Category Archives: Places I’ve Been

Arches National Park

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The Lady of the House and I got to Arches National Park early in the afternoon. Once again, I was impressed by the rock formations visible from the parking lot near the visitor center, and once again, The Lady gave me a knowing smile. She’d visited this park the previous summer, and she knew what magnificence I would see shortly.

We didn’t see this formation from the visitor center, but I think it was one of the nameless formations that impressed me.

During The Lady’s visit the previous July, she and her companions had hiked to Delicate Arch. She said it had taken them about three hours to hike to the Arch and back. The trail was in the direct sun, she reported, and they were quite tired by the time they returned to the car. While I would have liked to see the iconic landmark up close, I didn’t really want to use my one day in the Park getting there and back. The Lady said there was a viewpoint a short walk from a parking area where we could see Delicate Arch from a distance. I decided seeing it from a distance was good enough for me if that meant I could also see other fantastic natural beauty in the Park.

From the visitor center, I drove the van up up up on the narrow, winding road. I mostly kept my eyes in front of me, but my furtive glances to the side showed me the deep drop to the world below. Arches National Park really is above it all.

Balanced Rock

Our first stop was at the Courthouse Towers area. I felt so tiny surrounded by ever taller rock formations. I already felt like I was literally on top of the world, yet the world rose up taller around me. How was a person from the flatlands (even someone like me who’d been living among mountains for some years) supposed to make sense of this geology?

Our next stop was Balanced Rock. One day the top rock will fall, and I’ll feel grateful I was able to experience the formation when it was all in one piece. Will they rename the formation when the top rock falls? Will we call it “Formerly Balanced Rock” or “Fallen Rock” or “The Rock Formerly Known as Balanced”?

After walking the short trail around Balanced Rock, I drove us to the parking area with Double Arch on one side and The Windows Trail on the other. We decided not to walk the trail to Double Arch, but I was able to snap a decent photo of it.

The walk to the North and South Window Arches was not very strenuous, and the visual payoff was fantastic! Across from the Window Arches is the Turret Arch, so a visitor gets to see three thrilling formations for one expenditure of energy.

Double Arch

Back in the van, I drove to the Fiery Furnace lookout. The trail here is apparently quite challenging. A limited number of permits for self-guided hikes are issued each day, or folks can go on ranger-led tours of the area. The Lady and I had signed up for neither due to time constraints (and my probable inability to enjoy a quite strenuous hike). So we contented ourselves with stopping briefly and taking some photos.

Our final destination of the day was the Delicate Arch viewpoint.

Before we got on the trail to the viewpoint, we saw a rustic cabin that I wanted to take a closer look at. The National Park Service says it was built in 1906 by John Wesley Wolfe to please his daughter Flora. The Lady maintained Edward Abbey stayed in this cabin during his two seasons (1956 and 1957) as a park ranger at Arches, but I could find no official information confirming that assertion. (Once back home, The Man of the House, who was then reading Desert Solitaire, said Abbey spent a night or two in the cabin during his time in the park, but hadn’t lived there extensively as I had imagined when The Lady said he’d stayed there. I think there should be signage saying “Edward Abbey slept here” or something to that effect.)

Turnbow Cabin, part of the Wolfe Ranch. Edward Abbey slept here, maybe once or twice.

I looked at the cabin and thought, I could live here, although hauling water would probably be quite an endeavor, and I bet it’s dark out there at night. Of course, it’s probably hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but I could imagine myself living there. I wonder how many other visitors even consider the place as a possible dwelling for themselves.

We took a short walk to the viewing area, and there it was—Delicate Arch. It didn’t look so big from where we were standing, but The Lady assured me it’s huge when one is standing right under it. The informational sign says the Arch’s opening is 45 feet high and 33 feet wide. That’s pretty dang big! The Lady pointed out the people standing around the Arch; they looked like tiny colorful specks, as if someone had thrown confetti around the formation.

Delicate Arch, from a distance

We contemplated Delicate Arch for a few minutes. It’s “carved in Entrada Sandstone”, the sign says, and “is composed mostly of the Slick Rock Member. The top is a five-foot thick layer of Moab Tongue.” I zoomed my camera’s lens in for a few grainy photos. Maybe someday I’ll hike out and see Delicate Arch up close, but in the meantime, I’ll revisit it on nearly every Utah license plate I see.

I took all the photos in this post.

Moab, UT and The Lazy Lizard

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When The Lady of the House and I originally planned our trip, she wanted to stay in a hotel or motel for one night in Moab. We would have been on the road a couple of days by that time, camping at places with no showers. She figured when we got to Moab, we’d want showers and a real bed to sleep in. She called the hotel where her family had stayed during their visit to the area the previous summer, and the rate was around $250 per night. Yikes! That was way too much!

We planned to stay at a hostel in Santa Fe, which made me wonder if Moab had a hostel too. I did a Google Search and found the Lazy Lizard.

I knew The Lady was not going to want to stay in the dorm (although those beds are a bargain at just $12 a night). I also knew both the Santa Fe International Hostel in New Mexico’s capital city and the Snow Mansion in Taos offer private rooms. When we looked for private room options on the Lazy Lizard’s website, we found the hostel had cabins available for rent. Let’s get a cabin! The Lady said. I couldn’t argue with her suggestion. Staying in a cabin sounded really fun.

