The Ride

23 September 2011 in Traveling

After countless trips back and forth to our parents, on the Thursday we finally had the everything out of the house. Unfortunately we had only just began to load the trailer and car, so Thursday morning was spent attempting to get everything loaded in a somewhat organized fashion. Unfortunately miscellaneous items kept popping up and the clock kept moving. Eventually the final items were thrown into the various spaces we had left and a very quick goodbye was said to each of our parents. Then it was back to Madison for the live cargo (our two cats) and a quick goodbye to Tony.

Dan Wiese, Scamp Driver, Leaving WisconsinEverything was rushed so there was little time for reality to set in, we had to make it out of Madison before rush hour and we just barely made it.

The road was stressful at first. We had no real experience towing our trailer (or any other trailer for that matter) so our senses were heightened to every bump, rattle, and squeak. It was stressful and tense at first and it feels like the drive will never end. “We’ve only went 150 miles? It’s only been three hours?” But then a normalcy sets in and you get used to the trailer swaying a little with a gust of wind and the truck’s RPMs jumping a little ascending a large hill. In all actuality within six hours or so I was a little too used to everything. At times I forgot the trailer was even there.

Wal-Mart, Omaha, Nebraska, storm, thunder, lightning, shopping cart crashAround 11 pm we arrived in Omaha and thought we should probably get some rest. So we found a Walmart parking lot to stay in for the night. We couldn’t have had better timing. Upon arriving we began blocking the trailer and moving things around to get to the bed. Just as we laid down the wind picked up. And when I say it picked up I’m not talking 10 mph. It was bending the trees and sending stray shopping carts sailing across the parking lot. One of them actually hit our truck. (Small note here, when I say truck I mean SUV. For some reason I don’t like using the term SUV. For a while I was actually calling it our “vehicle”, but that sounds weird as well). Anyways at points the wind was so strong we were actually concerned we might get hit by a tornado. Eventually we were too tired to be afraid and dosed off.

The first day had it’s set backs and we got a later start then we had wished, but the second day it was off to the races! And boy did we make good time. We shot across the rest of Nebraska, which was actually a little more scenic than we thought it would be. We had driven through it before, but in the middle of the night so we didn’t really see much of it. Then we hit eastern Colorado, which is a long expanse of nothing, and I mean nothing. The only area I’ve been though that is more barren is western Colorado and eastern Utah. But areas lacking in scenery and amenities also are often lacking in traffic. You can make great time on long, straight, flat roads void of anything, but a few semis.

Denver, Colorado, mountains, driving the interstate, mountain driving, SUV in the mountains, scamp travel trailer in the mountains

After crossing the great void of eastern Colorado, you begin to see faint silhouettes of the mountains which is exciting at first, but then you realize these mountains mean two things. One, you’re about to tow a trailer through a huge range of mountains on an interstate highway where the speed limit is 75 mph and every vehicle with Colorado plates is going to be doing a minimum of 80 mph. Up steep slopes and worse yet, down steep slopes and around sharp curves. And this is not limited to cars, trucks and SUVs. You’ll see dually trucks with 25 ft horse trailers driving through these passes like they’re in a BMW commercial. The other thing you’ll realize is that to get to these mountains you’ll need to go through Denver and six lanes of exiting and entering, merging, passing and turning traffic and they’re all screaming at the asshole in the center lane, with the Wisconsin plates, doing 55 mph.

Colorado, mountain driving, scamp in the mountains, Mountaineer in the mountains, traveling, driving

Getting through Denver was actually pretty easy. Then we entered the Rockies. We took it slow and held our breath up and down a few stretches. Going up was the worst. At times we were going 35 mph on the freeway and the truck sounded like it was going to explode. I’m probably exaggerating here, partly due to our inexperience, but I was honestly wondering if we were even going to make it. I contemplated at times turning around and trying to go around the mountains. But so few exits there’s really nothing you can do, but trudge on and hope for the best. After the halfway point there’s no use turning back anyway.

In the end the mountains were less menacing and shorter than I remember them and as they tapered off I once again felt a sense of normalcy when driving through the remainder. So we pushed onto Glenwood Springs and our next Walmart parking lot.

Wal-Mart pasta, Wal-Mart parking lot dinner, noodles and sauce, dinner time, Great Value Wal-Mart brand, pasta sauce, marinara sauceGlenwood Springs was a nice looking community. Something like a mini Aspen. There was a nice eight block main street area with an awesome looking bar and then it sprawled out a ways to your grocery stores and Walmarts. When we arrived at our “campsite” we stopped inside to get some spaghetti sauce to fix ourselves some dinner. Lindsay got started cooking and I ran over to a nearby liquor store to pick up a much needed, celebratory six pack to calm my nerves after making it through the mountains.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Wal-Mart cops, drunk driving at Wal-mart, sketchy Wal-Mart, bust at Wal-MartAfter dinner we were finishing our beers and had plans to walk back downtown to that neat looking bar, all of a sudden we looked out the window and saw a cop car sitting right next to our camper. A minute later another one pulled up and then a third. Thankfully they were not surrounding us. Though it certainly looked like they were. They were talking to an old man and a young man. Later we would surmise that the old man was too drunk to drive and the young man, his son we assumed, was attempting to prevent him from driving and give him a ride home. But when you’re in a new place, sitting in your trailer, in a Walmart parking lot your mind has a tendency to run a little wild. By the time the cops were gone I was rethinking all the sketchy characters we had seen coming in and out. I began to dream up a scenario where there were drug deals going on in the parking lot and when the cops swarmed around us for a “bust” we appeared to be an undercover sting component that would receive deadly retaliation in the middle of the night for busting one of the gang.

