Category Archives: 2015 USA RV Trip

Travel Report on Verde Valley & Kaibab Plateau, AZ & Kanab, UT, July 11, 2015

Hello everyone.  I am on the road again, literally, hauling my tiny Scamp RV north from Tucson, escaping the summer heat and seeking photo opportunities.  I left just before the July 4th weekend, headed North to the Verde River Valley which runs through central Arizona below the Mogollon Rim.  I always stay at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park, right on the Verde River, with its forests of cottonwood, willow and Arizona ash trees filling the wide river flood plain.  Because the US women’s soccer team surprised me by walloping Germany in the semi-finals, I spent some time after arriving trying to locate a sports bar in the nearby town of Cottonwood so I could watch the third place match (Germany vs England) on Saturday the 4th, and the finals between the US and Japan on the 5th.  I wound up at the Chaparral Bar, an old west relic with imported draft beer at reasonable prices, and watched the games. The US team certainly avenged their last final against Japan.

Out at the campsite I finally got some pictures, at sunrise, of the little rodents which dig all the holes in the ground around the facilities – they are Botta’s Pocket Gophers, and they only seem to come above ground to shovel dirt out of the entrance to their excavations at the crack of dawn (I had previously assumed they were ground squirrels and wondered why I never saw them).  Watching the gophers up close I reminisced about Bill Murray’s titanic battle with gophers in Caddy Shack.  Shortly after sun-up the gophers create a dirt plug at the entrance to close all holes, so evidence of their presence is limited to the dozens of fresh dirt mounds.

On Sunday I bicycled over to Clarkdale to see the Verde Valley Railroad depot, from where the summer tourist train departs for its day-trip up the Verde Valley.  I then continued most of the way up to Jerome, the artsy ghost town on the side of the mountain overlooking the valley.  I also found a site for early morning viewing of Tuzigoot, the ruins of the large 3-story, 120 room, Sinaguan Pueblo perched on a stone mound above the floodplain, which housed 100s of people from 1,000 to 1,400 AD.

Monday I traveled on north passing through Flagstaff, up the western part of the Navajo Nation, across the Navajo Bridge over Marble Canyon at Lee’s Ferry (where all Grand Canyon river rafting trips start), past the Vermillion Cliffs (where the endangered California Condors are released) and finally up the Kaibab Plateau to just under 9,000 feet.  There I camped under the pines for a few days at the Jacob Lake Campground, and tried to improve my photos of the elusive Kaibab Squirrel.  It is a special subspecies of the tassel eared Abert’s Squrrel, and exists only on the Kaibab at the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  The Kaibab Squirrel is the most exotic looking squirrel in North America, having a charcoal colored body with a bushy, all white tail – it has long pointed ears, which in the winter have tassels of hair which extend to double the length of the ears.  Although not uncommon, it is difficult to get decent photos.

I spent two mornings driving the 44 miles across the plateau to the north rim, to get a few spectacular scenic overviews of the Canyon.  Normally the very early drives produce a lot of wildlife sightings, but this time just a few mule deer and wild turkey made their appearance.  I did have the breakfast buffet spread in the magnificent lodge dining room overlooking the canyon.

From Jacobs Lake I drove down off the Kaibab and crossed just into Utah to Kenab in red-rock country, a filming site for a number of mid-century western movies, including several by James Garner.  I specifically wanted finally to visit some of the slot canyons in this part of the country, and the day before yesterday hired a small tour company to take me to the Peekaboo Slot Canyon.  It required about 45 minutes of 4X4 drive time through deep sand and several stream wash-outs to reach the entrance.  We had severe thunderstorms the afternoon before, and it turned out a small flash flood had just run through the Peekaboo slot  – at several points the water had washed out the sandy bottom, and we found ourselves in waist-deep mucky water down to the bottom of the slot.  These deep water pools already had frog spawn with small families of frogs trying to avoid our bodies in the narrows.  I left all my gear except a single camera at the first water pool, but managed still to get a few decent photos in fairly good light.  A second slot I was going to visit, the Wire Pass, apparently now has an 8-foot drop-in near the start, which is possible to descend but only passable to exit by those who like to rock climb.  I do intend to visit another slot canyon or two on the Navajo Reservation near Page where I intend to go next.

I spent much of yesterday instead re-visiting Zion National Park.  I again saw bighorn sheep near the small tunnel where I have twice before photographed them.  Zion Canyon always is stunning, but yesterday the crowds were almost unimmaginable – I got there for an early shuttle up to the end of the canyon, and then hiked out along the river, so only saw the crowds as I passed the trailheads, or as the “standing-room-only” shuttles passed by every 7 minutes on the road.  Fairly heavy intermittant cloud cover lessoned the visual impact of the cliffs, at least for photography.  I did see mule deer a number of times, several with fawns.

