Sunday, July 24, 2016

Epic 7 of....

From New Mexico we headed home. It was with great reluctance. Halle must have suggested we go home, get our stuff and just go back to New Mexico for good, at least five times.  Beth asked what about her sister. Her response was, 'she is going to college, she can come visit us during Christmas break. ' I think Halle sees the promise of the West more than Beth and I combined.
Unfortunately we had to go home to Maryland.
We first headed to Oklahoma City to see a former friend from New Mexico. He lost sight of the promise of the West and moved further East. We spent one night camped in his driveway. It was so hot all night I thought Anna might melt. 

After Oklahoma City we headed to Memphis. We found a nice state park with full hook ups on the Southwest side of town called T O Fuller. I was blown away that the bath house had an ice maker for the guests. What a great perk. So simple and so beneficial. I asked the two rangers and the camp host where their favorite bbq was. I took the advice of the most rotund of the three figuring he knew bbq better than most. Interstate Bar-B-Q was where he sent us.

Apparently this guy, Jim Neely, is famous in these parts. His son and daughter in law have some kind of cooking/ food/ travel show. I have never seen it, but they say it is a great show.

This is Jim Neely's niece. Everyone working here is family. Seriously, if you are not in their family, you are not working here. Now, she may look completely non plussed as she makes up service ware, but she is one of those waitresses that is completely spot on. She was completely non intrusive and attentive to any anticipated need. A complete professional who earned her 125% tip. 

I told her we wanted to chew on some bones and we wanted left overs. Just surprise us... First she brought us some onion rings, 'to get the mouth juices going'. She then brought us beef ribs, pork ribs, and rib tips. There was potato salad, coleslaw, and divine baked beans. I indeed had lunch for the next two days...

$41, two beers each, a soda for Halle, and all that food... 
That night we decided to head North towards Mammoth Cave for one last adventure. 
Here is where I have to rant just a little bit;
Our National Parks are being VISITED TO DEATH. You cannot just drop in and expect to see the sights any longer. You must plan the entire adventure days, months, even a year in advance. There are so many people who desire to see our National Parks that the demand way exceeds the ability of the parks to deliver. People come from all over the world. Mammoth Cave really demonstrated the over loving going on. When you arrive with an RV you will see signs telling you that RVs must park in designated spaces only. I went to those spaces to find every single one filled with automobiles. We then went to over flow parking where the sign says 'no rv parking'. A hint, the hotel at Mammoth has a very long curb in front of it with no signs saying you cannot park there. I took full advantage of it.  
We wandered into the visitors center and waited in a major cue to see the cave. 'Two adults, one child' 'what is your reservation number sir?' 'Reservation number? I need a reservation to see the cave?' 'Yes sir, the tours are all booked for today.' 'what about tomorrow?' 'Well, we are booked for tomorrow. You can do the self guided discovery tour however...' 

So this is the self guided tour.
You walk down these stairs. Pretty, right?

There is this gorgeous waterfall coming down right into the cave mouth.

Then you get 400 yards of this. This is reported to be one of the largest caves, with hundreds of miles of passages. You get 400 yards. No stalactites, no bats, no real natural wonders. They have a few sign boards about how the cave was formed. They also taught the wonders of other parts of the cave closed off to your self discovery. I heard a German guy comment on how he felt ripped off. I know I was incredibly disappointed. 

We had to remain at the cave entrance for about 30 minutes while a thunderstorm passed by. We did not anticipate this wait in the cave. After a short time the 56 degree air overcomes the built up Kentucky heat you left coming down here.
The mouth of the cave is the best part of the self discovery tour. Just turn around after you see that.
If you want to actually see Mammoth Cave, be sure you plan it all out well in advance. If you like to be spontaneous, this is not the park to come visit.

Our last night was spent 3 1/2 hours from home in West Virginia. As you can see, Anna looks to be rode hard and put up wet over and over. The water and grime from the road have her looking less than shiny. She is more than willing to do it all over again. I know I am.

It took a good Maryland meal to make us come home. The crabs, corn, and beer were great, I wish I were still on the road however.

Total miles; 6285.4
Cheapest Diesel; $2.09(Baltimore MD)
Most expensive Diesel; $2.97 (Navajo Nation)
Favorite meal; Sugarburger at Sugars, Embuto NM
Favorite camp sight; The Laabis homestead
Least favorite camp sight; Cortez KOA
Longest day of travel; 11 1/2 hours, Hillsdale Kansas to Palmer Lake Colorado.
 Shortest day of travel; 3 1/2 hours Coopers Rock WV to Catonsville MD.
Favorite road; Utah 12 tied with NM 64
Least favorite road; I70 
Biggest highlight of the trip; Hiking Wheeler Peak with my friend Dan.
Lowest point of the trip; a tie between Oklahoma City and Mammoth cave.

