Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thank God for Jeeps

This is the tale of a Jeep.  A Jeep who has been sturdy, reliable, and tough.  This Jeep Wrangler who has some stories to tell!
I was bought off a dealer's lot in 2006.  I am actually a 2005 model but was still hanging around on the lot when my owners found me.  The first time I got stuck was on the beach of Lake Travis in Austin.  My front wheels straddled a large rock and bam - stuck.  The female owner cried and whined and then a bunch of people in wetsuits and scuba gear gathered round.  Luckily they were able to build a hill of rocks for me to drive up on and I escaped without needing to call a tow.  In Austin we drove over concrete medians and curbs and other "big city" stuff for a few years and thought we were off-roading.  Boy, were we wrong.  That was just the beginning.

One day the male owner drilled into my frame to install a tow kit.  I had to be drug along behind a huge diesel motorhome for hundreds of miles.  At first I was embarrassed but later I realized that there were many places that the motorhome had to stop and then I would take over for the hard driving!  The people counted on ME to drive over mountains and on dirt roads and desert flats.  The motorhome would be left behind and we'd go to the coolest places!

One of my favorite road trips involved trying to get to the Grand Canyon.  The Interstate was closed due to a horrible wreck.  We tried to find a way around.  The owners met a local in a Frito Lay truck who said, "Do you have four wheel drive?  Follow Me!"  We followed them down a dirt road for a couple miles but it was snowing so hard we could barely find the road! The Frito Lay truck turned back and so did we.

After the snow stopped we tried a different back road. It was another dirt road which we followed for about ten miles. The snow had melted some and this road was a sloshy mess; I was completely covered in mud!  It was cold and wet and we were lost.  We had a great adventure but slept in Prescott, AZ that night instead of the Grand Canyon.  The funny thing is that there are practically no car washes to be found in west Arizona.  I had to stay that dirty for weeks!

We stayed for a few months in Big Sur, California. Boy was Highway One fun! Sliding around those curves at 50 MPH with a sheer drop to the ocean on one side and a solid rock cliff crowding the road on the other was just exhilarating! We found some great roads around there. One I liked a lot was Old Coast Rd. It was a rough dirt road that cut back into the Santa Lucia Mtns, through redwood forests, past old ranch houses, and generally seeing part of Big Sur that most tourists don't get to see. Another awesome one was Ferguseon Rd, which was paved but very steep and narrow. Pretty amazing views from those Big Sur mountain roads!

In North Utah we found hordes of bugs and got up close and personal with the bison.

In South Utah a Jeep is practically a necessity.  Recently my owners got me stuck for the second time in my life - I was buried up to my axles in soft pink sand!  With the help of a friend with a four-wheeler, a shovel, and just a little bit of tire deflation I was able to crawl out again.  Even a simple trip to Walmart here starts with 4 miles of dirt road.

I'm a Jeep and that means I can go cool places that little cars can't go.  Dirt roads lead to great things!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bryce Canyon

This "weekend" we visited Bryce Canyon and Kodachrome Basin State Park. Bryce Canyon was only about an hour and a half drive from the park we're working and staying in. Bryce Canyon is at about 8,500 feet elevation so the weather was fairly cool. Park roads take a visitor to the top of the canyon where you can look down into it. It is well known for hoodoos, freestanding towers of rock, windows, and arches.
We enjoyed eating lunch on the edge of a cliff overlooking one of the more famous areas of Bryce - Inspiration Point.

After leaving Bryce we went to Kodachrome Basin State Park, known for sand straws. We did some offroad driving in the Jeep to see Rock Chimney, Shakespeare's Arch, and The Sentinel.

On our way home we found this rattler sunning in the road right near Coral Pink!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Congrats to the Cat!!

Our Big Cat, Nay, was diagnosed with feline diabetes on April 30th of this year. We had to learn to give him insulin shots and prick his ear for blood sugar testing several times a day. When he was first diagnosed he had dangerously high blood sugars all the time. Luckily I found a great web forum The Feline Diabetes Message Board (FDMB)
The people on this website helped us much more than the vet who diagnosed Nay. We learned to use a glucometer, find the right insulin dose, and switch to a catfood that is very low in carbs.  We didn't know that most commercial cat foods are very bad for your pet, even the expensive prescription ones!  The pet food companies fill them with wheat gluten and rice but your pet is a carnivore who needs a diet with meat!  If you want to find out more about cat nutrition, check out Binky's Page A healthy cat food should have < 12% carbs.  Once we switched to Fancy Feast his blood glucose started dropping dramatically.  The FDMB has a protocol for dosing where the cat must earn dose reductions with very low blood sugars.  That part was really scary because sometimes he would get close to having hypoglycemia - too low blood sugar which can send a cat into a coma or death!  Traveling made this especially hard for us; sometimes we were in places with no vet or emergency clinic for many miles.  Other times we couldn't find a pharmacy for his diabetic supplies.  We would go through a $20 box of test strips every week!  And that was using the least expensive test strips we could find!
With the help of FDMB and some long sleepless nights we were able to wean Nay off the juice (OTJ) and he is now in diabetic remission!  Here is a neat video that the folks over at FDMB made for us!  They say he's "gone to the Falls" as a slang term for being on a honeymoon from the diabetes.  Thanks, FDMB!