Our plans changed because the water pump on my van went out. We never made it to Santa Fe or anywhere else in New Mexico, but we rearranged our Utah itinerary so we could make our reservation at the Lazy Lizard.

We left The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park early in the afternoon and drove the couple hours to Moab. I was excited to see The Hole-N-the Rock tourist attraction outside of town; I’d read a little about it in a Sunset magazine article about the Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Dam, and it was fun to see it in real life.

The Lady and I were hungry, so we decided to eat dinner before we checked in at the hostel. They’ll probably want to show us around, tell us about the shared kitchen, go over the rules, I said about the Lazy Lizard staff. That might take half an hour. Let’s eat dinner first, then we won’t be in a rush to leave again.

We had dinner at a place called Pasta Jay’s at 4 S Main Street Moab.The Lady and her family had eaten there during their previous visit to Moab. They’d all enjoyed the food at Pasta Jay’s very much, so much that The Lady wanted to enjoy it again and wanted me to enjoy it too.

We arrived at Pasta Jay’s around 4:30, which was great for beating the lunch and dinner crowds. The Lady ordered spaghetti with a meatless red sauce, and I ordered the special artichoke and spinach ravioli in a meatless red sauce. The sauce was so delicious, I would have been content to make a meal by dipping the included garlic bread into the sauce and eating just that. However, the ravioli were tender pillows of perfection that I also enjoyed very much. The portion size was big and if the food had been any less delicious or I had been any less hungry, I would have had leftovers to enjoy later. Since this was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, there were no leftovers. The Lady ate with gusto what was put in front of her; she didn’t carry out any leftovers either.

I shouldn’t have worried about spending a lot of time on a tour of the Lazy Lizard. Check in took under five

Our cabin, #16

minutes. The Lady had prepaid with her credit card to hold the reservation, so we didn’t have to wait around to complete a transaction. The fellow who checked us in didn’t mention a single rule, didn’t show us the kitchen or tell us anything about its use, didn’t tell us where we could find the restroom. Thankfully, he did tell us which cabin we’d be staying in (#16) and that we could park next to it. We took our key and went on our way.

The cabin was more plain than rustic. There were no decorations of any kind, save for a (much appreciated) mirror. None of the lightbulbs (one in the middle of the ceiling and two in a lamp just inside the door) had a lampshade, which made the room seem harsh. I know we were in budget accommodations, but lampshades and some kind of decor would have helped the cabin seem a little more inviting.

In addition to a table and two chairs in the corner and another smaller table near the door, the furniture consisted of a bunk bed. The Lady took the bottom bunk and found the mattress was bigger than the frame. If she got too close to the edge, the side of the mattress drooped towards the floor and she ran the risk of rolling right out of the bed. I slept on the top bunk, which had a double mattress that fit the frame. I found my mattress adequately comfortable, but The Lady said the mattress in my van was more comfortable than the one she slept on in the cabin.

Before we started the trip, I’d sent an email to the Lazy Lizard to ask if linens were provided for the beds. I was told they were provided, which was technically true. Both mattresses were covered with a fitted sheet, and a flat sheet was folded on the foot of the bed. A bedspread was folded at the foot of each bed too. The bedspread was a joke. It looked as if it were purchased from a liquidation sale at a Howard Johnson motel that went out of business in the late 80s. It was too thin to do any good against the chill of an April night, so I brought in my comforter from the van. The pillows were flat; fluffing them didn’t help. I brought in my pillow too, as did The Lady.

Towels were provided too. There were six fairly fluffy towels for the two of us. However, The Lady found something crusty on the one she was going to use after her shower. She decided to forgo the towels provided and use the one she’d brought from home. The towel I used was free of crust and stains.

The shower stalls at the Lazy Lizard were narrow and utilitarian, but the water was HOT.

We knew when we made the reservation that the cabin didn’t have a private bath. I think everyone at the Lazy Lizard shares the restrooms. However, I guess in my imagination, our cabin was a little closer to the restrooms than it actually was. In reality, we weren’t terribly far, but it seemed a long walk to get to a toilet at 2am.

I think The Lady and I would agree that the highlight of our stay at the Lazy Lizard was the seemingly unlimited hot water in the showers. I was a little afraid the water was going to scald me, but once I got the temperature adjusted properly, I luxuriated in the hot water that never waned.

We should have figured out how to use the room’s electric heater before we went to bed. The room was warm enough early in the evening, but got cold in the night. When I came back from the restroom at two in the morning, The Lady told me she was really, really cold. Rather than turn on the light and try to get the heater going, I just went out to the van and got my big down comforter for her. She snuggled down, and we got a few more hours of sleep.

The next morning brought its own challenges.

The Lady went to check out the cleanliness of the kitchen, but found it was already full of people cooking their breakfasts. The little yard in front of our cabin had a picnic table, so I suggested we set up our camp stove and propane tank and cook there. The Lady was concerned someone would come along and tell us we couldn’t cook outside the cabin.

This is the picnic table where The Lady cooked our delicious breakfast.

If the man at the desk couldn’t be bothered to tell us how to find the restroom, I told her, I doubt he’s going to come out here and tell us we can’t cook.

I set up the tank and the stove, and The Lady cooked. I found out later that she kept catching the dude who had his tent pitched in the little yard next to ours looking at her through the missing board in the wooden fence between the two areas.

