Our Southwest Trips

Part I:  Great Basin to Cedar Breaks.

The plan was a month-long trip to the Southwest, visiting all the big name parks, some of the smaller ones, and doing extensive day-hiking and a few short backpacking trips as we went. 

That was the plan. 

But M was diagnosed with tendonitis in her heel following our adventure last month in the Grand Canyon, and so that plan didn’t look so good.  The fact that my left knee seemed to be intent on causing me pain with every step I took didn’t improve the situation.  We needed a new plan.   

So what do you do in that situation?  We decided to go anyway---and we would just see how much hiking we could do.  And we were determined NOT to make things worse with either of us for our backpacking later this summer—If possible.  That meant taking it easy on the hiking.  Sigh.

In the end, this turned about to be a really good trip, and we did get to do just a bit of hiking---nothing major—but this would serve as a very good outline for anyone who is considering a trip to Utah and its neighbors and doesn’t want to hike their feet off.  We didn’t, thank goodness.

Day 1:  We began the trip at our cabin above Sonora, and drove over Sonora Pass in our 2006 white Ford E-350 van, AKA Le Vin Blanc.  The original plan was to drive to Austin, NV and do a short backpacking trip in the mountains south of Austin.  But with that off the menu, we looked at the map and somehow found a small state park that had camping:  Berlin/Ichthyosaurus State Park.


What a treat! It really is in the middle of nowhere.  If you can find Austin, dead center in the blank section in the middle of Nevada, go 60 miles southwest and find BISP.  There’s a ghost mining town (Berlin) and the park where they discovered the massive remains of many of Nevada’s state fossil, the Ichthyosaurus.  And a small campground as well.  We checked in, visited the museum (a short walk from the campground---testing our tender limbs amid light sprinkles of rain) and walked through the ghost town on the way out.  It was a great start to the trip---and a fun discovery. 

Day 2: After the visit to Berlin (we drove to Berlin on our summer vacation!) we asked about the dirt road that would connect us over the mountains to Austin.  And since the St. Park manager told us a school bus drove the road every day, we decided to try it out.  How bad could it be?

It was a treat.  And we drove most of it at 45-55 mph.  Simply the finest dirt road we have ever driven.  Plus it had great views, and we saw lots and lots of Pronghorn antelope.  Very cool.  From Austin we drove straight through Ely to get to Great Basin National Park where I was disappointed that my senior interagency card was of no use.  It turns out the park is free to all.  Hmph. 

But the card did get us a discount for camping in the Baker Creek campground—where the water system was not yet up and running.  In fact, the only potable water in the park was a single spigot at the end of the visitors center.  Still, we were set for the night, we made reservations for the Lehman Cave tour the next afternoon (only available through recreation.gov---not our favorite team) and settled in for the night. 

Day 3:  The Park Road to Wheeler Peak was only open to the Mather overlook, and so we drove only that part of the scenic drive up Wheeler Peak.  Fire damage had closed the last few miles of this road. OK. Fine.  We then drove back to the visitors center to hike the nature trail there.  And since we still had some time after lunch and before our 3 pm tour, we drove back out of the park of few miles and visited the Baker Archeological site, where we walked through the ruins of a Fremont settlement of 1500 years ago.  That was an unexpected delight.  While the ruins are minimal, the guidebook is really good!

It was then time for our cave tour---and it was stunning.  Huge cave, really impressive and beautiful, with all sorts of amazing things to see.  Highly recommended.  And when we were done, there was good news, the road was now open. So we drove up to the top of the road, took in the sights, walked the short 1 mile nature trail up there.  And back to camp for the night.  All I all, we probably walked 4 or 5 miles at a very leisurely pace…and we were only a little sore. 

Day 4:  We had originally planned to camp and hike out of the Snake Creek area of Great Basin so we drove there to see what could be done.  M’s heel was not good today, and she really wanted to take it easy.  And then as we drove up the Snake Creek, the weather started getting a little nasty (The range is so high that makes its own weather).  OK.  Not such a good idea.  So we drove East to move forward with our plan to check out Utah.  Cedar Breaks seemed to be a good place to start, so that’s where we headed—through sunshine, clouds, driving rain in the desert, and then more sunshine.  A memorable drive, often surrounded by shafts of sunlight and dark rain. 

When we got to the visitors center at Cedar Breaks, we discovered that the campground was closed—it was still too early in the season, and there was snow on the ground (the park is at 10,000 feet).  But they recommended trying Navajo Lake in the national forest.  We did.  We chose the last of the three campgrounds there, Te Ah, and had the place to ourselves.  That worked out really well, until later. 

Day 5:  Today we took the full tour of Cedar Breaks, visiting each overlook in the park (the main trails were closed due to ice and mud on the rim).  We started by hiking the one mile nature trail to Bristlecone Pines, since we hadn’t been able to do that at Great Basin.  That was cool, although the walkway had been severely damaged by snow during the winter.  Then each overlook of the canyon was spectacular.  And after that we thought we might continue to the drive to the town of Parowan…to see what was there.  Not much.  But the petroglyphs we’d passed by the day before on the way from Great Basin were not far away, so what the heck?

