Western United States

WESTERN  UNITED STATES

After 2 years Mexico, we entered the USA from the Mexicali Border. We explored the Western USA for 6 Months following the coast North to the Canadian Border before heading inland to the Dakota’s.

The West, as the most recently settled part of the United States, is often known for broad highways and freeways and open space.

The Western U.S. covers nearly half the land area of the contiguous United States. It is also the most geographically diverse, regions with temperate rainforest in the far Northwest, The Rocky Mountains. The Cascade Range, The Sierra Nevada, The great plains, and deserts such as the Mojave. Great basin and Sonoran

During our 6 months of travel, we visited. California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona

The West also is home to most of the Native Americans who are living in the large reservations. the

Wildlife in the Western USA ranges from the raccoon, Mountain Lions, mule deer, cougars, coyotes, white tailed antelope, American Black Bear, brown bears, grizzle Bears, rattle snakes and Jaguars.

While Los Angeles has the largest population of Mexicans outside Mexico, San Francisco has the largest Chinese community in the United States, and the largest Gay community.

But most states in Central and Southern United States have large Hispanic populations.

General Information:  Under Construction

 

BLOGS

PART 1   MEXICO BORDER TO BIG SUR NATIONAL PARK
PART 2   SAN FRANCISCO
PART 3  SAN FRANCISCO TO HUMBOLD STATE PARK
PART 4. CALIFORNIA NORTH COAST  to CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK IN  OREGON.
PART 5. CRATER NATIONAL PARK to PORTLAND VIA OREGON COAST.
PART 6. PORTLAND to PENDLETON
PART 7.  PENDLETON TO REDMOND
PART 8. PORTLAND TO THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS
PART 9. CASCADE NATIONAL PARK to GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
PART 10. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
PART 11. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK TO  BEAR TOOTH RANGES
PART 12 YELLOWSTONE & TETON NATIONAL PARK.
PART 13 YELLOWSTONE & TETON NATIONAL PARK to MOUNT RUSHMORE (SOUTH DAKOTA)
PART 14. NORTHERN BLACK HILLS to BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK.
PART 15, SOUTH DAKOTA, CROSSING NEBRASKA, AND  WYOMING TO COLORADO.  
PART 16, COLORADO, ROCKY MOUNTAINS
PART 17, GLENWOOD SPRINGS (COLORADO) to CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK (UTAH)
PART 18, SOUTH WEST COLORADO
PART 19, FOUR CORNER COUNTRY TO ZION NATIONAL PARK.
PART 20, ZION NATIONAL PARK to BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS
PART 21, WINNAMUCCA to MAMMOTH LAKES
Part 22, MAMMOTH LAKES to PHOENIX  Under Construction
PART 23 PHOENIX to BORDER  NEW MEXICO (ROUTE 66)

 

PART 1. MEXICO BORDER to BIG SUR NATIONAL PARK.

After the debacle to get our US visa, 6 months wait for an interview and a $3000.00 round trip & accommodation to Sydney for a 3-minute interview PFFFFFFFF, crossing the border at Mexicali was straight forward and the border guards were friendly. All up the crossing took just over 1 hour. (Pretty lengthy line). The customs officer made us laugh as he could not understand we drive around the world (he thought it was a MAD MAX VEHICLE!!!!). He wanted to know how we were able to get it from Australia, we told him it could float.

Having a complete self-sufficient overland vehicle, we see no reason to pay between $50 and $ 100USD per night to stay in full hook up trailer spot or RV parks. Hence, we camp in the wild, at rest stops, casino carparks, or BLM land.

Shopping done and our first bush camp was in the hills overlooking Lake Saldon. Lake Saldon is California’s largest lake in the middle of California’s largest desert and is a must-see for anyone visiting Southern California.

California has 3 deserts, The Mojave Desert, Colorado Desert and the Great Basin Desert. The deserts are a popular tourist destination and offer amazing natural features. The driest spot in California is the Death Valley.

Joshua Tree National Park’s western side is part of the Mojave Desert, the Eastern side is part of the Colorado Desert.

At night we did hear the Coyote but never saw one, likewise the desert tortoise and the bighorn sheep. But with 42 degrees Celsius it would be unlikely they would venture out. Key’s view is well over 1500 meters high and offers magnificent views when not hazy. The Joshua Tree, The Ocotillo plant, amazing rock formations and scenery were the highlights of this park.

There are 2 villages just outside Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree, and 29 Palms. Both towns are small, BUT with Los Angeles so close by the area draws over 2 million visitors per year. Joshua Tree and 29 Palms are both unique desert towns.

On day one we visited the western side of the park and ended up in the city of Twentynine Palms home to the Joshua Tree National Park Headquarters and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the world’s largest Marine Corps training base. More than 20000 active-duty marines and families live here and 50000 active-duty marines from around the world train here as well..

Of all the towns in the desert area surrounding Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs is the upmarket resort town just 160 KM east of Los Angeles. Also called the Playground of the stars. Despite being a small city, it has the amenities of a cosmopolitan big city. Palm Springs has some of the most famous golf courses in the world. There are amazing views of the 3300-meter-high San Jacinto Peak, and the world largest rotating cable car goes to around 3000 meters. Palm Springs is one of nine adjacent cities that make up the Coachella Valley, Cathedral City, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. The small boutique villages offer many events throughout the year, Music Festival, Country Fair, Film Festivals, National Date Festival, Desert Classic Golf tournaments and Tennis tournaments.

Time to move towards the coast. The Coachella Valley connects with Los Angeles via the San Gorgonio Pass a busy up to 6 lane highway. We decided to stay overnight at the Morongo Casino, where we could park at the rear and the shuttle bus picked us up from the carpark to the casino and back.

Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the USA after New York. Having been to Los Angeles many times over the last 45 years we did not spend a lot of time in town however the city does deserve a write up. The city is located between the coast (low land) and the mountains.

The freeways of Los Angeles are known all around the world connecting downtown and the suburbs with 6 or 7 lanes in each direction.

The major attractions are Hollywood, Beverley hills, Anaheim (Disney World) Venice Beach, and Malibu.

Downtown Los Angeles has as many as 35000 people per sq kilometre. During the week you can listen to the radio and hear 20 or more different languages. You have the choice of more than 50 foreign language newspapers. Critics refer to Los Angeles as “la-la land” or even worse as a place reeling from earthquakes, fire, smog, gang warfare, and riots. Those who love Los Angeles mention its mild climate, entertainment, and lifestyle.

We were looking for new tyres but no luck, the weather was lousy hence we left after 3 days and headed North to Big Sur National Park, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. (Hwy 101 was closed due a landslide North of Santa Barbara so we had to detour via Highway 5 to get to Big Sur NP).

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a city on central California’s coast on the northern edge of Monterey Bay. Its long wharf, with eateries and shops, stretches into Monterey Bay. It is famous for its Boardwalk’s and the vintage rides include the 1911  Looff Carousel and the Giant Dipper roller coaster. Also known for its  beaches and beach volleyball competitions. In fact, it is a classic California beach town. Unfortunately for us it was cold and with just 17 degrees we hoped for a much warmer California. Due to its proximity to the Bay, fog and overcast mornings is what we experienced during the night and morning hours, clearing around the middle of the day. Santa Cruz attracts many street performers, musicians, and artists, creating street side entertainment and atmosphere.

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Monterey

Next stop Monterey; we found a nice quite stop between the golf course and the cemetery, a couple of hundred meters of the beach and the John Denver memorial. Monterey is a city on California’s rugged central coast. Monterey is famous is Monterey Bay Aquarium, with thousands of marine animals and plants on display in underwater and interactive exhibits. Like Santa Cruz Monterey is a vibrant coastal town with many events during the year. Next to the city is a National marine Sanctuary which is a federal protected ocean area with a coastline of 444KM.

Both towns have many celebrities living here, hence it is not the cheapest place to live and do shopping.

Next and last stop before we are moving north to San Francisco was Big Sur National Park. Following the 101 south from Carmel was amazing with cliffs plunging a few hundred meters down to rocky coves. It is rugged and mountainous, offering great scenery. Unfortunately, we were only able to drive the 32 miles south from Carmel due to the landslide. However, if you can drive the complete 144 miles from Malpaso Creek to the village of San Simeon we are told you can say you have travelled the longest most scenic underdeveloped coastline in the USA. The views are amazing and getting to Big Sur Village you see the brilliant redwood forest. Big Sur National Park attracts up to 7 million visitors per year. This has started discussions re the necessity of shuttle buses and tollgates. The other major issue is that the highway has been blocked more than 55 times by landslides.

PART 2.

SAN FRANCISCO

After camping on the beach just south of San Francisco, we decided to drive into San Francisco on Sunday Morning, less traffic and hopefully great video and pictures while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to the Golden Gate Vista Point carpark and our overnight stop. BUT on Sundays and Public Holidays the Vista Point is closed. PFFFFF so we decided to continue north to our Tyre Dealer (90KM out of San Francisco)

Returning to San Francisco via the double decker Bay Bridge in the eastern part of the city we decided to have another go the next day at staying overnight at the Vista Point Carpark overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the City of San Francisco, and another eastward crossing of the amazing Golden Gate Bridge. The Vista Point viewpoint became our overnight spot.

San Francisco is with around 810000 residents the fourth most populous city in California. But it is ranked number one in the USA based on per capita income. San Francisco is also called Frisco, Fog City or San Fran. One of the top tourist destinations in the United States, San Francisco is known for its steep streets, Golden Gate Bridge, Cable Cars, China Town, and Alcatraz.

The world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge is easily identified by its International Orange colour. Once it was called “the bridge that could not be build”, today it is one of the seven wonders of the world. Building of the bridge started in 1933 and the bridge was opened in 1937. 2.7 kilometres long and to support the suspended roadway 2 cables of 2.5 kilometres long each holding 64000 kilometres of steel wire; each are anchored in concrete on the shore.

San Francisco has more than 50 hills within the city limits. A few neighbourhoods are named after the hills like Nob Hill, Potrero Hill and Russian Hill with its famous Crooked Lombard Street also known as Zig Zag Street. However most visitors miss the reel steep streets such as Bradford Street. With a grade of 41% it felt like we were back in Bolivia (La Paz where we got lost and had to negotiate a 40plus grade street with our truck) or Filbert and 22nd street with a grade of 31%.

The small island of Alcatraz is just 2 kilometres offshore from San Francisco. The island was developed with a lighthouse and a Military prison. In 1934, the island became a federal prison named Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. The freezing temperatures made escape from Alcatraz nearly impossibleAlcatraz became one of the most known prisons in the USA. Alcatraz closed in 1963 Today Alcatraz is a major tourist attraction.

Alcatraz had some of the most notorious criminals in American history including Al Capone, Robert stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”), George Machine Man Kelly and many more

During its 29 years of operation A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, 23 were caught alive, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five are listed as “missing and presumed drowned”.

 

The cable cars in San Francisco are a must do experience and when you jump on board you are climbing hills the same way San Franciscans did in the 1870s. The cable cars were invented nearly 150 years ago and are a National Historic Landmark.

Other places to visit in San Francisco are: Fisherman’s Warf, the sea lions at Warf 39, the Historic Centre in the Northeast of the city, China town not only the oldest in the USA but also the world’s largest, Union Square if you like shopping, Haig Street a popular hippie area and Valencia Street with lots of bars, small restaurants, and shops.

The homeless population in San Francisco is growing and has become a major issue, it surprises me that a wealthy country which spends lots of money on foreign aid allows its own citizens to sleep on the streets.

