Tag Archives: Bucket List

Life’s a Trip – When Work is Play

This is the 4th in the Life’s a Trip series.

The American Dream isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.  A house with a two-car garage and a nice yard in the suburbs is not what everybody wants.  In middle class America sometimes it is assumed that we will raise our kids to go to the right school to get the right degree to land the right job, find the right spouse, and raise the right family – who will do it all over again.

That’s fine if it is what you want, but very often middle-agers wake up one morning and discover they are tired of working the job, tired of paying the mortgage, and tired of weeding and feeding and mowing those relentless lawns.

They suddenly realize that maybe they are living somebody else’s dream.

I think the best case scenario is when young people don’t assume that life has to be lived in a certain way – before they rack up all that college debt, mortgage debt and credit card debt that seems to go with the status quo.

If you like what you are doing, it is more like play than like work.  You can work 9 to 5 and love it and go home at the end of the day refreshed.

But if you have become weary of the rat race, maybe it is time to look for a change.

I loved my first 20 years of school teaching.  But after that, it started to get old.  I had a different roster of students every year, but the same age-appropriate behaviors.  My school board offered an early buy-out for experienced (top of the pay scale) teachers, and I went for it.

To change things up a bit I took a leave of absence during my 19th year of teaching and took my family to a foreign country to teach at an international school. What a trip!

It was actually too early for me to retire, and I had always wanted to work more with my hands; I took the chance to start a log home construction company that employed a mobile crew of carpenters who built new log homes all over the state of Michigan.  I had a wonderful crew of workers, and I loved getting up every morning and going to work.

I had my second wind and was living my second dream for the next 8 years.

Two of my carpenters were positioning a porch post of a new log home up north.

Then the housing market in Michigan collapsed and there wasn’t any more work.  I had to lay off the crew.

Okay then, my next dream had been to operate a business in barn recycling and again I went for it.  I rented a huge forklift and dismantled unwanted barns, hiring a couple of helpers to de-nail and sort the materials.  I sold a lot of the boards, and constructed furniture from the vintage material to sell on the side.  I even constructed several rustic log cabins that I sold online and shipped across the country.

I was having fun again.

I built this deacons bench starting with an old barn loft door and building it forward from there.
This log cabin from old barn beams was sold on eBay and shipped to North Carolina.

Then we got the epic idea to sell our property and hit the road full-time in a 29-foot RV.  Oh, the places we went!  Surf this blog and you will see an amazing variety of places we experienced over several years.

We visited 49 states and drove the Alaska Highway with our truck and RV.

But after a while, we found the downside of that too.  We missed the kids and the grandkids when we were down south for those long winters.

And now we are pursuing the next wild dream.  We have bought a historical house, a fixer-upper in the city and started ripping down old wallpaper and plaster.

More fun!

I can’t wait to get into the upstairs rooms of the old place with a paint brush!

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I think we all wise up as we get older.  Well, most of us do.  We develop a philosophy of life as we go.  And I guess this post is about ideology as much as it’s about a timeline of my life.

As much as it is possible, I think we should seek to do the things we enjoy.  Somebody said to use your resources to buy experiences, not just stuff.

If the old job has become monotonous, maybe we should change directions.  It is not always easy, and it doesn’t always happen right away.  When I wanted to get out of teaching, I started to work toward getting my builder’s license three years before the next retirement buy-out was offered by my school district allowing me to retire and start collecting a pension.

If change is not possible, I would look for ways to adapt my lifestyle to make it more enjoyable.  It’s calling living for the weekend, and millions live life this way, but it is better than hating every day of your existence.

A final word:  Sometimes the things we enjoy are not obvious.  We have to try things out in order to discover our passion.  It can take years, it can take decades to find the fun.  Shoot, it can take a lifetime of happily skipping from one thing to the next.

This too:  Sometimes the passion will change.  Some things just run their course.  When a door closes, be a good finisher… and move on.

And then you can be off to try out the next new thing.

Oh, yeah, there was this too: We also owned a Christmas tree farm for about 20 years.

