STE1 wrapup

Our one-night stay in Rawlins WY concluded the first segment of the STE. The segment by the numbers:

  • 8 hops
  • 17 nights
  • 1605 tow miles
  • 2033 truck miles
  • $719.56 in campground fees ($42.33 per night)

This was not the segment that we planned.  The planned versus the actual routes:

STE1 Plan

STE1 Plan

STE1 Actual

STE1 Actual

Highlights:

  • Visiting Tillamook again and catching up with my sister and her husband.
  • Seeing Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.
  • Touring the Mormon Tabernacle and other LDS buildings.
  • Catching some incredible sunsets in Oregon and Idaho.
  • Getting the truck fixed quickly and relatively painlessly.

Lowlights:

  • Having the truck fail in Salina UT. Fortunately we were able to get to a campground and were safe and warm while we waited for repairs.
  • Missing out on Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks due to the truck problem.  We also had to skip Monument Valley.  All huge disappointments.
  • The cold weather.  We had to endure a number of sub-freezing nights, including one, in Silt CO, that dropped to 25 degrees.  I had to wrestle with a frozen hose to pack up there.  We also had to adjust our schedule to avoid snow in Wyoming.  In general, this entire segment has been much colder than I expected for early October.

The next segment, STE2, will take us through Nebraska and Kansas, completing our 48-state map.  It will also get us down to Oklahoma and Texas and, hopefully, into warmer weather.

STE1 Hop 8: Silt CO to Rawlins WY

STE1 Hop 8

STE1 Hop 8

216 miles via I-70, CO 13, WY 789 and I-80. Cumulative tow miles: 1605. Truck miles: . Cumulative truck miles: 2026.

This was a “Plan B” hop. Plan A was to drive from Silt to Denver via I-70. But I scotched that plan after I took a close look at I-70. The mountain passes were extremely high (one at 11,000 feet and another in excess of 10,000 feet) and the road was very narrow and downright dangerous in places. And steep – both going up and coming down. I couldn’t be sure that the truck could handle it.

Plan B was to drive north and take I-80 across the Rockies. This hop gets us north; the next hop gets us across the Rockies via an 8500-foot pass. About the same height as the one in Yellowstone, so I know the truck can do it.

One of the downsides of Plan B is that the first half – up to Wyoming – was almost exclusively on 2-lane state highways: 13 in Colorado and 789 in Wyoming. But the route is sparsely populated and lightly traveled. It was a fairly pleasant ride in clear, if cold (mid-50s), weather. It was completed almost non-stop. Just a couple of lights in Craig CO, the only town of any size on the route.

Our home for the two nights in Colorado was the Silt/Colorado River KOA. This was a pretty basic campground, but the pullthrough sites were large and flat and it was situated on the banks of the Colorado River. The river is not very big at this point, but it flows rapidly – about 5 mph. And since the trees were pretty much in their prime autumn colors, I was able to get a couple of nice river photos. The trees do not have the vivid reds and oranges that New Englanders are used to, but the yellows are very bright.

Because this was our first (and maybe last) stay in Colorado, we were able to add the 46th state to our map.

Colorado River colors at dusk

Colorado River colors at dusk

Silt KOA

Silt KOA

Our site

Our site

STE1 Hop 7: Moab UT to Silt CO

STE1 Hop 7

STE1 Hop 7

179 miles via UT 191 and I-70. Cumulative tow miles: 1389. Truck miles: 379. Cumulative truck miles: 1759.

The best thing about the trip to Moab was that the truck handled the load just fine. Every hop now increases my confidence that the truck repairs actually fixed the problem. Still, we have decided to avoid the 11,000-foot pass on I-70; the last hop in STE1 will be north to Rawlins WY. We can go straight to Nebraska from there over a less demanding 8,500-foot pass.

The weather on this hop was clear but very hazy. I think it was just due to atmospheric conditions, but I can’t rule out the possibility that part of it was smoke from the California wildfires.

The high truck miles were due to the visits to the national parks – Canyonlands and Arches (twice). I have blogged about those trips separately.

The other feature of the stay in Moab was Moab itself. The Colorado River canyon on the edge of Moab was very beautiful. And the RV park had mule deer that weren’t intimidated by our presence. Rusty and I encountered them twice. Rusty was very interested but, surprisingly, did not bark at them.

Colorado River canyon at dusk

Colorado River canyon at dusk

Mule deer

Mule deer

We stayed 3 nights at the Moab Valley RV Resort. We booked late due to the truck problems and they could accommodate us for only 2 nights. They found a place for us for the third night, but we had to move. I think that is a first in our travels. I suppose you could even call it a “hop” – of about a tenth of a mile.

