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

Lake Mead and Boulder City, Nevada

Boulder City was our destination on November 9, 2019, with a plan to visit Hoover Dam. It had been twenty years or more since our last visit. With a new freeway and a 25% increase in population since our last visit, we were unable to recognize anything we remembered.

We selected Lake Mead RV Village as our home base. No lake-view sites were available so we squished between the units on either side of us. We planned to spend our time poking around so it wasn’t like we were going to spend a lot of time at our space.

Lake Mead NRA Alan Bible Visitor Center

The Hoover Dam website warned of no tours due to maintenance on November 18 and 19 when I checked before leaving Lake Havasu City. Disappointment set in when we headed to the visitor center to learn the maintenance had begun early and there would be no tours for the duration of our stay. We’d have to find other things to do while in the area.

Boulder City boasts a vibrant historic downtown region with a diverse assortment of galleries, antique stores, shops, and restaurants. By historic, we’re talking the 1930s when the town was built to house workers during the construction of Boulder Dam (renamed Hoover Dam in 1947). It wasn’t until January 4, 1960, that Boulder City was incorporated and it remains as one of two locations in Nevada where gambling is not legal. Gamblers need not worry, though. The nearby Hoover Dam Lodge and the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino gladly accept deposits of hard-earned paychecks.

Hoover Dam Lodge and Casino

Boulder City residents are serious about their art. A collection of 67 statues and murals grace the sidewalks and buildings of downtown. At the BoulderCity.com website, download a walking guide for a tour of all the statue and mural locations, or download their app, which contains walking, driving, history, adventure, and retail tours. The two statues below are a good representation.

Afternoon Breeze by Roy Butler

Hitchin’ a Ride by L’Deane Trueblood

Someone somewhere needs Jake & Elwood Blues to grace their den.

Sherman’s House of Antiques

We’ve seen a number of gas station conversions before, but Two Wheels Garage Grill wins the award as the best. Seating is available inside and out with a mister that cools the air on hot days.

Two Wheels Garage Grill

We selected Evan’s Old Town Grille for our night out and were not disappointed. I chose the salmon and was glad I did. It’s not often that salmon is cooked to perfection, but the salmon at Evan’s was the best I’ve eaten in a long time.

The Historic Railroad Trail kept us busy for a few hours as we walked the nearly five-mile roundtrip gravel road through the five tunnels, stopping occasionally to marvel at the views of the lake and search for bighorn sheep.

Bighorn sheep checking out the people walking

The sentry

The rocky cliffs triggered my imagination and I soon saw shapes that morphed into faces and animals in much the same way as clouds do when I look up at the sky.

Gruesome face, ape face, or a Bells Palsey afflicted face?

Tunnels are 300 feet by 25 feet, which were large enough to accommodate the large equipment. Seventy-one people operated the systems over the standard-gauge 90-pound rails with nine steam and four gas locomotives.

Tunnels are reinforced and some include cargo containers to protect hikers from falling rock

Restrooms and a picnic table are a welcome sight at the end of the line.

End of the line

One the way out

This section of the system was used as a set in the 1977 motion picture “The Gauntlet” starring Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke. In the movie, assassins in a helicopter chase the Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke characters who are riding on a motorcycle. Motorcycles aren’t allowed on the trail, however, tour helicopters buzzed overhead as they took off from their landing pad and returned after their flight over the lake.

Catch helicopter rides at the Boulder Lodge

The mostly level trail is accessible for small children, strollers and wheelchairs with benches along the way to rest. Dogs are also allowed on leashes.

After our hike, we drove to the Lakeview Overlook for another perspective of the trail, the lake, and a view of the city.

Historic Railroad Trail

Lake Mead and the marina

Trailhead parking and visitor center to the left and Boulder City in the foothills

I guess Hoover Dam and Boulder City is a place we will definitely arrange to come back to. Taking a tour of the dam is still on our list of things to do.

