Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Regrouping and Relaxing at Lake Gelatt - Laramie, Wyoming

After the debacle with our jobs with an employer in Grand Teton National Park (see my post of May 3, 2018 What About an Employers Obligations? ), we wanted desperately to relax and regroup within Wyoming.  And we found the perfect boondocking place to facilitate it--Lake Gelatt.

Lake Gelatt is the smallest of several plains lakes outside of Laramie, Wyoming, where free camping/boondocking is allowed for 5 nights.  While Twin Buttes Reservoir, Lake Hattie, and Lake Meeboer are also viable options offering scenic views of the Snowy Range, we found Lake Gelatt served our needs best, with easy access in and out.  It has limited camping areas, but it has one site that accommodates a big rig setup like ours perfectly.  It was quiet, serene, and virtually unpopulated during our stay.  Lake Gelatt is within 2 miles of Twin Buttes, so we often hiked over there to watch the wildlife in the nearby ranges and fields—water fowl (including some pelicans), cows, donkeys, horses, pronghorn deer, and prairie dogs.

The appropriately-named Snowy Range

We did notice that the Twin Buttes’ Reservoir entry road is like a washboard, and the pull off waterfront camping sites tended to be either too soft, rocky, or pot-holed for our liking.  Lake Hattie is lovely and encompasses a huge area.  The roads leading in are all in decent shape (at least they were during our stay), and there are camping areas adequately sized for big rigs.  It is a very popular area among campers and fisherman alike (in other words, too many people for us--we enjoy solitude).

We drove through Laramie, which is a typical mid-West city with a small town feel.  It has a splatter of box stores, fitness centers, and fast-food joints to accommodate the students of the University of Wyoming.  The historic downtown area is cool with its building murals, western motifs, and a huge assortment of pubs and bars to entertain adults of all ages.

One of the wall murals in historic downtown Laramie

We visited the Wyoming Territorial Prison, known for being the Big House where the notorious Butch Cassidy served his sentence.  It is one of only three federal territorial penitentiaries still in existence and the one with the most original structures preserved.  The grounds also include the Warden's House, an Old West town, and St. Mary's of the Plains Chapel. The Wyoming Territorial Prison is a real hidden gem! The $5/person admission is well worth it.  Even better for us RVers, the Prison has a dump station and potable water (turned on/off seasonally) for a user fee of only $10.  We were lucky since they had just turned the water on the day before we arrived.

The Notorious Butch Cassidy, the Robin Hood of the West

The Warden's House

Yours truly testing out the prison accommodations.  Does this outfit make me look fat?

St. Mary's of the Plains Chapel

We enjoyed our time at Lake Gelatt immensely.  It was a perfect antidote to taking away that bad taste left in our mouths from the Grand Tetons.

We hit the road, heading to South Dakota for our replacement new jobs working within Black Hills National Forest.  I thought I’d mention just how my folks were able to land new employment so quickly.  We are Gold Members of Workamper News, and Mom reads the email job alerts daily.  Furthermore, when the printed magazine is available, Mom reviews it.  We also subscribe to free job listings like Workers on Wheels,, Escapees job board, etc.  From all these sources, Mom compiles (and updates weekly) a list of jobs that peak her interest for future use.   So all she did to find another job was refer to her listing.  Like I’ve said many times before, she is very proactive and always has a Plan B (and sometimes, C!).

We worked within the Black Hills in 2015 and loved the area.  We usually workcamp in a different place each year (there is no much new to see and do).  But we have friends working in the area and others who live within the Hills, so we figured we would make an exception and return to Paha Sapa, as the Lakota Indians call the area.

We could not enter the Forest until May 10, so we broke our 7 hour commute from Laramie into two driving days.  We  spent the night outside of Hot Springs, SD at Cottonwood Springs Recreation Area, which has boondocking sites available for $10/night.  Unfortunately, we arrived to find the camping area still “closed for the season”.  We parked outside the gate for the day use area that is open all year, which must have been acceptable since the Sheriff did not approach/reprimand us as he drove by.

We arrived at gorgeous Pactola Lake Campground within the Black Hills National Forest, our home for the next four months.  It offers boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking, hiking, and we have even seen some folks snorkeling.  The Lake was created through the damming of Rapid Creek in 1952, and provides the drinking water for the Rapid City metropolitan area. 

