USTravel

Three For the Road

Ducks swimming on the South Llano River, Texas

It’s time to hit the road and head off from El Paso all the way across Texas to our winter spot in Harlingen Texas. Is the truck hitched? Slides in? Stairs up? Let’s go!

Out of El Paso, the mountains were close by for quite awhile, but they gradually faded into distance. The terrain is rugged here. We saw plenty of buttes, strange rock formations, and miles upon miles of open, parched land.

I should maybe have titled this blog “Four for the road”, because there were actually four overnight stops along the way, but our first was at Fort Stockton RV Park. It’s right off the highway and is primarily an overnight stop for RVers crisscrossing the state before or after the long open stretch of west Texas. There are things to do here, but we always say: “Next time!” They do have a handy little restaurant which served us up a good breakfast.

The road entered some pretty hills and valleys of the southwest corner of the Texas Hill country. Our second stop was outside of Junction, Texas for two overnights at Pecan Valley RV. This is a lovely, quiet place just behind a pecan farm. The owners of this park have had it for just a handful of years. They own just two rows of the pecan orchard. The park is a large oval with nothing but grass in the middle of the oval, and RV spaces under plenty of trees ringing just half of the outsides of the loop. There were four sites next to ours, although there were more down the road, and for a blessed twenty-four hours we had no neighbors close by.

A pecan wagon-turned-chicken coop, with our RV in the background, at Pecan Valley

There are deer to be seen at any time wandering around. In a little farm area, there are chickens and goats. Many of the chickens were free ranging and came to pay us a visit. Thanks to those chickens, we were able to buy a dozen multi-hued eggs.

The South Llano River is just a short walk from the goat and chicken pen. The river is what makes this park popular in the summer. Besides swimming, people enjoy rafting, kayaking or tubing. In all of its history, the river has never run dry, although with today’s climate change it does get very low in the heat of summer.

We had a full day to rest up here, so we went over to South Llano River State Park for a hike. At this park there is a large protected area where about 800 turkeys make their home. The turkeys are easily scared off, so visiting their roost is not encouraged. We hiked the Overlook Trail, which, after spending time in the Southwest, was an easy trail up for us. We were even surprised on our hike by an armadillo scurrying into the underbrush. It moved too quickly for a picture.

Cal is appreciating a bench at the overlook. The flat, treed area below the overlook is the turkey roost.

Junction’s single claim to fame is this antler tree, put up by the Women’s Club in 1968.

The Llano river is a bonus to the beauty of this area. I would like to be here when the trees bud again. We’re familiar with Texas Hill country and it was a good feeling to be back.

A short 140-mile drive took us further east to Guadalupe Brewing Company in New Braunfels. Since they are a Harvest Host location, we stayed a night in their back parking lot.

A surprise for this stop was that our daughter Katie, who lives in Austin, decided to come down and join us for the day. She always has ideas for different and fun things to do, so after getting set up at Guadalupe we headed off in her car. First stop: Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo. At first glance, this place looks like a tourist trap off the Interstate. But once inside, we discovered an interesting little zoo with a variety of well-cared-for animals, birds, and a good assortment of snakes.

I don’t think I’d like to meet this reticulated python out in the wild!

We also had cups of food to feed a multitude of goats with many cute little kids.

New Braunfels is but one of the German heritage towns that dot this area of the Texas hill country. We walked the little downtown area. All of the busy activity on this Sunday afternoon concentrated on their large Biergarten with Hofbrau beer on tap. Instead, though, we roamed the city streets, checked out an antique mall, and visited the little train depot. If you are ever in New Braunfels in November, you can enjoy their popular Wurstfest.

We needed to patronize Guadalupe Brewing for our stay, so we headed back. They had a full selection of beers to choose from. I’m not really a fan of beer, but Cal is, so we sampled three small glasses. My favorite was their Texas Honey Ale, which is described as “a blonde ale enriched with Texas honey”. Even the description sounds delicious. They also make a good pizza, and dinner was in order. That was a fun day!

Leaving New Braunfels, we pointed Sam and Frodo due south in earnest. It was getting warmer. Putting San Antonio behind us, we were on new-to-us territory. Our last stop: Lake Corpus Christi State Park. It is about forty miles to the east from the city for which it is named. Once we set up, I just sat at our picnic table and enjoyed the warmth and the cardinals singing and flying over us.

I hiked a mile long loop trail. Cactus on the the ground were interspersed with deciduous trees with no leaves, and here and there was a palmetto or a palm tree. The trail finally opened up onto the lake.

I missed getting an excellent photo that evening, though. We walked down to a large aluminum T-shaped fishing pier in the late afternoon and caught the setting sun over the lake. The sunset was amazing. It was a walk where we were just “going exploring”, and I had left my phone and camera behind. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was spectacular.

Traveling further south, we entered a coastal plain with low vegetation, more cactus and very little sign of human life. We had about 140 miles still to go from Lake Corpus Christi. Once near Harlingen, civilization returned. Harlingen is in the northeast part of the Rio Grande Valley, an area that also includes Brownsville and south Padre Island to the southeast and McAllen and Mission on the west. It is at the very bottom of Texas, so once again, we are not far from Mexico.

I’ll leave you here for now while we make some new memories. I’m going to pick up my Europe blogs again for three or four weeks. Do you remember my question from way back in November: what did I leave out of my Scottish blogs?

That’s for next time!

USTravel

Passing Time in El Paso, Texas

View of El Paso, with Juarez in the distance, from McKelligon Canyon

Huddled in our blankets in front of our fireplace in the cold November nights of New Mexico, we stalked the Weather Channel for a warmer place that would be still be a days driving distance from Denver. El Paso was consistently several degrees warmer. It’s a funny thing, too, because El Paso, Texas lies only approximately 50 miles to the south of Las Cruces, New Mexico. We knew where we had to go. We were going to go there anyway, but our arrival at our site in El Paso was about three weeks earlier than we originally planned.

At the very tip of the nose of Texas, on its far western side, lies the city of El Paso. Franklin Mountain rises up and pushes down into it like a thumb. The city has crept up and around the tip of that thumb. El Paso is limited in its growth southward by the Mexican city of Juarez, from which migrants poured during the months of November and December 2022. Driving along I-10 reveals a tale of two cities: Juarez, looking a little less prosperous and with a lining of smog along its mountainside, and El Paso, with its chain restaurants and hotels lining the expressway. If you look closely, you can see the immense border wall which snakes down and around, dividing Mexico and the United States.

