Leaf peeping in Quechee and Woodstock Vermont

Leaf peeping in Quechee and Woodstock Vermont

It’s Columbus Day, the Monday of the three-day holiday weekend, and it’s cool with rain showers and fog as we drive through the mountains of western Massachusetts heading toward Vermont. We hopped off of Interstate Rte. 91 at Exit 8 in Vermont and followed it past Mount Ascutney into Woodstock and Quechee, traveling along Rte. 12, a very pretty road indeed!

We’d booked into one of our “go to” campground chains – KOA, this time at the Quechee Valley KOA on Rte. 4. This is one of the nicest Koa’s we have ever stayed at!  It is beautifully maintained and the staff is helpful and friendly. This KOA also has one of the best stocked stores/gift shops and they even sell craft beer and Vermont wine . . . not something you will find at most campgrounds.

When we arrived, the campground office and grounds, as well as many of the individual RV sites, were lavishly decorated for Halloween, in preparation for a big annual event scheduled for the following weekend. We heard they were totally sold out for this fun Halloween event!

Tonight, we will settle in with a quick meal of sausages, onions and peppers, relax a bit and make plans for tomorrow.

During our stay here we noticed a HUGE pirate ship being built on one of the RV sites.  We strolled after dark one night to enjoy all of the lighted Halloween decorations and met the fellow RVer who built it.  Apparently he reserves two sites each year and builds a fabulous replica of “The Black Pearl”, complete with scenes and sounds from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

It’s his homage to the movie and it’s his fun way to enjoy his childhood fantasies as an adult. He invited us behind the scenes and we were amazed at the work he put into it.

You just never know what you will find when you are RVing!  It was tough to photograph the pirate ship itself, but hopefully these photos (credit to my husband Steve) give you a sense of the fun scenes.

Woodstock, Vermont is a charming town in the Green Mountains of Vermont, located along the banks of the Ottauquechee River, chockful of historic buildings, unique shops, a cool old library, cafes and restaurants, the famous Woodstock Inn and a lovely town green. It is also home to three covered bridges and the only national park in Vermont.

The village green is surrounded by beautiful antique homes which seem to be either Georgian or Federal.  I’ll have to do my research and look up the architectural styles featured on the green.  Luckily, we found a parking spot for our 24’ motorhome right on Main Street next to the green, and spent $3 for three hours of parking, plenty of time to explore.

We wandered, shopped, snapped photos and relaxed over a coffee at the Mont Vert Café. The retail shops along Main Street work hard with their fall décor and downtown is a riot of autumn colors and plantings and featuring creative displays of pumpkins in all the newest colors.  I just loved it!

Now, back to Quechee for a stop at the Gorge.  Billed as the “Grand Canyon” of Vermont, the Gorge, at 165’ deep, was created when a massive ice sheet retreated across the region over 13,000 years ago. It’s a huge tourist attraction and can be viewed from both sides of the Rte. 4 bridge with great views and photo ops of the Gorge and the Ottauquechee River below.

After satisfying our photographic urges we took the stairs next to the Gorge Gift Shop which leads to a trail alongside the Gorge. One way leads to the Visitor Center, the other way (our choice) takes you to the dam of the river. It was an easy, comfortable and shaded half-mile walk that could be done by any age and most fitness levels. ­

This area is incredibly scenic with all of those bucolic Vermont scenes of rolling verdant hills, dairy farms, red barns and iconic farmhouses that we image when we think of Vermont.  Recent years have brought an increase in retail establishments, mostly antique malls and upscale outdoor wear, along with a sprinkling of local wineries, breweries, the renowned Cabot Cheese and Simon Pearce Glassware companies and many others. The Billings Farm and Museum, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science and the nearby Montshire Museum of Science are all top-rated attractions.

Our visit was too short and we’ll have to come back for another slice of idyllic New England!

