent view or photo so I grab my binoculars from the truck. And straight down below the campsite we shared before is a white tepee tent with a green roof, purple sleeve for grabbing the towel and a pale green bottom. I don't have a Paha Que shower tent but I know one when I see one. The binoculars don't lie.
I am dumbfounded. We walked up and down this area looking everywhere for it and never saw it. Has it been there the whole time? Did it blow away and come back? Did some other rube set up his top of the line shower tent on a cliff in a windstorm? I haven't a clue. And I have no way to retrieve it because I would have, if possible.
Long way down -
With a minimal amount of cell service and even less thought on my part, I called Mark from that very spot. I'm eager to tell him about our find and to get his reaction. Unfortunately I only get his voice mail as he is out in the Chiricahua Mtns of Arizona, relieving his cabin fever as well. It's probably not the kind of thing a guy wants to be reminded of anyway. Those tents aren't cheap and I know he's struggled to come up with a suitable replacement since.
So maybe I'll take the high road and not rub his face in it this time. Aww... who am I kidding? I can't do that and neither would Mark. But I'll save that jaw-jacking for our private conversations. The point is of this story is, yet another bit of Utah magic had shown itself on this morning. That and don't pitch your shower tent on a cliff overlooking the San Juan River.
Posted 01 March 2009 - 08:44 PM
"We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
- Anais Nin
Leaving Goosenecks State Park, we head a few miles over to the small village of Bluff (pop. 300-ish) near where Ara the travelling beemerchef, was camping. I wanted to top off the gas tank before heading towards his campsite so I stopped at a small station when we pulled into town.
As I hop out of the truck at the pump, I see across the parking lot a motorcycle and a familiar looking pooch riding in a sidecar. No doubts whether it was Ara or not. The bike and Spirit in particular are a dead giveaway. My first thought is to go over and say hi to Spirit until Ara comes out of the store. But then I think, this dog doesn't know me. I have been reading about him weekly over the past year or so via Ara's blog, but he doesn't know me and I don't know him, even though I may feel like I do.
And that's a prime example of how well Ara has conveyed his journey with Spirit and the power of his words and images. That I feel like I already know them already even though we have never met.
On numerous occasions I have been riveted and gripped by the tales of his travels. His entries range from his childlike enthusiasm and wonderment of a particular area, to days when the past is too raw to escape from. It's some of the most honest and genuine writing that I have read. His journey is as much about healing as it is discovery, both which fascinate me to no end. The Oasis of My Soul, is more than a good hook, it encapsulates to a 'T', what his journey is all about. It's not a trip report, it's a life report.
One heck of a security system -
Our meeting goes like this; I introduce myself at the store and apologize for not catching up the night before. I explain the circumstances and he is gracious and understanding. We visit briefly before heading out to his campsite for the afternoon. It's Sunday and luckily his schedule is wide open, even for straggling visitors.
His site is a quiet and serene setting under the shade of giant Cottonwood trees, backed by a red wall of petroglyphs as rafters and kayakers drift along nearby in San Juan river. We make proper introductions with Spirit, who is absolutely charming with his Doggles and his "Ho-hum, more visitors," attitude.
We spend the next few hours discussing a wide range of topics, touring his home the White Elephant, looking at photos, getting some sun and talking about the future. I find him to be charismatic, generous and smart. Before it was even time to go, I found myself wishing I had more time to visit with him under that tree. I was in the presence of an artist and a poet and I didn't want to leave.
Tale of the Tape -
But his time in Utah is indefinite. Mine was not. I was still hoping to see Monument Valley at sunset. Ara had outsmarted the winds the day before and gotten his shots in Monument Valley. He would not be headed that way today. With the sun in the late afternoon sky, we wrap up too soon what had been a special visit. Spirit, the sentimental one of the duo, lifted his head from his napping spot almost a full 6 inches to see us off. He may have winked too, I'm not sure.
Hopefully the winds will steer the White Elephant my way some day. I'm sure Ara's quest will lead him to the Cowboy State at some point. When that happens, we will be here, anxious to catch up on his travels, eager to share some time in the shade of a Cottonwood tree, and anticipating another memorable, insightful encounter.