I probably will head out towards Page later this morning, but will decide after another cup of coffee, and perhaps a quick run out to see the Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park very near by.  Later.  Dave

Report On Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Glen Canyon Dam, Sand Island Petroglyphs and Sand Canyon, July 23, 2015

The morning before I left Kanab, UT, I drove out to see the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park; the morning sun, coupled with the blooming rough mulesear flowers and sage, made for some magical color photos of the pink-orange dunes.

From Kanab I drove back east, down into Arizona to Page, by the Glen Canyon Dam at the southern end of Lake Powell. I had not seen it before, and the lake, although low, set in the dry desert landscape was a visual treat, along with the river gorge below the dam, the mouth of Marble Canyon (which turns into the Grand Canyon some miles downstream as the Colorado enters its cut through the 9,000 ft. Kaibab Plateau). I had desired to photograph the famous Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon on the Navajo Reservation just outside of Page. Although I had heard it had lots of visitors, I was unprepared for the reality. Throughout both days I was there, the entrances both to upper and lower Antelope Canyon were filled with dozens of cars and RVs, with vehicles lined at the little drive-by booths to pay an entrance fee. It was unbelievably depressing, and after two days I gave up the idea in frustration. Perhaps I will visit in the future in the early spring or late fall. I also had visions of fishing on Lake Powell. Checking all the rates for boats and guides, the cheapest was $350 for half a day, which I decided would not allow me to have fun. One interesting feature of Page, the little town sitting squat over the rocky prominence rising above the dam, lies along the main road where it loops a large 180 degree semicircle around the playing field of the local high school. Around the outer edge of this curve sit 8 different churches, large structures, literally side by side, with no other property between. I never have seen so many disparate churches lined up (actually encircled) like this. I saw no church anywhere else in the town. Perhaps this is some strange accident of history (a zoning requirement forcing this situation would be unconstitutional). There was no way to capture the scene in a still photo from the ground – it would require a video shot while traversing the semi-circle.

From Page I drove east across the northern part of the Navajo Reservation, south of Navajo Mountain and finally back up into Utah to Bluff on the northern banks of the San Juan River, where I previously have photographed rock art a number of times. I did more of the same, again seeking out what I am convinced are Columbian mammoth petroglyphs along a high panel in the upper Sand Island area. If indeed mammoths, these petroglyphs now are the documented oldest rock art in all the Americas. The reason for saying they are the documented oldest is simple; petroglyphs are notoriously difficult or impossible to date accurately. Columbian Mammoths, however, are known from the fossil record to have become extinct in southern Utah by about 12,000 years ago, and the earliest widely accepted dates for humans in the New World is around 13,500 years ago. That puts a fairly tight constraint on the origin dates of this rock art. No other petroglyphs are known showing such fauna, nor are accepted as anywhere near as old. This may require re-evaluation of similar rock art in this and other areas. As slowly as research progresses now, I expect it will be decades before much more is recorded in this area.

I investigated the location of another petroglyph panel I had heard of locally, and went to hike to it the second day. Unfortunately the area has had record rainfall, and the petroglyph location required crossing the Butler Wash, which was filled with rushing water and thickets of tamarisk and Russian olive, basically impassible – and probably will remain so until a month or two after the end of rainy season. I also inquired about joining one of the float expeditions down the San Juan River, which is the only way to get to the fabulous Butler Wash petroglyph panels (which I previously have photographed); unfortunately, all tours booked for the next several days had large numbers of people, filling the boats – I could fit but would be one of many, with little special opportunity for the photography I wished to do.  I did revisit one of my favorites, hiking to the Basketmaker era petroglyph panel known locally as the “Wolfman” panel.

From Bluff, I traveled a short distance following the San Juan upriver and crossed into southwestern Colorado. I’m spending some down-time in Dolores, just north of Cortez, and the heartland of the ancient Anasazi agricultural population centers. One advantage of down-time in Dolores is that it has one of the better microbreweries around, the Dolores River Brewery. Their ESB is especially good, and I have visited no other brewpub that brews it (I used to drink it on tap in Phoenix, imported from England – but the crossing often was harsh on the beer).

