14 Day Rush to Alabama (October 19 – November 1, 2021)

After remaining parked in Glendale, UT for an additional day due to extremely gusty winds, we headed off to Flagstaff, AZ on Tuesday, October 19th. This was our first of nine days of driving over the next 14 days, covering the 2,100 miles necessary to reach Gulf Shores, AL, where we will spend November.

 The entire 229-mile drive to Flagstaff was on US-89 and took us through mostly desolate, although scenic, country.  The winds had died down considerably but we did encounter an accident with a travel trailer laying on its side, possibly due to wind. 

When we arrived at the Flagstaff KOA Holiday, Phil went inside to register.  The clerk, who admitted she was new, gave him a map to site 88.  The drive to site 88 was somewhat harrowing.  The roads were very narrow and there were trees close to the road.  Getting up the road to site 88 required making a sharp left turn.  When Phil got part-way through the turn, he could see that site 88 was occupied.  He called the office and a different clerk told him we were supposed to be in site 166.  However, completing the turn by site 88 required Jan to hold a wooden sign out of the way and Phil had to back up partially to avoid low-hanging branches. When we finally made it back to the office, we were met by a workcamper in a golf cart who led us to site 166.  Although this drive was somewhat easier, it required pulling far out on the shoulders to make the turns.  Needless to say, we had already concluded that this one-night stay would be our only visit to the Flagstaff KOA.

On Wednesday, we drove 268 miles to Tucson, AZ where we spent two nights at the Tucson / KOA Lazydays Resort.  The drive, almost entirely on interstate highways, involved numerous long, steep descents as we went from Flagstaff (elevation 6,900’) to Tucson (elevation 2,400’).  The temperature when we left Flagstaff that morning was 34 degrees, compared to 85 degrees when we arrived in Tucson.

The difference between the Tucson KOA and the Flagstaff KOA was like night and day.  The roads throughout the Tucson campground were wide and the site was extremely accessible.  The Tucson campground had several unique types of sites available, including covered sites and K9 sites with fenced enclosures.

On Thursday, we explored Historic Fourth Avenue in Tucson.  This district, close to the campus of the University of Arizona, has seen better days.  In addition to numerous unique restaurants, there were retail shops that mostly appeared to cater to alternative lifestyles.  In midday, there were numerous homeless individuals outside these businesses.  We spotted at least six Lock Your Love sculptures on Fourth Avenue.  Sweethearts inscribe their names on a lock, place it on the sculpture, and deposit the key into the base of the sculpture as a symbol of eternal love.

After strolling the length of the district, we had lunch at Tumerico.  Jan had a Sonora Dog and Phil had Al Pastor Tacos.  We were surprised when we learned later that Tumerico serves fresh Latin vegan and vegetarian food.  We now don’t know what we were eating but it was very tasty.

On Friday, we drove 272 miles on I-10 to Las Cruces, NM where we spent two nights at Hacienda RV Resort.  The campground was very spacious and well maintained.  We had a huge pull-through site.  However, with no pool and few amenities, it wasn’t exactly a resort.

On Saturday, we visited Las Mesilla to do some shopping.  This village has a long history.  Thick-walled adobe buildings, which once protected residents against Apache attacks, now house art galleries, restaurants and gift shops. Mesilla’s most notorious resident, Billy the Kid, was sentenced to death at the country courthouse (now a gift shop) but he escaped before the sentence was carried out.  Jan had purchased some jewelry at one of the many silver studios when we visited Mesilla in 2016 and she was determined to find that shop again.  After visiting many of the silver shops, she finally found the right one, which had moved down the street.

On Sunday, we drove 289 miles to Fort Stockton, TX.  This was the longest drive we had done in a long time and, combined with a late start and losing an hour due to crossing a time zone, had us arriving at the Fort Stockton RV Park at 6 pm.  Since we were leaving early the next morning, we left the fifth wheel hitched to the truck overnight.

We got a very early start on Monday morning.  Jan needed to get some lab work done in Kerrville for a doctor visit later in the week.  Since she needed to be fasting, she got up early and left Fort Stockton at 7 am for her four-hour drive.  Phil waited another hour, until sunrise, before beginning his 233-mile drive to Ingram, TX, where we spent four nights at Johnson Creek RV Resort & Park.

