In spite of two unplanned technical events late in October, we still managed to get to southern Utah and fulfill a couple of long-time dreams for ourselves. Let me first start with the unplanned events which occur in life whether you are living on the road or not. First, we ended up with another quirky electrical problem in the truck. The short version is that our stay just over the California/Nevada border in a town called Fernley was extended for one extra day while Peter spent a day with the local Ford dealer (patiently waiting half a day since they were all booked) and determining that we needed a new battery.
The second event occurred during our stay at Great Basin National Park clear across Nevada on the Utah border. We had discovered this hidden gem of a park two years ago and routed ourselves for a return of at least three nights of dry camping. No reservations so first come first served. We snagged a gorgeous spot in the Lower Lehman Creek Campground right on the creek where we enjoyed the sunshine and glorious privacy in this spectacular place, listening to the sound of the rushing creek day and night. The sunshine was spectacular and on day one we hooked up the solar panels for a few hours watching the battery charge up and feeling pretty great.
The temps that night dipped to the mid-40s and the furnace did run occasionally but when we got up in the morning, we noticed the battery was dangerously depleted. We repeated the charging routine again on day two, putting the generator in the mix but by the time we turned out the lights, the battery were way down (before we ran the heat) and we realized the batteries were most likely toasted. That night was much colder. By morning, the temperature was 45 degrees inside the trailer and even with the generator running, we determined this wasn’t sustainable for us. So we reluctantly left the park early, having resigned ourselves to the fact that the rest of the way to Florida we would only be able to stay in places with electric hook-ups since the trailer batteries are not holding a charge at all. So here is our first major project for our winter months in Estero, Florida.
We were disappointed to leave the park early so we decided to indulge ourselves by re-routing our entire eastbound trip and spend more time in southern Utah. Here, the bucket list included a visit to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and at least one meal at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah. If you have followed our blog, you know that we have spent time in southern Utah before. In the past three years of living on the raod, we have done two trips to Arches National Park, one to Canyonlands National Park, and two trips exploring Moab and the Colorado River. Years ago we visited Zion and Bryce National Parks and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We love the area and decided it’s not possible to ever get enough of the wild, heart-stopping majesty of the region.
We were fortunate to get a spot for four nights on short notice at a sweet little commercial campground in Escalante since the hook-up sites in the two state parks in the area were already taken. Going in late October seemed to work in our favor since it wasn’t as totally busy. The campground, Canyons of Escalante RV Park, was in a great location, very tidy, had a great laundry on site and was within walking distance to everything in the tiny town of Escalante. The town sits right along Highway 12 which has to be one of the most beautiful highways in the U.S. It starts along Highway 89, the same road that runs all the way north to the Canadian border, passing through Wyoming and the Triangle X Ranch, our beloved sanctuary.
We arrived and unhooked and by 5:30 we were catching the late afternoon sunlight and the red sandstone cliffs and mesas of Grand Escalante which were accented by brilliant splashes of neon yellow cottonwoods. It was breathtakingly gorgeous. We drove along the highway a few miles and pulled into a driveway with a sign that said, “Kiva Kofeehouse”. The parking lot was full so we got out and there on the edge of the canyon sits a spectacular little coffee house, built right into the cliff with glass walls and huge ponderosa pine supports and sandstone walls. The crowd was gathering for a performance by a local jazz group which would be the last concert of the season since the place was closing that night for the winter. We didn’t get to stay for the evening music but the gift of finding the place and watching our first sunset in Utah in this magical place was enough.
The next day we decided on a day hike up to the Lower Calf Creek Falls. This sits in a lovely, deep canyon that winds gently uphill over a distance of 3 miles one way. We poked along the trail, taking pictures, finding the ancient pictographs across the valley floor. We determined we would run out of daylight and energy if we tried to make it all the way to the falls and turned around at the 2 mile mark, feeling completely satiated by the incredible beauty of the place.
On day three, we drove over to the tiny town of Boulder which is the home of the remarkable, amazing, unbelievably wonderful restaurant called Hell’s Backbone Grill. Over the years we have had recommendations from people, including one very dear couple from New Hampshire, who said if you are ever close by, make the trip. Thank you Richard and Judy for the push because it was worth every marvelous tasty and memorable bite.
In order to get to the town of Boulder on Highway 12, one crosses a stretch of road that is unbelievably unnerving. It tops the ridge and for about one mile the drop-offs on either side of the two-lane road is an easy 500 feet (or more) with no guard rails! It reminded me of the first time we crossed a small canyon somewhere on one of those suspension foot bridges. I just kept looking at the horizon straight ahead and didn’t even try to look over the edge.
