Eclipse Trip

Who in their right mind would drive 2,667 miles over nine days to see a spectacle that at best would last for less than 4½ minutes?

I grew up being something of a space junkie. My favorite adventures on Walt Disney’s TV series were those dealing with space travel, I’ve watched 2001 a Space Odyssey more than a half-dozen times and I can still spout out the names of the original seven Mercury astronauts.

The first time I saw a photo of a total solar eclipse, I knew I had to see one in person. Unfortunately, they never seemed to happen anywhere close enough to visit. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of partial eclipses, and in 2012, I caught an annular, ring-of-fire eclipse over Utah canyon country.

I would have had an opportunity to see a full eclipse across Wyoming in 2017, but we were up in the Great White North camping across Canada. When I heard that there would be a total eclipse crossing Texas and beyond in 2024, I began making plans.

Texans, being savvy entrepreneurs, made sure that lodging costs in the path of totality were as lofty as the moon itself. One Super 8 motel had rooms going for more than $900 a night. We ended up saving $800+ a night by booking a Days Inn motel in San Angelo, Texas, which lies 150+ miles from the path of totality.

Day one of our eclipse trip involved motoring south from western Colorado to Farmington, New Mexico. Last time we were in Farmington, Dianne and I were on a press trip (I love traveling on O.P.M.). One of the things we got to do was watch a pair of local Indian ladies make frybread for Navajo Tacos.

On this trip, we ate far inferior fare at a local Mexican chain restaurant.

From Farmington, we drove to Albuquerque by way of Bernalillo where we stopped for brews at our favorite New Mexican brew pub. It’s a favorite because it’s located next to a KOA campground we used to frequently visit.

From there, it was down to Albuquerque where we found that the motel we had reserved was under new ownership. Worst lodging on the trip.

The best thing about Albuquerque is that it’s home to Sadie’s of New Mexico, which some think offers the best Mexican food in America. Where else does one get fried potatoes with a green chili burrito? Spicy good!

Their margaritas are pretty good, too!

Day Three took us South from Albuquerque to Alamogordo. I planned a backroad route that would take us past the three units of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. The ruins date back to the 1600s when Spanish priests built towering missions in Native American pueblo communities.

Back in the ’60s when I was living in Tucson with my starter wife, we often drove to Alamogordo to visit White Sands National Monument (now a national park). Back then, visitors were few and I envisioned the wife and I disappearing behind a few dunes and lying naked atop the gypsum sands.

Can’t do that now. Instead of preserving unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the park for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations, White Sands has become the national playpen for the sandbox crowd.

My latest wife and I did find a place where we could get out and wander the dunes (fully clothed) away from the hoards, so our visit was not a total waste.

From Alamogordo, we headed east toward Texas. Our route took us through eastern New Mexico where oil wells poked up like zits on an acne-prone teenager’s face. The only nice thing was we had a 30-40 mph tailwind scooting us along, with the Subaru’s gas mileage gauge reading 35+ mph, so we didn’t have to use as much of the locally pumped product.

I’ve heard that some Colorado residents do not like Texans, but we really enjoyed our stay in San Angelo, in spite of the motel’s state-shaped waffles. Arriving early, we had a full day to explore the city’s River Walk trail…

…ogle the town’s sidewalk artworks…

…and admire blossoms at the city’s International Waterlily Collection…

…and the nearby Municipal Rose Garden.

As it turned out, it was a good thing we were miles away from the path of totality. A front had moved into West Texas and skies above most of the area were scheduled to be totally overcast. I scanned AccuWeather forecasts for cities along the path of totality, hoping to find a town with less cloud cover.

The best option appeared to be Gatesville, a city of 16,000 located about 40 miles southwest of Waco. It lay dead center on the path of totality, and the forecast said it would be only “partly cloudy.”

Arriving in town, we were directed to several possible sites for watching the eclipse. We chose the local ball fields option where we would have parking, restrooms, food trucks and, of course, a neighbor playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on a nearby car stereo. It cost $20 to park, but the money was going to the local library, which promised it wouldn’t be used to buy banned books.

Through the morning hours before the eclipse, the clouds behaved and stayed away from Old Sol. But, as Murphy’s Law dictates, the clouds thickened as the last sliver of sun was being eaten away by the moon.

