The Balloon Fiesta was over, as were our wonderful visits with the family. The “real world” beckoned, and it was time to make a trail back to Oregon. We pulled away from Albuquerque on I-40 heading toward Monument Valley. We found a free RV dump in Gallup, NM at the rest area on the north side of town (in case you are interested fellow travelers), and then headed northwest towards our planned campsite for the night, the Valley of the Gods. The drive north , skirting the Arizona-New Mexico border on the Dine’ Tah Scenic Road in the Navajo Nation, was spectacular. As usual we raced the sun, finally ending up at the turnoff for Valley of the Gods. The road is an unassuming dirt road, marked only with a small sign, and sports an intimidating start, descending steeply down to a stream-crossing before rising sharply back up the other side, finally leveling out on the valley floor where you can find numerous pullouts/campsites along the road. There were more people than we expected scattered along the BLM road, but the sites were far enough apart that it was rare to see anyone else. We found a great site at the base of Rooster Butte.
The sun was setting and I wanted to get some photos from the top of the butte. As I tromped with reckless abandon across the desert, towards the the looming formation, I heard screaming behind me! Cate who had been following several yards behind me had run up on a snake. I went back to take a closer look, and indeed, next to mine and Frankie’s fresh footprints, was a sizable rattlesnake. We must have stepped right over it! Needless to say, Cate was done hiking for the evening. I lingered and snapped a few pictures of the rattler before returning to the camper for the night.
The next morning we took a scenic drive and hiked around for a short bit before returning to hook up the Argosy and finally make the drive through Monument Valley. Unlike our previous attempt that was so rudely interrupted by Hurricane Rosa, this time the sun was shining, and we could see the long straight stretch of road leading us between the towering spires of stone. A truly incredible place!
We planned on having a quick overnight stopover near Kanab, UT, but made great time back through the Page/Lake Powell area, making it to free camping above the Paria Contact Station (BLM) with plenty of daylight to spare. Just a mile or so down the road from the campsite was the Toadstool Hoodoos! An easy hike from the parking lot through a small but beautiful canyon leads to an outcropping of the fantastic rock formations. Frankie had a tremendous time leaping from rock to rock! She even posed for another group of hikers as they took tons of photos.
In the morning we attempted to make it to the Wire Pass Trailhead and slot canyon. Alas, we were rebuffed by stream crossings with large drop offs that cut across the otherwise well maintained road. Even with good clearance on the envoy, it was not worth risking high-siding or otherwise damaging our tow vehicle. We settled on hiking Buckskin Gap where there was, apparently an epic slot canyon, and although it was a beautiful 7 mile hike, we never did run across the canyon.
We spent too much time exploring that particular morning, and knowing we needed to make up some serious ground, we set off towards Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. It soon became obvious that we would not make it there in a timely fashion, and in classic Argosy Odyssey style, we recalculated. Several hours later we pulled into the Mineral Mountains, outside of a place called Rock Corral. As the last bit of light faded and we reset the camper, we could see the lights of Milford, Utah miles away in the valley.
Morning came and we left the camper to go for what we thought would be a quick photo op at Rock Corral Recreation Area. This is a huge rockhound site, famous for its opals and sapphires. We were not fully prepared for the beauty of this little known gem. A tiny parking lot with very nice picnic tables and immaculate vault toilet bathrooms, and then a small trail with no signage, led to one of the most impressive views of the journey. The pictures say it best.
Having done our best to document and get the lay of the land, we reluctantly prepped the camper, vowing to return, and headed across the long lonely string of valleys to Great Basin National Park. Thanks in part to time zone crossings we made it in time for Cate to catch a tour of the Lehmann Cave.
This was to be her vindication for missing the night glow at the Balloon Fiesta. Traveling with animals sometimes means trade-outs on activities. While Cate spelunked, I drove the rig back into Snake Valley to some dispersed camping. It was a long drive, although the road was flat, it was full of sharp gravel. I was late picking her up from the cave tour, and the Ranger that was locking up the visitor center noticed that our truck had a flat tire. Thankfully it looked like it had just happened, and did not damage the rim. If it would have happened at camp, Cate would have been stranded, and there was no phone reception to let her know I would be late. I changed the tire while conversing with the ranger. He informed me that unfortunately the nearest town in which to buy a new tire was an hour away, and they were closed at that point already. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, except that we had another tire on the truck that wasn’t looking so good, now had no spare, and had a long trip in the dark, on the sharp rocks, back to the camper in snake valley. Morning came and we faced another long trip down the snake valley, this time with added weight of the Argosy on the bad tire. We dropped the camper at the visitor center, made a quick excursion up the scenic drive…
…hooked back up again, and with fingers crossed, jumped back onto the “Loneliest Highway in America” and set a course for Ely and a new tire. We arrived in Ely, and luckily the tire shop had one tire that fit our truck, and were available to replace it on the spot! Wasting no time, we hopped back on the road and continued on to Carlin, Nevada where we camped at a pull-off in Carlin Canyon.
We woke up early, pulled up stakes, gassed up, and hit the road. We had one stop to make before crossing into Oregon and that was Bog Hot Springs. Situated out in the desert, Bog Hot Springs is not just a hot spring, it is a hot river. If you weren’t looking for it, and didn’t have directions, you would never find it as it hides among the sagebrush. As we dried off and prepared for the long push to Oregon, we were buzzed several times by a low flying airplane.
NPR’s This American Life podcast kept our brains engaged in the mind numbingly desolate stretch from Bog Hot Springs to Holbrook Reservoir in Southeast Oregon. We finally arrived at our last campsite of the journey, glad to be among the large Oregon trees again. These are always bittersweet nights, as we look forward to getting back to our daily life, but are never ready to leave the adventure of the road. The lake was deserted, and still. Overhead a bald eagle soared looking for fish in the lake. Smoke from a controlled burn (in true Oregon fashion) drifted lower in the cool air. We had stopped on the way and picked up supplies for our special last meal of the trip, along with some wine, and firewood. We sat around the fire watching the animals and talking about our adventures until the chill set in and we retired for the evening.
Morning came too soon, and we moved through the Klamath Basin under the shadow of Mt Mcloughlin, drove through Medford, and on to Applegate Valley. Our Southwest trip had concluded. We are so thankful to have been able to meet up with our families, and with the exception of two flat tires and a hurricane, that our trip went smoothly. We also loved sharing our pictures and adventures with our readers. Thanks for tuning in.