Spring 2014

Navajo National Monument & Keet Seel (Part 1)

May 24 & 25

Jon & I dropped by the Navajo National Monument on Friday during our drive to Monument Valley. The site is operated by the US National Park Service.

They offer tours of two different Ancestral Puebloan dwelling sites. For one of them, Keet Seel, they only gives out 20 permits a day during May 25 – Sept 6. To reach the site, a strenuous, 17-mile roundtrip hike is required.

Jon & I asked if there was any availability on May 25, the first day of the season. There had been a few cancellations, so Jon & I signed up. As part of the permitting, everyone is required to attend an orientation session either at 3:00 the day before or 8:15 the morning of the permit.

Jon & I headed over to the Visitor Center on May 24 after we finished our Monument Valley tour. We were a little early, so we wandered around the outside where there were examples of Native American buildings, like this hogan.

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The orientation session was highly detailed and included a slide show. The slide show included photos of a number of important landmarks where Max, the ranger, presenting the material, quite often mentioned that it was a place where either people became lost or injured. He said it in a tongue and cheek manner, but you could tell that he spent a lot of his summer rescuing hikers.

After receiving our permits, we went out to find a campsite. We decided to stay at Canyon View which was within walking distance of the parking lot for Keet Seel. It was a beautiful campsite with wonderful views.

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We headed out around 7:30 Sunday morning.  There was one car parked in the lot already.  We assumed that it belonged to the only other day hikers to Keet Seel. After a couple of miles down a steady grade, we came to a sign about the hike to Keet Seel. 

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Here is a view of the canyon.

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This is a view from partway down.

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Most of the hike down was on sandstone although there were stretches of sand and areas of dirt and loose rock. The sandstone was easier to walk on than the others.  We were fortunate that it had rained yesterday, so the sand was relatively firm.  

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See Part 2 for the rest of the story.

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Monument Valley – May 23 & 24

Pardon the lateness of my postings. It is really hard keeping up a blog when a) you rarely have any significant internet/data signal and b) you’re busy doing things.

Friday, May 23
We drove from Kaibab National Forest just outside the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to Goulding’s at Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border.

Even though it was the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend, Jon had been able to make reservations for the campground at Goulding’s.
Goulding’s at Monument Valley

We started out our journey with Fred & Denise Cook, but they went ahead. We stopped a few times & made a detour to Navajo National Monument, a US Park Service Visitor Center in the Navajo Nation.
Navajo National Monument

Jon & I were glad that Fred & Denise arrived at the campground first since the campground had put us in the tent area. Fred was able to use his considerable skills to find an place on the site for both of us to camp.

Once we set up, we all took the free shuttle to Goulding’s Lodge. Fred & Denise had never been to the area. Jon & I have stayed at Goulding’s Lodge several times and always enjoyed it. The location and history alone makes it worth a visit.

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The John Ford western movies starring John Wayne were filmed at Monument Valley because of the Gouldings. There is a museum of the history of the Goulding’s Trading Post and includes memorabilia from all of the movies shot in Monument Valley and they have the building used in the John Wayne movie “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon”. We ate dinner at the restaurant which is a great place to try Navajo Fry Bread.

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This was followed by shopping. They, of course, have an exceptional shop of Native American goods.

After a good night’s sleep and saying good-bye to Fred & Denise, Jon & I went out on Goulding’s Deluxe Tour of Monument Valley. We had driven the loop a number of times, but with this tour, we would go to new places. It started with a visit to a Female Hogan and a demonstration of fiber arts by a Navajo woman.

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We covered the usual Monument Valley loop.

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We fortunately saw Fred & Denise while we were there. It was a great chance to say good-bye one more time.

After the loop, we stopped to view a feature called Sleeping Dragon. I wish the photos did it justice, because it really did look like a sleeping dragon.

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We also saw several natural bridges/openings in the rock.

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Petroglyphs

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And saw other features from new perspectives.

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All in all, it was a great time.

