Southern Utah

Heber City, UT to Alpine, AZ is more than a one day drive when hauling The Beast, so I broke up that leg of the journey by stopping, for no other reason, in Blanding, UT. And, a bit out of the norm, I decided to stop for 2 nights. Good call.

Blanding is in southeast Utah, not far from the Four Corners state line convergence. It’s mostly desert and red rocks, but there is a snow capped mountain not too far away.


First stop today was at Goosenecks State Park. Spectacular views of the canyon cut by the San Juan River:


As noted on the plaque, the top of the canyon is 1000 feet above the river. So my question is: which of these rocks will be next to fall into the abyss below? And when? 100 years? A thousand?IMG_5245

When you get down to the level of the river, it’s a big ole muddy thang.


Next up was Monument Valley, which I thought was a National Park, but no. It is part of the Navajo Reservation, so it does have federal protection. The scenery is just amazing.


South of Blanding is a little town called Bluff, very aptly named. It’s down in a canyon with bluffs rising up from the road.


I especially got a kick out of their “welcome to Bluff” sign, which indicated it was established in 650 AD.

There’s another formation in the area called Mexican Hat, for obvious reasons.


I don’t know what claim to fame Blanding may make, but ya gotta love a town that has a combination gas station/convenience store/A&W Root Beer stand (with drive-thru)/bowling alley.


And the bowling alley is legit. Six lanes or so, nice looking. Is this a great country or what?



Badlands, Jr.

Here in western North Dakota is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is where TR came to escape his grief upon the death of his mother and his wife in the same house on the same day. He ultimately ran a cattle ranch out here.


As a rancher, old Teddy didn’t put up with no crap.


They call this area the Badlands also, but it’s not as bad as the South Dakota Badlands. For one thing, there’s a decent river that runs through this park, ergo much more in the way of trees and greenery. Plus, the wildlife here seems more abundant.



Those wascally prairie dogs: you can’t stop ’em, you can only hope to contain ’em. And, the buffalo were definitely roaming today:

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Even though these might better be referred to as the lower case b-adlands, the scenery is still pretty darn stunning.


Saturday I drove over to see some truly iconic scenery


Looks like they had some snow the night before, although the altitude there is only about 5000′.

Whilst in the area I couldn’t pass up the Crazy Horse Monument.


This sucker is gonna be WAY bigger than Mt. Rushmore. But they still have his arm, hair, body and the horse yet to do. Since it’s taken them 70 years to get this far we may be looking at next century before completion.

Badlands, baby

Hanging out now at an RV park right on the doorstep of Badlands National Park, which is an unusual place. The default geography around here is grass prairie, but every now and then you see upthrusts or canyons of exposed “rock”. The rock erodes easily (really, it seems more like mud waiting to happen), they say at the rate of an inch a year. So, in 10,000 years, kaput! It does make for some very interesting sites, though. I took a ton of pictures. Here they come.


It seems this area was under water 75 million years ago. And then after the land thrust up it was quite tropical. As a result they have a rich fossil record in the area.

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In several places they have clusters of junipers, as can be seen in the picture above. Kind of odd when they are on the side of the hill like that. Otherwise, not much in the way of trees, other than along a waterway. They get about 16 inches of rain a year.





I bet it would be especially interesting to view the area after a heavy rain.

This area of the country housed a bunch of missile silos during the Cold War, so of course they have found a way to memorialize that glorious chapter of our history.


Some of these historic sites have some odd things. This struck me as odd:


But mostly it made me yearn for the good old days when women knew how to wear hats and you could count on a mushroom cloud cake always nearby:


And here’s another thing I realized today walking through a gift shop. It’s official. We have too much wine.

too much wine

North, to Nebraska

Colorado Springs is always a nice place to spend a few days. I was there with the boys circa 2003 or 2004 and it was one of their favorite places among the places we have been. The town sits there fast against the “front range”, with Pikes Peak and a couple of other big ‘uns dominating the scenery. To the west: neck-stretching peaks, to the east, the end of the Great Plains.


