It is a beautiful sunny Wyoming morning. Pearl the border collie is staring at me with her ice blue eyes. She wants me to get up from the table and my cup of coffee, and take her for a walk. No longer able to take it and knowing that I need the walk even more than she does, I grab her leash and open up the door to our camper.
The bright sun makes me stop for a minute and let my eyes adjust. It is the middle of May and the grass has turned a vivid green from all the spring rain and snow showers of the past week or so. Pearl runs out and grabs her frisbee. She is ready to play. I tell her, “No, we are going for a walk”. She drops the disk and I grab her collar to hook on the leash.
We head out the driveway of our friends’ house, where we are staying and turn towards the mountains. The robins and meadowlarks are taking turns singing from the top of a row of pine trees that mark the boundary line between two homes. It has been a long time since I have had the pleasure of listening to the meadowlark sing. Their song has the strength of the ovenbird, bold and clear. He starts out with two or more rising, two-syllable notes then he adds a beautiful warble. Sometimes, I think I hear, “Peter, Peter, be my boyfriend”. The “boyfriend” part of the song descends in tone and rises for the last note. This is one of the techniques I use to help me remember the different songs of birds.
The Western Meadowlark is the state bird of Wyoming, maybe because it loves wide open spaces and Wyoming has lots of those. They are quite common in the grassy fields and open spaces all the way up to 10,000 feet. They are a chunky bird similar to the robin but a little larger. For my friend Colin, they are a little longer than an average man’s hand from the wrist to the top of the index finger. The male breeding Meadowlark has yellow belly and breast with its upperparts a mottled brown, buff and black. The most identifying part is the beautiful black deep V on its neck. Against the yellow neck and breast it is quite stunning. The top of his head is crowned with dark brown and buffy white stripes that run from the beak to the back of the head. When in flight the tail flashes white on the edges.
Growing up in Wyoming I took the Meadowlark for granted. If it weren’t for my father pointing it out, it would have been as obscure as all the other “Little Brown Birds”, that call the Wyoming prairie, home.
The last time I heard this beautiful little song was close to twenty years ago, so I am drinking it in like water on a hot afternoon. Allowing it to fill my soul with the essence of the land of my childhood. It is good to be home.
We left our home in Maine on December 1st with the motto of Alaska or Bust. My family reunion is scheduled for the first week of August in Palmer Alaska. But we did not want to spend the winter in Maine so we are combining what would normally be two vacations. That means we will be spending the winter cruising around the southern states and then head north along the Rocky Mountains as spring allows. It will be a trip of a lifetime.
We officially became snowbirds in 2016, when we headed south for the winter in our 36’ Monk trawler boat. That winter we cruised down the eastern seaboard as far south as Key West. We especially enjoyed the time in the warm waters around Florida.
The next winter we stayed at our place on the Maine coast. It was cold, snowy, icey and sloppy. After that we said never again. That is when we started the search for a RV. In the January of 2018, we purchased a class C Winnebago View. It is 25’ long with a slide-out for a little more space to make life easier on long voyages.
That February we put 9000 miles under our little motor coach. We traveled all the way to California and returned to Maine in late April. On this trip, we traveled almost every day with the exception of spending short periods of time with family and friends.
There was only one mechanical issue during that trip. It happened during a snowstorm in Oklahoma. The check engine light came on. Larry contacted the Mercedes Dealer in Oklahoma City and the next day slid into the Dealership on a sheet of ice. What a crazy morning that was.
After putting our coach on a scope, the mechanic said the code that he pulled indicated we have an exhaust valve problem (EGR valve for my mechanically inclined friends). They would have to order it in and it would take several days. We asked if there would be a problem if we drove it for a while. He said no, so long as it was short term. Then he emphasised that it should be taken care of soon.
With that in mind, we decided to contact the shop in Kingman Arizona. Larry let them know the problem we were having. The man behind the desk said to bring her on in and we will see what we can do. From that point on, the motto was Kingman or Bust. We were fortunate that the repair only took one day and we were never spent a night homeless. The rest of the trip that winter was uneventful as far as breakdowns or repairs go.
It is finally 2019. This is the Big Trip. Alaska or Bust! The plan is simple. We travel to the southern states for the winter and head north to Alaska as the spring weather allows. The timeline is quite basic with very few “have to, or need to be someplace” dates. All went as planned until early March when the check engine light came on while we were driving thru New Mexico. Larry checked the code with his scanner and it turned out to be the same one that we had last year with the EGR. Working with his Ipad Larry did some research and found an outfit in Tucson that handled motors like ours and made an appointment.
When we arrived in Tucson, we camped at the Fairgrounds just off of I10 with friends from Wyoming. The city of Tucson is enormous. We took the first morning driving around with the jeep to figure out where the garage we had the appointment with, was located. The next morning we arrived at the shop at 8 am sharp. The mechanic replaced a gas relay switch and then changed the transmission oil. We left there at 6 pm after signing another hefty check confident that we were all set.
We made it about 100 miles when the check engine light came on again. Disappointed we called the dealer we worked with last year in Kingman AZ, and they told us to call a couple of days before we would arrive in Kingman and they would set up a time.
