M-A's Musings and Travels

A place where I can ponder and remember wonderful trips, camping excursions and hiking adventures.

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Location:Whitefish, Montana

Friday, April 22, 2005

Day 21 - Home again

The last day was rather uneventful. It was great to see the familiar Rocky Mountains from the east side again, with the familiar gap where Marias Pass is located and through which our home trip took us.

We found a great Espresso place in Conrad and had lunch at the Twisted Spoon Restaurant, a small place in the town of East Glacier, and the only one that was open at this time of the year.

Driving through the mountains on Highway 2, the weather was grey and almost misty, but as we broke out of Bad Rock Canyon past Hungry Horse, the weather turned cheerful again and a sunny Flathead Valley awaited us.

We had made arrangements and were able to pick up LingLing and Twiggy on our way home - two cats who were very happy to see us. Needless to say, we were very happy to see them too. Nikki had to wait until Ponderosa Veterinary Hospital opened the next day.

We both agree. This was a very enjoyable and successful trip and we can't wait to take off again! Next trip will probably be to Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territory.

Day 20 - last full day out

Big Horn CanyonSince we hadn't explored the northern part of Big Horn Canyon itself before stopping for camp the prior day, we did so before leaving the area. To reach the canyon, you pass through the Crow Indian Reservation, which now is beautifully green with lush hills and grazing cattle. We were much more impressed with this part of Big Horn Canyon, and the scenery from the end of the road coming in from the north was much more magnificent - a miniature Grand Canyon.

We wasted an awful lot of time in Billings, trying to find Rimrock Mall and J.C. Penney, all for naught since I couldn't find the jeans I wanted, but shortly before noon, we were finally on our way to the last campground of our trip. Again, we were counting on some forest service campground being open and had our sights set on the Little Belt Mountains.

We noticed someone had made little artificial red-headed woodpeckers and put them up in the cottonwood trees along the highway between Ryegate and Harlowton. There must have been two dozen of them and they were really a neat addition to the roadway scenery.

Last campsiteAgain, we were disappointed. Instead of open campgrounds, we found lots of snow in the mountains, and the roads into them impassable. Finally down from the mountains, we found Sluice Boxes Primitive State Park along the Belt River, an oasis for us since it was really getting late and we were tired. We were able to enjoy a brief stint in the sun as this was the most pleasant afternoon of the entire trip without the everpresent wind.

Day 19 - Big Horn Canyon

Our trip was nearing its end, but one more unexplored area awaited us before returning to Montana, namely Big Horn Canyon. Our drive there took us throug hthe town of Thermopolis, where we passed a huge public hot spring. The Bighorn Canyon actually lies in both Wyoming and Montana, and to drive to the end of the road from the south, you enter Montana, only to return the same way back into Wyoming.

On our way north to the marina and boat ramp, we stopped by the Devils overlook and found the water level way down. Where there should have been a lake, there was nothing but mud and it was not as scenic as it probably is at high pool.

We had lunch at one of the campsites along the road, before heading out for camp. On our way to the day's campsite, we passed through the beautiful Big Horn Mountains west of Sheridan, WY. On our way east, we had had to backtrack and go back down to Greybull since road 14A out of Lovell was still closed for the winter. Snow over the 9,430 foot Summit pass prevented passage.

Big Horn Canyon CampgroundWe camped at the northern end of Big Horn Canyon on the Montana side. There was not much to this camp site, which actually was not inside the canyon but along the Big Horn River before you enter the canyon itself. It is located very close the site of Fort C.F. Smith famed during the Indian fighting days of the 19th century and during the days of Custer. Not far from here lies the Little Big Horn Battle Field where Custer and 7th Cavalry met their disastrous end. (Our photos of this camp site and the one for day 20 have not yet been developed.)

Day 18 - Into Wyoming

Once we entered Wyoming, it felt almost like home, as we have been to Wyoming so many times during the past years. One area I found very picturesque and typically "Western Movies" was the Split Rock Area a few miles west from the point where road 789 turns west toward Lander and road 220 turns east toward Casper. We read that a pony express exchange station had been located near by. It was not hard to envision such a place among the intriguing looking rocks.