According to the local’s crime has become a major issue in particular car break ins (20000 in 2022) We were told to stay away from the suburbs of Tenderloin and the Bayview Hunters Point area (no good for staying overnight) due to high levels of drug abuse, gang violence, and robberies.

The nearby San Andreas Fault is responsible for much earthquake activity. The San Andreas Fault caused the earthquakes in 1906 and 1989. Minor earthquakes occur on a regular basis. The threat of major earthquakes plays a large role in the city’s infrastructure development.

Time to leave San Francisco and head north following Highway 1 along the coast towards the Oregon border.

PART  3. San Francisco to Humboldt National Park

After some more shopping we left Sausalito to travel north along Highway 1. This is the major state highway that runs along most of the pacific coast of California. In fact it is the longest state road in California at just over 1000km.

First stop around 50 km north of San Francisco was Point Reyes National Seashore. As we followed the 101 North, we passed/visited Jenner. Bodega and Bodega Bay, Gualala all great little seaside villages driving along the stunning Highway 1, The narrow winding roads along soaring cliffs above the ocean is a must do.

We just missed the whale migration season in Bodega Bay. Next stop was the village of Mendocino. The 101 offers an amazing coastline with lots of opportunities to stop and enjoy this wild and untamed coastline, with lots of little coves. Lots of bush camping possible along this road. The area around Mendocino is an ideal overnight destination enroute to Humboldt National Park coming from San Francisco.

Our next overnight stop was on the avenue of the giants some say this is the most scenic road in the whole of the USA. Cannot comment as we still have a long, long way to go. However, this narrow 50-kilometre two-lane route is a wonderful way to explore the redwood groves. 50000 acres of which is more than half made up of old redwood forest and around 100 trees more than 120 meters high. Walking amongst the redwoods you realize how big those redwoods are.

PART 4.                                                                                                   California North Coast to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Just North of Arcata on the Northern California coast we turned inland towards Lassen National Park.

Leaving the coast means leaving the redwoods and the otherworldly lush foliage at Fern Canyon which Steven Spielberg used in the movie Jurassic Park. Going inland we passed many charming small towns like Weaverville, and we found some great bush camps on the way.

 

After the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and San Francisco and the quite busy coast road, we enjoyed the small sleepy villages with old fashion buildings, local craft shops and fresh produce. Great scenery and lots of nice viewpoints.

It was in Weaverville where we met another traveller who gave us the bad news that Lassen National Park was closed due to heavy snowfall. Real pity. But it did save us a 300km round trip, we decided to turn North in Redding to the volcano Mt Shasta.

Mt Shasta is one of the southern most mountains in the Cascade Range and is close to the Oregon Border. Next stop was Kla Mo Ya Casino good spot to stay overnight, and the diesel was 1 dollar per gallon cheaper than in California.

From here it was an easy drive to Crater Lake National Park. Halfway driving up to Crater Lake National Park snow started falling and as advised the roads along the rim where all closed due to heavy snowfalls. We made it to the rim village (2150 meters high) and between the clouds and sunshine we still were able to see the lake and its cliffs 700 meters high. Wizard Island at the west end of Crater Lake reaches 2121 meters above sea level, and around 300metr  above the lake. The island was also visible showing off the violent volcanic past. Rim Village is the main area for tourist services It is located on the southwest rim overlooking Crater Lake. We were told in winter this area has extreme winter conditions Blizzards, high winds, extreme cold and low visibility.

We were not allowed to stay overnight in the Rim Village Carpark, so we drove down just past the park entry and Visitor centre and pulled up in a snow park area where we spend a cold windy night and all windscreens iced up in the morning, I love our Webasto heater and the engine heater. Never realized I would use this in California and Oregon in Summer.

More bad news (I mean real bad news) 

Progressive insurance advised us via email late Sunday that our insurance was cancelled as of the Previous day. No explanation, no reason given. We contacted our broker and 3 days later we were told by the broker that Progressive Insurance advised them “The 2011 Mercedes Benz Atego 1318  has an unacceptable body style”.   Hence by now we are driving uninsured for the last 6 days!! Broker (Itsinsured) was off no help and stated nothing they could do. We than realized the money was already deposited back into our account minus the 17 days we were already insured? The annoying part is that part of the application required pictures from the inside and outside of the vehicle and based on all this the insurance was approved.  I was still charged besides being unacceptable for 17 days. All confirmed in writing and paid for May 26 starting date June 1. Not a real good start in the USA.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         This is what the marketing department of progressive states. And we believed when we went ahead and paid for the insurance. Is this what they mean with Amerian BS!!!!  “Your class A motorhome must be insured with basic RV Liability coverage. This coverage protects you financially in case you cause damages and/or injuries while driving your RV. So, if you were to hit another driver, Progressive would pay for their medical and vehicle repair bills, up to the limits of your policy, in the event of a covered loss. Whether you quote by phone or online, we’ll make sure you have the coverage you need to meet. This company deals with customers as numbers Without any regard for the consequences if I would have been involved in a accident and hurt someone. I was driving around 7 days around the USA uninsured. Todate I am still waiting for a response from Progressive to my question. “I am at a loss to understand what Public Liabilty got to do with a unacceptable body”   

PART 5                                                                                                        CRATER NATIONAL PARK to PORTLAND VIA OREGON COAST.

Crater National Park to Portland via the Oregon Coast.

Driving back to the coast was a mix of rolling grasslands, forests, and rivers. It reminded me of the western movies when pioneers rolled their wagons into unexplored valleys.

Once we reached the coast our first stop was in Florence. The town is surrounded by rolling sand dunes, miles of beaches. Leaving Florence, we travelled North following the coast with amazing scenery such as Rocky Headlands, tidal pools and one beautiful lighthouse named Heceta. We did not visit the Sea Lion Cave, but we were told it is the largest in the world. (Seen enough Sea Lions around the world)

The Oregon North Coast is full of historic towns, the long stretches of uninterrupted sandy beaches, great seafood, and clam chowder. (Clary’s favourite) lots of secluded spots for camping, campfire and to enjoy the wild sea. Cape Meares is a sleepy village between a lake and the large bluff of Cape Meares. A must do is to visit the lighthouse and the amazing views. Next stop is Pacific city where you can watch the surfers. Cannon Beach is a small coastal city in northwest Oregon. It is known for its long, sandy shore, and Haystack Rock is a seasonal haven for tufted puffins. We thought Puffins were only in Iceland. How wrong we were.

From here we turned inland towards Portland. Halfway we found a great camp spot on top of a hill overlooking the hills surrounding the area.

Portland is located and

Portland is also called the city of roses; Portland is located at the confluence of the Willamette and Colombia rivers. This forms the border between Oregon and Washington with a population of around 660000 people it is the most populous city in Oregon. And with 2.6 million people living in the metropolitan area, it is the 25th most populous in the USA. The other name for Portland is Bridgetown due to the many bridges of which three are over one hundred years old.

We were invited by Jeff and Shyanne Cohagan in Battle Ground just across the border with Washington. we met Jeff and Shyanne in Mexico 3 years ago. Jeff will do a service on my truck while we visit Holland for family reasons.

PART 6

PORTLAND TO PENDLETON

Around 75KM east of Portland, and the northern Willamette River valley, we entered Mt. Hood National Forest. Mt Hood is the tallest mountain in Oregon and dominates the landscape of this National Forest. The western slopes are thick with coniferous trees and lush undergrowth. Driving up towards the Timberline ski resort we passed many campgrounds. Timberline is the only ski area in the USA open 10 months of the year. The resort is located at the foot of the volcano Mt Hood (3407 meters) the highest mountain in Oregon.

I am told there are 60 commercial campsites on the mountain and 5 ski resorts and there are also less-developed areas for cross-country skiing, sledding, and snowmobiling. The ranger advised us that glaciers cover more than 8 square kilometres near the top of the mountain and hold more than 300 million cubic meters of snow and ice. But he also advised us of the rapid loss of the glaciers in the last century, based on pictures. From here we circled Mt Hood on our way to Colombia Gorge National Park and coming down the mountain at the eastern side we noticed this area is much drier than the western side.

Colombia Gorge National Park was designated a National Scenic Area. The landscape seems to grow bigger, grander, and brighter as it rolls east. We stayed overnight at Rowena Crest lookout which has an amazing view. The spectacular river canyon, 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep,  meanders past cliffs, spires, and ridges set against nearby peaks of the PNW’s Cascade Mountain Range.

On our way to Pendleton, we made 2 more overnight stops along this amazing river.

 

 

 

 

Pendleton is a small town of around 1700 people and has a rich history.

There are a few places still left in Oregon that bring that history to life and one of them is the Pendleton Underground City tour. Hiding beneath the streets of downtown Pendleton is a secret district that has been around for more than 100 years. Beneath the city of Pendleton, the Pendleton Underground is a network of tunnels that once was home to many secret businesses, both legal and illegal.

The tunnels were built by Chinese workers who had been harshly discriminated against by the town’s white population, it was unsafe for Chinese people to be out after sunset. During our tour with a great tour guide we were shown underground saloons, a chemist and brothels. While the rest of reserved Pendleton slept above, a wild time, and perhaps some light grocery shopping, was happening underneath the streets. A great tour and a must do when in Pendleton. Interesting fact was that the tunnels were only discovered in the 1980s when potholes started to appear in the roads.

We arrived right on time in Pendleton for the 27th annual Wildhorse Pow Pow. Dancers, traditional songs, and drummers showing off the power, strength, and native culture at the Pow Pow.

All this and traditional songs. This event attracts native Americans, Canadians and Mexicans from all around USA-Canada and Mexico. The ceremony honoring the traditions of their ancestors was very moving and special. IT WAS AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE TO BE PART OF THIS.

The Umatilla Indian Reservation is managed by the three confederated tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation The reservation was established for three native American tribes, the Umatilla, Walla Walla and for the Cayuse. All the tribes historically lived in the Colombia Plateau area. The reservation has a land area of 702.01 km2 and a tribal population of 2,927. In addition, some 300 Native Americans from other regional tribes and 1,500 non-natives live on the reservation. The tribes developed the Wildhorse Casino Resort on their reservation to generate revenues for their people.We spend 3 nights in their carpark while visiting the Pow Pow.

PART 7.  PENDLETON TO REDMOND, and the PNW Overlander 4×4 show.

Leaving Pendleton winding through hills and canyons it was a mix of rolling benchlands and granite outcrops. This area was a bustling gold and silver mining area in the middle to late 1800’s. Traces are still visible of people who removed an estimated $10 million in gold and silver. Driving on the road in a comfortable vehicle it is hard to imagine that just 175 years ago people with thousands upon thousands of pioneer wagons pulled by oxen and mule teams were making their way west in the 1850s to settle the Oregon Territory.

Our first overnight stop was in Kimberley, a great spot right on the river. (Freezing cold) From here we moved on to Mitchell. Breathtaking landscapes, and stunning vistas dotted with old towns and ranches are all part of Oregon’s extraordinary and ruggedly beautiful interior. Mitchell might have a “Ghost Town” look, yet it is anything but dead! One of the last frontier towns of the Old West The frontier spirit is alive and well today.

From Mitchell it is just a few kilometres to the painted hills National Monument and another few kilometres to the painted hills with  varied stripes of red, tan, orange, and black, all part of the changes from the ice age to today (past climate change) The Painted Hills also contains a diverse variety of leaf fossils aging 39-30 million years old named the Bridge Creek Flora.