Over the next four days, we had doctor and vision appointments, along with several medical tests.  Phil got the annual inspections done on the truck and trailer.  We made a trip to Fredericksburg to load up on our favorite sauces.  Phil also managed to drop in at Buckhorn Lake Resort a couple of days for pickleball.  On Tuesday, we purchased a couple of Townie bikes at a Kerrville bicycle shop.  Phil hadn’t had a bike since he abandoned his broken one on Mackinac Island in June.  Jan’s old bike was badly rusted by the salt air during our stay in Brownsville, TX two years ago.  Since the Townies are aluminum, rust shouldn’t be a problem.

On Friday, we drove 200 miles to Weimar, TX where we spent the night at Whispering Oaks RV Park. This was the first of four straight days of driving.

On Saturday, we drove 160 miles to Beaumont, TX and spent the night at Hidden Lake RV Park.  Our drive took us through the middle of Houston on I-10 at 12:30 pm.  We had made this drive in April on a Wednesday at 10:30 am and it had been very easy.  We made the mistake of assuming that it would also be an easy drive on a Saturday but we were wrong.  Traffic was very heavy and the challenge was compounded by lots of construction zones.  We were glad it was a short drive because the Houston experience left us exhausted.

Sunday’s drive was 219 miles and took us to Livingston, LA where we spent the night at Lakeside RV Park.  Nearly the entire drive was on interstate highways (I-10 and I-12) and, other than several construction zones, was rather boring.  After three straight days of driving, we were now only one more day of driving away from our month-long stay at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL.

St. George & Glendale, UT (October 11 – 19, 2021)

We had originally planned to spend the next four days at a campground in Bryce Canyon City, UT.  However, we checked the weather forecast while we were in Torrey and found that the nighttime lows for all four nights were in the low teens.  In addition, the forecast for one night called for up to three inches of snow.  We immediately began looking for warmer weather and decided to visit St. George, UT instead.  Unfortunately, St. George is right by Zion National Park and is quite popular.  Given the short notice, we were only able to find available campground space for two nights.  We were able to add the remaining two nights onto our next scheduled stop, in Glendale, UT.  The forecast for Glendale called for nighttime lows in the mid-20s, but that was better than mid-teens. 

On Monday, October 11, we left Torrey, UT and made the 250 drive to St. George.  The routing was rather frustrating because we had to drive north about 60 miles before turning south.  There were shorter routes available but, because of the mountains and winding roads, these were not selected for pulling our trailer by Phil’s GPS or our mapping apps. 

When we had been setting up in Torrey five days earlier, we heard a loud noise as we were extending the RV’s legs.  It sounded like metal breaking but we couldn’t identify the source.  Over the next few days, Phil kept examining the RV’s suspension but couldn’t find anything broken.  So, it was with some degree of trepidation that we pulled away from Torrey and began the drive.  Fortunately, we were able to make the drive without incident.  We still don’t know the source of the noise but, for now, we are breathing easier.

The front that was bringing the colder weather also brought strong winds.  As our drive progressed, the winds grew stronger and made driving more of a challenge.  We were glad to arrive at Desert Canyons RV Park in St. George before the winds grew even stronger. 

After a rainy night and strong winds that continued through the morning, we finally got out to explore St. George on Tuesday afternoon.  Our first stop was at the St. George Temple.  However, similar to the Salt Lake Temple, this temple was undergoing renovation.  Both renovations are primarily driven by the desire to make the temples earthquake-proof. 

We then visited Brigham Young’s winter home for the final seven years of his life (1870 – 1877).  We were given a tour of the house by a Mormon missionary and learned much about the man.  Brigham Young had led the emigration of Mormons to Utah in 1848 and served as the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 29 years.  He also served as the first governor of the Utah Territory.  He led the founding of the precursors to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.  Young directed the establishment of 350 settlements throughout the Southwest.  Young was a strong supporter of slavery, which he considered a “divine institution,” and of polygamy.  Although the variety of his marriages makes it difficult to know the exact number, recent studies have found 55 well-documented marriages.  All but about 19 of these “marriages” were simply “sealing” rituals, performed in an LDS temple with the purpose being to make possible family relationships throughout eternity.  He fathered 56 children with 16 of his wives.

We next drove around St. George’s historic downtown and had dinner at a restaurant in Ancestor Square.

On Wednesday morning, we prepared to make our 115-mile drive to Glendale, UT where we would spend the next five nights at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park.  Since checkout wasn’t until noon and the drive was relatively short, we took our time in getting ready to go.  However, at 11 am, we discovered that our rooftop satellite dish had not stowed.  The control panel was showing an “EL Motor Home Failure.”  We recalled that we’d had this issue some years ago and Jan had gotten a solution via Google, referred to as “EL re-calibration.”  The re-calibration involved multiple steps that were rather hard to follow.  After Phil made several unsuccessful attempts to follow the instructions, he did what he usually does when faced with technology problems; he turned it over to Jan.  After a couple more unsuccessful attempts, Jan figured out the mistake we were making and finally got the dish to stow.  We finished getting hooked up and were on the road shortly before noon. 

