First Time at Canyonlands – Islands in the Sky

Bright and early we started out the next morning for Canyonlands – Island In The Sky, and we took HWY 313, which was pretty close to our boondocking spot, but still a 24 mile drive to the park entrance from where 313 meets the main highway.  It was a bright blue sky day, but very windy, which is actually decent weather for a scenic drive. The drive itself was once again beautiful as we drove through free range cattle land and passed Horse Thief BLM Campground. Unlike the campgrounds down in the Needles, there is some cell service up on the mesa and many of the campsites in Horse Thief are big enough for large RV’s.  They have 58 sites and we liked 10, 13, 16,17,21, 23, 24. 29, 30, 44, 51, and 37 the most.  They also had a couple of group campsites, but again, those were mostly designed for tents, and since the campsites themselves were only $15 a night (dry camping only) those seemed to be a better deal.

Eventually we arrived at Island In The Sky and saw that the entrance fee was $25 per vehicle.  Once again we gained admittance for free with our America the Beautiful Pass and stopped at the visitors center right inside the gates.  The visitors center was pretty small and there were definitely more children around than in Needles, so we took a quick look, and then headed on the scenic drive.


Lee loves the topographical maps

(When we first walked in it was really dark, and after a minute or so of wandering around inside I overheard a park employee apologizing to someone that they couldn’t take a credit card because the power was out and they had no idea when the power would be back on. The customer was getting pretty cranked up and being an ass about it. I muttered to myself that this poor employee was going to have a long bad day because people are the worst, and this was apparently her first encounter of the day with someone who wan’t going to be able to get what they wanted when they wanted it, and I hoped out loud that the power came back soon for her sake, and POOF, the power came back on. I’m not saying I’m a power God, or anything, but the power did come back on right after I wished for it. Just saying. – Lee)

Our first stop was Shaded Canyon Overlook, and we got out and walked down for the beautiful views.  It was a little steep and some of the path was on slickrock, but it was definitely worth it.  The only downside was the wind was very cold, and strong enough that I stayed away from the edge.  Neither the wind nor the steep drop-offs bothered Lee though, and he stayed a while and took several pictures.

 

 

Even Lee didn’t go around the big rock at the end because the wind gusts were pretty strong.

 

This is one of the roads we want to go back and drive with a Jeep.

 

Views of some of the roads we wanted to take in the future on the valley floor.

 

We passed the Mesa Arch trailhead, but although the route was somewhat short it was pretty steep, and it was still too cold for me.  It was a lot colder up on the Mesa than it was when we left our boondocking site, and I wasn’t really prepared for the cold weather.  So instead we went on to  Green River Overlook and again stunning views.

 

You can see the Green River in the right of the picture.

 

We also stopped at a small pull off for Candle Tower overlook and got out and walked a bit.  It was warming up and the “path” was flat enough even for me and you could see lots of stuff and still stay away from the edge.  Lee of course just walked right up to it.

 


I took a ton of pictures here. Loved this spot. I just wish we could have gotten some sun on the really cool rock in the background.  Next time!

Next up was Buck Canyon, and that overlook was stunning.  As with many of these pictures that show wide landscapes, you really can’t capture how pretty it was, especially on an overcast day.


I liked the wooden barriers at the edges

 

It was cloudy but we could see the La Sal Mountains in the background

 


I could take pictures of these cool trees all day

 

Then we had Grand View Point, which was at 6080 ft.  There is a 1 mile walk around the canyon that you can take here, but it actually started snowing a bit while we were up there, which definitely made me feel less like a big baby.  Plus the wind was pretty strong and I just wasn’t feeling it so we took some pictures and then decided to come back and take a half a day.  I loved the Canyonlands, but the pace and excitement of the last couple of weeks was finally catching up with me and I really just needed some time to rest a bit.


You can see the snow to the left.  It wasn’t heavy, too dry for that, but it was cold.

 

Explains the layers of the canyon. In particular I found the desert varnish interesting as it explained those beautiful brown streaks on canyon walls. If you click on the picture you can get a much bigger image to read the info.

 

So here are the rest of the pictures for the day.  To be honest, it’s hard to tell one canyon view from another in these pics, but all the views were great.  The parking lots weren’t very full, but the trail heads were definitely seeing a ton of use, even mid week on a not so nice day.  I think of the two I actually preferred the Needles, because the nature was more accessible and of course we were at lower elevation.  The Mesa is definitely worth a visit though, and again I couldn’t come close to capturing the beauty of it. I’m not sure any could.



 

For scale that little brown line at the tip of the hole is a dirt 4×4 road.

 



 

Sharks fin 🙂  It wasn’t the prettiest view we saw all day, but something about it called for a picture to be taken!

 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

 

 

First Time at Canyonlands – Needles

After we left the Needles Overlook, we decided to continue on into the Needles entrance of Canyonlands.  We could have split this into two days, but the Needles entrance was 65 miles from where we were staying, and since we had seen the needles from a distance I really wanted to get closer.  So we continued on HWY 191 and eventually turned onto 211.  This is the road into Canyonlands proper, and also had the advantage of having a stop to see Newspaper Rock about 12 miles in.  (It was an additional 22 miles to Canyonlands from there.)
There is a large turnout at Newspaper Rock and we decided it was a really good place to eat lunch.  We had seen several of these petroglyph sites in our travels, but this was a big one by any standards, and we were able to get closer to this one than we had to others.

