Thursday, June 30, 2016

June 24-29

June 24, 2016

Salamander Flats Campground

We met the man who is parked next to us.  His name is Paul and he is a retired 2nd grade teacher.  He brought his three grandsons up to hike in the woods.   Paul is very environmentally conscious and is training his grandsons to respect the land God has given us.  Today they took a large cooler on their hike and picked up trash along the trail.  The oldest boy is about 8 and his name is Gavin, Owen is next and Parker is 5. 

In the afternoon, Roger remembered we had a game that he thought the boys might enjoy. 
I think the game is called tether ball.  There is a stand made of pvc pipe with three colored cross bars.  The tether balls are small like a golf ball, but more flexible.  Two of the balls are connected by a cord.  The players get three chances to throw the ball onto one of the colored rods.  Each color is a different number of points, 1-3.  Whoever reaches 21 first is the winner.  All six of us played.  Roger won, Paul was second, and little Parker came in third, doing better than the rest of us.  Paul and the boys really enjoyed the game and hated to see us put it up.

Since Roger wanted to get up early tomorrow, we packed up the RV before going to bed.  Roger also made another fire with the last of our wood. 

June 25, 2016

The alarm went off at 7:30.  We drove up to a parking lot that was at a higher elevation, hoping to get better reception for Field Day, starting at noon.  Roger talked on the radio all day while I read a book.  Though reception was very poor, he persisted, trying his best to reach anyone who tried to contact him. 

Just before sundown, we returned to our previous campground, though we knew our spot would be taken, be just parked in the main open area buy several cars, whose owners were tent camping in the woods. 

June 26, 2016

We got up, ate breakfast and drove down the mountain to church.  After returning the rental car, we headed out of town.  While we both enjoyed Utah, we were ready to move on.  When we got to Bridle Falls, Roger decided we should hike up to where there were people sitting on a wide ledge about half way up the falls.  Somehow we made a wrong turn and ended up on a very steep trail that was pretty rough.  But we finally climbed up and met the much easier trail.  I admit, once we got to the falls, it was really fun.  The water was ice cold when I dipped my hands into it.  With it being the weekend, there were a steady stream of families and couples going up and down the trail.  

When we returned to the base of the mountain, we found a short path that lead to a stream and Roger took off his shoes and socks to put his feet in the water.  He said it must be close to freezing because his feet cooled almost instantaneously.  There was a small vendor selling shaved ice “snowballs” in the parking lot.  Roger bought a huge red one.  We couldn’t tell if it was strawberry or cherry, but it surely tasted good and helped us cool off more quickly.  

On the route we were taking today, we went by Deer Creek Lake again.  It reminded me that Paul had explained the wooden towers to us.  They were not for climbing lessons but were part of a zip line, with several stops along the mountainside.  As we passed it today I could see the line more clearly, as it is much earlier in the day and there was more light. 

The countryside east of Salt Lake City is filled with tall mountains that are rounded at the top with few trees.  They are covered with low growing shrubs and grasses.  We stopped at Strawberry Reservoir to watch the white pelicans.  There were several flocks at different places near the shoreline. 

One thing we haven’t specifically mentioned is that Utah is a very rocky state.  There are small, medium and large bounders throughout the countryside.  In the areas where people farm, there are often piles of rocks which appear to have been removed from the ground before planting of crops.  It must have taken a great deal of time and energy to do the initial preparation of the fields.

The farther east we travel, the more erosion is noticeable.  The rocks are broken and falling from the sides of the mountain.  One thing we have had a hard time adjusting to is the dust in Utah.  It is so fine that it gets on and into everything.  You just can’t avoid it.  Though I hate the summer humidity at home, I hate dust even more.

About 30 miles farther east the mountains look almost devoid of vegetation.  In actuality, they are covered with short grasses that are light brown.  They appear similar to a long line of huge piles of dirt that goes on and on for miles on both sides of the highway. The only green we see is irrigated fields or vegetation near a river or stream.        

Another interesting thing we have noticed, unrelated to geology, is that many businesses in Utah honor the Sabbath and are closed on Sunday.  It has been so long since we have seen that practice.  We supposed it must be because of the Mormon influence.  I can remember it was pretty much the norm when I was a child.  Living in Florida, where the tourist industry is such a major part of our economy, that soon took priority over the religious preference.

June 27, 2016

I spent this morning doing laundry, while Roger did research on campgrounds in Colorado.  After lunch we continued east.  Roger noticed tire marks all over the nearby hills. “Off-roading” seems to be a very popular sport in Utah.  We have seen lots of  dirt motorcycles and small open four wheeled vehicles, like the dune buggy’s we used to see on the beach at home in the 1960s.   

Today’s first stop was Dinosaur National Monument.  Whenever I think about dinosaurs, I visualize a cartoon character in a children’s movie.  But this site proves prehistoric creatures really existed.  The park service has a tram that drives people up the mountain to view the fossils in the Quarry Exhibit Hall.  The fossils date back 149 million years ago.  That is almost incomprehensible to me.   Earl Douglas discovered the first fossil at this location on 8-17-1909.  He was a paleontologist from Carnegie Museum in Pittsburg Pennsylvania.

