Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lone Rock Beach, Lake Powell, UT/Mesa Verde National Park, CO/Petroglyph National Monument, NM

We bid farewell to Grand Canyon at the crack of dawn on Monday, October 16, wanting to vacate our RV site for our winter season counterparts who were scheduled to arrive later in the morning.  We learned soon afterwards that there was no need to rush—the couple was no longer coming to work for GCA.  But leaving early gave us an opportunity to watch one last emergence of the sun over the Canyon, its illumination enhancing the Fall colors.

We stopped at Page for a few groceries.   We’ve had a hankering for Blue Bell (a TX company) ice cream for the last 6 months.  However, with no ability to transport it back to our RV before it melted, our cravings went unsatisfied.  Now with the RV parked just outside the store door, we were able to indulge!

We crossed Glen Canyon Dam Bridge and arrived at Lone Rock Beach Park, Lake Powell, Utah, around lunchtime.  We were hoping to get here as a side trip during our tenure at Grand Canyon.  But too many things to do/places to see and too few weekends during which to accomplish them prohibited us from fulfilling our wishes.  The Park is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, so our Annual National Park Pass covered the $15 entrance fee.  The camping fee is $14 a night, and there are no hookups.  The Beach was packed, particularly for a Monday and after check-out time.  There was no spot right along the waterfront that could accommodate our size (without encroachment) or weight (Lord knows we didn’t want to get stuck in the sand), so we opted instead to park a little ways back.  We quickly set up and began to unwind.  Nothing like chillin’ and grillin’ while taking in some spectacular views.   And for the first time in months on end, we relaxed around a campfire.

Our latest backyard view!

The next day we rose early to walk the beach and witness the rising sun.  Later we pulled out the inflatable canoe and rowed out towards the Park’s namesake, the formation known as “Lone Rock”.  I was amazed at how huge it really is!  And you can see marks on the rock denoting how high the water levels can get.  It is a shame you can see the stacks from Navajo Generating Station from here. Ironically, the station is slated to close down by 2019, leaving an eyesore behind to detract from the serenity of the setting.  We spent the remainder of the day reading, savoring the bright sunshine and higher temperatures, and readying for our departure.

After a fitful sleep and hearty chicken, broccoli, and cheese (of course!) omelets for breakfast, we were on our way. With  careful route consideration and Dad’s expert driving, we departed the sandy beach area without incident and began out trek to Mesa Verde National Park.  While Mom took over the wheel, Dad researched some BLM lands outside the park off CR34 where we could boondock. And after speaking personally with a representative at BLM, he determined the campsites were able to accommodate a setup of our size. What the BLM representative failed to tell Dad, however, is the poor condition of the road to access the campsites!  Fortunately, we learned this beforehand because Dad walked the road to assess the situation while Mom and I stayed parked on the main drag.  Time for Plan B:  stay at the campground right inside Mesa Verde National Park.  The campground claimed to have no full hook up sites available.  Since we were going to boondock anyway, we were fine with taking a dry camping spot.   But because we arrived within its last two nights of operation, the campground had already shut down some of the sites, namely those that could best accommodate us.  Once again, Dad performed a miracle, squeezing us into a tight spot, avoiding hitting obstacles like a grill, trees, and tire barriers, and getting far enough off the roadway.  Mom, the family financial guru, was perturbed at the cost of $30/night for dry camping in an inadequately-sized site, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Mesa Verde (which means “green table” in Spanish) hosts only 650,000 guests annually, approximately 1/10th the number of visitors that enter Grand Canyon.  So the lack of crowds was pure bliss for us!  Although open all year, some of the ancient Puebloan dwellings were closed down recently for repairs/safety concerns.    Some of the roads had length/weight restrictions (like the one that prohibited us from visiting Long House), and some of the access roads get closed down in the winter months.  Tickets are required for Ranger-led tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House for $10 per person per House (this is in addition to the $15-$20 Park entrance fee that fluctuates based on season if you don’t have a National Park Annual/Senior Pass).  The Park is humongous!  In fact, from the Visitor Center to any of these Houses requires a one hour drive or longer!

Our goal is always to see as much as possible during a visit.  So in order to visit all of the smaller, auxiliary archaeological sites and lookout points, we opted for the one hour Balcony House Tour, and we purchased our tickets for the next day at 11:00, the “first available” time slot (so even if Big Boomer were permitted on the road, time would preclude us from also taking the Long House tour).

