The Colorado Plateau (April 18 – May 9, 2016)

After leaving Las Vegas, we began our three week adventure in the Colorado Plateau.  The Colorado Plateau covers an area of 130,000 square miles within southern and eastern Utah, northern Arizona, western Colorado and northwestern New Mexico.

Our first week was spent at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park in Glendale, Utah.  It was a small family-run campground with few amenities but it was ideally situated between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.  We were very happy to find that all the National Parks were free from April 17-24, 2016.

Zion National Park

On April 19th we made our first visit to Zion National Park.  We took the scenic 24-mile Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway that connected the area near our campground to Zion National Park.  We had not driven this way with our fifth wheel since there are tunnels along the way that are too low.

Upon arriving at the Visitor Center, we took the shuttle all the way to the end and then hiked along the Virgin River.

After the Riverside Walk we rode the shuttle back and hopped off at the stops along the way to view the magnificent sights.  We hiked between one of the stops and the Zion Lodge where we had lunch.

Bryce Canyon National Park

On April 20th we drove about an hour to Bryce Canyon.  We stopped along the way in Dixie National Forest and climbed the red rock in Red Canyon.

Upon arriving at Bryce Canyon we boarded the shuttle.  We road it to the end at Bryce Point where we got our first views of the Bryce Amphitheater.

We next rode the shuttle down to Inspiration Point and then hiked down the Rim Trail to Sunset Point.  Phil’s fear of heights really kicked in a few times during the Rim Trail but we managed to survive the hike.

We hiked the 3-mile Navajo / Queens Garden loop down to the canyon floor and then back up again to Sunrise Point.  Given how steep the descent was, we knew the return trip was going to be a challenge and we were right.  The long, steep climb at high altitude had us huffing and puffing along the way.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

On April 21st we visited the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Angel Canyon, north of Kanab, UT.  The mission of Best Friends to “Save Them All” relates to their goal to eliminate the 9,000 healthy and treatable dogs and cats that are killed in America’s shelters each day.  The sanctuary is a huge facility that cares each day for an average of 1,700 animals of many different species, including about 400 dogs and 600 cats.  The sanctuary is manned by 400 employees and tons of volunteers.

Our visit began with a short video that was followed by a 90-minute tour of the facility by shuttle.  The tour took us by numerous buildings dedicated to the many species of animals, including horses, rabbits, pot-bellied pigs, birds of many types as well as dogs and cats.  We were able to go into a couple of the buildings where we got to interact with a dog and lots of cats.  They were obviously hoping some of the guests would adopt one of the animals but we managed to resist the temptation.

The end of the tour took us to the outskirts of Best Friends’ property which included canyons where many Western movies and TV shows were filmed in the past, including the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales and the first two seasons of the Lone Ranger.  We saw several large animal cemeteries where locals can have their deceased pets buried.

After our tour we headed into Kenab for dinner.  We chose the Ironhorse Restaurant and Saloon.  We were the first customers when the doors opened and had some very good beef brisket.  The décor of the restaurant and saloon reflected the old west and had memorabilia from the old Western movies filmed in Kanab.  We had fun taking pictures in the courtyard.

We got back to the campground in time to watch the last few innings of Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter for the Cubs.

Hiking in Zion

On April 22nd we returned to Zion National Park to do some more hiking.  We took the shuttle to Zion Lodge and started on the Lower Emerald Pool Trail where we got wet from the spray coming from the waterfall high above us.  Since it was a Friday and the park was free, the trails were much more crowded than they had been on Tuesday.

The trail got steeper beyond that as we climbed to the Middle Emerald Pool and then on to the Upper Emerald Pool.  Our efforts were rewarded when we reached the Upper Pool where there were many kids enjoying the water.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

On April 24th we drove to see the sand dunes at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  These dunes have built up over the past 500-1000 years from sandstone dust that blows through a pass between two mountains and settles on this area.  The state park is a popular attraction for ATV drivers.

