Joseph is a tiny town in northeast Oregon named for Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Originally named Silver Lake and Lake City, the city formally named itself in 1880 for Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people. When faced with settlement by whites of tribal lands in Oregon, Chief Joseph led his followers in a dramatic effort to escape to Canada.
At least 700 men, women, and children led by Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs were pursued by the U.S. Army in a 1,170-mile (1,900 km) fighting retreat known as the Nez Perce War. The skill with which the Nez Perce fought and the manner in which they conducted themselves in the face of incredible adversity earned them widespread admiration from their military opponents and the American public, and coverage of the war in U.S. newspapers led to popular recognition of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce.
The Wallowas are majestic mountains (known as the American Alps or Little Switzerland) located above Joseph. From traveloregon.com: “In the Wallowas, you can look down from an alpine summit and see the high desert of Indian country roll out in front of you in one direction, and then turn around and see past Hells Canyon into the next state, and some say all the way past it to the next one after that.”
A dream deferred.
A few years ago, I was volunteering in the Visitor Center at the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge, which happens to be located next door to our winter home, Havasu Springs Resort (half way between Parker and Lake Havasu City, AZ).
We were going to spend summer in Oregon that year, and I always asked refuge visitors where they were from. If they said Oregon, I’d say, “Good, we are going there this summer. Can you tell me just one thing I must see or do while I’m in Oregon?” And so when we left, we had a list of 15 attractions that those visitors rated number one.
Over the summer, we visited all but one: Joseph and the Wallowas. It was just far enough out of the way that we never got there. But it stayed on my bucket list.
During the winter of 2020, I was out filling up our bird feeders one day when a woman came toward me walking her dog. I said, “I remember you,” and she said she remembered me too. As we visited, we recalled we had walked together with a group a few times a couple of years earlier. I recalled the wonderful stories she told of her childhood.
We chatted and Karen asked where we were going this summer and I told her Flaming Gorge, Wyoming, but we would visit Idaho on the way. She asked where in Idaho and I started explaining, but then added – not really having a clue why I was doing so – “Where I really want to go is in Oregon. I think it may be easier to get there from Idaho than from Oregon.”
She asked where specifically just as I remembered she was from Oregon! I said, “Wait! Where do you live,” and we both said, “Joseph” together!!! She added, “And if you come, I’ll show you around.”
Quite a coincidence, wouldn’t you say? But there’s more.
A friend from California sent me a note saying, “Aren’t you planning to go to Joseph, OR, this summer? There’s an article about it this month in Smithsonian Magazine.” We were near Salt Lake City at the time, so I jumped in the truck, went to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy. I mean, really, what are the chances?
While it’s not much fun packing up to leave each season, being on the road is our favorite place!
It goes without saying that we seek natural places wherever we go.
We left Lake Havasu City last Tuesday for St. George. After driving all day, the last thing I would have expected D.A. to say was, “Let’s go to Zion tomorrow.” If I had really thought about it I would have gone right online for any news about visiting Zion NP, but no, it did not occur.
Zion is one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S., was Utah’s first national park and is definitely the most popular of the five national parks in Utah.
The next morning, nearing the park, we saw a sign that said, “Visitor Parking Full – Take Shuttle.” Oh-oh!
They waived us right through the main gate, like we knew what we were doing, but alas, the parking lot was full. Thinking we’d just drive up the road until we found someone to talk to, we only went a short distance when we saw a sign for the museum. We stopped and were happy to see a Ranger standing outside answering questions. She told us the main “Scenic Drive” was closed to all traffic except the shuttles. However, there were a couple of other drives we could take.
She also told us 16,000 people visit the park each weekday, 17,000 to 20,000 on the weekends. At 2PM each day, you can go to the Visitor Center to buy any remaining shuttle tickets for the day. The alternative is to buy in advance. 50% of the daily amount of tickets go on sale online each day at 3PM. They are sold out in 3 to 5 minutes!
We first took the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to the east entrance. It was a gorgeous drive (and quite crowded) but very much worth the effort and we found a nice spot for a picnic lunch.
As we drove through the Park and happened to pass several shuttle busses, we couldn’t help but notice they were nearly empty – one or two passengers max. Ha ha and Oh Well!
Later, we went back the way we came to the park originally to the town of Virgin and took Kolob Terrace Road to the Lava Point Overlook (almost 8,000 feet elevation) and no traffic to speak of. It too was a gorgeous ride and even more geologically diverse, ending in tall pines and snow.