The National Park has constructed a building around the side of the mountain, with two stories.  So people can actually see the fossils embedded into the rock.  There is one display that allows you to touch one of the large dinosaur bones. Since 1909, 400 different dinosaurs have been collected from this area.  There are 1,500 more fossil bones, from 100 different animals, and 8 different species remaining in the rocks that are part of the Monument.   

It was 4:30 p.m. when Roger finished doing his radio contacts.  Then we headed to Colorado.  The grasses on the side of the road are a soft golden color.  They seem to set off the silver and green shrubs and make them look prettier, somehow; not as harsh or brittle.  But, too soon, the landscape became very desolate.  The only manmade sights are oil drilling stations and holding tanks.  Many of the pumps are inactive (meaning they are not pumping).  There are also some different structures which Roger thinks may be for natural gas. 

Unfortunately, the highway was closed ahead and the detour took us on a rough gravel road.  We only past 3 vehicles during the hour drive.  There were no towns or people around anywhere.  So it was a little bit scary.  We finally passed a mine named American Gilsonite Company.  We don’t know what gilsonite is, so another internet search is in order.
(Later, when we had access to the internet, we learned that gilsonite is a resin used in the oil and gas drilling process.  It is also used in asphalt and some paints and stains.  The only place in the world where it is mined is in southeast Utah.) 
We were ever so glad to finally reach a paved road again.  But it was still another 20 minutes before we came back to the highway we had been on previously.  Oh well.  We are grateful to be safe and free from any mishaps along the way.  It still took another 20 minutes to reach the next town, Rangely, Colorado.
After about 90 miles the mountains began to be taller and are covered with evergreen trees.  There are green grasses again. And “Glory be!”  The air is getting cooler.  “What a joy “.  Of course, everything has a cost.  The steep incline was quite a stress on the motor home.  We reached the elevation of 8250 ft and pulled over to let the engine rest and cool off.  Roger had to keep a close eye on the thermostat going down the other side of the mountain. 
About half way down there was a small herd of cattle on the road.  Fortunately, they moved aside so we could pass them.   We had previously seen a sign that indicated that cattle had free range grazing on this land.  So it was not an unexpected encounter. 

We noticed several areas there a white substance seemed to leach from the rocks.  It didn’t look like salt, so Roger suggested it may be lime.  Later in the day we saw a building in town that was a lime company, so Roger was probably right.  We reached our next objective, the Colorado National Monument.  The ranger station was closed, so we started our drive up the mountain.  We came to a tunnel that we were pretty sure we could get through, but the one just beyond seemed too short for us to fit.  So Roger had to back down the mountain for several yards.  We had short range radios, so I got out and guided him to a pull off area where he had sufficient room to back around.  It was disappointing.  But we returned to town to a state campground that had electricity. 
We were able to take a hot shower and I put clean sheets on the bed.  So we felt better that evening. 
June 28, 2016
We spoke to a woman in the campground office who explained that the 10 ft height referenced for the low part of the tunnels at Colorado National Monument was only at the sides on the tunnel.  The center is 16 ft. high.  She said we should not have any problem getting through if we “hug the center line”.  So we went back up the mountain.  The park ranger on duty also assured us we could get through the tunnels.  Sure enough we did fine.  We had measured the RV this morning and it was 11 feet tall from the ground to the top of the AC Unit on the roof.

In the visitor’s center we read through the displays which explained the geology of the area and the different layers of rock.  They described the monument as “a fascinating landscape of deep canyons and soaring cliffs”.
After Roger did his transmissions, we ate lunch then drove through the park and took pictures of the cliffs.  The varied and unique formations created by erosion were quite remarkable.  When we got out and walked among the huge rocks, you could see thousands of tiny sparkles reflecting the sunlight.  They looked like diamonds. 
There was a shear drop from the road to the bottom of the canyon, so I was glad to be on the “inside” at least half of the time, rather than the cliffs side all of the time.  The switch backs were more intimidating than those we have driven in the Smokey Mountains.  Here you can see the “bottom” of the canyons.  The tremendous height is very evident, where as the Smokies are so covered with forests, it’s not nearly as scary.
We descended the mountain into the city of Grand Junction, Colorado.  Then we returned to the dry valleys that they called mesas.  They are comprised of light brown dirt and yellow grasses, with a few pale green shrubs.  After 50 or 60 miles we finally came to an area where trees are growing, land is farmed and cattle are grazing.  It was such a relief to see productive land again.
We see the mountains in the distance with snow still covering a considerable portion near the peaks.  This must be the west side of the Rockies.  We had not realized the Rocky Mountain extended this far south.  The town of Montrose is closest to our next stop, Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park.

