Sunday, October 30, 2016

SSA13/SoCal Trip - Day 8

Mmm... I slept in, I slept wonderfully... and the lovely folks at Harrah's were wonderfully cooperative about putting me somewhere remote so I didn't have to deal with loud people while I slept.  Kudos to them for a nice evening. :)  My taste of Vegas outside of the hotel room consisted of a short stroll up and down the strip on the immediate block I was on - it didn't take long at all before the people annoyed me enough to go back to my room.

After checking out this morning, I was off to do my laundry and grab some lunch.

The only eventful part of my day was this afternoon. I took a trip back to Red Rock Canyon (I was there for the first time last year). Due to it being the weekend, it was awfully busy... but it wasn't as much the hiking trails I was interested in, but the photography and finding Rocky Gap Road.

Rocky Gap Road is the one 4x4 trail arlt Red Rock that goes from within the canyon, through the mountains, and out the other side... vs. going around via highway. I had done some online research and talked to someone who knew the area before leaving on this trip. The general consensus was that without a largely-modified ride, the trail in its entirety would be impassable. But... I wanted to see just how far I was able to go, knowing I'd likely be coming back the same way. I was able to get a couple miles in before things got interesting. And if I had armor, I would have attempted further. But to pass the rocky wash that held me up with an unprotected undercarriage... well, that wouldn't be a smart move on my part. I backed down the trail where I could turn around. The driver behind me was also going up the trail, and had done so before... he said that the area I backed away from was the most difficult for quite a few miles, but there were far bigger obstacles on the other side, and I wouldn't have been able to successfully make it all the way through. Good to know... it made my decision to turn around feel like a better choice.

So I left the park under normal, paved circumstances and headed the direction of Death Valley. I might have made it before nightfall, only I continually became distracted by the all the dirt canyon roads off of the highway... and my need to explore some of them.

So instead of Death Valley, I am in Pahrump, Nevada... a bit under 1-1\2 hours from Death Valley NP. I anticipate being there mid-morning.

*selection of phone pictures*

Saturday, October 29, 2016

SSA13/SoCal Trip - Day 7

Last night, I drove approx. 20 miles east of Kanab to secluded BLM land to camp... again, it was after dark when I arrived and parked.  It seems to be a thing... the element of surprise and wonder at what I will see once the sun rises the next morning.  So this morning I learned that although I was on public use land, I was also very near to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument... and it was those sloping plateaus that I saw in the distance.  Nice.  :)  Also, I had a friendly neighborhood bovine nearby, who kept me company until I started moving around the outside of the Jeep.

Up and moving, I continued east... and turning to make the longer, slower-paced, but oh-so-scenic Cottonwood Canyon Road through the national monument.  While it started near where I camped, it dumped me out right near Bryce Canyon... one of those places I was trying to get to today anyway.  I loved this route - gravel/dirt/sand road... and I only passed one other car in the entire 46 mile stretch.  That's the way I like to travel.  So thank you, Joe!  That was perfect!

I headed into Bryce Canyon National Park.  It wasn't overly busy, but compared to the road I had just come from.... well, yeah.  Because most of the hoodoo viewpoints were off to my left as I drove into the park, I decided to just drive all the way in, and stop and look at the points of interest in reverse instead.  It may be a figment of my imagination, but it seemed to be a lot easier.  I love the iconic monuments, the arches, hoodoos, and my favorites, the chatty ravens.  Another bird I wish we had around home - instead we have their smaller cousins.  :P  I spent a couple hours here before deciding to head across over to Zion National Park.  

It was mid-afternoon when I chose to go to Zion, and I realized it would probably be too late to do much of real substance once I got there.  I thought that once I'd gotten into the park, I'd find camping and then explore in the morning.  Only, I think Zion missed the memo.  Most of the other national parks I've been to thus far on this trip have been winding down for the season, and really didn't have an overabundance of visitors... except Zion.  SO. MANY. PEOPLE.  I wonder if there was some kind of event there this weekend, or if this was normal.  All of the campgrounds in the park were full... all of the campgrounds outside of the park were full... all of the hotels/motels were full.  And when I did drive through the park late this afternoon, there were just tons of people.  It was a little frustrating.  So instead, I chose to go on to the next location and leave Zion for another time.  Maybe research when their least busy time of the year is... or at least, see what could have made that park so crazy this weekend and avoid that in the future.

So next... Vegas!  Before I left home, I decided Vegas would be my point of reprieve.  It would be the one location that I would allow myself to get a room, and get out of the Jeep for a night.  Aaron and I did the same thing when we came through Vegas back in 2012 on our way to start our Route 66 trip - and it was a nice break.  That aside, the last 2-3 nights in the Jeep had been a little rough.  While I woke up feeling like I was mostly rested, it's often been interrupted sleep.  And my body has been a bit off today... so maybe a real bed is the trick.  Also tomorrow is laundry day, so I need to be within reach of a city anyway.  It all works out.  