Heading to Colorado

On April 25th we packed up early and left Utah.  We spent a night in Page, Arizona.  The drive to Page was somewhat challenging due to the high wind gusts but the weather was better than forecast.  The short drive, combined with Arizona’s lack of Daylight Savings Time, had us arrive around 10:30 am so we had time to do some exploring.  We drove to view the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River that formed Lake Powell.  Glen Canyon Dam is the second largest dam in the U.S., behind only Hoover Dam.

On April 26th we drove to our campground outside Mancos, Colorado.  The drive was about 225 miles and took us through Navajo and Ute reservations for most of the trip.  With the exception of a rare passing lane, the two highways were both two-lane.  There were very few towns along the way and, since we had no cell service, it would have been a bad place to break down.  There were no rest areas the entire drive.  We stopped for lunch in the small town of Zayenta, AZ.  Fortunately Phil had previously used the satellite view in Google Earth to identify a large parking lot behind the Burger King in Zayenta so we were able to park our rig and take a break.

We stayed at the Ancient Cedars campground from April 26th – May 1st.  The campground was directly across the highway from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.  We got a nice site in the big rig section with a spectacular view of a mesa out our living room window.


Mesa Verde National Park

On April 27th we visited Mesa Verde National Park.  The Ancestral Pueblo people lived in the Mesa Verde area from about AD 550 – 1300.  In the period from the late 1190s to the late 1270s, they built cliff dwellings that ranged in size from a single room to 150 rooms.  By 1300, the cave dwellings had been abandoned but historians can only speculate as to why.

The only entrance to the park was very close to our campground but most of the major cave dwellings are a 20-mile drive from the entrance.  There were numerous scenic overviews along the way and we stopped at them all.  We took a short hike on the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail. This enabled us to view park visitors touring the Balcony House, a very large cave dwelling built on the canyon wall.





Four Corners Monument

On April 28th we drove to the Four Corners Monument, designating the point at which the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all meet.  We had driven past it on our drive into Colorado but decided it was worth returning for a visit.  In hindsight, it probably wasn’t worth the 90-mile roundtrip.  The monument was surrounded by numerous stands of Native Americans selling jewelry and souvenirs.

Return to Mesa Verde National Park

On April 29th we returned to Mesa Verde National Park to visit some sites we had missed on the previous visit.  Our first stop was at the Far View Sites where we saw the remains from five villages from mesa-top farming communities (circa AD 1000 – 1200s).

Next we visited the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum where we watched a film on the history of Mesa Verde and examined relics from the various periods that the mesa was inhabited.  Jan captured a picture of one of the smallest post offices we’ve seen.


Then we headed off on a 2.4 mile hike of the Petroglyph Trail.  The trail required some steep climbs to reach a large panel of petroglyphs (pictures carved into the rock).  The conclusion of the trail brought us to an overlook for Spruce Tree House.

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After our hike we drove the Mesa Top Loop where we saw the progression of homes and religious structures of the Ancestral Puebloans, including pit houses and pueblos (circa AD 700 – 950).  We also stopped at overlooks of the Navajo Valley as well as the Square Tower and Cliff House cliff dwellings.  As we reached our last few stops, we suddenly had to contend with a sleet storm.


Cattle Drive

On April 30th we got to witness a real life cattle drive right outside the gates to our campground.  The cattle were being moved from their winter pasture to the hill country.

Durango, CO

On May 1st we moved on to Durango, CO.  Although the drive was only 50 miles, it was one of the scariest drives we’d made to date.  The first half of the drive was very hilly and it started to snow very hard.  Phil was very uncomfortable driving the winding highway and going down the steep slopes with the fifth wheel in tow.  Jan had to pull over to clean her windshield when it became so coated with snow that her wipers weren’t able to clear it.

When we arrived at the Durango Riverside Resort and RV Park, we learned that we were the first campers of the season.  We were given a back-in site but it was very large so backing in was not a problem.  The storm stopped long enough for us to get hooked up and then started up again.  The campground was in a beautiful setting alongside the Animas River.  Although we had not paid for a riverside site, the campground was nearly empty so we had a view of the river from our rig anyway.