The road driving in was really great in and of itself

 

Newspaper Rock site

 




These sites are pretty cool, but the main problem I generally have with them is that you can’t tell which petroglyphs are ancient and which are more current.  Up until the 1950’s it was pretty commonplace for folks to “add” to these sites, and as interesting as it is to see someone’s initials from the 1900’s the pictures themselves are what I find interesting, and there is no way to date those.  The sign posted at the location does a great job of talking about that and because of the cross-cultural contamination archaeologists have a really hard time figuring out the meaning, if any, of the drawings.  They might have just been doodling even back then.

Upper left hand corner you can see a more modern addition

 

Still it was a nice place to stop, and after lunch and a few pictures we continued on our way. The road was paved, but a little rough in places, but we were lucky to hit a little sunshine as we traveled along the way.  The day was largely grey in the area, but the clouds had cleared to show a little sunshine in places the further south we got and we were glad for both the sunshine and the impact it had on the pictures.

Right before getting in the Canyonlands, we stopped at a little private RV Park called the Needles Outpost and went inside and met a young woman named Laura who was working there. She was in the process of hiking from Zion to the Arches and had taken the job to earn some extra money along the way.  When she found out we were full time RVers she had a lot of questions and we learned she wanted to buy a camper van and see the country that way.  We gave her our number one piece of advice: “Be Debt Free” and then after chatting a while we headed out.  I always like meeting young women like her in my travels, who have the courage to strike out and do something different.  I would never have had the guts to do that at her age, and I find it very admirable.

Next we stopped at the visitors center and went inside to look around.  When we were looking at a topographical map to see the places we had been earlier in the day a VERY friendly park ranger came up and talked to us.  She seemed genuinely glad that we had come and visited (something I often find in the lesser known parks) and gave us some great information about the roads and which ones could be driven in a 4×2.

 

Visitors center

 

I love when one person works to save a piece of land

 


This is the area we traveled in the morning. I circled what I think were  Needles Overlook and Antcline Overlook.

 

And this was the road we came this morning ending where Lee has his finger. Looking at it from this view was really neat

 

I also was really impressed by a little display they had that showed the different types of rock formations. We had been seeing all of these in our travels in Utah, but this display made it really clear to me.

Arch

 

Mushrooms, which are probably my favorite, and we were about to see tons of these in Canyonlands

 

Needles

 

Hard to tell from the picture but there is an open space between the two slices of rock so it makes a fin from the side view

 

These are impressive in person but generally hard to photograph

 

After the visitors center we headed on the drive, and I will say in advance I loved everything about Canyonlands.  There was no cell service anywhere, but that didn’t matter, as we explored the Needles rugged and natural beauty.  This is exactly the type of landscape I love, and the relatively light crowds made for a great day.  Plus there are tons of hikes, many of which are strenuous but have spectacular views, but also lots of areas where you can just get out and walk around, and by the end of the day, I wanted to immediately plan going back and staying longer, which is the hallmark of a really great park.

The rock on the right is called the six-shooter, and there are two of them.

 

You can see the wooden shoe arch from far away, just a little right of center.

 

Picture with my long lens

At the suggestion of the Park Ranger we went down a 4×2 friendly dirt road towards Elephant Hill to get some great views of the needles.  The road was fine, if a little tight, but the views were spectacular and I highly recommend going that way.

I actually liked the rows of mushroom rocks in this area even better than the needles

 

They were huge and so many of them

 


Of course the Needles were really cool too

 

It was hazy in the background so couldn’t completely capture how vibrant these were.

 

Elephant rock itself was much easier to see although I really think it looked more like a fat teapot

 

Really beautiful

 

Loved this balancing rock

 

After going down the side road, we continued on the main scenic drive and camp to the Canyonlands campground.  Campground B is all walk-ins but Campground A allows reservations in season and although many of the spots are too small for us some would work.  Even though there is no internet at the site, the campground was absolutely fantastic, with the added benefit of being in the park, which would make some of the longer hikes easier to do.  We vowed that we were absolutely going to come back and stay here and I made a note in my calendar to remind me when to call and make reservations for next year.  By the way, in Campground A we thought Sites 1,3,4,and 7 would all work and we really liked 12,16, and 17.  Here’s a pic of one of the smaller sites, but it gives you an idea of what they are like. They even had a group site, Squaw Flat, that would fit 3-4 big rigs and had a nice common area among the rocks.  All dry camping of course, but wow, the views.

They are all tucked among the rocks

Just as we were thinking it couldn’t get any better, we made it to the end of the short scenic drive.  We parked the truck and walked out on the rocks, and I am so glad that we did.  In between the two large walks there is a cliff you can walk down and you can see a small pool.  Lee even found a small cave in on of the large rocks and the views of this portion of the park were truly spectacular.

Lee walking down between the two large rocks

 

We love when we find one of these and the place we find them in is almost always really special. 

 

I walked out to the edge here and looked down

 

And saw where the river flowed

 

Leading into this tiny pool captured with my long lens

 

Amazing rock formations.  This one looked like a Momma and baby seal to me.

 

And I had to hug this super big rock.

 

Lee found this cave.

 


There was even light shining in, really neat.

 

Lee is also really great at spotting little flowers as we walk and getting pictures of them. Almost all the flower pictures you see in the blog are his.

 

We spent a long time on the end of the outcropping, but then as we headed back we decided to take another 4X2 road.  One of the things I like about Needles is that there are many roads you can drive through it and although most are clearly marked as needing a 4×4 there were a couple we could do in our truck. In fact there were 4 additional dirt roads we could have taken with 4×4 and renting a jeep is definitely on our “must do” list when we come back.  Today though we took the road that led to Cave Spring, and along the way we checked out several group campsites.  Unfortunately for us these were all tent sites only, which was a shame, because they were really in some beautiful spots, but at one of these we saw a sign posted that there had been a bear in the area.

