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.

Mars colony rovers in Utah-min

Future Martian colonists drive off into the desert in their UTVs to map the desert flying teams of 8 drones at a time!

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

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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Castle Hot Springs and Other AZ Treasures near Lake Pleasant

Thanks for the tips and empathy as I wrestled the latest WordPress editor to the ground. The WordPress Classic Editor plugin did the trick!

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.

Castle Hot Springs and Lake Pleasant Arizona RV and RZR trip

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From lakes to streams to riverbeds and washes we’ve been seeing lots of new and beautiful places.

Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS with a cooler on the back-min

Ticket to great rides.

Cactus reflections Lake Pleasant Regional Park Arizona-min

Desert meets water.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park Arizona-min

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!

Fifth wheel RV triple tow with RZR on utility trailer-min

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.

Full moon and saguaro cactus-min

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 storm clouds Lake Pleasant Arizona

Rainbow and storm clouds over Pleasant Harbor.

Wild sunset Lake Pleasant AZ-min

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!

Lake Pleasant RV Campgrounds Arizona-min

Is this the Arizona desert or somewhere far north?

Scorpion Bay Marina with snow on the mountains Lake Pleasant AZ-min

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!

Lake Pleasant high water covers road-min

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.

Side-by-side dirt trail Arizona-min

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!

Sonoran-Desert-cliffs-with-saguaro-cactus-min

Beautiful desert scenery

Crazy cactus in Arizona-min

Crazy cactus!

Wild burros live out this way, and we saw a small group watching us closely when we hiked into the brush a ways.

Wild burros Lake Pleasant Arizona-min

Wild burros

They wandered around but kept an eye on us as we approached them.

Wild burro Lake Pleasant Arizona-min

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Wild burros Lake Pleasant Regional Park Arizona-min

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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.

Wild burro chases dog-min

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.

car in wash on Castle Hot Springs Road-min

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 entrance gate-min

Castle Hot Springs has been purchased and is in the last stages of an enormous renovation.

Castle Hot Springs entrance gate since 1896 Arizona-min

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.

Castle Hot Springs Resort Arizona-min

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!

Palm trees Castle Hot Springs Resort Arizona-min

The rows of palm trees were as beautiful as ever.

Palm trees and swimming pool Castle Hot Springs Resort Arizona-min

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.

Main Lodge Castle Hot Springs Resort Arizona-min

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!”

Castle Hot Springs Resort Arizona-min

“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.

Desert wash with water in Arizona-min

We traipsed down this wash for a while.

Animal tracks in mud Arizona-min

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 looks like chocolate-min

Mud…or chocolate covered nuts?

Back at Lake Pleasant we caught a few beautiful sunsets. The sky and water were filled with pastel shades.

Sunset Lake Pleasant Regional Park Arizona-min

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Sunset Lake Pleasant Regional Park Arizona-min

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Sunset Lake Pleasant Arizona-min

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Sunset Lake Pleasant Regional Park Arizona-min

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Saguaro cactus at sunset-min

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We captured a few sunrises too, and they were worth getting out of bed and going hiking for!

Sunrise Lake Pleasant Regional Park Arizona-min

Mark sets up a photo while Buddy looks back at me.

Dawn sunrise Lake Pleasant Regional Park Arizona-min

Definitely worth rising early and hiking in the dark!

Lake Pleasant sunrise Arizona-min

Fire in the sky!

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Rainbows and Wild Horses in the Arizona Desert!

February 2019 – For us, 2019 started out with a zoom when we bought a new-to-us Polaris RZR 900. But we set it aside for ten days so we we could do a quickie National Parks Snowstorm Tour to see Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon decked out in snow.

When we returned to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and began to thaw out again, we were ready to ride.

Happy campers in Polaris RZR next to saguaro cactus-min

Two very happy campers ready for some adventure.

Polaris RZR and puppy at campsite in Arizona-min

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!

UTV trail in the Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

The little RZR is our ticket to new thrills!