On May 2nd we drove to see historic downtown.  After strolling the streets and eating lunch at Ken and Sue’s, we went to the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum.  In addition to displays of railroad memorabilia, there had a lot of other displays of articles, mostly from the early 1900s.

Santa Fe, NM

On May 3rd we drove 245 miles to Santa Fe, NM.  Most of the drive was across Ute and Apache reservations.  There were long stretches of wide open spaces between towns but the scenery was beautiful.  We spent three nights at the Santa Fe Skies RV Park, a family-run campground south of the city.

On May 4th we took a drive to Taos, NM.  We took the 56-mile High Road to Taos and returned to Santa Fe on the River Road (a.k.a. the Low Road).  The High Road is a scenic, winding road through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains while the Low Road runs through the valleys along the Rio Grande.

Our first stop was in the farming valley of Chimayó where we visited the historic Santuario de Chimayó.  Built between 1811 and 1816, this tiny church is visited by pilgrims from all over the U.S. and Mexico, especially on Good Friday when crowds swell to thousands.

The road climbed to the top of a high mesa and the village of Truchas, backed by the peaks of the Truchas Peaks.

Next stop was in Las Trampas, founded in 1751.  Despite the heavy toll taken by a smallpox epidemic and raids by Plains Indians, the village of Las Trampas survived and the settlers managed to build the San Jose de Gracia Church, completed in 1776.

The road continued through numerous small villages and passed through more valleys and vistas of the Carson National Forest.

The High Road officially ended in Ranchos de Taos where we visited the famous San Francisco de Asis Mission Church.

We drove into the historic town of Taos for lunch before returning home via the River Road.  We stopped to watch rafters on the Rio Grande.


We spent May 5th in historic downtown Santa Fe.  We parked by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and walked to the Plaza.  Jan checked out the wares of dozens of Indian artists who were spread out along the length of the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continuously occupied building in the U.S. which has served as the center of government under Spanish, Mexican and American rule.

Next we walked to Canyon Road, a mile-long stretch of wall-to-wall art galleries displaying all kinds of art but predominately sculptures.  We had lunch at Caffe Greco where we celebrated Cinco de Mayo with New Mexican cuisine and had a nice time chatting with the 80-year owner.

After lunch we walked along a small portion of the historic Santa Fe Trail and visited the New Mexico State Capitol. 


On May 6th we moved on to Albuquerque, NM.  Although the drive was only 62 miles, the strong wind gusts made for a challenging drive. We checked in to the Enchanted Trails RV Park and managed to get set up in winds that were gusting to 45 mph.  Our rig was rocking so much in the wind that it was necessary for us to close our living room slide for a while.  Numerous tumbleweeds were blown under our truck and had to be dug out using our mop handle.


The campground is along historic Highway 66.  They have several vintage RVs available for rental by campers who want to experience old-time RVing.

On May 7th we dropped off the RAM for its first oil change and spent a few hours exploring Albuquerque.  We parked near the Albuquerque Museum and enjoyed the sculpture garden.

Next we wandered around Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque since it was founded in 1706.  We strolled around the plaza and checked out a number of the many stores in the area that occupy historic buildings.

Phil visited the Rattlesnake Museum but Jan decided she had no desire to see the snakes.  The museum had a large number of different types of rattlesnakes as well as other snakes and reptiles.

We visited The Candy Lady and bought some red chili chocolate fudge.  It was actually surprisingly good but did have a bit of a kick.  The Candy Lady made edible props for the TV series Breaking Bad and sells lots of paraphernalia related to the show.  We continued on with the Breaking Bad theme by visiting the properties that had been used in the show as Walter White’s house and Jesse Pinkman’s house.

Tucumcari, NM

On May 8th we finished our tour of the Colorado Plateau with an overnight stay at the Tucumcari KOA.  The drive from Albuquerque to Tucumcari was 188 miles but it was almost entirely on I-40.  The wind was still quite strong, with gusts up to 40 mph, which made for some uncomfortable moments of driving.  There wasn’t much to do in Tucumcari but we were able to watch the Cubs on DIRECTV and they won in 13 innings.

