Saturday, October 9, 2010

Seaside Buffalo and a 7:30pm curfew

After making our traditional overnight stay in Baker City, which means we yet again left Seattle about 3 hours too late, we headed south on the 84. Al and Nanc stayed in WW and were about 3 hours behind us on the highway. Once again, the Golden Spike was bypassed in favor of a rather unique setting just miles from a major metro area. This is the view from our campsite.

Yes, that is a real live buffalo on the banks of the Great Salt Lake, less than ten miles from Salt Lake City. Upon arriving, we asked the friendly lady at the guard shack for campsite that could accommodate our “little kids” tent and Al and Nanc’s “big kids” fifth wheel trailer. She hooked us up nicely, but let it be known, “Al Murphy better arrive by 7:30pm, because, these gates will be closed and no one, and I mean no one, gets in after 7:30.” We said okay, and made note of the fact the exit was open 24-7 and there were no spike things in the road to prevent Al from driving in the wrong way should he miss curfew.

To reach the camp ground, one must negotiate the causeway for 8 miles across the lake, or better put, one must handle the increasing stench from the brackish swamp lands at the edge of the lake. What had we got ourselves into, soon the stench had invaded the car, the further we went, the worse it got. Finally we reached the island, and at this point we were a tad bit scared. Will we be able to cook, drink beer, or even sleep with this odorous air ? Thankfully we didn’t have to answer that question. After reaching the island, we crossed over a ridge, and presto, the swamp had turned into a lake, and the desert air had rejoined us. The stench was a distant memory.

No pics of the maiden voyage for our new roomier tent with extra poles for support during a wind storm, but we did manage to snap a few from our perch above the lake at sunset.

We may have been just far enough away to avoid the noise and lights of SLC, but no such luck with regard to Hill Air Force Base. A constant stream of jets passed over the lake en route to firing ranges near the Nevada border. Curtis had suggested we should have stayed near the Bonneville Salt Flats, so we could observe the amateurs trying to get there hot rods to the sound barrier on the race course. Something tells me, he might have also suggested we ignore the "Keep out, military firing range ahead" signs.
Al and Nanc arrived just before curfew, so there was no need to flaunt Utah state laws. The fifth wheel simply pulled into the spot, Nanc hit a button, and we were inside enjoying cold beers with chips and salsa. How can something so big, be so easy to set up? We spent more time trying to figure out which tent pole went where than they did getting the fifth wheel ready for action.
Warm temps greeted us in the morning. Our plan was to wake up at 8:00am and hit the road at 9:00am, but that quickly turned into noon, no worries though, we are now on Desert Time. The day ahead will deliver us southbound through familiar territory with a final destination somewhere along the San Rafael Reef.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gearing up!

The MLB season has drawn to a close (at least for the Mariners), so we are preparing to hit the road for another autumnal adventure.

The plan is solid. We are going to Utah in October. OK, maybe its a little vague, but we have every trail book and map ever published on the area, and plenty of institutional knowledge. We can wing it.

We got a new tent, so hopefully there will be a little less drama on that front. The other big change this year is that Curt's mom and stepfather, Nanc and Al, will be joining us in their 5th wheel. Hopefully we won't get soft with all of those amenities, recliners, fridge, freezer, toilet, shower, and DirecTV. Curt is already scheming to bring another monitor to run a line out to our tent. Isn't that ridiculous! Don't get me wrong. I would like to see the Packer game while sitting at camp 50 miles from a convenience store. We'll see how it goes.

We'll update this blog as we can. Until then, happy trails.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

536 Miles on US 93 and one Jackpot

This FJ journey has three parts, Seattle to Las Vegas, 8 Days in Arizona, and San Francisco to Seattle. The first part was to commence on Thursday, March 11, it was to include a leisure visit in Walla Walla, a day on the slopes in Park City, and another day in the warmth of Zion, followed by a night in Las Vegas. I was being nice and riding along with the Old Man as he drove the FJ down to Spring Training. Good plan. I liked it. I was even looking forward to another trek down the 84, well, sort of looking forward to that.

