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USA 2019

29th August. Dallas

There is an ‘X’ on the asphalt below and to the right of the southern side of the Texas Book Depository which marks where the fatal shot hit President Kennedy. If Lee Harvey Oswald was right handed, the angle required for him to fire those three shots was very acute. He must’ve have been a good shot to hit a moving target travelling away at such an angle. He did have a scope though.

The Sixth Floor Museum is now the most visited attraction in Dallas. Not a pleasant fact that the most popular site is where a President was assassinated. But it is a very interesting display especially when it shows how unpopular Kennedy was in the city especially with his civil rights stand. Prominent citizens had taken out a full page advertisement listing their grievances before he arrived and the local democratic party was split between the progressives and the conservatives in the party. His visit was to heal those wounds and as a fundraiser for his pre election. He never did make the fundraiser dinner where he was heading when shot.

Something that I didn’t realize was Oswald had been employed at the Book Depository a few months earlier and was questioned by the police when leaving the building. But when told he was an employee he was allowed to leave. The death of Officer Tippet by Oswald would have been prevented if he had been apprehended at that point..

Our hotel is a couple of blocks from the museum. The interesting old red courthouse with its cones and bell tower, at the moment all swathed in scaffolding, is to the right with the Book Depository a further block away.

The Perot Museum of Natural Science was also an interesting destination. Most remember Ross Perot when standing as an independent for president some elections ago. He made his money in oil and one of the four levels of the museum is dedicated to oil and gas. But the remaining floors were all very interesting especially for kids. The exhibit that stood out for me, and more so when Ron, the volunteer, explained it to me, was these three full length images of a woman’s body. But they weren’t images at all. It appears this German woman in her 50s was dying and wanted to donate her body to science. But not just bits here and there. So when she died they stored her in formaldehyde for two months then froze her for a similar time. Then they sliced her body with a bandsaw head to foot just like they do salami in the IGA. Not sure of the thickness of each slice would but I would say about 10mm. As you can see with the photo you can see through her quite easily. Then she was enclosed in glass for the world to see. At one time a doctor told Ron that it was possible to see what she died of. Lung cancer. She was an athlete who smoked heavily. Bit creepish but very interesting

 

30th August. Koa West Omaha Campsite.

 

We stayed at this camp site 14 months ago when we packed up ready to head home. It was an ideal place to head to to sort out the van after being stored all that time. Things were musty, had to be washed. Opening a cupboard Joan was confronted by slivers of glass falling out. Four tonic water glass bottles had frozen then expanded in the cold winter they experienced here. The same with a bottle of nice Napa wine given to us on our last trip. The cork had blown and the wine ruined.

 

Been some very helpful people here. Kevin, where we left the bakkie, and Chad, the bloke who serviced the vehicle while we were home. The bakkie started well when we drove off and also when we exited Walmart. But this morning, already to start our drive east, all it could manage was a wheezy idle. Checked for air and water in the lines but all well. To make it worse, Monday is a holiday so nothing can be done until the Tuesday. That’s when we are booked to be in Chicago, some 8 hour drive from here.

 

 

 

 

A Few Photos

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From our camp overlooking the Badlands

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Prairie Dogs at the Badlands

Grand Teton NP in the Morning

Grand Teton NP

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Lake Yellowstone

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One of the Thermal Pools

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Bison Have the Right of Way

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Pronghorn

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Crazy Horse Memorial

Omaha. Nebraska

Grand Teton NP. Wyoming 15th May.

Things are getting serious regarding bears and in this park which is just south of Yellowstone, many people walk around with Pepper Power bear spray in a holster on their belt. We saw a jogger this morning alongside the road, didn’t have much on but did have his spray with him. It’s a bit scary so I thought it best if I purchase a canister. It’s capsicum spray in a large canister that sprays for about 4 seconds. But the instructions on the tin don’t give a person much joy. Saying things like ‘a bear can cover 50 feet in three seconds’ ‘wait until the bear is about 20 feet away charging at you before using the spray’. If he’s travelling at that speed and you have to wait until he’s 20 feet away that means you have less than 1.5 seconds to act. Then they say to ‘Stay Calm!’