Fortunately, things were changing quickly, and during the four minutes of totality we enjoyed full-on views of the darkened sun. The thin, misty clouds actually seemed to enhance the solar corona.

All too soon, our four minutes of totality was over and a crescent sun began to reappear.

The show was over. We packed up our toys and drove back to San Angelo. There, we celebrated our Texas eclipse trip with dinner at the most Texan place around – the Texas Roadhouse (a restaurant chain started in Indiana by a former Colorado resident). The steaks and ribs were great and best of all, we got a 10% discount, courtesy of a coupon from the motel.

The next morning, we set off for home with an overnight stop along the way at Dalhart, a small city in the corner of the Texas Panhandle. The land out here, in the words of James McMurtry, is “flatter than a tabletop,” and we made good time in spite of the wind and rain. Even paved farm roads carried a 75 mph speed limit.

But as anyone crossing Kansas can tell you, flat is boring. I was so glad when we finally entered Colorado and were treated to views of a mountainous wall of white.

After nine days and 2,667 miles on the highway, it was good to be back home again. Rather than schussing straight down the well-paved highways in Texas, we now get to do the four-wheel slalom, dodging potholes and pavement cracks on our beautiful Colorado highways.

Grand Canyon – Bryce

Every year, I get an email invitation from Xanterra to book off-season lodging at one of their national park lodges at a discounted rate. In years past, we’ve headed off to Zion for our national park winter getaways. This year, we chose the Grand Canyon, where we would celebrate the anniversary of my 40th birthday.

The route down took us south along what was formerly the Grand River to Moab. The cliffs were dusted with snow and ice floated in the stream. It’s so much nicer driving the Subaru instead of the truck pulling the trailer.

Having booked months in advance and not knowing what the weather might bring, we chose to break up our trip south with an overnight’s stay in Bluff, Utah. Arriving early, we drove to the nearby Sand Island BLM campground to photograph an extensive array of Indian petroglyphs.

From Bluff, we had a choice of routes to the Canyon. We chose the scenic, Monument Valley alternative. The nice thing about winter travel here is that there was very little traffic.

After a bathroom break and a lunch of Navajo tacos at the Cameron Trading Post, we headed into the Canyon, with a long stop at the Desert View Watchtower.

A few stops later, we arrived at Grand Canyon Village and followed the signs to the Bright Angel Lodge where our cabin for three nights was located. The place was small but cozy with the rim a short stroll away.

It snowed that night, leaving the canyon walls coated with winter white. We wandered around shooting photos. That night, we dined in the El Tovar.

The Bright Angel Trail to the bottom was closed a ½ mile below the rim, so Dianne and I couldn’t do our usual 50-mile, Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim day hike. Instead, we settled for a stroll down the snow-packed Rim Trail along the canyon rim.

While the trail was covered, most of the snow had melted from the canyon cliffs.

Arizona’s Big Ditch has always been a special place to us. Between us, Dianne and I have hiked all of the park’s maintained trails, most of its unmaintained ones, and we’ve floated its length on two occasions, once in dories. It’s always good to be back.

Since we were going to be in the neighborhood anyway, we had also booked a three-night stay Ruby’s Inn, a Best Western resort just outside Bryce Canyon National Park. We had a pair of options for routes there from the Grand Canyon. We chose the Vermilion Cliff route, which crosses Marble Canyon on the Navajo Bridge.

There’s a visitor center/gift shop there along with some restrooms. Fortunately, the flush toilets come with complete instructions.

We followed the towering Vermilion Cliffs for 40+ miles to Jacob Lake, then turned north toward Utah. I remember how inspired I was the first time I saw this magnificent escarpment when I was just a kid. I’m still inspired.

Arriving at Bryce, we checked into our room. The next day, we headed into the park for some rim-top views of snow on the hoodoos.

One of the rangers suggested a hike we might like. The next morning, we parked at the trailhead, strapped traction spikes to our shoes and headed down the snow-packed, Queen’s Garden Trail.

The going was slow, not because of trail conditions but because of the beauty that surrounded us. I shot well over 300 photos and Dianne came close to that number.

