We split from Vegas before the temperature topped 100 and headed South on I-15 again. After a couple hours, we passed through Barstow, closing our 3400 mile loop. The only part of the drives I do not like are those from San Diego to Vegas, San Diego to Needles, San Diego to Tucson and San Diego through Los Angeles. Unfortunately, when one lives in the Southwest corner of this country, there is just no other way out unless you go to Mexico to vacation.
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6/5 Cedar City to Las Vegas
We got a breakfast bag containing and energy bar, a breakfast burrito an apple and some milk because the Abbey Inn’s restaurant is Covid-shuttered. It wasn’t too bad and worked out great with our early departure. A few blocks from the motel, we connected with I-15 South for the pull across the desert to Lost Wages, NV. Travel on the interstate is mundane but, fortunately, along our way and not far from the freeway is both Kolob Canyon, a part of Zion National Park in Utah, and Valley of Fire, a spectacular albeit torrid state park in Nevada.
Kolob was spectacular but it is only about 5 miles off the road so our visit was short. We got back on I-15 into Nevada on our way to Valley of Fire. We have visited this park before and saw lots of animals but they must have been shielding themselves from the incinerating sun today. The park was very pretty but lifeless on this visit. It was only about 105 degrees.
After Valley of Fire, we continued to Vegas, past huge photovoltaic arrays covering many square miles of otherwise uninteresting desert. We understand these arrays are owned by local Native American tribes which is a good thing. They will get Old Paleface in the long run.
After a bit more on I-15, we skirted the Strip and Downtown areas of town and, after only being confused once or twice, found our La Quinta Inn for the night. This hotel had a fully accessible restrooms, comfy sitting furniture and good beds but when we entered the room it smelled like a maid had just taken a dump in our john. We discovered later that it was actually the poor old crippled folks in the next room that were stinking up the place and the HVAC was sucking their restroom aromas under the adjoining, gasketless door and into our room. We also noted the hotel allows dogs who were all camped and barking and wrestling at the same end of the corridor where we were staying.
When I mentioned this to the staff, they took $50 off our bill. Maybe I should complain about fart smells more often.
We are too cheap to gamble so we went to a restaurant called Bacon where they have many bacon-supplemented dishes and an ample assortment of beers on tap. I had a chicken fried steak wrapped in bacon which was very savory but probably did irreparable damage to my heart.
6/4 Torrey to Cedar City
After another free, tasty buffet breakfast at the Broken Spur Steakhouse, we departed Torrey on UT-12 going South. We climbed up the same mountain we came down yesterday afternoon but in Boulder we continued on 12 into a National Monument called the Grand Staircase – Escalante. More spectacular Utah scenery can be enjoyed passing through this gigantic series of huge mesas. Our first town was, unsurprisingly, Escalante, where we continued on, past Kodachrome Basin State Park, with its colorful phallic formations, to a little farming community called Tropic. Motorists passing through Tropic merely need to look Southwest and up a bit to see the spectacular formations of Bryce Canyon NP, maybe 3500 feet uphill.
We continued along up to the entrance road to Bryce but we did not drive in. Instead, turning the other way, we took a marvelous scenic drive to the North on gorgeous Johns Valley Road to the almost ghost town of Antimony, a former mining settlement. Lots of abandoned mines can be spotted along both sides of this road. A bit further up, we came to the Otter Creek Reservoir where many Utahns were fiddling with their boats and fishing. From there, we turned onto UT-62 and continued to Kingston before meeting up and turning South on US-89. We followed 89 South into Panguitch, through town and on through Hatch. After a bit more, we made it to Tod’s Junction, a gas station, where we turned West on UT-14 over the mountains, through Duck Creek Village, past Cedar Breaks National Monument and down the other side into Cedar City.
Our lodging for the night was a motel called the Abbey Inn, right downtown. Although it was the most modern of all the motels we have stayed in on this whole trip, it was also the second least expensive, had an accessible john and shower, in-room phone, good air conditioning, comfy beds and a nifty ice machine. It was dead quiet at night. Due to Covid, management was not running the onsite restaurant but we found a good one just a short drive away.
Today we had marvelous scenery all day and a great hotel at night – a unique combination on this trip.
