Tag Archives: RV living

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 – 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.

la playita scene

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?

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

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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3 Mountain Roads that Scared the Snot out of Me

This is the 6th in a series on my Southwestern Photo Safari.

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I didn’t really know what I was in for when I planned my route across southern Utah.  I actually thought I had prepared pretty well, but the maps don’t even come close to conveying the extremes of these roads that cut through deep canyons and alternately wind across high ridges with drop-offs on both sides. I watched lots of YouTube videos of other travelers’ adventures and still wasn’t able to grasp the scope of what lay ahead of me.
It’s probably a good thing, or I might have lost my nerve. As it turned out, it seemed that my itinerary alternated between scary drives one day and scary hikes the next.

This is about three of the most adventurous drives I encountered on my photo safari to southern Utah.

The Hogback on Highway 12

I ended up driving this road twice since my side trip to Capitol Reef National Park was an out-and-back overnight trip from Escalante rather than a loop route.

Highway 12 cuts across ancient sandstone benches called slick rock.
Highway 12 cuts across ancient sandstone benches called slick rock.

Escalante road

Highway 12 east of the town of Escalante is a study in extremes.  Much of the route east and then north to Torrey is across bare stone landscape called slick rock.  It’s not actually slippery, since it is sandstone; its surface is more like sand paper.

The road drops into the Escalante Canyon and heads north up the other side.
The road descends into the Escalante Canyon and heads north up the other side.

The route drops down into the canyon to cross the Escalante river and then climbs as quickly up the other side to traverse the Hogback where the drop-off is 600 feet on both sides of the road!

The Hogback winds along the ridge with drops on both side.
The Hogback winds along the ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides.
A view into the canyon on the west side of the Hogback.
A view into the canyon on the west side of the Hogback.

There are a couple of turn-outs where I was able to stop for some photos and video, but most of the high section is narrow and winding with no shoulders or guardrails.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

(My video gives a much better idea of what the Hogback is really like;  I have posted the link to it at the bottom of the post.)

The Shafer Trail

This is one of the most extreme roads in America,  and should not be attempted by anybody with acrophobia – a true fear of heights.  Mostly Jeeps and SUV’s travel the gravel road because the hairpin turns are tight and will not accommodate long vehicles.   Would-be adventurers with trailers and motorhomes should absolutely stay away.   Just park your RV in Moab, rent a Jeep from one of several outfitters, then head out here for the drive of your life!

The switchbacks of the Shafer Trail are hanging on the edge of the cliffs.
The switchbacks of the Shafer Trail are hanging on the edge of the cliffs.  The White Rim Trail can be seen cutting across the lower plateau in the distance.

The Shafer Trail connects the Island In the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park with the White Rim plateau as it drops more than 1000 feet in about 2 miles of steep switchbacks and hairpin turns.

Shafer switchbacks

Of course, there is no room for guardrails on these steep cliffs and shoulders are non-existent.  One wrong move and it’s a tremendous tumble to the pearly gates!

(Go to my 26-second video of this road at the bottom of the page.)

The White Rim Road

This tortuous trail follows a 100-mile-long route through the Canyonlands National Park on what could be considered the middle level of the park, as it were.  The lower level would be the Colorado and Green Rivers, and the top level would be the high mesa called Island in the Sky.  Most tourists only get to visit the upper level, but they are able to peer down 2200 feet into the canyons on three sides of Island in the Sky.

The road traverses gullies and gorges on its way to the White Rim.
I came in on Potash Road which traverses gullies and gorges on its way to the White Rim.

The White Rim Road requires high clearance and four wheel drive.  Unless you are peddling it;  mountain bikers take 4 to 5 days to travel the route, camping in campgrounds at night.  Jeepsters usually take 2 days or more to cover the 100-mile loop because they are in low gear much of the time, only barely staying ahead of the bikers.

The road follows the edge of the White Rim which is 1000 feet above the Colorado River. The drop-offs are impressive.
The road follows the edge of the White Rim which is 1000 feet above the Colorado River. The drop-offs are impressive.

My day-trip on the White Rim was an out-and-back from Moab, Utah, via Potash Road as an alternative to the Shafer Trail.  I only ventured about 25 miles out as far as Musselman Arch, and then back, and it took all day because of the grueling conditions.   Stones, gravel, bare rock, steep grades up and down, dry and wet creek beds;  at one point I drove up a dry wash for some distance, secure in the knowledge that no rain was in the forecast and no flash flood would be forthcoming.

I drove up a dry wash for a while, between cliffs of red rock.
I drove up a dry wash for a while, between cliffs of red rock.

The views from the edge of the Rim are absolutely incredible!  The road travels on the cusp of the drop-off for several miles in some places.   Of course, the road is only one lane, which means when you meet another vehicle, somebody has to back up to the last turn-out so they can pass each other.  That encounter happened to me three times on a particularly dangerous stretch on the ledge!

Views from the edge are impressive.
Views from the edge are impressive.

