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Monteverde Cloud Forest

Santa Elena and Monteverde

We arrived in Monteverde by shuttle, a three to four-hour trip from Alajuela.  Half way we stopped at a soda for banos, drinks and snacks in a very clean restaurant and store.  For our traveling companions, we had three single ladies traveling alone, none of whom knew each other. We encountered this often, women traveling alone feeling very safe to do so in Costa Rica.

the drive to Monteverde

the drive to Monteverde

Cloud Forest of Monteverde

Cloud Forest of Monteverde

The second half of our drive was on dirt and rock roads ascending the mountains, rocking back and forth and bouncing up and down, so we were quite relieved to arrive at last at our lodging, Monteverde Rustic Lodge in Santa Elena.  However, we had only thirty minutes before our tour to Sepulveda Park.  We had just ordered some sandwiches at Bon Appetit when our van arrived for the tour.  Hurriedly packing the lunch in styrofoam boxes and asking the driver to stop by our hotel to pick up my bag with snacks and water, the other passengers were held hostage until we were finally ready, not the best way to start a tour. Our first stop was at the Butterfly Gardens, encased in a huge dome, where our guide taught us about butterflies.
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We then hiked to the rain forest where We traversed seven sky bridges high in the forest with views of trees and plants below us, most of the time in a drizzling rain.

Connie on Sky Bridge

Connie on Sky Bridge

Bill in the Rain Forest

Bill in the Rain Forest

Plant growing on a tree in rain forest

Plant growing on a tree in rain forest

Our little Lodge was up a small hill from the main street of town, and our room was up a steep slope of slate stone.  Since it seemed to be raining or drizzling during our entire stay, negotiating the road and slope was tricky.  Our first night we descended the rocky, dirt road in the dark until we got to the main street, then traversed a ditch to a sidewalk that took us to the center of Santa Elena.  The path was partially lit and sometimes difficult in the dark and drizzle.  Once in Santa Elena, there was a lively, festive vibe with locals and foreigners hustling about, stores brightly lit and restaurants open.  We chose Musashi, a Japanese Restaurant, and my insides were warmed by the most delicious concoction called “honey tea.”

My lovely pot of Honey Tea

My lovely pot of Honey Tea

Connie loves her Honey Tea

Connie loves her Honey Tea

As we were the lone diners, we wondered if the food would be good but not to worry.  The teriyaki arrived and we gobbled it up, relishing every delicious bite and by the time we finished, other diners had arrived.  Our table looked out to the main street of Santa Elena and we loved people watching.  We also were amused to thank our Japanese hosts in Spanish.

Our hosts at the Rustic Lodge were very helpful as we shakily used un poquito Espanol and they used a little English and we finally communicated.  Tours and transportation were arranged.  Breakfast in a communal dining room with handcrafted tables and chairs and fresh fruit, coffee, pancakes and juice was very enjoyable.

Monteverde Rustic Lodge

Monteverde Rustic Lodge

We were on our way to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve our first morning for a tour of bird watching and learning from a local guide about the cloud forest.  There is a constant mist from the clouds giving this area its unique ecosystem and a huge diverse variety of plants, trees and birds.

The trunk of a tree growing in the rain forest

The trunk of a tree growing in the rain forest

Hiking in the Monteverde Cloud Preserve

Hiking in the Monteverde Cloud Preserve

Waterfalls in the rain forest

Waterfalls in the rain forest

On the trail in the rain forest

On the trail in the rain forest

In this cloudy day, we also saw butterflies in their protected butterfly garden and learned about their habits and lifespan.  The Cloud Forest reminded us a lot of the redwood forests in northern California with it’s large ferns and constant dampness.

After lunch and a nap in our room, a taxi called for us to take us to the El Trapiche Coffee Tour (www.eltrapichetour.com). Jorge greeted us with a big smile and a sense of humor.  There we saw Evan and Sue, Richard and Tingle from our rainforest tour, along with four young girls from Iceland in flip flops and tights, fair skin, long blond hair, a botanist from Spain, a couple from New York and a family with two boys.  Off we went trailing Jorge on a windy, misty day, huddling in our rain jackets, tromping up the gravel path in mud to the coffee plants.

Jorge leads the way

Jorge leads the way

Rainbow at the Coffee Plantation

Rainbow at the Coffee Plantation

The coffee seeds are germinated, and the plants are eventually planted in pairs to encourage growth as they compete for light.  We tasted the coffee berry, chewing the outer part of the red berry, a sweet, chewy pulp.

Seedlings and young plants ready for planting

Seedlings and young plants ready for planting

We passed through sugar cane fields, so tall we were dwarfed by the stalks, the ripe stalks with tassels like corn. Jorge, using his machete, cut sugar cane for us to sample.

Jorge with machete cutting sugar cane

Jorge with machete cutting sugar cane

When we arrived at the coffee plants ready for picking, Jorge strapped the picking basket on one of the guys, explaining the arduous task of picking the coffee beans.

Jorge explaining how the coffee berries are picked

Jorge explaining how the coffee berries are picked

Only the ripe beans are picked, so often the coffee plants will be picked for week after week until all the beans have ripened.  The pickers earn $2 for one basket which takes about one hour to pick.  The basket gets very heavy, is hard on the back, and is extremely hard labor for very little pay.

Before mechanization, coffee beans were pulverized by hand

Before mechanization, coffee beans were pulverized by hand

The berries go through a machine that removes the outer skin and pulp, leaving only the bean.  The uniform beans go to a drying shed where they are spread in trays for drying.  When ready for processing, the beans are sorted on a machine that sends the best beans of uniform size to one tray and the rest to another.   The beans are put in a roaster and as they come from the roaster the hot beans are stirred with a large wooden spoon to prevent further cooking as the beans are very hot.  A medium roast or dark roast is determined by how long the beans are roasted.  We could touch and hold the beans along the entire process and eat a roasted bean.  Of course the smell was heavenly.

Coffee Roaster and Jorge with stir spoon

Coffee Roaster and Jorge with stir spoon

We were able to observe sugar cane processed by oxen harnessed and walking in a circle to generate power to push the canes through a crusher and squeeze the juice out.   The farm was set up to demonstrate the evolution of processing sugar cane.

Oxen turning a device that crushed the sugar canes

Oxen turning a device that crushed the sugar canes

We observed a water wheel powered by rain water provide the power to crush the sugar cane.  The juice is heated in massive stone bowls stirred by workers.  We were able to taste the brittle sugar as it hardened from a molasses-type syrup.

Water wheel used for power before mechanization

Water wheel used for power before mechanization

Stirring the liquid sugar

Stirring the liquid sugar

Some of the heated sugar was poured on a very long wooden table in sections so we could all take our turn at stirring the sugar to a consistency of taffy and oh-so-delicious candy.

Bill making candy from the hot cane syrup

Bill making candy from the hot cane syrup

Some Tico workers were making their own batch of candy with more of a taste like brown sugar.  We all got a sample and their candy was super and for me, addictive.  We also sampled pure sugar cane alcohol and I think we were all a bit tipsy after our shot of sugar cane alcohol, especially the girls from Iceland.

Workers make a molasses-type candy

Workers make a molasses-type candy

At the end of our tour, we gathered in a communal dining room with a long, wooden table and enjoyed coffee, a treat made from one of the plants grown on the plantation, and a beverage of sugar cane.

Heading home; sun is finally out

Heading home; sun is finally out

More treats in the communal dining room

More treats in the communal dining room

Oxen heading to stable

Oxen heading to stable

The El Trapiche Farm turned out to be a highlight of our trip to Monteverde. Jorge was an excellent guide with a sense of humor and very knowledgeable. The hands on tour included tasting, smelling, cooking, stirring, with lots of questions in between.

Jorge with coffee plantation behind him

Jorge with coffee plantation behind him

Paths at El Frapiche

Paths at El Trapiche

Our last night in Santa Elena was raining so we decided to eat at Bon Appetit, the restaurant closest to our Lodge. Taking cover under rain jackets, we slid down the muddy hill, arriving to a warm interior and friendly greeting by our host.

The Bar at Bon Appetit Restaurant, Santa Elena

The Bar at Bon Appetit Restaurant, Santa Elena

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The restaurant could be in any big city, but here it is at the bend of a rocky dirt road with muddy potholes.  Tables are set with brightly colored napkins and soft lighting.  Although the restaurant had only two customers, our meal could not have been nicer. My tenderloin steak, vegetables and salad was excellent.  Our host was helpful and went out of his way to get the weather report for us for the following days trip to Lake Arenal.  My husband had spaghetti octopus with a tasty red sauce. Bon Appetit was satisfying in every way — food, atmosphere, friendliness, and service and I promised the owner to post a review on Trip Review so more people would come out and enjoy.

Art at Bon Appetit Restaurant

Art at Bon Appetit Restaurant

We were truly sad to leave Monteverde Rustic Lodge. Our hosts had been so friendly. The host in the pink shirt somehow made out what I was trying to communicate in my bungled Spanish. We were treated like family and invited to put our leftovers in the refrigerator and use the microwave for cooking lunch leftovers. On our last day, I ran to get our host because the shuttle was late. He laughed and assured me we were fine and the bus would be there to pick us up in a couple hours. “A couple hours?” I moaned. He grinned ear to ear knowing he pulled a joke on this gringo tourista as he said, “What’s the hurry?” The bus arrived within a short time and we were off to La Fortuna, traveling by bus, boat, and bus.  We traveled through  beautiful country, verdant mountains with vistas of rain forest, green pastures, small farms, grazing cattle, roadside sodas, all pristine and resplendent in the sunlight.

