The Rest of Idaho & Hells Canyon

Not as colorful as the Grand Canyon, Bryce or Zion, Hells Canyon has its own beauty. Would have been spectacular if not for the lingering haze.

Idaho went by way too fast.  There is much more to see, including the “panhandle”.  Never knew Idaho had a panhandle!  We are thinking about a northern cross country route for a future trip and look forward to seeing more of this state.

Passing through Mountain Home to the the Boise area we looked up a retired pilot friend.  Then traveled north to Hells Canyon, where the Snake River divides Idaho and Oregon creating a massive rift.  It’s the deepest river gorge in North America, over a mile from top to bottom at the highest point. Hells Canyon is pretty remote territory with mostly park and BLM land along the 60 mile or so path we traveled.

The Idaho Power Company operates three dams and power plants along the river and provides four different campgrounds with electricity, water and dump station.  With temperatures nearing 100 degrees during the daytime we didn’t want to dry camp and appreciated the electricity, even it it was only 30 amp service, which means we can operate only one AC at at time.  We stayed at the Copperfield Campground on the Oregon side of the river.  (Pronounce “OR-a-gun” and don’t put any stress at all on the last syllable so we’re told!)

We expected to be out of communication range during this time yet found an internet provider through the campground and were able to use wifi calling on our phones.  We keep saying we need to take an internet vacation like we were forced to do from time to time while traveling the Caribbean. This might have been a good week to take a break from current events.  We did receive happy personal news of the birth of a grand-nephew on Bob’s side of the family!

We had an unusual rainy travel day in this normally dry region on the 2 hour drive westward to Baker City.  The rain had a positive effect and cleared much of the haze.  We have a pretty spot at Union Creek Campground in the National Forest, overlooking a small lake.  From here we are moving to Sumpter, about 10 miles west, where we’ll spend the next 7 days.  We checked out a potential eclipse viewing location about an hours drive from the campground yesterday.  So far we’ve not seen any signs of crowding although reserved campgrounds report being fully booked over the 21st.  We’re in the “totality”!

Time in a full service park is a must after dry camping to catch up on cleaning and laundry. Beautiful place here in Mountain Home, ID. Rascal was happy to find all the green grass.

Just like the boat – always something to repair. Leaky kitchen drain pipe in the slide was Bob’s chore. I washed and waxed the bus and car, easy with the new mop and product purchased at the rally. However, pointless as they are both dusty again.

Really nice day visiting with Wayne!

Bob was happy to find a lunch stop en route to Hells Canyon, a travel day tradition. “Gateway to Hells Canyon” store and cafe is way out there!

Skinny little deer were evening visitors. Don’t know how they will survive the winter. No bear sightings, but Bob is ready with his bear spray!

Rascal has updated his page too!  The littlest traveler is hanging in there.  He says “life is short, enjoy the moment.”

This entry was posted on August 15, 2017.

Scratching the Surface in Idaho

Camping on the Snake River near American Falls, Idaho.

We have enjoyed our time in to Idaho so far, with stops in American Falls, Blackfoot, the Sun Valley area and Mountain Home.  Bob visited each of the contiguous US states during his pilot career but I had never been to Idaho.  There is much more to Idaho than is apparent upon first impressions, as a native proudly pointed out.  My first thought was that this was going to be a sort of bland and uninteresting place. Not so.

Foliage in many shades of sage accents the landscape of yellow-brown fields and mountains, occasionally dotted with fir trees growing on the shaded northern faces.  Despite the dry, desert climate, there is vast agriculture to be found and lush crops, thanks to the Snake River and a large system of aquifers and springs.

The camping has been fantastic.  We found some really cool places, including the Snake River spot on BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) that Bob researched.  We have never mastered fishing and were contemplating how nice a fresh fish dinner would complement this experience when some pre-sunset fishermen showed up.  “Beer for fish?” Soon enough we had a small bass caught, fileted and delivered, a yummy appetizer.

Don’t we all think of potatoes when we think of Idaho?  Blackfoot, the city that touts itself as the “World Potato Capital” had a pretty airport park with huge paved RV spots including electricity and water.   We visited the potato museum there and learned about potato history and the unique role of the Idaho climate, including the volcanic soil which is so important.  We were too early for the annual potato harvest, but found a restaurant that served up outstanding fresh hand cut fries, and had a baked potato bar lunch at the museum (overpriced, but a fitting way to end the tour).

