Thursday, October 20, 2016

North Rim and Southern Utah- Part 1

Our story begins 4 or 5 billion years ago...

Southern Utah contains the history of the earth's crust exposed: remnants of ancient seas, deserts, sand dunes, lakes, swamps, volcanic plains; turned into rock by time and uplifted and twisted together. Layers of rocks of every color and composition, cut by water and shaped by wind form a world of visual marvels. The scale of time and event is way beyond human experience. At night, the dark sky shows an endless stretch of stars into the center of the Milky Way and beyond, unfiltered by the light of man. The landscape compels contemplation of the cosmos and our place in it...

Zion National Park
(Note: I took many photos and have posted some of them here. You can click the photos to see a larger version. If you would like to see more photos, they are available here:

A couple of years ago, my older brother built a teardrop camper. This event generated a conversation about camping and the idea to meet somewhere midway between us (Oregon on one side and Minnesota on the other). It turns out Ric had never been to the Grand Canyon and lo and behold, it was nearly exactly equidistant from us both. Kathy plays volleyball in the Hunstman Senior Games, held in St. George, Utah every year. The Games occur in October. The timing would work well for a trip to combine exploring southern Utah and the Grand Canyon with the Games.

We hatched a plan to meet with our spouses at the North Rim for a mini- camping reunion.  On hearing of the plan, my younger brother Dave and his wife Marty joined in as well. The National Parks for the most part do not allow dogs and Rocky, at 12 years, is starting to have trouble jumping into the truck. As much as we love taking Rocky along, this trip he would stay home, cared for by friends and family.

We each planned independent routes to the North Rim. Our route would take us through the sand hills of Nebraska to a friend's house in Denver. From there to Arches National Park and a scenic route through southern Utah and the Arizona strip to the North Rim. After our reunion at the North Rim, Kathy and I planned to visit Tuweep overlook, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and scenic points in between. I would drop Kathy in St. George for the tournament and then drive home. Kathy would fly home after the tournament.

Dave and Marty traveled by way of Yellowstone National Park. Ric and Jeanne by way of Great Basin National Park.

Our first camp was in the sand hills of Nebraska. We found a nice, isolated boondock site in the Nebraska National Forest (somewhat misnamed since trees are few and far between). We cooked dinner and enjoyed a nice walk and sunset.

Our camp in the Sand Hills of Nebraska

Sand Hills

Sand Hills sunset

The next day we drove to Denver for a visit with Kathy's volleyball friend Donna and her husband Doug. We had a great dinner of pizza and beer and good conversation. Kathy and Donna jumped in the hot tub. I cooked some chicken in preparation for providing a group dinner at the North Rim. Doug, an accomplished photographer, gave some good tips for places to check out on our way. Nice to have pleasant people to stay with on the road. After a good night's sleep and home-cooked breakfast, we said our goodbyes and hit the road again.

Kathy, Donna and Doug

Colorado aspen in their glory

Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado River at a rest stop along I-70

Our destination was the BLM campground at Dewey Bridge along the Colorado River near Arches National Park. We arrived in late afternoon and were pleased to get the last open campsite. We set up camp, cooked dinner and watched a storm approach. While waiting for the storm to arrive, we chatted with a couple traveling on bicycles. They had started in Anchorage, AK and had been on the road for 5 months. They were headed to Baja for Christmas and points south after that. Quite an ambitions journey! They had broken their water filter so we gave them a gallon of water to tide them over until they could replace it in Moab. The storm provided a bit of rain and a spectacular rainbow and sunset. Utah gave us a warm welcome!

Dewey Bridge Campground

Life is good

Sunset after the storm

Beautiful rainbow

Our next shop was Arches National Park. We were looking forward to our visit and were dismayed on arriving at the park at 9 AM to find a long lineup of cars creeping toward the entrance gate. We eventually reached the gate, showed our Geezer pass and entered the park. We drove along the park road, looking at the map to see where the attractions were. The eroded red rock landforms were very cool.

On the way to Arches National Park

Inside Arches National Park

It soon became apparent that the park was crammed with people. Cars and buses packed every parking lot to capacity and beyond. Of note were the large numbers of Chinese tourists traveling by huge tour buses. We stopped at a couple of trailheads and walked to viewpoints which were overwhelmed with people. We couldn't stand it- too many people and too much inconsiderate behavior, both toward the park and other people. We took a few pictures and decided to push on to our next destination, resolving to return someday when fewer people were present.