The drive up from Albuquerque presented some interesting rock formations:


The RV park in Colorado Springs was not among my favorites. It was a nice setting alright, but when I was unhooking the Beast from the Big ‘un I had a moment of brain deadedness. Without boring you, dear reader, with the gory details, suffice to say I am now rolling without a tailgate. The park was a favorite among the local wildlife. This little lassie strolled right through my site, within 15-20 feet of my door.

And leaving for dinner one evening, 6 of it’s brethren were lolling around the entrance to the RV park:


I also saw a mess of turkeys wandering aimlessly through the park one evening.

Sunday I took in a Sky Sox game, which these days is the AAA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.


I’ve never understood that stadium. If they turned it 90 degrees to the west they would at least have views of the mountains to some extent. As it is, the mountains are not apparent at all, except from the parking lot. Baseball fans, remember this name: Lewis Brinson. Brewers #1 propsect is a complete stud. He played CF and he was all over the outfield. Big kid, very impressive at the plate.

Monday I went to a local park for a brief hike. This was right behind the Broadmoor Resort. I’ve known of the Broadmoor for years but had never seen it. Not that impressive from the outside.

I’m in North Platte, NE for the next 2 nights. It’s cold, cloudy, windy and muddy. Looks like a laundry day tomorrow. But, I cope:


An Italian petit verdot. Bit rough around the edges, as PVs can be.

I finished the LBJ book. Fascinating stuff. The author goes into great detail about how the 1948 Senate election was stolen by the LBJ team. It’s quite a dramatic story, far more involved than just the 87 vote  margin enjoyed by LBJ, which took days to determine (it was a very fluid situation, to say the least) and then was subject to being snatched away by further political and legal maneuvers. Thumbs up on the book. Next up:

The Sot-Weed Factor Audiobook

This is one of my all-time favorite works, now the third time through in the last 45 years. Set in the late 17th century and written in the style of the time, it tells the story of Ebenezer Cook, a feckless, bumbling, self-absorbed ignoramus of an intellectual intent on serving his commission as Poet Laureate of Maryland. A very colorful life unfolds all around him, but he’ll have none of it except as he sees it in his head. The language is so rich, full of simile and metaphor with constant historical references from the ancient Greeks to the political struggles of “current” times. Great fun.

Adios, Alpine. For Now.

Heading out tomorrow after 2 weeks in Alpine, AZ. The weather here has been spectacular: sunny every day, high in the low 60s, lows at night 30ish. On top of that: mission accomplished. Went to escrow today on a house, scheduled to close May 31. More on that once the transaction closes.

In the meantime, stops are currently scheduled in Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, North Platte, NE, the Badlands of South Dakota, Dickinson, ND and Billings, MT. After that, hopefully some time in the Yellowstone area, but no definite plans.

How about those Astros! And Rockets! Haven’t had any TV here in Alpine, but I’ve listened to most of the Astros games on the radio. They are playing good ball (especially the pitching) but I don’t think they have hit their stride quite yet. Love me some Sirius XM!

The book on LBJ is very interesting. The guy was an absolute political animal. It strikes me that he and Bill Clinton were the most alike of any 2 Presidents during my lifetime, excepting the Bushes, for obvious reasons. Should finish LBJ in a couple of days. Not sure what will be up next on the reading list…

Head for the Hills

On Friday I drove from Phoenix up to Alpine, AZ. The first 4 hours or so was the same route driven on the trip to Show Low a couple of weeks ago. BUT, this time I took pictures. So, now you can add these pics to the descriptions from the Show Low post.

Coming out of PHX it’s very much a desert scene.Tonto3Tonto4tonto5

But at about 3000′ you get less rocks and cactus and more grass and shrubbery


This drive took me past Show Low at 6300′ for another 75 miles to Alpine at 8300′. The distinctive feature of that leg of the drive was the rolling golden meadows.


I reckon it’ll all green up right purty once photosynthesis has its way.

Alpine is barely a blip on the map: population about 150. If you look at a map it’s just about smack dab in the middle of the rectangle described by Flagstaff (203 miles away), Tucson (266 miles), Las Cruces (230 miles) and Albuquerque (223 miles) and 6 miles into AZ from the NM border. It’s in the White Mountain Range, about 8 miles south of Escudilla Mountain which peaks at 10,916′

My RV camp is located on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, a portion of US 191. Apparently the explorer Coronado passed this way back in 1540 or so. US 191 goes all the way from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, almost due north, interrupted only by Yellowstone Park.