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Fun Weekend in South Utah

My weekend is on Wednesdays and Thursdays while I'm at this park.  It was also payday and we desperately needed to go shopping.  There is some shopping in Kanab which is a half hour drive; but the shopping in Kanab is limited and pricey.  We decided to make the longer drive to Walmart instead.  The Rangers told us about a shortcut which takes about 45 minutes off the trip!  It starts with a 4 mile stretch of dirt road.  It's very beautiful but the words "remote" and "isolated" just don't quite cover it.  With the shortcut it only took us about 50 minutes (one way) to get to the closest "big" city.

Next we decided to stop in at Kolob Canyon which is the north entrance to Zion National Park.  We made a quick visit and ate a picnic there.  The canyons and cliffs hold much more vegetation than the southern half of this park.  This part of Zion is less visited and apparently much more oriented toward backpackers and canyoneers.

On Thursday we made a drive over to the south side of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park.  This must be one of the biggest and least developed of the US National Parks.  It comprises almost 2 million acres of land!  To put this into perspective it is 50 miles from the south end of the park to the north end, and the only way to drive across is a dirt road.

We decided to pass on that adventure and instead just did a short hike to an area known as Toadstools for its interesting rock formations (look at the top of the hill in photo below).  We didn't hike too far, it was pretty hot and it scares me to hike on these mostly unmarked trails; if you got lost out here you could wander forever without finding any other people!  The cell phone has become an expensive alarm clock; there's no cellular service out here to speak of.  We've decided to start bringing a GPS unit while hiking in the desert.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day's End at Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Coral Pink Sand Dunes is known, of course, for its miles of colored sand.  This place is mostly a haven for Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs). There are hundreds of miles of dunes and trails out here for four wheelers to play in. It's very isolated; it takes half an hour to drive to the small town of Kanab. It's going to be over an hour to drive to a Walmart. This place is so remote they don't even have postal service here!

The work is pretty easy, though. This is an extremely small campground with 22 campsites. Our job is to clean one small bathroom, 4 showers, and clean campsites as campers leave. It can be a dirty job when you're shoveling out a firepit and get covered in ash. So far the campers have all been fairly clean and respectful of the quiet hours.  The park staff is very nice and we like it here alot!

When our work is done we are free to play.  We don't have an OHV but we can hike out on the dunes.  Sunset is a great time to go for a walk because the temperature cools down significantly and the light of the setting sun brightens the pinks, oranges, and reds of the sand and the nearby cliffs of Navajo Sandstone.  After the sun has set the sky is so dark you can see a million stars!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Two For Two

We found out that there are dinosaur tracks in the rock lining a wash on public land very close to where we are staying in Utah.  This afternoon we drove out to the site which is about two miles off the paved road.  The information we had said that due to loose sand 4x4 vehicles were required to make the trip.  We drove down to the site with little difficulty and found several of the tracks, some that were pretty obvious.

On the way back to the paved road we realized that most of the trail we had followed in had been downhill.  Going back uphill was a little trickier than we expected.  Eventually we hit an extended patch of deep sand and the Jeep settled in.  We got it to budge a bit by digging sand out and putting what small bits of wood we could find under the tires.  Eventually the Jeep was in over its axles in sand and we had to give up.  Our second vehicle in two days stuck in the sand.

In the desert, at least one mile from the nearest other people we've seen (some ATV'ers we passed on the way in) in 100 degree heat.  Our survival equipment included:
  • 6 gallon fresh water container, empty.
  • Come-Along, removed from the Jeep a couple of months ago and stored in the motorhome
  • Bottle Jack, stored in the motorhome since the smaller road jack would suffice on the road
  • Shovel, stored with the camping gear in the motorhome
  • 1 1/2 12oz bottles of refilled bottled waters, one very warm, milky, and with floaties in it.

