La Sal Pass

I’ve sometimes wondered what it feels like to operate a jackhammer all day.

Now I know.

Our goal today was to reach La Sal Pass, a summit between Mount Tukuhnikivatz and South Mountain.  The pass is 15 miles southeast of Moab and peaks at 10,400 feet.  Peg, Kyle, Leah and I trailered the RZRs to the base and started up, our ears popping regularly with the altitude change.

We soon realized this was to be the roughest ride of the week.  No ledges or high obstacles to climb, just trillions of grapefruit size loose rocks.  Dental fillings and kidney stones risked being thudded loose by the pounding.  Zig-zagging to avoid rocks was exhausting.

The section below was one of few smooth examples.

Any movement kicked up large dust clouds, so goggles and face masks were again the rule.

BUT… the bouncing, jarring, dusty ride was worth it.  After days of seeing brown and red desert, we rode up into an explosion of colors.

We also came across jackrabbits, free-range cows (below), free-range cow-pies, and a persnickety grouse that marched along ahead of us, refusing to leave the trail.

The trail passed across a large Talus Field before entering dense forest.

A talus field is a naturally occurring byproduct of rocks breaking loose from erosion.  The rocks tumble down the slope and tend to block all plant growth.

The path across was fairly flat, but we had proceed slowly.  Anything over a sedate walking speed and the tires kick up rocks that pounded the RZR’s underside.

Just past the Talus field we entered old growth forest and a series of switchbacks to the summit.  Here we also met a bearded gent from Australia who was riding the entire route, including the west slope, on a mountain bike.  He claimed it was the longest continuous climb in North America.  I tend to believe him.

Around this time, Kyle and Leah’s RZR started losing power and backfiring.  After stopping for a picnic lunch and letting it cool off, we were able to make the summit with only minor problems.

We later found out from the rental company that at high altitudes the fuel pump can overheat and actually boil the fuel.  Once we turned around and headed down the mountain little power was needed, so the problem did not recur.

At the top we were treated to views of Mount Peale and …

South Mountain.

At the end of the day we had covered about 20 miles of terrain and covered the toys with a thick layer of dust.

 

Digging Uranium

Moab’s growth boom started in the 1950’s when a discovery of large uranium deposits near the town coincided with the cold war boom for atomic weapons and power.  Thus no coincidence that one of the natural arches in the area is named after the element.

Our goal today was to visit three popular attractions: Gemini Bridges, Uranium arch,  and Tusher tunnel.  The terrain varied between rough washboard and gravel roads.

Kyle and Don at Gemini Bridges in Bull canyon.  Hats, sunglasses, sun clothes and scarves (or a filter mask) are a must for the sunny and dusty off-road conditions.

Leah with her fashion-statement unzipped pants legs (for venting).

When she wasn’t shooting the flora above, Peg found her own private roost. Lucky my little Where’s Waldo was wearing Kyle’s red coverall or she would be impossible to pick out.

Gemini Bridges is a pair of parallel, flat-topped arches separated by a slot.  Getting a good picture is diffcult because the arches are located high in the canyon wall.

This is the slot that separates the two arches, seen from above.

A nearby canyon wall has a good example of a wind-formed cave.

Uranium Arch with Kyle for scale.

The curves of the arch and roof opening have an alien-like quality.

In back, underneath the arch, Peg found another wind cave.

Looking from the wind cave out to the trail.

Uranium Arch from above.

After a long romp across the sandy desert area we came to Tusher tunnel.  The tunnel goes through a sandstone bluff from one side to the other.  The tunnel was formed when water seeping in from above eroded softer core rock and left the unique, triangular tunnel.

The tunnel midpoint is almost black with strong daylight outside.

About 85 feet long, the tunnel is tall enough to walk through.

Hell’s Revenge

Plenty of action today.

Kyle and Leah flew in from Charlotte, NC to stay with us a few days and ride trails.  Tomorrow they will rent a RZR, but today Kyle and I were itching to go, so the women sent us off to explore on our RZR while they explored Moab.

Our first stop was a circuit of Fins ‘n Things, described in the previous blog.  Then we continued on to “Hell’s Revenge” for more slick rock riding.

Hell’s Revenge is known for its iconic entrance over a fin named the Lion’s Back.

Yes the fin is THAT narrow and the drop-2offs on each side are THAT steep.  Very much a no-mistakes-allowed situation.

In addition steep climbs and descents, Hell’s Revenge is also known for special 4×4 tests: Hell’s Gate, The Hot Tubs, The Escalator and The Tip-Over Challenge.  We’ll cover the special tests in a future blog.

