March 2019 – We arrived in southeastern Utah just as snow flurries were abating. It was unseasonably cold, but at twilight the Henry Mountains were utterly radiant, a visual gift that was a happy exchange for having to run around in hats and mittens in mid-March!
Henry Mountains at dusk
We snuck out at the first light of dawn and found the red rocks were glowing with an inner beauty.
Radiant red rocks at dawn
When a thick blanket of clouds filled the sky and chased the sun away for a few days, we could see the myriad of colors that are hidden in many of the exotic rock formations.
Lots of earth tone colors in the rocks
Off in the distance the classic desert mesas led the way to the horizon in receding layers.
Mesas on the horizon
An excursion to the Dirty Devil River revealed an immense canyon reminiscent of tributaries within the Grand Canyon.
Dirty Devil River and Canyon
We got a few sunny days, and with the ground still damp from the recent rains, we enjoyed some dust-free rides on our Polaris RZR.
“Are we going for a ride? Yippee!”
“I want to run alongside for a while.”
These UTV rides took us into the back country of Southeastern Utah where we went from one jaw dropping landscape to another. In some places the desert was flat and wide with immense jagged boulders balancing on the soft soil here and there.
It’s easy to get lost in these rocks!
In other places vividly striped mounds formed a gently rolling landscape.
Buddy checks out the rounded mounds of purple, pink and deep brown rocks
“It feels like we’re on another planet!” We kept saying to each other!
This land is so photogenic it’s hard not to take a photo with every step. And it is so whimsical and cheery you just have to strike a pose in a lot of shots too!
Buddy watches Mark pose praising the heavens under a jagged spire.
Utah’s breathtaking and otherworldly landscapes are beloved worldwide, and lots of folks from all over the place come to visit in large numbers between Spring and Fall.
A huge labyrinth of a layer cake.
When we arrived in Hanksville, a massive and sweeping public land bill had just become Federal law with enthusiastic support from almost everyone in Congress.
We hadn’t known anything about it, but as we talked with the locals we soon discovered they weren’t too pleased. They were frustrated that motorized and mechanized vehicle access to some of the most popular places nearby will be prohibited because they’ll be designated “Wilderness” areas. Also, the locals hadn’t been notified of the bill until three days before it was voted on, so their views were never heard.
With those conversations still ringing in our ears, we were astonished to take our RZR around a corner on a well trodden road on the Bureau of Land Management’s vast square miles of open public land and suddenly see a sign planted in the ground that said:
“The Mars Society. Private Property. No Entry Please.”
Mars…or BLM land in Utah?
We stood by the sign and stared at the buildings lined up against the striped red rock mounds in the distance. There was a collection of what can only be described as Mars Pods along with a large solar panel array installed on the ground nearby.
We looked at each other in amazement. What in the world was this?
A Mars colony
We heard voices yelling in the distance and saw the door of the main pod opening and closing repeatedly as young, energetic people ran in and out the door. The yelling didn’t sound like English.
I cupped my hand to my ear to see if I could figure out the language they were speaking, but I couldn’t tell. My first guess was Spanish, and then I thought I heard some French.
There was lots of commotion in a foreign language.
Suddenly, a side-by-side four wheeler came driving out from the pods towards us. There was no engine noise. It looked to be a Polaris Ranger UTV that had been converted to run on an electric engine.
Then two more Mars Rover side-by-sides appeared behind it.
The three vehicles zoomed passed us in a flash and disappeared down the road. One had the word “Opportunity” across the front hood, and they all had a pair of young folks in the seats.
Three UTVs converted to electric engines zipped by
We decided to head into the compound and see if we could learn a little more about what this place was. Driving a short distance, we arrived at the main pod and were greeted by a friendly dog and a young man.
“What is this place?” I asked him.
“Private property.” He said with a strong accent.
“I thought this was BLM land. Public land.” I said.
“We’re borrowing it.” He told me.
Mars Desert Research Station
I asked if he meant they were leasing the land from the BLM, rather than borrowing it, and he nodded, and then I asked where he and his friends were from, and he said Peru.
He went on to explain that international groups of kids visit this place on two week rotations to live in the Utah desert and drive around in electric UTVs so they can get the feeling of what it would be like to land in a desolate landscape on Mars and establish a human colony.
We later learned that one of their current tasks is to fly teams of 8 drones at a time over the Utah landscape to make digital image maps.
Future Martian colonists drive off into the desert in their UTVs to map the desert flying teams of 8 drones at a time!
When we left, we saw a large sign on one of the building pods that said, “All funding by private donations. The Musk Foundation.”
Major Sponsors (all funding via private donations) The Musk Foundation
As I’ve said many times before, the public land debate is immense and complex and there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
We continued on our own little safari at a modest 18 mph down the dirt road, lost in our own thoughts.
Suddenly, a huge SUV came up behind us from the direction of the Mars colony at about 40 mph and swerved around us, narrowly missing the left side of our little open air buggy. The driver hadn’t beeped to let us know he was coming, and we were left in a cloud of dust.
Yikes! That was close!
We had come Utah very early this spring to attend a photography workshop with Ian Plant that soon got underway. It was focused on how to take wide angle images that emphasize near-far contrasts.
This was fascinating to study, and we had some outstanding experiences both in the classroom and out in the field.
It will take us a while for us to master the techniques we learned, but we had a lot of fun starting to retrain our eyes to look for interesting patterns at our feet and combine them with interesting things in the distance.
We practiced near-far compositions that go from the shapes at your feet to shapes on the horizon
More practice with some red rock hoodoos at dawn.
Early morning light envelops a distant pinnacle.
There are quite a few slot canyons in the area, and these proved to be wonderful for wide angle photography and playing with the shapes created by shafts of light.
Beautiful light inside Leprechaun Canyon
At one point our instructor, Ian, walked towards Mark as he was taking a photo. The light hit Ian perfectly and suddenly he looked like he was receiving a message from God or being beamed up to the USS Enterprise!
The ghost of our instructor
Mark also got a fantastic selfie at a slot canyon opening.
Mark took a selfie.
There are sand dunes in the area too. Talk about an other-worldy landscape!
Maybe this really is Mars
After the workshop was over, the rain and snow returned. We watched in awe as banks of black clouds came in.
An approaching storm
The snow-covered Henry Mountains were suddenly surrounded by swirls of clouds that changed shape with every passing minute.
Clouds surrounded the Henry Mountains
Late afternoon light on the clouds and snow on the Henries
Snow-capped peaks above and red rocks below – Magic!
The mountain was whisked away by the clouds…!
There is so much to see in southeastern Utah that we feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface despite several return visits. We think we’re headed back south to Arizona now to finish up a few things there, but the lure of these exotic red rocks and spectacular vistas will probably keep us here a little while longer!
March 2019 – What with triple-towing and having a new Polaris RZR side-by-side these days, we had decided not to travel long distances in 2019. But when I got an email announcing that a photographer we admire, Ian Plant, was hosting a four day workshop in southeastern Utah, we decided to make a run for it and take our RV on a nearly 500 mile adventure ride past stunning scenery between Phoenix, Arizona, and the tiny village of Hanksville, Utah.
Despite (or because of) the incoming storm, the towering rock formations that form the gateway to Monument Valley stretched across the horizon in dramatic fashion, and we just had to get out and hike down one of the dirt roads to get a better look at them.
It was time to stretch our legs — whether we had four to stretch or just two.
The clouds intensified as we walked. Every once in a while the sun swept across the vast landscape with the dark storm clouds in hot pursuit. Um… in cold pursuit!! Over on the other horizon a row of red rock cliffs lit up as the sun brightened.
In another direction a line of red rock cliffs glowed for a brief moment in the distance.
Turning back towards the monuments we noticed a cool cloud had formed above them in the sky.
An unusual cloud drifts by in the sky.
We hopped back in our truck for another twenty miles or so and were pelted with rain. But when we turned the corner at Mexican Hat the rain abated just long enough for us to get out again and have a look around.
The Mexican Hat rock formation is very easy to spot!
There’s no doubt how the town of Mexican Hat got its name!
Just south of Blanding, Utah, we turned west onto US-95, also known as the Bicentennial Highway, and plunged down lots of 8% to 10% switchbacks to the desert floor far below. This is a fantastic scenic drive that leaves our jaws agape every time we drive it. Even this time in the rain and fog — and snow in the mountains we were passing! — it was still a glorious drive.
How funny, though, in the middle of all that majestic scenery to see an old dilapidated Winnebago sitting in the middle of nowhere. Mark hit the brakes so he could run back for a shot!
It might be a little drafty sleeping in there!