Views through bus window on way to Lake Arenal

Views through bus window on way to Lake Arenal

Cattle on way to Lake Arenal

Cattle on way to Lake Arenal

Buildings on drive to Lake Arenal

Buildings on drive to Lake Arenal

Forest on drive to Lake Arenal

Forest on drive to Lake Arenal

Farmland on drive to Lake Arenal

Farmland on drive to Lake Arenal

Because of recent rains, the dirt and rocky roads were muddy and had many potholes but with the help of road crews, our driver maneuvered up and down the slopes and through the mud adroitly until we arrived at Lake Arenal, about a two-hour drive.  The driver hoisted our luggage through a window at the back of the bus and we lugged it down a muddy, rocky slope to the boat.

Hoisting luggage through rear window of bus

Hoisting luggage through rear window of bus

Looking down on our boat before boarding

Looking down on our boat before boarding

There were maybe twenty-five passengers on the boat, a flat ferry-type  boat with two drivers.  As we crossed, we observed Arenal Volcano directly in our path.

View to the back of our boat

View to the back of our boat

Coming up to Arenal Volcano rising from Lake Arenal

Coming up to Arenal Volcano rising from Lake Arenal

Our driver on boat

Our driver on boat

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After another luggage drag up the other side of a muddy, rocky slope and passing the luggage through the rear window of another bus, we were on the road again for the final leg of our journey to La Fortuna.

Unloading our luggage

Unloading our luggage

Doing the bag drag up the slope

Doing the bag drag up the slope

Happy were we to be dropped off after our long jeep-boat-jeep ride at the Hotel Rancho Cerro Azul in La Fortuna, where we would hook up with Chris and Dave for three nights in La Fortuna before heading to Dominical for the last leg of our journey.

Beautiful flowers line a path at El Trapiche

Beautiful flowers line a path at El Trapiche

Beautiful Flower in the rain forest

Beautiful Flower in the rain forest

Flower in the Rain Forest

Flower in the Rain Forest

Learning Costa Rica — San Jose and Alajuela

Alajuela and San Jose

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Laying by the pool and dozing in the gardens of Hotel La Rosa De America is one of my first impressions of Costa Rica.

Looking up to the gardens in Hotel

Looking up to the gardens in Hotel

We arrived after an overnight flight and were whisked to the hotel before 9 a.m. A Tico host welcomed us and told us to make ourselves at home, even though checkin wasn’t until 2 pm. By 11 a.m., our room was ready and our luggage transferred to our room. A perfectly compact, cheerful room with an overhead fan and louvred windows for ventilation provided a sound night’s sleep, with flowers in window boxes and a reading chair right outside our cozy room overlooking the azure blue tiled pool and colorful gardens.

Reading Chair and Planter outside our room

Reading Chair and Planter outside our room

Breakfast buffet was a treat in a cozy dining room with pressed table cloths, louvred windows, orange-fleshed papaya, ripe-on-the-vine watermelon, sweet, juicy pineapple, homemade banana bread, juices, rice and beans and eggs and cheese. Ramon took care of our every need with a huge smile, encouraging us to walk to Zooave and arranging a tour for us the following day to San Jose.

Our helpful staff at Hotel La Rosa De America

Our helpful staff at Hotel La Rosa De America

Path at Hotel La Rosa De America, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Path at Hotel La Rosa De America, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Entry to Lobby at Hotel De La Rosa

Entry to Lobby at Hotel De La Rosa

Road into Hotel La Rosa De America

Road into Hotel La Rosa De America

The walk to Zooave was as educational as Zooave. We lunched on an outside patio at Cherrys Restaurant while local Ticos filled the restaurant with their camaraderie and laughter, making me feel something much more interesting was taking place inside.

Outside dining at Cherry's Restaurant

Outside dining at Cherry’s Restaurant

Local Dog waiting for handouts at Cherry's

Local Dog waiting for handouts at Cherry’s

We practiced our Spanish on the waiter with some success and were joined by a local dog who mournfully eyed us all the while from his seat on the tarmat just outside the restaurants border. The one-mile walk traversed a busy road on a path that sometimes disappeared and then reappeared. It was well worn in the grass, up and down sloping driveways, through garbage, in shade and sun, and around rectangular holes in the ground. The holes were three to four-feet deep with running water, either the city’s water supply or drain water; however, with no barricades around the holes or warning of their existence, I learned to watch my step very carefully.
Entrance to ZooAve

Entrance to ZooAve


Zooave did not disappoint. Started as a bird sanctuary and rescue center, it showcased dozens of scarlet macaws, owls, raptors, toucans and a host of brilliantly colored birds, giving us a real taste up close of the birds in the wild.

Macaw

Macaw


Toucan

Toucan


In addition to birds, there were deer, tapir, puma, monkeys, crocodile, and many animals in a jungle setting.

Emu

Emu

Emu

Emu


Puma

Puma


Peacocks came to the grassy picnic area to regale us with their splendid feathers.IMG_6826

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Beautiful flowers and tropical plants were everywhere. A stand of bamboos was impressive.

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Bill looks very small next to the bamboo

Bill looks very small next to the bamboo


Looking up to the top of the bamboo

Looking up to the top of the bamboo


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One of the best meals I had was in the little dining room of our hotel at La Rosa, a grilled tilapia with rice and beans (gallo pinto), fried plantains and squash.

Great food at Hotel La Rosa

Great food at Hotel La Rosa

Selection of Wines at Hotel La Rosa de America

Selection of Wines at Hotel La Rosa de America

Our waiter was a commedian

Our waiter was a commedian

Our second day we took a local bus from our hotel to the downtown of Alajuela, a busy, congested, bustling, colonial-era city on the outskirts of San Jose. Uneven sidewalks, lots of traffic, modern stores and local shops lined the narrow streets. At one point we saw a line of young adults going half way around the block, assumed they were waiting for a movie or singing event, and then realized they were all in line with resume in hand for jobs at a government building. The buildings were opposite the central plaza park fronted on the opposite side by a large cathedral.
Cathedral in Alejuela

Cathedral in Alejuela

Men lined the benches in the park relaxing and people watching, birds chattered overhead, large trees shaded the plaza, and vendors sold food. Our hotel host had told us about an American-style coffee house which we found, Coffee Dreams, and enjoyed Costa Rican-style coffee while watching the town pass by through the windowless windows and eating empanadas.

Next up was a tour of San Jose, Costa Ricas largest city that brings in a million people a day. Waiting to be picked up by our Tour, we met Ann from Illinois who would be touring with us and instantly got along. Ann kept us laughing throughout our tour and we shared tips and small talk with the visiting guide from Puerto Rico sitting behind us with his bride on their honeymoon. Thanks to Ann, the long bus ride in gridlocked traffic was made bearable as our guide pointed out historic buildings we all peered to see.

Downtown San Jose

Downtown San Jose

Buildings in San Jose

Buildings in San Jose

Historic Residence in San Jose

Historic Residence in San Jose

We had three stops, the Gold Museum, the National Theater and a colonial-era Hotel and souvenir Shop.
Hotel Courtyard

Hotel Courtyard

Statues on steps of Hotel in San Jose

Statues on steps of Hotel in San Jose

The National Theater has much myth and facts surrounding it. We learned that wealthy Costa Ricans wanted a theater of renown and donated money for its construction. Other sources say a tax was levied on all Ticos to pay for its construction and yet other sources say Costa Ricas coffee elite contributed a certain amount for every sack of coffee sold to be used for construction of the theater. The theater is European in style with framework from Belgium, statues, murals and ceiling frescoes from Italy, baroque design overlaid with 22 K. gold and ample use of Carrara marble, stunningly beautiful and refined and a source of National pride. To me, it quite seems like a palatial building from France and odd to be in downtown Costa Rica.
National Theater

National Theater

Wall Murals at National Theater

Wall Murals at National Theater

Ceiling Murals, National Theater

Ceiling Murals, National Theater

Ceiling Murals, National Theater

Ceiling Murals, National Theater

Gold overlay around doors at National Theater

Gold overlay around doors at National Theater

View leaving the National Theater, downtown San Jose

View leaving the National Theater, downtown San Jose

As we maneuvered in traffic and exhaust fumes, our guide shared stories of Costa Ricas history, which I will attempt to summarize in very simple terms and not guaranteeing its accuracy. Costa Rica has a long-standing history of democracy. A political leader Dr. Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia, hereto referred to as “Calderon” was overwhelmingly elected president in 1840. During his four years in office the University of Costa Rica was founded (1940), the Seguro Social — a national health care program — was created (1941), the “Social Guarantees” were amended to the Constitution (1942), and the Labor Code was enacted (1943). History will perhaps best remember Dr. Calderón for having promoted the Social Guarantees which include the right to work, minimum wage, an 8-hour work day, a 48-hour work week, paid vacations, the right to unionize and to strike, social security, and the formation of the Labor Courts to litigate disputes between workers and employers.