View from a Polaris RZR in Arizona-min

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!

Polaris RZR on the trail in Arizona-min

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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.

Saguaro cactus and RZR UTV trail in Arizona-min

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Polaris RZR and old wind mill-min

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.

Saguaro cactus on the Salt River in Arizona-min

Where the desert meets the water at Roosevelt Lake.

Ribbon of dirt trail in Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

A ribbon of road…

Saguaro cactus late afternoon sun on the Salt River-min

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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.

Saguaro cactus in afternoon sun in Arizona-min

Late afternoon glow on the saguaro cacti high above the lake.

Puppy at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

After a little off-road riding it’s nice to stretch the ol’ legs on a hike!

Cactus and red rocks at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

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.

Poppies in the Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

We were very surprised to find some higher elevation hillsides covered with desert poppies.

Spring poppies and lupine in Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

There were lupine too!

Desert poppies in Arizona-min

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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.

Wild horse and puppy in Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

“Hey little fella, come back here!”
Buddy ran back down the hill after saying hello to the wild horse.

These horses were definitely the wild kind we’ve seen along the Salt River before, but they were very tame and seemed as curious about us as we were about them.

Wild horse that is tame on the Salt River in Arizona-min

These horses were extremely curious about us.

Talking to wild horses of the Salt River-min

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Petting a wild horse in Arizona-min

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They had the familiar fuzzy faces that the wild horses of this area have, and they had no shoes on their feet.

Wild horse furry face in Arizona-min

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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!

Wild horse with cactus in the Arizona desert-min

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!

Wild horse and cactus in Arizona national forest-min

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!

Polaris RZR in the Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

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Polaris RZR on the trail in Arizona desert-min

Room to roam.

Polaris RZR at an overlook in Arizona-min

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?

Roosevelt Lake rainbow in Arizona-min

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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!

Double rainbow Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

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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.

Reflecting rainbow Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

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Rainbow on an Arizona lake-min

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Rainbow at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

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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.

Storm clouds and rainbow at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

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.

Rainbow and clouds at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

The sun lit the foreground for a moment.

Light and shadow and rainbow and storm clouds in Arizona-min

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A dark shadow formed in the sky but the rainbow was still visible underneath. How wonderful!

Rainbow behind cloud shadow on Roosevelt Lake-min

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.

Sunset in the Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

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.

Lakeside sunrise in the Arizona desert

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!

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Canyon Country Highlights – Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend & More!

January 2019 – Our wintertime National Parks Snowstorm Tour to Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon was incredible. What a thrill to see snow at both of those gorgeous National Parks. But the drive to get there and back was also spectacular, as it took us past many wonders of Utah’s and Arizona’s “Canyon Country.”

Canyon Country Arizona and Utah Glen Canyon Lake Powell Horseshoe Bend-min

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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!

Snow at Red Canyon Utah tunnel-min

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.

Red rocks and a stream in Utah during winter-min

A glimpse of the edge of Red Canyon across a wintry landscape.

Snow on red rocks approaching Bryce Canyon Utah-min

Bryce-like rock formations peered out from the mountains a few miles from the actual Canyon.

Snow at Red Canyon Utah-min

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.

Winter outside Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah-min

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.

Puppy poses in snow in Flagstaff Arizona-min

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.

Afternoon shadows Glen Canyon Utah-min

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.

Glen Canyon and the Colorado River in Arizona-min

Lake Powell is the centerpiece of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Glen Canyon in Page Arizona-min

Lake Powell (Glen Canyon).

Glen Canyon Page Arizona morning light-min

Lake Powell (Glen Canyon).

We had seen brochure pictures of Lake Powell like this, but to see it in person was a feast for the eyes. What a fantastic contrast — or complement — to the snow at Bryce Canyon and the mysterious light show at Grand Canyon that we had just witnessed days earlier.

Glen Canyon Page Arizona morning light-min

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Glen Canyon Arizona morning color-min

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We drove down to the beach to get a little closer to the water.