Well.  These were simply stunning.  Whole walls of the most amazing and complex petroglyphs.  The best we have ever seen.  All easily visible from a short trail along the road.  We were delighted, and spent a lot of time here.  And took endless photos.

Then drove into Cedar City do laundry, wash the van (those dirt roads had left their mark) and then showers at the local KOA.  We bought ice, more food, and drove back to our campsite to discover that someone had stolen the step box I’d made for the van.  Along with two folding chairs and a water jug, we’d left it to help mark our site, and it didn’t really have a lot of expensive stuff in it, but it was custom made to fit under the seat in the van…and I made it.  When we asked the campground hosts about it, they explained that this was not uncommon!  Good to know!  Maybe post something about it to warn people!  To be fair, two of the three campgrounds at Navajo Lake were missing their hosts for medical reasons…but still.  This is the only place in our lives that we have ever had anything stolen from a campsite.  In Mormon Utah.  Go figure. 

Day 6.  Our original plan called for us to drive to St. George over the next couple of days so that we could pick up our daughter, who was flying into Vegas.  But HER plans changed, and now she was going to join us two days later in Moab.  OK.  So we drove East to Kanab and then Pipe Springs National Monument, thinking it would be on the way to St. George.  It was interesting (more on this later) but it was also hot and in the middle of the desert.  And right after we arrived, a huge tour bus pulled up and crowded the facilities with a ton of people.  We’d also noticed Jacob Lake up in the mountains to the East, and the staff at Pipe Springs recommended the camping there.  Cool, we thought.  But once we got there, we realized that we were only 45 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Really?

Change of plans again.  We kept driving to the Grand Canyon and spent the afternoon enjoying the views and viewpoints of the North Rim.  Very cool, and quite different from the South Rim.  Far fewer people, and the views dominated by Bright Angel Canyon…lovely and fun.  We loved it, although M left one of our seat cushions on a picnic table there.  Sigh.  But we did hike a few short trail here, and really enjoyed them. 

But when we asked about campsites there, we were told that they had been booked solid for months in advance.  But they gave us a map of USFS roads in the area where dispersed camping was legal—including some with pit toilets!  Fair enough.  We had come prepared for this, and so took the second or third road we saw, drove a few hundred yards, and found a lovely campsite in the pines and aspens.  Perfect.  Quieter than most campgrounds.  We loved it, too.

We even had a guest or two stop in for breakfast.

Southwest Trip, Part II--Zion and Bryce                                 

Day 7:  M wanted to go back to Pipe Springs to hear the tour we’d missed the day before. So we stopped in at Kanab for groceries and ice, and then did the tour of the house: “Winsor Castle.”  Cool.  Tonight we had reservations at Watchman Campground in Zion, so we enjoyed the drive from Kanab into the park—absolutely beautiful—and got set up in our campground.  We had been warned that Zion would be hot and crowded.  It was both.  But we had shade in our campsite, and found a few ways to keep cool.

To get familiar with the park, we took the shuttle ride (the only vehicles allowed in Zion Canyon, really) all the way to the end and back.  Well, as we got back closer to the campground, we decided to get of the shuttle and hike the easy and flat Pa’Rus trail two miles back to camp.  This was wonderful.  Late afternoon, it was a quiet and lonely walk through Zion Canyon.  Only two miles, and full of views.  The only bad part was that by the end, my knee was killing me.  Grrrr.  It was hot, it was dry, and I was probably dehydrated as well, which didn’t help.  A quiet dinner and night in camp ended the day.

Day 8:  Today we were going to be ambitious, in our condition, and hike the Emerald Pools Trail.  This was perfect for us, because there were three pools, and we could turn back whenever we felt like it.  M was wearing her protective boot for this, which got her lots of praise from every hiker we met.  And we did manage to hike to all three pools, even the third one, which took a bit of scrambling on boulders.  On the way out, we hiked the Kayenta Trail, which gave fabulous view up and down the canyon.  Really cool.  And both of us survived the hike without further damage.

So far, so good. We got back to the visitors center about lunchtime, so we ate down by the river and chilled our sore limbs in the water.  That made a huge difference.  In the afternoon we took a nap in the van, then washed up a bit in camp, and finally walked into town (1/2 mile at most?) for dinner.  Camping at Zion is pretty darn comfortable, if you can stand the heat!

Day 9: This was going to be a recovery day for us.  We took the shuttle up to the Weeping Rock Trail and hiked it---quite steep but very short—and basked in the dripping water off the ceiling of the alcove.  Then back on the shuttle to the end of the canyon to see about the River Trail to the Narrows---but it was closed due to a rockfall.  We walked along the river with the rest of the crowd until it came time to cross the river on slippery cobbles.  Neither one of us liked that idea with our current injuries, so we bailed out and went back to the visitors center to each lunch by the river.  It was 102.