Patisserie in downtown San Jose

Patisserie in downtown San Jose

Shops in San Jose

Shops in San Jose

As his second term commenced, Calderon began to slip in popularity. At issue were the institution of religion in the public school, the social reforms, the handling of the country’s economic problems, and widespread corruption, and accusations of being aligned with Communism which, in fact, did happen when Calderon made a pact with the Communist Party to win the 1944 election. Enter Jose Figueres, who had been exiled by Calderon because of Figueres’ strong rhetoric about Calderon being Communist. Figueres helped create the Social Democratic Party. By 1946, tax reform had been instituted and there was huge discord over having to pay higher taxes, especially by those with agricultural and industrial production and large amounts of capital. The election of 1948 pitted Calderon against Figueres’s candidate, Otilio Ulate, whose platform centered on free elections and anti communism. Ulate won the election, Calderon refused to admit defeat, and thus began the revolution or civil war led by Jose Figueres. After five weeks of fighting, Figueres was granted authority to run the government for an interim period of 18 months without a legislature before turning power over to the duly elected Otilio Ulate.
San Jose Market and shoppers

San Jose market and shoppers


During those intervening 18 months, the Government Council presided by Figueres instituted many profound changes. Among these were the nationalization of the banking system, the establishment of a 10% capital goods tax, the prohibition of the Communist Party, the abolishment of the country’s armed forces, and the creation of the Costa Rican Electric Institute (I.C.E.). As evidenced during the mere year and a half that José Figueres held power, the government would become a much more active player in the nation’s economic and social affairs. The period from 1950-80 can be typified by unprecedented growth of the public sector, the modernization and diversification of the country’s economy, and the accumulation of a tremendous national debt. On the positive side, Costa Rica now possesses better health and education systems and more infrastructure, particularly roads and electrification, than most other Latin American nations. As of 1980, Costa Rica also had the world’s second largest national debt.
A day in the plaza

Every day in the plaza

Ticos on the streets of San Jose

Ticos on the streets of San Jose

So we found all of this history fascinating. True, Costa Rica has a large middle class, and citizens are provided education, health, and pensions. The water is safe to drink. But our host at Pura Vida Hotel made a point that we need to define “literate” when we say all Ticos are “literate.” Standards of living are way below American standards; yet we believe most Ticos have the basics of food, shelter, education and health care. What we loved most about the Costa Ricans was their pure, open, welcoming nature, helpful, generous, friendly, engaging manner. So many we encountered took us under their wing and engaged us with their social, relationship-oriented manner. We also were fascinated by the lack of an Army and Costa Ricas reputation for being a very safe country for travel. We encountered numerous single women traveling alone with little fear for their safety. Petty theft is another matter and is rampant.

Entrance to the Gold Museum under the Plaza

Entrance to the Gold Museum under the Plaza


The Gold Museum is located directly beneath the main Plaza in downtown San Jose and houses the largest collection of Pre-Columbian gold in the Americas. We wandered from gold exhibit to gold exhibit, fascinated by these ancient pieces so delicately fashioned, yet odd — animal figures, human figures and wildlife.
Gold Pieces

Gold Pieces

Gold fashioned in human figures

Gold fashioned in human figures

The process for creating these gold pieces was very sophisticated. Starting with beeswax for the design, then covered with clay, which hardens, the wax is melted and runs out a duct, and the heated metal is poured in, hardens, and the clay mold broken. Our tour ended with a stop at a gold retailer to buy gold pieces, or jade. Then it was back on the bus for more gridlock getting out of San Jose while we chatted with Ann and the honeymooning couple.

The next morning we were packed and ready for our shuttle, taking us by car to Monteverde Cloud Forest and saying goodbyes to Ramon and Troy and all the others that had been such great hosts at Hotel La rosa de America. Our first two days in Costa Rica had been pretty eventful; little did we know so much more was to come.

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On to Sedona, 25th Anniversary Party, 93rd Birthday Party, Phoenix and Home

On the road to Sedona

On the road to Sedona

We arrived in Sedona in plenty of time to set up camp.  The temperature was pleasantly warm.  We were so happy to be warm again.  We loved the rock formations of Sedona and our RV Park on Oak Creek in the dappled shade of very large trees.

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RV Park Sedona

RV Park Sedona

Kirk, Marcy, Kathryn, Mom and Chris visited us Saturday morning in our trailer and we heard “the rest of the story” about the hike into the Grand Canyon.  The weather in Sedona could not have been more beautiful with sunshine filtering through the trees and clear, blue skies.

That evening we all gathered in our finest party clothes and ate and drank and talked and drank and ate, got acquainted and reacquainted, and enjoyed a perfectly lovely Fall evening in Sedona celebrating Kirk and Marcy’s 25 years of marriage.

Mom arriving at Anniversary Party

Mom arriving at Anniversary Party

Marcy makes a toast

Marcy makes a toast

We feasted at the Cucina Rustica.  For those of you that like to hear about food, the evening began with Affinato and Bruschetta.  Our next course was Insalata Mista Della Casa.  For an entree, we had our choice of Salmon Arancione, Filetto Di Manzo or Pollo Picatta.  And we finished with Dolci, Tiramisu and Mini Cannoli.  All washed down with very good wine.  Need I say, the food and wine was delicioso.

La Cocina

Cocina Rustica private room

Grandma and Alice

Grandma and Alice

Marcy and Daria

Marcy and Daria

Charlie and Daria

Charlie and Daria

Guests traveled from many cities in California.  Marcy’s sister, Marcia, traveled the farthest flying from back east.  Charlie and Daria came from Berkeley, California; Rick and Kathy from Davis, Chris and Mom from Phoenix.  Everyone managed to book hotels in Sedona and cancel their reservations in the Grand Canyon.

Mom with daughter Chris and granddaughter Kathryn

Mom with daughter Chris and granddaughter Kathryn

Dylan came from Phoenix via Flagstaff

Dylan came from Phoenix via Flagstaff

Connie and Kathy get acquainted

Connie and Kathy get acquainted

Sunday morning we roused the revelers to set out a brunch at the Red Agave Resort and trumped the horns when Bobby “Mom” arrived to celebrate her 93rd birthday.  Looking as fresh as a newly-picked flower, Mom arrived with a huge smile.

Mom arrives to Birthday Brunch

Mom arrives to Birthday Brunch

We sat outside in morning sun at picnic tables with the canyons as a backdrop.  Fresh bagels, to-die-for muffins, fresh fruit and of course lots and lots of coffee kept us energized for another couple of hours.  The sun shone bright and the skies blazed blue as we again rekindled friendships, sang “Happy Birthday” and enjoyed another beautiful Fall day in Sedona.

Mom reading her birthday cards

Mom reading her birthday cards

93 Years Young

93 Years Young

But even this hardy group had its limits, and eventually began to run out of steam when the last cup of coffee was poured from the pot.  Of course, no party of the Veirs/Champion clan is complete without photos; and we managed to pull off getting everyone rounded up for shot after shot with this camera and that camera and were finally able to call an end to the festivities–satiated, well photographed and soundly content with not one, but two family milestones.

 

Mom and Chris, Connie and Kirk -- all grown up

Mom and Chris, Connie and Kirk — all grown up

 

David, Kathryn, Chris, Bill, Connie, Kirk, Alice, Marcy Dylan

David, Kathryn, Chris, Bill, Connie, Kirk, Alice, Marcy Dylan

 

Good Friends David and Robin, Charlie, Marcy and Kirk, and Daria

Good Friends David and Robin, Charlie, Marcy and Kirk, and Daria

Yes, it was on again, off again, on again and unpredictable but somehow it was also quite a lot of fun to not exactly know what the next move would be; perhaps like playing chess and the challenge of outsmarting your opponent, which felt perhaps a bit smug in the accomplishment.

Kirk hikes with Ryan and Alice in Sedona

Kirk hikes with Ryan and Alice in Sedona

Chris, Kathryn and Mom left to drive home to Phoenix.  Charlie, Daria, David and Robin left for their next stop.  Alice and Ryan drove back to Flagstaff.  Kirk and Marcy probably collapsed in the Hot Tub and Bill and Connie whiled away the sunshiny afternoon wandering art galleries and shops at Tlaquepague and Hwy. 179.   But there was more.  The chef that cooked the amazing anniversary dinner had another restaurant, the Pisa Lisa, that Kirk, Marcy, Connie and Bill visited to experience another culinary delight.  Truly the most delicate, fresh, and tasty salads of our entire trip, washed down with wine and extraordinary pizza capped the trip and this time we really did say “Goodbye” and “until next time.”  By the light of the moon, we headed home to our cozy trailer.  We had been traveling for 38 days and need we say?  We were ready for “home.”

But wait!  There is more.  Down to Phoenix, parked at Chris and Dave’s, we had the pleasure of visiting Tim and Mayuko and Ashlyn AND Cindy, Joel, Joshua, Kaitlyn and new baby Nathan.  I was able to cuddle and rock Nathan for a good length of time–what a warm fuzzy.

Ashlyn playing coy

Ashlyn playing coy

Ashlyn showed me her garden and we cuddled and read stories. Chris and Dave kept us fed and entertained.  I took Mom to the Pioneer Museum of Tempe and Bill and I took Mom to the Mesa Contemporary Art Museum.  Either way, we tried our best to keep up with Mom but it was not easy.

Chrissy meets us for lunch after the Museum

Chrissy meets us for lunch after the Museum

Lunch in downtown Mesa

Lunch in downtown Mesa

Now I am typing this on the road between Phoenix and Palm Desert and we will be home in about thirty minutes.  I quite don’t know what to do with myself to have solid ground and a real floor under me, to have a shower big enough to hold myself and seven more people, a kitchen about six times the size of our trailer kitchen, ice on demand, 650 television stations, movies on demand, clean clothes hanging in a closet, Peets coffee — wow, it feels good to be home!  But we wouldn’t have  missed our Southwest trip for anything.

Grand Canyon is GRAND; Federal Shutdown a SLAM-DUNK

East Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park

East Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park

THE State of Utah came up with the money to open the National Parks in Utah just after we left Moab. It happened on the day we were camping in Bluff.  Kirk and Marcy had set a goal to make a decision about their anniversary party one week from their party date  so people could adjust their plans, considering the Grand Canyon was still CLOSED!  When that time arrived, we all got the news by email.  A Restaurant had been selected in Sedona and the entire party was moved to Sedona.  Within hours of receiving Marcy’s email, Bill and I were notified by the National Parks Reservation Service that Arizona was funding the opening of the Grand canyon for ONE week.  We communicated with Kirk and Marcy that if they still wanted to do the hike to the Grand Canyon, we would go to the North Rim as planned to see them off.  I think it might have been at this point that Marcy was at her wits end.  Of course, all of us were yelling at the news broadcasts, venting our frustration with each new pronouncement from our Government.