The park was nice, but a bit cramped. I got an “extra vehicle” space for the truck, to keep its butt from hanging out on the campground road. There was a $5 fee (per night) for the space, which was waived for the first 2 nights. The staff person I dealt with when paying for the third night wasn’t so generous.

The park was right on a road so it was a bit noisy. But a red cliff also loomed over it, which made it kind of exotic. I guess overall we liked it and would return.

We also liked Moab. We only took one trip into town and that was for food shopping. There were some interesting restaurants but the only establishment we visited was Denny’s. Sometimes you just need a Moons Over My Hammy.

The campground

The campground

Our site, first 2 nights

Our site, first 2 nights

Arches National Park

Windows Arch

Windows Arch

I visited Arches National Park twice – by myself late afternoon on Thursday and with Jett Friday around noon. The second visit was to give Jett an opportunity to see this beautiful park, but I also wanted to take a look at the “Windows” area, which I had skipped when I ran out of time on Thursday. Besides, Friday was even clearer than Thursday.

The roads in the park were being resurfaced, which made it more difficult to get around. Some areas – most notably the “Park Avenue” area – were totally closed, which was disappointing. But the park has so many features that there was still plenty to see.

The entrance to the park is flat, but it immediately transitions into a climb up the side of a cliff. In less than a mile the road rises over 500 feet, producing a panoramic view of the Moab Valley. From there it flattens out and the rest of the 18 mile ride is relatively flat and easy, with just one additional drop – maybe 200 feet – into a valley.

Many of the arches require a walk to get close. Jett wasn’t interested in any hikes and I was pressed for time on Thursday, so I only did two hikes. The first was about a half mile up to a promontory, to view the Delicate Arch. I found that view disappointing and probably not worth the effort. The second hike was about a quarter mile, into a chasm containing the Sand Dune Arch. That hike was eerie and definitely worth the effort. But I found myself wishing I could find a time when the lighting was better. But with the chasm being as deep as it is, there may never be a time when it gets direct sunlight.

Devils Garden

Devils Garden

Plains vista

Plains vista

Tower of Babel?

Tower of Babel?

Sand Dune Arch

Sand Dune Arch

Random rocks

Distant view of Delicate Arch

Courthouse Towers

Courthouse Towers

Colorful valley

Colorful valley

Moab Valley vista

Moab Valley vista

Chasm to Sand Dune Arch

Chasm to Sand Dune Arch

Near Sand Dune Arch

Near Sand Dune Arch

Climbers

Climbers

"We Three Kings"

“We Three Kings”

Phallic rock

Phallic rock

Obelisk pair

Obelisk pair

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

Canyonlands National Park

Overlook of White Rim Trail

Overlook of White Rim Trail

Canyonlands National Park is one of two national parks near Moab UT, the other being Arches National Park. I visited both, but I went to Canyonlands first, yesterday morning, because the day started out cloudy and, since it was farther away – about 30 miles – I figured that it might clear up a bit by the time I got there. I was right.

Canyonlands is not one of the better-known parks. It is a bit difficult to get to. You first have to find your way to the Moab area, which is 30 miles from I-70. Then you have to drive over 20 miles up a dead-end road to even reach the gate. Before you get there signs warn you that there are no restaurants, no gas stations, no water in the park. The only service provided is toilets. Primitive toilets. This is not a hospitable park.

But it is beautiful.

I really liked this park. I think it is arguably as interesting as Grand Canyon National Park. And more varied in its vistas. It has both towering rock monoliths and gaping canyons. And it has something that the Grand Canyon does not have – challenging offroad trails. The White Rim Trail is a 100-mile trail around the rim of the lower canyons. It is flat and is probably not a challenging drive, but the length of the loop and the isolation of the area (the park warns that, should your vehicle become disabled, towing charges could exceed $2,000) would make it an intense driving experience – probably a multi-day experience.

I should note that the park is huge with several distinct “units”. I visited the most popular and most accessible unit, the “Island in the Sky” which offers a 17-mile (one-way, 34-mile roundtrip) scenic drive in the highest sections of the park. At the point it overlooks the White Rim Trail it is probably more than 1,000 feet above the trail.

Anyway, I will let the photos tell you how much I liked the park.

Monitor and Merrimac

Monitor and Merrimac

Canyon

Canyon

1011171129b_HDR

Shafer Canyon

Shafer Canyon

1011171127b_HDR

1011171129c_HDR

Vista

Vista

Buck Canyon Overlook

Buck Canyon Overlook

1011171152_HDR

1011171212_HDR

Axtec Butte?

