Thursday, November 26, 2015

Arizona - Above the Mogollon Rim

Our travel plans are often influenced by three factors, the calendar, meteorology, and geology. For the week and a half after our 'release' from St. George those three factors were the Thanksgiving holiday, the coming of winter with an exceptionally southern cold front, and the Mogollon Rim.

The Colorado River at Lee's Ferry, AZ.
Our campsite was just above this.
The Mogollon Rim is an escarpment approximately 3000 to 4000 ft high that runs east to west (approximately a few miles south of I-40) across the upper third of Arizona, about a three hours drive north of Phoenix. Generally speaking, the land to the south, and closer to Phoenix, is at around 3000 to 4000 ft above sea level. The land above the rim is significantly higher, and significantly colder. This works out well for the city folk in the summer as they can leave Phoenix on a 100 degree day, drive three hours north and up the rim, and enjoy some awesome 70 and 80 degree weather. In the winter, and say for Thanksgiving holiday, they stay below the rim.

Our truck was finally released, for the last time, from the auto-body shop on Thursday, November 19. The thought was to leave St. George the next day and head south into Arizona. Not wanting to run into all the holiday travelers, and actually not sure if we could find room to camp, we did not want to go below the Mogollon Rim until the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

That left 9 days for us to get from St. George to roughly, just south of Flagstaff AZ. 301 miles. Plenty of time to enjoy the high desert county in between. Except...there was this cold front coming, and the weather guesses were guessing snow around Thanksgiving.

The Paria river valley just north of the where it
empties into the Colorado River
The first leg turned out to be pretty easy and sweet. We left early Friday morning, headed east on 89, up to North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and then along the bottom of the Vermilion Cliffs. Within three and a half hours we were camped at Lee's Ferry Campground. Our site overlooked the Colorado River to the South. The Vermicelli Cliffs rose to the North and the Paria River ran to the east. It was one of the most spectacular camps. With the new RV, and it's full window dinette, we could even enjoy the scenery from inside. Which we did, when the temperatures dropped into the thirties.

To hike up the Paria River you have to
wade across the river a number of times.
I think we did it 5-6 times in two hours.

We also had some great hikes there up along the Colorado and Paria Rivers. It was such a great place that we even decided to stay longer. That was until the check engine light on the truck came on, and that only after we had to try about 12 times to get it to even turn over. With sadness in our hearts we packed up Sunday morning and headed South to Flagstaff, the nearest Dodge dealer.

To make that story short, the truck turned out fine. But now we were already on the Rim, with 7 days to spare and the cold front, now with below 30 degree temps and possible snow was still coming. The good news is that the new RV is insulated, and has thermal windows so we weren't worried about the system freezing. We were more concerned about how to have fun in the colder temps.

With all that in mind we drove west along I-40 to Williams, AZ. From there it was an easy day trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but it was a little warmer and we could stay in an RV park that had power (and use our electric heater).

Our route from Hurricane Utah to Flagstaff, AZ
The Grand Canyon was awesome. Cold and windy but just as awesome as ever. Williams, the town, is neat too. Billing itself as the last town to be by-passed by I-40, and hence the last town on RT 66, it has lots of great RT 66 stuff. The cold front came through yesterday with 40 knot gusts, a low of 27, but no snow.

Today, we're heading east, along I-40, back through Flagstaff and on to Homolovi State Park. It should be a little warmer, but it's still above the Rim, so shouldn't be crowded...and there are some great hikes there along the Little Colorado River.

Sunday, as all the city folk head back to work, we're driving down to the Verde Valley.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Our New Home : the Creekside 20FQ!

Cabin Replica (wikipedia)
While writing this post it has occurred to me that I'm fulfilling (an other) childhood dream. Ever since reading "Walden" I've wanted to go into the woods, live simply and write. That dream was far from my conscious mind last May when we sold the house and hit the road. Way back then, almost six months ago, S.D. and I had more ambitious, more Spartan, plans of backpacking. With time those plans softened. We decided to keep car camping, then bought an R-POD, a very small trailer. When that was totaled in a car crash we decided to go slightly bigger.