Life’s a Trip – Even When You Stay Put

This is the third in the Life’s a Trip series.

Life can be an amazing journey even when you are stationary for long periods of time.  Some folks are happy to put down roots in one place and never be curious about the distant horizon.  Adventure seems frightening and inconvenient.  As Bilbo Baggins says in Lord of the Rings, “We have no use for adventures – nasty disturbing uncomfortable things;  make you late for dinner.”

And that’s fine.  If you don’t have a desire to see the world, don’t let me or anyone else prod you into far-flung unpleasantries.

But then there are people like me.

Though I lived for 43 years in one secluded rural retreat, my routine was punctuated by adventure.  Whether heading up north to camp in the woods, down south to crawl around in the caves, out west to hike in the mountains, or over the ocean to an island hideaway, I couldn’t sit still for long.

So the last few years Kaye and I have been pioneering with an RV, living on the road, always peering around the next bend to get a glimpse of what we haven’t seen before.  And it has been fun.

But right now, my travel quotient is satisfied.  I am ready for a break.  We have visited 49 of 50 states and are not making plans to visit Hawaii.  At least not for now and maybe never.

But I think I am ready for a different kind of adventure.

While taking a breather from travel and staying in a small apartment for the past several months, we have plugged into the local scene and gone after other stuff that we like to do.  We didn’t get enough of hosting foreign exchange students in our home when our kids were in high school years ago, so we have had a lingering desire to  work with international students again.

We started volunteering at the local campus of the University of Michigan and helping internationals to improve their conversational English and learn more of American culture.

And we really came alive.

When we discovered that a historical house was on the market only a 10-minute walk from the campus, we jumped (carefully) at the chance to buy it, and today we signed the papers.

We are going to stay put for awhile and pursue our own brand of urban homesteading.  Pioneering without wheels, as it were.

The House

Our “new” house is 117 years old and already set up for urban homesteading in the inner city.  There are rain barrels at the four corner downspouts, raspberries along the fence, an herb garden where the front lawn used to be.  The climbing roses have been growing on the front fence since the 1920’s.  There is a storeroom in the cellar for stockpiling canned goods and drinking water.  Cool.

For a long time I have wanted to experiment with solar power;  this house has a southern exposure that will accommodate my future solar panels.  We might start composting too, just like my grandmother did back in the day, feeding those tomatoes that will grow in containers along the back wall.

It seems that urban homesteading is essentially a return to the way our ancestors lived a hundred years ago but updated with a lot of modern technology.

Owning property again – on a much smaller scale than before – does not mean we won’t travel anymore.  We still have the fifth wheel so when the travel bug bites we can answer the call of the wild.

Stay tuned for reports on our latest pioneering adventure, a trip back in time, as it were,  in the historical district of Flint, Michigan, in the center of the university neighborhood.  Just around the corner is the Durant-Dort Office building where General Motors Corp (GMC) was founded in 1908!

It looks as though what’s next for us going forward, is a trip backward in time!

The vintage house presides over a quiet historical neighborhood.

Read Kaye’s spin on this new venture at her blog.

Life’s a Trip – At the Beach

This is the second in the Life’s A Trip series.

There are many ways to approach the journey of life and we have explored a bunch of them.  This is about the different beaches where we have lived for a time.

One of Kaye’s favorite activities in the whole world is beach walking.  I love sitting and soaking up the sun and synthesizing vitamin D.  So beaches work for both of us.

Tropical Beaches

It seems that the ultimate destination in the Caribbean is the beach and we have had the experience of enjoying many of them, mostly in the Dominican Republic, one of our favorite island winter respites.

Playa Rincón, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic.

Because of it’s remoteness, this beach is still largely undeveloped.  It is possible to be alone and unbothered.  We first visited this beach in 1990, camping in a tent in the coconut grove.  Our last visit there -via a rented quad runner – was in the winter of 2016 and it was still unspoiled and beautiful.

DR Bob on quad
Our favorite ride to Playa Rincon is the rented four wheeler.