That afternoon we took a drive, up out the park and into the high country of the Kolob Terraces.  What a smart move!  The drive was wonderful, with great views in all directions.  The weather at the top was at least fifteen degrees cooler.  From there we drove back later in the day, dropped the van off at the campground, and took the Springdale shuttle further into town for Pizza.  At the end of the day, we walked from the campground over to the petroglyphs (not marked on the road or map, but the visitors center staff is happy to share directions) and took a few photos before calling it a night. 

Day 10: Today we heard that the River Trail was open, so that was our first order of business.  We rode the shuttle up along with everyone else, and then hiked the mile to where the trail ends and the river walk to the Narrows begins.  We thought about it again, but the idea of slippery on a wet rock and tweaking our foot or knee convinced us that we would give this one a pass.  On the way back to the shuttle stop, I noticed a huge bird circling over the canyon.    Yep, it was a condor! 

Back at the visitors center, we walked to the “nature center” which was pretty disappointing.  In the mid-afternoon we made our way to the river to soak our sore legs---and M went all the way in, bathing in her hiking outfit.  Very cute.  We took a nap, rested a bit before dinner and then ate in town again.  Camping in Zion is civilized. 

Day 11:  We left Zion fairly early, and we were hoping to camp at Bryce, so we wanted to arrive in time to score a campsite.  That worked perfectly, and there were plenty of spaces available when we got there around 10:30.  Our campsite was really great, on the edge of the campground, with nice shade and few neighbors.  We then spent the day exploring Bryce without doing too much walking.  We went to the visitors center, walked from our campsite in loop D to Sunrise Point, caught the shuttle there and rode it into town and back, then out to Inspiration Point (the end of the line in the park). He hiked to upper Inspiration Point (about a mile) and then continued to walk down to Sunset Point.

Our legs were beginning to suffer, so we took the shuttle to the lodge, explored that a bit, then went back to camp and napped. In the evening, we drove into Ruby’s to buy ice and groceries, and ate at the buffet there.    And finally, after dinner, drove all the way to the end of the scenic drive at Rainbow Point to watch the sunset.

Day 12:  After the trails yesterday, we wanted to rest today.  M wanted a shower at the general store, but first we drove out to see Red Canyon, just a few miles outside the park.  This is a BLM site, but really nice, and we walked two of the trails there---ending up with about 4 miles total—which was more than we expected to do today.  We ate lunch at Red Canyon, then went back to camp to nap and do laundry and showers. A very pleasant and cool afternoon in the higher elevations of Bryce, after the heat of Zion.  After dinner in camp we drove the scenic drive again to take in the sunset, but it was cloudy in the West, so our photos suffered…sigh.

Day 13:  Big day today, as we had decided that if we took it slowly, we could hike the Queen’s Garden hike and combine it with the Navajo loop for about 4 miles, and plenty of up and down.  That worked perfectly, and both of us felt pretty decent after the hike.  We drove to Rainbow Point to eat lunch, and take the nature trail to the Bristlecone Pine grove there.   

In the morning, when we had extended our campsite for one more day, we met Penelope, a cyclist from Canada.  We shared our site with her and had a nice chat.  IN the evening we drove back to the general store, and passed by a few prairie dogs that enchanted M.  We also saw a couple of pronghorns here along the road.  We loved Bryce---the cool weather, the lovely campground with plenty of space, and the wonderful scenery and hiking. 

Day 14:  Today we were supposed to work our way towards Grand Junction, with a single night on the way in a campground somewhere.  We had a hotel reservation there so that we could do an airport pickup, but now that was in Moab, not Grand Junction.  We had made a reservation at Kodachrome State Park, but that would leave us with a long drive to Grand Junction…and it wasn’t the kind of place we wanted to spend a whole day.  We stopped first to hike to Mossy Cave and see the waterfall, and then stopped in Cannonville at the Grand Staircase Escalante NM visitors center.  From there we checked out Kodachrome: saw a few of the sights, let them know that we wouldn’t be staying, and headed East the legendary Highway 12 through Escalante.


Wow!  This was way better than we expected.  Stunning vistas of slickrock for as far as you could see.  Oceans of slickrock.  Amazing.  We stopped for lunch at the Anasazi State Park, where we visited the museum and ruins, and loved the local food truck, Magnolia’s.  And as we headed up into the mountains above Boulder, Utah, we found a very nice campsite at Pleasant Creek, in the national forest about 30 minute’s drive from Capitol Reef.  Lovely.  And much closer to Grand Junction. 

Day 15:  The next morning, we got up early and took the scenic drive through Capitol Reef. We drove down to the end of the road at Capitol Gorge, and hiked the trail down the gorge—but did not make the climb up to the tanks, as we were nursing our sore legs a bit after Bryce.  But the gorge itself has some really nice petroglyphs. 

