Saturday, June 21
After leaving the TA in Moriarty, NM, I get back on I40. Immediately I see some tall hills rising above the flat terrain and I wonder if the road is going to go around or through them. Very soon I have my answer.
After a long if not very steep climb, Bertha coasts down through the range which is very scenic. Later I looked on Google maps to try to find the name of it, it’s in green like it’s protected in some way, but the name isn’t listed. It’s just east of Albuquerque.
While there is a bit more traffic around Albuquerque, it isn’t bad. After coasting out of the hills I continue to coast all the way to the river valley that the city was built around. It’s been a lot of downhill, which has been nice but that means there must be an equal amount of uphill ahead. Most of the buildings are hidden from view behind those sound dampening walls that get put up around busy highways in residential areas, but I gotta say, Albuquerque has some fun bridges. They’re colored in what I always think of as traditional southwestern colors, that sort of salmon pink and turquoise blue.
After a considerable climb out of the valley, I gaze down upon, finally, what I always think of when I think of desert. West of town there are several broad valleys of yellow sand and few plants. The temperature starts to climb and I keep an eye on both the temperature outside and the temperature of Bertha’s engine, which fluctuates depending on the terrain but doesn’t get close to dangerous levels.
This half of New Mexico is definitely more rugged. Soon the wide valleys become narrower, the bluffs and mesas more pronounced. I stand by my earlier assessment, that this state does have a lot of diversity even though it’s universally dry. The yellow sandstone gives way to orange cliffs which tower off to the north. A sign looms up ahead, “Continental Divide, 1 mile”. I get my camera ready, and there the sign sits, on a rather unassuming hill. The elevation here is 7,275 feet, I’ve done quite a bit of climbing since Texas.
Gallup is the last sizable town before entering Arizona, and I stop there to gas up. The way most RVers take from here is to continue on I40 to Flagstaff and then head north on 89 to get into Utah. But my GPS says getting on 264 and cutting through the Hopi reservation is quicker and less miles. I won’t be able to make it all the way through today, but through the Overnight RV Parking website I discover that the Hopi Cultural Center allows overnight stays for free, and they have a restaurant with native food to boot. I call ahead to confirm, and then steer off the beaten path and onto the two lane road.
The websites say photography is discouraged inside the reservation, so I have no photos of this part of the drive except for my meal at the cultural center.
The drive is interesting, if a bit nerve wracking at times. Shortly after getting on 264 it climbs up into a National Forest which is managed by the tribes called Defiance Plateau. It is in fact a forest, the first one I’ve seen in quite a while. I’m not sure what kind of pine trees these are, but they’re tall and majestic, a sense that is only enhanced by the continued dryness of the area, how do they get so big with so little rain?
There is construction on the road here, the shoulder is non-existent and my lane drops off into deep sand. Every single crack and pot hole has been filled in with tar, but that still doesn’t make a very smooth driving surface and I keep under the speed limit to minimize shaking of the RV. After coasting down off the plateau the road continues to be rough in areas throughout the reservation. I don’t see a single other RV the whole time I’m in here and maybe that’s the reason why. I wouldn’t recommend driving a big rig through here unless you really had things battened down and were willing to put up with the slower speeds to avoid damage.
The rest of the drive is mostly flat but punctuated by sharp drops into canyons followed by steep climbs back out of them. Luckily the descents are marked well so there is time to put Bertha into second gear. The ascents on the other hand aren’t marked, so I found it prudent to keep an eye on the road far ahead to get a running start. The climb up just before the cultural center was the steepest of them, I almost pulled over to rest the engine – it was the hottest it got the whole trip.
My Hopi tostada at the cultural center was tasty, I don’t think it was particularly authentic but the fry bread base was amazing. That night in Cas I puzzle what the music I’m hearing off in the distance is all about, and then it hits me. It’s June 21st, the summer solstice. It could easily be a celebration of some kind.
