2014 To Canada and Back

In December 2013 we started planning a long envisioned trip to Canada, visiting several National Parks on the way. We originally thought in terms of starting the trip near Memorial Day but after looking at the average weather at the northern-most point of the trip we decided to make the trip at the end of August. Even making reservations in December for September, we could not get reservations in all of the places we wanted. Advanced block booking by travel agencies for group tours takes a lot of the better locations. That is why we wanted to travel outside of the summer vacation time period. The plan was to drive quickly to Banff National Park, then return slowly visiting Banff, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park on the way.

Route Maps

Here are maps showing the route we followed.

The Trip North to Canada

Day 1: Driving to Las Vegas, New Mexico

August 25

It was an interesting day. We started at 10:45, a bit later than planned but not too bad - after an intense evening discussion with our house guest that lasted until well after midnight (and involved a bit of red wine and Scotch). We ate lunch, as planned, in Tularosa at Casa de Sueños. Deep fried avocado slices served with a jalopeño ranch dressing was our shared appetizer. Then Dick had a soup and salad and Marshall had a large prickly pear salad -sautéd strips of prickly pear cactus, or nopalitos, are added to mixed greens, and served with a dressing made from the fruit, or “tuna” of the cactus.  …

Day 2: Driving to Castle Rock, Colorado

August 26

Departure from Las Vegas was relatively easy as we opted not to eat a full breakfast in the hotel, but just move on north to Raton, where we remembered having some good coffee in the historic area.  Raton was the scene of pitched battles in the late 19th century as railroad competed to lay track through the mountain pass there over 7800 feet up.  It is still dangerous in the winter, and there is a permanent gate to close the pass to interstate traffic when the snow piles too high,   No snow or rain dampened our morning, and we enjoyed seeing the empty vistas of Northeastern New Mexico, with little sign of human intrusion other than the occasional cow.   …

Day 3: Drive to Casper, Wyoming

August 27

We saw more rain on this day than has fallen all year in El Paso.  Excepting a few brief intervals, we travelled some 300 miles in the rain, very heavy at times.  Fortunately this is little-habited country, with long stretches between towns, so there is not much traffic.  Billboards are infreqent, but when you do see a sign it might be a one of a kind, such as “We Buy Antlers, Top Prices,” or a sculpture of a jackalope sitting on a ridge.  …

Day 4: Drive to Billings, Montana

August 28

Keeping this up to date is difficult when you change locations each day. I have decided to skip for a while. Today took us from Casper to Billings, via Ten Sleep, Wyoming (somewhere east of Cody). We stopped to have lunch with Katherine, Marshall’s niece, who’s working on a due ranch there.  The escape from I-90 was a beautiful drive through the Bighorn mountains, with lots of vistas and signs about geology.  Wish we’d had more time!  Afterward we stopped at the Bighorn National Recreation Area’s visitor center, which had great exhibits about the geology and an interesting video about its history.  …

Day 5: Drive to Butte

This short drive from Billings to Butte was not a very pretty one.  A great deal of mining and oil and gas exploration sites were visible throughout. We stopped in Bozeman, a very nice  university town with an historic and attractive downtown.  Butte is another mining center with a sad history of mining tragedies.  Here we had a splendid dinner in a café in Butte’s historic district, posted as the largest one in the US.  Perhaps the most notable thing about the drive, was the number of casinos everywhere – dozens of them, next to gas stations, attached to motels, etc.  …

Day 6: Drive to Sandpoint, Idaho

August 30

The  drive from Butte to Sandpoint Idaho was a pretty one, along the Flathead and Clark Fork rivers.  We had an excellent lunch in Plains, MT, at the Dog Hill Bistro.  We meant to ask them where the name came from, but forgot, the food was so nice!  Shortly after crossing into Idaho, we passed through a small town, Clark Fork, ID, pop 250, and stopped to have the girls supporting the local girls volleyball team wash our car; all captured on my dash camera  After we return home I will edit a clip and post it. …


Visiting Banff and Jasper Canadian National Parks

Day 8: September 1, Labor Day (US and Canada)

