5. Explore Utah Spring Road Trip…April/May, 2021

day 21 5.10
I woke up with the sun & drove back across the AZ border into Nevada.  Stopped at a Starbucks & got a cup of coffee, then at a store for some salad, 1/2 1/2 & ice.  I drove the hour back to St. Georgeback in the beautiful state of Utah to continue my trip.  Ran a couple of other errands & caught up with Danny on the phone.  

I drove a new road-to-me towards Kanab.  I stopped at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park on my way.Id never been here before either.  Its tiny.  Most people were renting sandbars (like sleds or snowboards) to use on the DunesI just wanted to hike!  (That’s always what I want to do!)

There aren’t a whole bunch of dunes, & one is definitely bigger than the others…so that’s the way I headed.  It was easier plodding along in the sand without sandals, the temp was cool enough & so was the sand & there wasn’t any wind.


It didnt take that long to crest the top of the Dune & go over to the other side.  I think a lot of the people renting the sleds managed once or twice at best to have fun sliding downit was a long straight hike up the way they were going.

Then the wind picked upwith force.  Funny, Id decided to slather lotion all over my exposed parts right BEFORE I went on this hike.Ive never said I was the smartest cookie.  By the time I managed to get back to Camper, hiking against the wind, I had a perfect layer of sand on every exposed part of my body.  Thankfully, there was a picnic area & water spicket right by my car.  Wow…my shower worked great!  I just filled my bucket with water, turned on the shower & got rid of all that coral-but-really-more-orange sand.  There wasn’t much more to do at this park (unless you had an ATV), so I left & headed towards Kanab.

I have been to White Sands National Park in New Mexico & to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. I couldn’t help but compare.  I’m glad I stopped here, but I wouldn’t make a special trip back here again….it’s just really really small.

It was a gorgeous drive both before & after the park.  Really pretty seeing the green of the trees growing in the colorful sand.

I had been considering trying to get a permit to hike the famous Wave for tomorrow (I’ve done this once before with no luck), but in the end didn’t want to go through all the hoops & time it takes to ‘maybe get lucky”.  I’d add that to the list of “things to do when Danny is with me”.  

I stopped & had a good & unusual burger at Big Al’s burgers.  The guy taking my order was really nice & suggested their most popular burger which comes with fresh Canadian Bacon & cheese.  Wow…I’m going to try to duplicate this one at home sometime.

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This second part of my trip didn’t have much of a plan.  I wanted to hike everyday, see new places & visit loved places I’d been to before, but was a bit more clueless on what that was going to look like.

While I had internet, I got a permit to hike Wire Pass Slot Canyon & part of Buckskin Gulch for tomorrow.  I was nervous on how the 8 miles of gravel & sand road would be, but I’ve been better & braver on this trip than anytime before.  So, after finishing up in Kanab, I headed towards the trailhead & that long road.

I couldn’t find much camping along the road, but the trailhead was huge, empty except for a couple of cars, had a bathroom & was where I wanted to be early in the morning.  This is a fairly popular hike, so I wanted to get an early start.

So, I decided this is where I’d camp tonight.  No cell service at all, so I sent Danny my GPS coordinates, had a beer & enjoyed a beautiful night with super dark skies except for those millions of natural twinkly lights!

day 22 5.11
Okget ready for tons of photos.  This was a spectacular hike!  It makes we want to backpack all of Buckskin Gulch (another coveted permit, a long shuttle & need a big wonderful perfect weather window!)

I’d read & seen photos of this hike & knew it was popular, but it was so beautiful & fun!  You hike along in a wash for about a mile & then this…..

& it just goes on & on & on

you eventually come to an open space that dead ends or go left or right….that’s the intersection with Buckskin Gulch.  I did both ways for awhile, but I loved the ‘right turn’ better.  It was definitely more dramatic.

There are petroglyphs at the turn into Buckskin.

I passed an American couple backpacking in & a couple of guys from Francethey were really nice.  It was super fun.  I did 8 miles, but as said earlier, Id love to hike the whole thing.

I ate lunch, did the icky 8 mile drive back up the crappy road, & then oohed! & ahhhed! at the gorgeous drive from Page to the Vermillion Cliffs. 

