Moab, UT (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1, 2021)

Our older son, Jason, joined us for the week.  His flight into Montrose, CO arrived shortly before 10 am on Friday, September 24th, which enabled us to pick him up and return to our rig in time to check-out by 11 am.  We then drove 198 miles to Moab, UT where we spent the week at OK RV Park.  As we reached downtown Moab, an apparent watermain break forced us to take a long detour through the back streets.  Although the detour was poorly marked, Phil kept following a semi and it led us to where we needed to go.

The months of May through October are the peak tourist season for the five Utah national parks.  The National Park Service advises visitors to either arrive before 8 am or after 3 pm, or risk being turned away for 3-5 hours.  Since we’re not early morning people, we chose to visit the parks later in the day.

Rather than fight the crowds at the national parks on a Saturday, we opted to spend the day at Dead Horse Point State Park.  This relatively small state park is on a plateau that is surrounded by vast canyons and leads to a sharp point.  According to legend, the point was once used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa.  Cowboys rounded up these horses and herded them across the narrow neck of land onto the point.  The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by steep cliffs.  The cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and, for reasons unknown, left the other horses to die of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

After stopping at the Visitor Center, we drove on to Dead Horse Point Overlook.  We then hiked the 3-mile West Rim Trail back to the Visitor Center.  After eating lunch at the Visitor Center, Phil and Jason hiked 2-miles on the East Rim Trail back to Dead Horse Point Overlook to get our car.

After leaving the park, we drove back toward Moab and decided to look for the location where the final scene of the film “Thelma and Louise” had been filmed.  Google provided various directions but we took the one that appeared the most detailed.  We drove along a road that had steep cliffs on one side and the Colorado River on the other.  We came to an unpaved road and continued on despite the feeling that this was probably a bad idea.  As the road became more rugged, we kept going “just past the next curve” and “just over the next hill.”  Finally, we decided we really needed a 4-wheel-drive vehicle if we were going to go any farther and, very carefully, turned around.  On the return, we stopped to watch some rock climbers who were attempting to scale the steep cliffs.

On Sunday, we waited until 3 pm for the crowds to clear out before visiting Arches National Park.  We drove non-stop along the scenic drive to reach the parking area at Wolfe Ranch and were able find one of the few open spots.  We then hiked the 3-mile out-and-back trail to Delicate Arch, the iconic feature of Arches National Park.  This hike involved climbing 480 feet up a steep slickrock slope.  Just before reaching Delicate Arch, the trail followed a narrow rock ledge for about 200 yards.  This hike was quite strenuous but we took it slowly.  The view at Delicate Arch was fabulous and made the effort worthwhile.  The arch is 45 feet high and 33 feet wide, but seems much larger.

After descending from Delicate Arch, we drove a mile farther up the road to a couple of other Delicate Arch overlooks.  These provided a view from the opposite site of the arch, across a canyon.

The sun was setting as we left the national park.  We stopped at Balanced Rock for some photos.

On Monday afternoon, we visited Canyonland National Park.  Canyonland consists of four districts, which are divided by the Green and Colorado Rivers.  We limited our visit to Island in the Sky, the district closest to Moab and the most visited district.  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove to Grand View Point and hiked a two-mile out-and-back trail along the rim of the canyon.

We next headed to Mesa Arch.  A half-mile loop trail took us to this natural stone arch that frames spectacular views of the La Sal Mountains, Buck Canyon, Washer Woman Arch and Monster Tower.

Our next stop was at Green River Overlook, with its views of high plateaus and the Green River.

Our final stop for the day was at Upheaval Dome.  We hiked a half-mile to the first overlook.  Upheaval Dome is a crater in which the rock layers are fractured and tilted, forming a circular depression more than two miles wide. There is disagreement as to the cause but recent findings support the belief that it was caused by a violent meteorite impact.

On Tuesday, we took a day off from hiking.  Jan and Jason went exploring downtown Moab while Phil gave our rig a long-overdue bath.

On Wednesday, we attempted to visit Arches National Park at 1:30 pm but were greeted by a sign that said “Park Full – Return in 3-5 hours.”  Instead of returning home, we drove a few miles away and did the 3-mile hike to the Corona and Bowtie Arches.  The trail crosses wide expanses of slickrock pavement.  A couple of slickrock sections have metal safety cables to use as handrails as well a steel ladder bolted into the rock on one steep step.  We reached Bowtie Arch first.  This pothole arch formed when a pothole above, usually filled with water, eroded down into the cave below.  We then came to the massive Corona Arch, measuring 140 feet across and 105 feet high.

