2014-05-06 WA/OR/NV/AZ/UT/ID Part 3/5
Day 11/Friday/June 6:
Even at 5:30 am, Valley of Fire was hot. The red rocks take on a glow before the sun rises. There is a dump station so we took advantage of it and potable water to fill our fresh water tank. We stopped to see the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock. There is a 3 story staircase to climb to view the ancient rock art. Thankfully they are partially protected behind plexiglas so vandals won’t add their contributions. Atlatl was a type of hunting tool the natives used in the area.
We returned to Overton for groceries then retraced our path to I15 for The Arizona Strip. The interstate passes through the Virgin River Gorge travels from Nevada to Arizona to Utah. The times zones are confusing as Nevada is Pacific time, Arizona does not use Daylight Savings Time and Utah is Mountain Time. We did stop in Mesquite, Nevada to fuel up at the Shell. Mesquite is a retirement town we would never retire to. Glitzy, cookie cutter Las Vegas wannabe.
We stopped at the BLM office in St. George to pick up some maps and info. The Arizona Strip map for $12 is a must for traveling where we had planned. We were told the road south to Toroweap was a good road so we headed south. People tend to travel way too fast on gravel roads so it builds up washboards which shake the hell out of you vehicle not to mention any unsecured items in your camper. After 20 bone-jarring miles with 80+ to go, we retreated back to St. George and headed east on 9 through Hurricane, 59 south and east to Hilldale and 389 into Arizona. We stopped at the local tribe’s Chevron to fill up as we were venturing into the back country.
Back on 389, we turned south on USFS road 22 recommended by the BLM in St. George. It was a decent gravel road, not nearly as deeply wash boarded as the road to Toroweap. The further south we traveled, the mor mixed the forest became. Once mostly pine, the forest added Engelman Spruce, Douglas Fire and Aspens. There was a tornado in 1958 that blew down 550 acres of virgin pine. The young pines are renewing the land but since their habitat is in the higher elevations, their progress is slow. We found a downed pine that had been cut with a chainsaw that had very narrow growth rings.
As it was getting late, we drove down another road then found where others had camped. It was level and quiet. Toller could run and run and he did allowing his nose to lead the way. Tired Toller slept well that night as did we with the scent of pines.
Day 12/Saturday/June 7:
We awoke early to head for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I had never been there and Tony had never seen the Grand Canyon. On the way to Highway 67, we saw a mature coyote, three Merriam turkey’s and a hawk. We heard the woodpeckers. Once we came to the highway, we cut across to a viewpoint of the Saddle Mountain Wilderness where you can see a deep gash in the valley below. It was quite windy and there were no guardrails on the ledge going almost straight down.
A few miles down the road we entered the park and parked at the visitor center to check out evening photography opportunities. The park had a guest photographer so many of the rangers were knowledgeable about when and where. Since we were at Bright Angel viewpoint, we decided to stay for the evening shot then find another boondock spot on 22 for the night as the campground was full.
But, first we needed to dump our fresh water tank of the alkaline water from Valley Of Fire. The “potable” water was so bad Toller wouldn’t drink and Tony said that coffee wouldn’t even mask the taste. We checked with the rangers who allowed us to dump and refill even though we weren’t camping at the campground.
Returning to Bright Angel Point, I headed out with camera gear to the very end to await the magic. There was a glow but it wasn’t as impressive as I had envisioned. I even waited until after the sunset but there were no clouds to send the last rays for the after sunset glow. A group of photographers from the Albuquerque area said they got some amazing images at Imperial Point that morning with Mount Hayden all aglow. Looks like we will be up really early to drive the 45 minutes from wherever we stay the night.
Underwhelmed, we drove back up to 22 to find a place for the night. It was dark but we turned off the first road where 2 campers had claimed the lower flat ground. We put the truck in four wheel low and climbed up to a flat area. A quick dinner and we were asleep.
Day 13/Sunday/June 8:
We were so tired this morning and the drive to Imperial Point would be long and through deer territory so we elected to sleep in. When we swing through this way again we will camp at the campground in October as no reservations are needed. It will be closer to the point for both morning and evening photos.
Highway 67 had little traffic but they all seemed in a hurry. We stopped at Jacob Lake for fuel then headed east on 89 A North. A series of tight curves brought us out of the mountainous terrain and down into a valley. We turned north on House Rock Valley Road through the Vermillion Cliffs area. As graded gravel roads go, it wasn’t a bad road. The washboards would come further north where the popular trails for Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch are.