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Last Day at the Grand Canyon

We headed back to the main part of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon the next morning. Denise Cook was going on a mule ride in the afternoon. Jon & I wanted to get in a good hike. Fred Cook was going to hang out and take photos. On the drive into the park, we passed by a herd of buffalo on the side of the road. I always find it exciting to see buffalo.

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Jon and I started out with the Bright Angel Point trail out to the point. There were a lot of people on the trail since it is so close to the Lodge. It was worth going out to see the views of the Grand Canyon. I did feel the altitude especially after being so recently at below sea level in Death Valley. The North Rim is generally around 8500 ft above sea level.

It seemed like the views at the Grand Canyon were a lot hazier than the last time we were there. We had come in September about 12 years ago. We learned that there was a significant wildfire near Sonoma that was causing the haziness. At the time, it was 0% contained, so the views were only likely to get worse.

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We followed the Transept Trail which was quite hilly but had some great views (which are on my camera). We took a number of trails part way to get to the Widforss Trailhead. To our surprise, there was a sign regarding an aggressive Grouse. So of course we asked anyone we ran into if they had seen the grouse. Most had.

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The trail was really nice nature hike with guide to numbered stops pointing out some kind of feature. There was a diversion to avoid the area with the aggressive grouse, but we never did see it. There was a small detour at a wonderful overlook where we stopped to enjoy the view.

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At that point, we were ready to head back. It seemed there was a lot more uphill than I remembered going down.

We made it back to the Lodge to rendezvous with Fred. Jon and I stopped at the Saloon for libations. Denise made it back from her mule ride. Everyone seemed tired and happy.

We drove out to Kaibab National Forest to camp for the night. Once again, we found a really nice place to stay the night away from the crowds and had a very lovely dinner.

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More Time at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

We decided to move camp sites the second night. So we drove through some very tight forest roads to check out two other camp sites. Fence campsite required a significant walk from the campsite to the rim. Parissawapitts campsite seemed to be even further away from the rim requiring a significant hike to see it.

Along the way, we did get to see the elusive Kaibab Squirrel and several groups of Mule Deer. The Kaibab squirrel is part of the tufted ear, tree squirrel family and only located at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The coloration of the Kaibab squirrel is pretty unique. They have very white and bushy tails while the rest of their body is charcoal grey/black. You would think they would really stand out, but they actually blend in pretty well with Aspen trees with its white bark with dark grey marks. I was thrilled to see one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very cooperative in getting its picture taken. I did get a couple, but they aren’t very good.

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We turned around and took a short break for minor repairs. While Jon was busy, I walked down a side road that seemed promising. It was. There were a couple of sites close to the rim. I took pictures and reported back.

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After settling in, I cleaned the floors and surfaces of the camper. Several days of traveling on dirt roads in the west means that everything is covered in dust.

Jon & I went out for a nice hike along the Rim Trail. Most of the trail we had walked earlier was relatively flat, but at this point, it had a lot of ups and downs. We hiked for about 4.5 miles and saw some pretty amazing views. At about 9,000 ft and the climbs and drops, I was satisfied with the distance.

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We hung out and enjoyed the view until it got too cold. One advantage of being up so high is that it stays pretty cool even in late May.

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North Rim of the Grand Canyon

On Monday morning, we headed out from the Overland Expo at Mormon Lake. We stopped at Flagstaff to buy groceries and gas before driving up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Fred & Denise Cook were also going to the North Rim, so we all drove up together.

We stopped a couple of times along the road to take photos and eat a little cheese & salami.

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Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get a campsite at the North Rim. So we stayed at a campground to the north for one night. The plus side is that we were able to dump our tanks, fill up with water and do some laundry.

So on Tiesday morning, we ate breakfast at the Lodge at the North Rim. The views were spectacular.

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We walked along the rim and took photos. Or at least Fred & I took pictures.

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We did a little shopping and then drove back into Kaibab National Forest to find a great place to camp. We stopped at a fire tower which we were actually go to the top with the young man working there.

