I think everything I’ve heard about Utah being an outdoor paradise is true. I read a blog post recently written by a fellow overlanding couple whom we hope to meet up with in person in the coming months and they said that after a few weeks of traveling here and ultimately moving down to Arizona, they almost needed a recovery period to mentally process all the beautiful things they’d seen. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been injected with a happy drug because I feel so high on things but I realize it is simply when I’m in a place I love and the anticipation of doing some kind of outdoor sport in that place makes me feel that way.
The City of Rocks is a preserve in southern Idaho that is made up of a large collection of granite outcroppings that have weathered to all sorts of sizes and shapes by wind, salt, water & ice. While the rocky landscape is interesting, there is also another significance to this place in history. Over 200,000 emigrants passed among these rocks in the mid to late 1800’s on what is known as “the California Trail”. They used this wagon route on their way westward to participate in the gold rush, homesteading, or just the hope of a better life. Due to the season, and the recent turbulent weather, we had the place nearly to ourselves with Mark & Anne and even though it was cold and we got snowed on, we ventured out on some great walks and took in the solitude.
After the City of Rocks we had wanted to go over to the Bonneville Salt flats because how often can you see such a broad expanse of pure flatness good enough to set speed records on, but it wasn’t to be given the forecasted temps, snow and windspeed. So we headed to Salt Lake City to camp for the night at Antelope State park, a place Jon & I visited earlier this year. The bison were still around, the water level was lower and for the first hour or so it was calm and peaceful. Then it started blowing like stink with raw cold so there was nothing to do the next day but leave. We headed into the city for some retail therapy, a swing in to Trader Joes, a take-out lunch and then moved further south hoping to get out of the Salt Lake City bowl that was trapping crap weather. Along the way, we drove through snow showers, an upside down car that had skidded off an embankment and when we arrived at the place we’d planned to camp, it was plowed in with snow from the interstate. So we kept going and just after dark we pulled into a quiet BLM area just south of Price, UT where there was no one around other than turkey footprints.
The following day, things brightened a lot when we drove down to Goblin Valley State Park, home to a rather huge collection of mushroom shaped red hoodoos that they affectionately call goblins in these parts. We spent the whole day walking around marveling at these beings and enjoying the sunshine. Late in the day, we found a great BLM campspot adjacent to the park and Jon took out his birthday drone to try and get a birdseye view.
The next morning, we met up with our friends Heather & Lal and their dog Beans because now we’re close enough to Moab to be able to get together. We wanted to check out two slot canyons- Little Wild Horse & Bell. It was another sparkler of a day so even though the high rock walls held their cold, the canyons opened up often enough so that we could catch a few rays of sun before it would narrow down again to swirling colorful shades of red. That afternoon, Lal & Heather found us a perfect penthouse campspot with a view of Temple Mtn and they even brought wood for a great campfire. It was beautiful but cold.
The goblins, slot canyons and many more interesting points of interest are located within a fantastic area called the San Rafael Swell. It is a massive maze of winding canyons, broken fins & buttes that were lifted up by an anticline- a huge dome underneath the earth’s surface. 2000 square miles of far stetching vistas, towering red rocks, rich human history, wildlife and lots of outdoor recreation possibilities make this a remote and incredibly beautiful place to tour, especially in an able RV because you can camp anywhere. The six of us made an easy day of driving to several points of interest along backcountry dirt roads, often with a fresh coating of snow on them. Once again, we encountered only a couple of people the whole day! It was really fun to be traveling these roads with friends so that had any one of us come into trouble like getting stuck or a breakdown, we would have strength in numbers. Nothing happened to us but Jon and Mark did end up helping a guy change out a tire on his truck. We visited an historic homestead cabin called Swazey’s Cabin in a beautiful setting. The snow was glittering, the sky was super blue and everything was bright- gorgeous! Then on to an arch, two significant walls of pictographs, and then into a canyon with jaw dropping scenery. We ended out the tour with a stop at an historic CCC built Swinging Bridge, that made it safer for ranchers to herd their sheep. Its really something to be driving in to this kind of backdrop!
The change-out of the front leaf springs has transformed the truck. I remember when we would be sailing downwind wing & wing, blasting along and often, when I would be down below on my off watch resting, it was so smooth I couldn’t even feel that we were moving. Well, it might seem odd but this is how the truck feels when we’re floating along some of these dirt roads. Jon likes to tell me that we can now boldly go where no washing machine has gone before, in reference to Star Trek and my lovely washing machine. And I say, OK, with this new comfortable ride, you can take me there!
While researching this area of the Swell, I couldn’t wait to get here and see all these things. Especially the area of what they call “The Little Grand Canyon”- the canyon formed by the San Rafael River that looks like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon proper. You can camp right on the rim here in your own little paradise. I like seeing these kinds of views outside my galley window. We biked the rim on a bony, bumpy trail that is not what our bikes are meant for but it was still fun. We’re looking for decent quality folding mountain bikes but haven’t found anything yet.
The we headed off the rim and down into the canyon to see an old tunnel blasted into the sandstone back in WWII for some secret project, several more well preserved petroglyphs, a big old fossilized dinosaur footprint, took a hike and then parked up next to the river with plans to head to Moab the next day.
And just to make sure we get a reality check every few days and don’t get complacent, we started noticing a voltage & battery charging issue and were getting really concerned. The batteries seemed like they wouldn’t take a charge no matter which method we used to charge them and we also couldn’t pull any larger loads out of them. We were really missing the coffee maker, I know that! And the problem got much worse over a couple of days when we were using the heat a lot and we feared something major was going on. We lost 2 nights of sleep worrying about this and trying to figure it out and then Jon started doing some careful troubleshooting and found the problem using the multimeter. The nut on the negative terminal of the lithium battery bank had loosened about one turn which caused enough resistance to cause the issues we were experiencing. When he was checking, there was a quarter volt difference on the nut vs. the lug depending where he placed the probe of the multimeter. One turn and it was fixed. What a relief!! What it means though is that everything is subject to the vibration and effects of driving down the road and while we are checking things frequently and always looking at the truck for anything that looks different, we somehow have to go around tightening things periodically too. Perhaps it is as they say with boating- RV travel is about working on your camper in exotic places! Fortunately, this one didn’t upset our plans much and cost nothing to fix.
We’re loving the company of Mark & Anne and their dog Cricket. We know that just like sailing, we have to cram in as much as we can together with the time that we have because it won’t be forever. So the rest of Utah, here we come!