October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure Part Seven

Welcome back to our 2020 COVID-19 Adventure after the holiday pause. I thought I could finish up the series of posts this week. Silly me. With twelve more days of travel and sightseeing, there was no way I could fit it into one post. This week we focus on Alamo, Nevada, where we made a three-night stop on our way to Bishop, California.

Before we left Utah on October 18, 2020, we stopped in Cedar City so Jon could get his second shingles shot at Walgreens and a supply of Blue DEF for the truck. The next day in Alamo, he woke up with mild reactions to the vaccine that lasted about half the day. This reduced our poking around time, which turned out okay. We found only two places to explore while in Alamo.

Extraterrestrial Highway

The Extraterrestrial Highway (Nevada SR 375) cuts off of SR 318 at the Crystal Springs Rest Area and continues for about 98 miles to US Route 6 in Warm Springs. At about half the distance sits the area of Rachael, where travelers will find the Little Al’e’inn restaurant, bar, and motel.

Road, two tall trees, blue sky, and hills
Crystal Springs rest area at the Y

The rest stop was a good place to eat lunch. It’s near the ghost town of Crystal Springs. Before white settlers entered the area, a Native American village used the spring. People traveling the Mormon Trail stopped there to replenish their water supplies. The thermal spring, with an 81 degree Fahrenheit temperature, still supplies water to ranches and farms up to 5 miles away.

Heavily vegetative site
Crystal Springs hides in the vegetation

The Alien Research Center is easy to spot from the road. Look for the giant metal alien figure on top of a hill and in front of a Quonset hut. The center is nothing more than a gift shop for the delight of tourists and alien seekers. It’s worth a stop to see all the items they sell, even if you aren’t interested in buying anything.

Aluminum space alien statue in front of a Quonset hut with woman standing up to its knee
Alien Research Center Gift Shop

Our next landmark was the Black Mailbox. Not sure what we were looking for, we stayed alert and watched the south side of the road, trying to find the box. A bare spot up ahead caught our attention. Sure enough, there was a black mailbox out in the middle of nowhere.

Black mailbox in the desert
The Black Mailbox. A link to Aliens from outer space?

So what is so special about the mailbox? Apparently beginning in 1973, Steve Medlin, a local rancher, used it to send and receive mail. Sixteen years later, Bob Lazar claimed the Airforce was hiding alien spacecraft that crashed in the desert near Area 51. ET-seeking enthusiasts swarmed the region and turned the mailbox into a communication device, leaving messages for Aliens and expecting return mail.

Black mailbox, broken stand for another black mailbox, and painted rock.
Who thought a plastic mailbox was a good idea?

Since then, visitors shot up the mailbox. It was replaced with a white box. Someone stole the white box, and it was replaced, then it was vandalized and replaced again. It appears that Mr. Medlin long ago gave up using the mailbox as his own.

Snacks, rocks, and random stuff inside a black mailbox
Random snacks, rocks, and cans left for the Aliens?

You’d think we would have been disappointed by what we found. Not so. We had no expectations starting out and enjoyed the ride through the lovely desert.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

The next day we visited The Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, which gave us an opportunity for an easy hike. Along a creek, we enjoyed the abundant flora and fauna along the way.

Tree, dirt road, and sign for Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
The Pahranagat Visitor Center was closed
Dike , creek, and shrubs
A dike in the Riparian Habitat

Thousands of migratory birds and endangered species use the refuge as a waypoint on the Pacific Flyway. The refuge includes three distinct habitats that provide rest, food, and nesting spots for the traveling birds.

Yellowed plants lining a gravel trail
The trail connects the Upper and Lower Lakes

Cottonwood and willow trees grow at the lake shores and springs, inviting birds to nest and feed. Meadows and grasses attract rodents, reptiles, and small mammals that find shelter and food in the desert uplands. Coyotes, raptors, and roadrunners find plenty of prey to satisfy their hunger in all three habitats.

Yerba Mansa plant and spent flower
Yerba Mansa
Branch covered with spider's web
Spider’s web?

The Desert Uplands portion of the refuge contains lava rock hills and yucca trees and other cactus.