Speaking of drinking water, there’s always lots of discussion about RV traveling with a full water tank.  Many folks say it is too much added weight. However, we take the approach of planning for worst case scenario.  Therefore, we always fill our water tank before hitting the road. After we filled up in Laramie, we used our tank water to shower/wash dishes/brush teeth/flush toilets during our two-day commute to the Black Hills, and when we arrived at the campground we found the water would not be available for use for two days!  Good thing we are preppers and traveled with our 110-gallon freshwater tank full! 

Dad got the “toys” unloaded and assembled, and he set up our “backyard” while Mom (who is a bit OCD) did yet another MAJOR cleaning, including washing windows, polishing furniture, cleaning out cupboards, reorganizing the fridge/freezer, hanging pictures, and putting up ceramics, etc.  We no sooner got settled than the rains started—and continued steadily for a full week!  Such is Spring weather in the Black Hills.  

It was during Mom’s most recent cleaning frenzy that we discovered we picked up a hitchhiker.  Yep, Milton the Mouse was in the house!  He must have come on board quite recently, since Mom detected no droppings during her cleaning blitz of every nook and cranny when we arrived in Wyoming and now again in South Dakota.   Mom took her usual stance during an altercation with any undesirable creature or insect—she screamed and jumped on a chair.  Dad, on the other hand, became like a Ninja, displaying cat like quickness (unlike a certain house cat who does not think it necessary to earn her keep around here.  Sure wish Tabby were more like my feline friend, Tazzy!)  Dad was armed with a 1974 Louisville Slugger baseball bat, so poor Milton didn’t stand a chance.  Seemingly, I am the only rodent this family tolerates.

The demise of Milton the Mouse

One groggy-eyed Tabby, caught sleeping on the job!

We had a family discussion recently about having an onboard washing machine/dryer.   Is it cost effective?  Is the convenience worth the added weight?  Mom thought it was imperative to have one.   So from Day 1 of our full-time RVing lifestyle, we had a Splendide unvented all-in-one unit.  "Had" is the operative word in that last sentence.  Right after the one-year warranty expired, it started to give us problems, and has consistently done so.  Dad has performed major surgery on it several times.  And although he was able to repair it in the past, a new challenge would always arise.  The latest problem we encountered was a cracked drum.  This was the second drum to go bad since we purchased the unit in 2012!  Dad thinks the machine got used more than its design was intended.  Mom hated the machine anyway, complaining that the clothes came out of the dryer too wrinkled (since it is unvented, it uses steam to dry).  Fortunately, we all agreed it was no longer worth investing money to fix it.  And it doesn't make sense to replace it since we don't use it 1/3 of the year when we boondock.  Furthermore, many campgrounds (including Escapees and here at Pactola Lake) prohibit us from using it due to the strain on their septic systems.  So good riddance Splendide, hello added storage space!

After settling in, we enjoyed meeting some of the campground residents like white-tailed deer, osprey, wild turkeys, chipmunks, and various avians like brown-headed cowbirds, robins, and red-winged blackbirds.  Pactola Lake is teeming with the peskiest, dirtiest waterfowl known to man—Canadian geese.   We had an epidemic of them in New Jersey.  They were very fond of all the corporate campuses which featured water retention/detention basins/fountains.  They got so out of control that a new industry was formed—Goose Busters!  These companies would use border collies, dog decoys, and strobe lights to deter the geese from over-staying their welcome.  It is said that if these creatures nest in the same area for 3 seasons, they will no longer migrate.  I am convinced there is not one goose left in Canada!

Friends Guy and Susan were only in South Dakota a short time, so we were glad we had a chance for them to stop in to visit with us at Pactola and for us to wish them well with their new Classy Chassis pick-up truck.  Their little Yorkie, Lacilou, is simply adogable!

While my parents attended orientation and met their co-workers,  I got acquainted with their canine kids, of which Ginger is my absolute favorite!   What a great bunch.  Me thinks we are destined for a terrific summer!

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

Escapees RV Club


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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Visiting Utah's Trail of the Ancients - Part II (Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Scenic Byway 279)

After enjoying breakfast and a leisurely walk down to the San Juan riverbank, we packed up and left Bluff heading to Monticello. The scenery changed from desert to alpine, with lots of evergreens and snow on the Blue Mountains.  We passed Recapture Reservoir in Blanding, which was very picturesque.  We booked three nights at Mountain View RV Park in Monticello since we needed to dump tanks, refill water, and catch up with laundry in between continuing our tour of sites along the Trail of the Ancients.  Mountain View is a small campground right on Route 191.  It has some very long pull through sites, though not much space between sites.  It has a clean, well maintained laundry room with four full-sized household washers and dryers ($2/load) and decent free WiFi.   At $38/night (Good Sam rate), it accommodates our size and our wallets better than the RV parks within Moab. 