We had not intended to drive as far as we did, but we couldn't find many camping choices coming the way we did up through Riverside, Saratoga, Rawlins,and Riverton. However, north of Shoshoni, we found Boysen State Park.

Each time we encountered wind at our campsites, we felt this was surely the strongest. However, I think I can safely say that the wind at Boysen State Park was the strongest. There were lots of white caps on the waves and we figured only an absolute fool would brave those waters. Lo and behold, two fellows drove up in a pickup and put their 16 - 18 foot boat in the water, took a quick tour out and immediately returned. We were surprised they didn't capsize.

Boysen State ParkThere really was not much to the camp site but we didn't care since it was way too cold to sit outside anyhow. I took the dogs for a walk along the beach, but even in jacket and stocking cap, it was not comfortable.

Day 17 - Leadville & Fremont Pass 11,318 ft

Since almost the entire western part of Colorado consists of mountains, we had some pretty high passes ahead, and again, we stopped at the Ranger Station in Salida to make sure we wouldn't run into any problems. Denver had just made the news over the prior week end having been deluged by a huge snow storm. I-25 had even been closed from the border to Denver for a while. However, again, we were lucky and all was clear ahead.

We stopped at a City Market in Buena Vista and found some Artesan Harvest Rye bread that was "to die for." We sent an email to the company when we got home, asking if there might be an outlet close to Whitefish but we haven't received an answer yet.

We passed through the town of Leadville, CO, which lies at an altitude of some 10,000 feet and over the 11,318 foot Fremont Pass on our way up to the I-70 freeway. Unlike Montana, Colorado did not lack for snow this year, and Copper Mountain Ski Area was open and in full operation, it seemed, with all the skiers coming down the slopes that we could see.

Green Mountain Reservoir
We were taking another chance that some forest service campgrounds would be open, and we found a very primitive one by Green Mountain Reservoir, north of Frisco. The reservoir itself was mostly frozen but there was a restroom with some toilet paper and a fire pit above the shores overlooking the lake. The price was right - there was no charge!

Day 16 - Leaving New Mexico

As we left Coyote Creek State Park, we were going uphill into the Sangre De Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, and we stopped to make sure the passes up ahead were passable. We had a choice between a 9100 foot and a 9800 foot pass or go back east to I-25 and take the freeway up through Colorado. This was something we did not particularly want to do as we didn't want to miss out on the scenery. However, we were in luck. No problems were anticipated with the passes and we were treated to more beautiful scenery on our way up to Colorado.

Great Sand Dunes
Our destination was the Great Sand Dunes National Park newly upgraded from a National Monument. We arrived in time to have lunch at the park which is also a preserve for wild animals. We saw several large herds of mule deer who didn't seem to mind the nearness of man at all but who continued their grazing without paying much attention to us.

Coyote CreekState Park
Dale decided to go for a walk down by the river which runs through the park and now was a mere trickle. We learned that during parts of the year, this can be quite a torrent of fast running water. It's always so hard to imagine all the dry arroyos and canyons in the desert ever containing any water or more than what they currently have.

Coyote CreekState Park Campground
While Dale went for his walk, the dogs and I stayed back in the campground. Another nice afternoon for a shower and a hair wash. Our camp at the Great Sand Dunes National Park was one of, if not the prettiest, campsites of the entire trip. It was surrounded by trees, bushes and cactus which were all foreign to us from up north.

Day 15 - Las Vegas & Coyote Creek State Park

As we left the Manzano Mountains, we dropped down into a valley and the small community of Villanuevo through which the Pecos River flows. Incredibly poor housing and many more abandoned buildings of all sorts. Southwest New Mexico is very unattractive in that sense. Then we went north up to the I-40 freeway for a short stretch and then further north up to Las Vegas, where we had another delightful Mexican lunch near the picturesque old town plaza.