Driving on Glen Canyon beach in Arizona-min

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The stone monoliths towered on the other side of the small cove. What an exotic landscape!

Photography at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

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!

Red rock mesas at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

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 at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

Houseboats anchored in the bay. What a fun excursion that would be!

RV camping on the beach at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

Other worldly!

Lone Rock Glen Canyon Arizona-min

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.

Horseshoe Bend Overlook Page Arizona-min

Horseshoe Bend

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.

Horseshoe Bend Arizona Colorado RIver-min

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.

Horseshoe Bend Arizona fisheye lens-min

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.

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook Page Arizona-min

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.

Lines in the rocks Glen Canyon Dam-min

Such wonderful lines in the rocks!

It is a kid’s paradise for running around on the rocks.

Scenic Overlook Glen Canyon Dam Page Arizona-min

These rocks are very cool to climb on.

Glen Canyon Dam Scenic Overlook with puppy-min

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Windblown puppy Glen Canyon Dam Scenic Overlook-min

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!

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook in Page Arizona-min

To get a sense of scale, notice Mark in the upper right corner taking a photo of the dam!

Scenic Overlook Glen Canyon Dam in Page Arizona-min

Top dog.

Meanwhile, storms brewed above the mesas and mountains on the horizon.

Storm on the horizon Glen Canyon Lake Powell Arizona-min

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!

Magenta sky and water before dawn Glen Canyon Arizona-min

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.

Sunrise at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

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.

Stormy skies at dawn at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

While the sun rose on one side the storm clouds grew darker on the other.

Mesas and rock formations Glen Canyon Arizona at dawn-min

Morning light.

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.

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Bryce Canyon in Winter – Snow and Lace on the Red Rock Spires!

January 2019 – When we dashed out of Phoenix and headed north towards a blizzard that was raging at Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, the weather forecast was for an even bigger snow storm at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah!

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 National Park in winter with snow

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.

Happy camper and puppy in snow-min

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!

And how worthwhile this trip turned out to be. When we arrived, we went straight to the rim of Bryce Canyon National Park at Inspiration Point and were blown away by what we saw.

Bryce Canyon National Park view with pine tree and snow-min

Bryce Canyon is stunning all year long, but what a place it is when laced with fresh snow!

Snow at Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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.

Inspiration Point view with snow at Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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 snow at Bryce Canyon National Park-min

Looking down into the depths between the spires.

Trail with snow at Bryce Canyon National Park-min

A magical walk along the rim!

The views at Sunset Point were spectacular as the sun began to cast deep shadows across the landscape.

Limber Pine at Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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.

Deep Snow at Bryce Canyon National Park Sunset Point-min

Late afternoon shadows at Sunset Point.

Snow at Bryce Canyon National Park with snow Sunset Point-min

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Blanket of Snow Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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Sunset Point View Bryce Canyon National Park with snow-min

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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 at Rubys Inn Bryce Canyon City Utah-min

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.

Puppy in snow at Bryce Canyon-min

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.

Snow on trees at Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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!

Truck camper in snow Rubys Inn Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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!

Tent camping in snow North Campground Bryce Canyon National Park-min

The nights were in the single digits…!

Out on the trails the days warmed up to 33 degrees each day we were there.

Deep Snow at Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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And the snow was deep!!

Deep snow at Bryce Canyon National Park in Winter-min

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!

Inspiration Point with snow at Bryce Canyon National Park-min

These were the views we had driven all those miles to see.

Stunning Bryce Canyon National Park view with snow-min

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Snow at Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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Several of the trails that go down into the Bryce Canyon amphitheater had been cleared by the boots of eager hikers.

Navajo Loop Trail Hikers at Bryce Canyon National Park with snow-min

Hiking the trails was a lot of fun!

Hikers at Inspiration Point Bryce Canyon National Park with snow-min

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.

Hikers at Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter-min

Two hikers approach an overlook on Queen’s Garden Trail below Sunrise Point.