When we arrived at the dealer in Kingman for repairs. They took the coach in and ran a scope on it. The technician told us that our rig had a voltage failure due to a bad battery. Since the battery in the coach was still under warranty and the NAPA store was just across the street. We took the coach over there and traded out the old battery for a new battery.
Larry did the installation in the parking lot since it was against policy for the employees to do so. Just as Larry was finishing up, the Napa clerk came out to tell us that the old battery checked out OK but due to the diagnosis they would still honored the warranty. “Now What?”, we thought, “Is this going to work?” With a big sigh, Larry turned the key to start the coach with the new battery installed, the check engine light was off and there wasn’t even a hesitation in the ignition sequence. So off we went again, wondering when the next time this ghost was going to appear. From that point on every time we had to start the coach, we worried it would act up again.
When we were in southwestern Utah a couple of weeks later it started to act up again. Frustrated we just went on with our travels. We talked about visiting Utah for a year now. It was to be one of the highlights of our winter. So we carried on. We spent three weeks traveling all over southern Utah and northern Arizona. The ignition issues kept coming up from time to time, and as time progressed the more frequently it happened. By the time we turned toward Colorado to visit my family we worried that one of these days soon it would not start for us at all.
Electronic issues can be a nightmare. One time, on a station wagon of mine, it took three days to find the problem. It turned out to be a short in the map light on the drivers’ side. It is crazy…pull your hair out…stuff.
First, when we arrived in Colorado, we stopped at my sisters in Littleton. While we were there Larry found an auto repair shop in Fort Collins, that he liked. After we celebrated Easter with my sister and dad, we headed to my brother’s home in Fort Collins.
We stayed with Eric for a couple of days before the scheduled appointment. The morning we arrived at the shop we had trouble getting started. Then when Larry drove the coach into the garage bay and turned it off, it would not start again! Can you believe it. How many times do you take a auto into a shop and you cannot duplicate the problem in front of the mechanic. This time we won. sort of…
Our coach spent three nights in a strange place while we stayed with my brother Eric and his wife Rhonnie. Their little farm was the perfect haven to be at while waiting for repairs.
Step by step Larry, working with Joe, his newfound technician friend, determined that it is NOT the Y cable, NOT the ignition switch, and NOT the solenoid. Day three of garage prison, mid-afternoon, Joe and Larry replaced two ignition modular switches and TADA! our little motorhome started. Yeah! We were back on the road. It was a great shop to work with and they treated us fair. If anyone needs a mechanic on a european car or diesel engine, check out Weston Auto Gallery.
I am writing this story as I sit in my old adopted home of Casper Wyoming. We are here visiting old friends and waiting for the weather to warm a bit before we head north to Montana. So far we have had no further issues with our little coach. The mechanical problems we had have not dampened our enthusiasm. We are heading to Alaska. We will get there… Sooner or later!
photo by Shannon LeRoy
It is one of the saddest things when you see a dog chewing on an old carcass or digging in a trash can. Lost and homeless, this is not a way of life for man’s best friend.
We were staying at Sand Island Campground and decided that we would go exploring and to look for some campfire wood. The best place for firewood was along the San Juan River where the cottonwoods grow. We loaded into the Jeep and headed over the bridge looking for an old road that might take us towards the trees down river from where from where we were camped.
The two tracker road we found exited off the highway just past the bridge. It descended sharply to the river basin below and turned back toward the bridge. When the road leveled out we spotted a dog. It was chewing on the rib bones of a cow carcass near the underpass of the bridge. It was a medium sized dog, long, brown fur with a large dark brown blotch on its side. When it lifted its head there were porcupine quills sticking out of its nose. Poor thing. It looked afraid of us but not enough to give up its meal.
As we drove slowly by, we spotted another dog on the opposite side of the bridge. This dog was blond with shorter hair and skinny. It was about the same size as the first dog. This dog was chewing on the severed neck bones of carcass. It was a lot more skittish than the first dog because when it saw us it gave up its meal and ran for cover. The two dogs looked like siblings, being the same size, with the same terrier like faces. We guessed that they must have been abandoned here. Ill equipped to do anything for the poor pups, we moved on.
While we were collecting firewood we kept talking about the dogs. We could not get them out of our minds. As we were driving back to camp with firewood loaded in the back with Pearl our border collie, we both looked at each other and said; “Let’s at least get them some food!” We drove past the campground entrance and on into the little town of Bluff. There we purchased a small bag of dog food from the local convenience store.
Next we returned to the area by the bridge where we saw the dogs. There was no sign of the them so we stopped and climbed out of the Jeep, opened up the bag of dog food, folded down the paper at the top to expose the food and placed it in put in the open area under the bridge. Even though we did not see the dogs, we hoped they were watching us from undercover.
Back at camp, late that afternoon, the two dogs returned to the beach. Happy to see them, we settled into our chairs near the picnic table and used the field glasses to get a better look. The blond pup was a male and the brown one looked to be female. She was the one with the porcupine quills buried deep into her nose and chin. There weren’t a lot of quills, four or five, but nonetheless they had to be painful. As they laid down in the warm sand and napped, the noise of approaching rafters came down the river. The dogs rose immediately and moved behind a large driftwood log, out of sight. They stayed hidden there until the rafters were well past the bridge, then moved back out into the open to continue with their siesta. They were weary enough of humans to hide. We wondered how long they had been on their own.
