Trail Into Time, Desert Camping, Generator Repairs, Unaweep Canyon, plus a Humdinger of a Surprise
The reason we spent Sunday night in Moab was to be close to Arches National Park. But when we arrived at the park on Monday morning we were greeted by an electronic sign saying “Go Away.” Sure, it was phrased more nicely, but that was the gist of it.
The good news is that Doug made an appointment to get our generator repaired by a diesel mechanic in Grand Junction this Wednesday, just two days from now. So we decide to drive that direction, on Route 70.
As we drive I call my mom, who tells me about the time she and Dad spent two weeks in southern Utah. She is eager to hear the details of our trip. This blog’s for you, Mom!
Route 70 between Moab and Grand Junction has no services at all for 60 miles. The land on either side is sagebrush and sagebrush. In the distance trains move like ants across the basin, a reminder of who was here first.
Shortly after noon we come to a place called Rabbit Valley. There are signs for a hike called “Trail Into Time.” We decide to stop and stretch our legs. The trail is a mile and a half long and winds us up and down and around a few buttes.
We pass a series of dinosaur bones from the Jurassic period, which is very cool. It’s another trail that would undoubtedly be hellish in the heat of summer.
Boondocking in Desert
When we arrive in the Grand Junction area, we head to a BLM camping area near Fruita. The description on iOverlander says that we’ll have a 360 degree view of desert, which is absolutely true. We are in the open desert. Dirt roads crisscross everywhere and nowhere.
After we drop the jacks and set up, a kid on a motorbike comes by. He does a long, slow, noisy loop around our rig. Then another and another and so on without stopping. Fortunately the loops are very large so he only roars by every seven or eight minutes. Unfortunately he does this for a full two hours, from 4:30 to 6:30. Maybe he finally ran low on gas. Maybe his mom called him home for supper. The twerp.
During the night a big storm blows up. The wind is powerful enough to make our rig shake, which has never happened before. I watch out the window as curtains of dust fling themselves across the horizon and against our rig. Eventually it begins to rain, a tympani on the roof. All night long the weather shakes and drums our little home. I feel like I owe Big Blue an apology for subjecting it to this.
When we pack up the next morning a fine layer of dust coats every crevice of every item we routinely store outdoors — the two folding chairs, the folding table, the solar panels, the extra jerry can, etc. Can you guess which item we decide to offload next?
Tuesday Oct 26
Today looks to be an all-day rain. We pack up our desert camp and head toward Grand Junction. Doug made reservations at a KOA so we won’t have any trouble getting to the generator appointment first thing on Wednesday. Fortunately we can check in early to the KOA. It’s raining hard and the campground is dismal, but that’s fine. Today is a chore day, laundry and cleaning.
Wednesday Oct 27
We’re up early to get to our appointment. The diesel mechanic is called SKM — Shining Knight Machine (custom high-performance engines). Sitting outside the outfit, waiting for it to open, Doug comments: “This is just like Breaking Bad. In a good way.”
Conversation with a Stranger
Sitting behind the desk at SKM is a woman in her 40s with a really great haircut. I say “Cute hairstyle!” And instantly surmise that this must be a family-owned business. Why else would she be here?
I’m right. Heather tells me that she and her husband, Lee Simcox, began this business in 1999. I ask her what it’s like to jointly own a business with her husband. She tells me all about their history together, and how things changed when the kids came along. Then I sit down and write for a while. After a bit I pop up and ask Heather about her kids — noting the photos that surround her amid the binders about auto parts. We do Mom-talk about drivers licenses and after-school activities and thank God we have such good kids, and then I sit down and write some more.
After an hour and a half or so, Lee has diagnosed the problem with the generator — a bad sensor. He can replace it using a kit, which he has in stock. The repair will cost around $400 and can be done by noon. We’re very happy to hear this.
If you need a diesel mechanic in western Colorado, we highly recommend SKM!
While the repair is being made, we follow Heather’s suggestion and walk down the road to Randy's Diner. We order the special — biscuits with country fried steak and sausage gravy and a side of salsa verde.
By 1:00 we’re on our way, following a scenic route, Route 141, along the Dolores River.
Just as I’m bemoaning the lack of wildlife, we see three bighorn sheep, one male and two female. They’re grazing on a patch of green grass just beside the road. The male has majestic curving horns. One of the females is hobbling — her left front leg appears to be lame. She has on some kind of tracking device with bright yellow tags, worn like a collar.
This Unaweep Canyon is very broad, more U-shaped than V-shaped. As we continue, the canyon walls become more vertical. The higher reaches are covered with snow. We see lots of magpies and ravens. There are historical markers about human activity, but the whole canyon has an austere, primitive-feeling natural beauty. I cannot recall being anywhere more scenic than this. Why have I never heard of this place?