We spend our first day doing chores and walking through this small city of approximately 2,000 residents, settled in 1887 by the Latter Day Saints.  We immediately experienced the cordiality and friendliness of the townspeople.  Like Jim Brandt, owner of Wild West RV Park.  We stopped in to thank him for his honesty in his inability to fit us and for referring us to Mountain View.  It turns out Jim is a champion trick shot artist, who, when weather permits, offers his patrons demonstrations.   (Since winds were preventing him from doing his demonstrations during our time in Monticello, Jim graciously provided me an autographed complimentary copy of his youtube videos highlighting his gunslinging feats.)   Jim told us about the Abajo Mountains, which locals refer to as the Blue Mountains, pointing out how the rock and tree formations resemble a horse’s head looking straight out at you.

Can you spot the horse's head?

Another resident was Patricia, who was born, raised, and resided in Monticello for the majority of her life.  She is proud of her heritage as a full-blooded Navajo, and lovingly tells us about her father, who established the first Catholic Church in town.

We visited the Frontier Museum, which houses the Big 4 “30”, a ginormous restored farming tractor built circa 1908-1912, which is a highlight of Monticello parades.  Love the Americana!

We headed out early the next morning—we had lots of ground to cover!  We decided to start our tour with Canyonlands National Park.  As we drove along 191, we passed Wilson Arch, named after a local pioneer, and Church Rock, though for the life of me it looks more like a beehive than a Church!

As we passed through Moab, I was glad we didn’t stay in town.  It is a BUSY place, and it isn’t even peak season yet!  But it is an interesting area, home to the waters of the Colorado, dinosaur tracks, petroglyphs, and extreme sports.

We headed to Island in the Sky of Canyonlands, passing the sandstone buttes known as the Monitor and Merrimac.

We stopped at every view point in the Park, and we trekked the Mesa Arch, White Rim Overlook, and Grand View Point Trails, in addition to climbing the slick rock trail of Whale Rock. Grand View Point, in particular, offered some spectacular vistas.  As high as we were in elevation, there were snow-capped mountains in the background towering over us.  All of the above-mentioned trails are clearly marked by cairns.  I stood a long time viewing Whale Rock, from far away and up close--I just don’t see the resemblance to its namesake.  It is a darn good thing I don’t have to take a Rorschach Test!  Lord knows what I would see in those ink blots! I found it interesting how Mesa Arch was formed.  Called a pothole arch, water seeped in through cracks at the top of the rock like through a funnel, eroding the weaker rock underneath

Grand View Point.  La Sal Mountains in background

Mesa Arch

We stood at the overlook to Shafer Trail Road, an 18+-mile dirt road jam packed with switchbacks that leads from inside the Park to the Intrepid Potash Plant.  You can tell by how they were driving that some people bit off way more than they could chew.  Unfortunately, once you start you have to commit—there are few places to turn around.  We didn’t tackle it on this trip, but we all agreed to come back to the Moab area in the future just to do some off-roading with our side-by-side.

We then headed to the Needles section of Canyonlands.  By this point, it was later in the afternoon, close to 5 p.m.  We visited Pothole Point, whose terrain resembles craters on the moon—or the potholed roads of New Jersey.   We did the nature trail leading to Roadside Ruin, a fine example of a granary used by Ancient Puebloans, and some lovely specimens of desert flora.  And we stopped at all the lookouts, including Wooden Shoe Arch, one of the few rock formations that is appropriately named in my opinion.

Pothole Point Trail--holes like you'd find on a NJ roadway

Roadside Ruin - ancient granary

Wooden Shoe (in center), among other formations

Indian paintbrush

As we left Needles, a family of 6 deer crossed the road in front of us.  Two of them were kind enough to pose for me!  Our last stop for the day was Newspaper Rock.  So cool seeing all the rock art!  It is amazing how ancient peoples communicated!  Prehistoric graffiti!

Extra! Extra! Read All About It! Newspaper Rock!

It was a long, tiring day with us trekking more than 8 miles, but such a wonderful experience!   I slept soundly, looking forward to our next adventure.

Another early start the next day brought us to Natural Bridges National Monument, established in 1908 under President Theodore Roosevelt.  Unlike arches, natural bridges are formed by flooding and flowing waters wearing down and breaking down the rock within its path.