The drive to Glendale was mainly on a backroad highway with many sharp curves and steep ascents/descents.  We had stayed at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park five years ago and, although the sites are rather tight, the campground is conveniently located between Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.

The overnight low dropped to 25 degrees so we waited until late morning on Thursday before heading to Zion National Park.  This proved to be somewhat of a bad decision.  Upon arriving at the Visitor Center at noon, the parking lot was full and we needed to find parking in the neighboring town of Springdale.  After driving three miles into Springdale, we managed to find an empty parking space.  Parking cost $15 for the day and we then had to walk .3 mile to catch a shuttle back to the Visitor Center. 

Upon arriving back at the Visitor Center, we switched to another shuttle bus that took us on the scenic drive through the national park.  We first rode the shuttle to the final stop and hiked a short distance on the riverside walk along the Virgin River.  We then took the shuttle to the Big Bend stop, where we were able to watch hikers high above us on the Angels Landing trail along the rim of the canyon.

Our next stop was at the Zion Lodge where we had lunch.  We considered doing a hike but, given the dropping temperature and rising winds, we decided against it.  Our final stop was the overview of the Court of the Patriarchs.  Named for three towering figures of the Old Testament, these sandstone cliffs include Abraham Peak, Isaac Peak, and Jacob Peak.

The return to our campground was along the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway.  This highway, which we had taken in the morning, connects the Zion Canyon with the east park entrance.  After taking a steep climb along numerous switchbacks, we drove through the 1.1-mile Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel.  This tunnel was built in the 1920s when large vehicles were less common.  One-way traffic is offered during daytime hours so vehicles up to 13’ 1” tall can drive through the tunnel while straddling the middle lane.

Our original schedule had us leaving Glendale on Monday, October 18, and driving 223 miles to Flagstaff, AZ.  However, as we started watching the weather forecasts for Monday, they showed winds of 25-35 mph with gusts exceeding 40 mph in Flagstaff, and similar in Glendale.  This would have made driving our high-profile RV very dangerous.  When the forecast remained unchanged on Saturday morning, we extended our stay in Glendale until Tuesday morning and cancelled our Monday night reservation in Flagstaff.  A subsequent wind advisory called for wind gusts on Monday afternoon up to 50 mph.

We spent Saturday at Bryce Canyon National Park.  Bryce Canyon was considerably less crowded that Zion had been earlier in the week, probably due to a noontime temperature of only 49 degrees and snow on the ground in many places. 

After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove the scenic drive.  Our first stop was at Natural Bridge where we enjoyed posing with the snow.

We then drove to Rainbow Point (elevation 9,115 feet) at the end of the 18-mile scenic drive and began working our way back.  We stopped at most of the overlooks before stopping for lunch at a very popular food truck.

We were unable to find an empty parking spot at Inspiration Point, so continued on to Paria View.  We then drove to Bryce Point and hiked the 1.5-mile rim trail back to Inspiration Point.  Although the scenery was spectacular, the melting snow made the dirt trail a very muddy, and slippery, mess.

After enjoying the view at Inspiration Point, we caught the shuttle to Sunset Point and Sunrise Point.  We then took the shuttle back to Bryce Point to retrieve our car.  On our exit from Bryce Canyon, we made our obligatory stop at the park sign. 

Torrey, UT (October 6 – 11, 2021)

On Wednesday, October 6th, we drove 209 miles to Torrey, UT where we had booked five nights at Wonderland RV Park.  Torrey is a small town in southeastern Utah that is three miles from Capitol Reef National Park.  It was drizzling as we prepared to depart Heber City and the rainfall became heavier as we got underway.  A few miles after we got on I-15 in Orem, the traffic came to a complete standstill due to a collision between two semis.  We sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for the next two miles.  Fortunately, the rain slacked off shortly after we got past the crash site.  Despite getting on the road by 9:30 am, we didn’t arrive at the campground until 3 pm.

On Thursday, we visited Capitol Reef National Park.  Having visited Zion and Bryce Canyon several years ago, Capitol Reef represents the fifth of our visits to the five national parks referred to as “Utah’s Mighty 5.”  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove the 8-mile scenic drive.  Capitol Reef’s defining geologic feature is known as the waterpocket fold, essentially a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that extends nearly 100 miles.

