Michigan’s Upper Peninsula ~ A New Favorite, Part 1

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When I was a kid we went to East Lansing, Michigan every summer to visit my maternal grandparents and my uncle’s family in Grand Ledge, or up to Boyne Falls and their farm there.  However, we never went as far north as the UP (Upper Peninsula) so when Ed & I decided to go I was looking forward to it.  We now have another addition for your MVL (Must Visit List) 🙂

Except for Wisconsin on the Southwestern border, the UP is surrounded entirely by water; Lake Superior to the North, the St. Mary’s River to the East and Lakes Michigan and Huron to the Southeast.  All this water has a direct effect on the climate. Generally lovely in the summer, high 70’s low 80’s and often brutal in the winter with 200 plus inches of snow on average and records in the 390’s! it is not for the faint of heart. We are thrilled to say that for our visit we had good temperatures and a number of very pretty, sunny days….finally!

Wanting to stay with the Lake Superior Circle Tour we headed north up RT. 519 for the Porkies, more properly called Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.  On the western tip, just into the Porkies, is the Presque Isle River scenic trail. Our first stop was the suspension bridge which is just a short distance up from where the river flows into Lake Superior.

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Presque Isle River flowing through the gorge into Lake Superior as seen from the suspension bridge.

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Presque Isle River emptying into Lake Superior.

The trail goes up either side of the Presque Isle River and we took the lovely, mostly boardwalk (but lots of steps) trail through the woods. With views of the three waterfalls that follow one another over about a half mile distance, we said yippee to the Sun after the morning fog and clouds!

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First and lowest of the falls, Manabezho Falls.

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Second waterfall, Manido Falls.

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And these are the Nawadaha Falls.

Continuing west on the pretty South Boundary Road of the park we drove to the western edge at Union Bay Campground where we secured a spot before taking the road to Lake of the Clouds.

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The Carp River flows into and forms Lake of the Clouds at the base of an escarpment in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness.  Apparently, there is really good fishing down there but you have to carry your boat in 3/4 of a mile or wear your waders and after all that effort, it’s catch and release.

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Looking back up the Carp River along the escarpment.  Something about this place is just magical and the sunshine certainly helped.

Waking to a still sunny day we drove out of the Porkies on RT64 along the coast of Superior to Ontonagon where we headed inland to get RT26 over to Houghton, on the south side of Portage River and Hancock, on the north side.

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The Ontonagon Lighthouse is in private ownership and we could not visit it.

From here this northern tip is the Keweenaw Peninsula, where until about the mid-1960’s copper has been dug, melted and utilized for thousands of years. We did not explore the copper mine and museum this time but will on our next visit 🙂

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Float copper, this piece weighs about 1700 lbs. and is the result of glaciers tearing out and leaving it exposed from the native rock.  This type of copper was what ancient peoples utilized as it was on the surface and easy to find.

From Hancock 41 and 26 separate but join back up further north, only to separate again.  We stayed with 26 as it parallels the Lake Superior shoreline.  We stopped at the little town of Eagle River

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The falls at Eagle River…

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and the laminated broken arch bridge that carries 26.

and then 3 miles up the road a stop at The Jam Pot operated by the monks of Poorrock Abbey, Holy Transfiguration Skete, a Byzantine Catholic Monastery which was a must do (put it on your MVL).

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That’s cheesecloth it’s wrapped in and the whole cake is soaked in bourbon… a lot of bourbon.  We also bought two different kinds of cookies, Almond cookies and Chocolate, Peanut butter Chip, Raisin, Oatmeal cookies, oh and some Bilberry Jam.  The place is not cheap but Ed could join this sect and be happy.

This area is along Great Sand Bay and indeed there are sand dunes along a good stretch of the road here.

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The sand is extremely fine-grained and Marti swears she slid back two for every step up.

 

There is also a steep stairway (88 steps) down to a beach that called Ed’s name.

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It was a lovely day for a swim in Lake Superior, it didn’t last long.

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and yes, it was COLD!

The next town is Eagle Harbor where we stopped and did the lighthouse tour and had a lovely chat with Judy, a Keweenaw County Historical Society volunteer.

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Eagle Harbor Lighthouse opened in 1851.

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At Eagle Harbor Light, there is a two drum snow roller that was used to “pank” down fresh snow so horses could pull sleighs.  Used from the 1880s until mechinized snow removal equipment appeared on the scene in the 1920s and 1930s.

The road from Eagle Harbor to Copper Harbor is bumpy, twisty and narrowish, but very pretty.  Copper Harbor is where Fort Wilkins is located and our campground for the night.

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Established in 1844, the U.S. Army occupied Fort Wilkins and the troops stationed there were intended to help with local law enforcement and to keep the peace between copper miners and the local Ojibwas which turned out to be unnecessary.

NOTE:  For you fellow camper’s,  we stayed many nights at State Parks as well as popping into State Parks for a day visit.  Whether your stop is overnight or just for the day (or any part of) there is a $9 (out of state) fee.  We highly recommend the yearly recreation pass at $32.  It saved us a lot.

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Copper Harbor is also the beginning of US 41 the road that allows Michiganers to flee winter for sunny warm Florida.

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…as this sign in Copper Harbor attests.

Heading back south we also took US 41 which runs down the interior of the peninsula.  Even though it was rainy and foggy this is a beautiful drive.  We planned to stop at Lake Linden Village Campground and recommend this municipal park.  Although the State Recreational Pass does not help, it is only $25 a night. We also had fun watching Torch Lake come closer and closer the night we experienced what may be the heaviest rainstorm, complete with wind and amazing lightning, ever! 🙂

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Torch Lake at Lake Linden Village Campground before the rains came.




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Seriously? only 65 people? on the suspension bridge? at Presque Isle River.

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Cascades stepping down the river at Presque Isle River State Park.

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The view from the top of the walkway at Lake of the Clouds.

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Marti went for a walk while Ed enjoyed the view at Lake of the Clouds.

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She’s a sucker for fungus but she doesn’t like truffles anything. Go figure.

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Lake Superior sunset at Union Bay Campground.

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The Eagle Harbor Light keeper’s bedroom with original furnishings.

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The gale of January 29th, 1938 with 50-60 mph gale winds swept waves over the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and left ice coating the lighthouse and buildings 8 inches thick. Pictured here is the foghorn house.

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Cottages at Eagle Harbor Light.

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Another day, another waterfall.  This one is Haven Park Waterfall near Pt. Isabelle on the south coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

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The end of another day and this post, Ed contemplates where we are going next.

 

Just A Bit of Minnesota & Wisconsin

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Crossing back into the United States at Grand Portage, Minnesota we had the nicest US Board Patrol agent we’ve ever had coming home.  Unfortunately, the weather was still grey and foggy and being married to a photographer there were some grumbly noises about flat light now that there were actually more open views of Lake Superior.  Oh well, that seems to be our lot on this trip.

Our first stop continuing on Superior Scenic RT 61 was at Judge C.R. Magney State Park where we wanted to hike the Devil’s Kettle Falls trail.

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Until 2017 there has been much speculation about the mystery of Devils Kettle.  Objects tossed in the hole (top left) never came out below the falls so the story was it was the Devil’s Kettle, things just disappeared into the netherworld. Last year, a hydrologist suggested the water going in be measured going in against the water coming out.  Come to find out, it was almost exactly the same. The water is not disappearing and the objects tossed in are being pulverized by the incredible force of the water pouring down into the kettle.

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Below Devil’s Kettle.

After our lovely walk, a Sunday Brunch at the Naniboujou Lodge was definitely on our day’s schedule. Planned and built as an exclusive private club, Naniboujou had the misfortune of opening in July of 1929, followed by the disastrous October stock market crash that Fall.  Foreclosure came in 1935.  Now privately owned, and open to the public we highly recommend Sunday Brunch….best bacon I ever had!!

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From the brochure, “Probably the most memorable aspect of the lodge is the wondrously painted 30 x 80 foot dining room. Antoine Goufee, a French artist, painted Cree Indian designs over the walls and the twenty-foot-high domed ceiling (resembling the shape of a canoe). “

Completely stuffed, but happy, we continued south to the Cascade River State Park where we would camp for the night.  After using most of our leveling blocks 😦 we walked back the Cascade River Trail enjoying the waterfalls flowing down the gorge.

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Looking down the gorge at Cascade Falls State Park.

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We walked a ways upstream encountering several more falls along the way.

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Cascade Falls.

We stopped briefly at Tettegouche State Park where at the visitor center there is an excellent display of different kinds of scat, so you too can know what wild animal left their “calling card” for you.

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The gravel and sand beach at Tettegouche State Park on Lake Superior.

The Split Rock Lighthouse was an especially fun stop.  An advantage to cool grey weather is using the kitchens wood burning oven is not uncomfortable.   Ed was delighted to find the “lightkeeper’s wife” was just taking her ginger bread cake out and yes, he could certainly have a taste 🙂

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Split Rock Lighthouse.

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The flat strap of copper running up the side of the light is a grounding rod for lightning strikes.

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This is the recipe card for the Ginger Bread Cake from the last keeper’s wife written in her hand.

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The 3rd order bi-valve Fresnel lens in the light at Split Rock.

The Silver Creek Tunnel (about 5 miles north of Two Harbors) was completed in 1994 and we stopped to walk the section of RT 61 that the tunnel replaced.  Taking 3 years to complete, 500,000 cubic yards of rock had to be blasted and removed to accommodate this 1,344 foot long pass through Silver Creek Cliff.

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The old original road passes to the left up the hill.  There was no room for error driving around the steep cliff before the tunnel was built in 1994.  Rocks were falling down and the cliff was washing out.

Leaving Minnesota at Duluth, we agreed this drive along Lake Superior was very different than our drive in Canada.  Geared towards tourists, there were many more scenic overlooks and because of the large number of waterfalls many places to stop and take a walk or a full-blown hike.  Even though the weather wasn’t the best, and we moved along pretty quickly, we enjoyed ourselves.

Next up, of course, was Wisconsin and we stopped for the night at Amnicon Falls State Park where first thing in the morning we took the short walk to enjoy the falls.