Candlestick Tower?

STE1 Hop 6: Salina UT to Moab UT

I-70 east near Devil's Canyon. Scary.

I-70 east near Devil’s Canyon. Scary.

199 miles via US 50, UT 24, UT 118, UT 120, I-70 and US 191. Cumulative tow miles: 1210. Truck miles: 236. Cumulative truck miles: 1380.

This hop was not in the original plan. The basic trip – Salina UT to Moab UT – was the result of chopping out Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks and Monument Valley. They were chopped because I just didn’t trust the truck enough to take it into such desolate places. And the breakdown had cost us 3 days of schedule. So straight to Moab, arriving 4 days earlier than originally planned. We will likely use those days in STE2 and STE3 as those segments had a lot of 1-night stays, which are never fun.

But Salina to Moab is only about 160 miles. The other 40 miles was basically a shakedown trip down to Richfield UT and back. I had rented a car on Monday, thinking that the truck would not be fixed. When the GMC dealer unexpectedly found and fixed the problem in one afternoon, I kept the car, thinking that I would hang onto it until I tested the truck with a short tow. So 20 miles down to Richfield – no problem. Pick up the car, return it to the rental agency, get our propane tanks filled, then back up to Salina to top off. Then, finally, off on the hop east on I-70.

I had never traveled I-70 through Utah before and it was a revelation. Simply beautiful. Jett took photo after photo because every bend in the road presented a new vista. We also stopped at a number of scenic overlooks, both to take some photos and to give the truck a rest. There were two tough hauls up and over passes that exceeded 7500 feet.

Devil's Canyon overlook

Devil’s Canyon overlook

Pinyon tree?

Pinyon tree?

First overlook

First overlook

Salt wash overlook

Salt wash overlook

Our (unexpected) home for 3 nights was “RV Camp” – an unnamed, unadvertised, tiny 20-site camp that was conveniently located behind the K & K Auto Service shop where we first had our truck problem diagnosed. It was very fortunate that we didn’t have to go any further to unhitch because the truck was a very sick puppy at that point on Saturday afternoon. Even though K & K was unable to fix the problem on Monday, they had a flatbed that could take the truck down to the GMC dealership in Richfield UT.

The park had no amenities, but had a wonderful, welcoming host (thanks for everything, Stacy) and it kept us warm, safe and very comfortable during a very difficult time.

At RV Camp

At RV Camp

View north from RV Camp

View north from RV Camp

Breakdown update

Our baby on the flatbed

Our baby on the flatbed

We are, tonight, sleeping for a third night in a place we never intended to visit – Salina UT. The truck had some kind of major electrical problem which prevented it from running smoothly. Compounding that problem was our older battery (the truck has 2) which decided to pile on and fail. I was unable to even start the truck this morning (in 30-degree temperatures, with frost on the windshield) to drive it 100 yards to the repair shop. It just barely turned over and acted as if both batteries were completely drained. When I tried to start it again, about 15 seconds later, it started fine, no problem at all. But the clock had been reset because the voltage had gone so low, temporarily, that it couldn’t keep its time. Weird.

Anyway, I got the truck to the shop around 9am. Fortunately they were actually working today (Columbus Day). But the mechanic admitted that he had never worked on a DuraMax engine and from what he could see of the problem the cylinder head would have to be removed – very expensive! He recommended that I have it towed 20 miles to Richfield to the GMC dealer there.

I called the GMC dealership and they agreed to take a look, but made no promises on when it could be worked on. Lacking any other options, I loaded the truck onto a flatbed for a $150 mile trip to the dealership.

I told the dealership that I would need a rental car, assuming that there was no possibility that they would be able to diagnose and fix the problem in one afternoon. They gave me the number of the local Enterprise office. I called. No cars. Maybe some later today. I left my number and asked them to call me back when they had a car.

Being noon and having nothing better to do, I walked the 1.5 miles to the Enterprise office. Closed for lunch. So I walked over to a drive-in diner and had a decent lunch. After lunch I checked the Enterprise office again. Still closed. So I walked the half mile to the only other car rental place in town, housed at the local Ford dealership. They had cars, so I rented one, drove to the nearby Walmart to do a bit of shopping, then drove back to the GMC dealership where they were busy diagnosing my problem. I sat and waited and an hour later – around 2:30pm – the service manager came to me, said they think they had found the problem and could fix it in about 1.5 hours. I gave my blessing.

