Hiking the “Pig Trails” in Sedona, AZ – Breathtaking! (oink oink!)

May 2019 – The hiking trails in the area around Sedona, Arizona, are so spectacular that they are worth many return visits. The thing is, the trails never look the same because the views and the air and the feeling change as the weather changes.

Sedona Arizona Pig Trail Hikes in red rocks on an RV trip-min

The hikes in Sedona’s red rocks are glorious in any weather.
Here dark clouds loom over the views from the “Pig Trails” hikes.

We decided to explore the trail system that is known collectively as the Broken Arrow system, and specifically within that system we wanted to see what could be seen from the various Pig Trails.

The what?

Well, whoever named these hikes must have seen a lot of javelina rooting around here, because quite a few hikes have pig-related names.

Javelina (pronounced “have-a-leena” despite being spelled a bit like the Greek throwing spear) are not pigs at all, but they have a piggish look about them from snout to tail.

They eat prickly pear cactus pads (ouch!) and leave very fibrous poops behind.

Dead tree and red rocks in Sedona Arizona-min

A dead tree and dark skies — what a delicious morning on the trail in Sedona!

So, the trails we wandered around on had names like “Pig Tail Trail,” “Hog Wash,” “Peccary,” and “Hog Heaven.” How funny!

We got started on our hike a little before 6:00 in the morning on a blustery and overcast day, and the trail was damp from rainfall the night before. We breathed deeply in the crisp fresh air.

I especially loved the smell of the wet creosote bushes. It is a pungent smell that somehow evokes the essence of the southwestern desert for me. That unique creosote smell is especially thick in the Phoenix area during “Monsoon Season” in the summertime.

Buddy didn’t say anything about the smell of the wet creosote leaves, but he barreled around the corners in sheer delight.

Puppy runs on hiking trail-min

Buddy flies around a corner to tell me what’s up ahead!

There was a little archway between the trees on the trail, and we took some fun pics of each other with the red rock spires in the distance.

On the hiking trail in Sedona Arizona-min

Two Happy hikers.

Another happy hiker!

The gloomy clouds made the views particularly dramatic, and with each turn in the trail we got a different glimpse of the distant spires in a natural frame.

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Distant red rock spires framed by dark clouds and darker hills.

As an aside, we just saw the article I wrote that offers a few of our photography tips in the June 2019 issue of Trailer Life Magazine, and it is truly eye-popping.

The editors kindly set aside six full pages for the article — all without ads — and called it, “Shoot to Thrill.” How perfect!

Some of our favorite pics appear in the article along with some notes about things we think about when we take photos in our travels.

I don’t know if they’ll eventually post the article on their website or not, but for those who subscribe to the magazine, please keep an eye out for it! The article talks about framing, among many other things that are all very straight forwar, even with a smartphone camera, and we used an example of the framing technique from Arches National Park since we hadn’t yet taken these photos in Sedona!

Red rock pinnacles with storm clouds Sedona Arizona-min

We kept seeing these cool framed images as we hiked.

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As we rounded a bend, the trees that had been partially blocking our view disappeared and our jaws dropped as we looked out at the fabulous stormy sky hovering over the red rock peaks.

Sedona Arizona red rock view with stormy sky and puppy-min

Wow!

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Will the storm clouds break?

Suddenly, we heard a clap of thunder in the distance. Uh oh! That was it for hiking! We hightailed it outta there and ran for the safety of a coffee shop in town where we enjoyed a latte and a muffin while it rained.

Storm clouds over Sedona Arizona-min

The storm clouds got darker and then thunder sent us scurrying off the trail!

Storm clouds continued to swirl around the Sedona area and dump rain now and then for a few days. One afternoon we saw the most amazing cloud form over our rig.

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What a cloud!

Then the sun set in brilliant color right over some blooming cactus flowers.

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Sunset with cactus flowers Sedona Arizona-min

Cactus flowers give the sunset a nod.

While the skies did the wild thing above us, we spotted some spring wildflowers blooming at our feet. Beautiful!

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More pretty wildflowers.

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When we were out and about around town we saw some gorgeous views as the skies slowly cleared. That’s the unusual thing about this area: even driving around town you’ll see awe-inspiring views!

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As the storms began to give way, we saw some gorgeous view around town.

We decided to check out the pig-related hiking trails once again on another morning, and this time, as day dawned out on the trail, there was sun in the sky.

What a difference that made. The subtle coloration on the distant peaks became washed out and the sky was a beautiful blue but not too exciting, so our focus shifted a bit.

We quickly teached the point where we had turned around before and kept going to see what was ahead.

Puppy playing in the red rocks-min

We hit the Pig Trails on a sunny day and the features that captivated us were completely different!

We came to an open area in the trail where we could prowl around on huge wide flat rocks. Buddy sat down to take it all in and wait to find out what was next on our hiking agenda.

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Buddy takes a break and enjoys the view.

The rain had created puddles in places where there probably aren’t any most of the time. There was a narrow ribbon of a stream flowing along a crevice in the rocks.

Sedona Arizona hikes are great for photography-min

Our focus shifted from the distant views to the trickle of water and puddles near our feet!

Mark spotted me with my reflection, and after yelling to me to stand still so he could get a pic, we both started to look around for reflection images. You have to get low for these. Buddy is already low, so he helped out in the search.

Red rock reflections in Sedona Arizona hike-min

Seeing my reflection, Mark gave us both an idea to look for other reflections in a cluster of small puddles!

Photo op in Sedona Arizona on Hog Heaven trail-min

Buddy kept an eye out for lizards while we scouted for reflection images!

Wow, what fantastic reflections we found! For my birthday a few months ago, Mark had given me a Nikon 12-24mm wide angle lens, and this jewel of a lens creates jewel-like images!

Red rock reflections Hog Heaven hiking trail Sedona Arizona-min

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Reflected Red Rocks in Sedona Arizona on Hog Heaven hike-min

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Of course, sometimes just as I get a cool shot lined up it gets photo-bombed by our four-legged friend.

Red Rocks in Sedona Arizona on Hog Heaven hike-min

Oops! Photo bomb!

The little puddles made some beautiful images and an hour quickly passed while we crawled around on our hands and knees peering at the distant red rocks with our faces and cameras just above the water.

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We loved crawling around these shallow puddles, and so did our furry friend.

Puddle reflections in Sedona Arizona on Hog Heaven trail-min

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Interestingly, we ended up on this trail a few days later and the puddles were all but gone!

Mountain bikers love riding the trails in the Broken Arrow system, no doubt because they are very challenging! In some sections you ride on an exposed sandstone ledge — not for the faint of heart!

Fortunately, we had hit the trail so early in the morning that we didn’t see a soul until the final few hundred yards when a mountain biker approached.

Mountain biker in Sedona Arizona-min

At the very end of our hike we saw the first person on the trail — a mountain biker!

We’ve begun to realize that if you are lucky enough to get to Sedona, Arizona, whether with an RV or without one, you can’t go wrong on any of the hiking trails.

Some trails have funny piggy names while others are named for features in the landscape, but either way, they are all fabulous and they are all worth doing!

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Americas Mailbox – Mail Forwarding & So Much More in South Dakota!

Full-time RVers and other long term travelers enjoy incredible freedom in a wonderfully independent lifestyle, but we still need to get our mail every once in a while! Fortunately, there are mail forwarding services of all kinds in several states.

Surprisingly, each mail forwarding service is a little different in what they offer their customers. Some simply collect your mail and then send it to wherever you are when you ask them to while others offer additional services from assisting with vehicle registration to offering a place to stay while you establish residency in the state.

If you’re researching the many mail forwarding options out there, here are some of the things we’ve learned about mail forwarding during our dozen years of full-time RVing. Looking back over those twelve years of travel adventures, we estimate that we’ve received around 120 shipments of snail mail containing about 3,500 pieces of mail. Yikes!

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding for Full-time RVers and RV travelers

Americas Mailbox provides mail forwarding, vehicle registration and domicile assistance for full-time travelers

Even though most modern communication is done online or over the phone, when you become a full-time RVer or full-time traveler you’ll probably still want to have a way to receive your mail, whether it’s financial documents, old fashioned birthday cards or magazines.

Selecting a domicile state can be quite easy, and the requirements for establishing residency can be quite minimal. However, it is worth noting that if at some point in time you are called upon to prove in court that your chosen state is your true domicile rather than a different state where you might have more ties, you may face an uphill battle if you own large assets like real estate and/or spend a lot of time in a state that isn’t your chosen domicile state.

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America by license plate — on the wall at Americas Mailbox!

There are lots of resources to help with your domicile state decision, including our blog post on the subject here which is the third article in our three part series on full-time RVing here, here and here.

Choosing a state to be your legal domicile is just the first part of the process, however. The second part is selecting a company that will assist you with establishing residency in the state and forward your snail mail to you on the road.

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

Americas Mailbox is right off of Exit 41 on I-90 – Easy!

The three most popular domicile states for full-time travelers are South Dakota, Florida and Texas, and each state is home to several mail forwarding service companies:

We joined the mail forwarding service Americas Mailbox, located in Box Elder, a suburb of Rapid City, South Dakota, last year, and we have been very pleased with their service. During this past year we have relied on Americas Mailbox to deliver our mail in eleven different states, and we’ve also received their assistance in registering and paying South Dakota sales tax on two new vehicles, our street legal Polaris RZR and the utility trailer it rides on (we triple tow).

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A sweet reminder on the wall at Americas Mailbox.

Some mail forwarding services do all their work over the phone and online, and it is possible to become a resident of South Dakota without physically meeting the people who run the mail forwarding service you choose.

