Summer Roadtrip 2018: Oregon to Tacoma

When we woke up the morning after summiting Steens Mountain, Sprocket’s paws were clearly hurting him so I knew that hiking that day was out of the question for us. We retraced our drive back down to the highway and continued north to Frenchglen, the northern terminus of Steens Mountain Road. I explored a little mini-interpretive trail on the edge of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge while Sprocket chilled in the Jeep.

Frenchglen is a tiny little town that is home to the Frenchglen Hotel, an Oregon State Heritage Site and a cute little general store.

As we headed north from Frenchglen, I did a quick jog at the Buena Vista Ponds Overlood and then we headed north to the Refuge Visitor Center. The grounds were so pretty. There were tons of flowers, really helpful docents, a nice lawn, and a lake for bird watching. I did a quick tour and learned that leashed dogs were welcome on the grounds so I went and grabbed Sprocket and my book and we spent some time relaxing together on the lawn.

In Burns, I had lunch while watching some WCWS and then had a beer at Steens Mountain Brewing. Sprockets sore paws didn’t bode well for a summit of Strawberry Mountain the next day so I called my mom and let her know that we’d probably be getting to Tacoma a touch early.

The next day, we headed north and made a stop in Toppinish for a walk around the cute little downtown (I should have had tacos!) and then another walk and internet moment in Yakima before deciding to just push on to Tacoma. Sprocket’s paws were clearly still hurting him and I just felt bad for him.

I have had one too many trips back to Tacoma sitting in traffic through Fife and I decided since we weren’t on a schedule we were doing something different. Highway 410 was closed but instead we passed over Chinook and Cayuse Passes and headed down into Mount Rainier National Park and over into the Nisqually River Valley. As I headed up Highway 410, I wished I hadn’t told my mom I would be there that day; we could totally have gotten up to some hiking in that corridor but she was expecting us that night. When we entered the Park, there was still tons of snow on the ground and after the dry winter Colorado had, it was kind of shocking!

It had been a long time since I’d had a view of the giant rock that is Mount Rainier and ohhhh man did I start to feel the itch to climb The Mountain (yeah, that’s what PNW people call Rainier).

At my mom’s, I ate food and settled in: the fun was over and it was time to get to work.

Small Town Nevada

I decided that there were too many question marks for my liking so Sprocket and I headed out for a nice training hike around the historic town of Belmont.

We summited a few minor peaks around town before dropping down to check out Belmont Courthouse. Unfortunately, I was not there when the Friends of Belmont Courthouse were doing tours, but the work they’ve done to make the building stand for another hundred years was impressive.

After leaving Belmont, we headed north enjoying the scenery. When I reached Kingston, I saw a sign advertising Jack’s Lucky Spur Saloon. Stopping to check it out was an excellent decision: they had Icky and I made some awesome friends who invited me and Sprocket to their house for dinner! Traveling solo(ish) is fantastic sometimes.

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.

Iron County and Kane County Highpoints (UT)

After we left Fish Lake, we headed for Brian Head. Thanks to the long summer days, Sprocket and I had a lot of daylight to play with. We crossed west to US-89 to Panguitch and then onto the very gorgeous UT-143 then up the Forest Service Road to the summit of Brian Head.

Utah had clearly gotten just a little more snow than Colorado but the last lingering snow banks on the way to the summit of Brian Head had already been pushed through leaving Sprocket and I with just a short walk from the parking lot to the true summit of Brian Head, the highpoint of Iron County.

Retracing our path down Brian Head, we headed through Cedar Breaks National Monument. I stopped at the visitor center for a brief visit before continuing down to the highpoint of Kane County.

I wasn’t sure what sort of shape I’d find the road in but it was only a little steep and Ruth XJ made it handily within a quarter mile of the highpoint. Sprocket happily popped out for the short walk to the summit marker.

Quality hiking footwear was used for this forested, not particularly scenic peak:

From the Kane County Highpoint we cruised out to Cedar City and westward!

Sevier County Highpoint: Fish Lake Hightop

This hike kicked my butt. I don’t think it should have been that hard but it was.

Sprocket and I started hiking at Pelican Overlook (where we could totally have stealth camped for free, but, alas).

I tried to stick to my heart rate goals for training and it was taking us a realllllyyyy long time. The canyon wasn’t particularly interesting and just headed up through trees. Somehow, I had missed this key point from the Summit Post page: “Keep heading up the canyon, until you reach a signed junction approximately two miles into the hike. Take a right. Left still goes up to Fish Lake plateau, but goes further west than you want to go.”

That’s the Hightop wayyyy over there:

I definitely went left which lead to a long hike over the top of the plateau. The plateau itself was still pretty evenly covered in 3″ of snow with more in places. Sprocket and I pushed on to the summit area which was covered in boulders in addition to the snow making it slow going for both of us.

We finally made it but that last boulder was a bit much for Sprocket so I left him below me where he made his displeasure very clear. (My mute dog hit some pretty high pitches with that bark-whine.) I signed the trail register, took a selfie and we headed down the hill looking for that elusive right fork…

A look back up at the summit area:

We found it and went on auto pilot for the descent back to the Jeep. Thanks fo the long summer days, we headed on to other goals! Sprocket was tired but he was a champ on our 11+ mile jaunt since it was nice and cool, just like he likes it.

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.