August 20, 2013

The wild and crazy summer of 2013, part 2

For those of you just joining the blog this is part 2 of a 5 part series. We are taking 4 month sabbatical from sailing on Downtime and traveling around the USA.

With the reunion behind us we headed east after Daria and my niece Lindsay spent the morning shopping at the Costa Mesa mall just in time it seemed for the traffic to get nice and busy. Agonizingly were slowed back down to sailing speed by the traffic as we left LA at a crawl. We were heading east back through Las Vegas this time on our way to Utah. 

We were not in any big hurry and spent the night in Vegas and in the morning headed east out of town for one more trip down memory lane. Way back in 1985 I had run a farm located 45 minutes east of town and we pulled in to see the mere skeleton that remained. A few of the main buildings were still standing like the 70 year old adobe two bedroom house that I had lived in for a short time and the partly demolished milking parlors now had rusting roofs on them the same buildings where we had milked countless cows back in the day. Sadly a cow had not been milked here in years and I new in my heart never would be again.

I had moved here to Hidden Valley when I was 20 over half a lifetime ago. I spent three long years out in the harsh climate making my first stand in life. This was a special place with many memories and a place where my first two children were born and my life as an adult began. Out of curiosity I wondered how many people from my past here were still around and I got on the phone to try and contact Jose the manager and friend I worked with so many years ago. I finally got in contact with him through his brother and we were able to have lunch together later that day, something we had not done in over 25 years. We found ourselves both drawn back to a earlier time remembering the many adventures we had running this 3000 cow dairy in the desert so many years ago, back in the day when our kids were still learning to walk. Our kids were now grown and the same age as when we had met so many years ago.

Time is a strange commodity, back in my younger days I never seemed to have enough of it or was always in to big a hurry to see the simple things in life like the Valley of Fire State Park located 30 miles out of Vegas. I must have driven past 100 times back then way too busy in life to take the few hours to see this wonder of nature. Now time seems to be plentiful and those little sideline trips beckon me. Daria and I hopped on the bike the following morning on a warm summer day and were at the park entrance 30 minutes later and spent the next few hours being enchanted by the many colors of the natural sandstone creations inside the park. We rode down through valley with naturally carved sculptures on either side on this beautiful day with perfect weather to enjoy. We were even lucky enough to see a herd of bighorn sheep, an animal I had rarely seen in the wild, ironically just past the yellow and black sheep crossing sign next to the road.

Leaving the park we took the long way home and rode next to what remains of Lake Meade. The lake is down over 80 feet since I last lived here in the 80’s. The lake is having serious demands put on it from the ever growing city of Las Vegas and all parts west for that mater. You can now drive a jeep to the many places we used to fish and the marina we used to launch the boat at has the concrete ramp ending hundreds of feet from the water.

Back in the bus we continued east to St. George, Utah and we plugged “Visitor Center” into the GPS and it took us strait to the biggest Mormon church in town right in front of a small sign that did say visitor center but this just happened to be the church’s not exactly the one we were looking for. 

I have to tell you driving around in circles in a bus that gets 5 miles to the gallon is not even close to my favorite thing to do in life. Get us back to the freeway please Daria….

Finally back on the freeway we took what maps we had and continued down the road to our next state park. Sand Hollow State Park surrounds a small lake and we spend hours driving the trails through the dunes in the Polaris Ranger. Daria is funny she is brave enough to sail countless miles across open oceans, through storms and rough seas but put her in a off road vehicle and she thinks she is going to die. My wild driving most likely did not help all the time going as fast as I could all the while screaming Ranger Danger!
This park also has the most beautiful and cheap RV park, where we stayed during all our trip!

The next park was just 35 miles down the road and we decided to leave the motor home parked and take the bike. Thank goodness we made that decision because Zion National Parks roads were packed and we would never have found a place to park the bus with the trailer behind it, or seen as much as we did from the back of the bike.

Zion is another must see in life. The towering spires of stone reach to the sky the place has a magical feeling to it. The guided tour trams take you on a narrated trip up the canyon along the river to see the sites. Later we took the bike out to the east entrance through a really cool 2 mile long tunnel that was dug through solid rock back at the turn of the century.

At this point we had a general idea of where we were going but also had a few extra days to just see what we would find so off the road we went. With a dozen tires rolling chances are something sooner or later will go wrong. With just over 2000 trouble free miles behind us our good fortune changed. A truck behind us was flashing his lights indicating he wanted to tell us something. We pulled over and this really nice guy pulled along side us and informed us that one of our trailer tires was wobbling and not looking so good. He said he would lead the way for us to a good tire shop who helped him out a few weeks ago, and we slowly followed him into the next town. We thanked him for taking the time to help us out and backed up to the service door at the tire station.