We found a nice bush camp just around 15 kilometres before Redmond. Redmond has a population of around 33000 and is fast growing. Located in Central Oregon it is promoted as the adventure area together with nearby town of Bend. The area has mountains, rivers, canyons, waterfalls, and the painted cliffs nearby. In winter skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoe trails on the slopes of Mt Bachelor and HooDoo are the main attractions.

Once we did our last-minute shopping in Redmond and updated our phone card it was time to meet up with the organizers of the PNW Overlander 4×4 show in Redmond. This show is marketed as the world premier overlanding event in the world. From the brochure no other event offers the scope of classes taught by the world’s leading experts alongside a professional-level trade show that brings together all the camping and vehicle and motorcycle equipment and services you need to Get Outfitted. Get Trained. Get Inspired. Get Going.”

The show was held at the Deschutes County expo centre covering 340 acres and has amazing views of the Cascade Mountains.

The show was an enormous success. Before, during and after various presentations, it was great to meet people who have been following us on Facebook, our newsletter and website for many years.

During our presentations (overlanding Asia, Middle East, and Africa) it became noticeably clear that most Americans who attended the show have a fear of going overseas or abroad into Mexico. It amazed us that most have little knowledge of the rest of the world and most questions were always related to safety, security, and border crossings.

Let us hope our presentations made them understand that the world is not a dangerous place and most people in all countries around the world are super friendly towards tourist and many times you will be invited into their houses.

 

Due to a family emergency we had to leave early on the last day of the show to catch flights to Europe. We will be back in the USA July 29 to continue our journey.

A few years ago, we met Jeff and Shyanne in Mexico, and they offered us parking at their property just north of Portland while we travelled to Europe. At the same time Jeff serviced our vehicle. MANY THANKS MATE.

Till next time when we return from Europe and will be exploring Washington state

PART 8. PORTLAND to the SAN JUAN ISLANDS 

Hi all.

We returned from the Netherlands after a very sad goodbye to my sister (only months to live diagnosed Pancreatic cancer) and Clary her mother and father. (Clary her mum passed away while we were at the airport)

Sadly, my sister passed away one week later while we were back in the USA. Lucky, we said our goodbyes to her the week before in The Netherlands.

Major service done, said goodbye to fellow overlanders Jeff and Shyanne who looked after our truck while we went to Europe. Ready to start exploring Washington.

Washington state is known for its rich history and cultural heritage in the Northwest region. The state is named after George Washington, the first US president. Washington is known for its mountainous landscapes, and birthplace of some of the biggest global companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks. 3 famous people born in Washington are Jimi Hendriks, Bill Gates, and Kurt Cobain

First stop Mt St Helens around 130KM North of Battle Ground (Portland)                              

Mount St Helen is part of the Cascade volcanic Arc and part of the Pacific ring of fire. Mt St Helens erupted in 1980 and until now the deadliest volcanic event in the USA. Just under 60 people lost their lives, over 47 bridges, 30km of railways, 300KM of highway and over 200 homes were destroyed. Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980; this reduced the Peak of the mountain by around 450 meters A cloud of ash rose nearly 20KM in the air. Mount St. Helen’s landscape is still recovering from the eruption in 1980 today. One of the most popular places to observe and learn about the mountain is the Johnston Ridge Observatory. At the time of our visit the road was closed 7 miles before the observatory due to a landslide

Our next stop was Mount Rainier National Park. The highest mountain (dormant volcano) in Washington, at 4367 meters. The park offers stunning scenery, mountain meadows and waterfalls. The park is full of wildlife, Black tailed deer, Elk, Black Bears, Goats and Squirrels, Marmots and Raccoons. Mount Rainier is an iconic Washington landmark seen miles from every direction.

The peak of Mt Rainier is permanent ice and snow and include over 20 glaciers s around the summit area. The largest of these is Emmons Glacier along the northeast face. Two areas of particularly stunning interest include the Sunrise and Paradise regions of the park. More bad luck the weather turned nasty (Rain and Sleet), and the planned Stevens Canyon Road was also closed for traffic from Monday to Friday. hence, we entered via Elbe, stayed overnight just outside the park, and visited Paradise the next morning. Returning from Paradise the same road we stopped in Elbe but more bad news The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad was not operating till September. PFFFFFF

Olympic National Park.                                                                                                  It is situated on the Olympic Peninsula. Olympic National Park is one of the largest national parks in Washington state covering nearly a million acres. It has amazing peaks, lush rain forests, and a stretch of wild beaches. It covers most of the Olympic Peninsula, and roads only circle the wild terrain, never cutting through the park’s mountainous heart. This park has it all, beautiful coastline, lush rain forests, and soaring mountains. The villages of Ruby and Rialto Beach are on rugged wild coast on the West Side of the Park.

From here only a short drive to Hoh Rain Forest. Here you find huge trees and lots of rainforest. Living in the Rainforest area of Australia we really looked forward to a rainforest in a temperate climate. And we found it along the Hoh river.

The Hoh Rain Forest earns its name from the ever-flowing Hoh River that winds its way from Mount Olympus towards the Pacific Coast. This area has over 3500 mm of rain per year. The undergrowth is dense, and the canopy is thick, providing shade. Resulting in a lush, green canopy and trees covered in mosses and ferns that cover the surfaces resulting in one of the finest remaining examples of temperate rainforest in the United States.

It is always exciting to see animals in their natural habitat and despite seeing very little wildlife we did see a Roosevelt Elk next to our Motorhome. At night next to a campfire we were constantly out on the lookout for the mountain lion (Cougar) and Black Bears but (Lucky) we never seen any.

The friendly ranger recommended we do the loop in the park and must admit it was amazing and we felt so miniscule in comparison to the Sitka Spruce, Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple, and Douglas Fir that thrive here in the rainforest.

Higher still into the Olympics, we planned to travel to Hurricane Ridge a high alpine recreation area around 30KM from the small harbor town of Port Angeles. But not only was the weather lousy the road was closed. In May the visitor centre burned down and currently due to lack of facilities they only allow 345 vehicles on the Mountain. More bad luck, Lake Angeles trials were closed until Further Notice due to Cougar Attack Alert 3, Severity closure, Lake Angeles Area Trails Closed until Further Notice due to Cougar Attack “an 8-year-old child was attacked by a cougar while camping in the National Park.” As the weather stayed poor for the following days we decided to move on.

Port Townsend is a charming seaport city on the northeast edge of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s a spot of cultural and historical value and home to Fort Worden. Port Townsend is steeped in fascinating history, from its early Native American roots and maritime History Fort Worden Historical State Park is a National Historic Landmark that once served as a base of the United States Army Coast Artillery Corps.

From here we took the Ferry to Coupeville on the San Juan Islands. Out of the 174 islands only the 4 largest are easily accessible by ferry.  The Deception Pass Bridge is an iconic landmark of the region. The historic bridge spans Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands in Puget Sound

We bypassed Seattle as we already visited the town enroute to Europe a month or so ago.  At the time we visited the crowded waterfront and fish throwers at Pike Place Markets.  Our planned visit to the jet assembly plant tour at the Boeing Factory, located north of Seattle in Everett. was closed hence we continued to Cascade Mountains National Park

 

PART 9. Northern Cascade National Park to Glacier National Park. 

Just one hour south of the border with Canada lays Bellingham and its Fairhaven Historic District. The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest runs along the slopes of the Cascade Mountains, with North Cascades National Park to the south and the Canadian border to the northThis area has some of the best ski fields in Washington.
On the Mount Baker Highway, the town of Glacier is the closest base camp to the peak of Mt Baker. At the end of the highway at Artist Point, we had amazing views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. The North Cascades we were told are some off the most unspoiled tracts of country in the United States.
Following the North Cascades Scenic Byway offers amazing scenery and views. BUT more bad luck. Just before we entered Cascade NP we were stopped, and the road was closed due to Bushfires. Pictures shown of the Cascade NP are not ours. We missed out on our planned visit to Cascade NP and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, this area is still on our to do list and in a few years when we are enroute to Vancouver Canada we may cross the border and revisit the area.
It was early afternoon and we decided to turn around to Bellingham and change our plan and drive towards the German town of Leavenworth., located on the southern side of the Cascade Mountains. It is promoted that it resembles something from Germany or the Swiss Alps (not sure if this is true) I call it more like Disneyland in the USA. However, the town is best known for its October fest and the Christmas Lighting Festival. During summer it does create a European atmosphere with lots of outdoor seating, beer gardens, Live German Music, bratwurst sausages (not the best) and German beers. And for those looking for German souvenirs beer steins, cuckoo clocks, nutcrackers, and Christmas decorations and more all are for sale,
From here we ventured into Eastern Washington which is a lot sunnier than the west most of the year. It is a lot less populated, and farmland takes over the scenery.
After a quick stop in Spokane, we continued our journey into Idaho. The narrow Northern strip wedged between Washington and Montana shares a small portion with the Canadian province of British Columbia. We also had to bring our clock one hour forward to Central Mountain time. Idaho’s nickname is the Gem state, an expression based on the natural beauty of the State. 38% of Idaho’s land is managed by the United States Forest service, this is the highest of any state in the USA. Idaho is also known for its Potato crop.
Enroute to our next destination (Glacier National Park in Montana) we explored Lake Coeur d’ Alene. This lake is a natural dam. It is 40km long and between 1.5 and 5KM wide. Major attraction nice beaches and great scenery.

 

PART 10, Glacier National Park 

After staying overnight at the Walmart carpark in Idaho, we entered Montana.

 

Today we felt like an American traveller. On the road early and parking late. We choose the scenic byway to Glacier National Park but despite being scenic it appears everyone was in a hurry.

Glacier National Park is in northwestern Montana on the border with Canada. This park is around 4000sq kilometres and includes over 130 lakes. Lake McDonald on the western side of the park is the longest lake at 16 kilometres long and 140 meters deep at the deepest point. The ranger told us that the surface temperature of the lake never gets above 10 degrees Celsius. In addition to this the park has hundreds of rivers, waterfalls, and streams.

According to the rangers in the 1950’s 150 glaciers measuring 25 acres in size existed in Glacier National Park. By 2010 only 25 remained and it looks like that by 2030 all glaciers will have disappeared.

Part of Glacier Nat Park is Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and was the first international Peace Park in the world (1932) and became a World Heritage site in 1995.

We bush camped 5km from the park entrance and the locals warned us to be on the lookout for Black bears, Grizzle Bears, Big Horn sheep, Elk, Moose, Mountain Lions, Wolves and Lynx. So, Clary decided against a campfire tonight. (Due to the many bushfires in the area this was not allowed anyway)

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.

From 6AM till 3PM you need a vehicle reservation. Scooters and Motorbikes are also regarded as a vehicle. Before 6AM and after 3PM no vehicle reservation required. Security will not let you in even at 2 minutes before 3PM and send you away!! Wish the faceless people were as efficient operating the online booking service.  

We arrived at West Glacier at 3PM and due to our difficulty getting onto the website we decided to visit the visitor centre first at Apgar Village.  We have been trying to make a reservation at Glacier NP for our scooter, but the website has not been working nor did it accept our Australian mobile number. Last advise we received was to visit the visitor centre at West Glacier, but again no luck as even the rangers could not finalize our reservation. It was good to see that the local Americans had the same issues.

The vehicle reservation system is to reduce congestion on the roads and pull outs inside the park which we understand. BUT I am unable to understand, why a small scooter needs a vehicle permit, this got me lost.