Our problem is the canvas over our bed. Because of that we have had to empty ALL our foodstuff not in tins into the bear box. That includes everything in the fridge. Our alternative was for one of us to sleep on the floor and the other in the narrowed bed with the side up. It’s even worse in Yellowstone where I believe in one of the camps they don’t allow canvas tents at all. Not sure how we will go.

But this park, once again, is a beautiful place. The mountain range to the west has a good coating of snow on the higher parts. The lakes are pristine and the country is meadow-like interspersed with pine groves. It doesn’t get the visitors as much as Yellowstone but still worth visiting. Moose, elk and black and grizzly bears are the larger animals in the park.

The last note regarding the bears. The camp ground we had been staying was just outside the park. All camps in the park were full. Larry the Texan host at our camp was saying that bison come through the park and that is when you may get bears following trying to grab a calf. The first morning Joan noticed fresh scat outside our back door. On making a few enquiries were told that yes, it was bear scat. So they were around and me sleeping with the bear spray under my pillow wasn’t a case of paranoia.

One very interesting experience in Yellowstone was chatting to a bloke who had been studying wolves since the mid 70s. We met him standing behind a serious scope focused on a wolf den some 1.25 miles away. He was one of the forces behind reinstalling them back in Yellowstone. He showed us the genealogy of some of the wolves they were studying. Through his scope we watched a grey female lazing on the grass. Earlier I had picked up with my binoculars one of the pups coming out of the den. So very interesting.

Saw bears (7 grizzlies 3 black) and all the other things that go bump in the night. Then there was the thermal activity. So varied and colourful.

Little Big Horn camping. 19.5.18

So this is where the General met his Waterloo. Rolling hills with embankments to the east of the Little Big Horn River. Green grass and a fast flowing water after recent rain. Tomorrow we will take a tour of the battleground.

Black Hills Free Camping. 21.5.18

The Black Hills in South/West South Dakota was another broken promise given to the Indian tribes. It was to be theirs in perpetuity but once gold was discovered (in very small quantities) the rush was on and it was then the army’s job to protect the prospectors.

We are only on the edge of the forest, near a small stream, on our own. Last night was also a free camp in the Custer State Forest in Montana. Another great site.

Yesterday morning was spent at the Little Big Horn battle site. An area of rolling hills covered in spring grass. Boards along the drive describe in good detail how the battle proceeded and standing on ‘Last Stand Hill’ it is easy to see there had to be just one result. The Indians just outnumbered the 7th Cavalry and there was no where to retreat. The reinforcement were having to retreat under large numbers. It was very interesting but was the death knell for the way of life the tribes were used to.

Today’s highlight was a detour to ‘The Devil’s Pillar. A 860 feet solitary stand of rock. A favourite for rock climbers. It is very impressive.

Horse Thief Camp. Nr Black Hills State Forest. 22.5.18

We had visitors this morning when exiting the bakkie. Two mule deer daintily crossed the road a few metres from us on their way to the stream for a drink. Leaving we came upon more further into the forest then had a couple jump across the road in front of us. Tonight others have come down to this park to graze on the short grass.

We have become a little more selective on what we take the time to see now. Mt Rushmore is in the Black Hills, the four presidents carved into the mountainside. It is a rite of passage for American citizens to visit some time in their lives but to us not so essential and one is able to get good images from outside the park. A couple of snaps and we were on our way.

The Indian effort is Crazy Horse on a horse. It will be the biggest rock carving in the world when finished but not sure of completion date. Started in 1948.

Lake Ravenna. Nebraska. 28th May

The Badlands in Sth Dakota were a fitting finale to our meandering over the western half of the US. 70 million years of erosion has left the area in which the White River flows, a mass of spires, drop offs, canyons separated by some of the last of the native grasslands in the country. In spring the grass is high and a vivid green. The bison love it as do the big horn sheep and prairie dogs. Our first night camping on the area was on the edge of the park, in grasslands with the rim of the Badland drop off metres from the back door of the bakkie.