On the way back to Virgin, we talked about how the day did not turn out at all as expected, yet it was one of our best days on the road ever!
“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” -Paul Coelho
The next morning we continued to Salt Lake City. We dropped our boat at Fred’s Marine in Layton for a floor replacement and headed to our reserved “camp” at Circle L Mobile Home and RV Community. It’s a tiny park with lots of grass and huge trees, only a few RV spots and, seemingly, a lot of long-term residents. A little different experience than what we usually have in an “RV Resort” but pleasant enough, at least until we passed two police cars as we were leaving to go touring the next morning. Makes one wonder but at least they didn’t tell us to leave the area immediately or get back to the safety of our RV…
Our destination was the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge near Brigham City. This was our third visit and we couldn’t wait to get back on the 12-mile auto tour. I am re-reading (for the third time also) Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams, a poet and naturalist. The memoir takes place in 1983 as Terry was losing her Mother to cancer while, at the same time, she was losing the place she most loved in her home state of Utah – the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge – to flooding. Just as the first and second times I read it, I often think, “I cannot bear to read this,” because it brings up such strong emotion, but then I realize I cannot bear not to read it equally because I love this book so dearly.
I gave D.A. a lightweight scope and tripod for Christmas. I thought we would use it for the Christmas Bird Count at the “Bill Will,” but we ended up doing our share by boat so the scope and tripod didn’t seem accompany us. Now we were going to do some serious (for us) birding and we came to the refuge with the scope, tripod and my eBird app loaded for Utah.
The Refuge and other wetlands associated with the Great Salt Lake provide critical habitat for migrating birds from both the Pacific and Central Flyway of North America. This area contains abundant food for birds, including very important brine shrimp and other macroinvertebrates as well as necessary plants like sago pondweed. Birds come to the Refuge by the millions to eat and rest during migration, and many other species stay to breed, nest and raise their young across the Refuge wetlands. Several of the Refuge’s priority species are American Avocet, White-faced Ibis, American Pelican, Snowy Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Cinnamon Teal, Tundra Swan.
We were fortunate enough to see all but the Snowy Plover and Tundra Swan. We saw 29 “Taxa” (unit species) and counted 1,509 individuals but I’m happy to admit I stopped counting individual Franklin’s or Ring-billed Gull, Violet-green Swallow, Brewer’s Blackbird when the count went over 200 each!
Today, we discovered a new destination near us in Layton: the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, the first Nature Conservancy preserve in Utah.
This Preserve spans 4,400 acres of wetlands and uplands habitat along the eastern edge of the Great Salt Lake. As the largest saline lake in the Western Hemisphere, the Great Salt Lake is crucial to both people and nature. The lake is a rich feeding ground for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl, supporting between four and six million migratory birds as they journey from as far north as the Arctic to southern points in Central and South America.
Some of the largest gatherings of wildlife ever recorded on the Great Salt Lake have been observed from the preserve’s visitor center, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise as well as the perfect place for visitors to appreciate the importance of the Great Salt Lake.
Here we saw a total of 12 Taxa and 70 individuals but the highlight came at the top of the observation tower. D.A. thought he heard a Sora, but the eBird app said they were not common in the area. We waited and listened and waited some more and sure enough, we SAW the Sora. Sora’s are mysterious marsh birds. Here’s the description from Cornell Lab:
“A descending whinny emanates from the depths of cattails and rushes, but the source of this sound rarely shows itself. This secretive brown-and-gray marsh bird is a Sora, but drab it is not. When it finally pokes its head out of the reeds its bright yellow bill might have you thinking about Halloween candy corns. The Sora walks slowly through shallow wetlands a bit like a chicken that has had too much coffee, nervously flicking its tail and exposing the white feathers below.”
D.A. has great photos (unfortunately not quite fast enough to get the Sora) that he will share on Facebook.
See what I mean? The road is the place we like to be!
Hualapai Mountain Park – We finally got around to visiting after so many winters in the Havasu area. This is a Mohave County Park high above Kingman with 11 miles of trails and elevations ranging from 6,200 to 8,400. Absolutely gorgeous – Ponderosa and Pinon pines and huge granite rock formations – though we certainly felt the elevation since we have spent the last six months at 400! We normally acclimatize at a couple thousand feet per day – not six.