Motorhomes up to 21 Foot are allowed inside the park, our motorhome is 26 Ft hence too long. A few campsites cater for the larger RV’s in the beginning of the park. The campgrounds inside the park require you to book on the same booking site. All campsites, we were told were fully booked and we were told that people book 6 months ahead. Hard to believe as while returning from a daytrip we realized the campsite marked full on the website and at the entrance was not even 50% occupied at 8.15PM that night?

For those without a scooter/bike and a motorhome over 21ft, there is a free National Park Shuttle.

Is the park worth visiting? ABSOLUTELY

A mix of melting glaciers, alpine meadows, carved valleys, spectacular lakes, and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The best views in Glacier Nat Park are found on the “Going to The Sun Road” and the highlights are The loop, Big Bend, Weeping Wall, and the Logan Pass visitor centre. Driving around Glacier National Park on our scooter was amazing and despite lots of tourist and full carparks with the scooter we always found a spot. Glorious views, incredible scenic drives

We came during sunset and the golden hour was spectacular. Unfortunately for us the bushfires around the park and across the border in Canada did not help the view. Realizing that most campsites were not fully booked despite the rangers and websites telling us different, we tried our luck the following day by turning up without a booking. You guessed it, lots of space?

Glacier National Park is a beautiful scenic wilderness area and home to hundreds of glacier-carved peaks, over 600 lakes, hundreds of rivers, waterfalls, and streams. After we explored Glacier National Park, we headed for Crows Agency where that weekend a large festival took place.

 

PART 11. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK to BEAR TOOTH RANGES

Hi All

The western half of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges, while the eastern half is characterized by western prairie. Montana also has a nickname BIG SKY COUNTRY. Agriculture and Tourism are major contributors to the state economy. Montana is larger than Japan and the 4th largest state in the USA after Alaska, Texas, and California. Montana has some 3,000 named lakes and reservoirs. Montana also has the largest Grizzly population in the lower 48 states.

Montana has seven Indian reservations. Approximately 63% of all Native people live off the reservations, with the largest concentration of urban Indians living in Great Falls. We were told as many as 275 different tribes lived in Montana. We visited one, the Crow Indian reserve in Crows Agency during their yearly festival what includes Dance, Rodeo, Music, and a grand parade.

 

The Crow (Apsaalooke) tribe of Indians has a population of around 11000 of which around 8000 live on the Crow Indian Reservation. This reservation is the largest of 7 in Montana and covers 2.3 million acres in Southern Central Montana.  Crow Agency is called the Tee-Pee Capital of the world. We were lucky to attend the Crow Fair Celebration as it is the largest Native American Event in Montana. The event attracts more than 50000 spectators and participants.

The event includes many cultural activities throughout the day and night. The daily evening grand entries and the morning parades provides the beauty of all tribes in attendance. The different dance styles during the Pow Pow are amazing to watch. For me the highlight was the Rodeo, Bull riding, bucking Horse riding, Steer roping, Team Roping, Tie down roping and in particular the Indian Relay horse races.

 

INDIAN RELAY HORSE RACE.

Teams consist of one rider, three horses, two holders and a mugger. The race starts in front of the grandstands, with a standing start. Riders make one lap around the track; the rider hops off the first horse and jumps on the second horse in a dazzling display of athleticism. This is repeated when he hops off the second horse and jumps on the third horse. All this bare back. It is the mugger’s job to catch the rider’s horse. the holders restrain the other two horses. Four to six teams enter the arena portion of the track per heat. Two horses and their holders head for the rail to wait their turn at the action. The starting horses, riders and muggers line up in the arena centre,

In all a great weekend with great company. Ton and Chantal came over from South Dakota and Martin and Bianca came in from Canada on their way to the Burning Man Festival.  We also received a lot of information from Ton and Chantal who had just visited Mt Rushmore and the Badlands area. After saying goodbye on Sunday, we continued to the Beartooth Ranges.

The Beartooth Pass is at the summit of the scenic 110KM byway drive from Red Lodge Village in Montana to the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The pass elevation is just under 3400 meters before beginning your descent on the west side. The road is the highest road in both Wyoming and Montana. The Beartooth Plateau is the largest continuous land mass over 3,000 m high in the continental United States. Granite Peak at 3901 meters is the highest point in Montana. In total the area has over 25 peaks reaching over 3700 meters.

The Beartooth Highway is a breathtaking scenic drive that winds through the mountains of Montana and Wyoming. Unfortunately for us it was not, from 37 degrees and blue sky the day before it was cloudy, and we encountered wet snow on the top with just a few degrees Celsius. That night we bush camped on the west side of the mountain and the weather was atrocious as the rain pelted down and the wind at time was gale-force.

Clary was happy that we had to stay inside due to the poor weather as the local ranger advised us of Grizzly bears, Lynx, Wolves, Cougars, Bisons and Elk roaming around in the mountains.

PART 12. YELLOWSTONE and TETON NATIONAL PARK.

After a miserable windy and rainy night, we woke up to a calm cold morning, ready to enter Yellowstone National Park in the remote Northeast corner of the park.

World-famous Yellowstone, established in 1872, is the oldest national park in the United States and one of the most popular. In 1978, Yellowstone was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Park is in the northwest corner of Wyoming and spills into neighbouring Idaho and Montana. Yellowstone National Park is 8990 sq kilometres, famous for its geysers. It’s home to the world’s largest number of active geysers. The scenery ranges from snaking rivers and sweeping green valleys, to vast lakes, canyons, thundering waterfalls, and hissing lunar-like landscapes.

We explored Yellowstone National Park by driving around in a figure-eight past the park’s most known natural features staying overnight inside the park at Grant Village. The campground is located on Yellowstone Lake which is one of the largest high elevation lakes in North America. It is disappointing when you sit outside enjoying the bush, the view and wildlife and your neighbour turns up switches on his generator closes the door and moves inside. Listening to your neighbours Generator 3 meters away (10 ft) is in my book very inconsiderate? BUT it is their country, the best we could do is leave and find a nice spot in the bush just outside the park.

Since June 1 this was the first time we stayed in a paid RV park (40USD or 73.00AUD per night and no facilities and sites not even made level. PFFFFFFF) what a RIP OFF.

Our first stop in Yellowstone National Park was in the magnificent Lamar Valley, a prime area for viewing wildlife such as large herds of bison, bald eagles, and badgers, as well as coyotes, wolves, and grizzly bears hunting on the open grasslands. From here we travelled East to West towards Mammoth Hot Springs, amazing thermal springs that deposit travertine. From here we travelled south stopping at the many viewpoints and road site thermal pools.

A must do stop is at the midway Geyser Basin, it has two of Yellowstone’s biggest geothermal features. The crater of the excelsior Geyser which let 200 Liters of hot water per second in the Firehole River. The next feature is the 100-meter-wide Grand Prismatic Spring one of the finest and biggest hot springs in the park. Its colours are amazing. From here the park (central area) gets very busy and traffic is stop start.

One of the star attractions of Yellowstone National Park is the geyser known as Old Faithful. Named this way for the regularity with which it erupts, shooting columns of water high up into the air. The eruptions vary between 35 and 120 minutes but on average 90 minutes. Due to traffic and the large amount of tourist we decided to arrive late afternoon when most tourist have left.

Old Faithful is not the Yellowstone’s largest geyser; however, it does erupt more frequently than other large geysers in the park. The eruptions usually last from one-and-a-half minutes to five minutes and reach heights of between 30 and 60 meters.

Black Sand Basin lies about 1 kilometre from the Old Faithful geyser, and it has the reputation for being one of the most colourful spots in Yellowstone.

The Norris Geyser Basin is famous for being the hottest, and most active of the hydrothermal areas in Yellowstone. Porcelain Basin is a bleak and treeless lunar-like setting steeped in the pungent aroma of the bubbling geysers. The other is the Steamboat Geyser the tallest active geyser in the world, which erupts irregularly, shooting water up to a height of 300 feet.

On our way to the Yellowstone Grand Canyon, we crossed Hayden Valley. It is the prime spot for wildlife viewing.

from Yellowstone Lake, the Yellowstone River flows via the Hayden Valley before it forms two spectacular waterfalls as it plunges into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Not sure if I agree with the Yellowstone marketing Guru’s about the statement, it resembles Arizona’s Grand Canyon, but the 35-kilometre-long canyon is impressive. The Upper waterfall plummets 35 meters down and the next water fall just a 100meters further plunges around 100 meters down.

We decided to bush camp just outside West Yellowstone Village, I can’t justify 40USD for a site without any facilities and not even made level. As a matter of interest, the Grant Village also showed full but was not even 50% occupied during our stay.

West Yellowstone is a town in southern Montana. In town, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center offers the chance to get close to bears and wolves. Housed in an old train depot, Yellowstone Historic Center traces local history and transportation. We were surprised to see so many European and Chinese visitors in town and some shopkeepers told us that more than 50% of its annual business is from European and Chinese tourist. (We even saw signs in Mandarin and German) It is very touristy and not our cup of tea hence we camped out of town in the bush.

The following day we re-entered Yellowstone Nat Park to explore the southern part of the park and Lake Lewis. On our way to Teton National Park, we left Yellowstone National Park via the John D Rockefeller Parkway. This offered spectacular mountain scenery.

TETON NATIONAL PARK

This Wyoming park is what we remember from the movies taken in the American West. Teton National Park is very small compared to the size of nearby Yellowstone National Park. But except from Bisons and a few Elk we saw little wildlife.

We found an amazing bush camp with a great view of the Teton Range. The sunrise from our bush camp was amazing with clouds below us in the valley. Someone stated this are mountains of the imagination. The major peaks of the Teton Range are just 64 kilometres long. Grand Teton the highest peak at 4199 meters. Jenny Lake is the centre piece of the park. It is possible to take a boat ride on the lake but due to the many tourists around we decided against it.

Once we left our campsite, we followed the loop which has some amazing viewpoints along the way. Unfortunately, Signal Hill was closed (overlooking Jackson Valley) The Moose Wilson Road was also closed. But we were told this road was not allowed for RV’s, due to its narrow and winding character coupled with its alignment between a steep hillside, wetlands, and thick vegetation cover. However, we could have taken our motorbike instead if the road would be open.

Jackson Hole is a town in Wyoming’s Jackson Hole valley, home to 3 ski areas: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Snow King Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee Resort. By far too touristy for us we left town without getting out of the car.

Despite being told the park is teeming with wildlife including the grey wolf, American Black Bear, Coyote, Lynx, Grizzly Bears we only saw a few Bisons and a couple of snakes. Never saw any Elk and we wonder if this is due as hunting of Elk is allowed. Official reason is to keep the population of Elk under control. Hunting is restricted to areas east of the Snake River, and north of Moran.

To summarize, Teton National Park is small, but its scenery and bush camping locations are amazing.

PART 13 Yellowstone & Teton Nat Park to Mount Rushmore (South Dakota)

Wyoming

From battlefields and forts to the Historic Governor’s Mansion to the Oregon Trail ruts, Wyoming’s historic sites are home to a rich and diverse history. Wyoming played a significant role in forming the West as we know it. Sitting around our campfire at night we can only imagine what it would be like to be a cowboy or Indian in 18th and 19th centuries.

As we left Yellowstone National Park from the central East entrance, we followed Buffalo Bill Cody scenic Byway, via Sylvan Pass, Shoshone National Forest, Wapiti Valley, and the Buffalo Bill Dam, which is a prototype for the world-famous Hoover Dam, its dam wall is over 100 meters high.