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Unlike most falls we have seen so far, there was little water in the river here due to a drought this summer. The bridge is a Horton bridge, Horton promoted his design, of a bow-strung truss as cheaper and stronger.  The roof was added by the CCC in 1939 then replaced in 1941 after snow collapsed it and then again in 1971 when vandals set it on fire.

Taking US 2 to RT 13 to continue our Lake Superior tour, we stopped in Cornucopia at Marine Harbor.

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The locals really like to play at the playground at Cornucopia’s little park.

 

At the small store at Halvorson Fisheries, we bought some of their brown sugar smoked whitefish and a small container of smoked whitefish dip.  Whitefish (Lake Whitefish) is a/the major fish coming out of Lake Superior.  It’s in all the restaurants and shops and being very mild in flavor, very popular.  The gentleman we chatted with in Halvorson’s told us “It don’t get any better than that dip, and the fish…I eat it 3, 4 times a week!”  After our own taste tests… the dip, with crackers… not bad; the smoked, with crackers… not bad;  battered & fried with tartar sauce… not bad…; as chowder….good…..BUT…if given a choice, Cod is better. 🙂

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Right behind Halvorson Fisheries in Marine Harbor, Cornucopia.

We have been in Wisconsin a couple of times over the years and really loved the south/west/central area.  Our favorite is the coulee area.  Water erosion has cut deep, steep-sided valleys with relatively flat and narrow ridges. Heavily farmed with mostly corn, soybeans, hay and alfalfa. Fields flowing over the rolling curves, highs and lows of the landscape, it is unlike almost anywhere we’ve ever been. It’s incredibly beautiful.  Unfortunately, every time we’ve been here the light has been just flat and photographs just don’t do it justice, but that’s ok, we will be back again.

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Wisconsin Coulee crops.  It has been raining here and the crops and fields are very lush.

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More coulee area farms.




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Water swirling everywhere.  We are astonished at how much water there is in this part of the country.

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We have joked to ourselves about how this is our Waterfall trip.  Here’s another one at Cross River along the North Coast Road in Minnesota. Notice the potholes worn in the rock by sand and gravel swirling around.

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Local flora and fauna at Tettagouch State Park.

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Keeper’s houses at the Split Rock Lighthouse. 

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Just into Wisconsin, the Sun popped out for a couple of hours and then was gone for several days.  We had some horrific torrential rainstorms while we were in Wisconsin.  Just south of us one night, Madison got 15″ of rain in just a couple of hours.

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We holed up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin for a couple of days and we discovered Leinenhugel’s Brewery.  We took the tour even though the place was closed for repairs.  We could only see the bottling line which was pretty boring.  Ed did get to sample five of their brews plus some of Marti’s five. They all tasted exactly the same, like fizzy water… Ed’s preferred drink is Guinness.

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After visiting a farmers market in Chippewa Falls we had yummy fresh veggies!  Walking back to our rig Ed saw this shadow on a wall. 

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We saw this old-timey Texaco station somewhere in a small town in Wisconsin.

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The bustling metropolis of Wonewoc, Wisconsin.  We have actually been to this little place three times on three separate trips.  The first time in 2006 Ed found and bought a lovely big wooden Century camera dating to about 1906.

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The Sun is teasing us and later came out for a lovely couple of days.

Weather, i.e. the light, has been a big issue this whole adventure.  That being said, the Minnesota Lake Superior Circle route is lovely.  The Wisconsin Coulee Area is almost magical and we recommend all of this for your MVL (Must Visit List)….just try to do it when the Sun is shining 🙂

Northwestern Ontario ~ Water, Trees, Trees & Water

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With our plan having now evolved to checking out Lake Superior on our way to Thunder Bay we crossed into Ontario on RT 101 where the traffic was almost at once much lighter.  Don’t know why but it gave Ed a break as he regularly tends to drive on the shoulder (when there is one) to allow folks to pass us easily.  We were headed for Wawa where we’d take the TCH 17 which is the Ontario part of the Lake Superior Circle TourNOTE: The Trans Canada Highway is generally just called the TCH but notice that it has a number. That is because it’s actually many different roads. It can be equated to our interstates.

The landscaped changed with more rock and initially some small mountains, but that didn’t last although the rock did.

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Granted, there is no rock in this picture but there’s a hill in the background and like the title says, trees and water. It’s pretty anyway and it is what we were seeing as well.

In Wawa at the Embassy Restaurant, which has a very grand name for a very down home place, we had a really good cheeseburger. Believing it’s always right to help folks hanging on, we recommend you too stop for a meal if in the area.

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In the Embassy Restaurant there was this wonderful wall hanging of neckties and what I think can be described as an First Nation mask.  As artists, we are very sorry to not be able to give credit where it is due.  The young man who waited on us knew nothing about it except it had been there forever.  Isn’t it fun?

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The good folks of Wawa when the TCH bypassed the town in 1960 wanted something to slow folks down and bring them into town so they made a giant Canada Goose sculpture.  There is a newer one down by the visitor’s center but we liked this old guy.

Our next stop for the night was in Marathon another town barely hanging on but they have a very nice municipal park, Penn Lake Park where we stayed two nights. In town there is also one of the nicest coin laundries I’ve ever used, although it was a bit expensive. There’s also Rumours where we had our first homemade butter tarts WOW!  I don’t particularly care for real sweet and rich but OMG!!!  They are reason enough to go to Marathon, Ontario, YUM!

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Butter, butter and raisins, cinnamon, butter, sugar and butter.  YUM!

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Early morning at Penn Lake Park.

We stopped for the short walk out to Aguasabon Falls & Gorge.  This is a man made waterfall!  In the late 1940’s in an effort to assure ample water for the Aguasabon Generating Station, Ontario Hydro built a dam at the northern end of Long Lake to redirect its northern flow, south.  This in turn, massively enlarged Hays Lake.  The spillway from Hays created these falls.

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Aguasabon Falls & Gorge

We have been chuckling to ourselves because for a great deal of this route is too far away from Lake Superior to see it.  Where it is visible it’s often through trees and just “oh there’s water out there”.  We’ll see a sign indicating a lookout (in the US we call that a scenic view) and there is nothing to see and/or too many trees to see anything anyway.  Several times there’s a lovely view but the official lookout is past the good view!   It also didn’t help that the light was really crummy.  We never took a picture because the view was crummy.

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At Terrace Bay we did actually get a chance to go down to Lake Superior.  It was fun to put our feet in the water but you can see the light across the lake is just crummy and smoky from fires in Ontario up way north and British Columbia.

We stopped for the night at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park which is on Marie Louise Lake.

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Lake Marie Louise and Marti cooling her heels. The Sun had come out at the end of the day, Yay!

In the morning we drove on down 587 to the end of Sleeping Giant where there’s a very narrow loop through the small summer cottages by Lake Superior.  Then back north up RT 587 to the 5.6 mile long dirt road that goes to the excellent Thunder Bay Lookout.  This is not a road for anything larger than us, (nor wary drivers) and the end is a bit hazardous to tires, but we are so glad we went!

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For the first time ever, we actually drove on ROCK. There were major cracks and holes to avoid.  Roadside assistance was not going to be an option…

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These are the tallest cliffs in Ontario, a lot of meters above Lake Superior.

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This the cantilevered platform you walk out on in order to see the previous picture.  You have no idea what it took for Marti to go stand out there but boy was it worth it.

After enjoying the view of Thunder Bay and carefully driving back down we headed for Fort William Historical Park just south of the city where we camped for two nights.  NOTE:  Contrary to what the webpage says, the campground is not on the banks of anything and certainly not wilderness, but it is convenient with good wifi.   

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However if your are lucky, you will have good neighbors like we did with Paul and Anita.  If you are really lucky, somebody like little Izzy will come jump in your lap!

The original Fort William (so named in 1807) was established in 1803. The North West Company (Nor’Westers ) had been operating their fur trade out of Grand Portage but after the signing of the Jay Treaty between England and America ceded that area to the US,  Nor’Westers moved to Canada to avoid paying US taxes. Initially located at the mouth of the Kaministiquia River near Lake Superior the site was lost in the 1880’s to railroad tracks and coal piles.  This reconstructed Fort William Historical Site further up the Kaministiquia River opened in 1973 and is most impressive in size and authenticity.

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This is the common area in the middle of the fort.  The layout of the buildings, what they looked like and how they were built was all taken from exacting drawings and notes recorded by Lord Melrose at the time.

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The garden area.

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The Magazine and Armory is only one of two buildings in the complex to have a tin roof.  The reason was to allow any accidental explosions to go up rather than out which would destroy the building.

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As you can see, the corners of the Armory were strengthened by mounding dirt at the corners to help contain any booms.

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Fort William Historical Park contains 42 reconstructed buildings, a reconstructed Ojibwa village, and a small farm all populated by authentically dressed reenactors. You may notice in this picture that even the window glass used shows the waffling of old glass.

As I mentioned in our last post some of this particular adventure has been about “just to say we’ve been there” and to that end Ed wanted to go to Pickle Lake.  This is the furthest north one can drive in Ontario Province on paved road.

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Greetings at Pickle Lake where someone has a sense of humor.  Truth is there is no reason to come here unless you want to fish or hunt.

Our last two nights in Canada were at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park  just north of Thunder Bay.

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Kakabeka Falls.

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Another view from above the falls.  The previous photo was taken from the platform on the right hand side of this photo.

We have enjoyed this visit to Canada but are happy to now be back to the States.  We have stayed in many provincial and municipal parks this time and recommend them…HOWEVER….most have varying degrees of leveling issues, some pretty bad.  Most only have electric at some/most sites.  Water is generally available but not always.  Dump stations also may not be available.  Electric, especially in Ontario can be a LONG ways away from your site.  We worked things out but we have lots of leveling blocks, extra water hose and electric cable and in truth aren’t too particular.  So while we do recommend staying in these parks, go prepared and with a sense of humor…or at least a bottle of wine after you’re settled in 🙂




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The Williams Gold Mine just east of Marathon has produced nearly 21 million ounces of gold.  That’s a lot of bling.

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The very serious viewing platform overlooking Aguasabon Falls & Gorge.

