March 2019 – We arrived in southeastern Utah just as snow flurries were abating. It was unseasonably cold, but at twilight the Henry Mountains were utterly radiant, a visual gift that was a happy exchange for having to run around in hats and mittens in mid-March!
Henry Mountains at dusk
We snuck out at the first light of dawn and found the red rocks were glowing with an inner beauty.
Radiant red rocks at dawn
When a thick blanket of clouds filled the sky and chased the sun away for a few days, we could see the myriad of colors that are hidden in many of the exotic rock formations.
Lots of earth tone colors in the rocks
Off in the distance the classic desert mesas led the way to the horizon in receding layers.
Mesas on the horizon
An excursion to the Dirty Devil River revealed an immense canyon reminiscent of tributaries within the Grand Canyon.
Dirty Devil River and Canyon
We got a few sunny days, and with the ground still damp from the recent rains, we enjoyed some dust-free rides on our Polaris RZR.
“Are we going for a ride? Yippee!”
“I want to run alongside for a while.”
These UTV rides took us into the back country of Southeastern Utah where we went from one jaw dropping landscape to another. In some places the desert was flat and wide with immense jagged boulders balancing on the soft soil here and there.
It’s easy to get lost in these rocks!
In other places vividly striped mounds formed a gently rolling landscape.
Buddy checks out the rounded mounds of purple, pink and deep brown rocks
“It feels like we’re on another planet!” We kept saying to each other!
This land is so photogenic it’s hard not to take a photo with every step. And it is so whimsical and cheery you just have to strike a pose in a lot of shots too!
Buddy watches Mark pose praising the heavens under a jagged spire.
Utah’s breathtaking and otherworldly landscapes are beloved worldwide, and lots of folks from all over the place come to visit in large numbers between Spring and Fall.
A huge labyrinth of a layer cake.
When we arrived in Hanksville, a massive and sweeping public land bill had just become Federal law with enthusiastic support from almost everyone in Congress.
We hadn’t known anything about it, but as we talked with the locals we soon discovered they weren’t too pleased. They were frustrated that motorized and mechanized vehicle access to some of the most popular places nearby will be prohibited because they’ll be designated “Wilderness” areas. Also, the locals hadn’t been notified of the bill until three days before it was voted on, so their views were never heard.
With those conversations still ringing in our ears, we were astonished to take our RZR around a corner on a well trodden road on the Bureau of Land Management’s vast square miles of open public land and suddenly see a sign planted in the ground that said:
“The Mars Society. Private Property. No Entry Please.”
Mars…or BLM land in Utah?
We stood by the sign and stared at the buildings lined up against the striped red rock mounds in the distance. There was a collection of what can only be described as Mars Pods along with a large solar panel array installed on the ground nearby.
We looked at each other in amazement. What in the world was this?
A Mars colony
We heard voices yelling in the distance and saw the door of the main pod opening and closing repeatedly as young, energetic people ran in and out the door. The yelling didn’t sound like English.
I cupped my hand to my ear to see if I could figure out the language they were speaking, but I couldn’t tell. My first guess was Spanish, and then I thought I heard some French.
There was lots of commotion in a foreign language.
Suddenly, a side-by-side four wheeler came driving out from the pods towards us. There was no engine noise. It looked to be a Polaris Ranger UTV that had been converted to run on an electric engine.
Then two more Mars Rover side-by-sides appeared behind it.
The three vehicles zoomed passed us in a flash and disappeared down the road. One had the word “Opportunity” across the front hood, and they all had a pair of young folks in the seats.
Three UTVs converted to electric engines zipped by
We decided to head into the compound and see if we could learn a little more about what this place was. Driving a short distance, we arrived at the main pod and were greeted by a friendly dog and a young man.
“What is this place?” I asked him.
“Private property.” He said with a strong accent.
“I thought this was BLM land. Public land.” I said.
“We’re borrowing it.” He told me.
Mars Desert Research Station
I asked if he meant they were leasing the land from the BLM, rather than borrowing it, and he nodded, and then I asked where he and his friends were from, and he said Peru.
He went on to explain that international groups of kids visit this place on two week rotations to live in the Utah desert and drive around in electric UTVs so they can get the feeling of what it would be like to land in a desolate landscape on Mars and establish a human colony.
We later learned that one of their current tasks is to fly teams of 8 drones at a time over the Utah landscape to make digital image maps.
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.
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.”
Major Sponsors (all funding via private donations) The Musk Foundation
As I’ve said many times before, the public land debate is immense and complex and there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
We continued on our own little safari at a modest 18 mph down the dirt road, lost in our own thoughts.
Suddenly, a huge SUV came up behind us from the direction of the Mars colony at about 40 mph and swerved around us, narrowly missing the left side of our little open air buggy. The driver hadn’t beeped to let us know he was coming, and we were left in a cloud of dust.
Yikes! That was close!
We had come Utah very early this spring to attend a photography workshop with Ian Plant that soon got underway. It was focused on how to take wide angle images that emphasize near-far contrasts.
This was fascinating to study, and we had some outstanding experiences both in the classroom and out in the field.
It will take us a while for us to master the techniques we learned, but we had a lot of fun starting to retrain our eyes to look for interesting patterns at our feet and combine them with interesting things in the distance.
We practiced near-far compositions that go from the shapes at your feet to shapes on the horizon
More practice with some red rock hoodoos at dawn.
Early morning light envelops a distant pinnacle.
There are quite a few slot canyons in the area, and these proved to be wonderful for wide angle photography and playing with the shapes created by shafts of light.
Beautiful light inside Leprechaun Canyon
At one point our instructor, Ian, walked towards Mark as he was taking a photo. The light hit Ian perfectly and suddenly he looked like he was receiving a message from God or being beamed up to the USS Enterprise!
The ghost of our instructor
Mark also got a fantastic selfie at a slot canyon opening.
Mark took a selfie.
There are sand dunes in the area too. Talk about an other-worldy landscape!
Maybe this really is Mars
After the workshop was over, the rain and snow returned. We watched in awe as banks of black clouds came in.
An approaching storm
The snow-covered Henry Mountains were suddenly surrounded by swirls of clouds that changed shape with every passing minute.
Clouds surrounded the Henry Mountains
Late afternoon light on the clouds and snow on the Henries
Snow-capped peaks above and red rocks below – Magic!
The mountain was whisked away by the clouds…!
There is so much to see in southeastern Utah that we feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface despite several return visits. We think we’re headed back south to Arizona now to finish up a few things there, but the lure of these exotic red rocks and spectacular vistas will probably keep us here a little while longer!
March 2019 – What with triple-towing and having a new Polaris RZR side-by-side these days, we had decided not to travel long distances in 2019. But when I got an email announcing that a photographer we admire, Ian Plant, was hosting a four day workshop in southeastern Utah, we decided to make a run for it and take our RV on a nearly 500 mile adventure ride past stunning scenery between Phoenix, Arizona, and the tiny village of Hanksville, Utah.
Despite (or because of) the incoming storm, the towering rock formations that form the gateway to Monument Valley stretched across the horizon in dramatic fashion, and we just had to get out and hike down one of the dirt roads to get a better look at them.
It was time to stretch our legs — whether we had four to stretch or just two.
The clouds intensified as we walked. Every once in a while the sun swept across the vast landscape with the dark storm clouds in hot pursuit. Um… in cold pursuit!! Over on the other horizon a row of red rock cliffs lit up as the sun brightened.
In another direction a line of red rock cliffs glowed for a brief moment in the distance.
Turning back towards the monuments we noticed a cool cloud had formed above them in the sky.
An unusual cloud drifts by in the sky.
We hopped back in our truck for another twenty miles or so and were pelted with rain. But when we turned the corner at Mexican Hat the rain abated just long enough for us to get out again and have a look around.
The Mexican Hat rock formation is very easy to spot!
There’s no doubt how the town of Mexican Hat got its name!