Double Arch

Another view of Double Arch

Delicate Arch Panorama (zoom to see the arch to the right of center)

At this point we had two days to reach the North Rim where we had camping reservations. After spending a few hours at Arches, Muley Point was our next destination. Muley Point is at the edge of Cedar Mesa, overlooking the twists and turns of the San Juan River as it flows toward its confluence with the Colorado. Monument Valley is visible in the distance. We reached Muley point in the afternoon and marveled at the views.

Panorama from Muley Point

Taking in the view

Another Muley Point view

Looking over the edge I spotted a rock with petroglyphs (left side of photo)

Around 5 PM a large group of Jeeps pulled in with plans to camp at the point. We decided to withdraw to a more protected and secluded location away from the point and the crowd. As it turned out, it was a good decision. We cooked dinner, had a nice campfire and went to bed. Early that night a storm hit with strong wind gusts, spectacular lightning and thunder, and rain. At points I was wondering if our camper was going to get blown over. I was very happy we were not camped on the exposed point and wondered about the Jeep folks. We survived the storm with no issues and slept well.

Our camp at Muley Point

Morning view from camp

The next day's drive would take us down the Moki Dugway, a steep cliff-side road with narrow switchbacks descending 1100 feet to the valley below. The road was built in the 50's to allow trucks to bring uranium ore down the cliff from the mine on top of Cedar Mesa. I was a bit apprehensive as the road is hyped as being narrow and dangerous. Large cautionary signs as you approach the road warn of steep grades and tight turns. As it turned out, we had no problems, with nice views as we descended.

The sign at the start of Moki Dugway

A view of the Moki Dugway

The Moki Dugway sent us out into Valley of the Gods, a level plain with striking rock formations towering over the valley floor. From there, we turned west and proceeded to the North Rim. We were not aware that we would gain an hour due to the Arizona Strip not observing daylight savings time. Thinking we needed to hurry, we passed up some places that were probably worthy of checking out. We ended up being the first of our group to get to the campground, arriving at mid-afternoon. We registered for both campsites and proceeded to setup camp. Dave and Marty soon arrived and then we heard from Ric and Jeanne that they would be delayed. Their car's alternator had died and needed to be replaced. That had been accomplished the day before and they were on their way expecting to arrive by dark.

Along the Moki Dugway

Valley of the Gods

We prepared our happy hour and group dinner and waited for them. In due course they arrived. We had fun greeting each other, hearing stories over dinner and a campfire and retired to bed.

First view of the Grand Canyon North Rim

Another view

And another view

We spent two days seeing the sights around the North Rim. We attended an informative talk on Condors at the lodge. We had nightly campfires and the evenings were cool around the fire. Nighttime temps were in the 30's and we appreciated our furnace to warm things up before bed and in the mornings. Kathy and I had showers and did laundry. Our stay was capped off with a group dinner at the Grand Canyon Lodge, hosted by Dave and Marty. We all agreed it had been a fun reunion and resolved to do it again next year at a new destination.

Along the Transept Trail from the campground to the lodge

Another view along the Transept Trail

Sunset dinner at the Grand Canyon Lodge

Grand Canyon Lodge entry at night

The nightly campfire

Kathy and I retired to bed with anticipation of our next adventure- a visit to the Tuweep area of Grand Canyon National Park. That, and more is covered in Part Two of this report.


  1. Amazing to think that hundreds of years after the first settlers travelled these lands, that they are still largely untouched.

    We have an area called the CĂ©ide Fields, mostly untouched since the first settlers moved in as the ice age receded 7,500 years ago.


  2. Robert, thanks for your comment. We are fortunate that far-sighted people set aside and protected from development the most beautiful land for future generations to enjoy.

  3. Hi Al and Kathy,
    I enjoyed reading about your adventures in the Southwest. As a Minnesotan, I love the picture of Kathy reclining in shorts in October. That made me want to fabricate a "family emergency", hop into my truck, and head down to Utah.


  4. Hey Phil, thanks for the comment. You and your family will love Utah!