I know all this sounds silly and maybe I should undergo a psychiatric analysis, but you weren’t there. Anyways it was enough for me to know my mind would never let me sleep there and it would be best to push onto the next Walmart where my mind wouldn’t run a muck all night. Onto to Rifle, CO, a much safer sounding town.

Wal-Mart Rifle Colorado, Rifle, Colorado, Wal-Mart parking lot, sleeping at the Wal-Mart, safer Wal-Mart, mountains and Wal-MartRifle, CO turned out to be a lot safer than the name would imply. It was your average super Walmart, open 24 hours, huge parking lot, and most importantly other RVs parked on the outer edge. We never shop at Walmart because we’re opposed to how it operates and the scale at which it does so (not that we should feel much better entering Target), but maybe once and a while we should drop a little change in their till for all the times we’ve taken advantage of the free campsite and restrooms.

Utah, Travel with Monkey, San Rafael Mountains, desert, desert driving, Next Service Area 100 MilesThe next morning it was into the next void–eastern Colorado and western Utah. When you see a sign like “Next Service Area 100 Miles” you know there’s not going to be much in the way of scenery and you check your gas gauge and odometer every two minutes or so. I can’t imagine how long it takes to get a wrecker out there if you need any help, hopefully we’ll never have to find out. Needless to say it was a long uneventful trek.

Our next stop was Capitol Reef National Park. Upon arriving we were a little taken back by the lack of any gate or point where you are charged for entering. Out of the dozen National Parks we’ve been to there has always been a gate and we have always been charged. Here you entered and came right to the visitors center.

Capitol Reef National Park, Capitol Reef National Park Visitors Center, Utah, National Park

After a quick stop in to get Lindsay’s NP stamp for her Passport Book and my customary patch we headed in towards the campground. Capitol Reef is a very interesting park in that it has orchards along the road on the way in. Here you could pick apricots, pears, apples, and cherries. If you ate them in the orchard you weren’t charged, but if you wanted to take some with you you paid by the pound. There were also a couple of little historical buildings/museums including a blacksmith and a homestead with a house, a barn, and horses.

Eventually we made our way to the campground and were pleasantly surprised to find it was half empty and self-registration. Both of these things were anomalies to us. Most parks we’ve visited we either had a reservation or lucked into one of a few sites they had left. After parking the trailer and relocating the cats we went for a nice hike and finally had an afternoon and evening to enjoy outside of the car.

Capitol Reef is a giant park and we barely saw any of it. Most of the highlights require a long drive south through the vertically oriented park and we were in no mood to sit in a car any longer. The hike we did was pleasant and beautiful, but this park didn’t jump to the top of my list of places to return to. Again that means nothing considering our short stay.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Wall Street, Hoodoos, switchbacks, hiking trailing, utah

Next it was onto Bryce Canyon and our first Hoodoo sightings. For those who don’t know (and I didn’t until we entered the park) a Hoodoo is a rock formation that looks like a giant column. I’m sure your picturing an isolated rock spindle you’ve seen before in various parks and regions, but these are plentiful and in large colonies of upwards of one hundred. For me it was what I pictured the bottom of the ocean to look like if you drained all the water.Or an underwater castle. And the trail, though short and flooded with people, provided a great view from both the top and the bottom. You enter down into the Hoodoo and get a great all encompassing view of the whole area. Then you descend down further into them and eventually are looking up at these towering rock formations. One part of the trail, aptly named Wall Street takes you through some of the tallest, towering over 300 ft. A switch back trail then takes you up and through them.

Bryce Canyon was a beautiful park, but as often is the case the more beautiful the park the more people flock to it. And the more people you have the less you feel like your seeing a natural wonder. Sometimes it seems more like you’re at an amusement park, complete with shuttles, tour buses, paved trails, and plenty of garbage. Places like Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone are all breath taking places to visit, but I think next time we’ll go in the off season.

So after a night in Bryce Canyon we were finally headed to our new, temporary home, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon…

The drive into the North Rim started out amazing. You drive through a beautiful area of desert with these white, rounded rock bluffs and deep canyons running between. Then it levels out, as we expected to long stretches of expansive, mostly empty desert. But then something unexpected happened, we began to ascend into higher elevations and we entered a pine forest. We would later find these to be Ponderosa Pines. If you find yourself next to a Ponderosa Pine take a couple steps closer, get your nose right up to the bark, and smell. They actually smell like butterscotch! The older and larger the tree the stronger the smell.

North Rim, Grand Canyon, Ponderosa Pines, meadows, aspen treesAnyways we were naively, not expecting a pine forest of this magnitude. We knew the camp ground was within a forest, but we didn’t expect the whole park to be set within one. As we entered, the trees and the prairies almost made it feel like Yellowstone. And you see nothing of the Canyon on the way in. We didn’t even know it was 200 yards away from our campsite until we took a little walk.

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23 September 2011 Traveling

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