Nevada Is Weird, and I Love It

When school was out for summer, I loaded up Sprocket and all of our gear (and a lot of tools, but more on that later) and we headed for Washington State. The really long way—through Nevada. After leaving Mountain Meadows, I’d planned to hike Washington County, Utah’s highest point, Signal Peak but after our effort on Fish Lake Hightop, I opted to leave it for another time. Instead, I headed west on a dirt road and camped just before crossing the Nevada line.

After a lovely night of listening to coyotes howl just far enough away from camp to be restful, we packed up camp and headed for Nevada. A quick stop for gas in Panaca and then I continued south to Caliente. I had breakfast at a little restaurant called Side Track that had just opened. The décor was adorable, the service was fantastic, and my food was good (and cheap!).

I was kind of in wander mode, so after breakfast and a walk around the historic railroad depot, it was time to wander west again.

I stopped at Oak Springs Trilobite Site and we walked out to the site but it was too hot for me to want to spend much time actually looking for a trilobite fossil. The walking path was really nice though so it was a good stretch for both Sprocket and me.

At Crystal Springs, I continued onto NV-375, The Extraterrestrial Highway. Since I was there, I stopped at the Alien Research Center just off the highway. I wasn’t really into buying alien souvenirs and I’d kinda hoped for some displays of “research” so I didn’t stick around too long.

In Rachel, I couldn’t help but stop for a beer at the Little A’Li’Inn. Again, my server was wonderful and we talked a lot about my road trip. An older woman, she seemed to delight in the idea that I had time to just wander and do what I wanted.

I made a quick gas and leg stretch stop in Tonopah and then continued north to Manhattan. I stopped for a beer and chatted with the locals there who told me that the campground at Belmont was free. I was really on the fence about the Jeep’s ability to do the Mount Jefferson road (and for the ridge to be free enough of snow) and Sprocket’s ability to do the hike if we had to hike from further down the road but I headed that way anyway.

 

The campsite was so perfect! I was really glad that we decided to make camp there. Thunder threatened in the distance but we pretty much stayed out of the storm for a lovely night’s sleep.

Summer Roadtrip Kickoff: Capitol Reef NP

When school is out, I head out of town. I did it in 2015 with Amanda for an epic Utah and Colorado road trip in Francis Sally Jeep. I begged off work for a couple days in 2016 to acknowledge the beginning of summer. In 2017, I drove to OKC for the Women’s College World Series and had some fun along the way.

This year, I piloted Ruth XJ towards Tacoma to tackle a flooring project for my mom. Since my house is completed, it was time to take care of some family duties. But first: ROADTRIP.

As I planned my route, I had an eye to hitting up some county highpoints. In the interest of expediency, I headed north through Grand Junction before merging onto I-70 and heading west … into a giant rainstorm.

Initially, I’d hoped to hike the Sevier County Highpoint on my departure day but the considering that I could see that weather system had deposited snow at elevations >10,000′, I took full advantage of the fact that I had lots of latitude to do whatever the hell I wanted to. Instead of taking the Forest Service Road cut off from UT-72 to Fish Lake, I continued south to Loa figuring I’d find a coffee shop or something to hang out in before going to make camp. I didn’t really see anything that was striking my fancy.

On top of that, when I hiked the Garfield County, Utah highpoint, Mount Ellen, I’d found myself drawn west to do the highpoint of Wayne County, Boulder Top (sometimes known as Bluebell Knoll), which left me with an eight mile stretch of UT-24 to my west I hadn’t driven. I hate leaving orphan road segments. 

When I’d done Boulder Top, I’d passed through Capitol Reef but not done any exploring so I pointed Ruth east to catch the orphan Loa-Bicknell segment and then cruised on into the Capitol Reef Visitors Center for a little visit. Storms threatened all around but that meant the weather was cool enough for me to leave Sprocket in the car for a little trail run.

I headed up Cohab Canyon for a short adventure. I’d missed the desert. Before I’d left Ridgway, I’d been trying to get out for runs and get in better shape but the going was slow. Instead of fretting about it I soaked in the red rock awesomeness.