However, Americas Mailbox is very serious about their role in assisting customers with establishing their residency and other things that require staying in South Dakota for a while, and they have not only built an RV park on their property, providing both full hookup, electric only and dry camping campsites, but they have also built several hotel rooms in their main building for customers who don’t arrive in an RV.

We spent several days in the Americas Mailbox RV park on two separate occasions last spring and summer, and we set up camp alongside lots of other Americas Mailbox customers in the dry camping area.

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Box Elder South Dakota-min

We joined the group lined up in the dry camping part of the Americas Mailbox RV Park.

It was a lot of fun because most of the customers were brand new full-timers who were just getting their wheels rolling, and their enthusiasm and excitement about their new lifestyle was palpable.

Some RVers were doing their mandatory single overnight stay to establish South Dakota residency, and others were staying for 30 days to comply with the concealed carry requirements in South Dakota. In addition, many folks were establishing relationships with professionals in the Rapid City area, from estate planning attorneys and accountants to doctors and dentists and insurance agents.

RV Park Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

We had fun chatting with other full-timers who were staying at the RV park. Many were just starting their adventures!

When we first walked in the Americas Mailbox headquarters building, we were taken aback when we heard a voice say, “Welcome home!” Wow! We were soon shaking hands with the General Manager and being introduced to members of the staff.

Welcome Home to Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

What a surprise to hear “Welcome Home!” as we walked in!
“Travel” is the theme and there’s even a compass rose on the floor!

It really did feel like coming home. All the customers in the room were living the same crazy full-time RV lifestyle as we are, and most were setting up new Americas Mailbox accounts.

There was a flurry of activity all around us. An inviting living room-like waiting area was on one side and a long service counter for staff to work with customers was in front of us. We quickly felt ourselves swept up in a surprising sense of community and homey warmth.

Americas Mailbox was founded by Don and Barbara Humes after they had traveled full-time in their RV for a few years in the early 2000s.

Prior to opening Americas Mailbox, Don and Barbara studied the entire country to determine which state and which county within that state would be the most favorable for full-time travelers to use as a legal domicile.

Welcome Home Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding for Full-time RVers and RV travelers-min

Americas Mailbox founder, Don Humes (right), is a full-time RVer who understands the needs of folks living a footloose and fancy free life on the road.

They settled on Pennington County in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota near the fabulous tourist destinations of Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, Sturgis, the town of Custer and Custer State Park, all places that RVers love to visit.

Rapid City is the county seat of Pennington County, and Americas Mailbox purchased a fantastic piece of property in Box Elder just outside of Rapid City, located right off of Exit 41 on I-90, an easy place to find and a convenient place to stay for a while to get your legal and financial affairs in order in your new home state.

Waiting room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

The waiting area is like a living room — very inviting.

Americas Mailbox now has a big staff not only up front serving customers who walk in and call in, but also in the offices behind the reception counter where the envelope scanning and vehicle registration work happens and also in the mail sorting room out back where truckloads of mail arrive and are sorted into thousands of customer mail boxes each day.

In addition to providing step-by-step paperwork for changing your legal address to be an Americas Mailbox address, there are step-by-step instructions for registering out of state licensed vehicles, registering new vehicles, obtaining a driver’s license, registering to vote, and obtaining a concealed carry permit. Americas Mailbox also provides a reference list for professionals of all kinds in the area.

Waiting area Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

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Out behind the main building with its hustle and bustle of mail sorting, vehicle registrations and assorted paperwork going on in the Americas Mailbox offices, the on-site RV park had lovely views of farm fields and was very peaceful. Additional long pull-through campsites were nearing completion during our stay and could easily accommodate our rig. At the far end foundations for future cabins had been poured as well.

Pull-through campsite at Americas Mailbox RV Park Box Elder South Dakota-min

The campsites out back are very nice!

One thing we loved is that Don and Barbara live in their motorhome on-site. Not only do they talk the talk about full-time RVing, but they walk the walk too!

Also, they are so committed to keeping in close touch with their customers and helping them with any issues they might have that Don gives out his personal cell phone number.

The hotel rooms Americas Mailbox were full during our visit, so Don showed us their beautiful hotel suite that just happened to be vacant. It was an elegantly furnished one bedroom condo with a beautiful kitchen. Nice!

Hotel room kitchen Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

The hotel suite would be a comfy place to stay while doing business in Rapid City!

Hotel room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

Want to get it all done without driving your RV to South Dakota? Stay in a beautifully appointed suite on-site!

Hotel room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

A nice and homey place to relax — but there are more basic hotel rooms available too

One of the reasons Americas Mailbox was so incredibly busy during our visit was because another mail forwarding company in South Dakota had just gone out of business without giving any advance notice to its customers. People were flocking to Americas Mailbox and other South Dakota mail forwarding companies to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. Chaos ensued at all the South Dakota mail forwarding facilities for several months!

This unfortunate scenario brings me to some of the things we think are worth considering before choosing a mail forwarding service:

Long Term Stability of the Company

Your life will quickly turn upside down if your mail forwarding company goes out of business unexpectedly. It seems like it should be easy to switch to a new company. All you have to do is let everyone know your new address. However, there’s a bit more to it.

Most companies require you to keep a balance of cash in their possession to cover future postage expenses they incur on your behalf, and that money may not be refunded to you if they go out of business unexpectedly. They may also never send you the mail they’re keeping in their possession on the day they shutter the business. In addition, any monthly or annual dues you may have paid up front may not be refunded.

This may not sound like much but could add up to a loss of a few hundred dollars on top of the frantic search for a new mail forwarding servicing and letting all your contacts know about your address change.

Most aggravating is that you may not be able to forward your mail to a new mailing address using the US Postal Service change of address form (PS Form 3575).

When you move from one home to another you can fill out the US Postal Service Form 3575 to forward you mail from your old address to your new one. However, your PMB (Personal Mail Box) at your mail forwarding company’s street address is not distinguished by the US Postal Service as unique from all the other PMBs at that address. Obviously, you can fill out and submit the form and hope for the best, but the Postal Service may not acknowledge the address change and may be inconsistent about forwarding your mail to your new address if they even do it at all.

I Love USA train decoration-min

The offices and waiting area at Americas Mailbox are trimmed with all kinds of fun travel themed decorations.

It is impossible to know for sure if a company will last a long time, and I remember vividly how shocked the engineering community in Massachusetts was when Digital Equipment Corporation went from being a major employer with campuses all over the state to vanishing into thin air over the course of two very short years.

Some mail forwarding companies have seen several changes of ownership and management in recent years, and with each change there are staff, policy and procedural changes that affect the customers, whether they are explicitly notified about what’s going on or not.

In general, though, if the mail forwarding company has been around a long time, has a lot of customers, and treats those customers well, it is likely it will survive. Don and Barbara have many long term plans for Americas Mailbox and theirs is a family operation with plans in place for the company to outlast them.

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How Fast Will They Ship Your Mail?

Every mail forwarding company has a different policy for how quickly they commit to packaging up your mail and sending it to you after you make your request for them to do so.

Some companies require that you notify them by 5:00 p.m. the night before it is shipped out. If you are in an earlier time zone or don’t think to make the call before 5:00 pm their time, your mail won’t be packaged up until the day after that! That is, a mail shipment request made at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday won’t be packaged up and sent until Thursday. This means your mail probably won’t arrive until the following Monday because of the intervening weekend unless you are in a neighboring state.

If they receive your request after 5:00 p.m. on Friday, then your mail will not be shipped until the following Tuesday, four days later! If you are in a distant state, it may not reach you until the following Friday, a week after you requested it! This is very frustrating and very inconvenient.

Americas Mailbox has a really rapid response time and will get your mail off to you on the very same day you request it as long as you notify them by 7:00 a.m. that morning and it is a weekday. Requests made at any time from Friday after 7:00 a.m. through Monday morning before 7:00 a.m. will be in the mail to you on Monday.

For us, that is a huge advantage. Lots of full-time RVers plan their travels in advance, so that kind of instantaneous response isn’t important, but we regularly extend or cut short our stays depending on whims like changes in the weather. So, if we suddenly decide early one morning that we want to take off in a few days, it is critically important that we be able to get our mail packaged up and sent out as quickly as possible.

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Some America’s Mailbox customers are international travelers.

Virtual Mail – What Do You See and Not See on the Envelope?

Many companies offer a “virtual mail service” where they scan every envelope you receive and either post the images online or email them to you for you to view. You can then instruct them to open the envelope and scan the contents or shred it or just hang onto it until you request your next shipment of mail.

We have found this to be very useful, but the quality of the scanned images can vary a lot, and poorly scanned envelopes are useless. The most important piece of information for us is the return address, of course, so we can see who the piece of mail is from! You’d be surprised, but sometimes scanned envelopes show only YOUR name and address.

It sounds silly, but you need to be able to read the full name and full address of whoever sent the piece of mail or you’ll be left scratching your head. Obviously, if the image is blurry or cuts off the company name (you’d be amazed how often that can happen) or if the image is of your own name and address instead of the return address of the sender, then the image is useless.

We chatted with the gal doing the scanning at Americas Mailbox and watched the meticulous care she takes with each envelope to make sure the scanned image is not only readable but is of the correct address — the return address (not OUR address).

Americas Mailbox outsources the software that manages the scanned envelope images and we’ve found it works very well.