Lava rock hill covered with dry grass and yucca plants
Lava Rock Hill in the Desert Uplands

None of the fifteen free primitive camping sites were available. The sites are spaced along the east shore of Upper Lake. Good luck finding a spot. There were none when we were there. And come prepared because there is no electricity, water, or sewer facilities, only vault toilets. Many of the sites can accommodate RVs or multiple tents. The campground below was a cluster of campsites at the end of the lake.

Large trees, an RV, cars, and canopies
A campground cul-de-sac

Seasonal boating, fishing, and hunting are available. Or enjoy guided walks and wildlife observation at Pahranagat.

Lower Lake of Pahranagat NWR with row of trees and yellowed grass
Upper Lake
Trail on the top of a dike, bunch of trees and brown hills.
Trail across Upper Lake
Birds on a branch
These little birds (finches?) did not want to pose. They preferred flitting back and forth.

There may be more to Alamo, Nevada, than what we found during our three nights there, but we were ready to move on.

Up next is our 7-day stop in Bishop, California, which served as our base camp to see Manzanar National Historic Site, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and other locations.

Stay Safe

October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure Part Three

On October 4, 2020, we packed up and moved to Zion Wright Family Ranch Campground about ten miles northeast of Virgin, Utah. The Wright Family has owned the ranch and eco-camp for six generations.

Red sandy field with camping sign
Zion Wright Family Ranch Camping

Don’t expect a staffed office for check-in or restrooms. Just drive through the fence opening, find a spot near a campfire ring that’s not already occupied, and set up. Oh, and pick a site away from the road and position your unit to avoid drifting sand from vehicles roaring down the dusty road.

Fifth wheel trailer, white pickup, gray Lexus, and yellow tent
Sunrise at Zion Wright Family Ranch
Red mountain cliffs and trees
Afternoon view of Zion Wright Family Ranch

Porta-Potties are the only other amenity available. We can’t vouch for their cleanliness since we preferred our onboard facilities. Be prepared like a Scout with plenty of water, food, and fuel. It’s a long way back to town.

View of V-shaped tree and Zion NP mountains
View from campsite at Zion Wright Family Ranch

Amenities were not what attracted us to the place. Our goal was to enjoy the clear star-gazing skies and find a hike or two. We were not disappointed on either account.

View of Zion NP peak from Zion Wright Family Ranch

The sky our first night was amazing. It had been decades since I’d seen the Milky Way so full of stars. It looked as though I could reach out and touch it. The big dipper hung above the horizon while we munched s’mores, dripping chocolate and marshmallow all over our hands. I can still picture in my mind all the stars, constellations, and Milky Way when I think of that night.

Zion NP mountain peaks
View of Zion NP peaks from campsite

The next day we found two hikes to keep us busy. The first was Lamb’s Knoll, a popular cayoneering site in the Kolob Terrace area of Zion National Park.

Three hikers walking through bushy trail
On the Lamb’s Knoll Trail

We lacked the gear and knowledge to scale any of the boulders and cliffs, so we hiked around them and through slot canyons. On the backside of the knoll, we found a beautiful view of the valley below.

Three people standing next to rock cliff
Peek A Boo
Rock cliffs and formations
On the Lamb’s Knoll trail
Two hikers standing next to red leafed shrub
Kevin and Bailey strike a pose
Pointy peak and mesas with shrubs and yellowed grass in foreground
View from Lamb’s Knoll parking lot
Rock cliffs and formations with shrubs and yellowed grass in foreground
View from Lamb’s Knoll parking lot
Closer look at rock formations
Closer view from Lamb’s Knoll parking lot
Landscape view of valley and cliffs in the foreground
View from backside of Lamb’s Knoll

The second hike was the Left Fork Trailhead that leads to the Subway. The entire trail to the Subway and back is nine miles, which was too strenuous and long for us after our time at Lamb’s Knoll.

Reddish rock formations
Site along the Left Fork trailhead

The Subway is rated a semi-technical slot canyon hike that requires hikers to wade and swim through the river, scramble over boulders, and climb down waterfalls. For hikers wanting to go all the way to The Subway, they must pick up permits at one of the Zion NP visitor centers.

Prickly pear with bloom
Prickly pear at end of blooming season

We stayed on the well-maintained trail that passed through pine trees, shrubs, and prickly pear until we reached the technical part, which was a steep descent into the valley. We stopped to take in the views and watch a couple navigate up the cliff.

