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

Richfield, Utah

We found the Richfield KOA to be one of the best places we have stayed. Their shaded sites are so large they can accommodate a tow vehicle and a large toy hauler or motorhome with plenty of room to spare for a few ATVs. Since our rig is not large and we don’t tug along ATVs we enjoyed the extra room to move about. The park also has easy access to the miles of trails that wind their way throughout Richfield and the surrounding area.

Fremont Indian State Park and Museum

Besides the ATV trails there is the Fremont Indian State Park and Museum, and Candy Mountain within a reasonable driving distance.

Fremont Indian State Park and Museum

We started out by visiting the Fremont Indian State Park and Museum where we watched a movie about how the museum came about. It all started with the construction of I70 during the 1980s. The plan was to take down four of the five-finger range hills and use them as fill to build up the valley after diverting the river/creek.

The last of the five finger hills

When the crew began digging, they found an ancient Indian settlement consisting of several pit houses and storage facilities. Archeologists rushed to the area to document and preserve what they could. It turned out that this was the largest Fremont Indian settlement found.

A depiction of family life in a pithouse
Possible trapper attire and tools of his trade

The neighboring community did not want the artifacts to sit in a university somewhere and pushed for the state park. Their dream came true and the park preserves the history of these ancient peoples.

What a find this jar was. It was found upside down in a pithouse

The museum depicts life as it was including a mockup of a pithouse with a vent that brought fresh air in and a hole at the top where smoke escaped.

Possible meanings of petroglyphs

Cooking and work areas are also displayed. One of the most interesting objects was a recreation of remains that were found a few miles away. The recreation shows how the woman might have looked like when she was alive. A push of a button starts audio so visitors can hear her story and learn how tall she was, the condition of her teeth, the age when she died, and how she was buried.

Layers of time

Clear Creek Road and I70 run through the middle of the narrow park with trails on both sides of the freeway to explore the terrain and view petroglyphs and pictographs. When we finished in the museum, we ventured outside to explore more. a short drive on Clear Creek Road took us to panels where petroglyphs and pictographs have survived erosion.

Petroglyphs are carved into the stone and depict a story, the meaning of which has been lost over 500 to 1,000 years
Pictographs are drawn using some kind of coloring or pigment. These seem to represent blankets.
It’s amazing that these have lasted so many years

Across the freeway are caves and the Sevier River.

Sheep Shelter
The mirror in Sheep Shelter reflects a view of the ceiling where more petroglyphs are carved
I love it when wildlife poses for a photo. It sure is better than when they show me their backside.

This cabin is similar to what the Joseph Lott family may have built on this site when they settled here in the 1880s.

1880s cabin

The 100 Hands Cave caught my interest. When were they placed here? Why did they make the pictograph? Was it some kind of ritual? How long did the pigment stay on their hands?

100 Hands Cave

It’s a good thing the park protects this art with a wrought iron gate. Given the evidence that modern day artists had a mind to destroy this artifact, I can’t imagine what it would look like if not for the protection.

Close up of 100 Hands Cave

The last stop on our adventure at the Fremont State Park was the Jedediah Strong Smith Memorial. Yes, the same hunter, trapper, and explorer of the American West who traveled through the Great Salt Lake, Colorado River, Mojave Desert, California, and Oregon. To think of all the changes made since the 1820s when Smith roamed the west, it boggles the mind. I wonder what it will all look like in another 200 years.

Jedediah Strong Smith Memorial

Big Rock Candy Mountain

What attracted us to Big Rock were the mountains that looked like cakes dripping with yellow, white, and caramel icing. Volcanic activity is what gave the mountains their colorful feature. Different types of minerals produced different colors.

Big Rock Candy Mountain

Besides the mountain, hiking and ATV trails and access to the Sevier River are also available.