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Jon made it down first. This is a photo of Jon & Denise and our vehicles from about halfway down.

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We found a great place to camp near the edge of the rim. Time to relax.

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The Mojave Desert and Driving Hwy 66

Jon pretty much covered this in his earlier post, but I wanted to add a few pictures and notes. We wanted to be in Flagstaff by Tuesday, May 12th to prepare for the Overland Expo which runs from Friday, May 16 – Sunday, May 18. We drove from Shoshone, CA to a small flat spot just off of Hwy 66 near Oatman, AZ.

We started off driving south on these great little back roads rather than following the major highways. You can tell that mining has been an important part of this region’s history. We passed by talc mines, coal mines, and a large number of mines producing who knows what. The land is so dry that the mine openings and tailings are visible for decades after they stopped.

We saw a ton of Joshua trees while we were passing through public lands. I saw Joshua trees in amazing shapes that I hadn’t seen before. The scenery was just amazing.

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We ate lunch at a WWI memorial. It was convenient that there was a nice shady spot by a picnic table. I had fun climbing the rocks. The views were interesting.

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We stopped in Kelso, CA for a pit stop and information. The station is a beautifully restored Arts and Craft style train station. It is part of the Mojave National Preserve. We strolled through the museum, marveled at the closed luncheonette and I did a little shopping for nature guides.

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We decided to take old Hwy 66 towards Flagstaff with a night spent somewhere in between. We saw some interesting sites, some very depressing ruins of earlier attractions and services, and were frustrated by the lack of consistent signage. It wound up being pretty often that we had to turn around because an important turn wasn’t marked or wound up on the interstate due to the lack of signage.

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The modern attractions build around or promoting Hwy 66 were interesting. We saw numerous bikers and in the more built up areas, we found tour buses.

We had hoped to disperse camp on BLM land, but couldn’t seem to find a good spot. We kept going in hopes to find somewhere else to camp without success. The roads were very worn and often in poor condition, but the winding route had a number of spectacular views. Sorry that I don’t have any photos, but it was getting dark and there was no where to pull off and take photos.

We turned a corner at one point to find ourselves in Oatman, AZ. It is a very tiny town with feral burros that wandered the street looking for food. If you ever travel on this stretch of Hwy 66, please slow down coming into Oatman. The burros are everywhere. When leaving the town the road was completely blocked by about a half dozen burros. Our Fuso has a pretty impressive, very loud horn, but the burros just stood there waiting for treats. Eventually a few of them wandered off and we were able to inch forward until the road was clear in front of us.

We did eventually find a spot to camp that was relatively level and big enough to park our truck just before dark. At least I have a few photos of our camping spot from the morning. It was really lovely.

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Leaving Death Valley National Park

We left Saline Valley on Sunday, May 11 and headed out via the South Pass this time. I love the scenery in the area mostly because of the geology. In desert conditions, you can actually see the rocks that form the mountains. This area was very geologically active at one time.

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As we climbed through Grapevine Canyon saw lots of wildflowers, but no big horn sheep.

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Once we got to the top, there were lots and lots of Joshua Trees. I really love seeing them. There is just something completely alien about them.

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They make for a really strange landscape.

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We ate lunch at Panamint Springs. I highly recommend the chili. It is an interesting place to visit and stay.

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We drove through Death Valley & visited the Visitor Center. Unfortunately, it also had some significant winds blowing up dust really limiting visibility. For me, the great thing about being there is the starkness of the landscape. So not being able to see most of it was a real disappointment. This photo is from a much earlier visit. We used to come out here regularly, so there was a lot to live up to.

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This was the kind of views we were getting and that is across the valley via the short side.

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The high winds weren’t expected to clear up until the next afternoon. We had hoped to visit some of the traditional tourist attractions. Instead we just drove through.

We stopped at the Shoshone Inn and RV Park in Shoshone, CA. They had a natural hot springs pool that was really great especially after all the dust of the past several days. It was a late day getting in, but well worth it.