I pulled off to walk out onto the Pedestrian part of the Navajo Bridge, noting that gorgeous color of the Colorado River.

I am a huge Condor fan!  I’ve looked for them everytime I’ve been in Big Sur, the South & North Rim of the Grand Canyon & right down the road at a release site off Hole in the Rock Road…all strike outs.  The only place I have ever seen them in the wild (the Ventana webcam I look at all the time does not count) is at Pinnacles National Park.  I was so fortunate to see several there & was able to read their tags too.

You may not love this less-than-beautiful but humungous birds, but the story of their survival, but human intervention is amazing.  I knew sometimes, so rumor has it, that they hang out on the Navajo Bridge.

And I was super luck today!!  Number 54 was just taking in the scenery….& so was I!  Binoculars out & viewing from different parts of the Pedestrian bridge, me & one other Condor-lover were super happy.  Most people were just strolling right by…but I was loving this!

After so many photos & about 25 minutes of watching the back of #54, I went into the Visitors Center, bought a book on Condors I’d never read, a couple of ‘condor postcards’ for the girls & my Claire project, then went back to watch the bird more.  I was hoping for a huge flight with the perfect photo over the wonderful green river…but I was already lucky just to see it.  It didn’t show off for me.

More on #54.  I looked him up when I got homeyes its a HE bird. He is 17 years old, born in Boise, ID.  Now it seems he lives in Arizona.  All condors not born in the wild are tagged & tracked;  its so fun to look up info on them. well, I think its cool!

Just around the corner from the bridge is Lees Ferry.  Theres a small campground therebathrooms but no water or hook ups.  It was $10 a night for a senior annual pass holder & I was able to get one of the last three spots for the night.  Its not the prettiest site, until you look up & away from the campground to these magnificent huge multi-colored rock walls or take a 5 minute stroll down to the Colorado river.  And, once again today, I was grateful to be here in this spot enjoying the surrounding beauty.

After strolling around a bit, I found shade under my one tree, poured some of the last of my bourbon & enjoyed Happy Hour & my book.

day 23 5.12
I had asked another Camper in the morning, if she knew anything about the Cathedral Wash hike.  I dont know if its technically a slot canyon, but the photos looked like one.  Id looked at this hike earlier in my research & decided against it.  But, now I was here & going to pass the trailhead on my way out, & thought it was worth re-thinking.  The info I got, both from the net & the camper, is that there are some really big drops you have to make—down on the way in & up on the way back out—that can be difficult if you’re short, your solo or have a dog. Well, I was two of three.   It’s not recommended for kids or pets.  The camper said she was grateful she was with a friend or she couldnt have gotten her dog in or out if she was alone.  I thought Id hike it until I couldnt or got uncomfortable.  So, after coffee in the morning, I packed up camp & drove to the trailhead.

As I left Camper, I ran into another couple coming off the trail.  I asked them how far they went.  Not far they said…drops were too big.  I asked the only other couple I passed a few hundred feet further, they didn’t go either.  I kept going.

It was really pretty…different from any of my other hikes.

But the drops just kept getting bigger.  

So, these edges don’t look very ‘edgy’ in the photo.  And, I could have waded through that icky nasty gross water…but this was my turn around point.  I didn’t want to do the edges or gross water.  And, I wasnt sure if Id come to the biggest drop yet or not.

I got back to Camper, a little bummed at turning around & missing what is supposed to be a fantastic viewpoint of the Colorado at the end of the hike, but some hikes just go that way.

Headed down the road for a while because I wanted to see more of the Vermilllion Cliffs.  This is such a beautiful & desolate area.

After about 45 minutes, I turned around & retraced my driving I’d done yesterday, stopping back by the Navajo Bridge to visit #54.  He was gone…which though I missed him again, it’s great he’s got freedom to fly in such a magnificent place & if he’d been in the same spot, I’d have wondered if it was a real condor or some ‘visitors center marketing gimmick” & just a stuffed condor.  

All the tours in Monument Valley are closed due to Covid….most tribal properties & tours are still shut down.  I’d have loved to gone to Upper Antelope Canyon & re-toured Lower Antelope Canyon while I was in Page, but all shut down.  

This is still a breath taking drive & the weather was perfect, the sky was bright blue & the scenery never disappoints.