The Lazy Lizard isn’t a terrible place to stay if you go to Moab and don’t have a rig to sleep in. Just remember, it’s inexpensive housing, and you get what you pay for. If I went back to Moab alone and without my rig, I’d give the Lazy Lizard’s dormitory a try. If I had my van, I’d stay on nearby free BLM land like Willow Spring Road and pay to shower at the Lazy Lizard.

The Lady and I really didn’t spend much time In Moab. The day after our stay at the Lazy Lizard, we spent the afternoon at Arches National Park. That evening we went into Moab to eat dinner on the lovely patio at The Lady’s beloved Atomic Café (located at 1393 North Highway 191) where we had excellent veggie burgers. While we waited for the Atomic Café to open, we walked a bit downtown, pressing pennies at Desert Dreams at 71 N. Main and browsing in the (very expensive) Made in Moab store. However, I enjoyed the vibe of the town—busy but not too crowded, outdoorsy yet artsy too. Maybe there will be more trips to Moab in my future.

 

Cave Spring Trail

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My first ladder

The Lady of the House had told me about the ladders.

On some of the trails she’d hiked during her family vacation in Utah, visitors had to climb up or down (or up and down) ladders to get to different levels of the trail. Today I would experience my first ladder.

We were in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. We’d just hiked Pothole Point Trail, and now we were on our way to Cave Spring Trail.

It was early afternoon and warm. I was glad it was early April and not full-on summer because despite the mild temperature, the sun was beating down. The last hike had mostly been in direct sun, and even with long cotton clothing covering m body and my big hat covering my head, I knew the sun would wear me down. Hiking in the sun and the heat—well, that’s not my idea of a good time. But as I said, the heat wasn’t so bad, and I was enjoying myself.

The Lady had read a description of Cave Spring at the visitor center or maybe in the informational newspaper about Canyonlands she’d picked up during her last visit to the park. She knew this was the hike with the ladder. I was calmly excited to climb a ladder on a hike because it’s not something everyone had done. Climbing a ladder on a hike would probably make me a little tougher, gave me a little extra trail cred. Lord knows I need all the trail cred I can get.

The first interesting stop on the trail was the cowboy camp. According to the sign at the trailhead, this first alcove served as an open-air bunkhouse. I’m not sure when this particular area was in use, but the sign says cowboys lived in isolated camps like this one from the 1890s until cattle ranching was discontinued in Canyonlands in 1975.

Cowboy artifacts. The photo on the sign shows them better than this photo of mine does.

I don’t know  if the items in the alcove are the actual items left in this particular spot by actual cowboys or if they were set up here to represent what a cowboy camp might have looked like. The sign alludes to the fact that this is the real deal, but doesn’t come right out and say so. When I believe real cowboys left these actual items in this particular place, I feel real lonely. Did the cowboys know they would never return and decided these items weren’t even worth taking out, or did they think they’d be back someday to pick up their things? Did anyone ever miss the blue bowl left on the table?

The actual spring in the cave on the eponymous Cave Spring Trail

The next point of interest was Cave Spring itself. Located in more of an alcove than an actual cave, the trailhead sign calls it “one of the area’s few year-round water sources.” No wonder the cowboys wanted to camp nearby! There wasn’t a lot of water there—barely a pool—but enough for people to live off of when other sources were dry. I love the vivid green of the plants growing by the spring, especially against the browns and tans of the rock and dirt.

We soon saw that cowboys weren’t the only people who utilized this place. The sign at the trailhead says the area “contains evidence of almost 1,000 years of human use.” Past the cowboy camp, near the spring, we saw cave paintings.

We saw the handprints first. They’re not actually paintings, but the outlines of hands held up against the wall of stone while some white pigment was thrown or blown around the fingers. Who was this person who centuries ago decided to lean an “I was here” mark on the stone? Were there two people leaving evidence of their lives on that wall? (Only while looking at my photo of these hand outlines months later did I realize the outline on the left is that of a right hand—well, unless the person had the back of the hand pressed against the rock and not the palm as I’d first supposed.) Why is the outline on the right not very good? Was the wall too bumpy there for a good outline? What is the white pigment and how has it lasted for centuries? Did the person who left this mark imagine someone so far in the future would see it and wonder about it? Some of these questions may be answerable (how I wish I’d been able to attend a ranger talk at this site!) but the thought process that went into these marks will forever remain a mystery.

We saw more prehistoric art by the spring, these pieces produced with a rusty orange pigment. Most of the figures appear to me to be humanoid—I could see what I thought were meant to be arms and legs—but I have no idea what the figures are supposed to represent. Gods? Shamans? Aliens from outer space? Mom and Dad? Were these figures religious representations or the equivalent of a child’s drawing of the family fastened to the refrigerator door? Again, I doubt we’ll ever know with certainty.

The last of the rock painting we saw depicted hands again. I’m not sure if these were actual hand prints or paintings of handprints. The bright orange one to the far right looks most like an actual handprint done by someone who wasn’t very good at making handprints. (The outline of the thumb is barely there.) The others that look more spirally in the palm—was that from slightly different positioning in repeated printings? I wish now I had paid attention to the size of the hands, perhaps taken a photo with my own hand close by for comparison. I also wish I had seen the trail guide the sign at the trailhead describes as offering “more information on the human history of the area.”