Just south of Blanding, Utah, we turned west onto US-95, also known as the Bicentennial Highway, and plunged down lots of 8% to 10% switchbacks to the desert floor far below. This is a fantastic scenic drive that leaves our jaws agape every time we drive it. Even this time in the rain and fog — and snow in the mountains we were passing! — it was still a glorious drive.
How funny, though, in the middle of all that majestic scenery to see an old dilapidated Winnebago sitting in the middle of nowhere. Mark hit the brakes so he could run back for a shot!
It might be a little drafty sleeping in there!
Some of the best views on this drive are when it descends into Glen Canyon. I fondly remember how the first time we drove it I was so excited by the beauty that I sat in the window of the passenger’s seat snapping pics as Mark drove!
This time we were driving in rain and mist, but as we pulled into the Hite Scenic Overlook the sun made a valiant effort to push its way out from behind the heavy blankets of clouds.
The Hite Scenic Overlook is well worth a stop.
The view from the overlook was out of this world.
What a view. That is Lake Powell down there!
What a spot for photography!
Mark sets up a shot of the valley (he’s on the far left side with Buddy!)
We hung around for several hours taking photos. We were standing on a peninsula with views in every direction, and the views went on forever.
The massive stone towers on the desert floor below us looked like they had strayed from Monument Valley.
All of the land in the lower half of Utah is spectacular beyond words.
Views on the Bicentennial Highway (US-95).
Hanksville is home to about 250 people, and its two gas stations, restaurants and motels are all clustered around the intersection of US-24 and US-95. Most of the back streets in town are dirt. We went exploring and came across the ruins of an old stone homestead. We learned later that this is part of the Giles Ghost Town.
Someone put some care into building this solid home.
Those stone walls were pretty thick!
This is part of the Giles Ghost Town
All around the area there were lots of exotic rock formations. Some formed beautiful patterns…
And others made recognizable shapes!
We’ll be in this area for another week, improving our photography by day and fending off sub-freezing temps by night!
March 2019 – Our new little RZR adventure buggy has been giving us loads of fun in the Arizona desert, introducing us to lots of pretty places and even taking us there in the pre-dawn hours so we can catch the sunrise as it happens.
From lakes to streams to riverbeds and washes we’ve been seeing lots of new and beautiful places.
Ticket to great rides.
Desert meets water.
Where the Agua Fria River (“Cold Water River”) became a manmade lake.
The triple towing is working out well, and we’ll have an article on that soon as we gather more photos. It is quite a train!
It’s not fully hitched up in this pic, but this is The Train!
Arizona has seen some crazy weather this winter with a huge snowstorm blowing through last week. Before the snow arrived we caught a glimpse of the full moon balanced on a cactus.
A cactus catches the full moon as it sets.
But dark clouds and a rainbow in the distance signaled the storm that was to come. That evening’s sunset was out of this world!
Rainbow and storm clouds over Pleasant Harbor.
A wild sunset before the storm.
The next morning there was snow on the mountains. Kids in the Phoenix schools had enough snow to make snowballs, and the mountains looked a lot more like Montana than Arizona!
Is this the Arizona desert or somewhere far north?
Snow on the mountains behind Scorpion Bay Marina
Lots of rain and a little snowmelt up north made the water level in Lake Pleasant begin to rise. What a surprise it was when we headed down one road and found the tide coming in!
The lake got so full it began to cover the roads!
One sunny warm day we took the RZR down Castle Hot Springs Road. This is a dirt road that goes off into remote parts of the Sonoran Desert between northwestern Phoenix and Wickenburg.
A spur off of Castle Hot Springs Road
This road can be driven with a regular passenger car, but it was especially fun in the open air RZR. The road heads past some beautiful craggy mountainsides that are covered with saguaro cacti. Just magnificent!
Beautiful desert scenery
Wild burros live out this way, and we saw a small group watching us closely when we hiked into the brush a ways.
They wandered around but kept an eye on us as we approached them.
They weren’t sure what to make of Buddy, but when they’d decided he was close enough one gave chase and he ran as fast as his little legs could carry him.
Buddy loves to be chased and he was grinning ear to ear.
15 years ago, before we started RVing full-time we drove this same road in a car and stopped at the boarded up Castle Hot Springs resort to look around.
Castle Hot Springs first opened in 1896 for city folk and out of state visitors who wanted a genuine taste of the Sonoran Desert in a very remote setting. It was a high end resort and the owners had planted rows of Mexican palm trees all around it.
Castle Hot Springs Road was under water in places, but it wasn’t too deep.
When we visited all those years ago the resort had been closed for quite some time. The palm trees were still tall and healthy and standing in rows, but the buildings were a little worse for wear. It seemed such a shame that a beautiful property like that would be left to disintegrate in the hot Arizona sun.
Well, much to our surprise, someone has bought it and is doing an unbelievable renovation. The whole thing is now enclosed behind a solid rock wall and an elegant front gate.
Castle Hot Springs has been purchased and is in the last stages of an enormous renovation.
Castle Hot Springs was first opened in 1896
There is a lush green lawn and we could see the main lodge in the distance. It was a little funny to be blocked from accessing the building, because we had wandered all over the property before and remembered that yellow building well.
Lush green lawns and elegant buildings.
The palm trees look fantastic and there is a sparkling swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs and colorful umbrellas. Amazing!
The rows of palm trees were as beautiful as ever.
There’s a gorgeous pool back there.
A guard at the gate told us the property was purchased by the owner of Sun State Equipment, a construction equipment rental company. Just the right folks to buy a property that needed an overhaul!
And the price per night to stay here… Well… For the budget conscious there are rooms in the less fancy dwellings for $800 a night. If you aren’t so concerned about expenses, the upscale rooms go for $1,200 a night.
Rooms are $800 to $1,200 a night, meals, guided hikes and other activities included.
The old barn is being turned into a restaurant. Construction on that hasn’t really started, but when it opens it will be open to the public. So, if you have a RZR (yes!) or if you don’t mind a long bumpy ride on a dirt road, you’ll be able to get a taste of the good life in the restaurant!
Of course, some guests come in by helicopter.
We got so busy in our conversation with the guard that we didn’t notice Buddy had already found his own way in. He stood on the other side of the gate staring at us as if to say, “What are you waiting for? Come on in!”
“Never mind that guard. Let’s check out the resort!”
Unfortunately, without a room reservation we couldn’t get past the gate. So we jumped back in the RZR and continued on.
As we rode along we noticed a huge wash alongside the road. Curious, we just had to get out and explore. There was a trickle of water running in the middle of the wash and we saw some little footprints in the mud.
We traipsed down this wash for a while.
Footprints from something that is probably very cute!
We loved the patterns the mud made as it flowed over the pebbles. It looked a lot like chocolate covered nuts of some kind!
Mud…or chocolate covered nuts?
Back at Lake Pleasant we caught a few beautiful sunsets. The sky and water were filled with pastel shades.
We captured a few sunrises too, and they were worth getting out of bed and going hiking for!
Mark sets up a photo while Buddy looks back at me.
Definitely worth rising early and hiking in the dark!
Our campsite looks a bit different now with our new addition!
We had decided to triple tow the RZR on a small 5′ x 10′ utility trailer behind our fifth wheel trailer, and we were very uncertain how this arrangement would work out.
So, we were absolutely thrilled when we did our first 125 mile trip across the north edge of Phoenix, including a stop at an RV dump station in a fairly tight gas station, and found it went really smoothly!
The little RZR is our ticket to new thrills!
A new perspective.
Our biggest concern had been how this train of truck + 5th wheel trailer + utility trailer would handle in tight spaces. We do a lot more U-turns in our traveling lifestyle than we’d care to admit, and being able to reverse direction without becoming a bull in a china shop is important!
It turns out that because the utility trailer is really narrow — five feet wide as compared to the fifth wheel’s eight foot width — its wheels take a wider turning arc than those on the fifth wheel. What a surprise!
