Mountains, canyons and desert… Oh my!

Every year, except last year, for our anniversary trip we take off and go camping somewhere. It’s our way of truly getting away and relaxing. We typically don’t have electricity, plumbing or a cellphone signal, so we can really disconnect and just be together.

This year we have our 15 year old black lab, Chase, with us, so we are modifying our typical backpacking for an off-the-grid yurt in the middle of nowhere Utah. That way Chase can relax in the yurt comfortably while we head out for some hiking and mountain biking in Moab and the Canyonlands areas.

Day One:
Before we got on the road, we checked on the status of highway 70 that we will be taking to Utah. There was a 15 mile stretch outside of Palisades, CO that had shut down as of Friday morning because of a wildfire in the area. We debated canceling our trip, but decided to make it to the hotel we had booked in Rifle, CO which was about 45 east of Palisades. We figured if we couldn’t get past the fire we could always just stay in the area, there was plenty of mountain biking to be had.

We always stay at LaQuinta when we travel with Chase as they are everywhere and they all allow pets with no additional fee! They are typically clean, have free internet access and breakfast and they are usually fairly quiet.

Day Two:
Unfortunately the ‘quiet’ part was not to be this stay at La Quinta. Around 3 am we were awaken by a loud scream and then a bunch of moaning. Kelly thought the neighbors in the next room were getting frisky, but soon the moaning turned into periodic moanings of “ow” and “help”. Todd got up and looked through the peephole on the door and reported back that there was a naked woman rolled up in a ball in the hallway. Turns out she was wearing a flesh colored nightgown, but it was definitely a bit of a Psycho/Norman Bates moment. After several unsuccessful attempts at contacting the front desk we decided to call 911. We were not sure if the woman in the hallway was having a mental issue or alcohol or drug induced issues, so we played it safe and stayed in the room until the 911 operator informed us that the officer had arrived. At that point we headed out into the hallway to coax the woman to the main lobby. It turned out to be a woman in her 60s that appeared to be suffering from Alzheimer’s. She readily went with us to the lobby and officers took over from there. It was sad watching her as she answered “I don’t know” to all their questions except her first name – Barbara. We were sent back to our room after we gave the officers our contact information and as we tried to go back to sleep, we found ourselves sleepless with questions running through our minds. How did Barbara get to a La Quinta by herself? Did she have any family ? What would police do with her ? Would someone help us if we ever go through that? It made us grateful that none of our family members had ever gone through anything like that.

Needless to say we slept in. We checked road conditions again and were reassured to find that 70 was now open again and the wildfire had move away from the area we were going to drive through.

We made it past Palisades without much ado. You could see the smoke from the fire a couple miles off the highway and at one point a helicopter carrying water flew over us, heading for the smoking horizon.

To Todd’s delight, we stopped for lunch at Subway outside of Palisades and then recalled that area was known for its wineries and meaderies. So naturally we had to try a bit of the local vintages. We only made one stop at Graystone winery. We weren’t expecting much, but they had surprisingly good port. We bought a bottle and continued on.

We made it to Utah! We haven’t been to Utah together yet, so this gets us to 37 states together in the last 8 years! Not bad, only 13 more to go.

We decided to go ahead and pull off and see Arches National Park. Since old man Chase was in the car with us, we had to limit our tour to what we could see out the car window. Chase is a bit past his long hiking days and it was a scorching 104 degrees outside – not good conditions for the old man to go wandering about. We snapped a few pictures of the red rocks and towering arches and moved on. This was definitely not our usual way of seeing a National Park, but we plan to come back on Monday when there are hopefully less people and do some hiking while Chase relaxes back at the yurt. Now we have a better idea of what we want to come back and explore further.

We made it to our home for the next four days! Our yurt is awesome! It even came with a girlfriend for Chase! A couple of the children from the place up the road came by to say hello and their dog, Shilo, acts like the yurt is hers. Good thing she is a female and Chase doesn’t seem to mind 🙂

We made a meal out of the remaining perishables that we brought from home. Fresh Colorado cheese, black bean hummus and a big salad made for a delicious meal. We set up some chairs on the patio, enjoyed the feast and relaxed as Shilo and Chase alternated begging for food and sniffing each other. This is the life!

It’s sooooo quiet and we have a hummingbird that keeps circling, expecting us to come up with something to feed it.

Now the big decision is to head into town for a few groceries or finish off the wine…..we shall consult the magic 8 ball on our iPhones….

Day three:
It cooled off during the night, so it was tempting to sleep in and enjoy the snuggly warm bed – so we did and got a bit of a late start to the day. We got on the road around noon and headed to Canyonlands National Park. We were surprised to find the entrance gate unattended, so we swung by the visitors building to pay our entrance fee. We are pretty sure we could have gotten away without paying it, but we both love the National Parks and support them whenever we get the chance. Apparently this is the off season as it was almost deserted ( not a lot of crazy people like us that want to hike in the heat!)