We spent this day in Canmore, just browsing and wandering.  The town has a number of paved trails that lead around its river and creeks, and it’s very pleasant to just stroll along.  We also did some wandering on the shopping streets and found ourselves supporting the Canadian economy.  One spot was a photography studio dedicated to the works of a wildlife biologist who became a world-class photographer.  My 2015 calendar in hand!  Then a great shop with buffalo leather goods, among other things – my favorites were the signs you could buy with slogans like  “Do Not Make Eye Contact with the Gorilla,”  And one that really hit home, “Don’t let Yesterday take up too much of Today.”  We had lunch at The Taavern, one of whose specialities is “Duck Nuts’ – a form of arrancini with duck confit…have to go back to try them!  We dined at a tapas restaurant that had quite good food, although mostly not tapas you would eat in Spain.  And so to bed.  Hoping to sleep well..but not.  Almost every hotel has a heavy duvet on the bed (is there some kind of legistlative requirement?) and it’s not conducive to restful sleep….too hot…too cold…home is better!

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Bow River in Canmore; with a city park and trails on both banks.

Day 9: Visiting The Columbia Icefields

This is the first day after the Labor Day weekend, which is just as big a deal in Canada as it is in the US.  Canmore is still busy but it’s more normal bustle.  We got underway in the morning to drive to Lake Louise and the Columbia Icefields, where a huge glacier straddles the Continental Divide.  It was raining – make that pouring – as we started, and stayed that way for quite a time, but about a third of the way in to the 200 km (125 mile) drive the weather began to clear and we could see increasingly spectacular mountain peaks, with snowy caps..and then glacial formations.  This made for a slow drive!  On arrival at the Icefields Center we saw dozens of tour buses and RVs along with a hundred cars or so, and we were grateful we had not tried to do this in the summer!  We ate a quick lunch and wandered about, but did not join the throngs in the ice tour vehicles, nor those venturing on the Skywalk, where you could look down through a glass floor some 980 feet to the valley bottom!  Visits to glaciers in Argentina and Antarctica were “good enough.”  It was still  after 5 pm when we returned to the inn, where – finally – it appeared that the skies might  clearing for Canmore.

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The Glacier from the Icefield Center

Day 10, Canmore

During the night, I could hear the rain. We had the window cracked for fresh air and to help compensate for the duvet on our bed. The temperature this morning was 42º. When I went out to get coffee and breakfast, the mountains to the west were hidden by low clouds. It was sprinkling. Returning to our hotel, the clouds had opened somewhat and I could see snow covering the tops to mid-elevations of the nearby mountains. This wasn’t there yesterday.

We went to Lake Louise at mid-day to meet with a woman Marshall met through the cancer-web site. She is from Edmonton. We tried yesterday but poor communications due to spotty cell coverage hampered efforts. We were successful and had a nice visit that ended wth a brief visit to see Lake Louise.

Lake-Louise

Lake Louise as seen from the Lodge end.

Day 11 Sept 4

We started slowly today, after packing up the car we went into down in Canmore for the last time.  There was a nice market underway, with beautiful fruits and vegetables, and – surprise – a poster board of Tintin and Milou advertising Belgian waffles.  The woman behind the counter was from the Belgian Ardennes area, and had been in Canmore for 7 years…we had a pleasant chat with her but refrained from eating Liege waffles at that hour of the moring!  Right next to the market was the local museum, which had a fascinating exhibit about the floods of the Bow River and the devastation caused, most recently in 2013, we moved on to a bookstore (where I could still be browsing if not told to move on) and a pleasant lunch.

Cranmore-Market

The drive after that was just an hour or so, coming down from the mountains to the high plains again – until we hit construction and had to work our way around it without any knowledge of local roads.  The mountains of the US Glacier Park and the Canadian Waterton Parks are just visible far to the south.

Calgary is booming from oil and other fossil fuel resource extraction.  (It’s about 50 percent larger than El Paso, and probably 10 or 20 times more restaurants, especially upscale ones.

Day 12, Calgary

Day 12 was spent in Calgary.  We had lunch at the Ox and Angela (a very complicated explanation for the name!), with an assortment of tapas that were very good if not completely authentic (never, for example, we never had sour cream on a tortilla - the potato omelet- in Spain.  But the sangria was good, and the chocolate tart was exceptional.

