Fall 2012–Canyonlands

5-6 October

A Whole New Look

Now that I’ve FINALLY solved the big-pdf-file problem, and retained formatting, I’m going to go to this landscape-style format for a try. It seems to fit the screen of a computer better, and for anyone who is printing this out (???), well, it’s easy enough to turn the page sideways.

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The other thing that works well, photo-journalistically-speaking, is having blocks of text next to in-line photographs. Here’s a shot of the Gimp hobbling over to a viewpoint yesterday. Got an ace-bandage inside the hiking boot and a sandal on the good foot. Very svelte I think…

Yesterday, we spent a lot of time exploring for camp sites around the area, and found somewhat disappointing results. For reasons not clear, many of the BLM dispersed sites formerly in use (and mapped very nicely in our Benchmark Utah book) are placarded No Camping. This leaves only the Park (12 sites, first-come first-served, usually full by noon), the state park (20 sites), and where we ended up, Horse Thief BLM camp (56 sites).

As it turns out, there are always some sites left, even late in the evening, here at Horse Thief – but it’s not the kind of wide-open freedom that we’ve experienced elsewhere in the state. Fact is, Moab is incredibly popular and well-inundated with visitors. I’m guessing that the closed-off areas were just getting too chewed up by un-supervised campers. We will spend another couple of days here, seeing the sights, but will then move on to (hopefully) less populated zones.

Our Rolling Hotel

Many of you may not be too familiar with RV life, so I’ll spend a few minutes to give you a peek into what it’s like to literally live on the road for weeks on end. Many non-RV-ers I’ve spoken to just simply cannot imagine how we can stand so “uncomfortable” an existence.

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Let’s start at Howie’s front end. This is our cockpit, and one of the selling features that convinced us we wanted a “class A” style of vehicle (big-box, bus-style front end) as opposed to a “class B/C” style (van-style front cab, box attached on rear). As you can see, the view from the front seats is commanding, with sweeping vertical and horizontal angles that have the world going by like an IMAX movie screen. We often get the chance, as in this shot, to camp/park with a grand view right out the front windows.

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Next to the rear is our dinette area, where we do everything from eating to reading to computer work and so forth. Most of the time we eat and read here, but sometimes when we get a grand front-window view, we scoot up into the driver/passenger chairs and gaze out the front for a while.

The dinette has a nice side-view window, and there are a couple of more windows on the opposite side, so we always can see around us for scenics or what’s going on in camp.

We stash our backpacks under the table for an easy grab to go walking/hiking; our hiking staffs and trekking poles are held in clips by the doorway.

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The kitchen is opposite the dinette, and the 6 cubic-foot refrigerator/freezer is to the rear of the dinette. This makes for a compact and convenient floor plan.

Kitchen has what you need for months’ worth of meals: stove, oven, microwave, vent, storage.

The whole fridge/dinette assembly slides out about 20” for a considerable increase in spaciousness; however, we don’t always use the slide-out, simply because we have plenty of room anyway. When guests visit, we can slide-out, set up two more chairs, and have a very comfy get-together.

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Okay, now for the REAL comforts – – the stuff that makes us feel just as easy-living as if we were home.

The shower is a full-height standup affair, fed by a 6-gallon hot-water tank. Yes, we take “interrupted” showers to save water, where we shut the water off while we soap up. Long hot soaks are NOT easily done, but they’re possible if we don’t have to make our water last too long.

The flush toilet and lavatory are separate from the shower, and while not gigantic, are adult-sized affairs.

clip_image016And of course, the ultimate pies-de-resistance (sp?), a queen size bed with a full walk-around, cabinets, side windows, etc. (My lovely Taylor guitar sleeps here during the day.)

Not pictured are the forced-air heater, 14,000BTU air conditioner, solar panel charging system, automatic leveling jacks, 2000 watt AC inverter, 4000 watt AC generator, many many cubic feet of outside storage, tools and parts and emergency stuff, and all the operational stuff that makes it all work reliably.

Our water supply lasts us for 10 days to 2 weeks; propane about twice that. We can literally disappear into the wild and live as if we were in a hotel.