All of a sudden Mr.-Walks-To-The-Edge-Of-A-Cliff in the wind to take crazy pictures gets nervous.  I couldn’t help it, I started laughing, and said I would take a bear over those sheer drops any day.  Lee said he was “sure footed, not bear footed” which was cheesy, but totally cracked me up. He quickly got back in the truck, just in case, and for once on this trip I didn’t feel like the scaredy-cat.  I like bears, and was actually glad to hear there was some larger mammal wildlife in the area, Lee not so much! (Whatever dude. Bears eat people. Cliffs don’t. – Lee)

Despite the “bear scare” we were both fully committed to returning and I even said as we left that this area might be my new favorite national park.  So far that distinction has been held by Glacier, but the wildness, lack of crowds, and extreme beauty of this park really spoke to me. And this was only the southern half of it.  In order to explore the northern part of the park we needed to enter from another direction (the roads don’t connect), and on the spot I changed our plans for the next day so we could see Canyonlands – Island In The Sky next.

(Sure, it looks pretty, but there a hungry bear in there somewhere. – Lee)


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

First Time at Needles Overlook

Our first day in Moab, we got up nice and early and decided to take a scenic drive.  The morning started off a little cloudy, so we thought a drive would be a nice way to start, plus would get us acclimated to the area.  Lee was kind enough before we started though to give my camera a nice cleaning.  I know it is a pain for him and try to avoid situations where I need it but the wind and sand had gotten some schnibblies (the technical term) on my sensor.  This requires  me to photoshop those out in almost every picture with sky, and results in a ton more work for me.  He was nice enough to clean it for me and hopefully it will last another year before the next cleaning.  If you are curious, by the way, he is like a surgeon when he does it, and uses canned air, lens paper, Qtips, and cleaning solution.
Once he was done we headed out and back the way we had came in.  Canyonlands is a large National Park, and although we are close to the northern entrance, the southern entrance is over 65 miles away.  Since we were planning on a long driving day, we packed a lunch and headed back down HWY 191 towards a couple of roads that I knew had overlooks on them.
The first road we turned on was Looking Glass Road, which is a rough gravel road that goes to Looking Glass Rock.  The road actually meets up with CR133 eventually, but it was rough enough that we just drove down to see the Looking Glass Rock and then turned around and went back to Highway 191.  We don’t do that sort of thing very often so it gives you an idea how rough the road was. There is a sign at the turnoff and you can’t see it until you turn the corner, but it was definitely worth the stop despite the rough road.

Looking Glass Rock

Once we were back on the highway it was only a few miles more until we hit CR 133.  I highly recommend both this road and the dirt offshoot CR132 for their fantastic views of the Canyonlands Needles.  Both of these roads were such an amazing surprise and exactly why we love the road less taken.  Let me show you rather than tell you, although the pictures don’t come close to capturing how special it was.

Sign at entrance to CR133

 

The beginning of the road was all grassland with lots of cows and their babies grazing in the fields

 

We stopped and checked out Wind Whistle Campground along the way which was too small for us but had some amazing campsites for tents and smaller RVs

The road, was pretty, but not spectacular, and then we got to Needles Overlook.  It was an absolutely beautiful overlook spot with very clean and stocked pit toilets and a paved path you could follow or you could walk among the rocks.  It had picnic tables and benches and not another soul was there.  It was absolutely perfect, and the views were spectacular, seriously for me it was the gold standard of what every overlook should be.


I liked that the highest points had a handrail so I felt safe looking down

 

But I liked this bench the best

 

I even went and sat on it.  Like I said, the picture doesn’t come close to doing it justice.  I believe my words were “Holy Crap!.”

 


 

This sign explained how the Needles were formed 

 

While I was on the bench he went wandering

 

And took this great picture.

 

Then he found this little cave.

 

There may have been a couple of cave kisses here 🙂

 

Really cool

Needles Overlook alone was worth the drive, but there was still more to come.  We decided to take the dirt road CR132 to the Anticline Overlook.  On the way we passed Minor Overlook, which we almost skipped because it just looked like a big rock, but that would have been a big mistake as the road goes around the big rock for another amazing view.  First off I have never seen a road go around a rock like this, and Lee took some Go Pro video to show what it was like.

Lee putting the Go Pro on at the  Minor Overlook turnoff.  See how boring the rock looks.

 

I didn’t even see the road went around until we got closer

 

The road curved around the rock

 

And this is what we saw on the other side.  Who knew?  That’s what I love about Utah, you always need to go around the corner, because you never know what you will find.

 

Just wow 

After the Minor Overlook we made it to the Anticline Overlook, and this view was the best that we have seen.  It is directly across from Dead Horse State Park and the view was totally free.  This path was a bit rougher, but completely worth it, and please whatever you do make sure you walk down to the right and look at the view from there.  It literally took my breath away, and I said wow so many times Lee asked me if I was having a “viewgasm” to which I replied yes I think I am.


 

The path

 

The view

 





I know, right?  All Lee could think though was how he was seeing little tiny jeeps down on the curvy road and he really wanted to drive that road.  Once again our lack of 4X4 was holding us back, but we are definitely coming back and either bringing a jeep or renting one, because that road was begging to be driven.

See the little tiny jeep.

