A Woman and Her Dogs at the End of the World 2

Camping and hiking plans in California thwarted by wildfires, Sally and I desperately looked farther afield for options. I noted a small island of smoke-free air over a portion of Southwestern Utah and a new itinerary was born. It was agreed that I would leave on Tuesday, camping at Valley of Fire, which is more or less halfway, and Sally and her daughter Jordy would follow Thursday to meet me at a working cattle ranch just west of Zion National Park.

I’d found the Zion Wright Family Ranch online at HipCamp.com and it sounded perfect. The ranch offered dispersed camping, portable toilets, starlit skies and nothing else. Most importantly, dogs were welcome. https://www.hipcamp.com/utah/zion-wright-ranch-eco-camp/zion-wright-family-ranch-ecocamping

Planning, provisioning, and packing are always a good portion of the fun of camping and since this was to be the longest and farthest from home I’d ever done, it was especially important to be prepared. This was my second solo trip but still, I felt a little trepidation about the responsibility of all the details. By Monday night, everything except the refrigerated food was loaded. I was so excited I could barely sleep and when I awoke at 4:30, I despaired of going back to sleep and got up.

The drive from home to Las Vegas is always tedious but towing a trailer, it’s LONG and tedious. By the time I got to the turnoff for Valley of Fire, I was way beyond ready to call it a day.

One of many pit stops along Interstate Hwy 15

I was gratified to find that my favorite campsite was empty and I quite proficiently backed the Wanderlust into the little box canyon. When we camped here last spring, the protective canyon walls shielded us from the chill wind; but now, at the end of summer, the sun-baked sandstone felt more like a pizza oven.

We all needed some exercise after a day in the car, so before we lost our daylight, we went out to do some rock scrambling. Molly, remembering the skill she had developed last year, led the way with evident enthusiasm. Sadie, has aged in the last year and found that leaping up ledges that were effortless before, now took some planning. I too noticed that I’d lost some agility. We circled around to the back side of our campsite and clambered down the wall to our warm nest.

Dinner consisted of the sliced apples and yogurt that I’d packed for lunch as it was too warm to consider cooking inside the trailer. We sat outside, the dogs ears cocking at every nocturnal rustling, while I jotted the day’s events in my journal. Traveling alone allows ample time for reflection and journaling, a rare pleasure. When my head began nodding over my notebook, I moistened my shorty pajamas and settled into my little bed at the front of the camper. I set up the big bed at the back for the dogs, but this night they chose to sleep outside in the cool sand.

Morning proved to be not a whole lot cooler so we ate a quick cold breakfast and packed up, hoping to do a short hike before the sun got so high that there would be no shade. The trailhead to Natural Arches proved elusive so we plodded up a sandy wash in the general vicinity of the alleged trail.

The trail eventually slotted up into an interesting canyon but shade was intermittent and the dogs soon became overheated; so we turned back after only a mile or so.

A provocative orifice in the canyon wall

Back on the road, the girls napped while I listened to Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety and the miles passed pleasantly.

The Virgin River Gorge is always exciting both in the astounding scenery and in the white-knuckled competition for road space in the narrow canyon. Two lanes in each direction wind through the gorge carved over eons by the Virgin River. From the depth of the canyon, one might envision a raging torrent of a river violently scraping away layers of sedimentary rock. But when one catches a glimpse of the artist at work far below, it is a placid creek, meandering its serpentine path to join the mighty Colorado River at Lake Meade. Not that a driver has many opportunities to ogle the mind-blowing spectacle because big rigs on a mission swarm around my little rig which is trying desperately to adhere to the posted speed limit of 55 mph (autos towing trailers). Even in the most constricted curves, where the posted speed limit is 55 for all vehicles, the average speed is closer to 70.

We found the turn at Virgin that took us up Kolob Terrace Road to the Smith Mesa junction without difficulty. I love Google Maps! Kolob Terrace Road is just another astounding example of man’s road building ingenuity. Rising steeply from the valley floor, it straddles a ridge where in some places the road occupies the entire width of the ridge. Profligately green pastures and expansive ranch houses (actually B&Bs) could be seen in the canyon below if one had the nerve to look. About seven miles up, we found the graded but not paved road veering off to Smith Mesa.