We headed home after leaving Boulder City, stopping at the Orange Grove RV Park in Bakersfield once again where we enjoyed another magnificent sunset.

Sunset over the orange grove

This post wraps up our Fall 2019 Tour. In the next one, we will share a local favorite, the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California.

Safe Travels

Heading Home with a Stop in Sparks, Nevada

Traveling without confirmed reservations or any idea where we’ll stop makes me nervous. For some reason, I felt a sense of freedom not knowing where we would land when we left Cortez, Colorado, on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. We were just heading toward Sparks, Nevada, and when we got tired, we’d stop.

Our route led us through farmland and canyons and one particularly interesting sight. This bulbous sandstone formation stood in the middle of a field all by itself.

Church Rock on U.S. 191 in Utah

To demonstrate how one perspective can differ from another, look what was behind.

Church, Beehive, Whale? What do you see?

A search on Wikipedia reveals a myth about how the formation earned its name, in case you are interested.

I’ve read many a blog post on Moab and Arches National Monument, but never got the impression the bustling town was more than a gas station and a convenience store. With over 20 RV parks and campgrounds, it was clear the population of 5,250 swelled with visitors during the spring and fall seasons. Too bad we couldn’t join them and fit in a hike or two in Arches.

We passed up a few eating establishments through town because they lacked enough space for us to easily park. Then, at the edge of town, we saw it. A Denny’s sign. With plenty of parking next door. This was our last chance until we hit the next town, which was hours away. I had not eaten at a Denny’s for over twenty years. My expectations for a quality lunch were extremely low.

When our server set down our plates piled high with old-fashioned grilled hamburgers including all the trimmings, I tucked away my restaurant snobbery and dug in. Even the salad tasted like the cook had freshly picked the ingredients from the garden.

Back on the road, I was so happy to see a pullout on Highway 191 at Wilson’s Arch. The preview of what awaits inside the park had me scouring the RV park listings for the perfect place to stay. We definitely need to arrange a trip this way again, including plenty of time for exploration.

Wilson’s Arch seen from U.S. 191

We pulled into the KOA in Green River, Utah, for the night. The next morning we bought lattes at the Green River Coffee Co. and a pound of freshly roasted decaf beans. That bag of beans had the cab of the truck smelling like a coffee roaster for the rest of the day.

Green River Coffee Co.

West Wendover, Nevada, was a good place to stop for the night. The next day we drove to Sparks, Nevada. After three days of driving, we needed a break so we settled in Sparks for two nights at the Sparks Marina RV Park.

Not content to sit still for too long, a visit to Virginia City was in order. It had been years since we were there last. The skies were clear making it a perfect day to view Reno and Sparks from Geiger Lookout Wayside Park.

Geiger Lookout – No need to climb the stairs unless you need exercise. The view is best from the parking area.

We marveled at all the housing developments that have sprung up in the area recently. Spurred by Tesla’s Gigfactory and other industries moving into the region, it’s easy to see why Nevada was the fastest growing state in the union last year.

View of Reno (to the left) and Sparks (to the right) from Geiger Lookout

I thought there would be an information sign explaining the purpose of the stone fireplaces scattered around, but I never found it. I did find mention of the park at livingnewdeal.org, which listed the overlook as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project completed in 1938. What looked to me like fireplaces were barbecues. Picnic tables and restrooms were also once located there.

Picnic area ruins from a WPA project.

When we arrived in Virginia City we noticed several motorcyclists were in town. They must have been from the Spring Street Vibrations event.

Motorcycles parked in front of the Mark Twain Casino

It seems like Reno and Sparks have some kind of event three or four times a month throughout the year. Watch the Great Reno Balloon Race in the fall, drool over classic cars at Hot August Nights, cheer on cowboys at the Reno Rodeo, and vote for the best ribs at a Rib Cook Off. There’s always something happening in the Biggest Little City in the World.

