Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the tag “jeep”

Have you ever seen the rain…

It wasn’t the shadowy, buried in trees, sites that I didn’t like. It wasn’t the lack of water or adequate power (20 Amp only). It wasn’t even the location. But I still came away with a bad taste in my mouth about Wompatuck State Park. Plenty of people love it; the reviews are great. We had no problems with the lack of water as we arrived with full tanks and had a spigot right next to our site. The 20 Amp power didn’t bother us as we shunted off all our 12V needs to the batteries (by turning off the converter) and ran those off solar. And the trees were kind of nice during the day when it was in the 80s. There was something else.

On arrival put out our awning as it was cloudy and we heard drizzling through the copious trees. We thought nothing about it and, after lunch, we went up to the park headquarters to scope out some hiking trails. We were prepared to ignore the warnings about a new (?) tick disease (Anaplasmosis) that people were worried about as people tend to get worried about the most unlikely things. Crossing the parking lot (the large very empty parking lot) the sound of drizzling grew louder. I looked up – no definite clouds in the sky, just a slight haze from the heat. The drizzling sound grew louder. I looked up again, towards the tree in front of me. I looked at the leaves to see if rain drops were hitting them because they weren’t hitting me. Hmmm, there aren’t many leaves. And the sound grew louder. And then I was right under the tree, looking up, and a caterpillar fell on my shoulder. And it hit me. I looked up. I looked closer. ARGH! I ran out from under the tree as quickly as I could. The sound. The missing leaves.  I looked down, trying to avoid them with each step but it was impossible.  I raced to the jeep.

“You know that drizzling sound?”

“Yeah.”

“Its not rain.”

“Huh. Okay. what is it?”

“Caterpillars. Thousands and thousands of caterpillars.”

“No shit.”

“No shit.”

Actually, there was plenty of s$%t. When we got back to the campsite, the sound was even louder – instead of one lone large tree we had about 50 on our site, hanging over the picnic table, fire pit, rv, awning, car…everything. The picnic table was covered with tiny black specs – caterpillar poop. Since the fire pit was directly under trees, there was no way we were going to cook on it. We sat on our chairs under the awning listening to the ‘rain.’ After a few minutes, I looked over at Mike. He had a caterpillar on his shoulder and two on his leg. I sighed as I wiped two off my chair. It was going to be a long week.

Wompatuck Park, in spite of the caterpillars, is a pretty nice park, especially considering the fact that it is about 15 minutes outside Boston. It is close to the Hingham Ferry, which will take people right to the historic port area of Boston. There are plenty of bike trails and hiking trails all over the park. The sites are mostly large and private and while we were there, quiet. They have bathrooms with hot water showers that were well kept. I think, at any other time of year, we would really like this campground.

We decided to make the best of it. Besides, we had tickets to the Orioles/Red Sox game and we weren’t going to miss it.

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We got lucky and a ‘friend of a friend’ not only snagged us a primo parking space for the jeep, they took us on a tour of the Green Monster.

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The Green Monster

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The view from the Green Monster.

Fenway is a beautiful ball park. It seems much smaller and more intimate for games that Camden Yards but there is a ton of stuff to do and places to eat. We probably walked about ten miles just circling Fenway to see everything.

We had excellent seats right behind home plate. For us, being from Birdland, the prices were extremely steep. I completely understand why Boston fans come down to Camden Yards to see games.

The Orioles won! We had a great time at Fenway Park and could now cross another ballpark off our list.

We really had the urge to get out of the campground during the day so we headed down to Plymouth. We saw ‘the rock’ and the Mayflower II in its home.

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Plymouth Rock. Much greater in the mind than in reality.

We also did a lot of driving around, checking out the different towns, docks, and marinas. We fell in love with Scituate, MA.  It has an incredible small town feel with a marina that is probably bigger than the town. Being only 25 miles from Boston, it would be a great town to live in (for us).

Like Narragansett, RI, Scituate will be added to our list of “towns we would love to live in if we ever move where it snows.”

We were in Wompatuck over the weekend and unfortunately, the ferry from Hingham, a commuter ferry, runs only Monday through Friday. So our plan was to head in to Boston on Monday to see the historic sites, then leave on Tuesday. Monday morning I woke up and couldn’t take it any more. The “drizzling” had entered my brain so deeply nothing would drown it out. I was on the verge of having panic attacks because the trees were closing in. So, we pulled out at about 9AM. Luckily, there was a space available for the night at our next stop, Salisbury Beach State Park.

 

 

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Nothing would be finer than to be in Carolina…

Continuing our trek north, we headed into South Carolina. We managed to pass through Atlanta at about 11AM and hit no traffic. I don’t know if we are lucky or have great timing but, in our two passes through Atlanta this year, we passed through without problems. Yeah, some of the drivers are a little nuts, but we are so used to DC driving that Atlanta is a cake walk. So far.

In looking for a campground not too far off the highway but in a pretty area preferably near water, we found South Cove County Park. It is on a little peninsula in Lake Keowee just outside of Seneca, SC. Because it has sites right on the water, it won out over the many other parks in the area.

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The campground from the office

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Our campsite, #33

We did not reserve our campsite ahead of time but on weekends during the spring and summer, it might be advised. If reserving ahead of time, ignore the driveway lengths when making your decision. The sites on the water are pull-throughs but the entrance and exit are shared by the sites in front or behind yours. This can be a tight situation when the campground is busy but it was pretty empty while we were here.

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The site behind us. Our shadow is where the shared entrance/exit is.

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In front of us, from left to right, a hill site, the road, and a site further down the lake.

The campground was very quiet though there was the occasional power boat passing by.

