We found a magical place to camp the other night, on our way to Capitol Reef.
Valley of the Gods would not even have been on our radar if we hadn’t caught a post by Becky of Interstellar Orchard (thank you, Becky!) describing its beauty and excellence as a boondocking location. The timing was right for us; we had thought we’d make it as far as Glen Canyon or Hite that evening, but it had been a long driving day, and as we left Monument Valley—which was spectacular and crowded—we were tired and ready to find a home for the night.
Following Becky’s clear directions, we wound our way up highway 163 to the brown ‘Valley of the Gods’ sign and turned onto a dirt road that immediately took us over a cattle guard and through a small stream in a wash. There hadn’t been too much rain lately, or the road would have been impassable. As we climbed higher, the stunning vistas opened up. There were other trailers and campers already settled in various sites along the way, but about two miles in we found the perfect little pullout, framed by Rooster Rock and Sitting Hen Rock, smack in the middle of 360 degrees of awesome.
The valley floor was gorgeous, with tons of rock formations.
You could even view Monument Valley from our campsite—far into the distance, but still visible.
I could have stood there staring at that landscape for hours. Attempts to describe it are feeble; it’s like trying to describe the night sky. Vast, magnificent, alien; the sense of ancient times is powerful. Gazing at it, I felt tiny and humbled, calmed and comforted. I thought about death and love and gratitude. It was the perfect place to be.
As I write this, the rising sun is just touching the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas to my west. We’re in Washoe Lake State Park, a lovely campground between Reno and Carson City, having our morning coffee and leisurely preparing to head down towards Mono Lake, on our way to tonight’s camp in Bishop, California. Our 2017 adventure has commenced, quite beautifully.
Two days ago, in the midst of yet another Portland rainstorm, we turned in our house keys, left the majority of our belongings in storage, loaded the Escape 19 and headed out on the road. The Escape will be our home for the next few months, and our first stop is the desert: Death Valley.
Our first day’s drive—through the middle of Oregon, down past Klamath Falls and into California—was an attempt to run away from the unrelenting gloominess that has been the hallmark of this year’s winter in Portland. Normally, Northwest winters don’t get me too bothered, but this one did. After a bunch of snow and ice in December and January, we had a spate of heavy rains and gray skies that ran headlong into March. Susan and I were each ready to leave the Pacific Northwest behind us for now and head south.
Tuesday’s weather turned quite nice towards the end of the day’s drive: as we crossed into California, the skies opened for good, and we ended the day with a lovely sunset at the pretty little RV park we found in Tionesta. That night we drank some great vintage champagne (Fleury 1990) saved for the occasion, and had an amazing steak dinner cooked out on the grill. We slept in a bit, and enjoyed a quiet morning before heading back out on the road (to keep ahead of the rain, which was still headed our way).
On Wednesday, we headed through the mountains towards Reno, with the skies finally clearing of any potential rain. The trip was quiet and uneventful, at least until that point late in the day when a very nice couple drove us by on the highway, frantically gesturing that our awning had deployed. (Deploying while driving = VERY BAD!) We pulled over quickly, and, after a few frantic minutes, were able to return the awning to its closed position with only a few scrapes (and a few unfortunate, but hopefully minor, rips in the awning).
We’ve heard of this happening to others, and as bad as it was, it could have been a lot worse: the awning’s bars didn’t bend or break and the rips are small. We’re not quite sure how it happened; we have a few theories, but to be sure, we’ve strapped the awning bars to the trailer and have added an extra set of items to our pre-drive checklist in the morning, making sure that all the awning parts are locked down.
We have two days of driving to go before we get to Death Valley, and the weather forecast is nothing but sun and warmth. Our friend Hudson Henry is going to stop by for a few days after his climb of Mt. Whitney nearby, which should be fun. We’re expecting to spend about a week in the area before heading south to the desert around Anza Borrego, an area we visited briefly last year and put on our ‘return’ list.
The Escape and the FJ are packed to the gills—there are five cases of wine in the storage compartment underneath the bed, and a freezer full of awesome meat from Lonely Lane Farms, of Mt. Angel, Oregon—and we’re quite ready to be out on the road for a while. We’re loving the new trailer (except for the unexpectedly deploying awning bit), especially the larger fridge and freezer, queen bed and solar hook-ups.
We have a loose itinerary this spring. We’ll stick to the deserts of the Southwest and Utah through April, hoping to spend at least another week in the Moab area. After that, we’re going to work our way to Minnesota, where we’ll park the camper for a bit, visiting with family there. We have a (flying, not RVing) trip to Ithaca in late May, and after we return to Minnesota in June, we’ll figure out where the rest of our trip will take us.
We won’t be taking the Escape further east (to the dismay of our relatives, we know); the idea of driving the trailer in the dense East Coast just unnerves us right now. Plus, we need to head back west, to find our next home. We’re not sure about where that will be; Portland has lost a lot of its appeal to Susan and me, and, if my book publishing work pans out, we can live pretty much anywhere. We have a few ideas, but I’ll wait to talk about them until we’re closer to making a decision.
We’ll post again after our time in Death Valley; I’m not expecting much connectivity during our stay there.
A little over a year ago, I left Portland on a lovely September morning, headed for Deming, New Mexico. There, I hoped to purchase a slightly used 17′ Casita travel trailer that I had found on Craigslist. I had an envelope full of cash and a gracious promise from the owner that he would not sell the trailer until I got there.
That drive to Deming took two and a half days; it was exhausting, but exhilarating, and luckily, when I arrived, the trailer turned out to be exactly as advertised. I relinquished the envelope of cash to the very nice couple, took possession of the Casita, and drove home a bit more leisurely than my trip to Deming.
As I write this, we are entering the third week of our Oregon trip, tucked among the brushy hummocks on the edge of the playa in the Alvord Desert, one of our favorite places in Oregon. It is a fitting place for Susan and me to close out our Casita travels, after a wonderful week in one of our old favorites, Waldo Lake, and a short week (five pretty awesome nights) in a new favorite, Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge.
Susan’s shoulder surgery was much less invasive than it could have been (they fixed a rotator cuff flap, removed some scar tissue, and did a bit of clean-up), and her physical therapy sessions have been going quite well. So much so that we decided to keep our original reservations at Waldo Lake for the week after Labor Day, and head out on our planned three-week trip through southeastern Oregon.
We’ll be at Waldo Lake for at least a week, followed by a trek to the Alvord Desert, and then on to Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. Waldo and the Alvord are two places we love to spend time at; Hart is a place we haven’t been, but it looks to be quite amazing. We’re not sure of our itinerary after that; it will depend on how we’re feeling. One of the exciting things about this trip for us is that we will be ‘dry’ camping the entire time–there will be no hookups for power or water–and we’ll largely be disconnected from the world (also awesome). (We’ll use the generator sparingly, just to keep the Casita’s battery topped off for light and heat.)