We decided we would do the Loop Trail, totaling more than 9 miles round trip.  We started at Sipapu Bridge, the second largest natural bridge in the world—and the bridge within the Park with the steepest trail!  Trekking along the slick rock around cliff edges, climbing down a series of switchbacks and ladders, and withstanding a howling wind, Mom was freaking out a bit.  But utilizing her unconventional hiking methods (like coming down on her butt and “hugging” trees for stability), she managed the task.  The Hopi word “sipapu” means gateway to the spirit world.    What an appropriate name for this Bridge--it was truly a window to paradise. 

Ladders and rails we needed to use to climb down the edge of the slick rock

Steep stairs along the ledge

Underneath the front of Sipapu Bridge 

Underneath the back of Sipapu Bridge

The hike continuing to Kachina Bridge was wonderful.  After passing through the grove of Gambel oak trees, it brought us along the riverbed and was reminiscent of a tropical island with its birds, sand, and flora.  We saw a yellow warbler, a grosbeak, a big lizard, and a beautiful cactus in full bloom.  You could feel the presence of the ancients, those who left their hand prints and rock art on the canyon walls.  There were tiny fish caught in the last puddles left from where the waters flowed.

Kachina Bridge

While Kachina is the thickest of the bridges and therefore considered the youngest, Owachomo is the most delicate, the Elder of the bridges.  The loop trail also took us past Horsecollar Ruins, more evidence of granaries used by ancient civilizations.

Owachomo Bridge

Horsecollar Ruins - an ancient cliff dwelling

I thoroughly enjoyed Natural Bridges.  Unlike most of the National Parks, this National Monument had few tourists, and we encountered only one couple as we traveled the entire length of the Loop trail.  So there was a oneness and spirituality with our surroundings.  It was an exhilarating day, but completely exhausting!

We moved out of the campground and headed further down Highway 191.  The plan was to boondock for the next few days at Willow Springs Road to visit Arches National Park.  As we passed Arches at 8:30 a.m., there were massive lines awaiting entry at the gate. That’s not good.  I hoped they cleared out by the time we got there.

We arrived at Willow Spring Road and scouted out a place to stay, but our prospects were slim to nil.  The place was packed.   Few sites were even available, let alone ones big enough to accommodate our setup.  I, for one, was secretly glad.  There were too many kids, dogs, dust, and noise for my liking.  We considered boondocking at Dalton Wells, which was once a Civil Conservation Corp (CCC) Camp and a Japanese internment camp during WW II.  But the sign said you had to cross a wash and that four wheel drive vehicles were required, so we passed on that as well.  Thankfully, our third choice, Klondike Bluffs, was a charm.  It’s entry road is VERY rough, though.  We grabbed a spot less than a mile off Highway 191 that was decent since none of us could withstand this washboard road for another minute!  As we started to set up, we met our “neighbor” Lenny, who recognized our truck from Quartzsite where he has wintered for the last 7 years.  Big Boomer just can’t seem to go incognito.

We arrived at Arches at 2 p.m. and got right through the gate—all the lines had dissipated.  Although we took several photos of them as we traveled to Canyonlands, the view of the La Sal Mountains from within Arches is phenomenal.  We take the 2-mile round trip hike at Park Avenue, whose towering monoliths are reminiscent of the skyscrapers of New York City.  One formation is named “Three Gossips.”  To me, however, it looked like the “Three Magi”.  (Once again, I failed the ink blot test.)

The Three Gossips, or what I call the Three Magi

We continued to view Petrified Dunes, Balanced Rock, Pothole Arch, and Garden of Eden. We did the short, easy trails to the Parade of Elephants, The Windows, Double Arch, and Turret Arch to get up close and personal to these wonders of nature.  Before we knew it, it was 7 p.m., time to go watch sunset at Fiery Furnace Viewpoint, a good viewing spot with less than 1/2 dozen people present.

Petrified Sand Dunes

Balanced Rock

Parade of Elephants

Windows Arch

Double Arch

Sunset at Fiery Furnace

Sunset at Fiery Furnace

Our plan the next morning was to watch sunrise from Landscape Arch, per the advice of a Park Ranger.  We arrived at the parking area by 5:30 a.m., the only ones there, and realized it was a bit dark to hike out. No problem, Dad, ever the Boy Scout, brought a flashlight—except when he turns it on, the batteries are dead!  Mom is certain she has a working flashlight, but by the time she digs it out of her Mary Poppins’ bottomless purse, it will be sunset instead of sunrise!  Rambling RV Rat to the rescue! As a bona fide Junior Ranger at about a dozen National Parks thus far, I know how to prepare for a hike.  We start trekking along Devil’s Garden Trailhead (guess the Park had to be politically correct.  Since they named one section of the Park after the biblical paradise Garden of Eden, they felt compelled to give equal billing to Lucifer), and we heard some faint sounds nearby.  We realized we were not alone—a group of five mule deer were eating breakfast.  Unfortunately, it was too dark to get photos using my cell phone.  The trail’s red, pulverized rock is as fine as sand.  We enjoyed the solitude, serenity, and lovely sunrise at Landscape Arch!

