Buckskin Gulch

Nothing can really prepare you for your first experience in a slot canyon. A few years ago, Bob and I ventured into Southern Utah on a “5 Great National Parks of Utah” tour. We only had a month at that time, but we managed to do Arches, Canyonland, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion. BUT…. we also made it to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument that is positioned in between Capitol Reef and Bryce. It encompasses an enormous area of land, over 1,880,461 acres in southern Utah. Thinking we would actually see a “staircase”, was surprised to find out it is named this because of the series of plateaus that descend from Bryce canyon south toward the Grand Canyon, marked by vertical drops at the Pink Cliffs, Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs and Chocolate Cliffs. 

This year we had a lot more time to spend in this beautiful area. We had planned for a month, just in Grand Staircase, and we started in the Vermillion Cliffs, west of Page, AZ, and then wandered up through Kanab to park for three weeks off of Hole in The Rock Road just east of the town of Escalante, UT. 

Our first slot canyon for this year was actually over in Lower Antelope Valley, but it was not the experience we were searching for. While absolutely beautiful in every way, Antelope is a very popular area and is only visited with a designated tour guide. Your time inside the actual canyon is extremely limited, and the cost is high. (40.00 per person –  approx. 40 minute tour). Located on Navajo land, the tours in the Lower area are run by a brother and sister team. The colors in the canyon were so amazing, but I felt like my eye never left the viewfinder trying to capture it with the camera. I didn’t get the solitude feeling that a slot canyon can bring on and nurture in your soul. 

But……the canyons of Escalante are open to all to with a simple day use permit. You can spend a day, you can spend the night. You just have to obtain a permit at one of the BLM offices in the area, or fill it out at the trailhead. We were boondocking right outside the Paria office, but we filled out our permit the day we hiked at the trailhead. 

Buckskin Gulch, known as the longest slot canyon in the west – via Wire Pass Trailhead was our destination this day. It was an incredible hike, on a beautiful – but slightly overcast day - and had everything we were looking for. Narrow slots, wide open ones also, slick rock to climb, moss draped rocks, amazing colors, 400’ soaring canyon walls, blooming cacti everywhere and a few challenging climbs. After going almost 2 miles in Wire Pass it will open up and you’ll arrive at the confluence of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch, but before you exit Wire Pass, look closely on the canyon wall on the right-hand side. You’ll see a panel of petroglyphs of bighorn sheep. We went about 4 miles in before we turned around, making it a nice 8+ mile day. If we had proceeded to the confluence with the river, and then on to White House Trailhead it would have been another 16, and we would have had to have a vehicle at each trailhead. 
Hints:     
Permits are needed. $6.00 per person/ You can pick it up ahead of time at Paria, or just fill one out at the trailhead. 
    
This is also where “The Wave” is located. I highly sought-after slot canyon that is only open to 20 people per day. Permits for that can be obtained online, 6 months in advance is a good try, and also through the lottery in Kanab. We tried, but didn’t get one.

The slot canyons can be VERY DANGEROUS if there is any chance of precipitation upstream. Know the weather, and heed the warnings. You will see many places in the canyon where debris has been lodged 20’ up when the water was rushing through. 

When you first enter the slot canyon there is a massive rock slide that is about 8’ tall. We didn’t feel comfortable about getting back out, gravity would have gotten us down, so Bob went up and over the slick rock and found us a “social” trail to follow. A bit more climbing, but it drops you down about ¼ mile into the canyon. Make sure and walk back up and see that part also. 

You may  need water shoes depended on what time of year you are hiking.

Small rattlesnakes are prevalent, we were told, but thankfully…we never saw any. 