6/3 Looping the Fold
We started our day in our motel’s Broken Spur Steakhouse where they offer a pretty good and free breakfast buffet for all tenants. Non-guest types had to cough up $10 for breakfast but it was tasty for them, too. We then took advantage of the motel’s terrific, high-production ice machine and filled up our cooler for a day of Looping the Fold at Capitol Reef National Park.
Driving East on UT-24 into and through Capitol Reef, we started our circuit at the park visitor center. From there, we continued on 24 East to the Notom Road where we turned South on the last bit of paving. Notom was the name of a community that doesn’t seem to exist anymore but from where Notom was and on South, the road is called the Notom-Bullfrog Road. If you continue for a considerable distance on this road, you will arrive in Bulfrog, which is on a Northern shore of distant Lake Powell down on the UT/AZ border. We only followed it for about 40 or 50 miles but we passed initially through some farmland and on directly down the middle of the Waterpocket Fold on mostly gravel or dirt roads. The stunning scenery on both sides of the road more than make up for the washboard texture. Multi-colored cliffs, hoodoos, semi-circular mounds, old white sea- or lake-bottom formations, bentonite heaps, canyons and ridges and other, hard-to-describe geological formations make for continuous, fascinating scenery. The road is not crowded; in a couple hours on this section, we passed three cars going the other way and none passed us going South. It is a spectacular drive. I am glad we had all-wheel drive, however, although we never really got so squirrely that we were in danger of going off the road.
Some 40 or more miles south of UT-24 on the Notom-Bullfrog Road, we turned West on a road called Burr Trail and immediately started up a series of steep switchbacks with deep road dust covering the roadbed. This section of twisty road takes visitors from the bottom of the Waterpocket Fold a few thousand feet up to a huge mesa. The views from the switchbacks down into the Fold are magnificent. We emcountered a couple more cars on this section of road but they were all going down into the abyss while we were climbing out.
Although some folks allege this switchback section of road is treacherous, we noted it as being wide enough for vehicles to pass in quite a few spots with the rest of the road being merely narrow and a bit steep. Pay attention and you will be fine. We crested the switchbacks and continued on dirt and gravel for maybe 15 miles until we ran into AC paving taking us on a meandering route through high prairie chapparal. We continued West passing by Upper Muley Twist Canyon and into, initially, Singing Canyon and then Long Canyon, two sections of road with almost unlimited excellent photo opportunuties. The Long Canyon section passed between massive cliffs just barely beyond reach from the car. It is very steep, treacherous ground to cross unless you stay on the road, which we did because I am gimpy and too old to struggle across forbidding terrain. There are riparian areas here and they sure are pretty. Creeks skirt the road in some sections.
Another 20 miles and we arrived in the almost-town of Boulder where we turned North on UT-12, headed back toward Torrey. This road climbs up to well over 9000 feet and there are two easily accessible overlooks, Homestead and Larb Hollow, on the way up to the summit. From the overlooks, one can see the entire Fold and a considearable amount of stunning Utah scenery beyond. After gawking at the scenery for some time, we continued down the mountain about 5000 feet back to our hotel in Torrey. The whole Loop is about 135 miles long but we were not in a hurry so it took us most of the day to cover the distance, mostly because we kept stopping to look at gorgeous stuff and to take photos. We easily could have stretched this into a two-day trip in order to ogle more views but we did not bring along camping gear other than chaise lounges, chairs and an ice-filled cooler.
Back at the Broken Spur, we popped into the steakhouse for their prime rib which was tip-top.
6/2 Moab to Torrey
We left Moab headed West on US-191, passing right by Arches NP, where even in the morning the Park Service was turning grumpy motorists away at 10:00 AM because the park was full. We continued for an hour or so before re-joining I-70 where we merged into the Westbound lanes. Fortunately, we were only on I-70 for a bit over a hour before turning south on UT-24 toward Hanksville.
Again, we were treated to the amazing variety of Utah landscapes and colors, huge mesas, mountains initially on the East but eventually both sides of the road and even some wildlife since we spotted lots of birds and a deer. Another hour of pleasant touring and we arrived in Hanksville, a funny little place in a gorgeous basin. There is not much in the way of business here but right in the middle of town lives a guy that has turned almost every kind of hardware or machinery into sculpted assemblies resembling animals, dinosaurs, dreamcatchers and a variety of other fanciful characters. We parked in the shade of a big roadside tree and checked out all the critters and doodads in this guy’s ample front yard. No humans were in sight. There was a sign out front that proclaimed this place was entitled “Carl’s Garden.” Anybody traveling through Hanksville that misses this strange roadside attraction will know he has missed the road to Torrey and the magnificent Capitol Reef National Park about an hour West. We followed the road along the Fremont River into Capitol Reef, our favorite national park. The wind-and-water eroded geological structures here are extraordinary, extending from the road elevation to a couple thousand feet higher. It makes us feel truly insignificant when standing in this unique, spectacular place.