When we were maneuvering in the tight spaces of the gas station to get to the RV dump on the side, we inadvertently rolled the fifth wheel’s tires over a curb.
We expected to feel a second thump-bump of the utility trailer’s wheels going over the curb too, but when we watched the trailer behind us, it scooted smartly around the corner and stayed in the road the whole time with a few inches to spare.
Mark loves old windmills so we always stop to get pics of them!
Once we got our train detached and set up in a campsite, we started taking the RZR out on excursions. What a blast that little buggy is!
We have camped at Roosevelt Lake many times over the years, and have always wondered what lay in the distant mountains and valleys around the lake. Now we could get on the trails and find out.
Where the desert meets the water at Roosevelt Lake.
A ribbon of road…
There are quite a few dirt roads and 4×4 trails that head off into the hills, and we explored a lot of them.
Some we could have driven in the truck, and some we could have mountain biked, but most would have been impossible for either our truck or bikes.
Late afternoon glow on the saguaro cacti high above the lake.
After a little off-road riding it’s nice to stretch the ol’ legs on a hike!
Cactus and red rocks. What a combo!
It was satisfying to go down roads we couldn’t have accessed without the RZR. That is why we bought it, after all!
In a few places we came to trailheads. Some were sections of the cross-state Arizona Trail. It was neat to be able to hop out of the RZR and go do a couple miles of hiking without seeing a soul around.
Even though it was late January to early February, some of the higher elevation hillsides were covered with desert poppies. We also saw a few lupine blooming here and there! I don’t quite understand why the desert poppies would bloom at high elevations in January and at lower elevations in March, but Nature has its mysteries.
We were very surprised to find some higher elevation hillsides covered with desert poppies.
There were lupine too!
Some trails just petered out after a while, but one day we traveled deep into Tonto National Forest on a series of trails that seemed to go on forever. We passed a homestead and crossed quite a few cattle boundaries, opening cattle gates to let ourselves through and closing them behind us as instructed by signs on the gates.
In a few spots we saw cows and calves. We weren’t too excited about them, but Buddy perked right up and watched them closely.
At one point we looked up on a berm and there was a wild horse staring at us. Buddy dashed up the berm to touch noses with it and then he bolted back down again.
“Hey little fella, come back here!” Buddy ran back down the hill after saying hello to the wild horse.
They had the familiar fuzzy faces that the wild horses of this area have, and they had no shoes on their feet.
Their unusual calmness in our presence made us wonder if someone had been feeding them or working with them in some way. Their manes and tails weren’t covered with burrs the way many wild horses are, and they seemed to be well fed, no doubt due to the lush green grasses covering all the hillsides!
Classic — A wild horse standing between a saguaro cactus and an old cactus skeleton.
How cool to head into the National Forest and come across these special horses!
His friend struck a pose too…
We had a blast every time we went out for a ride. It seems that this RZR thing is going to be a lot of fun!
Room to roam.
What a view!
The funny thing, though, is that sometimes the most dramatic and beautiful things in life are those things that come to you on their own rather than you hunting them down in a RZR!
One day we went to the nearby town of Globe to do laundry and other errands. We decided not to pack our cameras because, well, what is there to take photos of on errand day at the laundromat? Besides, it was pouring pitchforks and we knew we were in for an all-day rain.
On our way back we noticed the sun peaking out of the clouds once in a while. Then suddenly we saw the most enormous rainbow crossing the entire hilly desert landscape alongside the truck.
OMG! Why didn’t we have our cameras?
It was a 30 mile drive to get back to the campground, and the rainbow followed us the entire way, its little pot of gold moving across the desert right below it just as fast as we were driving. At times there was a double rainbow!
We couldn’t believe we were seeing this stunning spectacle with no way to photograph it, but we resigned ourselves to just enjoying the rainbow out the window and imagining the photos we would have taken in this spot and in that spot.
The shock, though, was that the rainbow was visible and with us for the entire 30 mile drive until we pulled into the campground.
Unfortunately, by the time we got back to our campsite, the rainbow was gone. We began unloading the truck, excited but dejected that we had missed this incredible rainbow photo-op.
Suddenly, as we made yet another trip out to the truck to bring in more stuff, we looked up and saw the rainblow forming in the distance. We both dove for our cameras and began snapping like mad. The rainbow’s colors intensified until we were both exclaiming that we had never seen a rainbow so bright!
The colors were so vivid that they reflected across the water even though the surface of the lake was slightly ruffled by a soft breeze.
We ran along the shoreline trying to find the best vantage point, and the rainbow just kept on glowing. We were astonished and elated.
That night the rain came down in buckets on our trailer. We woke the next morning to black clouds and more rain. No problem. Mark baked banana bread and life was good and toasty warm.
Late that afternoon the skies cleared and the sun came out for a little while. And then we had a repeat of the day before as a rainbow formed in the distance.
A rainbow peeks out from beneath the storm clouds in the distance.
The sun played hide-and-seek with the clouds, and the land brightened and darkened as the clouds frothed overhead.
The sun lit the foreground for a moment.
A dark shadow formed in the sky but the rainbow was still visible underneath. How wonderful!
A distinct shadow appeared in the sky above the rainbow.
What a thrill this was, and what a great surprise.
The days of rain eventually stopped, and although that was the end of the rainbows, the churning skies gave us some fabulous clouds that produced brilliant sunsets over the next few days.
A glorious Arizona sunset.
Then one morning the sky was perfectly clear as the sun crested the horizon, and with that the celestial show was over for a while.
A new day begins.
We never know what to expect when we get up each day. Sometimes we go looking for adventure — and the RZR is proving to be a great way to get there — but sometimes the adventure finds us!
Just outside of Bryce Canyon is one of our favorite places, Red Canyon. We love the hiking trails there. What fun it was to see its two tunnels through the red rocks decorated in snow!
Red Canyon has two charming tunnels in the red rocks – and in winter they have snow!
The area around Bryce Canyon was beautiful in its winter finery, and we got a huge kick out of driving the scenic roads and seeing familiar red rock formations peeking out from beneath a layer of snow.
A glimpse of the edge of Red Canyon across a wintry landscape.
Bryce-like rock formations peered out from the mountains a few miles from the actual Canyon.
Red rock country makes for wonderful scenic drive in summer, but how beautiful to see it with snow!
The valleys near Bryce Canyon stood silent in their winter slumber save for a few homesteads here and there.
The quiet life.
As we descended out of the high 8,000′ plateau where Bryce Canyon is situated, we said goodbye to the snow one last time.
Buddy loved the snow, but it was time to leave it behind.
The wonderfully scenic US-89 passes through spectacular red rock landscapes as it approaches and then leaves Kanab, Utah, and we reminisced as we passed the turn-off for the incomparable Wire Pass Slot Canyon hike and the charming Toadstools Hike, both barely noted with small brown signs on the highway.
And then we were suddenly immersed in the beauty of Glen Canyon. This exquisite canyon was carved by the relentless flow of the Colorado River which has sculpted the surrounding colorful sandstone into a myriad of shapes.
Late afternoon at Glen Canyon.
The Colorado River was dammed here to form Lake Powell, and the vivid blue of the lake set against the towering stone cliffs was jaw-dropping in the morning sun.
Lake Powell is the centerpiece of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
We drove down to the beach to get a little closer to the water.
The stone monoliths towered on the other side of the small cove. What an exotic landscape!
This is a fabulous spot for photography!
There is a marina, hotel and restaurant complex on the shore at Lake Powell, and we could see the marina docks in the distance. The air became a little hazy as the day wore on, but the deep crimson red rocks were just stunning!
The distant red rocks were a deep crimson!
A group of houseboats anchored in the bay looked very inviting. We told each other we’ll have to do an overnight in one someday. A concessionaire for the National Park Service rents them out!!
