Thursday, October 20, 2016

North Rim and Southern Utah- Part 3

Kathy and I had the free breakfast at the hotel and said our goodbyes. I was a bit sad she was not coming with me. It is more fun traveling together. She had a tournament to play and was looking forward to it. She really enjoys playing competitive volleyball. As it turned out, her team took the silver medal in the gold division, going 3 games in the final before losing the tie-breaker. Not bad.

Kathy's Huntsman team. Kathy is 3rd from right in the back row.

(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:

I headed out on I-15 to I-70 after stopping at a Starbucks for some good coffee. The hotel stuff just didn't measure up. My plan was to drive to Canyonlands and find a boondock site for the night. The drive across Utah on I-15 and I-70 is very scenic. I enjoyed it quite a bit although I did not stop to take any photos.

I arrived at Canyonlands in the afternoon and stopped at the visitor center for advice about camping. All the campgrounds were full- continuing the trend of the trip. However, BLM lands just outside the park boundary were free game for boondocking. I decided to do some sightseeing first and then head out to find a campsite. I drove to the end of the road and enjoyed the overlook. There is a white rim of sandstone around the canyon, called- interestingly enough- the White Rim. There is a jeep trail that follows this edge which is a popular overnight drive with remote camping. The trail was apparent and I resolved to come back to drive that someday. I toured a couple of other overlooks on my way out with similar distant views.

Canyonlands overlook. The White Rim is apparent.

Another Canyonlands view

It was getting late in the day and I needed to find a campsite. I left the park and took the first dirt road to the left after crossing the park boundary. I followed it for a bit, took a left fork and ended up at a very nice campsite with a view across the mesa to some canyons and a recognizable eroded rock called Cleopatra's Chair.

View from camp with Cleopatra's Chair in the distance.

A nice, protected  boondock site

Another view from camp

Morning panorama

I enjoyed the evening, cooked dinner and sat in my chair for a while admiring the sunset. I had a good night's sleep and woke early to get back on the road. I had decided to make Rocky Mountain National Park my next destination. I planned to drive up the west side, boondock before I got to the park and then drive across the Trail Ridge Road and exit on the east side. I stopped for lunch at a rest stop in Glenwood Canyon, a beautiful stretch of I-70 along the Colorado River. The weather was warm and sunny and I had a nice restful stop.

Glenwood Canyon (photo from earlier in our trip)

I exited the freeway at Dillon and stopped at the USFS office for advice on dispersed camping near Rocky Mountain National Park. The ranger on duty informed me that the Trail Ridge Road had been closed that day due to snow and possibly would stay closed for the season. I needed to change my plan and head to the west side. I got back on the freeway and drove to Idaho Springs to catch the road to Estes Park. Again it was late in the day and I needed a campsite. I decided to head for Golden Gate Canyon State Park which was on the way. Kathy and I had camped there on an earlier trip and found it to be a nice park. I arrived after the visitor's center had closed for the day. I self-registered and drove to the campground which was about 12 miles up a winding mountain road. I arrived and picked out a site. The campground was mostly empty but a few hardy folks were camped there. The site was nice and level and I quickly set up and made dinner as it was getting dark. The park has hot showers and laundry facilities. I took advantage of the shower.

Campsite at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

I drove to Rocky Mountain National Park, arriving in the morning. Again stopping at the visitor's center for advice. I was informed that the Morraine Park campground had space available so I drove there and claimed a space for the night. Then I went on a driving tour of the park. I decided to do a hike to Bear Lake and Alberta Falls, which sounded like scenic places. I drove to the trailhead for Bear Lake but never got there. True to form, there were so many cars trying to get into the trailhead parking lot that was already full, that the road backed up nearly a quarter mile. I turned around and drove back to another trailhead where the parking was also full but the traffic was not so bad. I waited a bit, a parking spot eventually opened up and I grabbed it. I loaded lunch in my pack and set off for a nice walk. I eventually made it to Bear Lake. I ate lunch on a bench along the trail with a nice view of Bear Lake. After lunch, I enjoyed a nice hike through the woods to Alberta Falls.

Rocky Mountain view

Another view

Bear Lake lunch spot

Alberta Falls

A view along Bear Lake Road

After my hikes, I did some more driving around the park and enjoying the scenery. The sun was setting and I decided to head back my campsite to set up and make dinner. After dinner, I had my customary campfire.

A view of the Fall River Valley

Elk grazing in the meadow
I got up early, before dawn, to pack up and head to my next destination. As I was driving out, a large bull elk crossed the road in front of me. I stopped and took a few photos before continuing on my way. The sun was rising and the sunlight on the mountains was beautiful.

Nice bull elk posing

Sunrise as I left the park

Two long boring days of featureless freeway driving awaited me to get home. I struggled at times to keep my energy up. I reached the north central part of Nebraska late in the day. I decided to camp at Smith Falls State Park on the Niobrara River, one of the original National Wild and Scenic Rivers. Smith Falls, at 63 feet high, is the highest waterfall in Nebraska. On arriving, the park seemed to be more like a county park than a state park, with few amenities. The campground consisted of maybe 20 sites laid out in a straight line across a treeless field adjacent to the Niobrara River. The Niobrara, was placid but made a nice boundary to the campground, with a high stone bank on the far side. I paid the small fee and set up camp. It suited me fine for a place to sleep. It was getting dark so I didn't make the short hike to the falls. I made dinner and cleaned up. A nice sunset colored cloud kept me company as I did the dishes.

Sunset cloud over the Niobrara River

Another early start found me on the road at dawn. The sky was beautiful and I drove across South Dakota. I saw many deer and pheasants along the road. By late afternoon, the trip odometer had reached 4,270 miles and the end of another great camping adventure.


  1. What a great adventure for you two! It quickly gets overwhelming with the onslaught of people in our popular National Parks, doesn't it. Congrats to Kathy and her team on taking the silver. Dangling the feet at Toroweep Point is the way to do it. You have many very nice photographs that will quickly bring back wonderful memories. Great introduction in Part One. Thanks for letting us come along!

  2. Ski, thanks for the comments. I appreciate them.

  3. Al that's a nice trip.We had also been to some of those areas.
    Wow the people are coming out of the woodwork.Do you think it's just due to the advertising about the 100th birthday of the NP system? Or just a picture of things to come?
    We also noticed a lot of people in Alaska this trip.
    I won't let those things ruin our trips but just enjoy our time out.
    Thanks for the ride.

  4. Frank, thanks for the comments. I guess the trend line is up for visits to the National Parks. Plus, October is a popular time to visit Utah. It's nice to see all the people enjoying the parks, but it does affect the visitor experience- especially for those of us who like solitude. It's ok, we'll find a time to visit those parks when they are not so busy.

  5. Great blog and fantastic photos! Thanks for sharing your trip!