Pictures do not do justice to the steep paths.  The long climb pictured below has an added thrill: a small ridge, a few inches tall, about 2/3 of the way up.  Popping the front wheels over that  hump when already pointing at the sky triggers a jolt of panic/relief/adrenaline.

Another climb gets steeper just before you crest the top.

Hell’s Revenge has tall, intimidating obstacles, but is actually smoother to ride than Fins ‘n Things.  There are fewer bouncy rock sections and more slick rock surfaces to negotiate.

That is, except for the exit option we chose.

Option A is to loop around and go out the original entrance, on slick  rock most of the way.  Easy Peasy.

Option B is to continue out the “Back” exit to the main road and then loop on the road to the parking lot.  This option, unknown to us, included the most brain-bashing rock crawling so far and extended the ride at least 30 minutes.

We chose B.

 

 

Fins ‘n Things

Fins ‘n Things is a technical riding trail in the Sand Flats recreation area immediately east of Moab.

The “fins” are the Navajo Sandstone slickrock northeast of Moab, and the “things” are what remains as the fins erode. The fins started as wind-blown sand dunes some 200 million years ago, they got cemented into sandstone, and they are now going full circle back to sand blowing in the wind (GoneMoab.com).

The rock  in this area is called “Slick Rock”.  Cowboys of old named the material because iron horse shoes slide on the stuff and make passage dangerous for horses.

The stuff is, in fact, like driving on sandpaper.  Perfect traction when dry, especially for rubber tires.

Here again, drivers must stay on marked paths or risk high penalties.  Paths are well marked, including markings on the rock itself.

The Fins ‘n Things trail snakes through sand, gravel, rocks, and slick rock.  The souther portion is rougher, with more rock crawling needed.  The northern portion is a roller coaster ride along the tops of fins.

At the northernmost point we found a 4×4 truck climbing this rise.  Did not seem too steep.

Actually the steepest incline I’ve ever attempted with a 4-wheeled vehicle.  In the video below I’m not going slow for lack of power… the RZR had plenty to spare.  Nope, my brain was fighting with my right foot.

Brain:  Listen, dummy, if you tap that gas pedal too hard we’re all gonna flip over backwards and you’ll end up a Youtube fail video.

Foot:  Shut up!  I got this… Just ease on the gas and keep the nose pointed at the sky.  It will be over soon.

Fortunately, the slick rock climbs are mostly smooth and grippy.

Others are uneven, bouncy challenges.  Peg did not want to drive this day (she’s the smart one), but was happy spotting: walking ahead and pointing out safe lines through the obstacle course.

The view from onboard can be wild as the little mule works it’s way slowly up the rock field.

What goes up must come down. We had to pass many steep downhills some bouncy and some smooth.  This example of a smooth drop-off shows the scrapes left by 4×4 trucks that did not have the needed ground clearance.  Moments later, a father and son in a new pickup truck left some of their trailer hitch on the rock in the form of metal shavings. The RZR, with its abbreviated nose and tail, has no such problem.

After playing on the rocks until mid-afternoon, we got a delightful surprise.  Richard and Jill, who camped at our home recently, had worked their way west to the Black Hills of South Dakota, then to the Rocky Mountains, and then to  Arches National Park, just a few miles north of Moab.  We spent the evening with them, catching each other up on latest adventures.  They will soon twist their route southeast back toward home in Florida.

Hurrah!

Moab is Nirvana for off-road enthusiasts.  Hundreds of miles of trails snake through canyons, on top of mesas and over slick rock fields.  Riders must stay on marked trails or risk huge penalties.  Such restriction would normally sound stifling, but the sheer amount of riding area feels like freedom.  The land managers have struck a fine balance of access and protection for the environment.

We kicked off exploration by riding the Hurrah Pass and Chicken Corners trails.  These are rated easy in the Moab scale of difficulty.  About 25 miles in length, the ride took almost 4 hours, with stops to gaze and shoot photos. Peg felt comfortable driving the trails and we switched off 50/50.

The trail is mostly old mining roads, with a few small ledges here and there.

Cresting through Hurrah Pass, the colorful vista of Jackson Hole valley stretches to the horizon..

The rock structure below reminds me of Wall-E.

The Chicken Corners trail was cut short by a massive boulder, the size of an army tank, that fell into the canyon recently.  I have to admit to a slight phobia of large sedimentary objects balanced precariously overhead, so I do glance up at the canyon walls regularly.

The RZR 570 is proving a capable little mule: plenty of power for the trails, reasonable comfort, agile, and a blast to drive.