Some of the best views on this drive are when it descends into Glen Canyon. I fondly remember how the first time we drove it I was so excited by the beauty that I sat in the window of the passenger’s seat snapping pics as Mark drove!
This time we were driving in rain and mist, but as we pulled into the Hite Scenic Overlook the sun made a valiant effort to push its way out from behind the heavy blankets of clouds.
The Hite Scenic Overlook is well worth a stop.
The view from the overlook was out of this world.
What a view. That is Lake Powell down there!
What a spot for photography!
Mark sets up a shot of the valley (he’s on the far left side with Buddy!)
We hung around for several hours taking photos. We were standing on a peninsula with views in every direction, and the views went on forever.
The massive stone towers on the desert floor below us looked like they had strayed from Monument Valley.
All of the land in the lower half of Utah is spectacular beyond words.
Views on the Bicentennial Highway (US-95).
Hanksville is home to about 250 people, and its two gas stations, restaurants and motels are all clustered around the intersection of US-24 and US-95. Most of the back streets in town are dirt. We went exploring and came across the ruins of an old stone homestead. We learned later that this is part of the Giles Ghost Town.
Someone put some care into building this solid home.
Those stone walls were pretty thick!
This is part of the Giles Ghost Town
All around the area there were lots of exotic rock formations. Some formed beautiful patterns…
And others made recognizable shapes!
We’ll be in this area for another week, improving our photography by day and fending off sub-freezing temps by night!
We have spent the last two years going back and forth about whether to move into a new fifth wheel trailer or a new toy hauler as we look forward to our second dozen years of non-stop travel and full-time RV living. We’ve been to tons of dealerships and did a bunch of toy hauler factory tours in the Elkhart area of Indiana as well as in Missouri and Oklahoma (there’s more about those tours is in the 2nd half of this article).
As I’ve mentioned a few times over the past few months since we started this experiment, triple towing is working out a whole lot better that we expected!
This may be in large part because the utility trailer is only 5′ wide compared to the 8′ width of our fifth wheel trailer, so even on a tight U-turn, the wheels on the fifth wheel carve a tighter turn than the wheels on the utility trailer. So, if there’s something we don’t want to roll over or hit, the vehicle at risk is the fifth wheel, just as it has always been!
The utility trailer just cruises along behind. It’s a little caboose!
When we’re triple towing we notice a lot more chucking action than when we don’t have out caboose connected. This is due to the accordion and jerking action of the three vehicles moving apart and back together as they rumble down the road. It’s not a violent sensation, but we can definitely feel it.
We’ve been to a few gas stations… yikes!
We have been to several gas stations fully hooked up as The Train. Even though The Train is quite long and winds up curved far behind us as we turn in to the pump, as long as the gas station is large enough and there aren’t too many customers, it all works out.
That RZR sure is a long ways from the pump!
We have also been to several RV dump stations with The Train, and again, as long as the approach and exit to the dump station aren’t too narrow or laid out in a tight turn, we can align the fifth wheel sewer hose and other goodies with the RV dump station while the truck and utility trailer sit in a curve ahead of and behind the dump station sewer.
We’ve been to a few RV dump stations.
We’re okay dumping our tanks as long as it’s fairly long!
We set up the utility trailer with a spare tire and tire cover just in case that trailer gets a blowout. At this point we don’t have a backup camera to watch the utility trailer while we’re towing. That may come in the future but will take some research as we figure out which model and where to place the monitor in the already full cockpit of the truck.
Unfortunately the utility trailer is too small to carry our bikes as well. A 12′ long trailer would be long enough, but our RZR came with this trailer so it’s a natural starting point. So, for the moment, we have left the bikes behind at a friend’s house.
We’re leaving the bikes out of the equation for the moment.
When loading the RZR onto the utility trailer, Mark drives the RZR’s front wheels flush up against the front of the trailer which leaves enough room behind it for two 5 gallon gas tanks lashed down on the utility trailer.
With the wheels flush against the front railing there’s room for two 5 gallon gas tanks in back.
Before hitching up The Train the very first time, we had to sort out the different heights between the tongue of the utility trailer and the hitch receiver on the back end of the fifth wheel.
This is awesome for those pesky gas station ramps and other sharp dips in the road that are so steep they cause the back end of the fifth wheel trailer to drag on the asphalt. It’s also great for bumping over washes and other things on gnarly dirt roads.
However, all that good drag-avoidance stuff got thrown out the window with the decision to triple tow!
The utility trailer has 15″ tires and sits quite low, and in order to keep that trailer relatively flat instead of nose-up while towing, we had to put a 10″ drop hitch mount on the fifth wheel trailer’s hitch receiver to reach down to the utility trailer’s level.
We needed a 10″ drop hitch mount to reach down to the utility trailer
We use a receiver hitch tightener to eliminate any possible rattling in the connection between the receiver hitch and the hitch mount, and an electric plug ensures the lights on the utility trailer are powered and light up at night as well as when Mark hits the brakes.
The hitch tightener keeps things from rattling and the electric plug lights up the lights on the utility trailer
If you stand behind The Train at night and have someone tap the brakes in the truck, it’s quite a light show because not only do the lights on the fifth wheel light up, but the ones on the utility trailer do too. We almost never tow at night but it’s good to know The Train is so visible on dark and stormy travel days.
It was a dark and stormy morning…
We’re really glad we decided to jump in with both feet and buy a RZR before we figured out how to transport it because there is nothing like hands-on experience to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
The biggest surprise we’d never thought of before is that it is super handy to have a utility trailer to tote the RZR behind our truck when we’re going to a trailhead that is a long distance from our campsite.
There’s an advantage to being able to tow the RZR to a distant trailhead.
Although our RZR can go 70 mph and is licensed for the road, driving it on the highway is not what we got it for. We’d rather drive 25 or 50 miles to a trailhead in the comfort of our truck and then arrive with the RZR gas tank full of gas so we can enjoy our off-road adventures without worrying about carrying spare gas.
The RZR has a 10 gallon fuel tank and gets about 15 mpg. So far, none of our adventures has been more than about 40 miles, so we don’t foresee a need to carry gas with us on the RZR any time soon.
At the end of a day of off-road adventure, after the sun has set, we find it’s much safer to drive our truck on the highway than to be out there in a little open air buggy that sits a lot lower on the road than most cars and trucks.
The RZR rolls on and off the trailer ramp.
Lastly, we’ve wanted to ensure that Buddy loves the RZR. For us and our lifestyle there’s no reason to own a RZR if our puppy doesn’t want to come along. We’ve integrated him into our lives so he doesn’t spend any time in our fifth wheel by himself. If we’re going to have RZR adventures, he’s going to be a part of them.
When we’re in the RZR, Buddy sits on my lap. I don’t want to go more than about 35 mph with him sitting in there. He’s not too keen on the loud noise of the RZR engine on the highway and of vehicles passing us, and I have to say, neither am I.
His favorite thing riding in the RZR is to sniff the air when we’re off-road, watch for rabbits, and to stare down at the dirt road going by just below RZR door. All that is lots of fun at 10-15 mph, our typical dirt road speed.
Mark has mastered driving the 56″ wide RZR onto the 60″ wide trailer!
We have a B&W Stow & Go hitch on the back of our truck, and the utility trailer hitches up to the truck very easily. After one or two tries loading the RZR, Mark has figured out how to align it so it drives in without rubbing the wheels on the railings at all even though the railings are 60″ apart and the RZR is about 56″ wide.
When we arrive at a trailhead, Mark drops the ramp door of the utility trailer, hops in the RZR, and backs it down the ramp. The driver’s door on the RZR swings out above the railing on the utility trailer, so he can get in and out of the RZR easily when it’s on its trailer.
The RZR came with a windshield, roof and a fancy stereo that the previous owner had installed, and this XC EPS edition of the RZR 900 includes upgraded wheels, wider fender flares, a hitch receiver and the Polaris Ride Command navigation system.
However, the trunk is just a shallow open area at the back, not the best place to store stuff if you don’t want it to get dirty.
We tossed around ideas and finally bought a Lifetime 55 quart cooler that sits very nicely on an old welcome mat in the back of the RZR. It is lashed down to keep it in place.
We use a Lifetime 55 quart cooler for easy flip-top trunk system.
What we love about this cooler is that we can keep all the little essentials we always want with us — emergency water, toolbag, flat repair & spare air kit, first aid kit — in the bottom of it at all times, and we can throw things like jackets, hats, cameras and snacks on top as we need them for each ride.
The flip top lid makes it super easy to access everything in the cooler, and it has an excellent seal when it is closed which keeps everything inside dust free. We’ve also put a long shank padlock on the cooler to keep the less determined thieves out. Of course, anyone that really wanted that cooler and its contents could simply carry it away.