The first part of the hike had been mostly in the cool of the shade. Especially near the spring, the air was damp and almost chilly. Soon after we saw the last of the rock paintings, we moved out into the open and back into the sun. It wasn’t long before I was climbing my first ladder!

There were actually two ladders on the tail. The trailhead sign says, “Past the spring, two wooden ladders lead to views of the surrounding terrain.”

View of the surrounding terrain

The ladders weren’t as rickety as I had feared. I thought they’d be more rustic, but they were held together with modern metal bolts and washers. (Not to worry, I’d get my share of rustic and rickety ladders at Natural Bridges National Monument.)

Why ladders? I wondered. Did the native people of the area use ladders to get to different levels of the land? Were ladders less cost prohibitive than were metal or wooden stairways? Did wooden ladders blend into the landscape better than other options did? I have no answers to these questions.

Past the spring, this is not a trail for people with serious physical limitations. I made it down the ladder ok, but I went slowly and carefully. I gripped the rung in front of me before I moved to place my feet carefully on the rung below. I wouldn’t say I was scared, but I would say I was definitely cautious. I certainly felt tough once I had my feet back on the ground. Oh, yeah! I do hikes that involve climbing ladders! I’m a badass!

As someone who enjoyed studying anthropology, the human history aspect of Cave Spring Trail made it one of my favorite hikes. I was fascinated by what’s been left behind there by humans of the past. And did I mention I climbed down two ladders while hiking that trail? Did I mention I’m a badass?

Badass with a big ass, and I’m ok with that.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Pothole Point Trail

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Pothole Point in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park was the first trail The Lady of the House and I hiked on our epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. At just .6 mile, it was a good way to start.

Pothole Point Trail is named for the indentions in the rock which are known as “potholes.” After a rain, each pothole is an ecosystem of various snails, beetles, worms, and shrimp which have hatched from eggs or emerged from dormancy.  Each ecosystem is fragile, and visitors are encouraged to keep hands and feet out of the potholes. Even when the indentions are dry, eggs may be lingering in them, waiting for a rain so they can hatch. Other creatures may also be in the potholes, also waiting for rain to move into the next phase of their lifecycle. A hand or especially a foot in a pothole could crush delicate life.

We were lucky to see these potholes filled with water.

The Lady and I were really lucky; all the rain the night before had filled the potholes. We were both excited to see the potholes filled with water; they really stood out when wet.

The hike was mostly across bare rock. The trail was marked by cairns (pronunced \ ˈkern \) because there was no visible path of well-worn dirt or trampled vegetation as one might see in a forest or desert. All we could do to navigate was follow small piles of rocks. It was my first hike with only cairns to guide me.

A cairn marking the trail.

Visitors are asked not to build cairns of their own because too many cairns or cairns built in the wrong places can be confusing to hikers. Unfortunately there were many unofficial cairns along the trail. Fortunately, The Lady was really good at navigating and kept us on the trail. Had I been alone, I might still be wandering around from one pile of stones to another, never finding the way back to my van.

Not only does the trail take hikers across bare sandstone, there’s very little shade along the way. I was glad for my big hat and glad we were hiking on a spring morning. I would not have enjoyed this hike nearly as much had I been doing it at midday in the summer.

The Lady and I took frequent water breaks, thanks to her reminders.

The trail wasn’t crowded, probably because our visit occurred before the high tourist season of Memorial Day to Labor Day. I absolutely encourage anyone who can manage it to do their exploring of any tourist attraction during the off-season.

Pothole Point Trail is a loop, and I was glad to see my van when we circled back around. I enjoyed the scenery and the company, but I was glad to get out of the sun and take a little break while driving us to the second hike on our itinerary. Next stop: Cave Spring Trail.

Some of the scenery we saw while hiking Pothole Point Trail.

I took the photos in thie post.

Canyonlands National Park, The Needles District

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The Lady of the House and I woke up in Superbowl Campground to a beautiful view. It was difficult to believe any rock formation could be redder or more beautiful, but The Lady just smiled knowingly. She’d never visited The Needles District, but she’d been to Arches National Park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands the previous summer. She knew there was a lot more fantastic ahead of us.

After eating breakfast and cleaning up, we got on the road to the Needles District of Canyonlands. We showed The Lady’s Southeast Utah Parks Pass at the admission booth, then stopped at the visitor center to plan our day. We decided to drive the scenic loop, stopping at overlooks and going on two hikes—Pothole Point Trail and Cave Spring Trail. While these two hikes weren’t the longest or most strenuous in the Park, at .6 miles each, they were long enough for me. We also planned to do the very short (.3 mile) Roadside Ruin Trail on our way out of the Park.

I was in awe at the wondrous formations we could see from the visitor center. Again, The Lady indicated You ain’t seen nothing yet, and we set out on our driving tour.

I was in awe from the moment I got out of the van at the Needles District visitor center.

The first magnificent formation I saw didn’t even have a name.

This is Wooden Shoe Arch. It really looks like a wooden shoe! Nature is incredible.

What’s it called? I kept asking The Lady. Why doesn’t it have a name?

Certainly something this majestic deserved a name.

The first named formation we stopped to see was Wooden Shoe Arch. It was my first arch, and it really did look like a wooden shoe! Erosion is an amazing phenomenon.

Next we drove to the Confluence Overlook Trailhead, which was at the far end of the loop. We had no plans to hike the 10 mile trail, but we did walk around the area near where we had parked, and we looked out over the vast wonder of nature. It was scary to stand on the edge of a massive drop-off, but feeling like a tiny bug that could be swallowed by the earth does put the human experience into perspective.

