This is probably my biggest stretch of not blogging outside of our trips home. Partially because it felt like we were in another holding pattern. We have been having issues with our 2020 Chevy Silverado 3500, that only has about 30,000 miles on it. It has been in the shop 5 times in the last 6-7 weeks and the last two weeks solid. There is still plenty that we toured, and Chevy put us in a rental but we were supposed to be in Durango Colorado for 1 week and we are finishing week 3 here. It’s not a huge place! It has however, allowed us to catch up on some much needed maintenance and purging.
So, let’s backtrack starting with the last day we were near Bryce Canyon. We took one more day to go and explore some of the massive area in and around the Grand-Staircase National Monument. On our first stop we did a short hike on the Mossy Cave Trail. We were not impressed with the cave but we were thrilled to see our first waterfall after having spent the last 6 months in the dessert. It was formed due to the Tropic (name of the closest town) Ditch that is there to catch the snow melt in the spring. Given the timing of this part of our trip it was flowing nicely! Against the light beige ground around it, the water was a light clear aqua and it was mesmerizing to look at!
Following this, we went to check out Kodachrome Basin State Park near Kanab, UT. If you know your geography, you will notice this almost concludes a total loop from where we were at Lake Powell in Page, Arizona the month prior. Page is about an hour from Kanab. This park was named by National Geographic in 1948 because of it’s beautiful colors and landscape. They received permission from Kodak to name it after their popular color camera film due to it’s photographic scenery. We hiked the Angels Palace trail, which is a pretty easy trail that takes you out to a panoramic vista of the park, allowing you to see a great deal of their unique hoodoos.
From there, we left the park and on a whim decided to drive out to Willis Canyon, which is a slot canyon located about 7 or 8 miles out a dirt road. We weren’t sure about the road based on a few things we were reading about the area, but we had no problems. I don’t even think if we had a regular car it would have been an issue. However, in monsoon season, I would definitely check the weather before you go. Based on the gulches we saw, the road definitely wouldn’t be passable, nor is it smart to go in a slot canyon in that case anyway. We hiked out a couple of miles and while we saw a few people out on the trails we had the place largely to ourselves.
After that, we stopped in Tropic for an ice-cream cone to cool off, and headed back to Bryce Canyon to catch the nightly rodeo. It was far from professional, but definitely entertaining. I particularly enjoyed watching the kids compete with various sheep and calf relays. Lots of unintentional humor, which is always the best kind. Definitely a nice little family friendly show to catch.
We headed next about 2 hours northeast to Capital Reef National Park. This was the final park we needed to visit to complete the Utah Mighty 5! It is in a rural area near the town of Torrey (Population 240). The best way I can describe this park is if Zion National Park and Mars had a love child. The geographical wonders of this park include a waterpocket fold that extends for about 100 miles. It’s created a lot of rock that reminds you of being in a coral reef. The other part of it’s name comes from the white domes in the park that reminded folks of the Capital building in Washington DC. In the beginning of the park there is a lot of red rock and unworldly landscapes that made me think of Mars..
Inside the park are orchards that have apricots, cherries, apples, pears and peaches. It’s the only national park that you can eat the fruit right of the trees. We visited when apricots would be out, and the cherries on the cusp but there was a problem with the apricot crop this year. When in season they will bake pies from the trees that you can purchase as well. It is part of an old mormon settlement called Fruita. Many of the old buildings still exist in the park such as the schoolhouse that doubled as a church. So there is a little bit of everything, lots of geologic wonders of nature, history, beauty, and small town elegance.
After great visits to Zion and Bryce, I was prepared to love this park just as much. However, I did not. It’s not the park’s fault at all. It is beautiful. I would say under normal circumstances it would have been my 3rd favorite of the 5. So this shouldn’t be a deterrent for you to visit. We just got there too late in the season, and the heat was already too high for us. This park didn’t have the shade that Zion offered if you were strategic. Also, we have been in the desert since Jan 1, and were both starting to anticipate a change in scenery (and temperatures!). How many hoo doos can you see and still be excited? So, please do not let my feelings deter you from visiting, but go in the fall when it’s cooler and there is fruit to harvest.
On our first day, we hiked to Hickman Bridge, which went pretty well. We returned to the park the following day to hike Cohab Canyon, rated easy. The first part of the mile was switchbacks, so their easy doesn’t line up to other parks we have been to – especially if you factor in the heat and elevation. On the way back, I got super nauseous, and by the time we had hiked back to the road I started throwing up. Luckily the truck was not much further and Ed went after it while I finished getting sick. So, we gave up hiking early in the week. We tried to do a motorcycle ride to see the rest of the park and it was too hot for that too.