A couple more hours of driving and I’m out of the reservation and into Tuba City which is surrounded by spectacular red cliffs which I can now safely photograph. Another quick gas stop and 264 meets up with 89 and I find the RV traffic again and some interesting geological features.
There are badlands here, the generic non pronoun use of the word. The features are the same as where I worked last summer, but the ones here are smaller and more spread out. There’s still a good bit of color to them though, reds, light and dark grays, and deep yellows. A bit farther north, the badlands end and are replaced by more regular sand dunes on the left, and a towering wall of red cliffs lines the right, it’s very scenic. There are signs to turn off for the Grand Canyon, but that’s not the direction I’m headed. I keep right and soon climb over a low spot in those cliffs and then start dropping down into Page, and eventually, Glen Canyon.
Glen Canyon is home to Lake Powell, a spot I could have worked at last summer. A bridge crosses the water, and between tourists and wire grating I spy the blue water down below. It’s not a great photo opportunity, but a bit farther on I pull over to get a picture. The contrast between the water and the cliffs is amazing. Seeing any sizable body of water out here is amazing in fact, and my eyes drink in the sight.
Finally, I’m in Utah. After Glen Canyon Recreation Area ends, the Grand Staircase – Escalante national something-or-other (monument maybe?) begins. I pull over at a historic marker, the old Paria movie site, and have lunch in a valley surrounded by cliffs and mesas such a deep red the almost look purple.
I could make it all the way to Zion today, but I’m not due in until tomorrow, so I stop less than an hour away in Kanab, UT for the night so I can get a shower and look more presentable when I arrive. The Hitch-N-Post RV park has exactly one RV spot left when I arrive, talk about timing. And what’s more, it’s right next to another Casita!
Naturally, we get to talking. Sharon is retired and traveling alone on her maiden voyage in her little 13′ Patriot, it looks so shiny and new compared to Cas, haha. She’s having a great time and scouting out volunteer opportunities for next year. Also in the park is Steven, a solo full-timer who came out here to work at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. It sits on over 3,000 acres, houses 1,700 animals, and is the largest no-kill shelter in the country. Their adoption rate is phenomenal, something like 96%, it’s been on TV before.
This is is, the day of truth. Like all of the seasonal jobs I’ve held I’ve never laid eyes on the place before arriving. North of Kanab lies an impressive wall of buttes which I’ll have to climb to get to Zion Mountain Ranch. Zion National Park has two main entrances, one to the south which sits at a lower elevation, and the east entrance, the one I’ll be at, sits on top of the pleateau.
The drive from Kanab is gorgeous and I spot several places I’ll want to drive back to once I’m not towing Cas to take pictures. The stream bed the road parallels for the first part of the drive is not completely dry, and in places pools of green water sit right below red cliff faces. A lot of the rock here has unique swirling patterns in it that I’ve never seen before. There are also deciduous trees along the drive, sheltered from the harsh sun by the rock walls on either side.
Higher up is another strand of tall pines like I saw back on the Hopi reservation. There’s a turn off for a State Park called Coral Pink Sand Dunes, definitely going to have to check that out. Then the road dips for a while into another canyon, this one predominated by more yellow rock. Finally it climbs again onto a plateau with desert brush with stunted trees, and the trees open up into a large grassy field with..wait, is that really? Yes, a buffalo herd lounging near the road. A corral with horses sit next to the parking lot, and a chicken guards the door to the building with the sign overhead: “Zion Mountain Ranch”.
But, it turns out to not be the place where I’m working. Zion Mountain Ranch encompasses something like 12,000 acres, and while it’s all part of one complex, the Trading Post is two more miles down the road.
I’m rather glad I’m working at the Trading Post instead. As the road approaches the park entrance, majestic bluffs rise up to frame a narrow valley in which it and the campground lies. The view from the campground brings a big smile to my face, it’s even got some shade, something I wasn’t expecting in a region as arid as this. Towards the park, taller peaks reach up into the sky. This will be home for the next three months, and I’m very excited.