Golden Colorado

Golden Colorado

We woke to drizzly rain and cool temps which persisted all day, so we slept late and recovered from yesterday’s hair-raising drive. Then off to find a bank, gas and a brewery, which turned out to be Toad Mountain Brewery.  We enjoyed a couple of 5 oz. pours and especially liked the “Biere de Mars” which was a tiny bit on the sweet side. It’s a nice, small brewery with an easy to understand menu. And, although Golden is known as the home of Coors Beer, we opted not to visit the large scale brewing facility simply because of time constraints.

Antsy as I was to get out of the RV, and determined as Steve was to hunker down in the drizzle, he dropped me off for my walking tour of Golden. Lots of photos, postcards, souvenirs and a cappuccino later I walked back down the Clear Creek pathway, on the opposite side of the Creek from our RV park – the Clear Creek RV Park – past the Colorado School of Mining and their football fields, a small living history museum and a hotel. Clear Creek Park is city-owned and generously supported by locals with lots of bronze artwork, benches and bridges that cross the creek. There is lots to see in this beautiful little city.

Clear Creek Park is well used by the locals, even in the rain, and this weekend the annual Golden Games, a celebration of an active outdoor lifestyle, were being held there with demonstrations of and competitions in kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, fly fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing, paragliding, motocross and slack lining. Coloradans love the outdoors and this event certainly showcased it!

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Today’s long drive takes us through many miles of flat, flat desert with distant mountains…finally Colorado!

Reviews were all over the place for our selected campground, “Ami’s Acres” and I can see why.  It should more properly be called primitive camping except that they do have water and electric.  It is old, has been in a family for years, BUT it’s on a gorgeous piece of property on the side of Storm King Mountain and fronted by the Colorado River. It is on a steeply terraced piece of land with winding, (and somewhat deteriorating roads) but the staff was friendly and helpful and the park residents and visitors were terrific. And the birdsong is incredibly lyrical.  We hadn’t heard birds like this for weeks, not through all of the Southwest and even in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

I posted this on Facebook about this little gem of a spot:

“Ahh, Colorado!  Crisp mountain air and lush verdant views. Haven’t heard birdsong like this for a few weeks.  We lucked out and found ourselves in beautiful, historic Glenwood Springs and we are off to sample the hot springs today.”

One of the staff members, Calvin told me the story of the fires that began in the coal seams of Storm King Mountain on July 6, 1994. Fourteen firefighters lost their lives fighting the fire.  He pointed out the area where twenty-four years later the forest is still recovering from the devastation of the fire which inspired a book, Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire, and a movie starring Josh Brolin based on that book. Such tragedy occurred in this stunning locale.

Started the next day early with RV cleaning chores, and then a walk through the campground so that Steve could see it and take his own photos…it’s so gorgeous here!

Then, onto Iron Mountain Hot Springs, a modern hot springs facility featuring 16 mineral rich baths in a Zen-like setting overlooking the Colorado River and the charming town of Glenwood Springs.

This is a top-notch, state of the art facility with lots of tubs for adults only, as well as a family pool, a café and outdoor dining area and an “all amenities provided” locker rooms. New Age music creates a calming and tranquil atmosphere. Alcohol is available to purchase at the café and at $50 for two people for the all-day pass, this was a great find! 

After a quick lunch at the café we headed to the City Market in Glenwood Springs to re-supply our RV with food. We are off to Golden, Colorado and the Rockies, traveling along Route 70 and occasionally catching glimpses of the Amtrak “California Zephyr” trains that travel from Chicago to San Francisco stopping in Glenwood Springs before heading out to Denver. Now, that’s a bucket list trip for another time!

We traveled through the White River National Forest awed by the approaching Rockies.  All of a sudden, it’s snowing! Near Loveland Pass and Arapahoe Basin we are inundated with heavy, heavy rain, then hail, then snow.  The forecast had called for rain, but we hadn’t planned for this. A complete black out at times as the big truckers splashed waves of sleet and hail onto our windshield…hold on to your hats!  Golden, Colorado you can’t be here too soon!

Rafting the Colorado and Exploring Moab

Rafting the Colorado and Exploring Moab

Booked in with MOAB Adventures today and we enjoyed a very lovely, peaceful and scenic few hours on the Colorado River.  Steve was disappointed because it was pretty tame, only three actual rapids on this section of the river, all Class 1-2, but a nice take anyways.