One thing that is especially helpful with their software is that they clear out all the images of the scanned envelopes once they are sent to us. That way we can distinguish between the mail that is waiting for us in South Dakota and the mail that we have received. You see, if all the images are left in the database and you receive regular mail from certain entities, it can be very confusing to look at a scanned envelope and determine whether it has already been forwarded to you or not, especially if it was scanned right around the time you ordered a mail shipment.

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Ins and Outs of General Delivery

When mail is sent to an RV park it is a pretty straight forward process if the park regularly receives mail on behalf of its customers. But sending mail to General Delivery at a post office can be tricky. For starters, it must be addressed very simply (no street address is included), and the software has to make sure no street address is inadvertently inserted (bad software can do that!).

General Delivery mail is addressed as follows (USPS explanation/example is here):

Your Name
GENERAL DELIVERY
City, State Zip-9999

If a street address is included, all hell breaks loose. Literally. It can cost days in delivery time.

We prefer to use small town post offices instead of big city post offices for general delivery because they have less volume and fewer employees.

We like to call the small town post office directly ahead of time to find out if they accept General Delivery. The USPS website lists whether each post office accepts General Delivery mail, but in a few cases we’ve found that the website says they do when they actually don’t. Disastrous!

We also like talking to the folks at the post office because we can let them know our package is coming and approximately when we’ll be in to pick it up. Post offices are supposed to keep General Delivery mail on hand for 30 days, but we had one post office return it to the sender after 24 hours. Of course, the contents of that package were very important time sensitive financial documents, and at the time we were total full-timing newbies who had been out on the road for all of a week!

Hay bales in South Dakota-min (1)

Despite being on the outer edge of Rapid City, the area right around Americas Mailbox is wonderfully rural.

Addressing Mishaps Caused by Auto-Fill !

Another thing to watch for is the “Bill To” versus the “Ship To” addresses when you order something online.

Lots of websites have Auto-Fill, and they’ll very helpfully fill in all kinds of info for you. Unfortunately, the next thing you know, you’ve sent a huge package to your mail forwarding address that you wanted to go to the address of the friend you’re currently visiting. Not only will your receipt of the item be delayed by a bunch of days but you’ll have to pay to ship that heavy package twice, once to your mail forwarding company and then again to your friend or some other destination you’re headed to!

Don told us a hilarious story along those lines. Americas Mailbox goes out of its way to accommodate any and all packages that are sent to them, even when they are a bit unwieldy. One day they received several mammoth crates from Harley Davidson that turned out to be all the pieces for a big beautiful motorcycle.

Curious what they were supposed to do with it, they called the customer the crates were addressed to and asked if he’d just ordered a motorcycle from Harley Davidson. “Yeah, I did. How did you know?” the confused customer asked. “Well, we’ve got all the crates right here at Americas Mailbox!”

Of course, the customer meant to have those boxes shipped directly to wherever he was in the world at the time, but he had mistakenly given his Americas Mailbox address as the “Ship To” address.

Shipping crates is outside the norm for Americas Mailbox, but they hired a qualified shipping company to pick up the crates and get them to the address where their customer was staying.

As a side note, many companies charge a small fee for oversized packages they receive because they require extra time and space to handle. Americas Mailbox charges a dollar or more for oversized packages depending on the size.

Wild storm sky South Dakota-min

We had some wonderful stormy days during our stay at Americas Mailbox.

What Happens to Improperly Addressed Mail?

Despite your best efforts, some entities won’t address your mail correctly no matter how often and how nicely you tell them what it is.

Most addresses in this country don’t include a PMB number, and some folks just leave it off. The correct address must include your PMB number, preferably on the same line as the street address, and it may be written as “123 Main Street PMB 789” or “123 Main Street #789.”

In our experience, an awful lot of entities leave off the PMB number all together. By leaving off the PMB number, the address they send our mail to is simply the street address of the mail forwarding company itself, leaving your piece of mail lost in a sea of thousands of people who share the same address.

When this incorrectly addressed piece of mail arrives at the mail forwarding company, the mail sorters have to figure out who it’s for and what the PMB number is so they can put it in the right box. The bigger mail forwarding companies use super fast mail sorting machines as well as people reading the addresses, and an incomplete address gums up the production in a massive way.

Some companies have a policy in place to set the piece of mail aside and then later look up the name of the person to find out which PMB they have, write it on the envelope and then carry all the mis-addressed envelopes to the appropriate PMB files.

However, some companies simply mark the envelope “RTS” (“Return to Sender”) and put it in their outgoing mail for USPS to pick up because it is too time consuming for them to go through all the wrongly addressed mail and look up all the PMB numbers.

Americas Mailbox has a tiered strategy. First, they look up the customer name (hopefully your name is unique!) and hand-write the PMB number on the envelope and put it in your box. They’ll call you if they have questions (i.e., “Are you the John Smith that is expecting a package from Amazon?”). Last of all, they’ll write “RTS” on it and put it back in the mail for USPS to return it to the sender.

Be sure to find out from your prospective mail forwarding company exactly what their policy is for mail that arrives without your PMB number, because it is guaranteed that at least one piece of mail for you will arrive that way someday.

Also, take the time to triple check with anyone sending you either important documents, a check, or a time sensitive piece of mail that the address they put on the envelope for you is 100% correct.

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Vehicle Registration and Sales Tax

Americas Mailbox dots every “i” and crosses every “t” when it comes to registering your vehicles and paying any sales tax that is due.

We were floored by the degree of detail and the number of documents necessary to get our RZR and our utility trailer registered, licensed and on the road: Power of Attorney for Americas Mailbox to do the legwork registering the vehicles, images of front and back of our licenses, fronts and backs of the titles, bills of sale, money orders for the sales tax, and a few other goodies.

Americas Mailbox provides a detailed checklist of the documents you must gather, and of course some might have to be notarized. If you don’t have a scanner, you can just take a good quality photo of each document and attach all the photos to your email correspondence with Americas Mailbox to verify you have all the right pieces in place before you mail the package of documents to them.

Another thing to watch for when you buy a vehicle is whether the community you are making your purchase in will impose a local tax on the purchase. Maricopa County in Arizona (Phoenix area) is notorious for dealerships charging tax on all vehicle purchases made by out of state buyers.

So, while you may think you will be paying only the South Dakota sales tax on your purchase, you may find yourself staring at a document at the dealership that requires you to pay a tax to Arizona too. I’m not sure if there are other places in America where this happens, but double check with the person who will be writing up the final sales receipts and taking your check before you finalize your purchase.

Owner-Americas-Mailbox-Mail-Forwarding-Service-for-full-time-RV-travelers-Rapid-City-South-Dakota

On Mother’s Day Don brought roses to all the women on his staff. Now that’s class!

Final Thoughts

There are all kinds of mail forwarding services available, and they range from bare bones to full service. You may need just mail forwarding, or you may want to have someone handle the vehicle registration and lines at the DMV, and/or you may want to have a sense of “home” with an RV park where you can stay each time you return home to take care of life’s legal and financial technicalities.

We’ve found that Americas Mailbox is a wonderful full service operation, and what’s more, we love the Black Hills and being “residents” of this part of South Dakota.

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Top Sedona AZ Hikes: Little Horse to Chicken Point + Templeton Trail (Cathedral Rock)!

May 2019 – Sedona, Arizona, is a hiking and biking paradise, and during our stay we set our alarm for an early hour on many mornings so we could hit the hiking trails before the crowds.

The National Forest surrounding the Sedona area is filled with a fabulous network of trails, and each morning we started at a different trailhead to explore and experience the beauty for a few hours.

Best Sedona Arizona Hikes Little Horse Trail Cathedral Rock Trail-min

Two great hikes in Sedona Arizona:
Little Horse to Chicken Point and Templeton Trail around Cathedral Rock.

The Little Horse trailhead lies a few miles south of downtown Sedona and made a wonderful jumping off point to get into the incredible red rock views, but we weren’t sure at first if this trail would look its best as the sun rose.

Little Horse Trail Sedona Arizona Hike-min

An early morning hike on Sedona’s Little Horse Trail

The trail wandered east through scrubby woods for a while and the red rock formations ahead of us were backlit as the sun rose, so it seemed we wouldn’t get the spectacular images that Sedona is famous for.

However, the red rock slabs and sand under foot made a great canvas for playing shadow puppets once the sun rose a little way. We looked down off a ledge and saw a cartoon caricature of ourselves!

Playing with shadows during a red rock hike in Sedona Arizona

Who’s that down there?!

Cactus flowers were blooming everywhere. Most were pink or yellow, but as we turned a corner we found a gorgeous clump of red ones.

Red cactus flowers Little Horse Trail Sedona Arizona Hike-min

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Above them rose an equally stunning clump of red rock spires!

Cactus flowers on Little Horse Trail Sedona Arizona Hike to Chicken Point Overlook-min

A beautiful bouquet of red cactus flowers
against a regal red rock backdrop

The Little Horse trail goes to the Chicken Point Overllook, and when the trail opened up at this glorious spot it seemed like the views went on forever.

View from Chicken Point Overlook Sedona Arizona Hike-min

View from Chicken Point Overlook

Chicken Point Overlook view Sedona Arizona Hike-min

Chicken Point is the glorious highlight of several trails

Chicken Point Overlook is one of the most popular destinations in the Sedona area, but for 20 minutes we had the whole place entirely to ourselves because it was still very early in the morning. We wandered all around the massive red rock slabs taking photos.

Patterns in the rocks Chicken Point Overlook Sedona Arizona Hike-min

Without a soul in sight we lined up all kinds of interesting images

Suddenly, as I lined up a shot, a pink jeep on the first Pink Jeep Tour of the day on the Broken Arrow Trail appeared out of nowhere. The driver backed the jeep up to a precipice and teased the passengers in the far back seat who were perched right over the edge.

