A Back Roads RV Trip – AZ to NV to UT – Colorado River & Spanish Trail

March 2018 – We love getting off the beaten path in our travels, and as we headed north from Arizona in our seasonal migration this year, we looked for new treasures and new routes through Nevada and into Utah.

Colorado River overlook Arizona RV trip-min

Our first detour at Katherine Landing in Arizona took us to a beautiful overlook on Lake Mohave.

We had driven the North Shore Road alongside Lake Mead outside of Las Vegas last fall (blog post here), and we had been smitten by the beauty and quiet we found along the way. So in our Spring migration we drove back up that route, but this time we drove down as many of the tributaries leading to the Colorado River and its two lakes in the area, Lake Mohave and Lake Mead.

Before reaching Lake Mead, we drove along the east side of the Colorado River in Arizona and discovered beautiful Willow Beach Marina and Campground.

Wildflowers at Willow Beach Colorado River Arizona RV trip-min

Wildflowers at Willow Beach, Arizona

Tucked into a bend in the Colorado River where the rugged mountains loom up on either side, Willow Beach has a marina for boaters and a pretty campground for RVers. We loved the views from the overlooks and found that some of the sites in the campground have spectacular views too.

Willow Beach Marina and Campground Colorado River Arizona-min

Willow Beach has a big marina…

Willow Beach Campground and Marina Colorado River Arizona-min

…and a campground.

US-93 doesn’t offer too many views of the Colorado River as it runs between Kingman, Arizona, and the outer eastern edges of the Las Vegas suburbs, but one scenic overlook just north of the Willow Beach turn-off was lovely.

Colorado River Sunset Willow Beach Arizona RV trip-min

A glimpse of the Colorado River in Arizona at sunset.

We didn’t have a sunny day for our drive along Lake Mead’s North Shore Road in Nevada, but it was striking and dramatic nonetheless.

Lake Mead North Shore Road scenic drive on an RV trip-min

The North Shore Road around Lake Mead east of Las Vegas has some great views.

At times the landscape was filled with red rocks.

North Shore Road Scenic Drive Lake Mead NV-min

Driving into the red rocks.

There are lots of pullouts on the North Shore Road and quite a few hiking trails as well. We stopped at several and hiked up to dramatic vistas overlooking the otherworldly land.

Magical stripes of color on Lake Mead North Shore RV trip scenic drive

Layers of color in the landscape.

Views on Lake Mead North Shore Road scenic drive Nevada-min

There are lots of pullouts and some fun hikes along the North Shore Road.

Red rocks on Lake Mead North Shore Road scenic drive Nevada-min

The tiny ribbon of road is almost lost in the sea of red rock ripples.

There was very little traffic on the road, but we weren’t the only RVers!

RV trip on Lake Mead North Shore Road scenic drive in Nevada-min


Last fall we stopped at Redstone Trailhead and did the pretty half mile hike around a red rock outcropping, and we couldn’t resist doing it again this spring. This time we had a spirited companion with us who wanted to check out every nook and cranny in these glorious red rock formations!

Red rock hiking at Redstone Trailhead Lake Mead North Shore Road scenic drive-min

Buddy explores the Redstone Trail.

In addition to dozens of pullouts and hikes along this route, including some that go back to natural springs (very cool!), there are also quite a few turn-offs that go down to the water’s edge.

Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min

Lake Mead, Nevada.

Lake Mead Nevada back roads RV trip-min


Like all the desert lakes that have been created from wild rivers in the West, the places where the desert meets the water around Lake Mead are stunning, and we loved photographing all we saw.

Golden hour Lake Mead Nevada back roads RV trip-min

Magical light at the golden hour on Lake Mead as a storm threatens in the distance.

Photography on Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min


Before the landscape was filled with river water to make Lake Mead, there were deep canyons and washes everywhere. These became islands and peninsualas when the Colorado River water rose, and today there are endless coves and promontories all around the lake.

Lake Mead Nevada North Shore Scenic Drive-min


Views on Lake Mead North Shore Road Scenic Drive in Nevada-min


The water in Lake Mead is well over 100 feet below where it was intended to be when the lake was created. The water height fluctuates a little through the seasons each year depending on rainfall in the desert, snowfall in the mountains and water releases at the various dams upstream.

One fascinating effect of all this water management is the plethora of sea shells everywhere. Piles of clamshells and crustaceans can be found half a mile from the water’s edge! By the same token, lots of trees and bushes wind up immersed in water for a season or two.

We loved the ripples in the sand under the water.

Ribbed sand in Lake Mead Nevada-min


Buddy romped all over the place. We’ve discovered he loves climbing rocks and he’s very good at it too. Naturally, our cameras clicked away. What a shock it was to look at one of our photos later and see the big fish swimming by him in the water!

Dog on shore and fish in water Lake Mead Nevada-min

Nevermind the dog. Look at that fish!

Sunrises and sunsets were especially beautiful in this exotic land.

Lake Mead Sunset

Sunset at Lake Mead.

We wanted to go to Valley of Fire State Park, a fabulous little jewel in southern Nevada. We had been twice before (blog posts here and here), and we had loved every minute of those visits, but the last one had been nine years ago.

Both times we had gone during the first week of October and there had been plenty of room in the campground for folks without reservations. Not so this time during the Utah schools’ Spring Break. There was no room at the inn. Darn!

Studying our atlas of southern Utah, we decided to try a route we had never driven before. This led north from Littlefield up towards Gunlock State Park, well away from the heavily traveled south-to-north routes that go into Utah’s most dramatic red rock scenery.

But there were still some glorious views to be seen!

Scenic drive approaching Gun Lock State Park Utah-min

Red rocks fill our views on the way to Gunlock State Park, Utah.

Gunlock State Park has a small campground on the edge of the water with pretty views of the small lake.

Gunlock State Park RV camping views-min

Gunlock State Park embraces Gunlock Reservoir, a small lake.

The campground was vacant except for one fifth wheel perched on the edge of the reservoir next to a staircase leading down to the water.

RV camping at Gunlock State Park Utah-min

What a spot!

One thing we just love about wandering through rural regions, going from one village of 2,000 residents to the next, is that each town has its own flavor and claim to fame. When we arrived in Veyo, Utah, and pulled into the gas station to fuel up, we noticed a huge red sign across the street telling us, “You have reached your Pie Desination!”

All Right!! We hadn’t even known a Pie Destination was on our itinerary!

Mark is a big pie lover, and I hold my own too, so we made a beeline over to Veyo Pies to sample their chicken pot pie for lunch and take home a blueberry pie for dessert. Yum!

Veyo Pies in Veyo Utah-min

Mark the Pie Man found his Pie Destination (even though he wasn’t looking!).

Nearby, we stopped at Baker Dam to play along the edges of the small lake. Baker Dam Campground was chock full with families for the local Utah schools’ Spring Break, but the sunset views along the river were very pretty.

River sunset

Sunset during the full moon at Baker River.

It is always a gamble in the spring to leave the growing warmth of the southwestern deserts and head north into the mountains. As we continued towards Cedar City we got our first glimpse of snowcapped peaks.

Snowcapped mountains in Southwestern Utah-min

In early spring the mountains were still capped in snow.

The nights grew cold and we had to dig out an extra blanket, but the views during the days were worth it!