Southwest Trip, Part III--Dead Horse Point, Canyonlands, and Arches                                

Day 16:  We started with a free breakfast at the hotel, followed by a drive to Moab’s airport to pick up Liz.  All according to plan. The Moab airport is so small that the parking lot is gravel.  We drove into Moab to buy groceries, and then went out to the campsite we had reserved at Dead Horse Point State Park.  Really nice place, with short hiking trails along the rim, decent campsites, and a nice visitors center.  But it did cost $35 a night, and no senior discount.  That made some of the other places we’d stayed in seem pretty great.  The weather was perfect today---we were about to get a heat wave—and in the afternoon I hiked out to Bighorn Point from the campground.  After dinner, we hiked part of the Rim Trail to an overlook and then drove to the end of DH Point to see the sunset.  This was a good first day with Liz.

Day 17:  Today our final destination was Arches NP, but we wanted to visit the Islands in the Sky part of Canyonlands first.  We stopped in the visitors center, and then took their advice to hike the Mesa Arch Trail, which was nice, and the Aztec Butte Trail, which was really cool.  They had described it as “a bit of a scramble at the end” and it was---M decided that she didn’t want to climb those last 100 yards on steep slickrock.  Liz and I got up the rock, and took a tour of the Butte---with views in all directions.  From there we stopped in to see the Ancient Puebloan granaries off the same trail, and then ate lunch out at the end of the road at the viewpoint.

In the afternoon we drove back into Moab for more ice and groceries, and then loved the drive in to Arches NP—our reserved campsite was in the Devil’s Garden at the end of the road.  Totally cool—except that it was getting very hot.  Oh well.  In the evening we drove out to the Delicate Arch viewpoint and eventually hiked up to see it about sunset.  Lovely.

Day 8:  Up at dawn (Liz was on East Coast time, so this suited her JUST fine) and after breakfast started with a visit to the Windows area of the park, where we hiked the short trails to Turret Arch, Double Arch, and the loop around the Windows themselves.  Legs doing fine—but lots and lots of people on this hike. 

 We went back to the campground and took a shot at the hike to Tapestry and Broken Arches---the trail leaves the campground and makes a loop.  We loved it.  Almost no people, and wonderful views.  Liz wanted to take us to lunch, and we liked the idea of air conditioned, so we went back into Moab for that.  We found a place to do laundry, and the local aquatic center offered showers as well.  Great! 

On the way back to camp we stopped and hiked the Sand Dune Arch Trail (really lovely, shady, and quiet) and then ate dinner in the campground.  After dinner, we hiked the Skyline Arch from the South side, and then drove to Fiery Furnace to take in the sunset—which turned out to be spectacular.  And today we hiked almost seven miles….hmmm.

Day 19: We were up at dawn again today, to hike the Devil’s Garden Trail.  We took the side trips to see Navajo and Partition Arch on the way in, and then loved Landscape Arch with its massive span and elegance.  From here the trail gets more ambitious, with some steep slickrock sections. 

M immediately decided after the first one that it wasn’t for her, but she encouraged Liz and me to continue, which we did.  And loved it.  The weather was spitting a bit of rain, and on top of the ridge it was blowing like stink, but we still loved it.  Hang on to your hat! At the end, we got a bit mixed up and hiked part of the trail beyond Double O Arch, but finally found our way back via the main trail.  I was not ready to tackle the primitive trail at that point.  On the way out, we also hiked to Pine Tree and Tunnel Arches…and then made out way over to the shady picnic area for lunch.  There was no shade at our nearby campsite.

After lunch M wanted to see Wolfe Ranch, so we drove there, and then to the visitors center to see the movie and chill in the AC.  It was really hot. After going into town for a late lunch we drove out along the Colorado River for a really spectacular drive---including stopping on the way back to town to chill our toes (and more) in the river.  That helped with the heat a lot. 

Day 20:  We didn’t have a campsite reserved for tonight, so we suggested heading over to our favorite spot, and camped in the Dixie Forest above Capitol Reef.  We got there at noon, then drove back into Capitol Reef to explore the goosenecks, and show Liz the scenic drive and Capitol Gorge.  And we also drove down Grand Wash as well.  We were thinking of hiking up Sulfur Creek, but my knee was really sore from the big miles of the previous day, and M wasn’t doing great either, so we passed on it. 

Instead, we drove up to our campsite and chilled in the cool forest weather. 

Day 21: Today we need to deliver Liz to the Moab airport in the afternoon.  We went out to breakfast in Torrey at the Capitol Inn Café---really good---and then drove down through Capitol Reef to visit Goblin Valley State Park.  The goblins were fun, but even more fun was hearing the kids in the park laughing as they played and explored this area.  You don’t generally hear kids having this much fun in a state park.  The campground here would do in a pinch, but there isn’t any shade---just desert, tables, and pit toilets. 

On the way back to Moab we decided to check out the petroglyphs at Sego Canyon, as recommended by our guide book:  The Grand Circle Tour.  What a treat.  These are not marked or signed in any way (unless you count the arrow on the side of the school building halfway through town) but they are remarkable!  Lots and lots of them, from different eras, and all in a really great state of conservation. 