Pink Jeep Tour Broken Arrow Sedona Arizona-min

The first Pink Jeep tour of the day rolls into view.

Within minutes two more pink Jeeps were parked nearby and the place was crawling with excited tourists.

On another morning we set out on the Cathedral Rock trail in the early morning hours. This trail climbs up a series of stair steps from the Cathedral Rock trailhead and delivers you to the base of Cathedral Rock where there is a fabulous view of Nature’s wondrous cathedral and of the surrounding landscapes as well. At this point the trail intersects with the Templeton Trail.

Dawn on the hiking trail Sedona Arizona-min

A beautiful day dawns

Again, our early start put us on the trail two hours before anyone else, and when we arrived at the wide “slickrock” slabs in front of Cathedral Rock we had acres and acres of red rock playground to ourselves.

When I saw the sun beginning to light up the spires on Cathedral Rock I frantically hunted around for a beautiful foreground to go with it. I couldn’t find anything handy right away, but then I noticed Buddy sitting right in front of me, perched perfectly still as he watched Mark in the distance. Nice!

Puppy in front of Cathedral Rock Sedona Arizona Templeton Hike

Puppy Chow made a lovely foreground when the sun suddenly lit up Cathedral Rock

As the sun glowed on Cathedral Rock I continued hunting and finally stumbled on a gorgeous bed of delicate lavender flowers.

Flowers and puppy at Cathdedral Rock Templeton Hike Sedona Arizona-min

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The air was very chilly, and balloon enthusiasts in the distance were taking advantage of the cool air to fly their balloons. One rose over the landscape. What a wonderful way to enjoy Sedona’s incomparable views by floating just slightly above the land in silence except for the occasional noise of the heater to heat the air in the balloon.

Balloons rise over red rocks in Sedona Arizona-min

A balloon soars on the morning thermals in the distance

We followed the Templeton Trail to the east around the base of Cathedral Rock. The trail took us into the woods where we had lovely views through the trees.

Dawn on Templeton Trail hiking in Sedona Arizona-min

Morning light on the Templeton Trail

After about a mile and a half we turned around. Now the red rock landscape was bathed in beautiful bright sunshine and the air was delightfully warm.

Templeton Trail Hike Sedona Arizona-min

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Slilckrock section of Templeton Trail Hike to Cathedral Rock in Sedona Arizona-min

The Templeton Trail goes along a ribbon of flat sandstone at the bottom of Cathedral Rock.

Templeton Trail is a super popular mountain biking trail, and we rode it a few years ago. It is a challenging trail with lots of rocky obstacles, but the slickrock portion that goes around the base of Cathedral Rock is flat and smooth and fun.

We still hadn’t seen a soul on the trail, either hiking or on mountain bikes, even after two hours of hiking. We rounded a bend and Cathedral Rock soared back into view.

Templeton Trail Hike to Cathedral Rock Sedona Arizona-min

Cathedral Rock.

Hiking Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona Arizona-min

Approaching Nature’s stunning cathedral

Templeton Trail Hike to Cathedral Rock in Sedona Arizona-min

What a place to hike!

An evening primrose in the shadow of a tree at Mark’s feet caught his eye, and a lovely blue flower dancing before the red rock cathedral caught mine.

Evening primrose on the hiking trail Sedona Arizona-min

Four white hearts with a pretty yellow center

Cathedral Rock and wildflowers in Sedona Arizona-min

Flowers bask in the sun in front of the cathedral

The patterns in the red rock slabs were wonderful. In some places the rock was stained with white and in others there were interesting cracks and crevices.

Red rock patterns and Cathedral Rock in Sedona Arizona-min

There are very cool patterns on the ground.

When we got back to the intersection of Templeton Trail and Cathedral Rock Trail we finally heard some distant voices. Hikers were coming up the trail from the trailhead parking lot.

When we met up with them they said they were going to head west on Templeton trail where it goes around the other side of Cathedral Rock and down towards Oak Creek. We’ll have to go that way next time!

Cathedral Rock Trail Sedona Arizona hike-min

We loved this hike and will do it again heading the other way!

Wildflowers on Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona Arizona-min

Wildflowers lined the trail

We roamed around some more and found some wonderful puddles reflecting the beauty of Sedona.

Cathedral Rock reflections in Sedona Arizona-min

Mirror image in a puddle

Colorful reflections in the water-min

We just love these kinds of reflections

Reflections in the water Sedona Arizona-min

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Sedona, Arizona, is a nature lover’s paradise! If you haven’t been there, put it on your itinerary. If you have been there, then you know it’s worth many return trips!

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Brins Mesa Trail & Unexpected Delights in Sedona Arizona!

April 2019 – We’ve visited Sedona, Arizona, many times, not only as full-time RVers but also before we started this crazy lifestyle, back when we were living a workaday life and looking for a getaway vacation. The scenery around Sedona is absolutely stunning, and we are always thrilled by the beauty.

RV camping and hiking Brin Mesa Trail in Sedona Arizona

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Sedona is an outdoor lovers paradise, and whether hiking, mountain biking or off-road Jeep/ATV riding is your thing, there are hundreds of breathtaking trails crisscrossing the Coconino National Forest all around town.

Somehow, though, in all our visits to Sedona, we’ve never done many of the “signature” hikes. So on this trip we decided to check out Brins Mesa Trail, a top rated beauty that appears in many Sedona hiking trail lists.

Hiking trail Brins Mesa Trail Sedona Arizona-min

Buddy sniffs the start of the Brins Mesa Trail

Twenty years ago, Sedona was a small town, but today it is not only a huge sprawling community but it plays host to gazillions of tourists all year long. April is one of the most popular months to visit, so we knew that if we wanted to have any kind of solitude on the trail, we’d have to be up at the crack of dawn.

The air was cool when we started, and we were glad we always carry light wind breakers in our truck, because the heat wave that had swept the area lately had left us so hot the night before, it never occurred to us that it might be chilly at 6:00 a.m. when we started hiking. So, we’d arrived in shorts!

Brins Mesa Trail hike in Sedona Arizona-min

What a glorious start. The air was wonderfully crisp and clear — and cool!

Brins Mesa Trail is 3.6 miles long and goes between the Brins Mesa Trailhead at the northwest end and the Jordan Road Trailhead at the southeast end.

There are three trails that originate at Jordan Road Trailhead: Brins Mesa Trail, Cibola Pass Trail and Jim Thompson Trail. Brins Mesa Trail intersects with other trails along its route, so you can hike for miles and miles if you like.

Our plan was to hike out a ways from the Jordan Road Trailhead and then turn around and hike back. We hadn’t thought much about where the turnaround point would be and we hadn’t read about the trail, so we had no idea what to expect.

Hiking Brins Mesa Trail Sedona Arizona-min

We hit the trail at 6:05 a.m.

Ours was the first vehicle in the parking lot, and we had Brins Mesa Trail to ourselves. To our surprise, a runner passed us almost as soon as we started, but he quickly vanished ahead of us, and the only sounds we heard after that were chirping birds.

Buddy was in heaven and he ran in happy circles around us.

Puppy hikes the Brins Mesa Trail hike in Sedona Arizona-min

Buddy waits for us partway up a series of red rock stairs

The sun began to light the sky behind the craggy red cliffs on our right, and we climbed up a series of natural red rock stairs. The scenery was lovely.

Brins Mesa Trail Sedona Arizona hiking with puppy-min

Buddy checks in with Mark about the route.

Checking the view Brins Mesa Trail Sedona Arizona-min

This way.

At our feet we noticed little bouquets of flowers perched here and there as if Mother Nature had set out vases along the trail.

Yellow wildflowers Sedona Arizona-min

Wildflowers were blooming in delightful little bouquets along the trail.

White wildflowers Sedona Arizona-min

Mother Nature had taken some time to get her flower arranging just right.

A thorny cactus had a single flower on the end of one branch.

Cactus flower Sedona Arizona-min

A single cactus flower.

The trail opened up on the left side to a fabulous red rock mound that begged to be explored. We wandered around for quite some time, admiring the wide flat swoopy rocks that looked a little like dough overflowing a pan, and we poked our noses into the woods here and there too.

Suddenly, we realized we’d lost track of the trail. We conferred with each other and with Buddy about where we were and where the trail had disappeared to.

Buddy is a good listener, but when it comes to route finding, he’s top notch and we find it’s best if we do the listening!

Agave plant and puppy Sedona Arizona-min

Buddy listens well, but we listen to him too!

Navigating the Brins Mesa Trail Sedona Arizona-min

Buddy explains to Mark which way the route goes.

Brins Mesa Trail Sedona Arizona with puppy-min

“Hey you guys, it’s this way”

As we backtracked to the main trail, the sun crested the distant peaks and swept across the rocks all around us, transforming them from cool shade to warm sun in an instant. Mark caught a starburst through a hole in the branch of a dead tree.

Starburst sunrise Brins Mesa Trail hike Sedona Arizona-min

A ray of golden sun.

Sunshine warmed the trail ahead of us and lit the distant peaks.

Hiking Brins Mesa Trail Sedona Arizona-min

Sunshine warms Brins Mesa Trail

We decided we’d gone far enough, even though it was just 1.2 miles or so, and we started back down to the trailhead. We knew there were some great 360 degree views somewhere, but the day was heating up and we weren’t sure how much further we had to go to see them.