We found that Idaho has a network of 19 fish hatcheries that stock the rivers with various resident species, mostly rainbow trout, in the interests of fishing enthusiasts and supplementing the tourism economy. What a great idea! Hayspur Hatchery, near Belleview, offered an expansive free campground first come first serve, another one of Bob’s internet research finds.

En route to Hayspur,  we happened upon  the EBR-1 Atomic Museum, the first power plant in the world (now decommissioned) to produce usable electricity using atomic energy.  RV parking and free tours were advertised and it looked like a good travel break so we stopped.  There was more detail than could be absorbed on a one hour rest stop, and the enthusiasm of the museum presenters for their subject matter was evident.  We both agreed that the high level take-away was that as a country we gave up too soon on nuclear power.  The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl incidents negatively swayed public opinion, despite the advances of EBR-2 technology which supposedly mitigated safety issues of the earlier technology. The topic of re-exploring nuclear  power has been broached recently and is a concept that could hold significant benefits for climate, economy and our country’s security.  I strongly disagree with much of what the current administration is trying to accomplish, but if they can get their act together on this issue I’ll send them a commendation.  Let’s hope they haven’t let all our great scientists go . . .

The only disappointment in Idaho has been the increasingly grim haze, thanks to wildfires across the Pacific northwest.  Now there are fires in Idaho and Oregon too.  It is ruining the view and our pictures.  We are wondering how this is going to impact the eclipse experience if the situation doesn’t improve.  There is only a hint of smoke at the moment and if it gets worse, a change of plans may be needed.

Met Chunk the steer at a 4-H Fair in Blackfoot and explored with his young handlers what it is like to raise show animals for auction. Bob was intrigued with the idea of growing his own steaks. For me, I’d choose potato farming and a veggie diet.

Fish Hatchery in American Falls provided a self-guided explanation of the hatching and releasing process. These are some of the concrete raceways where rainbow trout are housed.

What we presumed to be potato fields outside of Blackfoot. Potato crops require 24 inches of water, and with only 9 inches of annual rainfall, supplemental sprinkling is mandatory.  An abundant water supply from the Snake River and aquifers along with fancy sprinkler systems solves the problem.

City campsite in Blackfoot. Electricity and water for $20/night and free dump station at the fire dept.

Impromptu educational opportunity near Atomic, Idaho, preserving nuclear history and encouraging a closer look at future opportunities for this technology.

Rosy posing in front of these these nuclear jet engines that were developed in the 1950’s and scrapped in the 1960’s before  being implemented. Being an aviation buff, Bob was amazed as he had never heard of this project before. The gray skyline has taken over the last few days.

Surprised to learn that pelicans live in this environment.  These white pelicans don’t dive bomb to retrieve their food like the brown pelicans at home in St. Pete.

Bald eagle sighting one morning at Hayspur Hatchery.

Campsite at Hayspur Hatchery for 3 nights. Availability of water and pit toilets were the only amenities. Popular with families and their little ones on fishing outings.

Day trip to Ketchum and the ski areas in Sun Valley where we learned the summer visitors surpass the winter visitors.  Could definitely spend more time here.

Visit to pretty Silver Creek Preserve, in search of moose. Alas, no sightings. Discovered the area was a favorite get-away of Ernest Hemingway.

Hazy sunsets at Hayspur Hatchery.

This entry was posted on August 7, 2017.

On the Road Again

On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again . . .

Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again . . .

Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turning our way . . .

And our way
Is on the road again . . .

 – Willie Nelson

Bob has the travel day theme song programmed into his phone and we play a quick rendition through the bus speakers as we depart.  I like to change the words to “STAY on the road again”, recognizing Rosy’s tendency to find the rumble strips every now and then. We’ve made our way to Idaho, but there’s more to tell about Utah, so we’d better catch up.

