Fruita with Friends and Family

Fruita with Friends and Family

We organized a group trip to Fruita to bring together people from Cranbrook and those who used to live in Cranbrook. We also invited our kids. So there were eleven people in our group campsite at James M. Robb Colorado River State Park (Fruita Section). Wendy, Doug, Melissa and Andrew, Sarah; Gretchen and Bob; Melissa and Dave; Janice and Jamie.

Melissa, Andrew and Sarah from the coast came a day early, so we headed off to an easy hike in the Colorado National Monument to introduce them to the southwest landscape. They were like kids in a candy store; excited about every turn in the trail.

Kid's-playing

After exploring Devil’s Kitchen, we wandered up No Thoroughfare Canyon. Last year when we were here, we saw Collared Lizards so we hoped we could replicate the experience. We stopped for lunch just as we reached the water. (Just after the first photo below). Sarah wandered off to get a better photo of a flower and noticed a small collared lizard. We all came to look. It must have been the “Time Lizards Come Out to Sun Themselves,” because we saw another and another. The second photo below is just the best one of dozens.

Then we drove up Rimrock Drive through the Monument and stopped at most of the lookouts. Here’s a photo of Andrew at the “Cold Shivers Lookout”. Wendy actually had  shivers standing beside the fence overlooking the view, while Andrew seemed quite comfortable perched on a toadstool a long ways outside the barrier.

Andrew_Shivers

The next day, all eleven group-members headed out to the bike trails at Road 18. The trails are perched on the slopes below the Book Cliffs. There was a single up-track leading to multiple flowing descents. The first photo is Melissa with Gretchen following. The next one is of Doug on “PBR.”

The next day was a hike to Rattlesnake Canyon, part of the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. We had read that it was the second highest concentration of arches outside of Arches National Park. But the steep, rough approach was definitely not a National Parks standard road. After driving a little less than two hours, we were ready to start hiking. As we descended the trail, we could see across the river to the highway and to the bike trails that we were planning to ride the next day, which seemed weird because of our long approach. When we turned the corner into the canyon proper, it seemed that there were arches around every bend.

Because there were so many photographers in the group, the Hogg family thought it would be good to get a group picture. When we saw the unique cliff indentations, we thought it was a perfect spot for a photo shoot. Below is one of the images of “Hoggs in Holes” and a picture of the photographers.

We got to the end of the trail after two and a half hours of leisurely walking and viewed “First Arch.” Here is where the standard trail ended. The route up the sandstone and under the arch looked inviting to some of the party. Maybe for another time. We were back at the trucks after the climb up in about two hours. The younger members of the group took the side trip on the way back to look at “First Arch” from above.

First-Arch

The next day was a biking day for all the Hoggs and Andrew and Gretchen. We went to the Kokapelli Loop trails, just a few miles down the highway from our campsite. We all enjoyed the warm-up loop called “Rustler’s.” Here’s a photo of Doug on one of the smooth sections and a photo of Sarah, Melissa, and Andrew at a river overlook on the trail.

Everyone was feeling good, so we headed out for more. Wendy had seen the Horsethief Bench the year before and wanted to give it a go. The parts of the trail you could see from above looked nice, and they were. There were other sections that were more difficult, starting with the descent down to the bench. It was definitely a “hike-a-bike” section. You can see Andrew carrying Wendy’s bike and Sarah carrying Gretchen’s in the photo below. How Wendy and Gretchen got their bikes up when the kids went on ahead is another story, best told in person.

Route-to-Horsethief

Here is Sarah showing us good mountain bike technique on a slickrock feature and also on the trail.

Here’s Wendy on one of the enjoyable sections through a wash.

Wendy-in-wash

On the final day, one group started at the bottom of the Monument trail, the other at the top. They met for lunch part way along, then each group drove the other vehicle home to camp. The “feature” photo of the blog (you need to go to the website to see it) is the view the “up” group saw as they made the 1000-foot ascent.

Fruita is a great town (pop. 12,600) that embraces the mountain biking and outdoor community. A lot of their downtown art has a biking theme. Here are Andrew, Melissa and Sarah on a huge old-fashioned bicycle. I’m sure we’ll be back.