I couldn’t quite get the famous Forrest Gump shot due to cars not appreciating someone photographing in the middle of the road.  So, instead I pulled over on the side of the road by the “no stopping here” sign & grabbed this quick shot.

Then I headed towards the tiny town of Mexican Hat.  My photos do not do the colors in these rocks justice.

The Mexican Hat rock formation with these amazing colorful rocks in the background.

I’ve camped in Valley of the Gods once before & loved it.  So, I’d put it on my list of things to do again, & right after leaving Mexcian Hat, you’re practically there.  I was trying to camp in the same spot I did last time…one of the highest points along the 17 miles dirt/sand drive.  But, as I crested on short hill & went down over it, into a big hole then hit deep sand, I changed my mind.  I pulled a tight U-turn, went back through the sand, missed the hole, crested back over the same hill,  & found a camp spot.  It was still mid afternoon, & interesting to watch other cars…jeeps, big trucks, SUV’s, tiny convertibles, a Prius, drive down the same road.  While I couldn’t see them hit the hole or sand, I could hear it.  They all must have made it fine & continued on the road, because they never backtracked.  But, I liked my littles site.  There was a short hike from it up the hill to a big rock formation that I did.  When I got back I took a shower & changed clothes.  As it got evening & the sun was going down, I had a beer & did some hooping to my music.  I could only see one other vehicle & it was far, far away.  There’s something pretty special about being out here, mostly alone, in such a special gorgeous lonely place.

My camp spot in Valley of of the Gods…wow!

day 24 5.13
The skies last night had been fantasticits very very dark here so perfect for viewing the stars.  I could hear a few little noises scuttling around & under my SUV as I was trying to go to sleep, & it kept me awake longer than I wanted to be.  But, soon, they all settled down & so did I.

Watching the morning sun come up as I drove out of the valley was beautiful.

Id driven the Moki Dugway beforewhite knuckled on the way down & on the way back up the first time.  Once you leave Valley of the Gods, if you turn right, you hit the Moki pretty fast.  It was early in the morning & this time it was just a nice adventuresome drive.

There are lots of warning signs as you approach the Moki from both the top & the bottom.

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Looking back down over some of the tight switchbacks that make up this dirt/gravel road.

Once up & off the Moki, you drive this long stretch of highway with the Bears Ears in the foreground the whole way.  I’m so grateful this trip, unlike last trip, this sacred & amazing space will not be cut up, graded, stripped & trashed by mining or oil companies.  I think that tune has changed, & I’m super grateful about that.

This would be my third visit to Natural Bridges National Monument.  No big hikes here, but 3 adventure fun filled short hikes, some with decent sized elevation, that lead to 3 natural bridges.  There are also viewpoints in this small park & some mesa hikes…but I was heading to all the bridges.  You can do a loop to all three, but I was going to take advantage of using my small pack & only having to carry the amount of water I needed for a short hike.  I could always get more water & eat back at Camper in-between hikes.  I’ve never been here when this park is crowded & it’s still early, so I almost felt like I had the place to myself & one other couple.

These hikes have ladders, big huge slabs with rails to assist you, some have built in steps…it’s all kind of fun…sometimes steep, but fun.

Those turkey vultures smell something in the air….lined up for lunch….yikes! 

If I was a great tourist or a great recorder of things, I could tell you the names of all three of these bridges.  But, I’m none of those things.

But I can tell you that this is my favorite bridge.  It does have a name, but I call it #2.  The road loop to all the trailheads is one way…so this is the 2nd bridge you come to.  #2 is & has always been my favorite. It’s real name is Sipapu, but I affectionately remember it as #2.

#2 from the other side.she doesnt have a bad side.

And the last bridge.

Another hike I was going to repeat on this trip just blew me away the last time I did itwhich was the first time I did it.  Its called House on Fire & last time I was here there were only a couple of other cars parked by the road.  Today there were about a dozen.  But, it feels like you just hike off the road, down a wash for about 1 mile or maybe more, then this:

A breathtaking ruin you can just hike up to.  I believe this is part of Bears Ears.  There are hundreds of places like this scattered in this areaIm sure theyve been discovered, but not all are this easy to hike to.  Itincredible.  Despite the numbers of cars on the road, the trail wasnt crowded & its a pretty short hike.  But, this is just a treasure & Ill always want to repeat this hike when Im here.