Snowcapped mountains in southwestern Utah-min


Continuing north on secondary roads, we stopped at a few Recreation Areas along our route. Only a few intrepid RVers and fishermen in winter jackets and hats were out enjoying them.

In a month these places would start to get busy, but at this early season they were very quiet.

Farm fields and snowcapped mountains near Cedar City Utah-min


In true Spring fashion, Nature teased us with some beautiful warm sunny days in between chilling reminders that Old Man Winter hadn’t retired just yet.

Mountain biking near Minersville Utah-min


We swung through the tiny hamlet of Minersville, stopping briefly at Minersville Recreation Area, and continued on through to Beaver. Portions of our route through Utah had followed the Old Spanish Trail which is marked in many places with large metal cutouts of riders on horseback.

Spanish Trail metal cutouts

We saw metal cutouts like these in several places along the Old Spanish Trail.

If you are heading out of Arizona to points north, consider trying a route that includes one or several of these smaller roads instead of battling it out with the big rigs on I-15!

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More info about this area:

Other drives we’ve done on America’s back roads:

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Lake Mead Scenic Drive + A Great RV Pit Stop at “Redstone” NV!

December 2017 – We try to avoid interstate highways and big cities in our RV lifestyle, and when we began our trek south from southern Utah towards Arizona a few weeks ago, we wanted to limit our time on I-15 and avoid the congestion and traffic of Las Vegas.

Fifth wheel RV trip to Lake Mead Nevada-min

We found a delightful scenic drive that skirts around Las Vegas!

We took a jog south off of I-15 onto Nevada Route 169 and followed the contours of Lake Mead all the way around to the southeastern side of Las Vegas. What a beautiful and delightful RV trip!

Lake Mead Nevada RV scenic drive-min

The road takes a wonderful journey through rocky and colorful terrain.

The road rose and dipped and swerved left and right, revealing gorgeous scenery all along the way.

RV scenic drive along Lake Mead Nevada shoreline-min


Even though we didn’t have a great day weather-wise, the scenery was fantastic!

As we drove along, happily chatting away about this and that, we passed the turn-off for Valley of Fire State Park. We LOVE this stunning park and have visited it several times (blog posts here and here), but with a bit of regret we passed it up this time.

Suddenly, we saw a sign for the Redstone Picnic Area. We needed to take a break and get a little lunch, so we pulled in.

RV parking Redstone Picnic Area Lake Mead Nevada-min

Redstone Picnic Area – A fun RV pit stop!

What a wonderful surprise this little jewel was! It’s like a little mini taste of Valley of Fire! There were pretty picnic ramadas scattered about the edges of the parking lot.

Redstone Trail picnic area Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min

Picnic ramadas with grills!

Redstone Picnic Area Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min

A nice place to take a breather from driving.

Never mind lunch, we had photos to take!

We jumped out of our truck and began snapping away. The red rock formations were so cool we both even took photos of the rocks framing the vault toilets. It’s gotta be a pretty spot when two photographers both feel inspired to take pics of a vault toilet building!!

Redstone Picnic Area Lake Mead Nevada vault toilets-min

We were loving the scenery so much we both took pics of the vault toilet building!

The Redstone Picnic Area has a short hiking trail that leaves the picnic tables behind and ventures out into the red rocks on a lovely loop around a huge red rock mound. I headed out on the trail for pics there while Mark moved in close to the red rock hill and got some great shots of the formations.

Arches on Redstone Trail picnic area Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min


Window view Redstone Trail Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min

Views through windows…

Red rocks at Redstone Picnic Area on a Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min

Tumbled slabs…

Hiking at Redstone Trail on Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min

The weather was overcast, but what fun we had scrambling around on the rocks.

One of the things that always baffles me about the big rock and mountain formations in the west is the various “uplifts” that have occurred where wide flat expanses of rock have been upended by natural forces long ago.

Uplift in red rocks at Redstone Trail on Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min

An “uplift” !!

We also loved the various hollows and rounded alcoves and windows we found in the rocks.

Holes in rocks at Nevada Redstone Trail Lake Mead RV trip-min

Natures built-in shelves.

Rock formations on Redstone Trail Lake Mead Nevada-min

Window to the heavens.

Red rock formations Redstone Trail picnic area Nevada Lake Mead RV trip-min


A car or two pulled up during our stay but they moved right along after using the facilities. We were having so much fun crawling around on these beautiful red rocks. We didn’t want to rush our visit!

Huge red rock formations Redstone Trail Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min

Big rocks, small guy!!

The hiking trail revealed some wonderful views on the far side.

Views on Redstone Trail picnic area Lake Mead RV trip-min

As the hiking trail rounded a bend, we could see far off into the distance.

And the gods painted the skies with fantastic patterns of sun and clouds just for our photos.

Redstone Trail picnic area Lake Mead RV trip-min

The sun played hide-and-seek and cast cool colors across the lens.

Redstone Trail picnic area Lake Mead RV trip-min

The clouds lined up for a photo op.

When we finally got back to our trailer, we got out our lunch goodies and sat down to yummy sandwiches.

Fifth wheel RV trip Redstone Trailhead Lake Mead Nevada-min

What a nice break this was!

Back out on the road we saw more wide open expanses and lovely views.

Scenic RV driving on by Lake Mead Nevada-min

The Lake Mead scenic drive continues.

The colors in the distant rocks and hills were wonderful earth tones — real earth tones — that reminded us of our trip to Death Valley years ago.

Colorful hills Lake Mead Nevada RV scenic drive-min

Reminiscent of Death Valley, California.

Rock formations on Lake Mead Nevada Scenic Drive by RV-min

The brown crus peels off to reveal crimson rocks underneath.

At times we saw pockets of red rocks poking through.

Scenic RV driving on by Lake Mead Nevada-min

Vibrant red rocks add a splash of color to the landscape.

And then we finally arrived at the shores of Lake Mead. We stopped at a big parking area and wandered out to the edge of the overlook. Beautiful!

Lake Mead RV trip in Nevada-min

Lake Mead.

Lake Mead Nevada RV trip-min

From red rocks to lake views – what a drive!

If you are headed south on I-15 with your RV to get to Arizona and other parts of the southwest for the winter, or if you plan to take your RV back up north via that route in the spring, plan a detour around Las Vegas and check out this lovely scenic drive on the back side of Lake Mead!


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More info about this Lake Mead Scenic Drive:

Other blog posts from nearby Northwestern Arizona:

A few posts from Nevada too!

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A Las Vegas Light Show — WOW!!

September 2017 – Just before I left on a whirlwind trip to Paris — the City of Light — we experienced one of the most dramatic light shows we have ever seen anywhere. It was put on by Mother Nature and staged in the valley north of Las Vegas, Nevada.

She used the city lights as a backdrop and spotlights mounted on a building in front of us as footlights!

Lightning in Las Vegas_

Bolts of lightning fill the night skies over Las Vegas

We were camped at the Clark County Shooting Complex RV park, a nice little RV park that sits up on a hill north of Las Vegas. We were there because we needed air conditioning in the 95 degree late summer heat during our stay.

RV at Clark County Shooting Range Las Vegas at sunset

Storm clouds light the sky in bright colors at Clark County Shooting Complex RV Park.