The Lady stands on the edge. It may look as if she could step down to the next level of ground, but in reality she was way high up and the ground was way down below.

Both the Pothole Point Trail and The Cave Spring Trail were a bit strenuous for a couch potato like me, but I certainly enjoyed the sights I saw along both trails. (Each of these adventures warrants a future individual blog post.)

My first ladder.

My most memorable moment in The Needles District was descending my first trail ladder. This event occurred on The Cave Spring Trail. I tend to be clumsy, so I took things slow and made it down with no problem.

As planned, we walked the Roadside Ruin Trail on our way out of the Park. It was a short and easy trail, more of a stroll than a hike, and perfect for the end of the day. We dashed up, saw the relic,

one of the region’s many ancient granaries – used by various Native American cultures who cultivated corn, beans, and squash when the climate in the area was wetter,

according to the Modern Hiker website. The Lady and I agreed it was cool, but we were tired, hungry, and ready to go, so  we returned to the van for our drive to Moab.

The aforementioned Modern Hiker article says, “…this granary – built sometime between 1270 and 1295 CE – is particularly well-preserved (and is also unique in that it’s accessed via a door on top of the granary instead of the sides).”

I took all the photos in this post, except for the photo of myself. The Lady took that one.

Superbowl Campground

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When we planned our trip to The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, The Lady of the House and I decided to camp the night before our visit. At that time of year (early April) The Needles (Squaw Flat) campground in the southern section of the park is on a first come-first served basis, and we didn’t know if we could get there early enough in the day to snag a campsite. We looked at the Free Campsites website in hopes of finding something totally free close to the park entrance, but the free spots we found were father away then we wanted to be.

We ended up figuring things out on the fly due to a four day delay imposed on us when my van’s water pump had to be replaced. While I drove, The Lady pulled out the informational brochures she’d picked up in Canyonlands during her visit the previous summer.

There were three campgrounds on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land outside the boundaries of the National Park. The camping fee at each was $5 a night. That wasn’t quite as good as free, but pretty dang close.

We were aiming for Creek Pasture Campground.  It was the closest campground to Highway 211 (the road that would take us into the National Park), and it seemed to be big enough to offer us hope of finding an available site.

We thought the trip to the campground would take us about five hours. We left Winslow, AZ early enough that we thought we’d get to the campground before dark. We had visions of cooking dinner, eating it leisurely, watching the sun set. I’m not sure what happened. We did stop to hand a can of Fix-a-Flat to a couple having tire trouble in the Navajo Nation, but that couldn’t have set us back more than 10 minutes. We stopped for one gas and bathroom break, but that took 20 minutes, tops. I also pulled over to take a photo of the Utah sign when we crossed the state line, but The Lady didn’t want to fight the wind, so she stayed in the van. Could my photo op have cost us more than three minutes?

After we got into Utah, the sky turned overcast. It was dusk when we passed through Blanding, and dark when we went through Monticello. I was glad the GPS lady was there to tell us when to make the turn onto Highway 211; otherwise I might have missed it in the night.

At some point after we turned onto the 211, the rain started. Suddenly I was driving on a twisty, turny, curvy mountain road in the dark and the rain. I really should be more scared than I am, I remember telling The Lady.

I saw the sign for Superbowl campground, but figured it would be full on a Saturday night. We hoped the larger Creek Pasture Campground would have a place for us.

Maybe the rain has sent people home already, I hoped aloud.

We found Creek Pasture Campground, and I drove slowly down the entrance road, then through the campground. Every campsite seemed to be taken. We saw one that appeared empty, but when I jumped out of the van to investigate, I found a tent pitched behind some vegetation. Another site appeared deserted, save for the registrations slip clipped to the pole. The departure date was the next day, and I suspected the campers had been chased off by the rain, but I had no proof. We didn’t want to risk being on someone’s site if they returned, so we decided to backtrack and check out Superbowl.

We turned onto the main road into the campground and followed it to its first offshoot. We turned down that road. Immediately to our right was a campsite. There was no car parked there, no tent pitched in the bushes, no registrations slip on the pole—in fact, no pole. I pulled the van right in, and we let relief wash over us. We had a legal place to stay for the night.

The rain continued, so we didn’t get out of the van to cook dinner. We just ate snacks and laughed a lot, as if we were at a slumber party. I fell asleep and didn’t hear another sound, but The Lady said it rained all night.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny. As much as I hate driving in the dark, I love arriving in the dark and waking up to the surprise of beautiful scenery. I hadn’t had that pleasure since boondocking at Indian Bread Rocks in Arizona more than a year before, but we really lucked out at Superbowl Campground. I couldn’t stop oohing and aahing when I stepped from the van.

Of course, my photos don’t do justice to how our surrounding really looked. The rocks were red and huge and the formations so very Utah. Even the walk to the pit toilet was wonderful in such a beautiful location.

There was a sign on the information board saying the campground had been under renovation. That probably explained the brand-spanking-new fire ring and picnic table on our site. The renovations maybe also explained why the campground seemed bigger than 17 sites. Maybe it had been expanded as well as renovated.

There was only one pit toilet serving the entire campground, so there was a bit of a wait to use it, but it was decently clean on Sunday morning. There was toilet paper available, which is always a plus. The campground didn’t have a camp host, but someone was servicing that restroom.