Then I drove the pretty drive into Blanding, from the forests to the rocks. Ive been through this town multiple times, never found a good place to eat but do have some memories from the Visitors Center that stand out.  The first time I stopped there, they gave out little welcome packetscomplete with toothpaste & a toothbrush.  They have electric car plug ins in their parking lot (Ive never seen these anywhere else in Utah).  The last time I came through here I got unsolicited political rhetoric from the guy behind the counter about how he couldn’t wait to see Bears Ears rolled over to the oil & gas companies.  I didn’t stay around to listen to him…I’d come here on that specific trip to see the place before it was ruined…& thankfully it never was.

I thought I’d give the food thing one more chance…I’d hiked a bunch this morning & was hungry.  So, I went for the burger at the tiny old fashioned Patio Diner…right across the street from the Visitors Center (I didn’t go there this time…I’d brought my own toothpaste as well as my own opinions of what should be & shouldn’t be destroyed in nature).

Wow…it was awesome!  And a little trip magic got added into the mix when a bike packer from Germany sat outside at the table next to mine.  We were both over eating, but I suspect he had a much bigger & better reason to do so than I did.  But it was a fascinating conversation that lasted about an hour.  He was biking from Salt Lake City to the Grand Canyon.  We talked about what other countries he’d done this in before (Mexico), how Covid was in Germany (they can’t get the vaccine as easy as we can, but have the same division among their countryman as to some want it, some don’t), how Utah is not exactly a bike friendly state, etc.  I suggested next time he visit the states, he check out Colorado (a very bike friendly state & drop dead gorgeous) & told him about all the supported cross-state rides they have there.  I also told him he could skip Kansas…not bike friendly or beautiful (IMO).  We talked about the discontent in the US, I told him I was not too proud to be an American at this moment.  I finally wished him well on his travels, sincerely hoped all the people that crossed his path on this adventure were friendly, helpful & nice & that he would go home feeling like each personal contact he made he was a good one.

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Next up was a new-to-me place but a favorite of my good friend, Talie.  It’s Hovenweep National Monument & it’s a bit of a drive out of the way to get there, but it had been on list since I left Kansas.  And it would be my last stop in Utah.  I wasn’t sure if I could get camping there, but the small campground had quite a few places open.  It was $7 a night…yay!  It has water & bathrooms.  Yay!  I needed more water for sure.

It was getting way to hot to hike in the middle of the day, & they really only have one short but pretty cool hike.  So, I was happy to leave that until morning when the temps were much cooler.

I found my spot & backed in.  I only had one shady spot, which happened to be near the road through the campground, but I was ok with that.

I cleaned out Camper, refilled all my water, & got ready for a super laid back evening & night.  I had service (surprisingly) so I was able to catch up with Danny & research & waste time on my phone for a while.  

I started to notice the few people around me.  There was one couple up the road, but the person on my right, the person on my left, the person up the road on the left & the person that walked her dog in front of me…were all solo women.  Wow…5 of us in this tiny campground!  I really wanted to have everyone over to my place for a party….good conversations, story sharing, a couple of beers or whatever your choice is….but..but…but.  That never happened.  Danny & I had a long discussion on the phone about how Covid has maybe encouraged people to be more solitary.  Granted, there are a gazillion people who always were solitary & love it that way (I know, I married into a whole family of them!) & that lockdown & Covid never really changed their day to day lives.  

But I am not one of those people.  I’m social through & through.  I love meeting others & hearing their stories.  The woman next to me...who built an awesome campfire, had Colorado tags on her older Toyota Tacoma truck with a 4Wheel Pop Up Camper (I’ve researched these, belong to the FB group & toured their facility in California) made eye contact with me once, but never acted like she wanted conversation.  Do you know how much I wanted to hear her story?  Ask her questions about her rig?  Where in Colorado she was from?  How did she learn to build such a great fire?

But, having been a social person all my life, I know when not overstep, not interfere, not bother, not approach, not look too many times.  I know many come out in these wilderness areas to be alone & to have solitude.  I know my boundaries.  

