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Ed in Montana 10-11-2009 04:34 PM

Colorado Plateau Parks Tour - Fall 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
We returned yesterday from two weeks of camping on the Colorado Plateau in Utah, Colorado and Arizona, poking around in places we havenít had a chance to visit in the last quarter century of exploring the area, plus hitting the wineries in western Colorado. What fun!

Eerily similar to our Spring trip to the Mojave Desert, we returned to find a blizzard hitting the Northern Rockies, bringing an end to most of camping season in the frozen North.

First, the facts, then the details (with photos).

Colorado Plateau Tour Trip Report Summary
September 26th Ė October 10th, 2009

Ed in Montana, Rosemary in Montana (the Expedition Photographer), the giant economy- size black Labrador, the small semi-hyper yellow labrador and MT Rover the Sportsmobile. Plus the Expedition Photographerís sister, Evan (the wine glass washer), her husband John, both from North Carolina with the rented 27 foot Coachman RV.

Longest trip in the Sporty crammed in with the two labradogs.
Longest trip RVing with somebody else.

Miles traveled: 2,755.8 Helena, MT to the Grand Canyon North Rim and back.
Diesel burned: 201.45 gallons
Best SMB mileage: 20.66 mpg dropping off the eastside of the 8,500 foot Kaibab Plateau in Arizona.
Worst SMB mileage: 12.09 mpg driving around the 8,500 foot Kaibab Plateau in Arizona.

I thought I would get better average mileage than 14 mpg with the new E range tires, but the SMB was heavily loaded with labradogs, gear and a mountain bike on the back, plus we had several days of heavy headwinds.
Most expensive fuel: $2.899/gallon in Jacob Lake, AZ
Least expensive fuel: $2.599/gallon in Palisade, CO.

Other Sportsmobiles Seen: 4 (Hello Heather, Tom and Lynn!)
Number of tours of our Sportsmobile given: lost count again!
Number of UNICAT MAN truck campers seen: 1 (We always see one or two).

Best Semi-developed Campsite: Big Bend BLM Campground on the Colorado River northeast of Moab, UT.
Best developed Campsite: Hovenweep Campground, Hovenweep National Monument, UT.
Best camp dinner: Grilled wild Alaskan salmon with a jalpeno fruit salsa made with ripe melons from Green River, UT.
Best red wine of the trip: Palisade Red from Plum Creek Winery, Palisade, CO. Cheap ($12!) but very good for a dry red table wine.
Best white wine of the trip: Luminesce, from Leí Ecole No. 41, Walla Walla, WA. Slightly pricey but rich and complex.

Number of National Parks and National Monuments visited: 9
Arches National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Hovenweep National Monument
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Navajo National Monument
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Number of CDs of Ken Burns-Dayton Duncan's audio book "The National parks" listened to: 4 out of 5

Number of State Parks Camped in: 1
Colorado River Ė Island Acres State Park, CO

Number of haboobs survived: 1 (Why do we always run into dust storms?)
Hottest day: 95 degrees F at Big Bend Campground on the Colorado River, UT
Coldest temp: mid 20s F with a vicious wind chill, Morehouse Campground, Mesa Verde National Park, CO.

Most boring Interstate: I-15 in eastern Idaho.
Most surprisingly beautiful side road: State Route 141 through Unaweap Canyon and the Dolores River Canyon in CO.

Number of Species of Fall Wildflowers seen: 4
Number of clear, moonless evenings with good stargazing: 1
Number of clear, moonlit evenings: 7
Number of wineries visited: 4
Number of ruins of Ancient Puebloans seen: enough
Number of things that broke on the Sportsmobile: Only 2 minor things!
Number of photos taken: 565

surfgeek33 10-11-2009 08:51 PM

Re: Colorado Plateau Parks Tour - Fall 2009
Can't wait for the pics. :a4:

Ed in Montana 10-12-2009 06:57 AM

Re: Colorado Plateau Parks Tour - Fall 2009
I can see that Surfgeek is a visually oriented SMBier. The pics are coming!

Ed in Montana 10-12-2009 06:58 AM

Itís another long drive south on Interstate 15, for the third time this year to explore more of the southwest deserts. Itís been so hot that we packed up at dusk on Friday evening to avoid the heat of the mid-90s during the afternoon. We get on the road before 7AM to drive more during the cool of the morning. This is the first desert trip with both labradogs, so there will have to be a lot of water stops to cool off.