The park encompasses a huge feature called the Waterpocket Fold, from which no river leaves. When we visited Capitol Reef a few years back, we had our enormous, 12,000 pound fifth wheel trailer pulled by our two-wheel drive F-250, a true leviathan. However, weather changes quickly here and the road down the center of the Waterpocket Fold is not paved within the Park’s boundaries. Therefore, back then I was reluctant to venture out onto dirt roads extending for miles into wilderness while riding in a traction-challenged F-250 that weighs 8,000 pounds, probably being really stuck once skidding off the side of a muddy, lonely road. There are large sections of the Fold road composed of bentonite, a soil that turns from nearly rock to greasy snot in seconds when hit with rain. There is no cell phone service in the Fold.
This year, however, we were in an all-wheel drive vehicle weighing substantially less than our F-250 and we had come here to do what is referred to as “Looping the Fold.” We hope to get to that tomorrow but today we continued through the park to a place called The Broken Spur, our lodging for the next two nights. Despite requesting an accessible room, the desk staff indicated that there really ain’t any disabled rooms, a fact they had casually neglected to mention when queried about it when I made reservations. Again, we discovered puny toilets, no grab bars anywhere, abrupt curbs and dropoffs, almost plank-like and low beds but they do have a great ice machine and cable TV. The desk staff was nice but helpless and there is an onsite steakhouse where they offer a prime rib dinner, but not until tomorrow.
Instead, we went to a highly-touted burger joint called Capitol Burger. Upon arriving and checking out the short menu on the side of what was a food truck parked in a motel parking lot, I had my doubts about the place and their $10 burger prices but it turned out that their burgers were luscious and worth every cent. I wish they sold burgers near my house.
June 1 Canyonlands NP and Dead Horse Point SP
We drank our K-cups and headed down the street to a Wendy’s for breakfast. We should have known better. It was substandard fare. Even the orange juice was shaky. But, with the crummy breakfast out of the way, we headed mostly west on US-191 until we came to UT-313 where we turned South into Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. The roads here run atop the mesa on the West side of the Colorado River gorge, offering views of spectacular canyons. The strata of the soils from the last million or billion years are plainly evident and multi-colored with almost infinite shades of pastel hues.
Since we have a geezer pass, we got into the national park for free. But it would have been worth the expenditure even if we had to pay $30, like ordinary, although younger, mortals. We coughed up about $10 to go into Dead Horse Point State Park, but it was worth every penny. The scenery in this part of Utah is stunning and we could happily come here about once a week forever, if we could pull it off. My mobility is terrible these days, particularly with our recent encounters with tiny toilets and slippery showers (the Park Service has better restrooms), but the views from the car are superb here. Once in a while, Peg would jump out of the car for a short walk to the nearby edge of an overlook but she would take pictures and come back to show me what she could see. These places are gorgeous.
After spending the day traveling through striking venues, we headed back to the Big Horn Inn. It is a bit of a disappointment returning to the site of the micro-mini-midget toilet and greased shower floor but they have a decent restaurant. We got take-out there for dinner. The Big Horn Inn costs about the same as other, comparable motels in Moab which is on the nasty side of $200 a night. Two days’ stay here in Moab ran about the same as four nights anywhere else we have stayed on this trip. Perhaps our idea of trying to stay in old-style motels envisioned at the outset of this trip was goofy or maybe the motels in Moab are overpriced, but inferior.
5/31 Grand Junction CO to Moab UT
Today we started our day at Grand Junction’s Village Inn for breakfast. We ate here last night, as well, and we typically only eat at any restaurant once when traveling but we made an exception since the grub was so tasty. I am glad we broke our policy because breakfast was just as terrific as last night’s dinner and dessert. Service was good which seems appropriate since we had the same waitress. They also gave us a geezer discount so all the boxes were checked.