Watching the dogs, we were excited because we assumed they had found the kibbles and were enjoying a nap on a full stomach. The girls, camped next to us, were watching the dogs too and we had quite a conversation on their possible fate. None of us were in a position to capture and take care of them. They obviously they were weary of humans. And us being in a foreign land we were not sure who to call. We all decided to sleep on it.
The next morning we were all on high alert to spot the dogs but they never showed. The girls, next doors packed up and left for parts unknown. It wasn’t long before new camper moved in. It was a woman and her dog in a little tiny camper that looked like a melon. After introductions, Her name was Michelle and her old dog was Shaggy. In our converstion we told Michelle about the lost dogs across the river. She immediately texted a rescue center that she knew about. She was from the Durango area and had worked with rescue groups over there. She told us that over 5000 dogs were rescued every year in this area. Then after they are rescued, they are cleaned up, neutered and given their shots. When they are ready, many are relocated to a no kill shelter in Denver. We were amazed that out in desert there would be so many abandonded dogs.
That morning we went back over to see if the dogs had finished the dog food and clean up any mess they might have left. (It really was to ease our curiosity as to whether the dogs had eaten the food.) To our surprise the food was untouched. So I stepped out of the Jeep with the intention of relocating the food further up the beach where we knew they hang out. Just as I picked up the bag of food, the female stepped out of the shrubs. She looked at me with her head cocked to one side. A little shocked that she was willing to approach me. Now I am weary, I smiled, tilted my head and spoke softly to her. I folded the paper opening of the bag down to better expose the food, set it back on the ground by my feet and slowly backed to the Jeep and climbed in. The pup started to slowly walk up to the bag and as soon as she realized it was food she started eating. As she chewed the kibbles she would lift her head and watched us cautiously. We watched her eat, it made us glad to know she will be well fed today. Slowly we backed up and drove away.
That afternoon both dogs came back out on the beach across the river and napped in the sun, and we watched and checked on them as the afternoon faded. At the campfire that night, Michelle, Shaggy her dog and our neighbor Gene, who camped on the other side of us, joined us. We were chatting when Gene told us that two men in a little pickup pulled up to him and asked about some lost dogs. You see, Gene had been out exploring the last two days and did not know about our dogs across the river. (Our dogs. See how easy it is to get attached.) We asked Michelle if she could find out if the men who spoke to Gene had actually captured the dogs. She said that the dog rescue groups in the area were a loosely connected and it would be really hard to out find any information. So all we can do is hope that our little pups were indeed caught and they will find a forever home.
The next morning we all packed up and left the campground. Not knowing for sure if the dogs were rescued I will always think of them and say a prayer for their safety.
sunrise photo by Gene Breindel
We are sitting on the banks of the San Juan River. Our campsite is at the Sand Island campground, run by the BLM. Only two sites in the entire facility are on the river and we have one of them. Our neighbor next door, Gene, whom we first ran into at Lee’s Ferry and then again at the Navajo National Monument, is from northwestern Pa. He is an x-sailor from the silent service. In other words the Submarine Corp. He fancies himself a photographer and spends his time shooting all the places he’s been. He tells us he has 2500 photographs and likes about 6. That is about right. He has a jolly laugh and is one of the nicest guys you ever want to meet.
It’s rafting season here and we enjoy watching the different groups float by as they prepare to maneuver around the upcoming bridge and it is peaceful here too, with the exception of the occational traffic from that bridge. This place is our refuge from the winter storm that has been slamming the lands to the north. Trying to head north has proved harder than expected. This years late spring has changed our schedule. It seems the same for the geese, who arrive here daily and are starting to congregate on the sandy beach across the river from us.
As for the location Sand Island Campground is ideal for those who like to explore. From here you can travel south a few miles and tour the Valley of the Gods, or Monument Valley, which were the location for many of old time westerns. Each location would be a days trip. If you drive north and west, there is the Natural Bridges National Monument and an amazing drive down the Moki Dugway, which is a breathtaking road that winds 1200 feet from top to bottom, off the face of a cliff, where one can see to the edge of the earth.
Our nearest town is Bluff Utah, population 250. Despite it small size it has a lot going for it. Fort Bluff visitor center has a real size replica of the original settlement. A settlement that would not be here except for a little hole in the rock. This story of Mormon expansion has got to be one of the best ever:
It started in April of 1880. A group of 250 pioneers left Salt Lake and traveled 250 miles, south and east, to finally settle on banks of the San Juan River. What was supposed to take 6 weeks took 6 months. The terrain was so rough and that the expedition averaged 1.7 miles a day. The hardest part of the trail was a 2000 foot descent to the Colorado River. (Yes, I got all the zeros right)
After weeks of searching, their scouts found only one place that might work. The hole in the rock! This hole was not big enough to get a wagon through. (I am sure the people on the expedition were shaking their heads when they saw it.) Once agreeing to the route, these amazing, maybe even crazy people went to work. They blasted, chiseled and chipped a route down all 2000 feet of what most of would call a rock slide, to the river below. Then they made a raft big enough to fit a wagon and horses. After that they rigged up a ferry system to get themselves across the river to the other side. The determination of this hardy group of people is truly astonishing.