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An interesting detail of pinning a joist of some kind to the vertical end wall of the log buildings.  We have never seen this sort of work before and we used to live in an old log cabin.

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Marti is a sucker for baby goats.  This reenactor was admittedly delighted to talk to folks who have actually raised farm animals.  We were equally delighted to chat with her both about period farming practices and her own modern day chicken farming.

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Ed liked this Nanny goat.

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The canoe building shed was just amazing.  This canoe is called a Montreal and had a 5 foot beam, was about 2 feet deep and we think it was 27 feet long.  It was used to transport cargo on the big waters of Lake Superior, Gitchi Gumi.

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These are rolls of birch bark to be used making the canoes.  Ed estimates each roll to be about 8-10 feet long which would mean the tree it was cut from approached 3 feet in diameter.  The barks were about a quarter inch thick.  Unfortunately, there was nobody in the building to ask but the display was pretty impressive.

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Just some things on a bench in the canoe building.

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The barracks at Fort William.

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An Anishnawbe encampment just outside the fort.

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The furs, basically the whole reason the fort was here, came from the Anishnawbe who traded them for European goods. Throughout the fort there were furs everywhere and they were all real and of very high quality.

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Kakabeka Falls.

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At the end of the paved road at Pickle Lake.  They ain’t kidding around.

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We wandered back RT 622 on our way back south from Pickle Lake to camp that night at Kakabeka Falls. This was one of the prettiest roads we encountered in Ontario and a large portion of it, 32KM was nicely graded gravel with some kind of goo on it to keep down the dust. The gooey mud got all over the bottom of the rig.

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A nice scene along RT 622.

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A parting shot from the abyss, the Thunder Bay Lookout at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.

Quebec, the North Country

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Having made the decision to continue our travels in Quebec on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, we headed for the ferry docking town of Matane.  From here the ferries do the run across (and back) to either Baie-Comeau or Godbout, with either trip lasting just over two hours. Ed had researched the ferry schedule a couple of days earlier and said that the 8AM ferry ran to the more northern town of Godbout and the later 2:30 ferry ran to Baie-Comeau.  As we had no specific camping plans and consequently thinking we might need extra time to find a place we thought to catch the earlier ferry and work our way south.   However, arriving in Matane at about noon we decided to go ahead and try the 2:30 Baie-Comeau run and while we waited, I’d get online and see if I could find a campground.  We checked in and they put us in the no reservation line but we know from experience that if you’re there early enough this generally means you will get on board.  We were early and close to the front of the line and after a few unsuccessful phone calls, I did find us a spot about 30km (18+ miles) north of the Baie-Comeau terminal on the other side.  We loaded on the boat, had a very quiet crossing, even getting to see a large pod of porpoises, offloaded and headed up the coastal road 138.

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Leaving Gaspe and Matane behind we were intrigued by the rip-rap in the shape of children’s toy jacks.

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That’s a lot of prop wash… but it’s a big boat.

 

The campground directions had indicated that we should pretty quickly come to RT389 where we’d head north.  Well…..no…there was no road 389 and our phones weren’t working to try and figure out what was going on.  Ed suggested we keep going a bit. After a few kilometers he put the campground into the Garmin and it said we were 68km from our turn onto 389!!  Well, clearly that was wrong so we drove on.  A couple of minutes later my phone works and shows we’re north of Godbout!!  Turns out my darling husband misremembered which boat went where and we’d taken the Matane to Godbout ferry!   Life is an adventure 🙂  but we made the campground in time, had our cocktails, a good laugh, dinner and settled in for 2 nights at Camping Manic 2.

After the rainy morning and a load of laundry, we explored up Rt 389 about 107km (67miles). This is actually the road to Labrador City where it’s then called the Trans-Labrador Highway and we toyed with the idea of heading up and across it to Red Bay and on to Newfoundland but realistically we were not prepared so we decided that’s for another time. 😦

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Along the side of RT 389 to Manic 3, the traffic on this road, which on the map is in the middle of nowhere was amazing,  Logging trucks sure, but mostly non-stop Hydro-Quebec cars and trucks.

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Electric power for the province is generated by hydro-electric generating plants from this area.  There are 5 dams along the Manicouagan River that are only a small portion of the 63 hydro plants in Quebec. Our campsite was just up the road from the station called Manic 2, the second dam in the system here.  This photo is just some kind of electric thinghy in that system.

Back down to Baie-Comeau and out 138W along the St Lawrence the tide was out (seems like we’re always along the water when the tide is out) and we were once again struck by how shallow the shoreline is.

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No boats allowed!  The rocks featured in this picture were brought to you by the retreating glaciers and dropped in place as the ice melted.

At Cap-de-Bon-Desir the shoreline comes to a hard coast and deep water which results in excellent whale watching, so of course, we paid the fee to go have a look.

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Lots of people waiting and watching for whales.  Of course, none came while we were there. The Park Service has done a lovely job of building natural stone walks and bridges to make it easy for folks to come out.

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And here comes the fog.

We were decided that Thunder Bay, Ontario was our goal and we wanted to take a northern route in the hopes of less company on the roads and easier camping.  To that end, we took RT 172 on the north side of the Saguenay River.  This is labeled as Rue du Fjord and for many miles, it runs along the Sainte-Marguerite River.

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Ed has a cool wade in the St. Marguerite River next to our campsite.  This is not the fjord the Route du Fjord is referring to.  That would be the next river over to the west, the much larger Saguenay.

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As you might expect, this part of the province is world famous for its salmon fly fishing where it is all catch and release.  This photo is just upstream around the bend from the above photo.

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And guess what’s growing wild and ready to be picked! not just here but everywhere.

Not feeling like doing cities we passed Saguenay and were soon into pretty farm country where we stopped at a wonderful farm market, Ferme Tournesol.

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Marti says she never looked like this after picking veggies out of our garden.

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We didn’t buy nearly enough from these folks.  The produce was just beautiful.

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Yum!

 

Driving through Dolbeau-Mistassini we spotted a wonderful chute (waterfall) where RV’s were clearly camped and Ed immediately turned down the road.  Being a Saturday, in a town, I was not expecting to get a spot, but the nice man said yes he had 3 sites and we should select which one we wanted 🙂

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We think we just happened to get the best site in the park.

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The Chutes

We continued north taking RT167 and then RT113 to Camping Opemiska where we stopped for the night and next morning headed toward TCH 117 (Trans Canada Highway) and Val-d’Or.

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All across the northern parts of Quebec, the roadside wildflowers were a riot of color and especially the Loosestrife, Pearly Everlasting and Goldenrod interspersed with lots of Cattails.

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Of course, there are lakes everywhere.

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and Birch trees many of which grow to over 100 feet tall in dense groves.

 

I will be honest and admit this entire trek across Quebec has been unplanned and completely “by the seat of our pants” traveling.  A lot of it was as Ed says, “just so we can say we’ve been there” and while I am looking forward to seeing Thunder Bay, Ontario where I actually have looked for things to do, we do have one more “just so we can say we’ve been there” on our horizon before that. 🙂




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Looking towards the bow and what Ed thought was Baie-Comeau but turned out to be Godbout.

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We waited for several minutes behind this truck with possibly the largest pipe we have ever seen on the road for a single lane traffic light at a construction zone. There is lots of construction on these roads because they only have about three months to make all the repairs and improvements due to the heavy trucks that tear them apart as well as the harsh weather.

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North of Manic 2 on RT 389 when the Sun came out.

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The lighthouse at Cap-de-Bon-Desir.

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Carrots! More beautiful produce at Ferme Tournesol.

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Crackerberry or Creeping Dogwood, (Cornus canadensis) and Indian Pipe.

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Guess what else is growing wild in profusion and is ripe for the picking?  Bleuets! Oh yum!

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Turns out to our great amazement not only do they mine iron ore up here but gold.  At Malartic, Quebec this pit mine is the largest open-pit gold mine in Canada. The pit measures 1.34 miles across in the long dimension and a half mile across.  We only know this because of the biggest pile of tailings we have ever seen anywhere. The current vein they are mining is estimated to contain 9 million ounces of gold and it’s only one mine.  Think about that.

We are currently in Ontario on Lake Superior and will keep you posted soon!

As always, thanks for coming along!

Gaspésie Peninsula ~ WITH, a short home tour in NY & VT

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After a visit back home celebrating our kids first home of their own (a fixer-upper we know will be great when they’re done); checking in with an eye doc about Ed’s eventual cataract surgery and enjoying time with family and friends, we headed north towards the Hudson River area of New York.  With no particular plan other than eventually landing in Canada’s Gaspésie Peninsula, we did a kind of house tour trip as we went.  In the interest of brevity and not really having much to say, we’ll offer up these brief recommendations.

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Hyde Park, New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home, Springwood and the FDR Library & Museum also on the estate.  Highly recommend, especially the library and museum. Plan on two days.

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Hyde Park, New York, Vanderbilt Mansion.  The Biltmore Estate in Ashville N.C. is a favorite of ours and it so outclasses this home and gardens that we can’t bring ourselves to recommend this place.

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Olana, the home of artist Frederic Church in Hudson N.Y.  Marti recommends highly, Ed not so much on the house but yes on the view 🙂  .

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With a thank you to our friend Tim Carmel for the head’s up, Grant’s Cottage in Wilton, N.Y.  Ulysses S. Grant won the Civil War and was a two-term US President but you’ll have to work hard to find the small home where on this bed, this important man died of throat cancer July 23, 1885.  Highly recommended even if New York State doesn’t mark the location on their maps, or bother with a sign on the street!

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We also recommend Marsh – Billings – Rockefeller National Historical Park and the Billings Farm &  Museum  Woodstock, Vermont.  All three of the owners starting with George Marsh in the 1830’s were strong supporters of enlightened land management.  The home is lovely and the museum part of the Billings Farm & Museum across the street is very interesting although poorly labeled.  Unfortunately, at the home, we had the worst tour guide we ever had anywhere.

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Last but certainly not least, on Lake Champlain in Shelburne VT, watch the cheese making process (an all day/everyday affair) at Shelburne Farms and enjoy a wonderful dinner at the Inn.  Because you only live once, we treated ourselves to two nights here and highly recommend the whole experience.  It’s lovely!