Coyote CreekState Park
Then it was time to head for a campground again, and we found Coyote Creek State Park campground in the foothills of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. The site is spread out along both sides of the creek with a trail up to a cross on the rocky bluff east of camp. Here it was very windy, but we managed to sit outside and read in the sun for a while. Muffen was tied up but Murphy was not. And wouldn't you know it! After a while two rangers drove up and told us to tie Murphy up! We were the only campers in the entire campground. Oh well, we didn't want him to run around and get stickers anyhow!

Day 14 - Manzano Mountains, NM

On our way up through the Sacramento Mountains, we had traveled through a very beautiful canyon, James Canyon, but were amazed at how many private residences we passed in what we thought was national forest land. Also located within the Lincoln National Forest was the little picturesque town of Cloudcroft. It reminded us of the little Western town of Winthrop in Washington with lots of neat store fronts. We decided to check it out and have breakfast there before we left. However, we were up so early, and since it was Sunday, there was not an open restaurant in sight.

Instead, we traveled north through the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation to Ruidoso where we hoped to find an open restaurant. And mind you, just not any "plastic" one but one where we could have a good ole' home-cooked Mexican style breakfast. We drove up and down of what we thought was the main street of Ruidoso, but all we could find open was a Denny's. However, there was a Walmart Super Center in Ruidoso - how in the world could Walmart think to make a profit in such a remote location. Oh boy were we in for a surprise!

But I get ahead of myself. Since all we could find was Denny's,we were hungry enough to give it a try. We should have saved ourselves the money. How can anyone ruin something so simple as scrambled eggs! Need I say more. So we left, promising never to eat at a Denny's again. As we turned off to continue north, the little town continued as well - with lots and lots of wonderful little stores, galleries, restaurants, gift stores, etc. Very reminiscent of Sedona, or any other very touristy and chic American tourist town. We could have kicked ourselves for not having had more patience. There were lots of very fancy residences in Ruidoso and it was quite obvious to us that this was a very ritzy (property prices were probably sky high!) place to live. One of the reasons, of course, is the wonderful mountain scenery and the nearby White Mountain Ski Area.

In the afternoon, as we approached Manzano Mountain State Park, the weather turned threatening, especially over the mountains in the exact direction we were traveling. Once we got to the park, it started to snow and the only other two campers in the park left, and we were once again the only campers.

While it was snowing outside, we were snug inside, watching Tiger Woods win the Masters on TV as light snow fell off-and-on all afternoon. Great bonus, we were able to watch Desperate Housewives before crashing for the night.

Day 13 - Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns
What a tremendous experience! As one of the Park Rangers put it when she saw the caves for the first time, "It was absolutely overwhelming!" The stalagmite and stalactite formations were so many and varied and one seemed more impossible than the previous one. The drive itself up to the Visitor's center was a study in exquisite desert vegetation with every imaginable cactus variety on display.

Carlsbad Caverns
One wondered how in the world these caverns were ever discovered since there was no sign of them on the drive up, but we learned that early pioneers had been struck by the multitude of bats which frequently emerged in this area. We learned that a formation which is created from the top is called a stalactite and one formed from the bottom is a stalagmite. Then, depending on the advancement of the formation, there are soda straws, draperies, columns, popcorn to just name a few. They were all so expertly illuminated in various hues.

Carlsbad Caverns
We elected to take the elevator down into the Big Room, which was huge - equal to the size of three football fields! We were also struck, immediately, by the drop in temperature from the much hotter outside temperature. It is consistently 56 degrees in the caves. At first it seemed cool, but as we walked on, it got actually rather warm (and you should have seen how frizzy my permed hair turned out!)

NOTE: while on our way to the caverns we found we hade a “message” on our cellular phone—panic! We stopped at a convenience store to call our phone number to retrieve the message, but had a difficult time. I was finally able to find the right combination, only to learn it was a wrong number. A sad woman was leaving a message for her mother and commiserating over some family tragedy. Sad.

Bear CampgroundFrom Carlsbad, we headed first north to Artesia and then directly west toward Alamogordo, up into the Sacramento mountains. We were crossing our fingers that one of the national forest service campgrounds would be open. But we had no such luck. Instead, we camped by the gate which closed off one of the campgrounds which was off the main road by a comfortable distance and which, very conveniently, was right next to the "john" which was open and fully stocked with amenities (i.e. toilet paper). There were actually two other tenters in another section of the closed off campground even though there was some snow on the ground.