Downtown-Fruita.gif

Monument Valley and area

Monument Valley and area

Monument Valley straddles the Arizona/Utah border and was intriguing to us. We had seen the impressive buttes and mesas from a distance and were interested in seeing them up close. We booked a space in Goulding’s RV park. The Gouldings established a trading post in the area in the 1920s and were instrumental in introducing the world to the spectacular scenery that was used as a backdrop to numerous Hollywood movies beginning with the John Wayne westerns.

The campsite is surrounded by redrock. They even have their own “Hidden Arch” that we hiked to the day we arrived. Look closely for our Arctic Fox in the second image.

To see the rest of Monument Valley, one needs to pay a fee to enter the Navaho Tribal Park. Most people drive the seventeen-mile rough road to various scenic outlooks or join a guided tour. We chose to do a two-hour hike first, then drive.

The hike was around the West Mitten, a butte that is shaped like a hand. When you get around to the other side of the butte, you have a view that isn’t seen by most people. It was an easy and enjoyable hike.

Here’s a view from one of the scenic overlooks on the drive.

Valley_view

The next day, we drove north about twenty minutes to Goosenecks State Park, a spot we had camped at on our first trip to Utah. We continue to be awed by the magnificent view of the San Juan River far below. While we were there, a group of canoeists floated by.

Goosenecks_pano

Just minutes north of the state park, is the Valley of the Gods, a kind of “mini” Monument Valley. The buttes in this area are formed from an older geologic layer than their larger cousins, but are just as interesting. They have names such as “Laying Hen” and “The Lady in the Bathtub” but a person could see other shapes as well. We went for a short walk and had our lunch.

VOG_scenic

It was still early in the day, so we checked our GPS and realized that in about half an hour we could be at the trailhead for a hike to a petroglyph panel that we’d always wanted to see. Luckily, we had a guidebook and hiking boots in the truck. With Wendy’s binocular case repurposed as a water bottle carrier, we were set. The hike to the panel was uneventful, or so Wendy thought, until she was preparing the blog post and Doug showed her the photo of the “Midget Faded Rattlesnake” that scampered across the trail in front of him, just below the petroglyphs.

Here are some images of the “Wolfman Panel.” If you look closely, you can see the depth of the carvings. It’s hard to imagine how the highest petroglyphs were made. Researchers figure these were created about a thousand years ago, but no-one really knows what they mean.

If you are following us in real time, you can tell that are posts are delayed a week or so. Perhaps we’ll catch up before we get home.

Return to Zion

Return to Zion

Doug came to the Zion National Park area with a tick list of rides and a hike that he wished he could do when we were here last year, but his knee wouldn’t let him.

First up, was riding the JEM trail. If you were following our blog last year, that’s the trail that Wendy rode and Doug followed in the truck on nearby roads. The day we chose to ride, started off with a few rain sprinkles, so we waited until any sign of precipitation passed and the trails were dry. It’s not that we’re afraid of getting wet, it’s just that a bike can ruin the muddy trails and the clay trail surface turns to mud with just a bit of rain. So after lunch, we headed out to the trailhead, a short drive from the RV park. Dozens of runners were coming up the road as we neared the parking spot. They looked like they had been running a long time. Turns out, some of them were in a 100 km race that had started the day before. Others were doing marathons or half marathons. And part of their race was on the same trail that we planned to ride up. Doug was pretty committed to this ride, so we hoped that they wouldn’t be running our whole route and started up the trail. In the first half hour, we didn’t ride for more than a few minutes before stopping to let the runners past. The trail at this point was narrow along the edge of a canyon. Luckily, the race route varied from our chosen track and we had an enjoyable hour of riding gradually upwards with some nice loopy bits before heading down. We only encountered a few runners on our way down and we were able to pass them easily.

