Monday, June 26, 2017

The Finish & Recap

I slept until just past 6:30 am, and was back on the road again shortly thereafter.  I didn't stop for breakfast, although I did stop for fuel.  And I was back in my driveway before 10:00 am that morning.

Home - for the first time in 3 weeks.  I know I've been away longer in the past... but it still felt good to be here, to be done driving.

I got all of my items inside, greeted the kitties, and instead of napping like I probably should have, I went and washed the Jeep.  It had been absolutely disgusting since I'd gotten to the west coast, despite my multiple attempts at washing it.  I took it to the DIY place to pre-wash it and vacuum it out, then to the car wash with the brushes where we have a membership... and even after that, it wasn't good enough (to me).  So I came out with a hand towel and glass cleaner, touched up the exterior, and wiped down the interior.  Then... only then was I satisfied with it.  I knew I'd be waxing it later in the week too, but that could wait.

That's it.  End of story.


I'd had a lot of time while in Phoenix and during my final day driving home to reconsider some thoughts.  Seemingly, a lot of things on this trip didn't go as I'd intended.  The hike certainly didn't pan out as I'd hoped.  Even my backup plan didn't work out.  BUT, all of these pitfalls made it possible for me to go to be with my family in Phoenix... of which I'm very thankful I was in a good place to make that trip.

It's funny how things work out sometimes, right?

And now I'm home.  I'm looking at foot surgery at the beginning of August, which will keep me down for somewhere between 4-6 months by the time all is said and done.  After that, I'm back into my photo work season.  And hopefully, maybe back into my dance season.  Life resumes as normal.

But I don't accept defeat yet.  I accept delay.  I still want to do this thru hike - that hasn't changed.  So, now I have a different approach.  I'm going to try again, likely next year... once I've healed.  I've yet to decide if it will be in the spring (like this time) or in the fall.  I have time to work on getting pack weight down.  And to work on building myself up - in strength and stamina.  To read and research and reevaluate and do it better, to make it farther... and who knows, maybe even finish it.  That's my goal, at least.


Time away from home/on the road:  21 days
Miles traveled: 7580
States traveled: 10
Oil changes: 1
Cracks in window: 1
Animals/birds killed:  None!!!  (I usually get at least one.)
Insects killed:  countless
Already-dead roadkill hit: 4
Photos taken on the big camera: 644

Thanks for coming along on the ride with me - I appreciate all the comments and encouragement!

High quality images from this trip are coming - most likely to be shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and my personal website.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Marathon Driving

Today was drive day.  I had no intentions of stopping to sight-see anywhere.  Once I'd gotten into Denver, I knew it would be all-interstate all-day.  But before that, it was a scenic drive between Gunnison and Denver... some fun, squirrely roads and a few really fantastic views.

But it has to end sometime, doesn't it?  *sigh*

Outside of all the driving, there isn't much else to report for this day.  I drove 15+ hours, mostly along I-80.  Gunnison, Colorado to just short of the Iowa/Illinois border... and just over 1000 miles traveled for the day.  I really hadn't intended on driving that long or that far, but there wasn't anything else I wanted to stop to do or see, and the lure of home was getting stronger.  I typically get tired shortly after dark, but didn't.  Instead, I drove until just after 11:30pm.  At that point, I simply stopped at a rest area near the state line to sleep a bit.

Google maps said I had 2-1/2 hours till home.  I'd finish it in the morning.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Towns & Trails

After waking up just northeast of Flagstaff, I headed off once again.

I detoured into the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument area for a half hour or so to have a quick look around and a couple of photos before going back out to the highway to resume.  I retraced a little bit of my route, as I'd left the area via US 89, but turned to the northeast towards the Four Corners area on highway 160 instead of continuing north from where I'd originally come from.  I did drive by the Four Corners monument area, but didn't stop... instead choosing to make my way into the San Juan mountains in Colorado.  

I'd read earlier that morning of Last Dollar Road - an unpaved gravel/dirt through route between Telluride and Ridgway, Colorado... a seemingly easy road, based on the description... so long as it was dry.  The entrance to the road/trail wasn't very far from Telluride, and even closer still to the highway I was on.  I decided I'd give it a try - worse case, I'd turn around and make a trip into Telluride for a look around.  I'd gotten on the road, and it was pretty easy going.  It climbed into the mountains and provided for fantastic panoramic views.  The Jeep handled the climbing and the small rocky obstacles with ease, and I figured I'd make it through to the other side with in a few hours.  Until I came upon a suspicious mud hole.  It was far larger than the few I'd encountered before it.  Unsure of the terrain under the water surface (as I couldn't see through the murky water), I inched towards the hole... enough to let my right front tire drop in... and enough to NOT like what it felt like.  It felt like it would be deep.  And I couldn't be sure what kind of rocky or rough goodness lived at the bottom.  All of this, and still being without under-body armor and recovery points on the Jeep... I'd played it safe.  I backed out slowly, turned around, and went back the way I came.  I couldn't chance getting stuck with no easy way out... and being so far from home.  I played that game last fall, and lost.  