 

Valley of The Gods

Day 63 ~ After arriving at Goulding's Campground about noon, we got settled in and realized we had a whole afternoon free. We decided to drive over to the Monument Valley entrance to see what the cost would be to get in, and also if we needed a tour to be able to do the photography I hoped for. At the gate, we found out that the pass was good for 3 days, so decided to go ahead and get it, check out the Information Center and then spend the entire day there the next day. That left most of the afternoon for exploring so we decided to travel up to Valley of the Gods. About 20 miles north, you travel through the town of Mexican Hat, aptly named as you can see by the first picture. Another few miles and you find the turn-off for the drive through the valley. A 17 mile loop past magnificent awe inspiring formations, we stopped and Bob got on his bike to take off on his own, while I did part of the drive slowly to take photos. Picked him up 10 miles or so later and we continued through the rest of the drive. The new bike is perfect for him. Comfortable and uphill rides seem no problem. Great day, like most all others have been this last 2 months. We are fortunate indeed. 

Hints:
Monument Valley is part of the Navajo Nation /pass is good for 3 days / 20.00 per car - up to 4 people. 
Goulding's Campground - 60.00 per night SPENDY - but very nice with all hookups and lots of trails and history of the area to explore. 
Valley of The Gods - There is PLENTY of boondocking pull-outs along the 17 mile drive. We would stay here if coming through this way again. Some at the very beginning would fit our size rig, but we wouldn't have taken it on the whole drive as it was very wash-boardy. 


 

Sunset Crater & Wupatki National Monuments

What a beautiful place to boondock. We needed to spend a couple days in Flagstaff so Bob could get his new bike, but we didn't know that we would find such a quiet peaceful place to park. If you are in the area, well worth the stop. A day for the monuments, a day relaxing overlooking the San Francisco peaks and a day in Flagstaff then it was back on the road headed for points north. 

Hints: From Flagstaff, Hwy 89 north for 12 miles
Turning into entrance for Sunset Crater, take the FIRST LEFT onto FS road. Gravel but well maintained. Go in about a mile, great spot on the right overlooking San Fransicso Peaks. There are gravel trucks that run M-F, so take care when exiting. 

Montezuma Castle / V Bar V Heritage Site

Spent the day with the boys visiting some historical areas in the area. We started the day at Montezuma's Castle National Monument.  There is a short paved walk up to the actual preserved dwellings built by the Southern Sinagua culture between 1100 and 1425 CE. On the way we passed by volunteers that gave the kids info on the Junior Ranger program and a booklet to fill out to get their badge upon completion. It's hard for me to imagine what life was like 800 years ago, so I am sure it was for the boys also, but they took it all in and seemed to appreciate it. 

Next stop was lunch picnic and quick dip in Beaver Creek. VERY COLD, Cash was the only one brave enough to get in the water. Beautiful spot to spend the early afternoon.

Final tour was at V Bar V Heritage Site, the largest known petroglyph site in the Verde Valley of central Arizona, and one of the best-preserved. The rock art site consists of 1,032 petroglyphs in 13 panels. We were fortunate that when we arrived up to the panels we had an informative guide pretty much to ourselves. It was fun to watch the boys try and find the different pictures that he was describing. I found it fascinating to see how the seasons were integrated into the panels. With a portfolio of pictures that the guide had taken over the course of a year, he showed us how the sun would shine on the petroglyphs at the solstices and equinoxes of the year. 

The boys favorite time of the day, and possibly the whole trip. Pa taught them how to make a whistle with a blade a grass. It was another great day. 

 

Hidden Cave

Our friend Will, who we met here in Cottonwood last year, has lived in this area for 15 years or so. Over those years, he has probable logged a thousand miles or more of hiking in the area. He is a very spiritual person that has regaled us with stories of the ancient people that lived here and their native customs. Last year he took us to two caves, Shamans and Hidden Cave. We knew that if we ever had the boys here with us that we would love for them to experience the hike to one and also if possible to have Will as their guide. Lucky for us, when we arrived this year Will was still in the area and over the weeks before the boys arrived we had been able to spend many nights around the campfire rekindling our friendships. 