The initial decent of the Hole in the Wall was a 45 degree grade but it leveled out towards the bottom. To move the wagons through the narrow passage they used horses and men behind the wagons as brakes. One by one they, in a fashion, worked each wagon to the bottom. There were 83 wagons, 1800 loose stock and 258 people who made the initial decent. The most amazing part was that no one was killed or injured badly during the whole expedition.
The visitor center has well produced 15 minute video that tells the story. There is a lot more of history around for those who love to explore.
While staying at the Navajo National Monument, Larry and I planned to hike one of the walking trails called “The Sandal Trail“. This trail touts a spectacular cross-canyon view” of the alcove village called Betatakin. This village was built into the deep hollow of an alcove in a cliff wall by natives called Anasazi. Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning “the ancient ones”.
Alcoves are an interesting aspect of the southwest canyon lands. A video at the visitor center explains that the Alcoves are a product of running water. Water from rain is absorbed through the rocks at the top of the canyon and as it seeps through the cracks and veins along the cliff walls it takes with it grains of sand. Over time this water flowage wears a hole in cliff. Ta Da! Alcove. What a perfect place for a village, protected from weather and enemies on three sides and it even has it own water source.
The history tell us that as the ancient ones started to grow corn and other food sources, around 1100 a.d. they estabilished more permanent places to live, like the alcove dwelling we were hiking to see that day. Not all the Anasazi lived in Alcove Dwellings, some lived in villages built along valleys near a water source. These villages, due to the fact that they were open to the elements are not as preserved as the Alcove Dwellings. There are literally hundreds of village ruins of the ancient people scattered across the southwest. Larry and I, with our friends Kevin and Missy, hiked up to a cliff dwelling in the Tonto National Forest near Roosevelt Reservoir, in Arizona. And I read that when they flooded the land behind the Glen Canyon Dam many ruins were covered by the waters of Lake Powell.
As I mentioned before the alcove dwelling on The Sandal Trail is called “Betatakin”. A cool word that means “ledge house” in the Navajo language. The trail itself is perfect for all ages. It is paved and fairly short, just 1.3 miles round trip. Even though it leads downward to the observation site, the slope is easy to maneuver. There are strong wooden bridges with handrails spanning the more difficult parts of the landscape. And for your entertainment the National Park Service has included story boards along the way that explain how the plants and trees in the area were used by the natives. It was very educational.
The natives were crafty. Necessity is the mother of invention. The little sign boards added a nice spice, learning about the uses of the local flora while walking down the nice easy path. There were a dozen different signs that talked about using the Juniper tree for rope, pottery, diapers pads and brewed a tea as a laxative. Or the story board that tells how the Pinyon Pine’s pitch was used as a glue for mounting arrowheads to shafts and knives to handles. Plus they ate the nuts as food, both raw and roasted. They made their arrows out of a shrub called Cliffrose and used Yucca for rope and crushed the roots to make soap. They ate Prickly Pear, and used Buffalo berrys for food and dye. All this and more is part of the trail exerience.
The day we hiked was warm with just enough sun to stay confortable and yet enough clouds to keep it from becoming hot. We opted for an early morning walk when the tempertures are cooler and fewer people are out. (Mostly for the fewer people part.) As we walked along the paved trail the mountain chickadees were cheerfully chatting as they flew from tree to tree along the way. The air was scented with the smell of Juniper. There was some interesting scat to one side of the trail. It was full of Juniper berries and I wonder what creature left it and was it a territorial marker. Around every bend there was another amazing view. Pearl would have loved this walk but as with all National Parks and Monuments dogs are not allowed on any trails. Sorry Pearl.
The trail ended at a large rocked covered viewing area, with safety fencing. The viewing area has several places where a person can stand and look down on the dwelling, plus a set of viewing glasses for those who did not bring field glasses of their own. Here we could see an amazing large hole carved into the side of the canyon wall. It faced almost due south. Even with out field glasses a person can see the windows and doorways of the rooms in the dwelling. The courtyards are also visible. It is in these courtyards that the natives wove their rugs, baskets, blankets and ground their corn into flour.
Looking through the field glasses was like looking through a time portal. The dwelling is in such good shape that it is easy to imagine people living and working in the village. At its peak this village held 100-125 people. There are 135 rooms, some for living and others for storing food. It is not so hard to get into this dwelling as it was with the cliff dwelling. It was only elevated what looks like a few feet from the valley floor. The valley that layed before Betatakin was amazingly green with aspen and boxelder trees that were just starting to bud out. It was nothing like the land we are standing in up on top of the canyon. It is easy to see how they could plant their gardens near their home.
No one really knows why the Anasazi left this beautiful area. Drought, or enemies chased them away are two theories. It is believed by the archeologist that these people moved south to Mexico. But no one really knows for sure. All these remains tell us is how they lived, what they ate and what they used as building materials. They were amazing rugged people who left us an tribute to their existance.