We perused the exhibits at the Visitor Center and stopped in the gift shop run by the Mesa Verde Museum Association (MVMA).  Like Grand Canyon Association (GCA), MVMA is the local fundraising partner of the National Park Service.  It was enlightening for my folks to speak to their counterparts and to learn more about job opportunities at Mesa Verde for the future!

We returned to the campground for a cookout, then hiked Knife Edge Trail to witness sunset and explore nature.  Although past peak season, the trees, bushes, and plants still sported leaves of glistening gold, burgundy, and chestnut brown.  We sat quietly a few minutes as three little mule deer lasses grazed nearby.  I went to bed praising God for the beauty surrounding me.

Two of the three little lasses grazing alongside the trail

I sounded Reveille to get my folks up and out the door early the next morning.  Our tour was scheduled for 11 a.m., but I had big plans for us beforehand.  First stop was Park Point.  At 8,572 feet, it is the highest spot within Mesa Verde National Park and a great place to enjoy another day dawning.

Never ones to miss a meal or coffee infusion, Dad and I grabbed some grub at Far View Terrace Café, a very retro cafeteria (think 1950s modern) before viewing Far View Complex, archaeological site containing several mesa top villages and a reservoir.

To think this captured water for the villages hundreds of years ago!

We continued to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.  We watched the film (a “must do” for Mom), we viewed the exhibits, and I completed my Junior Ranger Program Activity Book, earning myself a Mesa Verde Badge!  Wish I knew about the Junior Ranger Program years ago—I would have amassed quite a collection of badges by now.  For those of you traveling with children to a National Park, seek out the Junior Ranger Activity Book.  It is complimentary (or in rare instances available at a nominal cost), and offers children of all ages a fun-filled way to learn about each Park, stresses the importance of conservation, and encourages personal stewardship.

Yours truly donning my latest and greatest Junior Ranger Badge!

Time for our tour of Balcony House!   Our young, personable, and exuberant Ranger shared his love, knowledge, and awe of this thirteenth century archaeological wonder.  His program was engaging and informative, and worthy of a Rambling RV Rat 5-cheese rating!

With Balcony House’s 40 rooms, including several ceremonial kivas, the sense of community exhibited by the ancestors of the Hopi and Pueblo Indians is profound.  I was fascinated by how industrious and ingenious these folks were, but saddened that the hardships they endured took a toll—the average lifespan was 33 years old, and about half of all children died by age 5.    

The tour included climbing two ladders of 15 feet or higher and crawling through a window-sized enclosure.  Mom sure has come a long way in overcoming her fear of heights!  And none of us got stuck in the tunnel!

Mom has graduated from fearful of heights to fearless, having climbed not one, but two of these suckers!

If Mom could fit her big butt through here, I could fit my big head!

Oh, and we saw our first tarantula ever!  I learned that female tarantulas are bigger in size than males.  Females seek out a mate, but once they copulate, the female eats the male!  Sure glad my species doesn’t do that!

After the tour, we viewed Cliff Palace from afar (since it was not open for tours), then picnicked in a shaded grove as we fended off birds trying to share our lunch!

We then traversed along Mesa Top Loop Drive to view the Park’s full scope of architecture.  Spanning 700 years, we saw examples of early pithouses that were built underground, to more sophisticated above-ground pueblos.  It is fascinating that more people lived in Mesa Verde 700 years ago than live now within Mancos, Cortez, and the surrounding area combined!

Hard to believe it was 3 p.m. when Mom suggested we do some hiking. “How about Petroglyph Point Loop Trail?”, she asked.  Though reviews on-line classified it as moderate with some rock scrambling required, The Park literature described this hike as strenuous.  We didn’t mention this to Mom—she would find out soon enough.  There are, in fact, numerous rocks to scramble.   Agility is required, particularly right past the Petroglyph Wall, when you have a steep, rocky ascent along the edge of the Canyon to the mesa top. The hike was well worth the effort since there are some gorgeous views and numerous well-preserved petroglyphs to observe.  But be careful when you try to view these petroglyphs from the Trail.  If you lean backwards too far, you can trip and fall right into the Canyon!  Fortunately, we did the more difficult part of the hike’s “loop” first.  Once we reached the mesa after the Petroglyph Wall, the trek was level, less rocky, and easy to complete.  I find Mom’s unconventional hiking techniques quite comical to watch.  But she gets the job done, and we completed the 2.4 miles within 1.75 hours.

