I got in pretty late to the BLM land just outside of Joshua Tree National Park where I was staying that night. The land is accessed via some quite rutted and bumpy dirt roads, but I managed to navigate my way through (I’m glad there was no rain) and find a spot for the night. The next morning I woke very early, I think it was around 5. I’m not sure if I was woken by thunder or not but it was lucky as not too far off was a massive storm with rain so heavy that the distant houses and hills had completely disappeared. I didn’t think twice, I threw some clothes on and hightailed it out of there, I definitely didn’t want to be there when it hit. I was back on the sealed road and on my way to Starbucks when it hit, and boy did it hit, there were rivers of water running across the road. I now saw what they were talking about when they said not to park in washes (look like dried up river beds) the amount of water was intense.
I sat in Starbucks for a while as the rain came down, so decided to look for some rainy day activities. I found a yoga studio not too far away and really close to the entrance to Joshua Tree with a class on at the right time, so headed there. It was really nice to get on the mat, it had been a while. After the class the rain had eased so I headed into Joshua tree national park.
The park isn’t massive and the main part can easily be done in one day. There are some longer hikes that can take you from one part of the park to another if you were after that sort of thing, but most of the sights are accessible by car with short walks/hikes.
My first stop was hidden valley, a 1.6k loop trough a valley surrounded by amazing massive boulders that the park is famous for. The story is that back in the day, when rain in the are was higher, cattle rustlers used to use it as a hideout to graze cattle. Now-days the pastures are gone, but the valley still houses an eco-system that is slightly different from the rest of the park.
Next stop was Barker Dam. The rain had started coming down again when I got there so I made myself some lunch and watched Netflix in the back of the van, while I waited for the rain to subside. Once the rain finally stopped I headed in. There was allot of water around, the path in was a river of water. It was amazing to see how much water was still coming off the boulders and land even after the rain had stopped. The trail wasn’t very hard and had some great views of the landscape as well as some well preserved Petroglyphs left by ancient Puebloan people.
Next I hit up the keys view, which is a lookout over the other side of the park. It wasn’t too exciting, very barren and with all the rain around it was pretty hazy.
My last stop was to see skull rock, which is pretty self explanatory. It was a rushed visit as the clouds were rolling in again and I didn’t really feel like getting caught in the rain.
The grand canyon was an amazing site to see, it almost looked fake standing at the top of the rim and looking around. It was also a complete surprise for me, when I thought grand Canyon I did not think Canadian Forrest. When I thought grand Canyon I thought desert, but driving into the North Rim of the Grand Canyon you drive through grassy fields surrounded Forrest and then not long after you go through the entrance gate you are completely surrounded by it. It was a welcome change in scenery.
I headed straight for the information centre, I knew that I had to get a permit to do an overnight hike into the Canyon so I wanted to know about that as I was hoping to hike down to the river the next day and stay the night then hike back. Turns out the permits were organised by the back-country office which I had driven straight passed on the way in and I would be pushed to get back to in time before they shut, so I would have to see them in the morning when they opened. While I was there I checked out the canyon viewing area, a short walk from the Visitor center.
Afterwards I headed back outside of the park to the National Forest to find a campsite for the night (you can camp for free in dispersed camping in a NF) the ranger had given me a map of the National forest dispersed camping. Heading out of the National park when you get an intersection with forest road 22 to left and forest road 611 to the right, you can take either of these and find camping, I took the right as suggested by the ranger and followed 611 to forest road 610 which I followed all the way to the end. I’m not sure if I took a wrong turn somewhere, because I was under the impression that I would come out on the edge of the canyon from what the ranger had said, but the road finished still in the forest. The sun was getting low now so I found myself a park and set up camp, there was a fire-pit set-up from a previous camper and being a little cooler here I decided to start a fire. I collected some branches and logs from around the area then used some pine-cones and a clump of the dry ground coverings as kindling. I was amazed and a little bit alarmed at how well the ground coverings lit and started the fire… I had a nice roaring fire, but now was concerned I might start a wildfire so I sat and watched the fire whilst editing photos till it burned down a bit and I then doused it with water and retired to the warmth of the van, it was too stressful with the fire going.