Checked out the Moab Brewery later, a really cool place, excellent craft beer and they also distill their own vodka.  Food is good as well, and Steve finally met his match with the hottest chicken wings he had ever sampled. We bought a 6-pack to take home, then back to the campground to hide out from the sun.

It should be noted that Moab has no art galleries, gift shops or museums in the immediate area, or none that we could find, so if that is your thing and you are not an adventurous outdoor type, you may be dissatisfied with a visit.

The next day we decided to check out another national park – this time Arches National Park, just a short drive outside of Moab.

Our RV snaked up the entrance road and waited patiently to get into the park at 11 am in the morning.  In line for the entry gate, you can see entsy, weensy cars crisscrossing the walls of the cliffs ahead of you as you approach this dramatic entrance to Arches National Park.

This is a very beautiful park with lots of pull-outs for viewing the sights. We hiked the .8 mile “easy” hike to Landscape Arch, but never got to the end of it (that we know of) because we left without water, or a hat for Steve.  Next time, we learned to be prepared for even so-called easy hikes, especially in the desert.

And talk about not being prepared, we nearly ran out of gas during this trip to Arches, so we coasted as much of the descent as we could and eventually made it to a gas station in Moab, five miles from the park’s exit.

Our day ended well though, once we found Rick’s Glass, not far from our campground and the friendly, professional owner quickly repaired the small ding in our windshield, before it became a big problem. 

We found three days to be plenty in Moab and we are glad to be hitting the road again tomorrow!

Moab, Utah

Moab, Utah

After a good night’s sleep and breakfast at Ruby’s we fueled up, washed our windows and headed out toward Moab. We drive on Scenic Byway 12 – an “All American Highway” – the highest designation of US scenic byway system and soon enter The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

We traveled past many small towns where most families are alfalfa farmers or ranchers. It was interesting to me that the growing season is only 120 days, just three months long!

All of a sudden, we dropped into incredible switchback turns over high white cliffs. The landscape shifted from red to white in a second as we took a turn in the road. Drive some more, and now it’s red again as we fly through Capitol Reef National Park.  Sheer red cliffs and azure blue skies!  Who knew?  An unexpected treat on the road!  Now, finally left on Route 24 and we are traversing flat, wide open expanses of nothingness.  Utah goes on forever!

Capitol Reef National Park, Double Rock Arch Formation. Photo by Ray Bilcliff of Pexels

Finally, we are crossing over the Colorado River and literally flying (80 MPH is the speed limit) toward Moab. It’s warm and dry and amazingly beautiful!

We are booked at the ACT Campground and Environmental Learning Center, a green powered sustainable campground in Moab. Moab is surrounded by the La Sal Mountains, and we travel through a long busy retail area that is chock full of outfitters.  Here you’ll find someone to take you kayaking, hiking, white-water rafting, climbing, mountain biking, hang-gliding, scenic helicopter tours and lots more.  The entire town caters to the adventure seekers among us with retail shops for their gear and lots of restaurants to feed the hungry after a day’s adventuring. Moab also has lots of chain motels with busy pools, designed to cool you off after time in the desert sun.

Our campground is geared to the environmentalist, so there is no pool. There are yurts, and lots of tents and a smallish section for RV’s. It featured a communal indoor kitchen and an outdoor kitchen.

The big disappointment is the lack of a pool, but they advertise the “Ol’ Swimming Hole” a short distance away. It’s a Bureau of Land Management property, and sounded great, an earth friendly way to cool off in the hot desert sun and would make up for the lack of a pool.  What a bust!  We gave it a try but RV’s cannot make it down the road to access this swimming hole, there wasn’t even a place to park an RV and hike in.  No points for “truth in advertising” for this RV Park.

Off to Bryce Canyon!

Off to Bryce Canyon!

Started our day as we headed out to Bryce by stopping at the River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin, Utah for coffee, smoothies, and quiche, everything was so good! It’s a cool place with big outdoor deck overlooking an awesome view of the Virgin River.

