Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: a desert worth preserving?


After we visited the Grosvenor Arch, we drove through another part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument along U.S. Highway 12, which is also known as the American Road Scenic Byway.

We were treated to some splendid desert vistas. This monument is one of the ones that our current government has shrunk and where it wants to allow mining and other exploitation of the land. I’ll let you decide whether it deserves to be preserved.


A wonderful sight down a bumpy road


Just down the road from where we camped in southwestern Utah, a dirt road led to one of nature’s wonders. It was only about 10 miles, but it took 45 minutes to get there because the road was so bad.

The formation is called the Grosvenor Arch, named by the National Geographic Society after its founder, Gilbert Grosvenor. It’s part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It was certainly worth the drive.

We ate lunch there and then drove back. I did have to retighten the brackets on the camper because the bumps had worked them loose.

Where the railroads met


After two nights of camping, near Pendleton, Oregon, and Glenns Ferry, Idaho, we made our first tourist stop at the Golden Spike National Historic Site.

When the Central Pacific and Union Pacific met at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869, it was in the middle of nowhere. It still is. The site is surrounded by a whole lotta empty, though you do pass a NASA rocket-building facility with rockets on display on your way
in from the north.

It was bitter cold, so we didn’t spend a lot of time at the actual meeting point, which looks a lot like any other section of track. There are no golden spikes here. There were actually four spikes. The main one is in a museum at Stanford University.

There is a pillar that was placed here in 1916 to commemorate the completion of the railroad. It has been restored and stands just outside the entrance to the visitors center.

The coolest things might be the two steam locomotives, replicas of the two engines that met in 1869. The Jupiter (No. 60) represented the Central Pacific and No 119, the Union Pacific. The Jupiter burns wood; No. 119, coal, reflecting the differing resources of west and east. The replicas were built in the 1970s. 

During the summer the locomotives are in use every day, but this time of year they are inside the engine house undergoing maintenance.

The site has hiking trails, but it was much too cold, and auto tours, but we didn’t have time.

From here we headed for Salt Lake City, where we’ll spend a couple of nights in an Airbnb to escape the single-digit temperatures.


Wrapping up the trip: turkeys and some numbers


After we left the Salton Sea, we headed north through California. We made a stop at the Four Wheel Campers factory in Woodland to have a few repairs made, then spent the night at an RV park just north of Redding.

It’s fairly nice for a commercial RV park, but the thing that was the most fun was the turkeys who wandered through the campground.

Wild turkeys in the RV park north of Redding

Turkeys in the RV park north of Redding

After one more night on the road, at a campground outside Eugene, we returned at last to Whidbey.

Final trip statistics:

  • Miles driven: 4,702
  • Average speed: 52 mph
  • Days on the road: 22
  • License plates seen: 48 states (all except Hawaii and Rhode Island), five Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and Manitoba), and one Mexican state (Sonora).

Another desert experience: Joshua Tree National Park and the Salton Sea


Our last adventure for this trip was a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. As at Big Bend, the campgrounds were all full, so we camped at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area southwest of the park.

Smoke from a fire rising over the Salton Sea

Smoke from a fire rising over the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea was once a much larger body of water called Lake Cahuilla, but it shrank and is now 235 feet below sea level and about 50 percent saltier than the ocean. The rising salinity means fewer fish and birds, but it’s still a pretty place to camp.

A Joshua tree flower, with our camper in the background

A Joshua tree flower, with our camper in the background

The next morning we headed back to the national park. The shortest and most scenic route is called Box Canyon Road, but it has been closed since October when floods did serious damage. So we took the long way round via Interstate 10.

After we exited I-10 and before we even entered the park, we saw dozens of cars stopped along the road and scores of people wandering through the fields of wildflowers. This was one of the best springs ever for wildflowers and the petal peepers were out in force. We also saw quite a few RVs boondocking.

The park also has plenty of cholla. Here's Robin in the Cholla Cactus Garden.

The park also has plenty of cholla. Here’s Robin in the Cholla Cactus Garden.

Once again our timing was off. It was Saturday, and the park was relatively crowded. Although we had read of damage to the trees during the Trump government shutdown, we didn’t see any evidence of it, and there were still plenty of the magnificent plants, which are really not trees but a species of yucca. The park is home to many other plants, numerous rock formations, and a wide variety of wildlife, from bighorn sheep to the kangaroo rat.

Part of the Jumbo Rocks formation

Part of the Jumbo Rocks formation

The granite formations look like they were piled up by some ancient giant, but they are actually the result of volcanic activity deep in the earth that forced them to the surface.

Although the park was crowded, one place was not: an overlook point called Keys View, perhaps because it’s very windy. We had a great view across the Coachella Valley and could even see a bit of the Salton Sea where we camped.

We entered the park from the south, drove all the way through and out the north side, stopped for lunch in the Twenty-Nine Palms, and drove back through the park and then to our camp. On the way, we stopped for water at a roadside convenience store that was next door to something calling itself the International Banana Museum. It didn’t appeal to us, so we didn’t go in.

The next day we turned north toward home.

Sunset over the Salton Sea

Sunset over the Salton Sea, with the fire still burning


A close look at the giant cacti of Saguaro National Park


D3C29D89-18B7-45EC-8EBE-66462A64B169After a one-night stop-over at Rockhound State Park near Deming, N.M., we headed for Arizona. On the way to our destination, we took a side trip through Saguaro National Park to get a close-up look at its eponymous cacti.

The park has two sections on opposite sides of I-10. We drove the loop drive in the eastern section. Only a small area of the park is accessible by car. Most of it can be reached only on foot or horseback, but we were still able to see a lot on our short drive. Continue reading

Our visit to Texas’s Big Bend: great scenery and some musing about a wall


We spent two full days in Big Bend National Park along the Texas-Mexico border. The park is huge — more than 800,00 acres — and, like much of Texas, has a whole lot of empty. It’s a beautiful place, with lots of desert foliage and wildlife, and picturesque terrain. Because we had Teddy with us, we couldn’t go on the hiking trails, so we didn’t see much wildlife, but we still enjoyed our visit. Continue reading

Trip update: sunshine breaks through in Texas


A cairn of stones alongside the South Llano River

We took a southerly route in hopes of warmer travels, but the eastern cold seemed to follow us south, except for one day in Alabama.

Finally, in West Texas, the sun broke through. We had a warm day at South Llano (pronounced “lano” rather than the Spanish “yano” by the locals) River State Park and enjoyed a walk along the river. Continue reading