Friday, May 11, 2018

Southwest Colorado (5/1 through 5/4/2018)

Back in Montrose, the motor home has been unpacked, cleaned and put into storage, while the mud and dust have been scrubbed from the LRJ.  Things got back to normal just in time for a long-awaited visit from my closest cousins.  These four siblings, who live in FL, GA, MS and MA, get together every year for a family vacation.  It was my great pleasure to host this year's rendezvous in Montrose.

On our first day, we took the scenic route through the adobe hills to Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  I've been so many times, and posted lots of photos from there, I didn't even bring a camera this time.  After lunch, we headed toward Colorado National Monument, another place I visit often.  However, due to road construction at the entrance to the park, we took a detour through adjacent public lands, some of which I had never seen.  The canyons there were much like the monument, deep and colorful with interesting formations.

On day two, we drove toward Telluride, again taking the scenic route, driving last Dollar Road until reaching the point where the road is still closed due to snow, then dropping down onto the highway in the Village of Sawpit.  Along the way, a cow elk crossed in front of us, then stood at a safe distance and watched us carefully before trotting over the ridge.  (Later that day, we spotted four bull elk across the canyon from us, too far for a photo.)
Another scenic route through the Ilium Valley took us by America's first Alternating Current generating station, still providing power to folks in that valley after 125 years.  Unfortunately, the waterfalls I wanted to show off were inaccessible due to snow on the road.  However, we kept trying and found our way to Trout Lake, still mostly frozen and snow-covered.  The old railroad trestle was a challenge to reach, but we persisted and managed to get there without getting stuck in the snow.

Next we took a ride through Mountain Village, admiring the beautiful homes, hotels and other buildings.  By now it was snowing lightly, so we drove into Telluride and a glimpse of the famous powerhouse on the cliff and the frozen Bridal Veil Falls, 365 feet tall.  Also, Ingram Falls is nothing but ice streaming down the mountain.

The third day was the first sunny day of the week, truly a beautiful day for driving the "Million Dollar Highway". We passed through Ouray very early in the day, noticing that many shops had not opened for the season.  I think my guests enjoyed the scenery along the road and the stops we made for closer views of Bear Creek Falls, Red Mountain Creek, the Idarado and Yankee Girl mines and Crystal Lake.  You'd never guess these were the three famous Red Mountains, since all the red rock was hidden by snow.

The South Mineral Creek Valley looked completely different than normal, with no campers in the several campgrounds and the Clear Lake Road closed by snow.  The creek was flowing strongly, however, and the beaver ponds were full.
By-passing Silverton for the moment, we went to Molas Pass and enjoyed the grand scenery there.
Pulling off the highway above Silverton, we had a great view of the town below, sitting in the caldera of a long-extinct volcano.  We were there the day before the Durango-Silverton train started operating for the season, which meant that quite a few shops were also not open for the season.  We also found the road to Velocity Basin was impassable, so we had lunch and walked around town before driving to Animas Forks, the best ghost town in the area.

While the road to Animas Forks was technically open, there was enough snow on it to make it interesting.  Most of the waterfalls in the Animas River were flowing well, but a few had serious icicles.

All in all, despite snow and closed roads, I think my cousins had a great experience seeing this part of the country.  I've suggested the next visit should be in the fall so they can enjoy the golden aspen trees.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Paria Plateau, AZ (4/17/2018) & Bluff, UT (4/19/2018)

Nearing the end of my time on the Kaibab Paiute Reservation, I began to look for my next stop.  I wanted to stop in Page to tour Canyon X, a slot canyon that is part of the Antelope Canyon system, but not as heavily visited.  Unfortunately, there wasn't a campsite available in Page.  I remembered the Paria Outpost having campsites, and it's not that far from Page.  When I went to its website, I learned there are no hook-ups, so I ruled that out.  However, I took a long look at the wilderness tours they offer.  I knew they took customers to North and South Coyote Buttes, and to White Pocket.  I learned they also have tours to Pinnacle Valley and Soap Creek, places I'd not heard of.  The photos from these places were simply stunning, with very colorful and shapely formations.  I began searching for more information, but there wasn't much available, just that they were somewhere on the Paria Plateau.

Using Google Earth, I found a place that might fill the bill.  While it was not a certainty, I thought I had figured out how to get there.  Basically, I would drive as if going to White Pocket, but not make the turn six miles onto the plateau.  Rather, I would continue straight for another fourteen miles, then turn right for four more miles.

On my last full day, despite wind and low temps, I was determined to make the effort.  The moment I drove past the White Pocket turn, the road became very deep sand...enough to concern me about the risk of getting stuck.  The LRJ handled it well, but not very fast.  The roads seemed much different than I had seen on Google Earth.  A wrong turn took a while to overcome, looking for a spot to turn around.  On a hunch, I took a right turn at about fourteen miles and drove until that trail ended.  About half mile away I saw formations that looked promising, so started hiking toward them.