BobnKaye wquad on Rincon

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La Playita,  Las Galeras, Dominican Republic.

The Little Beach offers snorkeling on the reef just offshore, and there is a beach restaurant and masseuse on hand.  It was a 15-minute walk from our last vacation rental in the little fishing village.

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La Playita at evening

DR 4 Palms vivid

Las Galeras Municipal Beach, Las Galeras, Dominican Republic

A short walk from our vacation rental, the “town beach” offered beach bars and “tipico” restaurants and shuttle boats to other beaches nearby.

Las Galeras bob table beach

The Cove, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic

This beach is smack in front of the resort by the same name and is shared with the local fishermen who store their boats on shore every night.  The local kids love to get attention from the tourists and will put on a show whenever there is a camera around.  We stayed here for the winter of 2013.

Hammock Bob at the Cove

DR boys on palm tree

Dominican beach boys frolick fix

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At the Cove we could buy the fresh catch of the day directly from the fishermen on the beach.

West Coast Beaches

Santa Barbara Beach, California.

This large beach is nicely maintained by the city of Santa Barbara.  There is a bike path, volleyball courts, an art show every Sunday, and a wharf with restaurants on stilts.  We visited several times when we were doing the work-camping thing at nearby Fillmore, California, in the winter and spring of 2014.

Santa Barbara Beach volleyball

Santa Barb beach at sunset

While in California for the winter, we also explored Mugu Point Beach and had lunch at the famous beach diner, Neptune’s Net pictured in movies and TV shows.

We also enjoyed camping at the beach at the linear park at Seacliff where the beach was walkable for miles.  Boon docking at its best (no hookups).

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The campground is linear at Seacliff, California, 2 miles long and 20 feet wide.

The Gulf Coast and East Coast

Dauphin Island Beach, Dauphin Island, Alabama

In the winter of 2015 we set out to spend the entire winter on island beaches.  Dauphin Island was our home for January where the beaches are white sand.  They are walkable for many miles.

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St. Augustine Beach, St. Augustine, Florida

We spent the month of February in this historical town where driving on the beach is permitted.  Bonus!

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Emerald Isle Beach, Emerald Isle, North Carolina

In March, our RV site was a short dune walk from this beautiful white sand beach.

Driving on the beach is permitted at Emerald Isle… for a price.

The Great Lakes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, Michigan

Being Michiganders most of our lives, this is probably one of our most frequent beach destinations.  Of course, Lake Michigan is too cold for swimming except in the late summer and early fall.

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Empire beach at twilight

Port Crescent State Park, Port Austin, Michigan.

The closest beach to our house for over 40 years, this beach and several others along the east shore of Michigan were our favorite sun-and-sand destinations in the summertime.

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Turnip Rock is a kayaking destination reached via a 1-1/2-hour paddle along the shore from the harbor at Port Austin, Michigan.

So this is a sampling of the many beaches where we have spent some time.

Life’s a trip!  What is your favorite beach?

Life’s A Trip – In a Pickup Truck

This is the first in the Life’s A Trip series featuring different ways we are approaching  this journey of life.

Life’s a journey – whether you are on the road to adventure or parked in one spot for a while.  There are many different stops along the way.

This is about the places we have discovered while venturing around the U.S. in a four-wheel-drive pickup truck for the last couple of years.

We were living in a historical old log cabin at the tree farm when the wanderlust hit.
We were living in a historical old log cabin at the tree farm when the wanderlust hit.

We had lived in the same place for over 40 years when we looked around one day and saw that our kids were grown up and moved away and exploring distant horizons.  We looked at each other and decided we could do that too.  Selling the 30-acre homestead, we downsized our stuff, upgraded the RV and took off.  We spread a map on the kitchen table, closed our eyes and jabbed a finger at…  Alaska.  (It wasn’t quite that random; we had a daughter living and working in Alaska every summer and had been wanting to go there for a long time.)

Summer was months away, so I got a work-camp assignment at an old campground in Fillmore California for the winter and spring.

We are ready; let's go!
We are hitched up, packed up, and ready to go!