The planning has already started for 2018. We will next time begin in Ocean City, Maryland and not turn East until we get to the Pacific in Washington State. Halle says it is a long way from New Mexico to Ocean City Maryland.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Epic 6 of...

We seem to have developed a New Mexico tradition of arriving with rain. The rain we brought was so sever that twice I had to pull to the side of the road while going through the Carson National Forest. It came down so hard that I could not see the end of the hood at one point. The West always needs rain, so we look at this as a minor inconvenience. Some look at it as a blessing.

Just wait ten minutes and the weather will change here in Northern New Mexico.

The Mountain would play hide and seek with us until the next morning as you can see it is being shy behind the clouds. This was our campsite for four nights. Jen and Dan were kind enough to let us park right in the middle of their back yard. So much better than a KOA.

Hiking to the top of Wheeler Peak has been on my list ever since our friend Lesley thought Fat Frank could not do it. My very good friend Dan had no doubt at all. He and I hiked up in three hours and down in two. That is the classic pace for completing the hike. Dan could have hiked it faster. He hiked at my pace however. Dan has the distinction of being one of my favorite people. This world needs more people like him in it. I won't even begin with his wife since I don't want to lessen how much I admire Dan. This day spent together will be one of those things that remains with me forever.

These mountains are a major bump on the Northern New Mexico topographical map. The mountain group is an off shoot of the Rockies just to the North. These mountains are also a major bumps on the world ski map.

If you come to The Taos Ski Valley the lift will take you to top of those peaks there and you ski back. I hear it is some of the best in the United States. I don't ski. I am waiting on the tube course to be set up.

A very popular hike is to Williams Lake. We did this one a couple years back. I wanted to go higher.

I wanted to hike up to where the Winter snow still laid on the mountain.

The trail is very easy to follow since many hike this peak daily. Some people even run up it. Every time one of them passed me I muttered some insult under my breath. It might not look it, but that is a serious elevation gain right there. One foot in front of the other and you get to the top.

Coming from less than 200 feet above sea level and walking up to 13,159 is a serious challenge. It was a challenge for me at least.

I stepped up to the peak, left my offering to the Mountain and heard a deep voice say "do not dawdle on the peak" There was no one around me. Some hear the Taos Hum. I think I hear the Mountain talking...

Two hours later it was storming. The weather changes quickly up here.

I think the Mountain was happy with our visit because it remained in plain sight the rest of our visit.

Many do not know it but Taos was Dennis Hopper's adopted home. He was incredibly fond of Taos. He is buried there. The cemetery is off the beaten track and even with directions it is very easy to miss. This is not a fancy celebrity cemetery. This is where the common man is laid to rest. 

People do seek it out. They leave odd things for him.

Bandanas, underpants, crystals, booze, Tecate beer. Some even leave Dennis joints. I know he loved his refer.

I am sure they were beautiful wild flowers once upon a time. I wanted to clean up the grave but did not want to offend someone who came before me. This grave does not stand out among the others. It is actually less ornate than others in the cemetery.

Dennis will face the Mountain forever. There are worse things to face. Godspeed to you Dennis Hopper. Thank you for being you.

I don't have a lot of content from this segment of the trip, I guess I was too busy enjoying all the new friends we made. We did so much and documented so little of it while here. There was a house warming for strangers who have now become friends. There was a trip to a mine to peck for some turquoise. There was an excellent Fourth of July party with fireworks. There were numerous incredible meals. There were many hours spent just watching the sun light play on the mountains. It was an extremely fulfilling visit. 

As with all our visits we always feel they are too short. I find with each visit I take less photos and spend more time just smiling. We always arrive so full of joy and leaving always brings on a collective sadness we do not talk about. The next day in Oklahoma I tried to turn West at one point. We really love coming home to Taos.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Epic 5 of..

From Dead Horse Point we headed a little further West by Southwest. Our next destination was to be Kodachrome Basin State Park. Kodachrome would be our three day, home base to see Bryce and the local environs. I chose a road that appeared to be rather direct. Utah12. This road meanders through Canyon Lands, Capital Reef, and Grand Escalante. Three of the Big 5, how awesome!?! Along the way we could see Goblin State Park. What could go wrong?

Goblin Valley is a very interesting place. You might remember the name form a year or so back when some frat boy type filmed himself rolling one of the boulders off its perch. This is where that happened.