 

Now….on with the “real” blog post 🙂

The south shore of the St. Lawrence River runs the length of the northern border of the Gaspésie Peninsula until both river and land meet the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the Canadian province of Quebec.  On the south side, the peninsula is separated from the Province of New Brunswick by the Restigouche River and Chaleur Bay.   As has always been our experience with all the Canadian Border Services personnel, crossing at Fork Kent, Maine was easy. We chatted with the officer about where we were going and how long we intended to stay.  He gave us some direction suggestions and didn’t seem to mind we had no concrete plans. 🙂

The peninsula is divided into sections with descriptive names and we headed north for Sainte-Flavie in the part labeled “The Coast” where we managed to get a tight, unlevel but ok spot on the St. Lawrence River at Capitaine Homard.

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It’s tight, but it’s home!

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Actually, the view from our View ain’t bad!

Having made good driving time and with our site secured we headed just up the road to Jardins de Métis (Reford Gardens).  These beautiful gardens were the result of Elise Reford’s doctor’s suggestion of less stressful excursion (i.e. instead of her normal fishing, riding, and hunting) following an appendectomy.

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Over the course of ten years, Mrs. Reford laid out gardens that complimented the natural flow of the terrain to great effect.

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Her inclusion and success with rare and difficult Himalayan Blue Poppies are world famous. And Marti is just a little jealous but isn’t it lovely?

Ed generally likes to travel counterclockwise when doing big loops so we headed south on 132 into the section labeled “The Valley”.  The countryside here is low, steep mountains where after a bit the road also runs beside the Matapedia River.   We took a side road to Saint-Irene where the guidebook said there was a lookout tower.

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We don’t know for sure if they are putting it up or replacing it but the picnic table is the top of today’s tower.

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And indeed, it is a lovely view.

Upon reaching the south side of the peninsula, “The Bay” section, we headed east on the ring road 132 where the views were to our eye, just water (sometimes) and small towns.

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In Quebec, a very Catholic province, most towns, even the small ones have a substantial church.  They are quite lovely.

We stopped for the night at Parc du Bourg de Pabos where a nice bilingual fellow camper helped us get a spot.

Campsite

Not one of our more romantic campsites… but it works. It was a Friday and they were having some very serious sewer issues.  The “officials” were there in the morning exploring the sewers out on the road. We left.

Finally in the section labeled “Land’s End” we started to actually see boats and folks playing in the water.

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Truth is we are not exactly sure where this is but it is the first time we saw commercial fishing boats of any kind.

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At Barachois we stopped and walked the old railroad bridge over the mouth of Rivière-Malbaie.

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…and then continued on to the peninsula’s main tourist attraction, Rocher-Percé (Percé Rock meaning pierced rock). In 1534 Jacques Cartier reported three arches.  By 1845 there were only two remaining, one of which collapsed leaving the current visible pillar and remaining arch,

The drive from Percé Rock was prettier than anything we had seen so far.  Arriving at the town of Gaspé we sat at the sidewalk tables of Brise-Bise had a very good lunch.

Next day we drove to the north entrance of Parc National Forillon and did the short walk out to Cap Bon Ami.

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Cap Bon Ami… where, in the parking lot we saw our very first American license plate.  Nice folks from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Continuing west on 132 just outside Forillon we spotted Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse.

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Built between 1853-1858 at 34 meters tall, this is the tallest lighthouse in Canada.  Officials and citizens are extremely concerned about the very real possibility of it collapsing.

At the very beginning of the loveliest section on the peninsula, “The Haute-Gaspesie” (High-Gaspesie) we stopped briefly at the Cap de la Madeleine Lighthouse.

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This the latest version of this lighthouse having been built in 1908.

From here the road is absolutely running “between a rock and a hard place” 🙂  For approximately 84 kilometers (52 miles) RT 132 runs next to the cliff face of the Chic-Chocs Mountains and the St. Lawrence.

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After Perce Rock, headed into the most photographed and promoted section of the Gaspesie. This section is really fun.

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But like most of the peninsula, the waters of the shore are very shallow and full of rocks for a long ways out…  Ruh roh.

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A beautiful drive but basically nowhere to pull over to just look.  We did it anyway…

Overall, our recommendation for the Gaspésie Peninsula is weak at best.  Except for the Lands End and Haute- Gaspesie sections it’s just not special enough, although Ed’s photographs may seem to put the lie to this.  The people are the least friendly we have ever met!  Without exaggeration, in the 7 ½ days, we were here 5 people either smiled back, said bonjour/hello or waved when we did any of those things (which we do all the time.)  NONE did so first!  I will say that one on one, almost everyone was pleasant, helpful and/or patient.   Granted they are FRENCH Canadians, but Canada is an English language country. Almost exclusively, no effort is made to include a translation on signs, labels, menus, directions, anything, and it does complicate things.  Although, we both are getting better at figuring words and meanings out.  True disclosure…I went from an A to an F in 7th-grade French class!  I commented to Ed several times that coming from a country where everything seems to have English/Spanish (or more) on it, these folks sure don’t seem to want to be inclusive 🙂 . We, me especially, found the experience exhausting and it colored my whole outlook.  So, after a night of conversation and wine, we decided to head for the ferry at Matane to cross the St. Lawrence and see what was on the north shore and beyond.




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Evening at Capitaine Homard.  The fog was a constant companion.

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Quiet details abound in Jardins de Métis (Reford Gardens).

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This section of the garden is called The Long Walk…  It smelled really good too.

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They may not offer the English words but the signage is quite clear.

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As we have commented, the mountains are very steep and we encountered grades between 8% and 16% everywhere.  They weren’t long but they were constant in the interior particularly and we loved this sign.

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The amazing thing about all these hills and mountains is that on top there was this wonderful expanse of rich farmland where crops such as mustard, grains, corn, alfalfa, and cattle were healthy and lush.

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And then there were fields lying fallow.

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Almost all of the small village churches followed this same basic design with a tall sharp steeple.

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Perce Rock.  At low tide, people can walk out to it but there are many signs warning of the frequent and deadly rockfalls sliding off the rock face.

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Looking east from the Cap Bon Ami viewpoint.

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Hugging the cliffs and staying out of the water it really is a fun drive through this section, the Haute-Gaspesei. 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Lions, tigers, and bears… oh, my!” Nope, Along the Haute-Gaspesie road. Rocks, Waves, and Avalanches… Oh, my.  

 

 

Utah ~ Scenic Byway 12, Burr Trail & the LDS

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The US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration lists Utah Route 12 as one of America’s Scenic Byways.   We had begun our traverse of the 124 mile long route with Bryce Canyon located at mile marker 13 (see the last post) and were now ready to continue on.

After Bryce, Route 12 slides in and out of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  We stopped at the Escalante Heritage Center which has an interesting display about not only the town of Escalante but the 1880 Mormon pioneer expedition from Escalante to Bluff, Utah referred to as the Hole in the Rock Expedition.

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This is a painting depicting the descent through Hole In The Rock that the Mormon pioneers blasted and built creating the gap that allowed them to continue on their way to Bluff, Utah. No one was lost. It was an incredible feat.

At mile marker 70 we stopped and marveled at the slick rock at Head of the Rocks Overlook.

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The term, slick rock is attributed to cowboys because shod horses hooves would slip on the bare rock and sometimes they would go down.  Crossing, particularly when wet, is very precarious whether on horseback or in a wagon.

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The CCC spent 5 years building a road through here parts of which are now RT. 12.  It’s known as the Million Dollar Highway because of the backbreaking labor and tons of dynamite used to blast through the slickrock terrain.

Just about five more miles down the road we stopped to enjoy the amazing views over the deep canyon of the Escalante River and a bit further on, down into Calf Creek where I hope to someday hike up to the falls.

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The trail Marti hopes to hike someday is visible in the bottom of the canyon.

I had done my research as well as I could and assured Ed we could and should leave Scenic 12 and do the Burr Trail Road which crosses Grand Staircase-Escalante to Capitol Reef National Park.  So at Boulder (AKA  Boulder Town), we turned onto Burr Trail Rd where just a few miles in there was the 7 site BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Deer Creek Campground. Technically (according to their listing) we wouldn’t fit, but hey, it’s us so we “pushed and shoved” and JUST fit into spot #5 🙂

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The Moon and Venus delighted us that evening but the mosquitos soon drove us back inside. The creek was right behind us.

What a wonderful road!  Paved and basically empty of other vehicles Burr Trail Rd heads down through The Gulch into beautiful Long Canyon.

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Top of the Gulch headed down into Long Canyon on the Burr Trail road.

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Down inside the wonderful Long Canyon.

We saw an opening in the cliffs and stopped to walk back a short slot canyon.  Meeting a couple on the way out we were told it was called Singing Canyon which fit the effects we’d discovered already 🙂

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Headed back into the slot of Singing Canyon.

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… looking back out to Long Canyon.  Ed had lots of fun chatting with the Goddess Echo.

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The landscape opens up outside of Long Canyon.

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The Henry Mountains and the Water Pocket Fold before them as we cross into Capitol Reef National Park where the Burr Trail road turns to dirt.

 

Coming out of the canyon it’s not much farther to the border between GS-ENM and CRNP where the pavement stops. The dirt road looked good and a nice Canadian couple we had chatted with the night before had said the entire road was fine, and well…it is us… so we continued on.

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Today the hole in Peek-a-boo Rock is kept company by a sunspot of light.  🙂

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This should have been our first clue things were going to go downhill from here.

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800 feet down in just 1/2 a mile on slippery gravel and Marti had every confidence in Ed.  Of course, we didn’t know he had a detached retina in his right eye…  just knew that things were not as clear as they might have been.

At the bottom of the Burr Trail Switchbacks, one can go left (Notom) or right (Bullfrog) on the Notom – Bullfrog Rd.  The Burr Trail continues right towards Bullfrog and Lake Powell and most folks actually go this way. We went left because the road would eventually take us to where we wanted to be for the night.  If one looks at the various websites both official and personal the road is “well maintained”, “only accessible by passenger cars”, “VERY rough”, “not recommended for RV’s”, and “impassable when wet”.

