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The Big Trip: Week Three

The days are starting to blur. Three weeks ago today, I set out on an epic journey to see an old friend and to visit places I've not been, leaving relatively little stones unturned along the way. One thing that I've noticed is that I don't mind the drive. My first stop at Lake Murray State Park (350 miles give or take) was way too much for one day, and I found myself not wanting to pull over and take advantage of the random scenic overlook or historical marker. Unfortunately, the first part of this trip was planned because I had to be in LA by a specific time. The return trip has no such constraints and so I've started to meander.

Day One: When last I posted (Saturday night), my plans were to leave Needles and arrive in the Valley of Fire State Park by the end of day...I had reservations in spot #7 of the Arch Campground, but first, wanted to swing by the Hoover Dam. I assumed that Google would route me through Las Vegas, but I was pleasantly surprised when after leaving the Dam, it took me along the shore of Lake Meade, entering the Valley of Fire State Park from the south. I will say that the spectacular rock formations don't just start at the ranger station.

If you plan to stay at the Valley of Fire State Park, note that first you must pay to enter the National Park, then the State Park. I have a lifetime seniors pass, which cost me $80 but is good for free entry to all National Parks. I do not have state passes because they're only applicable if you stay in one state which clearly, I am not. However, if you book a campsite, then entry into the park is free. Also note that although many state parks have utilities, the Valley of Fire only offers water and a dump station, meaning that last night the park was very very very quiet. Dakota and I had to visit the loo before bed and were surprised to find this guy about 3 feet away from the door of our van.

Bighorn Sheep

He was huge. So we waited until he and his mate finished their dinner. The park is spectacular. I had hoped for a clear moonless night and I got my wish...but as soon as the stars appeared, so did a fox, a big cat, and I'm sure the sheep was lurking behind the bush. Needless to say, I wimped out and just looked at the stars from inside the van, with the doors locked. It's doubtful that a sheep can pick locks, but I wasn't going to push it.

Day two: Dakota woke me about 5:30 needing to visit the loo. It was chilly...probably around 55F, but I couldn't tell as there's no cell service in the park. The sun was just beginning to crest over the bust of Richard Burton in the photo on the left, and so we thought it safe to make a dash for the pit toilet across from our campsite. And low and behold, guess who was waiting.

You guessed it. Two, two Bighorn Sheep.

And, he brought a friend.

After breaking camp, my plan was to head north and see as many of the canyons as possible. It was still early and the weather looked good to see Zion, so off we went. The drive through the rest of the park was lovely, and then we joined I-15. I'm so glad we didn't choose that route to Valley of Fire. When there's a scenic route available, always take the scenic route.

We made the trip in just under three hours, arriving at 10 am. Lesson learned. If you're going to visit Zion, be at the park entrance the night before. Rather like a Rolling Stones Concert. Dakota and I did make it to the Visitor's Center and took the Watchman trail thereby earning the right to purchase a head badge for my walking stick, but did a U-turn after watching my life tick away in traffic. I could have walked to the Narrows and back and still beat the Sprinter van in front of me back to the ranger station. It's fine. The mountains are breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't what I'd hoped and so a blue haze obscured the hoodoos until you got right on top of them. All of the parking spots were taken, so these are the best I could do.

I'm staying in a lovely KOA in Hurricane for the next two days to rest up before setting out again.

Day three: It's good to rest. The Saint George/Hurricane KOA in Hurricane is nestled against a beautiful hill overlooking a valley of red rock mountains. Although it warmed to the mid 60s, we were high enough that I needed a sweater. Nothing exciting to report...did laundry, cooked the next two days worth of meals, and read. I need to catch up on watercolors...or maybe not. I have reference photos and can do that when we get home. It's nice to just be. Tomorrow, I set out to see what I can see on my way to a wonderful RV park in Page.

Day four: Oh my goodness. Every morning it's like opening another present. We started the morning by splitting an egg McMuffin and coffee in Hurricane (totally cheating) before heading to see Horseshoe Bend. On the way, we saw so much more than we expected.