View of canyon with blue sky and streaky clouds
View into canyon that leads to the Subway

On our way back to the parking lot, a wrong turn led us on a half-mile or so detour down a dry riverbed between canyon walls, then back again until we found the correct turnoff.

Two kikers taking a break in a rocky riverbed
Taking a break along our riverbed detour

No one was interested in cooking dinner after our hard work of hiking, so we drove into Hurricane for a Mexican dinner at Las Lupitas Mexican Grill. We’re always on the lookout for good Mexican food, and Lupitas fit the bill.

Two horse sculptures atop a sign
Las Lupitas Mexican Grill in Hurricane, Utah

A layer of thin clouds foiled our expectation for a repeat of the celestial skies of the previous night. That was okay with us. We enjoyed another night around the campfire before it was time for bed.

The morning we left, I woke up early enough to capture this colorful sunrise.

Sunrise over Zion peaks
Sunrise over Zion peaks

Coming up, we pull into Hitch-N-Post Campground in Panguitch, Utah, our base camp for Bryce National Park and Red Canyon State Park.

Stay Safe

2020 COVID Adventure Zion National Park Part Two

Yikes! One step forward and two steps back. This week California sent our county back to start in the game of “Open Up the Economy.” The current virus surge triggered feelings of sadness, despair, and grief for the many people suffering under the weight of COVID-19.

Virgin River flowing over boulders
Virgin River

Then, while preparing the photos and narrative for this post, sadness turned to thankfulness. How lucky are we that so far our family has escaped infection and illness? How lucky are we that we have a home to keep us safe? And how lucky were we for the opportunity to visit Utah before the virus worsened across the nation? Pretty dang lucky, I’d say, and for that, we’re very thankful.

A path, trees, and balancing rock
Balancing Rock on the Riverwalk Trail

While traveling we thought we had found a way to “live with the virus” that was safe for the people we encountered and for us. Unfortunately, it looks like we won’t be able to put our newly learned skills to the test anytime soon.

Virgin River with low water level
Virgin River

Instead, we will abide by the new restrictions the health department has placed on us and look back on our trip to Utah while reminding ourselves that someday we will again travel the roads and continue exploring the United States. We can wait a few more months. Hope it won’t be a year. If only we had a crystal ball to tell the future.

Skinny tree trunks growing in a swamp
Zion National Park’s Swamp along the Virgin River

So, join us as we look back at our second day trip into Zion National Park.

Zion National Park adopted a reservation system for their shuttle into the canyon where many of the hikes and sites are located. The reservations are required for two reasons. The first is to reduce the number of people on the shuttles, and the second is to avoid the crowded long lines of people waiting to board them. Our attempt to snag four tickets the day before was unsuccessful, so we signed up for a private shuttle, costing $30.00 per person rather than the $1.00 the parked charged.

Ferns clinging to a cliff
I call this Fern Wall. The Weeping Rock is 100 times more impressive, but it was closed.

We parked in the South Entrance visitor center parking lot and took the short walk across the bridge to Springdale. The gear store and our shuttle stop were in the shopping center close to the park entrance. I wasn’t too happy about sitting behind, in front of, and next to strangers in the van. The concept of social distancing was not adhered to on this shuttle as it was on the one the park ran. Everyone did wear a mask, though. I hoped it would be enough protection.

Virgin River pools and boulders
Virgin River

Our first stop was the Temple of Sinawava, which leads to the Riverside Walk and the Narrows trails. We took the Riverside Walk to the Narrows (photos above), and waved goodbye as Kevin and Bailey, wearing their special boots and grasping their hiking staff, continued their trek in the Narrows.

People standing in a rock riverbed with mountains towering in the background
Random visitors at entrance to the Narrows Walk

Jon and I decided keeping the virus at bay was enough to deal with. No need to add the toxic cyanobacteria bloom in the Virgin River to our risk of possible illnesses. So we hopped back on the shuttle and got off at The Grotto. From there we took the Kayenta and Emerald Trails to Zion Lodge.