The high vantage point of the park gives RVers fabulous views of the city lights at night from every campsite. In the mornings we were woken by folks enjoying target practice.

As we stood outside, marveling at the majestic colors of sunset and watching thick and dark storm clouds swirl across the valley from the mountains on the distant horizon, we suddenly heard the wind pick up and felt some raindrops on our cheeks.

A lightning storm begins at sunset in Las Vegas

Rain falls from storm clouds at sunset.

Then we saw bolts of lightning flashing in the distance. Wow!!

Lightning over Las Vegas Nevada


Lightning bolts in Las Vegas Nevada


For the next half hour we stood and watched the most incredible lightning show either of us has ever seen. Huge bolts of lightning burst out of the sky and struck the ground in rapid fire succession.

Lightning storm over Las Vegas Nevada


Lightning bolts over Las Vegas Nevada


At first, as we stood there, we kept saying to each other, “We really should get out our cameras and try to capture this!” But lightning is hard to pin down in a photo, and we didn’t think the lightning show would go on much longer.

We have a fancy lightning trigger that attaches to a camera and automatically clicks the shutter button every time it senses lightning, and it works pretty well. But we had bought it for our old cameras and hadn’t upgraded its cable to match our new cameras.

Lightning in Las Vegas Nevada

A single bolt strikes from the heavens above.

Twin Lightning bolts in Las Vegas Nevada


So we stood there with our mouths gaping open and our feet rooted to the ground as massive lightning bolts flashed across the valley in front of us. To our amazement, the show kept going and going and going.

Lightning bolts over Las Vegas Nevada


Suddenly, Mark said something about how you could leave the camera shutter open for long periods and just let whatever lightning bolts fell stockpile themselves onto the image. That was all the hint I needed! I flew into the rig to grab my camera and tripod. As I dashed back out I bumped into Mark in the doorway. He was hot on my heels going to get his gear too!

Lightning bolts Las Vegas Nevada


We set up our tripods and left the shutters open for 30 seconds at a whack with the aperture stopped way down, at f/22, and base ISO.

We took our first shots and let out whoops and hollers of excitement when we saw the images on the backs of our cameras.


Lightning storm over city lights in Las Vegas Nevada

Studying our photos later, we noticed different colors in the lightning bolts.

Lightning in Las Vegas Nevada


The only hard part was guessing where the lightning would strike next, because it was all over the sky and all over the valley.

But we could see we were getting awesome images, and we just kept clicking the shutter buttons every thirty seconds for the next 10 or 15 minutes, jumping up and down and shrieking with excitement between shots.

Lightning storm over Las Vegas Nevada


Lightning bolts over city lights Las Vegas Nevada


Miraculously, after the first few drops of rain fell, Mother Nature pulled the curtain of dripping clouds away from the stage. We were able to stand in warm dry air — and blustery winds — and witness the stunning power of earth’s beautiful forces without getting wet.

Lightning storm Las Vegas Nevada


What a night this was — a night we’ll never forget! And thank goodness we grabbed our cameras when we did, because there wasn’t a single flash of lightning in Las Vegas for the remaining 16 days we kept our buggy there!!

Lightning storm over city lights of Las Vegas Nevada


Lots of people come to Las Vegas to experience the bright lights of the big city. But these bright lights, thrown from God’s hand across the valley surrounding Las Vegas, dwarfed any light show that might have been happening downtown!!

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Other blog posts about photography and capturing the night sky on camera:
Photography – Our gear and the resources we have used to learn to take great pics

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
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Into the Great Wide Open – Nevada to Oregon

May, 2014 – We left the pristine alpine beauty of Lamoille Canyon outside Elko, Nevada, and promptly embarked on a 500 mile journey north and west to Oregon across some of the most remote and desolate landscapes we have ever seen.

Getting off the interstate (I-80) at Winnemucca, we knew we were entering less charted territory when we noticed that the town’s spelling was “Winnemocca” on the statewide map of Nevada in our Delorme Atlas but was “Winnemucca” on the close-up map.

Open Roads of Nevada

A wide open road in northern Nevada

We wanted to get gas and had seen signs on the interstate for big travel centers in Winnemucca but we never found them.

Instead, crossing the back side of Winnemucca to get onto our remote road to Oregon, all we saw were three small gas stations that looked very hard to get into.

So, we kept going. Continue reading

From Salt to Snow in Nevada – Bonneville to Lamoille Canyon

May, 2014 – We were flying high as we left Ely, Nevada, where we had been thrilled by the Nevada Open Road Challenge car races. With car racing on our minds, the only direction we could head from there was north, up to the Bonneville Salt Flats just over the Nevada border in Utah.

The Bonneville Salt Flats are a massive, natural expanse of crusty old table salt that is layered thickly on a valley floor and extends for miles west of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. They have long been used for attempting and setting land speed records.

Traveler's Tree on Route 93 Nevada

We discover a Traveler’s Tree on the open roads of Nevada

The road from Ely to the town of Wendover on the edge of the salt flats is a narrow ribbon that winds through vast empty valleys. It soon hypnotized me as we drove.

So I was jolted back to reality when Mark suddenly hit the brakes and pulled over, saying, “We’ve gotta check this out!” Continue reading

Nevada Open Road Challenge – A NEED for SPEED!

May, 2014 – After our exciting slot canyon hike and our happy romps amid the beautiful wildflowers and “toadstools” just north of the Vermillion Cliffs in southern Utah, we put in some long hours on the road, driving north and west through Utah and into Nevada.

The roads in Utah were familiar and were loaded with memories as we passed through Kanab and the wonderful Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, on up through Panguitch and past its turn-offs for Zion National Park, Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks.

Straight lonely highways in Nevada

This is Hayabusa country!

But when we got into Nevada we were in new territory.  The roads were straight and deserted, and the vast valleys on either side of us seemed to go on forever.  There wasn’t a building or car in sight all the way to the horizon in every direction.

“This is Hayabusa country,” Mark suddenly said.  “This would be so perfect for a fast motorcycle!” Continue reading

Laughlin, NV – A Little Known Canyon, Petroglyphs & A Car Museum!

Stewart Point, Lake Mead

Overton Beach, Lake Mead. All the green grass used to be the lake.

Laughlin, Nevada grew out of the desert.

Northern visitors en-route to Arizona gather for cocktail hour

to socialize in the parking lots.


Laughlin brings back

memories of the old Las

Vegas strip.

The Colorado Belle Casino lights up the night sky.

Joe's Crab Shack is a jumping joint along the

Laughlin riverwalk at night.

A family of raccoons stopped

by the restaurant to check for


A skunk joined the raccoons on

the beach.

Opening to Grapevine Canyon.

Petroglyphs fill the rock faces on both sides of the entrance.

Geometric patterns dominate this art that has been

dated to 150-800 years ago.

Big horn sheep -- or other romping herd animals.

Were they trying to tell us about the water in the

canyon, or merely doodling?

Petroglyph. Put here as

part of a religious

ceremony or just a kid's

fantasy pecked out on


Looking back at the entrance to Grapevine Canyon.

Surrounded by grapevines in Grapevine Canyon.

Water-smoothed rock leading to a

balance rock.

Peaking under the balance rock at

the thick grapevine growth.

Cattails in Grapevine


A Cottonwood amid grapevines.