Next stop Cody, the rodeo capital of the world. The city was founded by the most authentic representative of the Old West, Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. His name still conjures up guns, buckskins, horses, and the Old West.

For a taste of the real American West, Cody, Wyoming is a good place to start. We had a drink at the famous Irma Hotel and its cherrywood bar and watched the Gunfighters perform live outside the hotel. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center is  where you find 5 museums under the one roof.

Leaving Cody, we crossed the Bighorn Mountains. This was an amazing drive with breathtaking vistas of distant peaks. This route connects Buffalo and Ten sleep Canyon.

Enroute to Buffalo we stopped at Lake de Smet, for a few days R&R. This was our second paid campsite (15.00 USD per night without facilities) since we entered the USA in June. The location was nice but had a complete lack of privacy with those bloody huge trailers and motorhomes with the generator running. You would think they would invest in solar. Having said this, most owners spend the day inside in the aircon PFFFFFFFFFF. We left the following day and found ourselves a nice place in the forest.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Tourism is South Dakota’s second-largest industry, and Mount Rushmore is the state’s top tourist attraction.

We entered South Dakota via the Black Hills from New Castle. The Black Hills contain a mix of National and State parks, monuments, memorials, and scenic byways. This area in the middle of the vast prairie has become a centre of creation. Most known are Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, with 2 of the greatest sculptors in the USA. Gutzon Borglum (Mt Rushmore) and the Polish orphan Korczak Ziolkowski (Crazy Horse memorial)

Amid the Hills lies Custer State Park, the great wildlife refuge where 1,700 buffalo roam free, and the famous Needles highway. The Needles highway is not passable for vehicles over 3 meters in height or 2.2 meters wide, hence we turned around and continued to Crazy Horse Memorial just 10KM north of Custer.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial is a beautiful and unique monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The memorial is a living tribute to the Native American people and a beacon of hope for the future. This continually evolving sculpture and surrounding cultural centre is a must-see destination. It has been 75 years since the first blast began to reveal the likeness of Lakota leader Crazy Horse in the granite on Thunderhead Mountain in southwestern South Dakota. His name was Henry Standing Bear. He took up arms against the United States federal government to fight against encroachment by white American settlers on Native American territory and to preserve the traditional way of life of the Lakota people. Continuing the progress on the world’s largest sculpture, engineered by the great sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, Crazy Horse Memorial is being carved out of a mountain of rock and according to our tour guide will be at least another 15 years before it is completed. The sculpture is higher than the Washington Monument, Larger than the Giza Pyramid in Egypt and all 4 heads at Mt Rushmore could fit inside the head of Crazy Horse when finished.

Unable to stay overnight in the park we camped just outside the gate and had a view of the nightly lightshow from a distance. The laser-light show effectively turns the mountainside into a giant 160-meter-wide screen performing a spectacular display. The Crazy Horse Memorial honours the Native Americans, and “Legends in Light” dramatizes the story of the rich heritage, living cultures and contributions by Native Americans to the USA society.

MT RUSHMORE

Over two million people visit Mount Rushmore each year.

America’s Shrine of Democracy, Mount Rushmore National Memorial features the 18-meter height of four great American presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, carved into the rugged granite mountainside in the Black Hills of South Dakota. These four U.S. Presidents represent the birth, growth, development, and preservation of the USA according to the guide. (Not everyone agreed?)

The sculpture was designed by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, and he called it the Shrine of Democracy. It took from 1927 to 1941 to build.  Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States and has been on our bucket list for years. In fact, we have a sticker printed on our motorhome. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents a national treasure. Symbolizing the ideals of freedom and democracy, it is a tribute to four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and their invaluable contributions to the USA.

The 4 presidents, who were they?

George Washington Born 1732 died 1799                                                                                                                                                                                           George Washington led the colonists in the American Revolutionary War to win independence from Great Britain. He was the father of the new country and laid the foundation of American democracy.

Thomas Jefferson Born 1743 Died 1826                                                                                                                                                                                  Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, a document which inspires democracies around the world. He also purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 which doubled the size of what is now the USA.

Theodore Rooseveld Born 1858 died 1919                                                                                                                                                                                      Theodore Roosevelt provided leadership when America experienced rapid economic growth as it entered the 20th Century. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west.

 

Abraham Lincoln Born 1809 died 1865                                                            Abraham Lincoln held the USA together during its greatest trial, the Civil War. He believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of the union. It was his firm conviction that slavery must be abolished.

 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents not only the past, but also a promise for the future. When entering the park you walk past the flags of all 50 states, one district, three territories and two commonwealths of the United States of America.

After we left Crazy Horse Memorial and Mt Rushmore, we could not stop thinking of all the hardship and the human history surrounding the Black Hills area. I reminded us on the hardship the aboriginals endured when white man took over the land in the early 1900’s in Australia.

There was some controversy. Originally the local historian wanted the faces of American west heroes, such as Lewis and Clark, Buffalo Bill Cody and Lakota Chief Crazy Horse. And the controversy continues today as the land was taken from the Sioux Indians in the 1870’s. Despite a court ruling in 1980 that all the US Government had to do is compensate them $102 million USA, the Sioux refused the money, and they demand the return of the land. This conflict continues as of today.

SOUTH DAKOTA

PART 14. Northern Black Hills to Badlands National Park.

South Dakota is a located in the Northern Central Region of the USA.  It is also part of the Great Plains. South Dakota is named after the Sioux Native American Tribe. (Dakota)

Eastern South Dakota is home to most of the state’s population, and the area’s fertile soil is used to grow a variety of crops. West of the Missouri River, ranching is the predominant agricultural activity, but the economy is more dependent on tourism and defence spending.

Once we left Mt Rushmore we arrived in the Northern Part of the Black Hills.

The northern Part of the Black Hills is like stepping into a movie and meeting old west legends (Bonanza comes to mind) Deadwood is a classic example. This 1870 goldrush town is today a National Historic landmark. Deadwood at the time a tiny gold camp boomed into a town that played by its own rules that attracted outlaws, gamblers, and gunslingers along with the gold seekers. The discovery of gold in 1876 made Deadwood grow from a Tiny gold camp to a busy town with its saloon girls, gambling, and a whole lot of gun slinging, it became the birthplace of the real Wild West.

From 1876 until the 1980s, prostitution was Deadwood’s “not so little secret”. Miners were so happy to see the prostitutes roll into town that they lined the streets and clapped as the wagon passed by. After that, prospecting and prostitution went hand and hand in Deadwood. In fact, an entire city block was occupied by nothing but brothels.

Today Deadwood has become a tourist town with still lots of history mixed with hotels and casinos.

I Overlander directed us to a casino just outside town but as with so many I overlander sites in the USA it was full of huge trailers and motorhomes aircon and generators blasting and since this year the Casino decided to charge 50USD per night. Reason given was that local RV Parks (most look like converted carparks) complained about loosing business.  We decided to follow the track to the top of the mountain and found a great little bush camp in the National Forest with an amazing view over the valley and Deadwood. While sitting around the fire we were waiting for Horse Cartright (Bonanza) to join us.

After a few nights we left our amazing bush camp and continued our journey to the next destination Badlands National Park.

BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Badlands National Park is a natural beauty and geologic unique area. The rugged canyons, towering spires, and colourful rock formations create an awe-inspiring landscape that changes in colour all day long.

The park has lots of mixed-grass prairie where Black footed ferret, Black tailed prairie dog, Elk, Mule deer, Rattlesnakes, Swift fox, White tailed deer, Bison, Bighorn sheep, and Coyotes roam.

LOTS OF HISTORY

Like Mt Rushmore in the mid-1800, the USA assured the Sioux Indians that the Badlands shall forever be their property. But in 1889, this promise (treaty) was broken, and the Badlands were confiscated by the United States and unilaterally incorporated into a national park. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court awarded compensation to the Sioux Indians for the promises made in 1868 (treaty), but the Sioux did not accept the money they wanted their land back. Today the South Unit is being managed between National Parks and the Oglala Lakota tribe.

The South side of the park is entirely on Tribal Trust land, for the use and benefit of the tribal members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

The movies Dances with the Wolves and Thunder Heart were partially filmed in Badlands National Park. Here you also find the site of the ghost dances in 1890, and Red Shirt Table the highest point in the park.

We are so glad we visited Badlands National Park. After 3 days bush camping on the cliffs just North of the Park we decided to camp one more night but this time on the southside of the park where we were able to drive the tracks in and found a great spot between the rock formations around 5KM from the main road.

PART 15,  South Dakota, Crossing Nebraska, and Wyoming to Colorado  

Enroute 3 major stops

  1. Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
  2. Smith Lake for some R&R. This hidden gem was highly recommended by the locals.
  3. Scott’s Bluff National Monument

 PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION

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After 4 amazing days in Badlands National Park, we continued south to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This reservation is mostly located in South Dakota and a small part in Nebraska. It is one of the largest Indian reservations in the USA consisting of around 8990 sq kilometres. Sadly, it is also one of the poorest in the USA. We are told around 25000 people live in the reservation. Located at the southern end of the Badlands National Park, this area is part of the mixed grass prairie a transition zone between the short and tall grass prairies. All this is part of the great plains.

First town we stopped was Porcupine population 1000 it is the unofficial capital of the unrecognized Republic of Lakotah. About 31% of all families live below the poverty line. It is also home to the famous nonprofit radio station KILI 90.1 FM broadcasting Latoka music in the Great Sioux Nation. It started broadcasting in 1983 as the first American Indian-owned radio station in the United States.

Today the village of wounded knee ( remember the song; WE ARE ALL WOUNDED AT WOUNDED KNEE) has a population of around 450 people and is located within the Pine Ridge Reservation. The location of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark was the exact location of the 1890 massacre. And is now a National Historic Landmark listed as “Wounded Knee Battlefield.” Unfortunately, the landmark and cemetery suffer from neglect, and it is a shame the owners of the land do not provide regular maintenance. We declined to give a donation advising them to start cleaning up and maintaining the area first, before we would consider donating as it does not appear the money is used for the upkeep of the cemetery and Historic site.

AT THE END OF THIS BLOG I HAVE INCLUDED THE HISTORY OF PINE RIDGE & WOUNDED KNEE.

From the village of wounded knee, we crossed into the state of Nebraska where we camped for a few days on the shore of remote lake Smith with no-one around. Nebraska Wildlife Management Area maintain this area. Lake Smith is a beautiful place to relax and for 2.5 days we were the only campers.

From Lake Smith we continued south towards Nebraska’s panhandle winch forms the boundary with Colorado. As one of the central states of the United States, Nebraska was primarily a stopover point for those migrating to the north and west as well as to the settlement and mining frontiers of the mountain and Pacific regions in the early 19th century. Much of the land is prairie, driving North to south we constantly drove around the 1300-meter mark. Nebraska is located on some of the most important arteries linking east and west.

The Great Plains region, occupying most of western Nebraska, is characterized by treeless plains.

We were warned about Violent thunderstorms, Hail and Tornadoes in Nebraska and did we know it. While on our way to Scott’s Bluff National Monument we had to outrun a huge thunder and hailstorm. This stopped us doing the detour to car henge Nebraska’s answer to Stonehenge. Carhenge is a replication of Stonehenge, England’s ancient mystical alignment of stones that chart the sun and moon phases. Instead of being built with large standing stones, as is the case with the original Stonehenge, Carhenge is formed from vintage American automobiles, all covered with grey spray paint. Pictures used are not mine.