Friday the 13th of November was our lucky day. Around noontime we picked up our new home, a
Our Little (Portable) Cabin!
Creekside 20FQ (20 foot, front queen bed). It should really be called the Creekside 20 Awesome. We're what's known as "full time RVers" so while we want an RV to have everything we need to live, we also wanted it to have a small footprint, provide an outdoor living experience, and be comfortable year round. The Creekside does all that!

The 20 FQ measures 8'x20'. 160 sq ft, plenty of space for two people. Coincidentally, Henry David Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond measured 10' x 15', or 150 sq feet, and he was the sole occupant.

The 20FQ is compact, and really comfortable. Luxurious even. The bedroom is just big enough for a fluffy queen bed and adequate space to walk around it. Over, beside and under the bed are various storage spots. Enough for clothes, hiking and biking equipment. There are even bedside tables on each side, each with a 110 electrical outlet. Although these outlets won't work unless we're in an RV park.  Day-to-day life off the grid is strictly 12 volt.

The bathroom is also compact, but more than adequate. Unlike Thoreau's outhouse which was more spacious but unheated and without plumbing, the Creekside facilities are similar to a yacht "head" (bathroom), with a foot-pedal-flush toilet angled in next to the sink, and just 20" from the mini tub/shower. The medicine cabinet, vanity and small shelves nestled in next to the toilet provide just enough space for toiletries and cleaning supplies.

The kitchen is bigger than a lot of kitchens we saw in similar sized RVs, and it's layout is even more efficient. Along with a gas oven and three burner stove there is an almost full-sized refrigerator, a microwave, pantry, two bowl sink, spice rack, three drawers, two large cabinets, counter space and an-over-the-sink window. We haven't found enough stuff yet to fill all the spaces and we suspect that even if we stock up enough food to be on the road for two weeks, we'll still have plenty of storage room left over. Needless to say, Thoreau didn't have a kitchen, often slipping over to Emerson's house when he wanted a solid meal.

But I saved the best for last. The rear dinette! Taking up the entire back of the RV, measuring 8'x 6', is the perfect living, dining, wildlife viewing area. The three surrounding windows are so big that sitting on the big bench seat is not only comfortable it's the next best thing to actually being outside.

But wait, there's more. Because the 20FQ is so compact we can be outside more, and with a very small environmental impact. Being only twenty feet long allows the RV to be towed with a relatively small truck. It also allows us to camp in most of the National State Parks, close to all kinds of great
Just one, of the places we'll go
hikes. The RV is also well insulated and has thermal pane windows, saving energy usage. Right now it's 25 degrees outside and with very little heat, it is very toastie inside. The lights are all LEDs which are more than bright enough and also use very little energy. But there's also a solar panel that helps keep the batteries charged.

The low resource usage along with 2 propane tanks, 2 six volt batteries, a sixty gallon water tank and ample food storage space makes living entirely off the grid and out in the wilds possible for weeks at a time.


"went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

With slightly more luxury, less-Spartan, and even less space per person, the Creekside 20FQ allows us to do just that, and to do it all over the country. Next stop - Arizona!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Does a Person Poop in the Woods?

While the question of whether or not a bear poops in the woods may be rhetorical, it's not so easy when it comes to people. Yes people are in the woods, and sometimes, like other creatures, they need to eliminate, but when, if and how are matters of debate and in some cases, regulation.

It was on our recent hike to Calf Creek Falls that I began pondering the question most seriously. (Hiking leaves lots of time for serious contemplation!) The Falls, the large catch basin beneath is and the small surrounding field are an oasis in a desert. Reached by a short, level three mile hike they are also a destination for lots and lots of people. People who apparently feel it's not only a good place to swim, and picnic, but also poop.  So much so that the Forest Service has had to put up a no poop sign - directly opposite the falls.

(note the small black pile)
There are places in the wilds where no person should poop. For folks well-acquainted with backwoods pooping protocol and the reasons therefore,  the need for a sign was pretty surprising.  We know that human (and all animal) waste leaching into water is one of the leading causing of giardia, and that all eliminations should be done at least 300ft  away from any water source.  But apparently not everyone know this and hence the surprising but rather witty sign. 