River Rock Roasters

Heading out to Bryce Canyon we climbed to 8,000 to 9,000 feet. This will be the highest elevation on our trip to date. Steep 8% grade descents and sharp curves opened up to expansive vistas with more trees and more alpine-like landscapes. I was inspired during this drive to come up with as many adjectives as I could to describe the beauty of the country we are traveling across. Here are just a few to illuminate the majesty of America (see how I snuck a couple in right there): exquisite, dazzling and transcendent! 

A little warning to anyone planning to stay in or near Bryce – there are several lodges with similar sounding names, including one that is located in the National Park. After realizing that our reservations were not in the aforementioned lodge (our only planned hotel stay during our six-week trip) we settled in at Ruby’s RV Park in their overflow lot. Ruby’s seems to own Bryce Canyon City with a hotel, RV park, several restaurants, and multiple outfitting businesses i.e. horseback riding and kayaking.

The next morning, by 8:30 am we were saddled up for a three-hour horseback ride through the Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest. Our personable and knowledgeable guide and well-trained horses made this a delightful, but cold ride. I wore my winter gloves, and wool headband with a fleece jacket and snow was intermittently spitting during the ride. Our small group consisted of me and Steve and five visiting Germans.

After warming up and grabbing a quick lunch we took the 18-mile scenic drive through Bryce Canyon National Park. We drove to the end and then re-traced our drive, stopping at multiple overlooks to enjoy the views and take photos.

Steve napped after the drive, while I took a walk and visited Ruby’s General Store, which is huge, includes a large grocery section and serves every need that a visitor could have. There is also an adjacent Native American Art Gallery with a large selection of quality (although pricey) native art.

As mentioned before, Ruby’s has the entire town wrapped up with the hotel – a Best Western – with a rustic lodge-like lobby and an expensive, but very efficient restaurant designed to handle crowds of visitors. This is a manufactured town which serves as the gateway to Bryce Canyon, and offers lots of amenities but is not a charming as Springdale (Zion National Park) and Estes Park (Rocky Mountain National Park) which we were to visit later in the trip.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

This is a very popular and busy park and I can see why.  Because of its small size and popularity, access to this national park is limited and is through the town of Springdale Utah, a really lovely town that has sprung up as the gateway to Zion. It is chock full of hotels, restaurants and art galleries and provides a convenient launching spot for trip to Zion.

We parked the RV is a convenient parking lot and took the free shuttle from Springdale to the entrance of Zion, then waited in a long line to board the Zion shuttle. There was also a long wait just to get to the Visitor Information Desk, so my suggestion is to make sure you get all of your information on-line before you arrive.

Early Mormon pioneers named the area “Zion”, from the Biblical Hebrew word meaning refuge or sanctuary. We quickly saw the significance of the name when applied to this beautiful national park!

Zion is gorgeous with steep red cliffs and trails, and lush, green valleys with hanging gardens. We hiked the Kayeta Trail to the lower Emerald Pools.  Beautiful, refreshing and wet after the hot, dusty trails!

The road to Hurricane

The road to Hurricane

Heading out of Williams, Arizona we take Route 89N (through Flagstaff) towards Page, passing by beautiful painted desert scenery bordered on the east by a huge Navajo reservation. We’re heading to Hurricane, Utah and eventually to Zion National Park.

Photo by Nextvoyage from Pexels

Today we pass by completely deserted towns and extremely flat landscapes, as we venture into the “painted desert”.  According to Britannica.com the name “painted desert” was coined in the late 1850s by a government explorer to describe the vivid bands of red, yellow, blue, white and lavender that mark the various deposits of minerals in the area. The Painted Dessert covers 160 miles and encompasses 93,500 acres in the Four Corners region of the USA, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah share a common border.

Photo by Elena Blessing from Pexels

Following 89N we headed towards Navajo Bridge which rises over the Marble Canyon. The bridge was a great place to stop and get out, stretch our legs and take some photos. The Colorado River flowed emerald green below us. A small interpretive center and gift shop beckoned us, very nice.  We pulled over for a roadside lunch outside of Marble Canyon, one of the many perks of traveling with our kitchen on our back.