After my trail run (or hike or whatever), I headed to Fish Lake. I briefly entertained the idea of having dinner in the adorable vintage lodge but the menu didn’t look particularly alluring (and if I’m totally honest, Utah’s revenge of no liquor license didn’t help) so I headed out to find a camp site.

Word to the wise: the entire Fish Lake area is camping in campgrounds only. I toyed with driving far enough up the basin or back out of the basin far enough to find dispersed camping but instead I decided to suck it up and pay.

It’d been quite awhile since I’d pitched the tent and I think Sprocket had kind of forgotten how cozy it can be.

Thanksgiving 2017: Tombstone & Bisbee, Arizona

My original plan for Thanksgiving was to head down through western New Mexico and do a few hikes but as home building would demand, I had to make a return at IKEA in Phoenix before Sprocket and I had an empty RuthXJ to adventure in. So, after braving the Saturday morning return line, we took off for southeastern Arizona. My plan for Sunday was to hike Chiricahua Peak but that left us with ample time to explore the rest of the day.

I was a terrible blogger who is out of practice at taking photos but we did some touristing in Tombstone and Bisbee. We struggled a bit in Tombstone because it seemed that all there was to do was tourist but I was pleased to discover that Tombstone Brewing has some pretty solid beers and that Bisbee is adorable.

Beth Lakin on the road

WCWS Roadtrip: Santa Fe, New Mexico

After I finished up in Los Alamos, I made the short drive down to Santa Fe. It was really hot so it was clear that this was going to need to be a dog friendly adventure (aren’t they all?) but fortunately Santa Fe was super welcoming. I’m always a bit hesitant about walking into shops with Sprocket but honestly? no one has complained yet. (He usually just lays down and goes to sleep.)

I’ve passed through Santa Fe before but I’d never just wandered around the Plaza. The park in the middle was really pretty and I loved the old architecture. Unfortunately, I’m not super excited about either turquoise jewelry (or really any jewelry) or Native American art so most of the shops didn’t really strike my fancy.

We wandered up to the area around the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral but I was afraid to go inside with Sprocket. (Yes, I appreciated the irony even in the moment.)

Next we explored a side street sort of randomly. I didn’t particularly have a game plan for this adventure so we were just wandering! Fortunately, it took me to the oldest church structure in the USA and the oldest house in the US!

While I was looking for a place to eat lunch with a patio and some good New Mexican food, I stumbled across 109 East Palace, the Santa Fe base of the Manhattan Project where arrivals visited before heading up “The Hill” to Los Alamos.

It took a little deciding but I finally sat down for lunch at La Casa Sena. Sprocket and I were treated excellently, I greatly enjoyed my jalapeño-cucumber margarita and my lunch was fantastic. It was nice to sit in the cool patio and enjoy my book!

I was really drained after lunch. I’m not sure if it was the heat, the driving, or just the residual school year catching up with me but when we headed up into the mountains near town to find a camping spot, I promptly climbed in the back of the Jeep about 4:30pm and fell asleep. I managed to rouse myself about 8pm to take Sprocket for a walk and went back to sleep for the night. I guess I needed a vacation or something, ha!

Arizona County Highpoint: Greenlee County

Arizona, overall, has a pretty high caliber of county highpoints. Thirteen of the fifteen highpoints are summits higher than 7000′ and of those two below 7000′ one is Signal Peak, one of my absolute favorite hikes ever. Few of the highpoints are not either a striking peak or a prominent rim point with a great view (Black Mesa, Myrtle Point). Unfortunately, Greenlee County Highpoint, is not one of those.

After climbing up twisty US 191 from Alpine and passing through Hannigan Meadows, I pulled off into a small, unmaintained Forest Service road. We just got away from the road, and hiked up the track climbing over a not-insignificant amount of deadfall. Then we left the track and bushwacked our way to the small knob of a highpoint.

In this photo, Sprocket is looking at the highpoint cairn like, “Really? This is it?”

After our little highpoint adventure, we continued south on 191; if you’ve ever looked at the road on the map it is twisty. We stopped to check out a view point known as “Blue Vista” before heading down the tight curves of the rest of the road. The highway mostly stayed close to the ridgecrest as we traveled south and stayed above 7000′ most of the time before dropping down sharply at Morenci, home to a heartbreaking open pit mine (I’m not going to make you see photos because our lives already have enough sadness these days).

