Obnoxious Neighbors but Great Views: Canyonlands

Traveling can transport you, physically and mentally, but it can’t help you outrun unpleasant neighbors or bad weather.  They’ll wind up following you almost anywhere.  Late-night loud music, fresh dog poo just outside our tent, yelling children (and their parents), a screaming fight, and an ancient loud generator complete with spotlights and a surround sound movie experience at midnight.  These are a few of the experiences we’ve been treated to over the past four and a half months while we’ve been camping.  The vast majority of our neighbors have been fantastic, but we’ve had six that have left us thankful that we’re not their permanent neighbors.  Unfortunately, we encountered two of these six neighbors during our visit to Canyonlands National Park.   Putting aside the two nights in a row of camping next to or near families that do not communicate except by shouting, and doing so constantly, be it 10pm or 5am, we seriously enjoyed Canyonlands.

Our camping options in Canyonlands were limited, so we crossed our fingers and drove the forty miles from the nearest town to the twelve-spot campground hoping for a miracle.  Two sites left!  Hallelujah!  This was easily one of the most beautiful places we’ve camped thus far.  Sure there was absolutely no water (you have to pack it all in), but the views were incredible.  It seemed like you could see forever in just about every direction from atop the mesa, and just a short walk down the road took us to one of the best views in the park, Green River Overlook.  The only downside to our stay (aside from the less than neighborly neighbors) was the nightly ritual of counting seconds between lightning and thunder.  The storms were beautiful to watch, but they were intense, and were frighteningly close at times.   Although we should have been following the 30/30 rule (seek safe shelter – in our case, the car – when there are 30 seconds or less between lightning and the resulting thunder and stay in the shelter until 30 minutes elapse with no thunder ), we wound up following the 15/30 rule (don’t try this at home, kids).  This kept us out of the car for 2 of the 3 nights, but we did spend several hours in the car during our second night of camping when the strikes were much too close to our campground.

Our Campsite in Willow Flat Campground

Our Campsite in Willow Flat Campground

Rainstorms on the Horizon

Rainstorms on the Horizon

Despite all my whining, Canyonlands wound up being one of our favorite places that we visited on this trip.  Because it doesn’t have the name recognition that many of the other Utah parks have (Arches, Bryce, Zion, to name the big three), it doesn’t have the crowds.  There are four sections to the park, two of which require a 4-wheel drive vehicle; however, we only visited one section of the park, the Island in the Sky District.  We’re already talking about going back when Van is older and bringing a 4-wheel drive with us, not only so we can visit the other sections, but so that we can drive right down into the canyons and backpack and camp along the river.  Talk about a great wilderness experience!

But, I digress.  Even without the 4-wheel drive, we were able to get out and hike to some great spots in the park.  We also dutifully pulled into each of the scenic lookout spots that we could, joining the other visitors (almost all European, many in their rented RVs with California or Nevada plates) to gasp at the incredible vistas full of far-off mesas, rock monuments, and cracks in the earth that were full of lush greenery and running water.  It was in Canyonlands (and not nearby Arches) where we hiked to our first arch, Mesa Arch, and even climbed atop the somewhat narrow arch for the fun of it!  Most amazingly, Van sat through an entire ranger program on the geology of the park.  We often have to skip these because there’s no way he’ll sit through a whole program without howling at some point.  But this one was outside, so we figured we could make a quick escape if necessary.  No escape needed!

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch

Me and Van at Mesa Arch

Me and Van at Mesa Arch

My favorite of our hikes was the Upheaval Dome hike.  It was a short two-mile hike (roundtrip), mostly on slickrock, to the edge of the dome.   While scientists don’t agree on how it was formed, they speculate it was either because of a meteorite or because of a salt dome, essentially a salt bubble caused by pressure over millions of years.

Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome

On the Trail to Upheaval Dome

On the Trail to Upheaval Dome

The Fam at Upheaval Dome

The Fam at Upheaval Dome

With more time and a four-wheel drive vehicle, we might still be in Canyonlands!  If you’re ever in Southeastern Utah or planning a trip to Moab or Arches, you should definitely make time to visit this park.