Brins Mesa Trail Sedona Arizona hike-min

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As we hiked back, we met five or six couples coming up the trail from the trailhead, and we discovered from one couple who does this hike often that if we’d gone just another quarter mile we would have seen the fabulous views. Oh well — next time (and maybe we’ll do it in the afternoon when the cliffs to the east aren’t backlit)!

When we got back to the parking lot it was around 8:00 a.m. there were only two or three parking spaces left. We were glad we’d gone early. What a lovely morning walk that was!

Views on Brins Mesa Trail Sedona Arizona-min

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This visit to Sedona was also the first time we’d had our off-road buggy to take us on motor vehicle-friendly trails to remote spots.

Polaris RZR in Sedona Arizona sunset-min

The sun sets in splendor after a fun day of RZR riding.

We bought the RZR and began triple-towing with it hitched behind our fifth wheel because we wanted to get further into remote areas that we couldn’t easily reach by mountain bike or with our truck. And sure enough, it took us to a hidden jewel on this trip to Sedona.

We took the RZR on a joy ride through some rather boring flat countryside and rode it to the end of a road where a sign stopped us: “No motorized vehicles beyond this point.” We noticed the trail continued, though, so we hopped out and hiked a little further on a woodsy trail.

As we turned a corner, we suddenly heard the trickle of water ahead of us, and then we found ourselves in the middle of a little desert oasis!

Reflections in the water Sedona Arizona-min

Buddy admires the colorful reflections in a surprise little watering hole.

Water reflections Sedona Arizona-min

Glassy water reflects the red rocks.

We arrived at the golden hour in the late afternoon when the red rock cliffs, blue sky and green trees were reflecting in the mirror-like water. Our jaws dropped. What a fabulous surprise!

Water reflections Sedona Arizona-min

We were astonished by this fun little discovery.

Reflections at Sediba Arizona-min

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Water reflections Sedona Arizona-min

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Sedona has quite a few creeks and springs, and there are beautiful hikes to reach them. We loved hiking the West Fork Trail and doing The Crack at Wet Beaver Creek hike. Both hikes led to gorgeous oases in the red rock desert.

Sedona Arizona water reflections-min

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Sedona Arizona reflections in the water-min

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The afternoon was downright summery with a high temp in the high 80s, and that water in front of us was just too tempting not to jump in! Mark took off his shirt and tip-toed in. “Brrrr!” He shouted as he splashed his hands in the water. “It’s COLD!”

But it didn’t take long for his legs to numb up so he could go in the rest of the way!

Swimming hole Sedona Arizona-min

“Come on in, the water’s fine!”

Swimming at Sedona Arizona-min

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I finally put down my camera and joined him!

Buddy waded along the edges of the water, got a big drink, and then leapt back on the rocky shore to chase lizards.

The heat wave in the Sedona area brought fabulous stormy skies each afternoon with Arizona-monsoon-like clouds. The sunsets were just divine.

Sunset on a dirt road in Sedona Arizona-min

A classic Arizona sunset over a lonely stretch of road.

We had planned to stick around the area for two weeks or so, but the heat was getting intense and the winds began to pick, making the dust fly. So, our planned list of things to do in Sedona will probably have to be shelved until our next visit!

RV camping Sedona Arizona-min

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Spring Has Sprung! – Sweet Days at Roosevelt Lake, Arizona

April 2019 – The travel stories on this blog often present the fantastic new discoveries we’ve made in our travels, but sometimes our life on the road progresses uneventfully. And so it has these past weeks.

Revisiting and staying in a place we know know and love, we’ve found that each day has slipped into the next without fanfare or breathtaking thrills. Life has been moving at a sweet and gentle pace!

Sunset in eastern Arizona-min

Sunset in eastern Arizona.

RV fifth wheel trailer under the stars-min

Camping under the stars.

After exploring a little bit of eastern Arizona, we made our way to Roosevelt Lake where Spring was in full bloom.

Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Roosevelt Lake

The water level in the lake had been at 49% when we’d visited in January, and was shockingly low. Many former coves and bays had been filled with trees.

Now the lake had swollen to 84% of full volume and showed few signs of slowing down. Lots of hiking trails and dirt roads we’d explored in January were now under 20′ of water!

Arizona Roosevelt Lake-min

Swollen banks and submerged trees!

Roosevelt Lake is the first lake in the chain of dammed lakes in the Salt River as it flows downstream, so this fast rise in the lake’s water level was due to rain and snow-melt upstream rather than the simple opening of floodgates in a dam. How wonderful to see the desert get such a nice big drink from Mother Nature!

Yellow wildflowers at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Yellow flowers dance above the shores of Roosevelt Lake

Yellow, pink and purple wildflowers were in bloom in every nook and cranny of the desert. They craned their faces towards the sun. Some of the cactus varieties had begun to bloom too. Their flowers were big and vibrant, bursting out of the nasty thorny cactus arms in a gorgeous display. It was as if Nature were saying through these blossoms, “Never judge a book by its cover!”

Cactus flowers in Arizona Spring-min

The prickliest cactus bear the most beautiful flowers.

Cactus flowers in Spring in Arizona-min

For the 50 weeks a year that these flowers aren’t blooming you’d never guess what those other 2 weeks are like!

We took our new little RZR out on the roads through the desert to see if we could find more flowers. It wasn’t hard!

Polaris RZR with lupine wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Every now and then we’d get a whiff of a flowery fragrance wafting through the air. Buddy rode with his nose twitching eagerly.

Puppy sniffs the breeze in Polaris RZR-min

Buddy sniffs the air as we drive in the RZR.

For some reason some of the best wildflower displays seem to be along the edges of big paved roads and surrounding parking lots. We found some glorious bunches of flowers in and around Tonto National Monument.

Wildflowers in Arizona spring-min

The wildflowers were most plentiful along the paved highways!

Wildflowers in Arizona-min

And around Tonto National Monument too!

A few years ago we’d visited the Boyce Thompson Arboretum which specializes in Sonoran Desert plants, but the flowers blooming in the parking lot had soaked up all our energy and after two hours of roaming around the parking lot and filling our cameras with photos we’d had almost no energy left to see whatever was on display inside the Arboretum!

So it was here. Tonto National Monument has a delightful picnic area that is rarely used, but the wildflowers around the artfully situated picnic ramadas are lovely!

Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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We couldn’t get over the rise in the lake’s water level, and we wandered down to the water’s edge many times to monitor its progress as it rose each day. Sunny hot days soon gave way to blustery cold days. The waves took on a menacing look and the patterns in the sky were beautiful as the dark clouds raced across the heavens.

Waves at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Wind whipped the waves on the shore.

Curvy tree trunk and swirling cloud-min

An unusual curvy cloud and tree trunk.

Polaris RZR

Storm clouds by the shore.

Every single boat ramp around the lake was open, something we haven’t seen in years, and along with that, many campground loops near the boat ramps that had been closed for a long time were now open as well.

The flip side of that, though, was that one of the lowest lying boat ramps — the one that never has to close, even when the lake level drops super low — was almost completely submerged.

Submerged dock and boat ramp at Roosevelt Lake-min

Not only did you have to walk uphill onto the floating dock, the entire boat ramp was under water (left),
all the way up to the tippy top!

Mark drove the RZR through the water at the top of the boat ramp and had fun making waves.

Polaris RZR driving through water in Arizona-min

Mark had fun splashing in the water at the top of the boat ramp.

Polaris RZR leaves a wake in the water at an Arizona boat ramp-min

Weeee!

As Easter Weekend approached, more and more people came out to enjoy the lake. Hundreds of boats filled the parking lots and fishermen were eagerly casting.

Fishing at Roosevelt Lake-min

The anglers were out in droves, both on shore and in fishing boats.

Buddy’s favorite part of these peaceful days was lizard hunting. His preferred method of going after these lightning fast creatures is to leap in the air and pounce. We spent many happy hours watching him and trying to catch him in the act on our cameras. But it’s not so easy!

Puppy jumping in the lupine in Arizona-min

Leaping for lizards!

Puppy jumping in the wildflowers in Arizona-min

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While he chased the lizards and occasional jack rabbits we savored the brilliant colors of spring.

Pink Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Delicate wildflower in Arizona-min

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Arizona wildflowers

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Pink and yellow wildflowers in Arizona-min

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One evening the sky gave us an especially dramatic sunset. Above the horizon a huge cloud swirled and rolled over and around itself like a ball of pink cotton candy in the sky.

Sunset at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Cotton candy!

Sunset across the lake brought some lovely reflections.

Sunset over Four Peaks Arizona-min

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And a full moon rose over the desert.

Full moonrise at dusk in Arizona-min

Full moon rising

Sometimes the best times in our travels are the quiet languid days when we slow down and bask in a beloved place once again!

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Black Hills Back Country Byway – Spring Flowers in Arizona!

April 2019 – After our quick trip to southeastern Utah to photograph the red rocks and fantastic rock formations, we took our RV back down south to eastern Arizona. Leaving Utah’s chilly late winter air behind us, we found Spring was in full bloom in the Arizona desert.

RV Camping in eastern Arizona

Exploring Arizona’s Black Hills National Back Country Byway.


The most extraordinary display of wildflowers covered the hillsides at the base of the Salt River Canyon, and we can’t recommend highly enough making a trek there to see the flowing blankets of yellow poppies and purple lupine that ripple between the towering canyon walls at the peak of spring.

Unfortunately, now that we drive The Train, we weren’t able to stop and savor the views. The pullouts are plenty big enough for a rig like ours if it’s the only thing parked there, but each one was filled with cars and happily gawking tourists who were gazing at the wonder.