Navajo Loop Trail with snow Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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!

Hiking in the snow Bryce Canyon National Park-min

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Overlook at Bryce Canyon National Park with snow-min

What a view!

Selfie shot at Bryce Canyon National Park with snow-min

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 sign at Bryce Canyon National Park with snow-min

“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.

Drifts of snow Bryce Canyon National Park-min

Hikers on an upper switchback.

Navajo Loop Trail Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter-min

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Snowy trails Bryce Canyon National Park-min

The turrets rose around us as we descended.

Bryce Canyon National Park snow on Navajo Loop Trail-min

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Hiking Navajo Loop Trail Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter-min

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The soft white snow, red rocks and blue sky were a perfect complement to each other in every view.

Hiking at Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter-min

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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.

Fresh snow Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter-min

A blanket of fresh snow…

Tree at snowy overlook Bryce Canyon National Park Utah-min

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View into Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter-min

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Bryce Canyon National Park with snow-min

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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!

Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter at overlook-min

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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?

Peaks of snow Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter at overlook-min

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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.

Morning light Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter-min

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.

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park with snow in winter-min

Sunrise!

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.

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah winter visit with snow-min

Good morning!!

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!!

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Grand Canyon – A Winter Wonderland with Snow!

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 Parks Snowstorm 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 in snow-min

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!

Snowed in at Grand Canyon National Park-min

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.

Ready to walk the snow trails at Grand Canyon National Park-min

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.

Drifts and blowing snow at Grand Canyon National Park overlook in snow-min

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!

Grand Canyon overlook in snow-min

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 in Grand Canyon National Park-min

Fresh snow, fog and mist gave the Grand Canyon a special beauty.

Grand Canyon National Park snow and fog-min

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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.

Photographer in snow at Grand Canyon National Park-min

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.

Snow at Grand Canyon National Park in snow-min

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!

Grand Canyon National Park overlook in snow-min

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.

Rim Trail Grand Canyon National Park in snow-min

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!

Clouds and snow at Grand Canyon National Park in snow-min

The sun and clouds chased each other across the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park stormy sky-min

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.

Tourists at Grand Canyon National Park in snow-min

Word got out that the Canyon was on display again, and the tourists lined up!

Views and snow at Grand Canyon National Park-min

Embracing the view.

video

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.

Light and shadow at Grand Canyon National Park-min

Meanwhile the light show went on.

Fog and clouds Grand Canyon National Park-min

Puffs of misty clouds swept by.

Snow at Grand Canyon National Park-min

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.

Happy campers at Grand Canyon National Park-min

We joined the selfie mania. Why not?!

Puppy in snow at Grand Canyon National Park in snow-min-min

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.

Grand Canyon National Park after a snowstorm-min

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Great Crevasse Grand Canyon National Park-min

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.

Blizzard at Grand Canyon National Park-min

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Virgin snow Grand Canyon National Park-min

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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.

Grand Canyon National Park after snow storm-min

What a view!

Grand Canyon National Park snowy view-min

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Grand Canyon National Park snow-min

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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.

Snow at Grand Canyon National Park-min

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Grand Canyon National Park snow view-min

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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.

Clouds and snow at Grand Canyon National Park-min

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Grand Canyon National Park snow at overlook-min

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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!

Clouds and fog Grand Canyon National Park-min

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Puppy plays in snow in Flagstaff Arizona-min

Next time you see snow in the forecast for the Grand Canyon, go for it!

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Jerome, Arizona – A New Year’s Getaway in the Snow!

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.

Snowy highway I-17 to Jerome AZ-min

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.

Snow on the rocks in Arizona-min

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.

Snow in the trees in Arizona-min

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.

Hotel on the way into Jerome AZ-min

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 in the valley view from erome Arizona-min

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.

Old stone stairway Jerome Arizona-min

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.

Eating on the deck with a skeleton Jerome Arizona-min

Dinner with a view — and a surprise guest!

