Fall 2012–Utah and Escalante

17 October (continued)

More GSENM

clip_image002clip_image004Today, we wave goodbye to our gorgeous-idyllic-windy-freezing mountain lake, and head back down towards the desert.

We decide on a night in a “civilized” camp, both for dump/fill reasons, and also for the reputation of Kodachrome Basin SP. This tidy, picturesque little area is surrounded by GSENM, but also has its own charming geology and formations. Due to the second-in-a-row Utah state teachers’ day off weekend, it also is overrun with people. It’s not that we don’t like people, it’s just that too many of them take away from the natural wonders; in this case, it’s a bit more like an amusement park than a natural scenic area. Nevertheless, we’re enjoying the surroundings, and we’re only here for a day.

The other thing that we find amongst congregations of people, as a rule, is that the higher the population content, the more likely we are to encounter the occasional rude/inconsiderate types (around whom the world appears to revolve).

The evening was one of those “experiences” – – a large family came in late, clattered all their stuff out onto the ground, and spent at least a half-hour shouting to each other back and forth across the campground. All the young kids had high-power flashlights and would walk about, sweeping them around the area, making sure to illuminate all the curtains and blinds in multiple RVs including Howie. It was a bit like having flash bulbs go off every few seconds. Ah well, heavy sigh. Put on the sleep mask and contemplate my wa. They settled down after a while.

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Next AM, we take a short hike; I’m up to a mile or two a day now, doesn’t sound like much but it’s a workout. Ankle improves every day.

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Kodachrome Basin is famous for its “sediment pipes”, strange columns for which there are several <somewhat plausible> geological theories of formation.

18 October

clip_image012clip_image014Cottonwood Road

Despite stern warnings from a GSENM ranger (she kinda lumped us in with generic RV’s, not understanding how macho Howie can be), we head down Cottonwood, and cross a supposedly impassable drainage without even breathing hard. Well, okay I actually held my breath, but it was indeed a non-event.

With that behind us, the road becomes just an interesting exploratory foray into the central portion of GSENM. Sometimes it looks intimidating, but it always turns out to be a relatively wide, solid road despite appearances.

We pass by Grosvenor Arch, a very artistic formation. It’s actually an intricate double-arch, and there’s a nice picnic area to just sit back and appreciate it for a while.

We keep on going up the Arch side road, just to look around, and find a little surprise lagoon, a desert stock pond behind a nearly invisible earth dam. We think this is kind of cool, so we explore around a bit and find a camp, sort of. It is a bit sloped, and it takes all of our paraphernalia to get Howie (mostly) leveled out for the night.

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clip_image018Double-chocked, leveling jacks up on extension blocks, front tires hanging in the air 4” off the ground. Stable. Really. Trust me.

Poles, Staffs, and Such

For a long time now, we’ve hiked with trekking poles. They afford a huge advantage in stability and safety, especially with a heavy pack load. In fact, we started taking them along on simple neighborhood walks at home – – but handfuls of two walking sticks was a bit much, so we cut back to just one.

Later on, I saw a hiking staff, made out of hickory, and it just struck a chord in me so I bought it. Karin liked it too, so I got her a similar one (but of course more feminine). I replaced the rubber tips with trekking pole carbide tips. Now, I hike and walk with the staff and wouldn’t part with it, for several reasons:

  • The staff is stronger than a pole, and will take a huge side load without breaking. This is especially useful in levering up or down a difficult section.
  • The staff is heavier (ounces not pounds), making it much more effective as a defensive weapon (dogs, rabid animals, drunken idiots, etc.)
  • The staff looks SO cool – – not only do I think so, but I’ve had at least 6 or 8 people stop me on a trail somewhere, and tell me how much they like it. Now if that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.

clip_image020This evening, we decide to walk across the road and sit in our camp chairs above the lake/pond. A light breeze ripples the surface, and we watch a sole diving duck (a merganser I think) cruise back and forth across the water, diving and eating, diving and eating. We have NO idea what he’s gobbling down, but he’s having a grand time of it, and so are we watching him. As the shadows draw across the valley, the wind dies, and the water assumes that lovely mirror-glass surface that makes for irresistible photo opportunities.

19 October

Bryce Canyon

We’ve been thinking and thinking about this. We’re approaching a Utah Teachers free weekend, and BUNCHES of people are going to be out of school and descending (we figure) on all the parks and camps. We don’t really have any place to hide out, and we’d really like to visit the iconic Bryce Canyon NP.

