Monday, November 25, 2013

Eastward, sort of

Nicole had never seen the mountains of Colorado, so we decided on leaving Moab that we would head east on I-70 right through the heart of the Rockies.  I-70 is a pretty impressive stretch of highway through western Colorado.  The engineering marvel of an interstate through Glenwood Canyon is worth the drive alone.  From there the road continues to climb until you reach about 10,700 feet just outside of Vail.  It was at Vail that we began to see light snow, which is common through fall, winter and spring, and thankfully that is as bad as our road conditions got.  From Vail Pass the road twists and turns among the mountains eventually climbing again to just over 11,000 feet before disappearing into the Eisenhower Tunnel.  Without the tunnel, you would have to climb an additional 1,000 feet to get over the continental divide, but instead you drive just over a mile and a half through the mountain and come out the other side.  From the tunnel it's a long, brake-burner slope down into Denver.  We chose to get off the interstate before Denver and head north, having arranged with friends Adam and Ellen to visit them at their home in Boulder.
We spent several enjoyable days in Boulder hiking, seeing the sights, and the obligatory visit to the nearby brew-pub.  Adam and Ellen also had a good stock of booze at their house, so we decided it would be good to continue our taste-testing of small batch local gins.  On our intended day of departure high wind warnings were issued for our travel area into Wyoming, so we spent one more day in Boulder and then bid farewell to our good friends.
From Boulder we wandered north to Casper, Wyoming to visit a co-worker of Nicole's from when she worked at the University of Washington.  Michelle and Henry live with their two daughters Zoe and Liz, three dogs, two cats, five horses, and several aquariums of fish.  Needless to say, this was a fun stop for Madeline.  She rekindled her love of horses and dogs while staying in a house stuffed with cool toys and kids books.  She had a lot of fun playing with the other two girls while Nicole and I had a nice visit with Michelle and Henry.  We did a driving tour of town, went for a hike, and generally just kicked back and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.  I don't remember visiting Casper in the past except maybe to drive through, but Nicole and I both felt it was a nice town with a friendly feel.  We started seeing deer and antelope around Casper, both of which have been conspicuously absent in our travels so far.
We left Casper heading towards the Black Hills in South Dakota.  The most direct route takes you across miles of open grassland, as well as past the largest open pit coal mine in the country.  Not exactly a tourist attraction but it is impressive.  We approached the Black Hills just as it was getting dark, and the number of deer we saw along and on the highway made it an easy decision to stop in Custer for the night.  In Custer there was snow on the ground and the temperature was forecast to drop into the teens, so I wanted to get some water in our almost empty tank to keep it from freezing.  This turned out to be hard to do with most of the outside taps in town turned off for the winter, so we settled on staying in a campground in town where we could get water as well as plug the van in to use an electric space heater.
From Custer we took the scenic route through the Black Hills, revisiting many of the spots I used to go to rock climb.  We went by Mount Rushmore just to get a glimpse, but as with progress everywhere it was now ridiculously expensive just to pull into the parking lot, so we did our viewing from the roadside.  From Rushmore we drove through Keystone, but the only thing that looked open in the entire town was one bar, so we didn't even stop.  After a quick stop for fuel outside Rapid City we were off towards the Badlands, our planned stop for the night.
A visit to the Badlands seemed like a good idea.  Free camping, cool scenery, good wildlife viewing, and all from the comfy seat of the van, no trudging through the cold required.  The sign on the outskirts of the park should have been taken more seriously.
We drove in the back way taking Highway 44 out of Rapid City and then turned off on a dirt road to get to the Sage Creek Campground.  As we turned in to the campground we saw our first buffalo.  Don't bother trying to lecture me on the whole bison/buffalo thing, I'm not listening.  To me Pluto is still and always will be a planet, Denali is the highest mountain in North America…..  you get my point.  Anyway, buffalo in the campground, and lots of prairie dogs, an empty camper with it's generator running (thanks for the courtesy), and not much else.  We parked the van far enough away so we couldn't hear the generator and settled in.  We were serenaded to sleep that night by a large group of coyotes.

