By rights, this trip began back in January when South Jersey Girl offered up a room in a cabin to Mr Wings and I for the Escalante meet up this year. Tough to get a commitment from Mr Wings, but he surprised me and agreed although he DID say “It’s only January…. She does know that, right????” Sometime after that, we opted to follow up the Escalante days with 3 days/nights at the North Rim with the SJGs as well. Why not, yes?
From there, I planned our road trip out (as I always do) Keeping touch with SJG throughout – we’ve become friends outside of TA. Apparently GOOD friends since she and her hubby invited themselves along on our entire road trip. Well, let’s see… 5 nights in Escalante, 3 at the north rim… what’s another 9 days/nights among friends? Lol
So, that is how it began.
Day 1 was a half day event. The SJGs left home on a Wed and arrived at our home in Ohio on a Thursday just before noon. Mr Wings arrived home shortly after they arrived (he’d worked half a day) The guys unloaded all the Jersey gear from the back of the Ford Expedition and reloaded to include all the Jersey AND Ohio gear. Didn’t take long before we were on the road! We made it as far as Kansas City that first night. SJG was thinking to “make St Louis” for the night (a 7 hours drive? amateurs!) but…. we could do better than that! She was new to this whole road trip thing after all ;-)
Day 2 was the drive from KC to Estes Park, Colorado. We’d debated on skipping Estes because of the flooding and road closures, but after checking with the local DEs, we opted to go ahead and add our $$ to the local economy. The Peak to Peak was the only way into Estes. Mr Wings and I had been across before and it was a lovely drive. It was quite warm in KC, so we were all dressed in shorts and tees. Going across the Peak to Peak? It went from rain to snow and we watched the temps drop to 34. We stopped at a gas station to grab more hot coffee and put on more clothes… Realized at that juncture that for some unknown reason…. The EX opted to emit heat to the driver’s side, but blasted freezing cold air into the passenger side from the vents above and below. Darn vehicle! Closed the top vents and stuffed a pillow into the floor board to block that air.
We made it to Estes before dark which was our goal. I had called our motel earlier in the week to make sure they were not affected by the flooding or the “no flush zone” No worries! We each had a remodeled room reserved at the Coyote Mountain Lodge. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60945-d555366-… When we arrived, we were told that due to the flooding, one of our rooms was unavailable so we’d been upgraded to a suite. Great! I was looking forward to a nice, warm place for the night after freezing the last few hours. This “remodeled” room looked lovely, but…. the wall heater had not been updated and flat out did not work. We were given 2 space heaters which we plugged in and turned on before leaving to find a place to eat.
Finding a place open to eat was another adventure, but we found something. No idea what the name of it was. It was fine, nothing I remember as terribly bad or good. Back to the rooms and after an hour of shivering under the covers (the space heaters had turned themselves off while we were gone) I managed to get warm and fall asleep. Where ARE those darn hot flashes when you need one, eh?
Day 3 we were up early. Quick bite to eat, supply of coffee and off to RMNP. Ranger at the gate said we didn’t need our parks pass. Really? Why not? Trail Ridge Rd was closed due to ice and snow and had been since the previous morning. (notice a trend here of things not going to plan?) sigh…. Okay—adjust. We drove to the meadows and got some great views of elk in the morning light with snow capped mountains in the background. Wow! Okay—REALLY wanted to show the SJG’s Trail Ridge Road, but… I’d not seen the park with elk and golden aspens AND snow capped peaks before, so… we were happy about that. Beautiful! It was VERY cold and windy but we scampered out to Sprague Lake to at least get photos of each other with the lake and mountains in the background. We retraced our path across the Peak to Peak- (this time in sunshine) and headed west on I70 thru the tunnel, then south towards Independence Pass. We got lucky that it was open and by the time we got there, free of the morning’s ice. Wow, what a drive! We took our time and took shots along the way. SJG and I found our dream homes overlooking the Twin Lakes (houses side by side, of course). Found our way to our condo for the next 2 nights in Aspen. The Chateau Blanc Condos. www.flipkey.com/aspen-condo-rentals/p443862/ Cannot speak for the other units, but…. ours (#15) was outstanding!!!! Great place to put up our feet and chill out and eat after a long day. Everything about this condo was perfect.