While in the Sierra's  we also learned that people are also not allowed to poop (or rather leave their poop) on Mt. Whitney. The reason is not so much the water quality but the quality of the overall environment. While poo is organic, the harsh, cold climate does not allow the material to decompose and whatever is left there, stays there.  Historically the summit was the place to go. Until 2007 there was actually an enclosed stone pit toilet on the summit. Every year the Forest Service had to fly in a helicopter and fly out the 'stuff'. Now "All Mt. Whitney visitors must pack-out their solid human waste. Pack-out kits are distributed with wilderness permits. You must carry the waste bag back down the mountain to the poop disposal box at the trailhead."  

(toilet not necessary)
The referred to pack out kits are technically known as WAGs (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) Bags, Brian's Backpacking Blog has a great description on wags you can check out if you want to know more.  WAGs are now sold at most outdoor stores including REI and we've been seeing them in a lot of places. They can be purchased or homemade.

Mt. Everest is a good example of what happens when lots of people eliminate in  an environment where things don't decompose and WAGs aren't used.  The Huffington Post article "Mt Everest is Covered in Human Poop." explains the dirty details. It all goes to show that you can and often, should take it with you.

So when and how can a person poop in the woods?  Ideally you find a composting toilet. If one isn't  available, you're more than 300 ft from water and there is plenty of other organic matter in the area, dig a six inch deep hole, do your business, cover it over first with dirt and then with leaves, etc. Within three to six months the whole thing should be gone.

So yes, while bears just go randomly where every they happen to be,  a person can poop in the woods, but only in way that no one would ever know.  Now if we could just figure out the whole tree falling in the forest thing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mini Break to Grand Staircase Escalante

Snow at Bryce
Since the collision three weeks ago, we've spent most of that time in St. George. Weekdays are generally quiet and the local trails relatively empty. Every weekend however, there are numerous events and the place fills up. Considering that there are over 35 large hotels in town, that's saying something. One Saturday morning we woke up to discover that the entire hotel was booked by the Montview Marching Band. They and 30 other high school bands were in town for the Regional Marching Band finals. The air was tense at breakfast on Saturday. Sad and quiet on Sunday. Aside from Marching Band competitions there have also been bicycle tours, senior athlete games, and a huge art and craft show. On top of all that there are thousands of Utahians that just to go St. George for the weekend. Since we like life on the quiet side we decided that for our fourth weekend we'd leave...and happened to discover another reason everyone goes to St. George.
Grosvenor Arch

Our destination was Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Our hotel was in Cannonville, UT. The Grand Staircase Inn and Country Store is the only business in the small town. Located 12 miles east of Bryce Canyon, 6 miles north of Kodachrome Basin State Park, and 36 miles west of Escalante it promised to be quiet as well as the perfect location for exploring one the most awesome National Monuments in the country. The weather called for cold nights with temperatures in the low 30s, and daytime temps in the 50s. Every day sunny and clear.

The drive from St. George to Cannonville is only two and half hours. We left on Friday and took the
scenic route through Zion. Saw some bighorn sheep and buffalo. Stopped at Bryce Canyon for a little walk along the rim. Only two hours out from St. George and some differences were already clear. The rim of Bryce Canyon is around 8000 ft above sea level. St. George is 2880. We were wearing shorts when we left St. George, there was snow and ice at Bryce. Also, strangely enough a lot of the hotels, stores, restaurants and gas stations on the way in were closed. There were people around but you could tell from the number of empty spaces in various parking lots that there were a lot less than would be there at peak season. We didn't mind, it was great having the place mostly to ourselves.

Slot Canyons!
After a walk around we headed east and down to Cannonville passing through the town of Tropic. It's a larger town than Cannonville and since it was the only one of the two with restaurants, it was where we'd planned to eat. That flaw in that plan became evident as we noticed all of the restaurants (4 in total) were closed for the season.