Michigan to California

As we rolled along the prairie, the tumbleweed was rolling too.
We rolled along the prairie across Oklahoma and Texas – like a tumbleweed rolling in the wind.
We were the only visitors on a January day at Red Rocks State Park near Mojave, California.
We were the only visitors on a January day at Red Rocks State Park near Mojave, California.
Parked at the campground for the winter, I worked half-time for our campsite with all the hookups.
Parked at the campground for the winter, I worked half-time for our campsite.

We had family nearby at Santa Barbara and accompanied them to the beaches and eateries in the area.

California to Alaska

Summer came and leaving our work-camp assignment, we headed north up the Pacific Coast Highway toward the Canadian border.

The campground is linear at Seacliff, California, 2 miles long and 20 feet wide.
The oceanside campground is linear at Seacliff, California, 2 miles long and 20 feet wide.

We drove 1900 miles before reaching the beginning of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

Dawson Creek, BC

The mountains were forest-covered a Chilliwack, BC.
The mountains were forest-covered at Chilliwack, BC.
The Alaska Highway is 1500 miles of rugged mountains, valleys, forest and tundra.
The Alaska Highway is 1500 miles of rugged mountains, valleys, forest and tundra.
Sometimes we had a campground to ourselves and were off the grid.
Sometimes we had a campground to ourselves and were completely off the grid.

After 15 days of driving we arrived at Denali Park where our daughter was working and living for the summer.  We stayed through the middle of the summer.

Our campsite was nestled behind the log cabin shops near the entrance of Denali National Park.
Our campsite was nestled behind the log cabin shops near the entrance of Denali National Park.
I spent the summer hiking and four-wheeling around Denali.
I spent the summer hiking and four-wheeling around Denali.

Our trek back to Michigan in the late summer took 11 days returning over the same mountain passes and open prairie.

Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico.

After spending the late summer and fall in Michigan, we set our sights on the south, again hoping to escape the harsh northern winter.  Leaving at the end of December, we arrived in Memphis on New Years Eve for dinner and a party at B.B. King’s Blues Club.

Our campsite at Tom Sawyer campground was right on the shore of the Mississippi River.
Our campsite at Tom Sawyer campground was right on the shore of the Mississippi River.

We arrived the next evening at Dauphin Island, Alabama for a month of barefoot beach walking and languishing in beach chairs.

The beaches are white sand along the Gulf at Dauphin Island.
The beaches are white sand along the Gulf at Dauphin Island.
Dauphin Island is blessed with many miles of good bike paths.
Dauphin Island is blessed with many miles of good bike paths.

The local Mardi Gras parade marched right by our campground.  We also visited New Orleans on a day trip.

Alabama to Florida

I was delighted to arrive in St. Augustine, Florida and discover that driving on the beach is a thing there, four-wheel-drive required.

St. Augustine Beach drive

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At low tide the beach is 100 yards wide and allows plenty of room for drivers, bikers, and walkers.

Up the East Coast

In the spring, we wandered up the east coast through Georgia and South Carolina, staying for a month at Emerald Isle, North Carolina, then stopping for a few days in Virginia from where we made day trips to Washington D.C. visiting the major sites by means of the double-decker bus.

Driving on the beach is permitted at Emerald Isle... for a price.
Driving on the beach is permitted at Emerald Isle… for a price.

Arriving back in Michigan, we spent the summer at a campground with a bike trail and a small lake.

Our campground was only a few miles from the grandkids, so we had company often.
Our campground was only a few miles from the grandkids, so we had company often.

At the end of the year, we parked the rig for a while and flew to the tropics for the winter.  That’s another story.

In the spring we decided to take a break from the gypsy life for a while. We moved into a small apartment in a small town in Michigan.

West again to Utah – the Pickup Camper

We were enjoying staying put for a while, but for some time I had been planning a return to the southwest for a photo shoot in the canyons of Utah.  Rather than haul the RV, I switched to a pickup camper that was just big enough for one person.

Getting off the highway, I looked for the most remote and solitary places that I could get to with a sturdy four-wheel-drive pickup.