Sadly we also noticed plenty of what we hoped was rather old graffiti on some of the walls—although one idiot not only scratched his name on the wall; he also pointed out that he was the son of another idiot who had scratched HIS name in the wall 30 years before.  So apparently they reproduce successfully.  Ugh.  We still had time to take Liz for a late lunch in Moab, stock up the fridge while she took a shower, and drop her off at the airport before we drove to Mesa Verde.  The drive was through a driving rainstorm for at least an hour, and the scenery was so beautiful.  Even though it rained pretty steadily throughout the night, we were really looking forward to tomorrow.

The full file of photos from this part are here;

Southwest Trip, Part IV--Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, and home                                      

Day 22:  Mesa Verde.  We had booked a tour through Aramark that was described as a “ranger led tour,” but it wasn’t.  Sigh.  But we were the only people in the group, and both our guide and driver were helpful and knowledgeable.  So what we got was the tour we would have taken by ourselves through the various viewpoints of the park.  Fine.  But during the visit to the museum, we also managed to make reservations for two Ranger led tours in the afternoon—Cliff House and Balcony House.   

When we started the van to join those tours in the late afternoon, the check engine light went on.  Oops.  The manual said to drive carefully and get it serviced soon, so that’s what we did.  We drove to the Cliff House Tour (where the ranger ranted more about philosophy and caring for one another than he did about the history of the Cliff House) and the Balcony House Tour (where Ranger Cindy gave us a really nice tour of the place) and then drove back to camp.  On the way, the overdrive warning light also came on.  Not good.  That meant transmission issues.  Now we were worried.

Day 23:  This was the day dedicated to Le Vin Blanc.  We drove (mainly downhill!) into Cortez and started looking for a mechanic.  The first three we talked to were all too busy to look at our van before the end of the week…but luckily, we managed to find Randy Pixley of Maxwell’s garage.  He took us right in and diagnosed the problem very efficiently, set us up with a very effective temporary fix, and sent us on our way before noon.  All for under $150.  God bless him. (When we returned home, our local mechanic confirmed everything that Randy said and did.)  Cool.  We were on our way again.  We drove to Hovenweep, a national monument in the desert, and liked the ruins and campground so much that we decided to stay there 

We did the usual---visitors center and local hikes—that afternoon. Took a nap and ate dinner.  And even took in a ranger presentation on Archeo-astronomy in the campground that evening.  Great!  We were greatly relieved about the van’s health.  Actually, I think it may have just gotten tired of hearing us complain about our limited mobility, and decided to make a point…

Day 24:  The next morning we were feeling just a bit more confident in the van, and so we drove down the dirt road to the Cajon section of the Hovenweep, where we spent about an hour exploring the sights there.  Nobody but us, the ruins, and potsherds.  We stopped at Edge of the Cedars to see the museum there, and were completely blown away by how comprehensive and effective it was. 
And then it was off to Natural Bridges National Monument, where we ate lunch in the picnic area, drove the scenic drive, walked out to all of the viewpoints for the three bridges, and stopped in at the visitors center to learn about the area.  They also had a campground which we considered…but we were only three hours from our usual spot above Capitol Reef, and the day was not over yet.  Off we went. 

What an amazing drive through the Colorado Canyon Country.  My goodness, there is a lot of scenery in this part of the world.  We were enchanted.  And we’ve already made tentative plans to come back.  And then we made the climb back up to the forest above Cap Reef.  This time the campground was nearly full (we arrived late and found only four sites available) but it still worked for us.  Plus it was so much cooler than down below in the heat.

Day 25: We began today with ambivalent plans.  We were going to eat breakfast again at the Capitol Reef Inn in Torrey, and then head West.  How far?  We hadn’t decided.  Maybe just to Great Basin.  Maybe beyond—but there aren’t a lot of nice stops between Great Basin and Tahoe.  And then Tahoe is only 3 hours from home---so maybe all the way home.

We got to Great Basin at noon, and ate lunch in the campground.  We found a lovely campsite, and were ready to set up and stay for the day, and I took a look at my phone and realized that we had just gained an hour via timezones.  In fact, it wasn’t 1 p.m.  It was only noon here in Nevada.  That set us to thinking, and soon we were back in the van, driving West.  We passed Ely and Austin…without many ideas on where we would stop.  And then M picked up her phone and started looking for a place between Fallon and Reno.  And she found Fort Churchill. 

We’d never heard of it, either.  But they had 20 campsites, and when she called the campground, 10 of them were still available, an hour away.  Perfect.  But as we drove through Fallon, we thought we should find something eat for dinner on the way, and Suzy’s BBQ was right there.  It was wonderful.  It was fast.  It was not expensive.  We wish it were closer to home!

And then an easy drive to the campground, with huge cottonwood trees shading every site, and a $15 fee to camp.  We were sold.  We set up, walked to the river, and enjoyed a very quiet, peaceful evening in the shade…and cool temperatures from the river.  We did see a few mosquitoes here, our first of the trip, but it was still a very nice place to spend a night in the desert—especially when the chorus of coyotes began and long serenade!