We stopped at a viewpoint for the California Condors who nest in the Vermillion Cliffs to the northeast. Noting the whitewashed stains on the cliffs, Tony scanned the area and discovered a nest with an adult spreading its wings to fly. We saw a total of three birds catching the thermals scanning for food.
California Condors used to scavenge for mammoths 1.5 million years ago. With the extinction of their main food source their numbers declined until just a few birds remained. A valiant effort has brought their numbers up slowly. Impressive birds with a wingspan of 9.5 feet, they again soar above looking for smaller remains for survival.
Another stop was an old ranch with a beautiful local stone chimney still standing. The house had collapsed but a weathered shed, corral and small barn remained. Outside the shed was an air powered shovel that would shovel soil into a mine car.
From House Rock Valley Road we saw a rock formation on a ridge with an arch and some interesting jumbles. We tried a road that headed toward them but it ended at a gate where it became soft coral hued sand. There was a tight turnaround so we returned to the main road. There were offshoots but they were narrow and we weren’t sure where they went.
We ventured up Winter Road that wound up to the west toward Fredonia thinking we would get some views to the west and north. It was a rough road that revealed a small canyon on one side. After awhile, we turned back as the route travelled atop along the top of a plateau and we weren’t keen on backtracking to Fredonia.
Toward the northeast some beautiful formations that are the Coyote Buttes (South and North) began to take shape. From atop Winter Road returning to the main road you could see the colorful badlands and the teepee formations among others. Trails to the east would lead to the Paw Paws, White Pocket and the famed Wave.
As we traveled north, they became more prominent, but the traffic became more pronounced also with people who had permits for the various trails. We were wondering why people would bring sedans on a rough road but were even more puzzled when we were almost sideswiped by a lumbering class C rental.
Eventually we arrived on pavement so we again turned east on 89 past the Paria Contact Station (permits for the previous area) toward Cottonwood Canyon Road in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. I had visions of candy colored rock outcroppings, especially along The Cockscomb. Initially, the scenery was not too colorful as we followed the trickle of the Pariah River. But, as we neared the Cockscomb, the color began to show. We had seen some power lines but were hoping they would head away from us. Whoever thoughtlessly engineered these transmission lines thoroughly destroyed one of the most beautiful back roads we have traveled with not one but two parallel lines that probably head toward Salt Lake City from the Glen Canyon Dam on Lake Powell.
We had planned to boondock along the route to take advantage of morning and evening light but were so disgusted that we decided to make Bryce our evening destination. Later, we were told by the a Bryce ranger whose dad was a lineman that they preceded the monument’s establishment by a few years. She was defensive about it saying people had to have power. But, I say that they could have been routed elsewhere.
Grosvenor Arch is a short 1 mile side trip to a golden yellow double arch. To see both arches, a sidewalk takes you to the base so those with disabilities can see through to the sky.
This is a sandy road and the winds had picked up. We had our windows closed and the AC on but it was so fine that it seeped into the truck. We passed Kodachrome State Park where we had stayed in a cabin in September 2010. We stopped along the paved road to photograph a picturesque shed with some nice geology in the background. Not really the best light but the composition was nice.
We stayed at North Campground at Bryce in Loop D which surprisingly wasn’t full. Almost, but not quite. The sites are a bit too close for me but hey, we were in Bryce. Our neighbors had a smoky campfire so we retreated to our camper after a walk with Toller around our loop and to the pay station.
Day 14/Monday/June 9:
We were up before sunrise to photograph from Sunset Point, my favorite viewpoint. With the dog along, we couldn’t walk the trails together but I did venture a few switchbacks down the trail from the viewpoint. Surprisingly I only had the point and shoot crowd for company and they left after sunrise. I had the whole viewpoint to myself until a bus load of tourists arrived. The backlit glow of the hoodoos is so ethereal that you just can’t stop shooting.
After leaving Bryce, we thought we would check out the Sevier Scenic Backway. We passed through ranches and saw a few antelope but the road was really dry and dusty and the traffic including USFS trucks would blow right by leaving us in a cloud of dust.
Back on highway 12, we passed through the red rock tunnels and by Red Canyon. Highway 89 would take us to Panguitch for fuel then on 143 toward Cedar Breaks National Monument. When we were in this area in 2010, a controversial coal strip mine was being debated. Sadly, I was informed by the gas station cashier that the Alton Mine was in operation. People need jobs she said as the double bellied coal transport trucks rumbled through this beautiful brick home town. Maybe so I replied but not 50 miles from Bryce. Coal mines are dirty and ugly and coal is antiquated unless newer technology to improve the emissions from the generators is invented. Jobs always win.