 

And how long the road is

 

 

Plus the road goes on both sides 

Hands down one of the best views we have seen in three years on the road, plus totally free, and completely unexpected.  It was 17 miles each way to drive down to this point from the end of the paved road, but for us was completely worth it.  We had a wonderful morning, but we weren’t done yet, because we still hadn’t entered Canyonlands National Park itself yet.  I will leave you here though, and pick that up in the next post


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

Traveling to Moab

As we got ready to leave and head towards Moab, we started looking for a place to stay.  In this case, there were so many places it was hard to choose, and we had a conversation about staying at a campground with full hookups, a BLM campground for $15 a night, or just boondock outside of town.  Ultimately we decided to go ahead and try boondocking, and ultimately I was glad we made that decision.  Several of the BLM campgrounds are really beautiful, and on the Colorado River, but since they are first come-first serve, and only a couple have spots big enough for us, I was not sure what we would have found. Likewise several of the campgrounds were really nice, but at $45+ a night more money than we wanted to spend.  So we headed that way with the idea of finding a boondocking spot, with a regular campground as a backup if we needed it.

The drive itself to Moab was really beautiful.  Highway 191 is a gorgeous route and we saw several large rock formations along the route along with views of the amazing La Sal Mountains.

The La Sal Mountains in the distance

 

Beautiful rock formations along the road

 

Wilson’s arch, which was a beauty and right off the highway

 

View at Hole in the Rock rest area

We did have several long 6 percent grades along the route and Lee found the drive pretty stressful as folks were weaving in and out of traffic to pass. It’s a heavily traveled road, and not all of it is 4 lane. Eventually we stopped at the Hole-in-the-Rock rest area, which was extremely nice, and had what looked to be permanent staff living onsite keeping it clean.  After lunch, the driving was a bit better and then we arrived in Moab.

There are several places to dump and take on water in Moab, but I chose the Feed Store and RV Supply place.  The sign was small, so we actually missed it and then had to turn around in the Marriott parking lot and go back, but it turned out to be a good choice.  It was only $5 to dump and take on water, and since they were closed on Sunday, we left cash in the metal box by the dump station. The town itself was pretty congested and had a row of businesses on each side of the street.  We took our time and made it through town and then came out near Arches National Park.

According to Campendium, the first boondocking area was off of Willow Springs Trail.  We were a little worried about making a right off a major highway, but were pleased to see that there was a turn lane at the highway.

Entrance

 

This is not BL,M land but SITLA land instead. The rules seem roughly the same and we didn’t have any issue while we were there.

 

There were several large sites near the entrance, but since they were somewhat crowded we kept heading farther back.  The road got rougher the farther we went and finally we felt we needed to turn around and head back.  We made the mistake of turning into what looked like a circle, but actually was sliprock and not something we could pull the rig over.  With some VERY careful maneuvering, Lee managed to get us backed up and turned back the right way and we ended up finding a site in one of the larger circles that at least faced the mountains.  For the time we spent there we had a constant stream of people coming and going in different RV’s, but since our back was too them, it was OK.  Plus it was pretty quiet, despite how many RV’s there were.
(GPS 38.6956, -109.6899)

 

Our view and fire ring, which was here when we arrived.

 

Behind us the first day.  It grew more crowded on the weekend, but still reasonably quiet.

 

So we made it and found a “free” spot, but it was a little stressful.  We learned later that there was a much larger area at Dalton Well Road,  an additional mile down HWY 191, that wasn’t as pretty, but definitely would be easier to get in and out of. Still it was good to be settled and as we explored the area over the next week, there wasn’t another place we found that was worth hitching up and moving to.

I did want to take a minute here though and talk about the concept of “free” in boondocking.  Yes, the site itself is free, but there are some associated costs with boondocking that it is important to keep in mind.  If you are only staying for a couple of days in between campsites, most of these costs will probably never come up, but when you are boondocking for extended periods of time, these are the incremental costs that we incur.

  • Dumping/Fresh Water – We have paid everything from $5 – $10 to dump the RV.  Fresh water is often free (or free with dumping, but that isn’t always the case.  Some boondocking areas that charge a nightly fee have dump stations as well, like Lone Rock Primitive Beach.  Outside of staying there, we have dumped twice and spent $7.50 and $5 respectively for a total of $12.50.  Water for us has been free.
  • Propane – We are set up to completely heat our rig on electric, so use minimal propane (stove only) when on full hookups.  In the last 20 days we have gone through three tanks of propane or roughly $60 worth.
  • Laundry – We have a washer/dryer Splendide combo unit and can do almost all of our laundry using that when on full hookups.  Lee has gone to the laundromat twice since we started boondocking, which costs roughly $20 each visit, so again $40.
  • Ice – We have an electric ice maker, which we use to make ice so that we can use our very small freezer for food.  I am a big fan of ice, so we buy bags when we are boondocking and they last around 3 days each.  At  around $2 a bag that’s around $14.
  • Trash – Trash is one of our biggest problems although we do separate out the paper from everything else and burn the paper, which reduces it greatly.  Finding a place to take your trash can be a problem though, which is one of the big benefits of staying in a $15 a night boondocking spot that at least provides trash cans. Sometimes we ask when we fill up our truck with diesel and I have seen the occasional places that charge $5 for trash drop off.  You can also use the local landfill if you can find it, which we have also done on occasion.  This time out we haven’t spent anything on trash, but that isn’t always the case, so I thought I would mention it.

All in all, we have spent $126.50 on the items listed above, and $60 for our time at Lone Rock Primitive Campground and $50 for our time at Gooseneck State Park.  Considering the prices of campsites in this area, $236.50 for 20 days of camping is a total bargain, but as you can see not totally free.  We really like doing it though because the sites are often really great, and we have more freedom and space than in a traditional campground.  For those of you who haven’t done it yet, I did want to mention that extended boondocking will have some costs associated with it.