Joshua Tree, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon                          

After our trip to Death Valley and then our visit to Vancouver, we were off to see Joshua Tree and the Grand Canyon---after only about 20 hours at home.  It seemed crazy at the time, and it still does. 

We got into Napa from Vancouver at about dinner time, and despite out best efforts, were only able to get out the door well after lunch the next day.  That put us a bit behind schedule, and meant that we probably wouldn't make it to Red Rock State park to camp for the night.  Nuts.  Time to improvise a Plan B.  While M drove down I-5, P busied himself on his phone, searching for a campground.  And he found one in Tehachapi, at the Tehachapi Mountain Park.  Close enough.  We stopped for dinner at the Indian Oven truck stop café east of Bakersfield (pretty good, and very inexpensive) and the drove into the mountains above Tehachapi, not quite sure where we were going or what we would find.  But at 5500 feet we found snow on the ground and a few campsites.  We pulled into the first one we saw, threw ourselves into our sleeping bags, and nodded off for the night.  When we got up the next morning, there was not another car to be seen in the campground.  $16. Perfect. 

Day two: We treated ourselves to breakfast at a little café in Tehachapi, and then down the road to Joshua Tree, listening all the while to Professor Patrick Allitt lecture us on the American West, courtesy of the Great Courses program.  We like these as traveling entertainment, and this one was ideally targeted towards our tour of the Southwest. 

We arrived at Joshua Tree before lunch, and stopped to ask our questions at the Visitors Center.  With those resolved, we found our campsite in Indian Cove--one of five reservation only campgrounds in the park.  Four more campgrounds are first come, first served, but they fill up very early every morning.  P had reserved Indian Cove about four months ago.  Since we had never visited this park before, we decided to spend the rest of the day driving the main loop road around the northern part of the park and hiking Split Rock and Barker Dam trails.  But first, as per the photo, we had to visit the Cholla Garden.  It was a great day of amazing scenery, lots of interesting plants, and even a few petroglyphs on the rocks.  We got back to camp in time for a delicious ramen dinner and a quiet evening enjoying the stars.  There is no water in the campground at Indian Cove, by the way, but there is water at the ranger station just down the road.  So each morning as we drove out, we stopped and filled our water bottles.

Day three:  We were up early to check with the ranger about possible campsites for the following night.  She was quite pessimistic, and told us that we would have to get up early to get one.   We took that into consideration, then filled up with water and took the Boy Scout Trail up into the hills,.  This trail left from very near our campground, and is a good way to see what Joshua Tree is all about:  lots of rocks, lots of desert and lots of weird plants.  We hiked about four miles up into the rocks to where we had some nice views over the desert, and then turned around and came back down.  The ranger told us that if all else failed, we could always just backpack in one mile from the road, and then hike 500 feet away from the trail, and camp there for the night.  So on our way out, we stopped for lunch near a pile of interesting rocks, and found a good place to camp if we have to backpack for the final night. 

After lunch, we went back to the car and ran a few errands in Joshua Tree and 29 Palms.  First to 29 Palms to find a can of beans to accompany our chili dinner, and a salami for lunches for the rest of the week.  And we also needed a canister of stove gas.  You might be surprised at how look it can take to find a dry salami in 29 Palms.  And NOBODY had gas for our stove.  So then we drove to Adventure Nomad  in the town of Joshua Tree for camping gas.  Not how we planned to spend the day, but that's how it works sometimes.  We still had time to take the hike to the 49 Palms Oasis--a short trail that we really enjoyed, despite the dire warnings at the trailhead. Admittedly, we were hiking it in March, not July.  We did not die.   

On the way back to Indian Cove, we decided to stop in at the little convenience store right at the turn from the highway into the campground.  We discovered that they had lots of gas for our stove, along with cold beer, a great deal on dried mangos, good cookies, and decent prices.  We felt like idiots. 

And we felt even more like idiots when we got back to camp and discovered that we had no can opener for the beans.  ahem.  So after some very pleasant showers in the privacy of the back doors of Le Vin Blanc, we sat down to a dinner of miso soup, chili, and cous-cous.  Which was delicious, thank you very much.

Day four.  We didn't take the ranger's advice seriously enough.  But the time we got to the first-come first served campgrounds at Belle and White Tank, we found them completely full by 9am.  So that wouldn't work.  Instead, we decided to drive to Cottonwood Springs to hike Lost Palms Oasis Trail--one of the highlights of the park.  On the drive down, we noted that Porcupine Wash looked interesting--and was a a good site for a possible backpacking campsite that night.  Good to know. 

We loved the hike to Lost Palms Oasis.  The oasis itself was a wonderful island of serenity and greenery in the desert. And the hike in was full of great views, interesting plants, and the usual weird and wonderful JTNP rocks.  Back at the trailhead, one of the rangers suggested that we could dispersed camp just outside the park, on BLM land.  So we drove out to check it out.  We were not prepared for the number of people who were doing the same thing.  Wild.  And while we looked for a campsite, P got on his phone and made a discovery:  he could get a free room at a resort in Phoenix thanks to his Expedia points.  And that was our next destination.  Cool! 
M has some distant relatives in Mesa AZ that she wanted to visit, and the resort promised hot showers, soft beds, and clean sheets.  And so we found our way to the Wekopa Casino, Spa, Resort and Golf Club.  Not a place we would normally choose to stay, but it worked out great.