In April/May, we are scheduled to go on a short, Colorado Mountain Club trailer-camping outing to Capitol Reef National Park. After Cap Reef, we had reservations to camp in a Utah State Park near the San Rafael Swell.

That state park reservation got cancelled when we got home. Instead, we booked an RV site near Bryce and plan to spend two weeks exploring Bryce Canyon and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument after Cap Reef.

To Green River

On Thursday, we hooked up the trailer and headed off to Green River State Park, a 90-minute drive from home.  We had five nights reserved at our favorite campsite with water and electric hookups.  Our objective was to hike a couple of canyons on a Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) trip, then spend a couple of days exploring on our own.

Our original plan was to continue from Green River to Joshua Tree National Park and then on to Death Valley for a couple of weeks.  Damage caused by Hurricane Hillary nixed those plans.  Instead of a month on the road, we would have just five nights away, which was fine. 

Dianne was having knee issues and could barely walk, so there wouldn’t be much hiking for her to do anyway.  At Green River she could stay at camp and enjoy the day without needing to supervise her husband.

Ding and Dang

Friday morning, five of us from the CMC set off to hike Ding and Dang Canyons in the San Rafael Swell for a day of Type II Fun – difficult at the time but feels rewarding afterward.  The BLM made sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into.

Our adventure began with a short, mile-long hike up a dry wash to the junction of the two neighboring defiles.  We took the right fork to begin our walk up Ding Canyon. 

Walls rose and we were soon passing through a narrow slot in the cliffs with the occasional obstacle to overcome. Let the fun begin.

It didn’t take long for us to find our first water hazard – a 50-foot-long, calf-deep strip of cold, muddy water. 

Off came the hiking boots and on went the wet walking wear.  For me, it was an old pair of tennie-runners, which I wore sans socks. 

The route got more interesting as we progressed upward with boulder chockstones blocking the canyon…

…and more water hazards to negotiate.

About three miles from the start, the canyon opened, and we exited into a broad valley.  There we got our first sighting of Ding Dang Dome, which we all agreed looked nothing like a “dome.”  Whoever named it obviously opted for alliteration over accuracy.

From Ding Dang Dome, we turned down a shallow wash and soon entered Dang Canyon, the more technical of the two abysses. 

In numerous spots, we had to use ropes to descend one drop…

…after another.

There were deeper pools of cold, muddy water that, depending on one’s height, was crotch to waist deep.

Finally, the canyon opened, sunlight bounced off the rocks and I could finally get out of my tennies and put my hiking boots (and socks) back on.

That night, we headed to Ray’s Tavern for burgers and beer. 

After a day like this, that glass of Wasatch Amber tasted swell.

Wildhorse Canyon

Not to be confused with Little Wildhorse, which we hiked last spring, just plain old Wildhorse is a broad canyon with only a small section of narrows.  It’s easy walking with no chockstones to climb nor descend and nary a drop of water to wade.  It was a perfect follow up to Ding and Dang. This will be Type I fun.

A dozen of us started down the canyon from the trailhead, which also served as a campground for friendly ATV and dirt bikers.  It was easy going with a dash of fall color to admire.

We passed the first…

…and second of the two arches/bridges and stopped for photographs.

A bit farther down the canyon, one of our eagle-eyed fellow hikers spotted some Fremont Indian pictographs high on the cliffs.   

After passing through a shallow set of narrows, we stopped for lunch beneath a cottonwood tree, then retraced our steps, four miles back to our vehicles.

On the way back to Green River, Paul, our driver first stopped so we could check out the Temple Mountain Wash pictographs…

…and then took us on a short a detour off the interstate to see the Black Dragon pictographs. 

Out for a Drive

Our Colorado Mountain Club friends departed on Sunday, but we had booked a pair of additional nights at Green River State Park, so we got to stay and enjoy two extra days of beautiful Utah weather without a fixed agenda.

Our first day was spent just enjoying the town. We drove out to where Dianne’s ancestors once owned a ranch at the base of Gunnison Butte.

Back in town, we learned about the Green River Lunch Site where Athena missiles like this were fired toward New Mexico.

At camp, we watched this little guy excavating a tunnel beneath the campground lawn.