Yesterday we started the drive to Omaha, Nebraska where the bakkie will be stored and we will catch the Amtrack train back to San Francisco. The trip will take almost two days but we will have a cabin if you can call such a small space that. Then 4 nights in SF and catch the flight home. Before crossing into Nebraska our route took us very close to Wounded Knee. The site of the last massacre of men women & children by the US military where 230 were killed. Another depressing place. We gave it a miss.

Nebraska is renowned for its corn. At this stage the new crop is only starting to appear above ground so we are not viewing corn as high as an elephant’s eye this time around. We have really taken the back roads after leaving Sth Dakota and the towns in many cases are dying or have died. It is an agricultural area and the bigger places are thriving while the small drive-through places are missing out. Places to pull over for a break or morning coffee are non existent. The guide books try and give the state a bright write up to attract the tourists but methinks it’s a lost cause.

The reason we have chosen Omaha to leave the bakkie is because the Amtrack Californian Zephyr train only stops at a few places on its route. It also means when we come back we are in a good position to head east and take in the autumn colours. Besides, maybe some of Warren Buffett’s magic dust might fall on our shoulders.

The Coastline at Westport Campsite

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Wrapped for the Wind Swept Beach

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Westport and the North

Bodega Bay, Pacific Coast. 5th May 2018

Bodega Bay was once a Russian outpost when they owned what is now Alaska. A beautiful bay, the camp site is on an isthmus with the main village on the eastern side of the harbour. To the Russians it was a place to grow produce that couldn’t survive in the frozen north. A fog horn kept us awake last night, but with the Tsunami signs along the beach we thought it might have been a tsunami warning. But no, we found out this morning, fog moved in around midnight and stayed until daylight.

There was a ‘Kite & Castle’ day today with many a colourful kite but not that many castles apart from a group of men trying their best.

Westport, Pacific Coast. 8th May

Didn’t get far after leaving Bodega Bay. As well as very photogenic scenery of the rugged coastline we have experienced some of the most beautiful wild flower displays you could ever wish for. The coastline may be rocky but the land leading away from the cliffs are often meadows full of wild flowers as well as herds of Jerseys & Friesians. The villages are small, well kept and retain the atmosphere of yesteryear. The gullies as you head north house groves of redwoods. The road is windy but a good surface. It’s meandering country. How could we resist?

This campsite where we are the last two nights has a clear stream a few metres from the bakkie. There is a short walk to the beach, calm at present, and with cliffs leading off to the north. A good number and variety of birds. To be woken up by a nearby woodpecker attacking a tree trunk is almost as good as the kookaburras dawn chorus. There are even enough eucalypts along the road to add a bit of nostalgia.

Tomorrow we head into the big timber, some of the tallest trees on earth.

 

The Delicate Spires at Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon. UtahIMG_4691

Another Cold Night Near Zion NP

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Zion NP. Whereas Bryce was delicate and fragile fingers, Zion was like a clenched fist.

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Looking at the Pup Fish. Death Valley, California

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All that remains of the Ghost Town at Ballarat.

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The track across the salt lake to Ballarat

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Grand Canyon, South Rim, Arizona. The day after the snow was a whiteout.

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General Sherman. Biggest by volume. Haunting in the cloud.

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El Capitan, Yosemite NP. People were sitting on the meadow just gazing at this amazing work of nature. A bloke climbed it not long ago in two hours with no aids.IMG_4891

Yosemite Falls. Yosemite NP. Such beauty. Spring was perfect time to come with plenty of water falling.

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Bears are a problem at Yosemite. Good sense of smell and strength to prise open car doors.

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Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite NP.

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The ‘Kite & Castle ‘ day at Doran Park camp site. Plenty of kites, not many castles.

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From Las Vegas to Death Valley

Death Valley, California 25th April

Yesterday we were in Las Vegas. In the RV park of the Circus Circus Casino and a stone’s throw from ‘The Strip’. Today we are in Death Valley. Free camping in the mountains that rise up from the lowest point in the Americas. Yesterday we went to sleep with the drone on the massive air cooling units the sky scrapers need. Tonight we will be going to sleep to the song of night birds and perhaps the howl of a coyote. Last week we were trying to get warm while the blizzard raged, today the temperature was 107F outside the Death Valley visitors centre. How things change so quickly.