Most adventurers take the 100-mile loop and only have to drive it once, but since my trip was an out-and-back, I got to see it twice.  That meant twice the white-knuckle fun on the White Rim Road.

On one of the most scary mountain sections, I stuck a video camera to my windsheild with a suction cup mount and captured 11-1/2 minutes of stomach-churning adventure.  I have posted the clip on YouTube so the whole world can view it.

I finally made it back to Moab by nightfall and drove straight to the car wash to reward my truck for its faithful performance on the awful trail, then I headed across the street to the Moab Brewery to reward myself for my awesome off-road driving on America’s second most radical road.

If you ever plan to drive this challenging road, I suggest you view this video so you will know what you are in for.  Full screen mode will give you the greatest gasp-per-mile factor (bottom of the list below).

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View the 35-second video:  A Drive on the Edge – the Hogback on Highway 12

View the 26-second video:  Driven to the Edge – The Shafer Trail

View the 11-1/2 minute video : A White-Knuckle Drive on the White Rim Road.   Click Full Screen for the best scare.  If you are afraid of heights, maybe take a Xanax first!

Thank you for coming along!

Find the other posts in this series in the left sidebar or go to Posts By Destination and click Southwestern Safari.

4 Cliff Dwellings that Put Me on the Edge

This is the 5th in a series on the Southwest.   Find the others in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this post.

Sometimes I can’t believe how I get into such scary spots…  and then I remember exactly how it happens: I am always looking for the obscure sites where there is nobody else around. I don’t like crowds, but for a photographer, they usually come with the job.

Not so with the obscure Navajo ruins of the southwest.  Three of these four sites are not even on a map; I found them through some meandering research, and some of them I had completely to myself.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.

There is a reason why the hundreds of ancient ruins are not publicized and it has to do with preservation.  Heavy traffic can destroy irreplaceable artifacts in a short time.  Most of these locations are protected by conservation laws, but that doesn’t stop some folks from picking up a curious arrowhead here or a stone tool there…  and soon there is no way for archaeologists to piece together the true history of the place when they eventually get to study the site.  Obscurity is their best protection.

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Looks like the Himalayas, doesn’t it? But it’s not Tibet; it’s here in southern Utah.

Pedestal Rock Ruin

I don’t think there is anything to worry about when it comes to the long-term preservation of this amazing location.  Not only is it difficult to reach by road,  it is perched on a high ledge that can’t be reached without risk to life and limb.  It’s just not worth taking the chance.

Further, though it is in plain sight, it blends in with the background cliff so well that it is all but impossible to spot without knowing where to look.

Can you spot the ruin? It is in plain sight near the middle of the photo.
Can you spot the ruin? It is in plain sight near the middle of the photo.  This was my first view of the site as I approached on foot following a sketchy path that ended at the foot of the cliff.
Honestly, the natives must have had their kids on tethers all the time to keep from losing them over the edge.
Honestly, the natives must have had their kids on tethers all the time to keep from losing them over the edge.

When I finally reached Pedestal Rock after several miles of off-roading  (yes, four-wheel-drive was absolutely necessary) and a hike on foot across the desert,  I still had to scramble 150 feet up a loose talus slope to get within 100 feet – and still 30 feet below the ledge – to photograph the stone ruin.  No way was I climbing any farther!

What a fantastic view those guys had from 200 feet above the valley!
What a fantastic view those guys had from their stone house 200 feet above the valley!

Nobody is going to bother Pedestal Rock ruin for a long time.  It’s a thousand years old now and will continue to last undisturbed until…  well, a major earthquake or something.

I spent the night at the end of the road near the cliffs.
I spent the night at the end of the road near the cliffs.

Seventeen-Room Ruin

This site was another well camouflaged structure.  I drove right up to it on a ranch access road and when I got out of my truck I still couldn’t see it.  It’s perfect blend with the huge alcove in which it sits also made it hard to photograph.

A gigantic alcove shelters the ruin on a semi-circular ledge that follows the contour of the formation.
A gigantic overhang shelters the ruin on a semi-circular ledge that follows the contour of the alcove.

Again, I was in for a challenging climb on a boulder-strewn slope.  Man, these guys knew how to pick their sites to ward off attackers!

This ruin commands a splendid view of the San Juan river valley. Yes, that's my pickup below.
This ruin commands a splendid view of the San Juan River valley. Yes, that’s my pickup below.

Many of these ruins were abandoned 700 years ago, but they date back to hundreds of years before that.  Just think, Columbus hadn’t even arrived yet in North America by the time these installations were vacated.  Historians say they moved southeast to more fertile locations, but I think it was because somebody had to carry water and firewood up that slope everyday and they just got tired of it.

17-Room Ruin view

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Set way back in the alcove, this structure will never be eroded by rain and snow.

False Kiva

My hike to False Kiva and back had me focused intently on my own survival.  The site is located in a high alcove overlooking the expansive views of Canyonlands National Park but it requires a sketchy climb across the face of a loose rocky slope on a rather obscure pathway where one wrong move can mean a disastrous tumble and certain death.  The drop to the Green River is over 2000 feet!