Frustrated, I headed into Telluride.  I drove through the touristy downtown area.  And out the other end.  I'd had another idea earlier that morning, and had decided to act on it.  Back in 2009, Aaron and I joined some other Jeep folk from across the country and spent a week on trails in these very same mountains.  One of these trails, the notorious Black Bear Pass, empties out on this side of the mountains and heads down into Telluride.  For the most part, Black Bear Pass is a one-way route that begins on the Ouray, Colorado side of the mountain.  For a few of reasons, there is no way I would have attempted the whole of Black Bear - again, the lack of armor and recovery points, the lack of someone else with me, and because the pass wasn't actually open yet (due to snow).  BUT, the back side/Telluride side of the pass... the part that allowed travel both up and down the mountain... that was open, and I remember that it wasn't overly difficult... at the time.  So I headed up that trail, which would eventually end at the Bridal Veils Power Station, over half way up the mountain.

Image borrowed via Google:
Two-way travel is from the bottom of the mountain up to the power plant in the upper right side of the frame, where it then becomes one-way only.  **not my image**

I had no issues navigating the trail... outside of some interesting pull-offs to let other cars pass from the other direction.  I managed some water crossings also without issue.  I made it up to the power station at the top of the two-way traffic area - where there was still snow on the ground in places.  From there, I took in the scenery for awhile before turning around to head back down the mountain.  My disappointment from Last Dollar Road was gone after being able to complete the back side of Black Bear without issue.  I'd be willing to guess that with armor, recovery points, and a bit of a lift, and some friends to spot me, I could probably handle the whole of the the trail... you know, depending on it's current condition.   I did get the handful of 'odd' looks as I was driving up the mountain... at first I thought it was because I was in a Patriot... but then I probably realized it was the Illinois plates.  They probably thought I got lost going to Walmart.  😁

Back down into town, I'd stopped for fuel and a snack at the gas station before continuing on for the day.  At that point, I didn't have any other trails that I'd planned to try... so I thought I'd just enjoy the cruise on the mountain roads.  The paved route towards Ridgway wasn't as direct as the Last Dollar route would have been - it was more of an out west, and back east route.  It was mid/late afternoon, and I was on the back east portion... when I found the sign signifying the other end of Last Dollar Road.  I initially passed it... but couldn't just leave it alone.  I couldn't.  I turned around, and went back to that entrance... deciding to see how far I could drive on this segment before I got turned around by... something.

This side of Last Dollar Road started out much like the other side - gravel, rural terrain... not technical.  As I passed that and got further up into the mountains, I was again greeted with spectacular vistas.  The terrain got rougher - washed out in some area due to water/snow runoff, rocky in other areas, and overall nothing difficult.  I drove this for quite a long time... but, eventually I was again stopped by a rather large mud hole.  I stopped.  I got out of the Jeep to have a look at it.... and came to realize... it was the SAME hole from earlier, only from the other direction.  😶  So here I was... I'd technically driven the entire route... save for maybe 15-20 feet because of some crazy water hole.  I don't know if I was more annoyed or more amused at the time.  Now, it's definitely more amused.  Once again, I was forced to turn around and go back.  But I'm saying I've driven the whole thing - that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  😀

By the time I arrived back at the paved surfaces, it was late in the afternoon, and I was beginning to lose some daylight.  I kept to the road until it started to get dark, and ended up stopping in Gunnison, Colorado for the evening.  I also stopped here to sleep last year when I was on my way to Costa Mesa, CA.  It's funny how I'm coming across the same things on the way back from this trip that I found on my way out last trip.  

Mobile photos from the day:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Next 4 Days

I spent the better part of the next 4 days in the company of grandma, my mom, John's kids, and eventually my cousin.  Again, while the circumstances weren't the best, the company was really great... we shared a lot of laughs, stories, and we truly did make the best of things.