Territorial Enterprise Mark Twain Museum

Virginia City proudly boasts its connection to Samuel Clemmons. On March 5, 1862, he published his first news stories in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise under his pseudonym Mark Twain.

He eventually became the paper’s editor and stayed on until May 29, 1864. His time at the paper was not without controversy given his habit of mixing in fictional narratives with the news as a hoax.

St. Mary’s in the Mountains

Many prominent members of politics and society in Virginia City, Carson City, and Washoe County were not sorry to see him leave. Wikipedia details the saga here.

Chollar Mansion

Jon was able to walk from one end of the town to the other with the aid of plenty of benches lined up on the boardwalk.

On the boardwalk

A tip from a proprietor at one of the bars led us to The Canvas Café. When I heard the word canvas, a tent came to mind, which is what I was on the lookout for when we searched for the cafe.

The Canvas Cafe

I should have paid more attention while eating my lunch. Now that I look closely at the photo of Jon, I see that Canvas refers to all the art hanging on the walls. Duh!

JT waiting for his lunch

The Reno River Walk and the Truckee River was our next stop. With all the snow and rain received in the west this past winter, we were curious to see the height of the water.

Portal of Evolution by Bryan Tedrick

Here is the view of the Truckee River raging through downtown from one of its many bridges.

Truckee River in downtown Reno, June 2019

And here is a view from October 2014 when families dipped their toes and whole bodies in the middle of meandering stream.

Truckee River through downtown Reno, October 2014

To spend a few hours along the River Walk is to spend time enjoying nature, the sound of rushing water, and the delightful squeals of children. To finish off our time in Reno/Sparks, we found a comfortable place to sip a beer, reflect on our trip, and people watch along the River Walk at The Sierra Tap House.

Sierra Tap House has a patio with tables and umbrellas on the Riverwalk

And so we cut short our Late Spring Adventure with dreams of our travels ahead once Jon resolves his back issue. Our fingers are crossed his appointment with the spine specialist will reveal a solution.

But before we go, just for fun, here are a few random shots of flowers that didn’t fit in with the previous posts on Cortez.

Mountain Daisy

Blue Flax

Munro’s Globemallow

Safe Travels

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Tonopah, Nevada, and Home Sweet Home

We continued our westward trajectory on September 16, 2018, the 55th day of our Summer 2018 Tour. Caliente, Nevada, seemed like a good distance to drive, except we didn’t get that far. Cathedral Gorge State Park popped up on the map so we decided to try it. With plenty of spots to choose from, we opted for paying $15.00 without electricity. We should have paid the extra $10.00.

Cathedral hills and water tower

After about an hour, strong gusts of hot wind blew and sand pelted the side of the trailer until shortly before sunset. As if the fifth wheel wasn’t dirty enough, a thick layer of sand settled on the floor, the dining table, countertop, and every available surface. All I could see was a full day of deep cleaning ahead of me.

IMG_0185
Cathedral Caves

Once the wind died down, we were able to stretch our legs and explore a little before the sun settled in for the night. Cathedral Gorge State Park, consisting of nearly 2,000 acres once occupied by the Fremont, Anasazi, and Southern Paiutes, became Nevada’s first state park in 1935.

A stone water tower and restroom building built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) are no longer in use but still standing. The original picnic facilities continue in use today.

Water tower built by CCC

Restroom building built by CCC

The formations, composed of silt, clay, and volcanic ash, aptly contain the reference to cathedrals, with their tall spires and skinny slot canyons and caves. It would be a great place to play hide and seek.

Peek a boo.

Inside one of the cathedral caves

We took the Miller Point Trail which traveled up a canyon and through a dusty wash until a set of stairs appeared. The several sets of stairs took us to the point where we had wonderful views and watched the sunset.

On our way to Miller Point

Although the campground filled up with other RVs and tent campers, it was quiet outside. As the sky turned dark, and the campers across the road finished up their dinner, someone treated us to a little guitar music. I couldn’t remember the last time I heard a guitar while camping. In my younger years, it seemed like everywhere we went there was always someone playing guitar. Are people not interested in picking up the instrument nowadays?