On the trail to Cathedral Valley, Capital Reef. I had to ford the Fremont River to get to this lonely 2-track.
On the trail to Cathedral Valley, Capital Reef National Park, I had to ford the Fremont River to get to this lonely 2-track.
On a rainy day at Devil's Garden near Escalante, Utah, I was glad not to be camping in a tent.
On a rainy day at Devil’s Garden near Escalante, Utah, I was glad not to be camping in a tent.
The drop-offs along the White Rim Road command a lot of respect in Canyonlands National Park.
The drop-offs along the White Rim Road command a lot of respect in Canyonlands National Park.
I had to drive the pickup onto boulders to level the camper at Valley of the Gods.
I had to drive the pickup onto some stones to level the camper at Valley of the Gods.
I camped at the foot of a tall butte at Valley of the Gods.
I camped at the foot of a tall butte at Valley of the Gods.
Getting to the White Rim Road required driving through creek beds and crossing dry washes.
Getting to the White Rim Road required driving through creek beds and crossing dry washes.

So, there you have it.  These are only a few of the many places we have visited with a pickup truck over the last couple of years.  There are more ahead of us, I’m sure.

People often ask us what is our favorite spot and we never know what to say.  It’s impossible to narrow it to one location.

I guess we will have to keep looking.

One thing is for sure though:  the most frequent campsite we have enjoyed has been the Walmart parking lot.  But so far, we have not visited the same one twice.

Camping in the parking lot at Walmart, Grand Junction, Colorado.
Camping in the parking lot at Walmart, Grand Junction, Colorado.

If you want a scare, view my YouTube video:  A White-knuckle Drive on the White Rim Road.

6 Boondocking Campsites for Loners – In the Southwest

This is the 9th in the Southwest Safari series

These are isolated locations where lone wolf campers can be alone and most of these sites are free.  All of these are legal camping sites.

First, a reminder that boondocking is rustic camping without hookups. Some of these sites don’t even have a toilet, so you have to be comfortable with alternatives. Fortunately for me, I was hauling a pickup camper which was entirely self-contained and I could store my compost in a holding tank until reaching a dump site.

Pleasant Creek National Forest Campground

The first of the rustic campsites on my recent photography trip to the American Southwest was at a deserted forest campground along highway 12 in the mountains between Capitol Reef National Park and Escalante, Utah. At about 7000 feet elevation, this spot was a cool island of pine and poplar woods surrounded by lower deserts of bare rock.

Forests are rare in the southwest where the desert heat is a killer.
Forests are rare in the southwest where the desert heat is a killer.

The campground had pit toilets and delicious well water. All alone for the night, my campsite cost $6 which is half the usual rate because of my senior pass which also gets me into all national parks for free.

Pleasant Creek Nat'l Forest Campground is a cool respite on Highway 12 north of Boulder, Utah
Pleasant Creek Nat’l Forest Campground is a cool respite on Highway 12 north of Boulder, Utah

There were two other national forest campgrounds within a half mile and there were a couple of campers there for the night.  This was in September.

Hole-In-The-Rock Road, Escalante, Utah

Devil's Garden

After exploring the intriguing rock formations at Devil’s Garden off Hole-in-the-Rock Road, I found an isolated pull-off a couple of miles south and west across from the access track to the dinosaur tracks site (I didn’t cross the dry wash into dinosaur tracks because the steep sideways slope threatened to roll my camper over).

High clearance and four wheel drive are helpful on any of the side tracks from Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
High clearance and four wheel drive are essential on any of the side tracks from Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
The only other sign of life was the wild horse plops on the hills next to my camper.
The only sign of wildlife was the wild horse plops on the hills next to my camper.

This spot was essentially nothing more than a level field where I could pull off the road.  The sound of the light rain on the roof of the camper during the night lulled me to sleep.