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Public Art “Count the Crows"

Then we spent several hours in the Glenbow Museum, which has several really fantastic exhibitions.  One of the principal ones focused on the Blackfeet Indians, and was essentially created by a group drawn from the Blackfeet themselves.  A similar approach was taken to the west African art exhibit, where members of the west African community in Calgary commented on the similar impact of colonialism and oil exploration in west Africa and Alberta.  This is a don’t miss if you are in Calgary!

Several hundred ravens flew over the hotel about 7:30 pm, heading for unknown territory


Visiting Glacier National Park

Day 13, Drive to Glacier

Saturday morning, we noticed that the empty lot next to the hotel was in fact a prairie dog/gopher town!  A dozen or so little heads popped out of their holes all together, and seemed to be posing…We departed Calgary without difficulty, and headed into southern Alberta for the crossing into the US.  The landscape was very different from that seen in the big parks, with rolling hills and lots of hay bales and cattle again.  But ahead we could see the mountain ranges of Glacier and the adjoining Canadian park, Waterton Lakes.  These were created as a bi-national “peace park,” the first such in the world.  US and Canadian park staff work together on trails, wildlife issues, and the like.  .Just north of the border we stopped in Pincher Creek for a light lunch at the Green Bamboo Peking House.  This is the first time I’ve ever received a fortune cookie in both English and Spanish!  Then on to the crossing, which lacked the elegant 16-foot metal fences that grace the US-Mexico border…crossing was swift, and we drove along the side of Glacier before entering The Road to The Sun (named after one of the mountains) at St. Mary’s.  (Later we discovered that Amtrak coming from Chicago stops here, and at two other points on the park’s border, on its way to Seattle.)  This was an extraordinary road, largely built in the 30s and in need of repairs now but still in very good shape.  It crosses the entire park, skirting various mountain ranges and lakes, and at one point makes a complete 360º turn backwards to navigate a pass.  Eventually we landed in Apgar Village at the western end of the park, and the western end of the great McDonald Lake, where we spent the first of three nights.  Apgar has two lodges, several gift shops (specializing in huckleberry products, among other things) and one restaurant, Eddie’s, which we got to know quite well.  This, and other facilities run by the concessionaire, Xanterra, appears to rely heavily on young staff from east European countries.  (And given that a substantial number of visitors to the parks are from Germany and points east, this probably works well.) The weather was still good and we enjoyed sitting out in front of our tiny room (even though we started working on this trip in December, better rooms were already taken) to read and watch the loons on the lake. 

Lake-McDonald-#1

Lake McDonald from outside of our room

Day 14, Glacier National Park

Tuesday, September 9.  Today we took several trails in the Lake Macdonald area, along the creek and in the forest…walking carefully to avoid startling the mountain lion seen in the vicinity!  (But, no, we did not see her…)  Dinner was a break from Eddie’s, at the Lake MacDonald Lake Lodge…with a light meal at the bar/lounge overlooking the lake.   The weather is still good, but projected to worsen tomorrow.

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Lake McDonald at Twilight looking toward south end

Highlight of the day might be the couple who paddled by in their canoe with a spaniel in the middle and then pulled up on shore and spent a hour or so throwing a stick into the creek for the dog to retrieve – the definition of dog happiness!

Day 15, Glacier National Park

Today we drove to Bowman Lake, along the west side of Glacier park.  A mere 30 miles, but covering very changing terrain – and roads.  Quite a bit of it was unpaved, the worst being the six miles to the lake from the town of Polebridge  - a narrow road with huge potholes, shared with large pickups and SUVs coming the other way (passing not possible!).  Polebridge is a tiny settlement with a general store just celebrating its 100th anniversary.  Nearby is Ranch Road Bottoms, an area of private homes/ranches, with a café alongside, where we had BBQ and bratwurst smoked by the Texan owner!  This was a long, slow driving day.  A great deal of the landscape consisted of burnt hillside – so much of the tree cover in this region is threatened by fire, but worse by the pine-bark beetle, whose spread is facilitated by climate change.