Not much further.

Almost there.

Whew! We made it.

View of canyon and trail from Miller Point

Another view from Miller Point

Goodnight sun.

On our way back.

When I woke up to close the windows in the middle of the night, I witnessed a spectacular show of twinkling stars along with the Milky Way streaking across the sky. That was something I hadn’t seen in a long time and it almost made up for the sand storm mess.

The next day, we drove through Caliente on our way toward Tonopah, Nevada. Young’s RV looked like it might be a decent place to stay. They even had tall shade trees and grass. The cute downtown area contained stores, restaurants, and shops. There was also a railway museum undergoing renovations that piqued our interest. Maybe we should have kept driving the day before. Oh, well chances are good that we’ll make it back there someday.

We drove the Extraterrestrial Highway 375. A couple of buildings and signs referred to aliens. And in Rachel, Nevada, where only about 50 people live, the Little A’Le’Inn Bar advertised food and lodging, but we weren’t in need of either so we drove on. For miles, there wasn’t much else to look at except the huge cattle ranches and open range. Pinon pines, junipers, and sage popped up going through Oak Summit, then we dropped into Tikaboo Valley, where Joshua Trees grow. We stopped at a BLM site that included information panels about the trees. This valley is unique in that both types of the trees are present, the tall tree-like western (Yucca brevifolia) species and the bushy eastern (Yucca jaegeriana) species. I found it interesting that each species of tree is pollinated by a different species of Yucca moth.

IMG_0214
Eastern Joshua Tree

Before we came into Tonopah, a group of hills looked like scoops of vanilla ice cream with crumbled Oreo cookies and caramel on top.

Yum! Vanilla ice cream topped with crushed Oreo cookies.

We were surprised to see a Tesla recharging center in Tonopah since we rarely see the cars in remote areas. It made sense once I thought about it though. The 7-hour 440-mile drive between Reno and Las Vegas on Interstate 95 puts Tonopah at about the halfway mark. The mileage range, depending on model and battery size, is 295 for the Model X to 335 for the Model S. The roadster, on the other hand, can make the trip with 180 miles to spare. (Mileage ranges obtained from Tesla’s website on February 8, 2019.)

Tonopah Information Center and Tesla charging station.

We settled into our site for the night at the Tonopah Station Hotel, Casino, Restaurant, and RV Resort. Boy, what a mouthful. I sure wouldn’t call it a resort, but for a quick stop, it fit the bill. RVs park behind the building on an asphalt parking lot with utility towers and trash barrels between each unit. The Tap Room at the Tonopah Brewing Company served up tasty BBQ and a nice selection of beer to satisfy any beer drinker’s taste.

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Tonopah Brewing Company Tap Room

The next day we traveled through Yosemite, staying the night at Yosemite Pines, a campground nestled in a valley on Old Highway 120. It offered covered wagons, cabins, retro trailers to rent, RV sites of all sizes, and tent sites. Outdoor play equipment, a pool, trail around the park with exercise stations, and an animal yard that included goats, burros, alpacas, and chickens. It would have been nice to stay awhile, but that didn’t work out so we drove the rest of the way home on September 19, 2018, our 58th day on the road.

For those readers who like statistics, here they are for our 2018 Summer Tour:

  • Days – 59
  • Total miles driven – 4,723
  • Miles pulling fifth wheel – 3,414
  • Diesel Fuel – 419.4 gallons
  • RV Parks/Campgrounds – 18
  • States – 4
  • National Monuments and Parks – 4
  • Museums and Historical sites – 12

It is February already and my recovery from surgery is going well and nearing completion. We are both itching to get back on the road. But before we do, Jon has a few fifth wheel projects in the works and we have other tasks to complete that will keep us at home until at least mid-April. I’m hoping we’ll be able to fit in a short trip here and there before April, so stay tuned.

Safe Travels