The next morning I woke had breakfast and headed to the Back-country office. The ranger there was extremely helpful, the hikes were actually allot longer than I had expected. He suggested I do the hike I wanted over 3 days, on the first day hike to the Cottonwood campsite, then use the next day to hike to the river and back, stay the night again at the cottonwood campsite and then hike back to the top on the third, but I wouldn’t be able to start that until the following day as I couldn’t get a permit for that night. So I considered it for a while, but decided to just do a day hike, stay the night again in the forest then check out the other part of the park tomorrow. The ranger also point me in the right direction for the dispersed camping on the rim.
I headed back up to the North Kiabab Trailhead to begin the hike. The Kiabab trail follows the roaring springs canyon in from the north and I believe you can follow it all the way to the south rim.
The first part of the hike is a bunch of sandy switchbacks in the trees, I didn’t really enjoy this part, I hate hiking in sand and there is an overwhelming stench of Mule droppings. Luckily there were amazing views down the valley to distract you a little.
The next section, i like to call the red section, the switchbacks became shorter and steeper, with very little cover form the sun. There wee quite a few people turning around here, I think the ranger who was warning/discouraging people at the spring earlier had got to them. Not me I had only been hiking for about an hour and hadn’t even broken a sweat (figuratively, not literally it was f’n hot down there haha) .
After that the trail flattens out a little more and winds along the edge of the canyon, there are still odd steep parts.
It took me about 2h to get to the roaring springs rest area, here there was a chemical toilet and tapped spring where you could fill up you bottle, the roaring spring itself was pretty amazing. It was roaring out of somewhere in the rocks above and flowing down the rocks to the valley below. I stayed here for a little bit, filled up with water, ate some food and dipped my legs in the spring for a bit. I then continued on down the trail for a bit longer, but decided to turn around as it was getting into the afternoon and I knew the trip up would take a few hours.
I didn’t find the hike back too bad, the first part where your winding along the canyon wall you get plenty of relief from the sun which is nice. Once you hit the Red section though you are completely exposed to the sun and all its glory, there are a few small trees/shrubs that you can get a little bit of relief, but not many and they are usually already occupied. I just put my head down and powered through, taking small sips of water along the way, but I knew that there was shade a few k’s up and the trail. I passed quite a few people, including a group I had gone past on the way down who hadn’t made it much further along the trail at all (it had been a few hours) then a little further up the trail nearly at the first spring of the trail I ran into a couple more guys from that group who recognised me, they told me that they had run out of water so were going to get more for the group ( a bit unnerving). Once I got to the spring I waited in the shade for the guys to get there and chatted to an older lady who’s husband had gone back down to take water to another guy who was struggling. When the two guys arrived a few of us donated some water bottles to them, I had my camlebak so just refilled that and gave them my 3 other half liter backup bottles. The rest of the trail went pretty quick, I ended up finishing with the older couple who I had been chatting, so we talked the rest of the way up. Provided a little bit of a distraction from the damn stench of the Mule droppings.
The hike took about 5.5hours, I think my watch said something like 20ks. I really enjoyed it and didn’t find it too hard, but could see how it would catch people out. For one it’s reverse to most hikes, you start at the top and hike to the bottom then have to work your way back up, you also climb up in altitude at the end which combined with exhaustion wouldn’t be a good mix. It is also mostly a very exposed trail so the heat of the sun can easily get to you.
After I got back to my car I headed to the North Rim Campsite to use the showers and buy a Gatorade to get some fluids and electrolytes back into me, before heading back out of the park to find another campsite for the night. Again I went left along forest road 611 but this time I kept right and stayed on 611, heading for saddle mountain overlook. Along the way I ran into a group of you guys who had gotten a flat, so I pulled over and offered some help (I know what it’s like haha), so I helped them change the tyre and they invited me to stay with them, we were both headed to the same place, so I followed them. Not much further along I see some movement in front of their car then bursting out of the forest onto the road comes a herd of bison, they charged across the road into the forest on the other side, it was pretty amazing to see, I never really thought of bison being in a forest. I had seen signs on the grassy plains to watch for bison but hadn’t thought they would be deep into the forest.
After they had cleared out we continued on to the campsite and what a spit, a little further on the forest opened up and we were in a small clearing on the edge of the canyon. There were a few other cars and RV’s around, the best drive up spot was taken, but I found a spot then went and joined my new friends. I couldn’t get my car into where they had set up camp but it was a pretty damn good spot. We had dinner and then played some cards, but some rain came through and ruined that pretty quickly so we retired to accommodation for the night.