The Lady and I took a brisk walk around Superbowl so I could try to get some good photos. As we walked around, we saw other campers cooking breakfast, packing up, and generally starting their days. Lots of campers looked young and athletic. I saw helmets in the bed of a truck, making me think the campers on that site were a group of rock climbers. I know practically nothing about rock climbing, but even I could see it would be exhilarating to climb any of the surrounding formations.

All in all, Superbowl campground was peaceful and surrounded by beauty. I was not upset to drop into the iron ranger the envelope with our $5 camping fee enclosed.

I took the photos in this post.

 

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

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I took this photo on the road to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex the first time I tried to visit in 2015.

I’d planned to visit Meteor Crater Natural Landmark once before. I’d taken exit 233 and driven nearly 6 miles to the parking lot. I’d even gone into the visitor center, but when I saw the price of admission, I turned around and left.

I’d budgeted $10 to see this roadside attraction. I probably would have splurged and spent $12, but when I saw the price of admission was $18, I went back to my van and got back on the road. I doubted looking at a crater would be worth $18.

The Lady of the House thought this story was hilarious.

She’d never seen the meteor crater either, but her son, The Boy (now a grown man in his 20s), had visited some years ago on a field trip. The Boy had been quite impressed by the crater during a time in his life when he was not easily impressed. (Upon visiting the Grand Canyon as a child, all The Boy could say was, I hate this stupid Grand Canyon; his favorite part of the trip was the ride on a shuttle bus from the parking lot to a scenic viewpoint.)

He just kept talking about how big it was, The Lady said of her son after his visit to Meteor Crater Natural Landmark.

The crater wasn’t originally on our trip itinerary. We hadn’t planned to be on I-40 at all, but waiting for my van’s water pump to be replaced delayed us by four days. We cut the New Mexico portion of our trip out entirely, which meant we had to get to Utah by a different route.

Since we’d be on I-40, The Lady really wanted to see the meteor crater.

You pay the $10 you budgeted when you stopped before, The Lady told me, and I’ll pay the $8 difference.

I told her it was a deal.

The Meteor Crater website said guided tours were available. I called the Meteor Crater office and found out the guided tours were included in the price of admission. I always like to take a guided tour if it doesn’t cost extra. I find I learn more from a tour guide than I do if I’m left to my own devices reading informational placards.

The night before our visit to the crater, we boondocked off I-40 between Flagstaff and Winslow, just outside Walnut Canyon National Monument. We’d hoped to arrive at the crater in time for the first tour at 9:15 in the morning, but we were running late. In retrospect, we were glad we’d missed the first tour because when we arrived, we still had time to use the (clean) restroom, buy a few souvenirs in the (well-lit, neatly arranged, not overpriced) gift shop, and watch the (entertaining, informative) short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

This photo shows the entrance to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex.

Before we did any of those things, we had to pay the admission fee.

The worker who greeted us at the door was all smiles. She welcomed us and pointed to the sign above the box office where she said we’d see the prices listed. We already knew the prices (they’re on the internet, as The Lady said to me later, thus a matter of public record), so when The Lady walked up to the box office, she chirped Two, please! and didn’t balk when the ticket seller asked for $36.

A young couple walked in right behind us. I’d noticed them in the parking lot. They looked like neo-hippies, or at least the man did. He had long hair and a big beard and wore baggie pants that probably allowed him to do the sun salutation in the morning and wrap his legs around a djembe at the drum circle at night. The woman looked less like a hippie and more like a Whole Foods athletic urbanite in a tank top and those hiking leggings that are in fashion with women who engage in outdoor sports.

The fellow was talking to the greeter. I wasn’t following their conversation, but I heard the fellow say $18? in surprise. He lady friend echoed $18? in pure disbelief. I thought it was really funny that the couple was having the same reaction I’d had during my first brief visit.

The greeter must have confirmed the $18 admission fee. Then the fellow seemed to be asking if there were a place they could look at the crater for free; I’d had that same thought during my first visit. The greeter must have told them there was no free viewing because the couple left the building.

The Lady and I, however, went deeper into the building. Then we went out a door, up some steps, past the under-construction Astronaut Park, and into another door. We were now in the area housing the Discovery Center, the restrooms, the Subway restaurant, the gift shop, and the theater.

I guess they wanted to get their money’s worth on that graphic, The Lady said.It was on everything from road signs to restroom signs.

First stop: Restrooms.

Second stop: Gift shop where I bought postcards and The Lady bought The Boy a souvenir t-shirt to replace the one he’d bought during his visit and outgrown.

Third stop: Theater where we watched the informative short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

After the movie was over, it was time for a tour. We fell in with Jake, our tour guide, who took us right out to the edge of the meteor crater. I was glad we’d opted for the tour because visitors don’t get nearly as close without a guide. I was glad the weather was good too because tours are cancelled due to bad weather, including high wind speeds. I was also glad The Lady and I were visiting in spring because in the hot Arizona summer the tours are cut short.

While visitors can see the crater from the observation area (including through a big glass window for the days it’s too hot and/or too windy to go outside) and can get close-up looks through the free telescope views, no one goes out to the edge of the crater without a guide. I’m sure it would be a huge liability issue to have people standing so close to the edge and perhaps trying to climb down into the crater. The people who own the crater (yes, it’s privately owned) must feel safer having a guide keep an eye on people who go where there are no barriers.