Another great feature of the cooler is that the things in the bottom of it don’t get overly hot. The engine sits right below the RZR’s trunk area, but since this little “portable trunk” is actually a cooler, there’s lots of insulation between the contents of the cooler and the engine below.
You can see a hilarious video of a grizzly bear trying to get into one of these coolers here.
We’ve found that the multi-use trails that allow motorized vehicles are not only lots of fun for riding but are also great for running and hiking too. Sometimes Buddy and I hop out to run while Mark drives.
Unlike yours truly, Buddy can easily keep up with the RZR and loves chasing it at top speed. But after he’s done a 5 minute mile with some surges to 3 minute mile pace thrown in, he’s usually ready to ride again, and he happily jumps back in.
Need a ride?
Come on in!
We’ve experimented with quite a few scenarios for arriving at a campsite and unhitching the bits and pieces of The Train.
The utility trailer has to be hitched up to something — either the truck or the fifth wheel trailer — in order to drive the RZR on or off of it. Otherwise, once the RZR wheels roll on or off the ramp the tongue of the utility trailer will fly up in the air.
So, at campsites where we want to use the utility trailer with the truck to take the RZR somewhere, we have to move the utility trailer from its caboose position at the end of The Train to a place where it can be hitched to the truck, and then we reverse its location before we leave.
We can move the utility trailer around small distances by pushing or pulling it ourselves. However, if the RZR is on the trailer, neither is going anywhere until the utility trailer gets hitched to either the truck or fifth wheel.
The RZR has a hitch receiver on it, and we purchased a ball mount for it, so the RZR can tow the utility trailer around if needed. This is handy in small campsites since the big long bed dually truck isn’t very maneuverable in tight spaces.
Luckily the RZR can also do the job of towing the utility trailer, if needed.
Again, we learned a few things that we hadn’t thought of before.
First, although it seemed daunting to back the fifth wheel to the utility trailer to hitch it on when it’s already got the RZR loaded on it, it’s not all that bad. Using our two-way radios as Mark backs up the fifth wheel and I stand at the tongue of the utility trailer, and then using our feet to shove the tongue of the utility trailer the final inch or two, we can get it done quite easily.
Second, if the utility trailer is already hitched to the fifth wheel but is at an angle to the fiver and not aligned straight behind it, there is a lot of lateral force on the fifth wheel’s stabilizing jacks and the front landing legs when the RZR drives onto the trailer.
If the utility trailer is aligned with the fifth wheel, the fiver takes the impact much better (I’ve stood inside the fifth wheel and felt it both ways!).
Mark has sorted out how best to tie down the RZR on the utility trailer.
The ramp door folds up.
We are liking this triple towing thing and may stick with it. We’ll see. If we do, then our new home search will be focused on conventional fifth wheel trailers rather than fifth wheel toy haulers.
There are pros and cons to both conventional fifth wheels and toy hauler fifth wheels. Here are a few we’ve come up with:
Conventional 5th Wheel
Toy Hauler 5th Wheel
More Living Space
Less Living Space
More Closet Space
Less Closet Space
Recliners + Sofa + Dining Table
Pick any two
Generally, bed in slide w/ windows each side
Generally, bed not in slide & window on one side & small wardrobe on other
Back Deck AND Possible Side Patio (always includes 2nd bath)
Tow RZR to trailhead behind truck
Drive RZR on highways to trailhead
Triple tow not legal in some states
Always a legal beagle
Can travel w/o caboose
Full length toy hauler is always with you (47′ in some cases!)
TRAILER LIFE ARTICLE – SHORTCUT to TOY LAND!
The March issue of Trailer Life Magazine features an article I wrote surveying some of the 2019 offerings in the toy hauler market. I chose four different toy haulers to highlight in that article and included another dozen models in the lineup.
Our personal favorites for sheer innovation and cleverness and/or ruggedness are the Aluminum Toy Hauler fifth wheel and the Keystone Raptor 427.
Aluminum Toyhauler Company (ATC) has been making stackable car haulers for the high end racing car set for ages. They build an incredibly strong and durable toy hauler. Unfortunately, they don’t have any models with slide-outs yet, but their toy haulers are built like tanks and can haul 9,700 lbs. of stuff in a trailer that has a GVWR of 21,000 lbs. Unbelievable!
The Keystone Raptor 427 is a fabulous new entry into the garage-under-the-master-bed style of toy hauler. Montana and Grand Design have these floor plans too: the Montana High Country 380TH and Grand Design Momentum 376TH (and formerly the Grand Design Solitude 374TH which was discontinued a few months ago).
All of these manufacturers place the bedroom in the rear of the trailer and put a small garage big enough for bikes or a motorcycle under the bed itself. A workbench could fit in this garage. The bed above the garage raises and lowers if you need full standing height in the garage.
Montana and Grand Design place the kitchen in the middle of the rig. Montana has a beautiful open L-shaped kitchen with counters along two walls, a style that I like, and Grand Design has an island kitchen that is very popular. Both put the living room in the fifth wheel overhang.
The clever idea in the Raptor 427 is that the kitchen, which doesn’t need vaulted ceilings, is smartly placed in the part of the trailer where high ceilings can’t exist: the fifth wheel overhang. I don’t know what the headroom is there, probably around 6′ 4″ or higher, but it was more than sufficient for cooking, dining and even entertaining a cocktail party or buffet crowd! And there’s a window in the front cap so you can see out in all directions.
The kitchen is truly vast, and there is a side-by-side dinette for two that overlooks the living room. We just loved the design. For us, though, it’s too long a trailer since we’d have to tow our RZR behind (it’s 44′ long), and we’d prefer hydraulic slides to cable slides in the bigger slide-outs. Our two hydraulic slide mechanisms and single worm-gear electric slide mechanism on our current trailer have pushed our slides in or out an estimated 2,000 times so far.
The Keystone Raptor 427 has an immense kitchen in the front of the trailer.
The counter space is incredible (although I could do without the purple lights)
Seating for two overlooking the rest of the trailer – very cool!
Opposing loveseats in the slides plus dual recliners facing the TV (not seen in this pic).
Looking back up into the kitchen above the recliners
The bike or motorcycle sized garage is under the bed. The ceiling raises and lowers.
Another outstanding RV magazine and RV advocacy group and discount camping membership club and mail forwarding service, among many other things, is Escapees RV Club which we highly recommend joining.
IMPRESSIONS from VISITING the TOY HAULER FACTORIES
When were in Elkhart, Indiana, last fall (2018), we visited several RV manufacturing plants. We hadn’t done a factory tour in Elkhart since the spring of 2009 when the industry was in the midst of collapse.
The consolidation in the RV industry since the beginning of the recession of 2008 has been staggering and has whittled the list of RV manufacturers down to three conglomerates: Thor, Forest River and Winnebago. It has also reduced the list of major component suppliers down to two, Lippert Components and Furrion. Mom-and-pop shops making fifth wheel trailers independently of these conglomerates like Aluminum Toy Hauler, New Horizons and Space Craft and smaller component suppliers like MORryde are exceedingly rare.
The fraternity of talent at the top of the RV industry is very close knit and goes back many decades. If you follow the mergers and acquisitions back to the 1960s and 70s, the same names appear over and over in the executive suites of each company. The brothers who founded Keystone together with another executive who oversaw its huge growth sold it to Thor which itself was the result of the acquisition of failing Airstream from Beatrice Foods. After the three held top executive positions at Thor, these three men went on to found Grand Design and oversee its growth and sale to Winnebago. One of the partners sat on the Board of Directors over at Lippert Components, and after the sale to Winnebago another of the partners left the RV industry to start a pontoon boat company in partnership with Lippert Components.
The advantage to the rise of the conglomerates is wonderful economies of scale, but the flip side for the brands under these corporate umbrellas is the loss of the wild frontier style innovation that made early RVs so fun and funky as well as the forced adoption of quality standards that may not match the standards these brands had back when they were independent companies.
A Dishwasher = “That True Residential Feel”
Perhaps the most shocking thing for us was to discover how few people in the RV industry actually own and use RVs. I asked the general manager of one brand and a national sales rep of another what kind of RVs they owned, and the answers were, “I’m too busy to vacation in an RV” and “My wife likes hotels.”
This lack of personal RV experience has caused a disconnect between the manufacturers and their customers’ needs.
A perfect example was when a top executive at one brand told me that full-timers want a true residential feel to their fifth wheels, so every unit in his line of full-timer fifth wheels would be shipped with a dishwasher in it starting in 2019.