There is a tour offered to go down into the valley floor with a guide to get up close and personal to the dwelling but our timing was off. The tours did not start until the end of April. Also the park offers another tour to a more remote dwelling called Keet Seel. It is 17 mile round trip to what they claim is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the Southwest. But to go there you need to get a permit and go thru an orientation. This cliff dwelling is outside the park on Navajo Nation land so special rules go into effect. And again this tour does not start until the end of April.
My friends will tell you that I have a most annoying habit of walking around in the dark. It’s true. Many a night I will go outside for a walk just before going to bed. These walks are my owl prowls. It makes me happy when I hear an owl, coyote, whip-o-will, chucks-will-widow or some other creature of the night. The fresh night air also helps me sleep.
One of the best stories of my owl prowls this trip happened last Christmas while we were in South Carolina. Walking out my sister-in-laws driveway, I caught in my headlamp two glowing red eyes. The eyes never moved and the creature show no fear as I quietly approached it. It was a tiny screech-owl. The little bird was sitting on a small branch along the road just across from the driveway entrance. This was my first sighting of a screech owl and a memory I will hold dear. It is this type of experience makes all the night’s that I see or hear nothing all, worth it.
Now it’s early April and Larry and I are camping at The Navajo National Monument. We are in the canyon view campground. The camping sites are tucked in among a pinyon pine-juniper forest. The road to the campground is a dusty red dirt and so are the campsites. It’s a good thing our little coach is only 24’ because anything bigger wouldn’t fit in most of the sites.
On our first night here, I went outside after dark and sat at the picnic table. It was unusually quite for a campground. The campground itself is perched on a bluff high above the canyon land to the east and drops off to the prairie on the west. This, to my thinking, should give me a good chance to hear night creature sounds.
The night sky was clear and a sliver of the moon was setting in the west. The stars were brilliant and the Big Dipper was above my head. Quietly I sat for the longest time…there was not a sound. All I heard was my own breathing. Then, just as I was growing tired, I heard it, off to the west. An owl! At first I thought it was a Great Horned Owl but something was missing. The rhythm was wrong. It’s song went; hoot…hoot hoot…hoot. Maybe it was a Great Horned Owl with southwestern twang or a Long-eared owl in a hurry. Truly I had no idea what kind of owl it was, I was just thrilled to hear it.
The next morning we took a jeep ride over to the visitor center. It is a well run center with historical video on the ancient alcove dwellings that are the centerpiece of this National Monument. There is also an exhibit room with arrowheads, tools, pottery and other artifact from the ancient Puebloians We enjoyed checking out the exhibits, then on our way out we asked for a map of the trails in the area from a stunningly beautiful Navajo woman who was behind the counter.
In the jeep I opened the Monument’s brochure, there at the top of the page was a picture of a Mexican Spotted Owl. Wow! I thought, that may have been the type of owl I heard. I pulled up the iPad and looked it up. (What an amazing tool it is.) Looking at “All about Birds” link to Spotted Owls. I tapped on the map that showed where these birds have been sighted and there on the spot of where we are camped was a blue rectangle. This indicates that I am in the right area. Next I went to listen to the songs and vocalizations for the Mexican Spotted Owl. (They also have the California Spotted Owl songs as well.) Anyway, as I listened… a big smile came over my face. Yep! That’s what I heard. Another amazing bird to add to my life list.
That night the wind blew hard, so there was not an opportunity to listen for it. Last night I listened for about an hour. The only thing I heard were some coyotes off to the northeast. Tonight is my last night to get an opportunity to hear the song again. You can bet I will be outside long after dark.
* This photo came from Wikipedia
While camping at Lee’s Ferry Campground along the Colorado River in Glen Canyon Arizona, Larry and I found a walking trail into an old ranch called Lonely Dell. Due to construction the original trail was closed but the National Park Service opened a new trail we affectionately called the “Cone Trail”. The name refers to the fact that they used traffic cones to blaze the trail.
It was a easy nice walk along a narrow wash with red sandy/rocky walls that wound back and forth, sort of like a highway in Vermont. When the wash opens up we saw a pretty little valley. An oasis in this desert country. This valley is surrounded by high canyon walls except where the Paria River comes in from the north. The whole area is actually the delta land of the Paria. I would say that there is about 35 or 40 acres that could be used for farmimg. The cottonwood trees along the old road and on the river bank were just leafing out adding a dazzling green to the red canyon walls.
As we walked along the trail the cottonwoods stopped and an old orchard came into view. The flyer published by the NPS states that the orchard was planted by the last private owners in 1965. No name was mentioned. The orchard sports a variety of different trees. There are peach, plum, pear and apricot trees. Many of the trees were in bloom with delicate white and pink blossoms. A slight sweet aroma touched my nostrils. Bird songs filled the air. It is a truly magical and unexpected experience. The irrigation system that watered these trees is quite elaborate too and even functioning as we walked by. It is quite a feat to successfully raise these types of fruit trees in a dry dusty desert like Glen Canyon.