Just on a whim, I ask a Visitor Center ranger how packed the NP will be, and she responds that the escapees usually flock to the State Parks and not the NP’s. So we take a chance and launch down the road to Bryce.

What a pleasant surprise. Bryce is populated, but not jam-packed. There are even available camp sites. We decide to spend some time in this deservedly famous Park and enjoy yet another variation on the infinite varieties of sandstone erosion.

Still haven’t got my Panorama-automatic mode working, so here’s another hand-stitched wide-view (didn’t work in the blog transfer tho):

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clip_image030clip_image032Bryce is a very nice NP, well appointed and staffed. The main road skirts the extensive bluff, so all the viewpoints are off to the east of the road. These multiple turnouts afford varying angles on the characteristic red limestone columns, so we wander up and down the road and take our time walking/hiking and photographing the formations. The other thing about this road is that it’s very high (9000’), and gives us a magnificent view of many of the places we’ve spent time in the last several days. Of course, we can’t see the exact spots 20 miles away, but we can see and sense the topography where we’ve been. It’s pretty cool.

As the afternoon wanes, a north-looking shot presents itself. This is the quintessential Bryce Canyon.

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Just one simple semi-wide-angle pic from the top of Inspiration Point. Nicely named, huh?

After a day’s walking about, we’re both ready for a non-eventful evening. The quiet forested camp at Sunset Point gives us just that, and we settle in. We’re well over 8000’, and we’re expecting a chilly time of it tonight. Howie is buttoned up tight, we have plenty of propane for the heaters, batteries are 100% charged, lots of water and food aboard – – how can life get any better?

Togetherness

I don’t know how many folks have wondered about it – – but we occasionally get asked how it “works” to spend so much time together in close contact. This topic reminds me of something I read about riding tandem bicycles: “Riding a tandem will take your relationship wherever it is going, more quickly”. I think the same can be said of RV-ing. Considering that we sometimes go on solo hikes, or sit separately in various areas of a camp site, I’d say that Karin and I spend about 22-23 hours a day together. Okay, subtract 15 minutes for bathroom work :o)

The result: we’ve been on the road (this time) for nearly 5 weeks, and have yet to speak a cross word to one another. It’s not that there aren’t stressful times, and we speak tensely sometimes about a schedule, a risk, the weather – – – whatever. But the bottom line is that neither of us ever get into the “blame game”. If something isn’t going right, well, that’s the way life works now and then.

We are partners, in the truest and most profound sense of the term. If a bad hand gets dealt, we play it the best we can together. If one of us makes a mistake, even a really stupid mistake (say, like laying a bike down in deep sand), the mistake-free partner understands that this is something that does happen now and then, to either person. It’s not even as deep an emotion as forgiveness; it’s really more about understanding, empathy, sharing, and of course: partnership.

Yes, we love each other. But lots of people who love each other, treat each other poorly, more as adversaries than co-participants. I really like this concept and lifestyle of partnership. Partners are people who not only love each other, but support each other, and play on the same team.

So, RV-ing together for extended periods of time? We can’t imagine doing it alone or with anybody else. It works really well for us. We look around, in our travels, and we see and meet other people, other couples. They too, treat each other with respect, with courtesy, as equals and partners. They too travel together for long times and distances, and they too actually enjoy the whole affair without reservation. We’re not the only ones.

20 October

Open Season

We’ve known for some time, that as we roam through all these National Forests and BLM land, we are sharing the space with hunters. This is October, and hunting season is open in various locales for various species, including elk, deer, antelope, and others. In most cases, there simply has not been an issue. But today is different. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how our day went….

We leave Bryce Canyon, after considerable scoping-out of maps and what-not, looking for a cool place to spend the night within striking distance of Panguitch (for Sunday Mass). Several opportunities present: Sevier River scenic byway; Red Canyon campground; Panguitch Lake; and other lesser targets.

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All are within 25 miles or so, and consequently we can afford to explore a bit and see what each has to offer. Our first idea is to go hit the local visitors’ center and see what suggestions they might have.

We head down SR12, which once again does not fail to delight, with a pair of red arches welcoming the east-bound visitor to the Bryce Canyon area.

Down the road we go to the Visitors’ Center – – closed. Okay, how about the scenic Red Canyon campground – – closed. Hmmm.

Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Let’s go hit the Sevier River scenic byway and check out Tropic Lake. The byway is supposed to be excellent 2WD road, and the lake is only 7 miles south of SR12.