We have noticed a different form of irrigation here in Colorado.  There are wide PVC pipes with holes in the side that lay along the side of the fields.  The water flows out on the ground down the tracks between the rows of crops.  Roger says this is probably more economical because so much water is lost by evaporation with a sprinkler system.
We have now started to drive by mountains covered with short juniper trees.  The air is so cool that we have turned off the AC and opened the windows.  We reached 7,000ft. , then 8,000 ft. and could hardly believe we were still ascending.  Pretty purple, yellow and orange wild flowers decorate the sides of the road. 
We found a campground with electricity in Black Canyon National Park and settled in for the might. 

June 29, 2016-06-29

This morning we went up to the visitor’s center that overlooks Black Canyon.  Neither one of us expected to see anything different.  But this canyon was very unique.  We have seen so many mountains that exhibit horizontal striations of different colors of rock.  Black Canyon has vertical ridges, instead.  It is so deep and so sheer and narrow that very little sunlight can penetrate.  It is very dark.  That is why it was named t Black Canyon.

Roger spotted another new bird today.  It is the violet-green swallow.  There were several of them flying around the top of the gorge near the visitor’s center.  He were very easy to identify because they flew very close to the observation area where we were standing. 

We reached 7,000 ft. then 8,000 ft. and could hardly believe we were still ascending.  Pretty purple, yellow and orange wild flowers decorated the sides of the road.  This canyon is such a great surprise.  It is the narrowest we have seen so far.  An information sign in the visitor’s center explains that the structure of the canyon was created due to the steep descent of the Guinnison River. This caused a very rapid flow of water, hence quicker and more powerful erosion of the surrounding rock.

We left the canyon at 10:50 and turned south.  I’m dreading the heat, but we can’t avoid it forever   I also hate to leave the green trees that live on the higher elevations.  Gratefully, highway 550 begins on a plateau.  The morning temperature is pleasant and trees and fertile land border the highway.  It appears that we have received a short reprieve from the heat.  It is actually a delightful drive.  We have followed a pretty stream for the past hour, then past a beautiful lake.  There are tree covered hills on both sides of the road and the snow covered Rocky Mountains can be seen in the distance.     \

The elevation is 6,900 feet.  I have only just realized that we are traveling through the San Juan Mountains.   They border the Rocky Mountains on the west side.  Oh how lovely to see green grass again!  At 7,700 ft. the mountains are awesome!  We feel so small, but it is an exhilarating feeling as well.  We arrived at Ouray, a small old mining town with businesses lining Main Street.  They have a hot spring which has attracted many tourists.  The old mining community has kept up the wooden buildings and painted them with bright colors. 

After passing through town, we have now reached an elevation of 8,700 feet and there is a spring shooting out of the side of the mountain.  We passed an old sleuth at 9,050 feet.  And the temperature has gotten cool enough to close our windows.  Some of the rocks are orange, some yellow and the rest were grey.  There was a rushing stream along the side of the road and the rocks in the stream are a dark orange.  (9,500 ft.)  We wondered if the color is from copper or iron.  (9,594 ft.)  We have now reached a view of the tree line, where trees can no longer grow, 9,650ft.  At 9,680 we see the peaks are a dark orange, something we have never seen before.  9,700 ft. then 9980, and then 10,000 ft.  At
10, 200 feet it starts to rain.  WOW!.  What a spectacular view, even in the rain.  10,453 ft. and still climbing.

We stopped at an overlook that had three different informational signs.  One noted that there were 20 different mines in this area in the 1800s.  Silver, copper, gold, lead and zinc were mined here, producing over 30 million dollars worth of minerals.

We were delighted to have a rest stop at 10,500 feet and watch the rain.  We actually took a nap while letting the RV have a rest as well.

The orange rock, bright white snow and green trees are a beautiful sight.  Clouds have formed where the cooler air and the moisture mixed.  We had a view of waterfalls at 10,900 ft. and small patches of snow clinging to the sides of the mountain at 11,000 ft.  The top of Red Mountain Pass is 11,018 ft.  A sign at this point noted that wagons carrying gold past here in 1878. 

It’s down hill from here.  The snow reminded us when Tricia was an infant we saw snow in May at Flagstaff, Arizona.  Today we are seeing snow on the ground in June.  How extraordinary!  The San Juan Mountains really are beautiful.  I’m so glad Roger routed us through this wonderful mountain range. 

We arrived at Silverton, an old mining town where a small gauge railroad travels south to the city of Durango.  It follows a stream that flows swiftly down the mountain and has wild daisies decorating the shoreline.  As we continued to descent the mountain we saw remnants of an old mine on the hillside. 

Roger has been very courteous to the cars following us.  He pulls over to the side to let them pass, as they are traveling faster than we are.  Hopefully, that will contribute to a more positive impression of the motor home owners.

We found a free camping area (with no services) in a national forest and settled in for the night.  There was a ring of rocks for a fire pit, so we both started looking for dry wood.  After collecting dead branches for about 20 minutes, Roger started a fire.  Then we made spaghetti together and took it outside to eat beside the peaceful flames.  


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