After finishing this hike, we returned to Arches National Park at 4:30 pm and had no trouble getting in.  We drove to the windows section of the park.  As we drove past the towering peaks, it was fun to imagine what the shapes resemble.  We spotted one rock that all three of us thought looked like a baby. We walked along a short path to Double Arch.  The larger of these twin arches has a span of 144 feet – the third largest in the park – and a height of 112 feet – the highest in the park. 

From the same parking lot, we then hiked to the North Window, South Window and Turret Arch.

Thursday was our final full day in Moab so we arose early and arrived at Arches National Park at 6:45 am.  Sunrise wasn’t until 7:13 am so we drove to the northernmost end of the scenic highway while the sun rose.  We then walked a short path to the Skyline Arch.  Along the path, we spotted seven deer grazing on the brush. Their greenish coats made them difficult to spot within the foliage.

We then drove to Sand Dune Arch and hiked .3-mile through deep sand to a secluded arch tucked among sandstone fins.

From the same parking area, we then hiked .6-mile to Broken Arch.  After scrambling up the rock face of Broken Arch, we continued on another .8-mile to Tapestry Arch, before hiking back the way we had come.

On next stop was at Balanced Rock.  We walked a .3-mile loop around the base of this fragile, picturesque rock formation.

Our final stop was at Courthouse Towers Viewpoint.  We hiked a portion of the Park Avenue Trail along the canyon floor, providing close up views of massive fins, balanced rocks and lofty monoliths. 

Western CO, but mostly DC (Sept. 15 – 24, 2021)

On Wednesday, September 15th, we drove 288 miles to Grand Junction, CO where we spent two nights at the Grand Junction KOA.  After the first 60 miles, most of the drive was on I-70.  Phil was able to maintain close to highway speed most of the trip.  There were some steep inclines that had the truck struggling to exceed 40 mph but, at least, Phil was able to keep up with the semis. 

When we arrived at the KOA, Jan had a difficult time getting the front legs to extend.  This had been an ongoing problem but appeared to be getting progressively worse.  Jan spotted an RV tech’s truck two sites over from us and, after he finished with that customer, he came over to see us.  After testing our batteries, he concluded that we needed new batteries.  Our dealer had told us in August that we could probably get a couple of more years from the old batteries but the RV tech seemed pretty confident that the batteries were causing our problems.  If the batteries didn’t solve the problem, the RV tech’ s second guess was that we needed a new trombetta switch.  Our dealer had identified the need for a new trombetta switch but didn’t think this part was causing the leg extension issue. 

On Thursday morning, Phil drove to the battery store and bought four deep cycle 6-volt marine batteries, at a cost of $1,200.  Each of the batteries weighed about 50 lbs. and, due to the numerous cables connected to the batteries in the two small battery compartments, they were a challenge to install.  Unfortunately, after the new batteries were installed, the problem with the leveling system remained unresolved. 

As Phil returned the old batteries for the core deposit, Jan called a nearby RV dealer and was able to find a trombetta switch.  Phil picked up the switch and, after taking pictures of the existing wiring, we began to replace the switch.  Although Phil had disconnected our shore power and had turned the battery disconnect to “off,” we kept getting sparks when we connected some of the 12 cables to the six posts.  We were very frustrated and not sure what we would do next.  By this time, it was dark and we were operating by lantern.  Jan continued to analyze the photos to see what we had done wrong.  Finally, she spotted a couple of similarly colored wires that appeared to be crossed.  We started over again and, this time, we were able to get the wires connected with no sparks.  With the wires properly installed, we found that our leveling system problem was solved.  We were both ecstatic and relieved!

On Friday, we drove 68 miles to Montrose, CO where we had reservations at Centennial RV Park.  Although we had booked the site for a week, our actual time in Montrose was much shorter.  Phil’s mother had passed away in February 2020 and was due to have her ashes interred at Arlington National Cemetery.  Unfortunately, due to COVID, the ceremony was delayed until now.  On Saturday, we flew to Washington, DC.  With a three-hour layover in Denver and a long delay at the rental car center at Dulles, we didn’t get to our hotel room until 1:15 am on Sunday morning.

Alison and Bill had flown to NYC and had spent a couple of days there.  On Sunday morning, they took the Amtrak to DC and we picked them up at Union Station.  While they waited for their hotel room to be available, we walked down the street and had lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant.  We sat outside and talked for a couple of hours.  That evening, we had a group dinner with Phil’s siblings and in-laws, as well as many of Phil’s mother’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Rather than try to find a restaurant that could accommodate a group of 17, each family picked up their own food and brought it back to the hotel dining room. 

On Monday morning, we picked up Lizzi at Reagan National Airport.  That afternoon, we, and Lizzi, Alison and Bill, took the Metro to the National Mall.  We visited the United States Botanic Garden. 