A whole ‘nother adventure presented itself. But this post has grown too long so there will need to be a sequel. Stay tuned.

Girls Gone Mild Again

The previous trip only whetted my appetite for another Lone Pine adventure, so two weeks later I persuaded Sally and her daughter Jordan to join me in a four-day Girls Gone Mild adventure. I re-packed the trailer, replenishing my wine supply with TWO bottles this time.

The girls and I hit the road bright and early, feeling rather optimistic as the car was outfitted with new brakes and shocks and the trailer had new tires. Sally and Jordan would follow later in the day when they finished their work day. We encountered a detour, got stuck behind a slow-moving truck, and came upon an accident that required a change of course on a dirt road, but otherwise had clear sailing.

About an hour from our destination I saw a sign saying, “Fossil Falls” which piqued my interest. But being eager to find a good campsite in Lone Pine, I vowed to check it out on the return trip.

The Lone Pine Campground was technically closed for the season but there were a few first-come-first-served sites available and they were free of charge as all of the water faucets were shut off to prevent freezing. Thankfully the pit toilets were open. I selected a site and prepared to back the trailer in when the man camping in the next site walked over to greet me. He kindly offered to guide me into my spot which I gratefully accepted. I’m not exactly proficient at backing and it usually takes me a few tries to get the trailer exactly where I want it. Once I was where I wanted to be, he went back to his own site while I set up the Wanderlust.

Dusk in Lone Pine Campground

Evening falls early in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and by the time I had the trailer level, the refrigerator turned on, and my camp set up, it was growing cool. My new neighbor (Jeff), seeing that I was unaccompanied (other than the dogs) came over and invited me to join him for dinner. He was making pork loin and grilled asparagus. I paused for the briefest moment before accepting his invitation. I offered to contribute salad and wine but he assured me he had it all covered. I had time to take the girls for a short walk before dinner would be served.

Moonrise over the Alabama Hills

By the time we returned, Jeff had his picnic table set for two though I had offered to bring my own plate and flatware. Dishwashing isn’t my favorite task when camping so I didn’t expect him to provide the meal AND do the dishes but he explained that he was a sea kayaking guide by profession and was quite practiced at feeding groups from his camp stove. And sure enough, he effortlessly laid out a four course meal fit for royalty. I offered to do the dishes but he waved me off and by the time I’d gone to my trailer and slipped into something more comfortable (polar fleece pants, a down jacket, and hat), he had everything washed and stowed away in the bear box. He built a fire and offered me dessert, a pudding cup, but I declined.

By 7:30 we were in bed…he in his tent, me and my dogs in my trailer. I couldn’t help but wonder at how different things would have gone forty years ago when we would have lingered around the fire until we had finished a bottle of wine. But now even a man eight years younger than I was no temptation.

Sally and Jordy pulled in around 10:00 by which time the girls and I were ready to make a restroom run. They decided it was too much trouble to set up a tent in the dark, besides it was really COLD; so, they folded the back seat down in the SUV and slept in the car.

Sunrise on Mt. Whitney

For the next two days we explored the area around our campground, beginning with breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe, a favorite with the locals and tourists alike.

Jordy examines a cactus in the Alabama Hills
Sadie the Wonder Dog

We invited Jeff to join us for a dinner of spaghetti and salad which he accepted. We ate inside the trailer because the breeze was cold and the trailer was snug and almost warm.

Tea and Story time

The Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail begins at the campground in scrub brush and ascends through several climate zones in just four miles.

Owens Valley Overlook
Looking up the Whitney Portal
Crossing Meysan Creek

By the end of the day the dogs were ready for bed.

As always, it was time to head home long before we were tired of exploring. It helped that we had one more place to stop on the way home. Fossil Falls is a former river bed that once flowed through the volcanic rock at the southern end of the Owens Valley. The river has long ago changed course but the channel carved by it remains.

I found this in my drafts file and figured I might as well post it as I just received a notice from Valley of Fire that my campsite reservation for next week has been cancelled due to the threat of Covid-19.