Paria Contact Station

East of Kanab, Utah, there is a ranger station with some helpful volunteers on staff.  After driving through heavy rain coming down from Escalante all day, I was leery of crossing the gully at Buckskin Wash even with four wheel drive.  I figured a flashflood was coming that could prevent me from returning to the highway for several days.  Their solution for me was a gravel pit on the top of the mountain behind the station.  I had a free campsite with no neighbors.

I had a view of the Paria River valley from the summit.
I had a commanding view of the Paria River valley from the summit.

The next morning I looked down on a raging Paria River rushing at 30 miles an hour.  I decided to change my itinerary and stay out of the slot canyons where the water level rose from ankle deep to 30 feet deep overnight.  Deadly!

Valley of the Gods

This was my favorite campsite for pure desert grandeur.  I chose a spot at the foot of a huge stone butte where I could see for twenty miles toward the distant towers of Monument Valley.  The camping is free for a limit of 14 days at each spot.

Valley of Gods butte

Valley of gods camp

Valley of God view

One word of caution here.  If you approach Valley of the Gods from the south off highway 163 you can reach the campsites with a medium-sized motor home or trailer.  If you come in from the west on 261 as I did, you will cross no less than 20 dry washes with steep grades that will test the fortitude of your four wheel drive rig.  Don’t take your 40-foot coach in here from either direction.

Butler Wash

Five miles west of Bluff, Utah, on highway 163, open the cattle gate and drive through, then close it behind you.  You are on Butler Wash Road at the south end of a broad valley flanked by rocky cliffs on both sides.  Among those cliffs there are many hidden Navajo cliff dwellings.  Camping is free at any of the side tracks on this 25-mile long four wheel drive road.  Yes, again, you must not take a long wheel-base vehicle in here; you’ll get hung up in a step ravine trying to climb out the other side.

Butler Wash

You are sure to be alone with only the night wind to keep you company.  (Read about my adventure at Pedestal Rock Ruin here.)

7-Mile Parking

A few miles northwest of the town of Moab, Utah, on highway 191 there is a privately owned parking lot with nicely leveled gravel lots and porta-johns.  There are no other perks except its strategic location near the entrances of Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.  I found it almost impossible to get a campsite at the national parks so this little spot was a real blessing to me and I stayed several consecutive nights paying the measly $5 per night.  What a great staging area for rafting the Colorado River, dirt biking the slick rock at Behind the Rocks, or four wheeling the epic off-road challenges around the area.  Moab has provisions of all kinds.  You can even rent a Jeep or ORV there.

7 Mile Parking is surrounded by the rugged terrain of southern Utah.
7 Mile Parking is surrounded by the signature rugged terrain of southern Utah.  It is right next to the entrance to Gemini Bridges Road, a rugged off-road trail for four wheelers.

These are a few of the great boondocking campsites of southern Utah.  I passed up many others.  Much of the desert southwest is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where free – or almost free – camping is permitted with only a few restrictions.

Somebody with the ultimate off-road camper was enjoying the almost-free campsites on BLM land near Fisher Towers 20 miles east of Moab.
Somebody with the ultimate off-road camper was enjoying the almost-free campsites on BLM land near Fisher Towers 20 miles east of Moab.

Happy camping!

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Read about my adventure near 7-Mile Parking on the White Rim Road:

3 Mountain Roads that Scared the Snot Out of Me

The Chasms at Canyonlands

This is the 8th in the series.

Canyonlands National Park is a vast area of bare rock cliffs, mesas, and canyons.  It is trisected by the Colorado and the Green Rivers which divide it into the three districts, the Needles, the Maze, and Island in the Sky.  Most tourists only visit the highest area, Island in the Sky, which is a huge flat-topped mesa surrounded on three sides by the canyons.  The Needles is reached via a single rugged road, and The Maze is entirely deserted but for a few adventurers coming down the river on rubber rafts or an occasional fly-over by a sightseeing airplane.

The defining theme of Canyonlands is the grand vistas available from the edges.  The road on Island in the Sky provides easy access to the edge of the cliff that offers such expansive views that they are almost incomprehensible.  The hiking trails are likewise perched on edges.