The apartment that Grandma and Grandpa John shared - they hadn't been there long.  John had been in and out of the hospital for more than a month, and this new apartment was part of the assisted living section of the Lodge.  They moved in less than a month prior to his passing partially due to John's medical needs, and also to help my grandmother with her medicines. Before that move, they'd lived in a 2 bedroom apartment within the independent living area of the facility.  That said, they'd already done quite a bit of downsizing to go from the 2 bedroom down to the 1.  But now we were getting my grandma into a studio-sized apartment closer to her friends, the dining room, and everything she gets involved with.  She didn't want to stay in the 1 bedroom apartment anymore as it had only held the bad memories from when John got sick.  The Lodge had a studio available for her to take, and would need a few days to prepare it - painting, having the carpets cleaned, general cleaning, etc.

In the meantime, we all joined forces and went through the existing apartment to purge John's belongs, some of grandma's belongings, and prepare for her move.  This was an interesting time for me - I was able to visit with John's kids (I really like them - they are fun folks!), learn more of my grandfather's (grandma's first husband, and my biological grandfather) time in the Army during World War II (not something he ever talked about to anyone), and spend time with my grandmother... I hadn't seen her for a little over a year.  There were some rough moments, but mostly things were upbeat... and I think we all helped each other work through some of the emotions.

Aside from the purging of the apartment, we got out to do some other things.  We went to lunch a couple of times, dinner too.  Mom and I braved the midday Phoenix heat one afternoon to try to find grandma a tower-type bookshelf at the area thrift stores, with no success.  I learned to go out in the mornings, if I had to, as the temperatures were *only* in the low-90's and it was far more comfortable.

When we stayed in, we visited.  We played 'high stakes' bingo one night where Mom, Grandma and I cleaned house, walking away with $10.50 between the 3 of us (pretty good, when the normal bingo games net you a quarter for each win).  😃  Once my cousin arrived from Texas, she and I caught up - it turns out we have a lot in common, and really enjoyed chatting... once so much that my mom was ready to chase us out so she and grandma could go to sleep (oops!).  We went to the dining area one afternoon to see a local marimba band play.  And at other times in between, and around mealtimes, we got to know some of my grandmother's friends and co-residents... she has a lot of really wonderful people around her.  After only a few days with them, I realize how fortunate she is that they are there.

I stayed until after John's memorial service and reception on Friday afternoon.  His kids got up to speak about their experiences and memories of him - they all did a fantastic job, given the difficult time.  And we all stuck around to talk for awhile afterwards.  It was difficult to go, but given the time I'd been away from home already, I was ready to really start heading that way.  I'd given my hugs, and said my goodbyes, and started on my way.

It was almost 5:30pm when I left, and my only objective for the evening was to get north and away from the worst of the heat.  My temperature gauge read 118 when I left, and I didn't stop for the evening until north and west of Flagstaff, where it was a blissful 84-degrees... and I was able to pull off and camp in the Jeep once more.

I already knew I wasn't going to make it home before the weekend and before Aaron went back to work for the week, but I did know that I didn't plan to stop and meander too much.  Maybe just around the SW Colorado/San Juan Mountain areas... because it's gorgeous, and they have some easy areas to get off the pavement in short spurts.  With no real plans on which route to take yet, I got some sleep... leaving that decision for the morning.

Mobile photos from the week:

Me, Mom, my cousin, and Grandma

Grandma, my cousin, Mom, and John's 2 sons and daughter

Grandma's high school senior photo - I adore this!

The Marimba Band!

Smoke to the west of the mountains approaching Flagstaff

Smoke, taken while in Flagstaff

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Hole & the Record Heat

With the 'luxury' of being staying at a hotel, I took advantage of sleeping in a little longer and a shower.  Not anything crazy, mind you, but I don't think I checked out until 9 or 9:30 that morning... which is certainly sleeping in compared to my previous normal of anywhere between 5:30-7:00am when I camped in the Jeep.  It was already gearing up to be a toasty day in Page, so I thought I'd better be on my way.

I continued on US 89 to the south, and as planned, turned to the west once arriving at highway 64... to take me to the south rim area of the Grand Canyon.  It was a pleasant morning, and the rim temperatures were in the low-mid 80's - nice compared to what I came into the evening prior.  At first, the scenic lookout areas were mellow... not too many people to be of much concern.  I got out and was able to take unobstructed photos with the big camera, and explore the edge of the canyon (close, but not too close).  However, the closer I came to the Visitor Center area, the more crazy and congested it became... and the less I got out to explore.  I'd had this crazy idea that maybe it wouldn't be stupid-busy because it was a non-holiday Monday, and mass amounts of people wouldn't be here. Boy, was I ever wrong!  I stopped at the Visitor Center for a bio-break and to refill my water bottles.  I was going to check into one of the rim trails, or one of the short into-the-canyon trails... but decided against that due to the sheer amount of people and my general lack of time - I hadn't planned to stick around more than a handful of hours, and I'd already been there almost that long.  I completed the park loop, and headed out south, towards the town of Williams.