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We had a spectacular day for this drive but as can so often happen…

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…the clouds suddenly appeared ominous from the West and the road was, to put it politely, crap.  Ed cursed the Canadian fellow many times but Marti thinks he was mistaken and had turned the other way to Bullfrog.  We still had over 30 miles to go.

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And the storm continued to build.  Marti kept wanting to stop.  Ed, remembering the “impassable when wet” part, was thinking about how much trouble we would be in if it actually started to rain.

Out of the backcountry of Notom Road and on Rt. 24 the RV campgrounds in the towns of Fruita and Torrey were full but a nice lady at one told us about tiny Sunglow Campground in the Fishlake National Forest a few miles further west near Bicknell.

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Sunglow Campground. We made it!

Happily, we did manage to get the nowhere near level, but very nice, second to the last spot.  The last spot was taken by a couple of delightful Dutch kids, Christine, a gastroenterologist and Jacob-Jan, a physicist. We really enjoyed talking with them over a couple of beers the two nights we were camped here.

Next morning we wanted to finish up the bit of the road we’d skipped doing the Burr Trail and so headed back towards Torrey and south on Scenic 12.

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Rt. 12 south heading for Boulder Mountain and the Dixie National Forest.

Here the road climbs Boulder Mountain in Dixie National Forest and because of the extra altitude, 9,606’ at the top of the road (the actual top is 11,313’) and the pine and aspen this area has an entirely different landscape…

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At the summit, the forest opens up and the view back to Boulder, Burr Trail Road and Long Canyon is spectacular. 

Bright and early the next morning we packed up and headed back down to Fruita and the visitor center.

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The Fluted Wall on Rt. 24 west of Fruita, Utah. 

This is the most known/visited part of Capitol Reel and from here we did the paved Scenic Drive.

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EPH Hanks Tower at the end of the paved road on Scenic Drive.

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This particular morning the clouds and approaching storm were almost more spectacular than the landscape.

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Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park.

It was on this drive that Ed admitted his eye/vision was pretty bad and the better part of discretion was to head for Provo and Salt Lake City where there would be eye specialists.

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And that is what we did. Through the rain and the clouds across Utah on Rt. 89 to Provo.  Just an incredibly beautiful state. In fact, just put the entire state on your MVL, (Must Visit List).




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Inside a Mormon wagon.  Can you imagine traveling through this part of the world with this view?

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Scenic 12 outside of Escalante, Utah.

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Marti calls these green river snakes.

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The Hogback at MM80 on Scenic 12.  You will note the lack of shoulder or railing.

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Inside Long Canyon.

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Geological canvas abstract painting.

 

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Notice how the aspens are at all different stages of leafing out. That’s because each grove is a single organism connected by roots underground and consequently each grove has its own timeline for waking up.

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Heading back up the Scenic Road to leave for Provo… It started raining just as we left the park and rained all the way across the state.

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After Ed’s eye surgery, we went up to Salt Lake City for two weeks. The streetcar stop was right outside the KOA so going in to Temple Square and city center was very easy.  This is the Mormon Temple reflected in the pool in the gardens.

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Thursday evenings the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s rehearsal is free and open to the public.  We had a lovely dinner at Caffe Molise then walked over and thoroughly enjoyed this amazing choir.  Marti says if we lived here she would be here every Thursday.

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Not a headache.  Not disgusted, but under doctor’s orders to rest his eye by looking down for a while.  All in all, we really liked Salt Lake City not to mention beautiful Utah.  We will be back!

 

White House, Toadstools & Bryce Canyon ~ OR ~ You’ve Gotta Take a Walk

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As some of you know, not only were we home (Maryland) for almost a month, we’re now on the road again, New York and as of yesterday Vermont, heading for Canada.  Even so, Utah is just so magnificently beautiful and Ed’s photographic eye captures it so well, I still want to share our adventure and lots of pictures with you…   sooooo…

Leaving Wapatki Monument we headed north on US 89 toward Page and Lake Powell which we wrote about back in May of 2017.  We spent the night at the Page Lake Powell Campground where we’ve stayed before and tried to ignore the first really hot day we’d had pretty much this whole trip.

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The water level in Lake Powell is way down.

Utah’s Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument begins just outside of Page and we had heard good things about the White House Trailhead Campground about 30 miles on up US 89.  Stopping in at the Paria Contact Station, the nice BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lady said we might have a little trouble with the last dip in the dirt road but there was a spot about 1 ¾ miles back where we could camp.  She doesn’t know us 🙂 We went the full 2 miles with no problem and being there early in the day had our choice of 4 of the 6 small sites; (there are also 5 walk-in tent sites beyond these sites).

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Whack-A-Mole Wheels camped at White House Trailhead, in Paria Canyon, Utah.

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The urRu/Mystics were watching over us. You will know the reference or you won’t. But here’s a clue – Dark Crystal.

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The Paria River “flows” down the canyon passed White House Trailhead.

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The wind creates beautiful leaf tracks in the sand and dust.

After our lovely 2 days at White House, we popped back south on US 89 a mile and a half to the Toadstools Trailhead where we did the short and easy hike back to see these fun rock formations.

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Toadstools, also known as Hoodoos, are formed when weathering removes the softer sandstone from around a harder sandstone cap.

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On the trail back to the toadstools, we discovered evidence in the sand of a pursuit of one type of critter by another more slithery type. 🙂

Bryce Canyon National Park was on our list back in the fall of 2016, but at 8,000 to 9,000 feet it was too cold when we were “in the neighborhood” so it was front and center on this Spring’s Utah adventure list.  As navigator, I directed Ed to continue on north along US 89 to Johnson Canyon Road which was supposed to be very pretty. The filming set for the old TV show “Gunsmoke” was also supposed to be on this road.

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The first part of Johnson Canyon Road which was quite beautiful and also paved… Then it becomes rough, washboarded dirt and the country is just flat and ugly.  As far as the Gunsmoke set, it’s on private property and was completely falling down and derelict. Oh, well…

Once out of the awfulness of the end of Johnson Canyon 89 is pretty and unlike the last time we were here the Sevier River had a lot of water in it.  Just shy of four miles down the righthand turn onto Rt 12 we were happy to find a not quite level spot at the first come, first served, Red Canyon Campground in the Dixie National Forest where with our America the Beautiful Senior Pass the price is $9 a night. We ended up staying 4 nights. 🙂

NOTE:  These America the Beautiful LIFETIME passes were only $10 when we bought ours a few years ago.  They have since gone up to $80 but even at that price if you do a lot of national parks, monuments and sites (a handful of states also recognize them) these passes are worth every cent.  Generally, they cut the price of admission either in half or FREE!

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Bryce Point at the furthest point on the road in the park is the start of a nice walk on the Bristlecone Pine Loop trail. There are shuttle buses that do a partial loop in the park.  In an RV when the shuttle is running you cannot stop at those spots so you need to take the shuttle.  However, there are many more viewpoints, including this one where you can park and get out to see the view or hike.

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Natural Bridge is one of the viewpoints where the shuttle bus does not stop.

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Piracy Point, another non-shuttle stop.


Just a couple of words about Bryce and then I will let Ed’s photographs and our comments tell the rest of the story.  First ~ Put this on your MVL (Must Visit List) but DO IT OFF SEASON!  It actually wasn’t too bad but we strongly suggest you start each day early to get a jump on the crowd.  We had a nice chat with one of the shuttle bus drivers when no one else was on board and he said in the last couple of years Utah is making a BIG push to attract tourists. They are pushing extra hard in Asia and Europe and judging from the myriad of languages we heard here (and in 2016 at Zion), they’re getting a huge response. He also said their visitor numbers are doubling every year lately!  Second ~ Stop at every overlook and look 🙂 . Third ~ Hike, a little or a lot, get out and walk at least some of the rim trail and down into the canyon.  Some folks claim it’s all the same but from subtle to radical it’s really all different!  Fourth ~ watch for the Violet-green Swallows.  They are beautiful. Ed tried to get a photo but they are too fast!   Mostly JUST GO!! 🙂




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Swallow nests made of mud from the Paria River at White House Canyon.

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Frank H. Clark, Sept. 25, 1911, left his mark on the wall at White House Trailhead.

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An old stile that was in a fence that is no longer here.  Someone ranched this area back in the day but no longer.

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The sandstone cliffs are what remains of ancient sand dunes and the lovely shapes and patterns are carved by wind and water.

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The swirls and ribbons left by different colored sand and dust blowing into dunes and over the ages metamorphosing into lovely sandstone cliffs.

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And then there’s the color of the cactus blooming amongst the sand dunes.

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Toadstools Trail.  Marti likes the white cliffs better than the toadstool formations.

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This speaks for itself.

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A roadside attraction while Johnson Canyon Road was still pretty.

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In Bryce Canyon, a Peregrine Falcon eyes Ed but decides better of it.

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Another vista at Bryce.

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A fire started by a lightning strike years ago leaves a scar but the forest always comes back.

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John’s Valley Road, a 60-mile side trip originates across from the Bryce Canyon entrance road. We decided we needed a break from all the red and orange rock and so headed north down Black Canyon towards the small town of Antimony. 

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The Osiris site at the base of Black Canyon is now an abandoned mill site.  

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Coming out of John’s Valley Rd, at Kingston and then onto Rt 89, look what we found! Butch Cassidy’s boyhood home.

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The next day we went for a hike down the Queen’s Garden Trail into the canyon.  Marti said it would be fun.  She failed to mention the last mile part…

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Heading down on the Queen’s Garden trail.

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… and down some more.  Why is everybody coming in the other direction?

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Ed found some shade.

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But, it does give you a whole new perspective.

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Still going down…

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And here’s Queen Victoria for whom the gardens are named.

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In case you didn’t see her in the photo above.

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Nearing the end of the down part is the shady part looking down into the valley and Marti’s gourmet lunch, granola bars, and water.

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The up part starts,

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and here’s the part Marti left out, 850ft. up over a mile of trail switchbacks.  The strategy was to go from shady spot to shady spot to get our breath.

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A view of Thor’s Hammer formation near the top.  It was pretty, Ed admits and worth the climb.

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looking back down the trail, you got to admit it’s spectacular.

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Goodbye from Bryce Canyon! We hope you can make it too someday.