Tough for all of us to squeeze through this narrow area!

I awoke the next morning to a bright, sunshiny day.  Through the RV screen door, I watched a blue bird fly overhead and a little field mouse scurry among the leaves, both seeking a hearty morning meal.  Suddenly the bird dive bombed and snatched the mouse!  I counted my blessings that I was indoors and would not become some other creature’s breakfast buffet.  I pondered nature’s food chain and marveled at the cycle of life.

Originally, our itinerary included Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness (within San Juan County) in New Mexico as our next point of interest.  We heard from friends Kathy and Allen this was a pretty cool place.  Desolate, with weird rock formations of unusual color, this badlands is the setting for many science fiction movies.  As we crossed into New Mexico, we were welcomed with a burst of fall colors—and, unfortunately, rain.  We needed to turn left onto a Navajo Nation Tribal road in order to gain access to the Wilderness.  But upon approach, we note the road is unpaved, poorly maintained, contains large divots, and is accumulating rain puddles.  A sign says, “Road may become impassable during inclement weather”.  That’s when we all said in unison “fuhgeddaboudit!”  It just isn’t worth the risk of getting stuck.

Time to tweak our plans.  We opted to skip Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness as well as Roswell, New Mexico after reading what tourist attractions/camping options are available there.  Instead, we headed to Albuquerque to visit Petroglyph National Monument.   It seemed we drove endlessly through barren, uninhabited lands.  Finally, we hit Albuquerque and were back in civilization, arriving at the Visitor Center around 3:15 p.m.  Fortunately, provided plenty of time to view the petroglyphs along all three short trails within Boca Negra Canyon (the most developed, easily accessible of the three Canyons within the Monument) before the gate closes at 5 p.m.  Since Boca Negra Canyon is managed by the City of Albuquerque, there is a nominal parking fee ($1/weekdays; $2/weekends).  It is best to have exact change since the booth may be unmanned (as was the case when we arrived) and honor system envelopes are used.

Once inside the gate, you can drive the loop from one trailhead to another and park in a lot near each trail.  This was not an option for us since we were towing the 5th wheel.  So we parked in the RV lot and walked the loop.

Tabby not happy with the long drive to Albuquerque

The 17 miles of escarpment in the Canyons within this National Monument are the product of six volcanic eruptions that occurred more than 200,000 years ago.  There are more than 100 petroglyphs at Boca Negra Canyon, but they represent only 5% of all the petroglyphs contained within the National Monument.  Still, it was cool to glimpse how people communicated approximately 3,000 years ago. I found it a little disheartening that housing developments are sneaking up on these treasured lands, which are considered sacred to modern day Puebloan descendants.

You can see how close the housing development is to Boca Canyon petroglyphs (rocks on bottom left of photo).

What my petroglyph would look like!

We finished up the loop trail just a few minutes before the gates closed, and we headed to Wal-mart, 2550 Coors Boulevard NW, our “campground” for the evening.  Mom asked Dad if he phoned the store to inquire about overnight parking.  No worries, Dad says.  He checked his Wal-mart app, among other sites.  Someone posted that they stayed here just 2 weeks ago.  We set everything up and started to scout out places to eat.  There were lots to restaurant choices in the area, too!  But Mom, the persistent, pesky nag she is, finally persuaded Dad to inquire within the store about overnight parking before we went to dinner.  I don’t have to tell you where this is going, do I?   Apparently, a new store manager arrived on the scene just last week, changing the store policy:  no overnighting allowed any longer.  There’s another Wal-mart at 3500 Coors Boulevard SW, near Unser Boulevard.  Mom phoned to verify that they allow overnight RV parking.  Pull the slides back in, secure the fridge doors, load Tabby and the fish back in the truck, arrive, and do the reverse to set everything up for the second time.  Now we were famished!  And the only option (other than fast food which we don't eat) was a place called Dion’s, which offers only salads, pizza, and subs.  My expectations were low.  What could they know about pizza in Albuquerque? We were pleasantly surprised!  Hand tossed, nice thickness, plenty of cheese.  Of course, the extent of our hunger may contribute to this review.  But it was better than any pizza we had during the entire time we were in Grand Canyon!  We returned to Wal-mart and settled in for the evening.