Another skeleton was climbing the sign at the Haunted Hamburger.

Haunted Hamburger skeleton sign Jerome Arizona-min

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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.

Icicles and Christmas ornament Jerome Arizona-min

If you don’t feel the Christmas spirit in the warm desert, come to Jerome for real icicles and ornaments.

Spiked peppermint hot chocolate sign Jerome Arizona-min

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.

Red rocks of Sedona Arizona-min

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.

Valley view from Jerome Arizona-min

The views went on forever and were especially lovely as the sun went down.

We followed the switchbacks to the top of town.

Curvy uphill street Jerome Arizona-min

The streets were quiet, and the town was as quaint as can be!

The Jerome Grand Hotel stood proudly overlooking the valley.

Jerome Grand Hotel Arizona sunset-min

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!

Jerome Grand Hotel Arizona-min

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.

Streets of Jerome Arizona at sunset-min

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 Jerome Arizona-min

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 Jerome Arizona-min

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.

Christmas lights buried under the snow-min

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!

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Cross-Country Highlights on an RV trip from Indiana to Texas

November 2018 – After we left the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana, it was late fall and high time to head to the southwest to warm up and dry off. Buddy has written about our stay in New Mexico, but there were some highlights before that I’d like to fill in.

Fifth wheel RV at sunset-min

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 Marshall Illinois-min

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.

Ghost rest area cat Cumberland Road Rest Area Marshall Illinois-min

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.

Ghost the Rest Area Employee at Cumberland Road in Marshall Illinois-min

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.

Ghost the Rest Area Cat Cumberland Road Rest Area Marshall Illinois-min

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!

Cormorant Rush Fort Gibson Lake Oklahoma-min

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!

Texas star in Albany Texas-min

The Texas star!

Whitney Theater in Albany Texas RV trip-min

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!

Tex the Roustabout sculpture Albany Texas Jail Museum-min

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.

Shackleford County Courthouse in Albany Texas-min

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.

Entrance to Sander's Drug Store in Albany Texas-min

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.

Inside Sander's Drug Store Albany Texas RV trip-min

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Pharmacy counter Sander's Drug Store Albany Texas RV trip-min

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.

Sitting outside Sander's Drug Store Albany Texas RV trip-min

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.

Texas Longhorn at Sander's Drug Store Albany Texas RV trip-min

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.

Texas Longhorn sculpture Albany Texas RV trip-min

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.

Oil pumper Albany Texas RV trip-min

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!

Huge acorns Albany Texas RV trip-min

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.

RV camping in Oklahoma-min

We scooted along pretty quickly for a thousand miles, but we’ll remember these special places and moments!

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Our RV travels in Oklahoma and Texas


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Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, New Mexico – A Dog’s Eye View!

November 2018 – Hi Everyone. This is Buddy here.

I’m writing our blog post this week because Emily (she’s Mumma to me) has been very busy all week long working on a project for something called Tail or Life!

Puppy writes an RV blog post-min

She left her chair and her laptop, so I’m blogging this week!

Oh, wait. She just made a face at me and is saying something really slowly.

Oops! Ahem. It’s for something called Trailer Life.

Anyway, she has been glued to her computer for days to get it done, and she says she doesn’t want to sit in her chair or stare at her computer any more for a while.

But we recently spent a week at a really nice state park that you’ve just gotta go see. It’s called Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and it is about 12 miles southeast of Alamagordo in New Mexico, kinda near White Sands National Monument.

So, I want to tell you about it.

Riparian nature trail Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

The Riparian Nature Trail in Oliver Lee State Park

The best part about this park is that the main attraction — a beautiful hiking trail — goes into a place called Dog Canyon.

Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico Riparian Nature Trail-min

Dog Canyon is made for dogs!

If you run (or hike) past the picnic table that seems to be the end of the trail, you’ll find some fabulous rocks and a little stream that flows through them all. We didn’t find it the first time we ran this trail because we didn’t know the trail went beyond that picnic table, but it does. So don’t miss it!