We stopped at the Grand Staircase-Escalante BLM outpost and left with maps and suggested hikes along the way. We drove through the National Monument, then through Glen Canyon (stopping at the overlook just south of the canyon), the Lake Powell dam, and on to Page where we stopped at another ranger station to get more maps. Unfortunately, that station was closed, but a nice volunteer let me inspect the ladies' room before continuing. Of course, before arriving at the RV park, we had to see some sights. That sounds pretty silly as I type this because 90% of this entire trip has been a feast for the senses. The desert is in bloom and aside from the few overnight in cities, the air has been crisp and clean and sweet.

Horseshoe Bend is magnificent.

Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ

Interestingly enough, the bend is part of Glen Canyon which is a National Park and therefore no cost since I have a lifetime you're officially an old person pass, BUT to park and meander the 3-mile trail to see the bend, you have to pay the City of Page a parking fee. I think it was about $15. Totally worth it. Side note: dogs are allowed on the trail, but Dakota insisted on saying hello to every visitor, dog, and random lizard, rock, or interesting thing to sniff, and so she got to go sit in time out with a big cookie (such a princess) while I finished the walk meaning that my round and half round trip totaled about 4 miles. Still...totally worth it.

Speaking of things to sniff, critters to date have included: multiple quail, roadrunners, crows, bighorn sheep, two grey fox, one coyote, one mouse, whatever lives in desert scrub, and a dozen new doggie friends. I'm sure Dakota's keeping a similar list.

You're all going to think I'm crazy for posting pictures of the bathrooms at Roam America at Horseshoe Bend, but look at this. It's a spa complete with shampoo and conditioner and body wash and after a loooong day in the desert, I may use up all their hot water. Seriously one of the best RV sites in one of the most beautiful parts of the United States.

Day five: And you thought THAT was spectacular? The Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument was unexpected and breathtakingly beautiful. Like witnessing the first days of the planet's birth. Maybe I should read up on that...reading...nope. The volcano erupted in about 1085 CE meaning that for the locals, it was a Mount St Helen moment. You can read about it here.

As the backside of this journey has been about spontaneity, I didn't research the park, I simply looked at a map and found a national park close to Flagstaff. What a beautiful surprise.

Those are lava fields...and they wind around the campsite (Bonito Campground) meaning that you're right there. Totally touchable...or in Dakota's case, sniffable.

The facilities are showers and no generators until the rest of the park wakes up, but it was reallly chilly (30s) and so we headed out for our next stop on the trip back home: Gallup.

Day six: I am thankful for this RV stop. The end.

Actually, all it takes is for me to make a disparaging remark about something and the travel gods give a wink to one another and throw me a doozie to put things into perspective. The USA RV Park in Gallup is clean and utilitarian. The staff are salt of the Earth, and my fellow campers, polite. They have showers, a dump station, a sandy enclosed area for Dakota to do her thing, and I felt safe. If you need a quick overnight, it will do in a if you like trains? The tracks are next to the park and the trains run all night long.

Speaking of volcanos, if you get the chance to visit the El Malpais National Monument, it's totally worth it. The lava fields are vast and unlike the densely wooded Sunset Crater, these fields spread for miles, flanking both sides of I-40. Were there not a dozen or more semis pushing me toward Albuquerque, I would have pulled over for a photo, but I was seriously sleep deprived, so we passed on this park. Next time.

This morning, I'm in Albuquerque. I had planned on staying at the Route 66 RV Park just east of the city, but as I pulled in I could hear Kenny Rogers singing "you gotta know when to hold 'um, you gotta know when to fold 'um" and so decided not to walk away, but run. I had booked the site for two days. When the staff pointed me to my site, I asked "but...where's the water connection?' The utilities sat about 12 feet from the gravel site on a 30-degree slant. My van is 18 feet and my cords wouldn't reach. The restroom is closed between 6-8am and 3-5pm for loo time for seniors. I could go on. The real zinger is that I asked if they would refund one of the days...nope. Because I was cancelling the day of, there's no leeway. And so the gods of social media reminded me of the power of reviews.

On the up side, there's always KOA and this one (aside from road noise from I-40) is a beauty. Time to catch up on laundry before heading out on the final leg of my journey.

Tomorrow is Mother's all the parents reading this, my wishes for a wonderful day. See you next week.

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I’m blessed indeed.


May 12

What an interesting and beautiful adventure you and Dakota are having!

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