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

First Jeep Tour at Monument Valley

Taking a jeep tour of Monument Valley has long been a bucket list items of Lee’s.  Knowing they were pricey though, I hoped that if we went early and had cash we might be able to negotiate a bit of a discount.  So we got up early and it was about 8:40am when we hit the iconic Monument Valley view from Forrest Gump and many other movies.  Since it was a beautiful blue sky day and there wasn’t much traffic on the road, we decided to stop and get some shots.  It turned out to be a great call, because although we had drawn a little crowd by the time we were done, everyone politely waited to get their turn.  We even struck up a conversation with a very nice guy who was happy to help us with some pictures and we in return took his.

Here’s Lee’s shot, with just a little bit of photoshop enhancement, mainly removal of things that should never have been put in the way in the first place.

I should probably mention that almost every picture in this post is going to be Lee’s.  It was a 1200 picture day, and Lee was really into it so 850 of those came from him.  Afterwards I was groaning a bit about going through so many pictures (I know first world problems), but Lee said he was happy to take care of it and somehow managed to pare those down to about 60.  If you know Lee, you know that’s a minor miracle.  This post probably won’t have all 60 of them in here, but it is picture heavy, although hopefully you will think it was worth it.  He took some wonderful pictures.  All the boring plot related ones are mine 🙂

After getting our shots we arrived at Monument Valley about 20 minutes after they opened at 9am.  We intentionally decided not to visit the Visitors Center until our tour was done, and instead went straight into the parking lot and walked over to two small booths with Jeep Tour information.  They had a nice book with some representative pictures, and because of the wind we knew we wanted a private tour in a closed vehicle, and ended up with a 2-1/2 hour tour in a Suburban with a gentleman named Leslie from Phillips Photography Tours. It cost us $110 each, which I thought was well worth it, particularly because of the quality of our guide.  Leslie has been doing this for 25 years and is an excellent photographer himself, and once we told him that we were going to do the scenic loop on our own, he completely focused on the back country areas, and showed us numerous places where we could get some very interesting pictures.  My big advice here is be very clear about what your priorities are up front.  The time can go very quickly and you want to get the most out of the experience.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the tour was Leslie talked to us quite a bit about the different movies, commercials,  and MTV videos that had been shot there. One of those most interesting of those stories was the fact that they helicoptered in Ray Charles and a piano to the top of Totem Pole rock and they shot a Pepsi commercial there.

Totem pole is the tall skinny one to the left and when I asked how big the top was, Leslie gestured to a spot of dirt that was about the size of a residential cul-de-sac.  Still not that big.

 

Mission Impossible was shot at the North Window

I should also mention that 15 Navajo Families actually live in Monument Valley, and the back country tour took us by several of their compounds.  Leslie told us they only have electric that solar can provide and have to bring in water.  There are some springs in the valley (we saw wild horses down in this area), but the valley is very dry in most places and the fact that people were living there was fascinating to me.  Our guide was also more than willing to talk about his people and really anything I wanted to talk about.  He was obviously very experienced at giving tours, and like the best tour guides, customized the tour to the things we were interested in.

One of the ranches

 

Leslie our guide and his Suburban which was incredibly comfortable. His driving was great also, as the ride was very smooth despite what I had heard from some other reviews

 

There were guided horse tours as well, which would be tempting, but you would definitely cover less ground

 

So here’s the pictures.   You decided if it was worth the money, keeping in mind you cannot access these areas at all without a Navajo guide.

 

 


This was one of my favorite shots a little place called pottery rock. We would never have seen the spot if Leslie hadn’t pointed it out

 

And here’s my pic of Lee getting the shot

 

Actually all day Lee was really in the zone and a couple of times I was really worried he might hurt himself.  He always plants his feet solidly when he is taking his pictures, but he is constantly standing on the edge of things, and leaning, which makes my heart beat faster, and not always in a romantic way.

Here is his climbing up submarine rock, and yes, that is a steep drop beneath his feet

He made it though but yikes!

Along with Submarine Rock we got to see Ear of the Wind and Suns Eye.  Because we got an early start there was hardly anyone else there, but by 10am we started seeing large groups in open air jeeps going to these same locations.  These folks seemed largely miserable, because it was a cold and windy day and sitting high up on the back of a jeep with 12 other people, might be less expensive, but definitely not the way I would like to see this.  Plus, they spent much less time at each of these locations, but we were really able to take our time there, even walking up the sand dune and into the Ear.

Ear of the Wind, only one other jeep there which I left in for scale

 

This shot was recommended by Leslie

 

Lee going out to get the shot 🙂

 

Moccasin Arch

 

I adored the Suns Eye. So beautiful

 

This was my favorite picture and one of the few of mine that I kept in this blog.

 

There were even some cool petroglyphs close by.

 

The Hogan, which was a really cool cave shaped like the traditional huts some Navajo still live in.

 

This was the top of Hogan rock, beautiful.

 

Elephant rock

 

Once we finished our tour, we thanked Leslie and headed up into the visitors center.  It was a large building with a nice restaurant, huge gift shop, and small museum.  We had brought lunch with us, but Lee really wanted to eat in the restaurant and he had a traditional Navajo plate, while I went with soup and salad. My only disappointment was the VERY long line to the restroom area.  There were only four stalls in the entire building that I could see and as there were several tour buses by this time I had to wait about 15 minutes.

Some view from the salad bar!

 

I had navajo tea which was so good I actually bought a couple of boxes in the gift shop It is naturally decaffeinated and has a really unique flavor.

 

I didn’t realize that the Navajo nation had this type of government.

 

Once we finished eating, we headed out for the scenic drive and the road was much rougher than we expected.  I was also somewhat bummed out that every stop had craft sellers in the parking area.  It didn’t bother me that they were there, but the way they placed their booths completely blocked the scenic view and you were forced to walk around the booths to get the picture. Here’s an example.