143 is a winding highway through ranches and recreation. Panguitch Lake is for recreation not photography as vacation homes and vehicles parked on the shore attest. We encountered some road work as the crews were laying down a layer of asphalt. In these higher elevations, roads get hammered due to the cold and snow and chains. There was also some volcanic rubble along the road which might indicate this area is on the fringe of the Great Basin.
Cedar Breaks has a nice campground just down the road from the Visitor Center. Our camp hosts were from Texas who demonstrated true Texan hospitality. Our campsite was a pull through across from them in a field of emerging wildflowers. It was about a month too soon for the explosion of color but a variety of bluebells was just beginning to bloom.
We had lunch and took a nap due to the high altitude. Several hours before sunset we drove to Point Supreme which is just behind the Visitor Center. There is a half mile trail from the point to the campground but I didn’t feel like hauling heavy camera gear in the dark. I did discover that it had overviews into the amphitheater that gave a different perspective.
The Ramparts Trail skims the amphitheater offering great views but it was very windy and it has no guard rails to prevent a gust of wind from toppling you into the steep canyons. There isn’t the glow that you get in Bryce except deep into the amphitheater. But, the point has thick log rails supported by rock pillars that place you too far away for a deeper view. I did get some images that might work but tomorrow I would really see some glow about an hour after sunrise.
Since we had already eaten dinner, we took Toller for a stroll then went to sleep after watching the dark sky fill with stars.
Day 15/Tuesday/June 10:
Before sunrise was too early for any images due to orientation of the amphitheater at Point Supreme (elevation 10,350′) toward the west. After about an hour the sun hit the upper cliffs and it’s outer flanks but the sun, being direct, flattened the outcroppings. A half hour later brought the side and backlighting into play and now the light was sublime. I worked the point overview and the views from the campground trail. I was alone in the quiet and the light. It was liberating not having to find a view amongst a crowd of point and shooters and the more serious photographers.
Park staff was on the job installing a station for filling water bottles like we have seen at Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. A ranger told us that the source of their water was from underground springs. We could fill up our drinking water bottles from a spigot in the campground or adjacent picnic area. We always check with the park personnel regarding potable water and the taste. After filling our water containers, we headed south on 148 toward 14 to stop for fuel and food in Cedar City at Shell and Smiths respectively. 14 is a beautiful road that passes through a beautiful gorge and gives you a glimpse along the road of the red rock that typifies Zion.
Highway 56 goes directly to Nevada passing through ranches and the small towns that support them after the sprawl of Cedar City. It is fairly flat and straight then climbs into mountains between the two states.
From Panaca, we drove directly to the campground at Cathedral Gorge State Park. We began to feel the afternoon heat so after quickly raising the top and opening the vents, windows and flaps, we took a nap until it cooled down.
Silly me had my time zones mixed up so I missed some nice light on some of the formations that typify the park. Making my way back the short distance to our campsite, I swept the beam of the flashlight across the road to spot any snakes that the park ranger said might be in the campground. It was still warm so I went to bed with the Fantastik fan running. The sound of large raindrops startled me awake but i fell back to sleep soon.
Day 16/Wednesday/June 11:
Since the storm had brought in some clouds, I thought there might be some great light at dawn. There was a colorful sunrise but the light didn’t fall on any of the more interesting formations. I did have several black-eared jack rabbits for company so I turned my lens on them. After returning to our campsite, I almost stepped on a baby snake. He curled up against the base of one of the shade trees but didn’t coil or hiss. I am unsure of the species.
Traffic on 93 northbound was very light so we had the whole highway to ourselves at times. We bypassed Pioche, a notorious mining town that rivaled some of the baddest at the time for violence. It was beginning to warm up and we had visited the town in 2010.
Up ahead we saw two very large birds sitting on fence posts who, upon closer inspection were Golden Eagles. Since we could see no traffic for miles in either direction we slowed down for a closer look. Larger than the Bald Eagles that we see in our area, they are truly a majestic bird.
Ely sits at the crossroads of 3 highways: 50, 93and 6. The main businesses are on Great Basin Avenue as you approach town from the south. Downtown wasn’t exactly thriving but there was a casino/hotel and several defunct gas stations. In Ely, we had some businesses to visit for fuel, a better gasket to seal the air filter, and some rubber to better seal the driver’s side window. There is also a USFS Ranger a District office there so we could decide which way to drive to the Ruby Mountains.
I thought County Road 3 which heads north to the Ruby Lake Wildlife Refuge would be more scenic and direct than taking 93 north to Interstate 84 and Elko then driving 227 to Lamoille Canyon. The informed opinion of the ranger was that we would be fine but to watch for livestock and extraction trucks. It was paved for a distance but would eventually become a graded gravel road.