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Bowman Lake

As we returned the skies grew darker, and about 7 pm the wind suddenly sprang up and a front moved through for several hours with lots of sound and fury.

Day 16, Drive to Helena

Departed Glacier this chilly morning *40º - and headed into Kalispell, and then on to Rte 82.  The Lodge will close for the winter next  Monday and reopen in late May, a very short season. Stopped in Sealey Lake, where we’d meant to have lunch but were not really hungry, spent a pleasant time at the Grizzly Paw store and Java stop…chatting with the owner.  Driving on through rolling hillsides and along many beautiful lakes…and into Helena, a sprawling town that has lots of restaurants and other facilities, no doubt due to the presence of the state government.  A huge and beautiful moon appeared as we drove back from dinner.


Visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Day 17, September 10, Drive to Mammoth Hot Springs

Today took us to Mammoth Hot Springs, along Rte 287, crossing the Missouri River, and briefly on I-90, where we had lunch in a Montana Wheat Farms deli – whose t-shirts read “we stopped and smelled the flours.”   Rte 89 from Livingston (another Montana town with an historic downtown) into the majestic north entrance of Yellowstone Park.  Shortly thereafter we passed a sign marking the 45th Latitude, halfway between the North Pole and the Equator.  Weather deteriorated as we went along, and by Mammoth Hot Springs it was cold and drizzly, impeding visits to the famous terraces. There were elk everywhere, impeding hopes of doing much walking.  One bull elk had his harem scattered around the hotel, which may have been a strategy to keep them away from other bulls!  They were surrounded by dozens of people watching them, and often getting much closer than prudence would suggest.

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A bull elk moving his herd, seen just indie north entrance to Yellowstone

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Elk on Grounds of Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge

The Mammoth Hotel is a cavernous place, with a huge Map Room where a wooden composite map of some 2544 pieces, involving 15 different woods from 9 countries, was assembled in 1937.  It is much the same color as the rest of the wall, and impossible to photograph – not least as it is slightly larger than 17x10 feet. In the evening there was piano music for some three hours, followed by a talk on Yellowstone depicted in music. We did not get to the talk -  there were no vacancies and you had to queue to get into the dining room. Our room was quite Spartan – we have yet to have a really comfortable place in these highly popular parks. 

Day 18, September 11, Canyon Village

On to Canyon Village in snow showers as the temperature dropped to 21º at the pass at 8859 feet.  We could see little if anything of the landscape, but we got up front and personal views of bison, which seemed to be unperturbed about cars as they crossed the highway.  

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(Of course the occasional bison or elk decides to get rid of these motorized intruders and attacks them.)  On arrival in Canyon Village we spent several hours in the Visitor Center, watching some films about Yellowstone and perusing the very interesting exhibits.  The Center is the work of the Yellowstone Park Association, a long-standing support organization.  By this time the sky had begun to clear but it was still very cold.

In Canyon Village we stayed in a cabin that we thought was nicer than Mammoth Hot Springs, until we realized in the morning that the temperature of the room was about 56º and there was no water, hot or cold, in the showers.

Day 19, September 12, Canyon Village

After reporting the water issue – which we were told was due to pipes freezing on the previous night – we headed out to Norris Basin, which sits on top of several fault lines.  It is the hottest of the sites in Yellowstone, and indeed in North America – one drilling crew recorded 459º at 1087’ down before being forced to stop by the high pressure below.  The geysers here are the oldest of the active ones in Yellowstone. 

Hot-Spring-Pool

A very deadly hot spring pool

From Norris we drove straight south to Old Faithful, with a stop along the way where a huge traffic jam indicated a “wildlife event,” which turned out to be a bear and her cub walking across a meadow.  At Old Faithful we did see a couple of high blasts.  Even at this time of year Old Faithful is surrounded by dozens, probably hundreds, of people waiting for it to erupt.  English seemed to be a minority language!  We returned by Firehole Lake Drive, viewing more geysers, and Fountain Paint Pot, a strange mudhole, and finally Gibbon Falls – where an intrepid trout fisherman could be seen nearly a hundred feet down (and no obvious way that he got there). 