Before looking for an overnight spot we first visited Scott’s Bluff National Monument   Towering nearly 300 meters above the North Platte River, Scott’s Bluff has served as a landmark for Native Americans, Pioneers, and emigrants in the early 1900’s.

The monument is located on the SW side of the city of Scottsbluff, and it rises high above the plains so there is no need to worry about missing it. There are five major outcroppings on the bluffs, known as Dome Rock, Crown Rock, Sentinel Rock, Eagle Rock, and Saddle Rock. Over 250,000 emigrants passed by Scott’s Bluff between 1843 and 1869 all going west. It was the second-most referred to landmark on the Emigrant Trails in pioneer journals and diaries. The 15-minute video presentation at the visitor centre is a must see and explain the history of the opening up the west of the US, the Oregon Trial, Pony Express Trial, and California Trial

Not realizing at the time that we would be hit by another storm while at the Walmart in Scott’s Bluff. Hail, gale-force 60mph wind gusts and huge thunderstorm, the local radio advising all to stay indoor forecasting trees and roofs to come off and vehicles being damaged by hail. Lucky for us we had no damage.

After leaving Scott’s Bluff in Nebraska, our first stop in Colorado was Loveland. A neat little town on the foot of the Rocky Mountains National Park.

 Till next time when we Explore Northern and Central Colorado, the Rocky Mountains, and the world-famous ski areas where many years ago we did ski.

PINE RIDGE HISTORY, (WOUNDED KNEE)

In 1874 George Amstrong Custer led the U.S. Army, to Pine Ridge, its mission was to look for suitable locations for a fort, find a route to the southwest, and to investigate the potential for gold mining. After the discovery of gold was made public, miners began invading Sioux Territory. As more settlers and gold miners encroached upon the Black Hills, the Government decided it had to acquire the land from the Sioux. The negotiations failed, as the Sioux resisted giving up what they considered sacred land. The U.S. resorted to military force.

In 1876 the U.S. Congress decided to open the Black Hills to development and break up the Great Sioux Reservation. In 1877, 31,000 km2 of the Black Hills became available for sale to private interests. In 1889, Pine Ridge was established.

 

 

Seeking some hope for improving their terrible living conditions, including hunger and starvation due to the loss of land in their reservation in the late 1880s, the Lakota responded to their prophet who promised the disappearance of the white man and a return of native lands and buffalo during rites and dances. These rites were called Ghost dances, this became a real issue and scared the white settlers and led to federal military intervention. This led to the first major conflict in 1890 between the native Americans and the Federal Government.

WOUNDED KNEE MASSACRE (Remember the song “we are all wounded at wounded knee”

 

The U.S. Army stopped the Ghost Dance movement, on December 14, 1890. People fled the reservation but surrendered on the night of December 28. The group was surrounded and disarmed when a scuffle broke out over a rifle. A shot went off within the group of struggling men, and, from close range, the soldiers, fired into the crowd killing many of them instantly. Those who fled were pursued, and some were killed miles from the camp. Although the total number of Native people who died during the Wounded Knee Massacre is unknown, 150–300 men, women, and children were killed by U.S. troops.

146 men, women, and children were buried by the U.S. Army in a mass grave soon after the massacre. At least 28 U.S. soldiers were killed.

 

 

The second conflict happened in 1973.

 

 

On February 27, 1973, 200 members of the American Indian Movement led by Russel Means and Dennis Banks

 

 

Occupied the reservation village of Wounded Knee by force, and declared it declared it the Independent, stating they would stay until the U.S. federal government met AIM’s demands for a change in tribal leaders, review of all treaties made with Native peoples, and an investigation into the poor treatment of Native Americans. It did not take long before the village was surrounded by federal marshals, and a siege started. It took 2.5 months before American Indian Movement surrendered (May 8) and left wounded knee in exchange for a promise of negotiations with the federal government.

I remember this well as the band Redbone in 1973 had major hit in Europe with the song WE WERE ALL WOUNDED AT WOUNDED KNEE. This song was made as a tribute to the massacre in 1890 but also the 2.5-month standoff in 1973 between the American Indian Movement and the federal authorities. In the USA, this song was withheld from release due to the song’s controversy and a sore subject it was also banned from many radio stations in the USA.

 

 

However, lots more controversy.

  1. In 1942 the federal government took privately held Pine Ridge Indian Reservation land owned by tribal members to establish the Badlands Bombing Range. 125 families were evicted.
  2. on June 26, 1975, the reservation was the site of an armed confrontation between AIM activists and the FBI and their allies, which became known as the ‘Pine Ridge Shootout’.
  3. On February 24, 1976, the body of Anna Aquash, the most prominent woman in American Indian Movement was found in the far northeast corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Missing since December 1975, she had been shot execution-style.
  4. Alcoholism among residents has been a continuing problem in the life of the reservation since its founding.

 

PART 16. Colorado, Rocky Mountains,

Colorado is a state in the Mountain West region of the USA.  It includes most of the Southern Rocky Mountains, as well as the western edge of the Great Plains. estimated the population of Colorado is around 6 million.

Colorado has borders with Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. It also touches Arizona in the far southwest at the four corners. (More in the Southwest Colorado blog.

Since the late 1990s, Colorado has been the site of many major mass shootings all well documented by international media. Including the infamous Columbine High School Massacre in 1999, where 2 people killed 12 students and one teacher.   The incident has since spawned many copycat incidents in 2012 12 people shot and killed in a movie theatre in Aurora. March 22, 2021, 10 people killed in a supermarket in Boulder, in 2022 5 people killed in a nightclub in Colorado Springs. Who said Mexico or Africa are dangerous!!!!! 

The Rocky Mountains within Colorado contain 58 peaks that are 4,267 m or higher.  Only small parts of the Colorado Rockies are snow-covered year-round. Much of the alpine snow melts by mid-August.

The Rocky Mountains, locally known as the Rockies, cover 5 states New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and crossing into Canada in the North.

The main river in Colorado is the Colorado River which begins in north central Colorado and ends 2330 kilometres downstream at the Gulf of California. The river is fed by snow melting in the Rocky Mountains and passes through seven U.S. states and part of Mexico. The Colorado River is the home of the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam is in Black Canyon and helps control the flow of the Colorado River.

After leaving Scott’s Bluff in Nebraska, our first stop in Colorado was Loveland. A neat little town on the foot of the Rocky Mountains National Park. Just a few kilometres from the mountain village of Estes Park, we entered Rocky Mountain National Park. Great scenery, more than 100 soaring mountain peaks over 3000 meters, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife showcase nature at its best. Highest mountain peak in the park is Longs Peak at 4320 meters high. This amazing park has, 725 kilometres of rivers and streams, nearly 600km of walking trials and 150 lakes.

The headwaters of the Colorado River are in the park’s northwestern region. All this combined results in lots of scenic vistas. Rocky Mountain National Park is known for 2 famous drives, the trial ridge road between Estes Park and Grand Lake (80km) and the Bear Lake Road a dead end 15 km trip to Bear Lake. Driving across the park we reached 3787 meters at the highest point on the Trial Ridge Road. (Milner Pass while crossing the continental divide)

This park like Glacier NP requires you to obtain a timed entry pass online.

Trail Ridge Road connects the entrances in Grand Lake and Estes Park. We entered at the Beaver Meadows Gate. This was on the East side driving west to Grand Lake through many hairpins turns. Many turnouts allowed us to enjoy the amazing scenery. Immediate after entering the Park another must do road is the detour to Bear Lake.

The history of Rocky Mountain National Park began when the Indians travelled along the trial ridge road. Settlers began arriving in the mid-1800s, displacing the Native Americans who mostly left the area voluntarily by 1860, while others were moved to reservations by 1878. Rocky Mountains National Park is one of the highest National Parks in the USA.

We left Rocky Mountain National Park on the south side and bush camped in the National Forest west of Lake Grant. From here we continued to the ski areas we visited in our younger days, Copper Mountain, Vail, Beaver Creek, and Aspen.

COPPER MOUNTAIN

While Copper Mountain is best known as a world-class ski area and snowboard park, it is a pedestrian-only village and in winter it offers, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobile tours, dogsledding and nightlife. In summer Mountain Biking offering long rides into the Rockies to some of the best lift-service single track in Colorado. A Bike Haul is offered for those seeking more of a downhill adventure. Experience golfing with the stunning Ten Mile Range backdrop. All this, and year-round events such as live music, culture, art, and food festivals. Copper Mountain hosted Cup skiing in 1976 Slalom, Giant Slalom, and downhill. Copper mountain also has a 2000sq meter indoor ski and snowboard area dedicated to training.

 

BEAVER CREEK

It has the ambiance of a modern resort coupled with the unhurried feel of an alpine village, gorgeous Rocky Mountain views make this town very attractive to visitors from all around the world. Beaver Creek is a regular host of world cup events, especially early in the season. The valley that houses Beaver Creek Resort lies just south of Avon and was first settled in 1881. Many early pioneers moved to the area under President Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead Act. It took from the 1950s (Earl Eaton) and Pete Seibert (1970’s) till 1980 when an Oil Tycoon decided to develop the village. Beaver Creek opened as a ski resort in 1981. Today it is an upmarket high-class resort offering all the facilities you can imagine and heated footpaths in winter. Walking in Beaver Creek you find that the work force is from around the world (backpackers, seasonal workers and in winter ski instructors) Beaver Creek is a ski resort with another adorable village at the base. It has a full range of restaurants, from casual to fine dining, a skating rink in the main square in winter, and hotels.

VAIL

The ski resort town of Vail is one of the best places to visit in Colorado in winter but it’s also a pleasant place to enjoy at any time of year. When it comes to skiing, this is one of the best ski resorts in Colorado with seemingly endless runs for all levels. Clary and I skied Vail, Beaver Creek, and Aspen many years ago. This is a high-end resort with luxury hotels, fine dining, and designer stores. Vail is a Tourist Mecca. Vail is home to around 5500 permanent residents and at least 6000 parttime residents. Add to these another 5000 seasonal workers during the 2 seasons. According to the proud locals Vail with its world-renowned skiing, diverse shops and restaurants, luxurious accommodations, year-round events, friendly locals, and breath-taking mountain views, is one of the best villages to live in and they think the finest resort destination in the world. The Vail economy relies heavily on tourism. The main attraction in winter is skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing and you can party all night long. (Après Ski) In Summer golf, 25 kilometres of walking tracks, nearly weekly special events, music festivals, cultural events, and film festivals.

 

 From Vail we continued south to Leadville the third highest city in the USA at 3096 meters (Alma and Montezuma are the highest cities in the USA) This road is also called the scenic byway and travels all the way to Aspen. Big skies and majestic views soaring mountains over 4250 meters enroute on this amazing tourist route. Lots of little historic towns and developed mountain villages such as Breckenridge and Aspen with 5-star amenities. The road crosses the Continental Divide three times, including Tennessee Pass and Independence Pass. After the historic town of Minturn, we crossed the Red cliff bridge and continued to Leadville exploring the footsteps of Native Americans and those who came to find their riches in silver mining town of Leadville. Leadville was a boomtown with an economy originally built on silver. Once the richest town on earth, the downtown is lined with well-preserved Victorian buildings now converted to shops, restaurants, galleries, and offices. Much of the town is a designated National Historic Landmark District.