On May 9th we packed up early and made a two-hour drive to Canyon, TX, just south of Amarillo.  It was even windier than the previous three days, with gusts up to 50 mph, and Phil could definitely feel the sway of the trailer at times.  It was not a fun drive!

Viva Las Vegas (April 14-18, 2016)

We spent four nights at the Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort.  The Oasis was definitely more upscale that our usual campground.  The office lobby looked like a resort hotel lobby and the pool area was quite nice.  They also had an 18-hole natural greens putting course and sanctioned horseshoe pits and bocce ball court.  The campground was very large, with about 800 sites.  Due to our short stay we didn’t use many of the amenities.

As usual, we were exhausted on our arrival day so we didn’t do too much the first day.  On the 15th we headed to the Las Vegas Strip.  We parked at the Venetian and walked across the street to The Mirage where we had lunch near the sports betting area, which enabled us to eat while we watched the Chicago Cubs play an afternoon game.  After lunch, we strolled down one side of the Strip as far at the MGM Grand and then returned up the other side.  The strong winds that had affected our drive the day before made it difficult to walk at times.

On the 16th we headed out to the Hoover Dam and did a tour of the power plant.  The Hoover Dam was an incredible engineering feat that was completed in the early 1930’s under budget and two year ahead of schedule.  It’s hard to imagine how a similar project could ever get completed today due to the amount of government regulation that would be involved.

After having lunch at the Hoover Dam Café, we headed to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area using GPS coordinates we found on the Internet.  The GPS led us about 20 miles into Arizona before instructing us to turn onto a back road that took us another 26 miles to the Timber Bar Marina.  We stopped to double-check the GPS coordinates before making the long drive but we had entered the coordinates correctly.  The drive turned out to be pretty much of a bust since all we found at the end of the road was a small marina.  We took a few pictures before re-tracing our drive.  Once we drove back into Nevada we found another portion of Lake Mead that was more picturesque.  The good news was that this was one of the free days at National Parks so we didn’t have to pay anything for our experience at Lake Mead.


On our final night in Las Vegas we decided to return to the Strip to see all the lights.  First we stopped to see the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.  Then we went to view the atrium at the Wynn casino.  Finally we strolled up and down the Strip and spent some time at Circus Circus.

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California (April 1-14, 2016)

Since we were anxious to visit our daughter and son-in-law, Alison and Bill Lynch, we pushed our drive each day farther than usual.  Although we prefer to limit our drives to about 200 miles per day or take off-days when we’ve driven a long distance, we drove 260 miles each day for three days straight.

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We spent our first night in Needles, CA at the Needles KOA.  The campground was located near historic Route 66.  Our site was a decent-sized pull-through that had a great view of the valley.  We really didn’t have much time to enjoy the campground amenities, though.  We had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and then drove both vehicles back across the Arizona border where fuel was over $1.00 per gallon cheaper than in California.


The next day we rose early and drove to Bakersfield, CA.  The scenery was colorful along the way but grew somewhat monotonous after hours of seeing the same thing.  We stayed at the A Country RV Park and enjoyed it so much that we decided to stay there again on our return trip.  After setting up our rig and refueling both vehicles, we watched the Final Four games and then headed to bed early.

On Sunday we rose early again and headed to our destination in Felton, CA.  The first couple of hours were spent on Interstate 5 and took us through the farmland of central California.  Despite being an interstate highway, I-5 was unimpressive.  It was only two lanes wide in each direction.  Although the speed limit for cars was 70 mph, the speed limit for any vehicle pulling a trailer was only 55 mph.  That meant we needed to spend nearly the entire drive in the right-hand lane or risk getting run over by cars travelling at a much higher speed.  While the left-hand lane appeared to be in good shape, the right-hand lane was very rough.  After exiting I-5, we drove on a number of small highways that took us west to the California coast. These highways had lots of turns and many steep ups and downs.  We were very happy to arrive at our campground at Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort in Felton.  We were given a back-in site but we had plenty of room to maneuver our rig into our site without too much difficulty.  Rather than pay $20 per night for keeping a second vehicle at the campground, we took our truck and left it at Alison and Bill’s apartment for the week before heading out for dinner with them.