All of a sudden, computer issues at Curt's work, a snow storm, and a few other things later, we were leaving on Saturday morning. With a plane ticket in hand to fly home from Vegas, I decided to ride along anyway and keep him company. We left Seattle without a solid plan (a theme that will continue to cause problems later in March) and finally decided on tackling US 93 instead of the 15, as the weather forecast for Utah travel was labeled "treacherous" by our good friends at NOAA. After several mind numbing hours on the 84, we turned south at Twins Falls. We had finally decided Jackpot, Nevada would work just fine for the night.

Jackpot is your classic border town that offers a vice that is not available in the neighboring state. After 50ish very dark miles, we crested a hill, and were hit neon lights, last seen on the Strip in the early 1960's.

I noted that Curt was paying way too much attention to the time of day throughout the trip, what was he in a hurry for, I wondered. Could it the famous hair band, Night Ranger, maybe it was the 9.99 prime rib dinner that was only offered until 9:00pm, nope it was some ridiculous boxing match, he drove us from casino to casino looking for a sportsbook that had it on. Apparently, the casinos in Jackpot don't buck up for pay per view boxing.

Next chore, find a room, should be easy right ? Nope, not when Night Ranger is in town and the annual Jackpot high school football coaches convention has descended from all nearby states. We managed to secure one of the last rooms available, across the street, up the dirt road, back by the atv trails, and of course we were free to smoke in our fabulous smoking room.

With a warm room in our possession, we headed out to find a decent beer before the masses descended on the only bar following a night of hair raising hair nation rock and roll from Night Ranger. While in the Saloon, we were treated to the absolute worst Karoke host and perhaps the most quintessential rural nevada character either of us had ever seen. Sorry, no pics.

But tell me, if you saw this guy any where in the world, wouldn't you just know he was a security guard in a rural Nevada casino. . . . Late 20's, about 5-10, 280 lbs, belt on too tight, large belly hanging down a several inches below that belt, hair slicked back like and NBA ref, and classic elvis sideburns. We were also shared some pleasure in seeing some of the worst singing ever, but then again what to you expect when people pay 5 dollars to enter a singing contest where the prize is a 6 dollar buffet coupon?

Back to the coaches convention, does anyone find irony in the fact the sportsbook was littered with college coaches who were in town to instruct their high school counterparts? One last note on Jackpot. Curt was obsessed with setting his satellite radio to record the over night F1 car race from Bahrain. It was comical watching him trying to figure what time it was. We had several things working against us . . . first, we were in the Pacific time zone, but in a town that observes Mountain time, and it was the night to move clocks forward. It was 3:00am on one clock, and 1:00am on another, and his satellite radio is scheduled in Eastern time. In the end, he failed.

The rest of the trip . . . We skipped breakfast in Jackpot, and set our sights on Wells, where we enjoyed a great breakfast in a bordello. Okay, not quite a bordello, but the place was owned and run by a bordello just up the street.

Hour and hour after hour of US 93, flanked with snow under brilliant blue skies. Finally in the late afternoon, we descended the high desert to Las Vegas. We settled on the Hilton because it was 50 bucks a night, it's monorail friendly, and we can park the over loaded FJ very close to the elevator.

Nothing much to report from Vegas on the gambling side, we made a little, lost a little, but we did discover a new trick . . . get away from "Vegas" during the day, and suddenly "Vegas" at night is more fun. We went golfing. I took full advantage of the rock hard fairways and chalked up my best score ever, 102 for 18 holes, and I only cheated about 4 or 5 strokes, and Curt only beat me by 3 strokes, but I think he cheated more, so I consider this a victory.

On Tuesday morning, the Old Man dropped off his wife and picked up his husband at the airport. Paul joined Curt for the drive to Phoenix, and I returned to Seattle, quite thankful I don't live in Ely, Nevada.

Standing On a Corner

I flew back to Phoenix on the following Sunday morning to start part 2 of this journey. This time, the Old Man dropped his husband at Sky Harbor, then picked me up. I had warned him before I left, make sure the Badger game is on the satellite radio in the car, and get me to a sports bar to watch the game. I executed this much better than Bucky, the Badgers never got on track, and easily sent Cornell to the Sweet Sixteen.

We perused the maps while Bucky went up in flames, Curt suggested Mainland Mexico, I considered Yuma, we thought about Tucson, but in the end settled on a plan that would take us north, so we could eventually check out Canyon de Chelly. So we headed out on the 17 under 80 degree temps, the warmth stuck with us in Sedona as we headed out into Red Rock country in search of a worthy camp spot. Which is easier said than done, "no camping/no campfires" signs were every where. You could camp on the left side of the road, but not the right, and guess which way every single spur road went ? And to make matters worse, neither of us bothered to look at the clock, or in the ice chest. We had some food, little beer, no water, and diminishing daylight. Onto to plan B.