I-15 crosses the Continental Divide three times just to get out of western Montana, and then cruises through the flat Snake River Plain in eastern Idaho. Thereís almost no traffic until you reach the Idaho Falls Ė Pocatello area, and even then itís usually not too bad, except when the dust blows from the potato fields. The real traffic nightmare starts in Utah where I-84 coming from Boise merges with I-15 at Tremonton. Traffic doubles, triples and quadruples as I-15 nears Salt Lake City and frequently grinds to a halt for long periods.

Today, we are skipping the worst of this traffic madness, and we take I-84 east from Ogden, and circle around the east side of SLC. This route to Moab is slightly longer in distance, but shorter in time and traffic induced stress.

Still itís a long 500 mile day when we reach Rockport State Park just east of Park City and set up camp in our reserved site.

Rockport is your typical small reservoir state park, with several small campgrounds and boat ramps. The reservoir must have a lot of fish considering the number of boats floating around out there in late evening trying to catch them.

Setting up camp, Iím still sweating in a T-shirt and shorts at around 80 degrees F. As soon as the sun sets behind the Wasatch Range, Iím shivering and trying to find where Iíve packed my fleece jacket and long pants. Fall in the Southwest, hot days, cold nights.

Ed in Montana 10-12-2009 07:49 AM

Re: Colorado Plateau Parks Tour - Fall 2009

The humans and the labradogs are up before dawn despite the chill, to get ready for the 300 mile run down to Moab and the desert. Rockport State Park is pretty for a reservoir at this time of year, and itís been a quiet night despite the filled campground.

The rising sun lights up the mountainsides to the west, and reflects off of the large windows from some of the McMansions on eastern edge of Park City.

The Sporty is loaded and running before 8:30AM and we take US 40 south from Heber City. The Fall colors are just starting to show at these high elevations, and we stop at a Uinta National Forest campground just off the highway before it reaches the plateau and Strawberry Reservoir.

Itís a beautiful campground surrounded by aspen, but has way too much road noise from the major highway. We continue on to Duschene, Utah and then up and over the 9,000 foot pass on US 191 and down to start of the Colorado Plateau at Price.

The traffic on the run to Green River on US 191 isnít too bad, with only a little death passing from crazy people. The number of large motor boats being dragged north at the end of the weekend from Lake Powell is astounding, and I count around 50 of the giant rigs. They must be getting great gas mileage!

Crossing the bridge over the railroad tracks just west of Green River, we barely avoid the obstacles created by a pickup truck losing his load of lumber from his trailer. First, we glimpse a shovel fly off the trailer as the truck passes us going north, and then see two by fours flying in the rear view mirror. What a dangerous mess.

Relieved that the worst of the driving is over we refuel at Green River and stop for some of their famous melons.

I send the Expedition Photographer over to the Dunham melon stand for a quick stop.

Half an hour later, Iím still waiting for her to return, after person after person leaves the stand with their arms loaded with dozens and dozens of melons. Finally, she returns with two ripe cantaloupes and a small watermelon. Onward.

For some reason, the town of Green river has almost no place to walk a dog, so we stop at the rest stop on I-70 near the Moab turnoff. There we see this unique RV.

I know I have seen this smiling RV face somewhere before, but I canít place it.

A little after 4PM we finally reach Big Bend BLM campground on the Colorado River, northeast of Moab just across from Arches National Park. John and Evan, the North Carolinians, have arrived only a short time ago, after picking up their rented RV the day before in Denver, and have saved us a site. A good thing too since the campground fills up quickly, even on this end-of-weekend night.

Thereís one other Sportsmobile in the campground, a green colored 2006 RB. Owned by Heather in Tucson. Heatherís been on the road since March of this year after purchasing the SMB used in Colorado. Iím envious that she has spent more nights already in her Sporty in one year than we have in three years. Ah to be retired!

We catch up on news from North Carolina as I grill some chicken for dinner in the shade along the river, but itís still pretty hot after a high in the mid-90s. The moon rise over the canyon walls is spectacular.

The sun goes down behind the slick rock of Arches National Park, and high lights the towers along the rimrock to the east of the campground.

It's great to be back in the desert.

Ed in Montana 10-13-2009 06:29 AM

Re: Colorado Plateau Parks Tour - Fall 2009

Iím up just before dawn to walk the giant black labradog, sometimes known as the four-legged stomach. When his biological clock goes off twice a day, you have to feed him fast or else. Itís very pretty walking in the desert in the predawn light and I try not to use my headlamp and ruin my night vision. All of a sudden, the four-legged stomach backs up after sniffing a bush. The large labradog rarely backs up because heís never intimidated by anything, or maybe too clueless to be scared of anything. I turn on my headlamp and frantically scan the ground for a snake or something, but donít see anything. Ah the fun of walks in the dark with a crazed Labrador.