Next time!

Wildflowers and puppy with mountains in Arizona-min

Buddy romps in a blanket of wildflowers.

But once we set up camp, our RZR got us out into the desert and we saw some beautiful wildflowers.

Mountains with wildflowers as far as the eye can see in Arizona-min

Spring flowers! (Sneeze!)

One day we decided to take the RZR on the Black Hills National Back Country Byway, a dirt road that was first built by settlers in the 1800s as a route connecting the flat farmlands around Safford with the mining communities in the hills around Morenci.

Black Hills Back Country Byway Plaque-min

There are picnic areas and plaques explaining the local history along the Black Hills Back Country Byway.
After Buddy was done reading the plaque, he rested in the cool shade below it.

This dirt road is about 21 miles long and it winds up into the junipers and back down into the desert on its journey.

RZR on Black Hills Back Country Byway Arizona-min

Black Hills Back Country Byway

Black Hills Back Country Byway in Arizona

Arizona’s Black Hills Back Country Byway

The views were very nice, but what caught our attention were the many different kinds of wildflowers tucked into nooks and crannies here and there.

Lavender wildflowers Arizona-min

Delicate and sweet.

Bud and flower in Arizona-min

Before and After (if you can believe it!).

Arizona wildflowers-min

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Purple Arizona wildflower-min

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Big pink flowers in Arizona-min

These things are huge and were in bloom all over the place.

From tiny purple flowers wriggling in the breeze to pretty yellow poppies dancing in the sunlight, we saw all kinds of flowers brightening this otherwise relatively drab landscape.

Yellow desert poppies in Arizona-min

Yellow desert poppies.

Fuzzy leaves with Arizona wildflowers-min

Fuzzy leaves and pretty blossoms.

Purple Arizona wildflowers-min

So cheery!

Wildflowers in Arizona-min

Little pink stars.

Desert daisies in Arizona-min

Desert daisies.

White dandelions in Arizona-min

Surely in the dandelion family!

The fun thing about doing this drive with the RZR is it was easy to hop in and out of it every few miles to poke around and take pics. It was a balmy Thursday, and in our three hours on the road (we go slowly!) we saw only one other vehicle, a motorcycle.

Puppy sniffs wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Buddy sniffed the flowers now and then, but he was more interested in the little critters that make this area home. We had seen two red-headed bugs with antennae flying while linked together. It was spring, and they were doing what the birds and the bees tend to do in springtime!

Then I noticed a patch of purple flowers that was loaded with these red headed bugs!

Bug in the wildflowers in Arizona-min

A bush full of purple flowers was also full of red-headed bugs!

Buddy has discovered the joys of lizard hunting, and he chased quite a few on our excursion. He loves the chase, and on rare occasions he actually catches up to one too. They’re clever though, and they play dead to make him stop chasing!

Lizard with colorful belly Arizona-min

A lizard plays dead at Buddy’s feet.

Lizard in Arizona-min

Buddy found this guy who was actually already quite dead and stiff!

There are several picnic areas along this route with views that look out into the hills. These rest areas have picnic tables and ramadas covered with copper roofs and lots of information about the history of the area.

Black Hills Back Country Byway Phelps Dodge Copper Mine Overlook-min

Black Hills Back Country Byway at the Phelps Dodge Copper Mine Overlook

One of the most amazing views is of the Phelps Dodge copper mine in Clifton-Morenci. This is one of the largest copper mines in the world and has been extracting copper from the hills for almost 150 years.

Phelps Dodge copper mine in Clifton-Morenci Arizona-min

The Phelps Dodge copper mine in Morenci Arizona has been extracting copper since 1872.

Arizona schoolkids learn that Arizona is known for the five C’s – Cattle, Copper, Cotton, Climate and Citrus. We saw two of the C’s together while driving the Black Hills Back Country Byway!

Cow and Copper Mine in Arizona-min

Two of Arizona’s “Five C’s” in one photo – Cattle and Copper!

At the mine overlook there were several big boulders with copper embedded in them along with detailed descriptions of how the copper is extracted.

Copper in a boulder-min

Copper waiting to be extracted. It looks a little like lichen!

It was fun at another point on this drive to see tall red penstemon flowers against the backdrop of a boulder filled with lichen.

Penstemon and lichen_-min

Pensetemon flowers with a lichen covered boulder in the background.

Another thing Arizona is known for is sunsets. The word doesn’t start with a C, but reliably dramatic sunsets definitely make Arizona a very a special place!

Gorgeous Arizona sunset-min

The sunsets in Arizona are hard to beat!

Sunset at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Lakeside sunset overlooking Four Peaks.

Flower Power in Arizona-min

Flower Power!

As we’ve continued experimenting with triple towing, we’ve learned a few more things in recent weeks. One of the attractions of a toy hauler is the very cool back patio deck most have, and I’ve been drawn to several units that had side patios too.

Well, one afternoon I looked at our utility trailer and realized it would make a wonderful little raised patio!

If the rig is positioned right, the whole rear wall of the trailer can shade the patio, and by being up off the ground you don’t get that bitter cold breeze from under the trailer that you do when you hang out on camp chairs at ground level.

RV triple tow utility trailer patio deck-min

The utility trailer makes a nifty raised patio!

Triple tow patio deck-min

A nice spot to share a sundowner… at the risk of someone saying:
“You know you’re a redneck when your back patio is a trailer!”

Another thing we’ve learned is that when you make a super tight turn, depending on the design of the utility trailer, it may be possible for a front corner of the utility trailer to make contact with the back of the fifth wheel trailer.

So, if you are getting set up to triple tow, you might consider taking your rig to a huge and vacant parking lot to try a few slow sharp u-turns to see just how tightly your rig can turn before contact is made between the two trailers.

RV camping in the Arizona desert at sunset

Sunset in Arizona

Arizona is a beautiful state and we’re looking forward to watching Springtime continue to unfold here.

Puppy silhouette at sunset-min

A yawn at sunset.

Arizona starry sky-min

“Blue moon…You saw me standing alone…”

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Mexican Hat, Utah – A Special Hoodoo in the Red Rocks

March 2019 – The Utah red rocks are full of whimsical formations that are easily recognizable. One of the most charming is Mexican Hat, a rock formation that unmistakeably resembles a sombrero.

Mexican Hat Utah RV trip adventure

A Mexican sombrero caps off the landscape in Utah.

We were traveling through southeastern Utah with our RV, and before we arrived at this fantastic stone hat we found some wonderful patterns in the red rocks. We spent a little time doing some wide angle photography, playing with the colorful lines in the sandstone.

Leading lines in wide angle photo in Utah-min

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As the golden hour unfolded before sunset, I was astonished to look down at my feet and see a rainbow of colors!

Wide angle photography in Utah-min

So much color right at my feet!

The red, yellow, orange and gray stripes were beautiful, and we explored these unusual patterns at dusk and again at dawn.

Sunrise with puppy in Utah-min

Buddy watched the sunrise with us.

In some cases we focused our photos on the tiny patterns at our feet, but the size and scale of these immense rock landscapes was mind boggling.

Utah landscape-min

Huge landscapes dwarf Mark and Buddy on a rock outcropping.

In many places the sandstone was solid underfoot, but in other places it gave way to patches of red beach sand and small dunes.

Red rock patterns in Utah-min

Ancient sand dunes turned to stone — lines and patterns everywhere.

Buddy loved lying in the hot sand in the heat of the day and rubbing himself in its toasty warmth.

He also got a kick out of chasing the lizards and birds that live in this exotic land. Of course, the bigger birds just stood their ground when they saw the excited puppy coming.

One crow began to tease him, flying just out of reach and squawking. Buddy took the bait and tore after the crow, running and jumping as the bird swerved and dipped his wings near him.

Suddenly Buddy took a big leap, eyes focused intently on the crow. He misjudged the uneven ground beneath him, lost his footing, and crashed into the sand chest first in a cloud of red dust.

When he stood up and shook himself off he was wearing a pink bib and gloves!

Puppy in red rock sand Utah-min

Buddy sports a peach bib and gloves after taking a flying leap after a bird and crash landing in the sand.

Rivers and waterways are responsible for the fantastic landscapes in this area, and when we drove over a bridge crossing the Colorado River we loved the contrast of the crimson cliffs and snowy mountains in the background.

Colorado River in Utah Glen Canyon-min

Snowy mountains and red rock cliffs.

The landscapes were filled with color and vibrance.

Colorful landscape at the golden hour in Utah-min

Vivid colors at the golden hour.

We crossed the San Juan River at the town of Mexican Hat. After driving over a hundred miles through vast empty landscapes, this village perched above the river was a fun surprise, and we got out to explore a bit.

Colorado River Bridge at Mexican Hat Utah-min

The village of Mexican Hat is perched along one side of the river.

Someone had put a three-legged chair in a spot with a great view of the village on the opposite bank. You never know what you’ll find out here!

Town of Mexican Hat Utah-min

Have a seat — but don’t fall over!

We continued on and the skies clouded over. Storms brewed in the distance while the sun lit portions of the land here and there. What a magical place.

Storm clouds and rain over red rock landscape in Utah-min

Storm clouds and rain drift across the red rock landscape.

Storm and dark clouds in the Utah red rocks-min

The rain never made it to us, but what a wonderfully brooding sky this was!

The village of Mexican Hat is named for the fun rock formation that looks like a Mexican sombrero. It was easy to spot and made us smile. What a perfect name for this formation and the village nearby!

Mexican Hat rock formation under storm clouds in Utah-min

Mexican Hat is impossible to miss!