Arriving a few minutes later at the Inn, and checking in at the grocery store located beneath the rooms, the cashier confirmed our observations. He also informed us that the grocery store was closed on Sunday. With no restaurants, and only the kind of food stocked in a small town store it became depressing clear that this was not going to be a weekend of good eating. I thought back wistfully to the Hawaiian Poke that folks in St. George would be enjoying.

With peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as our main staple we did however enjoy some excellent hiking over the weekend. Friday afternoon we hiked through the Willis Creek slot canyons. A series of four slot canyons along a mile stretch of the creek, the hike was the perfect start to the weekend.

Calf Creek Falls together!
Saturday we drove east, stopping at the Escalante office of the Grand Staircase Monument. They have some great exhibits there on the local wildlife, and the soil. Yup. The soil. Cryptobiotic soil  is everywhere in the southwest. Composed of lichens, mosses, algae, microfungi, and bacteria that hold things together making the soil crust are like a woven mat. The woven mat then helps control erosion and support other life. Continuing east and dropping down to the Escalante River we stopped at the trail head for the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail.

The Lower Calf Creek Falls trail deserves a blog entry of its own. Coincidentally I have already written that and you can, and should read it! Both S.D. and I have already hiked it, but if you are in the area, it is too beautiful a hike to miss and doing it this time with the most wonderful man in the world made it that much better. We enjoyed our peanut butter and jelly luncheon in a sunny spot by the creek watching the trout swim and dive under the rocks. We saw a few other hikers on the trail, but not so many as you'd expect at such a wonderful place.

Driving home we stopped for gas at the one station that was open but where the 'pump was cold' and so took about 15 minutes to fill the tank.

Under Powell Point

Sunday, the day everything was closed, we packed up another round of PB &Js and drove east again. This time S.D. had suggested that instead of hiking along the bottom of a canyon that we climb up and go for the long views. We chose the "Below the Point" trail. It was an excellent choice, and surprisingly while we had the best views of any hike, we didn't see another soul the entire time.

Monday morning we drove back to St. George. Back to open stores, restaurants, fast gas pumps, sixty-degree temperatures and lots of people. We now know that folks flock to St. George on weekends because not much outside of town is open, but we also know that makes the rest of southern Utah a great place for solitude and hiking...provided you have your own food and housing. The perfect place to be if you had an RV!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Living the dream, how we got here

Another guest blog entry by SD: Silent Dave.

The most common comment we get is still "wow, you're living the dream."   As I explained in a previous post ( it needed some getting used to.  After five months of living on the road I can say we are definitely getting used to it and at the moment we would have serious issues with going back to our previous life style.  Another question we often get is how we did it.  In a couple of entries I'm going to address that one starting with how we got ready for this adventure.
A casual wedding

One of the best things I did was to find (after more than 50 years of looking) a great partner.  It might not be completely necessary to have a great partner, but it sure makes everything better.  KD tells me that on our first date she thought I was trying to scare her away by relating how I would like to get a van and hit the road and how that did just the opposite as she liked the idea.  It took a while to hit the road, eight years or so, but its worked out great.  We had lots of adventures in those eight years, now culminating in the KDT.   We keep looking forward and planning where it will take us next.

Yoga with snowshoes on, I'm not the most
 graceful even with out the winter coat and
snow shoes on! 
Another important aspect to getting ready for this adventure was staying in shape.  I always joked that going to the gym during the week and heading out for bike rides or hikes in New Hampshire was just enough to keep us from dying before we really started our adventure.  Sure we struggled with this and working in sedentary jobs made it tougher.  But it kept us close enough to being in shape that when we did hit the road, after a few weeks of all day activity killing us, now we can hike and bike and not feel like its killing us.  Being in shape, as an old work colleague told me and I completely buy into, means having strength,endurance and flexibility.  Cardio and lifting takes care of the first two, yoga takes care of the last.  In addition to hitting the gym after work I was also lucky to have a yoga class a couple of times a week during lunch hour at work.  It not only kept me flexible, well I'll never be flexible but I'm a lot better than I would have been with out it.  I was fortunate to have a great yoga instructor who keep pushing just enough to keep me getting better the more I practiced.