On Monday, we topped up the truck’s tank and went for a drive out on backcountry roads, on which we had originally planned to take the Subaru.

Normally I’d be willing to disclose our route, but we encountered fewer than a half-dozen other vehicles out in this vast, empty landscape. We want to keep it that way.

Of course, those of you familiar with the area may recognize this cabin, which we drove near the start of our adventure.

The first part of our journey took us across some open, grassy lands, home to herds of wild horses.

The scenery changed a few miles later.

We passed several previously owned vehicles, this one perforated with more bullet holes than Bonnie & Clyde’s ’34 Ford.

This is not a road. Notice the windsock? This is actually an airfield runway near an old uranium mine site.

It’s still in use today, we’ve been told. Instead of the TSA, I suspect flights into here are more likely to be greeted by the DEA.

Backtracking, we came to a fork in the road and took it. We soon encountered a golden touch of autumn color…

…with a lofty, natural arch for a backdrop.

We passed the rusty remains of an old uranium mine…

…and plenty of towering natural splendor to admire and photograph.

With Dianne unable to hike, our backcountry drive proved to be a swell way to spend our last full day in the San Rafael Swell.

On our January trip to Zion in 2022, we passed a collection of railcars parked along the Sevier River not far from Richfield, Utah. 

Called Caboose Village, it’s part of the Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort complex that also includes motel rooms, a restaurant, convenience store, cabins and a gas station.  It looked intriguing, so this year, we and longtime friends from Gridlock City booked a pair of cabooses for a three-night getaway.

We loaded bikes onto the back of Obie and headed off to Utah, with a lunch stop at Ray’s Tavern in Green River.

After burgers and a beer, we continued on to Caboose Village.  Our unit, the Northern Pacific, featured walls finished in rustic, beetle-kill pine.  There was a bathroom with shower, satellite TV, a microwave for popping popcorn and a small refrigerator for chilling the beer.

Outside was a massive deck overlooking the Sevier River with picnic tables, grills and firepits in the lawn below. 

Occasionally we’d catch rafters slowly floating downstream.

A paved, rails-to-trails bike path from Caboose Village leads downstream along the river and into Richfield.  Our plan was to bike one day and hike the second.  The rain gods (and hurricane Hillary) had other plans for us, however.

Instead of pedaling in a downpour, we drove south to Marysvale for breakfast, then backtracked up to Fremont Indian State Park where during a dry spell, we walked their paved nature trail past walls of Fremont rock art.

That night we dined on delicious $30 filet mignon steaks at the Big Rock Candy Restaurant, which we downed with an excellent, $45 bottle of 19 Crimes Australian wine.

The next morning dawned clear.  We unloaded our bikes and pedaled ten miles into the small farm town of Joseph where we devoured cooked-to-order breakfast sandwiches and burritos at a gas station-convenience store.

The rain returned on our departure day, so we were once again treated to stormy skies and wet pavement as we motored the interstate back to Colorado. 

Head Hunting

            Our springtime trip to Utah’s canyon country began Saturday with a two-night stay at James M. Robb Colorado River State Park Fruita Section where we dewinterized the trailer and sanitized the freshwater tank.  These are jobs that I would have been done at home when we lived back in Gridlock City.  Can’t do that at our Village in Fruita.

            After taking care of a few errands on Monday morning, we hooked up the trailer and drove across the street to the Strayhorn Grill for lunch.  Then it was off on our 90-mile journey to Green River State Park in Green River, Utah.  There we had an excellent site with an excellent view of water line construction workers digging holes with their excavators.

            Tuesday, we headed off for the San Rafael Swell.  Our first objective was the Black Dragon Pictographs – rock art panels painted centuries ago by the Fremont Indians. 

The guidebook said it required a hike of somewhere between one-half and seven miles to reach.  That might be true if we were driving the family Buick.  In Tighty, our 4×4 Nissan truck, we drove right up to them.

            Our next targets were the Head of Sinbad pictographs and an old log cabin built by the Swasey boys.  The route to the Head of Sinbad (which is named for a geologic formation, not the content of the artwork) took us up a sandy track across the flats.  No problem for the Titan, but that family Buick would never make it up here and still have a muffler attached.