This day we set off with the four of us in the jeep, and our friend Brenda driving with Will out to Hidden Cave. Located off a fire service road about 15 miles north of Cottonwood, I can’t really tell you how to get there other than 4 wheel drive helps. A relativley short but steep hike leads you around the base of a mountain and up the path to the cave. An even steeper, cactus lined, path takes you straight up to the entrance of the cave. Will stood at the entrance and asked for permission from the spirits that we may enter in peace. The boys are young, and while I don’t think they understood what exactly it was he was doing with his hand on his heart and eyes closed, I do feel they knew it was important. 

We entered the cave quietly and the boys walked around in the darkness looking at the ceiling as Pa explained the ceiling was black because of the fires the ancient people had used to live in it. A large cave, at least 30' deep, part of the roof had caved in and gave us our seats as we had our snack and listened as Will told us the  Legend of the Boy who turns into a Eagle. A Hopi Indian boy is banished from his village after he defies tribal law and frees a sacred, sacrificial eagle. After surviving in the wilderness he returns to his village where he is again rejected. Fleeing, the boy climbs a cliff and jumps off but before he reaches the ground turns into an eagle. Our boys listened silently and gazed out of the mouth of the cave to the mesa on the other side of the wash. 

As we left the cave Pa asked if they wanted to hike over to the mesa, so we left Will and Brenda to relax in the cave and headed across the brush. The first "brush with cactus" of the whole trip was had by Carson, but he was a trooper as Pa took out the thorn. 

A great day hike, ending with a rock skip contest when we found an animal watering hole.
 

Broken Arrow Part 1 and 2

This first-time Bob and I hiked up to Broken Arrow trail we had started at the trailhead (TH) to Little Horse, then connected to the Arrow right after crossing over Chicken Point. It was a beautiful hike, light breeze and big puffy white clouds filled the sky. When we were about a mile into Broken Arrow we started hearing, and then seeing, all the Pink Jeeps coming up over the hills. Seems this route is a favorite for the tourist rides. I watched in amazement as they careened close to the sides and then over the large boulders, but Bob says “that’s really nothing”. Not sure how he is going to get me up some of the trails he has planned in our jeep.

The hike back to the TH was a nice easy downhill most of the way, and the entire loop was about 6 miles. We knew we wanted to bring the boys back here as one of the many trails we had planned, so Bob started doing some research to see if there was a shorter route. 

A week later: Bob had found another route up to Broken Arrow that cut off about 2 miles of the hike. We parked at the Chapel TH, this time with the boys along for the hike. This would be our first longer hike with them this year. The Chapel truly is a church built into the side of the Red Rock and is a tourist mecca all on its own. We strapped on our Camelbacks and set out across the red rocked rim towards the rock formation known as Two Nuns. The boys are great hikers, and after a few minutes I was left in the dust, literally, red dust, as they and Bob took off up the steep hill towards Chicken Point.

Hiking with young ones is totally different then with just an adult companion. We all hike, or wander, in our own way. Bob likes to have his music up loud and set out for a destination. I prefer to wander at my own pace, lost in my thoughts and being brought back to reality by a bird overhead singing or a photo that needs to be taken. The boys however are boys! Lizards need to be chased, cacti need to be avoided, every large rock is just a kick-off point to get to the next one, and everything is new and exciting. 

We made it up to Chicken Point, so named apparently by the Pink Jeep drivers because some would not venture to the edge. The rock formation overlooks the valley below with Big Bell and Baby Bell off to the south, and Two Nuns staring down upon you. The wind had really picked up by this point, and Carson kept a tight grip on Pa’s hand as they, and Cash made it out to the edge for a photo op.  From there it was on to Broken Arrow trail and another couple miles of exploration.

The trail at this point runs along the east side of Two Nuns, so it was wind protected and shady. We tucked in by some trees and settled in for our snack with the perfect view of Pink Jeeps. It was also the week before the big Jeep rally in Moab so there were lots of others to watch as they climbed up and over the huge boulders. 

The hike out always seems so much shorter, and the wind was picking up as we made it back to the Jeep. A stop at BRobbins on the way home concluded a great day and the first of many hikes to come. 
 