This post is getting a bit long winded, so I’ll say goodbye for now.  Speak to you again soon to tell you of some more of our adventures as we trek "home".

We would like to thank some amazing organizations for all they do for the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club

Escapees RV Club

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A Final Evaluation of our Gig at Grand Canyon Association at the South Rim—A Grand Experience!

Well, hard to believe, but my parents’ gig with the Grand Canyon Association has come to a close!  I had the pleasure of joining them on their last day.  And a busy day it was, too!   We were told things slowed down a bit after Labor Day, but we hadn’t seen any evidence of that.  In fact, other than a few weeks after Independence Day into August, visitors just continued to pour in daily!  Dealing with so many guests (6 million annually, with more than half of these representing international travelers) in the two busiest retail stores within the second most visited National Park takes patience and fortitude (think Mother Teresa), a keen sense of humor, and, most importantly, good teamwork.  My parents may have missed the mark a few times on the first two requirements, but they surely hit the jackpot on having one terrific bunch of co-workers and managers!  I know I enjoyed my time with them!  

Furthermore, after folding the same t-shirt a dozen times within a 5-minute interval, cleaning up people's spills and broken ornaments, and dealing with some very misbehaved children (what would Santa say!!!), we all agreed we have a deeper respect for and understanding of cashiers and retail workers everywhere!

A small sampling of our wonderful work associates!

Me helping Dad ask a customer to become a GCA Supporter!  Nailed it--who could resist me AND "Norman" the long-horned sheep as a "thank you" gift.

Never can say good-bye!!!!

Having some fun with co-workers outside of the "office"!

Mom, who acts as our family's bean counter/investment guru/budgetary adviser, found our GCA gig financially rewarding.   The job paid $10+ per hour.  We received a full hook-up RV site for a nominal charge of $50/month, and ours was well-sized and secluded.  We were responsible for the costs of electric and propane.  But even with running the air conditioner enough to make the RV a meat locker, and with all the cooking Mom did, our monthly costs for electricity/propane were $150 or less.  Additionally, we met Mom’s goal of earning 1/3 of our annual budget at this job.  As a result, we will not work the rest of the year, and instead will be recreating until our soon to-be-determined Spring 2018 gig!

Most importantly, we had the unique opportunity to truly “experience” one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World each and every day, from an early Spring snowstorm to radiant sunrises and glorious sunsets; from monsoon lightning storms to colorful rainbows (they looked like those on the Lucky Charms Cereal Box sans the leprechaun and pot of gold)!  

We witnessed Mama elk cows teaching their newly-born calves the facts of life while masculine bulls and their racks with many points emerged for rut season.  We watched the mule deer, squirrels, ravens, chipmunks, rabbits, even a California Condor, go about their daily lives throughout the seasons.

We glimpsed a big horn sheep, mountain lion, and javelina, and captured terrific photos (at least for a stuffed rat with no fingers) of the rare Grand Canyon Rattle Snake and Collared Lizard.

We heard the stereophonic bone-chilling howls of coyotes, and observed the Milky Way, constellations, and planets in the natural night skies.  We marveled at the flora and foliage that flourish in this desert climate.

We accomplished a “bucket-list” wish of hiking down to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River, thanks to the GCA Field Institute offering a great backpacking trip and the fantastic guiding of Kory and Marin.

And we shared our knowledge of the area with several friends who visited us from back East!

Me and Dad with our Biker Bros--I call us the 4 Mousekateers!

Though they kept in contact through the years via phone calls/emails/texts, Mom hasn't seen these folks in nearly a decade!  What a treat to share the Canyon with them!

My parents are conscientious and hardworking, but ALWAYS take time for fun.  Hence, we visited lots of wondrous places in the surrounding areas, too (check out my prior blog posts for detailed accounts of these experiences)!  We optimized our days off and maximized our time for fun.  For example, we limited our trips to Flagstaff for food shopping.  Having an 18 cubic foot residential fridge in our rig PLUS a chest freezer that we filled to the gills helped tremendously in this endeavor.  Additionally, we used and for non-perishable food/household items. For as much touring as we did accomplish, however, there was so much more we wanted to do and see, all within a 2-3 hour radius.

Needless to say, we had a grand time here working for the Grand Canyon Association, earning the experience a coveted 5-cheese rating from this Rambling RV Rat!

We would like to thank some amazing organizations for all they do for the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club

Escapees RV Club

rvillage logo

Image result for rv-dreams