The town, though small, had some great restaurants! We don’t typically eat out all that much, often we will get something out only when it’s not convenient to return home. With less to do, we sampled some of the great culinary offerings of the small town. Honorable mentions: The Wild Rabbit Cafe for their Capital Reef Toast, which was an avocado toast with corn-meal crusted tomato, spinach with a balsamic reduction, and a sunny egg on top! I am going to have to try and recreate that in my kitchen! A family owned mexican place called Chak Balam. Everything was so fresh and delicious, and they served me the best margarita of my life. The Capital Burger food truck gets a shout out for their mac n cheese burger with green chiles.
On our way out of town, we took Scenic Byway 12 from Capital Reef on our way Colorado, and I could never have imagined this scenery in America. As you leave the deep red colors to the stark off-white of capital reef, you just keep going through landscapes that are from another planet. Or at least you could make movies out there and it would look like it. From formations that are striped in maroons, purples and grey, to all just grey as if you are on the moon, then giving way to soft shades of pink and mint greens.
As we entered Colorado, the landscape had begun to change a bit more to greenery and trees. We were so happy to see that change! On this stop, we planned to visit Mesa Verde National park, which is home to over 600 cliff dwellings. This is the largest preservation of Pueblo culture in the US. We had reservations for a park-ranger led tour of Long House. We would have liked to also have reservations at The Cliff Palace or Balcony House, but the majority of the tours were closed until after July 1 due to road construction.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough coverage to make any of our internet options work and we need it for Ed to work. We had recently ordered a starlink device that would have solved the issue, but it wasn’t due to arrive until we were at our next stop. Mail is a tricky thing on the road. So, on Sunday, we had to choose to whether we were going to stay in this town in another park or move on to our next destination (Durango) a week early and stay for two weeks instead of one. Durango won out since we only came for to view the cliff dwellings and we could still maybe catch that before we had to leave.
When we arrived to Mesa Verde we discovered that all the tours were about an hour from the visitor center. To visit Longhouse, you have to do that drive, then hike about a mile to meet your tour guide, do the tour for about an hour and a half, and then hike back to your car and take the hour drive back. On a normal day, no issue. We were already weary from our long travels the day before, and we didn’t want to be getting to Durango so late. So, I found a couple to give our tour to at the visitor center and we headed out with the recommendation from the Park Ranger to visit Aztec Ruins National Monument as it’s not much of a drive from Durango.
Luckily we were able to get a another week at the RV park we’d already booked for the area. We are staying at Bayfield Riverside RV Park. I don’t do too many shout outs here on RV Parks, but this one is beautiful and they have been nice to work with us as we have had to continually extend our stay. Truthfully, we stay where ever is cheapest with full or partial hookups as much as possible, and many of them are glorified parking lots.
So for us this park was a real treat – the owners have planted flowers everywhere. And there is a running creek throughout the grounds, a couple of ponds, and the animas river with all of their banks adorned with wild daisies. Not a bad spot to spend two weeks (not knowing it would become 3)! We enjoy taking little walks and spotting various wildlife such as trout, deer, etc. Also, being back in a region where there is rain is also nice. It doesn’t seem to stick around long, but sometimes it’s cozy to hear it from our bed at night. If we open the window we can also hear the creek.
One evening we spent a few hours in downtown Durango – and I am crowning this to be the best small downtown we have visited over the past year. (Hot Springs would be my runner up, especially for the majestic looking bathhouses) Durango has fun eateries, live music, art & history galore, fun shops, a strong sense of community, and just an overall cool vibe. It’s funny after so many towns in a row how alike a lot of them are, but Durango is a stand-out in my book.
Per the suggestion of the park ranger we visited the Aztec Ruins National Monument. It is located near Farmington, New Mexico but only about 45 minutes from Durango. It’s a 400 room compound built by the Pueblos about 900 years ago. Some of their architecture was so advanced, it’s hard to imagine how they were able to do what they accomplished with the limited tools and technology we have today. The kiva, a round building believed to be dedicated to their elaborate ceremonies and rituals, has been completely restored. Definitely worth a stop if you are in the area, it only takes about an hour to do the self-guided tour that can be narrated with your cell phone.