Vegetation grows along the canyon


A time for reflection.

Boats of all kinds offer excursions to Lake Havasu


Fiesta Queen river boat.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

1907 REO Runabout.

The Black Princess ridden 460,000 miles around the

world by Emilio Scotto.

Laughlin, Nevada

Early-Mid October, 2009 - As the wind chased us out of the Valley of Fire,

we took a brief detour to Lake Mead.  When we were here two years

earlier, we were told the lake was 105 feet below normal (three years

before that, in 2004, it had been 85 feet below normal).  We were curious

how the lake level was doing now.  At Stewart Point we found a lovely

beach.  We were tempted to stay for a few days, but the high winds were

expected to continue and this is a very exposed area.

When we got to Overton Beach, we were in for quite a shock.  Back in

2007, the lakefront community and facilities had been closed permanently

just before our visit because the lake level was so low.  When we saw it

then, the boat ramp ended above the lake level, but the lake was still there.

Ducks and seagulls had paddled around the water's edge about 100 feet

below the end of the boat ramp.  Now there was no lake in sight.

As far as the eye could see, for miles in

every direction, what had once been

water was now grass.  What a travesty.

The beautiful, brand new visitors center

was closed; the enormous new boat ramp

that could support dozens of large boats

and trailers lay unused; the vast parking

lots were vacant; the RV park that had

been home to many RVers was


We heard later that all these National

Recreation Area facilities were built just a few years before the whole area was closed due to lack of water.  It was hard to shake

the frustration of seeing such waste, and bewildering to think of how best to fix the problem from here.  The mighty Colorado River,

unhappily harnessed to provide water and recreation for millions, now shows terrible signs of strain.

Downstream, however, Laughlin, Nevada is a

bustling riverside town.  Sitting below the dam, it

receives regular flows of water released from

Lake Mead.  Over the last forty-odd years,

Laughlin has grown out of a desert wasteland.

In high school, Don Laughlin discovered he

made more money from getting friends to play

his slot machine than he did working.  A few slot

machines later, he made more money than his

teachers.  After getting proper casino training in

Las Vegas, he bought a run-down motel on a

dusty road along the Colorado River in 1966.  He introduced his

trusty slot machines to his motel business, and laid the foundation

for a mini Las Vegas, giving the burgeoning town his own name.

We planned to stay just a night or two, but before we knew it 16

days had passed.  When we got there, we were one of just a

handful of RVs in town taking advantage of the free overnight

parking offered by several of the casinos.  Gradually, snowbirds

began arriving from the northern states and Canada and the

parking lots filled up.

These crazy RVers happily set up their camp chairs in the parking

lots and cheerily compared notes on just how cold it was when they

left home a few days earlier.  "Alberta is 100 degrees colder than

here right now," one fellow said brightly.  Knowing that made the

unexpected mid-October 100-degree heat wave in Laughlin a little

more bearable.  Soon the northern freeway floodgates opened, and

the flocks of snowbirds in Laughlin swelled.

Laughlin's casinos line the river front,

and a delightful boardwalk runs the

whole length of the casino strip.  The

evenings were balmy and we lazily

strolled the boardwalk with the other


Laughlin resembles the "old" Las

Vegas strip before its mega-casino

glamor days.  As we walked the

boardwalk towards Joe's Crab Shack

one night, we saw lots of people

hanging over the railing taking photos

of something on the rocks below.

We looked down and saw seven raccoons waddling over the rocks.  Every so often one would stop

and peer up at everyone with a hopeful expression.  Just then a skunk appeared at the other end of

the beach and made his way towards the raccoon family.  I don't think these guys scored any

scraps, but I have a hunch this little

restaurant stop is part of their regular

routine.  None of the ducks or gulls in

the water seemed particularly surprised

to see them.

I had noticed the word "petroglyphs" nearby Laughlin on our atlas and wanted to check

them out.  A few miles west of town there is a short hike into Grapevine Canyon, and this is where the petroglyphs are.  A spring

flows in the back of the canyon, which has allowed some thick vegetation to take route in this otherwise barren landscape.

A deep wash used to run like a river out of the canyon much of the

time, but it has been dry for several years now.  Walking along its

sandy banks towards the mouth of the canyon we discovered the

rocks at the entrance are covered with petroglyphs that have been

dated to 150-800 years ago.  The rocks are is easy to spot and

most images are geometric patterns.

One image showed a group of big horned sheep, or other horned

animals.  Looking closely, it seemed to me that four were original, looking

crisp, uniform, and neatly chiseled.  It seemed to me the one farthest to

the left and the one underneath might have been added later by an

imitator with less skill.

Since the surrounding desert is hopelessly dry and barren, I would

imagine that some of these very congested drawings say something

about the presence of water.

Or is it just


Certainly kids

draw strange

beings like this all

the time and no

one ever assigns

any deep

meaning to it.

The canyon is a nice rock

scramble along coarse

granite.  We crawled up

and over and jumped down

and around.  Then

suddenly we found

ourselves surrounded by

thick vegetation --

grapevines.  As we

followed the

trail through

these vines, we

were shoulder-

high in


The rock in the deepest

parts of the canyon is

very smooth from water

flowing over it.  Most of

the rock is granite rather

than sandstone, so the

smooth stones don't

provide much traction.

There were even some cat tails growing

under a balanced rock.  Just beyond, we

saw a huge, proud cottonwood.

Grapevines clung to its lower branches.

The view leading out of the canyon was

impressive, with dense plant life filling the

base of the canyon.  The indians who once

walked these lands must have been very

grateful for this little patch of cool greenery and water.

Back in town we kept getting drawn back to the pretty boardwalk.

The days kind of melted into one another as we paused to reflect,

saying a last goodbye to our summer adventures while we began

to plan our winter ones.

The river gives this area it's rhythm and its life.  Before the dams, the

river had a mind of its own, rushing and halting as the seasons in

Colorado cycled.  Now, however, the water level in the river is

deliberately raised on weekends so the boaters can have some fun.

Jet skis appeared out of nowhere, flying at top speed towards


Watching the river rise and fall gives it a tidal feeling.  However, we

learned that "units" of water are released on schedule depending on

demands downstream as well as recreational boating demands in

Laughlin.  One morning a boat pilot told us three units were being

released at 8:00 a.m. and another two at 9:00 a.m.  Sure enough, the

current swirled and the water rose, right on schedule.

We aren't gamblers, but we met quite a few.  Legend has it that some

snowbirds are able to pay for their entire winter vacation in Arizona with a

well-played hand in Laughlin in October.

One day we

stopped by the

Riverside Casino

where there is an

ongoing indoor antique car

show.  There are cars of all

types, from muscle cars to hot

rods to funny little buggies built

at the dawn of the auto age.

Most fascinating for me was

the motorcycle ridden around

the world by Emilio Scotto.

Leaving his home in Argentina

in April, 1985, he rode a 1980

Gold Wing 1100 on a journey

around the world through 280

countries covering 460,000

miles.  He left with $300 in his

pocket and returned ten years later to enter the Guinness Book of World

Records.  Not only was he named "King of the Road," but he was included

on an international list of the 40 greatest explorers in human history (along

with Columbus, Magellan and the rest).  His bike, the Black Princess, is on

permanent display in this car show.  Now that's a traveler!!  His experiences

ranged from seeing some of the greatest beauty on this planet to being

imprisoned six times, witnessing a public beheading, being shot at in the

war in Somalia and almost dying of malaria in the Congo.  Hmmm... now that's adventure!