We set up and ate lunch then relaxed and caught up on with things on social media (excellent Verizon signal here). About an hour later, we heard the familiar sound of Harley pipes. The bike came back around and stopped in the site in front of us. “We have neighbors – we need to move the jeep.” We had parked it in the empty campsite in front of us. Turns out, it was Bill and Mary Ann. They had seen Mike’s check in on Facebook and happened to be in the neighborhood. We first met Bill in Hunting Island last year through LEO Only and spent a couple of hours catching up.

They knew we liked off-roading and beautiful views so they suggested we head up to Jumping Off Rock where we would get a little bit of both. They were right – the place is beautiful, the road is fun but not challenging, and there are no crowds.

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One of the views at Jumping Off Rock.

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Most of the road is easily passable by passenger cars. But a high clearance vehicle will be needed in some parts, including at the beginning.

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A small waterfall along the way

We aren’t sure if our timing was impeccable or if we were lucky or if there was some sort of rules change but a gate was open that allowed us to get all the way down to the lake on a peninsula.

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If you have a tent, this would be a great place to camp.

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Rope swings at the end of the road.

Lake Jocassee is beautiful and we decided that it is definitely a future kayak trip. This end of the lake is fairly remote and the scenery outstanding. One could probably spend a week on the water and still not see everything.

On our way back to camp, we stopped by Bill and Mary Ann’s house. It is beautiful, set in  hills overlooking the lake – a dream place to retire to. They made one more suggestion: Paesano’s Italian Restaurant.  When someone from New York and/or New Jersey suggests Italian, I’m inclined to believe their recommendation. That suggestion was as good as the first (I love local knowledge!); the food and service were excellent and I’m still thinking about the tiramisu.

We returned to camp and Mike made friends with the local ducks while I got caught up on blog posts. By the end of our second night here, he had them practically eating out of his hands.

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A word of warning about camping here on the lake shore, and probably any other shore: overnight a storm blew in. We knew it was coming but our neighbor didn’t and lost his awning. The lake here is 26 miles long and the wind can build up to a gale over that distance if coming from the right direction.

Also on our last night here, we went outside to see if we could see the storm rolling in. It was chilly, so we closed our door. After a few minutes of star gazing, we tried to go back inside. And we were locked out. Even using our spare key, which happened to be in the jeep, wouldn’t get us in. Mike gave me a boost to the passenger window where I crawled inside to let him in (luckily, our windows aren’t always locked). After about five minutes of fiddling with the locks and banging the door, it finally released. And has worked perfectly ever since.

Reluctantly, we packed up and headed on. We stopped overnight at a rest area near Burlington, NC after making a pit stop at Walmart to pick up some needed supplies. The rest area has separate parking for RVs and we spent a fairly quiet night. Walmart may begin to rival Amazon for convenience in shopping. They now offer ‘pick up in store’ service with no added shipping charges. I ordered a collapsible ladder in South Carolina and was able to pick it up two days later in North Carolina. How is that for convenient? I didn’t need a shipping address or a few days to hang out in town to wait for it to arrive.

Our next spot was Holly Point Campground, part of the Falls Lake Recreation Area. The area is beautiful and not too far from Wake Forest, which has a lot to do. We didn’t make reservations early enough to get a lakefront site but we did manage to snag a beautiful, open wooded site with electric and water.

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loop 3, site 80

We later found out that loop 3 is known as ‘the retiree’ loop – it is very quiet and, according to the rangers, usually booked by retirees. It would seem to hold true during our stay as we were joined by four class Bs holding four retired couples meeting up for the weekend.

The sites here are huge and very well spread apart. Most are fairly level and extremely long, long enough for a 45′ class A and a toad and a couple of guests’ cars. While we had one of the most open sites in the campground, the majority of them are shaded with very tall trees, lending a very ‘woodland feel’ to the experience. We knew this weekend would have a cold spell so a sunny site would keep us warm.

We stopped here at the suggestion of Greg, another LEO Only friend who happens to be a Ranger here. We hung out and got to know Greg and Kimberly  and had a couple of great days trading camping horror stories, general life stories, and learning what it is like to be a Park Ranger. We are looking forward to our next pass through the area.

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Ocala and Orlando

After leaving the beautiful beaches of Gamble Rogers State Park, we headed into Central Florida: Ocala National Forest. We had snagged a few days at Juniper Springs Campground in a site that offered a couple of hours of noon day sun, almost enough to keep us from running the generator. Juniper Springs is a dry camping spot though they do have water available around the campground and a dump station near the exit. Two sites in the campground will hold a rig over 35′ while a dozen will hold up to 35′. The rest are for smaller rigs and tent campers. Our site, #02, was very spacious, gave us satellite access, and about four hours of decent sun on a cloudless day.

The area itself is beautiful, offering lots of shaded hikes and a swimming hole for those hot, humid Florida days. We didn’t have any of those during our stay but the temperatures were perfect for our reason for being there: kayaking Jupiter Run.

We didn’t know what to expect on the river. From various notes across web pages, the water level would be high, forcing us to worrying about low trees and branches, or it would be very low, which meant we would bottom out and potentially have to port our kayak over the sand. As it turned out, we saw quite a bit of both. For a seven mile run, there are quite a bit of obstacles! Being lake and bay kayakers, this was a completely new experience for us. We are really glad we tried it; though it didn’t live up to expectations it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. We saw a few alligators (cool) and lots of smoke from a forest fire (not so cool) but overall, it was a great trip. And to be honest, the only let down (in expectations) was the fact that we didn’t see any sapphire blue pools to swim in. Granted, there was one back at the campground, but it isn’t the same when there are 50 people there with you.