Now, of course, lots of full-timers want a dishwasher in their RV, but a lot of full-timers don’t want one.
Another executive at a different company told me, “Well, the dishwasher is a great place to store your dishes in an RV.”
It is? I’m not keen on mixing my clean and dirty dishes in the same storage place!
A National Sales Rep proudly showed me the outdoor kitchen on his toy hauler. He was so excited about it when he pulled it out, “Emily, you’re going to love this!” But when he pulled it out, it came to shoulder level on me. I’m 5′ 4″. I raised my arm and made a stirring motion with my hand in front of my chin and said, “I can’t cook like this.” He was crestfallen.
I began asking the executives we were meeting how they get their feedback from customers, and it seemed that they rely on a combination of the orders placed by the dealership buyers and by talking to people at trade shows.
So, it turned out that because 95% of the units of the one brand had been ordered with dishwashers in 2018, it was obvious there was a massive demand for dishwashers. So that’s why all units will have dishwashers going forward.
Similarly, since the sales rep with the outdoor kitchen had seen only grins and enthusiasm when he showed it to folks dropping by the booth at trade shows, he thought his outdoor kitchen was something his customers loved.
Ironically, doesn’t it make sense for dealers to put predominantly fully decked out units on their lots to show customers what can be ordered? And when you’re gallivanting around at an RV trade show and having a ball dancing in and out of tons of brand new units, are you really going to tell that smiling and friendly sales guy that his outdoor kitchen would never work for you?
The takeaway we got from all this is not to be shy and to find out who the buyer is at your local dealership and to tell them what you like and don’t like about the units on their lot. It seems that the closest the residents of the RV manufacturers’ executive suites come to their customers is the contact they have with the folks ordering their units in their dealer network.
ESCAPEES RV CLUB and WINNEBAGO
Fortunately and fabulously, Escapees RV Club and Winnebago have begun working together to get real feedback from real RVers into the design process. This project is in its earliest phase right now, but the emails I’ve received from Escapees about it are very encouraging. It is because of this kind of innovative and forward thinking at Escapees that we keep recommending our readers join Escapees. (They give us a tip if you mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up, but we’d recommend them anyway!).
Founded by Kay and Joe Peterson, Escapees RV Club has been led by three generations of family members who have spent years on the road living in their RVs. They are the real deal when it comes to understanding the RV lifestyle.
TRAILERS BUILT by the AMISH
On a completely different note, some folks feel that a trailer built by Amish hands is of better quality than one made by other hands. It certainly makes for great marketing, especially for the companies that are in the heart of Amish country and employ lots of Amish people. We saw Amish workers in some of the plants, both men and women, but we didn’t see how their work could be substantially different than the work done by anyone else on the same assembly line.
The Amish really do work at the RV factories. They do the same jobs as other assembly line workers.
The factory workers are given jobs to do and are told how to do them. The quality standards and aseembly techniques are determined by corporate goals in areas like profitability, target market share, and unit build time to completion.
While a conscientious individual might put tremendous thought and care into a backyard project at their own home, the work they do on the assembly line at their job for an employer will be done the way management demands and not necessarily in a way that they would choose for their own personal project at home.
Before I tell you, take a quick guess at how long it takes to build a 44′ toy hauler fifth wheel. A month? A week?
At the Raptor plant we were told it takes 3 days. At the KZ plant it is 2.5 days. They have a ton of hands working simultaneously, and they all get the job done as quickly as possible.
INDEPENDENT MANUFACTURERS – ATC, Sundowner, Luxe, Space Craft, New Horizons
Independent RV manufacturing plants like ATC and Sundowner (another new entrant into the toy hauler market coming frome the horse trailer industry) take a few days longer to build their units than the bigger mass market brands. This partly because fewer people work on each trailer at a time, and partly because they start from scratch and build their own frames, doors and ramps rather than buying a ready-made frame, door and ramp.
Both ATC and Sundowner looked appealing to us, and we toured each plant. ATC is near Elkhart in Nappannee and Sundowner is in Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, without any slideouts we couldn’t fit our lives and belongings into an ATC fifth wheel toy hauler, and although the Sundowner toy haulers are an aerodynamic two feet shorter than standard fifth wheel toy haulers and are built with a fifth wheel gooseneck hitch which makes a fabulouos connection to the truck and completely frees up the truck bed when you’re not towing, they are also built with a very small bedroom because of the short gooseneck overhang.
However, for folks who have other lifestyle needs than ours, both the ATC and Sundowner deserve a good long look as they are sturdy, well built and rugged trailers that can be modestly customized on order and that have an intermediate price point between the mass market trailers and the high end custom units (New Horizons, Luxe and Space Craft). We visited Luxe and went to Space Craft a second time but will get into that in another post.
ALTERNATE SUPPLIERS – MORryde, Dexter
I mentioned the RV parts manufacturer MORryde, and as we studied toy haulers it seemed to us that there are two components in toy haulers these days where the MORryde version is superior to the competition: the ramp door and the stairs. Likewise, the Dexter brand of axles is considered to be superior to the competition (although the axle brand is a moot point if you plan to upgrade to the MORryde IS suspension which replaces the axles completely).
When our second factory-installed axle failed on our current trailer after our first axle failed and was replaced under our extended warranty, we replaced both axles with Dexter brand at our own expense (not under warranty) and have been very pleased.
So, in our evaluation of toy haulers during our own personal search for ourselves, the brands we focused on came with these MORryde and Dexter components. Generally, if a brand doesn’t specify in its marketing literature that it has a MORryde or Dexer branded component, then it doesn’t have it. There is marketing value in advertising that your trailer includes these brands, and the RV manufacturers call it out in their literature.
One of the side benefits (or disadvantages, depending on your point of view) of massive industry consolidation is that a hugely dominant parts supplier can strong arm its customers into buying its products by bundling them or offering other perks as part of the deal, something like: “If you buy our doors and windows we’ll throw in our stairs for free,” or “If you buy our stairs and ramp door we’ll warranty the frame for three years.”
MORryde Zero-G Ramp Door
Check out this video comparing the deployment of the MORryde Zero-G ramp door and the Lippert ramp door:
We like the old fashioned flip down front stairs on our fifth wheel, but that design is antiquated these days. The MORryde stairs called the “StepAbove” deploy easily.
One of the interesting fallouts from the wholesale decimation of the RV industry that began in 2008 and went on until 2013 or so is that the smaller companies that survived the downturn did so because they engaged in some true soul searching and revised their self-image.
The folks at B&W Trailer Hitches began making farm fencing, and they had enough cash flow to pay their employees to work for the town where they are headquartered, providing groundskeeping and other municipal services. This not only kept everyone employed but it heightened their pride in their town and their loyalty to their company. Amazing and very smart. The folks at MORryde also branched out into non-RVing related products in a similar way.
The management at ATC took a long hard look at how to motivate their assembly line workers to make the best product possible. Rather than providing incentives based on the number of units produced, which is a common metric, they offered incentives that focused on quality control and reducing mistakes and system failures. ATC has the longest and deepest warranty of all the fifth wheel toy hauler manufacturers.
PHEW — THAT WAS LONG!
We’ve got more thoughts to share as we ponder this fork in our less traveled road. At the moment we’re leaning towards a new traditional fifth wheel trailer because the triple-towing seems okay, but who knows what the coming months will bring as we travel further afield and encounter a wider variety of situations with our rig.
If this article has helped you in any way, please consider making a small contribution to help us out here.
March 2019 – Our new little RZR adventure buggy has been giving us loads of fun in the Arizona desert, introducing us to lots of pretty places and even taking us there in the pre-dawn hours so we can catch the sunrise as it happens.
From lakes to streams to riverbeds and washes we’ve been seeing lots of new and beautiful places.
Ticket to great rides.
Desert meets water.
Where the Agua Fria River (“Cold Water River”) became a manmade lake.
The triple towing is working out well, and we’ll have an article on that soon as we gather more photos. It is quite a train!
It’s not fully hitched up in this pic, but this is The Train!
Arizona has seen some crazy weather this winter with a huge snowstorm blowing through last week. Before the snow arrived we caught a glimpse of the full moon balanced on a cactus.
A cactus catches the full moon as it sets.
But dark clouds and a rainbow in the distance signaled the storm that was to come. That evening’s sunset was out of this world!
Rainbow and storm clouds over Pleasant Harbor.
A wild sunset before the storm.
The next morning there was snow on the mountains. Kids in the Phoenix schools had enough snow to make snowballs, and the mountains looked a lot more like Montana than Arizona!
Is this the Arizona desert or somewhere far north?