On the way to Williams, I drove through a bit of rain.  I also saw the beginnings of some of the wildfires in the area between Flagstaff and Phoenix - mostly smoke.  I'd been warned by a couple of friends of interstate highway closures along my route in previous days due to fire activity.  But they said (and I'd also found online) that all was clear so far that day.  I took I-40 east into Flagstaff, and then headed south on I-17 to Phoenix.  For the next couple of hours, I saw evidence of fire activity - emergency vehicles and crews along the highway, and some areas that had obviously been burned.  But my route remained clear.  I also watched the external thermometer in my Jeep climb and climb the farther south I drove.  The 84-degrees in the Grand Canyon area topped out at 121-degrees just north of the Phoenix area... and settled in at about 116-degrees when I'd arrived at the facility where my grandparents live.

I'd arrived at the Lodge at dinnertime, and my mom met me at the door.  I went in, greeted grandma, and was introduced to 2 of Grandpa John's kids who were already there.  A third would be coming in later that week, as well as my cousin from San Antonio, Texas... whom I hadn't seen since I was 8 (she was 19).  Given the situation, my grandmother seemed to be in good spirits.  After dinner, I went back to the 1 bedroom apartment that she had shared with grandpa... and which she would be moving out of hopefully that week.  There was plenty of room for me to stay, and so my mom arranged for a roll-away cot to be brought in... there was NO WAY I would be vehicle camping here in that kind of heat.  I'd already warned Aaron that I may have to look into a hotel or AirBnB for lodging while I was there... so being able to stay with my family in the apartment was wonderful!

Mobile images from the day:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Into the Oven

I awoke in Idaho Falls, nearby the interstate where I'd settled in the night before.  I thought it was still a little early to be messaging my mom, so I'd opted to grab a bite to eat, and cruise the downtown area of town near the Snake River.   

As it got a little later, I decided to send Mom a text to see if she thought I should head that direction... thinking she might not get the message right away, but also, that she might not answer if I called (she doesn't always carry her phone).  I sent the text, and waited.  She was pretty quick to call me back.  Mom said she'd asked my grandmother if she'd like to see me (she said she did), and that she thought it would be great if I wanted to head that way.  I informed Mom that I probably wouldn't be into the Phoenix area until that next evening, or early on Tuesday morning... and that I'd let her know as I got closer.

Off to Phoenix I went!

I got onto I-15 and headed south out of Idaho, and about 3/4 of the way through Utah, exiting onto Utah state 153 just outside of Beaver.  From there, I took highway 89 into Kanab, where I stopped for fuel.  That stop was a little bit of a shock to the system - the last time I'd gotten out of the vehicle, it had still been in the upper-60's.  In Kanab, I got out and was greeted with 97-degrees of toasty goodness... because I'd been traveling in my climate-controlled chariot, I wasn't exactly ready for that!!  😦  And let me just say... a 'dry heat' is still hot.  

I hadn't really considered the heat in conjunction with camping out in the Jeep until this point.  I knew the heat would make for an incredibly uncomfortable evening.  As much as I hadn't planned to, I thought it best for me to find a room for the evening once I got into Page, Arizona... just over the state line.

I was in Page late last October, when I was on my road trip to a sports photography workshop in Costa Mesa, California.  Then, I visited Horseshoe Bend and some other scenic areas.  I hadn't intended to sight-see here on the way to Phoenix this time.  I did, however, need to do laundry and hit up the local Walmart to see about a pair of shorts (of which I did not pack when I left home, not anticipating these kinds of temperatures).  So I did my errands and chores, found the cheapest room I could in town (which wasn't that cheap), checked in, and then found dinner.  The restaurant was called Canyon King Pizzeria - and it's built inside of an old paddle boat that used to run on the Colorado River.  The venue was neat, the food was (eventually) good, but the service - if one could call it that - was the slowest I may have ever experienced.  Ever.  Might I suggest ordering for take-out... and if you decide to try it, don't be in a hurry to get anywhere.  Ever.  