ISO: Home Sweet Home

If We Wanted to Live in a Ghost Town, We'd Just Shack Up Here.

A potential home?  Albeit, located in a ghost town.  Details, details…

Yes, we’re traveling to explore, and camp, and hike, and check out the variety of grocery stores and laundromats that populate our country.  But we’re also traveling to see if we spy a spot that we may one day call home.  As this trip progresses, what we’re looking for becomes more clear to me.  I expected this to happen as we saw more spots and had a better sense of what options are out there.  But I think it’s really happening because I have more time to listen to myself and understand my reactions to a place.  For example, I’ve always known that I’m a cold-weather gal.  I like winter, I dislike really hot and humid summers, and I love snow.  But spending time in the high desert, which is undeniably beautiful, made clear to me just how much I would go crazy living in such a hot and sunny locale.  My mood changed noticeably (for the better) when we traveled away from places in which the blazing sun was rarely filtered by leaves or green or anything really.  Clearly my sensitivities to weather are more pronounced on a trip where our home is nothing more than nylon sheet, but given that my preferred location does not have four walls, this is important information.

This is where you come in.  As we spend more time on the road, we’d love any suggestions from our readers of places that we may want to consider.  If we had to choose a place before traveling, it’s likely we would have wound up somewhere in Vermont or Western Massachusetts.  To clue you in to what we’re looking for, I’ve put together a list of ideal characteristics for our new home (the original list was much longer, but Alan suggested I not bore you all to zzzzzzzz). I’m not naive (at least not all of the time); I know that we won’t find a place that meets all these ideals, but hopefully we’ll find a place that meets some of these and feels like home.

  • Access to the outdoors is out our back door, or at least within biking distance.  Ideally, I’d love to be able to get in a couple of mid-week after work hikes.
  • In close proximity to mountains and water (lakes, rivers, whatever), and with places nearby to hike, bike, cross-country ski, kayak, etc.
  • I do not want to live in the suburbs – I’ve spent much of my life there.  I know that it works for some people, but I always feel like an imposter there and it never feels quite like home.  Cities can be great, vibrant, diverse, beautiful places, but I’m just not a city person.  I’m glad I know this about myself or I might still be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  What I do like are small towns, small cities (Burlington, VT and Bozeman, MT seem like the largest I’d like), or rural areas.  In fact, I love rural areas near small cities or towns.
  • An area that is welcoming to outsiders, or at least a place where it wouldn’t take us ten years to make friends because we didn’t grow up with everyone else.
  • Cultural or intellectual outlets, be they art museums, lecture series, book readings, great classes, or something similar.
  • A DIY ethic where folks put creation above consumption.
  • Snow in the winter.  And by snow, I mean real snow and lots of it.
  • Access to quality locally grown produce and pastured meats and dairy.
  • Quirky.
  • A place where people prioritize time over money and quality over quantity.
  • A place where diversity of thought and opinions are common and embraced.
  • A place that has good educational and recreational opportunities for our son, but not a place that is overrun with uber-competitive families on the quest to raise an Ivy-league grad.
  • Somewhere with a strong sense of place.  I’d prefer to live in a place, even if it is nearby to something bigger or more well-known, that has its own identity and culture and isn’t merely a footnote in the other place’s story.

So, with that modest list of qualities, any suggestions, folks?!?!  Please comment below and let us know if you can think of any places that may fit the bill.  Perhaps it will be the place we wind up calling home.

Alvin, Simon and Theodore Just Cost Us $400+

Stacey has been writing all of the posts up until this point, but since we have just experienced our second fun bout with car issues, I decided it was time to write a post of my own.  I have been contemplating doing a post on the demise of our Eurovan, but haven’t been able to bring myself to do it because I still haven’t totally gotten over it.  But, since we just had a wacky experience with our Audi, it pushed me over the edge and I figured I’d write about the Audi and maybe in doing so I would find the closure I needed to be willing to write about the Eurovan.  So below is my post about the Audi fun we just experienced, and if you are lucky, perhaps I will muster the willpower to write about the Eurovan because I have a hunch a lot of people would like to know the details of what happened to it.

So here goes my first post.