The Expedition Photographer crawls out of bed to photograph the great dawn light on the canyon walls as I fix breakfast for the labradorians and the humans. The yellow Rabbitbrush is blooming all around the campground under the red cliffs.

Morning light hits the cliff walls in Arches National park just above the Sporty.

The Colorado River is running around 2,000 cfs here at the boat ramp in the campground.

After breakfast, I go over to see Heatherís SMB at another campsite. Having bought it used, she still has some questions of what things are on the vehicle, like the unmarked high idle switch for the diesel to the right of the steering wheel. I know that one, but the unmarked bright red toggle switch to the left of the steering column is a complete mystery. That will definitely require a call to the previous owner. I tell Heather about the Sportsmobile Forum before she heads south to Arizona and home.

Before it gets too roasting hot, we pack everyone into the Sporty to go hike Negro Bill Canyon just outside of Moab.

The canyon is one of the few areas in the surrounding desert country that features a perennial stream and has a nice trail open to pets.

Hiking along, the labradogs have problems with short sections of slickrock, freezing in place and slipping rather than motoring up or down the pitches. Itís going to take awhile for these Montana mountain dogs to learn desert hiking. The yellow labradog goes beserk over the small lizards that dart over the trail and pursues one into a patch of Prickly Pear Cactus. Luckily she avoids getting pricked by the pearís many spines.

The layers of Navajo and Wingate sandstone have eroded to form fantastic shapes in the canyon, including future arches.

After four miles we return to the Sporty and call it quits in the heat, and head into Moab for a late lunch. Reaching town, the Expedition Photographer, her sister and John head off to find some food while I stay with the Sporty in the shade with the labradogs. As is common, I end up giving a tour of the Sporty to a German tourist who walks by. ďWhat a great vehicleĒ he remarks, ďIt is even the perfect color for the desert!Ē

The humans return with a jalpeno burger for me, a perfect desert lunch, in my humble opinion. Then Iím off to the bookstore. No visit to Moab is complete with a trip to Back of Beyond Books, which has an extensive selection of desert books on natural history, Native Americans, adventure and off course the desert curmudgeon Edward Abbey.

I pick up a few pieces of reading material for the trip, including a new book called ďDead Pool: Global Warming, Lake Powell and the Future of Water in WestĒ. An appropriate volume to read while traveling around the Colordao Plateau. ... 0520254775

After a brief stop for more refreshments at the local City Market, itís back up the river to spend the late afternoon in the heat and wait for the cool of the evening.

While grilling a large Alaskan salmon fillet that the North Carolinians have brought from Grand Junction, we notice the changing of the guard on the Rabbitbrush adjacent to the campsite. While the flowers are in sunlight, several species of bees and wasps visit the plants. After one half hour of shade at dusk, the bees are gone, and replaced by dozens of moths sipping nectar for from the small blooms.

Hopefully, we will be sipping wine tomorrow in Coloradoís wine country just east of Grand Junction.

Skywagon 10-13-2009 09:29 AM

Re: Colorado Plateau Parks Tour - Fall 2009
Great report!

Great photos as usual!

Ed in Montana 10-13-2009 05:22 PM

Re: Colorado Plateau Parks Tour - Fall 2009
Thanks Skywagon! We didn't do any four wheeling like back in May with Bill Burke, but there sure are a lot of places to poke around on the Colorado Plateau, even after having explored the area since 1983.

Ed in Montana 10-14-2009 07:06 AM

Re: Colorado Plateau Parks Tour - Fall 2009

Today we are headed over to Colorado wine country via State Route 128 northeast of Moab and I-70. The Expedition Photographerís sister, (the wine glass washer) has second thoughts about SR 128, mentioning scary drop offs, having driven down it to reach Moab. We are puzzled by this. Is she talking about the same road as we are? SR128 is hardly a bad western mountain road, narrow in a few places without guardrails for sure, but hardly scary. It will be one of the least scary roads of the trip as we will find out.

Misgivings aside, we drive up to I-70 without incident. If you want to see scary mountain roads I think, try Skalkaho Pass from the west near Hamilton, Montana a winding one and half lane mountain road with clueless drivers in oncoming traffic. But I understand this trepidation with western roads. Eastern roads are frequently tree lined and have such things as real shoulders and guardrails. Western roads lack these civilized improvements, and lack the screening vegetation blocking your view of steep drop-offs. I am often amazed riding in the Sportyís passenger seat on a Montana secondary road starring down at the roadside borrow pit, on how friggin deep they really are. No place to change a tire for sure.