On the northeastern side of the mountain lies sprawling Ft. Bliss, the Army’s second largest base, containing 1.1 million acres. It is so big that it is chopped up by the roads that pass through it, notably SR 54 that passes in front of the RV park. Were it not for that highway, this would be a great place to sit. Behind the park, Franklin Mountain rises up and provides a lovely backdrop. All around the mountain, development never rises much higher than this. I suspect that much of the land is owned by either the federal government or the state of Texas.

On some of my daily walks, I tried to get behind the buildings and up into the hills, but it was just too far. In the foreground of this picture is one of Ft. Bliss’s housing areas and behind that is a fence.

I’ve written about Ft. Bliss in a blog post about some of the military bases we stayed in, so I’ll not go on further about it. If interested, I’ve included the post here: https://twosnatravels.com/2022/01/29/military-family-camping/.

There was plenty of time to explore, so one of the first things we did was hike in the Franklin Mountains.

It was silent on the mountain, until the sound of birds broke through. We stood there for awhile, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from, until this gaggle of geese flew over us. They circled above our heads for quite awhile. Maybe, just like people, they were having an argument about which direction was best for their migration journey? There was quite a discussion, as evidenced by all their honking. Finally they fixed their formation and flew off. Adios amigoose!

If you want to drive to a destination in El Paso that is on the other side of the mountain from where you are, it can take some time to go around on the highway. The single other option is to travel on the only road that cuts through it, which is beautiful Transmountain Road. Franklin State Park, where we hiked, is on that road. Going from west to east, at the end of Transmountain road, sits the National Border Patrol Museum. We thought it might be interesting, so we paid a visit.

The thing that struck me most about this museum is a reminder that the United States borders do not only encompass our border with Mexico, which is what comes to mind when I think about Border Patrol. Those who work for Border Patrol have to be ready for winter conditions up on the border with Canada, and also oceanic borders in other places. The museum is small and didn’t take us long to go through. It is a good place to learn about those who protect all of our borders.

Border Patrol agents have to keep an eye out for motorized hang gliders, which are used for drug smuggling. We learned about the many ways that people try to smuggle all manner of things – and people – into the United States. Helicopters are needed, of course.

After we visited the museum, Cal made an attempt to see how high up we could drive into the mountains from our side (not very far). We passed a migrant detention center and observed many people walking around in the fenced back yard. One man was holding a baby. It is an image that stayed in my mind and put a very human face on the current migration crisis happening in this city.

We made a stop at Keystone Park and El Paso’s Botanical Garden one morning. Keystone Park needs a lot of love, as it doesn’t seem to be well maintained. It is a narrow strip of wetlands on a short trail located between a busy road and I-10, which is amazing given this light-industrial location. There were many birds to see, which made it worthwhile, and then the Botanical Garden can be accessed from this trail.

The birds would take flight and move to another section of wetland when I tried to take just a step closer, so I couldn’t get a closeup shot of them. But I did like this view of the mountains reflected in this picture. Our RV was on the other side of the mountain from here.

The garden was small, but a lot was packed in. It provided plants from the Chihuahuan desert and a peek into some past history.

In one area, there were pretty mosaics set into the wall:

I liked how they had decorated, just a little, for Christmas:

The garden also had a set up of a “paraje” which was an encampment along the Camino Real. This dates back to the 1600’s, when New Mexico was a Spanish colony. The trail covered the distance between Mexico and Santa Fe along what was originally a Pueblo Indian trail. The Spanish were setting up military outposts and needed to move both equipment and missionaries. Parajes were located every 10 or 15 miles to give shelter, rest and water to the livestock and and travelers as well.

The plan for the day was that if we had time, Cal would drop me off at Whoopee Bowl Antique Mall up the highway, and he would go to Camping World while I was there. We have such an exciting life!

I had read about Whoopee Bowl, and I love to poke around antique malls, so I wanted to check this out. If this is the sort of thing you enjoy, it is not to be missed if you are ever in El Paso. I’m always amazed at all the junk…excuse me…stuff that people collect. Whoopee Bowl takes antique malls to a whole ‘nother level.

The above picture is up on the second level. After checking out this massive place and returning down to the first floor, I found a room I hadn’t been in. There was huge fish aquarium, a blazing fire going in a massive brick fireplace, and a rousing game of poker going on.

Atlas Obscura is a guide, both on-line and in book form, to all sorts of quirky and interesting places that one might normally miss. They don’t list the Whoopee Bowl, maybe because it is a business. But they do list the Casa de Azucar, which translated from Spanish means House of Sugar. It was just down from where we were staying and made for a good walk.

It is a testament to one man’s love for both his wife and his Catholic church. Rufino Loya started building this confection of decoration around his little house and kept at it for 25 years. He died just this past August at the age of 88 years. I hope someone will keep taking care of it.

Also just up the road, two artists were working on a mural on a concrete retaining wall. I enjoyed walking by and checking their progress.

Our time in El Paso was also about catching up on chores for me and RV maintenance for Cal. The less-glamorous side of RV life is that we do have to stay on top of everything that one would normally do in their lives. Some things had not been taken care of since before our trip to Europe. It being Christmas time, there was also gift buying, Christmas cards to write, and other things that one does to get ready for the holiday. Our RV park had a club house with a kitchen I could use, and I baked some Christmas cookies there.

Just a few days before Thanksgiving, we made a last-minute decision to visit our family in Denver, so we went drove there without the RV for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Almost every evening while we stayed here, though, we walked together through the little streets of the RV park. It was fairly large so I could get a good number of steps in. When the sun goes down, the temperature plummets, so at times we had to make sure we got our walk in before dinner. For awhile we enjoyed a full moon. There was also a little Christmas wonderland set up by our camp hosts.

And, of course, we paid a visit to Santa!

Like a coin which has two sides, we were happy to refuge here, and also happy when it was finally time to move on down the road.

Next time – zipping across the state of Texas in five days

USTravel

Wandering New Mexico

Sunset on the mountains behind our RV, Alamogordo, NM

Happy first blog of 2023! I haven’t gotten back to blogging as quickly as I would have liked after the holidays. Blame it on the flu, and traveling, and also having some nonexistent Internet. We are now in a good spot with great Wi-Fi for awhile, so it’s time to flip the calendar back a couple of months…

Entering our RV again after 3 months away in Europe was truly like coming home. It even still had a little of that “new RV” smell. No mice had settled in and nothing catastrophic happened to any of its mechanics. The lithium batteries hadn’t even lost much of their juice. We looked forward to getting back to our nomadic life, even as we still missed some of the aspects of life that we’d had in Europe. First, though, was two weeks in Denver and a happy reunion with our family there. We would be returning at Christmas. So, for the weeks in between, we headed south to New Mexico.