Important to note about Juniper Run: it isn’t easy to get to the drop in point and they don’t allow inflatable kayaks. The drop in point is a good 1/4 mile walk from the parking lot. This wouldn’t be bad at all if you didn’t have your kayak with you. A very large awkward kayak or canoe. Luckily, you can use a wheelbarrow to get down to the drop point but bear in mind you need to run it back up to the start before you hit the river. This adds 3/4 mile of walking to your trip which some people might need to take into consideration before going.  And not allowing inflatable kayaks is a good thing. The Run is very remote and, if your kayak pops on one of the many downed trees or snags, you are in for a very long walk to anywhere.

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low branches

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smoke from fires!

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shallows

All in all, Juniper Springs was a great experience. It gave us some confidence in handling Florida’s Rivers. They move so slow! But, there is always something great to look at.

While we were in Juniper Springs, we ran into Jim and Laura, who were winding up their work camping time in the forest. They also have a 33C Bounder and we traded stories and updates over beers when the weather cooperated. Jim was on his way to get new lithium batteries installed so we were interested in following up with them over time to see how the batteries worked.

Between rainy days, we did quite a bit of walking – there is a short hike around the campground along a trail and a section of the Florida Trail passes through the recreation area. We also did a little bit of off-roading (Florida style) and found a couple of lakes, one of which we are sure we can get the short bus to if we are ever in the area again.

We did manage to get out to eat once, at Bubbaque‘s in Silver Spring. It was the closest restaurant we found and it is serviceable – it fed us -and well priced.  We wouldn’t go out of our way to eat there but would choose it again in a pinch if we happened to be passing through.

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From Ocala we made a short jump down to Orlando to Thousand Trails Clermont RV Park.

It was a purpose visit, as we really needed to do laundry. It didn’t hurt that the campground was free for the four nights we were there (our Thousand Trails Zone Pass). The Park is good enough for us considering the price but we really hate the site selection process: get there around 11AM and drive around and around and around until you manage to find an empty spot. Considering there are about 1000 sites, it can take a while. We headed over to the 30A sites about as far away from the clubhouse we could find and managed to get a decent site overlooking a cow field. Each day we had two visitors.

 

We also wanted to visit with our friend Marie, who lives not too far away. We had a great time meeting up with her for a walk and lunch and with she and her husband for dinner. Walking around Eola Lake was our first time every in downtown Orlando. It is a pleasant walk around a well cared for lake and the Pizza at Anthony’s Pizza is very good.

We thought about going to Disneyland or Epcot or one of the other parks, but we never got sufficiently motivated to actually get there. It is much easier to motivate me to hike, kayak, or the like, but I barely budge when being enticed with loud, crowded, hot, traffic-y places. Oh, well. there is always next year.

 

 

 

2015 – we had a blast!

(Yes, I know am way behind my blog posts. But my computer ate three before I published them and I just didn’t have the brain power to completely rewrite them. And then, we were kinda rushing around doing 100 things and nothing. But, they will be updated over the coming month, once I finally get the pictures edited. Again.) Anyway.

We started the blog in May and for quite a few months, updated it religiously. But, we did have plenty of adventures before May and we found some pretty amazing places that we want to return to in 2017.  In 2015, we didn’t make reservations anywhere, just moved and stopped when we felt like it, where we could find space. The results varied, from hell in Florida to bliss in Alaska and all the stages of both in between. So, here is part of our year in review, with highlights and pictures.

January found us in 18 different spots, from Maryland to Texas. Yes, we drove and moved that much. We were on a mission: to get to Alaska and, looking at January, we were hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. By the end of January we realized we needed to slow down and wait for the weather to catch up with us – it was still REALLY COLD in most of the country. We did manage to find some great spots for a couple of days (our longest stay was three days) and took some great pictures.

In Florida, we got to see manatees up close in Blue Springs State Park, eat great oysters at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar (now closed), watch amazing sunsets at St. George Island State Park and visit with quite a few  friends.

In Texas, we met up with more friends, ate amazing BBQ at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, breezed through San Antonio, and set up camp in Big Bend.

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Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

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Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park

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Mission in San Antonio Texas

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The Rio Grande near Big Bend, Tx

In February, we fell in love with the town of Terlingua then quickly made our way through New Mexico to stay awhile in Arizona. We browsed Arizona for a while, though we didn’t sit in one place for long. We had Marv Braun, of Precision RV fix the absolute clusterfu%k the dealer made when re-installing our solar system (he also added a panel and swapped our batteries for AGMs). We made a quick visit to Tombstone and Bisbee, got lost in the Dragoon Mountains, and wandered the back roads of Prescott. Our longest stay at a campground in February? Three days, if you don’t count the stop in Casa Grande to visit with Marv (six days). We were still in a hurry.

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Great Sand Dunes National Monument

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Lost in Arizona

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The backroad from Prescott to Jerome. Probably one of the funnest drives in the area.

In March, we ran the border at Organ Pipe National Monument, went to the Escapees Escapade, hung out with my brother in Gilbert, then raced to Desert Hot Springs, CA. We ended the month with a week in Coarsegold at the Escapees Co-Op just outside of Yosemite.

We fell in love with Organ Pipe and in Desert Hot Springs, we had the best sushi ever (and really good noodles) at Domo Sushi. We visited Joshua Tree National Park and found it completely packed with Spring Breakers so we beat a hasty retreat out a back road that had us testing the abilities of the Jeep (it passed). After browsing for a day in Yosemite, we cancelled our week of reservations at one of the Valley campgrounds – it was just entirely too crowded and most of the campgrounds hadn’t even opened yet!