Perched Condor

Perched Condor

Elk with massive horns

Elk with massive horns

Kirk told me the plans had been made to go to Sedona and they were sticking with them.  Fine!  I got on the computer before leaving Monument Valley, cancelled our remaining reservations for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and reserved instead for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and reserved three nights at Sedona RV Park.  At the Bashas grocery store in Kayenta on our way to the South Rim, my head buried in the produce stand, my cell phone rang.  Kirk:  “Hello Connie!  You won’t believe what we’ve been through.  We ARE going to hike the Grand Canyon after all.  Can you drive our car to the South Rim as originally planned”. Long pause.  Hmmm.  This was going to be a challenge.

Grand Canyon at the South Rim

Grand Canyon at the South Rim

We DID manage to figure out a plan to pick up Kirk and Marcy’s car from the North Rim.  From their home in New Mexico, Kirk and Marcy drove to Flagstaff joining Dylan and Alice.  Wednesday morning Kirk and Marcy pulled into our camp on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with Kathryn Hayes and Dylan in Dylan’s car.  The cars were repacked, Dylan’s car was parked at the South Rim, and Kirk, Marcy, Dylan and Kathryn drove off in the Subaru for the North Rim.

Kathryn in a yoga pose

Kathryn in a yoga pose

Kirk getting ready for his Grand Canyon Hike

Kirk and Dylan getting ready for his Grand Canyon Hike

Prep for hike down Grand Canyon

Prep for hike down Grand Canyon

Temperatures were dropping to 18 degrees that night on the North Rim and a full moon would rise over the canyon.  Kirk was excited and eager to get going after the on again, off again, on again  drama planning for their hike.  I worried they would freeze that night sleeping in their tent on the North Rim.  As it turned out, everyone slept warm and the hike commenced Thursday morning, hiking down 14 miles to Phantom Ranch where they camped Thursday night.  Temperatures at the bottom of the canyon were warmer and enabled the hikers to sleep under the light of the moon. Dylan and Joel (a buddy of Marcy’s from college days) even found there were parties and beer to be had at the bottom of the canyon.

Down into the Canyon sunshine and blue skies but cold

Down into the Canyon sunshine and blue skies but cold

Back at Connie and Bills camp, Bill rose early Thursday morning, hopped on his bicycle and rode to Bright Angel Lodge to catch a shuttle to the North Rim.  The bus left at 8 a.m. and arrived at the North Rim at 12:15 pm. Kirk and Marcy had the Subaru parked where the shuttle dropped its passengers so within minutes, Bill was driving off in the Subaru, back to the South Rim.  By 4:30 pm that afternoon, Bill arrived back at the South Rim.  Connie used the day to catch up on computer tasks at the South Rim Library.

Elk on the trail

Elk on the trail

Our original plan was to hike down the Bright Angel Trail Friday morning to meet the hikers as they came up.  We bundled up in our trailer Thursday night, snuggled to keep warm as temperatures dropped to 23 degrees.  Brrrr — these Sun City seniors not used to cold expended all our energy just staying warm.  We nixed our hike, packed up the trailer and headed to Sedona, leaving Kirk and Marcy’s Subaru parked by Dylans car.  A group of Kirks friends met Kirk and Marcy as they came out of the canyon, looking none the worse for wear, and took them off to have a beer.  They were sore, blistered, exhilarated — but happy and im sure proud they made it down to the canyon floor and back out.  It was a highlight of the trip and launched the celebration of their anniversary.

Rick & Kathy, David & Robin, Charlie & Daria bundled waiting for hikers

Rick & Kathy, David & Robin, Charlie & Daria bundled waiting for hikers

Kirk in the lead coming out of the canyon

Kirk in the lead coming out of the canyon

Long Shot of Hikers

Long Shot of Hikers

The Happy Hikers

The Happy Hikers from left Joel, Marcy, Kirk, Kathryn and Dylan

Our stay in the Grand Canyon was only marred by the vacillation of the Federal Government and the cold temperatures.  On one of the warmer days, we rode our bikes all day exploring the South Kaibab Trailhead, the Visitors Center Complex, the train depot, Bright Angel Lodge and Bright Angel Trailhead.

Bikers Bill and Connie

Bikers Bill and Connie

Grand Canyon trail

Grand Canyon trail

Mules take a break on Bright Angel Trail

Mules take a break on Bright Angel Trail

Mules head out of canyon, Bright Angel Trail

Mules head out of canyon, Bright Angel Trail

A thrill was observing two condors from the Studio below Bright Angel Lodge.  These huge birds were riding the air right above our heads effortlessly, covering miles in minutes, and just seemed to float in air from one side of the canyon to the other.  We were absorbed for an hour watching the condors.

Condor In Flight

Condor In Flight

Condor at Bright Angel Lodge

Condor at Bright Angel Lodge

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail

The menu sounded so good at the Bright Angel Restaurant (prime rib) we stayed for dinner.  Fortunately there was a full moon to light our way so we could ride our bikes the several miles to our trailer, but in the dark we DID have a hard time finding Trailer Village.  Nevertheless, we bundled up, turned the heater up, and hoped the hikers weren’t freezing to death.

On another warm day, we rode our bikes to the Hermits Rest Transfer Station.  From there, we took the shuttle to Hopi Point.  The parks have everything taken care of to transport bikers and bikes.  On the front of each shuttle bus is a contraption that folds down and two bikes can be stored easily.  At Hopi Point, we disembarked and rode mostly downhill about 5 1/2 miles to Hermits Rest.

Hermits Rest, Grand Canyon

Hermits Rest, Grand Canyon

Hernit Lodge Stone Fireplace

Hernit Lodge Stone Fireplace

The sun was out and the canyon was lit in all its glory as we rode along the rim.  We could not have asked for a more beautiful ride. To our surprise, at the end of the trail at Hermits Rest, what did we find but a gift shop and coffee shop.  Here I thought we were way out away from the congestion near the Lodges and much less populated area so was quite surprised at all the amenities.

We were disappointed we didn’t do more hiking, but Friday morning was too cold for us so we headed for warmer places — Sedona — let’s go celebrate!!

Mules on Bright Angel Trail

Mules on Bright Angel Trail

Monument Valley, Utah: John Wayne Country

John Wayne country here we come.  I had no idea John Wayne would be such a hero in this canyon country section of Utah but everywhere you go in Monument Valley, you run into John Wayne.  Whether it is a movie poster, a life-size cut out, a DVD, or photos, you are going to become intimately acquainted with John Wayne here.  Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park (30,000 acres) at 5,500 feet elevation. The Navajo Indians that still live in the park might live in hogans, the traditional domed, hexagon-shaped structure with no running water or electricity.  A few of them prepare and spin wool the old-fashioned way, using dyes from native plants.

Interesting Rock forms

Interesting Rock forms

Note people to the right of natural bridge

Note people to the right of natural bridge

We made the fortunate decision to stay in Gouldings Campground.  Harry Goulding and his wife, “Mike”, came to Monument Valley in 1924 and established a Trading Post.  The Gouldings apparently were renowned for their integrity, honesty, and genuine concern for Indian welfare.  Today Gouldings has a Gift Shop, museum, dining room, theater, market, gas station, Lodge, campground and Gouldings Tours.  With that many services run by one company, you might imagine a lackluster performance.  But we found the opposite to be true.  The campground was well run with a laundromat and a computer and a shower room and indoor pool.  The museum was filled with movie memorabilia and replicas of the Gouldings original living quarters, a television that ran John Wayne movies, and lots of history.  The meal in the dining room was excellent, fast service, beautiful views, and Navajo Fry Bread.  The Navajo personality was enthralling to me, so laid back, gentle, and “take-life-as-it-comes,” family/community-oriented.  I could never imagine being that unwound.

Gouldings Campground from our trailer

Gouldings Campground from our trailer

Grand View of Monument Valley

Grand View of Monument Valley

We took a Gouldings Tour through Monument Valley and for 3 1/2 hours our Navajo guide kept me glued to the seat listening to her stories about living as a Navajo.  We saw petroglyphs, natural arches, Anasazi ruins, and movie locations in addition to the famous monuments.

Petroglyph of ancient people

Petroglyph of ancient people

Site of ancient puebloans

Site of ancient puebloans

 

A natural bridge in Monument Valley

A natural bridge in Monument Valley

The tour was an open-air truck like transport and was freezing cold when we started at 8:30 a.m.  The Navajos obviously don’t believe in road improvement so there is much jarring and jolting as the truck drives down gullies and deeply rutted dirt roads.  We all scrambled out to stretch our legs when the truck stopped, a welcome relief from the bouncing ride.  What can be more beautiful than seeing horses run wild across the Mesa, sun lighting the canyon, blue sky peeking through round sandstone rock openings, rolling mounds of tan sand to climb, and the freshness of an autumn morning?

Wild horses in Monument Valley

Wild horses in Monument Valley

Navajo Kivas, Monument Valley

Navajo Kivas, Monument Valley

Carol, our Navajo guide, told us about learning to herd sheep as a young girl and being left on the top of a Mesa with the sheep for a week at a time.  She learned how to catch and butcher small animals for food.  She was 10 hears old.  I loved her gentle, calm manner of speaking, so unpretentious and down-to-earth.

Carol, Our Navajo Guide

Carol, Our Navajo Guide

The hogans were amazing structures with logs laid in a hexagon-shaped manner on support logs.  There are only a few Navajos that know how to build the hogan and they are consulted for the building.  Once built, the outside is covered with sandstone mud until it is smooth.  Inside the hogan, it felt quite comfortable and cozy with more space that imagined.

Navajo Kiva

Navajo Kiva

Navajo Cradleboard to the right

Navajo Cradleboard to the right

We watched a Navajo lady make yarn from sheep wool, card the wool, spin the yarn, and weave the rug.  The babies were strapped in a cradleboard for the first few years of life.  To give birth, the mothers hands were tied to the wood logs of the hogan roof and straps around her belly were pulled down by the ladies assisting the birth.  Of course my mouth was hanging open in disbelief all the while thinking, trying to imagine what a Navajo birth was like.  And then to think of the baby being strapped on a board for the first couple years of life.