We ended up having to walk a mile in sometimes shin-deep blistering sand wearing flip-flops.  Luckily one of the three ATV'ers we had seen while going in on the trail was staying for a couple of days, had extensive 4x4 experience and had been driving the area for a few decades.  He drove us down on his Razr (a large ATV with a cage, big engine, etc.) and we started shoveling sand.  We finally got the Jeep backed out of the hole with help from the Razr.  He deflated our tires a bit and I filled in the 1 1/2 foot deep holes in the trail.  He told us to follow him on his ATV and that he'd drive the Jeep back out.  He backed the Jeep down the hill and then took off back up the hill.  By the time I got his ATV turned around he was gone.  We caught back up to him at his camp, offered to buy him some beer for his trouble, chatted for a while and then headed back to the motorhome.  We were lucky, the nearest people from that location would have been a five or so mile walk in 100 degree temps.

We learned quite a few lessons from the adventure.  We did get a picture of a dinosaur track from it all though.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

New Job

We've been hired for a campground host volunteer position at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  The sands are closer to orange than pink; see in this picture, I'm wearing orange toenail polish that matches the sand!

 We'll move into the campground on the 7th and get started.  Looks like we'll be here for about 6 weeks.  We're excited that this park has full hook-ups!  Looking foward to air conditioning!

Friday, June 4, 2010

An Interesting Way to Apply for a Job

We moved to the eastern side of Zion today.  We're now camping for free on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.  We've loved these BLM areas.  They have no services but they are always in beautiful wild locations.  We're just outside of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  This great location is 100 miles or less from Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I called the State Park yesterday and asked if they might need a volunteer Camp Host at the park.  I'm still waiting to see if I will be hired.
The great thing about BLM land is that you can camp anywhere on it.  Just get off the road and find a spot and it's free.  So we drove up in the motorhome, found a nice little sandy flat on the side of the road, and pulled in.  We decided that for shade we should pull the RV into a line of trees off the main track.  Unfortunately the motorhome promptly sank into a patch of soft sand!  Yup, we were stuck.
We left the motorhome stuck in the sand and drove the Jeep up the State Park.  Let me tell you, it's over 90 degrees here and we don't have air conditioning, and we'd been out digging in the sand trying to get the motorhome unstuck!  I was a sweaty dirty mess!  Well, it couldn't be helped.  I introduced myself as a hopeful future employee and told them that the motorhome was stuck in the sand down the road.  I asked if they had any scrap wood boards to put under the tires.  The Ranger was so nice he offered to drive out in his truck and tow us out!  We managed to get un-stuck and I'm supposed to drop by the park again tomorrow to talk to the Head Ranger about that job.  Cross your fingers! 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Zion National Park

We loved Zion National Park!  It was very busy but this park is so huge that you can find trails that are not crowded.  The stunning vistas, towering cliffs, and graceful rock formations are simply not done justice by photos.  We walked to The Narrows for lunch where the cliffs crowd closer together as you walk along the Zion River until eventually it becomes a slot canyon.  We ate our picnic lunch on a large boulder on the edge of the cold water.

The Hanging Gardens are where wildflowers, ferns, and other plants are growing right out of the side of the rock face.  Drips of water trickle down the cliff and keep these plants from wilting in the summer heat.

There are three Emerald Pools you can hike to.  It's a very easy hike to lower pool which has 2 beautiful waterfalls slipping over the edge of a concave cliff right above the trail.  The trail actually takes you right under one of the waterfalls!

We visited in a great season for wildflowers.  Blooming yellow columbine dripped down the walls of the Hanging Gardens.  On a hike in The Grottos we found bright red penstemon; yellow and hot pink prickly pear cactus graced the orange sands. Other flowers painted the landscape in popsicle orange, magenta, and various shades of purple. 

Zion National Park actually has three entrances that lead to different parts of the park.  We actually only visited the south side and we drove through the east side.  Kolob Canyons in the north part of Zion will have to wait to we come back.  We will definitely visit Zion again!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

After leaving Grantsville Reservoir, we slept on the road as we traveled as we frequently do.  While parked at a Cabella's we discovered we were right down the road from Flight Park, a Utah State Park dedicated to hang gliding!


Well of course we had to stop in and watch the hang gliders for a while!  It looks like so much fun!!!  We even saw someone who brings his dog up hang gliding with him.  He has a special harness for pup.  He says the dog loves it!

We stopped in Cedar City hoping to see Cedar Breaks National Monument but it turned out they are still closed due to a late spring snow!  They are at 10,000 ft altitude but even so we were quite surprised.  We packed up and hit the road again and now we're settled in at Sand Hollow State Park just 15 minutes from Zion National Park. This park has soft orange sand, a view of colored cliffs, and a deep blue reservoir with an island of red boulders. 

We are basking in the luxury of living with full hookups for the next two days!  We have been living off the grid for about a month now, except for 2 days with partial hookups two weeks ago. We have to hookup every now and then to let our batteries get back to full charge. 
Looks like we're all ready to get some shuteye so we can explore Zion tomorrow!