We headed off from the Bryce Canyon area on a dreary morning, dodging the rain showers on the way to Helper, a little town named for the “helper locomotives” that used to assist the steam engines climbing the steep mountains.  En route we passed endless trucks zooming around the countryside that appeared to be hauling some type of rock.  At one of our rest stops Bob asked a driver “What are you hauling?” and we found the answer: coal.  Down the road a bit farther we discovered the coal plant, and later saw trains busy supplementing the supply.  In this region the economics of coal mining are working, at least for now.

Helper looked like another town right out of the old West, and the area was rich in railroad and mining history.  We spent time visiting the Western Mining and Railroad Museum, which included a nicely done tribute to the mining families in the region, telling the tale of the diverse, hard-working work force representing immigrants from many nations and the injustices they endured serving the mining companies, including several terrible mining disasters.  From Helper, we drove north finding abundant recreation with lakes, fishing, ATV trails, ski resorts, tubing and various water sports.

Our next stop was Brigham City.  Bob lived there for a year as a child when his Dad was on assignment for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.   The scenery was striking, with the town nestled at the base of the imposing mountains to the east.  The area was clearly richer than the little towns to the south, solidly middle class, clean and quiet.  I said I could almost see myself living there. Bob reminded me the winters were cold, and further, “You wanna convert?” referencing the large Mormon community.  He and his Dad never felt like they fit in, being attendees of the local Bible Church, not one of the more prolific Latter Day Saints (LDS) congregations.  We heard that theme several times while in Utah, that non-Mormons are never totally integrated into the community and are subject to subtle forms of discrimination.  You have to wonder if that is so different from the experience of any other minority group. We, the majority, aren’t used to not fitting in.

Utah seemed to present special challenges for women.  In a ladies’ restroom I found a flier discreetly posted on the back of the door offering free domestic violence and sexual assault services.  Some reading on the issue found that according to their own state government, Utah has a significantly higher rate of reported rapes than the rest of the county. We heard that sexual assault and incest is tolerated by the Mormon Church, at least in some areas.  We were not exactly out there doing an objective investigation, just listening to the experiences others happened to offer.  The other thorny aspect for the Rosy crew is Utah’s controls and high taxes on tobacco and alcohol purchases, which goes hand in hand with the Mormon position on taking care of one’s physical and spiritual health.  Let’s just say we planned our visit in advance and didn’t purchase any vices there. Perhaps an extended stay in Utah would have some health benefits?

Chores and repairs were worked into these last two stops. Bob got the dash AC back on line and had a leaky tire fixed on the Rosy Toad.  I had a pleasant grocery shopping adventure at a local Brigham City supermarket finding an almost perfect selection at reasonable prices.  The lower altitudes (4,000 to 6,000 feet) are warmer but Bob is sleeping better and Rascal is definitely more chipper, and loving the lush green grass at Golden Spikes RV Park.  Think we will do better to avoid those 8000+ foot destinations.

I felt like Utah deserved more time to explore than we had on this agenda.  However, August 21st and the solar eclipse is approaching and we need to keep moving.

Passed dozens of these coal-hauling trucks as we traveled the countryside along State Road 10 north of I-70.

Rendezvous with the air conditioning parts at a remote UPS service center en route. Drove the bus down this dirt road to find that the customer service center was closed. Their customer hours were 5:00 pm to 5:30 pm only, not 5:00 am to 5:30 pm as we had assumed. Oh my goodness. Really? Thirty minutes a day? Had to go back later via car.

Spent a couple of nights at Blue Cut RV Park near Helper, along the Price River. Coal-hauling trains passed by multiple times each day.

A drive in search of a ghost town outside of Helper was a morning adventure. One of many abandoned mining communities in the hills.

Downtown Helper, UT

Came away from the mining museum with a greater appreciation for the past contributions of miners, and feeling like we need to do more to help prepare these communities as we transition away from fossil fuels.

One of many LDS temples, with golden angel trumpeter on the spire. Interesting that they often don’t have a visible name of the denomination or congregation outside, or have a sign with service times welcoming visitors.

Hillside letters “B” and “I” adorn the mountains of Brigham City. “B”for Box Elder High School and “I” for Intermountain Indian School, now closed.