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The US border in Organ Pipe.

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Creek in the Superstition Mountains

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Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA

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Yosemite Valley in March

April had us pushing northward faster than we expected because of the crowds. We had no reservations and they were hard to come by. Many of the state parks had sites available but they were too short for our rig. So we made our way North to Oregon and then Washington.

We found a peaceful site in Klamath where we wandered around huge trees for a couple of days. We landed a last minute oceanview campsite in Harris State Park in Oregon and stayed put for a week – until the rain drove us out. We stopped at Newport (loved it) and Seaside (loved it more), then raced up to Chimicum, WA in need of some rig repairs. We then bummed around Washington and continued to do that the first two weeks of May as we waited for our departure to Alaska.

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In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

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Newport Marina Sunset

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The Oregon Coastline

In May, we did last minute prepping and purchasing, including getting Belle’s shots before we took off for the Great White North. The border crossing was easy but the price shock wasn’t. Gas and many food items doubled in price. But, the scenery was amazing, the places to boondock beautiful and we were finally on our way to Alaska!

We were wowed by Fraser Canyon, enjoyed  Terrace and Stewart, got an oil change in Whitehorse, and finally settled for a breather in Haines. We got to see bears, moose, foxes, and glaciers and we were barely in Alaska.

June found us in Wrangell St. Elias Park finding McCarthy, then Valdez  watching eagles play, and left us on the Kenai Peninsula dodging forest fires.

While McCarthy didn’t live up to expectations, Valdez kept our attention and we managed to stay a week. It ended up being our favorite Alaska town (though Haines was a close second). Seward was beautiful, Homer was busy, and the Kenai River was crowded. June was more than sensory overload but if I had to relive one month of my life over and over, it would be this one.

In July we made back up to the heart of Alaska, visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks, then pushing north to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, while there, Belle had another stroke. We were tired and she was sick, so we began our push back south. It wasn’t really a direct path, as it took us through Chicken, Dawson City, Skagway, Toad River and down into Montana by the end of the month. There are many places we missed – we drove through the Canadian Rockies but didn’t have a chance to stop for long – but it gives us an excuse to go back.

The month of August was spent bouncing around Montana, with a brief ‘vacation’ down in Cody Wyoming. We found some beautiful places to stop and spend some time. We also found the best brisket in the country and the best biscuits and gravy in the country (sorry – it is a friend who is an amazing cook!). We found ghost towns, an endless number of backroads, and quiet, out of the way, places to hide.

The weather was finally turning so we headed south in September, spending a couple of weeks in Utah before ending up in Usery Park.  We finally followed the White Rim trail, nearly got car-jacked by wild horses and got to watch an amazing lunar eclipse before meeting up with family at the end of the month.

October was almost completely dominated with visiting family, though we did get a brief break at Balloon Fiesta. Another bucket list item done! Seriously, if you ever get the change to go to Balloon Fiesta, do it. And I highly recommend it in an RV.

The first half of November we chilled with family around Phoenix and then raced back to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We managed to stop for some amazing meals and moments with both friends and family on our trip east (Did I mention the most amazing burgers that are worth a 200 mile detour in Roswell? Yeah, we are still reminiscing about those.)  and then settled in Wakefield, VA on the family farm.

December we holed up just outside DC at Cherry Hill RV park, where we caught up with dentists and doctors, more friends and family, and celebrated the holidays.

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We finished up the month in South Carolina, and started the new year there, too.

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If I had to do it all again, I would. And I probably would only change one or two things. Yes, we sped through many, many states when I would have preferred to linger. And yes, we acted like vacationers with a time limit rather than permanent travelers. But, now that we have done the trip once, we can do it again in 2017, but a little bit slower. There is still so much of the country to see…

The White Rim Road in 10 hours or less

We didn’t set out that morning to run the entire 100 or so miles White Rim Road in a day. In fact, it wasn’t until 10AM that we had any idea of what we might do. But, I had been browsing the internet and saw that there were permits available for the trail and we had nothing better to do…

The White Rim Trail is a beautiful road that runs through Canyonlands National Park in the Island in the Sky area. Because it is unimproved and remote, recommendations are to have both high clearance and four wheel drive. Since we have both and, since we were staying at Dead Horse Point State Park right down the road, we figured we would drop down the rim and take a closer look.

There are two routes to get to White Rim Road, the Shafer Trail, which we had done two days before, and Mineral Bottom at the other end. Our goal, at 10AM, was to go down Mineral Bottom, check things out for a couple of hours, then come back up. So, by 11AM we were in the Jeep heading over to Mineral Bottom along BLM 129 just outside of our campground.

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The view at the top of Mineral Bottom switchbacks

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On the switchbacks. The straight ways weren’t so bad if you don’t mind edges. The turns were another story.

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Another view of the road from further down. The two dark diagonals are the road we drove on.

We made it down to the bottom with clean and dry seats in spite of the fact that we passed two other cars going up. In our case, it was much worse for the passenger than the driver, as the driver at least has a steering wheel to brace themself with (Here is a video of someone else going down the road). Honestly, for me, who is really afraid of edges, going up Shafer Trail is way worse than coming down Mineral Bottom. Coming down, you can see the road ahead of you for a bit and you don’t have to worry about rolling backwards over the edge.

Once we got down there, we could make a left or a right. Mike decided on left, which took us onto White Rim Road. We figured we would head a couple of miles down the road, see a little, wander, then turn around and head back.

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The road follows the river for a while and we passed people camping and quite a few bike riders. We pass through some pretty deep sand that we had to race through and I felt sorry for the bicyclists coming up to it – it was going to be a rough slog and there was no path around it.