TwoNuns

"Y"

Heading out after a beautiful week in Death Valley we take the highway that will lead us to Rhyolite , the ghost town located outside the eastern side of the national park, not to far from Beatty, Nv. I am pretty sure I went here as a child, and Bob has been many times on his motorcycle adventures. We wandered around what is left of the old structures, but it was this outdoor art museum on the road into the town that was our main calling for the day.
To me, the "Y" on the front door of the little house that serves as the museum info area, (unfortunate for us it was closed the day we arrived), sums up the acres that surround it. 

Y this place in the desert
 Y this type of art
Y not place it somewhere where more people could experience it

Then it just kinda all made sense. Y, The reason for "Why", doesn't really matter. We don't usually ever have the answer as to "Y" something happens. Even when we try to wrap our heads around the.......placement of a building, the cause of an accident, the reason for the weather, the blossoms on a tree, the magic of the sunset, the flight of a bird, the color of the sky.........

I will never know "Y" they made this choice for the front of the building, but I do know why it appealed to me. My thoughts became words.

 





 






 Belgian artist Albert Szukalski creates his sculpture “The Last Supper”

On the trail

From the early morning view out my window, I realize that the hike planned for today will be filled with clouds and beauty. The Bizz Johnson trail is calling. 
the bluebird of happiness....it can be found on the trail
 my hiking companions, Mel and Ms.Lily
  A little icy and snow covered in parts, we only made a 6 mile loop. Hoping for the entire 23 mile path sometime this summer, possibly on my bike.

The Breakdown

view out our window in Bishop
I knew it was coming...I anticipated it, but long .......long.....long way off into the future. As I have said in previous posts, my Mom and Dad traveled for 12 years, FULL TIME, in a small living space known as a fifth-wheel. I would absolutely marvel at the fact that they could fit what was left of their entire lives accumulation of possessions into a space that measured maybe 8' by 34". They started with a pretty fancy big one, and gradually moved into smaller ones, but there were no slide-outs in their early adventures.

After an almost mystical and amazing adventure on the coast at Pt. Mugu, we left for home so we could get there before the incoming snow storm that was forecast for Fallon. We got as far as 3 miles south of Bishop. BAMMMMMMMM!!!!! The breakdown began. The Dodge Ram 2500 that we "Oh so CAREFULLY" decided on when we knew that we wanted to travel across the county, hopefully many times, decided to take a turn of it's own. Down the path of breakdown. After finally finding someone who would come out and tow us on Thanksgiving eve at 7pm, we landed in the Kmart parking lot. Not as bad as you might think. We spent five days there, one of which was Thanksgiving. We watched as that day turned to Black Friday and the multitude of shoppers filled the parking lot. We made friends, we actually even ran into someone I used to work with 20 years ago who had also broke down on the north side of town.

5 days later, we finally made it home on Sunday, thanks to some very helpful friends, Charmaine....who came and picked us up at Topaz Lodge, (did you know that tow trucks can't pass the border??? and another truck from Reno had to come and meet him) and Dan O. who loaned us his pickup to go the three hours south to pick the trailer back up.

So what did we learn;
1. You can plan all you want, but stuff happens.
2. It's ok to sign up for AAA and Good Sam and anything else you can think of. Why? See # 1
3. Always be prepared. Thankfully we had full propane and water tanks, plenty of food...and oh did I mention a Starbucks and Kmart within walking distance.
4. If you have to do it, make sure and break down in a really great little town. Bishop was filled with thrift stores, coffee shops, antique places and great bike riding. We lucked out on that one.

But the most important thing I took away from this part of our adventure, I really can spend 14 days (or more) in a small enclosed place with the man I have been happy to have around for the last 40 years. Yep, I guess I can see now why Mom and Dad had it figured out.

Heading Home

Our last night at the beach, the waves call me to the shore line. I sit.....and wait.....and wait.
Certain that he will visit one more time.....and then.....
I love the ocean