Houseboats anchored in the bay. What a fun excursion that would be!
This guy loved the beach!
The eye-popping Horseshoe Bend Overlook is a little bit south of Lake Powell, and although we’ve visited before (blog post here), we couldn’t drive through the area without stopping in to take another look.
We were shocked when we arrived to see that massive construction is underway in the parking lot and on the hill between the parking lot and the overlook to make it easier to support the enormous crowds of tourists that flock here every hour of every day.
What used to be a small parking lot will soon be at least four times bigger. A slew of vault toilets have been installed, and it looks like a road is going in to take tourists right to the rim.
Right now visitors still walk straight up over the berm on a dirt path to the overlook. The new road will go around the berm on the south side. It’s not clear whether walkers or motorized vehicles or both will use the road, perhaps only tour buses. We were also quite astonished to see a railing protecting part of the rim now as well. Now, anyone who is unnerved by standing on the edge of a several thousand foot drop can stand by the railing with confidence.
The rocks near the edge of the overlook have fantastic markings.
Most of the rim is still wide open and easily explored, however, and plenty of crazy people were doing their selfie stunts just inches from a lethal fall (a girl fell off and died over Christmas this year). But it was the beautiful lines and patterns in the rocks at our feet that really caught our attention.
This is a special little gem of a spot.
A fish-eye view catches the wake of a boat cruising by on the river below!
Whereas Horseshoe Bend is busy busy busy and a true jaw-dropper to boot, a nearby scenic overlook at Glen Canyon Dam is fully developed for people to explore but had no visitors but us when we stopped by one morning.
The Colorado River is visible four thousand feet below — just as it is at Horseshoe Bend a few miles away — and the rust colored canyon walls are incredibly sheer.
The Glen Canyon Dam Scenic Overlook was beautiful and dramatic — and we were the only ones there!
We just loved the lines in the rocks and the infinite variety of patterns they create.
Such wonderful lines in the rocks!
It is a kid’s paradise for running around on the rocks.
These rocks are very cool to climb on.
Mark won a photo contest with this unique photo of a strong gust of wind blowing on Buddy!
Glen Canyon Dam is a short distance away tucked between massive cliffs!
To get a sense of scale, notice Mark in the upper right corner taking a photo of the dam!
Meanwhile, storms brewed above the mesas and mountains on the horizon.
Storm clouds gathered.
This whole part of Canyon Country between Bryce Canyon, Utah, and Page, Arizona, is exquisite, and is truly a delight for photography. We were up with the chickens one morning to see if we could capture something special down at Lake Powell. And sure enough, the sun gave us a show to remember!
When we first arrived at the shore at dawn, the sky and water took on shades of purple and magenta.
The sunrise was brilliant, but even as the sun made its appearance on one horizon, storm clouds were forming on the other. We loved the contrast of light and dark.
The day awakens.
As the sun cast its last glow across the land before giving in to the coming storm, it lit the horizon’s classic southwestern horizon of mesas and rock pinnacles.
While the sun rose on one side the storm clouds grew darker on the other.
What a beautiful way to end our quick trip through Canyon Country to see the Best of the West under snow!
Before long we were back in our trailer in Phoenix getting ready to head out with our new RZR and try our new triple-towing adventures. But this week-long interlude at some of America’s most beautiful places in mid-winter is a trip we will remember forever.
Bryce Canyon has been among our favorite National Parks since we first saw it while tent camping nearly fifteen years ago, and we have visited many times since we started traveling full-time in an RV. But we had never seen it with snow. What a fabulous opportunity this was!
Bryce Canyon is spectacular when blanketed with snow!
Since we were dressed for cold weather and ready to romp in the snow, this was the perfect time to trek another 285 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon around the east end of that great chasm and then northwards to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Buddy loves the snow — and so do I (in small doses in scenic places!)
Of course, the problem with blizzards is that things tend to shut down due to the snow.
So, we were totally shocked (but shouldn’t have been) when we started heading east on AZ Route 64 on the way to Bryce Canyon and found that it was closed!! Argh!! Now the only way to get to Bryce was to go SOUTH back down to Flagstaff and then north on US-89, adding about 80 miles to our trip.
Well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do when chasing beautiful scenery in unique conditions. So off we went to Bryce via Flagstaff!
Bryce Canyon is stunning all year long, but what a place it is when laced with fresh snow!
Snow and red rock pinnacles right to the horizon!!
The only overlooks that were officially open were Sunrise Point and Sunset Point (interestingly, both of those overlooks face east, so the names don’t really relate to sunrises or sunsets!).
Luckily for us, the parking area at Inspiration Point had been plowed too, and eager visitors had trampled a narrow trail through the deep snow to the incomparable views along the rim there.
The view at Inspiration Point
Bryce Canyon National Park is a fairy tale land of charming red rock turrets and castles nestled into a vast amphitheater that makes for jaw dropping images at any time of year. Now, in mid-January, the red rock spires peeked out from under a blanket of fresh snow.
Looking down into the depths between the spires.
A magical walk along the rim!
The views at Sunset Point were spectacular as the sun began to cast deep shadows across the landscape.
A limber pine looks out at the Canyon at Sunset Point.
All three overlooks — Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point and Sunset Point — were connected by a narrow trail that had been made by boots in the snow. We wandered between the overlooks, snapping photos with almost every step.
Late afternoon shadows at Sunset Point.
Over the years, Rubys Inn, located 3 miles from the Park entrance, has grown from a small hotel and restaurant to a sprawling complex that now includes several motel buildings, a huge restaurant, a massive RV park, an expansive gift shop, a grocery store and a tiny US Post Office.
In the past we’ve stopped at Rubys Inn to relax in its beautiful hotel lobby, explore the gift shop and grocery store and do laundry at the laundromat, but on this trip we stayed in the Lakeside motel building which is pet friendly.
Icicles hang from the roof at Rubys Inn.
Buddy was absolutely loving the snow, and each morning we went for a fast paced run in the powder out behind Rubys Inn between the snowed-in RV campsites.
Buddy loved sprinting through the snow and then eating it!
All the trees in the woods around Bryce Canyon and Rubys Inn were heavily laden with snow, and the air was so crisp it felt brittle and harsh on our cheeks.
The trails around Rubys Inn were delightful. Some folks rented snowshoes.
Rubys Inn had a few big pull-through RV campsites in the center of the complex that were open to campers even now, but we saw only one pair of hardy souls camping in this bitter cold. They were in a truck camper, and they explained to us that Rubys Inn has full hookups in the summertime but at this time of year there are only electric hookups so no one has to worry about freezing pipes.
There is a shower building with hot showers, and of course the restaurant offers a full buffet breakfast everyday that is so filling you won’t need lunch and might even want to skip dinner!
Campsites were available at Rubys Inn (electric only) and they even had some very hardy customers!
In the National Park one loop of the North Campground was open for dry camping too. We were impressed to see a van, but were frankly quite shocked to see two guys setting up a tent and then to see another tent already set up and waiting for its owners to return from their hike!
The nights were in the single digits…!
Out on the trails the days warmed up to 33 degrees each day we were there.
And the snow was deep!!
Buddy isn’t very tall, but still, this is deep snow!!
And each time we walked out on the rim our jaws dropped yet again. Bryce Canyon is such a unique and special landscape. To see it with snow is a divine treat!
These were the views we had driven all those miles to see.
Several of the trails that go down into the Bryce Canyon amphitheater had been cleared by the boots of eager hikers.
Hiking the trails was a lot of fun!
Hikers on the trails below us showed the scale of this place!!
The white snow made the perfect backdrop to show the diminutive size of the hikers in comparison to the red rock spires that surrounded them in the Canyon.
Two hikers approach an overlook on Queen’s Garden Trail below Sunrise Point.
Hikers on the Navajo Loop Trail.
