T010 Hanksville, UT to Pahrump, NV

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West from Hanksville on SR 24 we continued along the lonely empty road while enjoying desert framed by an ever changing panorama of colorful mountains. We stopped for a bit near Fruita in the heart of Capitol Reef National Park. Early settlers took advantage of the Fremont River to plant orchards among the cottonwoods and aspens and thus Fruita. We lingered for an hour or so learning about the settlers and enjoying the awesome landscape. The threat of colder weather pushed us on, but we definitely want to return to explore more.

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With each step forward the canyon edge fell away revealing a forest of glowing hoodoos–the Indian name for the sandstone pinnacles poking up from the canyon floor. Sun reflecting from all the reddish sandstone diminished shadows giving the illusion of an inner glow from one of nature’s masterpieces. We stayed many minutes just enjoying the view before us. People had told us Bryce Canyon National Park was spectacular—they were right.

Starting down the steep switchback trail we quickly realized just how high the hoodoos were. Suddenly tall sandstone walls disappearing hundreds of feet above us had us surrounded. At one point we found a hundred foot pine tree growing in the slot canyon with branches almost touching the walls that still soared far above.

Temperatures forecasted to drop into single digits overnight discouraged us from staying even after a park ranger said campground would be virtually empty, and we could run our generator all night. Not confident regarding our under floor utilities heater we were reluctant to risk frozen pipes and holding tanks for a second day of exploring. We headed for Zion National Park just eighty miles away, and at a lower elevation. At Zion overnight temperatures in the 30’s were forecasted.

Zion National Park’s east entrance is quite dramatic if you are approaching by RV. Limited clearance signs for the tunnel ahead, a concern for us, competed for our attention and distracted from the beautiful scenery capped by a mountain covered with a checkerboard surface. At the Park entrance station a ranger grilled us about our height and tunnel arrival time since they would close the tunnel for our passage. We paid the extra charge for manning the tunnel for the closing and continued on wondering what we were getting into.

“Drive down the center of the tunnel keeping the yellow lines in the center of the RV. If you move to far to the left or right the top of your RV will hit the tunnel ceiling. The tunnel is not lighted so you need your lights.” were the instructions from the ranger holding traffic at the entrance. Off we went into the darkness with our lights showing the shadowy rounded tunnel roof alarming close to the Trek’s roof. Distracted by our unusual driving conditions it took a minute to realize we were accelerating downhill and downshifted to slow our rapid descent. The first pool of light startled us as it flashed into view making seeing a bit more difficult and then quickly blinked out as we plunged back into darkness. The second one was easier to handle and we figured out that the openings allowed exhaust out and fresh air in since the tunnel does not have any other air circulation. We plunged on downward through the darkness with raw rock flickering by uncomfortably close above us.

We popped into bright daylight relieved that we cleared the tunnel, waved at the ranger holding traffic and discovered we were still on a major downhill slope high on the mountain. Below we could see the canyon floor a thousand or more feet below with a very narrow ribbon of road snaking its way down in a dramatic series of tight switchbacks. Ruth again began leaning to the left to keep the Trek from going over the edge. A few minutes later we began breathing again as we reached the canyon floor.

Sun lights the north mountain peaks along the canyon around 7 am. From the Trek’s bed we lift one of the blind’s slats and peak out watching the sun work its way down the mountain. About 9:15 am the sun clears the southern canyon rim bathing the Trek in warm bright sunlight. Shade takes over 15 minutes later as the sun disappears behind a mountain peak. Finally around 10:30 the sun clears the mountains giving us a sunny campsite until it again disappears below the canyon rim around 3 pm. Finally about 4 pm we see hints of sunset color as somewhere to the west the sun is finally dropping below the true horizon. During the day we get some shading from cottonwoods and aspens growing in the campground. The trees also provide natural frames for the dramatic views of mountain walls rising directly from the valley floor.

Zion’s ambiance appealed to us, and we extended our stay. We’d explore at leisure doing a couple of bike rides and hikes. Supplies and a chance for a meal out was just a short walk over the Virgin River Pedestrian Bridge to Springdale. A short drive into town allowed us to park directly in front of a Laundromat entrance for easy clothes washing and Internet access by Wi-Fi. Life is good and comfortable.

Body armor and a sidearm seemed a bit excessive as the park ranger showed up to see if she could extract the squirrel now hiding under the Trek’s dash. She explained she was the security officer for the day and her uniform was now standard for security duty. We’d spotted the squirrel sitting casually between the Trek’s front seats while we were having lunch. A trail of cracker pieces lured it as far as the door, but the squirrel took the last offering and then scampered back and disappeared under the dash as I moved forward to offer more crackers. Efforts to see and extract the squirrel didn’t work. We finally realized the critter was gone and have yet to figure out how it got in or out.

We spotted an RV we’d seen weeks earlier in Arches where we’d said brief hellos. We again said hello and this time got to know Tsolo and Janet. Jan specialized in lovely, intricate beadwork which she sells at hobbyist rocket launches where Tsolo takes launch photos and covers some of their gas money by selling them to enthusiasts. As we prepared to go our separate ways we swapped notes about the possibility of meeting up again.