The name ‘Hualapai’ is derived from the word for “People of the Tall Pines” for the Native American tribe that once called these mountains home until they were relocated by the military in the 1870s.
Originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930’s, it today offers 20 cabins, 70 campsites, picnic areas, a playground and 35 RV camping sites are just across the street from the main entrance.
Hualapai Mountain Park is home to elk, mule deer, fox, raccoon, squirrels, chipmunks and skunks. There are also a variety of songbirds and birds of prey including hawks, owls and an occasional Golden Eagle.
Now that we’ve finally visited, this will be a great place to escape the heat that often happens in October when we return from our travels.
Camping – we bought a camper shell!
And some would say, why do you want to go camping when that’s all you do? But it’s not really like that.
Our RV is our home and we travel from one gorgeous campground with full hookups to the next. In eight years, we have spent exactly one week and one day without hookups. That was plenty; we don’t need to ever do it again.
There are places we love to go and would love to spend a few days, but there is no way we are driving our home down a 30-mile washboard!
A camper shell gives us the flexibility to visit and stay at some of our favorite places just like “back in the day!” (And then we’ll be happy to return to our rolling home.)
At dinner the other night, our friend asked if we had seen Nomadland and what we, as full-time RVers, thought. We hadn’t seen it, but it was not that I didn’t want to. The only movie we’ve seen in a theater this year was “News of the World,” which we very much enjoyed. Between Covid restrictions and always trying to contain our wi-fi usage (a problem we can talk about another time), we seldom stream.
Since we are currently using Havasu Falls’ wi-fi instead of our own hotspot through Verizon, I took the opportunity to see it.
In a word or two: “Heartbreaking yet inspirational.”
We are not naïve to this… We winter in AZ, about 50 miles from Quartzsite. I have visited a couple of those “boondocking” communities to see friends. One I visited travels with a group of Escapees (a club). Some have homes in cold regions and travel winters and some are full-timers, but these folks have assets and are traveling in a way they love. One day my friend was talking about going dancing every night and I said, “I didn’t know you were a dancer,” and he said, “Neither did I!” His statement made me so happy for him. Our lives expand exponentially when given the opportunity. We don’t always know what an “opportunity” looks like.
There but for the grace of God
The flipside to that seems to be Fern’s situation and you really saw how difficult it all looked: a 5-gallon bucket for a toilet (and how the heck do they dispose of the contents anyway) is probably the most obvious, having to travel from one grueling job to another, never being able to get to a point where a needed vehicle repair wasn’t a disaster. But who wouldn’t be inspired by the sweet connections she made with people and the incredible natural sights she/we saw while traveling the country?
Fern was very brave. Imagine how desperate you would have to be to leave your former life with only what you could carry in your van. She became an – the only suitable word I can find – “immigrant” in her own country. I related completely to her return where she noted she no longer wanted or needed those items she had carefully placed in storage.
Remember, Fern had options. People offered her other living arrangements and she turned them down. Who are we to judge what is right or wrong for another person? Fern had her happy and sad moments – don’t we all?
The point to me is – a recurring theme of our times – we cannot judge another’s life, values or decisions. We can help, assist, aid, but we cannot judge until we – as they say – “walk a mile in my moccasins.” There are people who would never want that experience. There are people who would give anything to “go on the road,” whatever that means to them.
Nomadland gave us the opportunity to see that in such an up-close-and-personal way. I am touched and grateful.
Kudos to my Sidekick
Don (D.A.) Allen is that Sidekick. We are starting our 15th year together, 8 of which have been full-time RVing. I could not have made a better choice. I once stated I loved him because he was happy to eat leftovers and could fix anything, but it’s grown a lot from there. I simply could not have picked a better partner for this stage in my life. I am touched and I am grateful.
Looking at the harbor tonight, do you see something missing? Our boat! It’s on the trailer in the parking lot waiting while we do all the things we do on our final day anywhere. Involves lots of rinse, wipe, rub, brush, scrub, sweep, clear-out, dust, clear-up, a lick and a promise, clean, dab, declutter. Endless declutter. Daily trips to donate and storage. Rinse again.
Full-time RVers do not have the luxury of finding a tiny stash space for their recent acquisitions. They’re all taken. If you bring something in, you have to take something out. But it doesn’t always happen at the same time. Mainly it’s bring it in for six months, then purge for three days. It’s shocking how you can detach from your stuff rather than fight with where to keep it one more minute!
