Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Arizona & New Mexico Travels

Leaving southern Utah, we dropped down into Northern Arizona and headed East to Page, Arizona. Page is a growing town on the south end of Lake Powell, where we stayed at the Lake Powell Campground and RV Park, a nice enough place to overnight. The lake, which dropped to it's lowest level in 2002, is the 2nd largest reservoir in the U.S. and has been steadily filling, rising 78 feet since the low point. It's a beautiful lake, with the blue water contrasting against the bright red rock and has some of the biggest houseboats you'll ever see. A short drive took us south of town to Marble Canyon and Lee's Ferry, at the northern extreme of the Grand Canyon. We stopped at the bridge over the Colorado River that looks down 616 feet to the river, then drove down into the valley to Lee's Ferry, where most of the Grand Canyon rafting trips originate. The area is striking; large sculpted rocks tower in all directions, and the colors are magnificent. We watched a rafting group preparing to leave the next morning; for an interesting article on the less attractive aspects of rafting the Colorado river click here. Leaving Page, we headed southeast and entered Monument Valley. I'm a big fan of the John Ford western trilogy filmed here (Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande), and looked forward to seeing the distinctive "mittens" of the valley. It was an easy drive into the valley, but then came the Navajo toll booth and the construction projects. Taking advantage of the tourist interest, the tribe is constructing a "hotel and spa" and with construction vehicles, a temporary parking lot, tour buses, and heavy tourist traffic which made it impossible to find a parking place, and we settled for a quick visit and view from a distance. We journeyed on and spent the night in Farmington, NM, which has, as we discovered, absolutely no redeeming qualities. We ended up in Lee Acres, a dirt parking lot with hookups that sort of summed up our Farmington experience, and were off the next morning to visit Albuquerque. Here, we like to stay at the American RV Park, a first-class park with grass, shade, and even a continental breakfast. This was our first stop at a major city since spending the summer in Montana, and we hit the stores and restaurants (Buffalo Wild Wings!), as if we'd been out of the country for a year. A real treat for us was a visit from our friends Joe and Susan who live in Monument, CO, near Colorado Springs. We spent a day together catching up & enjoying Old Town, driving old Route 66, and had a great dinner at the County Line BBQ at the base of the Sandia Mountains. Leaving Albuquerque, we headed south on I-25 to US 380, then east to another of our favorite places, Ruidoso NM. We stayed two nights at the Circle B RV Park, a nice park convenient to the town and Brenda's favorite casino, the Inn of the Mountain Gods. I have to admit that this is a special place, one of the most beautiful casinos we've seen, furnished with Indian art and providing great views of the mountains highlighted by Sierra Blanca Mountain. The buffet is very good and reasonably priced, and Brenda claims that the bread pudding is the best she's ever had. We have an agreement; I get a cup of coffee and the newspaper and head for the lounge area with the great view, she heads for the slots and wins money. It worked well this time (for a change), and she even won enough to spring for dinner. The area around Ruidoso is filled with old west history. This is the home of the Lincoln County War and the stomping grounds of Billy the Kid. An interesting place to visit is the town of Lincoln, which has been designated as a state monument but has not been modernized or commercialized. We visited here five years ago and were pleased to see that the area is largely unchanged. This is where Billy the Kid, being held prisoner awaiting hanging in the county courthouse, killed two guards and escaped in April, 1881. The courthouse is now a museum and still has the bullet holes from the escape. It's a pleasant walk around the town where many of the homes have been restored to their original appearance. There's also the "torreon", a defensive tower built when Mescalaro Apaches raided the area. Wrapping up our stay, we headed east through Roswell (lots of plastic aliens there), an overnight stay at the Fort Stockton, TX RV Park, then to our current location at Canyon Trail RV Park in San Marcos. We'll be roaming around this part of Texas for the next few months, so c'mon back and see what we're up to!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

South to Bryce Canyon

Leaving Grand Teton National Park, we headed south through Wyoming to spend a few days visiting Bryce Canyon National Park, one of our favorite places from past visits. The drive through Wyoming was both beautiful and interesting; there were numerous small towns that had what looked like a migrant RV park nearby. It became obvious that we were looking at the new oil boom - a cluster of office trailers, surrounded by dozens of cheap RVs, and a sign announcing the site of an energy company. Since there are few houses in the area, workers buy low-priced trailers and 5th wheels and move to the area. Not too scenic, unfortunately. While traveling along a little-used road on our way to the main highway, we were surprised to come across this historic site, called Signature Rock. The sandstone cliffs mark a crossing point near the Green River for the Oregon trail used by emigrants on their way west, and are covered with names and dates of the people who passed through. The most famous name was that of Jim Bridger, famed frontiersman and guide, who name was dated 1844, well before the wagon trains used the trail and presumably carved when he was scouting the area. Standing there in front of the rock, with the surrounding area virtually unchanged aside from the lonely road, it was easy to imagine what it must have been like for the original pioneers traveling in their "travel trailers".
We crossed into Utah, picked up Interstate 80 West, turned onto the I-215 bypass to avoid Salt Lake City, then headed South on I-15. Traffic and congestion in this area is remarkable, and it wasn't until we were well past Provo that it began to thin out. We picked up US 50, crossed over to I-70, then onto US 89 south to Panquitch, where we stayed at the Hitch-N-Post RV park, a small but comfortable place to stay while we visited Bryce Canyon.
Southern Utah is home to a number of impressive National and State parks. It's a unique combination of mountains, desert, forest, and multicolored rock formations. At Bryce Canyon NP, water and wind have created a fairyland of red and orange rock formations that are incredibly beautiful. From the entrance and visitor center, a good road runs along the canyon rim for 18 miles, with pulloffs and side roads to parking lots and overlooks. Like Yellowstone NP, Bryce Canyon was busy with tour buses full of European visitors taking advantage of the strong Euro (that's probably over!) and each overlook was filled with French, German, and others. It's an easy day stopping at the overlooks, visiting the lodge and visitor center, and hiking the short distances on the canyon rim. For the more adventurous, there are trails that wind through the hoodoos and canyons, but for us, the altitude and length of the trails was a bit too much and we worked up our sweat in the gift shop. There's not much to say that can describe the rock formations from the vistas, so I won't try, here are some pictures. Come back and visit as we wrap up our trip!