Colorado County Highpoints: Northern Plains

After saying goodbye to Bart, Leigh, and Boone, Sprocket and I headed north from Burlington making our way to Yuma, Colorado. There was snow on the roads but it wasn’t icy (or as it would be later slushy).

Normally, one would be able to pretty much drive right to the Phillips County highpoint but the north-south road was drifted with about 4-8″ of snow so Sprocket and I jaunted north from the intersection just to the south.

After Phillips County, it was just a short drive to Sedgewick County with its short hike out to the highpoint. There was some pretty deep drifted snow on the way out past the abandoned barn but after that the going was fairly easy and the snow was already starting to melt rapidly!

We made our way north into Nebraska, grabbing lunch in Sidney, before making our way to Colorado’s Logan County highpoint. By the time we arrived, the snow was almost gone!

We tried to visit Panorama Point but unfortunately the snow was really drifted on the last mile to Nebraska’s highpoint. I wanted to drive all the way home that night so I was aware of time constraints, plus the landowner’s sign warned that because of bison in the area hiking wasn’t allowed.

Instead, we headed south through Pawnee National Grassland to Shannon Benchmark, the highpoint of Morgan County. On our way out to the highpoint, Sprocket was reminded of his hatred for prickly pear. (He used to almost refuse to walk across the field of the Log Hill property.)

I briefly debated spending another night in the area and trying to arrange a visit to the Terry Bison farm for the next day but after the blizzard adventure, I decided to put it off for another time but in the space of three days (including one mostly weathered out!) I’d added 9 Colorado County Highpoints to my total bringing me to 45 of 64 (70.3%)!

P.S. Ruth was the best ever: we had a tank of gas going over the mountains where we got 30mpg! (XJs love 45 mph and elevation; there’s a reason we make a good team.) I can’t imagine a better vehicle for someone with a county highpoint hobby.

Colorado County Highpoints: South End of the Plains

Last December, I headed to the central plains to collect a few more highpoints before the end of 2015. As I start to think about attempting to finish the Colorado County High Point list before the end of 2016, I really wanted to finish out the plains highpoints. Sprocket and I started out our loop with the southern most points of the plains.

Appreciating the plains points takes a little bit of extra attention. I studied the cholla and the yucca plants. I poked around small towns and stopped at view points and informational markers:

The highways were lonely and many of the dirt roads were even lonelier.

Ruth even summited a couple of the highpoints along with Sprocket and I:

My ascent of Two Buttes (Prowers County HP, 4711′) came on Day 2 in some crazy winds: sustained 24mph with 51mph gusts at the time of my hike kicking up white caps on Two Buttes Reservoir. We were there, though, and it was only about 400′ of ascent to the summit so Sprocket and I decided to tough it out and get ourselves to the top.

XJ Cherokee: Sleeping Platform

Last summer while we were traveling around in Francis I never bothered to make a sleeping platform. The FSJ has a really ample cargo area once the seat is removed so it never really became a high priority for me (also, my living situation last year never really was conducive to building one). When I brought Ruth home, I knew that I would need to build a platform in order to have well organized road trips. The platform didn’t get built before my Thanksgiving trip to Arizona but that mostly just proved that a platform would be key to being happy—packages of bagels rolling around on the passenger floorboards and weird lumpy unlevel futons are cool for a couple of days but SP and I sleep in the Jeep often enough to justify something better.

The first iteration of XJ platform I used was on my first big US road trip in 2010. F and I made it out of 3/4″ sanded plywood. We didn’t want it to sag or be unstable but we later realized that we’d way over built it. F passed along to me some measurements for a more streamlined platform out of 5/8″ OSB. His new version had made some cool improvements that increased access underneath the forward part of the platform and I decided to mostly copy his plan.

I picked up a sheet of 1/2″ OSB and had it cut to length in the store (Lowes and Home Depot will both do this for you) as well as twelve 1 1/2″ L-brackets (they came in packages of 4). Back at home, I cut the remainder into supports: three lengthwise supports and a cross-brace for the front. I rough fit everything together inside the jeep to confirm placement before screwing things together. I decided to trim the back corners to 45-degrees for ease of reaching things that might fall to the sides of the platform and to nestle the platform as far back against the tailgate as possible. (I’ve got long legs and drive with the seat just one click forward from all the way back.)