You Be Well Ara & Spirit -
Posted 01 March 2009 - 08:49 PM
"Come experience the Old West of John Wayne, and tour the country once known only to outlaws, struggling pioneers and Native American people."
- some tourism brochure
To wrap up what had been an incredible day filled with hot air balloons, lost & found tents and wandering souls, we chose to visit iconic Monument Valley, which straddles the border of northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah of the Colorado Plateau. Like so much of this area, it's a unique eye-full that you should want to seek out and experience.
The area has a long history with the Navajo Indians and most recently Hollywood. Old timers will recognize the Mittens and the Merrick Butte from classic westerns starring John Wayne and John Ford. Young whippersnappers may remember the setting for a popular scene in "Forrest Gump", ( I'm pretty tired.... Think I'll go home now...). Whatever your big screen introduction to the area may have been, it pales in comparison to being there in person.
This my second visit to the valley and I'm determined to go into it with an open mind and new eyes. I was a little put off on my first visit by an exorbitant tour guide fee and the pull outs on the trail filled with local vendors selling jewelry, kokopelli figures and whatever else they had. It just seemed so commercial and touristy despite it's remote location and rich history.
This was the final stop on our long weekend trip and I'm determined that before I turn my rig back north, that I will see Monument Valley as it is, as it always has been, and not let the need of the locals to make a living cloud my judgement. The new hotel being built and the kokopelli's be damned. I'm going to experience the valley this time.
With the best of intentions and the timing of sunset just right, we begin the 17 mile drive through the valley. The trail is bumpy, rocky and uneven. It can be done by a car and many people do just that. I have to wonder how long it will take some enterprising Navajo to open a vendor stand there with a nice selection of P rated tires. It seems this time there are even more vendors than before. I must admit the offer to go by horseback was extremely tempting. That would be a whole new way to see the area.
We bounce along the desert floor, taking pics of the unnatural red cliffs and pinnacles, dodging mini-vans and open back trucks filled with tourists. There is no wind to speak of and the sun is inching closer and closer to the horizon. We rubberneck our way by the oddly and obviously named Three Sisters, Elephant Butte, Rain God Mesa, Camel Butte, Big Chair and Spearhead Mesa. Despite my issues with the commercialization of Monument Valley, in reality, the Navajo have done an amazing job preserving the area and the trail.
The best sunset vantage points are clogged with camera and tripod toting tourists, much like myself. I can't force a magic moment here. It's going to happen or it won't. All I can do is be here and wait to see what happens. We snap some photos and reflect on an incredible day of travel and a wonderful weekend together. The next day at this time, we'll hopefully be completing the 8 hour drive home. So we just stand still, beside each other on an overlook, grateful for the moment and grateful for each other.
As expected, the sun did set. The colors were incredible and the quiet and serenity of the moment were memorized. I can show you my pictures but they look like many others from the area. I can try to paint a picture with words about how I felt, turning the truck around, exiting the valley and heading home. But you can probably imagine that. I can tell you that it was an amazing long weekend in Utah, but I have gone on long enough and it has taken me as much time to write this "report" as I spent there.
Maybe I'll end it with a funny story how we raced back to Blanding, starving on a Sunday night, to beat the clock and we got the last order in that day at the local burger stand before they closed. I could tell you how while scarfing down a double with cheese, we met Jim and his wife Lorna, in a yellow FJ with an Adventure Trailer in tow, heading to Cruise Moab. They were really nice folks and I hope they enjoyed their Utah trip as much as we did.
But I think the best I can do and the most I can tell you is that Utah is there, waiting for you. It's nooks & crannies are filled with red valleys, giant spires, sandstone walls and mind-boggling vistas. There is no telling what one may see there as every visit, every trip is different. The opportunities to meet fellow travelers is almost limitless. The weather will embrace you one moment and kick you in the butt the next. It doesn't matter if you travel by car, a built up truck or SUV, RV motorhome, dual sport motorcycle or on a bicycle.
Let it inspire you. Take pictures. Meet people. Watch the sun set. Be respectful and create memories. Thanks for letting me share mine.
~ 30 ~
Posted 01 March 2009 - 09:34 PM
Just ten minutes before I read your trip report the wife and I were going over a Utah map and wondering about a good time (weatherwise) to be in SE Utah this spring. Late April seems to be an excellent choice. Thanks for the report.