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The scenery just kept getting more beautiful and the road more bumpy.

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And then we finally hit it – our first tight squeeze.

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Making our way around the cliff.

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A picture from inside the jeep for perspective. Yes, we were extremely close to the edge – the rocks jutting out of the cliff face forces you that way.

After making our way around the cliff, the world opened up a little onto a plateau.

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And then continued back around towards the mesa.

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Where we were met with this:

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We weren’t sure what to make of it. We were pretty sure there was a road up there because the road supposedly went all the way around. We just couldn’t see it. Until we spotted the bright yellow jeep. It is impossible to find in the picture above, so here is a crop of near the center:

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That is how incredibly large the wall before us was.  While we waited for the jeep to get where we were (a good five minutes at least), we had a talk.

M – “We can go forward, or turn around here.”

C – “You mean go back along that cliff?”

M – “Either forward along that cliff or back along the other.”

C – “Or just live here on granola bars and handouts.”

M – “…”

C – “Okay, I prefer the dangers I don’t know to the ones I do. How much gas do we have?”

M – “A little over 1/2 a tank.”

C – “What time is it?”

M – “12:30. Best case, we make it back to camp when the low fuel light comes on at around 9PM. Worst case, we fly off the cliff. In between case, we end up stuck somewhere on the road eating granola bars and hand outs.”

C – “…”

M – “…”

C – “Forward it is.”

And that is how we ended up trying to drive 100 miles at about 10 miles an hour through Islands of the Sky on the White Rim Road.

When the yellow jeep made it down to us, we got ready to go up. They waved to us and drove over. They were being followed by three street motorcycles (they didn’t know them) and one of the drivers was petrified. He kept getting off and walking his bike, afraid he would fly off the cliff. I honestly didn’t blame him.

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When the motorcycles finally made it down and on their way, we headed up the side of the mountain. We stopped for a minute when we saw this:

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This is where we were headed. How amazing is that?

We started up the cliff face and  I didn’t take a picture for ten minutes. I’m guessing I was too busy holding on to pay attention to taking pictures.  I did get a shot 11 minutes later of the road we had been on, and another one of the road we were on.

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From the top of the mesa we could see where we were headed next.

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We just had to get down there. I was kind of looking forward to it. It wasn’t possible that going down was worse than going up. Mostly.

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We hit the first major ‘down,’ a 45 degree hill that banked to the left into what felt like a slolom course for luge sleds. And just as suddenly we were out, down by the water and in a new landscape.

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The world was full of cracks. Large gaping cracks in what looked like an otherwise normal desert landscape. It was both beautiful and scary at the same time. Not an ‘I’m afraid of edges scary,’ more of an ‘I am so completely awestruck by this amazing scene it might swallow me whole scary.’

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Then the cracks become canyons and then their bottoms fall away into deeper canyons and the white rim dribbles over the side sucking you into the view. In one moment you suddenly realize you no longer know where the bottom is anymore because a minute ago you were at the bottom, the cliffs to your back, but now you are at the top of cliffs before you and there are more cliffs below them and it just becomes one insane Ecsher painting you may never be able to escape and so you sigh. And you sigh deep because you want to catch your breath – the view took it away and you realize – this is islands in the sky what can the maze possibly be like? And suddenly, for just a moment, I understand how Billy Pilgrim felt.

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Or maybe we had just been here for too long without a break.

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If you look closely at the top of the left hand ‘pour out’ you will see two windows of a cliff dwelling buried deep in the recess (near the center of the image).

We noticed the shadows getting longer and checked the time. 2:30, and we weren’t halfway through. We decided we needed to stop a little less and move a little more. The road and the terrain changed once again as we move away from the river.

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It was about here that we hit a blind hill. I failed to take a picture of it, but the road went up at a really steep angle and disappeared. Because we needed to accelerate hard to get up the hill and we didn’t know what was on the other side, we stopped. I jumped out to see where the road went and literally ran into a park ranger. He was coming up the other side at the same time and must have seen my head pop up over the ridge. He was on a motorcycle and cut his engine and steered away. It could have been really messy, probably more for him than us, had we continued up without checking.

We chatted for a few minutes. His job is patrolling the White Rim Road which he does by off road motorcycle. He really loved his job and I really couldn’t blame him. Back and forth a couple of times a day, checking for wayward hikers, broken down cars, injured campers and whatever else may happen along. He told us we should have no problem making it out as he had already run the road. The Hogback was dry and fairly safe (it had rained off and on the day before) and only a little scary. We both moved on in opposite directions.

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And then we came to the Murphy Hogback. The hogback is a ridge that must be ascended and descended to run the White Rim Road. It brings together all the impediments to easy off-road driving: steepness, loose sand and gravel, slick clay and cliffs. On our ascent, we only had to worry about three.

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People at the top cheering on those that ascend the hogback.

To ascend the hogback, you need forward momentum and traction. But, if you have too much speed, you run the risk of being bounced right off the trail and off the side. So we popped the jeep into four wheel low and went for it. The very last hill, just below the top, is incredibly steep. We could feel gravity pulling us back as the jeep tried to move forward. Its a delicate balancing act: torque vs. weight vs. speed vs. traction. In the end, momentum won and we crested the top.

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There was a crowd at the top, some of them campers some of them day trippers wanting to run the hogback on bicycles. It was a party atmosphere as everyone celebrated every crest of the hill. We took a short break then headed over to the descent.

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We made it down to the bottom with way less drama than we had reaching the top. Gravity assisted on the steep hill.

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It was now 3:30 PM and we still had about 50 more miles to go. We sped up, knowing there would be a lot of things we missed.