The cattle we saw were off in the distance eating sagebrush and our only encounter with a large truck was a two tanker petroleum truck we could see from miles away due to the dusty rooster tail following it. Other than a few pickups from ranches or the mine, there was very little traffic.
We drove through a mining area where the hills had been scraped away into a huge open pit. The names we saw were Barrick and Bald Mountain Mine but the name on my map said Mooney Basin Project in the same vicinity. We drove through but didn’t see much activity even though there was heavy equipment scattered around.
We passed by a monument for Fort Ruby which was one of the worst forts to be stationed at as it was isolated its purpose was to protect the settlers and transcontinental railroad workers from Indian attacks. The overland Trail and the Pony Express route pass closely by.
Ruby Lake Wildlife Refuge was more of a marsh with dikes and small ponds than a lake. It is spring fed from the snow pack on the Ruby Mountains to the west. There is a small settlement called Shantytown which is a collection of small older and newer homes.
The campground at South Ruby was empty so we had our pick of sites. We chose one with a view of the lake and the Maverick Springs Range to the east, number for $7.50. It had been a long 200 miles so we set up camp, had dinner and watched the almost full moon rise toward the east. To the north several sets of denticular clouds hing in the sky until the setting sun turned them a light pink. I just enjoyed the show as there wasn’t much of interest for photography due the lighting from our campsite.
Day 17/Thursday/June 12:
The day began with a beautiful sunrise over the far mountain range. We drove out to the access road to discover which birds were nesting and feeding. We saw many golden head blackbirds, white egrets, white-faced ibis, canvas back ducks, mallards and others that were unfamiliar. Pale blue Blue Flag and wild roses were blooming plus a miniature white creeping morning glory and some pink flowered plants I didn’t know.
The only people there were some management personnel turning the valves regulating water flow in the canals. Hunting is permitted in season and fish are stocked by the on site fish hatchery with bass and several species of trout. Dragonflies were numerous and in many sizes and colors.
We turned north to the Visitor Center but due to a staff shortage no one was available to answer our questions. We met several ladies outside, one of whom was a host at our next campground, Thomas Canyon. We stopped at the bressman cabin to see a finely constructed log home with a log roof. Mr. Bressman is buried on the site. He built the home and lived with his daughter and son-in-law there after selling a business in nearby Eureka.
We passed through ranch land and a Mormon church which served the entire valley with its large parking lot. One rancher had a large collection of big tires carefully arranged in rows. Others had the usual assortment of old farming equipment and vehicles. As we follow USFS road 788, we are following the Hastings Cutoff, part of the California Trail. As we come to a paved road numbered 767 and the split of 229, the trail veers eastward.
Secret Pass overlooking Secret Valley is a stunning view into fertile ranch land. Soon we are done with straight roads as we climb and twist along a gorge. We stop for lunch overlooking Devils Slide Canyon and a large herd of sheep hugging the hillsides as they graze. We could hear them as we ate our lunch. Before we saw a badger cross the road. This is only the second one we have ever seen, the other bring on a country road in Eastern Washington.
Fort Halleck Road is a gravel road that twists it’s way through ranches until it brings us to a Lamoille and the Lamoille Canyon Road. Sometimes we think we are lost but somehow we make our way to pavement. A local on an ORV with two young children senses we are lost so points the way ahead at a crossroad.
The Ruby Mountains are unlike any range in Nevada as they are green and still have some snow on the peaks. They very much resemble the Colorado Rockies with sheer walls and waterfalls from snow patches. Lamoille Canyon RiD is very scenic and does provide the visitor with many pull outs to view the splendor. One pullout overlooking the Lions Club Camp has an informational panel about the glacier you can see. We saw a weasel scoot across the road in front of our truck.
Thomas Canyon Campground is almost full so we pick site 30 in a Loop C, a single site. With our Senior Pass, we pay $8.50. The hosts we met were gracious and the vault toilets were very clean and had air fresheners. Vault toilets at campgrounds can be very nasty so these were a gift. You know, the simple things in life. We also have had to dig a hole out in the desert so this was civilization and a luxury.
We wandered around the campground which seemed to have rushing streams everywhere. Lamoille Creek was fed by at least two smaller streams. All were swollen from the snowmelt from the Ruby Mountains. Moths were busy feeding from the bottle brush blooms of chokecherry bushes. Smilicina racemosa, orange columbine, and a pink wild geranium were blooming.
Our campsite was next to one of the feeder streams so we fell asleep listening to the rush of water like the creek by our house back home. One of our neighbors were on motorcycles. They had a specially fabricated trailer for their German Shepherd that had its own bed and windshield.