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It was a beautiful morning today, if a bit nippy.

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Seemed like a drive up Escudilla Mountain was in order. A gravel/dirt road maintained by the Forest Service takes you up the mountain off Hwy 191. Still a bit of snow on the north faces.


Some of which I got up close and personal with.Escudilla Mtn (9)

It made for some nice panorama views.Escudilla Mtn (8)

A bit sad, though, is that the mountain still bears the scars of wildfires several years ago.Escudilla Mtn (10)

But, nature is in the process of healing itself, as it always seems to do.

Hi-ho Show Low: a gallop through the Tonto National Forest

My main purpose during this western jaunt is to find a small piece of land in the mountains were I can build a place. Unbeknownst to me, there are some pretty significant elevations in northern and eastern Arizona. In fact, there are 12 peaks over 11,000 feet, all in Apache and Coconino counties. I spied several lots for sale that were of interest around the town of Show Low, so off I headed to check it out.

Show Low sits at about 6500 feet, so the drive from Phoenix (at 1000′) was mostly uphill all the way. Much of the drive on Hwy 87 and then Hwy 260 goes through the Tonto National Forest. Coming out of Phoenix until about 3000′ elevation it is very much a desert scene: lots of rocks, cactus, some yellow flowers (desert marigold, I think). There were some places that were almost a “cactus forest” where the saguaros were tightly bunched together. From maybe 3000′ to 5000′ the terrain was noticeably different: less rocky, starting to get some shrubbery other than cactus. From 5000′ and above the rocks were pretty well covered with greenery and pine trees became abundant, the cacti but a fading memory. It was a very interesting drive and strikingly beautiful in many places. But I went totally Homer Simpson and didn’t get any photos.

At some point Tonto gives way to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. I don’t know why they have different names for national forests that are totally contiguous with one another. Bureaucrats fighting turf battles, I suppose.  But the town of Show Low is totally surrounded by Apache-Sitgreaves. It seems to be prospering quite nicely due to a ski resort nearby, and other wilderness attractions. The story they tell about the colorful name is right out of an old western movie. Two leading citizens decided the town “t’weren’t big enough for the both of them” and one of them had to get out of town by sundown, or something. So they played cards to decide the stayer and the leaver. The card game was apparently an epic battle and the participants tired of fate not taking a hand, so they decided to cut the cards, low card the winner. One feller drew the two of clubs and the other sidewinder had to hit the trail. The main drag is now named Deuce of Clubs Street. Gotta love it, right?

I took a different route back to Phoenix and it was quite scenic as well and this time I came to my senses and got some photos.

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The road out of Show Low goes through the Fort Apache Reservation and then returns to the Tonto NF, presenting some very nice canyon scenes, courtesy of the Salt River.

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An interesting day indeed.

I ran across some more intriguing eateries in PHX last week. First was Little Cleo’s. It was hard to find because it was in a complex that houses 3 restaurants. Each has their separate interior but they share a common open area outside that included ping pong tables and foosball tables and the like.Little Cleo's (6)

The first thing to notice inside is a huge open kitchen/bar area. Takes 2 photos to capture it all.

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Then the menu. First thing you see is they have 13 different absinthes. Perhaps a bit over the top? Never seen anything like that.

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The food menu was interesting too.

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Little Cleo's (2)Little Cleo's (1)

I got the scallops with charred avocado, the black kale salad and hush puppies, and then the bouillaibaise (no picture of that). All the food was very good, service was great and such a cool vibe. Ranks as my fave spot in PHX.

A couple of nights later I went old school at a place called Avanti. It’s been around since the 70s and looks like it hasn’t changed a bit.

Avanti entranceAvanti interior

The food was pretty good. They had a dish I don’t remember seeing before: a Pasta Combo, determined daily by the chef.

Avanti pasta combo

This was penne pasta, gnocchi and ravioli. Nice!

Next up: California here I come!