As we walked on we saw a complex of buildings. There was a main house, a shed or barn, a root cellar and a few smaller log cabins. The area was well shaded by huge ancient cottonwood trees. This was Lonely Dell Ranch proper. The ranch started out as the home for the ferry operators. And the ferry was originally built by the Mormons. It seems that the Mormons, well specifically Brigham Young, wanted to colonize Arizona and here was the only crossing of the Colorado River for hundreds of miles due to the amazing canyons dredged by the river. So crews were sent down from Salt Lake to build a ferry. (Looking at the old ferry crossing and land on the other side it is hard to believe that wagons were even able to get anywhere after they reach the other side. The early pioneers of the west were tough as leather. Glad it wasn’t me.)
Once the ferry was completed in 1871, John D Lee moved his families (remember these were Mormons that practiced polygamy) here from Salt Lake. Lee’s first wife Emma was the one who decided to keep the name Lonely Dell. Jacob Hamblin was the first white person known to arrive here and he is credited for naming the area Lonely Dell. The story goes on to say that Emma was the one who ran the farm and ferry because John Lee was “often absent”.
And the tale gets better from here. The flyer says that Lee was arrested in 1874. That would have been three years after he moved his families to Lee’s Ferry. In 1877 Lee was executed for his involvement in the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. (This is what the flyer says.)
So what was the Mountain Meadow Massacre? you might ask. Same question I thought as I was reading, so I looked it up. Here is the story via my own cliff notes:
It all started with a wagon train of emigrants from Arkansas that passed through Salt Lake on their way to California. After they left Salt Lake, a posse of Utah Militiamen and a few American Indians attacked the wagon train on September 7, 1857. The battle lasted until September 11th. The Militiamen under a white flag promised a safe passageway to the emigrants, but instead they massacred 120 adults and older children. 17 young kids survived!
Quite the story don’t you think. I still don’t understand what the reason was for the attack in the first place. I guess I will have to get a book to find that answer… Meanwhile back at the ranch. It took 14 years to get around to arresting John D Lee for his part in the massacre because the Civil War got in the way. (That’s my story and I am sticking to it.) Another interesting fact is that John D Lee was the only one in the entire posse ever prosecuted for the massacre. Now that’s just bad karma.
After Lee’s arrest, the Warren Johnson families moved to the ranch to help with the farming and ferry business. Emma Lee still ran the ferry until until her husbands execution then moved on. Warren and his families built an elaborate irrigation system and made Lonely Dell flourish. It was hard work because the muddy flood waters of the Paria would take it all out during the monsoon seasons. Still the Johnson family always managed to put it all back together.
The next place we walked to was the cemetery. It is a well kept place and the stone markers are readable with the exception of a couple. Besides the huge Johnson Family Stone, the cemetery has the stones of 25 other residents. The saddest part of the history of Lonely Dell Ranch perhaps happened during the Johnson family era. The story starts in 1891 when two families arrived at the crossing on their journey west. Just before they arrived one child had died of diphtheria. Unknowingly on how the disease was transmitted, the Johnson family took the travelers into their home. Soon afterwards six of their children came down with the disease, four died within weeks of each other. The gravestone for the children and the rest of the family is the centerpiece of the cemetery. It shows that young four children all died in the same year. We were glad to have the NPS flyer to tell the rest of the story.
There are other interesting sights around the ranch. The newest looking building is the Weaver house. A Hopi mason built it in 1936-37. The Weavers renamed the ranch Paradise Canyon Ranch (apparently the name did not stick) and tried to make a living bringing in guests. It didn’t work. In 1940 Gus and Romana Griffin purchased the property.
The coolest building on the whole complex in my opinion is the picture window cabin. It is an old log cabin. Very small for a living quarters. It looks very old. The building has one large window that takes up most of the wall on the south side of the cabin looking over a gorgeous view of Glen Canyon and a door on the east end. The glass has long been gone. The only thing known about it is that a man named Jerry Johnson (not sure if he was related to the original Johnson family) was the caretaker for a few years for the Griffins and he stayed in this cabin.
The afternoon we spent touring the Lonely Dell Ranch is one of the memories we will keep always. Someday if you get the chance to come visit the land where the muddy Paria River meets the Colorado, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Lonely Dell Ranch. You won’t regret it.
A Condor! I Saw a Condor! I just can’t believe it. Larry and I were walking across the Colorado River on Rte. 89A in Arizona on the Navajo Bridge. We were looking over the railing 90′ down to the green, green water below when a shadow caught the corner of my eye. I looked up and I saw a huge wingspan, big black body with black wings that sported a white stripe along the inside edge. This white stripe eventually formed a small triangle next to the body. It had to be a Condor. I have never seen any bird that big in my life. As the big black bird circled overhead, I pointed up and called to Larry; “Look it’s a Condor!” He looked up and saw it too. As the initial shocked faded I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. I was kicking myself for not starting sooner when the Condor was much closer. After a low spiral, the bird landed on the edge of the canyon just down river from the bridge. It was too far away to do much with my camera so I put it away and pulled up my field glasses. Just as I raised the field glasses to my eyes, another shadow flashed by. It was another Condor! Two Condors!! The second bird unceremoniously swooped across the canyon and landed next to the first Condor. As we watched through my glasses the first Condor seemed to be tending to a nest, dropping it head down behind a rock that blocked my view, while the second Condor stood watch. It was just to much to believe. We were watching a pair of Condors possibly building a nest. I do believe we hit the jackpot.