At 3:00 we stop for a pre-arranged zoom call with our daughters. We happen to pull into a business called Gateway Canyons, which has a lot of buildings made of red stucco. It might be some sort of high-end spa. One building is labeled “Air Tours.” In the open area between buildings, beautiful horses and mules and donkeys graze.
I say to Doug, “Maybe it’s like Tranquillum on (the Hulu show) ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’. Keep an eye out for Nicole Kidman.”
After the zoom call we continue down the road. We slowly pass a caravan of pack horses led by two young women. But the other traffic is mainly pick-up trucks which whiz past us, even when they’re pulling big loads.
A Humdinger of a Surprise
When we arrive at our intended campsite at the confluence of the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers, we’re surprised. Instead of an open natural spot, the entire area is packed with vehicles. My heart sinks at the mishmash of cars, trucks, tents and people.
Is there some kind of festival going on? What a strange place for a gathering — on a curving road along a precipice.
Then we see an EMS truck and a wrecker. Was there an accident?
A few men are standing around so I roll down my window and ask: What’s going on, fellas?
They are more than happy to come over to my window and fill us in. Obviously it has been a long, boring day.
“They’re shooting a commercial.”
When we ask about the product, they will only say it’s a new electric vehicle by an established American company.
Then a fella with an Australian accent who seems to be in charge, says they’ll be done by sunset, which is in two hours, and suggests that we drive a bit further down the road, to another staging area. He is very apologetic about the inconvenience.
So we do that. We park near a couple large vehicles (one is labeled “Base Camp”) and get out the folding chairs and investigate the area. Through the binoculars we can see old mining operations on a hillside — a hopper and a pile of tailings. A drone flies overhead. That’s from the guy with the “Base Camp”. He is quite chatty and tells us about the company he formed using his fifth-wheel after his girlfriend left him. His rig has a dressing room, make-up room and production area. It’s the only one of its kind in the state. All this strikes me as a particularly impressive come-back.
Although the fella tells us a lot about himself, he will not divulge what vehicle is being filmed. Doug and I of course are busy speculating.
Finally the camera crew leaves and we are able to return to our intended camping area. There’s one guy left, a camera operator who’s waiting for the stars to come out in the exact spot where the vehicle was photographed. He has no compunction about divulging the name of the product. It’s an electric Hummer. Have you seen the ad? (We have not.)
The camera guy also offers to take our photo, so nice of him.
Thursday Oct 28
We spend an hour wandering around the area, which is gorgeous, overlooking a canyon at the confluence of the San Miguel and the Dolores Rivers.
(Notice Big Blue in the distance)
We hike over to the red sandstone cliffs and spot a tiny gray lizard about 2 inches long. Can you see it in the photo below?
Then we resume our trip down Route 141. We stop to read signs about the uranium and vanadium mining in the area. Doug sees the sign below, which gives him pause. There are other historical markers about a company town named Uravan (uranium + vanadium) that flourished in the area for some 75 years. Amazing to think that some people could have grown up in a way of life that seemed entirely normal to them, but which ceased to be soon after they died. The human frame of reference is really quite narrow, isn’t it?
There are vestiges of a hanging flume on the side of the canyon. The back story to this contraption seems especially nuts. The flume was made of wood and seems to defy the laws of physics. But it brought 80 million gallons of water a day up from the river in order to make possible a placer mining operation. You’d think the guys who concocted this hare-brained scheme and constructed it (even after reportedly running out of the funds to buy hardware) deserved to get rich. But that’s not how the story ended, apparently.
There are currently efforts to preserve what’s left of the wooden structure, which is visible in the photo below.
There are a lot of trailheads around here. Most of the hikes appear to follow little creeks with cottonwoods along their banks. Also some tall poplars that turn that same bright golden color. I’m a sucker for that color. I wish we had time to stop and hike.
On one bend we see four mule deer crossing a creek. They stop and look at us with interest, their big ears raised.
After we turn off Route 141 onto Route 90, we have another 55 miles to get to our destination. The LaSal mountains appear in the distance, their peaks sharply etched in snow. Quite a contrast to the arid sagebrush all around us.
We drive through a town called Bedrock, which is a fun name, right? You start humming the Flintstones theme song. This Bedrock appears to be a conglomeration of junked RVs that have people living in them.
Just as we arrive at the LaSal Junction, we see a very large, beautiful, fast-flying hawk. Thanks for the lovely welcome to Utah, Ms. Northern Goshawk!
Next up — instead of a day-by-day chronology of our 11 days at Arches NP and surrounding area, I’ll share descriptions of the hikes and the campgrounds. Also, which were our favorites and why.