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Fly fishing at base of Gibbon Falls

On returning we found there was still no water, and we might have to stay in a cabin that not only had no water for a shower or toothbrush, but none for the toilet as well.  A stroke of luck—at 6:15 the registration desk offered us a cabin on Yellowstone Lake had suddenly become available, so we hustled to pack and load up the car.

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The buffalo we noticed as we started to leave.

As we started to to pull out, we noticed that a buffalo had recently arrived and was quietly grazing by the side of our cabin.  We drove to Lake Lodge, arriving at 7:45 p.m. The Lake Lodge cabin was quite a bit nicer than the one at Canyon Village, or so we thought.

Day 20, September 13, Lake Village

We awakened to find the room at 54.7ºF - and the heater not working!  Dressing at this temperature gives a whole new meaning to the term “cold cream.”  Again we packed and hurried onward, this time to Flagg Ranch, which lies just between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.  On the way we drove up to the south rim overlooks of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and were glad we did.  The Artists’ Point is very beautiful, and even though it was Saturday the parking lot was not full – which apparently is never the case in summer.   

Yellowstone-Falls

Yellowstone Falls

On the way south we stopped at the Grant Village Restaurant for lunch,  This visitor area, named after President Grant, who signed the bill creating Yellowstone, was constructed in the 1980s to replace one that was too close to grizzly habitat.  Our guide-book considered Grant Village to be an ugly arrangement, but speaking as antiques who had been frozen for two days, we were glad to be in a dining room with double-paned glass and thick walls!  Grant Village, like most of Yellowstone, will be closed for the winter in a few days – and clearly was already reducing staff, as a sandwich and salad lunch took well over an hour. 

The signs were good at Flagg Ranch – a modern thermostat, hot water, and even a mini refrigerator and microwave! Only one sour note – the promised WiFi was not working.  We rested up for a while and then headed to the dining room, where we were seated in front of the fireplace (a gas log, but very appropriate for an area that has to control sparks).  The building was constructed in the “log cabin” style, but very nicely done – and we learned afterward that the facilities were only 18 years old, and so far more modern and heat-efficient than anything else we had encountered.  We had simple food – but the meal was memorable for our waiter, who was chatty and sarcastic and attentive all at once.  But perhaps the most amazing event of the evening was the little cart going around the cabins (92 of them) offering extra towels, turn-down service, and evening chocolates!!!  Flagg Ranch has my vote…

Day 21, September 14, Grand Teton National Park

This was a slow start due to the need to get some laundry done…and it’s not the most entertaining way to spend a few hours in the morning!  But it’s also nice to have clean clothes again…We drove down the main parkway, which led to Jackson Lake – a huge reservoir created by damning the Snake River to override a small natural lake (done by the Idaho potato producers to secure more irrigation for their fields).  Jackson Lake runs for some twenty miles or so.   Road work made it necessary to switch to a smaller road, which led around by Jenny Lake, with a detour to the top of Signal Mountain to see the full Teton Range from 7770 feet up.  More sightseeing and gawking at the mountains for several hours, interrupted by lunch at a picnic table by a lake trailhead; then a visit to the Moose Junction visitor center to view a film about Grand Teton, including scenes of mountain climbing that were best watched with eyes closed. 

Mount-Moran

Mount Moran

Grand Teton NP was the same geography and vistas that Dick was familiar from frequent visits in 1979 and 1980 but the number of tourists with which one has to share trails and observation points and parking spots has increased greatly. We decided that we prefer the less frequented Big Bend National Park to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

And then we went on the float trip – two hours “floating” down the Snake River, which in fact required extensive effort by the guide rowing our Zodiac with ten passengers.  No moose, but lots of beavers, bald eagles, and an occasional deer or antelope.  We were very lucky as it had been quite cold but today hit 76º!  Still, it was quite chilly once the sun set behind the Tetons. 

Three hours later, we (Dick) had a harrowing drive back through the park on a completely dark road – an hour to go 40 miles…avoiding wandering wildlife such as the elk bull on the side of the road, and the little red fox trotting along.  Back to Flagg Ranch, we had a much appreciated dinner (rabbit with polenta cake and grilled asparagus!) and enjoyed another chat with our waiter.  And so to bed. Hot water, chocolates, a functioning heating system – what else could we ask for??? Well, while we were gone the staff turned down the bed and put out more chocolates!  Best place we stayed in the parks by far.


Visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Day 22, September 15, Drive to Ogden, UT

Leaving Flagg Ranch mid-morning, after a very late evening, we stopped several more times for photos before reaching Jackson Hole.  Its motto could be “Come To Jackson Hole – Bring Money!”  - it’s jammed with trendy shops and others selling T-shirts with slogans along the lines of “Given the high cost of ammunition, there will be no warning shot.” The city park has giant arches constructed of elk antlers at each corner, collected from the National Elk Range just to the north.

The route out of Jackson led over the Teton Pass at 8431 feet and down into the Swan Valley, a beautiful area of rolling hills along the Snake River (a very long river, which runs from Grand Teton into the Columbia).  All of this was very slow driving due to congested roads, low speed limits in the park, and “Road Work Ahead.” Not a day has passed without seeing many of these signs… Along the way we paused at a very nice overlook/picnic area and took more pictures of the Snake River.  Many entrances to ranches along the way have massive gateways constructed of giant tree trunks, often decorated with wrought iron figures.

Then we passed through Idaho Falls, where Dick lived some 35 years ago, and joined the (happily light) traffic on I-15) to roll 178 miles into Utah to stop at Ogden.  Here we had a great dinner visit with one of Dicks Naval Academy classmates and spouse – the first conversations we’ve had with anyone other than ourselves for 3 weeks! (Not counting the odd conversations with our waiter in Flagg Ranch, surely one of the most entertaining waiters we’ve ever encountered.)   The weather has switched dramatically from the low teens experienced on a Yellowstone morning to 91º this afternoon in Idaho and Utah. 

Day 23, September 16, Drive to Moab

I-15 from Ogden to Salt Lake City and beyond is a tremendously congested road, with an HOV lane that ran for at least 75 miles along I-15.  It was a relief to get beyond Salt Lake city and then Provo, where the land began to open up.  Finally we turned onto US-50, to connect to I-70 and head for Moab – and found a truly spectacular landscape.  First we drove through a mountainous area, stopping only at Salina for lunch – at Mom’s Café, which turns out to have been written up in National Geographic and Sunset, among others.  At Salina US-50 led to I-70, and a more gorgeous road would be hard to find.  100 miles of tremendous landscape – strange formations, canyons, huge vistas…wisely, the transportation dept is making many new viewpoint turnouts, which will probably prevent quite a few accidents.  And so to Moab…bypassing the entrance to Arches National Canyon, and to our little rental space south of Moab.  91º!  Compared to 12º in the morning four days ago in Yellowstone.

Moab-Sunflowers

Sunflowers in the garden outside our Moab rented studio apartment.

Day 24, September 17, Moab and Arches

The apartment/studio is quite small but very quiet and we slept well. Up early, no shower, just head to town for espresso and tea and then on to Arches.  Traffic in Arches at 8:15 was already well beyond “light.”  The next three plus hours were spent exploring some of the most famous sights, such as Delicate Arch and the Balanced Rock.  We managed to find parking places each stop, but even at this time in late September most stops were nearly full.   Arches has only a campground, no lodging, and the competition for sites must be tremendous – everywhere we went in Moab was “no vacancy” as well. 

Balancing-Rock

Balancing Rock

Lunch in town…some rest time…and then dinner on the ridge overlooking the west ridge of Moab.  Not a beautiful sunset but an interesting one, watching clouds move along the mountain top.  And the food was pretty good! 

Day 25, September 18, Canyonlands and Colorado River Scenic Byway

The spectacular scenes in Arches National Park were matched by the stunning landscape of the Island in the Sky sector of Canyonlands, which we drove today after nearly missing it due to the insignificant sign pointing to the road.  Canyonlands is over 30 miles from Moab, and not nearly as crowded as Arches was.  It has two paved roads that lead to (what is another word for spectacular? Awesome?) overlooks, from one of which you can see the Green River far below.  Another is called the Grand View, and we learned that the Colorado River was called the Grand until Congress changed the name at the request of the state of Colorado - which seems odd as the river originates in Wyoming and reaches its majesty in Utah and Arizona.  Oh well.  Congressional courtesy!  We had to leave the second road for another visit, as the sun was too high for good viewing or photos – and we were hungry!