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From the edge of the high mesa the views into the canyons are almost mind-boggling.
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Photographers love the orange glow on the bottom of Mesa Arch when the light is right.

I was glad to be without small children when I was at Canyonlands because there are unguarded drop-offs everywhere.

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Where were the parents of these two sisters who crawled to the edge for a better view of the chasm 2200 feet below?
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From Island in the Sky one can view the White Rim 1200 feet below and the secondary drop to the Colorado River in a chasm called Monument Basin.

In my experience, there seems to be a psychological connection between risk and adventure:  The greater the perceived risk, the greater the sense of adventure.  Because of this phenomenon, I would call Canyonlands a high-adventure location. There is an abundant risk factor because of the abundance of edges.  The drives and the hikes all require frequent encounters with the edge.

After exploring Island in the Sky, adventurers who can afford the time and want to multiply their sense of adventure will likely drop down off the edge via the Shafer Trail and explore the White Rim Plateau 1200 feet below.

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The Shafer Trail drops 1200 feet in 2 miles of scary switchbacks and tight hairpin turns.

The White Rim Road is another level of high risk and delivers correspondingly high adventure.  It follows the edge of the Colorado River canyon for 100 miles of rough one-lane rocky off-roading fun.  (See my scary YouTube video of a 3-mile stretch of the road at the bottom.)

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My pickup and camper were dwarfed by the dizzying drop-offs of the White Rim Trail.

My drive on a section of the White Rim Road was a bucket list experience never to be forgotten.  Those with a fear of heights will be ill-advised to attempt either the Shafer Trail or the White Rim Road.

Visitors with Jeeps and high-clearance SUV’s will have the easiest time at Canyonlands National Park.  Despite the huge expanses of geography, the parking lots on Island in the Sky are small, and below the rim the turns are too tight for the big rigs.  If you want to get off the high mesa and explore the more challenging areas below, it’s best to leave the RV in the town of Moab and rent a Jeep.

Otherwise, there will be chaos in the chasm.

Beyond the Jeep trails, there are multiple adventures for river rafters, hikers and mountain bikers.

If you like adventures on the edge.

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This panorama is from my hike on the edge to the obscure cliff dwelling, False Kiva.

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Read more about my scary hikes: 4 Cliff Dwellings that Put Me on the Edge

Read more about my scary drives: 3 Mountain Roads that Scared the Snot Out of Me

View my 11-1/2 minute YouTube video: A White Knuckle Drive on the White Rim Road  (You will leave my blog)

An Alien Adventure at the Arches

Southwestern Safari  Milepost #7

I met a Star Wars stormtrooper while hiking in Arches National Park. He was posing for his young son who was shooting photos  under a rock formation that looks strangely like Darth Vader. They had driven over from Colorado to get that photo (above).

That says a lot about the bizarre magnetism that Arches exerts on artists and adventurers – not just from the next state, but from all around the world.  There were buses full of tourists and hikers who were anxious to experience the otherworldly landscape that is reminiscent of the desert planet Tatooine in the Star Wars movies (those scenes were actually filmed in Tunisia).

Young Liam steps to the side while tourists snap photos of his dad, Brack Lee, as the stormtrooper.
Young Liam steps to the side while tourists snap photos of his dad, Brack Lee, as the stormtrooper.

My encounter with the movie character did not actually surprise me in the least as I rounded a bend in the trail on the back side of the North and South Windows.  I had actually searched for an affordable costume on Amazon when I was planning my expedition;  I could easily visualize a Star Wars character in this setting with no real stretch of the imagination.  The most authentic costumes were quite expensive and I ultimately built my own cowboy and Indian costumes instead, which also fit the desert theme.

A small group of hikers lingers in the huge eye of North Window.
A small group of hikers lingers in the huge eye of North Window, another bazaar formation.
South and North Windows glow from the reflected light on the back trail where I met the storm trooper.
South and North Windows glow from the reflected light on the back trail where I met the storm trooper.
Double Arch is short distance from Darth Vader rock... and actually did show up in Start Wars movies.
Double Arch is short distance from Darth Vader rock… and actually did show up in Start Wars movies.