The drive in was absolutely beautiful with rock formations and towering canyon walls all around us. We ate a quick lunch of apples and beef jerky, loaded up our water and headed out for the afternoon.

The 8.5 mile hike proved to be even more amazing as we scaled the alien rock formations and scampered in and out of canyons. We hiked across windy meadows filled with desert grass and along dried out creeks, all the while surrounded by the Needles (rock formations that really look more like fingers or mushrooms than needles). Along the way we met a multitude if lizards, a few birds and a handful of people coming back. Apparently we were the only ones hiking out this late in the afternoon but we actually enjoyed the heat and the solitude.

We finished up the hike a bit tired, so tonight we’ll be taking it easy with a nice shower followed by a cold beer on the deck with Chase.

Day Four:
Today was a triathlon day of mountain biking, hiking and site seeing! We got up relatively early so we could make it to Moab so Todd could get a bit of work done before we headed out for some mountain biking. Years ago this used to be a point of contention between Kelly and Todd and one of the main reasons we started the camping trip for our Anniversary. As long as Todd has a cell phone signal, he will be working. Even if it’s just a few phone calls here and there. Kelly has accepted that part of Todd and now just documents with photographs Todd’s workaholic tendencies.

After the initial calls were done (they continued throughout the day), we headed to a local bike store to get Todd some bike shorts (he had neglected to pack some ). We asked the sales people for suggestions of easy mountain biking trails, since it has been over a year since we have done serious off-road riding. They made what turned out to be a perfect suggestion to the Moab Brand mountain biking area. It was a mish-mash of trails with everything from beginner to advanced and you could mix it up and do a little of each. We were over zealous and jumped on an intermediate trail right off the bat. It wasn’t too bad and we surprised ourselves with how well we did, but at the first opportunity we had we jumped onto the easy trail.

When it comes to mountain biking Kelly has the balance and agility to do some of the technical riding, but she absolutely hates going uphill. Todd, on the other hand attacks things like a elephant bull charging through the jungle – he makes his own trails and just keeps going and going. It’s usually hard for us to find trails that we both thoroughly enjoy, but this one was on the mark. We got in a couple miles (and Todd even managed to fit in a work call) and we were off to part two and three of our tri.

We headed back to Arches National Park where we skipped over what we had already seen and headed out to the mix of arches that are further north. We hiked a couple trails, did the scenic outlooks and are coming home with some beautiful pictures.

Around 4pm we finally headed for “lunch”. With all the things we had packed into our day we forgot to eat. So we stopped in Moab for a bite (Kelly vetoed another trip to Subway) and then headed to the Spanish Valley vineyard. We have a tradition of buying a bottle of local wine in whatever state (or country) we spend our anniversary. Then we save it and drink it the following year on our anniversary. This year we have a Mississippi wine we will be breaking open on the 4th. We picked out fancy Utah Gewürztraminer for next year and a couple more for the rest of our trip.

After we finished with the vineyard we headed to the world famous “Hole in the Rock”. At least that was the official status according to a sign painted on the side of the rock. No, we had never heard of it either, but apparently someone in the 1940s built a 5000 sq/ft house and diner into a hole in a rock along the highway. It is quite the destination back in Moab’s uranium mining heyday. You can tour the house for $6, check out the zoo with the albino raccoon, and see all kinds of junk that has been turned into “art”. We just did a quick look around and took some pictures and headed on our way. It’s one of those pieces of Americana that you have to see just to experience the total cheesiness of this amazing country. Missing out on the Hole-in-the-Wall would be like the skipping the world’s biggest ball of stamps, Wall Drug and the Corn Palace . Yes, we have proudly seen each of those amazing tourist attractions 🙂

Somewhere in our drives today we got a call (and yes Todd answered it) from the LaQuinta we stayed at Friday night. Apparently the manager had noted that we were coming back to stay tomorrow night and in an apology for our experience during our last stay (not that it was their fault) she has offered to comp and upgrade our room tomorrow night! So not only are we staying for free but we get to stay in a suite (I know that you are all jealous of our LaQuinta suite). We thanked her and inquired about the status of Barbara. Turns out after a trip to the hospital, they got her back on her meds and she showed back up at the LaQuinta to pick up her belongings and drove off. We really hope there is someone out there that will be taking care of her whenever she gets to where she is headed.

We are finishing up our day by packing and enjoying the last of our time at the yurt by relaxing on the porch. Tomorrow we head back to Colorado. Utah is such a pretty and vastly different state. We have enjoyed our time here and look forward to coming back.