We left Grand Junction, with a nice hotel and great restaurant in the mirror, and headed West on I-70 through Fruita before crossing the border into Utah. We continued on the interstate for an hour or so before turning off the freeway onto UT-128 through Cisco and then into a high desert, eventually arriving alongside the Colorado River for maybe an hour and a half. It is a nice drive along the bottom of the huge gorge carved by the Colorado. About 20 miles East of Moab, we turned off on the La Sal Loop, a slow and curvy road that takes visitors through what may be the nicest drive in America. Huge cliffs with pastel strata carved by erosion flank both sides of the verdant fields along the bottom of the gorge. Giant hoodoos (vertical, statue-like geologic formations) dot the horizons. The road climbs up a long incline passing hardwoods, then conifers, then aspens before arriving at a large overlook adjacent to the skinny paving of the now one-lane road. The view north from here is breathtaking. There is also a nice restroom in the overlook.
After lingering at the overlook for probably too long, we continued on the La Sal Loop down the other side of the mountain, eventually passing through a place called Spanish Valley (it did not look like any pictures of Spain I have ever seen) before intersecting US-191 for the run into Moab from the South.
Right on the main drag in Moab, UT, we pulled off into the parking lot of the Big Horn Lodge, our lodging for the next two nights. The staff put us on the ground floor where we could park sort of near the room but that was the extent of disabled access management provided for my requested disabled access room. Upon inspection, your ancient narrator discovered another bathroom with a mini-toilet about the height of my shoe and a tiny, slippery-floored shower for our use. The check-in staff was okay and the beds were soft, there were lots of pillows, we had air conditioning, a small fridge and a microwave. They had K-Pots for coffee and there is no maid service on multi-day stays so you have to run the maid down to get morning java. Despite being right on the main drag, we did not notice any street noise, perhaps because it was drowned out by the neighbors beyond the paper-thin uninsulated walls and the many-legged folks apparently dancing in the rooms above. There is a pretty good restaurant on site.
Although our dose of magnificent scenery for today was ample, we decided we wanted more so we took UT-279 from Moab headed along the Colorado River where it runs below the cliffs of Dead Horse Point State Park. The drive offers stunning scenery in the gorge of the river and eventually the road starts climbing toward Canyonlands National Park. Quite a few miles after we ran out of pavement, we ran into prolonged sections of washboard gravel road surface, my favorite. Shortly thereafter, we turned around and savored the sunset along the Colorado as we headed back into Moab.
5/30 Durango to the Gunnison to Grand Junction
We struggled across the slope from our room to our car in front of our Caboose Motel torture chamber but finally got our stuff in the boot and took off North on US-550. About an hour and a considerable climb later, we arrived in Silverton for the second time in two days. From the highway approaching town, Silverton appears to be (and is) a tiny hamlet surrounded by evidence of considerable mining from the past. Men dug into all the surrounding mountains in quests for gold and all of the mines have brightly colored spoil piles running down the mountains below the mine entrances. The tailings piles are all different colors, probably a testament to the variety of rock components these tough folks encountered. Despite the long mining history and miners’ bad habits, it is still very pretty. This place is pretty close to tree line so a great deal of exposed rock makes up the surroundings.
After a quick pass through Silverton, we continued North to the even higher and more primitive area around Ouray. The road is quite exciting and the scenery is awe-inspiring. US-550 here is narrow and serpentine. It seems it would be foolish to try to drive this part of the highway at speed. After Ouray, the road descend for miles until completely out of the mountains and onto a big prairie. We continued until we reached Montrose where we left US-550 for a quick loop on US-50 to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We had quite a wait getting in but once we made it to the entrance kiosk, we flashed them our National Park Geezer Pass and we drove in free of charge.
Th Black Canyon is really quite narrow, deriving its name from the fact that it is such a tiny distance (sometimes 40 feet) between walls that sunlight never makes it to the bottom. The walls are very steep and it would be a superb place for suicide since the first step past the edge is a big one. We only spent about an hour here before getting back out to US-50 for the haul up to Grand Junction which is a pretty good sized town right next to the Eastern Utah border.
Lodging for tonight was at the Palomino Inn right downtown which turned out to be a great find. Our room had a great king bed, two wingback chairs, an ottoman, a nice shower, a fridge, a microwave oven, great air conditioning and a big TV with about 150 channels. It even had NASCAR so I got to watch the entire Coca-Cola 600. The room was clean, spacious and inexpensive – the least expensive on the entire trip. The only drawback was the restroom had a miniscule toilet.