As rare mid-October heat wave baked the area, we sweltered in 100+ degree heat.  We were able to get temporary relief at the

hotel swimming pools around town, but our air conditioner sure gave the little generator a good workout every day.  Finally, the

wind piped up and the heat broke and we headed a little further south to Havasu Springs Resort.




























































Las Vegas – The Interbike Tradeshow and Awesome Red Canyon!

Las Vegas lights at night.

Las Vegas lights at night.

Harrah's Casino & Hotel.

Harrah's Casino & Hotel.

View of the Venetian Hotel and Casino

View of the Venetian.

Interbike - Pinarello Dogma

For a cool $18 grand, this bike could be yours.

Ernesto Colnago

A true giant of the bike

industry, Ernesto Colnago.

Colnago Ferrari bicycle

A bikcycle with a royal pedigree:

Colnago and Ferrari.

Alberto Contador Tour de France Trek bike

The bike ridden by '09 Tour de France winner

Alberto Contador on the final stage of the race.

Eddie Merckx

Eddie Merckx

5-time Tour de France


Hallway in the Venetian Hotel

Glittering walls inside the Venetian.

Venetian Casino gondolas

The Venetian recreates aspects of Venice.

Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper

ready to rock at 7 a.m.

Bob Roll

Bob Roll, famous (or infamous)

bike race announcer.

George Hincapie

George Hincapie signs


Calfee Tandem

21 lb. Calfee carbon fiber tandem.

Could two men sprint on that bike?

Interbike trade show

Wooden bike seemingly made of pencils.

Chris Carmichael

Chris Carmichael, famous for designing Lance

Armstrong's workouts.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Calico Hills hike

Calico Hills hike.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Nevada Calico Hills hike

Red Rock Canyon.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Nevada Calico Hills hike

Intriguing formations at every turn.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Nevada Calico Hills hike

Desert plants eke out a living in this

harsh environment.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Nevada Calico Hills hike

The cliffs are bigger than they appear at a distance.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Nevada Calico Hills pictographs

Hands across the ages.

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park Nevada

Stately Joshua trees line the road to

Spring Mountain Ranch.

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park Nevada - burros

Wild burros.

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park Nevada - burros

The burros enjoy the only lush

green grass for miles.

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park Nevada - roadrunner

A roadrunner greets me at the ranch.

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park Nevada

Spring Mountain Ranch house.

Howard Hughes modified the kitchen

The kitchen's copper stoves were replaced with stainless

steel by Howard Hughes.

Vera Krupp's dressing room

Vera Krupp's dressing room.

Two sides of Las Vegas, Nevada

Late September, 2009 - We continued down I-15 from Utah and traveled to

Las Vegas, Nevada for the annual Interbike bicycle trade show, a week long

testosterone-filled bicycle love-fest for crazed bike junkies.  The largest show of

its kind on this continent, I have attended enough times over the years that I

opted out this year.  I chose instead to spend a quiet week alone just outside

Sin City at peaceful Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area while Mark

and his son lived it up at the Imperial Palace on the Strip.  They brought back

endless stories and photos, the highlights of which I'll share here (my  Red

Rock Canyon notes are further down the page).

The amazing thing I noticed about Las

Vegas ages ago, while on a plane flying

away from the city, is that it is entirely lit

up with colorful lights at night.  No

ordinary urban night sky, every

building is outlined in red or

yellow, green or blue.

Huge neon signs blast the

names of the casinos into the

night air, and spot lights

transform each building's

facade into a colorful canvas.

Mark took a few shots from the

window of his room at the

Imperial Palace, showing

Harrah's and the Venetian in

their evening finery.

Entering the Sands Convention Center for Interbike is like opening the door to

the most massive bike shop you can imagine.  Acres and acres of vendors fill

the entire hall, showing off bikes, clothing, gear, and everything else that is

even remotely related to the bicycling industry.  Vendors are situated in

international groupings, with China and Taiwan occupying a large piece of turf

at one end of the hall while the Italians dominate another.  English is in short

supply when you enter these regions.  Mark has a soft spot for classic Italian

bikes, and he made a beeline for the Pinarello booth where their new Dogma

was on display.  This little puppy would set you back a mere $17,900.  And that

doesn't include pedals.  What a ride!

Ernesto Colnago is a

legendary Italian bike builder,

and he posed for a quick

photo.  He has never owned a

car and routinely turns out

some of the most beautifully

crafted bicycles in the world.

His company has teamed up

with race car manufacturer

Ferarri recently, and their

collaborative effort was on


Over at the Trek booth Mark found the bike ridden by 2009 Tour de

France champion, Alberto Contador, on his winning laps around the

Champs-Elysee in Paris this past July.  The ultimate overall yellow jersey

winner usually has a pretty good hunch he'll be the champion when he

arrives for the final stage in Paris, so his team goes all out with the yellow

trim paint job on the bike (and the yellow clothes, helmet and gloves as

well) for that stage.

Eddie Mercx of Belgium was arguably

the finest cyclist that ever lived.

Although he won just five Tours, as

compared with Lance Armstrong's

seven, he also entered every race

offered all year long, winning most of

those as well.

In contrast, Lance raced only a few races each

year, and those not to win but simply in

preparation for his Tour de France campaign.

What a thrill to catch the great Eddie himself

signing autographs.

Interbike causes extreme bike overload, and it is

nice to get out into the regular world of Las Vegas

tourism.  The Venetian casino and hotel is a glitzy

recreation of elements of Venice with a strong

American materialistic accent.

The ceilings are adorned with

elaborate, glittering artwork, and

outside the gondolas drift across

a languid pool.

The gondolas are authentic,

made in Venice.  The gondoliers

are hired actors with good singing


Vegas never sleeps, and when

Mark staggered out for breakfast

at 7 a.m., he found himself face to

face with Alice Cooper.  Mark's

sister had just seen Alice in concert in Michigan a

week earlier.  And here he was again, in Vegas of

all places!

Not quite as dressed up in the early hours of the

morning, but showing every bit as much support

for the classic era of Rock on his T-shirt, Bob Roll

stood chatting with passersby at the show.

Famous as a great cyclist, but even more

infamous for bringing a distinctly low-brow

American slant to the brilliantly high-brow race

commentary of Brits Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin,

Bob is both loved and hated for his televised and

blogged analysis of The Tour.

Nearby, Lance Armstrong's legendary lieutenant,

George Hincapie, was hawking his line of clothes

and signing autographs as well.

Back to the bikes, Calfee had a phenomenal 21-

pound wonderbike for two.  Made of carbon fiber

and intended for all-out tandem racing, you can

only wonder how it would support two full grown

men pounding on the pedals in a sprint finish.

Interbike is as much about innovation and

weirdness as it is about fast, sleek racing

machines.  Bikes made of bamboo, odd cycles

involving more than two wheels and more than

one drive-train were on display all over the place.

The wooden bike made of hexagonally cut birch

caught Mark's eye.  It looks to me like it is made

of pencils.