One of our first excursions had to be a return to Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. As we pulled into the parking lot at the boat launch, we saw a moose in the marsh, then a trumpeter swan – even before we could get out of the truck and focus our cameras. This place holds a special place in our hearts and we were jazzed to return. Seedskadee is a 27,000 acre refuge that protects a variety of habitats for over 350 species of wildlife.
Sheep Creek Geologic Loop
New friends at Buckboard told us about the Sheep Creek Geologic Loop. It is a 13-mile loop off Highway 44 on the way to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Center Visitor Center. It follows the visually dramatic Uinta Fault. Mind-blowing rock formations can be seen along the fault: towering monoliths along with rock that has been fractured, jumbled, discombobulated. Give yourself plenty of time because if you are sightseers like us, at the end you will turn right around and drive it the other way!
Grand Teton and Yellowstone
In July we had a great family visit when Mia, Haley and Mandy arrived. None had been to the Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks before, so we planned a whirlwind trip. For me, the only way to see these parks is escorted by D.A. because he lived in the area for more than 30 years, and was a trail crew foreman at Grand Teton. He definitely knows where to go and what to see. We stayed at one of those darling cabins at the Cowboy Village and had great meals at Snake River Brewing and Mangy Moose Steakhouse. The parks were as crowded and smoky as we expected, but why would anyone miss the opportunity to see these outstanding areas of natural beauty? Not this troop!
Fishing at Flaming Gorge
Did somebody say, “How’s the fishing?” I thought so. We fished for kokanee primarily and a variety of trout. Kokanee salmon are landlocked sockeye salmon (live their entire lives in fresh water). I think we ate our combined weight in kokanee. Of all the fish we catch and eat, kokanee is our favorite.
The pic at the top of this post is a view from the Flaming Gorge NRA Visitor Center taken last year. This year, we saw the view from the water. We trailered the boat to Lucerne, just north of Manila, UT and traveled through the gorge. Awesome! And it goes right to the top of the list for future visitors. Debbie & Bruce and Lynette & Ben summer in Centennial and came for a visit – and this was a great excursion with them.
The next day, the “Girls” traveled south through Manila and up the mountain to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area Visitor Center.
Green River Lake
On one of our early trips to Wyoming, we camped a few nights at Green River Lake. This was long before our RVing days. We were living in Tucson – at the end of the spigot – and I was curious to see where Arizona’s water came from. We traveled north on US 191 through the magical Apache National Forest, and visited Canyon De Chelly National Monument. Crossing into Utah, in Canyonlands National Park, we saw the confluence of the Colorado River and the Green River, Moab, and Arches National Park. We continued on 191 north into Wyoming, the Flaming Gorge area, then far north into the Bridger Teton National Forest near Cora. After 30 miles of unpaved road, we arrived at Green River Lake – the origin of the Green River. It was an astonishingly beautiful journey and the destination left me in breathless wonder. To this day, and after criss-crossing the country several times, that trip remains my favorite.
This year, however, conditions were quite different with all the fires raging on the West Coast and Colorado. As in other places we visited, there was a lot of smoke, though nothing could really ruin the grandeur of the sight or the joy I felt in returning.
(Stepping on soapbox.) The point of all this is that in this Covid summer, people flocked to and overran our national parks. Yet there are county and state parks, national forests, monuments and wildlife refuges, equally dramatic, equally awe-inspiring, where you won’t have the crowds and can still truly enjoy the glory of nature. (Stepping off soapbox.)
Farson Mercantile ice cream was calling to us on our way home. I think you can see why…
Fossil Butte National Monument
Another fascinating journey took us to the Fossil Butte National Monument near Kemmerer. The unusual number, variety, and detail of freshwater fish fossils provide a window into life at Fossil Lake 52 million years ago! You have to wonder why the conditions were so perfect there, and the answer is equally surprising: An essential ingredient for preservation, calcium carbonate, precipitated out of the water and fell, like gentle rain, to the bottom of the lake – for thousands of years. It formed a protective blanket that covered whatever sank to the bottom – dead fish, fallen leaves. Not being a science geek by any stretch of the imagination, I had to ask about this precipitation process. In chemistry, it means to separate a substance in solid form from a solution. Aha! Got it.