Buddy decided to try it out and see how it fit.

Sombrero Mexican Hat over puppy-min

Buddy tries the hat on for size.

Catching it from different angles and zooming in, the hat really dose look like a sombrero.

Mexican Hat Utah-min

It’s a true sombrero from this angle!

Just how big is this rock formation? Enormous! There were some hikers standing at its base…

Hikers at Mexican Hat Utah-min

It doesn’t look that big until you notice the hikers!

As the afternoon wore on, the hat cast its shadow across the valley below.

Shadow of Mexican Hat rock formation in Utah-min

In the late afternoon Mexican Hat cast a shadow across the valley.

And as the sun set it became a silhouette against the sky.

Mexican Hat Utah sunset silhouette-min

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And then it grew wings.

Sunset at Mexican Hat Utah-min

With colorful flying clouds!

Continuing on, we saw incredible wavy patterns in the red rocks.

Clouds over red rocks in Utah-min

We noticed vivid patterns in the distant hills.

We hopped in the RZR to drive into the landscape a little further. We rounded a bend and found a couple taking a break from their Jeep ride to enjoy a quiet moment in their camp chairs with a fabulous view.

Polaris RZR ride in Utah red rocks-min

We followed a jeep road into the landscape.

Exotic landscape in Utah-min

A couple relaxes in their camp chairs in the middle of their Jeep ride!

These landscapes just begged us to head off into the red rocks to take photos.

Photographer in Utah red rocks-min

Mark heads out to take some pics.

We were drawn to the swirling patterns on the hillsides and couldn’t stop our cameras from clicking away.

Swirling rock formations in Utah-min

Triangular patterns swirled across the base of the mountains.

Red rock swirl formations in Utah-min

Red rock waves.

Wave patterns in Utah red rocks-min

An undulating landscape.

Just how big are these wavy patterns? I had wandered around on foot exploring and then I looked up and noticed our RZR leaning up against this jaw-dropping landscape. Wow!

Wavy patterns in red rocks with scale shown by Polaris RZR-min

How big are those patterns? Pretty big!

With that in mind, here are a few more images taken as clouds rolled in overhead.

Wavy red rock patterns and swirls in Utah-min

Approaching clouds played with the light.

Utah red rock wavy patterns and swirls-min

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We wanted to stay longer, but it was still quite cold in this part of Utah. Our fingers and toes were tired of being numb! We had been in long pants and jackets for too long and we were ready to get back to central Arizona where the temps were hovering in the high 70s. Ahhhh….!

Fifth wheel trailer RV triple tow-min

What a great area. We’ll be back!!

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Traces of Antiquity and the Not-So-Ancient in Utah!

March 2019 – Over the years we’ve been asked how we plan our travels, and we’ve usually said that we move on or stay put on a whim. But it might be more accurate to say that we generally follow the weather, staying put when it’s nice and moving on when ugly conditions are expected.

This has made for some hasty departures with rain, sleet or snow looming, but until this past week we have never been stuck right where we were because of deep mud!

Utah RV trip

Hitting the road is easier when you don’t have to drive through a foot of mud

The Utah desert is filled with sandstone, sand and silty stuff, and when it is dry it hardens to something like concrete with a soft layer of dust around the edges. But when it rains for 48 hours, as it did while we were camping, the water soaks into the silty sand and makes a very squishy mud.

Factory Butte Utah-min

An immense tower rises out of Utah’s red rocks courtesy of rain, wind and sometimes drippy muddy conditions

As we drove to and from our campsite every other day or so, our truck swam through portions of the road, even in 4×4 low gear at 5 mph. There was no way we could tow our 14k lb. trailer out of there.

So, we stayed put and we waited for the mud to dry!

Utah landscape near-far wide angle image-min

While we were waiting for the mud to dry we practice the near-far composition techniques we’d learned in our photography workshop the week before.

We kept busy practicing the wide angle photo techniques we had just learned. The key to putting some real zing into this kind of photography is having a fabulous sky and a fabulous foreground right at your feet. Finding those things is no small trick, though, even in this wonderfully scenic part of Utah.

Puppy Uah landscape near-far wide angle image-min

The near-far wide angle view is a new way of seeing for us, but we’re starting to get the hang of it!

We spent hours scouring the area looking for engaging backdrops in the distance and fascinating foregrounds at our feet while hoping we’d get a jaw-dropping sunrise or sunset to top it off.

The sky didn’t cooperate, but we did find some lovely places and really enjoyed the search.

Utah red rock landscape-min

Low toadstool hoodoos and softly rounded mountains

Of course, what’s funny about doing this kind of photography with our pooch Buddy along is that he has a habit of photo-bombing our shots. We’d get everything set up just so, and then Buddy would suddenly wander right through the middle of the photo, sniffing around and curious about what we were up to.

Utah red rock landscape with puppy-min

Buddy stops by right in the middle of things to say hello!

While I was crawling around on my hands and knees to try and capture these ground level images, Mark hiked up onto the colorfully striped mounds in the distance and took some stunning pics of the softly rounded shapes from eye level.

Striped hills in Utah-min

Up close, the softly rounded mounds were very beautiful

Colorful hills and mounds in Utah-min

The hills were a wide variety of earth tone colors

Utah striped mounds-min

Natural patterns

Slowly, the mud slowly began to dry everywhere, and it made pretty patterns of cracks as it shrank. Mark noticed the pattern of a tree in one set of cracks.

A tree in the cracked mud in Utah-min

The image of a tree appeared in the cracking mud

With the mud quickly drying, we realized our escape from our campsite had to be timed so that the mud on the road was sufficiently dry but the predicted strong winds hadn’t yet begun whipping dust around. Everyday we surveyed the mud and it seemed like our leave-taking was still a few days away.

But Mother Nature has her own sense of timing and her own schedule.

One day, just as we were returning from a walk down the road and agreeing that we should give it another day or two, the predicted winds suddenly arrived and kicked up some huge clouds of dust.

Yikes!

Dust and high winds in Utah-min

Buddy squints his eyes as he makes his way through a swirling dust cloud.
Wild dust storms are the desert West’s answer to the hot and muggy stickiness of mid-summer in the East!

When the desert becomes enveloped in dust storms you can get white-out conditions, and that thin layer of silt finds its way onto everything in the camper, even with the doors and windows closed. Just one swirl as you open the door and dash inside can be enough to coat the counters and table with grit.

It was time to leave!

Within an hour we were swimming down the muddy section of the road, but we had just enough traction to make it out.

Once the tires hit the pavement we heaved a huge sigh of relief!

We headed south on US-95 which is also known as the Bicentennial Highway because it was completed in 1976. It is one of Utah’s most spectacular scenic drives with occasional pull-outs where you can stop to take a photo or rest a bit. After driving for a while we pulled over to stretch our legs.

Hog Canyon Utah-min

The beautiful scenery on the Bicentennial Highway was a welcome sight after our great escape!

A gorgeous yellow Corvette had stopped too. We’ve often said that if we ever stop traveling by RV we might start traveling by sports car and motel. Wouldn’t that be fun! What better way to see America’s incomparable scenic drives that in a zippy and maneuverable Porsche?! We had the chance to do just that in Colorado a few years ago, and what a blast that was! (Blog post here).

RV and Porsche and side by side-min

There are many ways to travel and they’re all fun!

We wandered through the brush by the side of the road and crossed a narrow stream and found ourselves in a shallow cave. Such wonders. Our spirits soared as we roamed around.

View from cave in Utah-min

Mark takes a pic from the floor of the cave

One of the things I love most with Utah’s red rocks is the “desert varnish” on the surface of many cliff faces. It appears as though the gods have taken cans of paint and spilled them over the edges. Jackson Pollack may have made human drip painting famous, but for me, these paintings made by Mother Nature have him beat.

Desert varnish on red rocks in Utah-min

Nature’s drip paintings on towering red rock cliffs.

Artistic expression fill human history back to prehistoric times, and the ancients who lived in Utah thousands of years ago were no different. Using some kind of method to impregnate the smooth cliff walls with various colors, they created pictographs that remain to this day.

Buddy came across an especially beautiful one.

Puppy finds Moqui Queen pictograph in Utah-min

“Look what I found!”

It was about five feet tall and seemed to depict a person wearing a crown of some kind, along with decorations across the neck and shoulders as well as earrings. The figure appeared to have bird wings with long flight feathers, or perhaps it wore a cape that concealed its arms.

I have no idea what the thing next to this being was. But surely the person who meticulously created this image eons ago knew exactly what it was. If only it were possible to know the origins of the artwork in the context of the culture that created it.

Gazing at this image of a very specific something — human? god? — I remembered my astonishment when we watched a school field trip of young kids visiting the evocative ancient pyramid ruins at Monte Alban near Oxaca in southern Mexico.

As the kids sat attentively listening to a guide teach them about some huge stone carvings the Zapotecs had made, he pointed to various images in the stone sculptures and asked the kids if they recognized who they were.

With each question, a few kids’ hands shot up and they answered eagerly. They had studied the ancient mythology that had its roots right where they were sitting.

Moqui Queen pictograph in Utah-min

This intricately detailed pictograph is about five feet tall and appears to be a person wearing a crown and ornaments around the neck and shoulders, and it seems to have either an elaborate cape or wings.

Not too far from this incredible pictograph we found some more recent petroglyphs. The difference between pictographs and petroglyphs is that the pictographs are made by impregnating pigments into the rock face while petroglyphs are made by pecking out an etching.