I spent a few slow hours a few days ago at the Anasazi Heritage Center, the BLM museum for the surrounding Canyon of the Ancients. I inquired and learned of some nearby Puebloan sites I have not visited, including the Sand Canyon where a number of small cliff dwellings and pueblos may be found. Two days ago I drove to the north side of Sleeping Ute Mountain, to the mouth of Sand Canyon, and spent 5 hours hiking roughly 10 miles total trip through the canyon, photographing 7 small cliff dwellings strung along the upper canyon walls, as well as a small ground pueblo room and the remains of a round tower built over a small precipice. They were built and occupied chiefly during the 12th and 13th Centuries. Most have been given wonderful names, some translated from local native dialects, such as “House with Standing Curved Wall” and “Corncob House.”  Although these Puebloan ruins don’t compare with the great cliff dwellings of sites like Mesa Verde and Betatakin, they have the huge advantage of loneliness. I wandered in spectacular scenery, discovering the dwellings one at a time, and never saw or heard another human all day. That is worth, to me, a great deal. My legs were dead at the end of the hike, being somewhat out-of-shape for challenging rough rocky country (carrying a 10lb pack and 7 ½ lbs. of cameras around my neck didn’t help) – the sole of my right foot actually acquired some bruising, despite good hiking boots and wool socks; I clearly need to toughen up with more hiking.  As I have not engaged in a lot of other photography since my last report (other than petroglyph rock art), I have included a photo of each of the charming little Puebloan ruins in Sand Canyon, in the order in which I discovered them from south to north.

I have no idea where I may head or what I may do next. I would like to get up to the Great Lakes, but it is such a long drive. Perhaps I will again head up through Wyoming and Montana, which really is some of my favorite part of the country. Later. Dave

Report on Black Canyon of Gunnison Nat. Park, Colorado Nat. Mon. & Curecanti NRA, Aug 1, 2015

Hello all. I last wrote from Dolores, CO, not knowing where I would head next. Well, I haven’t gone far. I drove northeast over the Goatshead Pass through the mountains by Telluride, and down into the Uncompahgre Valley to the town of Montrose, CO. – and here I am 8 days later. The town itself is spread out along US Highways 50 and 550, and is what one expects of a 130 year old western town. It is crowded as the annual Rodeo and County Fair have been ongoing. It does have 2 brewpubs, the presence of which always assist in my decision as to whether to remain someplace awhile. Upon arriving I discovered three nearby attractions of which I previously had been unaware (the 3 listed in the travelogue title).

I thought I had at least heard the names of all of the National Parks – but I never had heard of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It is just 15 miles northeast of Montrose, requiring a very steep drive from under 6,000 to close to 8,000 feet. A large uplift of a small landmass, starting about 2 million years ago, across the path of the Gunnison River created the geologic wonder. The river has cut an almost half mile deep gorge through very hard, almost black, metamorphic rock (the oldest type of rock on earth), striped with light colored ancient lava flows forced into cracks, leaving incredibly dark, lined, steep cliffs comprising the gorge. It is so steep in most places that it is only possible to just see bits of the river at the bottom from a few vantage points. The passage through the canyon is considered basically impenetrable to man, although some have braved it, and some have not made it. It is a small park, but quite a marvel and jewel.

I spent three long mornings exploring the south rim of the Canyon, with its numerous overlooks (most requiring short hikes out from the rim road). The entire rim top is beautiful Juniper Pinyon Forest, full of Mule Deer, and incredible numbers of Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels and the very tiny Least Chipmunks which run with their tails held vertically. Along the rim I got to see (and report) the bear that has been ravaging several trailers and camps in the Park’s campground (saw him up on a hill above the campground – he was headed down into the camp at mid-day, which I reported to the authorities). I also lucked into my first viewing of several families of Dusky Grouse, a very large (chicken size) bird formerly known as the Blue Grouse, as well as my first Mountain Cottontails (rabbits similar to Desert Cottontails, but with shorter ears).

I spent another full day driving up through Grand Junction and out just west to the Colorado National Monument, of which I also was ignorant. It is a small set of red sandstone canyons cut through a mesa, which can be best viewed from the rim drive. Although magnificent, it really is no more impressive, and sometimes less so, than any number of canyon systems in the northern 2/3 of Arizona and much of southern Utah (and so, a little surprising it acquired national monument status). Still, some of the vistas comprised terrific panoramic scenes, designed seemingly purposefully for large multi-shot photo montages (the first three scenic photos attached each are created from up to 40 individual photos, although the reduced size uploaded to the website does not permit appreciation of the inherent resolution). I also enjoyed the many Violet-green Swallows and White-throated Swifts swooping through the canyons; one swallow sat on a dead branch over a precipice allowing me to sneak within meters to photograph it from behind a Pinyon Pine tree.