We were enjoying a lovely morning at Antelope Island State Park dipping our toes in the Great Salt Lake when what should occur, but a check engine light decided to rear its ugly head on our car dashboard and remind us for a brief moment of our fun times spent dealing with our dead van in Memphis, TN.  My initial thought, given the trauma of the van death, was this is what I get for buying two German cars after having had a wonderful decade-plus of worry-free life with a Honda.  My second thought was, well, at least this time the car is actually still running unlike the van and, because we have a warranty, if it is anything major it won’t hurt as bad.

Having to deal with car issues is never fun.  Having to deal with car issues when that car is essentially your house is even less fun.  But, the good news is that the light went off in the Salt Lake area and there are three Audi dealerships within about 60 miles of one another.  As we were planning on leaving Utah the next day for Idaho, we decided to scrap the rest of our plans for the day to get to the nearest dealership and hope to get the problem resolved pronto.

We soon learned that notwithstanding the fact that the Salt Lake area has three dealerships, things apparently run a little bit differently in Utah than what we have become accustomed to in DC and other faster paced areas.  I say this because the first dealership we went to (in Layton, UT) explained that they wouldn’t be able to look at our car until Tuesday (the issue happened on a Friday) because they only had one tech working and they don’t work their people long, they actually give them real vacations.  And because this week was the week of Utah’s Pioneer Day holiday, more people were off, and so on.  So, I called another dealership 60 miles south in Provo and pleaded with them to see us given our circumstances.  Luckily they agreed to try to squeeze us in in the afternoon even though I was given significant assurances that they were also swamped.

For background, three days before the check engine issue I actually had the car’s oil changed, which was an ordeal in its own right.  For the oil change I tried to go to the dealership in Salt Lake City and was told they were so booked they and couldn’t schedule a service until August (we were there in late July).  I ended up in the dealership in Layton and had to wring the guy to get him to do the oil change.   This is why we went back to the Layton dealership first to address the check engine light, but then skipped over the Salt Lake dealership to plead with the Provo dealership to see us.  Had the Provo dealership not seen us on that Friday, we would have been essentially stranded in Salt Lake for another 3-4 days because the Provo dealership closes their service department both Saturday and Sunday.  Like I said, things are different in Utah.

As we are driving south on I-15 for about 60 miles to Provo, it becomes obvious that this is not some minor computer glitch or something innocuous, but something real.  The car is definitely down on power.  It is driving, but if I floor it at 60 or so, the needle might go to 61 and that’s it.  The good news is that the car makes it, and the Provo dealership actually does get to see the car.

Flash forward about 2-3 hours: Van is being a great sport given the circumstances, and Stacey and I are enjoying the free A/C and WIFI at the Audi service lounge (it was 100+ degrees each day we were in Salt Lake and since we were camping and hadn’t had a solid WIFI spot for a bit, that did make things a little better) when the inevitable diagnosis came back.  The good news: we know what is wrong with your car and can fix it today.  The bad news: it isn’t covered under warranty.  Why?  Because the problem was a broken wire in a part of the turbocharger in the engine (which explains the loss of power) and that break in the wire didn’t come from a defect but from a small creature gnawing at it.  Sorry folks, but Audi ain’t on the hook for that one.

We both knew it was immediately true without looking at the car because about five days before the light came on we had been camping in Bryce Canyon, UT (which Stacey will fill you in on in the future) where there were an abundance of chipmunks.  I actually witnessed them running underneath the car and jumping into the undercarriage under the bumper.  When I saw them doing this I warned Stacey that we needed to be careful and I actually started the car and drove around to try to get them out.  My fear: they would find a way into the cabin through the air vents and eat food inside the car, etc. (we had actually had this happen to us in Montana several years ago while camping with a very brilliant field mouse).  Oops, apparently we had bigger things to worry about.  Notwithstanding our diligence, they obviously got in the engine bay and had a field day.

Time to refigure that cost of camping at Bryce.  We thought it was $15/night but in actuality we forgot to figure in the chipmunk tax, which actually brought the total to closer to $150/night.  Most expensive campsite we’ve ever stayed in.