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The trail crosses the face of the loose slope with a sheer drop into the canyon below.

Long before I reached the ancient site, I was dizzy with vertigo.  Finally, the enormous alcove offered a secure place to rest…  and grab the photos for which I had just risked by life.  Wow!  What a view!

The setting sun had already dropped below the nearby cliff by the time I reached the old ruin.
The setting sun had already dropped below the nearby cliff by the time I reached the ancient ruin.

I still had to climb back out of here.  My original plan to stay for some night sky shots now seemed rather foolhardy and an invitation to trouble on the dangerous slope after dark.  A quick change of plans had me gulping Gatorade and trail mix and resting for a few minutes before initiating an immediate return to the canyon rim before darkness would set in.

Hovenweap National Monument

This place is actually on the map and gets a light flow of visitors even though it is a long way from anywhere.  It’s location near the Four Corners area makes it accessible on mostly nice paved roads, but it is still not really on the way to anywhere.  There is a rustic campground where I stayed the night.

Though you have to be a bit intentional about getting here, at least you will not be challenged by strenuous climbs.  The only real danger is that, just like every other ancient Anasazi installation, the buildings are perched on the edges of drop-offs.  Make the kids hold your hand.

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Some of these remarkable buildings are three and four stories high and really impressive.  The stonework is nothing short of amazing.

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Every building is contoured to the ledge that it sits on.  And apparently, the rock didn’t need to be level to be a desirable construction site.  It just had to be on a dangerous edge.  Amazing.

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Anyway, it was a relief for me to be able to wander around pretty much on the level and wonder about the way of life that the ancients experienced.  How deep must have been their fear of their adversaries to feel they had to protect themselves by building and  living their lives on the edge every day.

My visit to four ancient sites afforded only a brief glimpse of the historical installations.  There are hundreds of them, and I was amazed that most of them sit unprotected on their original ledges with nary a visit from anybody.  Hopefully, they stay that way, because they are a real treasure to all of us, not only to the native descendants.

I came away from all of my cliff dwelling adventures without a scratch, just some achy leg muscles from all the scrambling up and down steep rock-strewn slopes.  For that I am really thankful.

And I had fun.

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Read Episode #1: Bryce Canyon

Read Episode #2: Capitol Reef

Read episode #3: Monument Valley

Read Episode #4: Valley of the Gods

Thanks for reading!

Two (fake) Cowboys Meet in Monument Valley

This is the third in a series of posts from my photo safari to the American Southwest.  Look for links to the others at the bottom.

Since I am the most frequent subject in my own photos, I often dress to fit the setting.  For the southwest trip I bought a plaid shirt – red of course – and a cowboy hat and stepped into the picture at just about every site.

At Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park there is already a resident cowboy who poses on his horse for the tourists, making a few dollars in tips from each one.  Being photo savvy, he wears a red shirt too.  I don’t know this Navajo’s name but we spoke briefly at John Ford Point, the little mesa made famous by the namesake film director who first filmed John Wayne at the site for the movie Stagecoach  in 1939.  It has since been featured in a variety of flicks including The Searchers (1956),  Easy Rider (1969) and others.

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My tour of the dusty 17-mile valley loop took me past other popular scenes like the Totem Poles, West Mitten, East Mitten, and Merrick Butte.

Valley Drive in Monument Valley

Totem Poles at Monument Valley

Though there are lots of safari trucks and outfitters who offer tours through the famous valley, I like that it is still open to general visitors to drive and explore.  However, hiking is not allowed in most areas and there are warnings about leaving the road, so it is closely controlled.  You can get ticketed for wandering off… if anybody can find you.

West Mitten Monument Valley

Monument Panorama

Monument North Window

My final signature site was Mile 13 on the north side of the valley where highway 163 makes a straight shot north out of the park.  It’s the spot where Forrest Gump finally stopped running in the movie of the same name.  The day I was there, the highway was being repaved.

There is a small turnout at milepost 13 where you can pull off and aim your camera south to capture th iconic skyline made famous by Forrest Gump.
There is a small turnout at milepost 13 where you can pull off and aim your camera south to capture the iconic skyline made famous by Forrest Gump.

Monument Valley is a long way from the nearest expressway and farther from a city, but if you go, you can get fuel and provisions at the Shell station in Mexican Hat coming in from the north or at Kayenta (AZ) to the south where there are several gas stations and even some fast-food joints.

Also, if you are boondocking, the camping is free at Valley of the Gods just 25 miles northeast (my next post will cover this remote location).  No facilities.

You’re sure to have a monumental experience!  And have fun.

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Read Southwestern Safari episode 1:  Bryce Canyon is Hoodoo Central

Read Southwestern Safari episode 2:  Capitol Reef National Park – I Think We’re Alone Now

Also, click the green Follow button in the left side bar if you want to get a notice of my next post.  You won’t want to miss my final post in the series, Four Mountain Roads that Scared the Snot Out of Me!