I'm roughing it here at the Harrah's in Vegas (yes, I know you feel sorry for me).  I got a pretty sweet deal on the room though, so while it seems all swanky, it's really not.  Well, I mean... all aside from the actual bed, the shower/toilet, television, wifi... and all the rest.  Ha!  Pity me.  ;)

*some of today's phone pictures*

Thursday, October 27, 2016

SSA13/SoCal Trip - Day 5

I arrived to my BLM camping spot after dark last night... so I was pleasantly surprised to see a big, pretty mountain mesa outside my window when I woke up this morning! I love those kinds of surprises. :)

Mesa Verde National Park didn't make it on my initial to-do map... but since I was within a mile of the park entrance, I figured 'why not?' I didn't even know anything about the place. As it turns out, it is the only national park dedicated to preserving Pueblo cliff dwellings. I spent 3 hours on the park roads and checking out the overlook areas. There was so much more to do, given the time...

From there, Narural Bridges National Park in Utah was my next intended destination. A fairly small park, I stayed about an hour and explored some of the shorter trails which led to the... wait for it... natural bridges! ;)

My last goal for the day was to head to the one location that was a little out of the way compared to all of my other points of interest, Monument Valley. Outside of Natural Bridges NP, I hopped on a mellow 2-lane state road - Utah 261. Little did I know this road would go from flat and uneventful to Thelma & Louise in an instant! No joke! The paved road turned into narrow gravel switchbacks to get off of the mesa that I was apparently on. Crazy, and beautiful. The valley below... was Valley of the Gods just outside of Mexican Hat, Utah. Fortunate for me, there was also a scenic dirt road through the valley that I simply *had* to take! What made it better was that I was coming into the area near sunset and the red rocks were on fire with evening light. SO many photos... :) On the drive through, I learned that I could camp here too! So I quickly stopped into Mexican Hat for provisions, and then came back to spend tonight.

This is one of those dark sky areas that simply don't exist at home - where you can physically SEE the Milky Way with the naked eye. More stars than you ever knew existed. Problems finding the constellations you know because of ALL the other stars. There are no words... so instead, I spent the better part of 2 hours trying to make photos. Rookie astrophotography at its finest.

G'night all from Valley of the Gods!

*selection of today's phone images*

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

SSA13/SoCal Trip - Day 4

Today. It's been a long day. I'm tired...

Today began in Gunnison, Colorado. I didn't sleep well. I stayed warm enough, but was uncomfortable due to my knee giving me grief. So I was up early. It worked to my benefit, as I wanted to get into Ouray early and have a full day of trails.

I was in the area by 9:30am. Although I had made plans on what trails to run... I didn't stuck to them. I stopped into a shop in downtown Ouray to find my obligatory sticker for the Jeep. I asked the older lady behind the counter whether or not she could tell me about the trail conditions. She said that there wasn't much left of offroading this season... BUT (she said) I could try my luck and head up some of them, and if I encountered snow or other generally bad terrain, I could turn around and come back. Sounded legit enough for me.  Besides... how much *real* trouble could I get into with a nearly-stock Patriot with no low-range?

So the first trail marker I saw as I headed into the mountains was for the trail to Yankee Boy Basin. I remembered reading about that trail the night before and deciding against it because the connecting trails were supposed to be more difficult than what I wanted to get into. That said, I decided I'd go ahead and drive it as far as I could... or until I reached the connecting trails... and the come back the way i came in. It had been raining off and on in the area, so the trail was sloppy, but not impassable. I successfully made it to where all the trails converged... and back again.

I took Hwy 550 (aka The Million Dollar Highway) towards Silverton, hopping off at random intervals to navigate some of the old mining trails - these were all in-and-back spurs. Most were easy enough, one I had a bit of a traction issue with, but was still successful.

Once into Silverton, I got on the trail leading back to the ghost town at Animas Forks. I'd been there before on a previous trip, and seemed to recall that trail being pretty easy. It was. Bumpy, but not technical. It was approx 8 miles in each direction with scenery to die for!

After returning to Silverton, I got back on Hwy 550 headed south in search of Old Lime Creek Road... the trail Bean Ants told me about. Fortunately one of my mapping apps found it with ease. The sign told me 12 miles of unpaved goodness... so off I went (this was the only new trail I tried). Overall, it wasn't horribly technical. It had some sections of larger rocks to navigate, some low water crossing areas, and one section at the top... on a narrow shelf road... that I had to make multiple attempts to pass... but cooler heads prevailed and I didn't let the altitude get the better of me. It was a good time, and was the most challenging for the stock Jeep.

The Patriot handled everything I threw at it quite well today. I didn't go crazy, however. This was the first time out to get his shoes dirty... and I have a LONG way to go yet on this trip to get overly stupid with it. I know it won't compare to my old Liberty in terms of capability, but it certainly has potential. More than I initially thought.

This evening landed me into Durango, where I got first-hand advice on good eats (that was awesome, thanks Ben!). I wanted to get closer to Utah to get myself back on track. Initially I was headed for free camping approx. 1-1/2 hours from Durango... but instead, stopped for the night to camp on BLM land near Mesa Verde. It was dark when I got here, so I'm curious to see what it looks like tomorrow!

*some of today's unedited phone pictures*