Day 12 - Back to New Mexico

After leaving Fort Davis, we meandered up through the remaining part of Texas via the town of Pecos. Doesn't that sound just like out of a Western movie except, of course, we were not on horseback! We were struck by how many abandoned houses and farms we saw, both in the rural areas as well as in the outskirts of the towns. This continued to be true in New Mexico, as well.

Brantley Lake State Park
As we re-entered New Mexico and drove through Carlsbad, it was just plain hot! It took us a while to get through Carlsbad as we could not find the road which went around the town to miss all the trafic (although we did the next day on our way back down to the Carlsbad Caverns) so we ended up having a late lunch at the Brantley Lake State Park campground, where we also spent the night. The area could be called “Fragrant” Lake as the multitude of ground flowers are delightfully scenting this area. I asked one of the park attendants which flowers caused the aroma, but he was so used to the area that he didn't even notice anything unusual about the smells.

We went for a walk in the afternoon down to the lake and the sun was so intense that in just that short walk, I got a tan line on my feet. We also found some welcoming showers available to the park campers. However, by now it seemed that the quality of the showers had deteriorated slightly with each park in which we camped. They either didn't put out much water or were directed too close to the wall or were not hot enough. Oh well. T'was better than none at all!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Day 11- Leaving Big Bend

Leaving the ChisosI hate to admit it, but I think in younger days, we might have remained a few more days in Big Bend National Park. I think the lure of hiking in the Chisos and exploring the backcountry might have overcome the discomforts of the hot sun. But then again, I can remember hiking in the Superstitions Wilderness many years ago, absolutely hating the hot, dry climate and almost getting a sun stroke. In any event, rather than braving the back-country of Big Bend, which which was mostly accessible via bumpy dirt roads, we left the area on day 11. We stopped to look back and I really hated to leave the wonderful scenery of the Chisos'. With a great feeling of sentimental sorrow, I almost suggested we turn back.

But away we went, back through western Texas, traveling through the Chalk Mountains in scenery where we could see John Wayne and the wagon train being attacked by an Indian war party, and the Calvary coming across the hills to the rescue. Awesome! Especially for a Swede who had grown up with Western movies, never dreaming of actually being able to experience those wonderfully exciting places in person.

In the little town of Alpine, we asked the locals for recommendations to a good Mexican restaurant. We were given directions to La Casita which was located right smack in the middle of a residential section. However, since it was prime lunch time, we were asked to wait outside until a table was available. Several patrons left but still, no table was to be had. "They are reserved," said the waitress. After several new patrons had entered the restaurant and not been turned away, we figured you either had to have a reservation or the restaurant had a poor management policy for seating its customers. We decided the wait was not worth it so we left. Instead, we happened upon Twin Peaks Restaurant in downtown Alpine where we had a huevos rancheros and chili rellenos, perhaps not as delicious or plentiful as at La Casita's, but at least we were promptly served.

Davis Mountain State Park
We had decided Davis Mountain State Park north of Fort Davis would be the destination for day 11, and we had our first encounter with a javelina on the way there. This is a small pig-like, black animal with very sharp fangs, and quite an aggressive little bugger. He (she?) was moving along in the ditch right next to the road, and we got but a very brief glimpse of the animal. Later, in the campground, there were several signs warning people with pets to never leave them out of their sight as there had been javelina attacks where pets had been mauled and/or killed.

Day 10 - West side of Big Bend

Santa Elena Canyon
Next day's exploring took us to the end of the road on the west side in the park, and Santa Elena Canyon. We pretty much followed the west side of the Chisos Mountains past the old Homer Wilson Ranch, nestled in the foothills of the mountains and silently speaking of prosperity long gone. We passed the Mule Ears rock formations and checked out the campground in Castolon Village, which was smaller but very similar to the one in the Rio Grande Village. Then we continued the last eight miles to Santa Elena Canyon where the Rio Grande cuts a narrow swath through the vertical walls for eight miles. The canyon walls were impressively tall and very steep with so much wonderful greeneries. A cool spot for lunch where we took off our shoes and stuck our feet into the waters of the famed Rio Grande River.