Local Dog Monument Valley

Local Dog Monument Valley

Our driver to and from the Earth Spirit Theater was another gentle, calm, pleasant Navajo youth.  It seemed there was nothing he would not do to make us happy.  He was not pretentious, he was easy going and pulled you in with his warmth and genuinely helpful nature.  We took the shuttle from our campground to the Earth Spirit Theater for the 8 o’clock John Wayne movie which happened to be “Stagecoach” the Saturday night we were there.  How thrilling to see this movie in the setting where it was filmed.  Stagecoach was the first film made in Monument Valley in 1938 and propelled John Wayne as a star.

Natual bridge, Monument Valley

Natual bridge, Monument Valley

You've seen this landscape in a John Wayne movie

You’ve seen this landscape in a John Wayne movie

Next to the Theater was the room used as a set for the movie, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” Our driver shuttled us back to camp after the movie, keeping us smiling with his friendly conversation.  Sunday night he picked us up so we could view the Earth Spirit film and a documentary about Monument Valley.  He ran the documentary once for us and again at the regular time.  He also ran the first fifteen minutes of “The Searchers” for us between scheduled movies.  Then he shuttled us back to camp; but first when I expressed how grand it would be to see the whole movie “The Searchers” while in Monument Valley, he drove us to the Lodge where he said we could rent the DVD, which we did.  There was a half moon shining on the canyon wall as we arrived back at camp and his helpfulness left such a warm feeling, it all felt magical.  We popped popcorn and watched The Searchers before retiring by the light of the moon our last night in Monument Valley.

Admiring the massive rock

Admiring the massive rock

"Thumb", Monument Valley

“Thumb”, Monument Valley

Serendipity, Goblin Valley State Park, Deadhorse State Park, Natural Bridges National Park and Blanding

PhilCarla

Phil and Karla. At the Bryce Cannonville KOA, a rig pulled in to the spot next to ours on a stormy, cloudy day. I said hello to the new RV neighbors as I ran to the laundry room to do wash. Before long Phil (as we later learned) called out to our trailer inviting Bill to join the men in solving a mechanical problem. Turns out his hitch was attached to the ball and was stuck so that Phil was unable to unhook. It took three men about two hours to solve the problem and by that time they bonded as fellow members of the military.
Bill ponders Phil's trailer problem Bill ponders Phil’s trailer problemThree heads are better than one Three heads are better than one

The men disassembled the hitch, cut the electrical, and reassembled. Later Phil invited us to join he and his wife for dinner in town. A great idea, I thought. Phil was gregarious and Karla was quieter and supportive. We chatted through dinner like old friends. Afterwards we got a tour of Phil and Karla’s trailer. We finally retired for the night, only to have Phil knocking on the door to loan us a DVD, Trimuph of the Nerds because we mentioned we were listening to the Steve Jobs story. It was hard to say goodbye the next day. I really enjoyed our time with Phil and Carla.

Turns out we didn’t have to say goodbye. Our next stop was Kodachrome Basin State Park and Phil and Carla drove over in the afternoon and we sat in our trailer and chatted most of the afternoon. There were from the Austin, Texas, area and had been married one year longer than us. We exchanged emails and promised if we were ever in Austin or if they were ever in Palm Desert, we would look each other up.

Goblin Valley is a unique, small State Park off the beaten path. Campsite, Goblin Valley State Park Campsite, Goblin Valley State Park

You drive 12 miles off the highway and you are in the middle of nowhere. There is so little out by Goblin Valley you will find wild, open space, goblins, a small visitors center and a 25-site campground.
Goblin Valley Goblin Valley

There are several trails and Goblin Valley with its stone gnomes and uniquely shaped goblins.
Goblin Valley Closeup Goblin Valley Closeup

You should be able to hear a pin drop in this isolated camp; however, because of the lack of background noise, sound carries so if there are people laughing and talking in one part of the camp, it sounds like there is an entire regiment of people merrymaking. You should also be able to do some serious stargazing, which you can do providing the campers keep their lights to a minimum.
Camp at Goblin Valley State Park Camp at Goblin Valley State Park

There are very few large trees or bushes which contributes to the traveling of sound and light between camps. The Valley of Goblins is so unique and visitors can wander for hours among the strange shapes or have a picnic overlooking the valley.
Goblins Goblins

Dead Horse Point State Park is another state park that became very popular in light of the Federal Government shutdown. We were fortunate to have a one-night reservation. Because the Grand Canyon was also closed, we were grateful to have a chance to see breathtaking canyons.

Dead Horse Canyon Dead Horse Canyon

The campground has only 21 sites, but the Park has an extensive visitor center and plenty of hikes. We chose the Big Horn Overlook which we could hike from our camp. The views on this hike were spectacular. Later a ranger told us that the views from this trail are the same ones that Canyonlands visitors see. At the end of the trail, a crevice with dropoffs on each side blocked the last overlook. It was a pretty easy jump, except if you looked down because then your heart would get stuck in your throat envisioning how far you could fall. Because I am not a Big Horn sheep, I declined, but Bill jumped. On the rocks, Bill chatted a group from Lake Tahoe.
West Rim Trail, Dead Horse State Park West Rim Trail, Dead Horse State Park

Bill on rock that drops off down to canyon

Bill on rock that drops off down to canyon

Views of the canyon

Views of the canyon

Little chipmunk Little chipmunk

From our camp, we could bike to Dead Horse Point and this was another spectacular view of canyons. We were grateful and decided we didn’t have to feel deprived about not seeing the Grand Canyon. There are also nine miles of mountain biking trails, which we did not get to explore. Instead in the morning we rode our bikes back out to Dead Horse Point for another look at the canyons before hitching up.
Dead Horse Point overlook Dead Horse Point overlook
Bike rider on the trail Bike rider on the trail

DeadhorsePoint4

Blanding is another small town, population 3,600, along Hwy. 191. Many of the Mormon pioneer families that originally settled in Bluff ended up moving to Blanding, which was slightly more hospitable. The town sits at an elevation of 6000 feet. The Blanding Visitors Center and pioneer museum hold more fascinating history about the Hole-in-the-Rock settlers.

Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum make for an interesting afternoon learning about the ancient Puebloan culture.

Edge of Cedars Museum, Blanding

Edge of Cedars Museum, Blanding

Connie descending 1000 year-old-kiva Connie descending 1000 year-old-kiva
Ladder to enter and exit kiva Ladder to enter and exit kiva

My favorite was getting to climb down a ladder into a Kiva, the dwelling structure built underground where the Indians lived. It was dark, with a dirt floor, no windows, and since it had recently rained, puddles to step around. The Kiva made me so grateful for my cozy trailer home. Emerging from the Kiva to blue sky was joyful, like breathing again after being in a stifling room. I couldn’t imagine living under the shelter of a Kiva.
IMG_6500

Blanding has a Dinosaur Museum but we didn’t have time for that.

The state government of Utah decided to pony up the money to open their parks the day we visited Blanding so we took the road from Blanding to Natural Bridges National Monument, a 30 to 40-minute drive through high desert. A sign on the Visitors Center said “Welcome back” but it was not open. The park, however, was open.
Entrance to Natural Bridges Entrance to Natural Bridges
Can you see the natural bridbe? Can you see the natural bridge?

There is a nine-mile drive with overlooks, so the Park makes it very convenient to see a lot from your automobile. But to really experience the Park, hiking the trails to the bridges, along the canyon bottom and on the Mesa tops is the ideal way to explore.

 

Overlooking a natural bridge

Overlooking a natural bridge

We did run into a friendly group of young people from Holland at Natural Bridges that were trying to help a hiker who had sprained her ankle at the bottom of the canyon. The Holland group did not know the sprained-ankle girl but were asking us if we had tape to bind her ankle and were going to hike down with the tape. Bill found an old, mangled box of tape in the bottom of his first aid kit and we sent it along. As we were leaving, the sprained-ankle girl emerged hopping on one foot, holding onto to several hikers and the Holland hiker returned our tape. I thought the Holland group was very thoughtful to stop their hike to help a stranger. The Hollanders were on a visit to see the National Parks but didn’t complain about not getting to see them. Instead, they told us about all the places they had been able to visit instead. It sure does make your day to run into positive, thoughtful friendly people.

View of valley prior to Natural Bridges View of valley prior to Natural Bridges

Pass in the rocks, highway to Natural Bridges

Pass in the rocks, highway to Natural Bridges

Eye Opener in Bluff, Utah — How did the Mormons get down Hole-in-the-Rock?

Arrived in the small town of Bluff as they were repaving the highway, so sat in traffic smelling tar until our time to follow the lead car.  Cottonwood RV Park is our home for three days and we have lovely views of the rock mesas surrounding us.  Elevation is around 4300 and weather is warmer than Moab.  Today, Oct. 9, we are preparing for rain.

Highway Moab to Bluff

Highway Moab to Bluff

Highway scene Moab to Bluff

Highway scene Moab to Bluff

Little did we know Bluff has a replica of the original fort and pioneer cabins lived in by the first Mormon settlers that came to this area in the late 1800’s.   The Bluff Fort Historic Site fills a city block or more.  We spent several hours fascinated by the stories of the Mormon pioneers.  You hear so much about Hole-in-the-Rock Trail; at the Bluff historic site, you can read about the families that made the first expedition and built the settlement in Bluff, see an actual wagon that made the trip down Hole-in-the-Rock, watch a video about building the Trail and the first descent.  The community has built replicas of all the original cabins the settlers lived in when Bluff was settled after their treacherous journey from Escalante down Hole-in-the-Rock Trail.