View from the Navajo Bridge with the Colorado River below.

Traveling now through Kaibab National Forest we pulled over for another photo break. There we met some folks from Wickford, Rhode Island who live half a year in Tucson and half a year in Wickford.  He’s a photographer who shows his work at the annual Art Festival in Wickford…maybe we’ve seen his work during one of our many trips to the Festival?

We saw fires on the sides of the road – are they naturally occurring? Or are they managed by the Park Service authorities?  Reaching Fredonia at around 3:30 pm (4:30 Utah time) we decided to soldier on for one more hour to reach Hurricane, Utah and the Willow Wind RV Park, a day ahead of schedule.

Riding the rails to The Grand Canyon

Riding the rails to The Grand Canyon

We are done driving for a bit, and have opted to take the train – The Grand Canyon Railroad – from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim of the canyon for 63 lovely, relaxing miles. The wonderful views, Dennis, the sweet conductor, and the cowboys who serenaded us made it a memorable experience.  We were glad though, that it was May and not July or August, since the temperatures were just lovely.

The air at the Grand Canyon is fabulous!  With only three hours for our visit before the train headed back, we hung around the Grand Canyon Village area.

We hiked up and down, back and forth, sticking to the Rim Trail, and taking lots of photos.  Squirrels and a solitary llama were the only wildlife we saw, but evidence of mule deer – their scat – was seen.

Hot and thirsty, we found the martinis and agave infused cocktails at El Tovar’s bar hit the spot. And it was fun wandering around this historic hotel where Teddy Roosevelt stayed on his multiple visits to the Canyon!

It was a very cute train ride back with the aforementioned Dennis, our personal assistant/conductor, and a crew of train robbers who boarded the train for a host of shenanigans, before being dropped off in the Town of Williams where we stayed for dinner. 

Williams is sensational town with a great Main Street, the Historic Brewing Company and lots of restaurants and Route 66 memorabilia stores. We had drinks at the brewery first, then headed back to their restaurant for pizza…a very cool take!

How to get home after this long day?  Our shuttle driver (the owner of the Railside RV Park) picked us up when we called him and was super nice and funny. He and his wife run a great operation and we can highly recommend the Railside RV Park in Williams.

A cowboy breakfast to start off the day . . .

A cowboy breakfast to start off the day . . .

 . . . before we hit the road and headed out towards Williams Arizona. Our KOA campground had a (literal) chuckwagon setup and we took advantage to grab a hearty breakfast before taking off.  Stopping off at a roadside gas station with a great view we met a friendly AAA guy, who took our picture in front of the San Francisco Mountain range.  He told us that Mt. Humphrey in this range is an active volcano and the highest point in Arizona.

Another stop, another Walmart, this one in Flagstaff to re-stock food and supplies. How far do you have to drive before you find a Walmart in this country?  This would be a great stat to know. We notice lots of residential building in the area outside of Flagstaff, obviously a growth area.

Oops! A small crack in the windshield due to a tiny rock hitting it.  Not a big problem at this time, we’ll deal with it later.

The drive through the Red Rocks Canyons of Sedona was astonishing, but my numerous photos don’t really show off its grandeur.  What makes these rocks so red? Apparently, the red is iron oxide that coats the particles in the rocks after thousands of years of chemical weathering.

License: Creative Commons

The Town of Sedona is vibrant, thriving and chock-full of galleries, cafes, etc. but with a New Age, wellness/healing vibe, and with very upscale resorts and spas.

Note to self: we need to fly in and stay for a week and shop, hike, eat and experience the healing power of the vortexes.

Parts of this trip remind us of Maine with lots of conifers, but then we head right back into a flat dessert landscape.

Arizona is a concealed carry state.  Permit holders are not required to undergo the Federal background check. Wow, something that is hard for this Massachusetts gal to understand.

We finally arrived at the Railside RV Park in Williams, Arizona and settled in, tired but happy, after a long drive.