WendyJEM

Next was a longer hike in Zion National Park: to Observation Point. It’s eight miles return and 2000 feet elevation gain. It starts off going steadily up and up and up with a little bit of gradual up, followed by more up and up. There’s a mile or so of almost flat walking once you reach the elevation of the point. It took us about two hours to reach our early lunch spot at Observation Point. There are great views all the way down the canyon (which might be obvious from its name). And then the down… and down… and down, which seemed to our old joints to be harder than the up. But it was well worth it. We started out early enough to have lots of room to ourselves on the way up in the shade and had a silent chuckle at the crowds climbing up in the full sun.

After those two days, we needed a rest day, so decided to stroll the Riverside Walk and look for birds. It was a chilly morning; Wendy had on five layers and a hat and gloves. The birding was slow; we saw a very loud house wren at the start of the trail, a few American Dippers along the water’s edge and some American Robins. We walked the entire trail to the end of the pavement to where, in lower water, people could continue up the canyon, mostly walking in the water.

We felt like we’d seen everything there was to see and were heading back when Wendy heard a small chirp and looking up, saw a flash of red. Could it be a Painted Redstart? We had heard that they had been seen on this path a couple of times this year, but they’re pretty rare. The mainly black bird with a bright red belly stopped long enough for us make a positive ID and take a few photos before it disappeared. A few minutes later, three Painted Redstarts were flitting and chasing each other before one perched even closer this time. And then they were gone. While we were watching them we stood off the trail and dozens of people walked by us. No one seemed to care what we were looking at or how lucky we were to have seen these beautiful (and pretty rare) birds.

Redstart

Now we headed back thinking about where we might have lunch, when another call stopped us and made us look across the river. Oh a Black Phoebe! (A bird that we didn’t know existed until we saw it last week in Nevada) We enjoyed another few minutes of viewing and picture taking before it flew away. Now are birding excursion was truly complete.

The last thing on Doug’s list was to ride at Gooseberry Mesa, a mesa we could see from the RV park. To get there, we drove through Hurricane, up the road past the top of the JEM trails and into the Apple Valley, then up a dirt road to the mesa.

We rode along slick rock as well as dirt roads to get to the point, then came along the north rim for the return journey. Wendy is looking towards our RV site with Zion National Park in the distance.

GooseberryPano

 

Hiking, Birding and Biking in Nevada

Hiking, Birding and Biking in Nevada

We came to the southeast corner of Nevada with plans to visit the Valley of Fire State Park. Friends had recommended that it was a “must see.” Doug found an RV park within 20 minutes of the VoF at Echo Bay on Lake Mead. Echo Bay has seen better days. Lake Mead is currently about 140 feet below full pool, which makes the RV park and any amenities a long, long way from the water. The marina closed in 2013. There’s a boat launch, but it isn’t busy. The Echo Bay RV park worked out well for us, because the sites were huge and most were vacant. We could even do some birding from our chairs.

The Valley of Fire State Park was beautiful, with lots of red rock canyons with some white rocks for variety. The park focuses on the typical tourist from Las Vegas with lots of short hikes from different parking lots. (Las Vegas is only an hour away.) The crowds really thinned if you got more than 20 minutes from the vehicle, so we had some space to ourselves. We basically covered every hike and viewpoint in the two days that we visited.

They call the feature on the left, The Fire Wave. It was about a half hour hike from the parking lot. We went a bit past the official trail to find the arch in the photo on the right. Doug did a short bit of scrambling to stand under it.

The prickly pear cactus were in full bloom, and Doug had a hard time walking past one without taking a picture. He took dozens photos.

We also encountered a new lizard for us: a chuckwalla. These interesting creatures have a unique defense mechanism. They crawl into a crack and inflate their bellies so they can’t be extracted. Here are photos of two that we saw; the bigger one was about 40 cm long and the smaller one was about 20 cm.

We were pleasantly surprised by the birding in the area. Some birders that we met when we were in St. George told us about a unique bird viewing preserve in Henderson, NV about an hour drive from our RV park. Henderson uses reclaimed water for irrigation as well as for the nine ponds in the bird viewing preserve. People come from all over the world to see the huge variety of birds that are often at the preserve. We saw 32 species that day, ten new birds for me, including a Costa Hummingbird that was sitting on her nest in the tree just outside the front door. They had a scope set up so anyone could have a peep.