Day five: After a nice breakfast at the Wekopa resort, we idled away the morning, sitting in soft chairs, checking our wi-fi, and generally taking life easy and wasting time until our lunch with M's first cousin once removed.  This was something else.  Barbara had spent years of research and investigation into her genealogy, and loaded M up with five binders full of information, documents, photocopies and ancient family photos.  M was blown away, and now has a project for years to come.

After lunch we drove north into a rainstorm.  P had found that the BLM allowed dispersed camping at Pueblo de la Plata, an archeological site north of Phoenix, and that's where we planned to spend the night.  But that site is at the end of a long dirt road, and in the rain, we were not sure we could get through---or get out the next morning.  Nuts.  Time for plan B, which turned out to be a series of RV parks in the Verde Valley.  But before we could get there, the windshield wiper on the driver's side of Le Vin Blanc broke.  Now we were in sorry shape.  We pulled off at the next exit, where we bought gas, and P jury-rigged the wiper blade with a zip tie.  With that problem more or less solved, we headed to the Quail Ridge RV park, which was a dreary parking lot full of huge RVs.  Not our style.  But on the map there seemed to be a campground up in the mountains to the West of us.  Plan C quickly came into being.  By the time we arrived at Powell Springs campground, it was raining steadily, and cold enough that we were thinking it might snow.  There were only about twelve campsites, but only six of them were occupied.  We picked the best one available, set up our van, and cooked dinner in the cab, listening to the rain patter down.  All things considered, this was a nice place to be!  And by the way, it was free--no charge at all to camp there!  

Day six.  It rained pretty much all night at Powell Springs, and when we got up the next morning, we discovered that the rear overhead tail light on LVB leaks.  Sigh.  That's something we'll have to fix.  Breakfast was again in the cab in the rain, and then we tried to drive to Cherry, and old ghost town a few miles away.  But again, the dirt road was muddy in the rain, and we bailed out of that to go to Montezuma Castle, a nearby national monument.  It was stunning.  Not only were the ruins amazing, but the whole place was well-organized and a pleasure to visit.  Plus, we liked the sign warning about snakes!

From here, we drove to Montezuma Well, a remarkable pool of deep water in the desert, with its own set of ruins and a unique ecosystem as well.  It makes a great supplemental visit to the castle.  And there we learned about Tuzigoot, which is the third part of this monument, a hill-top ruin by the town of Cottonwood, a few miles away.  We couldn't resist, and visited it, too.  Not as impressive as Montezuma Castle, it was still worth a visit. 

But where to spend the night?  We were hoping to stay at Manzanita Campground, only to find that it wouldn't open for another two weeks.  Oops.  We needed a Plan B again, and we were driving by the Dead Horse Ranch State Park and campground.  As we drove up, the sign said that the campground was full...but when we asked, there were able to set us up with a campsite in the overflow campground.  And while the campground itself wasn't beautiful--not a lot of greenery in this one--the warm and clean restrooms, with free hot showers, were a real treat!  We took full advantage.  And the views of the sunset from the campground were among the most memorable of our whole trip. That is an unretouched photo, below left!   The scene was so amazing that everyone in the campground was yelling to each other to come and look, take a photo, and be amazed.

Day seven:  We wanted to do some hiking around Sedona and its famous  Red Rock hikes.  But we were also concerned that they might be very crowded.  One hike that promised fewer people was the Bear Mountain hike, so we called on Google maps to lead us to the trailhead.  And that's when the adventure started.  Because Google didn't take us to the Bear Mountain Trailhead.  It took us to an unrelated (an unidentified) trailhead a couple of miles away. That turned out to be a great thing.  Yes, we were, by some definitions, lost.  We were not where we thought we were, and as we hiked, we were continually confused by the fact that the trail didn't seem to be doing what we expected.  But it did take us to some wonderful places, and we had a really great time exploring them.  And they were beautiful.  And we were the only people in the area.  Which is absolutely our cup of tea. 

After a wonderful morning hike, we returned to the car and started to drive to Sedona. And within a couple of miles, we ran into the trailheads for most of the hikes in the area, including Bear Mountain.  They were completely packed with people, and cars were parked along the road for quite a ways in both directions.  It was a real crowd scene...and not our scene.  We found a place to park and eat lunch, and then decided to be brave, and drive into Sedona itself.  Ay ay ay! 