Arizona ~ Old and New Favorite Places

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Hi there~ It has been many weeks since our last post but we have excuses 🙂 Our main plan for this summer’s adventure is what I have been calling the “middle bits”.  The areas of southern Utah: Bryce, Grand Staircase – Escalante, Capital Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Moab and on north somewhere.  WELLLL… even though this post isn’t about any of those places, we have in fact done a bit of the above and there will be a post about that coming soon along with Ed’s wonderful photos.  The excuse for the delay is twofold. First, southern Utah is for all practical purposes off the grid (cell phones included) and we couldn’t do a post. And second, there’s the issue of Ed’s totally unexpected emergency detached retina eye surgery complete with a 2-week restriction on not only travel but reading and using his laptop!  So apologies for the delay and we hope you enjoy the below 🙂  Oh, and yes he’s doing well thank you!                                       *************************************************************

After a quiet night’s sleep at Black Jack Campground we headed on down Rt 78 which for a ways goes through some pretty mountain country

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78 outside of Blackjack and the forest.

but soon opens up and isn’t as nice. We picked up US 191 heading for Safford, (which is sorry to say downright ugly) and then onto Interstate 10.  We had planned to drop south to one of our favorite places, Bisbee, AZ  but when I phoned the campground in town they said they were completely booked.  Soooo we decided to head on to Oro Valley just north of Tucson and one of our other favorite spots, Catalina State Park, but when I phoned they also were full!  Our nonstop good luck seemed to be on hold, (it was Friday night and weekends are often busier) so we headed for Gilbert Ray Campground just west of Tucson where it’s first come first served and we hoped not full.

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Just behind our campsite at Gilbert Ray where it was not full, but in fact almost empty.  Over in front of those mountains is Old Tucson which was built to make movies and has only expanded and grown with many more movies and TV shows. You can take a tour but we didn’t.

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We took a short walk at Gilbert Ray to enjoy the cacti just coming into bloom.  This is a Cholla (choyya) a group of cactus that is perhaps Marti’s favorite.

Every time we’ve been in the Tucson area we’ve planned to go to the Pima Air & Space Museum not for the museum as much as the airplane boneyard.  This time, other than new tennis shoes for me that was the only thing specifically on our MVL (Must Visit List).   We have really been enjoying not planning things out much (or at all) this year but sometimes a little advance research is highly recommended.  Turns out one CAN NOT visit without a 10 BUSINESS DAY ADVANCE REGISTRATION!!!  We have NO IDEA what this is about but find it absolutely ridiculous.  Consequently, it will remain on our MVL for another time.  😦

We ran errands, did some shopping, (did not find my tennis shoes at Fleet Feet but they’re on hold for me in Scottsdale), and had a good steak dinner at The Keg where we always go when in Catalina, where a camping spot had opened up on Saturday 🙂  Interesting side note:  The Keg was the name of a steak restaurant we went to in St. John’s, Newfoundland last summer, so we did some checking.  Not only are they the same, it’s a Canadian company.  The one in Oro Valley is better 🙂

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Other than hiking, our favorite thing to do at Catalina is to watch the stars come out and if we are there at the right time of the month, the moonrise over the Santa Catalina Mountains. For my photographer friends, this is hand-held at 1/10 second ISO 1600, just sayin’. 🙂

Wanting to get on north but also working out a plan to catch up with fellow RV full-timer friend Suzanne (who we last saw in St. John’s) we headed for Prescott another of our favorite places.

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Looking back towards Thumb Butte (on the right) and the Prescott Valley on the left we took a little walk one day.

We did a couple of our usuals, Bill’s Pizza, the Phippen Museum plus a nice visit with Suzanne and then headed for Flagstaff, one of my favorite places.

In Flagstaff, we did a few errands, had lunch at the Bun Huggers which was recommended on roadfood.com… don’t bother, it’s just a very mediocre burger and then went to see the Lowell Observatory.  This place has been on our list each time we’ve visited Flagstaff and since we’ve managed to do a couple of “looking at space” things this trip we made sure to go.  The very wealthy Percival Lowell was awarded a Harvard degree with distinction in mathematics in 1876 and then went on to running a cotton mill for 6 years.  For most of the 1880’s he traveled and lived in the Far East returning to the US in 1893. Fascinated with Mars and wanting to study it extensively, he selected a site (the first time anyone had purposely done so) with elevation, remote and most always clear skies and established his personal observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona Territory in 1894.

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The 13″ Astrograph, a type of telescope used to take pictures only was used to discover Pluto in 1930. Note the wooden film plate at the bottom.

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An 11×14 BW film was used by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 to make comparative images to note that what turned out to be the object we call Pluto was moving across the star field which does not move.

A note about camping in the Flagstaff area:  The first night we checked a couple boondocking areas.  Probably in response to the fire ban and extreme dry conditions we found that a number of the forest service roads, including FS 6051 were blocked.  We did go out an unmarked FS road (off Snow Bowl Rd) where we saw a couple of folks but it was VERY rough and VERY unlevel.

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We did enjoy the drive up the Snow Bowl road to over 9000 ft. elevation and the ski area where there was not quite enough snow to ski down the mountain.

 

We also checked the boondocking site over by Walnut Canyon and it’s not very level and not pretty, so not for us. We did stay in a spot way out the fairly rough Naval Observatory Road that worked, but I would not take anything much bigger than us past the first section.

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Tucked in the trees off of Naval Observatory road we boondocked overnight and Ed discovered a set of handcuffs burned up in the firepit.  I kid you not!

Next morning we had a check engine light on and very little power but it was Sunday and Mercedes-Benz of Flagstaff was closed. We checked into Greer’s Pine Shadows where we stayed once before.  NEVER stay here!!  They have no dump station, no showers or bathrooms, sites are tight, mostly permanent folks…. we knew all that from before, but we needed a place.  We set up and after a bit Ed went out, raised the hood and checked the oil dip stick and put it back.  He had no tools out anywhere just a rag in his hand as he stood looking at the engine.  A man from the office (across from us) comes blasting out the door screaming at Ed that they don’t allow any mechanical work being done.  Ed say’s “I’m just looking at my engine!”  This jerk yells “Don’t give me no lip, I’m the manager and I’ll throw your ass out of here!”  Ed, pretty sure the guy might slug him next, shuts the hood and comes in the RV.

Next morning first thing, we drove to Mercedes-Benz of Flagstaff, getting there just after they opened. They said they make a point of trying to get travelers in and out fast.  They not only get to us faster than they said they could, they diagnosed the problem, fixed it for cheaper than we expected and sent us on our way.  Good folks!

We stayed the next couple of nights at the NFS Bonito Campground just outside of Sunset Crater.  It is a wonderful, dry, first come first served campground, where there are water spigots, nice bathrooms and very few folks, at least when we were there. 🙂

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Our camping spot next to the lava field at Bonito Campground.  

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That knob on the right between the trees is Sunset Crater in the setting Sun. This short walk is just beyond our campsite.  

We had explored the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument following the 35-mile loop road around to the far end at Wupatki National Monument back in 2015.  This time we explored the ruins of Wupatki and suggest them, and this whole area, for your MVL.

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The Citadel is the first large ruin one comes to on the loop road from the north entrance. On top of a small hill with a view of the surrounding countryside, 800 years ago the Sinagua culture lived here.

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Looking out from atop the Citadel there are in this photograph ruins of eight other smaller pueblos.  Yes, Marti found them but they are very hard to spot.

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Further down the loop road, Marti walked out to the two dwellings on either side of Box Canyon.  The San Francisco Mountains and Humphrey’s Peak are in the background.

Note: Since we were here and in the last couple of weeks a great deal of Arizona including areas covered in this post are under complete fire bans including camping and hiking due to the extreme drought.




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78 continues beautifully down to the valley and the unfortunately ugly Safford, Arizona.  

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Yet another kind of cholla budding into flower at Gilbert Ray.

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Guess what…?  more Cholla. There are so many different varieties.

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Most plants in the desert can hurt you a little or a lot, but the flowers are magnificent.

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The tall cacti, Suguaro are one our favorites because their expressive arm contortions are so much fun and now they even have flowers.  This is the first time we have seen them in bloom.

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Thumb Butte in the distance west of Prescott, Arizona.

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If you just go for a small walk out of the campground into the forest and the wonderful lava fields at Bonito, particularly as the Sun is setting, you too can revel in the beauty left by the incredible forces of Mother Earth.

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Such peace many centuries after such violence.

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A short hike into the cinders. Life returns via a bazillion pine cones.

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Marti sees creatures everywhere.  Ed, however, being more practical wonders who or what is under that big volcanic rock that fell out of the sky one day about 900 years ago.

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Further beyond the Box Canyon dwellings is the beautiful Lomaki Pueblo.

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Taken from the Wupaki National Monument loop road, the San Francisco Mountains with Flagstaff, Arizona and the Snow Bowl ski area on the other side.

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Wukoki Pueblo. Occupied from between 1120 and 1210 AD this unusual three-story tall pueblo sits atop Moenkopi Sandstone.

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It is hard at first to visually discern where the natural stone outcropping ends and the cut stone masonry begins.  The precision stonework is astonishing.  Perfectly square, plumb corners, built by “primitive” people. They must have had some understanding of basic geometry.

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Pardon Mart’s butt.

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Room interior that shows holes for floor/ceiling joists in the tower room.

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Remaining wood from the poles used as joists.

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Wupatki Pueblo. The largest complex in the area.

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Comprising over 100 rooms, a community room and a ball court, Wupatki is an extremely well preserved and extensive complex.

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We say goodbye for now as Ed enjoys his wine while cooking dinner and watching the Sun set.

New Mexico II ~ Aliens! Indians! Cowboys! & Pie!

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Having visited the White Sands Missile Range Ed wanted to head over to Roswell, New Mexico and the Roswell Museum and Art Center where there’s a permanent exhibit on Robert Goddard.

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This is the last rocket Goddard built and launched before his death in 1945. It’s on display in his workshop at the Roswell Museum and Art Center as well as three videos about Goddard playing on a loop.  The best is called “Father of the Space Age: Robert Goddard, The Untold Story.”