We walked down the Navajo Loop Trail a ways. It was steep in places, and we were grateful for the railings at the beginning of the trail because it was pretty slippery on the ice there!
What a view!
A moment to remember!
Hikers were having fun getting selfies, but not every spot was a great place to stand!
We noticed that the Park Service had posted a few signs warning the most daring selfie-takers not to venture out on the puffy snow in places where there might not be much support underneath!
“Do not enter!”
As we progressed down the Navajo Loop Trail we felt that familiar sense of inspiration and awe that always envelops us as the red rock spires rise up around us at Bryce.
Hikers on an upper switchback.
The turrets rose around us as we descended.
The soft white snow, red rocks and blue sky were a perfect complement to each other in every view.
As we ventured out on the rim and wandered down the trails we were so glad we had made the long drive from Phoenix via the Grand Canyon to see Bryce Canyon dressed in the white lace of winter.
A blanket of fresh snow…
Bryce Canyon National Park is a knockout at any time of year — definitely one of the most spectacular places in North America — but how special it was to see it blanketed with snow on these bright and sunny January days!
During our stay, the moon rose bright and full over the canyon. I made a point to be at the Canyon rim for moonrise late one afternoon. I had visions in my head of photographing a huge round moon rising up from behind the distant mountains and glowing across the canyon.
I got to Sunrise Point fifteen minutes before moonrise and stood there full of hope for the next hour. But the moon didn’t make it to her appointment!
I finally left, totally discouraged and frozen to the bone. Dejected, I took Buddy for a walk in the woods behind Rubys Inn just after sunset. As we rounded a corner I suddenly saw the moon’s bright white face between the trees.
What the heck?! When did it rise? How did I miss it?
I kicked myself all that night and into the next morning, thinking that I had missed the most beautiful imagineable moonrise over Bryce Canyon because I had given up too easily and left too soon.
The next morning Mark and I were both up at oh-dark-thirty to catch the sunrise over Bryce Canyon. It was a mere 12 degrees Fahrenheit as we hiked out to find our own spots at Sunset Point. As I got set up, I chatted with another photographer who was walking by me about how sad I was to have missed the moonrise the night before.
“Oh! You didn’t miss anything. The moon was covered by clouds at the horizon when it was rising!” he told me. He’d been out on Queen’s Garden Trail and hadn’t seen it between the spires until an hour after it’s rising time either.
Phew!! That made sense! What a relief that I hadn’t blown a once in a lifetime opportunity after all. The moon had simply decided not to show up at the appointed time and instead hid behind a bank of hazy blueish-grayish clouds for an hour!
Mark and I headed to two different spots along Sunset Point for the sunrise. As the moment got closer, more and more cars showed up in the parking lot. I looked out along the rim and noticed several other eager photographers standing faithfully behind their tripods waiting for Nature to unleash her wonders.
The snow glowed pink and orange at dawn.
We all wanted that magical moment of a sunny starburst spreading rays of sunshine across the Canyon. And we all worried it was going to be a dud as the horizon got brighter and brighter yet nothing happened. After missing out on the moon, I began to prepare myself to be heartbroken for missing out on the sunrise starburst too.
But suddenly as I stared at the image on the back of my camera I saw the faint rays of a starburst beginning. I clicked the shutter repeatedly, and with immense satisfaction I watched the starburst grow and grow.
A few hundred yards away Mark was having the same experience. After it seemed like nothing would happen, the sun suddenly reached across the canyon while the calls of ravens in the distance welcomed a new day. How beautiful.
What a blessing to be alive and to be out here at this moment!
As we hiked back to the truck, we compared notes with other photographers who were walking back too. One fellow told us he’d been hiking with a guy the day before who had been coming to Bryce Canyon National Park every winter for the last 40 years, and he’d said he had never seen the snow as deep and thick as it was this year.
Blessing upon blessing!
We had rushed out of the Sonoran Desert on a wing and a prayer because we’d seen three days of snow predicted for Canyon Country. Little did we know that we would be hitting Bryce Canyon when it had more snow than it had seen in many years!
If you have a chance to get to Bryce Canyon during or after a snowstorm, jump on the opportunity. Even if the moon or sun plays games with you, you won’t be disappointed!!
January 2019 – Even though we have a new Polaris RZR waiting to take us on lots of exciting back road adventures, we’ve had a hankering to do a National ParksSnowstorm Tour for several years now. Our snowy day trip to Jerome a few weeks ago further whetted our appetites, so this week when a blizzard was predicted for the Grand Canyon, we hit the road!
Grand Canyon National Park is a Winter Wonderland when it snows!
We drove up from Phoenix to Flagstaff, Arizona, and when we got there we had to laugh at all the signs by the road advertising hats and gloves. Desert dwellers love to go to Flagstaff to see snow in the wintertime, and sometimes they forget their winter duds (or don’t even own any!).
Snow had been in the forecast for Grand Canyon, but we saw only dustings and flurries until we climbed the last few miles to Grand Canyon’s South Rim about 75 miles north of Flagstaff. Then it began to snow hard, as it had been doing there for the last 24 hours.
It was a little difficult to tell what was where under all the snow!
Things looked a little different at the Grand Canyon than we’re used to seeing !
But much to our surprise, despite the snow, Grand Canyon National Park was hopping. Cars zipped here and there, the shuttle buses from the hotels to the rim were packed, and as usual, the languages we heard around us were from all over the world.
Exhilarated, we bundled up and hustled out to the closest overlook we could find on the Rim Trail.
There was a lot of snow, but we were ready for it!
What a shock it was to find that fog filled the entire Grand Canyon! We could barely see from one overlook to the next, never mind across the whole Grand Canyon to the other side 10 miles away.
Fog filled the Canyon and even obscured one viewpoint from the next!
Nevertheless, tourists slipped and slid down the icy trails and out onto the overlooks to see what they could see — which was nothing!
Tourists filled the overlooks even though there was nothing to see!
Despite the lack of a real Grand Canyon view, the fresh snow was beautiful and gave the Canyon a mystique we don’t often see.
Fresh snow, fog and mist gave the Grand Canyon a special beauty.
The fog blew in and out and the snow began to fall harder and harder. A woman standing next to me wondered why I was hanging over the edge taking photos.
A photographer takes photos of…fog?
This was her first trip to the Grand Canyon, and although the snow and mist was lovely, she was really disappointed not to see the real view. “What does it usually look like?” She asked forlornly.
When you’ve come all the way to the Grand Canyon, you’ve gotta get out on an overlook, even if there’s nothing to see!
Usually this tree has a great view!
If only she’d been able to stay another day. When we got to the rim the next day, the snow had stopped falling and sunlight had begun to shine through.
The sun came out and cast shadows across the Rim Trail.
And what an appearance it made. The light show across the canyon was spectacular!
The sun and clouds chased each other across the Grand Canyon.
What a glorious light show!
We were blown away, and so was everyone else. A crowd began to form, and the usual dance of tourist antics and selfies began.
Word got out that the Canyon was on display again, and the tourists lined up!
Embracing the view.
This Aussie/American couple was narrating a video about visiting the Grand Canyon in a snowstorm.
We were mesmerized watching the light and shadows chasing each other through the billowing curtains of mist and fog.
Meanwhile the light show went on.
Puffs of misty clouds swept by.
The Grand Canyon is magical at any time of year, but this was a special moment.
Everyone was taking selfies and handing their cameras around, so we joined right in and did the same.
We joined the selfie mania. Why not?!
Buddy loved the view and being part of the view too! Fortunately for him, leashed pets are allowed on the trails above the rim.
Most of the Grand Canyon overlooks were closed because the road to them hadn’t been plowed. The whole drive to Hermit’s Rest on the west side of the South Rim was closed and the road to Desert View on the east side was closed as well.
The canyon walls in that crack are thousands of feet high!
So, everyone stayed on the Rim Trail and visited just one or two viewpoints. The funny thing is that even though the total number of tourists at the Grand Canyon was a tiny fraction of what you’d see midsummer, because we were all concentrated in one small area it was still packed!