One more icon of the biking

world wound up in Mark's

camera lens: Chris

Carmichael.  We turned to

his books for training tips

many times in years past.

Deriving his fame from

creating Lance's workout

plans, he is the master of

periodic and interval training

techniques and was here

promoting his latest book.

While the boys were nourishing their bike lust in

Las Vegas, I settled into a quiet routine of reading,

writing and bicycling in nearby Red Rock Canyon.

This spectacular National Conservation Area,

administered by the BLM, boasts a huge range of

red rock mountains.  Revered the world over for its

top notch rock climbing, we hiked the easy Calico

Hills route together before Interbike began.  This is

a simple hike along a gravel trail flanked on one

side by enormous red rock cliffs.

Once a vast land of sand dunes, not unlike the

Sahara today, the sand's massive weight caused it

gradually to solidify into rock while underground

streams oozed mineral deposits through the sand

and stained it many shades of red.

The desert vegetation clings on for dear life,

subsisting on rare sips of water in baking sun.

In places, using a bit of imagination, the mounded

domes of rock almost resemble sand dunes.

Clearly visible stripes show the shifting direction of

the winds over millennia, as the sand piled up one

way and then another.

Humans have been here for a mere blip in

geological time, a few thousand years as compared

to hundreds of millions of years.  Along the Willow

Loop trail there is a rock wall with a few pictographs

of human hands.  The hands were child-size by

today's standards, but they are clear and distinct.

What an unusual mark to leave for the ages.  And

what kind of pigment did they use to stain the rock

for the next few thousand years, lasting through

rains, winds and desert sun?  What did it do to their

hands??  Isn't ironic that for all our technical

sophistication, modern house paint needs to be

replaced every few years while these pictographs

have been here for eons.

A few miles from Red Rock Canyon is Spring Mountain Ranch State

Park.  This ranch has been built and added on to by many owners over

the last 150 years.  Starting with a "mountain man" and most recently

owned by Howard Hughes, the history is downright quirky.

Before getting

started on the ranch

house tour, I got a

glimpse of some wild

burros in the grass.

There were all kinds

of signs on the

scenic roads in the

area warning drivers

about the wild burros.  I thought at first I was

looking at domestic donkeys, but I soon learned

that these guys aren't just wild, they are also

wily and smart.  This was the only green grass

anywhere around for many miles.  After the

burros' persistence succeeded in several

break-ins through the fence, the park rangers had

finally given up and let them come and go on the ranch

property at will.  These wild burros had it all figured out.

Afterall, who wants to eat cactus and brown prickly

shrubs when manicured grass is right there for the


A little roadrunner greeted me too as I pulled up to the

ranch house.  He checked me out for a while before

running away.

The house at Spring Mountain

Ranch is humble.  Various owners

have added wings and features to

it over the years, but it remains

essentially a small home.  The

kitchen featured stainless steel

appliances, but I learned these

were from the most recent

owner, Howard Hughes, who

never lived here (and possibly

never even came out here!).  He

removed the original copper

appliances and had his hotel

guys do a lot of renovating with

plain, hotel quality materials.

The previous owner, Vera Krupp, a pre-World War II German movie

star, added a dressing room to the bedroom suite.  She is known for

having owned the 33 carat diamond that Richard Burton ultimately

purchased (at auction) for Elizabeth Taylor.  That diamond seems to

have been a bit of a curse, as some armed robbers stormed into this

remote ranch and ripped the ring from her finger while she was

wearing it!  She got it back six weeks later, however, and forever after

wore it pinned to her underwear.

Vera also had an ultra-private room built for herself, with a secret

access through the second "closet" door to the right of her vanity.

She was not to be disturbed when she retired to this room.  It was a

tiny room with floor to ceiling windows on either side, a perfect

sanctuary for her quiet pleasure.

I had enjoyed my week of sanctuary too.  When it came to an end, we escaped a 100+ degree heat wave that baked Las Vegas for

a few days by scrambling back to Cedar City, Utah, to cool off.  When a cold front stormed across the west a few days later, we

ventured south again to the other side of Las Vegas.  By then the temperatures at Valley of Fire were perfect.




































































































Valley of Fire, NV – A Cauldron Cooled

Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas, Nevada

Red Rock flames lick the edges of the older dolomite hills.

Arches in Atlatl Campground, Valley of Fire State Park

Arches and holes near the walk-in tent sites.

Scorpion petroglyph on the Atlatl Rock panel

Scorpion petroglyph.

Arch Rock at Valley of Fire State Park

A red rock hand forms the "okay" sign.

Red rock chaos

Chaos resulting from cosmic clashes.

The Beehives at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

One of the Beehives

The Beehives at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Elephant Rock

Red rock sandstone and dolomite mountains

A glance across 350 million years of

geological evolution.

Dolomite mountains from an ancient seabed floor

Geological look back across time.

Petrified log at Valley of Fire State Park

Petrified log.

Valley of Fire Scenic Drive

View across the valley.

Seven Sisters formation at Valley of Fire

RIbbon of road near the Seven Sisters formation.

Valley of Fire Scenic Drive

Snaking road near the east entrance.

The Cabins built by the CCC in 1935

The CCC Cabins built in 1935.

Fireplace inside one of the cabins

Cozy fireplace inside a cabin.

View out the window of one of the cabins

What a view out the window!

View out our RV window

Great views here too, plus running water and a fridge!

Dime store photo booth!

Red rock canyon walls at Petroglyph Canyon / Mouse's Tank

A thin desert scrub flourishes.

Petroglyph rock art, people holding hands

Holding hands at Mouse's Tank.

Petroglyph rock art, people holding hands and two big horn sheep

Another group of four plus two sheep.

Nature's bouquet.

Petroglyph rock art, footprints

How many toes?

Petroglyph rock art at Atlatl Rock panel

People, shapes, fat animals with short horns,

thin ones with long horns.  What does it all say?

Fire Canyon / Silica Dome overlook, Valley of Fire State Park

Fire Canyon / Silica Dome: red and white sandstone

reaches back to dolomite seabed rock.

Fire Canyon / Silica Dome overlook, Valley of Fire State Park Pink and white sandstone

Pink and white stripes burst apart.

Scenic Road to White Dome hiking trail.

Scenic Road to White Dome hiking trail.

Valley of Fire, Nevada (2)

Late September-Early Oct, 2009 - Just as Interbike

ended, Las Vegas was engulfed by a ferocious heat

wave.  We escaped up I-15 to Cedar City, Utah.

Creeping back down again a few days later when the

temps had receded, we made our way to Valley of

Fire.  We had visited this gorgeous state park two

years earlier and loved it so much we wanted to

return for more.  Born from the dark fossilized

organic remains of an ancient sea bed, the area is

dominated today by flaming orange petrified sand

dunes, making the whole park appear as if red rock

embers burn against charred hillsides.

There are red rocks everywhere you turn.  Even in the campground, where

walk-in tent campers can tuck themselves deep into the crevices of these

fantastic formations, we couldn't stop our cameras from clicking.

The face of Atlatl Rock bears a

huge panel of petroglyph rock

art placed so high up in the air

you have to climb several

stories' worth of stairs to get to

it.  I had seen it two years ago,

but wanted to check it out

again.  The foggy plexiglas

protecting much of the rock art

had thankfully been replaced.