Without a/c we weren’t looking forward to camping in the park next to the Info centre at over 200 feet below sea level, but the kindly park officer suggested we head to the hills where they allow wild camping with a few restrictions. So here we are. Up with the big horn sheep which we would love to get a glimpse of, and the mountain lions although the chances of seeing one of those is slim.

Looking back on the last few days, after leaving Lake Kaibab we headed back to Route 66 and Williams, the last town bypassed by the Interstate 40. But Williams was nothing more than a tourist trap. Sure, many of the buildings are there from when the Mother Road went through, but they have raped the town and now all you see is Russian and Chinese tourists buying trashy souvenirs. But after Williams is the longest stretch of Mother Road still in one piece. And it was lovely covering the miles as a farewell before we left it for good and headed north to Las Vegas stopping off on a neat little ghost town called Chloride. It was a ghost town but artists and the likes have moved in giving the place a second chance.

So Las Vegas. How are you meant to take the place? Boring during the day but what an extravaganza once the sun sets. It was all kitch and over the top and so very shallow but, you have to go with it and get a laugh. The RV park was amazing in the city. The Circus Circus Casino & Hotel is a massive complex but in the grounds they have quite a nice RV park. And as I said earlier, a short walk from where all the action is. So here we are paying $32 for the night, while rooms above us are priced at over $200 a night. I guess one day they will need the space for another multi storey complex and the park will disappear, but in the meantime it will be very much appreciated by RVers.

Thorndike Camp. Death Valley 26.4.18

A very interesting place Death Valley. You would think it would be empty, devoid of life with the destroying heat and the dryness but today we walked along a shallow stream filled with thousands of pupfish. Very small creatures who only have a twelve month life span but they can live in water 5 times saltier than the ocean. And there are the remains of a Borax producing factory at almost the lowest section of the valley. It could only work in the cooler months, not because it was too hot for the workers but the process of manufacturing the borax would not occur once the temp reached 120F. The Chinese workers lived in tents near the factory while the employers lived at a nearby ranch. There are canyons to drive to and Badlands to explore. But all the time you must be aware of the heat and drink plenty. There are signs everywhere to remind you.

This afternoon we climbed off the base of the valley to this camp some 2200 metres above the salt lake surrounded by Pinyon pines and juniper trees. The fragrance is strong, the fire warmed us.

Last night we didn’t see the big horn sheep but did have two humming birds hovering at our door having a good look in, their wings just a beating blur. They came back for a second look a bit later on. Am amazing little bird.

Sequoia NP. Near Kernville. 27th April.

Another day, another park. This is the home of the big trees. The biggest in volume but not in height. I think the Californian Redwoods can claim that. We are camped metres from the surging Kern River at another delightful place.

It was such an interesting drive today. We left the Thorndike camp fairly early for us and after stopping a short drive down the mountain at some charcoal kilns built in the late 1800s and still in good condition, we headed south on a road that swung around the edges of two large salt lakes. One of the maps showed a place called Ballarat (ghost town) and as it wasn’t far off the road we took a look. The road went directly across one of the lakes to what remained of this small town that used to supply the miners’ needs. But interestingly the plaque said the town was named after Ballarat in Australia. They hoped to have some of the gold dust from that town fall upon them. No such luck as the town didn’t last long.

There is much military activity in this area with jets flying over on a regular basis and large area of land fenced off as part of the China Lake Air Force Base.

30th April, Near Yosemite NP. On Lake Millerton.

Two days up in the clouds looking at these massive trees was quite an experience. After leaving the Kernville camp site the road wound tightly up to 7000 feet. An altitude the Sequoias thrive as they get all their moisture from the clouds that frequently cover them. The southern section attraction is mainly ‘The Walk of a Hundred Giants’. A fascinating walk as this was our first encounter with these trees. In 2011 two of the trees that were growing next to each other toppled. Blocking the walk way that has now been rectified. To walk alongside them you realize just how big they are. And also what a shallow root system they have for such a massive tree.

The next day, yesterday, we once more climbed the mountain but to the northern section of the park where Generals Sherman and Grant welcomed us. Sherman is the biggest tree in the world by volume while Grant is the second. They were shrouded in cloud which gave the whole scene a surreal atmosphere. They are big. Taking a photo of the whole tree was impossible without a fish eye lens.