It was quite a drive through the crowds, traffic, and glitz of Sedona. in fact, it reminded us a lot of Lake Tahoe--a beautiful area, but so crowded with cars and traffic to lose most of its appeal to us. We drove through town, took a few photos of nearby red rock formations, bought new windshield wipers are the auto store, noted the Whole Foods and other high end markets in  town, and went back to little old Cottonwood, where our state park seemed quiet, calm, and serene.  We took a nap, M did some laundry, and to celebrate our escape we went out to dinner at Merkin Cellars, where we really enjoyed both the food and the local wine.  A treat.  And tomorrow, the Grand Canyon!

Day eight:   We got up early today so that we could have to afternoon in the Grand Canyon. Thanks to our campsite reservation, we were set up before noon, and then hiked on the Arizona Trail from the Mather campground to the Rim Trail @ South Kaibab Trailhead--a nice walk through the woods, where we saw a ton of animal tracks, including elk and bobcat.  We ate lunch at the South Kaibab Trailhead, and then hiked from there back to the visitors center and then the campground.  Each step that took us closer to the visitor center also took us into larger groups of people.  By the time we were done, we were done.  All told, we hiked about seven miles along the South Rim today, but the combination of tons of people and an overcast day. left us feeling a little disappointed. 

And to make matters worse, M had hurt her ribs a few days before, reaching over the seat of the van. so she was in a bit of pain.  And today her foot started bothering her.  Not a good omen.  hmmm.  Ah well.  We ate dinner  at our campsite with a fresh salad (greens from the market in the park) and went to sleep in the van with P's curtains in place, side and back.  That worked perfectly.  We were also watching the weather, because a storm was headed into the park, and it was supposed to bring snow, hail, sleet, and icy temperatures.  hmmm again. 

Day Nine.  We woke up to a gloomy weather report. The forecast is for snow and sleet tomorrow.  That's not good news if we want to take one of the steep trails down into the canyon.  And with M not feeling on top of the world, we decided to take it easy on her sore foot, and hike the West part of the rim Trail. But before we can leave camp, we are invaded by elk.  A herd of about 30 of them walk right through our campsite, including this mother and calf who ate the leaves off the trees as P ate his oatmeal twenty feet away.   It's a great way to start the day---and made even more amusing by the lovely Frenchman nearby who screamed in terror as he nearly walked right into an elk because he wasn't wearing his glasses on the way to the restroom. 

The western end of the Rim Trail is much, much better.  First of all. we're off early, so there are not many people about.  And in this direction, there are fewer people anyway.   The sun is breaking out between the clouds, so the lighting in the canyon is better.  And the views, to our eyes, are better anyway.  We loved this hike, even though the wind was blowing up to 40 mph. and it wasn't at all warm.  We were happy.  At Hermits Rest we bought a sandwich for lunch, and ate it sheltered from most of the wind above the canyon.  Then we took the shuttlebus back to the campground.  

Once there we hopped in LVB to visit Tusayan and Desert View, in the eastern section of the South Rim.  Both were quite cool.  Tusayan is a nice archeological site, and Desert View has...a great view of the canyon and the desert.  On our way back, we stopped at a bunch of the viewpoints along the South Rim:  Lipan, Moran, Grandview, etc.  Stunning.  This was a wonderful, if easy, day.  P particularly wanted to check out the Grandview Trail for our next visit.  It is described as very steep, rough, and challenging, but it seemed a lot like many of the steep trails in the Sierra Nevada, and we can hardly wait to get back to hike it some day.  With the wind really howling back in the campground, we watched hammocks turn into spinnakers, tents shudder and wobble, and chairs get blown over.  We decided to cook and eat in the van again, this time a menu of cheese and broccoli soup and another bowl of chili. 

Day ten.  Today we woke up to still strong winds, temperature just about freezing, and snow flurries.  This would not be a good day to hike down a steep trail down into the canyon--even if M's foot had permitted it.  And so with some regrets, we decided to start heading home.  We ate breakfast at the Yavapai lodge, took in the first showing of the movie at the Visitor Center, and then drove off to the West.  We were not sure how far we would go, and in Williams the weather was still miserable.  It was crazy driving, with big gusts of wind blowing us around, and sometimes the windshield wipers icing up with snow, but as got closer to Kingman things were getting better, and we decided to make for our old friend Red Rock State Park to camp for the night.   After a scenic tour of California City, we arrived at dinner time, set up camp, and fell asleep.

Day eleven:. Time to head home.  We began by eating our last breakfast of oatmeal and cocoa, and then took a nice hike up on the cliffs above the campground.  After stopping in the park visitor center to pick up a couple of books on the area, we set course for home: Tehachapi, Bakersfield, Livermore, and Napa...

in all, we drove about 2000 miles on this trip.  We hiked about 45 miles worth of day hikes.  We loved them all.  And we have a long list of hikes we want to take the next time we're in this area. 

Day 26:  Got up and visited the ruins of the fort, which were interesting, and then stepped into the museum at 8 a.m. to check it out.  But from there, our thoughts were on getting home.  We drove right through Reno and Tahoe, and drove into the shade in front of our house in Napa just a few minutes after noon.  Hot showers.  A fridge soon to be full of food.  Heaven.

The rest of these photos are here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/75xHp13okhBHraR88