Escalante 2021 – Home to Cannonville, UT

Several weeks ago, I fantasized aloud about a dream trip to Escalante, Utah. Recently President Biden reinstated the original boundaries of the Staircase/Escalante National Monument, thereby deferring the desecration of the area until the next administration decides that mining is more lucrative than tourism. MFN Tamera, who lives almost as far east of the monument as I am west of it, said, “Let’s go!”

Almost in disbelief that a life-long fantasy was going to come to fruition, I began plotting my course and planning every step. Google Maps and Google Earth facilitated the research (and I must also credit ESRI, my hometown mapping company). Traveling solo is always fraught with some trepidation about unanticipated complicatons, so it calmed my anxiety to be knowledgeable about camping options, hiking opportunities, and expected weather. A week before departure, the preparations began in earnest.

Food prep – Chili Relleno caserole – enough to take and plenty to leave for Mike to eat in my absence

Clothes were packed…and repacked as weather reports were updated
Destination appropriate reading material was packed in the hope that there would be time to read. Ha!

Something young people don’t plan around much is bodily functions. But as a mature traveler, it’s essential to consider the demands of one’s digestive system. It’s a complicated formula, one that can be manipulated with the use of caffeine to influence the timing of ablutions. My first stop was planned for about 2 1/2 hours into the journey, The Mojave National Preserve. The details of this stop will be left to your imagination but suffice it to say, it’s a rather sparsely populated area with only desert scrub for privacy. The girls enjoyed the walk.

Rest stop #2

I had little hope of finding a camp site in Valley of Fire State Park as all of the sites are available on a first-come-first-served basis and this was Friday. But, I was tired of freeway driving and decided to make the side side trip to the park anyway. The campground was full but, remembering that the group camp sites allowed up to 15 vehicles, I had the bright idea that I might be able to inveigle an invitation from a small group to join them. As luck would have it, a couple representing the Henderson Presbyterian Church had reserved the best group site and graciously invited me to join them. They turned out to be ideal companions for the evening.

Evening settles over Valley of Fire

If there is anything more beautiful than dawn over the desert, I can’t imagine it at this time. I was awake long before daylight. I reveled in the absolute silence that can only be found in the desert environment where there are no noisy insects or animals. Tarantulas, unlike crickets, don’t attract mates with sound.

Encroaching dawn

How quickly the stars retreat from the glow on the eastern horizon! Only the planets, Saturn & Jupiter (according to my fellow campers), steadfastly held their positions, glowing companionably but appropriately distanced.

A lone plane droned somewhere in the distance to the south, then faded to silence so profound my own heartbeat sounded loud in my head.

The girls lay contentedly on the hard-packed gravel, Molly shunning the plush, dog-sized rugs I had bought for them, as much for their comfort as to keep them (the dogs; not the rugs) clean. With ears pricked they watched the surrounding brush intently, hoping against my hope that prey would show itself. The mountain sheep here are practically tame, having long grown accustomed to the sound of shutters clicking.

The Watch Dogs
The loo with a view
Fifty Shades of Red

With dawn comes the intrusion of sounds of human presence. From the road, a half mile away, early arrivals can be heard and the first jet of the day growls, unseen, in the cloudless sky. Time to hit the road.

The road back to the interstate highway follows the Muddy River which is lined with immaculate farms and a beautiful Mormon temple. The tiny communities of Overton and Logandale are apparently conservative bastions where every lamppost bristled with an American flag and gated homes were hung with banners proclaiming support for Trump and the police. Said supported police were in evidence: one over-sized, 4WD pick-up truck with more chrome than paint; and another luxury SUV, both emblazoned with their law enforcement status. Another hand-crafted sign advertised, “Pistols & PCs”, an interesting collaboration. Suffice it to say that this female with California license plates was careful not to exceed the posted speed limit.

The drive to my next camp site was as scenic as it was long. The Virgin River Gorge has to be one of the most spectacular sections of highway in the country. Squeezed between towering canyon walls, it snakes along the course of the Virgin River, crossing it and recrossing as often as the engineers chose to show off their road-building genius. The most jaded truck drivers must still feel a thrill as they navigate this four-lane roller coaster.

I-15 construction to slow travel between Utah and Las Vegas - The Salt Lake  Tribune

Extreme Road Building

Zion National Park stood between me and my destination, and I debated whether to drive through the park, braving the bumper-to-bumper traffic, just to experience another feat of extreme road building, this time in the form of tunnels, or detour south of the park. The more expedient route won out since I knew there would be splendid scenery no matter which route I took.

We reached our reserved campsite in the tiny burg of Cannonville shortly before dusk which allowed me to set up the trailer and take the dogs for a short hike.

The hills behind Cannonville, just east of Bryce National Park

The night was freezing cold and the heater in the Wanderlust wouldn’t light. I had only two dogs on a three dog night.

Dogs in Down

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 and it sounded perfect. The ranch offered dispersed camping, portable toilets, starlit skies and nothing else. Most importantly, dogs were welcome.

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.