Day 4 we were up and at the Maroon Bells pre-dawn. It was absolutely bitter cold out there! Watching the sunrise was beautiful and worth the misery, but…. we had to head back to the car to get warm. I’d have happily passed on our planned hike and headed back to town for a big HOT breakfast, but… between 9 and 5, you have to ride a shuttle from Aspen to the Maroon Bells and we didn’t want to give up our vehicle. So—we warmed up, (pillow permanently crammed into the floor vent at this point) then headed off to hike to Crater Lake. Just under 4 miles round trip and of course uphill for quite aways. We warmed up, that’s for sure! The 10000 feet elevation was tough on that uphill slog! Fortunately, the hike was so gorgeous, I had plenty of stops to take shots and rest a bit. The trail runs thru the aspens—the lake below peeks between the trees here and there as do the snow capped mountains. It was a beautiful, beautiful hike! Near the top—in the rocky section—we were “shouted at” by pica. Quite bossy for their size and cute as buttons!
That evening, we ate at the Cantina. That name I remember since it was recommended to me by a friend here in town. He said it was excellent food and quite reasonably priced by Aspen standards He was right on both accounts tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g29141-d38…
Day 5 we headed out of Aspen and towards Colorado National Monument. Pretty drive… more golden aspen. CNM is not as well known as some of the other national parks nor is it as large as some, but… it is quite beautiful! Lots of pull offs and over looks and hikes. We spent most of the day there before heading to Red Dirt Dawg and Slick Rock Walker’s home for 2 nights. Great host and hostess and the accommodations were top notch! Not to mention an awesome dinner that evening made by SRW and an outstanding breakfast the next morning! We spent the evening catching up with old friends. It was lovely.
Day 6 we got up to hear the news that the government had shut down the national parks. Seriously??? I have an idea…. Why not save money by NOT BEING PAID FOR NOT DOING YOUR JOB???? Sorry… just had to get that in there ;-) Well… we did not let that dissuade us. Off we went to the entrance and behold… no barricades and no ranger. Cool! The 6 of us did a hike, took some photos of the “outlaw band” and generally enjoyed the morning. We came back to the cars to find caution tape, cones, barricades and rangers. Sigh…. Back we went to the house to regroup. We females headed to the grocery since we were in charge of food supplies for the meet up dinners. Our counterparts snuck back into the park and did a long hike that afternoon. Outlaws! Another evening spent in great company and anticipation of the meet up the next day.
Day 7 we headed out in 2 vehicles loaded down with supplies and bound for Escalante! RDD led us off the route a bit to check out some awesome rock art at Sego Canyon. It comes in very handy to have your own “guide” when the government opts to close down the national parks! It was a great stop along the way and I had never seen so many petroglyphs and pictographs.
We’d planned to stop at Capitol Reef to pick apples for the meet up, but of course, all was barricaded. Even the restroom along the main route thru the park was locked up tight. Ha! Cannot barricade the bushes, now can you! We stopped numerous times coming across the mountains to admire and shoot the aspens and scenery. Somewhere along the way, SJG got a phone call from the cabin owner saying we needed to “take our time” in arriving since the previous guests had taken a late check out and cleaning was going to take a bit. Okay… we can do that. Stop for more scenery and photos. No worries!
We arrived at the cabin to find the “previous” guests not yet off the premises. An additional couple was due to come back (and they did) and demanded to be let into the cabin to get their things. (which had already been packed and removed by their co-travelers) Sigh… So far… things have just not gone as planned. SJG is quite easy going and takes things as they come and informed me that we should make lemonade when being handed a bunch of lemons. Fine! More lemonade it is!
Evening was great, tho. No time to unpack and settle in before the whole gang showed up, but… it was great fun. Catching up with those I’d not seen since Kanab. A group meal of meats off the grill and lots of sides and apps and desserts…. Everyone pitched in and it was a really good, noisy, happy, great group! All was quiet by 9. (suprisingly) The cabin was perfect, by the way-- Very nice place and great views! http://redrockranchescalante.com/ The only downside was the owner’s adamance that NO dogs were permitted inside due to allergies, service dogs or no, so… M and M had to stay outside. They seem to take that in stride and keep themselves entertained by eating up MRP’s cookie I feel sort of responsible for that. Sorry MRP. One day, I’ll have to replace that cookie!