Mormon schoolhouse in Bluff

Mormon schoolhouse in Bluff

Mormon Family

Mormon Family

Fort at Bluff

Fort at Bluff

To me, Hole-in-the-Rock represents another example of the Mormon’s courage in the face of overwhelming odds, their cohesiveness and community mind set and a faith that drove them to accomplish the impossible.  They chose to devise a road down a 1200-foot sandstone cliff, a narrow, steep, rocky crevice to establish a short cut to cross the Colorado River.  Their pilgrimage from Escalante to what is now known as Bluff was to take 6 weeks (a 57-mile-long journey) and instead took six months.  In their party were two miners from Wales that played a critical role in using blasting powder to widen the crevice.  After months of working on the road, their entire party of 83 wagons, 250 Mormons and over 1000 head of livestock, made the descent in January, 1880, to the river.  Wagons were heavily roped and teams of men and oxen lowered the wagons through the upper crevice, which has slopes of almost 45 degrees.  Below that a wooden track was constructed along a slick rock sandstone slope that used posts in drilled holes to support horizontal beams.  To see a photo of Hole-in-the-Rock is to envision what an impossible task this was.  And yet, we were told, not one man, woman or child was lost, nor livestock, and in fact, two children were born on the historic journey.  And the descent was made in the middle of winter.  Tell me how this could be possible.

Hole-in-the-Rock

Hole-in-the-Rock

Wagon made 1800 trip down Hole-in-the-Rock

1800’s Wagon that made trip down Hole-in-the-Rock

Pioneer Wagon

Pioneer Wagon

Jensen Nielson was one of the Mormons to make the expedition from Escalante to Bluff and became the leader of the Cedar City group.  Jens, as he was known, had lost the use of his feet in another expedition where he succumbed to frostbite.  The story goes that his wife, Elsie, loaded Nielson, feet frozen, into her handcart and pulled him to the next camp, saving him, though he became permanently crippled.  Jens and Elsie buried their only son on this expedition, 12-year-old Jens who succumbed to snow, cold, starvation and exhaustion, as well as did the other four men traveling with them.  On the 1880 expedition from Escalante to Bluff, It was Jens Nielson that made the decision to  go forward at the crevice known as Hole-in-the-Rock.  Jens Nielson served as ward bishop for over two decades and the first bishop of Bluff.

From a diary written by Josephine Catherine Catterly Wood about the journey from Escalante to Bluff :

All is well in health, but the life is frightened out of us.  I don’t know what this place is called, but I call it the Devils Twist, and that’s a Sunday name for it.  I cannot imagine any worse than they are here.  Aunt Mamie says, ‘My, but this is good schooling, and good for the liver.’  We are nearly jolted to pieces.  There is no use for me to try and describe it.  This is the most God-forsaken and wild country I have ever seen, read or heard about.  We hardly get started when they have to double horses on the wagons, the sand is so deep in places and in other places nothing but rocks.  Up hill and down hill, steep and slick, the poor animals.  I never saw horses pull, paw, fall down, and get up as they have today.  We do not stop for dinner, and the horses haven’t had any water, they are almost given out.

The women and children have had a good deal of walking and pushing to do so far on this trip.  The wind is blowing so bad we cannot see far ahead for the sand, and if we open our mouths, they will be filled.  The men take one wagon a little way, then unhitch and come back for another all day, so we have traveled only a few miles today.  No water again tonight, although the children are crying for it and it is very cold.  The men went hunting for water and found a little, and the children are relieved.  They fell asleep without supper and we cannot do dishes again tonight.

Traveled over rocks no human being should ever try to go over, but we kept going, until we reached the dreaded Colorado River.  I can’t describe how we ever got down, and I hope you won’t ever come to see.  Men were there with a raft.  They had two boats fastened to either side, and they would row the wagons across.  It is a wonder our wagons are not broken to pieces, for today is even worse.  We have to go down a rocky place; it is steep and slick, the men hang on the back of the wagons to keep them from rolling on the horses or from tipping back over the front.  They have to wait until one wagon is out of the way before another starts, because there is no place at the bottom to stop; just down and up; almost a ‘V’ shape.  The horses have to rest so often going up this hill, and as soon as they do, the wagons start rolling back, so we have to block the wheels by putting rocks back of them.  This is dangerous, we were afraid of being crushed.  We have been walking most of the way for two days.

The same Jody that wrote the journal entry above became the midwife for Bluff.  Between 1886 and 1908, Jody delivered 165 babies (recorded) and it is said she might have delivered twice that number.  Aunt Jody, as she was known, was called and blessed by Bishop Jens Nielson to administer to the health of the people. With very little medicine available, Jody learned from the Indians which herbs were useful and how to apply them.  The Indian people would also come to Jody for help.  Jody was an excellent midwife and often stayed with mother and baby for a week or more to help, even though she had her own family and children to care for.

Highway from Bluff to Goosenecks State Park

Highway from Bluff to Goosenecks State Park

Clouds threaten rain

Clouds threaten rain

From Bluff, we took a road trip to Goosenecks State Park.  A thousand feet below the overlook, you see the San Juan River twist and turn through an entrenched river meander.  You can view the sides of the steep canyons in patterns that reflect over 300 million years of geologic activity.  Goosenecks is a nine-mile drive off the main highway but well worth seeing.  It takes your breath away, like a scene from another planet.

Sinuous goosenecks in the river

Sinuous goosenecks in the river

San Juan River at Goosenecks State Park

San Juan River at Goosenecks State Park

Steps in the canyon wall formed over millions of years

Steps in the canyon wall formed over millions of years

Our next visit was the Moki Dugway.  This is a dirt road that winds 1200 feet from top to bottom, 3 miles at an 11% grade.  Why did we drive the Moki?  Because it is a scary road with no shoulders and you look over the edge and get a real fright.  You feel like you are about to topple right over the edge of the road.  On the other hand, the views are incredible of Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods.  A ‘Dugway’ is a road which is dug or excavated into the land form to provide a path for transport.  The Moki Dugway was built to haul uranium and vanadium from Cedar Mesa at top to Mexican Hat.

Beginning the Moki Dugway

Beginning the Moki Dugway

Road excavated in the side of rock

Road excavated in the side of rock

Looking down on switchbacks of the Moki Dugway

Looking down on switchbacks of the Moki Dugway

Looking down to the valley below from top of Moki Dugway

Looking down to the valley below from top of Moki Dugway

Our last visit was a drive through Valley of the Gods.  What I remember most is the jolting, jarring, bouncing, down and up, up and down, jostling ride.  I got just a taste of what the Mormons had to go through on their route from Escalante to Bluff.   I gripped the strap in the pickup the entire route, a comfortable, warm, dry conveyance with music, food, water, nothing compared to the Mormons traveling in their open wagons with canvas sides in the dead of winter.  The Valley of the Gods drive is seventeen miles through BLM lands–I’m surprised the road wasn’t closed.  The sandstone formations loom from the desert floor in odd shapes and sizes and captivate the imagination.  The road crosses many washes and is not recommended driving during inclement weather.  We held our breath as rain was predicted for the afternoon which would make the road a nightmare.  The sentinels and monoliths of sandstone were sculpted over eons of time and date from 250 million years ago, deposited in huge sand dunes near the shores of an ancient sea.

A sandstone formation, Valley of the Gods

A sandstone formation, Valley of the Gods

Unique formation, Valley of the Gods

Unique formation, Valley of the Gods

Tall monolity

Tall monolith

Sandstone formation

Sandstone formation

Rainclouds over Valley of the Gods

Rainclouds over Valley of the Gods

The rains did come — last night — we were pummeled by a pinging and dinging on the trailer roof, along with strong winds, thunder and lightning.  So we took a day to hunker down, stay warm and dry, read and write.  We will stay in Bluff through Friday night, then Saturday night at Gouldings campground near Monument Valley.  Our stay at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is still up in the air.  We are taking it a day at a time.  We hear one thing and then we hear another, about whether the parks will open.  We strain to catch the names of the parks that are said to be opening.  I wonder how history will record the 2013 shutdown of the Federal Government.  I definitely have ‘my version.’

Clouds leaving Valley of the Gods

Clouds leaving Valley of the Gods

Red Rock Café and Trading Post, Bluff

Red Rock Café and Trading Post, Bluff

Moab–Love it or Leave it

Love the bike paths that enable amateur bikers like myself to have a grand time.  We biked from the edge of Moab to Arches National Park, as serious bikers streaked past us, but we were content to go at our own pace, enjoying the sunshine, the red canyon walls, the rock formations, the beauty all around us.  It was a warm, crisp fall day and the canyons stood out sharply against the blue sky.  The Colorado River was a sluggish gray green, winding through the canyon, life-giving water but the river looks old, worn, tired.

Moab Canyon Pathway

Moab Canyon Pathway

Bill riding Moab Canyon Pathway

Bill riding Moab Canyon Pathway

Coming into Moab on bike pathway

Coming into Moab on bike pathway

Loved Canyonlands by Night or Day where we stopped on our bike ride and signed up for a jet boat tour of the Colorado River.  We met at 5:15 pm and boarded our boat at 5:30.  It was warm and sunny.  With the first jet stream of river water splashing us as the boat sliced through the river, a chill set in.  We moved from the upper level in the back of the boat to the more protected lower level and with our jackets and scarves, were kept from shivering.  We sped 18 miles down river as the sun set.  Some of the highlights were climbers scaling the rock walls, petroglyphs, arches, the magnificence of the canyon from the river, the light on the river as the sun set.  We observed from the safety of our boat human specks high on the rim of the rock canyon when our guide asked us if we liked to see people jumping off cliffs.  Suddenly we saw a body flying through space, then a black parachute opened and the parachute floated down into the canyon and disappeared.