Chisos BasinAgain, we returned early to our base camp in the Chisos and enjoyed a good book and a cross word puzzle surrounded by the majestic scenery. We also had an international encounter in the afternoon, trying to act as translators for a German tourist who was asking the park attendants for permission to remain in the campground while he tried to fix the instrument panel of his RV. He had shipped his own vehicle from Germany and was still able to drive it, but was unable to use any of the gauges to tell him how fast he was going or how much gas he had left. I think we were semi-successful in getting his problem across, even though our German by now is very rusty. In any event, he was permitted to stay, so the desired goal was reached.

Day 9 - More of Big Bend

Our camp in Chisos Basin
We had a marvelous view of the surrounding mountains from our camp site - especially in the afternoons with the crags throwing long shadows.

Chisos MountainsThe sun was very hot so we decided to limit our sightseeing to the truck/camper rather than taking hikes. Besides, dogs were not allowed anywhere in the park on the trails, and we hated to leave them in the camper. So for our first day's excursion we decided to check out Rio Grande Village & Campground. Even though it was fairly early in the morning, it was pretty hot in the village. Later, as we left the park, we learned that the temperature had reached 93 degrees in the Rio Grande Village, while the high temperature the same day in the Chisos Basin was only 73 degrees. No wonder we liked it better back in the Basin!

After leaving the village, we continued to the Boquillas Canyon Overlook and lunched overlooking the Rio Grande. A short hike to the canyon was postponed for another visit.

Chisos MountainsIt seemed we could not escape the strong winds that had been accompanying us during the entire trip. Even in the Chisos Mountains, the wind was fierce, but we returned to camp early in the afternoon to read and enjoy the scenery.

Day 8 - Big Bend National Park

Blooming yuccaWe had already begun to enjoy the varied vegetation of the Chihuahuan Desert in Arizona and New Mexico, but it was even more impressive in the western part of Texas. The entire west Texas desert was full of blooming creosote bushes and mesquite. We learned that the creosote bush emits a delightful aroma after rain, but unfortunately (or actually, fortunately,) we were not to have this experience. And the further south we drove, the more blooming yuccas we saw.

Blooming ocotillo
We also encountered some spindly looking cacti with bright red blooms at the tips of their "branches" - very similar to an octopus. Later, we learned these are ocotillos (we guessed that must be Spanish for octopus). The cholla cactus was also in full bloom, showing off yellow "roses" at the end of its fuzzy limbs.

Blooming prickle pear cactus
The prickle pear cactus was also in bloom. Another very frequent, but not blooming cactus, was the lechuguilla cactus, which is the indicator plant of the Chihuahuan Desert. We are told that, like a very similar and equally frequent cactus in this type of desert, the sotol, it can store its nutrients for decades before bursting into bloom, only to then die.

We loaded up on groceries in the little town of Marfa, got gas in Presidio and were surprised at the many Mexican license plates we saw who were also getting gas in the US - gas must be even more expensive in Mexico! We paid about $2.30/gallon for diesel here.

Rio Grande RiverFrom Presidio, we drove east along the Rio Grande. Here we could imagine where Ernest Borgnine and Sammy Davis, Jr. fought the Indians who kidnapped Borgnine's daughter in the movie, The Tracker. But it was getting late (for us) to be driving. We were tired and couldn't wait make a stop for the day. However, we discovered that you needed a park permit to camp along the Rio Grande since the road led through Big Bend Ranch State Park. We didn't want to drive all the way back to get one, so we decided to press on to Big Bend NP. We passed the little town of Terlingua with interesting looking gift shops, and normally, we would have stopped for a tempting look at the curiosities.

Chisos MountainsAt the park entrance, we were happy to see that the Basin campground still had vacancies. As we drove through the park, we could see the Chisos Mountains looming ahead, looking very inviting. And we were very fortunate, indeed, to find a "campsite with a view" because shortly after we arrived, the camp was full.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Day 7 - Guadalupe Mountains, Texas

We are in virgin territory! I think we've been to the airport in Dallas-Ft. Worth (but didn't embark) before, but that doesn't count.