I got the truck back around 4:30 and immediately set off on a 10-mile test drive on local streets and I-70. Everything seemed fine. However, I won’t be convinced that the problem is truly fixed until I try towing the RV. So tomorrow morning we are going to hitch up, travel the 20 miles to the GMC dealership and, if everything is fine, pick up the rental car, return it and set off on the next leg of our journey.

If we have problems during that towing test drive we will limp to whatever RV campground is most convenient, unhitch, drive the truck back to the dealership, leave it for additional diagnostics, pick up the car and return to the RV.

And settle in for however long it takes.

The electrical problem was caused by a faulty injector connector. Cost of the part: $89. Cost of the new battery: $124. Total cost, with tow: about $600. Not cheap but cheaper than any kind of fix that would have required removal of the cylinder head.

Needless to say, we are praying that the problem is truly fixed. We want to continue on our way. It is becoming rather urgent that we get across the Rockies soon: Denver had 4 inches of snow last night.

Keeping fingers crossed for a successful test drive tomorrow…

Oh – I am still waiting for Enterprise to call back.

STE1 Hop 5: North Salt Lake City UT to Salina UT

STE1 Hop 5

STE1 Hop 5


157 miles via I-15, UT 50 and local roads. Cumulative tow miles: 1011. Truck miles: 226. Cumulative truck miles: 1144.

This was not the hop that I planned because the truck failed us when we got to Salina. Everything was fine until I got to a stop sign where UT 50 took a left into town. Stepped on the gas… nothing. Just some funny noises from the engine. It was still running but no power whatsoever. I looked at the dashboard and, sure enough, the “check engine” light was on. Shades of Stony Brook VA where we had a problem with the electrical connection to injector #7 about 2 years ago. I shut off the engine for a minute, restarted it and had enough power to complete the left turn and get into a service station. The attendant there gave me a number to call. Got a guy who told me to take the rig to K&K Auto Service about a mile away. Drove the rig there and found a guy who diagnosed the problem – injector #2 – but was unable to fix it (not a diesel guy). He reset the code and we tried to move on, but the problem recurred immediately.

We have been very lucky when we have had problems with the rig on the road. We made it through our early blowouts relatively unscathed (though the RV took some hits), with no change to our itinerary. Even the injector problem in Stony Brook, though it delayed us by a day, turned out surprisingly well as a mechanic in a little shop in a little town was able to diagnose and fix the issue for a low cost.

I have to say that our luck is still holding. We could easily have been stranded in the middle of nowhere (and there is a lot of nowhere in southern Utah). But the truck was gracious enough to break down in a place where we could deal with a serious problem with minimal discomfort. While we were unable to get to Richfield, 15 miles distant, where there is a GMC dealer, the K&K shop is adjacent to an RV park that had vacancies. We were able to hook up and settle in for a very nice dinner (filet mignon – a treat we felt we deserved) and, surprisingly, TV. While this little park – which appears in no travel guides – had no cable, it had surprisingly good over-the-air TV reception. On our bedroom TV (which always pulls in more channels than the living room TV – don’t ask me why) we got 25 channels, all with good signal strength. That, to me, is mind-boggling. Salina is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains. Where are the TV towers?

So we are safe and warm for the weekend. I will take the truck back to K&K first thing on Monday and see if the diesel guy can solve my problem. Otherwise I will drive the 15 miles to the GMC dealer and see if they can help. Best case: we are able to move on to Kanab UT on Monday after a quick, cheap fix. Worse case: we stay in Salina for another day or two and have to adjust our itinerary while GMC figures out the problem.

Sunset over I-215

Sunset over I-215

I did have to cancel the two nights that we were planning on staying in Bryce Canyon, which puts my visit to Bryce Canyon at risk. But if we make it to Kanab on Monday I can make a day trip to Bryce Canyon in place of my planned day trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. But the RV park in Bryce Canyon didn’t penalize us for the late cancellation – they took pity on us and wished us well. Nice!

I have posted my photos from Salt Lake City, but haven’t mentioned our RV park there – the Pony Express RV Resort. We really liked this park. Huge sites with concrete pads, very nice facilities, very well-maintained. A dog park that Rusty loved. Only about 15 minutes to downtown Salt Lake City. It suited our needs very well.

It wasn’t the most scenic park, however. We were adjacent to I-215 (the beltway around Salt Lake City) and our view was mostly of a huge gravel pit and a Chevron refinery. But the sunsets were very nice and, not surprisingly, the weather was very clear (the area averages 72% of possible sunshine in October).