We returned to Jackson again Labor Day weekend, but this time stayed at Mountain Inn Condos about an hour and a half away in Afton. Excellent choice. We were visiting Intermittent (or Periodic or Rhythmic) Spring – also known as the spring that breathes. Located within the Bridger Teton National Forest, a few minutes outside Afton. You drive about a 4-mile unpaved road, then walk a 3/4 mile slight uphill path that turns more strenuous as you reach the source of the spring.
This is a cold water geyser (the largest and one of only three in the world) that comes forth from the mountain. This time of year, it lasts about 18 minutes, then stops for about 18 minutes! I thought I would find a good YouTube showing the walk and the water running, but no luck, so we’ve accepted the challenge to go back and make one next year. Life is good in Wyoming (in spite of the fact that snow and gusting winds to 60 mph are expected tonight at Flaming Gorge)!
We awoke – only two days later – to this:
Very good clue that it may be time to pack up the Mothership for the trip south.
But not without one final sunset –
Thank you, Wyoming! We managed a Covid-free summer!! And Buckboard Marina feels even more like home (thanks especially to the very special friends we found there). We’ll be back in May!
From a business standpoint, our boat left a lot to be desired. It had limited seating and clients were cramped. It made sense for us to look at other options for fishability, client comfort and overall performance.
Research revealed that our needs would be nicely met by the Tracker Targa V-19 Combo. It seats six comfortably. It is wide and extremely stable. The 200 horsepower, 4-stroke Mercury motor is the industry’s best.
After narrowing our available choices online, we traveled to Fred’s Marine in Layton, UT, for the purchase. What a beauty! We couldn’t wait to get it in the water at Flaming Gorge. Turns out, it’s as functional as beautiful! We purchased the boat in June and have been so pleased with our first-hand experience for fishability, comfort and performance. Boats have come a long way in 20 years!
Looking forward to giving our clients at HavasuNetEm.com the best experience possible. Our new boat is certainly a factor in achieving that goal.
With the advent of Covid in Arizona, it was an easy decision to end our fish guiding season early and spend the whole summer at Flaming Gorge. We spent a month there last summer and – at 25 miles from the nearest services of any kind – it seemed quite a safe and prudent option.
We planned to spend our first month at a new-to-us resort in Bullhead City, but it was so darn hot, we only spent about a week before moving north. Sunrise Adventures Ridgeview Resort turned out to be a great stopover and we know we’ll enjoy it in future during times of cooler weather. It is part of our Colorado River Adventure membership.
On to Utah…
We usually stay at KOA in Salt Lake City. But this year checked out Mountain Shadows located almost next door to Camping World. We were having work done there on our coach. The Draper location is excellent – all the stores we hoped to visit were close by and we discovered Scheels! We got haircuts (which was a very big deal since all the shops had been closed for months)!! Best of all, we had a couple of visits with D.A.’s sister and nephew.
Soon it was time to continue north, but little did we know the adventure that awaited us. Coming north on Highway 80 out of Salt Lake City, the RV engine overheated. We pulled over, discovered no water in the radiator. This was concerning because D.A. always checks fluid levels. From where we were parked on the side of the highway, we could see a small pond a little ways back, so off we set over very tough terrain with two empty water gallon jugs. Down where the Gadwalls were swimming, we filled our bottles with Wyoming snow melt water. You may ask why we had empty water bottles, rather than full water bottles, but I would change the subject.
Satisfied to have that be our entire adventure, we only traveled another couple of miles before the light came on again. We were close to the Wyoming Port of Entry, so we limped in, called our tow service and they sent a mobile mechanic.
Though we had a wait for his arrival, the mechanic quickly found a coolant leak and set about fixing it. Soon we were back on the road.
Going east on Highway 80, the first town is Evanston at Exit 6. As we approached Exit 10, the engine line came on AGAIN! We called the tow service and they said they would send a driver to tow us to their shop in Ogden, UT. No, we were less than a hundred miles from our destination, and Ogden was 105 miles in the opposite direction. We asked them to refer us to an RV service shop in Evanston and they gave us a number. We called and learned, “We don’t work on RVs.” We asked for another referral and the same thing happened. Fortunately though at the end of that call, he mentioned there was a Pilot Flying J Truck Care service back at Exit 6. Back in limping mode, we returned to Evanston.