We had hoped to drive the unpaved Capitol Gorge Road to the Capitol Gorge Trailhead but it was closed to vehicular traffic, So, instead, we hiked about 1.5 miles along the road before turning back.

On our return trip on the scenic drive, we stopped at numerous pullouts and then turned up the 1.3-mile unpaved Grand Wash Road. 

Having developed quite an appetite, we stopped at the Gifford House for a couple of individual-sized pies.  The Gifford House was the heart of the small Mormon pioneer village of Fruita, settled in 1880.  The surrounding fruit orchards are a remnant of this community and, today, are the largest historic orchards in the National Parks system.

After spending a rainy Friday at home, we returned to Capitol Reef National Park on Saturday.  Our first stop took us on a couple of short hikes to the Goosenecks Overlook and the Sunset Point Trail.  The Goosenecks is where the Sulphur Creek carved out a canyon, its curving path resembling that of a gooseneck.  As the creek cut downward over time, it exposed different colored rock layers.

Our next stop was at the one-room schoolhouse for the children of the ten or so families of Fruita.  The schoolhouse was built in 1896 and continued in use through 1941.  The student’s desks were not attached to the floor so the building could also be used as a church meeting place, as well as for dances, meetings and other social events.

We then stopped to see the petroglyphs carved on the rock walls by Native Americans.

Our final activity for the day was a 2-mile moderately strenuous hike to the Hickman Bridge natural sandstone arch. 

On our return home, we stopped for a picture at the park sign.

Heber City, UT (Oct. 1 – 6, 2021)

On Friday, October 1st, we drove 229 miles to Heber City where we will spend five nights at Mountain Valley RV Resort.  We’ve stayed at lots of campgrounds with “resort” in their names but this one truly qualifies as a resort.  We have a huge pull-through site with a concrete pad that is double-wide and very long.  The resort has two clubhouses, three pools and six pickleball courts.

On Saturday, we drove to Salt Lake City for Jason to catch his flight back to Nashville.  His original itinerary had a 45-minute layover in Phoenix but the first flight was delayed.  By the time we reached Salt Lake City, the layover was down to 13 minutes.  Fortunately, Jason was able to get rebooked on a non-stop flight.  Although the new flight left an hour earlier, it would get him back to Nashville three hours earlier.

We spent the next couple of hours exploring downtown Salt Lake City.  We drove to Temple Square.  Unfortunately, the Salt Lake Temple has been closed since December 2019 for a 4-year renovation project.  The entire temple was surrounded by scaffolding.  We then walked up a steep hill to the State of Utah Capitol.  Upon returning to Temple Square, we had lunch at an office complex food court before dropping Jason off at the airport.

On Sunday, we visited Park City, UT and spent a couple of hours strolling along Main Street.  Phil had come to Park City to ski for four winters in the past but, since his last stay in 1985, things had really expanded.  There was still an over-abundance of art galleries and other shops catering to an upper-income clientele.  We checked out the listings at some of the real estate offices and found that most of the condos were listed for over a million dollars.  We stopped for a snack at the Wasatch Brewing Company and made some purchases at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company.

After leaving Main Street, we drove to the nearby Deer Valley Ski Resort.  The trees on the mountainsides were quite picturesque with their fall colors. 

When we had parked on Main Street, Phil was about to pay for parking at the meter but two people told him that parking was free on Sunday.  Phil attempted to pay it forward by advising another couple who were about to pay for parking.  When we got back to our campsite, we discovered a parking violation notice on our windshield.  Apparently, parking is not free on Sundays.  Fortunately, there was no fine for the first offence.

On Monday, we went to the Wasatch Mountain State Park and hiked the 3-mile Little Joe Loop and Lake Brimhall Trail.  Getting to the trailhead required driving six miles up a very steep and winding road with a speed limit of 15 mph.  The Wasatch Mountains were ablaze with fall colors and the aspens lining the road were bright yellow and orange.  The hike itself was very enjoyable.  The first part took us through an aspen forest.  As we got higher, there were an increasing number of pine trees and the fragrance was wonderful.

On Tuesday, we drove to the neighboring communities of Orem and Provo, UT to get an oil change for the Mazda and to visit numerous retail establishments.  As we drove to Provo, we passed through the campus of Brigham Young University and were very impressed with the surrounding neighborhoods.  Coincidently, the drive to and from Orem took us along the Provo Valley Scenic Highway.  This highway was very winding and took us along colorful hills on both sides of the roadway.