Trees, grass, picnic tables, and building
Visitors will find picnic tables and restrooms at The Grotto
Towering canyon cliffs and mountains above the Virgin River
Virgin River and canyon cliffs from Kayenta Trail
Trees, canyon cliffs, and Virgin River
Virgin River from Kayenta Trail
Shrubs, towering cliffs, and blue sky
Lower Falls from the falls trail
Waterfall stained rock cliff
Hard to see the waterfall from this spot

Zion National Park did not receive the normal amount of snow and rain this past year, so Lower Falls was more of a trickle than waterfall.

A trickle of a waterfall
October 2020 the fall was like a trickle

This is a photo from October 2017 when the park received more precipitation.

Larger waterfall
October 2017 there was more water flowing

The trail under the waterfall’s overhang is slippery. Use the fencing to prevent falls.

Red path to the waterfall with ferns growing on the cliff
Lower Falls trail

When we reached the lodge, Jon’s attitude turned grumpy when he realized our shuttle didn’t stop there.

Bridge across the Virgin River
Bridge across the Virgin River from trail to the Lodge

We had another mile to go on The Grotto trail. The trails we took made a loop, normally our favorite. This time, it subjected me to bouts of grumbling as Jon trailed behind me.

Read rock towering cliffs and blue sky
I think the mesa on the left is the Sinawava Temple

We went back to where we picked up the shuttle that morning. A mocha frappuccino and protein bar perked us up as we recovered and waited for Kevin and Bailey to return from the Narrows hike.

So how was it hiking under the threat of COVID-19? Mostly I felt safe. The majority of hikers on the Riverside Trail wore masks. There were a few groups with college-aged people who walked around like, “Virus? What virus?” And other groups where there was one, maybe two, holdouts in a family of seven or eight were like, “No mask for me. Don’t tread on my rights.”

red rock towering cliffs and building
Back at the Grotto

That was okay because the trail was fairly wide, and it was easy to keep our distance. The Kayenta and Emerald Pools Trails was another story. The narrower path made it difficult to keep our distance from the “mask-less” folks.

View of craggy cliffs behind a courtyard
Sitting under the overhang, drinking our shakes and enjoying the view

Our hike took us much longer than it should have since we had to step off the trail and let people without masks pass before we continued. We thought for sure one of us would end up infected. We’re happy to report our fear did not materialize. After that experience, we only hiked in places where there weren’t a bunch of people.

Man and woman relaxing on beach chairs.
Kevin and Bailey relaxing after their walk through the Virgin River

So was it worth the $30.00 shuttle ride? We have to say yes. Hiking the narrows was an item on Kevin and Bailey’s bucket list, and we got to see a few sites in a different light than we did before. Besides, with our Lifetime Senior Pass, we entered the park for free.

The next day, we moved to Zion Wright Family Ranch for a couple of nights of dispersed camping to see a different side of Zion.

Stay safe.

2020 COVID-19 Adventure: Zion National Park Part One

We counted the trip to the California coast a success, so it was time to map out our next adventure. Initially, we planned on a week or two in San Diego to visit our son, Kevin, and his better half, Bailey. They had other ideas in store for us. When they mentioned Zion and Bryce, we said, “Sure. Let’s go.”

With the trailer loaded with food and clothes, we made our first leg of the trip to Barstow, California, on October 3, 2020. Smoke from the California fires filled the skies until we reached the Tehachapi Summit. I switched the AC from recycle to fresh air and we took big deep breaths as we descended into the Mojave Desert.

The next morning we left Barstow at sunrise, which wasn’t all that early, only 6:50 a.m. It sure looked like smoke or dust or something had shaded the sky with orange and yellow hues. The iPhone 8 captured a surreal image.

Sunrise in the desert
Desert Sunrise

In Las Vegas, Nevada, we caught our first glimpse of the new Raider’s Allegiant Stadium from the freeway. Bitterness that the team left Oakland, again, still exists in the Bay Area, although I’m sure fans in Las Vegas are happy about the move. The stadium should be a boom to the City of Las Vegas once we come out of the pandemic, and fans are let back into the sports arenas.

View of Raider's Football Team's Allegiant Stadium
Raider’s New Nation

The quick breakfast we ate that morning had long worn off when we hit Las Vegas, which would have been a good place to stop and have a bite to eat. We try to avoid the big cities for our stops because it’s too difficult to maneuver through traffic and find a place to park with the rig. So, we sucked it up and drove the next two hours to St. George. That Cracker Barrel sign never looked so good by the time we arrived.