The service at Pilot Flying J couldn’t have been better BUT they couldn’t fix our problem. They spent lots of time, determined we were losing pressure and came up with a laundry list of what might be wrong, but didn’t have the diagnostic equipment to identify the problem with certainty. They suggested we continue east to Rock Springs to the Cummins dealer (only ten miles past our exit in Green River) or return to Salt Lake City. It was an easy choice. Gratefully, Pilot Flying J did not charge us one dime for the hours their crew spent trying to find our problem. By then it was getting late, so they offered a parking place in their lot for the night.
We arranged a tow that night so we would be in Rock Springs first thing the next morning.
This will seem unbelievable. The tow truck arrived, took great care getting our rig hoisted – and then discovered their truck had a hydraulic leak. We would be spending the night in the Evanston parking lot.
We were instructed to call our tow service at 6AM the next morning. The truck arrived about noon, after many more calls.
Nonetheless, we made it to Cummins late in the afternoon. They were going to diagnose the problem first thing the next morning, so we went to a motel for the night. And that’s when we discovered the restaurant called Old Chicago – which in one meal moved right up our list to number one.
The problem was an R&R EGR Cooler and R&R Crank Case Filter. We were back on the road to our summer home by early afternoon.
Headed south on WY 530
There’s something so sweet returning to a place you’ve visited before. It was good to reconnect with other summer residents. It was good to walk around the beautiful grounds. But the best surprise was the new management! Everything was spruced up and the store/registration area had a complete transformation. “Cabins” to rent for our guests! They even have a food truck!
Of course all that studying paid off and D.A. passed his Coast Guard test!
Soon he found himself as the ONLY operating fishing guide on Lake Havasu. There are only three – most likely due to the difficulty and commitment acquiring the Coast Guard Captain license, but apparently the other two guides were not operating. That meant he received bookings as soon as he put a notification that he was available for guiding. As a result, the bookings and trips never let up the whole season… that is until Covid-19. Instead of finishing the season mid-April, he stopped by concerns of transmission/infection of the virus mid-March.
We talked about buying a newer, bigger boat for next season so he could accommodate more clients per trip, but it didn’t seem prudent in light of the economy. A solution would be to move the back seat on the passenger side forward a few inches, which would provide the person in that seat better ability to turn around and watch the back-facing rod on that side.
One morning, D.A. said, “Let’s take the deck off and move that seat forward.” Sure, why not? And so it began!
Once removed, it exposed the 3/4″ marine plywood that was displaying the constant onslaught of countless days of rain and weather. It was only logical to replace the plywood. Using it as a template, we placed the flooring, making the adjustments to the seat placements.
With the floor in place, we treated the plywood with sealer and covered the surface with 2 coatings of a non-skid paint. Painting the seat bases and adding a black metal trim on the floor’s edges really made the floor pop! The icing on the cake was the addition of a center mat that would protect the floor from drops and scuffs.
At the end, we were experiencing 105 degree weather daily at Lake Havasu. Salt Lake City here we come!
We have a daughter-in-law in Albuquerque, Mandy, and a granddaughter, Haley, near Denver. We hoped to have a get-together near Colorado Springs but it turned out more difficult than expected. Mandy had a new tent she and Haley wanted to try out. I called a number of campgrounds and learned they were all old with tiny spaces and geared to RV camping, not tent camping. We extended our search and ended up at a National Forest Campground near Woodland Park, South Meadows. There were benefits to our choice: the campground had HUGE campsites and gorgeous walking paths behind the campground, and great proximity to Colorado Springs and local attractions.
It was easy to decide our first full day should be spent at Garden of the Gods Park, a registered National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs. It features dramatic views, 300′ towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak and brilliant blue skies. The world-class Visitor & Nature Center and museum is the most visited attraction in the region.
We hopped on the 1909 Trolley for a narrated tour and fantastic views of park attractions.
We spent another day in Manitou Springs, starting at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, a drive around town, and lunch at the historic Cliff House at Pikes Peak, providing an atmosphere of Victorian romance and opulence dating back nearly 150 years. From its storied start as a stagecoach stop to its turn-of-the-century prominence as the area’s premier mineral resort, it remains the crown jewel of Manitou Springs.
When we started full-time RVing in 2013, I came across this location in our Coast Resorts membership info and made a mental note I’d like to see the area sometime. Sometime came!
The drive from our camp near Colorado Springs was spectacular: through the heart of the Rockies on Highway 50, Pike and San Isabel National Forests and then over Monarch Pass, 11,321 feet! The pass is widely considered one of the most scenic in Colorado, offering a panoramic view of the southern end of the Sawatch Range from the summit.