With all this infrastructure, Howie is every bit as home-ey to us as Sunset Drive, and we have yet to feel any “lack” in our travels. To date, every single one of our trips has ended with us looking at each other and saying “Yeah, we could keep on going, easy”.

clip_image018As for other entertainments than just simple living, our various compartments and racks contain:

  • An HD TV and Blu-ray DVD player (seldom used)
  • Backpacks & hiking poles/staffs (used almost every day)
  • A 15 foot tandem kayak
  • Two folding bicycles
  • Several evenings’ supply of firewood
  • A compact but really capable stainless-steel BBQ
  • Outside camp chairs and table
  • Papoose, the Yamaha TW200 2-wheel devil machine

The Daily Grind

So what do we do every day? Well, of course it depends on where we are and where we might want to go.

Morning, 7:30AM – 8:30AM – – wake up

We are NOT early risers. No excuses or apologies.

We have a big healthy breakfast and some really good espresso coffee, and we’re ready for the day by 9:00 or 9:30.

The Day, about 9AM-3PM or 5PM or sometimes even 8PM

Days are almost always a mix of activities, although at times a long travel day can use up most of the hours.

We choose a variety of combinations of the following:

  • Reading, sitting, relaxing, staring at scenery
  • Writing/blogging
  • Emailing or browsing (when we have Internet)
  • Driving Howie to somewhere
  • Riding Papoose to somewhere
  • Hiking
  • Kayaking
  • Bicycling
  • Snowshoeing (well, truthfully we haven’t snowshoed yet but we do have snowshoes on board)
  • Maintenance, cleanup, small repairs to Howie and/or equipment
  • Laundry
  • Shopping (food, gifts, souveniers)
  • Playing guitar (alone or with others sometimes)
  • Chatting with fellow travelers (surprising amounts of time spent at this)

Evening, about 5PM-9PM

Happy Hour is 5PM and we mix up a couple of margaritas (rocks no salt thanks). Then dinner, almost always at camp and often grilled on the BBQ. A long evening may include reading, music, or blogging. A short one is get cleaned up, evening showers, and bed before 10PM.

We’ve been traveling almost 30 days as of this writing, and we have yet to turn on the TV. Maybe we’ll watch a movie on some rainy afternoon, who knows….

7-8 October

More on Horse Thief

Well, we spent two nights at Horse Thief, and an interesting thing happened. The first night, we met some Texans who were playing guitar (and some music we didn’t hear), and they said come back, but when we did they were ‘done’. The second night, we actually connected. Turns out, two of the 4 guys were members of a band called “E-flat Porch Band”, and as I walked up with my Taylor slung over my back, I heard the lead guitarist playing some bottle-neck slide flat-picking, OMG am I outclassed is all I could think.

So they played some songs, and I played some songs, and we played some songs together. I don’t have much practice keeping up with other musicians, since I play mostly solo – – but I tried my best, and we all had a stupendously good time. As the evening lengthened, we played by firelight and Karin snapped some nice memories….

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Islands in the Sky

This is the name of the northern section of Canyonlands NP. It refers to the remaining plateau pieces that float above the worn-away river gorge.

clip_image022The predominant impression here is SIZE. Everybody knows that the Grand Canyon is huge, but in fact it’s about 10 miles rim-to-rim at the wide spot (and a mile deep). The eroded-away area of Canyonlands is shallower, but it is also more like 40-50 miles wide (eroded by the Green and Colorado rivers among others), and the scope of it is almost beyond vast.

In one section of this enormous expanse, a connection from the access road makes a dirt, 4WD “rim road”, which travels 100 miles around the circuitous rim you see below. There are campsites on the rim road (very popular, reservation only), and you can 4WD down into the canyonlands mid-range, perch on the rim, and gaze at the eons below and the eons above. After banging up my ankle last week, we cannot use Papoose to explore, but the lure is clear and the benefits obvious. We’ll be back.

Here is the beginning of Shafer Trail, which connects to the White Rim Road. As you can see, the road is simply carved into the face of a nearly sheer cliff wall. We watched a Toyota climb the grade, and stop at every switchback to admire the view and take pictures.