Our time in this state was a comical musical chairs-style switch up in plans and RV reservations. A five-night stay in a state park was canceled by the park for maintenance issues. A clueless RV park owner who takes reservations only by phone lost our reservation and had a full park during the dates we were to be there. And, unexpected: it often got cold at night, sometimes with below-freezing temperatures. We ended up canceling three other stays because the temperatures were dipping too much. RV life sometimes calls for some flexibility!

One of our “substitute stays” took us to a KOA park in Las Vegas. No, not THAT Las Vegas…remember, we are in New Mexico. While there, we took a drive 35 miles down the highway to visit Pecos National Historical Park. The Pecos Indians had a pueblo there, four to five stories high, home to about 2,000 people for several hundred years until the Spanish came along. What the Spanish didn’t destroy, the Americans did: later, it was a stage stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Situated in a fertile valley between two mountain ranges, it was a major gathering and trading place. The warriors were known to be fierce and undefeatable.

Pecos National Historical Park, New Mexico

The pueblo is in ruins. This is all that remains of a once-great people. Once upon a time, there were 20 kivas here, which were places for ritual ceremonies. I climbed down inside of one of them.

The park service is slowly reconstructing some of the park based on archeological finds. The Spanish mission was in a partially ruined state and they have rebuilt some of it and the surrounding pueblo.

The remains of the Spanish Mission church and layout of surrounding buildings that were here

We drove around Las Vegas a couple of times. It was once a stop on the Santa Fe trail during its Mexican past. Later, the railroad arrived. I read that there are 900 historic buildings in this town, dating back hundreds of years. There are things to see another time when it’s warmer. We had dinner in the Buffalo Hall and Cowboy Cafe, another old building. Their barbeque was delicious.

For me, KOA parks are usually just an overnight stop off the highway. Some are practically on the highway, and come with traffic noise and small sites. We stayed here for two nights, and I must say it wasn’t bad. They gave us site #1, which meant a full sprawling yard and no RV’s in view from our front porch. Susan, in the office, fried us up some delicious pancakes with vanilla and cinnamon for breakfast. However, this park sits near the Hogback Mountains, and Las Vegas itself is at 6,424 feet elevation. I didn’t think it would be so chilly this early in November, but we had snow on the morning of our departure. We needed to get further south!

The view from our porch in Las Vegas, New Mexico; time to flee!

Northern New Mexico is mountainous and is very beautiful. Santa Fe, Taos, and Angel Fire are all nearby. But we’ll have to save our exploration of it for a time when it’s a little warmer.

Our next stay, in Fort Sumner, was also a last-minute replacement find. It was a small mobile home and RV park, usually the kind of place that would be at the very bottom of our desired place to stay. But the permanent residents were to the back, us transients to the front, and all places were neat and tidy. Our site was very wide, and we were right in town. Well, such as town was. What this place lacked in amenities, it made up for in character.

The owners of Valley View RV also own the “Billy the Kid” museum up the street. Ed & Jewel Sweet opened the museum in 1953 as a repository for all the stuff they had collected in their life, and naming it after New Mexico’s famous outlaw is what drew people in. Their son, Donald (who is no spring chicken himself, but gets around well) is running the family business and together with his son, Tim, they run a tight ship.

Billy the Kid’s Rifle

I wasn’t much drawn into the Billy the Kid stuff. Stuff of lore though he may have been, he was still a criminal. Allegedly, he killed 21 men before he himself was killed at the age of 21 in 1881. But this is BTK territory: where ever we went around these parts, a sign would proclaim “Billy slept here!” or “Billy shot someone here!” and I couldn’t see one redeeming thing that he ever did. I guess it helps with tourism dollars, but I would say the heyday on these events has come and gone.

I loved looking at all the stuff the Sweets collected and had on for display in the museum, though. Besides these farm implements, there were collections of various household items, lots of old buggies and some covered wagons, and of course more BTK ephemera.

Whenever there is a fort to be seen, and we’re looking for something to do, we usually go see it. They’re all different, and some have been amazing for the surprises they hold. Nothing could have prepared me for Fort Sumner, though. Rather than normal western fort-looking buildings, this beautiful museum greeted us:

Recently completed, the Bosque Redondo Memorial tells the story of how 8,500 Navajo and Apache Indians were rounded up in January of 1864 and made to march almost 300 miles to this place. Called “The Long Walk”, under the leadership of Kit Carson, 200 of them died of cold and starvation on the way. The site was to be a reservation to “civilize” them by going to school, practicing Christianity, and becoming corn farmers. Once they got here, they were made to construct their own dwelling places. Unfortunately, the nearby Pecos river was brackish and caused intestinal problems and disease, armyworm destroyed the corn crops, and the wood supply was soon depleted. Most of the Apache escaped the next year, but it would be three more years before the Navajo simply walked home. The whole venture was a miserable failure.

The memorial was built at the request of some Navajo teenagers who, when visiting Ft. Sumner, wanted to know why their story here wasn’t told. Until just two years ago, you would visit the fort and simply not know what happened at this place. The events were certainly not included in any of my history books.

I didn’t have much of an appetite for visiting the fort after that, but we followed the trail out. There isn’t much left of it anyway. Walking about the grounds, I pondered the atrocities that occurred here under the direction of our government. It is a silent, windswept place.

A partially reconstructed layout of some of the buildings

I’m continually astounded at man’s inhumanity to man. I came away with a feeling that I, we all, need to travel and see these places and to learn their stories. Otherwise, how can we learn not to repeat them?

As a side note, after the fort was abandoned in 1869, a rancher purchased one of the old barracks buildings and turned it into a grand house. It was there that a local sheriff ended the life of Billy the Kid. He is buried in the military cemetery nearby, but we did not visit it.

Ready to get back to nature, our next stay was at Valley of Fires Recreation Area, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. It looks over part of a 44-mile lava flow that happened 5,000 years ago. It was not the result of a volcano. Instead, the Carrizozo Malpais Lava Flow was the result of volcanic vent openings in the valley floor. Our site also looked out over the lava field and provided us with several grand sunsets. From our perch, the only man-made thing that we could see was the nature trail and, occasionally, cars on the road far off in the distance to our right. Ahhhhh…excellent.

It is a quiet and peaceful place and was our favorite stay during this time.

When we hiked the nature trail, we discovered that the lava field is very much a living place. There are cactus, trees, and bushes common to the Chihuahuan Desert that we were in, as well as some late-blooming flowers. Animals live here too but we didn’t see any. Seeing lava rock again almost made us feel like we were back on the Big Island of Hawaii.

As a fill-in for our lost RV reservation, we stayed for several days in Alamogordo, right across the road from the world’s biggest pistachio.

It’s best not to try to eat this pistachio! It’s 30 feet tall.