But it didn’t matter and the makeshift nature of things kind of added to the fun. This was a very special moment to be in this place, and everyone was thrilled to be here.
We all knew the sun would last for only a short while this afternoon because more snow was on its way. So the mood was almost giddy.
What a view!
We had buzzed up from Phoenix in our truck and left our fifth wheel trailer behind. Even though the trailer camground was open at Grand Canyon and we saw some rigs with snow on their roofs, we’d decided to take a vacation from our vacation and stay in a hotel.
The fantastic thing about the Grand Canyon in the wintertime is that a lot of folks cancel at the last minute when they see snow in the forecast. So rooms were available for 50 cents on the dollar.
If you’re in Arizona for the winter and you want to see something very special, watch the weather forecast at the Grand Canyon and head there when the snow falls!
Next time you see snow in the forecast for the Grand Canyon, go for it!
January 2019 – Most people come to the Arizona desert in January to get out of the snow and ice and enjoy some balmy weather. But when snow and ice blew into central Arizona on New Year’s Eve this week, we jumped at the chance to get out on New Year’s Day to enjoy the fluffy white stuff while it lasted.
We drove north on I-17 to see the snow!
We headed north on I-17 which takes travelers from the Sonoran Desert in Phoenix at about 1,200′ elevation to the ponderosa pine forests of Flagstaff at about 7,500′ elevation in just two hours of highway driving. Not far from the northern boundaries of Phoenix we began seeing patches of snow along the highway.
The rocks on the side of the highway were all capped in snow.
Snow had collected on the rock formations and in the forests by the side of the highway as we climbed higher and higher in elevation.
Soon we saw woods filled with snow-covered trees.
Our goal had just been to go see some snow, but we soon realized our afternoon New Year’s snow drive needed a destination.
We wanted to see a quaint town full of holiday cheer along with ice and snow, so we cut off from I-70 onto Route 260 and 89A to go to the historic copper mining town of Jerome.
Rounding the first switchback on our way up Mingus Mountain to Jerome.
Jerome is perched halfway up towering Mingus Mountain, and it clings to the hillside with tenacity as it looks out over the valley below. The views are vast, and when we arrived storm clouds and golden sunlight were taking turns shading and lighting the valley.
Light and shadow played hide and seek across the valley.
The town was built along several steep switchbacks in the road that crosses Mingus Mountain, and houses and shops stand at several different levels on the mountain road. A few staircases take shortcuts between each level, leading from one road up to the next.
The town of Jerome is multi-leveled and has lots of stairways.
Jerome is something of a rediscovered ghost town, and there are ghostly themes all over the place. We noticed a skeleton was about to join a family eating outside on a restaurant deck.
Dinner with a view — and a surprise guest!
Another skeleton was climbing the sign at the Haunted Hamburger.
Jerome is a really popular destination in the summertime because it is an easy drive from baking hot Phoenix, and the temps are cool and refreshing because it lies halfway up a tall mountain. But it makes a delightful wintertime destination too, especially around the holidays. Christmas decorations were everywhere.
If you don’t feel the Christmas spirit in the warm desert, come to Jerome for real icicles and ornaments.
What could be better than this after a cold walk in Jerome on a wintry day?
Walking the streets of Jerome, we saw beautiful views across the valley. The red rocks of Sedona were nearby, and they lit up in the distance as the sun began to sink lower in the sky.
The red rocks of Sedona glowed in the distance.
All the buildings were covered with a layer of snow, which made for a fun change of scenery after weeks in the dusty dry deserts of New Mexico and Arizona.
The views went on forever and were especially lovely as the sun went down.
We followed the switchbacks to the top of town.
The streets were quiet, and the town was as quaint as can be!
The Jerome Grand Hotel stood proudly overlooking the valley.
The Jerome Grand Hotel is haunted.
Inside the lobby of the Jerome Grand Hotel we read some of the guests’ hand written ghost stories that have been collected in a notebook. All kinds of things go bump in the night at this hotel, and visitors have some hair raising tales to tell. Just ask the person at the front desk if you can see the guestbook of stories about this haunted hotel!
We read a few of the guests’ ghost stories…sleep with one eye open if you stay here!
The sun set in pastel shades of peach and pink and blue as we walked back down into town.
We’ve loved Jerome at warmer times of year, but the snow and cold gave it a special kind of intimacy.
Pink and blue sunset.
As we made our way back to the parking area at the bottom of town we saw lots of Christmas lights on the houses.
Christmas lights came on all over town — very pretty!
All the trees in the small town park were decorated with lights, but it was the lights on the ground blinking under the snow that caught our attention.
In the town park Christmas lights blinked under the snow!
Jerome is a cute town and a lovely spot to for a change of pace from the desert, especially during the holidays when it snows!
When we rang in 2018 on New Year’s Day last year, we had been traveling full-time for over ten years, and our traveling lifestyle and methods were a well oiled machine. We had lots more travel adventures planned for the future, but we figured they’d be similar to what we’ve been doing for over a decade involving two people, several cameras, a bunch of lenses and a rolling or floating home.
And then we unexpectedly became the owners of a puppy, and our lives were turned upside down!
2018 RV travels – The Year of the Dog!
We didn’t know at the time that in the Chinese calendar 2018 was the Year of the Dog, but we soon discovered that in our own personal calendar that’s exactly what was going on!
Our sweet little puppy, Buddy, stole our hearts. He also stole a bunch of our living space and a lot of our time, but we were happy to give those things up because he was so dear.
Buddy goes from Pound Puppy to Travel Pup!
Suddenly, we were emptying our shelves and closets to make room for bags of dog food. In no time at all we’d acquired 100 lbs. of dog food to feed our 20 lb. dog!
And everywhere we turned we were stumbling over little dog toys. Not only did Buddy have an indoor toy box full of toys he’d received from friends and his indulgent owners, but he also had an outdoor toy box full of treasures he’d found on his own during our walks, from balls to sandals to sticks and gloves.
Adorable Puppy Chow with the first toy he found.
Suddenly our time was no longer entirely our own either. Not only did we need to make time for energetic walks with our puppy morning and night and monitor his nature calls, but every so often a little furry face would pop up in front of us wanting to play.
Let’s play tug!
All of this took quite a bit of getting used to, so we began 2018 by sticking around central Arizona and not traveling too far. At Lake Pleasant and Canyon Lake we got into a rhythm of twice daily walks and training sessions to teach Buddy some basic manners. He proved to be an eager and fast learner.
The Dolly Steamboat ride is a fun excursion on Canyon Lake in the Sonoran Desert.
Buddy peeks out of the outhouse at Goldfield Ghost Town.
Buddy was a trooper through all the commotion of endless re-takes in front of the camera, even though he was just a few months old. The producers didn’t give him a speaking role, but there’s no question he was the star of the show.
Utah’s Scenic Byway 24 is one America’s best scenic drives.
Going north from there, we came to the fabulous red rocks of Goblin Valley State Park where crazy hoodoos fill a valley and kids of all ages and furriness love to play.
At Goblin Valley the cliffs were multi-colored and the hoodoos were a hoot.
It was early April, and as we continued our northward progress through Utah we soon encountered snow and ice in the mountains at Strawberry Reservoir. This is a summertime hot spot, but we loved the stillness and peace of the pre-season.
Strawberry Reservoir is a popular summer getaway, but we loved the quiet of the ice and snow.
In the village of Wanship, Utah, we made a turn in town and suddenly found ourselves right in front of Escapod Teardrop Trailers. This small shop turns out terrific, rugged off-road teardrop trailers, and we got an impromptu and inspiring look at a few.
If you want to get off-road in a rugged teardrop trailer, Escapod has a rig for you!
We saw fairytale landscapes in northern Utah after a dusting of spring snow.