The tire had a big bubble on the side but that was just the start of our problems as we found our after they removed the tire from the trailer and revealed further damage of a broken leaf spring. It was quite comical that the spring broke right in the middle of the “Made In (BIG CRACK)China” that was proudly painted on the spring! Why do they do this?? Put their country name on all this crappy stuff we buy?

Right away I was thinking there goes those few extra days waiting for a new spring while sitting in some small town in Utah. I asked the service manager where he thought I could find a new spring thinking I would unload the bike and ride to wherever it would be down the road. He told me to check at the auto parts store right next door under 100 feet away. As I carried the two pieces of the broken spring that way I was thinking that it would be highly unlikely they would have the right part in stock. I showed the parts manager the spring and he directed me to the last shelf on the left which was stacked knee deep in the very part I needed. Amazed I bought two (one for a spare) and was out the door 15 minutes later spending less that $100.

The tire guys had the new tire mounted and installed the new spring and in under an hour we were happily rolling down the road again thinking how fortunate we were that this man had taken the time to help us out. It was definitely about being in the right place in the right time for that one. Thanks to everyone in that small town that made our day so much better.

A few hours down the road we saw a sign for Coral Pink Sand Dunes State park and took a left turn to see what fun we could have there. Mid summer is the off season for these kind of places usually way to hot to be out riding the dunes and camping this time of year. We had temperatures in the mid 80’s and found ourselves being the only crazy sand fools in the dunes. The dunes and trails go on for miles and miles and with no one else around I was hoping we would not break down or get stuck.

We loaded up and left later in the afternoon after a fun morning in the dunes and got a few miles down the road before I noticed in the rear view mirror that we were rolling down the road with the rear trailer ramp down like in an old episode of Knight Rider. The trailer seemed to be having a bad week and now sported a few new scratches where the rubber pads used to be.

Since we already had seen the south rim of the Grand Canyon we figured why not go see the north rim as well? We parked in a small campground in Jacob’s Lake and rode the bike 50 miles to the canyon twice during the next few days stopping at every viewpoint along the way. The bike it turned out gave us such maneuverability on this trip and the opportunity to see so many places we would have not driven to if we would have had taken only the bus, no to mention that it gets 10 times the fuel mileage. On the way into the park we saw lots of grazing deer and buffalo and just hoped neither would cross front of us on the road later that evening in on our way home.

Standing on the edge of this magnificent canyon leaves you speechless. The Indians that somehow lived here in centuries past had a hard life and the Spanish explorer Montezuma all but gave up his exploration when this giant obstacle stopped him in his tracks. There just did not seem to be a way around something as big or deep as this canyon. The canyon at this point is over a mile deep and up to 12 miles across The sheer sandstone walls drop strait down the first few hundred feet before gradually sloping with their houses sized boulder and ruble strewn slopes that make their way to the edge of light chocolate colored river that roars and gouges its way through the canyon. Amazingly the temperatures can be in the mid 80’s up on the rim and soar 30 or more degrees and into the 100’s on the valley floor. 

We continued southeast towards Page, Arizona where we would see Antelope Canyon but there was a slight glitch caused by the recent flash floods damaging the most direct rout there. As it turned out we would have to take a 200 mile detour to get there which in our case converts into another 40 gallons of diesel and 4 hours on the road but it was well worth it.

Antelope Canyon is a phenomenon where millions of years of water and wind erosion have slowly carved out tunnels and chambers in the narrow sandstone tunnels that you can walk through and see some of the most amazing natural sculptures in the world. There are some really interesting formations that can be seen walking through this canyon. These were pointed out by the skilled Indian guide who showed us the likes of eagles, famous faces and other animals if you just let your imagination run wild. He told us just weeks before we would have been walking 6 feet higher in the canyon but the recent flashflood had washed out at least 6 feet of sand from the floor. He pointed this fact out while showing us logs that had been stuck in crevices 20 feet above our heads from previous storms. This was definitely no place to be during a storm!
Back on the road we continued south east to the south corner of western Colorado where Mesa Verde Nation Park home of the largest archeological preserve in the Unites is located. This location is famous for the cliff dwellings where Anasazi (Puebloan) Indians started living at in 600 AD and continued to do so through the 1300’s. The site has some of the best preserved cliff dwelling in the world and over 4000 archeological sites and 600 dwellings. The tours were very informative and it was fascinating to walk through and see the 1400 years old structures! There were steep trails that lead down to the structures and most had ladders that we had to climb out on. Daria and ladders are not friends since she is scared of heights and it took a little coaching to get her to climb. The park has many miles of road and we found ourselves again on the back of the bike riding from one end of the park to the other. On the way to the eastern side we were even lucky enough to see a bear and her cub, Daria’s first bear in the wild playing in the shade of a tree right next to the road.
This is as far east as we would be for a while and we headed back west to Utah where we would stop at a place I had been wanting all my life to see, Moab, Utah. Moab is a four wheelers dream with hundreds of miles of off road trails to discover. We had the perfect vehicle along with us for that and put many exciting miles on the Polaris Ranger during the next few days. It was the off season here also and we saw very few people out on the trails. On one adventure we often found ourselves way too far away from home and then the worst thing possible happened, we got a flat tire with no spare tire aboard!! I had a bottle of fix a flat and a air compressor aboard but the damage to this tire was located in the sidewall and that was not going to be much help with the damage to this tire. To make maters worse we were a little disorientated (LOST)! We would drive about 15 minutes and then stop and put in more air and drive some more until the tire would be flat again. After 5 or 6 stops we were finally back on the trail home and pulled into camp just as the sun set. Moab is a huge place and on the next trip a spare tire, sat phone and a few friends will be along.