The next day I headed back into the national park to check out the other side. There were a few short little walks to some different viewpoints looking over different parts of the grand canyon.
What a day, in the morning I got up and headed to the Mill Canyon Dinosaur trails. A short drive out of town on 191 you turn off onto Mill Canyon Rd and follow the signs. It was only a short walk from the Car Park to the viewing area where they’ve installed some boardwalks and information boards that highlight some of the prints and what they belonged to. I was surprised at just how many prints there were, it was amazing and pretty surreal to see footprints from Dinosaurs perfectly preserved in what used to be the bed of a spring, it really felt like I was walking with giants.
Next up was Monument Valley, I didn’t actually go into Monument Valley National Park but stopped off for lunch. Driving in was pretty amazing seeing the massive sandstone buttes rising up from the desert floor.
Finally before heading into Page for the night I visited Horseshoe Bend. Wow, what an amazing sight; you take a short hike from the car park over a hill until you come to the outside rim of a massive canyon where the Colorado river wraps around on its self some 300m below making this massive horseshoe, it was an awesome sight to see.
I then headed into Page to get some stuff and stayed the night on some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land just outside of Page. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet, but you can camp on BLM land for free, there’s a few rules which you can look up and no facilities, but I’ve stayed on it a few times now and it works well. I’ve been using this website to find most of my camping freecampsites.net.
The drive from Mesa Verde was pretty short only about 2h, I’ve done pretty well this whole trip I think the longest I’ve had to drive in a day is only about 4h.
The landscape was now alot more like I was expecting from a desert and the West haha, red sand with with these amazing red sandstone formations and cliffs rising up out of the ground, cut by water over millions of years. On the way in to town you drive past Wilson’s Arch which is a short stroll from the road so I stopped to have a look, the Arches are pretty amazing.
The campsite I was heading to was just on the other side of Moab. As you’re heading out of Moab towards the arches national park, you turn right down 128 (There is a gondola on the corner) which follows the Rio Grande River through the canyon. Along this road there are a number of self-register first in best dressed campgrounds. The first couple, which are definitely the nicer ones were already full but a bit further down there were some spots free.
These camp grounds were allot more exposed, but you get some shade from the sun in the evenings from the canyon walls. I was still an awesome spot on the river bank with canyon walls soaring above you, was pretty amazing. I set up camp and had some dinner. While I was cooking dinner I could see a few people swimming in the river from the rocks a little downstream. After dinner since it was still pretty damn hot, I decided it might be nice to go for a swim to cool off. So i wandered down and joined them, it was two couples one probably late 40’s the other about my age.We chatted while we swam; Well stood on rocks in the water, the current was quite strong in this section so you couldn’t really swim, but it was still really nice to cool off. We stayed till the light was pretty much gone then headed back out camps while we could still see the way.
The next day I got up and hit Arches national park, again I got in for free, not sure why maybe because they were doing works so a couple of places were shut (usually $25 i think). The only thing I will write about this is I headed straight for the far end of the Park for two reasons; one allot of the people coming in were stopping at the earlier stops and second most of the hiking is at the far end of the park so I wanted to get it out of the way while it was cooler in the morning. Now I’m going to let the pictures do the talking.
After a long hot day in the Park I felt like a refreshing beverage… so I stopped in at the Moab Brewery and had a Beer at the Bar. While I was sitting at the bar a local man came and Sat between myself and another guy, who turned out to be a Kiwi, the Jeff the local guy was amazed that he had sat down between the two of us. So we all got chatting, the Kiwi had shipped his motorbike over from NZ to a place in south america and has been travelling around on it for a few months, Jeff is civil engineer working for KOA campgrounds planning the remodeling and infrastructure of their campgrounds around the stated and in his spare time he goes rock crawling in his modified Jeep. As the night went on and we got chatting more, Jeff offered to take me out 4x4ing in his Jeep if I was around the next day, I was meant to be leaving in the morning but decided to stay as I didn’t want to pass up this great opportunity. That night I actually ended up staying at a Backpackers in town as it was cheaper than camping ($12).
Today was an early start as my first tour, the long house, was at 9:00am and it was about a 1.5h drive across the park to get there.