Day 8 was a group trek out to Peek a Boo and Spooky. Pretty excited about it. Mr Wings had been looking forward to getting shots of the slot canyons. They are one of his favorite subjects to shoot. Alas… 20 miles down Hole in the Rock Road, the EX just stopped dead. You have GOT to be kidding me! sigh…. More freaking lemonade, I guess! Red Rox and Mrs Red Pony stopped to help out. Left us their phone (since none of ours had service) Called AAA… who said they were coming but never did. Someone heading to town stopped and offered to let the service station know we needed a tow (they did and a HUGE thanks to them-- whoever they may be) 3 hours we sat by the side of the dirt road. Waving people on… thanking them for stopping… By hours 2 we were getting restless and bored. We seriously considered using RR’s cell phone to take photos—(let’s take shots of different body parts and see if he can tell who is who and what is what???) lol We thought better of that idea, fortunately for RR A tow did arrive. Only one in town so he can charge as he likes, I guess???? Really??? $500 to be towed 21 miles? That goes WAY beyond a “seriously” and into the “are you ****ing kidding me?????” category. We broke down at 10:30 and by the time we got back to the cabin, it was 3:30. What a day! Felt so badly for the SJGs. To add insult to injury, Mr SJG had to rent the only available vehicle in town (a POS Jeep) for a ridiculous amount of $$ to enable him to go and get his OWN part so the service station could fix it the next day.
Group dinner that evening cheered us up. Lots of chatting and laughing and getting to know everyone better and making new friends. All was quiet by 9:00 yet again! Sat and chatted with the cabin mates for a bit. Nice group. I’d stay again with the lot in a heartbeat.
Day 9 started out with Mr SJG heading to a town an hour+ away to get the darn part to get his truck fixed. Sigh… what a mess! He took it in stride and stopped along the way to take some photos while SJG, the Wings and the Ohio Hicks waited at the cabin for his return. Once he was back in the fold, the 6 of us headed out to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls. Place was barricaded (of course) but several cars were parked along the road and we joined them and hiked past the barricades and into the park. I really enjoyed this hike. It’s not hard—but it’s interesting. Some woods, some rocks, some ups and downs but nothing difficult. Just enough variety to keep it interesting I thought. Follows a creek part of the way too and…. ends in a tall waterfall that is really lovely! Supposed to be 6 miles round trip, I think? But we clocked it at 7 and ½. Maybe because we started at the road as opposed to the trail head? At any rate, it’s a great walk and not difficult. That evening, we headed to Slot Canyon Inn for dinner. Little did we know that when we agreed to outdoor dining, it was going to be so COLD!!!! They are a great little place, did their best to accommodate us, had outdoor heaters… but it was just too cold to be outside, really. The food was good and the people nice enough. There were several cats and a dog that kept wandering among us, so if you are not comfortable eating with animals milling around… you might not be happy? It bothered none of us at all. Well, we 2 legged creatures didn’t mind, but M and M were not keen on the additional guests! lol Despite the chill in the air, our hearts were warmed by the arrival of the Tets. A beautiful sight! I’d waited a long time to give and receive those hugs in person!
Day 10 was a hike with most of the group going. Big Horn Canyon. It was quite beautiful and ended (or at least we ended the hike) at a small slot canyon. Climbing out of the area was a bit of an adventure for me. I am NOT fond of heights and returning required crossing a “ledge” (that term is used VERY loosely since it was maybe 4 inches wide????) high up on the rock face. I took a deep breath, looked down, decided I was going to live and hung on and went across with Mr Wings right beneath me giving me courage! Mr SJG had just helped SJG across and came back to help me the rest of the way. Thanks to both of those gentlemen for helping me do something I never thought I could do!
Most of the group went to Hells Backbone Grill for dinner that evening. All came back with positive reviews, but… it’s just not my cup of tea and some of us opted to just chill out, not rush to clean up and drive 40 minutes away. So—the SJGs, the Hicks and the Wings went instead to the Circle D for dinner. It was actually quite good. Good company—good food—nice evening.
Our original plan was 3 days/nights at the north rim of the GC following Escalante, but knowing that wasn’t going to happen, we took advantage of having Tet “captive” and asked him for alternatives once all were back at the cabin. Omg…. What a treat! With the atlas open to Utah, Az and NM…. Off he went…. Plotting out a route and plan with great detail. He truly is the King of the Road. It was an amazing thing to watch! The knowledge and detail in that brain? The rest of us just stood around with our mouths gaping. Special thanks to Tet for salvaging our trip! I went to bed that night with a smile on my face!