Additionally staying in shape meant keeping to a good diet, trying to stay away from junk food and all that and eating lots of fish, veggies and fruit.  A good chunk of dead flesh cooked over the grill never hurts either!        

This is what my hips look like now.
And lets hear it for modern medical science too.  Actually without the benefits of great surgeons I wouldn't be here as I was a hurting unit for a while there.  In the two years before hitting the road I had both hips replaced and arthroscopic knee surgery.  I was lucky to have a couple of great surgeons in Beverly who made it possible for me to hit the KDT.

Lastly I'll mention that having some cash also helps.  I've been putting money into retirement accounts, IRA's and the like, since I was in my 20's.  The only retirement I have is from 6 years as a Fed and that almost pays for our health insurance.  Almost.  Fortunately I've made some good investments in mutual funds and bought and sold a few houses over the years that were profitable.  One of the problems that KD foresaw was my thriftiness might be a problem.  But after saving for 40 years I've made the transition, with a little bit of hesitation, to spending.   In a few years I'll be able to collect Social Security, that'll help too.

After all, aren't you supposed to spend your last dollar the day you leave this mortal coil?  I'm working on that.

This is a quick primer on how we keep ready to take the plunge.  Next I'll go into the first phase of taking the plunge.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

St. George Sojourn

Lee's Pass Trail
This Wednesday marks the third week since the Collision. During that time we've been living mostly at the St. George Inn and Suites, sorting out details with GEICO, travel trailer shopping and getting outdoors whenever we have a spare moment.

Somewhere in Snow Canyon

St. George is a pretty nice town. Considering that it's the winter destination for Utah, the climate for October and November is pretty mild. There are even palm trees outside the door of our hotel room. Further down the street, and two blocks west we discovered the Hawaiian Poke Bowl, a Poke restaurant run by a native Hawaiian. Poke is marinated fish served over rice and it is good! It's funny but we've eaten more fish the two weeks we've been in St. George, UT than we did the entire month we were on the Pacific Coast.

Taylor Creek Trail
 GEICO, our insurance company has also been pretty great. Although it seemed like forever to patient folks like S.D. and I, it only took one week for them to approve repairs to the truck and get it in the shop and two weeks for them to settle on the R-POD. During that two weeks we'd been busy researching our next travel trailer so that when they issued the check S.D. and I drove down to Las Vegas to pick it up and the next day drove up to Salt Lake City to put down the deposit on our new home, a Creekside 20FQ. It's a small travel trailer, but it has everything we'd ever want in a home...and it's easily trailerable. Now we're just waiting for the truck to get out of the shop so we can turn in the rental car, check out of the hotel, get our stuff out of storage, drive up to Salt Lake City, pick up the Trailer and head back outside.
Looking down into a slot canyon on the tail to
Observation Point

After six months of living mostly outdoors in wilderness it's been strange to be living inside, and in a town. Luckily it's a town that is surrounded by awesome hikes. Twelve miles west of town in Snow Canyon State Park,a canyon carved from the red and white Navajo sandstone. Trails run along lava flows, up petrified red dunes, and into slot canyons. Thirty miles west is Zion National Park, the park is a busy place but once we were a mile up and into the eight mile hike to Observation Point no less amazing. I last visted Zion in 2006, BD (before Dave) and have apparently been annoying him with its effusive praise ever since. A little bit into the hike S.D. understood, and agreed.

More Snow Canyon awesomeness
But more Zion surprises awaited us both. The North entrance of the Zion National Park leads to Kolob Canyon. Here we hike two other awesome trails. Taylor Creek and Lee's Pass. Taylor Creek is a lovely four mile hike along the creek between canyon walls so red that the light itself has a redish tinge. If that isn't amazing enough, the canyon ends at a huge cave/arch. Lee's Pass is a very long trail of which we only hiked about six miles. This trail also follows a creek but is very different from the Taylor Creek Trail. The creek bed is much wider, the canyon walls neither close nor as steep. But still amazingly beautiful. I never tire of the variations and intricacies of the various microclimates around here.

Word has it that the truck will be out of the shop 'this week'. Hopefully next week we'll be off and exploring new places in Eastern Utah.