So this time, along with the big

horn sheep, people, footprints

and shapes I recognized from

before, I also saw a scorpion.

Around the corner is Arch Rock, which looks to me a little like an enormous

hand making the "okay" sign with thumb and forefinger.

The visitors

center has some


displays, and

one describes in

detail how a

warm sea

covered most of

Nevada and parts of Utah off-and-on for 400 million years beginning

about 550 million years ago.  On the last retreat of this sea, sand began

to blow in from nearby ridges, creating huge, shifting sand dunes.

These dunes were stained red by

underground mineral-rich streams

and then, under their own weight,

compressed into rock.  Wow!  I

know I had learned all this over at

Red Rock Canyon last week, but

I still found it hard to fathom.

Over time, the tectonic plates

clashed, as the one supporting

the West Coast tried to sneak

under the one supporting the rest

of the country.  The solid dark

seabed and bright orange

sandstone were thrust about,

creating the chaotic shapes

of the park today.  Some shapes are random, but others seem to

have been created with a specific image in mind.

Coming in from the

east, you look across

350 million years of

time, from the young

200 million-year-old red

rocks to the ancient

dark dolomite of the

seabed floor that has

been thrust upwards by

violent eruptions from

the earth's core.

The park even has two areas

with petrified wood logs.

They are fenced off, so they

are a little awkward to see,

but they are definitely logs

that are wood no longer.  It is

hard to imagine the geological changes that have happened over the

vast reaches of time, as there isn't a tree anywhere in the park or in

this part of the world for many miles.  Amazingly, these logs were from

large trees.  The theory is that they floated in on the sea.

We had to scramble up a

gravel slope to see one

of the logs.  Once

up on the precipice,

we looked back

towards the valley

where the road

brought visitors

from other sights.

Maybe it's just my

love of travel, but

my favorite aspect

of this park is the

two beautifully

maintained roads

that run through it.

Both roads sweep through dramatic

turns, climbing and diving through hilly

terrain.  They run along expansive,

scruffy valleys, dodge between jagged

red walls, and loop through pink and

white domes of sandstone.

The Seven Sisters is a series of seven

towering orange monoliths that simply

refuse to fit into a single photograph,

so I contented myself with capturing

the silky road that slips past nearby.

Back in 1935, the CCC built three tiny

adjoining stone cabins.  Used by park

workers as they built the park (it was the first

Nevada state park and opened in 1936), the cabins

were later used by park visitors.  Each cabin is just a

single 9'x9' room, barely large enough for a small

bed and chair, but the setting is to die for.

There is a small door and window in each room, and a

tiny fireplace too.  It must have been incredibly rustic

accommodations for those early tourists, complete with

uneven stone floors, but it sure put them right in the

heart of the Valley of Fire experience.

What a view to wake up to -- but how did they make

their coffee??  There was no mention of how those

tourists got their meals or even how they got water.

There was a plaque, however, that described how in

1915 a soldier who had survived the Civil War fifty years

earlier perished under the shade of his open-air horse-

drawn buggy because he couldn't find water.  The Colorado River, now the dwindling Lake

Mead, is just a few minutes away by car, but less than 100 years ago this exquisite land cost

that sergeant his life.

Besides the enticing roads and views, the campground is my other

favorite feature of the Valley of Fire.  We had inspiring images of red

rocks out every window.

One morning I woke up with a bright idea -- let's get a photo of us

with the buggy in this very cool place!  I quickly set up the tripod,

trying to ignore Mark's groans about the idea.  Kids were climbing all

over the rocks around us, still in their pajamas and bare feet,

shouting to each other as they played hide-and-seek.  Their bleary-

eyed parents were stumbling about their campsites, coffee cups in

hand, as the aroma of frying bacon quickly filled the air.  It felt a little

funny, in the midst of all this action, to be taking pictures of

ourselves as if we were in a dime store photo booth.  But ya gotta

have something for mom's Christmas card!

The major sight we had missed in our

previous visit was the hike through

Petroglyph Canyon to Mouse's Tank.

Mouse was an outlaw Paiute Indian

who found a large rock bowl that

would fill with many gallons of water

when it rained.  Deeply recessed at

the far back of a canyon, this gave him

a great place to hide out.  As we

walked into the canyon, trudging

through soft sand, the rock walls

towered on either side with very

sparse sprinklings of vegetation.

The petroglyphs aren't marked.  Instead it is left

as an exercise for the hiker to find them.  Most

are 10-20 feet up in the air.  At least two show

groups of four individuals holding hands.

In these groups,

two people look

human and two

don't.  The

scientific experts

think the two non-humans might be shamans or ghostly spirits

from another world, perhaps leading the two humans towards

the afterlife.

Mark spotted

a flowering

bush growing out of a

crevice.  It looked like a

bouquet of flowers

hung on the wall.

Other petroglyphs

showed images of

hands and feet.

Looking closely, I

noticed that in one pair of feet, the right one had just four toes.  I've seen

this missing digit theme in other rock art.  Why did they do that?  Even if

the people who pecked these pictures out of the rock lived 4,000 years

ago, they knew how to count.  They never drew animals with three or

five legs.  "Maybe they just ran out of room," Mark suggested.  Or

maybe it wasn't meant to be a human footprint.

Who knows!  I really love this odd, other-wordly graffiti.  I just wish there was

an accurate petroglyph-English dictionary so we could know what it all means.

Recent rock scratches from our own culture nearby looked amateurish in


Out in Fire Canyon

- Silica Dome we

got another

glimpse of the

sandstone set

against the



Evidence of sea creatures has been found in the distant dark rock.

Here, in this canyon, some sandstone was evenly striped but had

been broken apart by tectonic crushes and uplifts.

We took our time on the scenic drives, stopping frequently to

scramble up the sandstone walls where we tried to gather the

dramatic scenes into a single photograph.  The pinks and reds and

oranges sometimes looked as if they were sliding downhill,

perched on a perilous slope.

After a few days, we got blown out of the Valley of Fire by a huge

windstorm that swept all the dust for miles around into enormous,

billowing clouds.  The campground was sandblasted for hours on end.

Shaking the dust out of our hair and wiping it out of our eyes and off

our cheeks, we slammed the doors of the truck and tore out of there

as fast as we could.  A thick wall of dust swirled around the back of the

trailer behind us as we drove off.  Onward, southbound, to Laughlin,

Nevada, where we could escape to the climate-controlled indoors until

the wind died down.




























































































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Pioche & Cathedral Gorge, NV – The Wild West

RV blog post - We had a blast in Pioche, Nevada, the

Silver ore bucket tramway

Silver ore bucket tramway Pioche Nevada Minter's shack Pioche Nevada

Miner's shack

Main Street Pioche Nevada

Looking up Main Street

Opera House at Pioche Nevada

The opera house, restored, and movie theater, waiting

Main Street in Pioche Nevada

Looking up Main Street

Antiques from the mining days Pioche Nevada

Antiques are everywhere

Old western storefront in Pioche Nevada

Lots of whimsy in this town

Main Street in Pioche Nevada Overland Hotel in Pioche Nevada

Overland Hotel

Million Dollar Courthouse in Pioche Nevada

Million Dollar Courthouse

Million Dollar Courhouse and jailhouse in Pioche Nevada

Short walk from the courthouse to

the jailhouse

Million Dollar Courhouse and jailhouse in Pioche Nevada

Front door to the jailhouse

Million Dollar Courhouse and jailhouse in Pioche Nevada

Jail cells

Million Dollar Courhouse library in Pioche Nevada

The court library was used until

1972.  It contains all of Nevada's

law books through that year.