Big Rock Candy Mountain across the field. On the far right and middle of the photo is the RV park under the cluster of trees

The Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort offers places to stay in an RV Park with about 30 sites including water, sewer, and electricity; eight suites in the lodge; and 12 converted train cars in the Caboose Village. It looks like Big Rock Grill and Smokehouse serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At least as I write this.

Caboose Village from across the river

Piute State Park

No, I did not misspell the word Piute. Although the park was named after the Native Americans who lived in the area at one time, the state legislature decided to change the spelling. I’m not sure why they would want to do that.

The park was abandoned when we visited, most likely due to the low level of water in September. The reservoir is used for irrigation purposes, so I guess it was all used up. I’m not sure how fish could remain alive in the reservoir at this low level, though. The water was quite murky, as was the runoff.

Low tide at Piute Reservoir. This is the boat ramp.

The park sits on the Sevier Plateau and contains a portion of the Piute Reservoir where anglers can try their luck for a trophy-sized rainbow, cutthroat, or brown trout. A boat ramp and day-use shade shelters are also available.

Day use shade cabanas

The park is quite primitive, including the campground. Only pit toilets are available and there is no water, so be sure to bring what you need. There are also three ATV trail systems accessible from the park.

Looking south across the Piute Reservoir

Next up we continue our trek west toward California.

Safe Travels

Torrey, Utah, Part 2

Where oh where have Jon and Linda been?

Let’s see, I believe I left you all stranded in Torrey, Utah, as I went in for heart surgery to repair my leaky mitral valve. Four weeks later, as I write this, I’m still in recovery but finally feeling well enough to hit the keyboard and get back to my blog posts.

Without further delay, enjoy a few other sites we took in while in Torrey, Utah, during August 2018.

Drive to Hanksville

After spending a morning hiking in the heat, we cooled off in the air-conditioned cab of the truck driving to Hanksville, Utah. The 40-minute drive crossed through land that looked like something from another planet, like perhaps Mars.

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Highway 24 between Torrey, Utah and Hanksville, Utah

That’s probably why the Mars Society Desert Research Station located their facility in Hanksville. Owned and operated by the Mars Society, the facility is used for research during an eight-month field season where professional scientists, engineers, and college students train for human operations specifically on Mars.

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Interesting sand and rock formations

I wished we had had more time to explore this place. I find it interesting that volunteers sign up each year to simulate life on Mars. We also ran across this abandoned building next to the road. Was this someone’s home, or a store of some kind? Wouldn’t it be great if it was restored and its story lived on?

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Abandoned building on Highway 24

We hadn’t packed a lunch and I didn’t hold out much promise for decent food in the little town of Hanksville. How wrong I was when we pulled up outside of Dukes Slickrock Grill.

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Duke’s Slickrock Grill

What was not to like with its rustic decor, great food, the cleanest and largest bathroom I’ve ever encountered, and free WiFi. It was a good thing that we split our pulled pork sandwich and fries and a bowl of hearty beef vegetable soup, otherwise, we would have had to roll out of the restaurant.

Highway 12 to Anasazi State Park

The drive from Torrey, Utah, to the Anasazi State Park in Boulder, was advertised as scenic. Scenic was an understatement and unfortunately, the photo fails to capture the beauty of the east side of Boulder Mountain and the Dixie Forest.

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Overlook view on Highway 12

Thick stands of ponderosa and aspen groves lined the road. This route is also an open range requiring drivers to be alert for cattle that might pop up on the road. We checked out a few campgrounds on the drive that would be perfect for tents or small trailers, but none that could accommodate our rig. With all of the aspen, this drive is one I’d like to take during the fall.

Anasazi State Park

The Anasazi State Park and Museum include plenty of parking and large shade trees with picnic tables. It was a good thing we had packed a lunch because the food bus was not serving the day we visited.

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Anasazi State Park Museum

Inside the museum, visitors can watch a movie, view artifacts uncovered during the excavation of the site, and imagine what it would have been like to live life at this ancient site.