We walked out on a short paved path, and there it was to our left—Meteor Crater. The Boy was right; it was big. Other words that came to mind when I saw the crater were huge, massive, immense, and fantastic, yet it’s difficult to put into words or even capture in photographs just how stupendous the crater really is.

We learned from the movie that the floor of the crater is large enough to house 20 football games being played at the same time, while the sloping sides of the crater could accommodate stands big enough to seat 2 million fans. That’s difficult to imagine, even while I was standing right there looking at the crater.

I didn’t quite begin to understand how big the crater is until I looked through one of the observation telescopes. Looking through the telescope, I could see the floor of the crater where a 6’ tall (I later read) cutout of an astronaut stood in front of a chain link fence. The cutout and the fence both looked itty bitty, even through the telescope.

I learned the following information from a brochure we received at the ticket counter: From the viewing platform,

the floor of the crater is 550 feet deep, equivalent to a 60 story building.

The crater is over 4,000 feet across and 2.4 miles in circumference.

Wowza!

Jake the tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. He talked about the impact of the meteor that had

The Lady dances with (a cardboard cutout of) an astronaut in the Discovery Center.

created the crater and the process by which the theory that the crater was made by a meteor (not a volcano as originally thought) was proven. The Lady really enjoyed the second stop on our tour—The Rock Table—where Jake did a show-n-tell of how the meteor impacted (my pun—totally intended) the geology of the area surrounding the crater.

After the tour ended, The Lady and I made a quick pass through the Discovery Center. This area had a lot of

information about meteors and space. There were interactive exhibits, like the one letting the visitor lift an earth rock and comparably sized piece of a meteorite to show the difference in their weights. The Discovery Center seemed to do a good job explaining scientific information in ways kids could understand, while still keeping  the exhibits interesting for adults. I wasn’t so excited about the Discovery Center that day after being out in the sun and the wind during our tour, and knowing I still had hours of driving ahead of me, we kept our visit short. However, the Center must be very popular on days when it’s too windy to go outside or during the summer when the heat cuts the tours short.

You’re probably wondering if the entire experience is worth the $18 admission fee. Folks do get a lot for the price of admission, including the guided tour, the opportunity to view the movie, free use of the telescopic viewers, and access to the Discovery Center. Once you’re in, you’re not nickeled and dimed to death. Also, visitors are allowed to bring in water and snacks, or get their hands stamps for reentry and go out to their vehicles to eat and drink. Every part of the operation The Lady and I saw was clean and well-maintained, so no one is slacking on maintenance in order to line pockets. Finally, all of the employees I encountered (including the clerks in the gift shop) were friendly and seemed happy, so I suspect the workers are being paid decent wages. I’m always happy when workers are earning decent money.

So while I can’t say an $18 admission fee is in my budget, I do think the people who pay that amount get good value for their money. For folks interested in space and heavenly bodies in general and meteors and the impact they’ve had on earth in particular, as well as those interested in geology and the history of the earth, Meteor Crater Natural Landmark would be a very interesting attraction. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate The Lady subsidizing my admission fee, but I wouldn’t encourage travelers on tight budgets to give up something else to visit here unless they were huge fans of meteors and the craters they leave behind.

This photo does no justice to how deep and wide Meteor Crater really is.

I took all the photos in this post.

The Night Garden

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The first thing Nolagirl and I saw at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity was The Night Garden by Jenneva Kayser.

The festival’s website calls The Night Garden a

colorful, illuminated landscape inspired by bioluminescent plants and fungi…created on site and consist[ing] of sculptures made of woven recycled fabric and translucent porcelain clay. The artist invite[ed] visitors to “take a walk through the wild landscape—an underwater desert in outer space!”

What in the world is “an underwater desert in outer space”? Wow! I don’t even know what that means. In any case, Nolagirl and I were fascinated by the cacti made from fabric.

On a March 7, 2018 post on the Mesa Arts Center website called “Woven Together,” Kayser writes of the assistance she got to create this installation. She orginally proposed to create a small piece in a “tucked away” location. She thought she’d be doing all the work herself. When the review committee asked for something bigger to display in a more prominant location, Kayser needed help.

About forty people snipped and wove as we processed all the recycled fabric into string, and crocheted the vines and cactus that make up the garden. Four hundred fifty pounds of t-shirts later, I am full of gratitude for a task I simply could not have done alone.

On her Instagram page, Kayser describes herself as “Studio Manager at Mesa Art Center. Artist, poet, cook.” That’s all the biographical information I can find for this artist. Also, is she the same Jenneva Kayser, poet, interviewed in a 2014 issue of Geosi Reads? Ms. Kayser is as mysterious as The Night Garden itself.

The aforementioned Instagram page is a great place to see what The Night Garden looked like at night, something I’m sorry I missed. It’s also a great place to get up close and personal with the textile sculptures.

There’s so much for me to like about this piece. I love that this art is created from recycled fabric. What a fantastic use for 450 pounds of t-shirts! I so appreciate people who can create beauty from items one step away from the trash. I’m also attracted to bright colors, so the reds and purples and fluorescent yellows really drew me in. Since the Sonoran Desert has wormed its way into my heart, any scene with cacti catches my attention.