Beautiful Views at Bryce, But They Come With a Price

Beautiful Views at Bryce, But They Come With a Price

Notwithstanding the oddity of that revelation, the good news is that we were able to get the car back in perfect working order the same day with assurances the chipmunks had done no other damage.  We were able to head off to Idaho the next morning without any real setbacks besides a bit of a hit to the wallet.

FYI: For those of you that live in Colorado and fly in and out of Denver International Airport, the Audi tech told me there is a serious problem with this type of stuff happening at DIA because there are tons of rabbits there.  So, next time you think about parking in the econo spots outside, you might want to figure the rabbit tax into the equation and it might not look like such a great deal.

FYI 2: We are confident chipmunks did not kill our van.

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

Ever since I was a young adult, I’ve wanted to visit ancient cliff dwellings in the southwest.  I’ve seen pictures over the years, but I wanted to walk in and amongst the dwellings and to understand the scale of these homes perched high above the ground.  Because we temporarily skipped visiting New Mexico due to the unforeseen demise of our not-so-trusty traveling companion, our first opportunity to visit these dwellings was at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado.  We decided to spring for two nights in their lodge, which turned out to be a great idea given the intense thunderstorms that struck in the evenings during our stay.

In order to visit several of the more popular dwellings, visitors need to attend a ranger-guided tour and must descend, and later ascend, several ladders.  Since none of this sounded appealing with a two-year old, we took him to the more accessible dwellings and took turns taking a tour of Cliff Palace so we could each get up close and personal without worrying about our toddler underfoot.  We weren’t sure how much there would be for Van to see, but there turned out to be so many places for him to explore with us that we shouldn’t have ever been concerned.  And since it seems that most visitors stick to the guided tours, we had much of the park to ourselves.  We visited at least ten sites with Van, and probably saw fewer than ten other visitors at all of those sites, combined.  It was only when we went to see Cliff Palace that we were reminded that we were not lone travelers who just happened upon these sites during our wanderings.

The dwellings, built by the Ancestral Puebloans in the 1100s and 1200s, are built into cliff alcoves.  The cliffs above serve as protection from the elements and the cliffs below serve as a foundation for their homes.  These dwellings are essentially hanging on to the side of cliffs that are almost vertical.  And this pre-dates baby-gates!  The strength and ingenuity of the individuals that built these structures and called them home becomes even more impressive when you spend time climbing down to and walking around the structures.

Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde - notice the soot on the rock above the homes

Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde – notice the soot on the rock above the homes

We were lucky enough to be able to descend into a kiva during our visit

We were lucky enough to be able to descend into a kiva during our visit

While the cliff dwellings get all the fanfare, there are over 4,000 archaeological sites in the park, many of which are mesa top sites.  Because these sites are less well-known, these were the sites we were able to enjoy in peace and quiet, giving us time to absorb the atmosphere and try to imagine a people much more skilled than ourselves living and working amongst the harsh elements with only sporadic access to everyday needs.

All in all, almost every aspect of our visit was fantastic – from the peacefulness, to the history lessons and unparalleled views.  The only down note was the Navajo Tacos, which were both expensive and terrible.  I love Navajo Tacos.  Anytime I have the chance to order one, which isn’t nearly often enough, I do.  These were probably the worst I’ve ever had, but I had to try – especially since we had a $50 gift card burning a hole in our pocket that was only usable at the Mesa Verde concessions (we received it when booking two nights in the lodge).  We were much happier eating dinner the second night at the swanky (but no dress-code, thank goodness!) Metate Room.

We were originally planning to spend a third night in the park at their campground, but severe thunderstorms rolled in during the afternoon of our third day in the park, and we decided to ditch our idea of relaxing in the campground and doing laundry, and booked it all the way up to Canyonlands National Park in Utah, thus ending our two month stint in Colorado.

The Storm on the Horizon

The Storm on the Horizon

Gmail

For those of you who use gmail, you may have noticed the new tabbed inbox with up to five separate tabs.  If you are receiving Bottling Moonlight posts via your gmail account, updated posts will now be sent to your “Social” tab instead of your “Primary” tab. To make sure you see updates from Bottling Moonlight, all you need to do is drag this email from the Social tab to the Primary tab. A small alert will pop up, just click “yes” and that’s it! From now on my emails will continue to go to your Primary inbox.