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Artifacts on display inside the museum
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Replica of a pithouse

A life-sized replica of a six-room ancient dwelling starts off the tour outside. Jon would have had trouble living in these quarters. The dwelling definitely was not made for a human who stands 6′ 2″ tall.

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Replica six-room dwelling

A short trail leads visitors to a portion of the original ancient site. It is believed that the Anasazi, who occupied this site from A.D 1050 to 1200, was one of the largest communities west of the Colorado River.

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A portion of the excavated site protected from sun and rain
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Pithouse

Back on the road, we went a little way into Escalante National Monument where miles and miles of ancient sand dunes roll across the horizon. One day we’ll have to come back and explore this area more.

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Ancient dunes in Escalante National Monument
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A closer view of the ancient sand dunes

Up next we enter Colorado and hang out in Fruita, Colorado, near Grand Junction for a few days.

Safe Travels

 

Torrey, Utah, and Capitol Reef National Park

On Monday, August 6, 2018, we had one more stop in Utah before crossing into the State of Colorado. We couldn’t have been happier when we pulled into our space at Wonderland RV Park in Torrey, Utah. Under large shade trees and backed up against a fence, our view each morning out of our rear window featured cows and horses grazing. The apple and peach trees strategically placed around the park showed signs that harvest was soon near. The only drawback was smoke in the sky. Again.

Wonderland RV View
View from our fifth wheel rear window at Wonderland RV

We ventured out to the information center across the street and then drove into Capitol Reef National Park for maps and pamphlets to help plan our stay.

Capitol Reef National Park

The known history of Capitol Reef and surrounding area dates back to the Fremont Culture. Settling in the area around 500 CE, the Fremont grew corn, beans, and squash. Petroglyphs and pictographs on nearby rock walls tell the story of these ancient people. If only there was a translation of each panel, we could read and understand the meaning of the stories. Instead, we must use our imaginations to figure out what the art depicts. Is the picture below a family portrait, or does it represent an encounter with alien beings?

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The viewpoint of the petroglyphs is 1.1 miles from the visitor center on Highway 24

Mormon pioneers arrived in the 1800s settling in the Fruita Rural Historic District of the national park. They planted apple, pear, and peach orchards, fruit trees that still produce fruit, which is available to pick free when in season.

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One of the fruit orchards on the left side of the photo

Ephraim Portman Pectol, a Mormon Bishop in Torrey, Utah, and his brother-in-law, Joseph S. Hickman campaigned to have the geologically sensitive area protected from development. President Roosevelt set aside 37,711 acres of the Capitol Reef as a national monument in 1937 and in December 1972, the monument became a national park.

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Chimney Rock

The main attraction at Capitol Reef is the varied layered cliffs that rise from the valley floor and the different rock formations. Geological events occurring between 50 and 70 million years ago created the warp in the Earth’s crust. The warp, referred to as the Waterpocket Fold, or monocline, runs approximately 100 miles from Boulder Mountain to Lake Powell.

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Egyptian Temple

Slickrock Divide is a hill that separates Grand Wash to the north and Capitol Gorge to the south. Streambeds channel rain runoff and debris to the respective drainages.

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South view from Slickrock Divide

The Waterpocket Fold is the result of the rock layers on the west side of the fold lifting more than 7,000 feet higher than the layers on the east side. Within the last 15 to 20 million years, erosion has exposed the fold at the surface.

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Water creates fissures in the rock

Erosion gets the credit for creating the colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires, stark monoliths, twisting canyons, and graceful arches that are present today. These formations reveal the geological history from 65 to 290 million years ago. [source: nps.gov/care/learn/nature/geology.htm]

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Cassidy Arch

Only the 7-mile drive requires a fee in Capitol Reef National Park: $15.00 per vehicle, $10.00 for motorcycles, and $7.00 for bicyclists and pedestrians, with the typical passes accepted. Fees for commercial tours depend on seating capacity.

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Yikes! Gated uranium mine tunnels. Don’t get too close.