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We passed through some beautiful landscapes that demanded further exploring – some other day. We hit an area of slick rock, some of it steep, but the ground was dry and the jeep had no problems climbing it.

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We kept moving, through sublime landscapes, trying to beat the sun to the top.

 

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We would our way around canyons and cliffs as the sun sunk further. Photography became difficult as the shadows overtook the view.

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We made it to the Shafer trail at dusk with just enough light to see our way up. While I couldn’t get good photos of it this day, we had run the Shafer Trail two days before and include a picture from that here:

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We crawled out of the canyon around 7PM. Our low fuel light came on just as we made the main road in the park. We made it!

It is possible to do the White Rim Road in Canyonlands in a day, though it is a very long day and we missed a lot. But we would not hesitate to do it again and plan on it in April of next year. This time, though we start with the Shafer Trail earlier in the morning and follow the sun around to the other side.

A high clearance vehicle is definitely a requirement. There are some ledges and rocks to scramble over. Because the road was dry, we may have been able to get by without four wheel drive, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There are a few spots of deep sand easier to navigate in four high and some of the steep hills are easier done in four low. Our jeep has a manual transmission which made controlling speed on the steep down hills simple. I’m guessing an automatic could run in first gear and accomplish the same thing. But, compared to many of the jeep trails around Moab, the White Rim Road is easy for a stock jeep with a capable driver.

Garnet, MT and DeLorme Maps

One of the reasons for our stay at Salmon Lake State Park was to go to Garnet, MT, a ghost town restored by the BLM. We headed out on a beautiful and cool day, taking the easy gravel route suggested by the BLM.

mountain view

Beautiful views on the way to Garnet, obscured by smoke haze from drifting Washington and Oregon wildfire smoke.

Garnet is an old mining town in the mountains of Montana, not far from Missoula. It grew quickly, faded quickly, burned down, was revived, and then abandoned again before the BLM took it over and started restoring it. While it doesn’t have as many buildings as other ‘famous’ ghost towns, much of the restoration is very well done and includes furniture and the like from the period.

Garnet, MT

Garnet from the path down the hill from the parking lot

staff office

the staff office

store

A tavern

Store

Inside a store in Garnet

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Building (hotel) in Garnet

Kitchen

In the Kitchen

hotel room

Hotel Room

Sewing room

Sewing room

wash basin

wash basin

bedroom chair

a sitting area in a bedroom

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another bedroom

Because many of the rooms are so small, the were shot with a fish-eye lens. I corrected some distortion, but some (such as The Bedroom) couldn’t be helped without completely altering the scale.  Many of these were also shot at 1600 ISO so I could get a larger depth of field (6.3-9). I greatly prefer natural lighting so no flash was used.

We greatly enjoyed wandering around the town site. The staff and volunteers were very friendly and mostly very knowledgeable. The site is very dog friendly and we ran into quite a few leashed and well behaved dogs.

There are two roads that get to Garnet – one from the north and one from the south. Both are gravel roads and look pretty innocuous. But, there are lots (and I mean lots) of roads back in that area and they all look the same. As we were leaving on the south route, we ran into a passenger car with an older man at the wheel. He looked shell shocked. He wondered if there was any other way out of Garnet other than the way he came. We told him the northern road, Garnet Range Road, was a really easy gravel road down to Route 200 and from there he could head into Missoula. It was the longer way back, but easier. What we didn’t know is the driver had made a mistake, the same one that we made: take Cave Gulch into Garnet, not Bear Gulch. However, in both our defenses, the roads aren’t marked, either from the intersection where he didn’t make the turn nor in Garnet, where we didn’t even know the other road existed. I still giggle at memory of the look of relief on his face when he found out he didn’t have to drive that road back. For us, in the Wrangler, it was a simple and fun back country road; for him, in a large four-door passenger car with no clearance and a wife who obviously had had enough for one day, it was probably the stuff nightmares are made of. Bear Gulch Road is a single lane, cliff hugging, unmaintained, dirt road for its last few miles into Garnet. It starts out down at Route 90 pretty tame but, at about mile 8, it changes personality.

Bear Gulch Road

The view from Bear Gulch. Those other roads over there?  Not Bear Gulch, most likely Clam Gulch.

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Bear Gulch road for most of the way – cliff side and skinny. The drop off on the right is about 200 feet though it is an angled drop.Please forgive the dirty windshield.

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Bear Gulch Road – a wide spot in the road to pass. Note the side road going off to the left before we drop into the switchbacks.

We got down to Beartown – it is really nothing more than a wide spot in the road with a house on the corner, now. We pulled out our Delorme Montana Atlas and Gazetteer and looked it over. “Okay, we can go around this really long way or we can cut off most of that by just taking this shortcut…” Rule number one: If I say shortcut, remember that means distance, not time. Rule number two: If Delorme puts a road on a map once, it stays on the map forever.

So we took a right onto Ten Mile Creek Road. Ten Mile Creek Road would run into Union Peak Road which would take us back into Garnet Gulch Road. Simple. And it was, for a while. There were bumps and washouts and ruts but the road kept on.  There were a few houses on the road and someone trying to sell lots in a housing division. It was a very pretty area.

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10 mile creek road

Sluice

A very large sluice on Ten Mile Creek.

Until the road went away. Or it didn’t. At first, we missed the turn off for the ‘official’ road as we were driving through what appeared to be a field. We followed a power line road right to the edge of a mountain. So we turned around. We found the road again wandering off the edge of the field and right into a ditch that was crossed by some logs. Some very old logs. Luckily, the jeep doesn’t weigh much. We continued on and the road came back, long enough to take us into a cow pasture.