Take Me to the River

After touring the Walmart RV Resorts at Rifle and Grand Junction Colorado, ToyBox has arrived at Moab, Utah.  Happy to report the 6.7L diesel lugged  over the Rocky Mountains with ease.  Coming down 6% and 7% grades of the west slope we used the diesel exhaust brake and seldom had to touch the brakes. This can be a big deal: we saw several overheated vehicles on the way up and a few smoking brakes on the way down.

The views along this stretch of road are spectacular.  Finding a spot to pull off and take photos is nigh impossible.  I borrowed this one from Google Images to give a rough idea of the terrain.

Coming southwest from Denver, the fastest route to Moab is I-70 to 191. (See below)  We highly recommend taking the slightly slower route on 128 through Cisco and Dewey.  The first few miles are dull but once 128 starts following the Colorado River the scenery is stunning.

Driving along the base of this sheer cliff is worth the extra time itself.

Rustic campsites are available along the river on a first come-first served basis.

The extra 15 minutes along 128 estimated by the GPS swelled into almost an hour due to so many photo stops.

The ToyBox is settled in at Canyonlands RV park.  Though located right on Main Street in a busy town, the setting is cozy and laid back, with plenty of trees for shade.

Moab is a popular destination for hiking, mountain biking, off-road riding (dirt bike, ATV, UTV, 4-Wheel drive cars/trucks), rafting, rock climbing, base jumping, high lining and other sports.  September and October are high season, so the RV park is packed with an eclectic mix of campers, most toting equipment to match their sport.

A popular international destination, we’ve met campers/sports enthusiasts from France, Switzerland, Quebec and elsewhere already.

Tomorrow we begin 10 days of trail riding and exploration.

The Wrath of Grapes

As we wander our way across Mid-America, we’ve been noticing how the practice of Wal-Docking has been changing.

Walmart has long allowed overnight parking at many of their stores. Cracker Barrel, Lowes, REI, Safeway and Flying J/Pilot truck stops also allow such parking.  Since Walmart was the first to have an official policy on the subject, the term Wal-Docking stuck.

Our preferred mode of traveling cross country is moving a limited number of hours each day, usually 4 or less. No marathon overnight driving sessions for us.  This pace allows time to make impromptu stops along the way (usually thrift stores for Peg to browse) and still settle in before dark.

In the plains states there are few RV parks and those are often full.  Rigs that are self-contained only need a place to park for the night.  So rather than plan a trip around RV park availability, we look up the nearest Walmart.

Either because there are more, or because we are noticing them more, some are Wal-docking because they are living out of their vehicle.  Whatever the reason, these folk are sort of mobile homeless.

There is an accepted etiquette to Wal-Docking.

Do buy something:  We try to do some business at each store we visit.  Groceries at Walmart, dinner at Cracker Barrel, fuel at truck stops, etc.

Don’t “set up camp” by putting down jacks, opening sliders, extending awnings, setting up a grill, arraying lawn chairs, running generators, etc.

Don’t park near the store and don’t park so as to block traffic.

Unfortunately, more and more cities are banning overnight parking due to people abusing the system.  The municipalities are increasingly zoning away the practice of Wal-Docking.  Denver has banned the practice in the whole metro area.

I have been reading “The Grapes of Wrath” on this trip.  Like the displaced and unwelcome Okies in that novel, sour grapes generated by those abusing the free offering may make Wal-Dockers similarly unwelcome in the near future.

Luckily, away from metros areas, towns are usually more welcoming, especially to those spending money in local stores.

In Fargo, North Dakota we stayed with several half-million dollar RVs.

In Vermillion, South Dakota, we spent the quietest nights ever at a Walmart.  In the morning a stiff wind and open field demanded some kite flying before we hit the road again.

In North Platte, Nebraska we found a corner of the lot away from traffic.

In Northglenn, Colorado, we found the only stay-over place available near Denver:  a Cracker Barrel restaurant.  For the price of dinner we enjoyed a quiet night after a killer sunset over the Rocky Mountains.

We also met some local inhabitants Wal-Docking in a different way.

Our twin cities friends may appreciate the humor in this road sign from the middle of Nebraska.

Next we’ll be pushing across the Rocky Mountains west of Denver, our our way to Moab, Utah.

Check

Assemble awesome checklists over years of travel… Check

Dutifully check off each item loaded into the camper… Check

Dutifully check off each item as we leave home… Check

Stop in to see Chris on the way northwest… Check

Meet sister Margaret, her husband Doug, their daughter Lindsay and her husband, Ricky, at Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota… Check.