After leaving our campground in Gila NF, we passed through Deming and Las Cruces, NM, but not before stopping for lunch in Mesilla, a very old and interesting town south of Las Cruces. We had heard of a great Mexican restaurant in Mesilla from a friend of Dale's who spent some time in the Air Force in this area, way back when, and who bragged about the good food. However, that was years ago, and we didn't even know if it still existed, let alone how to find it. Never fear! It is now so famous that it has its own billboard, advertising its location. All we had to do was follow the signs to the famous Old Town Plaza in Mesilla. Only the exit we needed to take from the freeway was closed! This necessitated a bit of guesswork, but we found it. The parking place for the plaza even had a map, showing the exact location of our restaurant.

Walking to the restaurant was very warm. The temperature was in the 70:ies but it felt warmer. We had truly arrived in the American Southwest.

La Posta was really a treat! Not only was the food great (I had pork burritos and Dale had "some other sort" of burrito), the decor was also fascinating. It reminded us of a New Orleans court yard with lots of colorful plants attractively arranged, cobble stoned floor and exotic birds in huge cages. The food was so plentiful that I saved half my lunch in a doggy bag, which we then shared for dinner that night.

From Las Cruces and Mesilla we drove south on the I-10 freeway along countless stock yards with the accompanying smell. I have never experienced such an unpleasant smell for such a long stretch anywhere on a freeway before. Lining the freeway on the eastern side were equally countless pecan orchards, however, none of the trees were blooming yet.

I don't think Dale could get out of the El Paso area fast enough. Cars were zippin' by everywhere around us at neck-breaking speeds, and not knowing the area, the exits, etc., I know I wouldn't have been comfortable driving either.

The river Rio Grande separates the US and El Paso from Mexico and the town of Ciudad Juarez, both within spitting distance of each other. But how different in appearance! We were immediately struck by the incredible difference between the two cities - El Paso pretty much like any other large American city with residential sections, industrial sections, business sections, etc. and then Ciudad Juarez on the other side, incredibly poor and shabby looking. The houses, almost without exception, looked very run-down and barely inhabitable. Such a sad sight!!

After leaving El Paso, we had originally planned to go directly south to Big Bend National Park, the final destination of our trip, but instead, we drove east to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park since it was closer, and we figured we could still reach the park's only camp ground before the end of the day. Can you imagine! There was not a single public rest room between El Paso and the park! There were some picnic areas, but they all lacked one common commodity - a rest room! And nowwhere to hide in bushes along the highway either! We finally found a little store where the owner was watching a Cuba Gooding movie on a very small TV screen He gestured toward the back of the building where a questionable sign read "rest room." However, this long "reward" was occupied and I found myself "fighting" wfor the key with some latecomers who corned the prior occupant outside the building while I was waiting inside.

These were our first close up views of the Guadalupes, the highest mountains in Texas.

Guadalupe Peak Guadalupe Peak

And below is a photo of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park camp site. The information on the bulletin board warned of incredibly strong winds and for tenters to batten down the hatches or else they'd blow away. We can attest to the strength of the wind. It was impressive.

Guadalupe Peak

While reading during the afternoon, a fellow camper dropped by to ask if we had any insecticide. It seems he had picked up a swarm of killer bees during an eleven day stay at one place in Big Bend National Park. He left thinking the travel would get rid of them, however, he found they had built a nest under his trailer. He was still trying to get rid of them when we left the next day.

Here we are leaving the next morning with the sun just coming up and casting its glow on Guadalupe Peak.

Guadalupe Peak

Day 6 - New Mexico

Traveling south of Springerville a short distance on the Coronado Trail (highway 191) to the little town of Alpine, at an altitude of some 8,000 feet, is always enjoyable. The desert landscape slowly changes first to more junipers and then to more pine trees as you get up into higher altitudes.