The town of Twin Lakes is nestled below Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest mountain at 4380 meters, and Mt. Massive at 4372 meters. Named for the two serene lakes. The two lakes in this valley were formed by glacial activity but were later enlarged to provide water storage for Colorado’s Front Range. There are miles of shoreline to explore. The lakes’ deep water is stocked every year with brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout, which makes for excellent fishing. In the winter, when the lakes freeze over, Twin Lakes becomes one of Leadville’s most popular ice fishing destinations. Great bush camping on the lake shore, or the surrounding mountains offering great bush camping with amazing views.

After a day and a half at Twin Lakes we continued over Independence Pass on State Highway 82 and into Aspen.  Independence Pass starts at 2800 meters and climbs to 3665 meters at the summit, which is surrounded by Peaks of 4000 meters. It’s a historic mountain pass that leads up and over the Continental Divide and leads straight into Aspen. Follow Castle Creek Road to the historic Ashcroft Ghost Town This historic silver mining town, founded in the 1880s, and in 1883 had a population of 2000 was a thriving mining community until it shut down in 1885, leaving just 100 people in town who eventually all abandoned town leaving the place frozen in time.

ASPEN

This historic former mining town has blossomed into one of the most high-end, charming, boutique small towns in the USA. The best things to do in Aspen typically take place outside both in summer and winter. You can catch a scenic gondola right from the heart of downtown that will take you up to the top of Ajax Mountain at 75.00AUD PFFFF in any season for the world’s best skiing and hiking.

Aspen itself is steeped in mining history. The architecture of the buildings tells the story. Within these historic facades you’ll find everything from designer labels to local boutiques. Chic hotels, restaurants, art galleries, bakeries, Night clubs, Bars, sidewalk cafés, outdoor bars and more. Aspen is a boutique destination and is home to some of the leading and most luxurious hotels in the world.

It does not get more vibrant than downtown Aspen. No matter what time of the year, this hot spot is one of the best places to see and be seen.  At night Aspen has amazing entertainment and you could be rubbing shoulders with the world’s most famous people. Just in case you like to live in the vibrant tourist town of Aspen the median sales price of a single-family home in 2021 in Aspen was $9.5 million.

Typically, the town is home to only 7,000 residents, but that number quadruples dramatically during winter and summer, when the historic streets flood with adventurers and lovers of good food, shopping, and lots of entertainment.

Another must do is the John Denver Sanctuary named for the American singer who wrote Rocky Mountain High. Many of John Denver’s most famous lyrics by having them carved into boulders. If you happen to be in Aspen in October, the sanctuary hosts a celebration to pay tribute to the late artist. The event features musical performances, readings, festivities, and other ways to highlight the life and career of the artist who felt so at home in Aspen.

We left Aspen for our last stop at Glenwood Springs before entering Utah. We followed the track up under the gondola and found a great campsite overlooking the valley. Why pay 70USD to stay at a RV park what offers next to nothing.

Till Next Time from Utah when we visit Moab, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks 

PART 17 Glenwood Springs (Colorado) to Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

It constantly surprises us that Americans pull $ 100.000.00 USD trailers behind a huge SUV, drive big Motorhomes or converted touring cars, however they hardly ever invest in solar. Instead, they have a generator running all night. (SHIT, THIS ANNOYS US!!) They pull up, turn on the generator, go inside and close the door and are not to be seen till the next morning when they leave again.
Complete disrespect for the neighbours who sit outside enjoying the bush and, in most cases, a nice campfire. If you like the aircon so much, and want to watch TV, then stay at home or park in a RV park. Not in a nice bush location.
BUT, stating all this, I am a visitor in their country, so who am I to complain……….
After a cold and rainy night in the forest north of Glenwood Springs we left early for the drive to Utah and our first destination: Arches National Park.
It was raining, hence we decided against visiting Colorado’s National Monument. In nice weather we were told this is a very scenic road along the Rim Rock Drive.
We arrived early and decided to camp just north of Arches National Park for a relaxed afternoon amongst great scenery.
Arches National Park
While at the fuel station on our way to Utah we were told Arches National Park now also has adopted a Timed Entry System, which sounds like a great idea when you sit behind a computer, however for around the world travellers like us without constant internet or an itinerary it is hard to book 3 or 6 months ahead! Anyway, that night while using Starlink we were able to book our entry for the following day. (We hear many people book several dates 3 to 6 months ahead and only turn up at one or not at all). It is easily done as the booking cost is just $2.00. I propose this should be increased to $100.00 USD and the rebate given once you show up at the time you nominated 6 months ago.
With over 2 million people visiting Arches National Park, the park is very popular and busy at times. The park has the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. In fact, the park has over 2000 arches.
The scenic drive in Arches NP passes many amazing natural features, but make sure you travel early as parking is limited in many places. The most impressive parts of the park are the Windows section, Delicate Arch, Wolf Ranch, Park Avenue Viewpoint, Le Sal Mountains Viewpoint and Devils Garden.
Balance Rock is one of the three iconic features in the park. The other most popular and Iconic feature is the Windows Section. With its large concentration of arches this is also the busiest part of the park. Devil’s Garden is where we found the longest arch in North America with a light opening of 93.3 meters.
To get away from the crowds drive the unpaved and 4WD tracks. The Salt Valley Road was classified by others as 4WD and high clearance, however this is not the case. If it is dry, it is a 2WD track. The other tracks do require 4WD at some sections and on the steep grades with loose rocks and soft sand.
Driving around we discovered a landscape of contrasting colours, landforms, and textures unlike any other. Hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, giant balanced rocks, and thousands of arches. This is why Arches National Park is also called Red Rock Wonderland.
After we left Arches National Park fellow overlanders told us of an amazing location just before the entrance to Canyonlands. Here we ventured 5 kilometres of the beaten track (4WD) and found an amazing camp spot with magnificent views of the park’s Island in the Sky area and surrounding public lands.
Canyonlands National Park
From here we entered the park and enjoyed all the panoramic views more than 350 meters above the surrounding landscape. The view from Grand Viewpoint covers a large part of this part of the Canyon Lands National Park and the Green River. If time permits a great 4WD trip runs through the valley via the White Rim Road. (PERMIT REQUIRED)
Canyonlands National Park is the largest National Park in Utah. Canyonlands is a wilderness of Rock in the heart of the Colorado Plateau. The park offers a colourful landscape eroded into numerous canyons. At the centre are 2 canyons carved by the Green and Colorado River. The park is divided into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the combined Green and Colorado rivers.
In the island in the Sky part of the park, the White Rim Road is the most popular Off-Road track between the rivers and the Island in the Sky. Since 2016 you do require a permit for this track.
Highlights: Island in the Sky part of the Canyonlands, Mesa Arch/Upheaval Dome.
Highlights: Island in the Sky part of the Canyonlands, Mesa Arch/Upheaval Dome.
The Needles area is suited for those who love to go OFF ROAD, driving the rugged, remote trails within the park. 80% of all visitors only visit the northern part of Canyonlands. (Island in the Sky) Only 17.4% visits the southern part of Canyonlands. The remaining 2.6% visit the Maze part and are river rafters.
Enroute to the southern Part of Canyonlands National Park we stopped in the Off Road Capital of UTAH called Moab.
Moab is known for its breathtaking red rock landscapes that surround this stunning destination. With a population of just over 5000 people, the town is a popular base for off roaders, mountain bikers and has the annual Moab Jeep Safari.
In the 1950’s Moab became the Uranium Capital of the world. This was at the same time of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The city population doubled year after year. The explosion in population caused much construction of houses and schools. As the cold war wound down so did Moab’s Uranium boom. The population declined, and by 1980 most uranium mines had closed, and many homes stood empty.
In recent years Tourism increased and Moab has become a tourist town full of holiday homes and tour companies. Moab attracts year-round outdoor events and festivals, has lots of restaurants, microbreweries, shops, and galleries. The cultural events and festivals include the Moab Music Festival, LGBT Pride Festival, Folk Festival, Skinny Tire Festival, and others. In the early 1990s several musicians from the East Coast started a music festival which until today is held every September. The folk festival is held in November.
Lots of BLM land with scenic rivers and forest allows for lots of bush camping here.
Next stop was the southern Part of Canyonlands National Park called The Needles. This part is named for the Cedar Mesa sandstone spires that jut up from the landscape. This part of the Canyonlands offers more than 80 kilometres of rugged off-road tracks with amazing scenery. Being relative remote you are away from the crowds who visit Arches and the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands. The remote Maze district accounts for only about 1.5 percent of visitors, while river rafters and other river users account for the remaining 1.1 percent of total park visitation.
Highlights of The Needles are: Big Spring Canyon, Cave Spring, Pothole Point and Slickrock

PART 18, SOUTHWEST COLORADO

Colorado, a western U.S. state, has a diverse landscape of arid desert, river canyons and snow-covered Rocky Mountains, which are partly protected by Rocky Mountain National Park.
Denver, Colorado’s capital and largest city, features a vibrant downtown area. But the larger cities are places we like to avoid.
As we entered southwest Colorado from the Canyonlands National Park in Utah, we noticed again the reddish rocks found in much of the state, particularly in the southwest, giving Colorado its name.
The region’s history and people are as colourful as the landscape.
Our first stop was Mesa Verde National Park just past the town of Cortez.

The park sits on an altitude of more than 2600 meters. Mesa Verde is known for its hundreds of cliff dwellings, a bit comparable to what we have seen in Mali (Africa) in the Dogon Area.