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Historic route 66

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We stayed last night just south of death valley at Shoshone.   Nice little rustic even park with full hookups and a springs fed pool for $24.  Bargain.

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Today we dropped due south through Mojave.   Found this nice little WW1 memorial where we had lunch.

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Since the interstate highway system came in, 66 is pretty desolate.

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We’re staying just over the pass from Oatman, az tonight.  Should be a great sunrise in the morning.

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Dust, dust everywhere.

We’re back on the grid after spending the last 5 days in the Saline Vallley, reportedly the most remote desert valley in the USA and I’ve certainly never seen anything to contradict that.

We like it because unless you have satellite (we don’t) you are completely disconnected from the outside world while you are there.

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We’ll have a much better update when we have a greater than 0.001mbps connection

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On the Way to Saline Valley

We took Hwy 395 down along the Eastern California/ Western Nevada . We passed by Mono Lake & Yosemite National Park. We always enjoy driving down Hwy 395. It is interesting traveling down the Owens Valley with the Sierra Nevada mountain range on one side.

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We drove through Bishop, CA and stopped at Erick Schat’s Dutch Bakkery. It required parking on the other side of the City Park which turned out to be quite lovely. The honeysuckle was blooming and the trail along the steam was really nice. Unfortunately, they were closing up and had sold out of most of their bread.

So, off to Death Valley National Park. We headed to the Saline Valley Warm Springs by the North Pass. It had rained a little recently and so there were lots of flowers. It was already late in the day, so we opted to stay at an abandoned mining camp. We did have some really nice views on the way in and found a nice level spot before dark.

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The Saline Valley Warm Springs has really nice warm springs and an ever changing community of interesting people.

We originally found our way there after an off-roading adventure in our SUV became a little more of an adventure than expected. We blew out two tires on one rock. There is no cell service anywhere nearby, so we headed down to a more significant road. We came across the warm springs on our way. We stayed there for almost a week over the Christmas holidays.

We started going to Saline Valley regularly when we lived in the East Bay (Pleasanton, CA).

I haven’t been back to Saline Valley in at least 8 years. It becomes harder to get to from NC. It was really great to be back. We stopped at the Bat Pole, a landmark on the drive in.

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There had been quite a few changes, including a family of Burros.

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But mostly things were essentially the same. We found a great camping spot near trees and across from a ridge. Quite well protected.

Since it was May, there weren’t very many people there. Temperatures reached the 90’s to 100’s during the day. Yes, it is a very dry heat, but at those temps, it is still very hot during the day.

We met some very interesting people. Soaked in the warm springs. We hung out and had a little down time.

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It meant I was finally able to clean the RV. Jon was able to try our the raw water to potable water systems on the truck and just relax.

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This great guy took us out for a tour with a black light to look for scorpions. It was amazing how many we saw. One kind was actually quite poisonous.

On Saturday, the morning before we left, there was a really strong wind making it necessary to hang out in a sheltered area. And then we saw a huge cloud of dust coming toward us from the valley.

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We finally headed back to the Fuso. At the time, the winds were really calm there. We hung out and talked to people. Jon noticed that there was now a big dust storm coming from the north.

We started up the grill for dinner in hopes that we would be somewhat protected from the winds. But the storm kept getting picked up. The grill kept blowing out even with the use of wind block. Then it got worse.

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Jon and I were really glad to be inside our camper and not tent camping. And then it got even worse.

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I think the visibility went down to about 8 feet. I’ve never seen anything like it without water involved somehow. The storm was still going on when we went to sleep.

There are several solar panels in the view out the window. They have been up for a long time and must have been through a number of storms. Well, one was torn off its base.

In the morning, there was only one vehicle near us. Everyone else had either left or moved. There was a lot of sand collected in low spots and bits of trees and such. Our prayer flags did ok other than needing to be untangled. This picture falls under the category of “Don’t Try This At Home”. Jon was successful.

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We headed out on Sunday towards Death Valley.

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