We arrived in Moab Utah in the early afternoon and went to the visitor’s center to ask about free camping. We were told that we wouldn’t find any free camping within 20 miles of town so we decided to head north out of town to try our luck in the national forest lands surrounding Moab. On our way we stopped at Arches National Park which is just two miles north of town. We spent the afternoon cruising the only road into the park stopping often to snap shots. We planned to come back in a few days to explore the park more and do some hiking. That evening we continued northwest to a BLM area north of Canyonlands National Park to find a place to camp for the night. We found a campground that was charging $12 per night but decided to head further up a dirt side road where we found a small pullout where we could park the bus for free. We spent the night under a starry sky in the Utah wilderness.
Since we were so close to Canyonlands National Park we spent the following morning exploring the area. Canyonlands has a landscape that rivals the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River flows through the park which created some of the 2000 foot deep canyons that cut through it. We also stopped at Mesa Arch which is a well known spot among photographers – especially at sunrise. We weren’t quite up in time to catch it at sunrise but the scene was no less spectacular.
That afternoon we were planning on heading back to Arches National Park but we had heard the weather was supposed to turn cold and possibly rainy so we decided to head to the bike trails instead. Moab is famous for mountain biking and we wanted to see first hand what all the raving was about. We headed to the trailhead for the well known Slickrock trail, an up and down rollercoaster of smooth sandstone east of Moab. The area is a state recreation area and has a $5 day use fee. It also offers overnight camping for a few bucks more. The Slickrock trail is unique in that it isn’t a worn in path but rather a series of dotted lines painted on the sandstone surface to show you where to go. Sue was still hurting from her crash in Fruita so she was going to sit out this trail. So off I went by myself to ride and see what all the hype was about. Maybe I was just feeling lazy that day but after riding the trail I didn’t really come to the same conclusion everyone else did. I thought it was a lot of work for not a lot of fun and I decided that would be my only run on the Slickrock Trail. After Slickrock I decided I still had one more trail in me and decided that trail would be Porcupine Rim. The trail starts (or so I thought) at the end of the same road that Slickrock is on. The first 3 miles of this 14 mile trail are uphill. From then on it is an 11 mile downhill run that is probably one of the most thrilling rides I have ever been on. On my way up I passed two bikers coming down the trail and they informed me that I didn’t have to pedal up the 3 mile section but rather I could get shuttled to the top of Porcupine which actually starts a lot higher up on La Sal Mountain. Oh well, live and learn. The exercise was good and sometimes you have to earn your downhill. Porcupine is not a loop trail so Sue drove the bus down the mountain and back through Moab to meet me north of town in a small canyon known as Negro Bill’s (no idea where the name came from). That night was stayed in an RV park in Moab so we could get showered up and well rested.
The following day we still had nice weather although it was looking rather overcast south of Moab. We got up and headed back north to explore Arches National Park. We hiked to the famous Delicate Arch and also to the almost equally famous Landscape Arch where we saw a small group of deer very close to the trail. After spending most of the day in Arches we decided to say goodbye to Moab to find a place to camp south of town. We drove about 20 miles out of town and found a rest stop where we stayed for the night.
The next morning we woke up to quite a surprise. A couple inches of snow had fallen overnight and the bus was covered in a thick layer of snow and ice. We didn’t have a window scraper with us so I had to run the bus for about ten minutes and then use my hands to scrape the windows. Little did we know that wouldn’t be the last of the snow we would see. With the snow finally cleaned of the windows we headed south along Highway 191 towards Cortez Colorado where we were going to check out Mesa Verde National Park. The snow slowly tapered off but the roads had become icy and we passed lots of cars in the ditch along the way. When we got to Cortez we stopped at the library to use their free wifi before driving out to Mesa Verde.
Arriving at Mesa Verde we learned from the guy at the entrance booth that the road into the park climbs to an elevation of over 7000 feet and was snow covered higher up. He also told us the plows were out and the roads would be cleared so we decided to go for it anyway. Mesa Verde protects an area that contains 600 cliff dwelling ruins that were built by the Anasazi people 1200 years ago. These homes made of rock and wood were constructed under rocky overhangs on cliff ledges to protect them from the elements. Some of the dwellings where multi-story buildings and one was actually four stories high. After touring the main ruin sites we decided to get back to Cortez before the weather got any worse. As we started to descend back down towards the park entrance we drove into a snow storm and there were no snow plows in site. For the next 20 miles we crawled down the road and around sharp switchback turns some of which had 500 foot sheer drops along the sides of them. Every time I touched the brakes the bus would start to slide sideways. After about an hour of this we were out of the snow and back on dry roads.
Back in Cortez we headed to the library once again to use their wifi to make a few Skype calls to friends and family back home. Then we made our way over to the local Walmart parking lot to park the bus for the night.