Test fitting
Redneck sawhorses

I decided to leave the plastic trim at the bottom of the tailgate opening on, although in the original and F’s recent version, it was removed for ease of removing plastic storage containers. (I can always decide to remove mine later if I decide.) My outer supports rest right against the base of the wheel wells and the middle support is aligned with the tailgate latch. The front cross member is centered and rests on the narrow lip that the front of the back seat bottom rests on.

Everything was assembled with the L-brackets and put back into the Jeep to check for fit. Once I confirmed everything was in the right spot, I took the platform out one more time and used my angle grinder to remove the points of the screws that were protruding. Coats and sleeping bags don’t play very well with sharp pointy things so it’s time well spent.

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The platform only took me a couple of hours to build and really affordable:

◊ 1 sheet 1/2″ OSB: ~$10

◊ 4 packages of 4ct. 2 1/2″ L-brackets (the Stanley ones I got included screws): $13.27

Platform total: <$25!

(I also bought four plastic totes from Home Depot to organize my storage for another $20)

Depending on your desires you could purchase thicker OSB or even plywood if you desire a smoother surface. I’m going to test this out for the summer and see how it goes, the rough surface might wind up collecting more Sprocket dirt than I want but if I change my mind, I can disassemble this and reuse my brackets so it’ll be a good experiment.

Sprocket says “Thank you, Mom.”

Arizona: Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Traveling south from Canyon de Chelly, I stopped at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. Located in Ganado, the Trading Post is still “operational” selling sundries in addition to visitors center like merchandise.

I poked around in the rug room and browsed the trading post, picking up few jars of salsa and jam for myself and a handful of small trinkets for Christmas gifts.

The visitors center was closed for lunch so I spend some time wandering the grounds checking out the sheep, the fowl, the bread oven, and poking around.

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When the visitor center reopened, I paid my $2 to take a tour of the Hubbell residence. I didn’t take any photos inside but I found the house really compelling. It passed directly from the family to the Park Service so the furnishings are all original to the house and they even have the family china! It was just me on the tour so it was really informal but my guide was great and I really enjoyed it. (I was even a bit inspired by the hallway-less design of the house!)

Arizona: Southward Bound!

One of the bonuses of being a teacher is that a lot of school districts seem to have gone to week long Thanksgiving Breaks! This actually makes a lot of sense considering the number of families that travel for the holiday and missed some school anyway. Last year I took advantage of the break by spending some time in Denver and then flying to Connecticut to celebrate Lucy and Franz’s wedding. This year, I decided to return to an infant holiday tradition and go to Arizona to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with a dear friend from high school who had been kind enough to invite me to Thanksgiving in 2012 and 2013. I think she’s stuck with me now. 🙂

Thursday after school, Sprocket and I hopped in Ruth, made a quick stop at the gas station and headed out of town. I decided to take advantage of the long stretch of driving to run a fuel mileage test at about 55 mph so we weren’t making great time but I wasn’t worried about it at all; we were cruising down the highway listening to podcasts and simply enjoying the freedom of the open road.

I’d hoped to make it all the way down to Kayenta that night but I’d gotten a start about an hour later than I’d hoped plus it’s amazing what a difference driving 55mph for 200 miles compared to 70mph makes. (I think I drove about 40 from Monticello to Blanding…holy deer everywhere on the side of the road!) We made camp along the San Juan River knowing that it would be more difficult to find a good place to camp once we crossed the bridge onto the Navajo Reservation.

In the morning, we got our start just before the sun crested over the buttes to the east. It was lovely to cruise along watching the desert become fully light.

Originally, I’d planned to take the standard route to Flagstaff via Kayenta but, seizing the luxury of traveling alone with no real schedule, I decided to take US-191 south to Chinle and visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I’d passed right by the monument in 2013 but it just so happened to be during the government shutdown so even though the park is run as a partnership with the Navajo Nation it was no dice on visiting.

Roadtrips are my absolute favorite. I almost didn’t take this one to try and save some money but I am so glad I did and I’m excited to share stories of the adventure with you all.