How we ended up here in Lee’s Ferry so that we could witness this event was the luck of the draw. We were supposed to be in Zion National Park but when we arrived there it was a madhouse. We dallied there a short while trying to figure out just what to do. Larry talked to the rangers and they told him that there were 80 people on a waiting list for a campsite that day. The ranger said, if we wanted a chance to camp there for the night we would have to stand in line at the park office starting at 11 a.m. They would start giving out available campsites at noon and if any were left when it was our turn, we were in. So as we sat in our motorcoach in a parking lot trying to decide on whether or not to stand in line, we were watching all the people. They were everywhere, much like fleas on a dog’s back. It became way too much for us. “NOPE!!” We are not going to stay here. Even with the absolute amazing scenic views it was not worth the cost of the noise and traffic and associated stress that went along with a crowd of this size. So we left.
On our way out of the park, looking at the map, I spotted a place called Jacob Lake. My dad’s name is Jacob, my brother’s name is Jacob, and my maiden name was Jacobson, actually we have lots of Jacobs in our family, so it is no wonder I would be attracted to Jacob Lake. Larry checked out the map and off we went.
We knew nothing about Jacob Lake except that it was located by the road that lead to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It all looked good on paper. If I had paid a little more attention I would not have been so surprised to the grades we had to driving up. It was then that I noticed that Jacob Lake is located at around 7500′ in altitude. In March it might be a bit cold up there. When we arrived the campground was closed. The road to the North Rim was also closed. There was snow on the ground in the trees and along plow lines. The outside temperature, according to the motorcoach, was 58 degrees. Did I mention Trees! The last month or more we have been out in the desert and seeing the trees, real trees, not cactus trees, gave us both a sense of relief. Since Jacob Lake was no longer an option we decided to boondock. We found a nice meadow that was free of snow and dry. It was off on a dirt road just a short distance from the highway. It was heaven to hear the breeze in the pine trees and to smell the pine in the air. The sunshine made it reasonably warm. To sum it up it was a delightful afternoon. It sure beat Zion.
In the meadow, behind where we set up camp, there were two markers. The type used to show boundries or trails or to warn off vehicles. After we set up I walked over to investigate. They marked the Arizona Trail. We had the Arizona Trail right in our back yard. This trail starts at the Coronado National Monument near the Mexico Boarder. It runs 800 miles north to the top of the state where it’s terminus is in Kaibab Plateau region near the Arizona-Utah border. This is no namby-pamby hike, from what I read. It goes through deserts, brushland and mountains. The lowest elevation is 1700′ and it’s highest point is 9600′. We came across the Arizona Trail once before, during our stay in Tucson and here we come across it again. Since it was such a nice afternoon, Pearl and I went for a walk.
The next morning we woke up to snow flurries. Drat! Time to head east. Off we go again. We headed out following Rt 89A and on the map there is a place called Lee’s Ferry. It was on the Colorado River and that was reason enough to make that our next destination. Coming down out of the mountains, leaving the snow flurries behind, we drove around a corner and were awe struck by the view. There in front of us, as we decended onto a large plateau, was a massive red cliff formation. The view was breathtaking. We stopped at a scenic overlook and the storyboards tolds we were looking at the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Another storyboard described this place, the scenic overlook, as the place where juvenile condors were released every year as part of a re-introduction program. (Who knew we would actually see one.)
As we finished our descent onto the plateau the highway turned and followed along the base of the Vermillion Cliffs for over 30 miles before we arrived at Lee’s Ferry. Here in the campgrounds we were surrounded by cliffs on three sides with the Colorado River running through the middle of it all. As we sat outside in our camp chairs we watched the rafters, kayakers and the fly fishermen. The ranger we talked to, after we arrived, told us that it takes two to three weeks on the river to make it to Lake Mead from here. What a great river trip that would be. Anyway after we settled into campsite #13 we went for a jeep ride to the Navajo Bridge. Back to the beginning.
Now you understand just how crazy this whole trip was. The reward of seeing a Condor makes our kind of traveling all worth it. Truly if we had tried to plan this we would be in Zion and not walked on the Arizona Trail or have seen two of only 200 California Condors known to be in existance.
April is upon us and we are starting to move north with the spring. Alaska or Bust!
On this day we are camping at Alamos Lake State Park. We are in good company, as old friends of ours from Casper Wyoming, Kelly and Karen MeGowen and Jim and Judy Barton have joined us. We are in camp area E at the Alamos Lake State Park. Our campsites are situated on the edge of a hillside and we have a great view overlooking a valley where the wild burros hang out. It is a beautiful late winter day.
Before we visited Alamos Lake last year I did not know that there were wild burro’s. But if I think back to the early seventies, when I was in High School, there was an act of Congress that was as propagandized to protect the wild horses and burros. That should have been my first clue to the burros existence. Dah!
