05 July – Back down the mountain through Kamas and then on to Salt Lake City via a quite spectacular section of freeway I80. We have a couple of nights of comparative luxury booked whilst we meet up with our friends Scott and Donna from Annapolis MD. The Holiday Inn near the airport was our destination and after settling in to a room with a real bed and real shower we joined up with Scott & Donna and headed down into the town for a really nice Mexican meal.
06 July – Exploration of SLC today. First up was the Temple Square and all things Mormon. The Temple Square is as it suggests a square with the large Mormon Temple,(not open to the general public but a model was shown to us in the visitors centre) as well as a smaller Tabernacle and a large domed hall with impressive free span roof and good accoustics built some 130 years ago. We opted to take one of their “tours” led by a couple of lovely young missionary ‘sisters’, one from Sierra Leone and the other from Sweden. Well there wasn’t much of a tour, it was mostly 40 minutes of prostletizing, so we were glad to have the excuse that we needed to rescue the car from the parking meter. With that done we went back to the square and just wandered on our own and took in the noon organ recital which was well worth listening to. The gardens within the square were really colourful and the buildings interesting. Next up we headed off into the downtown – very impressed with the layout of the city – wide streets, very clean and tidy.
Had a cafe lunch before getting back in the car and heading out to the Tracy Aviary which was one of the suggested highlights of SLC. Situated beside a huge park, the aviary had a really good array of both local and foreign birds (including a pair of Kea). With that done, our day had been well filled so it was back to the hotel and a nice little siesta before joining up for dinner again. So nice to catch up with Scott & Donna – they had just been up to a Dude Ranch in Colorado with all their family (celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary) and had had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
07 July – Check-out day for us, but we left Wanda in the hotel carpark and joined Scott and Donna for another interesting day. First up we tried to find a Classic Car Museum which had agreed to open up for us at 10am but no sign of anyone when we arrived so flagged that and headed up the mountain to Park City – home to the Ski-ing and sledding part of the 2002 Olympic Games. We were able to watch the practicing of both learners and more experienced jumpers as they came down the artificial slopes and did their aerial tricks before landing in a pool of water. Boy – they were impressive and also neat to watch the littlies just starting out. Non-residents can also train here, but have to pay for their time.
Hopped on a short bus tour which took us up to the top of the Nordic Ski Jumps and also around the sledding and luge tracks. Unfortunately we couldn’t get out at the top of the jumps as there was a lightning warning in place and they insisted that people remain under cover until it was lifted, so it was just a view from the bus. Great views from up the top, although with a few storms around the mountains, visibility not as great as it could have been.
Back down the mountain and into Park City – a very up-market area with a lively main street of nicely renovated historic buildings. The art galleries were superb with some innovative and impressive art works and equally impressive prices. Lunched and walked around until it was time to return back to SLC. Timed it right as the rain decided to make a showing as soon as we had got on our way.
Had a final dinner with Scott & Donna and made a late exit out of SLC towards the north and Antelope Island State Park. Interesting park jutting out in the Great Salt Lake, although the water level is very low at the present time. It is reached by a long causeway and the smell as we went over that was interesting – must just be the minerals drying out in the sun. The Great Salt Lake has no outlet, just evaporation which can cause a change in the levels. Our camp had a brilliant overlook of the lake – we caught the last of the sun going down with bright red showing through a mass of quite dark clouds on the horizon. The cloud cover has certainly cooled the temperature down to a pleasant level.
08 July – Black clouds on the horizon were still evident and had made their way over to us by the time we left. Stopped off in Farmington to get supplies, with a quite heavy thunderstorm passing over us and a bit more of a dump of rain. It was then on to Hill Air Force Base aviation and aerospace museum, where Bob got to spend some quality time wandering around their excellent indoor and outdoor exhibits. Our journey then took us along a valley one mountain range away from SLC – what a lovely drive as we slowly climbed up into the Wasatch Range. Past Kamas, we ascended up a narrow valley – very green with pine and aspen covered hillsides. As it was getting later on in the afternoon the mule deer had come out to feed along the roadside, so had to take it easy in order not to scare them too much.