Goddard was fascinated by science as a youngster and the idea of space flight before age 16 when he read H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds”. He received his Ph.D. in physics from Clark University in 1911.  Often ridiculed and misunderstood Goddard mostly worked alone because others could not see his genius.  Tucked into the deserted deserts outside of Roswell, where he and his wife moved partly to hide from criticism and partly to keep from doing any harm with flaming and exploding rockets, he labored tirelessly on his theories of rocket propulsion, designing, building and launching ever larger rockets.  After WWII, when the Americans questioned the German scientists about their V2 Rocket and how they developed it, the interrogators were told to look to the work of Robert Goddard. While the Americans had pooh-poohed his theories and experiments, the German’s had used his work as their basis!   Years after his death in 1945 Goddard was finally recognized as the man who had indeed ushered in the Space Age.

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Julie Alpert’s “Finishing Touches”.  Installation, drawing, sculpture and paper tapestries, she says, “Evokes nostalgia for my 1980’s suburban childhood.”  This was her show as the Artist In Residence for one year at RMAC.

 

The Roswell Museum also houses the most impressive display of western Native American, early settler, cowboy, rancher and soldier artifacts I have ever seen.  There are also a handful of European pieces like a suit of armor, Conquistador helmets, and weapons.

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These displays were full walls of artifacts with no labeling, my only complaint. Off to the side of each wall display, there was a book with outlines of each piece or a general section and a short description or long explanation.

 

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One of the mostly Indian sections.  Some items very old, others not so much.

 

 

Being as we were in ROSWELL……well yeah…. we did sort of have to go to the International UFO Museum and Research Center!  I doubt any of you dear readers don’t know about “The Roswell Incident” but just in case….supposedly,  back in July 1947 a spaceship crashed on a ranch northwest of Roswell and not only were pieces of the ship recovered but several bodies of non-earthlings also.  All of this was of course immediately  “debunked” by our government.  HOWEVER…….I strongly suggest you put Roswell on your MVL (Must Visit List) and read the extensive collection of reports, reminisces, news articles and sworn witness statements…then make up your own mind 🙂 … but WE think SOMETHING happened and it wasn’t a weather balloon.

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it is, after all, Roswell so there is some amount of hokey.

 

We were expected for a brief visit with my sister Ellen and husband Bob in Edgewood (on the eastern side of the Sandia Mountains by Albuquerque) but first I had another stop in mind.  Heading north on US 285 we took the mostly deserted Rt. 20 for 47 miles of wide open country towards Fort Sumner and the Bosque Redondo Memorial.   I remember my father telling me about the Navajo Long Walk and while he may not have used the words horrific, shameful or disgraceful, he did lead me to understand it was wrong.  Now as an adult I, and Ed use those words and feel a shame and heaviness that demands acknowledgment and remembrance of a sad period in our history.

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In the hopes of fixing “the hostile Indian problem” the US Military murdered Indian men and captured mostly women and children.  Known to the Navajo as the “Long Walk”, 10,000 people were forced to march 450 miles from their homeland in the Four Corners area to the Bosque Redondo Reservation.  Only about 8,500 Navajo survived the walk.  500 Mescalero Apaches were also forced here. Brigadier General James Carleton envisioned a thriving community of farmers overlooking the fact that neither the Navajo or Apaches were farmers and knew nothing about this land.

 

Fort Sumner also holds the distinction of being the “end of the trail” for Billy the Kid.  Shot by Pat Garrett July 14, 1881 (my Dad’s birthday plus 27 years) William Bonney, (actually born Henry McCarty), Billy the Kid is buried in a small sad cemetery here.

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Over the years this grave marker has been stolen so many times they bolted it to the concrete and erected an iron fence around the graves.

 

We continued on to Ellen’s with poor Ed fighting a wind so strong he was steering left to go straight, but we finally made it and had a short but fun visit.  Then down through Tijeras Canyon on Interstate 40 to Albuquerque to visit with Ed’s cousin Molly, and her sweet girls Maeve & Caitlin.  We had a delightful time with them and even got to see Molly’s sister, Cousin Beth, her husband Richard, and Beth’s daughter Sara and her friend Steve.  It’s nice to have family scattered about the country 🙂

Our son Kevin has been telling us for years …” you’ve got to go to Pie Town”, so we headed south on Interstate 25 for US 60 west.  The road goes through open country and then some hills and mountains before coming out into the Plains of San Agustin which is an ancient dry lake surrounded by mountains.  It is here where the world is quiet and empty that we planned to stop for a tour of the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array20180425-_EKP4290Featured in the Jodie Foster movie Contact,  (they got a number of things wrong) the VLA is made up of 27 dish-shaped antennas mounted on railroad tracks. The antennas collect radio waves from deep space. These 27 individual signals are sent down fiber optic cables to a supercomputer where they are mathematically merged, thus creating a single extremely powerful radio telescope!

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There are three arms stretching out across the plain, each 13 miles in length forming a huge Y nearly 27 miles across that provides unparalleled resolution. The individual antennas are mobile and are repositioned every four months. Sometimes close together, sometimes far apart depending on the needs of the astronomers.

 

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Each station is on a spur off the main track and there are 82 miles of track.

 

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One “spare” antenna is always in the barn giving a total of 28 units.  The orange machine in the foreground maneuvers underneath each antenna picks it up and transports it at 5mph to its assigned station if the winds are below 20mph.

 

 

 

After the VLA we continued west on 60 climbing through beautiful mountains up to 8100 feet elevation and then down about 1000 feet to Pie Town.

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The road to Pie Town, US 60.

We checked into the Pie Town RV Park (only game in town with 5 spaces but fine) and headed back into town.  There are three places to eat in town and only one was open, so we sat down at The Gatherin’ Place for a huge bowl of good green chili stew, cornbread, and PIE 🙂

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The Gatherin’ Place where we had a New Mexico Apple pie (of course it had chiles and pinon nuts) along with the apples and a Very Berry pie. Ed was not convinced apple pie needs chiles and nuts.

All in all, there was just something about this little out of the way place that I really liked, so go ahead and take my advice, and son Kevin’s and put Pie Town, New Mexico on your MVL 🙂

 

Continuing on 60 at Quemado we turned onto Rt 32 south and the Gila National Forest.  Rt 32 stops at Apache Creek and we took 12 towards the town of Reserve.  Be sure to stop for lunch here at Carmen’s where everyone else will be a local and the food is very plentiful and very good.

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Seriously good food and the locals know it.

Pretty soon Rt 12 also ends and we picked up US Rt 180 south.  At Glenwood we saw a sign that said Catwalk Trail Recreation Area 1 mile, so decided to go.  This was a lie! It’s more like 5 miles, but Ed kept driving and yes we’re glad he did!

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In the 1890s gold and silver brought miners to Whitewater Canyon.  In 1893 a mill was built down at the mouth of the canyon to process the nearly 73 tons of daily diggings.  Water was needed and the water was always flowing in the canyon.  So, three miles of 4-inch pipe was slung from cables and rods along the canyon walls to bring water from the springs above.  This pipe was later replaced by an 18-inch pipe.  The men that hung by ropes and walked along it to maintain it took to calling it the Catwalk.  It was only in use for ten years before the mill went broke.

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Geronimo later followed by Butch Cassidy used the canyon as a hideout from authorities.  Marti wanted to go all the way up too but she was having dizzy spells and Ed told her no.  She’s fine now that she is rehydrated.  The trail was also broken at this point.  A section of 18-inch pipe and stairs built by the CCC in the 1930s are seen in this photo.  Butch and Geronimo got away.

 

 

 

 

On 180 just as you head out of the Gila NF there’s a sign on the right for Leopold Vista…..GO!!

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Aldo Leopold Vista. “Considered by many to be the father of wildlife ecology and the United States’ wilderness system, Aldo Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer, and outdoor enthusiast. ” It was through his efforts that the Gila was declared a National Wilderness Area.

 

We turned onto Rt 78 just a bit further down the road where the countryside is at first big soft grassy hills that leads back into the Gila and Apache National Forest.  This bit is absolutely twisty, windy but fine if you drive as well as Ed does and pretty quickly no longer New Mexico, but Arizona.  We stopped for the night just about 12 miles over the state line at Black Jack Campground,  National Forest, free, dry camping, two others camped…..HEAVEN!




 

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Cowboy rigs on display at the RMAC in Roswell.

 

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This painting is “The Gate and Beyond” by Peter Hurd who studied under N.C. Wyeth and married Wyeth’s eldest daughter, Henriette who was an artist in her own right. They lived in San Patricio about 30 miles west of Roswell.  The museum holds many of their works.

 

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“Pow-Wow” 1975, by Willard Midgette, is a room-sized oil on linen mural in the RMAC.

 

 

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82 feet across made of smooth aluminum panels fitted carefully into a steel basket. The Very Large Array was constructed way too late for the Roswell aliens to phone home. 🙂

 

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Rt. 20 to Fort Sumner across 47 miles of New Mexico empty.

 

 

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Each of the 27 antennas weighs over 230 tons and is over 90 feet high.

 

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Formally known as the Pie Hole, where Kevin and Za had wonderful pies it is now under new management and known as the Pie Town Cafe and was not open yet.  As the owner of The Gatherin’ Place told Ed, “those people open late.”

 

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We pulled into a FS road to explore and this sign stopped us.  We backed out the road while a truck-full of Forest Service firefighters were patiently waiting.  Marti popped out and asked if it was a wildfire or a controlled burn.  The wildfire was out and just being mopped up then. In our opinion, these guys don’t get near enough respect for what they do.

 

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This is the monument to Elfego Baca in Reserve, New Mexico, scene of the “Frisco Shootout” and where Deputy Baca held off somewhere between 40 and 150 cowboys trying to free their drunk friend, Charlie McCarty from jail.  The siege lasted over 33 hours and more than 4000 bullets were fired.  Be sure to read more about it at the link.  The stories varied greatly depending on who was telling.

 

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We just love that the local general merchandise store in Reserve also sells Stihl chainsaws and Lottery tickets.

 

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After the mill closed the catwalk was broken up for scrap and left to rot.  In the 1930s, the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corp, constructed a wooden catwalk for tourists.  It was replaced in 1961 with a cantilevered steel catwalk which is yet another impressive feat of engineering.

