Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sat, Oct 3: On the road to Durango, Colorado

We have a leisurely start this morning after our long day yesterday. Dick works on the ATW book volume three and Carolyn uploads the last three days of the Alaska blog. The rig was too far from the router in Bryce to work.

We are on the road by 10AM and head to Montrose.Seeing a Subway and since it is almost lunch time, we stop for two sandwiches to go. Between Montrose and Ouray, we find a turn out along a fast moving stream and have our picnic.

The next point of interest is Ouray, an old mining town popular with wealthy tourist in the late 1800's. It is now a quaint little tourist town. There are the ruins of many old mining operations along the road heading up Red Mountain Pass.

After 13 miles of switch backs, dizzying drop offs on Carolyn’s side, pretty fall colorsand about 25mph we reach the top...11,018 feet! We drop a little and drive through a narrow valleyfor a short way and then climb again for Molas Pass at 10,899 feet. We repeat this dropping and climbing one more time for Coal Bank Pass at 10,640 feet.

Then we drop down to Silverton. This was also a big mining area back in the late 1800'sand is now a popular tourist town.There is skiing here in the winter, but it is probably most famous for the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This is a spectacular train ride with a coal burning engine though the mountains. They offer two round trips a day during the season. Dick and his brother rode the train as kids in 1960 and thought it was great.

From here we head down the pass to Durango, our stop for the night with a paltry 160 miles under our belt. For the first time ever, we have trouble renting a site and wind up leaving because the manager won’t rent us a good site. It is 4PM, the camp ground is virtually empty and she will only give us a back in site way in the back with, probably, no internet. We can see no less than a dozen empty pull through sites near the office and even the chart in front of her, showing the sites that are reserved, has empty pull throughs close in. Her excuse is she has a big group coming tomorrow afternoon. Oh well, there is another campground about two miles down the road and we find a nice big pull through site there with a good free internet connection.Dick gets things set up and we sit outside and enjoy cocktails. The campground is right beside the narrow gauge track so we watch the two trains, full of happy, tired looking passengers, head to the Durango station with ehe engines billowing black coal smoke. Fortunately, the breeze carries the smoke away from the campground. Dick checks the GPS and finds that we are just under a 1000 miles from home any way we go so we work on a route and cook the last of our Alaskan salmon for dinner.

Friday, Oct. 2: On the road to Grand Junction, Colorado

It is 21 degrees and sunny this morning. We are up and in the park at Sunrise Point by 7:45AM. Actual sunrise was at 7:28AM. There aren’t too many people out. We walk along the rim and get some nice pictures. We then stop at the Visitors Center and watch the movie, get a stamp for the book and get a pin for Jack. We see some mule deer on the way back to the rig. Dick gets the rig and car hooked up and we are on the road by 9:30AM. We head east on Hwy 12, one of Utah’s scenic byways. We again field of ice where the farmers have watered to help protect the crops from the freezing temperatures. It passes by several State Parks and goes through Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. It is a very dramatic drive as we wind through canyons and up and over ridge lines in all shades of cream, brown and red with a touch of bright green and yellow in the trees along the few streams. We really like this drive. At one point, high above the Escalante River, we are driving on the top of the ridge on a two lane road (Devil’s backbone),there is no shoulder and it is straight down a 1000 feet to the river on one sideand to Calf Creek on the other.This section of the road was not paved until the 1985.

We can see a line of mountains in the distance and sure enough the land changes from the arid canyon land to high mountains with stands of aspen and spruce.

We cross over the 9,000 plus foot summit and have a grand view toward Capitol Reef National Park.
We get to Capitol Reef, a rugged red line of high cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons and graceful arches that were a huge barrier to the early westward movement. We turn northeast. It is a great drive through the park. The formations are grand. We were here in 2003, so we don’t spend too much time, just took a few pictures.

Finally about 5PM we get to I-70 and head straight to Grand Junction, Colorado. We get to the camp ground about 7PM. It has been a long day, but the drive was pretty. The good thing is we now have a short day for tomorrow, about 100 miles as we drive over Red Mountain Pass to Silverton and Durango, CO.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thurs, Oct 1: Bryce Canyon National Park

It is 21 degrees when we wake up...Brrrrr. It is a bright sunny day with a bluebird sky. Even so, it does not get to 32 degrees until about 10AM.

Around mid-morning we head back to Hwy 89 and then south to Hwy 9, the highway that goes through Zion National Park. It takes about 90 minutes to get to the east park gate.

There are limitations on the size of rig that can enter the park. There is a spiral tunnel that is only 13 feet at the center and slopes down to 11feet. So if a rig is over 11 feet they have to pay an extra fee and then traffic is stopped so the rig can go through, exactly in the! When we get to the tunnel traffic is backed up both ways because of the rigs needing to have the road one way. Coming out later in the afternoon there are no rigs needing to use the tunnel so we breeze right through.

It is a beautiful drive to the tunnel.We are basically high on the plateau looking both up and down at formations caused by erosion.Once through the tunnel we drop quickly on a snake of a road to the canyon floor. It is a pretty spectacular descent! It is very crowded today, we have to go out the south gate and park on Hwy 9 walk back to get to the Visitors Center.

When we were here 28 years ago, we drove our motor home into the actual canyon on the scenic Zion Canyon Road, but that road has been closed to private cars since 2000 due to the traffic jams; especially in the summer. We have to ride in on the park shuttle bus. The bus is free and runs very often so it is not a bad deal. The scenic Zion Canyon Road follows the Virgin River up the canyon until the canyon becomes too narrow for a road. The bus makes seven stops and takes about 45 minutes to get to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava.

We hop on a waiting bus and ride to the end. At this point we are in a big bowl shaped area with the river winding though it. We get off the bus and walk the trail a short distance. This trail leads to the narrows after about a mile and a half, where you have to actually walk in the river to go farther.

We are not prepared to hike, so we turn back and walk down by the river until we get back to the bus stop and board the waiting bus. On the way in, we decided to get off at stops for the Big Bend, the Lodge and the Court of the Patriarchs on the way out. The Big Bend has a nice view of tall walls of the canyon and is the starting point for a climb to the top. They say that it is some view from there!

Big Bend is a bend in the river with very nice canyon walls.We can see people walking on the trails at the top of the canyon.

We stop at the Lodge just to get some information.

This is a great park and there is really a lot to do. We think we will come back next October, stay in the lodge and do a few of the easier hikes.

The Court of the Patriarchs is very pretty too. It is our last stop. There is a short walk up to a viewing platform for a nice look at four peaks Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Mount Moroni.I guess we spend about three pleasant hours in the parkplus the drive down and back to Bryce. We get back to Bryce about 5PM and head to Sunset Point. This is a great view. There are hundreds of Hoodoos in somewhat of a semi circular canyon. With the sun so low in the sky, they glow like they are on fire!If you look at the Hoodoos closely you can imagine castles, temples and all sorts of things. The big picture looks like an amphitheater full of people.We still want to see the Visitors Center’s movie and Sunrise Point, but will do that in the morning before we leave. We go back to the rig and fix Mexican food for tonight plus fix some main dishes to heat up for meals as we travel the last stretch to Texas.