While discussing the Dusky Grouse with Park Service rangers at the Black Canyon, I inquired about the Gunnison Sage Grouse – this is a very rare grouse (maybe 5,000 living), which exists in just two tiny geographic pockets of high sage-grass mesas. It is listed under the Endangered Species Act. I was referred 3 times to different offices, and never got any concrete info on where the birds might be seen, other than references to the general vicinity of the Curecanti National Recreation Area (this consists of the area around Blue Mesa Lake along the Gunnison River just upstream from the Black Canyon Park). Online research disclosed that the rangers only publicly disclose one single spot where the general pubic may see the grouse during their breeding performances (not this time of year) – this lack of assistance designed apparently to protect the birds from too many birders.

Two days ago I drove over to the Curecanti area and took a dirt county road south up onto a large mesa; traversing this mesa top I enjoyed mule deer and a cheeky Yellow-bellied Marmot, which ran up into a vertical crevice and, while I photographed him, held there as if I could not see him. At the south end of the mesa I drove over and up onto a neighboring mesa for another dirt county road headed back north. Here I had luck, spotting my first 4 Gunnison Sage Grouse as they flushed and flew directly away from me. No chance for photos, but the high mesa top, covered with thick sage brush and high grasses, with periodic water holes, appeared ideal habitat. I returned the day before yesterday and spent the early morning hours along an 8 mile stretch of the mesa top and was rewarded with sightings of 13 more Gunnison Sage Grouse in 4 different groups. I got some photos of the grouse crossing the road; as soon as they enter the sage they become invisible, even when you know exactly where to look (I have included a couple of not-so-great photos only because the birds are rare). On the same mesa top I photographed my first Sage Thrasher, my first White-tailed Prairie Dog, and was surprised to see a Pronghorn. All in all a successful hunt day.

Today I intend to drive to Green River, Utah, sitting close to some of the world’s greatest rock art sites.  I still am entirely uncertain what I will do after that. Every time I pull out the map, I find vague reasons for not continuing north. I think this is a sign I should return soon toward Tucson and start working on an international trip. I have been living in the little RV for exactly one month now. Later. Dave

Report on Rock Art of 9-Mile Canyon, Arches NP, Moab area & Sego Canyon, Aug. 14, 2015

Hello again. Almost 2 weeks ago I left Montrose Colorado and drove to Green River, Utah, a small western town off of Interstate 70 which straddles the Green River (the Green River, which originates in Wyoming, is not only the major tributary of the Colorado River, but actually is longer than the Colorado segment, and drains a larger basin, and by traditional naming conventions should be the name of the river running through the Grand Canyon). Green River (the town) sits at the epicenter of the Barrier Canyon style rock art pictographs, as well as the Fremont culture petroglyph style. I found a little RV park just recently reopened and trying to get on its feet, so giving me some privacy as well as cheap rates, along with ok facilities and Wi-Fi. One really good restaurant in town, and it is always crowded – the Tamarisk, right overlooking the river, is a delight, with a great all-you-can-eat salad and soup bar. I always eat almost exclusively here when in Green River.

On Tuesday I spent almost 10 hours driving up to and through the “9-Mile Canyon” – a misnomer as the canyon system actually is over 45 miles long (it is named for an original survey done over a 9 mile radius). The latter 25 miles of the canyon, as well as side canyons, are filled with Fremont petroglyph panels, quite a few of amazing quality. Many of the canyon shelves and ridges have evidence of Fremont pit houses and granaries. The most famous of the petroglyph panels is called the “Great Hunt”, and shows bighorn sheep together with men with bows and arrows, with a classic Fremont trapezoid anthropomorphic figure. Another well known panel is called the “Big Buffalo,” with its nearby companion called “Pregnant Buffalo”. Upon inspection of my photos I am fairly convinced the buffalo panels are not of Fremont origin, but rather historic, made in 1867 by the person who left his signed graffiti on one panel.
Thursday I drove up the Green River into the Grey Canyon to see the “Nefertiti” Fremont petroglyph panel, named for a nearby stone cliff formation which may (but does not) remind of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. The panel displays a number of antlered mule deer, and unusual subject for petroglyphs. I passed through two large flocks of Chukar, an introduced partridge from Pakistan. Also saw countless Rock Wrens, living in family groups on every other boulder strewn hillside.