From Cortez we drove back into southeastern Utah through the town of Mexican Hat and into Monument Valley in northern Arizona. Monument Valley had a dusting of snow which made for some interesting photo opportunities. From Monument Valley we headed west to the town of Page Arizona where the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell are located. We spent the afternoon in the Page Public Library using their free wifi. That night we camped in the Walmart parking lot at the edge of town where we met a couple guys from England who had spent a year in Whistler and were now traveling around the US for a year in a converted van they bought. They had a great storage idea for their mountain bikes, they had them tucked away hanging inside the back doors of the van.
The next day we drove from Page to Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. Bryce Canyon is located near the western edge of the Colorado Plateau in an area known as the Grand Staircase where different layers of this plateau have eroded creating staggered cliffs which resemble a giant staircase. Bryce Canyon is carved from the Pink Cliffs that create the top step in this formation. The canyon contains thousands of pillars of rock, left behind by erosion, known as hoodoos. We arrived in Bryce Canyon just before sundown and drove straight to the Bryce Point for a quick look at the canyon before the sunset. On our way in to the park we noticed a parking lot used during the peak summer months for park shuttle bus visitor parking. There was a couple of RVs parked in the lot so we decided to camp there for the night.
The following morning I got up early and, with Sue still sleeping in the back, drove the bus back to Bryce Point to get some sunrise photos. After that we drove south to Rainbow Point at the end of the park road. While there we did a short hike through a bristlecone pine forest. The bristlecone pines in the near by White Mountains of eastern California are the oldest living things on earth, some living to over 4000 years. Later that morning we headed to another part of the park to a trail known as Wall Street. There we found some tall pine trees growing from deep inside the canyon.
After exploring Bryce we drove southwest to Zion National Park. Zion was a lot busier then Bryce Canyon. There were a lot of cars to contend with on the park’s only road. The main road from the east end of the park goes through a 1.1 mile long tunnel that was built back in the 1930’s and is only 12 feet tall in the center of its rounded ceiling. They close the tunnel when RVs and buses go through to allow them to drive down the center of the road. Cyclists are not allowed in the tunnel on their bikes and need to hitch rides with passing tourists to get through. It was a wild experience to drive through it. We decided we would come back to Zion the next day to do some hiking and headed in to St George to find a place to sleep for the night.
Back in Zion we hiked a few of the trails, the ones we could find parking for anyway, the place is a sea of people and cars. At around noon we made our way back to the east end of the park and then south into Arizona again. Our next destination was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
To our surprise the North Rim was covered in a dense forest of Douglas fir, spruce and aspen interrupted periodically by golden meadows where mule deer and bison graze. The Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River carving a path through the Kaibab Plateau, part of the Colorado Plateau. At its highest point the North Rim, which sits at 7000 feet (1000 feet higher than the South Rim), is more then a mile above the canyon floor. The North Rim and the more popular South Rim are only 10 miles apart as the crow flies, but 215 miles by road.
We arrived at the North Rim just before sunset and made a mad dash to Bright Angel Point lookout to see the canyon before dark. From the lookout we could see the lights from the buildings at the South Rim 10 miles across the canyon. While we were there admiring the view we met a very nice couple and shared our traveling story with them until it was time to find camping for the night. We camped at the only campground on the North Rim which was running on a reduced rate until the end of the season. The park closes the road in to the North Rim when the first major snow falls.
The next day we drove along the Fuller Canyon road to Cape Royal, another lookout along the North Rim. We spent the morning meandering along this road which offers view points of the canyons east end. After lunch we left the park and drove around the east end of the Grand Canyon to the city of Flagstaff where we stopped for supplies and to sleep for the night.
We woke up to freezing temps the next morning and decided not to stick around. From Flagstaff we drove south to Phoenix where we were meeting Sue’s sister Laura and her husband Jeff in a couple of days. We decided to stay outside of the city so we drove west along I10 to the town of Buckeye where we found Leaf Verde RV Park, which turned out to be a great place to stay. It was reasonably priced and had great showers.
Over a week had passed since Sue crashed on her bike in Fruita Colorado and the bruise and swelling on her hip was not healing. We were getting concerned about it so we called our health insurance and told them we wanted to see a doctor. They directed us to the hospital in Goodyear which is the next town east of Buckeye. First thing the next morning we headed over to emergency to get it looked at. We weren’t sure what to expect at an American hospital but the service was great. We got in within a few minutes and only had to wait about 30 minutes for the doctor to see us. Mind you, it was a Wednesday morning. The doctor was great, he was a real joker and very friendly. He took a look at Sue’s injury and right away told us x-rays were not necessary and that the bump on her hip was a hemotoma. He told us it would go away within a few months hopefully and that resting it was the best thing. He seemed quite impressed with the bump Sue got from biking which made us laugh. He even had another doctor take a look for a second opinion.
That afternoon we headed back to the RV park to clean up the bus and get it organized for Laura and Jeff’s arrival. We knew that having four people in the bus was going to be crowded. It was a good thing we only planned to camp three nights and stay in hotels the rest of the time.