As I got closer, I could see the formation was much larger than I had first thought.  No way was I going to climb up top and do some exploring, so I circled around until there were gaps and I was able to climb over.

I could then see more distant formations, but nothing suggested any of the colors and shapes I was looking for.  Obviously, I had not found the place I wanted, but had stumbled upon a pretty nice spot.  I decided to enjoy it as long as possible, knowing that the return trip would take as long as the trip here, nearly three hours.

At one point, I found myself on the rim of the plateau looking down at the valley more than 1000 feet below.  What an awesome sight.  These photos don't do it justice.

One of my favorite discoveries was where two formations at the rim separated to create a space where one could walk right through and off the rim, if one desired.  It could be called "The Gap" or "The Crack".
Other formations were all around, but I had neither the time nor the energy to explore them.  I had a strong feeling, however, that Soap Creek Tanks wasn't that far from me.  I explored a couple roads without success, but stopped to make sure there was enough fuel to get out of here.

 On one road, I passed an abandoned ranch that intrigued me.  Why would someone choose to live in such a remote place, even if the land was cheap?

Hours later and back on the highway, I looked at the rim of the plateau where I had been.  It seemed pretty clear that several areas of colored rock might be the Soap Creek Tanks.  Since then, I have found more information, including a GPS track provided by a group of Germans who have been visiting the Southwest for many years.  Maybe next time I can find the right place.

The next day I packed and moved to Bluff, UT for a little R&R.  Sunrise the next morning pulled me out for some photos.

On the way back to Montrose, there was snow all around as I climbed Lizard Head Pass.  Fortunately, this ended long before Montrose, where Spring was in full swing,

And so ends a long and pleasurable RV trip, a little more than six months on the road.  The girls and I have settled in, more or less, and it may be a while before I have enough material to publish a travelogue.  Until then, have a great summer.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Smithsonian Butte, UT (4/14/2018) & Canaan Gap, UT (4/16/2018)

After finding the Paiute Cave, I still had time that day for more exploration.  Since I had taken the road to Colorado City, I thought I would try to find the "Yellow Man" pictograph on nearby Smithsonian Butte.  I had detailed instructions from the internet, but the distance to the first turn was wrong.  Not turning at the right place, however, gave me a great long distance view of the mountains in Zion National Park.
Zion National Park

Smithsonian Butte
Backtracking a bit, I found the road closest to the directions I had and it turned out to be the correct one.  After that, the directions were perfect, leading me through a series of turns and ending at the base of a very steep slope.  The trail was quite slippery, being covered with sand and small gravel.  In fact, I never would have made it up except for the old barbed wire fence running alongside the trail.  Having the wire to grab kept me from falling more than once, and the fence posts were helpful, too.  I arrived at a ledge quite winded.  A large rock at the top invited me to sit, so I did.

After catching my breath, I followed the directions by moving along the ledge to my left.  There were no pictographs that I could see, so I kept moving, climbing over a couple boulders and pushing through some bushes.  The ledge ended and I had seen no rock art, so I started back to the trail to start over.  There were some interesting formations along the ledge.

Back at my favorite rock, I looked up above it and there was "Yellow Man", directly over my resting place.  Once again, I have to say I've never seen anything quite like it.  Absolutely worth the effort.
In addition, around to the right I found more pictographs and a few petroglyphs.  Some were faded but all were visible and interesting.

More windy weather kept me in camp the next day, but the day after I just had to look for more unusual petroglyphs near Colorado City.  I invited the ladies from the next campsite to join me.  I had a pretty good idea of the mesa where the art is located in an area called Canaan Gap, but wasn't sure of the exact roads to get there.

Driving toward the area, I noticed a Jeep following us.  Thinking he may be going to the same place, I flagged him down. He had a different destination, but said he knew how to get to our petroglyphs.  Following him proved to be a real adventure.  Suddenly he drove over the rim of a wash with an almost vertical wall, and I went right behind him.  Twenty feet down, at the bottom, we took a hard left and then faced a boulder in the edge of the wash.  Going up on the wall, I missed the boulder.  Almost immediately, we faced a vertical wall to get out of the wash.  He made it up, so I gunned it and went after him.  Thank goodness for 4WD.  Throughout the couple minutes into and out of the wash, you never heard such language from my ladies.

We asked the guy if he had done anything like that before.   He told us he had done that wash in his ATV, but never in a Jeep.  "But I knew we could do it", he said.  The petroglyphs were a short hike up the end of the mesa.

From there, we had a good view of Canaan's Gap and could also see the wash we had just traversed.

These petroglyphs were unusual because many of them were much deeper than normal.  We don't know if they were originally dug deeper, or if erosion has taken more away for some reason.  In any case, they are called the "Cookie Cutter" petroglyphs due to their dept (around 3/8 inch). 

There were also a few that looked "normal", possibly because they were done at a later date.

 We finished our viewing, then tackled the wash again, but I'm afraid there was more shocking language as we drove over the edge.  Fortunately, the guy had told us about an exit that was much more gentle, and we appreciated that,