Friday of last week I spent all day around Moab, mostly visiting the small Arches National Park . The Park claims to have 2,000 sandstone arches – I am skeptical; I photographed 10, and have no doubt 10 times that many exist, but 2,000?. I then read the definition they use for “arch”: any opening in a sandstone wall (goes all the way through), if at least 3 feet long in one dimension, is considered an “arch” – thus a 3 foot long 1 inch crack is an “arch”. This is an example of how exponentially to enhance one’s presentation of almost anything by well-crafted definition. Nevertheless, those several arches that are big, and very real, are magnificent – particularly the “Double Arch”; when you look at the picture, see the size of the foreground tree – and realize the nearer arch is 150 feet long and would cover a 10 story office building. I also got a nice sighting of a Black-tailed Jackrabbit who thought he was hiding from me behind clumps of bushes – he sat framed by the marvelous ethereal colored orange sandy landscape. The Park has one nice petroglyph panel showing a Ute bighorn sheep hunt from horseback.
I also drove to some rock art panels I had not previously seen in the Moab area, including a panel on the side of a huge tumbled boulder up Kane Creek Road; the locals have named it the “Birthing Scene” petroglyph panel, as it may show an image of childbirth. I am skeptical that this is in fact what the image represents, but I suppose it is as good a guess as any. I also visited some of my favorite long petroglyph galleries along the Potash Highway.

On Sunday I visited an unusual site along the Green River called the Crystal Geyser, it is a very rare cold water geyser created by periodic underground carbon dioxide buildup (like shaking and opening a giant bottle of carbonated beverage) – I have seen photos from 80 years ago when it would shoot up to 100 feet into the air, apparently about twice daily. It has been vandalized over the years, with people throwing stones into the hole, and no longer produces the same spectacle.

I also drove to the lonely ghost town of Sego, an early 20th century coal mining town located up in the exotic Sego Canyon. Nearby are some of the very best rock art panels in Utah; at the juncture of Sego Canyon into Thompson Canyon a large rock formation juts over the stream bed exposing several large flat stone panel surfaces. These are covered with three different “generations” of rock art. Several panels have the haunting painted red figures, “pictographs,” of the archaic Barrier Canyon culture, believed to date from 3,000 to 0 BC. Overlaying some of the oldest Barrier Canyon figures, and occupying one large panel, are the petroglyphs of the Fremont culture, which lived here from 700 to 1300 AD, just north of the Anasazi culture, and produced large volumes of terrific rock art. Finally, on a nearby cliff wall are the painted petroglyph shields, horses and possible buffalo hunt scene, of Ute Indians who resided throughout this area from 1400 onward.

From Green River I drove south to Blanding, intending to investigate the area for rock art. I stayed just 2 days as we got some terrific storms rolling through. I did speak to a resident who has spent most of his life investigating rock art as a hobby, and learned a great deal about what is in the area for my investigation on my next trip. I realized then, as I contemplated remaining for several days until the dirt canyon roads dried out, that my zest for searching was fading after 6 weeks. So on Wednesday I started the 2 day drive back to Tucson. I am now considering a fall international trip, but will spend a few days getting some new weeds killed first. Later. Dave

Canyon of the Ancients, Canyonlands, Arches and Dinosaur Parks, on route to Yellowstone, May 15, 2023

I last wrote from Chinle on the Navajo Reservation – from there I have traveled and hiked (short hip-strengthening hikes) through Canyon of the Ancients, Canyonlands, Arches and Dinosaur Parks in Utah.  All contain some of the most scenic colored sandstone cliffs and formations in the world. In Arches I never had visited the Landscape Arch, longest in the Americas with over 300 feet of opening, nor seen some of the lesser arches at sunrise. I have included a few photos below to give a sense of how awesome some of these formations can be.

Several arches have fallen in the last 70 years, and a portion of the Landscape Arch fell some 30 years ago.  My high-resolution photos of the Landscape show a number of fractures at the thinnest parts of the arch. Arches are created from weathering over millennia, and eventually succumb due to the same weathering.  It is hard for me to believe the Landscape will last another couple of decades.

I had a very strange experience with a planned 2 night-stay in Green River, Utah.  Some years ago I had stayed at the family operated Robber’s Roost Motel; due to many Utah motels being booked on weekends, I made advance reservations online at the motel’s website.  I promptly received email confirmation of my reservation, and a welcoming email with the details.  Upon arrival, I found the property run down with a real estate firm’s signage plastered on walls and windows, and vehicles being repaired on the lot.  Everything was padlocked.  I called the phone number on my confirmation and got the message it was not in service.  Upon inquiry at the nearby restaurant and other businesses I found the motel had been closed for over a year. I was in almost disbelief that the automated reservation system (undoubtedly a third-party site) still functioned and sent out confirming emails.  I had to find another motel for the night, and was told that such reservation systems exist for many small hotels, where they may keep operating long after the business closes.  I have double checked my credit card to make sure no charges appear.

I currently am in Cody, Wyoming, ready to start 15 days in and around Yellowstone. Later. Dave