McGinn’s PistachioLand and its neighbor, Heart of the Desert, were both great places to sample pistachios, pecans, and wine. It was very handy, after having all that wine, to just be able to walk across the road (carefully!) and go home. At McGinn’s we also took a little tram ride through the orchards and vineyards for an interesting tour. We liked McGinn’s best, but that was probably because Heart of the Desert was a smaller operation and were very busy with a wedding when we visited.

Also behind our RV park in Alamogordo was a little country road which I enjoyed walking on a couple of times. There was a large pecan orchard to look at, mountains ahead of me, and friendly horses to pet.

A pecan orchard

The highlight of our stay in Alamogordo, though, was a visit to White Sands National Park. Although it was designated a national monument in 1933, it became a national park in 2019. We took a guided walk by a park ranger, where we learned that recently they have found a set of ancient footprints here. The footprints date to 24,000 years ago, placing humans in North America sooner than was thought, but this date seems to still be in dispute. Although the gypsum sands seem dry, there is water only a couple of feet below the surface.

We also hiked a short nature trail – and it was easy to lose the trail!
The sand pack on the road looked exactly like a snow storm had occurred here.

The sun going down made for great effect, casting its long shadows over the sandy hills. We were here in the late afternoon so as to catch the ranger’s tour, but it was a great time of day to visit.

Our last stay during this time was in Las Cruces. From our park, we were able to walk to Old Mesilla, a village that was settled over one hundred years ago. Red chile peppers adorn the plaza and the thick adobe-walled buildings contain art galleries, shops and restaurants.

A mural on our walk to Old Mesilla
Chile peppers and Christmas lights on the plaza

I cannot help but point out that there was once a courthouse here where Billy the Kid was tried for his crimes and sentenced to hang. He escaped before that could happen.

A historic home in Old Mesilla

We had excellent fajitas in a restaurant called La Posta in Old Mesilla. It had been a Butterfield stage stop and inn, and in 1935 it became a restaurant. Parrots and a piranha fish greeted us when we entered. La Posta had rooms upon rooms, and we ate in what was once was the blacksmith and harness room, with a fireplace that kept us warm. While we enjoyed our delicious dinner, we could look at an immense Christmas tree in an adjoining room.

The state of New Mexico overall has much to offer, but we will have to return at a time when it is warmer. The entire state is at elevation, which means it isn’t a great place to be in late fall and winter. Las Cruces itself, while in the far south of New Mexico, sits at 3,900 feet elevation. It was 27 degrees on our last morning in Las Cruces and it wasn’t the first time we’d had a freeze. Daytime temperatures usually warmed up into at least the 50’s, but nighttime freezing temperatures means that the RV mechanic (that’s Cal) has to disconnect hoses and turn on tank heaters. It’s always a worry that a connection might freeze and crack.

We were continuously keeping an eye on the Weather Channel, trying to figure out where would be the warmest place to sit for awhile. What did we find? That is the subject of my next post!

Next time – looking for sunshine in the southwest

Life in General · USTravel

And…We’re Off Again

Our previous post, from Western Colorado, actually happened two months ago. What have we been doing since then? Getting ready for our 3 month trip to Europe!

Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised to hear of our plans. Thinking about it and saving for it kept me going through the last decade of work before retirement. In its original conception, the trip was going to be 9 months, plus Hawaii tacked on at the beginning. Why spend a lot of money flying back and forth over the ocean for a few weeks when you can see more in one trip for several months?

Then, grandchildren started arriving. COVID happened, and the purchase of our truck and 5th wheel. We had our trip to Hawaii earlier this year, so now it’s time for the other part of the plan. The trip duration has been reduced to only three months, but three months is still a blessing, and I’m glad we can go.

I started planning for the trip last fall. And then stopped for awhile. COVID variants arrived, waned, came back around again. Ukraine was invaded by Russia. Optimistically, I reserved AirBnbs and purchased plane tickets. Cal was worried about Covid resurgence. And it is resurging again. We have been vaccinated and boosted twice, and have our masks, but who knows? Neither of us could have foreseen the airport debacle that is going on right now in Europe and here in the States. But all plans are made, and we will hope for the best.

What about our truck and 5er? Our RV is going into storage on an air base. What could be more secure than that? We have a nephew in Albuquerque who is graciously letting us keep the truck in his driveway. I suspect he will be enjoying a few drives in it. When we return to the United States, we will be back to our RV’ing life the same as before.

Meanwhile, besides trip preparation, our time in Denver has been filled with the mundane stuff of everyday life. We have been happily enjoying the company of our grandchildren – and their mothers, of course!

Two days after we arrived, we had a late May snowstorm.


A bewildered buck

One place I enjoyed returning to this summer was Denver City Park. There were a couple of walks with friends. I wish I could have joined them more often. This is the kind of weather I prefer!

This year, for the first time, I had opportunity to be in the park twice in the evening for concerts by the Mile High Freedom Band:

In Ferril Lake, the fountain changes colors, and swan boats paddle around it.

As we rose north from Arizona and Utah so did the gas prices, and they peaked during our stay in Denver. We limited excursions to those around town. We were curious about a couple of brown signs we’ve seen on streets we travel often, so we followed those signs. The first was 8 miles out from our summer spot at Cherry Creek State Park to Aurora Reservoir. Despite the cool and overcast weather, people were out fishing and SUP’ing.

We discovered a great trail through the rolling prairie around the lake, and some blooms that looked a little like thistles.

Another brown sign we see on our way to City Park in Denver is for Four Mile Park. I was hoping for a hiking/biking trail until I did some research on it: it is a historical park.

Source: Fourmilepark.org

Four Mile Historical Park is four miles from the heart of downtown Denver and was a last stop on the Cherokee Trail in the pioneer days. This house is the oldest house in Denver. A cabin was built to supply travelers, and then it became an inn and stage coach stop. Women slept in the parlor and the men upstairs, and the upstairs loft was also used for dances. It finally became a gentleman’s farm for a Denver lawyer and his family, and grew to 600 acres. Now there are only twelve acres and it is in the city with apartment buildings all around the outside.

Tim, the assistant site manager, walked us through the house. We could see its transformation over the years. The first room is the old cabin, then there is a walk through the parlor, and finally into the very genteel turn-of-the century home.

The interesting thing is that the dining room and kitchen are in the basement. It’s cool down there, perfect for hot days when the wood burning stove is always lit. The stove also warms the space in winter.

Outside, there are both replica and and original buildings, barns with animals, and a boardwalk for children to sweep when they are visiting.

One thing I like about Denver is that, even when just going about running errands, I can look up and see the mountains when driving westward.

Of course, the best thing of all is the time spent with our grandchildren. Merely gazing at that perfection of a truck is happiness in spades for our grandson.