 

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Whack-A-Mole Wheels at Whitewater Canyon,  Marti says sometimes you gotta get your feet wet to see what’s over the next hill.

NOTE:  We love reading your comments on our blog posts and thank you for your many kind words.  We try to acknowledge them with a “like” or response back but as our internet can often be “iffy” we don’t always get it done.  Please know we do appreciate you all! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carlsbad Caverns & White Sands ~ Magic Below & Above

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You kind folks who have been reading Whack-A-Mole Wheels these past several years know that Ed and I have enjoyed visiting different caverns during our travels. In our last blog post, in reference to our visit to Longhorn Cavern State Park, I mentioned that back when we were teens we’d both done some spelunking. Between us, we have crawled and climbed about in a number of caves in Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Ever since I was a kid I’ve known about Carlsbad Caverns and have wanted to see it for myself, so we left Ft. Davis, Texas where it was all about looking up. Staying on the quieter roads as is our habit (RT17 to RT166 to RT505 and US90 to RT54 to US62) we headed for New Mexico and an underground adventure!

Located in the Guadalupe Mountains, the visitor center for Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a lovely seven-mile drive to the top of the mountains.  The beginning of this road is from/through Whites (White’s) City,  (population 7 in the last census) which encompasses, and owns, everything a tourist might need; gas, food, laundry, hotel, post office, swim park, large gift shop and a RV park, of sorts.  None of it is “anything to write home about” but adequate and VERY convenient to the caverns.  We got a space to park the rig only because someone had just canceled. 20180415-_EKP3934

As it was late in the day we decided to drive up to the visitor center and see what our options for the morning might be.  I had seen on the web that all the elevators (YES there is an easy way to the center of the Earth 🙂  ) were seriously broken and the ONLY WAY to get into the caverns was to hike down the Natural Entrance Route, 1.25 miles.  Quoting the park brochure….” a self-guiding tour available to visitors with plenty of time and in good physical condition.”  The other self-guiding tour is referred to as “…a 1.25-mile under-ground stroll around the perimeter of the cave’s largest room….” the Big Room Route.  Then there is the 1 mile long ranger-guided King’s Palace Tour that does require descending and ascending, the equivalent of an 8 story building.  “Well heck,” I say to Ed, “if we have to climb down AND back up, we might as well see all three while we’re there!”  Bless his heart, he agrees and we get our tickets and head back down the road to our campsite and a serviceable dinner at the Whites City Cactus Café.

Next morning, bright and early,  we are back at the visitor center hiking out the quarter mile walk to the Natural Entrance shortly after they open.

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The natural entrance, which is on top of a mountain, descends over 750 ft. into the Earth.  This entrance is alive with Cave Swallows during the day and at night, when in residence, the exit for thousands of Brazilian Free-tailed Bats.  This walkway was built because the entrance used to be accesible only by a rope.

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Look closely and you can see the path climbing back up towards the entrance.  We still have a lot of going down to do.

The story of the discovery of the caverns varies between the park brochure, the tour guides telling and Jim White’s version.  All agree however, that in the late 1890’s it was Jim White, at the ripe old age of 15 or 16, looking for where the giant cloud of bats was coming from and upon finding their huge hole in the ground and lowering himself down into it, then extensively exploring it, telling about it and finally getting some photos of it to convince folks of his magnificent story, it WAS Jim White that “made” Carlsbad Caverns.  Absolutely do put this magical place on your MVL (Must Visit List)!

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Most of Carlsbad Caverns is no longer actively forming but 5% of the caverns are still alive.  This drip-pool is formed by water droplets dripping off the stalactites and cracks in the ceiling above.

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Wait a few thousand years and these two will touch and form a column.  This is in the Big Room which covers 8.2 acres and is 255 feet tall at its highest point.  BIG!

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In the Big Room looking over towards the Hall of Giants.  For our photographer friends, these photos are all hand-held, ISO 6400, f5.6 with a shutter speed of about 1/15th of a second. It was dark and we are thrilled that they worked as well as they did.

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This interesting example of flowstone hangs in the air after calcite laden water dripped over the edge of that opening.

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The tour guide for the King’s Palace tour of which this room is part, drove us nuts because most of what she talked about was her own fanciful make-believe fairy tales, rather than about the astonishing geology of Carlsbad Caverns.

 

Dating back to my very early teens when my dear friend Monica and I solemnly became “blood sisters” (just pricking our fingers) we have been family.  Her father was one of the scientists that fled Germany (and the Russians) after World War II and I knew he had been at White Sands. So while in the neighborhood sort of, I suggested we go see White Sands Missile Range and White Sands National Monument.

Wanting to camp at Oliver Lee State Park just south of Alamogordo, N.M. on US 54 we headed off.  When we arrived at Oliver Lee, we stopped to chat a bit with the park employee who confirmed what I expected, the handful of serviced sites were all taken.  Even so, the campground was pretty empty and so we had our pick of dry camping spots and soon found a good one.  Ed started setting up as I walked back to the entrance to register and pay.  When almost there, here came the park lady on her gator to tell me the reserved, 2 way (water & electric) site 4 had just opened up due to a cancellation and it was ours if we wanted it!  You BET…and it was really nice, proving once again, be friendly with folks and they’ll be friendly back 🙂

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Dog Canyon at Oliver Lee State Park.  He ranched all this land next to another man, Frenchie (because he was French).  The longer story short is Frenchie was found shot in his bed, probably by someone who owed him money.  There is much more about old Oliver at this very interesting website, Legends of America. Mostly, it’s just amazing they named a park after this guy.

The next day’s forecast was for the 80’s with 23mph+ winds (gusting to the high 30’s) and visiting sand dunes just seemed silly, so we added a day’s stay and went to town, did laundry and had a very tasty hamburger at Hi-D-Ho Drive-In.

The next morning, as our two destinations were both on US 70 Ed wisely suggested we start at the bottom and work up, so we headed out on for the missile range on a lovely, not hot, not windy day.

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It’s not every road in America where they close it down so they can shoot missiles at stuff.  Rt. 70 had opened back up just moments before we got here, we don’t know if they hit their target but the road was OK.

After getting cleared (bring your drivers license and patience) we walked onto the grounds and headed for our first stop, the V-2 rocket building.  Wernher von Braun was the technical director leading the development group in Hitler’s Germany that built the first successful V-2’s and this building holds one of the most complete still in existence. He was also the most prominent rocket scientist to come to America after the war.

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The American scientists initially painted the V-2’s in this yellow and black pattern but quickly found out they could not see the rocket in flight so they switched to black and white which was much more visible at high altitudes.

We then headed over to the museum building.  The first room is a small but very interesting history of the Indians, soldiers, ranchers, cowboys and outlaws including our friend Oliver Lee that lived in the surrounding countryside.  The back of the building is to our eyes a sort of hodgepodge of left-over rockets, weapons, missile parts, supplies, army equipment, things about and from Trinity Site, etc. etc. and we did not look at and read everything as we normally do.

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Both of us found the Missle Museum distressing.  I guess we’ve just had too much war and blowing stuff up. But don’t let us dissuade you from going here.  There is much to be learned if you are interested.

We headed back up 70 for White Sands National Monument.  I’ll tell you now, put this on your MVL also!!

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The dunes are creeping across the desert at about 35 feet per year.  The Park Service has road plows to keep the access road clear of the blowing sand.

Gypsum from an ancient seabed is why the sands are white.  In fact, they are the largest gypsum dune fields on the Earth. Millions of years ago the Permian Sea retreated and left behind layers of gypsum.  Then the land lifted and the gypsum, which easily dissolves in water, was washed down the mountains and returned to the basin, which again held shallow lakes.  With no outlet for the water and as it evaporated it left behind the gypsum in a crystalline form called selenite, which in turn was slowly broken down into smaller and smaller grains – sand.  This process is ongoing.

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Plants that take hold and grow dense deep roots form pedestals as the sand moves on.  

 

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As you can see, here in the desert the sand is wet enough to compact.  That’s because gypsum dunes remain moist even during long droughts and the water table is literally as close as 12 inches below the surface. It also makes the sands very cool to the touch and lovely to walk upon barefoot as the Park Service invites you to do.

 

As we walked around, being mid-day and bright and sunny on the brilliant white sand, Ed kept saying the light isn’t any good, we need to come back later in the day.  So we headed back into Alamogordo and had an early, really good dinner at CJ’s Si Senor Restaurant then back out to White Sands for the evening light.

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Ed was absolutely, positively right about the evening light.

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“I have a little shadow, that goes in and out with me…” can you find Ed?




 

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The Kings Palace tour which is totally, unbelievably gorgeous has several rooms as exquisite as this one.

 

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This ladder built and installed in 1924 by Jim White was used during a six-month exploration and survey sponsored by the National Geographic Society.  Built of twisted barbed wire and sticks, it descends 90 feet into the lower cave. The explorers were uneasy about using it.

 

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The Painted Grotto part of the Big Room Tour.

 

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This gypsum deposit (the same stuff as the White Sands) is nearly 15 feet thick.  The tubes are “drilled” by drops of acidic water dripping from above.

 

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Marti thinks this may be the coolest formation in the caverns. Ed remembers that it was over 20 feet tall.

 

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Our campsite at Oliver Lee State Park. Not too shabby.

 

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Marti did not realize that Papa Schmid was part of Paperclip, but when she saw the man who is far right back row she was sure it was him,   After checking with Monica, who had never seen this photo, she was right. Marti was really excited!

 

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The sand is cool and soft except for where it’s rock hard and in the soft spots still very easy to walk on.

 

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Lovely, magical, enticing and easy to get lost in, one just wants to keep walking to see what’s over the next dune.

 

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The setting Sun adds so much drama.  Marti wanted to visit the bottom part of this scene but found the steep downhill sand soft and almost knee deep.

 

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As we enjoyed this magical white wonderland, our friends back home in the East were getting yet another dose of their white wonderland.  Ours was more welcomed.

 

 

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Almost done and what a way to end a day.  We recommend early morning or late evening as times to visit.  

 

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And with that we say goodbye until next time!