Boulder is the site of the Anasazi Museum and State Historic Park which contain ruins of a place called Coombs Village which were occupied for about 75 years around 1100. Over 100 structures have been identified on the site including dwellings, storage rooms, below-ground pit houses and at least one ramada.
This is a state park and the museum is a treasure to explore. We loved it. The prize artifact in the collection here is a Clovis arrowhead found in the area which has been dated back to the Ice Age over 11,000 years ago. Right, this is not a typo – 11,000 years ago. It is a marvel of craftsmanship and of both human creativity and human stewardship. The rancher who found the point on his land immediately called the University of Utah to report the find and left it in place until the experts arrived. As a result, the archeologists were given the opportunity to examine it in place before retrieving it for research and determining its age. It was remarkable to see.
The other main attraction in Boulder is the restaurant, Hell’s Backbone Grill. The accolades for this place, where we feasted on lunch, are not at all exaggerated. The food is divine. The story of the chef-owners, Jen Castle and Blake Spaulding is one of dedication and commitment to excellence. For 18 years, they have been serving organic, locally produced and sources, regionally and seasonally appropriate cuisine, growing many of their own vegetables and fruits organically in the restaurant’s two gardens and on their six-acre farm. Can’t wait to return for another piece of the heavenly pear and gingerbread with creme fraiche and a drizzle of butterscotch sauce.
On day four of our time in Escalante, Peter visited the Petrified Forest and the Visitor’s Center which was an easy walk of about 1/2 mile from our campground. A pretty intense head cold kept me close to home with napping the top priority in the lovely Utah sunshine, so all was good.
We moved campsites next to the town of Kanab, about 120 miles south of Escalante. Again, we were able to get a full hook-up site because it was off-season which meant we got to see a part of the area that was new to us. Kanab is a spectacular place of red sandstone canyons, wide valleys and the signature red mesas. We learned that it has been the darling of Hollywood for decades and the number of movies shot here was pretty astounding.
The TV show Gunsmoke was filmed here for several seasons and the movie set for the original town is still in place, though looking quite tired, in the lovely Johnson Canyon. I never tire of watching the late afternoon sun illuminate these rock formations.
We used Kanab as our base for our long-awaited day trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It was about a 90 minute drive and there was virtually no one else on the road on a sunny and cool morning. The park road was open but all the concessions have closed for the season. That did not matter to us.
The drive to the rim, where the elevation is 7,800’ took us through ponderosa and lodge pole pine and juniper forests that were thick and fragrant. We had packed our own lunch and were happy to be at this amazing place in virtual quiet. Maybe we encountered a total of 20 other visitors during our four hours here. It is certainly one of the advantages of being able to travel to these national parks in the off-season.
We walked along the glorious Bright Angel Canyon Trail which hugs the canyon. We couldn’t see much into the canyon because the sun was so bright. Oh my, what a hardship! We later walked a trail which wandered through the high pine forests on the opposite side of the rim and stopped to eat our lunch at picnic tables in the now-empty outdoor patio of the Grand Canyon Lodge, basking in the warm sunshine in complete solitude with the spectacular canyon in full display right before us.
A couple of small crews of workers were repairing the seasonal wear and tear on the private cabins that sit next to the Lodge and we got to peak inside to see the lovely fireplaces and the lodgepole pine furnishings that make them look so cozy and welcoming. This place is a treasure that really should be experienced because unlike the very busy and developed south rim, here you can feel the wondrous and compelling beauty of God’s creation in awesome silence.
Our final day in Kanab we toured the Maynard Dixon Home and Studio. We are big fans of this iconic artist of the western sky who built this lovely retreat house with his wife, artist Edith Hamlin in the 1930s. The desert was Dixon’s first love and he painted western life and landscape for over 50 years. The simple and lovely home sits like a mirror in the middle of these painted mesas and tall gold grasses and ancient cottonwoods that are rooted along a year-round running creek. Just up the rise from the main house was a sweet little guest house and a magnificent studio that continues to welcome visiting artists who are invited to come and work here for a few days at a time.
We left Utah and headed very briefly in Arizona for one night at Homolovi State Park in Winslow and then on to Albuquerque for a two night rest up. Still with us?
Peter and Liz continue the eastbound journey in their Airstream, as their pilgrimage to here unfolds in year three.