As with our trip to Hawaii, I don’t know how often I will be blogging while in Europe. We do have some places that we will be settling in for over a week, so maybe I’ll be catching up then.

Do you follow Facebook? If so, Twosna Travels is there, and a search on the name will find me. I may be more likely to post random photos there.

First stop – Belfast, Ireland. Until then: goodbye, slán, tschüss, arrivederci, antio sas!

USTravel

Mountain bliss in Western Colorado

Imagine listening to the sounds here: nothing but the birds singing. The lake below is sparkling and blue. Through a gap in the foothills behind the lake you can see the beautiful green and snow-capped mountain peaks beyond. This splendid vision is called Rifle Gap State Park and it lies in western Colorado.

We had come from Moab, one of the best places in the United States for ATV’ing and off-roading in all of its many forms. Our large RV park was crowded and there was a gathering spot by the entrance for any off-road excursions. Any other park in town was full because of an off-roading event.

In true Utah form, our park was also “landscaped” with lots of rocks, gravel, dust and dirt. The park owners made an effort by watering our little patch of iris, but nothing could take away the road noise. It was handy for seeing the national parks, because we didn’t have to drive into Moab, but I was happy to see that our reserved site at Rifle Gap was open one night earlier.

There’s not a lot going on at Rifle Gap and that was fine with us. The water level in the small lake is low. There is boating, but mainly for fishing. Campground loops line the edges of lake like pearls on a necklace. Our loop rose up from the lake in a zig zag fashion, and our site was at the top of a hill. We decided that our site, and the one next to us, were the best and most private in the park.

There would normally be water covering the area in the top left of this picture. Unfortunately, this has been a common sight in the West.

Rifle Falls State Park is not far from Rifle Gap, and driving there, you pass through a pretty little mountain valley dotted with picturesque farms, a winding creek, and improbably, an old golf course. It is another small park, but we hear it is impossibly crowded on the weekends. No wonder, because it is a lovely spot to visit. We were glad we were there on a weekday.

I had not expected something so breathtakingly beautiful.

You can walk behind the falls—

—and along the cliff walls on either side of the waterfall, there are small caves you could wander in and out of. As you can imagine, I really enjoyed this part.

Cal is giving some perspective on the size of a couple of the cave openings. He’s a little claustrophobic, so didn’t join me inside them.

Up on top of the falls, there is a walkway.

Up here, there are “wooden diversion structures”. There was a hydroelectric plant here in the first half of the 1900’s, and these housed the pipes that carried water down to the powerhouse. Around the turn of the century, there was also a resort hotel near here, and the owner charged folks a quarter (about $5.00 today) to visit the falls. Now that it is a state park, we were able to visit without charge because we have an annual Colorado state parks pass.

The view from above the falls
One last view of the falls

Not far from Rifle Falls State Park is the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery, which supplies trout not only for the creek here and in Rifle Gap State Park, but in many other lakes, streams, ponds, and reservoirs. In some remote areas, they drop the fish by helicopter or small airplane. What a shock for a fish!

We always enjoy walking around the ponds in a hatchery to look at fish in their various stages of development. This hatchery has capacity to produce five million fish per year, but is only producing less than half of that currently. Whirling disease is currently a problem with cold water fish, such as trout. The hatchery is only utilizing spring water (versus surface water) to reduce contamination, which lowers their capacity. I also learned that they stock fish for kid’s fishing derbies. That’s great! It gives the kids more of a chance to catch a fish.

There was actually one other state park in this area, Harvey Gap, but all it contained was a large boat launch area. The lake looked similar to Rifle Gap, although it didn’t seem as shallow.

This was a relaxing interlude between our Utah travels and our arrival in Denver for part of the summer. We were treated to more mountain views along the drive to Denver, and I’ll leave you for now with this view of the Rockies from Breckenridge.

Next time: summer in Denver

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Hole N’ the Rock Home

How would you like to live in a house carved out of rock? Someone we had met somewhere on the road had told us that the Hole N’ The Rock house was one of his favorite things to do in Moab, Utah. That idea sounded interesting to me, so we decided to give it a visit.

If you’re one of my regular readers, you know that Twosna Travelers doesn’t usually visit places that are dubbed “Tourist Attractions”, otherwise known as “Tourist Traps”. As we arrived, everything screamed Tourist Attraction, especially the sign. I would not have stopped if we had just driven by without knowing what it was all about.

For $6.00, you get a 12 minute tour of the house. Yep, that’s right…12 minutes. And, pictures are not allowed inside. I purchased a little brochure of the house for $2.00 in order to have the inside pictures that I am posting here. There is also a petting zoo where you could feed the animals, a collection of Lyle Nichols metal art sculptures, mining equipment and other vintage items and memorabilia to look at outside, souvenir shops, and ice cream. To me, all of that was extraneous stuff. I wanted to see the house.

While we were waiting for the tour, though, I did stop to admire their collection of antique gas pumps and license plates:

So…the backstory. Albert Christiansen and his brother Leo were part of a family that settled the land that the house is on. An enterprising sort, they cleared a cave on the property for cowboys passing through the area on cattle drives to stay in. In 1940 Albert decided it might be a pretty nice house, so over a period of 12 years he hand drilled and blasted and moved 50,000 cubic feet of rock, finally readying it for he and his wife Gladys to move into in 1952. He died only five years later. For ten years, until his death, he and Leo also operated a diner in part of the house.

The first room on the tour is the kitchen. The 1950’s decor is interesting. There is also a deep fat fryer, not seen in this picture, set into a pot-sized hole in the rock.

The craftsmanship in the fireplace was amazing. The chimney is 65 feet tall, drilled down through solid sandstone from above, but Albert could not get it to vent properly. An outside patio on the rock ledge above the house was in the works at the time of his death, so perhaps he was hoping to finish this off then.

The house is 5,000 square feet and has fourteen rooms around large rock pillars.

Their bedroom can be seen behind the lamp above, and is also shown below.

Albert was also an artist and taxidermist, and his studio was farther back behind the bedroom. He greatly admired Theodore Roosevelt and sculpted a likeness of his face on the rock cliff outside the house, seen in my “Hole N The Rock” photo and in more detail below.

Gladys was no slouch, either. After Albert’s death, she continued developing the home according to what he had dreamed and wished for. She worked with Leo to construct a bathtub in the bathroom.

When Albert died, she moved her bedroom to a different room in the house. She collected dolls, and the ones in this picture were hers. All of the furnishings in the home are still original to what Gladys and Albert had.