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clip_image026clip_image028Flashback – – couldn’t resist including these, from a hike down in the Needles area. Cave Springs has a charming trail with two ladders built into it. Big overhangs, huge stones, very unique.

More on Moab

clip_image030This charming little town was birthed by the discovery of a rich uranium vein in the 1950’s. The Cold War need the heavy metal for building a bazillion deterrent war-heads (now there’s an oxymoron). After the boom died off, Moab reinvented itself very successfully, and is now the Mecca for all kinds of “rock sports”. Here’s a wall mural in the center of town:

clip_image032The main street is nicely designed, with lots of space, lots of shops, lots of opportunities for tourists to both experience the area and (of course) drop some bucks in the process.

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clip_image036And of course, all this popularity makes for some pretty crowded tourist avenues. We had a devil of a time finding camp sites, and many of the NP parking areas were completely full when we drove through. The NP camp sites will fill up before 10-11AM, so the only way to stay in the Park is to get there early and file your claim. Not the kind of wide-open-space experience we are used to, but for at least a short time, the geology and the views are worth the trouble.

Arches

clip_image038For example the NP north of Moab (Arches NP) is a collection of uniquely weathered sandstone, with many of the formations forming natural arches of every conceivable shape. In addition, there are balancing rocks, vertical slabs, groups of pillars, and just an endless array of red-rock cliffs and bluffs filling in the gaps. Here’s a fantastic shot by Karin, showing the scale a complex arch, carved by time out of a massive mountain of rock.

We have over 300 pix of this area and have hardly scratched the surface. With no commentary, I’ll use the next page for some mini-pix to give you an idea.

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People

The single most surprising thing about our kind of travel is how many people we meet, talk to, and occasionally make friends with. In retrospect, this happens with much greater frequency than when we live at home. There is an inherent camaraderie among travelers, especially travelers in the wide-open American West. Many folks ask us about “RV-ing” and how we have any social life being so far away from our normal haunts. The answer is, we have MORE of a social life on the road than we do at home. Strange, but maybe understandable.

Last night, we went looking for a camp site. We had spent the day in Moab doing shopping and what not, and we didn’t start to look for a camp until late in the afternoon. Out along H128, there were a seemingly endless supply of BLM sites (6 campgrounds in all), and we were very surprised to find them completely full, almost to the last. By the time we’d investigated all 6 camps, we ended up at the very last one, taking one of the 3 very last sites along that entire stretch of the Colorado River Way. [Yes, again this is quite different from our normal “out in the boonies” camping, but as I’ve commented, this is a hugely popular area, so we put up with all of this – – – for now, anyway.]

Right after we parked and leveled out, a German couple with their own “camper car” came in, and then a pair of young American girls tent-camping. That was it, the whole 10 miles of camps were full and we knew it.

clip_image050So we settled in and made a couple of margaritas, and just before we started making dinner, a lone motorcycle rider rode into camp (obviously having already scoped out all the other camps because we were the last one). He slowly and quietly rode up and down, looking at all the occupied sites, and I could just SEE him start to slump in his seat, clearly wondering where in the nearest 50 miles he was going to sleep tonight. Karin and I looked at each other and had the exact same thought….

I walked out into the access road and flagged him down, and confirmed to him that the camp was full – – – and would he like to share our camp? There was never a lonesome traveler who was so grateful. We had plenty of room, for in fact we live in Howie, and the camp site tent platform was completely un-used. Derek (was his name) was profusely thankful and quickly set up his tent and sleeping bag and made ready for the night.

clip_image052I checked with Karin if we had some “extra room” for dinner, and indeed we did, so we invited Derek for a steak and veggies repast. More surprise and gratitude. He’d been planning on a quick jerky/granola feed before crawling in for the night.

We chatted a lot, learned about each others’ trips and such, and all bedded down for the night. Karin’s fine egg scramble breakfast was enjoyed by all the next morning.

To be able to so easily and truly help a fellow traveler (and motorcycle rider) was one of the great pleasures of our day. We will both remember this for a long, long time to come.