One of many rock climbers

One of many rock climbers

Canyonlands by Night or Day

Canyonlands by Night or Day

Colorado River from our jet boat

Colorado River from our jet boat

Our guide had an excellent schtick, referring to himself as a local and he kept the jokes rolling.  The locals don’t mountain bike, he said, but they love to hang out at the trails to see the bikers come down, then the ambulance.  That led to our guide telling us Moab had had nine rock climbing fatalities this year.  Search and Rescue is called at least three times a day to rescue mountain bikers, lots of broken bones, mainly broken legs.  On our boat, there were tourists from New Zealand, UK, Ohio, Atlanta, Canada, Georgia, Washington, Oregon, Texas, and one man from Utah.  According to the guide, only 2% of their visitors are from Utah.  Tourism is Utah’s main industry, second is movies, third is mining, predominantly potash.

Our Guide on Canyonlands Sunset jetboat cruise

Our Guide on Canyonlands Sunset jetboat cruise

Rock wall of the canyon

Rock wall of the canyon

Sunset on the Colorado River cruise

Sunset on the Colorado River cruise

Don’t like this about Moab:  traffic is horrible; and the bikers are part of the problem.  Getting through town, we constantly had to be on the lookout for a biker flying down the street or around a corner. You can’t walk down a sidewalk without encountering a biker.  Granted, there was a bike manufacturers gathering, “Outerbike” where the bikers could demo bikes, party, drink, eat and test the bikes on Moab’s world class trails.  If that added to the mayhem, it was true Sunday was calmer and less hectic, much easier to get around.  The main street through the middle of Moab is where all the traffic must drive to get through town, huge trucks included.

Downtown Moab

Downtown Moab

Our River Cruise ended with a chuck wagon dinner, a buffet of BBQ pork, beef, chicken and all the trimmin’s.  We met Sally and Glen at dinner.  A 30-year Lockheed employee, Glen moved to Washington as soon as he retired.  Sally’s business was sewing tote bags, and she could make as much as $1000 a weekend at community craft fairs.  All in all, a great evening and finale to our Moab stay.

Glen and Sally

Glen and Sally

Love about Moab:  some great coffee shops.  Red Rock Bakery and Cafe on Main has a latte to compete with Peet’s Coffee and the barrister was sweet, foaming and mixing the hot milk like it was an art form.

Red Rock Bakery and Care

Red Rock Bakery and Care

Loved all the restaurants in Moab.  Twisted Sista’s was a small plates joint, very lively and the spiciest Bloody Mary I’ve ever had — probably mixed for young bikers.

Twisted Sista's Cafe

Twisted Sista’s Cafe

Didn’t like:  a touted hike at Hunter Canyon on Kane Creek Canyon Road, said to be 2 miles one-way along a free flowing stream.  After driving 7 miles out Kane Creek Canyon Road, we found the trail by a camp and if the trail was 1/2 mile at most, I’d be exaggerating so how they came up with 2 miles beats me.  Directions said to follow the hiker-established path until the route gets blocked by brush, which it appeared to be within the first few feet.

Hunter Canyon

Hunter Canyon

Sign at trail to Hunter Canyon

Sign at trail to Hunter Canyon

Somebody's camp despite sign

Somebody’s camp despite sign

The dirt road out to Kane Creek is a beautiful drive along the Colorado River, but that Saturday it was crawling with cars, bikers, ATV’rs.  Even the ranger was seen kicking people out of the BLM campgrounds along the Colorado River which sat forlorn and empty as people scrambled to find a place along the river for outdoor adventure.

Empty BLM campsites along Colorado River

Empty BLM campsites along Colorado River

Hunter Canyon

Hunter Canyon

Really loved the biker-friendliness of Moab.  According to our tour guide, mountain biking didn’t really catch on in Moab until 1989. Now everyone in town is trying to cash in on the trend — bike shops like Poison Spider – gear shops – restaurants that serve breakfasts like Fisher Tower French Toast,  Biker Buckwheat breakfast, the Rapid Rafters Breakfast, the Mountain Biker Breakfast.  This town worships the outdoor afficiondo and has a totally different vibe from any other Utah town we had visited.   Bikers rule here!  It was unique to be in a town that gave the bicycle as much respect as the automobile.  We loved that we could ride from downtown Moab several miles to Arches National Park on a paved path that  had its own bridge across the Colorado River.  How cool is that?  Moab Canyon Pathway continues for eight miles beyond Arches to Canyonlands and the turnoff to Dead Horse State Park.  The Moab Canyon path is but one of dozens of bike trails that range from beginner to the world-famous, highly technical Slickrock Bike Trail.

Connie biking into Portal RV Park, Moab

Connie biking into Portal RV Park, Moab

Once we found 500 West rather than ride the Main Street through town, loved that we could bike downtown from our RV Park, Portal RV Park.  We loved the Mill Creek Parkway, a two-mile path through Moab for bikers and pedestrians.  Moab has a supermarket with fresh produce; something we missed since leaving Zion and Bryce.  Even though Moab’s Farmers Market was small, we were eager to buy as much fresh produce as we could get our hands on.

Kane Creek Canyon Road

Kane Creek Canyon Road

Love it or leave it — Moab has its charms and detractions.  The Portal RV Park was a good stopover with nice views, all the amenities, several ponds and even a beach, good WiFi, and best of all it is a couple blocks off the main highway.  Despite not getting to use our reservations for Arches National Park, Moab was a good place to catch up, shop, restock groceries, do laundry and bike.

Crossing the Colorado River into Moab

Crossing the Colorado River into Moab

We stayed four nights in Moab — the same four nights we had reservations at Arches National Park and were looking forward to seeing Arches but like all the other visitors to the National Parks in Utah, we ran into this:

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

 

Capitol Reef National Park before Government Shutdown

Capital Reef Cliffs

Capital Reef Cliffs

Imagine a cinnamon nut scone fresh from the oven with a cup of hot coffee/chocolate on a warm, fall day enjoyed while laying on the green grass under the shade of a tree.  We are at the Gifford Homestead in Capital Reef National Park, a replica of a pioneer home.  Its shelves are lined with bottled jams, jellies, peach, pumpkin and apple butters, salsas, cherry topping and delicious homemade foods representative of what the early residents of this valley would grow and can.  On either side, sandstone cliffs rise in patterns and colors of crimson and cream, rock canyons that swirl and wave in intricate designs.

Pantry shelves at Gifford Homestead

Pantry shelves at Gifford Homestead

Pies, Scones, Muffins baked daily at Gifford Homestead

Pies, Scones, Muffins baked daily at Gifford Homestead

Coffee and scones on the grass

Coffee and scones on the grass

Our first morning in camp, after a hearty feast, we tackled  the winding trail just steps from our camp that climbed the rock walk to Cohab Canyon.  The rock wall was still in shadow, even though it was 10 am, so it was cool as we ascended.  The trail was steep and scattered with rocks as big as a house, huge, massive rocks perched so precariously it felt like a gentle nudge would send them careening down to the valley below.

Awesome Cliffs

Awesome Cliffs

After the strenuous hike on switchbacks to the top, we viewed Fruita Campground on the valley floor; it looked like miniature trailers and cars under the trees.  We descended on the opposite side into a canyon where the sun was beginning to warm the canyon floor.  Slot canyons to either side beckoned with their narrow passages.   We felt exuberant in this insulated, pristine wilderness.  Lizards scrambling over the rocks appeared to be our only companions.  We eventually descended to Hwy. 24 which follows the  Fremont River, a small, dirty brown river (that can turn into a raging torrent) that helped to shape the canyon.

Fruita Campground from the top of Cohab Canyon

Fruita Campground from the top of Cohab Canyon

Bill in slot canyon in Cohab Canyon

Bill in slot canyon in Cohab Canyon

Patterns in rock

Patterns in rock

Walking along Hwy. 24, we came to the Fruita Schoolhouse, a small, one-room school that housed as many as 26 students from 1st – 8th grade.  The children only went to school during the winter months as they were needed for planting and harvesting during the rest of the year.

Fruita Schoolhouse

Fruita Schoolhouse

Swedish tourists in RV Caravan visit Fruita Schoolhouse

Swiss tourists in RV Caravan visit Fruita Schoolhouse

Further up Hwy. 24, we stopped at Jackson Orchard, where visitors were encouraged to pick ripe apples, weigh them, leave $1 per lb. in the steel container and enjoy what they could use.  After our morning hike, nothing tasted quite as good as a crunchy, fresh-picked apple in the dappled shade of the orchard.  Being the only pickers in the orchard was also a treat.  We dragged the ladder from tree to tree and pulled the red jewels off the tree, sweet apple smells filling the air.  We ended our hike with scones and coffee at the Gifford Homestead.

Crunch!  Tasting an apple right from the tree

Crunch! Tasting an apple right from the tree

Bill picks apples at Jackson Orchard

Bill picks apples at Jackson Orchard

Ingenious gate to orchards uses pulley and stone

Ingenious gate to orchards uses pulley and stone

In the evening, I scrubbed and sliced some of the apples and put them on the stove to stew with water, sugar and cinnamon.  I can’t quite describe why the stewed apples tasted like heaven.  Being able to pick apples right off the tree and cook the fruit the same day seemed to connect me with the earth and the cycle of life.  It also helped to know the pioneers lived this way.  It was the best darn treat of our trip so far.  We missed terribly access to good fresh fruits and vegetables on this trek across Utah, perhaps another reason why the apples were so appreciated.  We had managed to purchase tomatoes and cucumbers at the spare (one table) Farmers Market in Escalante because we got there early and were fast.