Despite that though we did get some beautiful pictures and the farther away from the entrance we were the less populated it was which was nice.

Walk behind the craft booths and you could get this shot.

 



 

Three Sisters

 

The mittens

 

Still it was a long day and with the bouncing road I was starting to get really tired until something wonderful happened.  If you remember in a previous post I talked about how we had stopped and gotten pictures of the girls on horses in Monument Valley many years ago, and I got really excited when we went to John Ford’s point and I saw a horse and this sign.

Turns out that the gentlemen who took that picture, Frank, passed away just this past October and now his grandson Zach had taken over the business.  Zach told me that the black horse, Pistol, had also passed away, but after 20 years of doing a really great job.  His new horse Spirit was almost as good, although the young man talked longingly of how wonderful Pistol had been.  I got really excited and wanted to recreate the picture we took and the young man was happy that I remembered his grandfather fondly and was more than happy to help us recreate the shot.  I took a moment and dug up the pictures from 14 years ago and here is the original shot with Lee.

Lee, fourteen years ago on Pistol.

Lee and I both took a turn and I have to say it seemed much scarier as a 50 year old because we were much closer to the edge than I remembered.  Spirit did a wonderful job though and didn’t move an inch and we were able to recreate the moment.

Lee a little grayer but still has that wonderful smile.

And here’s me, really it felt like we were right on the edge 🙂

It was a wonderful way to end the day and I was so happy that Lee was finally able to fully experience Monument Valley.  In our old lives we used to drive through places and take quick pictures, but now we are able to fully sink into the experience.  All in all it was the most expensive day we have had in awhile, but for us was totally worth it.

(If you decide to do this, try really hard to go when there’s very few people, and get the “Man On A Horse” shot that people are trying to emulate. This is what it’s supposed to look like, below,  and you shoot it not from Ford’s Point, but the point just before Ford’s point. That way you get the full effect. – Lee)

(And if there’s people in the shot, don’t worry, you can edit them out with Photoshop. It’s easier than you think, as you can see below. – Lee)


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

Navajo National Monument and “Four Corners”

It was still windy after we went to Garden of the Gods, but since we were traveling back towards Kayenta to meet a friend of mine at 3pm, we decided to make a quick visit to the Navajo National Monument.  As a general rule I am a big fan of the lesser known Monuments,  but this one was a bit of a disappointment.  It didn’t help that the wind was pretty relentless and there were big dust storms along our drive.

Couldn’t see anything as we headed towards Monument Valley

When we finally got to the monument, we were pleased to find out it was free, but the only way to see the large cliff dwellings cave (the main feature of the park) was a 1 mile round-trip walk down a paved, but very steep path. Since it was windy and a little cold, I wasn’t crazy about the hike, but there really wasn’t anything else to see.   I did enjoy how they had small signs along the way describing the native plants and how they were used by the people, but it was really cold and by the time we got to the lookout platform I was definitely regretting not having ear muffs on.

I thought the dinosaur footprint was pretty neat

 

This Hogan was near the visitors center

 

Paved path

 

Lots of these signs along the way. I found this one of particular interest because the Navajo people still eat the nuts today.

 

The valley was pretty

 

Path got very steep at the end although in all fairness we did see a woman in a wheel chair although her young sons were straining while they pushed her back up.

 

The view itself was from pretty far away and Lee and I took turns looking through the long lens of our camera to see the structure. There is one of those giant magnifying binoculars at the end, but I would really recommend bringing your own if you want to see any detail.  The dwelling itself was very cool and was used by different people over the ages.  It held about 125 people at one point and if the climb to the base wasn’t such a long one I would have loved to have seen it from the bottom.

There were several; caves but the one on the far right has the dwellings in it

 

The view with the naked eye

 

Telephoto lens

 

The half mile back up was tough for me and I had to stop a couple of times to get to the top. We were at 7,300 feet and the combination of that and the wind in my face was pretty tough and left me wondering if it was worth it. Quick Update: I was looking for pictures with the girls when we came to monument valley and it turns out we visited this national monument once before.  Neither Lee nor I had any memory of visiting the first time.  Take from that what you will 🙂

My windblown look

Finally made it to the end and there was a really terrific Navajo gift shop at the top. The woman who was working took the time to explain several items to me and I purchased a pair of earrings and this really cool beaded carabiner. We don’t have a ton of space in the RV so I always gravitate towards mementos that are both a keepsake and functional.

After seeing the monument we had just enough time to get to my friend Rich’s house at 3pm.  Thankfully I had asked him his time zone in advance, because despite Kayenta being in Arizona the entire Navajo Nation is on Mountain Standard time.  This is an important thing to note, especially if you have a tour you have purchased, because although the phone did a nice job of keeping the correct time, our GPS seemed confused by it all.

We made it on time and had a great evening with Rich and his wife Susan.  Rich and I grew up together as our fathers and mothers were good friends, and it’s been a really long time since I have seen him. Last year he moved to Kayenta and is a physician at the Kayenta Medical Center.  I was really interested in hearing about working on a reservation and we also spent quite a bit of time catching up on where our lives had taken us over the last few years.