Shower affection on their mongo dog Earl, and chastise their yappy pooch Charlie… Check

Sleep in every morning to at least 9:00… Check

Bike the scenic park trails… Check

Eat way too much on a daily basis due to Marg and Doug’s cooking… Check

Walk across the headwaters of the Mississippi… Check

Climb fire tower for panoramic views of the park… Check

Get treated to a huge, savory shrimp boil for my birthday… Check

Waddle back to trailer with overstuffed gut… Check

Remember that the sewer hose kit is still sitting at home in the barn because dummy checked it off before actually loading it… Check

Borrow same from Marg and Doug to dump trailer tanks when leaving the park… Check

Set off for Utah… Check

Find the Dakota highways allow 80 mph, but sensibly keep speed to 65 (dammit)… Check

Remember that the spare tire is still on the boat trailer because Dummy… Check

Realize that a flat tire out here in the middle of nowhere would be a pain… Check

Stop at a Fleet Farm in Sioux Falls and buy a spare tire… $Check

Remember that checklists are only as good as the user operating them… Check.

Painful Extraction

 

Yes, it was like pulling teeth to maneuver the ToyBox out of our new driveway.  “ToyBox” is the new name given to our toy hauler travel trailer by daughter Nikki.  She felt it needed “Branding”.

We like the new name.

We needed the ToyBox positioned to leave for our upcoming trip to northern Minnesota.  With the old gravel drive I’d just fire up the Bobcat and use the bucket-mounted hitch ball to jockey around.

But a “Bobcat”, the common name, is really called a “skid-steer tractor” for a reason: turning sharply causes one or both tires on each side to skid sideways.  Just the recipe for tearing up the surface of new asphalt, or getting a quickie divorce from the Admiral.

The choice fell to using either the RAM pickup or RAV wannabe-SUV.

The RAM, while powerful, steers like a battleship and no amount of jockeying would get the trailer into a position to exit the driveway.  We though about pulling the trailer straight across the drive and onto the grass, then doing a big circle around the front yard.  That would put the trailer back on the drive at an acceptable angle.  Except… the drop-off from driveway to grass was too high for the trailer undercarriage. No amount of messing around with different hitch coupler variations would solve the problem.

The RAV finally did the job.  Hooking up the ToyBox only exceeded the Toyota’s tongue weight and towing capacities by, oh, maybe 300%.  But engineers design in a little extra for safety, don’t they?  And we only needed to go 50 feet or so.

With the mini-SUV grunting “I Think I Can, I Think I CAN!”, and its butt nearly on the ground, an appropriate arc was made and the ToyBox escaped.

The sharp turn did leave a couple divots on the new drive to remind us to plan a better parking spot for the future.

Short, But Sweet

It’s not the size that matters, but what you do with…

We were delighted to be visited by our good friends Jill and Richard, of Jill Christy fame on the Great Loop.  We met them at Kentucky Lake in 2016 and bonded on the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.  Their continuing adventures are chronicled here.

During our visit last winter at their Frostproof, Florida home, Richard was completing their custom converted cargo carrier camper (how’s that for alliteration?).  They then struck out up the east coast to Maine and have been traveling counter-clockwise around the U.S. border, visiting national parks along the way.

During their week long stay we had the opportunity to return their gracious hosting and show them some local highlights.

Their camper is a well designed example of the latest trend in go-small adventuring.    The unit is based on an 18 foot aluminum cargo trailer with  V-nose, extended tongue, and one-piece aluminum roof.

The rear compartment, separated from the living quarters by a wall, holds most of the technical gear.

A small air conditioner exhausts into this compartment and air is vented to the outside by a powered vent mounted in one of the two swinging doors.  No holes were made through the roof, thus maintaining its lifetime warranty against leaks.

The bed is located in front of the dividing wall, with ample storage underneath and at the head.

The galley includes a range, sink and top-loading fridge in a drawer.

A magnetic-latching door net keeps out bugs and lots of cubbyholes store the stuff of life.

A shower stall, sink…

… and composting head round out the bathroom.

We all went for a cruise on the St. Croix aboard Options, from Afton to Stillwater.

Almost impossible to get a picture of Richard smiling, but he really is a happy dude.

Options is dwarfed by “Majestic Star” cruise boat at Stillwater.

And suddenly our visit was over.  Jill and Richard set off for parts north and west, while we prepared for our upcoming series of trips.

This duo prove that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight…   They completed the Great Loop on a 26 foot MacGregor sailboat and are exploring new horizons in a custom camper of their own design.

Fair winds, dear friends!