View toward Brigham City from the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, an unusual wetland preserve in the desert and part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

 

Bob was able to find his old apartment building, middle school and church in Brigham City, and happy to discover a favorite restaurant, Maddox Ranch House, was still in business, 45+ years later. It is one of those value/family type places, sort of like the now defunct Kapok Tree (Clearwater, FL) and Peter Pan (Frederick, MD). Enjoyed trout dinners with all the accompaniments. The place was packed and almost no one seemed to mind that alcohol was not served.

 

This entry was posted on August 2, 2017.

Elevation & Dry Camping

Wildlife encounter! Hint: Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam and the deer and the . . .

I’m afraid we have become weather whiners.   Initially worried about feeling too chilly during the pre-summer northbound excursion, now we are seeking elevation to escape the western summer heat.   We hit a high of about 112 in sunny St. George, Utah, elevation 2860.  From St. George, we looped southward to Jacob Lake, AZ to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then traveled north to Bryce Canyon, Utah.  Both of those areas have elevations in the 7000 to 8000 foot range.  That seems to drop the temperature by about 25 degrees, enough that we need a jacket in the early morning and late evening.  These locations often get a cooling afternoon shower and we haven’t needed air conditioning.  The downside is that Bob is having trouble with altitude insomnia.  Kicking the smoking habit might help . . .  Little Rascal is having the opposite problem, needing more sleep than his usual substantial amount.

Bryce is packed with summertime tourists from all over the world and campground spaces were filled long before we put this stop on our agenda.  As we observed at Zion, it seems that people can’t get enough of the canyon experience.  Bob researched an opportunity for dry camping at a secluded spot about 15 minutes away.  The campground is on National Park Service land, catering to equestrian visitors as well as campers, hikers, bikers and ATV-ers.   There are four large camping sites tucked about a mile down a maintained dirt road, with packed gravel parking pads, a picnic table and fire ring on a concrete slab, adjacent pit toilet and hitching post for your horse.  All this for $5 per night with an annual park pass, first come first serve.   While tent camping seems most popular, there is plenty of room for a motorhome.

“Dry” means that the campsite is not improved with water/sewer hook-ups, so you arrive with your needed water supply aboard and strive not to exceed your black and gray water holding tank capacities (40 gallons & 60 gallons respectively on Rosy).  No electric hook-ups are available, so you generate and manage your own supply using a generator, solar panels, and inverter, much like the boating experience at anchor.   We can use all of our appliances except the washing machine in this setting.  Some conservation measures are in order for dry camping, with menus designed to minimize messy clean-ups and quicker showers.

This turned out to be a fabulous retreat and we still had good Verizon and T-Mobile coverage.  Even better! For five nights there was definitely no hardship here.  It was a quick drive to Bryce Canyon National Park to see more beautiful rock scenery.

Left Rosy at Jacob Lake Campground, AZ and took the car for a day trip to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Spectacular and not so crowded, with less tourist infrastructure in this region.

Miles of forest near the Grand Canyon’s North Rim burned in 2006. We learned how nature-made fires (lightning) can be a valuable part of the ecosystem.

Vast meadows at the high altitudes was another surprise. No bison sightings though.

Rosy posing near the red rocks exiting Red Canyon Campground near Bryce. Stopped to dump waste and fill up with water before dry camping and had to detach the car with tight quarters here.

Traveling the dusty road in search of Coyote Hollow Equestrian Campground.

At Bryce Canyon on the rim trail between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. So many tourists here taking in the gorgeous geological formations. The more adventuresome hiked the steep trails to the bottom and back.

Hoodoos, fins, windows . . . the rock formations are amazing and continue to slowly evolve with weathering, erosion and frost-wedging. No wonder there is an endless stream of visitors taking it all in.

Our peaceful little spot which we had all to ourselves for much of the time here. A great project location. Bob worked on the dome, installing a solar fan to reduce heat which was causing the bus network to malfunction. I tackled staining a new cabinet door to place where a large TV used to reside in the bedroom. If you look closely you’ll see Bob up there on the roof!

Excited to have these beautiful equestrian visitors join us at the campsite our last day there.

Yay! Managed to catch up with our St. Pete friends Tug & Monique and family while they were visiting Bryce. Rainy evening, so we had a cozy dinner aboard the bus, joined by our equestrian camper neighbor. The rain relented enough for the kids to visit with the horses late in the evening. What fun!