Gladys and Albert had no children together, but she came into the marriage with a son, Hub Davis. When Albert passed, she was the one who had the big white sign painted on the cliff. She polished rocks and sold them in her gift shop, and and her collection of them is inside the house. She also gave tours of the house. Hub kept the enterprise going after her death in 1974, and then it was sold and passed out of the family. That is when all the other attractions, including the petting zoo, were added.

There are those people in life who use their creativity, talent and passion to do amazing things in their corner of the world. These people bless us with the fruits of their genius that they leave behind. Albert and Gladys were two such people and I’m glad I was able to see their home – even though I would have liked more than 12 minutes inside! They are buried out back in a little nook in the rock on their property.

We left after the tour and did not pay to see the zoo. The ice cream shop hadn’t yet opened for the day. For some reason, we were really hungry after our visit and had a huge Italian lunch at Pasta Jay’s in Moab. We followed up that decadence with – you guessed it – an ice cream cone!

Next time – mountain bliss in western Colorado

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Canyons, Arches and Goblins – Eastern Utah

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

Feeling like someone whose family vacation slides have gone on too long, I’m wrapping up our travels through Utah mostly in one blog. Suffice to say that we loved seeing all five of the Utah national parks, three state parks, national forests and one national monument that we visited. The rock formations were amazing, and all different. We tried not to pick favorites, because every park had a flavor all its own. The highlights:

GOBLIN VALLEY STATE PARK

Goblins, mushrooms, hobbit houses? In a place you can explore and not have to stay on a trail? Sign me up, please! Nature is at her playful best here.

This little area did look like a hobbit village to me

As the name implies, these magical rock formations sit in a valley and the area where anyone is free to explore (after paying the $20.00 park pass) covers about 3 square miles. There are other trails in this park but we found that by the time we were done wandering about, it was time for our picnic lunch in a shelter overlooking the valley. There is something about Goblins that makes you feel like you are twelve years old again.

A face-off in silhouette

The area that is now Goblin Valley was once a muddy tidal flat on an inland sea, back in the Jurassic period. Waves deposited sand and silt. Erosion, wind and rain over millennia hardened the shapes into Entrada sandstone, as we have seen in other parks, and the goblins. They are ever-changing.

Further back in the valley, the cliffs were full of small caves and little nooks and crannies.

Impossibly, wildflowers grow here, too:

A formation called the The Three Sisters. Was there ever a fourth, that fell off her pedestal?

Canyonlands National Park

Our last stay was in Moab, where we visited these final parks. Canyonlands didn’t take much time. Our usual drive-through, stopping at places of interest and doing minimal walking to them, took only a couple of hours. It looked like a miniature Grand Canyon. In the heart of the Colorado Plateau, the Green and Colorado rivers carved the canyons.

There are four districts to Canyonlands, and although they all have desert landscape, they are all different from each other. The rivers divide the districts and there are no roads that connect them. We visited the Island in the Sky District, which is closest to Moab.

A precarious picnic spot with a million dollar view

It seemed like every park we had been to had their trophy arch or natural bridge, and Canyonlands was no exception:

Mesa Arch

The picture below is of Upheaval Dome, which is a scientific mystery. It is a circular depression about two miles wide. Was it a violent meteor impact that cracked the rock and formed the crater, or was it the effect of time, cracking and splitting the rock that was originally a salt dome? I love a good mystery, and I hope they can find something conclusive. Right now they are leaning toward the meteor theory. When I peered down into the crater, I decided that there a lot of interesting things going on here, geologically.

Dead Horse State Park

Dead Horse completes time spent at Canyonlands. They are right next door to each other, and complement each other well. At Dead Horse, you pay the $20 park fee for a view, but it’s a pretty awesome view:

The Colorado has done its work here, and given us a view much like Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. Here, there is a grand view of the canyon to go with it.

The East Rim Trail was a pleasant stroll for looking down into the canyon.

When scrolling through my phone, I found a list of the “Top Things to See in Moab”. Included in this list were the Solar Evaporation Ponds at Intrepid Potash mine. The ponds can be viewed in or out of Deadhorse. Salts are part of the rock formations, and water is pumped into the mine to dissolve the salt. The salt water is then pumped sent into the ponds for evaporation, and a blue dye is added to speed the process. At certain times of the year, the blue shows up more brilliantly. From Dead Horse you can just barely see the ponds, and I zoomed in as far as I could to catch this picture.

As I was gazing out, trying to decide what I thought about the ponds, a woman standing next to me commented: “Spoils the view, doesn’t it?” I guess it all depends on what you have come to see. I would tend to agree with her though. What is the salt in the end of the process used for? Fertilizer.

Arches National Park

Arches didn’t make the top 10 of most visited parks for 2021, but the numbers are growing. It was the only Utah park for which we had to make reservations to get in. I chose the 6 to 7 AM timeframe.  The park is actually open 24 hours a day, and before 6 AM you don’t need a reservation.  We were glad that we came as early as we did.

There are some interesting rock formations here.  This one was in the Courthouse Towers area, and looked to me like a small group of people on the lookout:

There is Balanced Rock, made more famous by Edward Abbey in his book “Desert Solitaire”:

But the star of the show, to me, was the Arches.  We spent a lot of time at the Windows section where we could see Double Arch, North and South Window Arches, and Turret Arch.  Cal enjoyed the trails going up to these arches, and I enjoyed doing my best to climb right up under them. Our time in the Windows was actually timeless.  We were out of the truck and walking, had no thought to what we were going to do next, and were awed by the Arches, the sun coming up, and the beauty of the day.  Best of all, and especially at first, we were just a teeny bit ahead of the crowd.

South Window
Both South and North Window in the morning light

Everyone politely waits for their turn at getting a photo snapped of themselves under the Arch.  There are always willing folks to take our picture, because of course we will then take theirs. We stayed at South Window for a bit, absorbing the view, and we were actually photographed several times.

All you had to do from the Windows Arches was to turn around, and there was Turret Arch.

Turret Arch, with its “bonus” little window on the left

We had criss-crossed paths a couple of times with three Hispanic folks from Florida, originally Colombia. I practiced my Spanish, even though two of them spoke pretty good English. One of them was having too much fun with her camera, and took several pictures of us as well.  This one was her idea:

We coincidentally ran into these folks again at another trail in Arches, and then again the next day at Dead Horse, although the woman didn’t offer to snap any more pictures of us. Maybe her excitement had worn off by then.

My favorite here was Double Arch, which is what we were looking at at the time.  I tried to get underneath it, but the rock in the final ascent was just too tricky. Double Arch is massive and absolutely breathtaking, and the view changes with every step closer that you take.

You can just barely see me in blue, almost to the top of this climb, but the final stretch was too steep.

The bonus to getting up early to visit Arches in May, if you like flowers, is being able to see the evening primrose still in bloom. When the sun starts to burn brightly, the flowers close and the blooms are pink.