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Cathedral Gorge

Cathedral Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Cathedral Caves - very narrow and

chilly inside

Cathedral Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

The sky is way up there

Cathedral Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

View through the top of the caves

Sandstone spires in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Spires near Cathedral Caves

Sandstone spires in Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

This land suggests another world

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Cathedral Gorge - reminiscent of Utah's red rocks

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

A little bit of desert heaven on earth

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

The park service makes this an

easy hike with handy stairways

Cathedral Gorge State Park outside Pioche Nevada

Not too far to climb out...

Pioche, Nevada

September 11-18, 2008 - We finally pried ourselves away from Parowan and Cedar City, Utah, and

their delightful fall fairs, and made our way over the border into Nevada.  We stopped at the mining

town of Pioche, and liked it so much we stayed for a week.  As we pulled into town, the first thing we

noticed was the unusual tramway that ran from the hills down towards the valley.  We followed the tram

line through this crazy, steep hillside town to its origination point, and a fellow painting a house nearby

told us some of its history.  It had been used for hauling silver ore from the mine to the processing area

until 103 years ago when the mine shut down.

His great-grandfather had been a miner, and

he said that if we wanted to hear more stories

about the town and his ancestors we could

find him every afternoon at the saloon on

Main Street!

The streets of Pioche are a living history.  A

placard describing the brutality of the mining life was hung outside an

original miner's shack, and we cautiously opened the door to find the

interior just as a miner would have left it, complete with table, utensils,

stove, trunk and bed.  Dusty, cramped and shabby, the 9'x9' room was

the real deal.  There are ruins of miner's shacks like this in several places

in town, some still standing and others toppled over by time.

Further up the street we

found the Opera House,

restored, and next to it the

old movie theater, not

restored.  Silver was first

discovered in Pioche in

1864, and the town

peaked in production,

population and reputation

in 1872.  Although $60

million in ore has been

mined over the years,

Pioche has just 700 residents today,

compared to 10,000 when it

boomed in the 1870's.

You can get a good workout just

walking up and down Main Street.

It is very steep and the town sits at

6,000 feet elevation.  Each side of

the street is lined with shops, and later, as I glanced at a photo from the

1950's, it was clear little had changed, except perhaps the names of the

stores.  There is a lot of pride and a bit of whimsy in this town, and the

old ore buckets and mini rail-cars are put to good use all over town as

planters and roof decorations.

We stopped in at the History

Museum where curator Jane

Humphrey told us endless tales.

During the wild 1870's, when everyone was staking

claims, many claims overlapped due to poor

surveys and minimal legal authority.  Often, strikes

were claimed by running to the courthouse faster

than the next guy.  The town was reputed to be the

wildest of all wild west towns.  75 men died from

gunshot wounds before the first resident died of

natural causes, and most of those men are buried

in Boot Hill Cemetery, so named because they

were buried with their boots on.

As long as you killed in self-defense, it wasn't

murder, and you weren't charged.  One man was

shot after slapping another man on the face, and

one was shot following a dispute over a dog.

Neither killer was charged with murder.  The long

arm of the law couldn't reach Pioche; it was too


Profits and greed were the motivator of the day.

Only when a 4-year-old was killed by stray gunfire in 1873, an event that followed on the

heels of a scathing New York Times article describing Pioche's wild side in 1872, did the

town begin to check its lawless ways.

We ran into Jane again at the

Million Dollar Courthouse and

heard more wonderful stories

about the town.  Construction of

the courthouse in 1872 cost just

$26,400, but corrupt government

officials pocketed much of the

first round of bond money and

allowed construction to run more

than three times over budget.

By 1937 when all the compounded interest and principal of the

subsequent bonds were finally paid off (an act that involved two counties

and a major settlement with the bondholders), the building had cost just

under a million dollars.  Unfortunately, by that time the building had been

condemned for four years!

Jane's personal tales were equally fascinating.  One neighbor of hers was excavating her backyard to build an addition and found

not just ancient tunnels connecting to other buildings but many bottles of opium lining those tunnels as well.  Another friend did

some extensive plumbing repairs to her house and found 19 coffee cans stuffed with silver and gold coins.  Jane routinely sends

her grandkids out into the hills to "find stuff," and most recently they returned with an exquisite silver ladle.  Many of these items are

on display in the History Museum.

Pioche is an absolute gem of a town, but it is still far from the long arm of

modern civilization.  In 1994 Pioche tried to get PBS to bring Antiques

Road Show to town, but was turned down because it is too remote.

However, the illusionist Chris Angel did come to town with a full entourage

of TV people.  After studying the historic jail for 5 days, he was locked

behind the two-foot thick walls.  As the cameras rolled, he pulled off his


The jail was conveniently located next to the courtroom, and in its day only

3 men escaped.  After 9 days of intense rain, these men were able to dig

along the foundation from the inside, using picks they had fashioned from

eating utensils.  Upon emerging in the courtyard next to the jail, their

commotion raised the suspicions of the sheriff, who was doing his

personal business in the outhouse just steps away.  He burst open the

door and arrested them on the spot -- with his pants around his knees.

The jail once housed 66 people -- for one night in the 1970's when a huge

New Year's Eve party got out of control.  The jail was the only place that

could house all the rabble rousers!

A lifelong town resident told Jane his father had used

the jail once as well -- to discipline his own son.  This

man, now 89, vividly remembered disobeying his father

and avoiding his chores when he was 9, and

consequently being locked in the jail for one night (as

his father and the sheriff cooperated to teach him a

lesson).  The boy started crawling through the rafters in

the dark and came across a human skull.  He leapt to

the floor in terror and sat bolt upright in the wooden

chair til morning.  Needless to say, he never disobeyed

his father again.

Our heads spinning with these tales,

we sought a change of pace, and

ventured out of town on our bikes a

few afternoons to visit the beautiful

state parks nearby.  After a 10 mile

spin through open desert brush one

day, we came to Echo Canyon, a cool

reservoir oasis with steep, echoing

canyon walls

Heading in the opposite

direction on a different day,

we discovered Cathedral

Gorge, a sandstone


With a haunting otherworldliness

reminiscent of the many canyons we

loved in Utah, Cathedral Gorge offers

spires, slotted "caves" and

breathtaking moonscapes.

The day was hot, and the unrelenting sandstone and

desert vistas left us parched.  But as we stepped into

the slots that enter the Cathedral Caves, we found the

air crisp and refreshing and the stone cool to the touch.

Shimmying between the slots we

looked up to catch brief peeks at the sky

high overhead.

As we clambered

over the smaller

spires and perched

on outcroppings

overlooking the

valley, we found

ourselves uttering

that now-so-familiar

refrain:  "What a

cool area!"

We had an appointment ahead of us, however:  Interbike, the annual bicycle

industry trade show in Las Vegas.  So our days in Pioche drew to a close and

we made our way first to Vegas and then on to San Diego for some fun in the

surf and sun.