A rock shaped like Darth Vader is only the beginning when one continues to explore the geological wonderland that is Arches.  The park sits on the huge seismic Moab Fault, but it must not have been active for a very long time or hundreds of these fragile formations would have collapsed by now.

Rock strata have slipped several feet along the Moab Fault made visible by the rock cut for highway 191 across from the park entrance.
Rock strata have slipped several feet along the Moab Fault made visible by the rock cut for highway 191 adjacent to the park entrance.
There are hundreds of precarious balanced rocks which will be vulnerable to the slightest jarring earthquake.
There are hundreds of precariously balanced rocks which are vulnerable to the slightest tremor.

I can only imagine how drastically the landscape will change if ever this region is jarred by a major earthquake.  The park holds more than 2000 arches and as many balanced rocks and in fact, a few of them collapse without provocation every year.

I had to get myself in a shot with Landscape Arch before it collapses and is gone forever.
I had to get myself in a shot with Landscape Arch before it collapses and is gone forever.

One of the most frail spans, Landscape Arch is longer than a football field but only 11 feet thick at its thinnest point.  Hikers are not permitted beneath the arch since a 70-foot-long slab fell from it a few years ago.  I noticed an awed hush among the hikers near the span, as though the slightest noise would produce a vibration that would end the structure.

Of course, the signature formation in Arches is the aptly named Delicate Arch, so famous a landmark that it appears on the Utah license plates.  It is as ironic as it is iconic, as the hike is all uphill and steep, making this famous place almost out of reach to the general population.

I found the view quite worth the hike.  This was one of two sunset hikes for me inside the park.  South Window, where I met the stormtrooper, was the other where I returned for nighttime photography.

Delicate Arch is as popular as it is prominent on a high outcropping of red rock.
Delicate Arch never reveals itself along the trail until hikers reach the high amphitheater after a strenuous climb.
Fans of Delicat Arch hike uphill for a mile-and-a-half to gaze at the rock until sunset.
Fans of Delicate Arch hike uphill for a mile-and-a-half to gaze at the rock until sunset.
The trail hugs the cliff face behind the mountain before arriving at the high amphitheater where the arch stands.
The trail hugs the cliff face on a ledge behind the mountain before arriving at the high amphitheater where Delicate Arch stands.
Park Avenue is bordered by high rock walls called fins. Balancing rocks line the ridges.
Park Avenue is bordered by high rock walls called fins. Balancing rocks line the ridges everywhere.

While hiking back to the trailhead with a stormtrooper and his son, I was also scouting the landscape for some night sky photography and I was pretty sure I had found the best spot at South Window.  I checked the compass on my iPhone to discover that its orientation situated it crosswise to the Milky Way, which would be perfect for my picture, but of course, I wouldn’t know for sure until the sun went down.  Grabbing some supper in the camper, I then hiked back to the spot around behind the formation before sunset and waited for dark.

I climbed up into Double Arch but decided it didn't face the right direction for night sky shots.
I climbed up into Double Arch but decided it didn’t face the right direction for night sky shots.

I had talked to other photographers at the trailhead and they were headed for Turret Arch and Double Arch, but when I reached my spot on the backside of South Window, I was all alone.

And I was not disappointed.

As the light faded, the Milky Way slowly came into view – exactly where I had predicted.  I set up the tripod, got the camera automatically doing its thing and then climbed up into the huge rocks to “paint” the arch with some warm light from an old dive light I had saved from my scuba diving years.  It had a soft diffused beam that would work better than a focused flashlight.

There is something truly awesome about being alone in the desert at night adding my own touch of artistry to the universe.

There is something truly awesome about being alone in the desert at night adding my own touch of artistry to the cosmic canvas.

For me Arches National Park lived up to its reputation as a land of intrigue and unforgettable experiences.   High hikes to fantastic panoramas,  encounters with other enthusiastic hikers along the trails, and a  dark night under the stars — after an encounter with a Star Wars impersonator — all added up to an epic life experience.

Hooray for adventure!

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