I had always wanted to check out Jerome, an old "ghost city" located about 30 miles south of Sedona. Once upon a time in 1929, 15,000 people lived in Jerome and worked the local copper mine, but by 1950, only 50 residents remained. The funny thing was, you could see Jerome from miles away, it sits on a literal mountain side about 2000 feet above the valley floor. There is basically a single paved road that switch backs up the side of the mountain, when you look across the street, you also look down a 100 feet to find the next building. We stayed in the Jerome Grand Hotel, enjoyed a good meal and gleaned local knowledge at the "Haunted Hamburger", before finishing the evening at the only saloon in town that would take plastic. No typical rural Nevada casino security guy to entertain us this time, but we did manage the enjoy the banter of a common thing in Arizona . . . biker chicks.

After breakfast in Jerome, now a thriving art community, we headed north, searched and failed to find a place we wanted to camp at near Sedona, so we just kept going towards Canyon de Chelly. The fuel gauge allowed us to blast through Flagstaff, and set our sights on Winslow, Arizona for a pit stop, and a must see . . . The Corner.

We took the first exit, so we could drive through Winslow, we would pass the "The Corner" because that's the way we were going. The excitement started to build as we entered historic downtown Winslow, which side of the road would it be on, could we simply slow down, and casually look, or would we have to pull over, park, get the camera and join the gawkers ?

Wait a second, why the orange cones, workmen, heavy construction gear, and my god, a sign that stated "road closed", we were routed around main street for two blocks. We glimpsed the park, but the girl in the flat bed ford was no where to be found.

With disappointment hanging heavily, we gassed up, grabbed some snacks, and failed to note that we were now headed into the Navajo Nation. The aforementioned "little beer" supply had not been restocked, and for the next several hundred miles, the nearest beer store would eternally be in our rear view mirror. Of course, we would not know this little nugget of info until we pulled into Chinle, Arizona and noted the "no alcohol allowed" sign at the National Park campground. What kind of camp ground was this ? No beer around the fire, no wine with dinner (car campers can afford a few luxuries), what is going on here ? Ohhhhh, no alcohol in the Navajo Nation, we did not know that. You would thought one of the 4000 billboards along Interstate 40 would have warned us, and directed us to their handy little store.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Canyon de Chelly Pictures

The above pics are of Spider Rock, access to the canyon floor is mostly restricted, but we rather enjoyed the lazy drive along the south rim, stopping at various lookouts.

We are allowed to access the canyon floor at this point, we plan to head down in the morning, if the snow stays away.

One of us is aware of the beer situation, one is not. Can you guess which one knows?

Apparently, Vancouver 2010 has inspired a new style of cairns.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It Is GRAND, and a New Policy

Although Zion promised to be warmer, we chose the Grand Canyon. The temps would be about the same as the Paria, and warmer in the canyon. We’ve been to Zion quite a few times in recent years, and we haven’t been to the Grand Canyon since my birthday in 2000. At that time, we hiked down to the Cedar Ridge on the Kaibab Trail. A puny 1123 ft decent. We were back at the moto lodge by noon. And the ‘cowboy’ bartender started feeding me White Russians. The next day was rough.

We roll into the park with time to pick a nice spot to photograph the moonrise. With all of our time outdoors, we were in tune to these things, and the moon is now full. Wilson pulls out one of his “by my calculations” and picks an overlook. The road to that overlook is bus access only, so we will jump on the bikes. Uh oh. Flat tire. We start walking up the road. OK, we need to walk quickly to make it on time. I spend the brisk 1.25 mile walk wondering why he couldn’t pick one of the dozens of other pull outs right off the road. Nonetheless, here is the result. We scan the only park campground that is open. There are plenty of sites, but it is already past dusk. We figured a motel was likely tonight, and the temps are dropping quickly. Besides, I need a shower. The afternoons have been too short to get in our camp showers. We’ll be better set up to succeed hiking in the canyon if we get a room. We settle in to our comfort, and Curt is busy on the computer. After checking the weather, he announces a ‘new policy’. We are campers, but there is no shame in sleeping indoors when temps are in the 20’s, the hotels are only $60 more than a campsite, and only 3 highway miles away. We add another night and hope to make it to the inner gorge tomorrow.