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cows on Ten Mile Creek

Ten Mil Creek Road turned into Union Peak Road and we were home free! Union Peak Road is a BLM road so we thought all was good. Until we got to a road block. “DANGER!” “DO NOT GO!” “TURN BACK!” And there was a huge ditch cut into the road for no other purpose than to stop people from going forward. I started getting worried about Montana Militia and such as we contemplated our next move. Driving all the way back wasn’t happening. We were on a public road on public land and there was a drive around for the ditch. We aren’t sure who put in the ditch, or why, but we went around it anyway.

And nothing happened. We drove down the road.

Union Peak Road

Union Peak Road

There was about a mile of road where it was obvious that someone spent days if not weeks clearing storm damage and blow down. Maybe this is what the warning was about?  We will never know. We made it back onto gravel and then back onto asphalt pretty quickly. We got to see some back roads areas of Montana we would have missed otherwise. Montana is a beautiful state and there is a lot to see, much of it away from the highway.

Return from the Dalton

The return trip on the Dalton Highway was pretty uneventful. We could make faster time because we knew the roads and in the 2.5 days we were north, some road repairs were made.

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South on the Dalton

There was a slight pucker factor when we saw this in our windshield:

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One of the hills on the Dalton

We didn’t remember anything this steep on the way in. We took as much of a running start as we could and hit the top at a respectable speed of about 25 MPH.

The view on the other side:

Dalton Highway

Dalton Highway

In places where there had been old gravel patches in the asphalt with tire killer transitions, new gravel had been added and the road smoothed. In places where the chip seal/dirt was deeply pockmarked and potholed, grading had been done.

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See, there is dirt on the Dalton – road crew grading the surface

Sometimes those road crews work really fast! And then we hit it – an area that was being freshly graded. It wouldn’t have been so bad had it been a flat straight away or if we didn’t weigh 26,000 lbs, or if we hadn’t had to slow when a truck passed the other way. Our guess is that when the crews grade the dirt, they first wet it down. A lot. Then they drag it repeatedly to get the dirt churned up and soft enough to roll. Then they add calcium chloride as a kind of binding, stabilizing agent. And then they roll it all flat. We hit an 8% grade up after they wet it and dragged it but before they rolled it.

Anyone who has driven a lot in snow knows the tipping point: the moment when weight and gravity overcome forward momentum on a slippery surface and one begins to slide backwards while going forwards. If lucky, forward movement is faster than backward movement, at least long enough to crest the hill. We hit that moment, just short of the crest of the hill. Creeping along at 10 MPH, though the gas pedal was to the floor, we crested the hill just as we slid back.

We were extremely thankful and continued carefully to 60 Mile Camp where we could assess the damage.

Yuck! Mud was caked everywhere. I really wish I had taken pictures because words can’t describe the amount of mud. We couldn’t see the headlights or foglights of the jeep; it was as if the entire front end was one solid mass of oozy ick. Just imagine a 2-4 inch thick blanket of mud thrown over it (people pay a lot to do that to themselves). My bike on the back was unidentifiable – it could have been a kayak. In each Short Bus compartment, 4 inches of mud was caked on the bottoms of the door where it met the frame. Mud had worked its way into the sewer drain compartment and the propane compartment as both had openings to the ground below. The wheel wells, exhaust, frame, bumpers, everything was covered in pounds of mud. We do a lot of off roading and have been known to take a turn through the mud just for fun but we had just never experienced it on this scale. It was probably due to the size of the Short Bus – we must have knocked about 500 lbs of mud off the vehicles in that parking lot. But, we lived to tell about it and now we can check one other bucket list item off (okay, mudding in our RV was not on our bucket list but it was something we accomplished so…).

We had a decent night’s sleep (the sun sets for about an hour before it rises again) and continued the last 60 miles of the Dalton.

Yukon River

the Yukon River

Yukon River Bridge

Yukon River Bridge on the Dalton

It started to rain when we had about ten miles left on the Dalton. As we had done many times on this trip, we repeated our mantra, “I think I can, I think I can.”

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Dalton Highway – we kept running into the red and white German plated class C but we never got a chance to talk to them.

We made it off the Dalton and onto the Elliott. The rain eased up and we had an easy trip back down to Fairbanks through the fire zone and into the city.

bb4 bb5Notes on the Dalton Highway

We read all the scare stories about how horrible it was, how one needed extra gas cans, two spare tires, various other parts, etc. but we also read of other RVers who had done it. One in particular was extremely helpful: FulltimeUSA. I took my inspiration from him, though he no longer blogs. We didn’t carry gas cans. We had a spare for the jeep but none for the RV. We have a spare air filter for the RV and various tools and duct tape, but that is about it.

We had plenty of time.  We could go as slow as we needed to as we didn’t have any schedule to keep. This was probably our smartest move as too many people drive too fast. That is how one blows a tire or loses a windshield. Since we didn’t feel any pressure to get from point A to point B, or any pressure to even drive the Dalton, we had a much better, safer experience.

We watched the far off road as much as we did the road immediately in front of us. On the Dalton, one can see for miles. If we saw a semi behind us, we prepared for him to pass us: we slowed down and either found a very wide spot or even a pull off. It slowed us down but it was safer for both us and the trucker as typically, they were going significantly faster than we were. If we saw a semi coming towards us, we slowed down and moved as far over as we could. Slowing down probably saved our windshield – we were hit by quite a few rocks but we suffered no damage. If we were going to meet a semi on a hill, and he/she was going down, we got out of their way. With the narrowness of the road in most places, combined with the unevenness of the road surface, we were worried they might bounce right into us. While we had a few close calls, we came out without a scratch.