The Night Garden was a fabulous welcome to the spark! Festival. It drew me and Nolagirl right in and awakened our sense of wonder, preparing us for the other enchanting art we would see that day.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Boondocking Near Walnut Canyon National Monument in Arizona

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The Lady of the House jumped out of the van and took this photo for me.

The Lady of the House and I started our epic road trip by camping outside of Flagstaff in a location we found courtesy of the Free Campsites website. We planned to visit the Meteor Crater National Landmark and Winslow the next day, so the location off I-40 was perfect for us. The free camping is in the Coconino National Forest right outside Walnut Canyon National Monument.

According to Wikipedia,

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Hopi: Wupatupqa) is a United States National Monument…The canyon rim elevation is 6,690 ft (2,040 m); the canyon’s floor is 350 ft lower. A 0.9 mi (1.4 km) long loop trail descends 185 ft (56 m) into the canyon passing 25 cliff dwelling rooms constructed by the Sinagua, a pre-Columbian cultural group that lived in Walnut Canyon from about 1100 to 1250 CE.

This photo shows the well-maintained dirt road into the boondocking area. I believe this is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road.

From Interstate 40, we took exit 204 as directed by Google, then turned onto Walnut Canyon Road, which we followed to Cosnino Road. When we saw the Walnut Canyon National Monument sign, we knew we were close. We arrived before dark, so it was easy to see where we were going.

We turned off of the main road (Walnut Canyon Road) onto a well-maintained dirt road, which I believe is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road. This well-maintained dirt road had no signs, but we suspected we were in the right place because we could see RVs parked among the trees.

We hadn’t gone far down the dirt road before we saw a flat spot with evidence of previous camping (a fire ring made from stones, a log fashioned into a bench). We decided that site was good enough for our overnight, and I pulled the van in between the trees.

While we were preparing and eating dinner and later while we were getting ready for bed, something mildly strange occurred. At differnt times, a couple of different pickup trucks drove like bats-out-of-hell on the well-maintained dirt road past our camp. The trucks weren’t gone long; shortly they were driving fast in the opposite direction, ostensibly back to their camps. It was as if the drivers had gone to the end of the road, then turned right around and come back. Where did they go? Why did they come back so soon? What was the huge rush? Other than these strange drive-bys, the camping area was very peaceful. We heard no evidence of partying–no loud voices, no loud music.

Campers before us made a fire ring from stones and fashioned a bench from a log. I sat on that bench to eat my dinner.

The Lady discovered this mountain view.

The next morning The Lady went for a short run and came back to tell me she’d found a mountain view and other campsites. She said she’d show them to me, so I went on a brisk walk with her.

The other campsites were at the top of a slightly steep incline. The

Rutted and rocky dirt road

problem getting to the sites wasn’t the road’s climb so much as the road’s poor condition. I was glad I hadn’t tried to take my van up the rutted and rocky dirt road.

The campsites up top (evident because of stone fire rings) were nicely tucked into the trees and deserted, which surprised me. Sure, it was early April, not prime camping season, but I thought someone would have camped up there on a Friday night. However, it seemed we’d had that entire part of the boondocking area to ourselves.

Unfortunately, the fire rings weren’t the only evidence of previous campers; folks had left trash on more than one of the sites. Also, not far from where we camped, we saw the remains of two sofas. I can’t imagine how anyone could have forgotten two couches out in the woods. Maybe it’s supposed to be a hunting blind? The Lady asked

Whoever left these couches on public land left a pretty big trace!

skeptically. I don’t think so. I think the sofas were hauled onto public land specifically for dumping! What a travesty!

Overall, The Lady and I were pleased with our free camping. I would absolutely stay in this boondocking area again.

 

Terrible Experience

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This photo shows the Double Arch, right across from where we utilized the pit toilets before starting our hike to see the North and South Windows.

I’d stepped out of the little building housing the pit toilet and was waiting for The Lady of the House to step out of the little building she’d gone into. We were in Arches National Park, near the Windows Trail. We were on our epic road trip, and we were having a great time.

I was standing to one side of the walkway. Two women passed me and went to the front of the pit toilet buildings. They were older than I am, probably in thier early to mid 60s. One woman was wearing a rather bashed up black cowgirl hat glittering with black sequins. The woman with the hat looked at her companion and declared, This is going to be a terrible experience.

I kept my mouth shut, but I thought it a shame she’d decided what kind of experience she was going to have before she even allowed herself to experience her actual experience.

My experience with the pit toilets throughout the national parks we visited was that they weren’t so bad. They all had toilet paper, most offered hand sanitizer, and none disgusted me. The Lady and I ulilized one at a scenic overlook at the very end of the day, and we both noticed the floor could have used a sweep and the outside of the risers could have used a wipe, but it was still on the pleasant end of the pit toilet spectrum.

Some of the pit toilets we encountered were smelly, but that’s the nature of decaying of animal (human or otherwise) waste. Folks who flush away their excrement don’t always realize the pit toilet stench is a normal result of the process of decay. Sometimes they don’t seem to realize that loudly complaining about the stink isn’t going to make it go away.

I think perhaps this sign I saw in the pit toilets thoughout the national parks in Utah is helping to keep things clean.

I can tell you from experience, finding feces on the floor near a pit toilet is a terrible experience. Having to clean up the feces is even worse. I wonder if the lady in the black sequined cowgirl hat had ever had that experience.

I took the photos in this post.