The hike was great. I was happy to see stimulus $ at work on the trail. The maintanence crew was using McClouds, but they didn’t have a LFD or a blaster, like my crew. I thanked them for their work. Millions of people will enjoy the trail for decades the way they are rebuilding it.

We quickly negotiated the first 1123 foot decent to Cedar Ridge in just under 40 minutes. Our next destination, Skeleton Point, is down there in the shadows, with the Inner Gorge running through the bottom of the tree. We reached Skeleton Point, another 1200 feet down, an hour later. Now it was decision time, we had a nice perch on a rock over looking the river . . . should we continue down to the inner gorge, or relax here and face just a 2300 ascent ? We both felt like our tanks were full, so we headed down to the inner gorge, another 1000 feet below. We're headed to the plateau just above my PB&J sandwich.
The day hikers were thinning out, it was us and some German guy in white sneakers and jeans. We reached Tipoff, found another nice rock ledge, and enjoyed lunch (my final Italian meat sandwich) and tried to take in the scene without thinking of the 3300 ascent that awaited us.
I was jealous of the hikers who continued down the trail, all were staying at the Phantom Ranch, a great option if you can plan your stay 23 months in advance. When we started the Kaibab trail, there were hundreds of people slogging up and down, the further we went, the less people we saw. After the German guy sped past while we ate lunch, we were nearly alone. It was still 4 hours until dark, and the trail was deserted except for us, a lone Ranger, and a group of folks who looked like they would be challenged to reach the bottom before next week. It was kind of spooky on the way up, the shadows lengthening, the rim seemingly out of reach, and no people for the final two hours. Curt divided the ascent into three stints, and we just focused on keeping the feet moving between each stop. Ipod’s helped, as did the warm temps. We based our return plan on the setting sun, and were rewarded by catching up to the warm sunlight, and keeping the shadows a comfortable and consistent 300 feet below us. Surprisingly, the 5 mile ascent took almost exactly the same amount of time as the descent, 3 hours and change. We were both thrilled to have tripled our distance from our last Grand Canyon foray, and figured we could have done the Rim to River if we had started earlier in the day. Perhaps, we will take that one on next March during Spring Training, or we could plan like normal people and spend the night at the bottom.

Obviously, Grand Canyon is spectacular. However, the gateway town of Tusuyan left much to be desired. I knew the food was going to be crappy, as was most of the service. I kept wondering what the overseas visitors were thinking of the crappy breakfast buffet, and piss poor dining options. Is this the best we can do? Both Tusuyan and Ruby’s Inn (Bryce) should take note of Moab (Arches, Canyonlands) and Springdale (Zion). Those gateway towns have become destinations in their own right.

After having spent several hours in the Canyon, and witnessing 2 dazzling sunsets, we decide that and another day of riding bikes along the Rim would be nice, but repetitive. Thus, we decide to head out the following day and stick to the Colorado River theme by camping on Lake Mead or Lake Mojave before heading to Las Vegas so Wilson can pay for the trip by crushing the Cup.

Good idea by us, poor execution by the National Park Service. Apparently, campers are not welcome in these parts. Our first stop was Lake Mojave, just below Hoover Dam, a wonderful oasis in Black Canyon. Perfect for boaters, but no camping allowed. Across the desert we went, this time to Temple Bar on Lake Mead, no camping allowed anywhere except the official campground which happened to be under construction. We took this as a sign, and looked to the western sky, was that another astounding sunset, or was that the light display from the newly built Trump Tower in Vegas? We are officially out of the bush. There will be no pics from Vegas, unless of course, I hit 3 straight 00’s on the roulette wheel, or Wilson cashes an IRS trifecta. We’ll recap the weekend and the overall trip on the way home! Good luck to us.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Chili Incident at the Paria

This trip is our 6th into Utah for this type of fun and games, and for the first time, we camped in exactly the same place when had in a previous trip. Our first visit to the Paria was 3 years ago, both of us remembered exploring the valley quite extensively before setting camp by Juniper just under the white cliffs. We liked it then, no reason to reinvent the wheel.
After being cooped up in hotels and on guided tours, we took advantage of good afternoon weather to get in a quick hike into Buckskin Gulch.