We also visited Sand Dunes Arch. It was a short walk, and half the fun was trying to get anywhere in the soft sand:

Sand Dunes Arch

The last arch for the day: Landscape Arch, which looks like an elephant with its trunk stretched out.

A bit of trivia: so far, over 2,000 arches have been counted in Arches National Park.

On our very last day in the Moab area, we used our second early-morning Arches reservation to visit Delicate Arch, the iconic Utah arch that you see in the top photo. The trail is about 1.5 miles one-way to the arch, and ascends almost from the beginning. It was probably about 6:15 AM when we arrived, and we passed plenty of people who were already returning from their ascent.

We passed Wolfe Ranch, a remote settlement that was farmed for about a decade during the turn of the century:

Just past the Wolfe Ranch was Ute rock art, dating from between 1650-1850. John Wolfe may have enjoyed showing this to any visitors that came by:

Part of our hike was on slickrock. Cal is shown here descending the rock, after we had visited the arch:

Finally, a very narrow path to the top with no fence to keep you from tumbling off the cliff! Again, this view is actually taken from the descent perspective.

A turn in our narrow pathway, and the stunning Delicate Arch came into view:

Perfection! An absolutely grand finish to our journey through Utah!

Finally, I have to give a shout out to these fine books, which I purchased from Barnes and Noble just before we hit the road:

They don’t include information that changes often, like hours of operation, shuttle times or advance reservation requirements, so the books should be relevant for a long time. The National Parks book was invaluable for guiding us through the parks and telling us which stops were worthwhile and which not, some hikes that were good, and other things to do. We used it exclusively to guide us on our drive through a couple of the Utah parks. It has information in it that the parks brochures do not. The State Parks book only has a few of the best parks in each state. Dead Horse and Goblin, as well as Kodachrome which I blogged earlier, are in here. I have not used the Secrets book much. It seems like some of that information requires drives on rugged roads or hikes that are a bit longer than we usually take.

Next time – we visit a “Tourist Attraction”

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The village of Fruita – Capitol Reef NP

The first time I heard of Fruita was when I was looking for sites for our RV. Capitol Reef’s little historic village has a campground, and you can see a little corner of it next to the horse pasture. There are orchards with 2,000 apple, peach, pear, apricot, cherrry and plum trees all over Fruita, and in the summer, anyone is free to pick the fruit. Now that sounds like fun!

Of course, it wasn’t summer yet and the trees didn’t even begin to have fruit on them. The campground doesn’t have any hookups. We drove through it. The sites were wide but right next to each other, and seemed a little more crowded even than ours at Wonderland. I liked that the campground was in the trees, with one of the orchards right next door. It would be fun to stay for a couple of days in the summer and just go over and pick the fruit.

The Mormons settled Fruita in the 1880’s. The fields were already there, abandoned by the Fremont Indians 700 years ago. The Mormons built irrigation systems to bring water from the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek, and they’re still used today to water the pastures and orchards. In its heyday, in the early 1900’s, there were as many as 10 families here. The town still had residents as recently as the 1960’s, but by then most of the Mormons had moved on.

The Gifford house, which you can see behind the horse above, is the last one remaining in Fruita. The Gifford farm lies in the heart of the Fruita valley, a desert oasis described by Wallace Stegner (a Western novelist) as “…a sudden, intensely green little valley among the cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold, opulent with cherries, peaches, and apples in season, inhabited by a few families who were about equally good Mormons and good frontiersmen and good farmers.” The home was originally built in 1908 by Calvin Pendleton, a polygamist with two wives. The Gifford family purchased the home in 1928 and lived and farmed there as recently as 1969.

Family treasures in the Gifford House

Today the Gifford House has a bakery and small gift shop with locally produced items, and only one small room has a tiny museum about the family who lived there. These are the things I like to look at from families long gone: the mundane stuff of daily life, and the family photos.

In the shop, there are cinnamon rolls every morning, which were gone by the time we were there, close to noon. They also sell fresh pies, which are conveniently sized for 2 or 3 people to feast on. We were able to purchase a couple of those, one of which we devoured with our picnic lunch. We also loaded up on specialty food items, which are great for gifts and to have in our pantry: jars of cherry salsa, jam, soup, and pancake syrup.

Capitol Reef’s visitor center lies at the entrance to Fruita. There is also a blacksmith shop that can be seen. We made a stop at the village schoolhouse, which sits on Route 24. A typical class would have been around 8 to 26 students, and the classes grew smaller as the years went on. The children were needed for the farm, so school was in session only from November to April.

A peek into the schoolhouse through one of the windows
Fruita Schoolhouse

A small orchard sits next to the schoolhouse.

Not in Fruita, but on the far eastern side of Capitol Reef as you enter the park, lies the Behunin Cabin. In my previous post, I noted how Elijah Behunin had led a team of men to clear the boulders in Capitol Gorge. Same busy guy. He tried to start a farm next to the Fremont River, and built this cabin for his family in the early 1800’s…with no less than 11 of his 13 children. It was only big enough for he, his wife, Tabitha Jane, and the two youngest to sleep in. The boys slept in an alcove in the rocks above the cabin, and the girls slept in the wagon bed. What did they do when it got really cold? I’d like to know what Tabitha thought about this cabin.

Unfortunately, the close proximity to the river caused the crops to flood. After only a year, the family moved to Fruita and became one of the first settlers to live there. I hope he built Tabitha a bigger house.

There is certainly more to Capitol Reef than I had originally thought, and what Fruita had to offer made for an interesting – and delicious! – diversion from the gorgeous scenery all around.

Next time – Goblin Valley State Park

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Capitol Reef National Park

Route 24 crosses Capitol Reef from east to west and covers the heart of the park in only 20 miles or so. This is what travelers see if they are just passing through. The park is long and narrow, so most of the rest is back country. We talked to some people who didn’t even stop in the park because they were on their way to other places, and vacation days are short. Here’s a little secret, if you’re still paying at the gate to get into a National Park: there is no gate at this one. At the visitor’s center, they don’t even care if you pay.

How did Capitol Reef get its name? It all started with a wrinkle in the Earth…sounds like the stuff of science fiction, doesn’t it? The land that is now called Capitol Reef changed over the millennia from oceans to desert and swamps to riverbeds, laying down a thick layer of sedimentary rock. Around 50 to 70 million years ago, an ancient fault lifted the rock and rather than cracking, the rock layers folded over the fault. As with all the rock we have seen, erosion sculpted these rock layers with the forces of rain, flash flooding, and freeze-thaw cycles, to create the one-sided Waterpocket Fold.