Sky-Island-view-overlooking-Valley

A view from the Sky Island plateau looking over the valley below. In this case, one trough which runs the Colorado River.

Back to town for lunch at “Twisted Sisters,” which turned out to be very good food indeed – Jamon Serrano on flatbread, or wrapped around shrimp – and then set off to explore a “Scenic Byway” following the Colorado River from just below Arches NP to a turnout leading up into the Manti Sal Mountains – a 60 mile loop involving lots of hairpin turns and steep ascents that will be a wonderful drive when we return!  The river road was another “oh look at that” route.  Two resort ranches, one with a winery attached, doubtless at prices that you can’t afford if you have to ask. 

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One of many beautiful scenes on the Scenic Byway

Two highlights of Canyonlands – two ravens flying together, wheeling about for all the world like Top Gun, one making a sound like a bullfrog and the other a more melodic frog note.  And everywhere on the drive out splashes of purple flowers in the meadows.

And so to relax in the rented studio and get ready for the drive through the mountains to Gallup tomorrow.


Homeward Bound

Day 26, September 19, Drive to Gallup, NM

The drive to Gallup took us through some unfamiliar terrain at first, along US 191 to Monticello (yes, amazing to find such names tossed in along with Zion or Pleasant View).  The terrain continued the red rock theme of the past two days, with interesting spots such as the Hole in the Wall Petting Zoo and Camel Rides business.  Then, going east toward Cortez, everything changed abruptly, and we entered a region of wheat and pinto beans farms, and even field of sunflowers!  Halfway down we stopped in Dove Creek at Wild Coffee, where an Australian “settler” served up espresso.  Cortez featured lots of touristly shops, and one of the nicest Welcome Centers we’ve yet entered, with a fine bookstore attached.  Then came the Cortez to Gallup Road, some 130 miles through the Ute and Navajo reservations.  (The road today is US 491, but a decade ago it was US 666.  Travelers who feared that number apparently forced a change!) The Ute site featured a huge casino and resort, while the Navajos have no visible casino or hotel of any kind on their stretch of the road, running nearly 100 miles from Shiprock to Gallup. A few cattle browsed alongside – the land was quite barren.  In one field two alpacas rested, a startling sight! Extensive roadwork was encountered once again, and we were glad to reach Gallup.  Especially as we had not considered that there would be no roadside picnic tables, and so had no place to eat our lunch until arriving in Gallup about 2:15.  The land turned a bit more verdant as we neared Gallup, and yellow flowers, mostly rabbitbrush, crowded the roadsides.

We’ve passed through Gallup quite a few times, and thought about dining again at the historic El Rancho hotel once more (featuring dishes named after the movie stars who’ve dined there, such as the Ronald Reagan burger, which comes with a side of jelly beans.  But we opted for the Badlands Grill, which features a burger laced with enough hot chiles that you are asked to sign a waiver before eating it….

The next and last full day will take us to Riverbend Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences, T or C as it is known, where we’ve stayed many times.  Looking forward to those mineral baths!

Day 27, September 20, Drive to Truth or Consequences, NM

Dinner in Gallup last night was quite interesting.  We realized on arrival that we’d eaten there over four years ago on our return from Monument Valley.  This time the restaurant was decorated with, among other items, steer skulls, covered with turquoise.  Quite arresting!  (And available for $1200.)  One last full day today, driving through central New Mexico over terrain we’ve traveled many times, once in a howling snow storm.  A stop in Los Lunas for Mexican food for lunch, and in Socorro for coffee, and T or C! Hot mineral baths after an Italian dinner at Cafe Bella Luca, and off to dreamland.

Riverbend-Hot-Springs

Scene at Riverbend Hot Springs

Tomorrow we will head for El Paso – some 5400 miles round trip since we left – and the vacation ends – laundry here we come!

Day 28, Home

We arrived home at 11 AM, having driven 4506 miles. Our car did well, averaging 33.3 mpg for the trip.


© Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Richard W. Tripp, Jr.