After lunch at Potbelly, we visited the International Spy Museum.  It was a very fun museum, both highly educational and interactive.  We were each assigned characters as spies and performed various activities to evaluate our aptitude for these roles.  Phil was Mickey Garcia and Jan was Adrian Steyn.  For dinner, we had another group get-together at the hotel.

On Tuesday morning, we drove to Arlington National Cemetery for the interment ceremony.  Although the ceremony only lasted about 20 minutes, it included a eulogy by a Navy chaplain, a 21-gun salute, a bugler playing Taps, and a presentation of the American flag.  We then all walked to the vault where Phil’s mother’s urn was placed beside his father’s urn.  After the ceremony, we all met for lunch at Federico Ristorante before saying our goodbyes to most of the group.

Later that afternoon, we received an email from American Airlines telling us that our Wednesday flights back to Montrose had been rebooked on Thursday.  We spent the next seven hours trying to get better flights.  When we called AA, we were placed on a callback with a 1-1/4 to a 1-3/4 hour wait.  Phil thought he had resolved the issue during the first callback but, when we got the confirmation email, we found that they had eliminated the first flight from Reagan National to Dallas Fort Worth.  Phil’s next callback took over two hours but, since his phone was set to Do Not Disturb at 11 pm, the call went to voicemail.  We finally tried calling and remaining on hold, rather than relying on a callback.  After over an hour, we got to talk to an agent but he told us that, since we had booked our tickets using Rewards miles, he would have to transfer us to another agent.  That transfer put us on hold for another hour.  We finally were able to book a flight to DFW on Wednesday afternoon and a flight to Montrose on Thursday morning but, by this time, it was 1:30 am.

On Wednesday morning, we said goodbye to Lizzi, Alison and Bill and headed to the airport.  Upon arriving in Dallas, we were able to secure a hotel voucher for the nearby Sheraton and $24 in meal vouchers.  We took the shuttle to the Sheraton and, after dinner at the hotel restaurant, headed to bed early.

We caught the 7 am shuttle back to DFW on Thursday for our 8:45 flight to Montrose.  The flight pulled back from the gate on time.  Unfortunately, a mechanical problem forced us to return to the gate and resulted in a 1h 20m delay.

When we finally arrived in Montrose, we were determined to see some of the sights before leaving town.  We headed to the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and drove the South Rim scenic drive.  Due to our time crunch, we only stopped at five of the 12 scenic overlooks but did hit all four of the “must see” views.  One of the stops was at Painted Wall, with a 2,250-foot vertical cliff that is the tallest in Colorado and one of the highest in the United States.  If the Empire State Building were placed on the canyon floor, it would only reach about halfway up the cliff.

We spent the rest of the day preparing for our Friday morning departure from Montrose.

Grand Lake, CO (September 8 – 15, 2021)

On Wednesday, September 8th, we drove 155 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake, CO.  Although there was a 48-mile route available by driving through Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), the steep inclines and sharp drop-offs on this route made us decide to take an easier, although longer, path.  The new route took us in a southerly direction from Estes Park to I-70 and then up the other side of the park to Grand Lake.  Although the drive required lots of ascents and descents and many sharp turns, it was quite scenic and a lot less scary that a drive through RMNP would have been.

The Grand Lake area was savaged by a wildfire in October 2020 that burned 194,000-acres, making it the second-largest fire in Colorado history.  In fact, it burned 120,000-acres in a single day, making it the fastest-spreading fire in Colorado history.  We checked in to Winding River Resort for a one-week stay.  Although the campground was now nearly 100% operational, the surrounding hills were black with debris from the fire.

Jarrod and Jess drove up from Denver late that night.  Since Jess needed to work on Thursday and Friday, they stayed at a nearby hotel for the first two nights. On Thursday, Jarrod rode his bike over from the hotel.  We headed to the Arapahoe National Forest and hiked the 4-mile loop trail around Monarch Lake.  The trail wasn’t too taxing and was mostly shaded.

As we walked along the far side of the lake, Jan noticed a bull moose at the water’s edge.  Although the trail was well above the water, we were eventually about to make out two bull moose, each with a large rack.

Video of bull moose

As we approached the end of the loop around the lake, we found a sandy beach and Jarrod was able to do some fly-fishing.  Unfortunately, he was only able to get a nibble.

Jess came by for dinner, after completing her workday.  The campground caters to horse owners and has their own horses for trail rides.  Although most of the horses are in pens or a pasture near our site, there are a pony and a small burro who seem to have free range of the campground.  The pony and burro dropped by after dinner to munch on the limited grass on our site.