I will say it is a long drive out to here. The sun is also in full control here so if you visit, bring a lot of water.

The landscape is rather surreal. Once you are down in the hoodoos, it is very easy to get disoriented and turned around. 

I must say this is one the oddest landscapes I have ever walked through.

We continued on  towards Escalante and eventually Kodachrome. Here is where the trip got a little uncomfortable for me. The night before we had gotten into a conversation with a man in the campground. We were talking about where we had been and where we were going. The conversation was mostly between this man and Beth. I was thinking about all the things I needed to do to get an early start from the campground.  The man was telling Beth about this awful road that went up and down and back up and down. It had numerous switch backs and severe grades. He told us how he would never consider towing a trailer over this road. He said he probably wouldn't even take his own car over this road because of all the switch backs and tremendous elevation gains and losses. I heard very little of it since I was thinking of other things.

We got back out on Utah12 and after a mile there was a sign; 'NO SERVICES FOR THE NEXT 100 MILES' As I read the sign I heard the voice of the man at the campground. A few miles later I passed a road sign 'UTAH12'. As I read it, I once again heard him in my head and it all sank in. I had taken the road he was warning us about. 

This was taken at the second 9500 foot overlook on this road. We had to stop and give the mighty Dodge a rest. She was not very happy with the amount of stress we put her through. The hardest thing about this road is the switch backs. At times we went around curves so tight that I could look out and inspect my bumper. Going up hill, each one is like starting from zero. 
Always listen to your elders...

Eventually we made it to Kodachrome Basin State Park. I really needed a beer. You have to drive two towns away to buy it in Tropical. Yep, the town is called Tropical. It is Mormon beer, 3.2. I had several, and a shot of shine.

I have said it before, state parks are the way to go. Kodachrome Basin is probably one of the nicest state parks we have ever stayed at. The facilities are 5 star. The sites are very big. The bathhouses are completely modern and super clean. Utah takes great pride in it's parks and it shows. 

Of all the places we hiked in Utah we found the ones in this park to be our favorite. The trails take you past all the glory you see in all the national parks with zero crowds. I wish we had not waited until our last day to hike the park. 

I have to put Kodachrome Basin into the top 5 places we have camped. I highly recommend the place as a jump off point to see the area. To Bryce, the drive is about 20 minutes. Everyone has to see Bryce. Zion is about one hour fifteen. 

Bryce National Park is one of those places everyone wants to see. Thousands of people converge on this park daily. GET HERE EARLY if you want to see the landscape and not the tourists. 

The landscape here looks like it belongs in a Dali painting. The rock looks to be melting away. 

The trails are all very well worn. No matter where you go you will see lots of people. Getting as far from the cars as possible did not work well here since even the longest trail is not really all that long. The back country permit might let you get away further. We noticed that busses were dropping off their load at one end of the trail we selected and picking up at the other end. The trail above was a line of people an hour after we hiked it.

It really is a beautiful place and I am glad to have it added to my experience list.

Halle has a climbing mentor named Alex. He told her to do a plank for 30 seconds every time she saw a bench. She did.

Drink lots of water. Always drink lots of water.

I had to really work hard to not have people in the photos. I must have taken this shot 15 times just as someone stepped into the frame.

The last day in Western Utah was supposed to be spent at Zion. We decided that we would just pass on the Zion experience. We did not want to wade through the crowds at an even more popular park than Bryce. We had seen enough rock, arches, and hoodoos for a little while. Everyone wanted to get to New Mexico so we shoved off a day early. This did mean that after an hour, Anna would be heading East for the first time on this trip.

I have for years wanted to stand in all four states at the Four Corners Monument. We refer to this as a 'Blooming Onion Moment'. I somehow never went to Outback when it was young. I wanted to but it never happened. But, but, but, I finally went to Outback and had the glorious blooming onion. It was so disgusting and so was the rest of the over priced meal. The Four Corners Monument was a complete blooming onion moment. 

It was rather anti climatic. It was also a rather costly experience. A word of caution; if you need fuel make sure it is not on the Navajo Reservation. If you like coffee while you drive, make sure you check the price before you fill your travel mug. The Navajo have had the short end of the stick for a real long time and they are making up for it. Just saying...

From the Four Corners we headed back into Colorado for one night. I opted for a KOA so Halle could have a swimming pool. She got an hour in the pool before thunder shut it down. This was the worst campsite we had on the trip, thank you very much, Roger. There is something about a gravel lot with hook ups that just does not sit right with me. It was just for the night so we made due. Being able to buy beer stronger than 3.2 was nice. 
Did I mention how much I love Colorado? They have it going on. The Cortez KOA, not so much so.