But the end of the day was turning into a nightmare as we had left the park heading to Fresno, a big city, with no place to free camp or no RV park showing up on the GPS. But there was one a further 50kms on at this lake, Millerton. A State Park camp which would be one of the nicest we’ve stayed at. Our site overlooks boulders and the lake. Inquisitive squirrels are all around including in the van if you’re not careful. Racoons knock over the rubbish bins at night, a female bobcat does the rounds of a morning and jack rabbits scurry into their burrows when startled. Coyotes chorused us while we ate tea by the fire. And Shirtless Steve, the camp host, quite a character, regaled us with his experiences. A nice place. We extended the stay a further night.

Blizzards and Such

Cannonville. Near Bryce Canyon 17th April

Mother Nature is not treating us well. The snow the other day was more a pleasant experience than anything else but yesterday, coming into Torrey for the night on our way to Bryce Canyon the strong winds that were a precursor to the snow the other day were happening again. But this time, the wind didn’t stop. And when the sleet and snow hit us at 3a.m. it was a disaster. Because of the strong winds and a clear sky I had left the fly off over our bed as it flaps horribly in strong winds. At 2.30 the wind was so strong I dropped the hinged roof for only the second time. The other was in Patagonia. And when I heard the sleet hitting the canvas on the outside of where our heads lie, I knew I had to get out and affix the fly otherwise the canvas would get the full brunt of the blizzard. Fixing the fly in numbing conditions was an excruciating experience. After that we lay there for hours hearing the fly flap and bang hoping it wouldn’t tear. It didn’t. Good South African manufacturing.

This morning the ground was more covered with ice than snow. It was -3C and still blowing furiously. We contemplated staying an extra day but the camp site owner assured us that, with our vehicle, we should have no trouble getting over the 3000m pass that was on our route. As it happened, he was right. The fresh snow was thick on the ground but the warmth of the asphalt had melted the flakes as they landed. Cold weather is forecast once again for Friday but I hope we are further to the south by then. And at lower altitudes.

Yesterday morning though, was a great experience. After camping the night on the banks of the Colorado River we headed up the Colorado River Gorge for some 50kms before hitting the Interstate. At times the gorge was less than 50 metres wide with the red cliffs towering above us and the swirling water next to us, and at times it opened up to farmland for a short while before closing in again.

After crossing the pass this morning the road descended then entered the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park. I think it is the biggest park in Utah and has its share of weird rock formations etc. After leaving Bryce Canyon tomorrow I hope to cut across the park on an unsealed less used road.

Often the smaller parks are the most interesting and today, after checking in to the camp site, we headed out to the Kodachrome State Park a few miles out of Cannonville. A small park but the colours of the cliffs and the dozens of pillars standing like so many phallic symbols were impressive. One even had a scrotum attached. Will attach photo in due course. These parks are less visited so there is a chance of solitude. The park was named by some National Geographic crew in the 40s who reckoned the colours were like you would see on Kodachrome film.

 

Some of the Snow we Woke up to at San Miguel RiverIMG_5617IMG_5624

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Keeping warm. Bad Positioning of the Toilet Behind Joan

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On the Slickrock Trail at CanyonlandsIMG_4649

The Balancing Rock at Arches NP and Two of the Arches in the Park

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Then Into Utah

Lake Ridgeway State Park 11th April

The Uncompahgre River at this point is classed as a Gold Medal Water because of the size of trout that are found in this stretch. The Parks & Wildlife in the past have spent good money on improving the river and placing boulders in positions that attract the fish. Last night and today I put having a licence to good use although not successfully in this instance. It is a ‘Catch & Release’ stretch of water meaning the trout here are getting fatter and fatter. Speaking to a Denver visitor today he was saying he had a friend who caught a 28” Rainbow along this stretch. I will try again tomorrow but even being on the river is so relaxing whether I catch anything or not. When we were checking in to this State Park the volunteer told us to speak to ‘Bill’ about the best places to fish. Bill met us on the footbridge over the river and pointed out the trout lying just below us and also the best holes to fish. He has worked for the National Parks service for over 21 years in Yellowstone first then here at Lake Ridgeway.