One surprise for us was our failure to get even a glimpse of the Great Salt Lake. It is a huge lake and I thought it would be a prominent feature in the region – like Lake Michigan in Chicago. But it is kept well hidden and doesn’t figure into the geographical attractiveness of the area at all. The snow-capped mountains that hover over the city, on the other hand, dominate.

With our stay in North Salt Lake, we were able to add Utah to our map. Number 45. 3 to go.

View from the park entrance

View from the park entrance

Sunset over the mountains

Sunset over the mountains

#45 - Utah

#45 – Utah

Salt Lake City

We spent four days in Salt Lake City and didn’t really get a chance to do any sightseeing until the last day. We didn’t take the 45-minute tour of Temple Square because the website told us that we had to book a day in advance. Not true, but even when given the opportunity to join one we declined. No tour enters the sacred Temple and we got plenty of information about each building – the two visitor centers, the Tabernaccle, the Temple and the Assembly Hall – from the dozens of volunteers who staffed each one. We saw everything we wanted to see. The highlight was the Tabernacle, home of the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It looks like a domed gymnasium, which was a surprise to me. An even bigger surprise was that the Tabernacle was built first and existed at the time the building of the Temple got underway in 1850. Who built domed buildings in the 19th century?

Christ among the start

Christ among the stars

The temple

The temple

The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle

Handcart status

Handcart status

Inside the Tabernacle

Inside the Tabernacle

Jett, puzzled by the staircase

Jett, puzzled by the staircase

Details of the Temple model

Details of the Temple model

The Temple from the Tabernacle

The Temple from the Tabernacle

Cutaway model of the Temple

Cutaway model of the Temple

Inside the Assembly Hall

Inside the Assembly Hall

City Creek Mall

City Creek Mall

The interiors of both the Tabernacle and the Assembly Hall were beautiful, somewhat reminiscent of the interiors of the colonial churches in Boston – the Old South Church and King’s Chapel. The Assembly Hall had a spiral staircase that intrigued both Jett and me. We didn’t ask where it led.

Though entry into the Temple was prohibited, a very detailed cutaway model of the Temple is offered in the South Visitors Center, in front of a window facing the Temple so that you can look at the model and then look at the full-sized building. Very interesting model and a very nice presentation.

I also liked the Handcart Pioneer statue. Having driven some very long hops to get to Salt Lake City, I fully appreciated the effort it took to walk all the way, pulling a heavy handcart. Incredible achievement.

We also used our day in Salt Lake City to check out the City Creek Center mall, a very nice urban mall adjacent to Temple Square.

LDS office building

LDS office building

Temple Square gardens

Temple Square gardens

Assembly Hall

Assembly Hall

STE1 Hop 4: Jerome ID to North Salt Lake City UT

STE Hop 4

STE Hop 4

217 miles on I-84, I-15 and local roads, with a refueling stop. Cumulative tow miles: 854. Truck miles: 244. Cumulative truck miles: 918.

Again, easy navigation (Jett loves these hops!). Again, beautiful scenery. There were some climbs, but no overly taxing ones. So I really don’t understand why our gas mileage was so poor. Normally our one-tank range is about 240 miles, so I didn’t plan a refueling stop for this hop. But it became apparent, as we approached the outskirts of Ogden, that we would be on fumes when and if we arrived. So we pulled off and got 10 gallons at a Pilot truck stop in Ogden. Not a big deal, but disappointing and a bit puzzling.

Our overnight home was the Twin Falls/Jerome KOA. KOA is always decent, never spectacular. Unfortunately, KOA sites are always cramped. I like KOA for overnights because they are predictable, but I would avoid them for long-term stays.

As I mentioned previously, I caught a spectacular sunset in Twin Falls while I was out trying to get Italian food for dinner (which I did, at Tomato’s – quite good). I also got a glimpse of the spectacular Snake River gorge as it snaked (get it?) through Twin Falls. Other than that I went out three separate times to get supplies and fuel: to Walmart for food, to the local Phillips 66 and TA truck stop for cigarettes (cheaper than NH!) and back to TA for propane because KOA couldn’t fill my tank until the afternoon.

Our site

Our site

I needed the propane because I woke up at 4am in a room so cold I could have had icicles on my nose. The propane had run out, so I had to go outside – temperature 29 – and switch my propane tanks. That only took a minute, but no one wants to go outside, at 4am, in his pajamas, in sub-freezing cold. Yes, the water line nearly froze (a trickle for a minute before it broke loose) and frost on the windshield when I went out on my morning errands.

Florida can’t come soon enough.