As Karen and I sat in our comfy chairs in the shade of the motor home, we watch these beautiful creatures live out their lives on the Arizona desert. They are shorter than a horse, yet larger and stockier than a pony. Their colors varied from blond to light gray to dark brown. There are a bunch of mamas with little ones following alongside. Mostly they feed on the green grass that grows around the Mesquite and Palo Verde trees.
Google tells me that the male burro is called a Jake and the female is a Jennie. So the next question was: What is the difference between a Donkey and a Burro? The answer is: The Donkey is domesticated and the Burro is wild. Otherwise they are the same genetically. The Burro is not native to North America. It comes from Northern Africa. They became popular in the 1800’s as a pack animals. Here in the west the miners and prospectors used them to carry their loads as they searched to find their fortunes. When they went bust or finally gave up, they just set the donkeys free. It turns out that they thrive well on their own in the American southwest. In recent statistics, Arizona estimates the burro population at nearly 8,000 now. This large population is now causing issues with native species both migratory and permanent. The ones most affected are the quail, jack rabbit, and the burrowing owls. The burros eat and tromple the grasses and disturb their nesting and breeding grounds. There is a roundup and adoption program in place but the burros double their population every four years. This makes is nearly impossible to keep and maintain an acceptable population.
From what I could deduce from my vantage point and the relatively short study time of a few days, is that they live in small herds and when these herds would come in close proximity of each other they get real noisy and made quite a clamor. Nighttime seems to be party time for the local burros. They are loud with their baying and they like to raid the campgrounds. The locals are used to all this I guess because they pay no attention to them whatsoever. This nightly behavior has become so common that every morning a crew comes around the State Park in their John Deere ATV with scoopers and shovels and clean up the burros deposits.
Even with the problems that are caused by the burros, they bring a romantic aura to the desert and even though they are not indigenous they are undeniably a part of our history and that should count for something. I hope Arizona lawmakers come up with a reasonable plan to manage these beautiful creatures.
One of the best parts of our traveling around the continent is the opportunity to meet new people. It is especially sweet when we get to rendezvous with old friends.
Friends of ours, Kevin and Missy from Chesuncook Village caught up with us at Roosevelt Lake, which is east of Phoenix. This is their first cross country voyage in their new truck with in the bed camper. When they first started out from Maine in early February they visited some family in North Carolina and Florida then for the next few weeks they travelled west on their own. At our reunion them seemed very happy to see us and we were thrilled to see them.
Kevin, before he retired, was a fisherman off the New England coast. At first he seems rough and gruff with his deep gravelly voice but he is a gentle soul with an amazing sense of humor. And Missy is just as interesting. Her last job before she retired was a caregiver and earlier in her life she worked at a zoo and raised parrots. She also farmed and raised heritage breed cattle. Her major in college was zoology and she started our wanting to be a veterinarian. She is bright, funny and energetic. She is the kind of person people are drawn to.
The four of us had a great six days together. At Roosevelt Lake, Missy and I spend most of your time walking along the trails and old jeep roads, especially if they took us close to the water. Most people would call what we did hiking, but I call it walking and gawking. We checked out the wildflowers, shrubs, trees, birds, butterflies and tracks as we walked along. There wasn’t much out there that didn’t get our attention. And talked, we chatted like we hadn’t spoken to anyone for weeks.
The Piece’ de Resistance of our walking and gawking happened on the first day as we turned a corner along the shore of the lake and spotted what we first thought might be loons. There were two birds swimming along the shoreline inside a cove. They had long beaks like loons but the top of the head and the back of the neck and back were black, while the front, from the beak down the breast was white. The beak itself was a light orange color.
As we shared the field glasses, making guesses as to what we were seeing, the birds took turns laying their heads on their backs and circled around each other. Then to our surprise, as they came alongside one another they took off down the water, side by side, with most of their bodies raised above the water and raced each other in a sort of graceful dance. Our mouths hit the ground as we continued to stare in disbelied. Together, as if reading each others minds, we said in unison; “Did you see that?!”. We stayed there watching them for a long time hoping to see them dance again but they moved far out into the lake and didn’t seem interested in an encore. As we finally started back to camp we felt excited, eager to share our experience with Larry and Kevin.
Since we knew that these birds were not loons, after we returned to our campsite, we opened our computers and started our research. We discovered what we saw were Western Grebes. A video on one website showed the same mating ritual that we had witnessed. One site called the mating dance a “Walk on Water”, which it truly was. And apparently the Clark’s Grebe also does a simuliar mating dance. (I did not even know there was a Clark’s Grebe.) The Ornithologist call this ritual “Rushing”. Another fact is that Western Grebes spend nearly all their time on the water as they are very awkward on land, just like loons. At least they have that in common. It seems they build their nests in the water around reeds and other such flora that live in shallow water. The map shows that they breed in Wyoming and most of the mid and northwestern states. In my thirty six years living in Wyoming I do not recall ever seeing a grebe. I guess I wasn’t very observant back then.
The next day, with good cameras in hand we hiked down to the same area where we saw the grebes the day before. We found three swimming in the cove. We watched, waited, watch some more and snapped a hundred pictures but these birds were not inclined to show off their dancing skills to us. Though we had hoped to see the dance one more time we are very happy to have witnessed it and glad to have a few photos to share with our friends.