The next morning, Nicole was not well.  Being violently ill is never fun, but doing it in a cramped van parked in a campground in the middle of nowhere is probably bordering on hell.  After breakfast things were not much better, and we decided to head in to Wall before continuing our tour of the park.  I made some "better than adequate husband" points by suggesting we find a cheap motel room for the night and get out of the van.  Turned out to be a great idea, because by late afternoon I was quickly overtaking Nicole in the "sick as a dog" competition, and having a big comfortable bed with a toilet close by and cable TV made life almost bearable.
The next day there was only one of us well enough to continue driving, but it's a pretty tight fit behind the steering wheel to try to strap in the car seat, and her feet can't reach the pedals so we decided to just stay put.  I pointed out to Nicole that I could probably get the van up to highway speed, hit the cruise control, and then hand the wheel over to Madeline.  It's not like there were any turns or obstacles for the next six hours of drive time across the state, but she thought it best to hold off another day.
The next morning we were all feeling better, and made the long drive to Minnesota.  We stopped for the night right on the border, and by late the next afternoon we were parked in my mom's driveway in Stillwater.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Moab, Utah holds a special place in our hearts.  I've been visiting the area for more than twenty years, and introduced Nicole soon after we started seeing each other.  In 2007 Nicole and I were married there, and we made a return trip the next April for our first anniversary.  Since that visit we've concentrated our travels to sailing trips and haven't made it back to Moab.  Now it's 2013 and we are driving aimlessly around the country, a good reason to go spend some time in one of our favorite places.
A stay in Moab wouldn't be the same if we didn't spend time at the Virginian Motel, so we splurged for a room thinking it would also be a more convenient location for trick or treating.  We were planning on spending a few days in the area with our friends Adam and Ellen from Colorado, so once they got into town we made a plan to meet up with them the next day and then went out to find a candy-rich environment.  After a quick bit of trick or treating we headed to the Moab Brewery for dinner, where once again Madeline got lots of compliments on her costume.
The next morning started with the mandatory stop at the Moab Diner for breakfast, after which we checked out of the motel and headed south to Indian Creek and the Needles area in Canyonlands.  Adam and Ellen were rock climbing in Indian Creek so we tracked them down and spent a nice afternoon together.  Later in the afternoon we headed back to the campground they were using, which turned out to be a bit of an adventure getting to with a rough, high clearance vehicle entrance road.  I'm used to driving a variety of very capable 4x4 vehicles when I'm in Utah so I had to actually remember some off road driving skills to get the Roadtrek to the campsite without losing too many pieces.
The next day we all piled in the van to head into Canyonlands for a day of hiking.  We checked out several areas we had not explored in past visits and Madeline got some time in her pack for an enjoyable hike.  On our way out of the park we stopped by the Needles Outpost, a small store/gas station/campground and had a surreal meeting with the very odd woman working there in order to get some ice cream.  After another exciting trip on the road to the same campsite, we shared a bottle of mystery wine we had been hauling around for years.  One of the years Nicole and I did our Valentines Day wine tasting we got an unmarked bottle of wine as a gift from one of the wine makers.  He told us what it was at the time, but if you've heard the stories of our wine tasting you would understand why we couldn't seem to remember what the stuff was.  I thought it was suppose to be a cream sherry and after all of us sampled it we agreed that was as good a description as any.  Regardless it was very good and quite strong, so we each had a couple small glasses and called it a night.
Adam climbing "Supercrack"
Our last day in the area we were back at Indian Creek for another day of rock climbing.  The great weather continued to hold although the wind was a bit cold until the sun got up a bit.  We all had fun climbing and hanging out in the stunning surroundings.  Unfortunately Ellen hurt her leg on the last climb of the day, but thankfully it seems to be relatively minor and healing up well.
The same patch of rock
 where we stood to get married
At the end of the day Adam and Ellen headed back to Boulder and we went back up to Moab for a couple more days of enjoying the area.  We made the drive out to the Red Cliffs Lodge where we had our wedding reception, where the same woman was still running the tasting room at the adjoining winery.  We felt it necessary to stop in and sample their wines to make sure the quality had not suffered in our absence, and to pick up a replacement glass for one of the wine glasses we got for a wedding gift and had since dropped.  We also visited the site where we had our wedding ceremony near Gemini Bridges.  The whole area around the natural bridges has changed since 2007, with fencing to keep vehicles out of the area and touristy signs for visitors.  Thankfully the natural bridges are still there and stunning as ever, and the views are as magnificent as always.
After one last trip through town for groceries and gas, another stop at the library, and one last stop at the Moab Diner we were off and heading for Colorado.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Anybody out there?