Right down the street was a great restaurant called the Village Inn. The food was great and the selection was terrific. Peggy had tomato basil soup that tasted fantastic. Service was wonderful.
5/29 Durango & Silverton NGRR
This morning we had to arise early and get out the door in sufficient time to drive across town, find an eight or more hour parking place, limp to and through the depot and board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for an all day trip to Silverton. Durango’s elevation is about 6500 feet. We rode on a vintage railcar with a glass roof and very comfortable seats with ample legroom, a car attendant, beverage service and open windows. The train was pulled by a single steam locomotive for the intial flatter portion of the trip but we stopped and hooked on another engine to pull us up the steeper sections approaching Silverton. Shortly after departure, our car attendant brought us tasty pasties to enjoy during our ride. The engineer has many opportunities to blow his steam whistle and the echoes were superb. I want a steam whistle for our Hyundai Santa Fe.
The tracks parallel the Animas River as it passes through the San Juan Mountains and the route is not only a testament to the toughness and tenacity of railroad builders but also absolutely spectacular. The train winds along some cliffs and over some bridges that might make certain acrophobics nervous but the scenery is magnificent. About three and a half hours after departure, we pulled into Silverton at around 9300 foot elevation. The locomotives had to pull hard to make some 15 railcars go up 3000 feet in about 40 miles.
In Silverton, the train drops everyone off from a spur into town. We stumbled off into a big gravel area without much around but a couple blocks away was the main street of Silverton, all three blocks. There are lots of bars and rustic restaurants and a couple vintage hotels which are open for about 3 hours a day, when the tourists arrive on the train. We popped into a former whorehouse called the Shady Lady which has been converted into a pretty good restaurant while the train crew drove back down the track to turn the train around.
It was very nice riding on the other side of the train on the return trip. Anything that was partially obscured during the trip up was plainly visible when going the other way. Only one locomotive was needed for the downhill run back to Durango. This trip is not cheap (about $100.00 a head) but is truly breathtaking and the scenery is inaccessible from any other form of transport. It was great.
We got back into town at about 6:00 or 7:00 PM and we headed back for another night on the iron maiden beds and undulating floors at the Caboose.
5/28 Pagosa Springs, Ship Rock & Durango
Happily departing from the Alpine Inn this morning, we resumed out Westward journey. Not more than about a very pretty hour from Pagosa Springs we arrived in Durango but, since the motels where we are staying on this trip do not recognize check-ins prior to 3:00 PM and we arrived at about 11:00 AM, we plunged right on through town. Continuing out the South side, we took US-550 to Farmington, New Mexico where we ate in what may be the worst Wendy’s on the planet. From there we transitioned onto US-64 which took us to the town and geologic formation called Shiprock.
Shiprock, certainly named because it looks like a huge ship sticking up out of the surrounding flat terrain, towers some 1600 feet over the adjacent ground except for a huge folded ridge extending miles to the north. One can spot this formation almost all the way to Farmington. It is massive, strange and striking.
From Shiprock, we headed North on US-491 back into Colorado and across the Ute Reservation. After passing some rez housing and a big casino, we continued into Cortez which is the gateway municipality adjacent to Mesa Verde National Park. We didn’t go see the cliff dwellings there this trip. We wandered around Mesa Verde in 2018 while we were getting our fifth wheel trailer, the Barbarian Invader, repaired in the nearby town of Dolores, after the electrical system had a catastrophic failure at Monument Valley. In Cortez we re-acquired US-160 for a couple-hour drive back to Durango.
We headed for the Caboose Motel, our lodging for the next two nights. The motel is situated on a sidehill and we found that suitcases with wheels will take off uncontrolled if you let go of them when packing or unpacking the car. If their escape is successful, they end up bouncing out onto US-550 and being squished under the wheels of commerce. After shuffling across the slope and up the step into our room, we entered and found that the beds were miserable, the toilet was sized for very short people, and the floor surface could only be described as “wavy.” We began to get warmer and warmer in the room and were just about to go over to the unmanned reception desk to complain when we found the power cord for the HVAC unit unplugged and concealed behind the bed. Once we got the power hooked up, the room got much cooler. There was a very nice tub and bath sink and a pretty table lamp but the rest of the joint was uninspiring. The place is 420-friendly , however, and the owners have a nice gazebo on a big lawn for smokers.