After taking my dinner order back to my hotel room, I decided on my plan of attack for the following day.  I would be in pretty close proximity to the south rim of the Grand Canyon the next morning... so I thought I'd make a short detour as I hadn't been to that part of the Canyon since I was in grade school. At that point, I was currently only 4 hours from my final destination in Phoenix... and after leaving the Canyon area, would still be approximately 4 hours from my destination.  Win-win.  

**No photos today**

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Prison, Craters, Lab Land, and Bad News

I headed out Burns after a good night's sleep and a shower.  The Silver Spur Motel where I stayed was old fashioned, but very clean and friendly... and inexpensive.  All wonderful things - I'm glad I stopped there, and wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

About 40 miles east of town, I came upon a stretch of 2-lane highway that was under some form of construction... loose gravel on the road, but no other heavy machinery working at the time.  The speed limit was 35 mph, but without any workers present, the batch of vehicles I was in was cruising along nicely at about 50.  Until some jerk in a Mini Cooper cruises past me at well over what we were even doing.  Without leaving ample space for flying gravel, the car cut in front of me, peppering the Jeep in stones.  After barking a barrage of colorful words at him (my dad would be proud), he speeds away... and I notice a crack in my windshield.  So mad... 😡  And who knows what other chips were there that I couldn't see yet.  With lots of ground still to cover to get into Boise, I eventually mellowed out some.

I got into Boise just before lunchtime.  I stopped in for a sandwich and to consult my phone to see if there was anything fun in town that could be done in a short period of time, and without costing too much.  Lo and behold, I find the website for the Old Idaho State Penitentiary!  I've always been into old, abandoned, potentially haunted locations... and this fit the bill!  And with a $6.00 admission, I really couldn't pass it up.  I spent a couple of hours here, taking photos with my big camera (none with the cell phone - I don't know why I didn't think to do that), touring all of the old buildings, learning of their history, and the history of some of the people who were housed here.  It is a little creepy, but so worth doing if you have a few hours to kill while in town.  I'd love to return and tour it again some evening (instead of midday).   Photographers, take note:  they're pretty strict on what photography equipment you can bring in during the daytime tours.  No camera bags, no tripods - only 1 camera body with attached lens.  I carried mine in-hand the whole time I was there, and nothing else.  Be warned.

After getting out of jail, I continued on US 20 east.  Although I hadn't planned to do it, I did revisit the Craters of the Moon National Monument west of Arco, Idaho... just long enough to cruise the park loop.  It's just a surreal little park out in the middle of nowhere - all of it comprised of volcanic rock, cones, and the resulting nature/wildlife that calls it home since the time of the eruption.  Also another really cool place if you ever find yourself in the area.

It was late-afternoon, and I knew this route also had me crossing the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) land again.  I've mentioned this area in past posts when I had crossed it from east to west.  There's technically not much to see (and I keep missing open hours at the nearby museum)... but if you do your homework on this place, it has a lot of significant nuclear history, and some great conspiracy theories that surround it.  Knowing this, seeing the yellow signs (signifying government land - keep out!) dotting both sides of the highway, stopping at the single, lone rest stop that's canvassed with security cameras... I think you'd find it a little eerie also.  Initially, without thinking, I thought I'd stop at that rest area for the evening.  However, after arriving and seeing the security cameras... I was too afraid I might be chased out by the feds.  😯  I did arrive there around sunset, so I wandered around the rest area grounds and got some photos of the changing colors in the skies until it was too dark to do so with a handheld camera.  After reconsidering, I thought maybe it best to drive into Idaho Falls before calling it quits for the evening.

While somewhere in between the rest stop and Idaho Falls, I got a text from my dad telling me that John, my (step) grandfather in Sun City (Phoenix area), Arizona had passed away.  He'd mentioned that my mom had flown to be with my grandmother earlier that evening and was there now.  I had a thought, and I'd quickly looked at my map to see where Idaho Falls was in relation to Phoenix - north, I know... but I wanted to see if I was too far east yet for dramatic course correction.  Idaho Falls is straight north of Phoenix... by just under 13 hours or so.  Seeing that, I asked Dad if he thought it might be a good idea for me to head to Phoenix... if for nothing other than emotional support.  After a quick phone call, he suggested that I send my mom a message the next morning to ask... and we left it at that.

With a suspicion that I might be headed south, I parked for the evening to stealth camp near I-15 in Idaho Falls, and the same highway that might take me a completely different direction the following morning.

A couple of mobile photos of the mountains near Arco, ID.