The drive from Durango yesterday had us going over three passes, the highest some 2300 metres. Snow was heavy on the ground right up to the road. The darkly wooded trees were a contrast to the scene of whiteness. The local forecast for Friday is a minimum of 18F with snow anticipated. If I remember correctly 18F is well below freezing. Tomorrow we head west back into Utah where we will visit Canyonlands NP and Maybe Arches NP although I believe the latter is very busy.

San Miguel River. BLM 12th April.

 

Coffee in the US has a bad reputation what with a Starbucks being on every second corner but we’ve found the opposite up till now. Take today. I threw the line in once more this morning meaning our get away wasn’t much before our normal morning coffee. But no, we won’t make our own, we would have a look at nearby Ridgeway which seemed to be a progressive small town to see what they had to offer. There were two on the main (and only) street. The Cimarron Book & Coffee Shop took our fancy. The coffee was hot and strong. Kim sold coffee beans as well. It was one of the occasions where you can sample before you buy.

A frustrating day as we had travelled some 120kms after morning tea, just taking our time and on stopping for lunch discovered a bag had been left back at the coffee shop. The helpful staff in the diner we were having lunch lent us her phone as ours was showing ‘no service’ and yes, it had been discovered two hours after we had left and handed in. So it was back to Ridgeway and then re tracing our steps a third time to find us spending the night still fairly high and this cold front hit two hours ago. No plug in here so it will be a three dog night I feel.

I threw the line in before tea and managed to catch my first Rainbow. Unfortunately it was chicken for tea as it was too small to fry.

 

Canyonlands NP Utah. 13th April

The scene this morning on looking out the window was one of white. The cold front deposited about 6 inches of snow throughout the valley where we were parked. I thought I would duck down to the river for half an hour casting but the eyelets on the rod froze up as soon as they became wet. It took a while making the bakkie driveable and putting the wet canvas fly etc away but 7.30 saw us on the road. Fortunately the road was snow-free and there was no ice lying around. But the day has remained cold with a bitter wind blowing. At the Visitor Info Centre at Monticello the temp was 36F at 12 noon. Here at Canyonlands the camp area has no hookup meaning no heater. It will be another early night. Cold weather was expected on this trip but the change in the last couple of days has hurt.

But Canyonlands is another amazing park with sandstone buttresses, mesas and deep canyons. It is ideal for a bit of trekking, will see how we feel tomorrow.

 

Creek Pasture Camping. Another BLM Site 14th April.

Well we didn’t make it very far today. This camp ground is about 15kms from the Canyonlands NP. It wasn’t our intention of stopping, just thought a perusal of the camp site wouldn’t hurt. It’s a first in best dressed camp, one of three near the park catering for the overflow from the camp ground inside the park. There was one site not taken, it was early afternoon, the sun was warm in a cloudless sky and little breeze and after a freezing night, how could we resist? This morning we drove into parts of the park not visited yesterday, then after our coffee break went on a 4km trek over a smooth-rocked mesa that looks down to another of those remarkable canyons. Took us a couple of hours including at least 20 minutes chatting to fellow walkers passing by. Americans seem to be very hesitant greeting strangers and having a chat, but Joan has the knack and soon conversation would be flowing.

The advertising department of Subaru have done an amazing job of promoting their product. In the park we drove to Elephant Hill, a trail recommended for 4WDs. Coming back at our coffee stop I counted the vehicles passing by. Two out of every three cars would’ve been a Subaru. We spoke to a family from Colorado about it later and yes, they had one as well. In the car park at the Visitors Centre it’s the same. Subarus everywhere.

 

Drink’s Canyon, on Banks of Colorado River 15th April

Another great Bureau of Land Management campsite metres from the muddy Colorado River. The sandstone cliffs tower above us on both sides. At this point it is quite a big river and moving fairly quickly.

We visited Arches National Park today. In this area there are over 2000 sandstone arches and the park has many of them. The amount of time it must take to form them is hard to comprehend.

But, as we have been told to expect, the park was very crowded especially being a Sunday. The car parks were often full and there was no chance of having some quiet time on one of the walks. Not one of our favourite parks.