The best activity we have done while in Durango so far is riding the train to Silverton. This narrow-gauge railroad has been used consecutively for 141 years. The scenery from this train is absolutely jaw dropping! The first hour as you leave Durango is uneventful, but as you reach the San Juan mountains, it’s very exciting to look around at the miracles so obvious in this landscape! On the way up I was focused on broad strokes – the ever-present animas river, the mountains, the pines, the waterfalls, etc. On the way back, I noticed all the beautiful columbine, the various sizes and shapes of the pine combs, and other details that spoke of the millions of miracles of nature. To look at the small delicate wildflowers and to think about how they grow and bloom for a short time with a chance of noone even seeing them to notice their beauty, yet they are as important to the ecosystem as anything else.
The train stops in the old mining town of Silverton, and it’s a pretty classic western town. We had lunch, and looked around a bit. It’s a typical touristy place with lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. However, in between all that are some old-time hotels and saloons (complete with an old-timey piano player) , so I think there is more there than met our eyes in the two hour break from the train. The train ride has been rated many times as the best of North America and I can definitely see why.
When the following weekend rolled around we discovered we were going to need to stay another week. Weekends are important to us because it’s when Ed has the most free time to go out and explore. Staying another week meant that we would miss Telluride, Ouray, Ridgway and Montrose. We had planned to stay the week in Montrose as our home base.
We decided with the rental car getting great gas mileage over a couple of weeks that we could afford to splurge on an Airbnb in Ridgway for the weekend. That sounds crazy but diesel fuel is $5.50 and above. When towing only getting about 10 miles to the gallon (less if we had taken it through those mountains) we are talking some serious money.
So, that’s what we did, and it was definitely the right decision! The drive on the Million Dollar Highway was a bit daunting (steep drop offs, no guardrails), but jaw-droppingly gorgeous. We spent part of a day in Telluride, as we both wanted to get a look at the famous ski-resort town and visit the tallest waterfall in Colorado. Bridal Veil falls is 365 feet tall, located at the edge of town. We also took advantage of the free gondola ride from town to the mountain top ski village. The views were amazing! We enjoyed lunch at the Stonehouse Pub, they make a mean salad!
We returned to the Airbnb in Ridgway mid-afternoon, planning to gather some supplies to go soak in the hot springs near Ouray. Instead, we somehow curled up for a little disco nap, I guess there is something about that mountain air. We woke up feeling a bit lazy and hungry so we headed into town to find a place to eat. By the time we finished, we decided we would just enjoy the sunset at our Airbnb. Ed spent some time playing the guitar while I lounged and read. The views from our balcony were as pretty as everywhere else and we enjoyed checking out the night sky, with it’s millions of bright, sparkling stars and a fantastic view of the Milky Way. Very romantic.
It may seem weird to say as a full-time traveler, but it was like a little vacation. In the RV we still have our normal lives. I prepare meals, there is laundry, bills, things to do for our businesses, cleaning, his work, and the many other things that make up normal life.
The next day we drove up to Montrose to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This is one of the lesser visited parks in America, and I thought a bit underrated. We did most of the view points along the rim, took a nice hike up Warner Point, and then took a drive down into the canyon to see it’s almost vertical walls from a different perspective.
Some of the geological workings of this park are so interesting. On one side of the canyon is a sloping wall that is covered in greenery. On the opposite side are these dark stone vertical walls. The reason for the difference is where the sun hits. The sun keeps the sloping side a little more protected from the freezing and thawing that causes the cracks in the rock. The other side is slowly eroding as it looses stone. It was all cut out by the powerful river, when at it’s peak water levels can carry 5000 pound rocks that continue to hit up against the canyon and carves it out more.
On our way back, we stopped in Ouray to visit Box Canyon Falls. I have to say this waterfall is the most unique that I have ever seen. It’s back in a tight canyon, and the sheer force of it made it hard to hear anything else. Beautiful and well worth the stop.
From here, we are still due to go to Colorado Springs, things are a bit in the air because our truck is not repaired for us to leave this weekend. The park doesn’t have room for us because they are booked for July 4. So, right now we are going to go pick up our truck from the garage and move our RV from it’s spot early tomorrow morning. There are risks of the Truck going into energy saving mode, which would render it useless in towing. Most of the errors we have are emission-based and we haven’t experienced these issues when towing yet, so it’s speculative. We have concert tickets at Red Rock for the 4th (which we can skip that if needed), and we have to be in Denver to pick up our son on July 9th, which we will NOT be skipping. I don’t care how we have to make that work, the plan is for him to come explore Rocky Mountain National Park with us. I am sure we will figure it out, stay tuned!