Coming from the East, as early explorers and settlers did, the line of cliffs of the Fold looks like a difficult barrier to pass through, like a barrier reef in an ocean. It stretches north to south for a hundred miles. The pioneers thought the rock monolith in my picture below looked like the dome at the nation’s capitol building. The name “Capitol Reef” was born.

There’s a dichotomy to writing about this park, because not only is there the natural beauty of the Waterpocket Fold, but there is also the history of the people who settled here – the Mormons – who called their village Fruta. Before them were the ancestors of modern day Zuni, Hopi, and Paiute tribes. In this blog I will write about our exploration of the park, and then will cover Fruita in the next.

Passing through Fruita and only stopping at the Visitor’s Center at the beginning, we drove the 16-mile round-trip Scenic Drive. On our left was the face of the Fold; on our right was desert scrub. The picture at the top of the blog shows the abrupt change in the landscape.

The Scenic Drive was once a wagonway called the “Blue Dugway” and was used by natives and outlaws alike. Later it became a pioneer throughway.

A strange and colorful landscape

At the end of the scenic road was fun time for Cal: a two mile spur road that was once the main road through the reef before 1962, when Route 24 was completed. It passes through Capitol Gorge, and is all dirt and gravel.

The towering walls of the gorge pressed in closely through here. My active imagination saw Indians at the top of the cliffs lying in wait for us, like an old Western movie.

On the signboard at the end of the road through the gorge was this picture of cars making their way through, back in the day:

Before cars were in existence, way back in 1883, a man named Elijah C. Behunin led a group of men to clear boulders for this passageway so that wagons could come through. It took them eight days. Remember his name, you’ll see it again in my next blog!

Finally, even this road petered out, and so we hiked the Canyon Gorge trail a mile further in. We saw pioneer registers carved into the cliffs here. There are Indian petroglyphs, too, but we didn’t see them.

An old road signpost, maybe? Or a mark above someone’s grave?

It is easy to see the effect that water has on the rocks; this gorge is prone to flash flooding.

After some debate, we veered off to explore the Tanks trail. But we couldn’t find the tanks, which are pockets of fresh water, because the trail wasn’t marked well. From there, though, there was a nice view of the Gorge.

Back to Route 24, on another day, we explored some turn-offs that looked interesting. One of them was Hickman Bridge, which is a 133-foot natural bridge.

Hiking to Hickman Bridge, we passed this set of two miniature natural bridges.

And, let’s throw in a couple of hoodoos, just for fun:

The hoodoos were located near the Fruita Historic District.

Mother Nature did a fine job of sculpting this park, and there were so many things we didn’t see: Chimney Rock and the Goosenecks Trail, a drive down the Grand Wash Road with a view of Cassidy Arch, and a short trail from a Route 24 turnoff to see some petroglyphs. I don’t know if we’ll ever return, but the pies at the Gifford House would be enough to lure us back! I’ll explain about that…next time!

Next time – Fruita Historical Village in Capitol Reef NP

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Scenic Route 12 and Wonderland in Utah

The road reaches every place; the shortcut, only one.

James Richardson

“Should we do it or not?”

That was the question of the week while we were staying in the Bryce area. Route 12 was the most direct way to our next location in Torrey, Utah. It is has been designated as an “All American Road” as one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the United States. It is 124 miles long. It is also a narrow two lane road with many curves, hairpin turns, and steep grades – a challenge when pulling a 5th wheel. I combed our RVin’g Facebook groups for other travelers’ input. One RVer’s advice: “just stay between the lines and you’ll be fine.” Well…okay! But in reality, I left this decision up to Cal, since he’s the driver, and he decided he could give it a go.

The western side of Route 12 starts at Panguitch and proceeds through the tunnels at Red Canyon that I blogged about earlier. It passes the turnoff to Bryce NP, and then the road to Kodachrome SP. All of that just in the first 25 miles! Heading east past Kodachrome, we were on new territory.

With Sam in tow behind Frodo, we don’t usually make stops on travel day. We were told, however, that Kiva Coffeehouse is a great stop for blackberry muffins. They have a large circular lot for RV’s, so we gave it a try. The rumors were true. The muffins were great, and so was the view.

This was a busy little spot. The Escalante River flows through here, so there are river activities, as well as a trailhead.

At Yonder Escalante, you could stay in a little cabin, in one of ten Airstream trailers, or park your own RV, all in the middle of a gorgeous landscape. We passed this cute resort on the grounds of an old drive-in theatre and thought it might be a fun place for an overnight or two, while taking in some of the sights that we missed on Route 12. There was Escalante Petrified State Park, Escalante Canyons, and the highly rated Anasazi Park Museum, not to mention some beautiful overlooks. In the Dixie National Forest, there is an overlook at the road’s summit of 9,000 feet, with contrasting stands of fir and aspen.

One of many ranches on the road

Route 12 ends in Torrey and right there at the end, where it intersects with Route 24, was our RV park for the next few days.

I booked Wonderland RV reluctantly. It was the best park with hookups in this area that we could find, and was recommended to us. The national park and a state park not too far away only had basic sites, no hookups. There is a lot of free national land (BLM) that one could park on. I wish we could do this, but for a stay of more than 2 or 3 nights it just doesn’t work. So Cal and I conferred, and found a site that was not right on the busy road or already occupied. But when we arrived, at first, I was so disappointed. It was a very narrow site! I always wish the people who build RV parks could just give us a little more space.

Wonderland is a fairly new park. It’s situated on the back end of a family ranch and is owned by the same family. The small park was thoughtfully designed, albeit with the narrow sites, and it filled up every night. We saw them spending time on maintenance and making sure the grass was watered in between our sites and around the park, which was something we appreciated in this land of rock and dirt. We thought this was probably a gold mine for them; what a way to use the “back forty” of the ranch land!

The view out our bedroom window is what saved the stay. There were horses, cattle, and a bison in the field. If we had parked just three or four sites down, we would have had a scenic view of the shower house. We mostly had full sightseeing days while we were here so we weren’t at home too much.

Appropriately, on Mother’s Day one of the cows gave birth through the night. Two other cows had already had their calves. They, the bison, and the mother huddled around the new baby anxiously, but it hadn’t yet stood up. Both the bison and the mother licked the calf continuously until the mother got fed up and shooed the bison away. We, and many other park residents, watched and chatted at the fence, but I eventually went on to do other things. We were at home on this day, and Cal reported that the calf finally stood up around noon. He spoke with the owner later, and found out that all of the cows plus the bison had been impregnated by the same bull. The bison still had a couple of weeks to go before her birth.

We also had evening visitors at our site.

Wonderland had some creative places to stay. How would you like to spend the night in this little wagon?

Next time – Capitol Reef National Park