The Sawatch Range is a high and extensive mountain range in central Colorado which includes eight of the twenty highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains, including Mount Elbert, at 14,440 feet elevation, the highest peak in the Rockies.
The road is excellent and I would recommend it to anyone with the opportunity to do it.
The Blue Mesa Reservoir runs 29 miles from Gunnison to Montrose, CO. The state’s largest reservoir, the Blue Mesa is part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. This is where the waters of the Gunnison River gather before carving through the steep walls of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
The Curecanti NRA Visitor Center was just a couple of miles from our site at Blue Mesa Recreational Ranch, which was also where we launched our boat to fish. Kokanee’s here too, but smaller than Flaming Gorge. Delicious nonetheless.
At the Visitor Center we learned about the Morrow Point Boat Tour that runs between the Blue Mesa and Morrow Point Dams and into the famous Black Canyon of the Gunnison, giving us the opportunity to learn about geology, wildlife, early inhabitants, the narrow-gauge railroad, dams and reservoirs. It runs daily in the summer.
It’s a gorgeous hike to the boat from the parking area – 232 stairs, then onto the old narrow gauge railroad bed for about a half mile. The hour and a half trip is on a large pontoon boat with a captain and interpretative ranger. Most places the cliffs are at least a thousand feet high.
It’s very hard to imagine the railway that existed there in such a narrow canyon. “When the first Denver and Rio Grande train passed through the upper reaches of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in August 1882, the passengers gazed with wonder at the steep walls above them, the cascading waterfalls and the towering granite point of Curecanti Needle. As the little train found its way out of the canyon and the passengers set their thoughts toward the open vistas ahead, few could imagine the human and monetary cost of constructing this “Scenic Line of the World” through some of the most rugged country in the West.”
Our boat tour was in the morning, so later in the day we drove on to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Now we would see the river from the top of the cliffs.
“…no other North American canyon combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness, and somber countenance of the Black Canyon.” -Geologist Wallace R. Hansen
The walls of the canyon are 2,000 feet deep, rock walls are only 40 feet apart and plunge directly into the river. Choose your footwear accordingly!
Fishing at Delores and a Visit to Mesa Verde
The Views RV Park in Delores, Colorado, called to us because of its proximity to McPhee Reservoir (second largest in CO after Blue Mesa), Mesa Verde National Park (a World Heritage Site) and the Canyon of the Ancients.
The Views turned out to be our favorite RV park of the summer. Our huge spot, #10, overlooked a gorgeous valley and the park is located directly across the highway to the entrance to McPhee Reservoir.
It’s the largest lake in the San Juan National Forest, with a beautiful topography of piñon, juniper, and sagebrush trees. Things to do at the McPhee Recreation Area include boating, fishing, camping, hiking and biking.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park was created in 1906 to preserve the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people, both atop the mesas and in the cliff dwellings below. The park includes over 4,500 archeological sites; only 600 are cliff dwellings. We visited the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center, the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and drove the Mesa Top Loop Road.
In 1978, Mesa Verde National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its exceptional archaeological relevance – including its spectacular cliff dwellings tucked into the sandstone alcoves of its steep-walled canyons.
Canyon of the Ancients
Our morning at Canyon of the Ancients was an eye-opener. This National Monument encompasses more than 170,000 acres of high desert and protects a rich landscape of cultural and natural resources. Thousands of archaeological sites have been recorded in the monument, and thousands more await documentation and study.
Lowry Pueblo is the only developed recreation site within the monument. It has stabilized standing walls, 40 rooms, eight kivas and a Great Kiva.
Humans have been part of this landscape for more than 12,000 years. Changes in cultural life over time ranged from hunting and gathering to farming. In the beginning (about 750 A.D.), farmers, Ancestral Puebloans, built year-round villages, clustered pit houses. Over time, these ancestors build larger masonry homes with connecting walls above ground. In time, factors such as population growth, soil exhaustion and changing weather compromised the area’s natural resources. By about A.D. 1300, these ancestors migrated to New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley or farther west to where the Acoma, Laguna, Zuni and Hopi people live today.
During our summer travels, we go out of our way to see and enjoy our national resources: parks, monuments, forests, wildlife refuges and BLM land. This year, though, we are grateful to find ourselves more committed than ever to the preservation and defense of these treasured places.