Cracker Barrel restaurant parking lot and sign
Breakfast, here we come.

In the Bay Area, dining options were limited to takeout and outdoor seating. In Southwestern Utah, they offered inside dining or takeout. Since we hadn’t been inside a restaurant for seven months, we chose the takeout. Cracker Barrel isn’t usually my first choice for a restaurant. I much prefer to buy food from an independent store or a local chain. Jon, on the other hand, loves their pecan pancakes. We put on our masks, locked up the trailer, and set out to order our meals.

We were leery about all the people waiting outside, rocking in the chairs on the porch or standing next to the railing and ignoring the six feet of distance we had practiced since March. Only half of them wore masks. At the time, wearing face coverings was only a suggestion, not a state mandate. The state now requires masks in all state-owned buildings and individual counties may have their own requirements.

We kept our distance the best we could, stepped up to the podium, and ordered our meals. A few minutes later, we were inside the trailer, chowing down on the best Cracker Barrel breakfast and cup of coffee I had ever had. Either the cooks do a better job at the Cracker Barrel in St. George, or I was so hungry, a dog bone would have tasted good to me.

With our bellies filled, we drove the remaining thirty minutes to WillowWind RV Park in Hurricane, Utah, where we had booked three nights. Kevin and Bailey arrived a few hours later.

Rv and truck parked in campsite
Campsite at WillowWind RV Park

On our first day in Zion National Park, we checked out the situation for catching the shuttle (we couldn’t get tickets for the park shuttle, so paid for a private one) and renting equipment Kevin and Bailey would need for their river walk the next day. Then we drove to the east end to see other sections of the park and find a place to eat our lunch.

People taking selfie at foot of arch in the making cliff
An arch in the making
Zion cliffs with white tops
Reverse view from Arch in the making
Cliffs in Zion NP and shadows of people
Look at that view

We passed the Canyon Overlook Trail on our way to the tunnel, and there were no parking spots. So we kept driving and found a place with a bit of fall color to eat our lunch and take a break.

Two men and one woman in a desert setting
Shootin’ the breeze
Pine trees and mountain formation
Navajo sandstone
Closer view of trees and red cliffs
Fall is near
Rock formation with trees
View from picnic site

Checkerboard Mesa is a good place to stop for views. There is plenty of parking, information signs, and plenty of sites to see. Unfortunately, the position of the sun made it difficult to capture the checkerboard feature on the mesa. Earlier in the day would have been better.

Checkerboard Mesa mountain formation

Checkerboard Mesa

The sun was coming from a better angle, so the colors pop in the photo of East Temple.

Mountain Formation in shape of a wedding cake
East Temple

And here are two more views along the road.

View of mountains and cliffs
View of mountains and cliffs
Geological formations
View of geological formations

Outside of the park on the east side is The Get and across the street is an RV and tent campground and cabins to rent.

Rock cliff looms over building
The Get sells a bit of groceries, sandwiches, gifts, and souvenirs.

On our way back to the west side of the park, we scouted around for a parking space at the Canyon Overlook and ended up having to stop and wait for one-way traffic to clear. When the west-bound vehicles started flowing, a car just ahead of us pulled out, and we slipped right in as if it was all planned perfectly.

View from Canyon Overlook Trail

At first we thought the overlook was close by. It turned out further than we thought. I brought my water bottle with me, but no one else did. We hoofed it most of the way, at least to the section where the cave was and we could peek down into the canyon. So, word of caution: come prepared for a hike, not a short walk.

Zion cliffs, yellow flowers i the foreground
View from Canyon Overlook Trail
Horse head rock formation
Anyone else see a horse’s head?
View of cave opening
View of cave from Canyon Overlook Trail
View of canyon opening
A place to rest
View from cave into canyon

Heading west through the tunnel gives a person a good view out the windows. Luckily, no one was behind us, so Jon stopped the truck for a couple of seconds so we could capture the view with our cameras.

Zion cliffs from tunnel window
View from one of the tunnel windows

After the tunnel there are a few places to stop and take in the views and spot the windows in the rock walls.

Cliff in Zion showing the makings of a natural arch
Another arch in the making
Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel window

Next up we have another day of more fun and games in Zion.

Stay Safe