I had identified a possible campsite off Google Earth and it turned out to be the only suitable parking spot in the Uinta National Forest. It was just above a tiny lake in a small turnaround, but room enough for Wanda for the night. Birdsong filled the air later in the evening and the cooler temperatures were most welcome.
09 July – Had a good storm come through over night with a bit of thunder and lightning as well as heavy rain. Set off down the other side of the mountain stopping off at Hanna for morning tea, then down to Duchesne (pronounced we learned as Duuchane). In places the scenery was very reminiscent of the New Zealand South Island and then as we neared Duchesne, oil wells began to feature on the landscape. Had a picnic lunch at our overnight stopping place in Ashley National Forest from a few nights previous, before going up and down again into Price. Dramatic change to our vista after leaving Price south-east on SH6 – vast open plains with the odd ranch but mostly very desert like. A great wall of black was looming way in front of us which we eventually caught up to at Green River. Their small State Park was our stopping spot for the night – very pretty in amongst the cottonwood trees, with a small golf course out to the side of us. The rain was preceded by a good blast of strong winds dropping the temperatures down to the point where jackets were required and we needed to rescue some nearby unattended tents.
10 July – On the list today – yet another National Park – Arches this time. We only had to go about 15 miles from Green River before we turned south onto SH191 towards Moab. The scenery started off with desert all around and large rock cliffs looming in the distance. When we turned south it was like a switch had been flicked – all of a sudden there were sage bushes growing and the sand changing colour to reddish orange. About 40 miles down this road is the turn-off into Arches NP and ‘wow’ yet another spectacular range of red rocks awaited us. This time they weren’t all concentrated on the drive through the Park but were in patches with fairly flat bits in between. The road climbed up and down giving some lovely views, and it wasn’t too long before the Arches themselves became visible.
It was an in and out road about 20 miles to the end with plenty of stops along the way and a few little walks into interesting sights. Fortunately the rain from last night made a good job of keeping the air much cooler than we could have expected which made for much more pleasant walking. Only downside to this park was the hoards of people making parking difficult to impossible in many of the good viewing spots.
Back out of the park and we were soon in Moab – a real hive of activity – off roading is the thing to do in this area and there was business after business hiring out everything from Hummers to ATVs. Coming out of Moab there was one huge thunder cloud right over the hills on our left and the rest of the sky was clear blue; we saw a great fork of lightning coming seemingly out of the blue sky down to the ground. Not far from Moab we headed inland a few miles to Ken’s Lake – a BLM campground with a gorgeous setting of red rocks out of our window. Waited until it had cooled off before going on a little hike up to a nice waterfall then settled back for a lazy evening. We seem to have replaced mossies with nasty little black flies which bite with real ferocity, especially around ankles and toes. They do seem to slacken off once the sun goes down though. Again being treated to yet another lightning display as I write this – in the distance is an extensive front shooting out a dazzling display – who needs fireworks when nature can give you a great show for free.
11 July – Back down to the highway for another 40 odd miles – thunderstorms and heavy rain forced a stop until it cleared. The red rock cliffs had water pouring off them after that deluge. Took the turn-off into Canyonlands National Park and drove the 20 miles to the end of the road. This is the Utah in all the pictures – high red cliffs, green sage and cottonwoods making a neat contrast. First stop at Newspaper Rock – a rock face with well preserved petroglyphs done by both indians and cowboys. The canyon through here was sandstone and sandy coloured, quite narrow then opened out into the red sand and big vistas. These parks just go from fabulous to stunning.
Canyonlands NP is at the last 7 miles of the road, and the canyons were everywhere – not particularly deep but the rock formations so different from elsewhere. Had a few little walks with hardly anyone around, to get the feel of the place, again keeping an eye on gathering thunder clouds.