“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Last stop: Prescott, AZ
We’re biding our time in Prescott while it cools down on the “West Coast of AZ.” We need to be back in Lake Havasu City mid-September, which is still a little too hot for our liking, so we decided to spend our last two weeks in Arizona, but at a higher altitude.
So here’s an admission, a possible reality of full-time RV living and traveling: Enough of a good thing is sometimes enough. We’ve had a fantastic summer season, but we’re both looking forward to getting back to what has become “home” and a regular routine. This stop brings us within an easy day’s ride of that goal.
I chose Willow Lake RV Park because of it’s location – the heart of the Granite Dells of Prescott. As we drove in, I was thinking it was a good decision, and sure enough, there are numerous trails right from the camp that lead to the Willow Lake Loop Trail (about six miles in length).
One day I was walking and some pink and purple flowers caught my attention off the path. There were plenty of yellow flowers in bloom, but nothing like this. Investigating, I saw they were artificial flowers indicating a grave. As I continued on, contemplating my find, a metal reflection caught my eye and I left the path again to investigate. Aha! It was an informal pet cemetery. What a lovely idea in such a peaceful place. Later, I looked on-line to see if I could learn more about it, but no luck. A hidden treasure.
I did learn though that Prescott’s Mile-High Trail System contains approximately 100 miles of trails including Rails-to-Trails projects along the former Santa Fe Railroad, the Prescott Circle Trail System, the Greenways Trails System and the Dells trails around Watson and Willow Lakes. In our many trips to Prescott over the years, I had no idea of the recreational opportunities.
Mainly, in the past, our opportunities have been limited to shopping since Prescott has my favorites when it comes to groceries: Costco, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts (none of which are present at or near Lake Havasu City).
Another fabulous summer into our memories. Havasu Springs, here we come!
We needed to be back in the area in mid-September for a number of reasons. Due to restrictions in our Colorado River Adventures (CRA) membership, we can only stay six months at our favorite resort, Havasu Springs. We booked a month’s stay at CRA’s Lake Havasu location.
This “resort” is a place to park your RV with full hookups and, really, little else. It’s quite a large park, with parking facilities on both sides of London Bridge Road, though the east side is currently closed. It will get crowded this time next month and they will offer winter activities, but right now it’s a ghost town. No matter to us. It was a great location for all we need to do in the next month.
A new venture
Last summer, D.A. decided to start business as a fishing guide from our “home” at Havasu Springs. “Havasu Net Em” was born. D.A. has been fishing his whole life, and was once a professional fisherman. He even traveled the world for Orvis for a while, catching fish for their videos. D.A. loves to fish and he also loves to share his knowledge. A match made in heaven.
While preparing for the AZ Game & Fish Guide Test, he learned the Coast Guard has jurisdiction for Lake Havasu too. This meant he would have to take and pass the Coast Guard Captain’s Test! This news changed our plans dramatically. A lot of studying has been taking place since. The test is on October 9th.
At the beginning of September, Joey, the Wildlife Refuge Specialist at Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge, started weekly nature tours at the “Bill Will.” He hoped this activity would eventually be taken over by our Friends Group. Then it turned out he was going to be away on the 26th, so he asked me to conduct the tour.
Great opportunity! I asked one other Board member, Sue, to join me since she, too, is interested in leading tours, and then I asked D.A. to join us for his “birding” skills.
I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but D.A. is also an excellent photographer. He knows the birds and waterfowl on our end of the lake, and could add much to our tour.
Are you kidding? Is it really going to rain in September in Arizona??
On the day of our tour, it rained and no one showed up for the tour!! We hatched a new plan within a few minutes, because the sun came out and our boat was already moored practically next door at Havasu Springs… “Let’s go fishin’!”
We were on the water only a few minutes when we had our first “Striper.” It was nice size but we let it go… later we regretted that decision. We caught a couple of smaller Stripers, and then found ourselves in Smallmouthland. Look at this beauty –
We kept this one and another a little smaller.
The clouds in the mountains above Bill Williams River were growing dark and we could hear thunder, so we started back. I took this picture to show the relationship of the communities on this end of the lake.
On the right is the Havasu Springs Resort. On the left, going up the hill, is the Hillcrest Bay Community. In the middle is the Bill Williams River NWR. The bridge on Highway 95 and the actual river are to the left of Hillcrest.