On Friday morning, we relaxed and took care of domestic chores while Jarrod fished and Jess worked a half day.  In the afternoon, we entered RMNP on the eastern edge of Grand Lake and hiked the East Inlet Trail.  The hike was only about 2.5-miles but took us out to a spectacular valley with a panoramic view of the mountains and a stream running through it.  There was a log stretched across the stream.  First, Jess went part-way across but, then, Jarrod successfully got all the way across and returned without ending up in the water.

After dinner, we drove into RMNP and observed lots of elk and moose grazing near the Trail Ridge Road.

On Saturday, we drove up the western portion of RMNP’s Trail Ridge Road almost to the summit.  We stopped several times along the way.  We spent some time observing a female moose grazing on the grass and then did a couple of short hikes. 

Later, we went into the town of Grand Lake and had ice cream at Dairy King, a small shop that’s been in business for 68 years.  Next, we strolled along the main street of downtown Grand Lake and visited a number of shops. Jarrod and Jess headed for home after breakfast on Sunday.

On Saturday evening, Phil had developed the chills and his temperature rose overnight to 102.6.  Very similar to his health issue in August, his temperature would lower to nearly normal in the morning but would creep back to a high fever in the afternoon and evening.  Rather than wait four days to seek medical attention, as we had done in August, we decided to hit an Urgent Care on Monday.  We drove 82-miles to an Urgent Care in Breckenridge, CO because Jan needed to pick up a prescription from Walgreens and the nearest Walgreens was in Dillon, 10 miles from Breckenridge.  As before, Phil was tested for Covid, got a negative result and the doctor prescribed antibiotics.  The highlight of the day was really the drive to and from Breckenridge.  The vistas around every bend were stunningly beautiful. 

After a day and a half on antibiotics, Phil’s temperature stayed below normal all day and night and he felt well enough to make the long drive to Grand Junction on Wednesday.

Estes Park, CO (September 3 – 8, 2021)

On Friday, September 3rd, we drove 223 miles to Estes Park, CO where we spent five nights at Elk Meadow Lodge & RV Resort.  The drive was mostly along I-25, but the last 26 miles were through the steep and rocky Big Thompson Canyon and had nearly continuous curves.  The campground is located a short distance from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  We had a beautiful view of some of the surrounding mountains from our living room window.  Shortly after getting set up, we had a brief drizzle that provided us with a fabulous double rainbow.  The campground was then visited by a huge bull elk that drew quite a crowd of campers to watch it.  While the elk was still in the field below us, Jarrod and Jess arrived for their three-night visit.

After breakfast on Saturday, Jess and Jarrod took turns driving us through the eastern portion of RMNP.  We first drove up the Trail Ridge Road to the Ute Trail.  We hiked a short distance on the Ute Trail but the cold temperature and strong winds forced us to turn back. 

We then drove down Bear Lake Road to Sprague Lake, where we hiked around the lake.  We took a shuttle to the Glacier Basin campground where we hiked the Glacier Basin and Wind River trails. 

After completing these hikes, we walked a mile back to Sprague Lake where we had left the car.  When we arrived at Sprague Lake, we discovered a large moose in the lake that had drawn quite a crowd of spectators.  After observing the moose for a while, we drove back to our campground.  As we exited Bear Lake Road, we observed a large herd of elk by the road.

On Sunday, Jarrod and Jess again drove us through the eastern portion of RMNP.  We first drove to Lava Cliffs, near the highest point in the park.  We hiked out to the rocks, despite strong winds and cold temps.  After visiting the cliffs, we continued up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center.  During this drive, we passed through the highest point on the road at 12,183 feet.  On our return down the Trail Ridge Road, we stopped at a couple of parking areas and went for short walks into the park.

We spent Sunday afternoon in the town of Estes Park.  We first visited the Estes Park Arts & Crafts Festival.  Afterward, we drove to The Dunraven Inn on Lake Estes and enjoyed some drinks and appetizers.  On our way back to the campground, we passed the Stanley Hotel where a portion of the film “The Shining,” based on Stephen King’s novel, was filmed.

On Monday, we returned to RMNP and hiked the six-mile Cull Lake loop trail.  It was a warm day but the cool breeze and shade on much of the trail make it a delightful day for a hike. 

After reaching Cull Lake, the return portion of the loop trail was largely downhill and took us along a stream.  We took a break along this portion of the trail and enjoyed dunking our feet in the cold water of the stream.  After completing the hike, we stopped at the RMNP sign for our photo shoot.

Upon returning to our rig, Jarrod and Jess packed up and headed for home.  We will see them again in a few days in Grand Lake.  After dinner, we returned to RMNP to look for elk.  We drove around quite a while and, although we did see a few elk and deer, we didn’t find a large herd of elk until we headed for home.