Day 11 some of the group did the Cosmic Ashtray hike. Mr Wings, SJG and I decided to pass on the hike and spend the day with the Tets. Circumstances the previous day kept PNJM from hiking with SJG and I and we were disappointed about that, so….we convinced her to come along with us! We went to the Devils Garden. It is a beautiful place…an easy walk. Reminded me of Goblin Valley a bit, but also has a natural arch. Mr Wings opted to drive us girls out that Hole in the Rock road instead of hiking, but his good deed was rewarded with some fantastic shots of the place. It was a beautiful day with wonderful company topped off with lunch at the Circle D, a quiet afternoon and then a dinner in the evening with the whole group to finish up the leftovers in the cabin. It was another great evening with good food and even better company. Tried to talk to everyone over the course of days, but there’s just never enough time it seems. We had to say our goodbyes to the fellowship that evening. VERY hard to do. I was fine till having to say good bye to the Tets. Watching the Mr go out the door… well, it just hit me hard and I had to run him down for one more hug and kiss. Rough night!
Day 12 brought more goodbyes--saying goodbye to our cabin mates. I really did enjoy the group. All had a great sense of humor and easy to relax with. They made me laugh quite a lot. Water feature? Really? Lol Still makes me chuckle when I think of it Powder Glut! We didn’t get to know you and the Mrs in Kanab, so it was a nice treat to spend time and space with you this go round.
At any rate… we reluctantly headed out after a great (and traditional) breakfast made by PG. We changed our route to head to Canyon de Chelly. Took our time getting there enjoying the route. Stopped at Red Canyon and clambering around a bit-- (in lieu of Bryce) Alt 89 out of Page was done, by the way—nice road—but open only during daytime hours. We arrived at the BW in Chinle after calling ahead to find a place for the night. A little pricey to be honest, but, front desk was sweet and friendly and the room was clean. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60753-d74336-R…
Day 13 was our day for the canyon. Canyon de Chelly is a national monument, BUT is on Navajo lands. HA! Visitor center was closed, but the park open. One of those places we’d never been because it seemed too far out of the way. This was the perfect opportunity to finally make it there. Tet’s suggestion (of course) We loved the canyon. Wonderful scenery and cliff dwellings -- We did the hike down to the White House ruins where the only dwellings on the floor of the canyon are. 3 mile hike round trip—remember…. half of it is coming back up Good little work out! Navajo vendors sat at some of the overlooks and also at the bottom. They had managed to get one of the 4 locked restrooms open (bless them) ;-) I came away with a painted rock, an etched rock, 2 turtles and a necklace Beautiful work, reasonable prices and friendly faces. We thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the canyon and its people. …wikipedia.org/wiki/Canyon_de_Chelly_Nationa…
We’d originally planned to spend a 2nd night nearby, but… opted instead to drive the 4 hours to Albuquerque to take advantage of the good weather and mass ascension the next morning. Had reservations at an Econo-Lodge (good reviews, newly remodeled) in Albuquerque but for Thursday night, not Tuesday night. In the meantime, the motel had been bought by Comfort Inn. They were SO nice—they not only honored the VERY reasonable original rate, but allowed me to drop the Thurs night reservation and instead, stay Tues and Wed nights. 2 rooms for 2 nights at a very low rate. They were just as nice in person as on the phone and the rooms and beds were awesome! This was by far our favorite hotel along the way both for comfort, cleanliness and kindness. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60933-d98768-R…
Day 14 was a very early morning! We were up and out to the balloon fiesta field before dawn. It was chilly, but not cold. All the signs were there of it being a perfect morning for the launch. It was! Mr Wings and I had been to a mass ascension before. The SJGs had not. Over 700 hot air balloons being launched, row after row of them… the SJGs were like kids in a candy store! All 4 of us just wandered the field with huge grins on our faces. It is one of the most spectacular events I’ve ever attended. Everyone should make the effort to get there at least once imo. After the launch, we headed to the souvenir and food stands. SJG and I found posters, signed by the attending artist, to add to our items to tote home Beautiful work-- http://www.penagallery.com/
We collected up the guys and headed to the old town plaza for a little shopping. I love the old plaza in Albuquerque. Street vendors, great shops and eateries and even a mariachi band at the gazebo. The highlight of our day, however, was getting to meet 4 Navajo Code Talkers. WHAT an honor! We shook their hands and thanked them for their service. They were selling books with all the $$ going directly to putting out their stories. They ranged in age from 88 to 93. They were just darling and sweet and each autographed our books and talked with us. We left there with tears in our eyes- We all agreed that this had been the perfect day.
Alas, we had spoken too soon! Time left in the day, so we headed up the Turquoise Trail to the top of the Sandias. Partway up… that’s right! The EX opted to die. SERIOUSLY????? Of course, trying to turn around, we ended up stalled, sideways, on a blind corner…. 3 of us got out to push to get things rolling downhill. Stayed running and we stopped at the bottom to put some high octane gas into the tank. The guys both held the opinion that last tank was “poor” gas, tank was low and combined with the elevation…. It just caused an issue. We stopped at the Ford dealership to have things checked out. The EX was given a clean bill of health and no charge for the help. How nice was that? Sweet! Back to a perfect day after all Thank goodness! I was getting tired of lemonade by that point!