Rich and me

Lee and he got along great, in no small part because he fed us rib-eye and apple pie!  They didn’t read our blog up until this point, so just fed us the kind of foods they liked.  It was a great meal and the conversation flowed and it was really wonderful spending time with him.  Because we were kids together while our Dads were in Medical school, we both shared the somewhat unusual experience of moving from small towns to inner city Philadelphia and then back to small towns again.  Those shared experiences on some level have bonded us for life and it was really wonderful getting to know each other as adults.  Plus it made our Moms happy and that’s always a good thing 🙂

Lee loving his apple pie.  Sorry Susan, I should have gotten a picture of you with Lee and his pie 🙂

We made a point to leave somewhat early, but still ending up getting back to the campground after dark.  As Lee was walking up to the steps he stopped dead in his tracks and I almost ran right into him.  What he saw, which I barely could see, was that the bottom half of our entry door window was broken.  Our initial thought was someone had broken in, but we both soon realized the screen was intact.  Lee cleaned the glass and opened the door and I immediately checked the inside.  Thankfully nothing was missing and it became clear that the window had probably been  broken by a rock or simply by flexing in the strong winds.

It was pretty cold in the rig, and we knew we couldn’t leave it that way overnight.  Unfortunately it was late and the nearest hardware store was 45 minutes away, and closed, so Lee started looking around for something he could use as a temporary solution. I have called my husband the RV MacGyver, and once again, he did not disappoint.  He found this shallow plastic pan that was actually destined to be thrown away in the next purge, and stood outside in the wind as he cut it almost perfectly in the dark with a utility knife.  After he got it in place (on the inside of the door) he used the existing screws to hold it in place, then added some self tapping screws for more stability, and then used black gaff tape (which we never go anywhere without) to seal the edges.  Really good job, especially considering the cold, wind, and dark, and we are going to actually try our next drive and see how it holds in place.  If it won’t hold we can always stop and get a piece of plywood, because we simply won’t be in a situation for a permanent fix until we get to Oregon.  Update:  Turns out our door is no longer made and the piece of glass from the factory would cost $900!!  The tech Lee talked to recommended getting a local glass person to cut a custom piece of glass, and since there is someone who does it in Moab we are looking into getting it done as I write this. Further Update:  The guy replaces glass but can’t cut it, so I guess it will need to wait. 

Lee fixing our door!

(The pan is actually designed to go under a household water heater and catch drips and leaks, but I bought it to use as a soaking pan for our giant round fire pit grill, and the grill surfaces of our Weber Q grill. All of those are large but not tall, so this was the perfect way to soak them. But, I haven’t used it in over a year, so it was going to be purged. – Lee) The next morning we woke up and were pleased to see the solution had held up overnight.  It was still windy and actually a bit colder and I was really over the weather.  We knew that our first 10 days the weather was almost perfect and we were overdue, but it still sucked.  I really needed some time to get caught up on blogging before moving onto Moab, so we decided to just drive up to the Four Corners Monument and step on the square since we knew from talking to other people that was a “ten minute thing”.

The drive was kind of interesting, because driving up we saw our first oil rigs in Utah. We also saw what looked like wild burros, but they also were pretty healthy and had tags in their ears so maybe they actually weren’t.  We arrived at Four Corner and spent $5 each to get in. One interesting sign we saw at the beginning stated that spreading of ashes on Navajo land was illegal because they consider cremation a “malicious desecration”. Good to know.

This burro was tagged so not sure if it was wild or simply escaped ? He seemed in pretty good shape.

 

Driving up to the site we could see there was room for big rigs.

 

The circle

The square is completely surrounded by craft booths and despite the weather many of them were manned. It was crazy windy and very cold, but thankfully there wasn’t much of a crowd.  We took several pictures and then got back in the truck and headed back towards our campground on another road. The best part about the whole thing was I got a sticker for my RV, and we bought gas pretty close by for $3.05 a gallon.  That is by far the best price we have seen since traveling this area.

You know it’s cold when Lee is shivering.

 

I did like the seal very much.

 

Our feet in the very center. (Or ARE they? The answer can be found at the end of the post. – Lee)

 

I get why they have a limit of three photos but since there was hardly anyone there we took more

 

Here is my shot with a hand or foot in each state. I decided to go twister style. Way more dignified than what Lee wanted to try 🙂

 

It was early and cold so the food booths weren’t open.

I was pretty bummed because the Navajo taco stand wasn’t open and I really wanted to try some fry bread.  So we went a little out of our way to the Twin Rocks restaurant in Bluff, and for $12 each got to try some fry bread.  Lee’s had a huge Navajo taco with chili, and I had a Shepherd sandwich, which was a roast beef sandwich on fry bread.  Lee really loved his and I liked the bread, but using it for a sandwich sort of watered down the flavor because there was so much of it.  Plus, Navajo food itself is pretty bland,  even for me, which is saying something, since I am from the Midwest and pretty used to bland food.  Still I am glad we had the experience and I really liked the restaurant.  The  service was great, they had a wonderful gift shop, and the setting was really beautiful.  Highly recommend it if you are traveling through Bluff.

Twin Rocks Restaurant, what a fantastic location

 

Restaurant

 

Lee had Navajo Fry bread which was like chili nachos but on frybread. Pretty good

 

My shepherd sandwich was just too dry. It was all bread, but I am glad I tried it and huge value for the $12. The french fries were actually some of the best I have ever had.

 

Had a great gift shop with local artists.

The last thing we did was stop and take a picture of the rock at Mexican hat.  There is a large pull-off right by the stone pile, and a dirt road that goes around on both sides.  We drove the road and took pictures from it from several different angles.  After all the amazing rock formations we have seen I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but I did like how it looked like different things from different directions.

Mexican Hat rock. I actually though it looked more like a falcon on a rock from this view.

Hopefully tomorrow the wind will stop because we are going to go into Monument Valley and try to take a jeep tour.  We have waited all week for the best forcasted day and Lee is VERY exited about getting to see the places the main road doesn’t allow you to access.  Hopefully it will work out, because I am ready to move on.  Moab is next, and we are halfway through our tour month in Utah, and I know lots of really great things are waiting for us there.