Snow on the mountains behind Scorpion Bay Marina
Lots of rain and a little snowmelt up north made the water level in Lake Pleasant begin to rise. What a surprise it was when we headed down one road and found the tide coming in!
The lake got so full it began to cover the roads!
One sunny warm day we took the RZR down Castle Hot Springs Road. This is a dirt road that goes off into remote parts of the Sonoran Desert between northwestern Phoenix and Wickenburg.
A spur off of Castle Hot Springs Road
This road can be driven with a regular passenger car, but it was especially fun in the open air RZR. The road heads past some beautiful craggy mountainsides that are covered with saguaro cacti. Just magnificent!
Beautiful desert scenery
Wild burros live out this way, and we saw a small group watching us closely when we hiked into the brush a ways.
They wandered around but kept an eye on us as we approached them.
They weren’t sure what to make of Buddy, but when they’d decided he was close enough one gave chase and he ran as fast as his little legs could carry him.
Buddy loves to be chased and he was grinning ear to ear.
15 years ago, before we started RVing full-time we drove this same road in a car and stopped at the boarded up Castle Hot Springs resort to look around.
Castle Hot Springs first opened in 1896 for city folk and out of state visitors who wanted a genuine taste of the Sonoran Desert in a very remote setting. It was a high end resort and the owners had planted rows of Mexican palm trees all around it.
Castle Hot Springs Road was under water in places, but it wasn’t too deep.
When we visited all those years ago the resort had been closed for quite some time. The palm trees were still tall and healthy and standing in rows, but the buildings were a little worse for wear. It seemed such a shame that a beautiful property like that would be left to disintegrate in the hot Arizona sun.
Well, much to our surprise, someone has bought it and is doing an unbelievable renovation. The whole thing is now enclosed behind a solid rock wall and an elegant front gate.
Castle Hot Springs has been purchased and is in the last stages of an enormous renovation.
Castle Hot Springs was first opened in 1896
There is a lush green lawn and we could see the main lodge in the distance. It was a little funny to be blocked from accessing the building, because we had wandered all over the property before and remembered that yellow building well.
Lush green lawns and elegant buildings.
The palm trees look fantastic and there is a sparkling swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs and colorful umbrellas. Amazing!
The rows of palm trees were as beautiful as ever.
There’s a gorgeous pool back there.
A guard at the gate told us the property was purchased by the owner of Sun State Equipment, a construction equipment rental company. Just the right folks to buy a property that needed an overhaul!
And the price per night to stay here… Well… For the budget conscious there are rooms in the less fancy dwellings for $800 a night. If you aren’t so concerned about expenses, the upscale rooms go for $1,200 a night.
Rooms are $800 to $1,200 a night, meals, guided hikes and other activities included.
The old barn is being turned into a restaurant. Construction on that hasn’t really started, but when it opens it will be open to the public. So, if you have a RZR (yes!) or if you don’t mind a long bumpy ride on a dirt road, you’ll be able to get a taste of the good life in the restaurant!
Of course, some guests come in by helicopter.
We got so busy in our conversation with the guard that we didn’t notice Buddy had already found his own way in. He stood on the other side of the gate staring at us as if to say, “What are you waiting for? Come on in!”
“Never mind that guard. Let’s check out the resort!”
Unfortunately, without a room reservation we couldn’t get past the gate. So we jumped back in the RZR and continued on.
As we rode along we noticed a huge wash alongside the road. Curious, we just had to get out and explore. There was a trickle of water running in the middle of the wash and we saw some little footprints in the mud.
We traipsed down this wash for a while.
Footprints from something that is probably very cute!
We loved the patterns the mud made as it flowed over the pebbles. It looked a lot like chocolate covered nuts of some kind!
Mud…or chocolate covered nuts?
Back at Lake Pleasant we caught a few beautiful sunsets. The sky and water were filled with pastel shades.
We captured a few sunrises too, and they were worth getting out of bed and going hiking for!
Mark sets up a photo while Buddy looks back at me.
Definitely worth rising early and hiking in the dark!
I have a complete blog post prepared for you this week. It has 33 photos, some of which are very beautiful, and it has lots of fun commentary too.
However, a few days ago I upgraded WordPress to the latest version. I thought nothing of it because they toss out upgrades every month or so and you just keep upgrading along.
Unfortunately, just now when I sat down to do my zip-zap lightning-fast-fingers stuff I’ve done in WordPress for the last 7 years to compile my text and photos into a blog post, I discovered that the interface is completely unrecognizable. So the publication of this cool blog post about Castle Hot Springs and Lake Pleasant is going to be delayed.
Ironically, earlier today I was joking with Mark that a day may come where my blog fades into oblivion because the changes in technology leave it behind.
I made the joke in the context of thinking about ways to preserve our precious memories that have been so carefully written and presented online so that some curious descendant decades from now could get a whiff of what our lives were like. I believed I’d come up with a way I could one day print out the thousands and thousands of 8.5 x 11 pages that it would consume and have those pages be nicely formatted so they could be archived in notebooks.
All I can say is be careful what you joke about!
I think I know what needs to be done and have found some good info here. But I’d rather tackle this with fresh eyes and a clear mind over a cup of coffee in the morning!
Here’s the first photo I had planned to use, but it’s not sized or positioned right… sigh.
February 2019 – One of our favorite sightings in our RV travels is the cute little coffee kiosks and coffee huts we find tucked into parking lots and standing on street corners all around the West. As America’s quest for the perfect cuppa joe has become more refined and exotic over the years, these adorable little coffee pit stops have been sprouting all over the place.
Drive-up (and walk-up) coffee kiosks can be found all over the American West!
When we got to Oregon a few years back they were everywhere. And no wonder. Starbucks is headquartered in Washington, and it seems that America’s demand for fancy, fluffy coffee spreads out from there!
De La Bean Coffee in Bend, Oregon
Some of the little coffee kiosks serve more than just coffee too.
Hot Shots and Smoothies in Oregon
As we’ve taken our RV from one small town to another we’fve found that many of these cute coffee joints are marked by a big “Espresso” flag flying out front.
Java Rock Coffee Shop, Terrebonne Oregon
Along with bearing whimsical names, many of these coffee kiosks have all kinds of amusing displays and props too.
Blue Banana Coffee Shop in Lostine, Oregon
These coffee shacks are usually simple little buildings, just big enough for a barista or two inside, and they often have an inviting porch or patio area decorated with flowers out front.
Coffee Corral in Baker City Oregon
Java Rock in Terrebonne, Oregon
Besides being cute and serving great coffee, what I love about these little coffee kiosks is that they are all mom-and-pop shops.
Rather than being part of an impersonal international corporate behemoth, they are locally run and the owners have often put everything they own on the line to try to make their venture a success.
Bare Naked Beans (now called Cricket Flat Coffee) in Elgin, Oregon
When I visited one coffee kiosk a very little girl appeared at the window to take my order. Her mom was busy with another customer, and she was helping out.
I hung around a while afterwards to enjoy my coffee, and the mom told me this was the perfect enterprise for her. She could walk to work, she was with her two small children all day long, and she was building a business at the same time.
Longhorn Espresso in Enterprise, Oregon
Coffee Depot in Redmond, Oregon
One of the first coffee kiosks we ever encountered was Wicked Brew in Moab, Utah. We discovered it before we began RVing, and it was so neat to see it was still going strong years later when we returned to visit the area with our fifth wheel.
This classy little coffee hut serves each cup with a chocolate covered coffee bean perched on the lid!
Usually, these coffee kiosks are drive-thru shacks with windows on both sides of the building.
Drivers pulled up at both sides in Douglas, Wyoming
However, we often walk up to them instead. It only took two or three walk-ups for Buddy to realize that the smell of coffee, the sound of the milk being steamed, and a patient wait at a window might add up to a doggie treat!
Now he sits expectantly looking up at the window and licking his lips.
City Brew Coffee in Red Lodge Montana
Although the frequency of coffee kiosks diminishes as you go east and south from the Pacific Northwest, they are still plentiful in Wyoming.
At Rawhide Coffee in Cody, Wyoming, Buddy decided to do the ordering for us.
Rawhide Coffee in Cody, Wyoming
He’s a smart little guy, and he knew this clever stunt could win him two doggie treats instead of just one!
Buddy puts in his order.
On our first trip through Newcastle, Wyoming, we visited the Kaffee Klatsch several times, so we were looking forward to a return trip the next year. But the Kaffee Klatsch wasn’t there any more! After a brief hunt around town we found it in a new location.
The owner explained that they owned the building but leased the land it sat on. Happily, the new location has made their business grow exponentially. How cool is that?!
We don’t have a photo of that shop, but we do have a few others from South Dakota.