Here are some shots of shorebirds that we saw in one of the ponds. The Black necked stilt has red legs and the other one with the yellow legs is a Lesser Yellowlegs.

On another day, we went about a half hour north to the Overton Wildlife Management Area. This area is for bird viewing as well as hunting. During hunting season, the days alternate between hunting and viewing. When we were there, it was wild turkey season, so some of the fields were closed to us. We did see a couple of wild turkeys that wandered outside of the main hunting fields. They looked funny with just their heads bobbing above the lush green of the irrigated field. So the birds here were pretty flighty. We had to sneak up on the Great Egrets and Doug was able to catch one flying away with his camera. We saw 25 species that day, including a Lucy’s warbler that happened to be at the edge of the picnic area during our lunch break.

GreatEgret

Echo Bay is also within an hour of the Hoover Dam. Another pleasant surprise was that there was a Historical Railroad trail that you could walk or ride from Boulder to the Hoover Dam. So, one day we rode our bikes through the five tunnels. It was about 11 km return on a hard packed crush surface. When we got to the dam area, we locked our bikes and walked with the tourist hordes up to and over to connector bridge to take the requisite photo overlooking the dam. It was an easy and fun way to see the dam and also to get great views of Lake Mead.

We’re now half way through our week in the Zion National Park area. We’ve been so busy that our posts are delayed… but we’re on vacation. Next post will be whenever we can slow down long enough to put it together!

South to St. George, Utah

South to St. George, Utah

Snow in the forecast for Ruby Mountains, our planned destination. Sun for St. George so it was a no brainer – go south. We still had a couple of days with rain and a couple of days that had wind, but it was much better weather than the rest of Utah.

Doug made a booking at an RV park right in St. George. They didn’t have room for us in the regular park so we agreed to go in their “storage” area for two nights, with electric and water hook-ups. Tali wasn’t so thrilled with the gravel surface, especially since there were no other dog smells. The good point was that our neighbours were very quiet. (They were empty units.) The whole park looked a lot better on the internet than in real life, so we cancelled the rest of our booking and looked for a better place.

Here’s a photo of Wendy taken from Pioneer Park, on a ridge full of sandstone bluffs, perfect for kids to scramble on. In the background is downtown St. George, with our first RV park somewhere in the distance.

Pioneer-Park_Wendy

We relocated to the KOA, about a half hour east of St. George, which turned out to be a perfect location for us – right across from Red Rocks Recreation Area (hiking and biking) and a few minutes from Quail Creek State Park (birding).

We hiked in Snow Canyon State Park on three different days. The first day was unsettled, but we got in a short walk to some lava tubes before it rained.

We chose to explore the White Rocks area on another day. We hiked about half an hour to a natural amphitheatre. It was so windy we were almost blown off our feet. Doug noticed a canyon that looked like we could follow down to another trail. It was mostly walking, with a bit of scrambling, and it was out of the wind. Although the route wasn’t well travelled we could tell that others had used it.

Here is a photo after we got out of the canyon. You can see the “V” to the right of Doug.

Doug_pano

We had perfect weather on the third day at Snow Canyon. The park is set up for people to take short loop hikes from different parking areas. We connected short trails to make a longer loop to make it a three and a half hour hike. The photo on the right shows Doug on the “Petrified Dunes” section.

We scrambled up an overlook for a quiet lunch in the shade. From there we could see our descent route and the trail back to the truck.

Wendy-ledge

Doug was really happy to be able to get back on his bike in the outdoors. Our first warm-up rides were on the beautiful paved trails in St. George. Riding on trails came back to him easily. We also rode the trails in the Red Rocks Recreation area that were really close to our second campsite. The trailhead to the White Rim trail (photo below) was five minutes from our trailer.

Doug’s longest ride was the Church Rocks loop and back to the trailer for a 18 km trip. We loaded his bike in the truck for a different access to the Red Rock Recreation trails. Wendy drove the truck back to camp and did some birding on the way back.

Bike_Church-Rocks

We’ve now set up our base camp at Echo Bay, Lake Mead, Nevada for our next birding, hiking and biking adventures.