In Alpine, we turned east and left Arizona for New Mexico after a few short miles. We traveled through Gila National Forest where we found San Francisco Campground, a primitive spot hidden among the pine trees. This was Dale's favorite camping spot during the entire trip - even though we didn't stay here. We did make a pit stop, however, to let the dogs drink of the creek water. After all the dryness of the Navajo desert, it was nice to see some evergreen trees and running water.

We stopped in Silver City, which seems to grow by leaps and bounds, and new areas appear each time we visit this pretty little town, which certainly isn't so little any more. Having found some freeze-dried pinto beans here during earlier visits, we hoped to be able to find them again, and we were not disappointed. Now we have five different packages of refried beans to try out.

During earlier trips to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, we found some nice forest service campgrounds north of Silver City, and we were hoping they would be open this early in the season. One was indeed closed but two were open, and we discovered that, for some reason, the best spot in the Upper End Campground at Roberts Lake was still free. The camp site was located on a little spur road, away from the rest of the other campers, with some nice rock work around the camp as well as the parking area. And - the weather was great - definitely shorts time!

Upper End Campground at Roberts Lake

Day 5 - Arizona

Before leaving the campground, we took a short hike up to some Petroglyphs where long ago dwellers had recorded their dreams, hopes, and other expressions of daily life.

Shortly after Day 5 dawned, we entered Arizona and the Navajo Indian Reservation, where I found a mean cup of French Vanilla coffee at one of the small gas stations! Don't let it be said that you can't satisfy white man's cravings on the Reservaton! By now, the weather was great - the sun was shining, and we were able to wear shorts for the first time since leaving the cold and snowy North. Although, the wind still followed wherever we went.

We found delightful Lyman State Park, about 15 miles north of Springerville in eastern Arizona in the early afternoon where we stopped and were able to enjoy our second showers since leaving home. Mind you, we do have showers in our camper as well, however, it's more enjoyable when you have more room to move around!

Dale sunning himself at Lyman Lake State Park

In addition to the camp sites, Lyman State Park had some newly varnished and very cozy looking cabins, and even some yurts for its summer guests. None were occupied this early in the year but they sure looked inviting as get-aways during hot summer afternoons.

Muffen and Murphy were delighted to find some fuzzy park inhabitants that were duly chased into the brambles and bushes.

The next morning, I was overjoyed to find an Espresso boutique in Springerville which served a scrumptious cup of Latte. Since we had already had breakfast in the camper, we passed on the great omelettes that we knew were served at Buga Reds in Springerville since we had enjoyed some during an earlier trip.

Day 4 - Through Moab & Southern Utah

Originally, we had planned to make it all the way to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona on day 4, but instead we decided we would do something we'd wanted to do for many years, namely camp in Arches National Park. Every time we had been to Moab during earlier years, the camp site was full. But surely this time of the year we wouldn't have any problems getting a camp site! Hah! Need we say more? We were there in the morning, and still, the camp site was full!! We were very disappointed, but without a camp site, we decided to move on after stopping for lunch at the Lions Club picnic site in the northern section of Moab.

Moab also has a wonderful City Market, where we stocked up on provisions before driving south through the beautiful rock formations which line Highway 191 south of Moab. From the highway, you can also see some of the beauty of the Canyonlands area, where we've been many times before.

We thought we might try camping at one of the National Forest Service campgrounds west of Monticello and turned west in the middle of town toward the Manti La Sal National Forest. However, we very quickly ran into snow and the road was closed off by a high snow bank before we reached the camp grounds. The dogs had a chance to frolic in the snow for a while before we headed back to town, and then south again.

South of Bluff, close to the Arizona border by the San Juan River, we stopped at Sand Island State Park. Like Palisades Lake State Park, this park was also situated in a beautiful location, nestled among trees and bushes which were about to break out in buds.

Sand Island State Park

Day 3 - Moving on to Central Utah

We were lucky we had been able to watch the news and weather predictions the prior evening so we knew a rare winter storm was expected over the greater Salt Lake City area. As a matter of fact, the predictions for snow were not given in inches but rather in feet! When we turned on the news in the morning, I-15 was experiencing heavy snow in the Salt Lake City area even though it was only overcast up north of Ogden where we were. Since the storm was expected to move on further east around Noon, we felt it was better to stay put and wait out the worst.