After 1PM we reach our campground for the night, Colorado River State Park Ė Island Acres, a large mostly deserted state park just north of Palisade, Colorado. It is way too developed for my taste, with manicured lawns, showers, laundry and warnings that only 3.2 beer is allowed (yeah, sure). But it is close to the local wineries, and not over run on this weekday afternoon. We have lunch and pile into the Sporty for the wine tour.

The weather is certainly changing, with a cold front coming in the wind is blustery, so it is appropriate that we stop at Canyon Wind Cellars for the first winery. Canyon Windís vineyard is almost at the foot of the steep palisade just east of downtown Palisade.

They are hard at work on this Tuesday afternoon, trying to harvest a lot of fruit before the rain hits later in mid-week.

Hereís the tasting room at Canyon Wind. They have some great wines, including a remarkable cabernet franc.

I buy half a dozen bottles, and we load up in the Sporty again. A man parked next to us complements us on our well-behaved labradogs, who have been tied to the SMB bumpers during our visit. Little does he know how the yellow labradog has a hissy fit several times a day when loading or unloading from the Sporty.

We head south on Orchard Road across the Colorado River to find Carlson Vineyards.

Carlson Vineyards specializes in mostly fruit wines, but also has a good Riesling for which they are known.

We now have the routine down for visiting a winery. The SMB driver (me) stops at the selected vineyard, gets out, carefully opens the cargo door and removes the step stool for unloading passengers. Then, Iím run over by two crazed labradogs wanting to get out, who have to be grabbed and clipped to the SMB bumpers with their leashes. Following this, the wine glass washer and the Expedition Photographer exit. I try to remember not to clip them to the SMB bumpers.

The deciduous trees surrounding the vineyard are turning into their brilliant Fall colors.

Next stop is Colorado Cellars, one of the oldest wineries in the region found down a short gravel road off of Orchard Road.

Colorado Cellars has some great wines, including a port wine, which I purchase for a after dinner wine during the winter holidays.

The wine tasting isnít getting to us, but the loading and unloading is, so we make one more stop back in town at Plum Creek Winery.

Plum Creek Winery has an excellent red table wine called Palisade Red for just $12 bucks. I pick up a couple of these, and itís back to the state park for the evening. The weather has been getting windier all day, but relents for dinner time, as the Expedition Photographer grills New York strip steaks in the lee of the campsiteís ramada, while I do a load of laundry.

We make sure to sample a few more wines at dinner, before battening down for a very windy night.

Ed in Montana 10-15-2009 07:28 AM

Re: Colorado Plateau Parks Tour - Fall 2009

Didnít get much sleep last night upstairs in the SMB penthouse with the strong gusty winds. Thatís the major drawback of having canvas sides that rattle with each gust. Surprisingly, the temperature is still warm and there are only scattered clouds as we get up at dawn. Except for some of those scattered clouds being thunderstorms with the flash and distant BOOM of thunder along the palisades.

I walk the labradogs along the river trail along the Colorado which is much less muddy at this point than downstream at Moab.

Rabbitbrush is still blooming up here along the river as it was at our canyon camp a day ago.

We pack up and head into Palisade and resupply at the small grocery store. The wine from the Plum Creek Winery was so good last night that we stop again at their tasting room to buy more of their Palisade Red. I tell the tasting room sommelier that we are back for more of their amazing wine. ďYou have an amazing van!Ē she replies.

We hurry back into the amazing van as the flash BOOM of lightning in another storm gets pretty close. Soon it begins to pour rain as we drive southwest toward Whitewater and SR 141. Much to my irritation, the driverís side windshield wiper begins to deconstruct, just when it is needed the most. I havenít driven the Sporty in the rain for maybe a year or more in Montana, and I think the wiper has dry rotted in the sun. I stop to twist the remnants of the wiper back in place and we are off again climbing up the curves of SR 141 to Unaweep Canyon.

Unaweep Canyon is a surprise with stunning vertical rock walls and incredible Fall colors.

The ruins of the Driggs Mansion from the early part of the 20th century are a striking photo site.

Apparently, Unaweep has been discovered as a great rock climbing area.

And you can see why with all the vertical rock rising above the dozen or so horse farms in this high valley.

Onward to find a spot to pull over for lunch.

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