(So here’s the deal with the Four Corners monument, and hopefully this won’t ruin your day. The Four Corners monument is not where it’s supposed to be. It is around 1800 feet east of the actual location where the borders of the four states meet. Personally I still enjoyed the experience, because it’s just cool. Had I known this information while I was there, I would have insisted that we ALSO take a handful of pictures in the actual location. Partly because it would have been funny, but also partly because what’s accurate is accurate. I have read a LOT of information about this, and it bothers me more than a little that the prevailing opinion seems to be that if everyone agrees it’s in the right place, then it’s in the right place, and the longer people agree, then the more solid that “fact” becomes. I am genuinely distressed by this way of thinking. The longer you are convinced that a wrong thing is right, does it not make it less wrong. The boundaries of the states are based on longitude and latitude, and those lines intersect at a real, actual spot. The fact that the monument was built 1800 feet east of that spot doesn’t move the spot, even if 1800 feet is minute in the scheme of long/lat. And it also doesn’t detract from how awesome and cool and kitschy the monument is. It’s not like I need them to change the name of the place (along with all the T shirts and stickers) to “1800 Feet East Of The Four Corners Monument”. They can keep calling it what they call it, I don’t mind, as long as we all understand and agree that it’s close enough. But it’s still off by 1800 feet, and that matters just as much. – Lee)


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

First Time Visiting The Valley of the Gods

It was windy as forcasted the next morning, and Lee was outside waiting for Harry and Vicki to leave because he wanted to pay forward the favor Steven had done for us, and take a picture of Harry and Vicki’s rig as they left. When he noticed they stopped  near the entrance for a long time he walked over to check on them, and Harry told him that there was an error message on his dash about the wiring harness for the trailer and he had noticed that the trailer brakes weren’t working.

This is something that has happened to us twice (once in Alaska when Lee, Bill, and Ben had to cobble something together) and a second time more recently when it stopped working again while we drove through Texas to the RV Dreams reunion rally. Because of these incidents, Lee always carries a spare RV Blade Connector plug (only $6.41 on Amazon) and because they are universal he was more than happy to give it to Harry.  I have included the link above, and seriously, do yourself a favor and buy one of these.  I think we have proven that you are bound to be in an inconvenient place when one fails!

Before Harry replaced it, Lee recommended making a diagram of the wiring before removing the old one.  Lee had learned the hard way that even though the connectors are universal, the wiring colors are not always, and it was much easier to wire the new one if you knew which wire went where.   So they did that and then replaced the connector pretty quickly.  It was especially impressive because they were outside in the crazy wind, but that didn’t phase either one of them.

Vicki and I, on the other hand,  stayed in her truck and were talking and laughing until they were done.  I know we got the better end of that deal, which I was totally fine with, and it was nice getting some more time to talk before they left.  The new plug worked perfectly and after testing the brakes, we all said goodbye again and they headed down the road.  I am really glad we got to spend some one-on-one time together and it was wonderful getting to know them better.

Harry and Vicki pulling out with a shiny new trailer connector, and on the way to their next adventure!

By the time Lee finished and we got settled back in our RV, it was really rocking in the wind.  Lee said it felt a little like we were in a boat in high seas and the motion started to get to both of us a little. Ultimately Lee put  rubber wheel chocks between our trailer wheels, lifted the back jacks, and lowered the front, which helped a little.  We really didn’t want to just sit in the rig though, and since there was lots of blue sky (despite the wind) we decided to give The Valley of the Gods a try.  We were hoping that it would be less windy at lower elevation, which turned out to be the case, so we headed out for a scenic drive.

Through sheer dumb luck we selected the entrance on Highway 163, but you can also access the road on Highway 261 just south of the Moki Dugway.  After traveling the road I absolutely recommend going in off 163, and maybe even turning around and going back that way, because I found the second half of the trip pretty miserable.  The first half of the road was absolutely incredible and definitely the views earned the Valley of the Gods name.  I did the best I could, but the pictures absolutely don’t do it justice, and since the drive is only a couple of hours, it really isn’t something that should be missed.

There were several boondocking spots near HWY 163 and most had 2-3 bars of AT&T

 


Yes, it was that red.


The rocks were beautiful, both from far away and closeup, which isn’t always the case.

 

Despite the wind it was a perfect blue sky day

 

These two rocks were like sentinels at a gate.

 

Panoramic of the entrance to the best section

 

The road was really great until this point and friendly for a big rig, then we hit a dry creekbed. The drop off was much steeper than it looks.

 

Definitely wouldn’t want to bring a rig through here, because we took it slow in our truck due to low clearance.  Lee went slowly on the left side which had a little more gravel and we did OK.  This was by far the worst spot, and our 4×2 handled it just fine.

 

So glad we made it through because on the other side the views were even better

 

This formation was my favorite because it looked like toy soldiers are lined in a row

 

The boulders at the base were taller than me.

 

A little truck porn 🙂

 

Unfortunately after we got through the great section the road got really bouncy. Lee wanted to turn around and do it again with the Go Pro, but I actually had to pull a veto on that idea. The first half was absolutely tremendous, the second half not so much, but I would absolutely do it again, just maybe turn around and drive back the way we came once we’re past the good part.

You can also boondock in this area, which many friends of ours have done and liked.  If you do, I wouldn’t go too far from the 163 highway entrance with the big rig unless you have a second vehicle to check out the road conditions.  We liked it so much we even briefly discussed moving down there from Gooseneck, but moving is a pain, and we were pretty happy at Gooseneck Park.    Next time though we might check it out, because it would be nice to spend a little more time there walking around.


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.