There are way more motorcycles on the Dalton than one would expect; from our discussions with bikers, it seems to be a bucket list item, much like it is for everyone else. We slowed down when passing them the other way, more for their safety than ours. If a rock can break a windshield imagine what it can do to a human body.

There were plenty of other RVs on the Dalton though we saw few trailers or fifth wheels. We only saw one other Class A but plenty of Bs and Cs and dozens of truck campers. Just from experience, the smaller you are the easier it is.

I guess the gist is: we went slow. We did about 680 miles on the Dalton and had absolutely no damage (other than the mud) to either of our vehicles. Going slow also gave us more time to enjoy the ride. And we did. Would we do it again? Probably.  But we would wait until the end of August to see the changes fall brings.

North of Coldfoot on the Dalton

We packed up our jeep with all the essentials – lunch, bug spray, water, and Belle. It was a beautiful day and the temperature was already in the 60s. We headed north on what had to be the best road in Alaska. We hadn’t believed the owner of the Hot Spot Cafe when she told us that but she was right; for 30 miles the pavement was the smoothest we had seen so far. The dirt/chip seal after that was also very good – it must have been done within the last year. We managed to make very good time heading north.

Brooks Range

Approaching the Brooks Range

We passed the “Farthest North Spruce” which no longer existed due to vandals, and the few straggling spruce that managed to grow just beyond that. The clouds gathered. As far as we know, there are always clouds over the Brooks Range. The mountains seem to suck up and trap all moisture for miles.

We had been worried about Atigun Pass and the stories of its dangerousness; it was why we didn’t take the RV further north. Well, it wasn’t as bad as we thought, at least in the jeep. We were the only ones in it on the trip up and so, other than the threat of rain, the passage was uneventful.  It was beautiful though.

Pipeline

The pipeline running through the Brooks Range

The Alaska Pipeline is a constant companion on a run up the Dalton but north of Coldfoot, it is almost always in sight of the road and takes a prominent position in the landscape.

Arctic Tundra

Arctic Tundra

We got our first views of arctic tundra. We continued north, through construction, just taking in the views. With an up and back route, we tend to go to our ‘destination’ making our stops on the passenger side of the road, leaving the other side for the return trip. This gives us a gauge of how much time we will need on the way back.

Our ‘do or die’ spot was Happy Valley Camp. When we reached there, we would have to decide if we would go all the Deadhorse or turn around – we needed to make sure we had enough gas for the return trip. It was 2PM when we reached Happy Valley. It had taken us about five hours to get there, with a lunch break. We decided to turn around.

We took some time to enjoy the view and wander around before turning back south.

Sag River

The Sag River at Happy Valley Camp

There was one five mile stretch of road where fireweed grew with an unimaginable abundance on one side of the Dalton. The color was so vibrant, if I stared too long,  green splotches clouded my vision.

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Fireweed along the Dalton

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The jeep on the Dalton

One thing the Dalton has is a lot of truck traffic relative to its traffic in general. And much of that traffic is wide loads. The Dalton, for the most part, is 28′ wide. In most parts, that includes the shoulder even if it is slanted down into a ditch. Twice, we ran into 21′ loads.

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a 21′ wide truck on the 28′ wide Dalton

Luckily, for this one, we were in a very, very wide part of the road – it had just been redone so it was also smooth. The second time, the shoulder into the ditch wasn’t so slanted and soft so we were able to hide out there, as the road wasn’t wide enough for both of us. The pilot cars of the extremely wide loads called us on the CB (yes, we bought a CB just for this) to give us a chance to find a place to stop. It probably would have been a problem had we been in the Short Bus; chances are it would have rolled right off the highway at that slant.

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Pilot car through construction

The return trip through the construction zone was a little slower this time – about a 45 minute wait. We talked to the motorcycle guy we would run into two more times later. He also made the trip from Key West to the Arctic though he took three and a half weeks to do it instead of nine months like we did. He decided the Dalton did him in and, when he got back to Fairbanks, he would ship the bike back. I think a lot of that had to do with the 500 mile days he had to do to get there that quickly.

Nearing the Brooks Range, the clouds began to gather again.

the Dalton

The Dalton

The Dalton

The Dalton

The Pipeline was almost always in the landscape. But, without the pipeline, the Dalton wouldn’t exist, and vice versa.

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Gathering clouds and the ever present pipeline

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mountains

As we started into the pass, it began to rain. Not too hard but enough to have us worry about road conditions – we didn’t know how long it had been raining. The pass was mostly uneventful, save for the speeding semi on the wrong side of the road. We missed him and he missed us, so we consider it a success.

Brooks Range

Rain in Atigun Pass

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The view in Atigun Pass

The Dalton

Cutting through the mountains at Atigun Pass

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An overlook with a view

Brooks Range

Landscape of the Brooks Range

Dalton

Out of the mountains and into the foothills and the land of trees

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Skukakpak Mountain

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Dalton Highway

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River along the Dalton

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The beautiful blue of the Middle Fork of the Kuyakuk River.

We thought about taking the side road to Wiseman but it was late, we were hungry, and I’m pretty sure Belle had had enough. She endured the drive like a champ but was getting restless in her kennel in the back seat.

We returned to camp, fed Belle, and then headed back to Coldfoot Camp.  I really needed a beer and Mike wanted to hit the buffet again. The beer was excellent (Silver Gulch Copper Creek Amber), just what I needed to get the dirt out of my throat.  The buffet was again very good – Ahi tuna, beef shish kabob, pizza, veggies, a salad bar, and more heavenly desserts. We again ate too much then toddled back to camp tired.

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