Fresh picked apples

Fresh picked apples

The orchards in Fruita were planted by the Mormon settlers in the late 1800’s — at the most ten families.  Often these Mormon “families” had 12, maybe thirteen, even as many as fifteen children so the community was larger than it might sound.    As everywhere else in Utah, struggling to make a life in Fructa was hard.  “This was the country the Mormons settled…  Its distances were terrifying, it’s cloudbursts catastrophic, it’s beauty flamboyant and bizarre and allied with death.  Its droughts and its heat were withering.  Nobody else wanted it, nobody but a determined and God-supported people could live in it.” Wallace Stegner.  Mormon Country

Old Farm implement, Capitol Reef NP

Old Farm implement, Capitol Reef NP

To the Mormon settlers, home was not just a shelter made of lumber, but a construction held together by faith.  The land could be unkind to those attempting life here.  Searing heat, bone-chilling cold, dusty drought, and devastating floods caused early pioneers to move hard-won settlements.  Other towns sprang up nearby and failed, but the Mormons held on abiding by faith.   Diseases like smallpox and diphtheria took their toll.  The girls married as early as fifteen and oftentimes were mothers before they were sixteen and might have born a child every year for the next 12 to 13 years.   They were completely isolated in the canyon so they were self reliant and community oriented, taking care of one another, marrying each other, praying, dancing, singing and socializing together.  If someone fell ill, they often used home remedies in caring for one another.  A midwife helped the mothers give birth; rarely was a doctor in attendance.

Gifford Homestead Parlor

Gifford Homestead Parlor

Child's room, Gifford Homestead

Child’s room, Gifford Homestead

The orchards have been preserved for visitors when Fruita became part of the National Park system.  Only a few of the original settler buildings remain.  The Gifford Homestead was once the actual home of several pioneer families.  An old barn remains and a blacksmith shop but none of the Mormon settlers live in Fruita anymore.  Deer roam through the orchards and campgrounds.  It is a picturesque and sweet scene in late September, in the upper 70s during daytime and upper 50s at night.  The trails are numerous taking you back in the canyons and the scenic drives are awesome.  If I had the strength, biking would be my preference to see the canyon and we did pass a few intrepid bikers.  There is no store, firewood, Wifi or cell phone coverage but there are lots of very large trailer rigs, ours included.  The campground has no hookups.  There is a dump station.

Remnant of settlers; barn in Fruita

Remnant of settlers; barn in Fruita

Fruita Campground, Capitol Reef National Park

Fruita Campground, Capitol Reef National Park

With no electricity or Wifi, we sat under the stars in the evening and read aloud chapters of “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey.  It made the book all the more meaningful to feel we were a part of this desert and canyon and universe in the stillness of a dark night at Capitol Reef.  It is an odd time to be so removed as news coverage is so limited.  However, making purchases at the Gifford House today, I was caught up in a conversation about whether the Park would be open the following day.  The big question on everyones mind: Will the United States government shut down at midnight.

Gifford Homestead

Gifford Homestead

October 1.  We awoke to find the Rangers had been busy this morning posting signs at the trailheads, the visitor center and at the entrance to the park:  CLOSED Due to the Shutdown of the Federal Government.  We packed the trailer and were sad to say goodbye to this beautiful park with its majestic domes, arches and unusual canyons striking in their beauty, the orchards, and the ghosts of pioneer Mormons.

Canyons on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

Canyons on Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

I read the rocks in Capital Reef record nearly 275 million years of history, rivers and swamps, Sahara-like deserts, and shallow oceans.  Within the last 20 million years, an uplift of the Colorado Plateau occurred and this, along with erosion, water and wind, rock falls and rock creep shape the landscape today.  It is truly unbelievable.  I certainly felt some anxiety about rock fall, as massive boulders are perched everywhere as you drive the paved Scenic Drive and they look like they were literally stopped in their tracks and might continue to fall at any moment.  Side roads to Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge take you even further along the reef where water has cut completely through the towering walls of stone.  It feels like you are being swallowed up by the earth as you descend.  As we travel from west to east across Utah, each National and State Park becomes my new favorite. Today Capitol Reef definitely tops my list.

Slot canyons

Slot canyons

Sandstone patterns

Sandstone patterns

If Capitol Reef was at one time rivers and swamps, then transformed to a desert, then covered with an ocean,  and today is the rocks and canyons we see today, doesn’t that mean climate change is a given?

Travelers in the orchards

Travelers in the orchards

Crossing the Fremont River

Crossing the Fremont River

Fruita Historic District

Fruita Historic District

Orchards against canyons

Orchards against canyons

A Kaleidoscope of sights: Hwy. 12 from Red Canyon to Torrey, Utah

Circle D Eatery, Escalante

Circle D Eatery, Escalante

Highway 12 from Red Canyon to Torrey is designated a Scenic Highway.  We headed to Escalante where we planned to spend one night and attend the Plein Air Art Festival.  The night we arrived it was quite cold, so we wrapped up and went to The Circle D Eatery, next door to Canyons of Escalante RV Park.  if you want great food at a fraction of the cost of a San Francisco restaurant, the Circle D is the place.  Don’t let the name fool you.  They have the best homemade Creme Brûlée I’ve ever had.  Bills steak was better than “Mortons.” Vegetables were done al dente perfectly.  Breakfast and lunch were equally superb.  The Circle D Eatery was a real find.

People's Exchange Historic Building, Escalante

People’s Exchange Historic Building, Escalante

The Escalante Canyons Art Festival was running two days, Friday and Saturday, but the artists had been at work creating for the week prior.  Arts and Crafts, great music, local quilts, food and Plein Air art made this one of our favorite stops along Hwy. 12.  We loved chatting with Matt How, who we met as we walked in.  Matt was manning a booth for a friend.  Matt was building a straw bale house in the Escalante area and he shared insider information about how a straw bale house is built.  We enjoyed the architecture of the garage, which had already been built and Matt’s friendly, gregarious nature.  Matt is a graphic designer by trade and works for the government in Portland, Oregon, designing brochures and doing the art for the National Parks and BLM.  Plein Air art is painting on location or in the open air and is usually done during the course of the festival.  All of the art reflected the artist’s  interpretation of the scenery, canyons, mountains, and landscape.

Matt How tells us how to build a straw bale house

Matt How tells us how to build a straw bale house

Our next stop was the Kiva Koffeehouse on the outskirts of Escalante.  Kiva Koffeehouse was created by artist, mentor, contractor, inventor and engineer, Bradshaw Bowman.  It took 2 years to collect the 13 Ponderosa Pine perimeter logs from the high forests of the West. Some of these logs have nearly 300 rings, existing even before our country was born. The smaller interior logs and Vigas (rafters) are Spruce. The latillas are from smaller Lodge Pole Pine. The sandstone walls were quarried from an on-site quarry.  Not only is the Kiva Coffeehouse a great architectural interest, the views are unequaled, the coffee, homemade soups and sandwiches a much-needed respite for the traveler.

Kiva Koffee House

Kiva Koffee House

Kiva Koffeehouse Interior

Kiva Koffeehouse Interior

Driving Hwy. 12 from Escalante to Boulder is a kaleidoscope of sights and views, canyons, slick rock, striated cream-and-red sandstone formations, plateaus, mountains, flowing water, and native vegetation. You simply cannot take it all in during one day; yet, that is what we did and I think it would be compared to trying to see the Louvre in Paris in one hour.  We actually drove right through the “Hogback” which is described as “a thin, razorback ridge of slick rock, spilling steeply off on each side,” so much enjoying the vistas we didn’t even recognize the danger.  Perhaps we are too accustomed to the twisting road to Sea Ranch with drop offs to the ocean that the Hogback didn’t seem so bad.

Connie takes in the scenery Hwy. 12

Connie takes in the scenery Hwy. 12

Our rig on the way to Torrey

Our rig on the way to Torrey

We did enjoy the Anasazi State Park Museum outside Boulder.  Anasazi refers to village-dwelling farmers who existed in this region from A.D.1 to 1300 and the site has been partially excavated and reconstructed. No one knows why the village was abandoned around A.D. 1175.  I am just grateful for my modern house and technology; I shudder to think of living in the pit structures and small rooms the Anasazi lived in, hunting for food, farming and gathering seeds, nuts and berries.  Average life expectancy was 33-35 years we read.  Tooth decay, arthritis and famine were a way of life.  Almost makes me grateful for the current fight over healthcare.

Aspens on Hwy. 12 above Boulder

Aspens on Hwy. 12 above Boulder

Once we left Boulder, scenic Hwy. 12 starts climbing.  We were sure each time we topped a hill, we were at the high point and would start the descent.  But no, we kept rounding a curve to find another hill.  The Chevy Silverado is a powerhouse pickup and darned if it didn’t pull our 23′ trailer up and over that mountain with not even a hiccup.  The elevation at top is just over 9000 feet.  The landscape here turns to most noticeable Aspen, but also pine, spruce and fir.  However, it is the Aspen that we remember — more Aspen than we can ever recall seeing, in beautiful fall color of golds and yellow-green, miles and miles of quaking Aspen.

Thousand Lakes RV Park, Torrey

Thousand Lakes RV Park, Torrey

View from trailer at Thousand Lakes RV Park, Torrey

View from trailer at Thousand Lakes RV Park, Torrey

When you descend the mountain, you arrive in the pleasant town of Torrey.  Our home for the night was an RV Park called Thousand Lakes on the outskirts of town.  Amazing views here and all the amenities.  The only grocery was a small market, Chuck Wagon Grocery, not much selection for fruits or vegetables.  We found “Slackers” the next day — great burgers and Wifi.  Right after we got our orders, I looked up to see a line of about 25 people.  Say what?  Then a lady who overheard my shocked expression, said “don’t worry; we’re not taking over your town.” Evidently a tour bus pulled in to this roadside diner and expected them to churn out enough burgers to feed the county.  Well, all good business for the diner, but I’m grateful we already had our food.

On the road Escalante to Torrey

On the road Escalante to Torrey

Next stop:  Capitol Reef National Park where we hoped to find a spot for the trailer for two nights.  Little did we suspect what was coming down the pike, a dysfunctional government that would upend our vacation plans like a royal pain in the …

Across the Hogback, Highway 12

Across the Hogback, Highway 12