Day 15 was our first day “headed home” The first stop was Glenrio, Texas. An abandoned town (well, 2 residents still there) on the border of Texas and NM on old Rt 66. Some great photo ops! If you stop, be aware and courteous of the remaining residents, please. Our next stop was Cadillac Ranch. The Wings had made the stop in years past, but the SJGs had not. It was their first road trip, so…. a must stop More colorful than before which was cool, but…. there were hundreds of spray cans scattered in the field. THAT was not an improvement at all. A ‘new’ tradition? If it is, it’s a lousy one! Grrr….
We stopped at a bridge along Rt 66 at Lake Overholster just outside OKC. SJG loves old bridges, so we had a couple of those on our list of stops. Mr Wings and I had a particular connection to the area. We started our lives together in OKC. Lived there for the first 5 years of our marriage and our son was born there. We also had a special fondness for parking in the lake area. ;-)
We made it to Stroud, OK that evening. We wanted to treat ourselves to a breakfast at the Rock Café in the morning, so… stopped at the Best Western in Stroud for the night. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g51673-d74908-R…
Not our favorite place, but okay. We missed the Comfort Inn we’d been staying at the last 2 nights. More $$ than it was worth, but the restaurant remained open (they were closing at 8 when we got there) to take care of the 4 of us. THAT was very sweet! Server was good natured, attentive and did not begrudge us being there at all. Very nice. We definitely appreciated that. Food was okay. Room was okay but service was great.
Day 16 brought us to the Rock Café for breakfast. Original to Rt 66—breakfast was good. Much like any other breakfast, really, but lots of history and a neat little place to get a bite. tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g51673-d40… Our first stop after breakfast was another bridge on Rt 66 near the town of Sapulpa, OK Cool old bridge and got some nice shots of it in the morning light. Back on the road—we got off Rt 44 and followed Rt 66 to an old drive in theatre Carthage, Missouri. On to a couple of “ghost towns” I’d run across online called Spencer and Paris Springs (both in Missouri). Just down the road from each other and both having been “spruced” up. Spencer was empty—had a station, barber shop, café, etc 4 or 5 little buildings all connected and recently face lifted. Antiques seen thru the windows—it looked as if it’s in the process of being totally set up inside and out. Cool little place. Even better tho (imo) was Paris Springs. Gary and his gas station and garage filled with old cars and pumps and oil and…. all kinds of things! Free coffee, soda, water and even pie was offered. Lol The best part was getting to meet Gary and his wife. Been married since they were 16… LOTS of years together… lots of stories and personality. We sat and listened and chatted for a long time. Do stop by if you have a little time. It’s a great stop and loads of fun. It’s not far off rt 44, so… do stop in on your travels. You will not be disappointed. legendsofamerica.com/mo-ghoststretch2.html
We made it to St Louis in time to see the Gateway arch before the sun headed down. It made for some great lighting for photos. Park was closed but grounds open. We continued on down the road for another hour and stopped at a Days Inn in Vandalia, Illinois. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g36812-d88066-R… Nice guy at the front desk and gave us a good rate, but…. not my favorite room. Clean enough, so fine for the night. Recommended a local pizza place (Joe’s) that had quite good pizza. tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g36812-d3237…
Day 17 was a “short” drive home (6 hours+ another hour loss) to central Ohio for the Wings and then another 7 and ½ hours home for the SJGs
All in all, it was a great trip. I have never been so angry with our elected officials as I was this trip. Our story was much less sad than others we ran across. A lady who had terminal cancer—GC on her bucket list—she planned to sneak in anyways. You go girl!!!! The gentleman who’d brought his wife from Canada to see the GC for their 25th anniversary… of course we did not suggest ways to perhaps and park and hike a little???? So many changes in the plans it pained this “control freak” but we took turns making each other laugh when nothing, really, was funny at all. We were lucky to be traveling together.
I hope we gave the SJGs a good taste of a road trip. RTs are fun, but not for the faint of heart at times Remember what we did on day 3? Hmm…by day 11 you don’t even remember day 3! Lol Great fun tho (we think) Hopefully, the SJGs will be brave enough to plan their own cross country trek at some point and hopefully the darn national parks will be open, eh?
By the way—I used to like lemonade.
Photos of our adventures can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/77483949@N08/10310715824/