Landscape Arch

We completed about 3/4 mile of the Primitive Trail at Devil’s Garden to see some of the lesser-viewed arches like Double O.  But it involved quite a bit of rock scrambling, so I voted to abort the mission.  I wanted to reserve my stamina for other hikes.  Instead, we got back on the main trail to view Pine Tree and Tunnel Arches and did the short trail for Skyline Arch.

Tunnel Arch

Pine Tree Arch

The loop trail between Sand Dune, Tapestry, and Broken Arches was cool with its crevices, canyons, and fins and the plants that somehow managed to grow right out of the rock.   I love the juniper trees, with their gnarly-looking trunks, and the way their roots cling to whatever soil they can find.   I felt like I was within an enchanted forest.  We saw a few more mule deer, too, this time with enough light for me to capture their photo.

Yours truly at Sand Dune Arch

Broken Arch

Two mule deer with bigger ears than I have!

We finished up our tour with the short walks to the Upper and Lower Viewpoints for Delicate Arch.  By 1 p.m., we were pooped.  We had stopped at all viewpoints and hiked 15+ miles over the last two days.  We are thankful we are healthy and have the stamina to hike, for you miss out on so much when just standing at a view point.  By hiking, you engage with your surroundings, experience the different ecosystems, and witness the delicate balance between them all for survival.  What an intriguing, complex, yet balanced world of wonderment!

Our finale for our visit to Arches:  watching the film and getting sworn in as a Junior Ranger!

We spent our last full day touring the 279 Scenic Byway along the Colorado River.  The River is quite muddy here, so different than in Parker, Arizona!  I don’t know what mystified me more:  trying to interpret the wall of petroglyphs and rock art or understanding what motivates nearby canyoneers, those invincible, crazy people who scale sheer cliff walls.

More rock art

Crazy canyoneer

We climbed a short distance up Poison Spider Trail to see real dinosaur tracks!  Then we parked Big Boomer at Gold Bar Recreation Area (another good boondocking spot for minimal cost with a few larger sites to accommodate our set-up) and crossed the Byway to hike the trail to Corona and Bow Tie Arches.  This was a great 3 mile round trip hike with fantastic views and beautiful flora.  Unlike Arches National Park, the trail is pet friendly, and there are lots of four-legged fur babies joining their families.  Mom wished she had the agility (and the extra 2 legs) of the dogs as she climbed down from the slick rock.

Maybe Dino left this dinosaur track!

Bowtie (L) and Corona Arches

Climbing up the slick rock is so much easier than climbing down!

A fine example of how a pothole arch like Bow tTe is formed.  You can see the "funnel" at the top and where the water marks are that eroded the rock underneath.

We continued down the road to see Jug Handle Arch, an example of a vertical (rather than horizontal) arch.  Though we are outside Arches National Park, you see arches EVERYWHERE.  Some are in infant stage, some at the end of their lifecycle, breaking away.  We walked about a mile along this primitive road, for the sign said it was a lambing ground for Big Horn Sheep.  Unfortunately, I saw no baby sheep nor new mama sheep at this supposed maternity ward.  But the velocity of the wind as we stood in this canyon was unbelievable.

We completed our tour of the Byway at the Intrepid Potash plant (for if you continue, you will be on the fore-mentioned Shafer Trail Road.)  Potash is the major source of potassium, an essential nutrient for plant life, and therefore used in fertilizer.  While the U.S. imports 85% of its Potash, the Paradox Basin in Utah and Colorado supposedly contains enough Potash to supply the entire world for 500 years.  

A train at the Intrepid Potash Plant

Our trip along Utah’s Trail of the Ancients has been magnificent.  For much of the time, we were removed from modern-day life—no cell phone coverage, no Facebook, Instagram, or Tweets.  Just unadulterated beauty, solitude, a spiritual oneness with nature and the Master Creator while time stood still.  I can understand why the Mormons considered Utah to be Zion, their heaven on earth.  

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

Escapees RV Club


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