It’s not so easy to make images by pecking, and in many places we’ve seen poor modern attempts to scrape the rock alongside the expertly made petroglyphs that are hundreds or thousands of years old. However, in this spot some enterprising people whose petroglyph efforts are now fading into recent history did a pretty good job of making a lasting impression.

These petroglyphs dated back as far as 1941 which was long before the Bicentennial Highway was built in 1976 and also before Glen Canyon was dammed to form Lake Powell in 1963.

In the 1940s there was just a rough 4×4 road that, legend has it, a local miner had built between Hanksville and Hite using a borrowed bulldozer!

Modern petroglyph in Utah-min

“Roy Despain + Madeline II – September 1, 1941”

Roy and Madeline covered some rugged terrain to put their mark on these rocks. I wonder if they are still around and if they ever return to see their names on the cliff wall.

Nearby Brig Larsen left his or her name and listed the town of Moab, Utah (his/her hometown?) and the full date of May 21, 1947.

Modern petroglyph in Utah-min

“Brig Larsen – Moab Utah – 1947”

In 1946, a year prior to Brig pecking out his petroglyph, a geological survey described the concept of a future road going between the mining town of Hite (now submerged under Lake Powell) and the Mormon farming town of Hanksville. A quote from that geological survey says:

“Plans are being considered for a road across the Colorado River at Hite and eastward… At the present time (1946) the road follows the bottom of North Wash and a cable-barge ferry is maintained for crossing the river. In time, no doubt, an improved road will be built that avoids the canyon bottom and crosses the river by bridge, probably near the mouth of the Dirty Devil river. Such a road would be one of the most scenic highway in America.”

How right they were as they looked 30 years into the future!

Nearby a Mr. (or Ms.) S. Allan also made a petroglyph with the date “41.” Was he (or she) traveling with Roy and Madeline in 1941? Maybe they all reached this spot together and decided to put their names on the rock much as the Mormon pioneers had done at the Mormon register which is now inside Capitol Reef National Park.

Ironically, someone named Lockyer visited to the same spot in 1978 after the Bicentennial Highway was fully built and paved with asphalt. I wonder if he intended to write over S. Allan’s date or if he realized only after he got going with his rock pecking that he hadn’t allowed enough room for his name.

Modern petroglyph in Utah-min

“S. Allan 41” and “Lockyer 78”

Either way, I’m just assuming that the numbers “41” and “78” refer to years these people were here in the 1900s. But who knows, they could be their birth years or they could be numbers from their high school varsity sports jerseys!

So it goes with the masterful guesswork of archaeology, whether studying the artistic footprints left 80 years ago or 800 years ago or more.

One thing we’ve noticed in the shifting sands of time here in southeastern Utah is that it is not so easy to leave an indelible footprint. We’ve been here only two weeks, yet the footprints and tire tracks we first put down two weeks ago have almost disappeared. The rain and wind have all but erased them from ever being.

Even the muddy tracks on the dirt road had already begun to flatten out.

Photography in Utah landscapes-min

Happy times in Utah.

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Map of the Bicentennial highway

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SE Utah – A Mars Colony, Wide-Angle Photography & Snowy Mountains!

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 Utah at dusk-min

Henry Mountains at dusk

We snuck out at the first light of dawn and found the red rocks were glowing with an inner beauty.

Utah Red rocks glow in early morning light-min

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.

Colorful rocks in Utah-min

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.

Layered mesas in Utah-min

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-min

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.

Polaris RZR and puppy with driver in Utah-min

“Are we going for a ride? Yippee!”

Puppy and Polaris RZR in Utah-min

“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.

Rock formations in Utah-min

It’s easy to get lost in these rocks!

In other places vividly striped mounds formed a gently rolling landscape.

Puppy explores striped red rock dunes-min

Buddy checks out the rounded mounds of purple, pink and deep brown rocks

Snow capped mountains and purple striped red rocks in Utah-min

Moonscape

“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!

Rock formations in Utah-min

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.

Purple striped red rocks in Utah-min

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 Desert Research Station Utah-min

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?

Mars Desert Research Station Utah-min

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.

Main Pod Mars Desert Research Station Utah-min

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.

Mars colonizers at Mars Desert Research Station Utah-min

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-min

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.

We also learned from some Utah Capitol Reef area tourist literature that describes this Mars colony that whenever the kids step out of the pods into the Utah landscape they are supposed to be wearing space suits just as they would on Mars.

Curiously, we did not see a single space suit on any of the kids going in and out of the pods or driving the UTVs across the desert. They were in street clothes and they looked no different than any other ATV/UTV owners who like to cruise around on dirt roads and go exploring.

Mars colony rovers in Utah-min

Future Mars colonists drive off into the desert in their UTVs to map the desert by flying teams of 8 drones at a time! Despite claims they wear space suits, they actually wore street clothes and looked no different than any other ATV/UTV group playing in the desert.

When we left, we saw a large sign on one of the building pods that said, “All funding by private donations. The Musk Foundation.”

The Musk Foundation-min

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.

Dust flies off fast car on Utah desert road-min

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.

Near-Far wide angle perspective-min

We practiced near-far compositions that go from the shapes at your feet to shapes on the horizon

Morning glow on Utah red rocks-min

More practice with some red rock hoodoos at dawn.

Utah pinnacle at sunrise-min

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.

Leprechaun Slot Canyon Utah-min

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!

Ghost in the light in a Utah slot canyon-min

The ghost of our instructor

Mark also got a fantastic selfie at a slot canyon opening.

Slot canyon in Utah-min

Mark took a selfie.

There are sand dunes in the area too. Talk about an other-worldy landscape!

Sand dunes in Utah-min

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.

Incoming storm in Utah red rocks-min

An approaching storm

The snow-covered Henry Mountains were suddenly surrounded by swirls of clouds that changed shape with every passing minute.

Henry Mountains with snow panorama Utah-min

Clouds surrounded the Henry Mountains

Clouds over snow capped Henry Mountains in Utah-min

Late afternoon light on the clouds and snow on the Henries

Henry Mountains with snow and red rocks Utah-min

Snow-capped peaks above and red rocks below – Magic!

Snow and clouds on Henry Mountains in Utah-min

The mountain was whisked away by the clouds…!

Snow on Henry Mountains Utah-min

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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!

RV Camping in the Utah Red Rocks-min

Southeastern Utah is a beautiful area.

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Monument Valley & Hite Scenic Overlook – Stone Towers from Below & Above!

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.

Monument Valley framed by Navajo jewelry stand-min

Monument Valley framed by a Navajo Jewelry stand.

After a crazy cold winter in the Arizona deserts, the temps had just started to warm up in the Phoenix area. But we we hightailed it north for Utah’s higher elevation (and colder) red rock and snowy mountain scenery anyway. Brrr!

What were we thinking?

Just as we crossed through the Navajo Nation into Monument Valley on the border of Utah, the navigation screen on our truck began to flash a Severe Winter Storm Warning for the area!

Monument Valley skyline RV trip-min

Monument Valley skyline

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.

Puppy at Monument Valley Utah on RV trip-min

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.

Red rocks in Utah with puppy-min

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.

Monument Valley Utah at twilight with clouds-min

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!

Mexican Hat Utah

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!

Old Winnebago in Utah-min

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.

Hite Overlook Utah-min

The Hite Scenic Overlook is well worth a stop.

The view from the overlook was out of this world.

Hite Overlook Lake Powell Glen Canyon Recreation Area RV trip-min

What a view. That is Lake Powell down there!

What a spot for photography!

Photography at Hite Overlook Glen Canyon Recreation Area Lake Powell-min

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.

And how amusing it was to look back at a blog post I wrote about this same area seven years ago and find that I took almost the exact same photo (in sunshine) when we were there!

Hite Overlook Glen Canyon Recreation Area Lake Powell Utah-min

I took almost this exact same photo 7 years ago!

The tiny ribbon of US-95 snaked around in front of the enormous stone towers.

Hite Overlook Glen Canyon Recreation Area Lake Powell RV trip-min

Dazzling scenery, even in mist and fog.

Even Buddy seemed to appreciate the view. He was very cautious looking down over the edge too, holding his weight back as he craned his neck forward to look down at the flat land below.

Puppy at Hite Overlook Glen Canyon Recreation Area Lake Powell RV trip-min

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Behind us a row of red rocks that stood cheek-by-jowel like city buildings overlapped snowcapped mountains in the distance.

Snowcapped mountains and red rock pinnacles Glen Canyon Lake Powell Utah-min

No wonder we were in jackets and hats — there were snowy mountains right there!

The skies finally began to clear and the last miles of the Bicentennial Highway were flanked with red rock cliffs as we approached the village of Hanksville.

Views on the Bicentennial Highway Utah RV trip-min

Once the rain cleared I got a few pics of the gorgeous winding road that is US-95
The Bicentennial Highway.

At Hanksville, the Bicentennial Highway joins up with Scenic Highway 24 which heads west into Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

All of the land in the lower half of Utah is spectacular beyond words.

Red rocks on the Bicentennial Highway Utah RV trip-min

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.

Stone house window Wayne County Utah-min

Someone put some care into building this solid home.

Those stone walls were pretty thick!

Stone house ruins Wayne County Utah-min

This is part of the Giles Ghost Town

All around the area there were lots of exotic rock formations. Some formed beautiful patterns…

Red rock patterns in Utah-min

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And others made recognizable shapes!

Pinocchio in the rocks in Utah-min

Pinocchio!

Exploring the Utah desert-min

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We’ll be in this area for another week, improving our photography by day and fending off sub-freezing temps by night!

Sunrise on the Henry Mountains Utah

First light!

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