Water in ravine Riparian Nature Trail Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

There’s a trickle of a stream in this pretty ravine.

One time we hiked this trail we saw a huge tarantula crawling around on the rocks. We found out later that the tarantulas were in their mating season, so they were on the prowl trying to find each other.

Mark takes a photo of a tarantula-min

A tarantula!

tarantula in Oliver Lee Memorial State Park New Mexico

Looking for love!

Photo shoot Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico Riparian Nature Trail-min

I’m more lovable than a tarantula.

This is such a great trail. Every dog that visits Oliver Lee Memorial State Park loves it. And why not? It’s Dog Canyon!

Puppy on Riparian Nature Trail Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

We hiked this trail everyday.

The other hiking trail goes up the side of a huge mountain. There are lots of switchbacks and some really fun scrambles. You can see the campground from some of the lookouts.

View on mountain hike Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

The hike up the mountain is steep and can be hot — bring water — but the view is wonderful!

About 0.6 miles into the hike the map said there was a place called the “First Bench.” So we went looking all over for a park bench. Little did we know that the “bench” was just a quarter mile long plateau with a fabulous view looking into Dog Canyon!

Canyon view on mountain hike Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

A dog’s eye view of Dog Canyon.

One day when we were out walking we came across a big snake.

Puppy sees a rattlesnake Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

A snake!!

While I was looking at it I cast my shadow across him.

Puppy sees a snake Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

What does that snake think of my shadow?!

If you go to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in November, it can be warm and it can be very cold too. On the cold days I hung out in my fort.

Puppy plays house in RV-min

We had some rainy days and even got a dusting of snow. So I played house inside.

And sometimes I played peekaboo.

Peekaboo

Peekaboo!

Sometimes in the morning it was only 42 degrees inside. So Mumma made me a special superman outfit from an old sweatshirt to keep me warm all night long.

Cold nights puppy wears superman outfit-min

My superman outfit keeps me warm on those cold nights.

One of the best things at the end of the day was watching the sunsets. They were spectacular.

Sunset over RV Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

We saw some incredible sunsets.

Puppy watches sunset Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

I like watching the sun go down.

Sunset over RV campground Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

Fire in the sky!

In the very early morning, the whole desert would glow pink and blue. Smoke from big wildfires in California arrived just as the moon got full, making it hazy near the horizon.

Full moon in California wildfire smoke Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

We had a full moon and it set just as the sky did its pink-and-blue magic in the early morning.

Full moon with wildfire smoke Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

The skies had been totally clear, but wildfire smoke that blew in made the moon a little hazy.

Desert sunset skyline Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

The New Mexico desert at dawn.

I’ve heard there was a famous photographer named Ansel Adams who took a photo in New Mexico that he called Moonrise over Hernandez. I don’t know where Hernandez is, but Dada got a cool shot of Moonrise over Alamagordo.

Moonrise over Alamagordo New Mexico

Moonrise over Alamagordo New Mexico

When the moon rose the next night it was huge and you could see lots of detail.

Full moon Oliver Lee Memorial State Park New Mexico-min

I’ve heard the moon is made of cheese… maybe so!

I’m a little bit of a fussy eater, and we have a huge bag of dog food I don’t like. One night I was told if I wasn’t going to eat it then it would go to someone else who would.

In the pitch dark I heard something outside and I woofed a little to let them know that the “someone” had showed up to eat my food.

It was a gray fox!

She didn’t stop eating, even with a flashlight on her. Later on in the night we went outside and I sniffed around and found out she had tiny baby cubs in the rocks on the edge of our campsite.

I’ve been told I look like a fox. I don’t know about that, but her cubs looked just like her, only much smaller.

Gray Fox at Oliver Lee State Park New Mexico-min

We found out a gray fox lived in our campsite and had some really cute cubs in the rocks!

Well, that’s my story. I hope you liked it.

I’m going to take a nap now!

Puppy sleeping

Thanks for reading!

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