On Monday we started the day with a hike on the Redwood Grove Loop Trail at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.  The trail took us around a 40-acre grove of coast redwood trees, the tallest tree species on earth.  Some of these trees are over 2,000 years old.

We also explored the Roaring Camp Railroads station where narrow-gauge steam locomotives take passengers on trips to the Santa Cruz beach or to the summit of Bear Mountain.


Next we headed down the narrow and sharply winding Highway 9 in search of the Ox Fire Road trailhead.  Unfortunately there were no parking spaces available at the trailhead.  The highway was too narrow to allow us to turn around so we had no choice but to continue down the road to Santa Cruz.  We decided to visit the Santa Cruz wharf while we were nearby.  We saw lots of sea lions camped out on the wharf and in the water.


After visiting the wharf, we returned up Highway 9 and found a parking space at the Ox Fire Road trailhead.  Although the trail was easy to follow at first, we then lost track of it and instead followed the railroad tracks until we came across a trail down to a beach along the river.

We went to the beach near the Capitola wharf for dinner.  After dinner we wandered down to the beach so Jan could stick her feet in the Pacific. It was cold!

On Tuesday we drove to Monterey Bay.  Along the way we stopped in and visited Alison at the campus of California State University – Monterey Bay where she is a first-year faculty member of the Mathematics and Science department.

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Next we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  In addition to viewing the many impressive exhibits, we were able to watch the feedings of an albatross and the penguins, as well as a huge number of fish fed by a diver in the Kelp Forest exhibit.


On Wednesday we returned to Monterey Bay to do the 17 Mile Drive.  We stopped at nearly all of the 21 viewpoints listed on our map and took many pictures.  In Crockett Grove we saw the oldest Monterey cypress trees in existence.  We ended the drive at the Pebble Beach golf course where we watched a couple of foursomes finish their rounds on the 18th green before we had lunch at the Pebble Beach Market.


On Thursday we drove up to Mountain View to visit Bill’s office at Google.  Bill walked us around the Google complex and we had lunch at one of the many Google dining rooms (all free for Google employees and guests).  After Bill returned to work, we visited the Google merchandise store and took pictures of the Android sculptures.

On Saturday we spent the Day with Alison and Bill exploring Santa Cruz.  We began the day at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, a part of the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Among the many interesting exhibits, we were able to touch sharks, starfish and anemones. 

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Next we walked along West Cliff Drive overlooking the ocean.  We watched many surfers and then visited the small Santa Cruz Surfing Museum where they had displays showing the history of the surfing movement in the Santa Cruz area.  After lunch, we explored the Santa Cruz boardwalk. 

Sunday was our final day with Alison and Bill.  They came to our campground and we visited the Felton Covered Bridge Park.

On Monday we left the Santa Cruz area and traveled to Paso Robles where we stayed overnight at the Paso Robles RV Ranch.

We arrived in time to drive to Morro Bay where we walked along the waterfront shops before stopping for calamari and chips.

On Tuesday we returned to Bakersfield where we stayed at A Country RV Park again.  It was a rather scary drive as we went through the hills.  There were many sections where the fog was so thick we could barely see a car length in front of us.  It was out 13th wedding anniversary as well as our 6 month anniversary as full-timers.  We celebrated with dinner at the Hungry Hunter Steakhouse.


The following day we traveled to Barstow where we spent the night at Shady Lane RV Camp.  On April 14th, we left California and made a very windy drive to Las Vegas.  The wind was blowing at 20 mph when we left Barstow but there were gusts in excess of 40 mph.  We struggled to walk back to our vehicles at the rest stop due to the strong winds and blowing sand.