We keep hearing from folks that there are a bunch of lurkers on our site, looking but never commenting.  I know there are issues with leaving a message on the blog for some people, and some of you are probably typing with one or two fingers like I do so it is a slow process, but it would make our day to hear from friends once in a while.  If you don't want to post on the blog, send us an email.  We have had very limited contact with others since we left Sitka in June and it is always delightful to get a message by whatever means.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

More Madeline

I've been trying to add at least one picture of Madeline to each of our travel posts, but I know that's not enough for folks like my mom, so here is a little sample.

Friday, November 8, 2013


I inherited a love of Halloween from my dad.  He used to love carving pumpkins, decorating the house and yard, helping figure out incredible costumes, pretty much everything about the holiday.  Our lifestyle over the past few years has not been very conducive to proper Halloween celebration, so I promised that this year I would find a way to make things right.
This actually started months ago back in Sitka when we found the perfect costume for Madeline in a second hand store.  My mom was visiting at the time and agreed it would be great, so we bought it and stored it away.  We've been dragging that costume around for months now, first on our boat trip south this summer, and lately in the van as we cross the country.
When we were visiting my cousin Karen in Walla Walla, we took a trip to their local pumpkin patch, and Madeline had a blast playing in the pumpkins, sliding down a huge hay bale stack slide, and of course sampling the ice cream available in the gift shop.
We were not sure where we would be at the end of October, but it turned out that we got into Moab just in time.  Not only did Madeline get to wear her ladybug costume, but we went out and hit some houses trick or treating as well.  Nicole and I felt a little guilty, Madeline doesn't get candy yet  so we knew anything we got would be ours, but she had a blast seeing the other kids in costumes and basically just charming anyone that opened the door to her smiling face.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Black Dragon Canyon

One of our favorite places in Utah is a spot called Black Dragon Canyon. It's north and west of Moab, just off the interstate, but because the entry is not marked and a bit intimidating once you do find it, not many people visit.  There is an un-official camping site nearby, some interesting hiking in the surrounding canyons, an impressive pictograph panel in the canyon proper, and some fun rock hunting in the area.
We were not too sure how feasible it would be to get in to the area with our camper van, but it turned out to be no problem.  The road in was in decent shape and the camping area was deserted.  We spent a couple nights camped, did a few hikes, watched a scary storm pass nearby but not over us, visited the rock art site, and found a couple nice geodes.  We plopped Madeline down in the rocks and dirt and let her play, which turned out to be so much fun she was not happy about coming in for dinner.  She does tend to taste test a lot of the rocks so we have to keep a close eye on her, but she is certainly not afraid to get dirty.
Besides the passing storm our good weather has continued to hold on the trip.  Nighttime temps. are below freezing but the heater in the van seems to be keeping up, and the cold has triggered the beautiful yellow colors of the cottonwoods to make the stunning scenery even better.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Nine Mile Canyon

When we lived in Washington we took quite a few trips to Utah, almost always taking the same route.  Each time we passed through Salt Lake City, got off the interstate in Spanish Fork, and headed over the mountains on highway 6.  After passing through Price, Utah there is a turn off for Nine Mile Canyon, and each time we passed we thought "maybe next time" for a visit.  This trip we have the time, so we made the turn and went for a visit.
All we really knew is that the area was known for rock art, so we picked up a brochure to give us a little background, and headed for the only campground in the area.  Nine Mile Ranch Campground is a working cattle ranch, and this turned out to be a great perk for us.  After weeks of reading books to Madeline that featured farm animals, we were able to introduce her to the real thing, up close and personal.  The ranch has horses, cows, chickens, rabbits, a dog, and at least one cat.  While we were there they were doing a cattle round-up, so she also got to see real cowboys (and a cowgirl).  One of the cowboys was nice enough to stop for her and she got to pet the horse.
Once we left the ranch we spent the day exploring the rock art in the canyon.  There are probably hundreds of panels in the area, and we ended up seeing quite a few.  The brochure we picked up gives directions to find several of the more popular, but we found that driving slowly we spotted a lot of panels that were unmarked, some of them large with unusual figures.  There were several places to park and walk to see some of the panels, so we took the opportunity to pull out the kid carrier again and got some exercise as well.
Because the canyon is fairly remote, we decided to take our time and spent the whole day sight-seeing, and stayed a second night at the ranch.  The great weather that we have been experiencing on this trip held and we enjoyed two more days of sunshine and clear skies.