Long house was a bit bigger than Balcony house and once had some 150 rooms, it is probably in the worst shape of all the dwellings I saw. They believe Long House was more of a ceremonial place as in the middle was a great Kiva. The guide pointed out an interesting feature, the sipapu in the great Kiva wasn’t centered but offset at an angle from the fire pit which was strange, but when the guide held a compass over the sipapu it pointed true north-south. I thought this was pretty amazing considering we were talking 600-700 years ago. It always amazes me how in-tune ancient societies were, they generally have a great understanding of astrology, building practices that allow their buildings to stand for hundreds of years and a way of utilising the materials around them to create these amazing structures.
My next tour was of the Cliff Palace, so I made my way there Via the museum which had some artifacts and tools on display as well as some more information on the development of the Puebloan buildings and society. There was also an overlook to Spruce Tree house, which was shut due to rock fall risks, so I had a look at that from across the way. It looked to be pretty well preserved.
Cliff Palace was also very well preserved and from the observation area above It gave you a pretty good idea of what it might have looked like back in the day. Cliff Palace they believe was home to about 23 or so Puebloan Clans as there were 23 Kivas. This is one of the youngest dwellings only about 600 years old.
It was amazing to see the dwellings and fascinating to learn a little about Puebloan society. I thought 3 tours might be a little too much and repetitive, but each guide brought their own facts, figures and ideas as to what might have been going on or how life was. A great stop and well worth it, my favorite cliff dwelling was probably Cliff Palace.
My first stop on my way to Colorado was actually an unplanned stop in a small town called Chama, NM. Don’t worry it wasn’t for any car troubles, but for a friend, Tegan, She is obsessed with trains (might have something to do with her job at Queensland rail, but I worked for an AC company…. I don’t have an obsession with AC’s). I had seen all these signs for the Cumbres & Toltec scenic steam train so I decided to have a look. It was only 3-4km’s off track so no big deal. As I pulled up in the train station car park I saw a steam engine puffing along towing another behind, I found a park got my camera and went for a look. I watched for a while as they ‘fueled up’ (added coal to the Tender), and moved around the tracks. It was pretty interesting to, they also didn’t seem to care if you walked around the tracks to have a closer look, I followed others.
Back on the Road I hit Colorado. Although my stay in Colorado was short it was beautiful and amazing from the moment I crossed the state line. As I entered Colorado The sun was shining and in front of me rose these amazing mountains. My first stop was for lunch in a pretty little town called Pagosa Springs (yes they are hot springs). I found the town park which was a cute like park with some nice green grass, picnic tables and playground set on the banks of the San Juan River. After my chicken, Avocado and Mayo wrap I sat and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air for a little bit, then wet for a short stroll along the river. It was a pretty active river, people wise that is; there were some people floating down the river from up stream in inflatable tubes; a few fly fisherman; and down stream a bit further I could see a watering whole where people were swimming and sunbathing on the rocks, It was a very Nice town and I was tempted to stay the night, but decided to keep moving.
I arrived at my final destination, Mesa Verde National, at about 3:30-4pm. I stopped at the visitor centre to get some information on the sights in the park; Mesa Verde is home to Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. A few of the Dwellings were only accessible on tours and I thought It would be good to get some more insight into the fascinating structures. At only $5 a tour I decided to do 3; Balcony House, Long House and Cliff Palace. Balcony house was that evening at 5 so I got moving as it was an hour drive through the park to where the tour took place. I was lucky enough to arrive at the park on it’s birthday so entry was free (usually USD$25/car I believe), the road twists and turns its way up and along the cliffs, until you get on-top to the Mesa (Plateau, Mesa verde translates to Green Plateau) then its relatively straight. The drive is quite scenic with lots of views over the valley way down bellow.
The Balcony house tour stars with a short walk to some steps that take you down onto the side of the cliff, then along a path to a 9 meter or so wooden rung ladder to get you up and into the balcony house. Here we learned that all of the cliff dwellings are built on or near seep springs, a point in the sandstone where the more porous sandstone meets harder rock and the water that has filtered down from the Mesa above is forced out, this was their water source. Balcony house is from the 13th Century so approximately 700 years old and was built around the time they were transitioning from a hunter gatherer nomadic society to a Sedentary society farming on Mesa above. It was amazing how intact and well preserved it was considering its age, with original decorative paintings still visible.
The tour was excellent a informative, afterwards I headed back to the Campground. One of the more expensive ones at $30 or so, but pretty with free wifi throughout (projected from the restrooms) and showers available. I also didn’t have to pay entry so evens it out.