Mesa Verde National Park features Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. Perched a mile above sea level,
Ancestral Puebloans built these fascinating cliff dwellings in the late 12th and 13th centuries. The park also has many prehistoric villages and archaeological sites. Rangers told us more than 4100 archaeological sites have been identified. New findings are constantly made.
The most famous sites in the park are Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Spruce Tree House build from sandstone and mud mortar.
Cliff Palace has over 150 individual rooms and more than 20 kivas (rooms for religious rituals). It is amazing how well preserved this Palace is after 700 years.
Compared with today, the Ancestral Puebloan’s average life span was short, due, in part, to the high infant mortality rate. Most people lived an average of 32-34 years; however, some people did live into their 50s and 60s. Approximately 50% of the children died before they reached the age of five.
Bush camping just outside the park we saw little wildlife. Despite the comments made by the ranger that Black Bears roam for food and were around we did not even see any Mule Deer…
Next, we followed the San Juan Scenic Skyway. The San Juan Skyway is known everywhere for its million-dollar views. This wild and woolly region, dotted with rowdy mining camps and boomtowns, also witnessed the antics of such notorious outlaws as Butch Cassidy, who embarked on his storied career by robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride in 1889.
Driving along the towering peaks of the San Juan range, taking in alpine scenery along the way, as well as the eerie remains of old mining camps, before winding through striking desert landscapes and Old West railroad towns, we came through popular mountain towns like Rico, Telluride, Ridgway, Ouray, Silverton and Durango.
Rico just 77km North of Cortez was our first stop. The old mining town with a population of just under 300 today survives as a historic and tourism site. The name Rico is Rich in Spanish and lies around 40km south of Telluride.
Telluride is an amazing former mining camp turned vacation destination. Telluride has not sacrificed the past for its future, its national historic district downtown is well preserved. This town caters for summer and winter guest and has a year-round event program. During our visit it was the Blues and Beer Festival. Telluride is nestled at the end of a lush canyon and surrounded by some of Colorado’s most rugged peaks over 4300 meters high.
The road passes through millions of acres of both the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests. We drove over 4 high mountain passes up to 3350 meters high and stayed at one overnight. (Lassen Pass) This area is also a must do 4Wheel drive destination. The most famous drive is the Black Bear track from Telluride to Silverton.
The very narrow cliff hanging road between Ouray and Silverton is called the Million Dollar Highway. Many parts of this highway have drop-offs that lack guardrails. Locals say it is named the Million Dollar Highway because it cost so much to build and for gold ore that remains in the roadway’s fill.
In the town of Ouray mining-era buildings have been preserved. Ouray is a high alpine community sitting at 7,800 feet in elevation. It is set in a geographic bowl formed by rugged and steep mountainsides that lead up to jagged 3500-meter-high peaks with several creeks cascading down through valleys and canyons into the city.
Silverton is in the remote part of the San Juan Mountains. The first mining claims were made in mountains above Silverton in 1860, near the end of the Colorado gold rush. The town is a National Historic Landmark. The last mine closed in 1992. The closure meant the end of jobs for over one third of Silverton’s workforce. Today Silverton depends mainly on tourism. Interest in the “Old West” is attracting tourists from around the world. The town’s railroad is a major tourist attraction as it is featured in several popular western films. The train is almost entirely operated for the purpose of tourism. The train was originally operated by Denver & Rio Grande Western. Today it runs between Silverton and Durango.
Winter tourism is mainly skiing at the Silverton Mountain and people staying at the Purgatory Resort. Purgatory is marketed as being in Durango, but it is closer to Silverton. The town has also become well known for its winter backcountry activities such as snowmobiling, ice climbing, and backcountry skiing.
Our next stop was the Canyons of the Ancient National Monument.
The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument holds more than 20,000 archaeological sites, the greatest concentration anywhere in the United States. Some sites, like apartment-style cliff dwellings and hewn-rock towers, are impossible to miss.
Lowry Pueblo, in the northern part of the monument is a 1,000-year-old ancestral Puebloan site, it contains a 40-room pueblo with eight kivas (round chambers used for sacred rituals). Its Great Kiva is one of the largest known in the Southwest of Colorado. Exploring the Monument area can be a challenge as some of the tracks are rough.
Hovenweep National Monument:
The word Hovenweep means deserted Valley. Straddling the Colorado–Utah border, this monument is known for distinctive square, oval, round, and D-shape towers that were engineering marvels when they were built around AD 1200. Hovenweep National Monument protects six prehistoric, Puebloan-era villages spread over a 35-kilometer area of mesa tops and canyons. Square Tower is the largest collection of pueblo buildings at Hovenweep and was populated with up to 500 people. It is in Little Ruin Canyon which is made up of Square Tower, Tower Point, and Twin Towers ruin groups. All the sites offer something unique and are worth visiting but we only visited Square Tower.
The Four Corners is also a popular spot to visit and take your picture with your feet and hands in the four states, the only time you can be in four separate places at once. The Four Corners is a region of the Southwestern United States consisting of the southwestern corner of Colorado, southeastern corner of Utah, northeastern corner of Arizona, and northwestern corner of New Mexico. It is the only location in the United States where four states meet.
The original marker, erected in 1912, was a simple cement pad placed after government surveys showed the location of the terminus of the four state boundaries. The area surrounding the monument is Native American land, and covers some 15000 sq kilometres. Both the Navajo, or Dine, and Ute people live in the Four Corners area. This area has been home to native people for hundreds of years.

PART 19. Corner Country to Zion National Park

Covering more than 46000 square kilometres of desert landscape the 4-corner region is scenic and has many parts ready to be explored.

This area known as the Navajo Nation is home to major attractions known worldwide, including Monument Valley, Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon, other points of interest are Horseshoe Bend, Valley of the Gods, Mexican Head. Enroute to Kayenta

the dramatic landscapes of the Colorado Plateau, and deeply red earth and  impossibly blue skies, reminded us of the old western movies we used to watch when growing up.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is one of the most recognized landscapes in the USA and possible of the world. Marvel at Mother Nature’s handiwork, eroding massive rocks into interesting sculptures that reach heights of up to 350 meters. The angle of the sun gives these amazing formation change in colour during the day. Natural forces of wind and water that eroded the land spent the last 50 million years cutting into and peeling away at the surface of the plateau. The simple wearing down of altering layers of soft and hard rock slowly revealed the natural wonders of Monument Valley today.

Monument Valley in the Navaro language means valley of the rocks. This area is part of the Colorado Plateau characterized by a collection of crimson mesas and towering sandstone buttes that capture colours that appear only in nature. The valley is considered sacred by the Native American people who live in the reservation what is part of the Navajo Nation.

Monument Valley isn’t a “valley” in the true sense of the word, but a wide, arid, desolate plain with enormous red sandstone mesas, buttes, and spires dotted throughout.

Monument Valley has been photographed, painted by thousands, and has appeared in many Hollywood films. To name a few, Forest Gump, The Searchers, Once upon a time in the west, Stagecoach, and the Lone ranger.

 

Forest Gump Point

On our way to Mexican Head a must do stop is at Forest Gump Point, from here looking back a long straight road that runs back towards Monument Valley. This gives the real image of the far west.

Many travellers on daily tight schedules miss this spot as it is not part of the standard trip and route.

Mexican Hat

Mexican Hat is a small village (population about 40) around 50 Kilometres north of Monument Valley. The village is named after the curiously sombrero shaped rock outcropping just out of town. The rock measures 18 meters wide and just under 4 meters long. Our campsite along the river had a great view of the rock and we enjoyed our 3 days stay at the valley overlooking Mexican Head.

After a few days at Mexican Head, we continued to the Valley of the Gods. Also known as a Miniature Monument Valley. The beautiful Cedar Mesa sandstone monoliths, pinnacles and other geological features of this scenic area are eroded by wind and water over millions of years.

The Valley of the Gods

The roads through the Valley of the Gods are a mix of gravel, clay, washouts, and sharp turns but nothing difficult. It provides a fun drive through an area that is usually deserted. It is a great place to get away from civilization – to get away from everything associated with modern life. it is a hidden gem.

Despite it being just 50 kilometres away from Monument Valley it is not visited by many, it offers great bush camping, and the Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide-open spaces that seem to go on forever.  Permits are not required and there are no fees to drive the Valley of the Gods unlike Monument Valley.

Because of its isolated nature you need to be self-sufficient There are no facilities. The western end of the Valley of the Gods Road connects with Hwy 261 what is known as the Moki Dugway a section of very tight switchbacks that allow Hwy 261 to climb the cliff face to the top of Cedar Mesa.

 

Antilope Canyon

After leaving Valley of the Gods our plan was to visit Antilope Canyon. We were told Antilope is visited by thousands of people every day. Only way to visit is by guided tour. The canyon is located around the town of Page. Antelope is the most visited slot canyon, partly because it is easily accessible and by far the most publicized, and it is extremely beautiful, with just the right combination of depth, width, length, rock colour and ambient light. Most slot canyons are deeper.

As it worked out the weather was poor, windy and overcast. Hence, we decided to give the canyon a miss. Current prices for the short tour are 100USD, but we were told the fees will increase as the Navajo continue to exploit the ever-growing popularity of the canyon.

 

Page

Arriving in Page our first stop was the Walmart to stock up.  Walmart is always a good place to stop overnight once it is getting late in the day. Page is a great destination when you enjoy and appreciate natural beauty. For many it is the start of the Grand Circle a cluster of over a dozen national parks in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. They are near each other. For us this was an amazing part of the world. And more to come such as Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante, Capitol Reef, Grand Canyon, are all part of the Grand Circle.

Horseshoe Bend National Park

The following morning our first stop was Horseshoe Bend National Park. This park attracts over 2 million visitors every year. Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Colorado River that offers breathtaking views from a 350-meter-high cliff. Horseshoe Bend itself, and that part of the Colorado River, are a part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Located just North of the East Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon National Recreation area covers 5,076.49 square kilometres of mostly rugged high desert terrain. The area is named for Glen Canyon, which was flooded by the Glen Canyon Dam. Completed in 1966 and is now mostly submerged beneath the waters of Lake Powell. The Recreation area has borders with Capital Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and the Grand Canyon National Park. The main reason this recreation area has been developed is to have access to Lake Powell.

Glen Canyon Dam

The Glen Canyon Dam is an impressive engineering feat that created Lake Powell. Lake Powell was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam. Upon completion of Glen Canyon Dam on September 13, 1963, the Colorado River began to back up, no longer being diverted through the tunnels. The newly flooded Glen Canyon formed Lake Powell. Sixteen years it took before the lake filled to the 1,100 m level in June 1980. The lake level fluctuates considerably depending on the seasonal snow runoff from the Rocky Mountains.

LAKE POWEL

Lake Powel is one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States.  The lake is surrounded by stunning red rock formations. Lake Powel has nearly 3,200 km of fish-holding shoreline. Lake Powell is in northern Arizona and stretches up into southern Utah. It is also part of the Colorado River
It is the second largest artificial reservoir by maximum water capacity in the United States.
Water levels at Lake Powell hit a historic low due to drought in 2021.  April 2022 Lake Powel was just 22% of capacity and this was the lowest water level since 1963, forcing some marinas and other area services to limit or suspend all activities.

Lake Powel is the second largest artificial reservoir by maximum water capacity in the United States behind Lake Mead. Lake Powell was created by the Glen Canyon Dam and the flooding of Glen Canyon.

After 2 days camping at an amazing lookout just a few kilometres out of Page we continued to our next stop Zion National Park.

ZION NATIONAL PARK 

It has been 26 years ago since we visited Zion National Park last. People call Zion National Park heaven on earth, a red-rock wonderland created by wind, water, and snow. Mormon pioneers arriving in the area in the 1860s were so overwhelmed by the natural beauty of Zion Canyon and its surroundings that they named it after the Old Testament name for the city of Jerusalem.

Zion National Park is in the Southwest of Utah. We camped on day 1, a few kilometres before the East Entrance of the park, and Day 2 on the South Side around 10 kilometres away from the park and the village of Springdale.

The East side is where we entered the park, which passes through the Zion–Mount Carmel Tunnel which was built in the 1920s when large vehicles were less common. This tunnel requires a special permit. As we are classed as oversized, we had to Pay 15 USD for 2 tunnel passes valid for 7 days. The rangers stopped oncoming traffic so that we could drive down the centre of the tunnel having 100 mm to spare from the roof.

The highlight of the park is Zion Canyon 24 kilometres long and up to 800 meters deep. The canyon walls are reddish, and orange coloured also called Navajo Sandstone.

The road into the Canyon is 10 kilometres but not open for private vehicles between April and the end of October. During this time the only access is by free shuttle bus. All other roads in Zion are open to private vehicles year-round. It was nice but the thousands of people in the gorge made it less spectacular for us. Driving by shuttle is not something we enjoy.

Zion National Park really revolves around the Zion Canyon, as it includes most of the highlights of the park. Including Angels Landing (famous world-wide but we did not walk the trial) The great white throne, The West Temple, and the Court of the Patriarchs.

The old riverside village of Springdale on the southside of the park is the park’s primary gateway. The main road in the village is the main tourist strip full of hotels, restaurants, art galleries, and shops.

The northern part of the park is known as the Kolob Canyons section and is accessible only from Highway 15. Kolob Canyons is even smaller than Zion Canyon but we are told if you enjoy hiking this is another place to go. Due to the large amounts of traffic and, tourist busses we gave that a miss.

On our second day when we entered Zion from the south side, we arrived at 9AM and more than 1 kilometres of traffic (Day trippers from Las Vegas) were already lining up to get into the park. This is also the reason that as of early 2000 the 10km road into the Canyon was closed for traffic during the months of June till October and a public transportation system using propane-powered shuttle buses was implemented.