Our first night on the Paria was a bit reminiscent of the reasons we left the bush in the first place . . . cold and windy. Wilson talked me into packing snow pants because he had designs on skiing somewhere on this trip, that hasn’t happened yet, but those pants were the key to staying warm that night as we experienced mid 20’s and frozen water in the morning. Cooking, however, was a completely different story. Our first attempt was at Chili and grilled cheese. With the wind blowing hard, the coleman stove is just okay, so Wilson decided to give the chili a head start on the edge of the fire. With my stomach growling, and my mouth vocalizing that fact, Wilson stepped up the pace, putting the chili on a bed of coals. He bragged about his prowess in cooking cans on pea combine engines, and claimed the fire would just speed up the process. A few minutes later, both us were fussing with the tent when we heard a rather loud explosion. The chili had blown it’s pull top lid. The collateral damage was impressive, the entire contents were blown throughout camp, with chill bits making over 20 feet to the bikes. We didn’t find the lid until the final day, 37 feet from the campfire.
One of the reasons we like the Paria is the tremendous color pallete you can see from the valley floor. The valley was inhabited until 1930, then Hollywood discovered it in the 60’s, with The Outlaw Josey Wales being the last film in 1976.
On our previous visit, we wanted to hike Hackberry Canyon, a 400 foot slot canyon about 2 miles from our campsite as a bird flies. But as we all know, Curt and Amy can’t fly, so we are faced with two choices . . . walk across the weirdest muddy alkaline soil plain I have ever seen (for one mile), then walk down the Paria River through a box canyon (another mile), then walk up the Cottonwood wash until we find the gravel road (another mile), and then finally 2 miles of the Cottonwood road to the mouth of Hackberry Canyon. We tried that 3 years ago, and had no time or energy to explore the canyon. We chose the second option this time, a 33 mile (each way) drive to get to the same place. In hindsight, riding bikes to the Paria, then down the River to the gravel road may have been the best option. Nonetheless, we had ample time to explore the Hackberry, negotiating the entire slot portion then finding a nice lunch spot near an abandoned cabin in a broad valley.
Night #2 was a bit more pleasant, no wind, but it still cold, but not chilly enough to keep us from cooking up spicy Italian sausage and making a big vat of spaghetti.

Our second full day at the Paria left us with two choices . . . we had a pass to the South Coyote Buttes area, but after yesterday’s bone jarring drive, we both concurred that 17 miles down another non-maintained road was not our idea of a good time. (apparently there is an argument between Kane County, Utah and the BLM about the roads, a federal judge has intervened, but Kane County has chosen to read the decision one way, while the BLM reads it another way).

So . . . we settled on option two, which did not even require the use of the FJ . . . a bike ride, a river crossing, then up a narrow century old cattle trail to the slick rock mesas between the Paria and the Hackberry. What’s the last thing you would expect to run into on this hike ? I know that a real live cattle drive was not on our radar. As slow has that herd appeared to be, they kept gaining on us, we finally admitted defeat, climbed some rocks and watched them pass.
This hike happened on a Sunday, how do I know that when the actual day of the week just disappears when camping in the bush ? I knew it was Sunday, because the Old Man was mysteriously hiking with one arm outstretched and holding a device. What could this be ? His portable satellite radio of course, carefully held so it always had good exposure to the southern sky so that he wouldn’t miss a play from either the Seahawks-Cowboys and the Vikings-Packers game. This pic is from after the hike, note he still listening to football, and one of those empties is mine.
Last time we camped here, we had an unexpected visitor, a BLM ranger stopped by the make sure we a permit and offer advice as to the area, and don’t you know it, at about the same exact time of day (when we’re enjoying our coffee) we got another visit from a ranger. In all the many days I’ve spent on other BLM land in Utah, I have never even seen a ranger, much less had one stop by and say hello.

Another good meal and chilly night awaited us. We’ve finalized our closing plans . . . Las Vegas for the Breeder’s Cup, but that still leaves us with 3 days and nights . . . we’re undecided between Zion and the Grand Canyon. We’ll decid during morning coffee just after our patented 9:30am sunrise. We just love to find camps spots with gigantic mesas to the east.