Nevada & Utah – June 2022 – Great Basin and Cedar Breaks

Our southbound trip continued with brief visits to two National Park Service units. The first was Great Basin National Park in Nevada.

Great Basin National Park’s claim to fame is Wheeler Peak, a 13,000′ high mountain, as well as Lehman Caves.

We were too early in the day to visit the cave, so we headed up the Wheeler Peak drive. Unfortunately as we got to the 9000′ level the road was closed as there was apparently snow further up. Still we had some nice views.

Our trip south continued into Utah, where we headed up into the mountains for a visit to Cedar Breaks National Monument. In my opinion Cedar Breaks is more worthy of National Park status than Great Basin, as the views were amazing.

Eastern Washington & Oregon – May 2022 – Walla Walla to the Snake River Canyon

Our cold, rainy Memorial Day weekend continued with a visit to one of the best named towns in the country, Walla Walla Washington.

The area around Walla Walla has always been farmed, only in the last few decades it has become known for it’s vineyards.

Further east, at the Idaho/Washington border lie the twin towns of Clarkston, Washington and Lewiston, Idaho. The Snake River south of the towns has an impressive canyon.

Washington Highway 129 leaves Clarkston south towards the Oregon border, which when reached turns into Oregon Highway 3. It is a very cool drive!

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming – May 2022 – Good Morning!

Our road trip worked out that we spent a night in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. On a previous trip to Yellowstone we missed the Grand Prismatic Spring due to lack of parking, so this trip I wanted to rectify that oversight.

To do that we left Jackson at the crack of dawn, meaning we arrived at the Grand Teton National Park just as the sun rose – what a fortuitous break.

The wildlife were just waking up and starting their day as well….

It only takes about an hour to drive through the park with a few stops for photos, but what a beautiful hour.

Colorado National Monument – May 2022 – Exciting Trip Along Rim Rock Drive

Rising over 2000′ above the valley floor along the edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau, the Colorado National Monument provides amazing views along Rim Rock Drive.

This road clings to the edge of the cliff, often without guardrails, with precipitous drop offs all along the 24 mile drive.

It does however have numerous overlooks that provide commanding views.

Western Colorado – May 2022 – Telluride and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Day 3 found us in the western end of Colorado, leaving the town of Cortez in the early morning light. Our primary destination was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, but our route there took us past Telluride.

Colorado Highway 145 took us out of Cortez, and past the town of Dolores, along the Dolores River as it made it’s way up the canyon. The green hills and fields was a dramatic change from the deserts of Monument Valley, just a hundred miles or so behind us.

As we neared the summit of Lizard Head’s Pass, we went through the small town of Rico

The mountains become more dramatic the nearer we got to Telluride.

As we made the turn to go up the valley to Telluride we passed a field of deer.

Telluride is a very exclusive ski community (don’t even ask how much real estate costs in town). They have far less development than other famous ski towns in the west (Aspen, Vail, Jackson Hole), and they like it that way.

After a brief visit we continued on our way, passing more scenic valleys.

After another hour or so we reached the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, near Montrose, Colorado. It is so named because of the steep walls of the canyon prevent sunlight all but 33 minutes of the day in the steepest part.

The Painted Wall is over 2200′ of sheer cliff, the highest in Colorado. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, while not a large park, is impressive.

Eastern Arizona – May 2022 – Leaving Town

At long last it is time for a long road trip. This trip will take 16 days, and go as far north as Montana, always taking the scenic route, providing interesting views for a series of blog postings.

We started out by leaving Tucson on a sunny Friday morning.

Our route took us up Arizona Highway 77 north towards Globe. The route follows the Gila River for a few miles.

Anywhere there is water there is vegetation in the desert, with this view showing an interesting mix of the desert landscape of the saguaros next to the riparian landscape of the riverbank.

As we made our way through Pinal Pass, just south of Globe, we came across a burn area. Nature however is resilient, and the spring flowers are in bloom next to the burnt trees.

At Globe, Arizona 77 merges and runs along with U.S. 60 towards Show Low. About 40 miles northeast of Globe you descend down 2000′ vertical feet into the Salt River Canyon. The drive, and views, are spectacular.

Once the river is reached there are two bridges – the original bridge is an Art Deco masterpiece built in 1934, built as part of the New Deal initiative. It is built in a design known as steel two hinged girder ribbed deck arch.

Today it is a pedestrian only bridge.

The newer bridge, built in 1993 carries the traffic. While not nearly as interesting, they at least added some native symbolism incorporated into it.

Two more views on the north side of the canyon show the dramatic walls, and the river below.

North of Holbrook you go through areas of the Painted Desert. While not as colorful as the areas near the Petrified Forest National Park, it still added interesting views to the drive that lead us to the next posting stop – Canyon De Chelly National Monument.

Huachuca Mountains, Arizona – May 2022 – Dusty Trails

With the acquisition of a high clearance vehicle it was time to hit one of the ‘off pavement’ routes I have been looking forward to, Montezuma Canyon Road through Coronado Pass.

This route took us past Parker Canyon Lake and up to the pass, with an extensive view of the San Pedro River valley and the multi billion dollar boondoggle fence. This route was 24 miles of dirt and gravel road up over the mountain pass, resulting in the dustiest car I have ever had (which of course I forgot to take a photo of before washing)

One of the more interesting features is the riparian desert features of the San Pedro River. Retaining water year round (a bit), you are instantly in a wooded area with huge trees, literally next to the dry grasslands.

The day ended with a beautiful ‘Blood Moon’ lunar eclipse.

Mescal, Arizona – May 2022 – Old West Movie Studio

For many decades when Hollywood wanted to make a Western movie, they came to Arizona, with Tucson alone having over 1500 location credits on IMDB.

About 40 miles east of downtown Tucson is a small dusty town of Mescal. Just north of town, with a perfect backdrop of the Rincon Mountains, is the Mescal Movie Studio.

Originally built in 1968 for the movie Monte Walsh, it was one of the settings for a number of famous movies including Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Tombstone, The Quick and the Dead, as well as many TV shows including Little House on the Prairie.

Over the years it had fallen into disrepair, until recently when a local family purchased it and began restoring it. Each Friday, Saturday and Sunday they are open for tours, which include volunteer actors.

Our docent lead us on a very informative 1 hour tour. While not a fan of western movies in general, the tour, and the history of the place makes this a great stop – far better than the tacky touristy setting of the actual town of Tombstone.

One of the clock faces from the movie The Quick and the Dead – a key to the movie’s plot.

Clifton, Arizona – April 2022 – The Big Pit

The towns of Clifton and Morenci Arizona are home to one of the largest copper mines in the world, having been that way for well over 100 years. Clifton has had booms and busts, leading to an interesting mix of seemingly desolate, but next door to the massive, very active mine.

The train station however has been beautifully restored, offering a view of the houses along the hillside across the tracks.

As you leave town headed north for the Coronado Trail (U.S. 191 – formerly Arizona 666) you reach the mine, completely destroying the mountains.

Fortunately after a couple of miles you leave this behind and arrive to a wonderful 100 miles of nature.