Pony Expresso in Belle Fourche, South Dakota
Hot Springs Coffee Kiosk in Hot Springs, South Dakota
Of course some of our favorite coffee shops are in ordinary buildings. One is the Calamity Jane Coffee Shop in Custer, South Dakota, where we’ve spent many mornings sipping a latte, munching a muffin and chatting with the owners, Jim and Deb.
This enterprising couple had a camera shop in this location for many years. Deb is a photographer, and Custer is located in a popular tourist area surrounded by tons of gorgeous scenery and almost-tame wild animals to photograph.
Mark and owner Jim ham it up at Calamity Jane Coffee Shop & Winery in Custer, South Dakota
But the rise of the internet and digital photography n eput and to film sales and retail camera sales at their shop. Rather than throw in the towel, they thought about what modern day tourists are looking for when they come to a small historic town, and they realized gourmet coffee would be the perfect thing.
The addition of a wine tasting room out back and a huge wine selection was another clever idea, and their store is as busy as can be.
This former camera shop is now thriving as a coffee shop and winery in downtown Custer, South Dakota.
East of the Dakotas the little coffee huts disappear for the most part, but that doesn’t mean great coffee can’t be found. In the small town of St. Ignace in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula of Michigan we came across Harbor Hope Coffee.
Harbor Hope Coffee Shop in St. Ignace, Michigan.
This unusual coffee shop is home to a church group that gathers to worship in the back of the shop each week, and the profits from the coffee sales go to charitable causes. We were astonished to hear the volunteer barista tell us the story behind this unique coffee shop, but what made Buddy’s ears really perk up was when she ased, “Does your puppy want a puppaccino?”
She grabbed a whipped cream dispenser from the fridge, filled a small bowl with homemade whipped cream and put it on the floor in front of Buddy.
He went crazy!! I have never seen him lap up a bowl of anything so quickly. He got it on his whiskers and all over his muzzle.
The next day, the moment we parked in front of Harbor Hope Coffee Buddy just about jumped through the window to get inside. I knew I was addicted to hazlenut lattes, but Buddy was absolutely bonkers over puppaccinos!
Buddy tastes his first puppaccino. Yum!
Unfortunately, although dogs are warmly welcomed at most coffee kiosks and they are usually offered a treat to boot, some coffee shops with inside seating have strict rules for dogs relating to food service and unexpected visits from the Health Inspector.
So, Buddy has learned that not every “Open” sign at a coffee shop is actually an invitation for his four paws to head in.
Sometimes our four-legged friend has to wait outside.
In Wisconsin he had to wait outside several coffee shops. Fortunately, he is a patient pup.
Buddy watches my every move through a crack in the front door.
At one coffee shop there was a bucket of chalk outside, so we marked his special waiting spot.
This time he got a specially marked spot to wait on outside.
In Hot Springs, South Dakota, before Buddy joined us, we found another shop with a bucket of chalk outside, so we added a bit of sidewalk art there too!
While I’ve been typing away during this past year to bring you a glimpse of our travels on America’s less traveled roads, roaming about with a little pup in tow, I had no idea that Buddy was working on his own pet project for his canine RVing friends.
Buddy explains to Mark what it’s like to live a Dog’s Life!
I thought he was just licking his paws over there or maybe surfing the web for better dog treats. I had no idea that he’d created a popular dog magazine…!
K9 Publishing by Puppy Chow
It turns out that for the past year our friend Bob (a PhotoShop and photography expert) has been working with our little Buddy (whom he affectionately calls Puppy Chow), and together they have created quite a library of magazines for RVing pups and their owners.
I had seen the first issue last year and had shared it on the blog post where I introduced our new furry roommate:
Since then I’ve seen a few of these unusual magazine covers float by every once in a while, but I didn’t realize just how many there were until recently when I noticed there was quite a collection.
For a change of pace from our ordinary blogging fare, here are a few covers from these fun magazines. Hopefully they’ll put a smile on your face today!
Each issue reflected a bit of what was happening in our lives at the time, so when Camping World brought a camera crew out to make a video about our RV lifestyle, that special event was highlighted…
When we got out into the snow-capped mountains and had some wintry feeling spring mornings where we could see our breath in the air before we got out of bed, that unique tid-bit of RV life made it onto the cover…
Buddy’s mouth was too small to grasp a baseball at first, but when he grew a little bigger he could hang onto a baseball in his teeth just fine. This was just in time, too, because he’d found one under a tree near our campsite…
Despite spending a lot of months in very buggy places last year, we avoided getting too bitten until we got to Missouri where Buddy got four tick bites in a week and I got one too! Apparently, after that bout with those nasty little biters, Buddy came up with some tips for avoiding them…
Now, “Dog’s Life” isn’t the only publishing project that Buddy and Bob have been working on. They’ve put together a few other periodicals too, from “Trailer Dog” to “Gun Dog” to our very own Roads Less Traveled magazine.
The first “Trailer Dog” issue came out when Buddy was very young just shortly after he’d found a very old dead bird and made a meal of it…only to have the meal come right back up again a few minutes later…
The movie reviews were lots of fun, and we were especially tickled when Buddy reviewed the all time classic, “Old Yeller.”
The arrival of our new RZR made the cover (yay!)…and Buddy solved a very important mystery that has been puzzling a lot of folks!
And that’s it for today from the Buddy-and-Bob K9 Publishing team. Hopefully they’ll keep ’em coming!
Our campsite looks a bit different now with our new addition!
We had decided to triple tow the RZR on a small 5′ x 10′ utility trailer behind our fifth wheel trailer, and we were very uncertain how this arrangement would work out.
So, we were absolutely thrilled when we did our first 125 mile trip across the north edge of Phoenix, including a stop at an RV dump station in a fairly tight gas station, and found it went really smoothly!
The little RZR is our ticket to new thrills!
A new perspective.
Our biggest concern had been how this train of truck + 5th wheel trailer + utility trailer would handle in tight spaces. We do a lot more U-turns in our traveling lifestyle than we’d care to admit, and being able to reverse direction without becoming a bull in a china shop is important!
It turns out that because the utility trailer is really narrow — five feet wide as compared to the fifth wheel’s eight foot width — its wheels take a wider turning arc than those on the fifth wheel. What a surprise!
When we were maneuvering in the tight spaces of the gas station to get to the RV dump on the side, we inadvertently rolled the fifth wheel’s tires over a curb.
We expected to feel a second thump-bump of the utility trailer’s wheels going over the curb too, but when we watched the trailer behind us, it scooted smartly around the corner and stayed in the road the whole time with a few inches to spare.
Mark loves old windmills so we always stop to get pics of them!
Once we got our train detached and set up in a campsite, we started taking the RZR out on excursions. What a blast that little buggy is!
We have camped at Roosevelt Lake many times over the years, and have always wondered what lay in the distant mountains and valleys around the lake. Now we could get on the trails and find out.
Where the desert meets the water at Roosevelt Lake.
A ribbon of road…
There are quite a few dirt roads and 4×4 trails that head off into the hills, and we explored a lot of them.
Some we could have driven in the truck, and some we could have mountain biked, but most would have been impossible for either our truck or bikes.
Late afternoon glow on the saguaro cacti high above the lake.
After a little off-road riding it’s nice to stretch the ol’ legs on a hike!
Cactus and red rocks. What a combo!
It was satisfying to go down roads we couldn’t have accessed without the RZR. That is why we bought it, after all!
In a few places we came to trailheads. Some were sections of the cross-state Arizona Trail. It was neat to be able to hop out of the RZR and go do a couple miles of hiking without seeing a soul around.
Even though it was late January to early February, some of the higher elevation hillsides were covered with desert poppies. We also saw a few lupine blooming here and there! I don’t quite understand why the desert poppies would bloom at high elevations in January and at lower elevations in March, but Nature has its mysteries.
We were very surprised to find some higher elevation hillsides covered with desert poppies.
There were lupine too!
Some trails just petered out after a while, but one day we traveled deep into Tonto National Forest on a series of trails that seemed to go on forever. We passed a homestead and crossed quite a few cattle boundaries, opening cattle gates to let ourselves through and closing them behind us as instructed by signs on the gates.
In a few spots we saw cows and calves. We weren’t too excited about them, but Buddy perked right up and watched them closely.
At one point we looked up on a berm and there was a wild horse staring at us. Buddy dashed up the berm to touch noses with it and then he bolted back down again.
“Hey little fella, come back here!” Buddy ran back down the hill after saying hello to the wild horse.
They had the familiar fuzzy faces that the wild horses of this area have, and they had no shoes on their feet.