Buddy had his first taste of snow and left his little paw prints on our stairs.
Bear Lake, located in the north end of Utah, is known for its inviting vivid blue water and is lovingly nicknamed “The Caribbean of the Rockies.” In mid-April it was way too cold for swimming, but with few campers wanting to brave the wintry air at the water’s edge, we were able to watch the wildlife and enjoy the lake in solitude undisturbed.
A loon shakes out his feathers on Bear Lake in Utah.
Bear Lake, Utah.
It was cold at Bear Lake in Spring, but it was wonderfully quiet too.
We headed north and east for a while along wonderful back roads in Wyoming. Winter wasn’t exactly over in this neck of the woods, and as we climbed over mountain passes storms threatened.
The Wyoming mountain passes were a little forbidding.
When we pointed our trailer west again, we found sunshine at lovely Keyhole Reservoir where Buddy posed amid the evergreens and craggy rocks. Mark snapped a pic of him that won a small jackpot in a photo contest a few months later!
Buddy is faster than a speeding bullet and leaps tall bushes with a single bound… At a quieter and more statuesque moment, Mark took this image and won a photo contest!
Glacier Park Lodge at Many Glacier on the east side of Glacier National Park.
What a spot!
It was early June and the Going to the Sun Road was still closed because of icy and avalanche conditions at the peak of Logan Pass. So, we drove, walked and wandered all around the eastern parts of Glacier National Park, especially spectacular Many Glacier, and we took endless photos of wildflowers in front of a snowcapped mountain backdrop.
Wildflowers and snowcapped mountains are a great combo!
Our original goal for the year had been to visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan over the summer, so we began moving east and a bit south with an eventual arrival there in mind. We visited tiny Choteau, Great Falls and Harlowton in Montana. On the way we were surprised to find ourselves near an Amish community when we turned at Eddie’s Corner.
We came across an Amish community in rural Montana.
We love small towns, and the town of Red Lodge, Montana, charmed us with its main street full of cute shops and bistros. Buddy was particularly fond of the store, “Lewis and Bark’s Outpost.”
The canine explorers that were left out of the history books: Lewis and Bark.
Red Lodge sits at one end of the jaw-dropping Beartooth Scenic Highway, and we drove it several times. Our mouths hung open in awe every single time. It was mid-June and the vast mountain-scapes were still covered with beautiful patterns of snow.
The Beartooth Scenic Highway is stunning.
If you don’t mind cold nights, early Spring is an incredible time to drive the Beartooth Highway.
The Beartooth Scenic Highway is another of those “must do” trips for all RVers, and seeing it before the snow melts is wonderful.
By now we were pretty used to having a dog in our lives. Oddly, it seemed as though Buddy had always been with us, and whenever we’d chat about memories of different places we’d have to remind ourselves he hadn’t been with us then. So strange! It seemed only natural now to have all three of us together all the time and for me to look over and see his fuzzy face next to Mark’s in the truck.
We were getting used to having a canine companion.
The Beartooth Scenic Highway crosses from Montana into Wyoming, and from there the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway branches off. This is yet another “must do” for RVers (we were so lucky to hit so many “must do” spots in 2018).
We drove the exquisite Chief Joseph Scenic Highway several times, and in our explorations we came across groves of wildflowers that were like nothing we’d ever seen. Flowers of every color were in the peak of bloom. It was a photographer’s dream.
The wildflowers on Chief Joseph Highway were the best we’ve ever seen.
The views on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway were dramatic as the road climbed and fell and swooped around the mountains. One morning we got up before sunrise so we could catch the pink light at an overlook at dawn.
Cody, Wyoming, brought out the big guns for the 4th of July parade!
After all the cold weather in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana, it was quite a shock to visit Big Horn Canyon which is a lot lower in elevation and very hot in mid-July. But the red rocks were spectacular in the early morning light, ideal for a photo shoot.
Family photography outings became the norm. Buddy loves it when he sees us grab our tripods and head out the door!
Bighorn Canyon lit up beautifully in the early morning light.
In the heat of mid-July we kept looking at the map and the various routes that might take us from Wyoming to Lake Superior, but the temps in those places were scorching. We decided to wait for cooler temps rather than burning our toes hop-scotching across the country. A stop in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains and Lake DeSmet gave us some fun photo ops and a slight respite from the heat.
The greeter they’ve hired at the Visitors Center is the wild bovine kind with big horns and a thick furry neck. What a surprise it was to see him on duty as cars and trucks rolled in and out of the parking area!
The greeter at Roosevelt National Park had hooves and horns!
By now it was mid-September and the temps had cooled sufficiently between our neck of the woods and Lake Superior to make a dash for it. Seeing the leaves changing color at Roosevelt National Park, we worried we might miss the show in Michigan if we didn’t leave soon, so we decided to save that National Park for a future visit and hustled across the top of the country.
At Walker, Minnesota, we pulled into town on the weekend of their Ethnic Festival. This is a town that has a festival every weekend it isn’t snowing — and even a few when it is — so it’s a good one to add to any itinerary since you’ll be swept up in a celelbration no matter when you go.
What fun it was to see and hear real alpen horns being played by two women in Scandinavian garb!
The mellow tones of alpenhorns were a highlight of the Walker, MN, Ethnic Festival.
We finally landed on the shores of Lake Superior at charming little Cornucopia, Wisconsin. Big sailboats and little kayaks bobbed in the water.
Cornucopia, WIsconsin, is a tiny piece of heaven on Lake Superior.
In our new travels-with-dog we’d discovered that dogs are as particular about their friends as people are. Buddy loves dogs his age and size, and even though we’d met hundreds of different dogs all across the country, few were a matching size, age and temperament for a lasting friendship. On the docks of the marina at Cornucopia, Buddy found a soulmate in the resident pup, and they tore all over the place in a rolling heap of happy puppiness.
Lakeshore Drive along Lake Superior is a beautiful scenic drive, and we stopped at all the pretty towns along the way. Bayfield, Wisconsin, was particularly enchanting in the early morning hours of a blustery day. But it was an accidental upside down photo of Buddy reflected in a puddle that stood out for us as a favorite pic from Bayfield.
Buddy in the Sky with DIamonds.
With any new place we travel to, we always arrive with some preconceptions of what it will look like and be like. These usually prove false in one way or another, and the Upper Peninsula shoreline of Lake Superior in Michigan was no exception.
In the waterfront town of Ontonagon we strolled the beach at sunset and got some wonderful photos of the sun setting. This was one of our first Lake Superior shoreside stops in the U.P., and we assumed we’d have afternoons and evenings like that every day for the next few weeks. So, we glanced at our photos and shrugged that we would do so much better in the coming days.
Well, Mother Nature had other plans, and that was the last we saw of sunrises and sunsets for the next few weeks. What a wonderful life lesson was reinforced as we looked back at that evening on the beach: always treasure the moment you are in right now!
Sunset on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We thought we’d have a dozen sunsets like this!
Fall color at Worm Lake, Michigan (Upper Peninsula).
Buddy was loving the lush grass that grows everywhere east of the mountain states, and having a few leaves in the pics added a colorful touch!
This area is known for the little meat pies that were beloved by Cornish miners across the pond a century ago. Yummy “pasties” were sold everywhere in the U.P., and we ate quite a few. It was fun to warm up the cold, damp interior of our trailer by popping one of these meat pies in the oven to heat it up!
At the bottom of Michigan’s U.P., just before crossing into the Lower Peninsula, we took a ferry out to Mackinac Island. This special island never took to motorized vehicle travel, and everything is done by horse and buggy or by bicycle. We had a ball watching the carriages and flat bed trailers being towed down the street by teams of horses.
Macinac Island, Michigan
Down in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan we stopped in at Metamora-Hadley State Park. All of the state park campgrounds in Michigan — and many throughout the midwest — entice folks to go camping even when it’s cold and wet in October by hosting fabulous Halloween events. We arrived on a Sunday morning, and not only was every campsite full but each one was decorated to the hilt with ghosts and goblins and witches and pumpkins.