10 October

clip_image054Green River, UT

After leaving the Arches, we take yet again a chance on finding a camp site late in the day. Since we’re leaving the (seemingly) most popular spot in the nearest 8 States, we reason that maybe we’ll get lucky. Well, this time it works. We arrive in Green River, head for the Green River SP, and lo and behold we find it only 1/3 full. In addition, it’s reasonably priced ($16 no-hookup but includes the dump fee), very pleasantly situated right on the Green River and surrounded by a golf course, shaded by huge leafy cottonwoods. A really pleasant spot. We roam the campground, chat with some fellow travelers (Mississippi, Oregon), and wrap up the evening with dinner and blogging. It’s supposed to rain on Friday, but tomorrow (Thursday) looks like it might be a good day to kayak on the Green. John Wesley Powell would be envious.

11 October

The Green River at Green River

clip_image056Tomorrow is definitely going to rain, so we seize the day with non-rain activities. Kayaking and dump/fill are definitely better done “in the dry”. I’ll spare you the details of the WORST dump site I’ve ever used (leakage & stink), very surprising for such an otherwise pleasant park.

John Wesley Powell explored the Green and Colorado Rivers back in 1869. He embarked at Green River, Wyoming – – so here in Utah, he was already well on his way to the “great unknown”.

At this time of year (Powell traveled about 3 months earlier), the Green is so low that it would not have been passable for Powell’s big oaken row boats. In fact, it’s not passable in several nearby places for our little 16 foot inflatable kayak with its 9” rear skeg. Nevertheless, we have a splendid time getting out on the placid sections of the river, and flirting with stiff currents going through a few riffles. There are no nearby rapids to look at, and if there were, we’d be doing it from shore for sure. We are not even beginning kayakers at this time.

At one point late in the afternoon, we decide to remove the skeg to see if we can navigate shallower water. DANG!!! was that a mistake. We cannot get Mr. Beefor to track a straight line for 50 yards. I realize that the small front keel is now overwhelming the boat (with no rear skeg), and as soon as the bow gets the least bit off-line, the whole boat just swings wildly to one side and does about a 120-degree self-propelled turn. Karin and I madly paddle like demons (we’re also downstream from the camp and have to buck the slight current). We zig-zag back drunkenly back to camp, occasionally making insane pirouettes of 360 degrees for no reason other than the boat got away from us.

clip_image058On top of everything else, the river bottom is very silty/muddy, so all of our footwear, paddles, and sides of the boat are kind of mucked up. Our normal put-up time of 15 minutes is doubled for the extra cleanup.

If this all sounds like some kind of drudgery or chore, well it’s not – – we had an absolute blast. Our Sea Eagle Fast Track 385 kayak is one of the more expensive models you can buy, and it is some of the best money we’ve ever spent.

clip_image060XV Continued

At the Arches, we encounter another Expedition Vehicle of a very different type. This one is owned by a Belgian, but it’s a 1966 German military transport with huge 44” tires and what appears to be a converted shipping container on the back. I manage to get a conversation with him before he rushes off to sight-see.

He’s been all over Africa and North America, and he’s wanting to sell the beast, and get this: he has one entire SPARE chassis back in Belgium. He will sell the entire collection for $20,000 US. Yup, no zeroes missing, twenty thousand dollars.

clip_image062Here are some essentials:

  • 30 feet long, 14 feet high, 22,000 pounds road weight
  • Multi-fuel engine (diesel, kerosene, McDonalds fry grease, Coleman lantern fuel, you name it)
  • About 8mpg
  • Fuel tank is 350 gallons – enough to go US coast-to-coast without refueling
  • Roof-mounted 200 gallon water tank for gravity-fed water system

12 October

The Tempest

True to forecast, the rain shows up in the middle of last night. This morning, it’s alternating patchy blue skies and dark cells marching through. We still have Internet, so I’m catching up on travel notes and will mail it off before we leave.

We are headed next for the western side of Canyonlands known as the Maze – – however, we don’t expect much success there because it’s all 4WD roads, some of which will be impassable due to the rain. Beyond the Maze, there is Goblin Valley and Capitol Reef, amongst other attractions.

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