We settled down to what turned out to be a ten-day stay in St George, UT at Wade Chevrolet, behind the garage, immediately next to the waste oil dump. Not what we would have selected, but then we didn’t have much choice since the Trek was towed to the location. A hydraulic pump had failed so Park on the transmission would not disengage. The view wasn’t great, but parking and living aboard while we waited for parts was free.

Our garage location wasn’t scenic, but it was convenient for exploring St George. Stores were within walking distance and wide streets lined with nicely maintained homes made for great walking and exploring. A huge Mormon Temple, the winter quarters for Brigham Young and his followers dominated the skyline. Just how Mormon the area is became evident as person after person on hearing we were from New York mentioned they had been to Palmyra. Palmyra is where the Mormon religion started and is now a pilgrimage destination for the faithful.

Rather than spend the weekend locked in a closed service lot we got a weekend special from Enterprise and headed for Grand Canyon. With snow closing the road to Grand Canyon’s north rim we continued eastward to Lee’s Ferry and its Colorado River crossing the south rim. At the bridge we pulled into a parking area to read the historic markers and learn a bit of the area’s history. A row of tables displaying beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry greeted us. As Ruth slowly studied each table the Navaho lady in attendance would quietly offer a few comments about items she sensed Ruth was showing an interest. A tiny turquoise bear with a bit of orange accents now hang on a slim silver chain from Ruth’s neck.

Highway 89 continued south taking us through endless miles of a surreal desert tableau where tattered flags printed with faded ‘open’ snapped briskly in a lonely wind over miles of weathered empty jewelry tables abandoned for the lack of winter tourists. Well back from the highway dusty sand roads ran past a thin lines of modest homes occasionally standing out against the skyline or fading into the hills and mountains of the Painted Desert. All the while the sun played tricks with lighting changing the desert from flat blacks and grays to splashes of lovely faded orange, purple and blues.

We’re still trying to understand our reaction after experiencing Grand Canyon for the first time. We walked for miles along the canyon rim watching light play with the canyon below. It was a kick staying the night at historic Bright Angel Lodge one of the hotels we knew from years of reading about traveling. We saw a sunset and sunrise and were a bit surprised at the number of people even in winter who were out watching. The canyon was beautiful but, for us, it didn’t go on our visit again list. Part of the problem was the air pollution making the view into the canyon very hazy. Places like Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands and Zion are on the list, and we continue to puzzle as to why Grand Canyon didn’t make the cut.

Traffic congestion and the need to concentrate on road signs diverted our attention from the dirty yellow smog blotting out most of the Las Vegas skyline. In spite of our less than appealing arrival we ended up having a great but very non-typical Las Vegas time.

Findlay RV fitted us in and went to work on electrical problems–failed transfer switch and headlight fuse blowing. Across the street a casino offered custom made omelets as part of an excellent breakfast buffet for eight bucks and change for the two of us.

We quickly learned we could ride city busses for 24 hours for $5.00. After a bit of study it was a two-bus ride to Liberace’s Museum. Many of his famous costumes, pianos, and cars are on display. It felt like a visit to an old folks home since we were the youngest of the ten visitors and staff. We’d gone out of curiosity. Most of the others sounded like avid fans. Made us wonder what would become of the museum once his fans were gone.

Walking the Strip provided great exercise, people watching, a bit of wonderment about some of the visible contrasts. Between casinos the streets are dirty; cluttered with empty drink glasses and the ever-present lines of guys snapping their fan of business cards displaying almost nude women available for a price. Crossing the invisible line to casino property brings an instant change back to the glittery casino image. Shops of all varieties passed by, some of the every-mall variety, some unique in their ability to sell bad kitch, and some very upscale shoppes. The chocolate shop with its chocolate waterfall cascading down a series of clear plastic pools became our highlight.

People wearing cowboy hats and boots were everywhere. The rodeo finals were in town along with two huge shows selling cowboy stuff. We wandered the convention center marveling at how much money you could sink into fancy stalls for horses, fancy furniture for the bunkhouse or a bright bold cowboy outfit. It was the western version of the Annapolis boat shows.

We set out one evening to see the lights and look for a user-friendly spot for a snack and drink. No wonder Vegas is a night town, the dark hides the dirt and the lights draw your attention away from the other crud. Old vs. new had some interesting contrasts. Older casino’s lighting features neon–twisted, colored and blinking. The new wave of casino lighting tends toward huge Jumbotron screens running commercials for the shows inside. Drink prices followed a scale we expected. At Caesar’s Palace two vodka and tonics set us back almost twenty dollars. At the older Stardust we could get popcorn and a couple of drinks for about eight bucks.

Finally the lure of the casinos was just too much for us. We blew a dollar in the slot machines and then really gave into temptation and got tickets to see the Blue Man Group. Bright paints poured onto drumheads lit from below exploded into bright airborne splatter as each Blue Man beat out rhythm. Now we knew why the first 5 rows of the audience had been given raincoats. From there it got wilder. It made for quite a last night in Vegas.

The RV shop wrapped up the final touches on the Trek and we headed out. Just as we’d entered the city traffic congestion, and a veil of thick dirty smog took over as we worked our way out of the city. After a late morning start we got as far as Pahrump before stopping early for the evening. The next morning we were off for Death Valley.

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