I did have one of the women from Washington State formerly Jackson Hole, walking her little dog stop by a couple of times & we visited.  She was not one of the above people I refer to.  But, her little dog was high maintenance so had to tend to it.

But, even without a party, I enjoyed my evening in my little cheap site & always, always, think having a picnic table is a treat. 

day 25 5.14
I made coffee, happy with my picnic table, then left to go on this ruin-filled short two mile hike.  The Ranger that mans the campground came by earlier & she chatted for awhile.  I drove to the VC & started the hike.  I passed my friendly neighbor last night on the trailevidently her pup had stayed in her camper.  She mentioned she had a cooling vest the doggie wore while she was gone, but she couldn’t leave the mini-whatever very long.  

Frequently, I get told I need to travel with a dog for safety or an opposite view is that I’m just "not a dog person".  I like dogs, & I’ve had them all my life.  I just don’t want to travel with one or be committed to one anymore.  The latter does not make me a ‘not a dog person’…I don’t want to own a houseplant at this stage in my life.  It’s great for all those thousands of people that do, but I am not one of them.  Anyway, we wished each other fun & safe travels…we were going opposite ways around the loop.

I saw the Ranger again & she warned me that I had to hike down a lot, then back up & there was a bit of a scramble too.  Her down & up were nothing & I never even saw anything like a scramble, but the ruins were impressive.

It does not take long to hike a two mile loop & so before long, I was done.  Glad I’d visited this tiny but nice National Monument.

The small two lane paved road I took as I passed into the state of Colorado (yay!  home to magnificent mountains, great beer, super spectacular people & my favorite mountain town) did not have the famous “Welcome to Colorful Colorado Sign”…but I was happy to be here.

My first stop in this lovely, but still more winter than spring state, would be Mesa Verde National Park.  I’ve been here a lot….& I love to do the guided hikes into the ruins.  But, the National Parks are still have a lot closed because of Covid.  None of them are doing tours, masks required inside, no cash (not even for a postcard), walled off exhibits, one way entrances & exits & shorter hours at the VC.  And, there were some other places & roads closed in the park.  I scoped out my old boondocking site in case I was here still tonight, then I drove the long, long, long way into the park.

My favorite hike here is the Petroglyphs hike & that’s the trailhead I aimed for.  Look at this scene….no one was getting any closer today with the tours being closed, but this sight just makes you wonder & wonder & wonder about life back when this was built & lived in.

This is a fun hike!  Guess that’s why I always love to get on this trail.  With so much closed, I thought it might be super crowded, but it wasn’t at all.

The petroglyphs are really cool.

There’s one section before you get to the ‘top’ & back into the forest for the last 1/3 of the hike, that’s really a bit of a stretch for me! I had to throw my hiking poles up on top of the rock, then climb with both hands to the top…not scary, just fun.  Then the rest of the hike is easy-peasy.

On my way back to finish the loop, I passed the woman of a couple who had stopped to look for a bird.  Her husband had gone on without her, so when I got near him, I said “Do you mind of I pass” to which he turned around, then startled & said “Oh, I thought you were my wife”.  I stepped around him, looked him in the eye & said, “Lucky for you, I’m not”  That got a chuckle out of him!

It was too early to find camp, so I drove into Durango. I had now come full circle & crossed ground in same spot before I hit Utah.  It was Friday around 4:00, so I knew the crowds would start hitting the bars, breweries & restaurants.  I tried a new craft beer bar downtown, but once I looked at their list, I decided to go somewhere else.  I ended up back at Ska..I can always find a beer I like & love their outdoor space.  I ended up at the bar (Colorado bars have just recently opened back up) with a beer & some chips & queso dip…it was delicious & was just the right amount of food & drink.

Then it was time to hit the road again…for another beautiful drive.

It was just starting to get dusky when I found a NFS campground…still closed for the season, but not gated shut.  There were a few other campers there too.  The bathrooms weren’t opened, but it was a beautiful spot right by a river.  I’d driven through Pagosa Springs, over Wolfe Creek Pass, turned north at South Fork & about 20 miles later, found this campground.

I backed in near the river.  I knew I’d hear those sounds all night long & nothing else.  I sat in the ‘lounge’, had a drink, read a book & sent a GPS message to Danny.  No service here.

Tomorrow, I knew I’d be going to my Happy Place.

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