Heading to Death Valley today for two weeks in DV and Owens Valley. This will be another Retired Ol' Farts adventure.
SE Utah ROFs Trip
This trip started out with a twist and a roar. The plan was to meet in Hanksville, UT on October 23 but a few days before that I learned of a gathering "On the Edge" near Fruita, CO on the 20th. Over the Edge is a bicycle shop in Fruita that was largely responsible for all the great trails surrounding town, and the famous Fruita Fat Tire Festival, which I had attended three times over the years. So when I learned they were doing shuttled rides, free food and beer, a big bonfire and camping I was in. Unfortunately draft beer has never agreed with me, but it was free and flowing, so the next day I was hurting and just stayed in camp. By Friday I had recovered enough to get in a good MTB ride in the morning and afternoon. I had planned to break camp Friday afternoon and leave before the hordes of campers descend on the North Fruita Desert's free camping area but I procrastinated. All night long they poured in and by morning I was surrounded by screaming kids, loud engines, even louder music and general mayhem. The wind began to pickup causing all sorts of problems for the tent campers and by 11 it was roaring. With some effort I got my camp down and headed to the rendezvous point. No one had signed up for the trip so it was no surprise that the meeting point was void of other ROFs. I continued south on Hwy 95 until the sun was sinking towards the western skyline, then pulled off on a dirt road looking for a boondock campsite. It's becoming far too common to see signs saying "Camp in Designated Sites Only" as was seen here, but with cattle everywhere I decided to ignore the damn sign. If the cows can camp here so can I. Found a nice spot in some rocks and had just settled down with a beer when I noticed a single dust trail moving across the meadow in front of me. My first thought was it's the local rancher coming to tell me I can't camp there, but after watching more closely, I see the the horse and rider are moving out and concluded the cowboy had settled his herd for the night and was riding home.
Sunday morning had me continuing south to Bullfrog Marina area where I hoped to get in some water time on my new stand-up paddleboard, or SUP. Just about everything was closed for the season, including the two primitive campgrounds I had hoped to camp in. Frustrated I reversed course and took the dirt Stratom Road north towards Boulder. Once out of the GCNRA I passed several promising boondock camp sites and just before entering another restricted camping area of Capitol Reef, I found a good camp at the turnoff to Halls Creek Overlook. But first I drove up to the overlook to take in the beauty of this pleasant valley far below. Returning to the camp I found it was well used but very clean so I settled in. I had had a bad cough for several days so the next day I decided to stay on and rest at this pleasant and quiet site. I took a bike ride up the valley and found a couple of very private camp sites as well as a good sized dam that had been breached years ago. I also spent some time sighting in my .22 pistol. I had mounted a handgun scope on it because my eyes no longer can see open sights well enough.
Feeling better now, I continued north on Notom Road, then after several miles turned left to ascend the famous Burr Trail switchbacks. At the top I aired down forgetting that shortly I would be on new pavement all the way to Boulder. But the drive through Long Canyon is beautiful, and particularly so now with the cottonwoods showing off their coats of brilliant gold. I stopped to fix a sandwich for lunch, forgetting that I've always wanted to try the cafe in Boulder. Ok, so now it will be the next time.
I stopped for some supplies in Escalante and got a road conditions report at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument visitors center there. Spent the night at the state park just west of town because on previous trips through there I could not find any descent open camping.
The next day I made a mental note that there really were some good spots on Hwy 12 on the way to Henryville. Entering GSENM a ways south of Cannonville I soon passed by a sign that indicated Cottonwood Road to the right. I made a u-turn and started down this road but had a feeling this was wrong and a check of the map confirmed it was indeed the wrong road. So back on the main road and down past Kodachrome Basin State Park where I found the real Cottonwood Road. That sign had mislead me a few years ago and I should have remembered it sooner. Cottonwood Road was recently graded and in the best condition I have ever seen it. Maybe that was the reason I found two motorhomes on it but they were good about letting me pass. I made good time down to Highway 89 and headed east. Just across the Arizona border there is a small convenience store that sells real beer and just about everything else. So I stocked up and returned to Lone Rock beach in the GCNRA. The beach was moderately crowded with campers for a Wednesday, but I continued south past some soft sand areas where the RVs can't go, and had a pretty great spot right on the waters edge. Before setting up I learned there was going to be an HBO crew there on Friday and Saturday filming a segment for West World. I assured the "beachmaster" I would be gone by Friday afternoon, then got busy setting up my SUP for an evening paddle. The air and water were warm and the lake was flat calm making for a very enjoyable sunset cruise. The next day I did a longer morning paddle down past all the beach campers, thinking I was glad to not be in the middle of that crowd. But it's fun to watch from a distance, doing what my late father called "snoop cruising". I was surprised to find my GPS said I had done 4.2 miles round trip. Between paddles I spent the whole day on the beach in shorts and barefoot. Had a nice beachfire that evening and shared it with Ed the beach master. Actually he was the front man for HBO who was trying to keep people out of the area for filming. He was an interesting guy who had homesteaded in Alaska with his family and had grown up there. His stories about wood gathering, running winter trap lines, and learning to stay away from his mother's abusive boyfriend were all fascinating.
The next morning I did a few more brief paddles and even got Ed up on the board. I was slow packing up but had to make way for the film crew. While stopped at the same convenience store a guy approached me and offered me $150 if I would stay and help with security for HBO. I declined wanting to get to solitude and one of the best places nearby is Alstrom Point, where I was headed next. I drove out to the same great spot I found last year, right on the edge of a big drop and with astounding views of Lake Powell far below. Not long after setting up my camp the wind began to rattle the trailer and by 8:00 was really giving it the shakes. Guesstimated the wind a steady 40 mph with gusts to 60. I chuckled to myself as I pictured all the beach campers struggling with tents, awnings, camp chairs, etc. The film crew would be hurting too.
The next day was calm which I'm sure was welcomed by the film crew. I broke camp early and headed out to Croton Road. I saw one low clearance SUV on the way in and told her the area was empty. Turns out she was the only moving vehicle I saw all day after 57 miles and 7 hours of driving. I drove Croton just last year and didn't remember it being quite so difficult. There were many climbs on steep, rough and narrow ledge roads and a few moderate wash outs. I guess because I was solo this time I was more cautious of the road conditions. Soon I came to Left Hand Collet Road and turned east, not left, but right. LHC is probably the most challenging road in all of GSENM but it had flooded recently and that was followed by a rough regrading. A few ledges and tight spots will get your attention. Soon I broke out of the canyon at 20 Mile Wash Dino Tracks site and camped close by in a very cosy cul-de-sac.
The next morning was a Sunday so Hole-in-the-Rock Road was choked with tourists heading south. That road is pretty washboarded and I wondered how many of the compact cars I saw would give up and return to the pavement long before seeing HIR. Learned after getting home that Martin, from the Desert Expedition trips, passed by me headed south. Upon arriving at Hwy 12 I aired up and headed towards home. While driving the fairly long section from Torey to Hanksville I was amazed to see the road was nearly deserted, even going through usually very busy Capitol Reef NP. Hard to understand on a beautiful fall day with peak colors everywhere. That last night I camped on a quiet side road not far from I-70.
Morning found me driving home through Grand Junction and on to my home in Cedaredge. Always good to return home but at the same time I was missing the freedom of the open road.
Some trip stats: 736 miles, 215 on dirt and 13 days. Costs: fuel $249, food & drink $167, misc $50.
Photos added later when I have a better signal.