Back out of the park a little way to a perfect BLM free campground – Creek Pasture. 20 sites and only one other family camping. We have red cliffs on one side and a green ribbon of trees along the creek. Just got settled and a storm rolled in again, much growling of thunder and a good short burst of rain then it was all gone with blue skies once again overhead. Lucky to get some gorgeous colours with the setting sun throwing its last rays on the red cliffs.
12 July – Back out of the park today and down into Monticello for a good coffee, then eastward to Cortez in Colorado to stock up on essentials before reaching Durango to meet up with Shaun, Natasha, Lucas, Ben and Azaria (only 16 months old so the first time of seeing her). Jacob was enjoying time away at summer camp. So nice to catch up again (three years since we had last been all together on the road to Alaska). They had booked a lovely barn converted into a cabin just out of Durango, where we were able to park Wanda and stay as well. Gorgeous views out over the fields an to the mountains in the distance with mule deer wandering around.
13 July – Early rising today as Mesa Verde was the target. About 40 minutes drive got us to the park entry and then another 45 minute drive to get up to the top of the mesa. We had booked a couple of ranger led tours to take us to the two most interesting pueblo ruins – first up was Balcony House – quite a strenuous walk down to the cliff dwellings occupied by the local Indians in the 1200’s. We had the advantage of CCC paths and steps but in their time it was toe and hand holds carved into the rocks and I suppose basic ladders as well. To get back out of the site a 30ft wooden ladder up the cliff side was interesting followed by several smaller ones.
A small drive further on and the Cliff Palace tour took us on a more sedate hike into this group of homes. The conditions that these families lived in was quite harsh – they had to carry all their supplies down from the mesa into their dwellings. All the farming was done on the top so it must have been quite a daily trek needed to keep them all fed and supplied. After a nice picnic lunch we were then at liberty to explore the remainder of the park on our own. The Spruce Tree House was yet another set of ruins that we could venture into and then on the way out of the park were pueblo ruins from earlier times before the tribes moved down into the cliffs. A very full-on day with a few tired bodies by the time we got home.
14 July – Into Durango for a quiet walk along the river front down to the fish hatchery where rainbow trout were being bred for release into Colorado’s lakes and rivers. A small wildlife museum nearby showcased the diverse range of animals in the state. Managed to avoid the downpours and wandered into the centre of the town for lunch at an old hotel. Hopped on the trolley to take us back up to the car park at the end of the town and that was the end of another full day.
15 July – Durango beckoned again – this time a 6 mile hike along the Colorado Trail. Very pretty walk up and down – following a small river and good exercise for the day. Lunch at Denny’s satisfied hungry appetites before heading back home.
In the evening, Natasha, Luke, Ben and I went back into town to attend the evening’s rodeo. What a great night – to see the full complement of events starting with the Mutton Buster where the littlies take on bucking lambs – and I mean little, the youngest being 11 months old (albeit being held by Dad). The winner was a very spunky little 5 year old who managed the whole 8 seconds and enjoyed every moment of being in the spotlight. Saddled bronco riding was next up with only a few managing to stay the distance. Barrel racing by the gals was an awesome event to watch as they hurtled around the three barrels at breakneck speed except for the youngest who can only have been about 5 years old and just learning the skills. Bareback broncos and then the bull riding to continue the entertainment. Of the 16 competitors only one managed to stay the distance in this event. The bulls were particularly mean and how those riders escape being trodden is a miracle. The final event for the night was the team roping with 40 teams competing. A great night out and the first full rodeo I had ever attended.
16 July – Up with the sparrows again this morning as we had to be in Durango for 7.30am to catch the Durango-Silverton vintage train. What a journey – the steam train pulled us up nearly 3,000 ft over some very interesting terrain – perched on the side of sheer cliffs for a lot of the way. The 3hr 45 min journey to Silverton seemed to pass by quite quickly. A couple of hours at Silverton enabled us to have lunch at a Mexican cantina and a wander around the old mining town – like many of these tourist stops – full of souvenir and jewellery stores. Back down to Durango – sitting on the other side of the train gave us a different perspective, to arrive back around 5.30pm.