It was difficult to just sit around and wait for the clouds to leave, and around 11.30 am, after an early lunch, we took off. The closer we got to Salt Lake City, the more snow there was on the ground. However, the freeway was clear! With heavy clouds all around us and high mountain passes to the east, we debated which way to go. We were going east, but should we go south on 1-15 and brave a more southern pass or should we chance it and take a closer, but more northern pass? We decided on the latter, and as it turned out, we had no problems. We turned east by Levan, south of Nephi, and headed toward the little town of Gunnison. Here, we turned north for a few miles until we saw the turn off to our destination, Palisades Lake State Park.

What a pleasant surprise! The lake was located high up in the foothills of the mountains in Fishlake National Forest in a beautiful setting.

Palisade Lake

Another, also very pleasant surprise, was the fact that there were showers available, and the very nice park lady turned them on especially for us - we were the only campers in the entire park. Normally, the showers were not turned on until later in the afternoon.

We managed to sit outside for a short while and enjoy some sun shine after the wind, rain, and snow we had encountered during our trip so far. Alas, the snow was not far behind, however, and we got a little dusting. The photo below is before the snow. Can't imagine snow here, can you?!

Our camp at Palisade Lake State Park

Day 2 - Idaho & Northern Utah

The next morning, the wind was still howling and the weather had not improved much. However, Idaho and possibly northern Utah were waiting, and we were hoping to leave the gray weather behind.

For our second day, we had planned to stop in some of the bigger cities in Idaho and look for J.C. Penney stores (when you live in northwestern Montana, you learn to take advantage of shopping opportunities in the "big" cities in other areas) and planned to camp somewhere south of American Falls. However, we skipped Penneys and moved on to a new destination in northern Utah, Hiram State Park close to Logan.

Upon arriving, rather late in the afternoon, we found only the primitive part of the park was open. The kind park attendant advised us that Willard Bay State Park, only about 45 miles away to the west, was open - 45 miles through one of the Wasatch Mountain canyons and over a pass. As we headed up toward the pass, it began to snow, and the road turned very slushy, icy, and our speed decreased drastically. We settled ourselves in behind a very slow moving truck and figured we were safer behind it rather than trying to pass it. Once we were safely on the other side of the pass, our heart beats slowly returned to normal.

Willard Bay State Park was indeed open, however, the wind was equally strong here as the one we had experienced in southern Montana, and we did not linger outside. Instead, since we were so close to large cities, we were able to get excellent TV reception and spent the evening watching news and the weather forecast. By the way, this was the one of the few camp sites during the trip when we did not take a picture of the camp site.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

T minus 0 - We're off

It's Monday ayem, March 28, 2005, all three cats are safely deposited with their respective kennel and veterinary hospital, Muffen & Murphy have both had a recent visited to the groomer in anticipation of being presentable during the trip, and we're off. The weather could have been better, but nothing can interfere with our feeling of anticipation - new sights and experiences are waiting.

In the past, it seems we'd no sooner return home before we would have trouble remembering what the different camp sites at which we stayed during our trips looked like so this time, I decided I was going to take a picture of each site. Thus, the images depicted in the pages to come will undoubtedly make the reader think "enough already of that darn camper....."

We had set our sights on reaching the area around Dillon in southwestern Montana on our first day and thought Clarks Canyon Reservoir would be an ideal spot. This reservoir, south of Dillon, is named for Capt. William Clark of the Discovery Corp, and since it served as camp site for this famed group, it would certainly be fine for us.

We arrived around dinner time to find the lake partially frozen and rather frigid temperatures. Howling winds convinced us that we wouldn't be sitting outside to enjoy the scenery on this first day, even though the area normally would be very inviting. We could see the little butte on an island in the lake which reportedly served as a look-out during the Discovery Corp's stop over at this spot some 200 years ago. Then, of course, it was not an island, since the lake is a man-made one. Thus, the actual camp where the Lewis & Clark Expedition stayed is now covered by water.

Clark Canyon State Park