            Several side-tracks intersected our track and we didn’t know which to take.  We finally stopped and hiked up the road a half-mile or so in search of the artwork.  We found incredibly beautiful geology and Dutchman Arch, but no pictographs. 

Giving up, we turned back and headed up the well-signed route to Swasey’s Cabin.

            It was there that I had a Eureka moment.  I pulled out my phone and surprisingly found here in the wilderness, I had one bar of precious Verizon coverage.  I checked my Gaia app, found the location for the Sinbad pictographs, plotted out a route and we were on our way. 

The effort proved worth it.

Exposing Ourselves to Art

Keeping with the rock art theme, Wednesday would be a driving day through Nine Mile Canyon, which offers numerous rock art sites, mostly petroglyphs, scattered along its length.  The route begins near Price, about an hour’s drive northwest of Green River.

We had a hand-out map of the canyon, which had a few rock art sites marked.  Nine Mile Ranch, site of the only campground in the canyon, displayed a sign saying they had canyon guidebooks and maps available.  We stopped to check it out. 

The elderly owner handed us one, admitting that at $30, it was “kinda expensive.”  The one inch-thick, spiral-bound book had descriptions, photos, GPS coordinates interspersed with pages of local history.  We bought it.

 We didn’t need the guide to get us to the first site, and had no trouble finding it since there was a roadside sign with an arrow pointing to “First Site.”  We walked around, shooting photos of the rock-pecked artwork. 

Using the guide we had purchased, we found numerous unsigned rock art locations along with the big ones that had roadside arrows.  Moving from site to site, we shot a few million megapixels of images of this ancient art, the meaning of which can only be guessed.

Of course, this image clearly was a Fremont Indian ad for a prehistoric Hooters.

 There were also old ranches and buildings to explore along the way.

Most of the Nine Mile Canyon art was petroglyphic.  One notable exception was a deer painted on the back wall of an alcove known as Rasmussen Cave.  The site is on private land and when the owner got fed up with people entering his property, he supposedly hired some Boy Scouts to paint a “No Trespassing” warning on the back wall of the alcove.  Their spelling was about as poor as the Scouts’ choice of location.

Fortunately, the Boy Scouts never got to the Great Hunt petroglyph panel farther up the canyon.  This was perhaps the highlight of the canyon gallery.

Through the Straight and Narrow

On Thursday, we made the long 52-mile journey to Goblin Valley State Park where we were treated to an afternoon breeze that rocked the trailer and slid our solar panels around.  It was a night for dining indoors.

Under calm conditions on Friday, we loaded our packs and set off to hike the eight-mile loop up Little Wild Horse Canyon and down Bell Canyon.  This is a popular slot canyon hike with souvenir t-shirts available for purchase at the Goblin State Park Visitor Center. 

I expected flat, easy hiking the whole way, which most of it was.  There were, however, a few obstacles to crawl over or under.  A couple required that we take off our packs.

We have hiking friends back in Fruita, transplants from the Midwest, who had never been to Utah before.  On their first trip into 3.2 country, we drove them down along the Colorado River towards Moab.  While they marveled at the beauty of the canyon walls, we assured them that while attractive, this was not the beautiful part of Utah.  For me, the hike up Little Wild Horse and down Bell exposed a far more attractive, intimate piece of Utah.

We went from sandy wash bottoms to deep slots so narrow one could touch both sides simultaneously in places, sometimes with just elbows extended. 

Canyon walls made faces at us with layers of swirling color and patterns. 

In the wider spots, we could look up at cliffs, dolloped with greenery and radiating nuggets of golden rock against a sapphire sky.

We met dozens of youngsters (anyone under age 50 is a “youngster”) along the way.  The only AARP-aged citizens we encountered were a pair of not yet retired, old coots who went part way up before turning back.  As far as we know, we became the only geezers doing the complete eight-mile loop that day.

Back at camp, we downed brews while sitting trailer-side in the late afternoon sun.  Yesterday’s wind was gone, replaced by just a gentle, cooling breeze.  We watched the setting sun paint the buttes out to the east.  For other folks, this place would be a vacation destination. 

For us, canyons like these lie just a 2½-hour drive from home.