17 July – Had Red Barn Retreat to ourselves for most of the day as the others headed off to meet up with friends and then pick up Jacob from his summer camp. Caught up on washing and then had a general relax.
18 July – Time to say farewell to all the Saudi Hayton family as they set off south to New Mexico. For us, we first stopped off in Durango for a walk around the town and the last good coffee for a while. Attractive town with historic red stone buildings – several saloons decked out as they would be in the 1880’s. A small farmers market had a nice range of fresh produce and arts and crafts. On the road again heading east towards Pagosa Springs, stopping off at Chimney Rock National Monument but it was going to be too difficult to take Wanda on the road tour so we gave that a miss.
Pagosa Springs is a smallish town but humming with activity. The San Juan River passes through here and it was obviously a great place for tubing. Not too far on from there we climbed up a little higher, still following the San Juan river, to enter the San Juan National Forest and into one of their more formal campgrounds at East Ford. What a nice setting – in among pine trees and with the sound of the river way down below in the valley. Our timetable is much more relaxed now so spending a couple of days here.
19 July – With no formal walking tracks in the vicinity – we hiked up the road instead. Following the river we ambled up the valley – rocky outcrops among the pine and spruce trees made for a pleasant walk. The clouds started to roll in after an hour or so prompting a prudent return to camp. Nice lazy afternoon catching up on reading.
20 July – Moving slowly on – we climbed very gradually up over the Wolf Creek Pass at around 10,600ft and then it was a swifter descent down the other side. More pretty scenery as went up towards the top but no places for us to find suitable dispersed camping so carried on to Del Norte. The rain by this time had decided to grace us again with its presence so we made for the county campground on the edge of town – really just a parking lot beside a playground, but free is fine for us.
21 July – Eastward again today via Alamosa to Walsenburg – stopping off at both of these towns for a wander around. Both very tidy towns but Alamosa in particular had a whole lot of empty shops. We found the thrift store advertising books for sale so stocked up on some reading material to last for the next few weeks. Walsenburg had a nice little main street with a good coffee shop so we treated ourselves to lunch there. On again to the I-25, our first freeway for a while, and took this for a short distance before heading off towards Rye and the San Isabel Forest on Hwy165. We chose a forest service campground for our next couple of nights – a little bit of a treat as they had power (which meant Wallies fruit pies could be on the menu for dessert!).
Lovely setting above a small lake surrounded by pine and spruce trees, with ever so tame deer wandering around the camp. Had a nice little walk up to another forest camp and met up with a lovely old chap (John) on our way back. Had a nice chat with him – he spends six months every year on world cruises with Cunard, a couple of months in his Colorado home and the rest in Florida. He had been to NZ on several of his cruises and was very complimentary.
22 July – John had told us of a hike up to an old gold mine which we endeavoured to find but it was far too much uphill trekking and at over 9,000 ft we were starting to get a little light headed, so came back to camp for a lazy afternoon. I took a walk down to the lake and back later in the afternoon, which was very busy with people fishing and enjoying the sunny day.
23 July – Colorado Springs here we come – Bob had a motorcycle museum on his list so we headed up and over another high pass before coming down into the huge plateau where Colorado Springs sits.
Huge mountains in the distance – one of which is Pikes Peak at over 14,000ft and a famous ‘hill climb challenge extraordinaire’. There is a road going up of course, but we have opted to take the cog railway so that we can enjoy the scenery and still have some fingernails left. Coming out of the m/c museum we noticed that a large crack had suddenly crept across our windscreen – darn – new windscreen is needed!
Managed to find an auto glass company who will replace it in the morning so we had to head for Wallies nearby. We had been really spoilt with the mild mountain weather the last few weeks but coming down to lower elevations the heat ramps up considerably, so just waiting for the sun to go down and hopefully drop the temperature for sleeping.