This entry was posted on July 26, 2017.

Beauty and Intrigue

Photo op thanks to our friend Deb who coaxed Bob into participating. Tuacahn Amphitheater, St. George, Utah.

We’ve picked up the pace to get to eastern Oregon in plenty of time for the solar eclipse on August 21.  We’ve traveled through the rest of northern New Mexico and a small portion of Arizona to St George, Utah.

Page, Arizona was an intriguing stop, a town born in the 50’s when dam construction flooded Glen Canyon and created Lake Powell.  A booming tourist business, hiking, canyon tours, camping and house-boating vacations were off-shoots of the dam project designed to manage the Colorado river waters and produce hydroelectricity.

We toured the dam which included a descent to the bottom to view the electricity-generating turbines.   Internet research provided pieces to the puzzle that were not explicit during the tour, including the controversy about the construction of the dam and whether it’s ongoing operation, with myriad environmental issues and alternatives for water management and energy, is the best option going forward.  It was clear that without the dam, Page would be a ghost town.

A paradox that demanded explanation was the presence of a colossal coal burning power plant just down the road.  The tour guide explained that the dam was never meant to provide for all their power needs.  Further research found the plant is located on Navaho land and is a huge component of the Navaho economy here, providing millions of dollars in wages, leases and royalties.  Mistakenly thinking that all Indian tribes are more like the Sioux of Standing Rock in terms of environmental priorities, that came as a surprise.   The coal plant is struggling, with competition from more economical sources of energy threatening its future.  The Navajo are apparently beginning to realize that the President’s stated commitment to make the coal industry great again is an unrealistic promise and they are working on a transition plan toward cleaner energy sources as a future economic generator.   A big take-away from this stop was the example of how economic realities influence real live communities and how these factors may conflict with the best interest of the community at large.

Zion National Park was beyond beautiful – exceeding expectations.  The park is a very popular summertime destination and ideally we would have planned farther in advance and secured campground reservations to give us more time there. Bob felt the best option to see the area was to drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway through the park, which includes a mountainous section with sharp switchbacks and a tunnel, only high enough in the center for vehicles such as Rosy.  They make the tunnel one way for an extra $15 so you can drive down the middle and have a higher clearance.  We had to disconnect and drive “Rosy Toad” (the tow car) separately due to vehicle length restrictions.   Photo ops were regretfully limited with crowded scenic overlooks and few places to pull off a large vehicle.

It was an adventure for sure, and mostly for Bob, who was driving the bus.  It’s a piece of cake in a little car.  When he got inside the mile-long tunnel he discovered the bus headlights were too dim to be effective. This rock-carved tunnel was not equipped with emergency lighting and was pitch black.  I have no idea how he made it through being the first vehicle in the line.  (Later found a blown fuse.  We don’t drive at night so never noticed.)  Outside the tunnel Rosy got too close to some low lying rocks on a sharp right hand turn and got a new scrape along the lower side, extending the scar from a prior tangle with a tree.   Poor Rosy.  She was not happy about this part of the adventure, and shortly thereafter she blew a fuse, shut down the dashboard AC system and exuded a rank odor inside.  Further revenge on the lazy travelers for subjecting her to such abuse and making her haul around a load of sewage in 100+ degree weather when there had been a perfect opportunity to dump the tanks.

From here we are visiting with cruising friends in St. George and preparing  for a week long “dry camping” experiment at higher and cooler elevations, more beautiful scenery and hoping to rendezvous with some St. Pete friends on a camping vacation . . .

Glen Canyon Dam & Lake Powell

Hydroelectricity-generating turbines inside the dam

Navaho Generating Station on the Navaho Indian Reservation near Page, AZ and the Glen Canyon Dam

Boat trip through Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon formed by the wear of water rushing through rock. No antelope sightings – they’ve left the area.

Rosy waiting at the Zion tunnel entrance

Breathtaking Zion National Park, UT

A delightful trip through gorgeous Snow Canyon Park with Deb & Bill. Fascinating scenery and the most incredible red rocks.

This entry was posted on July 17, 2017.