Their unusual calmness in our presence made us wonder if someone had been feeding them or working with them in some way. Their manes and tails weren’t covered with burrs the way many wild horses are, and they seemed to be well fed, no doubt due to the lush green grasses covering all the hillsides!
Classic — A wild horse standing between a saguaro cactus and an old cactus skeleton.
How cool to head into the National Forest and come across these special horses!
His friend struck a pose too…
We had a blast every time we went out for a ride. It seems that this RZR thing is going to be a lot of fun!
Room to roam.
What a view!
The funny thing, though, is that sometimes the most dramatic and beautiful things in life are those things that come to you on their own rather than you hunting them down in a RZR!
One day we went to the nearby town of Globe to do laundry and other errands. We decided not to pack our cameras because, well, what is there to take photos of on errand day at the laundromat? Besides, it was pouring pitchforks and we knew we were in for an all-day rain.
On our way back we noticed the sun peaking out of the clouds once in a while. Then suddenly we saw the most enormous rainbow crossing the entire hilly desert landscape alongside the truck.
OMG! Why didn’t we have our cameras?
It was a 30 mile drive to get back to the campground, and the rainbow followed us the entire way, its little pot of gold moving across the desert right below it just as fast as we were driving. At times there was a double rainbow!
We couldn’t believe we were seeing this stunning spectacle with no way to photograph it, but we resigned ourselves to just enjoying the rainbow out the window and imagining the photos we would have taken in this spot and in that spot.
The shock, though, was that the rainbow was visible and with us for the entire 30 mile drive until we pulled into the campground.
Unfortunately, by the time we got back to our campsite, the rainbow was gone. We began unloading the truck, excited but dejected that we had missed this incredible rainbow photo-op.
Suddenly, as we made yet another trip out to the truck to bring in more stuff, we looked up and saw the rainblow forming in the distance. We both dove for our cameras and began snapping like mad. The rainbow’s colors intensified until we were both exclaiming that we had never seen a rainbow so bright!
The colors were so vivid that they reflected across the water even though the surface of the lake was slightly ruffled by a soft breeze.
We ran along the shoreline trying to find the best vantage point, and the rainbow just kept on glowing. We were astonished and elated.
That night the rain came down in buckets on our trailer. We woke the next morning to black clouds and more rain. No problem. Mark baked banana bread and life was good and toasty warm.
Late that afternoon the skies cleared and the sun came out for a little while. And then we had a repeat of the day before as a rainbow formed in the distance.
A rainbow peeks out from beneath the storm clouds in the distance.
The sun played hide-and-seek with the clouds, and the land brightened and darkened as the clouds frothed overhead.
The sun lit the foreground for a moment.
A dark shadow formed in the sky but the rainbow was still visible underneath. How wonderful!
A distinct shadow appeared in the sky above the rainbow.
What a thrill this was, and what a great surprise.
The days of rain eventually stopped, and although that was the end of the rainbows, the churning skies gave us some fabulous clouds that produced brilliant sunsets over the next few days.
A glorious Arizona sunset.
Then one morning the sky was perfectly clear as the sun crested the horizon, and with that the celestial show was over for a while.
A new day begins.
We never know what to expect when we get up each day. Sometimes we go looking for adventure — and the RZR is proving to be a great way to get there — but sometimes the adventure finds us!
Just outside of Bryce Canyon is one of our favorite places, Red Canyon. We love the hiking trails there. What fun it was to see its two tunnels through the red rocks decorated in snow!
Red Canyon has two charming tunnels in the red rocks – and in winter they have snow!
The area around Bryce Canyon was beautiful in its winter finery, and we got a huge kick out of driving the scenic roads and seeing familiar red rock formations peeking out from beneath a layer of snow.
A glimpse of the edge of Red Canyon across a wintry landscape.
Bryce-like rock formations peered out from the mountains a few miles from the actual Canyon.
Red rock country makes for wonderful scenic drive in summer, but how beautiful to see it with snow!
The valleys near Bryce Canyon stood silent in their winter slumber save for a few homesteads here and there.
The quiet life.
As we descended out of the high 8,000′ plateau where Bryce Canyon is situated, we said goodbye to the snow one last time.
Buddy loved the snow, but it was time to leave it behind.
The wonderfully scenic US-89 passes through spectacular red rock landscapes as it approaches and then leaves Kanab, Utah, and we reminisced as we passed the turn-off for the incomparable Wire Pass Slot Canyon hike and the charming Toadstools Hike, both barely noted with small brown signs on the highway.
And then we were suddenly immersed in the beauty of Glen Canyon. This exquisite canyon was carved by the relentless flow of the Colorado River which has sculpted the surrounding colorful sandstone into a myriad of shapes.
Late afternoon at Glen Canyon.
The Colorado River was dammed here to form Lake Powell, and the vivid blue of the lake set against the towering stone cliffs was jaw-dropping in the morning sun.
Lake Powell is the centerpiece of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
We drove down to the beach to get a little closer to the water.
The stone monoliths towered on the other side of the small cove. What an exotic landscape!
This is a fabulous spot for photography!
There is a marina, hotel and restaurant complex on the shore at Lake Powell, and we could see the marina docks in the distance. The air became a little hazy as the day wore on, but the deep crimson red rocks were just stunning!
The distant red rocks were a deep crimson!
A group of houseboats anchored in the bay looked very inviting. We told each other we’ll have to do an overnight in one someday. A concessionaire for the National Park Service rents them out!!
Houseboats anchored in the bay. What a fun excursion that would be!
This guy loved the beach!
The eye-popping Horseshoe Bend Overlook is a little bit south of Lake Powell, and although we’ve visited before (blog post here), we couldn’t drive through the area without stopping in to take another look.
We were shocked when we arrived to see that massive construction is underway in the parking lot and on the hill between the parking lot and the overlook to make it easier to support the enormous crowds of tourists that flock here every hour of every day.
What used to be a small parking lot will soon be at least four times bigger. A slew of vault toilets have been installed, and it looks like a road is going in to take tourists right to the rim.
Right now visitors still walk straight up over the berm on a dirt path to the overlook. The new road will go around the berm on the south side. It’s not clear whether walkers or motorized vehicles or both will use the road, perhaps only tour buses. We were also quite astonished to see a railing protecting part of the rim now as well. Now, anyone who is unnerved by standing on the edge of a several thousand foot drop can stand by the railing with confidence.
The rocks near the edge of the overlook have fantastic markings.
Most of the rim is still wide open and easily explored, however, and plenty of crazy people were doing their selfie stunts just inches from a lethal fall (a girl fell off and died over Christmas this year). But it was the beautiful lines and patterns in the rocks at our feet that really caught our attention.
This is a special little gem of a spot.
A fish-eye view catches the wake of a boat cruising by on the river below!
Whereas Horseshoe Bend is busy busy busy and a true jaw-dropper to boot, a nearby scenic overlook at Glen Canyon Dam is fully developed for people to explore but had no visitors but us when we stopped by one morning.
The Colorado River is visible four thousand feet below — just as it is at Horseshoe Bend a few miles away — and the rust colored canyon walls are incredibly sheer.
The Glen Canyon Dam Scenic Overlook was beautiful and dramatic — and we were the only ones there!
We just loved the lines in the rocks and the infinite variety of patterns they create.
Such wonderful lines in the rocks!
It is a kid’s paradise for running around on the rocks.
These rocks are very cool to climb on.
Mark won a photo contest with this unique photo of a strong gust of wind blowing on Buddy!
Glen Canyon Dam is a short distance away tucked between massive cliffs!
To get a sense of scale, notice Mark in the upper right corner taking a photo of the dam!
Meanwhile, storms brewed above the mesas and mountains on the horizon.
Storm clouds gathered.
This whole part of Canyon Country between Bryce Canyon, Utah, and Page, Arizona, is exquisite, and is truly a delight for photography. We were up with the chickens one morning to see if we could capture something special down at Lake Powell. And sure enough, the sun gave us a show to remember!
When we first arrived at the shore at dawn, the sky and water took on shades of purple and magenta.
The sunrise was brilliant, but even as the sun made its appearance on one horizon, storm clouds were forming on the other. We loved the contrast of light and dark.
The day awakens.
As the sun cast its last glow across the land before giving in to the coming storm, it lit the horizon’s classic southwestern horizon of mesas and rock pinnacles.
While the sun rose on one side the storm clouds grew darker on the other.
What a beautiful way to end our quick trip through Canyon Country to see the Best of the West under snow!
Before long we were back in our trailer in Phoenix getting ready to head out with our new RZR and try our new triple-towing adventures. But this week-long interlude at some of America’s most beautiful places in mid-winter is a trip we will remember forever.