The scenic byway is a dusty, dirty, washboard, potholed wreck of a road. But we tough it out, and crawl the 7 miles to find that Tropic Lake is nearly dry, the campground is open but is a mile away from the lake, and the whole area is kind of bleak and unappealing in various ways. Hmmmm.

Back up the “scenic” road, exploring some side roads along the way, all of which wander off into dry dusty forest with nothing particularly redeeming except a few free flat spots to spend the night. Well, we’ve been pretty spoiled the last few weeks, and we know that we deserve grander places to camp. So on we go. Next stop is Panguitch, just to check out the town (nice) and head on to Panguitch Lake, a likely looking spot out SR143 (another scenic byway). Gee, wouldn’t you know it, the campground is closed. Hmmmm.

By now, it’s headed up towards 4PM, and our options are dying off pretty rapidly. After looking again at the maps, we decide to hell with the known campgrounds (all closed for the season), let’s just go for dispersed camping on USFS territory (pullouts, flat spots, fire-rings, etc.). So we locate a couple of forest roads that look like they’ll pay off, and we head slightly back towards Panguitch.

As we turn off on a possible track, a couple of hunters in blaze orange, on quads, pull up. We hail them and ask if there’s a place up the forest road for us to park/camp for the night. The woman suggests the RV Park down the road (ugh), and the guy says “Yeah, there’s one just up the road, off to the right, that I noticed was empty”. That he noticed was empty??? – – this should have been a hint…

We drive up the FS road, and right away, RV’s and quads and pickups and trailers and tents and what-all sprout out of every crevice in the landscape. There are people (hunters) EVERYWHERE. Karin is amused; I am amazed; we both are pragmatic. When your options run out, you take what you can get. This is an improvement (we’re pretty sure) on a Walmart or casino parking lot, certainly over a rest-stop. Probably.

We find a nice level spot, set up camp, and just sit back and marvel at what we are seeing. Every couple of minutes, a quad or truck or RV or something goes by on the access road. Everybody is in blaze orange. I have not seen this level of hunting pressure in my worst experiences hunting (long ago) in California, which I thought was the most crowded hunting locale on the planet. I just can’t believe that anyone could have any luck even seeing a deer in this over-pressured place, let alone getting a shot. But who knows.

So we settle down, do a few camp chores, and actually find ourselves modestly entertained by the furor outside our door. We know that “this too shall pass”, and oddly, neither of us is disturbed or upset by our poor camp-selection fortune for the day. We’re just – – – bemused.

Here we are, preparing dinner, sitting opposite each other in our dinette and reading some book or another, pretty much calmed down for the evening. Most of the traffic has died off, and it’s chilly outside, so all the hunters are inside their RV’s or tents or whatever. All of a sudden, Karin gasps, and starts gesticulating wildly but inarticulately out the window behind my back. “Uhh, uhhh, unh, there, there, unh!!!!”, all with eye-whites showing around irises, pounding the table, waving and pointing frantically. I’m taking this very calmly; I simply know she’s seeing a band of deer, right in the midst of this mass deer-killer community, in between passing hunter-quad scurries.

I turn around, and it’s actually a doe and her two yearling fawns, casually browsing past Howie and our camp site. Since we are inside, they have no clue about our presence, and are apparently un-perturbed by the big white box 40 yards away.

clip_image038clip_image039clip_image040We snap what pix we can in the failing light, and watch the deer browse up the hill across the road. When they get about 50-60 yards away, I decide to see what they think of a door opening, and click open Howie’s side door. Well, that is not what they are comfortable with, and they bolt up the hill.

clip_image042I step outside and check out the other hunters/campers; they are inside and oblivious. Meanwhile, the doe/fawns have stopped running, finding some minor cover of trees, and are once again placidly browsing about 75 yards away.

Agreed, it’s likely a buck-only season, so the does and fawns don’t get shot at, and are relatively tame. And I’ve often seen does and fawns act nonchalantly, while bucks are nowhere to be found. Regardless, it was an ironic picture, meat-on-the-hoof wandering through the butchers’ camp.

Darkness falls, we hear no shots fired, and the entire bizarre community of people and woodland denizens settles down for a cool night in the forest. Karin and I are expecting the 4th of July come first light – – but who knows?

21 October

Well, surprise, surprise. The local army hardly makes a peep this AM, just a few vehicles driving quietly by. No shots fired that I could hear. Certainly no proudly-displayed carcasses being carted into camp after the morning hunt. The day is clear and bright, puffy cumulus in a breezy sky, wind rushing through the pines. As always, we are cozy-at-home in Howie, planning what comes next. Probably Cedar Breaks National Monument – – stay tuned.

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