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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Albuquerque

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.

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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!

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