Halloween is a big deal and a fun time at many midwestern state park campgrounds.
It was mid-October and high time to start dropping south. But first we visited Elkhart, Indiana, and the surrounding towns of Goshen, Shipshewana and Nappanee that are all home to the RV industry manufacturers. This area is fascinating for its long history as the heart and home of all things RV, and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum was a highlight of our stay.
The RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum offers a fascinating glimpse of the RV and Manufactured Home industry.
The antique trailers were fun to see in the museum, but I loved turning the pages of old issues of Trailer Life from 80 years ago.
At that point, as we looked back at our year of travel to date, it felt as though we had made two big journeys — one from Arizona up through Utah into Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota, and a second one along Lake Superior and down through the midwest. It had been an outstanding year, but we were absolutely pooped.
Buddy was affected too. He had loved being in our truck early in our travels and had happily sat between us as we drove. But the weeks of long 150+ mile days in stressful rainy driving conditions on scary busy roads that made our tempers rise each time we got lost (which was about every hour or so), wore on him as well as us. Suddenly, he developed an outright shivering fear of the truck.
We finally slowed down and caught our breath in Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in New Mexico.
By the light of a silvery moon.
Inching our way from New Mexico to Arizona, and driving short distances and staying for a week or two in each spot, we slowly recovered and Buddy grew to like the truck again.
When we arrived in Phoenix he was beside himself with excitement as he saw the people and homes he had known as a young puppy. We were very surprised to find he not only remembered them all but was thrilled to be back.
Before we’d left Arizona the previous winter, Buddy had become best friends with our friend’s pup named Mason. Mason was a rescue dog too. Whereas Buddy had been left in “a box of puppies” at the Animal Welfare League in downtown Phoenix, Mason had been dumped in the desert on Table Mesa Road north of Phoenix as a puppy and left to fend for himself. Somehow he’d survived, despite being an ideal coyote snack, although he was in very tough shape when we was found hiding from the rain under some debris.
He and Buddy took to each other the moment they met last year. It was truly love at first sight — or sniff.
This year, as we drove to a parking spot on the street by Mason’s house, both dogs went crazy before they even saw each other, Mason in his fenced yard (he couldn’t see us arriving!) and Buddy in our truck (he’d only visited a few times last year!). How did they know?
After 8 months apart, the two dogs picked up right where they left off in a happy tussle of fur and paws rolling around with each other and running across the grass.
Buddy became best friends with Mason in the beginning of 2018.
The dynamic duo didn’t miss a beat when they met again at the end of 2018.
Like all travelers, Buddy has learned the wonders of seeing new things and meeting new friends. But he has also learned how heartwarming it is to return to a favorite place and be back with loved ones.
As for us, we have learned that traveling with a dog has its complications, but there’s nothing like living with a little fur person who is absolutely thrilled to jump out of bed each morning and is unabashedly happy to be alive each and every day.
A beautiful sunset filled the sky as we headed west and south.
The first was along I-70 between Indianapolis and St. Louis. Most interstate rest areas are nothing to write home about, but we’ve found a few in our travels that are unique, and such was the case at the Cumberland Road Rest Area in Marshall, Illinois.
Cumberland Road Rest Area in Marshall, Illinois
As we walked towards the building we noticed a small group of people staring at something on the ground right by the entrance door — with smiles on their faces. When we got closer we realized they were all looking at a beautiful black cat.
A small crowd by the entrance was admiring this beautiful black cat.
The cat was just sitting there by the door, blinking slowly in the bright morning sunlight. People were wondering aloud if he was a lost pet or a runaway or if he was waiting for his owner to finish up in the bathroom.
He seemed very calm and quietly sat there blinking in the bright morning sun.
Then a fellow joined the group and explained that as a trucker who had come to the rest area many times before, he knew this beautiful feline.
His name was Ghost, the Rest Area Cat. Just like the trucker, the cat had a regular route, going from one farm house to the next in the area.
But he seemed to like the digs (and mice) at the rest area best, so he hung around the rest area a lot and made friends with the regulars and the transients. His human friends kept a good eye on him, though, and gave him a collar and a very cool nametag.
His nametag says: “Ghost – Rest Area Employee.”
If your travels ever take you on I-70 westbound, stop at the rest area that’s about 10 miles west of Terre Haute and say hello to Ghost!
We got back on the interstate and the scenery buzzed by our windows in a blur. We all got white line fever and the places we drove by all began to blend together.
But a brief stop at Fort Gibson Lake in Oklahoma stood out. This is a popular boating and fishing spot for local sailors and anglers and it’s a lovely spot for photography.
In the midst of enjoying the views, we suddenly heard the whoosh of madly flapping wings and rapidly slapping webbed feet on the water. We looked up to see a huge flock of cormorants flying in from around the point and landing in the bay in front of us.
Wave upon wave of cormorants kept flying around the point and splash landing in the water. We’ve never seen so many cormorants in a single flock.
For at least five minutes the birds kept coming, until the whole bay in front of us was completely filled with birds bobbing in the water.
And then after another vigorous round of splashing and flapping, they flew off and the water became calm again!
Throngs of cormorants flew into the bay. This is just a few of them!
We got off the interstate and traveled on a slew of secondary roads that took us through lots of small towns. As we approached Albany, Texas, we decided to have a look around. What a neat little find this town turned out to be!
We’d crossed a few states since leaving Indiana, but we knew we were in Texas when we saw the big Texas star on the side of a building.
The building turned out to be the Whitney Theater, home of the Dance Theater Company. Albany is a small town in size but it is big into the arts!
The Texas star!
Whitney Theater, home of the Dance Theater Company.
The old jail house in Albany is now a modern art museum with a renowned collection. Outside the Old Jail Art Center there were lots of interesting sculptures. One was “Tex the Roustabout.” He got Buddy’s attention!
The Old Jail House Art Center has a well renowned collection of modern art. Tex the Roustabout stood outside, pipe wrench in hand.
Albany is is the county seat for Shackleford County and has a pretty courthouse.
The county courthouse for Shackleford County is in Albany, Texas.
Our favorite spot in Albany was Sander’s Drug Store. As we walked across the antique mosaic sign on the ground, we felt like we were walking into another era.
Sander’s Drug Store was the highlight of our visit and gave us a glimpse of another time.
Inside there were people enjoying refreshments at tables and the antique looking pharmacy was out back.
Not just “Prescriptions” but “Radio Phonographs” too!
We got a latte and took a seat outside the store to watch the world go by on Main Street. The couple at the next table started chatting with us and telling us how much they love this little town and that it’s their favorite weekend getaway spot from their home in Abilene 35 miles away.
A nice spot out front to while away the hours.
Albany may be a cute and artsy town today, but its roots are in cattle and oil. High up on a wall inside Sander’s Drug Store a Texas Longhorn looked down at us.
A Texas Longhorn.
When we began wandering the streets of town again we found a metal sculpture of a Texas longhorn too as well as a plaque memorializing the Texas Cattle Trails of 1875 to 1890. Cattle herds from Texas were driven up to the railheads in Kansas along these routes.
The arts in Albany pay homage to the Texas Cattle Trail history of the area.
Petroleum production was the other big industry in the area and still is. A replica oil pump outside an oilfield services office sported the high school Albany Lions football team helmet.
An oil services company has a huge oil pumper out front with a football helmet on top!
As we walked around town we came to a stand of trees that had dropped the most enormous acorns we had ever seen. These things were huuuuge!
Well, as they say, everything is bigger in Texas, even the acorns!
Everything is bigger in Texas!
Even though we blasted across a few states to get back to the warm and dry southwest quickly, these few stops along the way made for some great memories.
We scooted along pretty quickly for a thousand miles, but we’ll remember these special places and moments!