With Moab checked off my bucket list we headed just a few miles up the road to Arches National Park a place God must have made on Saturday after all the hard stuff was done with. This is another place where the millions of years of wind a erosion have created breathtaking sculptures out of sandstone. As the name of the park implies there are also arches made of stone some over 100 feet across others not so big but all amazing to see. Other parts of the park have what to looks like giant sand castles with different colors of sand making mounds and crazy shapes in the landscape. One of my favorites was a huge boulder that is resting on a small spire hundreds of feet in the air. It is there defying gravity for now but one day that baby is coming down and what a crash that will be! At the far end of the park Daria went for a hike that I decided to thankfully sat out on. Over 2 hours later she came wandering back tired and out of water after the 7.5 miles. She had hiked to see some of the most famous of arches on Devils Garden Trail. The geology of southern Utah is mostly red sandstone and it is fascinating to see how many forms and shapes nature can presents it in.

Our off road adventures were over until we could find a new tire for the Ranger and we headed north towards Salt Lake City. We found a nice campground to park at and spent the afternoon at the cinema and rode back home on the bike in the rain. The next day we were back on the bike for a short trip through the local mountains for a very scenic trip down a very narrow and windy roads thankful again we were not driving the bus!

Heading north to Wyoming our next stop we camped at was just out side of Jackson Hole and we rode the bike through.
Teton National Park a place where you can literally say “I have never seen so many huge rocks stacked so tall” The ancient jagged grey granite mountains rise up 7000 feet off the valley floor to almost 14.000 feet with peaks that are permanently covered in snow and glaciers. We rode the bike through the park and then took a boat trip across one of the crystal clear lakes to the base of one of the mountains. From there we took a short hike to one of the many waterfalls. We could have spent several days here but had reservations at a camp ground at the west entrance of Yellowstone, one of the highlights we would be visiting next just a few hundred miles up the road.

Yellowstone was one of the few places I had actually been to before. The last time I was here with my kids and drove through quickly in just a day and seen only a fraction of what it has to offer. Back then I would point to a Elk or Buffalo and the kids would say, “whatever” That was definitely not the case with Daria who was fascinated with every detail.

This trip we would take it much slower and spend three days to see ever corner of it. And every corner we did riding over 400 miles during the next several days from our base camp just outside the west entrance. One day when we were as far as we could have been from home we got caught in the middle of a torrential rain storm and had to find shelter and wring the water out of our socks while it passed. It was a long cold ride home that day. On another day we saw many or the guessers including Old Faithful which is still faithful by the way. The entire park is pure beauty from the many colorful mineral pools to the breathtaking mountain lakes that discharge massive amounts of water down huge waterfalls and down through picturesque canyons. At any traffic jam there is sure to be wildlife that countless tourists are stopped at and taking pictures. We saw many animals in the park including a majestic bald eagle sitting in a tree over the river and the not so calm rutting, rather aggressive buffalo that came charging across the highway in front of us. The next traffic jam presented a young elk which looked more like 70 percent legs and 30 percent elk. 

Old Faithful erupts regularly and thousands of people gather around to see the show. Other small geysers bubble and gurgle but this most famous one spews steaming hot water almost 100 feet in the air. There are hundreds of geothermal attractions in the park and the smell of sulfur lingers in the air. Some make you feel like you are walking on the moon with the crusty alkaloid soil steaming all around you. Others have gurgling mud pits steaming like some mad scientists latest concoction. There are steaming pools of the bluest turquoise waters you have ever seen that are gradually changing to deeper shades of blue as they go deeper down into the earth. Along the edge of many of these pools are an orange bacteria that thrives in this steamy environment and somehow build intricate patterns across the bottom of the shallows of these ponds.

The bear and moose continued to elude us and we never did get a glimpse of either one of these creatures that should have been plentiful in the park this time of year. But we sure did see a lot of beautiful nature and after 3 days felt like we had actually seen all the park had to offer.

Our trip from here would head west to Flat Rock City, Nevada where we had tickets for another monumental event, Burning Man!
Until then,
Peace! Pete and Daria