Day Five:
It was with great sadness that we started the day by packing, cleaning and saying good bye to the yurt. We really enjoyed our stay! It was so close to camping and it provided Chase with more protection from the elements while we were away. It was a great compromise and we have even discussed building a yurt of our own, if we ever settle down somewhere long enough to enjoy it 🙂

We got everything in the car and headed for Colorado. The plan was to make it to Rifle, CO where we will be enjoying our free hotel room.

The only stop we made was to check out Matrimony Springs. It is a natural spring that is a source of water to residents in the area. We read several versions of why it is called matrimony springs… some stories relate that if you drink from it you become married to Moab and will find yourself coming back. Others state that if you drink from it you would experience eternal marital bliss. With our anniversary being tomorrow we thought it would be appropriate to stop and take a swig :). We are hoping for the eternal marital bliss !

After filling a water bottle to drink to our marital success, we spent the next several hours driving through miles of emptiness. We finally arrived back the same LaQuinta, checked in, enjoyed a hot shower, got Chase situated and decided that we had enough daylight left to head for Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs.

It was a 30 minute drive and then a 1.2 mile hike, uphill!!! And it was a very steep hill. Did we mention earlier how much Kelly hates going uphill? They were nice enough to build steps into the trail, but that didn’t make it any less daunting. From what we read it’s a 1000 ft vertical gain over that 1.2 miles. Luckily it is a heavily traveled tourist attraction and the trail was only wide enough for one person in most places. So Kelly was all too glad to stop and rest while the downhill traffic filed by. Todd was gracious and waited with her.

When we finally made it to the top we were duly rewarded with what has to be one of the prettiest and clearest lakes we have ever seen. Todd has rated this the second most beautiful thing he has seen in Colorado (Kelly is, of course, the first).

There are several waterfalls that spill down into Hanging Lake and then the lake tumbles over the edge of the canyon, falling several hundred more feet into a creek that runs along the trail we had been hiking up. To get to the source of the waterfalls, you can continue up a little bit further (less than 1/4 mile) and see Spouting Rock. The rock was indeed spouting water as there was water literally shooting out of a hole in the side of a cliff that feeds water into Hanging Lake.

We sat and enjoyed the view and the cooler temperatures provided by the mist from Spouting Rock. Neither of us brought our cell phones, so you will have to wait until we get home and download the photos from our camera to see the views of this amazing area.
The walk downhill was more fun for Kelly and she was gracious enough to wait on Todd who is not quite as graceful when it come to going downhill. Once again our physical approaches to life were apparent – with Kelly nimbly scampering down the trail and Todd watching his footing a little more, trying to keep up without twisting an ankle on a wayward rock. While Kelly raced around anyone that dared get in her way, Todd was a little more patient, cautious and willing to slow down for other hikers. We both sprinted the last few downhill feet of the trail like crazy people with our arms flailing wildly. Definitely more fun going downhill!

The rest of our evening included dinner at the only non-fast food restaurant in town (a BBQ place) and a quick dip in the pool/hottub.

It’s been a great vacation and we are looking forward to celebrating our anniversary tomorrow even though it looks like there will be no fireworks :(. Due to the wildfires in Colorado they have canceled almost all public firework shows. We will just have to find something else to do!

Day Six:
We drove through the mountains – Todd obeyed the speed limit to a reasonable degree and then when Kelly drove (at Todd’s request), he closed his eyes and grabbed the door handle with a white- knuckled-death-grip, said a few prayers to the flying spaghetti monster and hoped for a safe arrival in Denver. This is our typical arrangement driving in the mountains, so Kelly is at a loss as to an explanation for Todd’s whining.

In case you haven’t guessed, Kelly likes to go fast. Especially downhill. And uphill(when she isn’t physically propelling herself uphill). And where there are no hills. She just likes to go fast anywhere.

We did make it home ( in record time), cleaned ourselves up, took a nap and mow we’re awaiting the fireworks, sipping a fine bottle of Mississippi muscadine wine while Kelly is showing off her glamourous anniversary jewelry (see picture below).

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One Response to Mountains, canyons and desert… Oh my!

  1. Altha Haba says:

    Todd, Kelly, & Chase,
    Enjoyed reading your description of your activities. Chase, don’t let that female lead you astray! That must have been frighting to hear that woman in the hallway. Wow! I had the same questions that you had. I pray that my Heavenly Father will take me on home before He allows me to go through that. I saw enough of that with Bill McRae and what his wife went through. It was so sad!
    Looking forward to more pictures as well as the narration along with it.
    Be safe and know you all are thought about quite often.
    Love , Mom

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