Developed campsites run $20.00 per night or $10 for senior and access pass holders. During the summer the majority of the 71 sites are offered through reservations, however, a few are offered on a first come, first served, basis. A few primitive campsites, which are first come, first served, no fee sites, are also available.

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White topped reddish mounds appear to support the steep cliffs

Having seen the sign for pies at the Gifford Homestead while driving the 7-mile road, we started the next day with a small pie each and a cup of coffee. Then we drove out to the petroglyph panel. Some of the petroglyphs were so faint we would have missed them if it hadn’t been for a woman who pointed them out to us.

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A hunting depiction?

Next up was a hike to the Hickman Bridge. Rated moderate, .9 mile one way, and an elevation gain of 400 ft. A piece of cake, we naively thought. The heat, thin layer of smoke, and a 6,000-foot elevation conspired to hold us back as we trudged up the hill. Good thing we had the handy trail guide with us. It gave us an excuse to stop, catch our breath, and learn about what we saw on the trail.

View from Hickman Bridge Trail

Capitol Dome is made of Navajo sandstone, which consists of ancient sand dunes. The boulders in the foreground of the photo below are composed of andesite lava. Debris flows from melting glaciers deposited the boulders here from the west side of the park.

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Capitol dome and black boulders

I’m always on the lookout for General Land Office spikes. Jon pointed out this one from 1947. Check out the hefty penalty of $250. That would be $2,867 in 2018.

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1947 General Land Office Survey spike

Shown in the photo below the small bumps on this hard surface are erosion resistant accumulations of iron.

Iron bumps resist erosion

The rock wall in the photo below is composed of sandstone grains cemented by calcite. Acidic groundwater dissolved the calcite and created the holes called solution cavities.

Sandstone wall with solution cavities
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Hickman Bridge
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JT resting in the shade of Hickman Bridge

Our respite was spoiled, when twenty to thirty college students descended on the slick rock near the bridge, chasing other hikers away, and taking up all the space. While they waited for the rest of their group to arrive, they took turns climbing on a boulder and having their photos taken. We worked our way through the crowd and continued on our walk.

Where’s Jon among the tilted and slanted terrain?

Finally, the parking lot, fresh water, and air conditioning. Outa my way, coming through.

Hickman Bridge parking lot and Fremont River

I was so glad we pushed ourselves to the end. The shade was refreshing, the views wonderful, and the bridge unique in that the trail looped around underneath the arch and behind the cliff. It would have been a shame if we had missed it.

Other stops in the park

Panorama Point, Sunset Point trail, and Goosenecks Overlook are other sites in the park. The Sunset Point Trail was .4 mile one way. Although it was 2:30 p.m. and hot on the day we were there, the short hike wasn’t too bad, mostly flat.

Layers of sandstone look like chunks of cardboard piled up

There are plenty of interesting formations outside of the fee area for visitors to see. The Castle is one of these.

The Castle
View from the visitor center shows the layers of rock
Twin Rocks look like they may have been triplets at one time

JT waited in the truck while I investigated Goosenecks Overlook. The views of the canyon were spectacular, but I feared the little kids running around would somehow slip through the railing and drop to their death. Parents, please hold on to your precious children when near canyon cliffs and don’t let them run around playing tag.

Goosenecks Overlook

Panorama Point was truly a 360-degree panoramic view of the park. If a person could only see one thing in the park, I would suggest they check out Panorama Point to get a great overview of the canyons, the colors, and the cliffs.

View from Panorama Point
Another view of layered rocks

Whoa, we saw a lot in Capitol Reef National Park and still didn’t see it all. A visit to the park in cooler weather someday may be in order. Next up are a few other places we visited while staying in Torrey, Utah, before making it into Colorado.

Unfortunately, I have to take a break from the blog posts for a few weeks. When this post publishes at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 11, I’ll be in heart surgery for a mitral valve repair. When I’m feeling up to it, I’ll continue with our Summer 2018 Tour.

Safe Travels