Bryce Canyon has been among our favorite National Parks since we first saw it while tent camping nearly fifteen years ago, and we have visited many times since we started traveling full-time in an RV. But we had never seen it with snow. What a fabulous opportunity this was!
Bryce Canyon is spectacular when blanketed with snow!
Since we were dressed for cold weather and ready to romp in the snow, this was the perfect time to trek another 285 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon around the east end of that great chasm and then northwards to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Buddy loves the snow — and so do I (in small doses in scenic places!)
Of course, the problem with blizzards is that things tend to shut down due to the snow.
So, we were totally shocked (but shouldn’t have been) when we started heading east on AZ Route 64 on the way to Bryce Canyon and found that it was closed!! Argh!! Now the only way to get to Bryce was to go SOUTH back down to Flagstaff and then north on US-89, adding about 80 miles to our trip.
Well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do when chasing beautiful scenery in unique conditions. So off we went to Bryce via Flagstaff!
Bryce Canyon is stunning all year long, but what a place it is when laced with fresh snow!
Snow and red rock pinnacles right to the horizon!!
The only overlooks that were officially open were Sunrise Point and Sunset Point (interestingly, both of those overlooks face east, so the names don’t really relate to sunrises or sunsets!).
Luckily for us, the parking area at Inspiration Point had been plowed too, and eager visitors had trampled a narrow trail through the deep snow to the incomparable views along the rim there.
The view at Inspiration Point
Bryce Canyon National Park is a fairy tale land of charming red rock turrets and castles nestled into a vast amphitheater that makes for jaw dropping images at any time of year. Now, in mid-January, the red rock spires peeked out from under a blanket of fresh snow.
Looking down into the depths between the spires.
A magical walk along the rim!
The views at Sunset Point were spectacular as the sun began to cast deep shadows across the landscape.
A limber pine looks out at the Canyon at Sunset Point.
All three overlooks — Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point and Sunset Point — were connected by a narrow trail that had been made by boots in the snow. We wandered between the overlooks, snapping photos with almost every step.
Late afternoon shadows at Sunset Point.
Over the years, Rubys Inn, located 3 miles from the Park entrance, has grown from a small hotel and restaurant to a sprawling complex that now includes several motel buildings, a huge restaurant, a massive RV park, an expansive gift shop, a grocery store and a tiny US Post Office.
In the past we’ve stopped at Rubys Inn to relax in its beautiful hotel lobby, explore the gift shop and grocery store and do laundry at the laundromat, but on this trip we stayed in the Lakeside motel building which is pet friendly.
Icicles hang from the roof at Rubys Inn.
Buddy was absolutely loving the snow, and each morning we went for a fast paced run in the powder out behind Rubys Inn between the snowed-in RV campsites.
Buddy loved sprinting through the snow and then eating it!
All the trees in the woods around Bryce Canyon and Rubys Inn were heavily laden with snow, and the air was so crisp it felt brittle and harsh on our cheeks.
The trails around Rubys Inn were delightful. Some folks rented snowshoes.
Rubys Inn had a few big pull-through RV campsites in the center of the complex that were open to campers even now, but we saw only one pair of hardy souls camping in this bitter cold. They were in a truck camper, and they explained to us that Rubys Inn has full hookups in the summertime but at this time of year there are only electric hookups so no one has to worry about freezing pipes.
There is a shower building with hot showers, and of course the restaurant offers a full buffet breakfast everyday that is so filling you won’t need lunch and might even want to skip dinner!
Campsites were available at Rubys Inn (electric only) and they even had some very hardy customers!
In the National Park one loop of the North Campground was open for dry camping too. We were impressed to see a van, but were frankly quite shocked to see two guys setting up a tent and then to see another tent already set up and waiting for its owners to return from their hike!
The nights were in the single digits…!
Out on the trails the days warmed up to 33 degrees each day we were there.
And the snow was deep!!
Buddy isn’t very tall, but still, this is deep snow!!
And each time we walked out on the rim our jaws dropped yet again. Bryce Canyon is such a unique and special landscape. To see it with snow is a divine treat!
These were the views we had driven all those miles to see.
Several of the trails that go down into the Bryce Canyon amphitheater had been cleared by the boots of eager hikers.
Hiking the trails was a lot of fun!
Hikers on the trails below us showed the scale of this place!!
The white snow made the perfect backdrop to show the diminutive size of the hikers in comparison to the red rock spires that surrounded them in the Canyon.
Two hikers approach an overlook on Queen’s Garden Trail below Sunrise Point.
Hikers on the Navajo Loop Trail.
We walked down the Navajo Loop Trail a ways. It was steep in places, and we were grateful for the railings at the beginning of the trail because it was pretty slippery on the ice there!
What a view!
A moment to remember!
Hikers were having fun getting selfies, but not every spot was a great place to stand!
We noticed that the Park Service had posted a few signs warning the most daring selfie-takers not to venture out on the puffy snow in places where there might not be much support underneath!
“Do not enter!”
As we progressed down the Navajo Loop Trail we felt that familiar sense of inspiration and awe that always envelops us as the red rock spires rise up around us at Bryce.
Hikers on an upper switchback.
The turrets rose around us as we descended.
The soft white snow, red rocks and blue sky were a perfect complement to each other in every view.
As we ventured out on the rim and wandered down the trails we were so glad we had made the long drive from Phoenix via the Grand Canyon to see Bryce Canyon dressed in the white lace of winter.
A blanket of fresh snow…
Bryce Canyon National Park is a knockout at any time of year — definitely one of the most spectacular places in North America — but how special it was to see it blanketed with snow on these bright and sunny January days!
During our stay, the moon rose bright and full over the canyon. I made a point to be at the Canyon rim for moonrise late one afternoon. I had visions in my head of photographing a huge round moon rising up from behind the distant mountains and glowing across the canyon.
I got to Sunrise Point fifteen minutes before moonrise and stood there full of hope for the next hour. But the moon didn’t make it to her appointment!
I finally left, totally discouraged and frozen to the bone. Dejected, I took Buddy for a walk in the woods behind Rubys Inn just after sunset. As we rounded a corner I suddenly saw the moon’s bright white face between the trees.
What the heck?! When did it rise? How did I miss it?
I kicked myself all that night and into the next morning, thinking that I had missed the most beautiful imagineable moonrise over Bryce Canyon because I had given up too easily and left too soon.
The next morning Mark and I were both up at oh-dark-thirty to catch the sunrise over Bryce Canyon. It was a mere 12 degrees Fahrenheit as we hiked out to find our own spots at Sunset Point. As I got set up, I chatted with another photographer who was walking by me about how sad I was to have missed the moonrise the night before.
“Oh! You didn’t miss anything. The moon was covered by clouds at the horizon when it was rising!” he told me. He’d been out on Queen’s Garden Trail and hadn’t seen it between the spires until an hour after it’s rising time either.
Phew!! That made sense! What a relief that I hadn’t blown a once in a lifetime opportunity after all. The moon had simply decided not to show up at the appointed time and instead hid behind a bank of hazy blueish-grayish clouds for an hour!
Mark and I headed to two different spots along Sunset Point for the sunrise. As the moment got closer, more and more cars showed up in the parking lot. I looked out along the rim and noticed several other eager photographers standing faithfully behind their tripods waiting for Nature to unleash her wonders.
The snow glowed pink and orange at dawn.
We all wanted that magical moment of a sunny starburst spreading rays of sunshine across the Canyon. And we all worried it was going to be a dud as the horizon got brighter and brighter yet nothing happened. After missing out on the moon, I began to prepare myself to be heartbroken for missing out on the sunrise starburst too.
But suddenly as I stared at the image on the back of my camera I saw the faint rays of a starburst beginning. I clicked the shutter repeatedly, and with immense satisfaction I watched the starburst grow and grow.
A few hundred yards away Mark was having the same experience. After it seemed like nothing would happen, the sun suddenly reached across the canyon while the calls of ravens in the distance welcomed a new day. How beautiful.
What a blessing to be alive and to be out here at this moment!
As we hiked back to the truck, we compared notes with other photographers who were walking back too. One fellow told us he’d been hiking with a guy the day before who had been coming to Bryce Canyon National Park every winter for the last 40 years, and he’d said he had never seen the snow as deep and thick as it was this year.
Blessing upon blessing!
We had rushed out of the Sonoran Desert on a wing and a prayer because we’d seen three days of snow predicted for Canyon Country. Little did we know that we would be hitting Bryce Canyon when it had more snow than it had seen in many years!
If you have a chance to get to Bryce Canyon during or after a snowstorm, jump on the opportunity. Even if the moon or sun plays games with you, you won’t be disappointed!!