Total Solar Eclipse, Idaho

On August 20, 2017 we headed north to Victor, Idaho to catch a glimpse of the total solar eclipse the following day. Victor is in northeast Idaho and very close to the center line of the eclipse path. We were hoping for a great show.

To avoid expected traffic on I-15, we drove up through Evanston, Wyoming, through Star Valley, Wyoming and then west into Idaho. Early in the afternoon we drove through Afton, Idaho and caught a glimpse of the Star Valley Wyoming Temple owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was quite beautiful set up on a small hill with the green grass, mountains, and blue sky in the background.

We continued north until we arrived at the farm belonging to our friend’s father. They have a beautiful spread of about 130 acres with a 4-5 acre parcel containing homes, cabins and barns. To our great surprise they also had full RV hookups and were kind enough to allow us to use them. We pulled in, leveled up, left the truck and trailer connected and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting to know an entire family of new friends. It was great to get to know new people and learn a bit of their history including the homesteading of this property. It was a beautiful spot with plenty of clear sky to enjoy the eclipse.

The next morning we built pin hole projection systems and watched the moon creep across the face of the sun. We also brought glasses that made it safe to view the partial eclipse. I mentioned that barns are often great pin hole projection systems because they’re reasonably dark with plenty of small holes for the sun’s rays to come through. The entire group entered the barn and found a stunning array of great partial solar eclipse images.

The time we were all waiting for finally came. The shadow of the moon crept quickly across the farmland and then totality began. It was amazing listening to the voices of young and old as they grasped for words to express their emotions. The frogs had come out and were croaking loudly, the birds had all roosted, people were grabbing jackets to cope with the 15 degree drop in temperature and everyone was running around trying to do everything they wanted to experience in the limited time.

I quickly setup my Canon 5D Mark III with a 200mm f4 Canon lens and shot several pictures at each of many settings. I share a few of the best here. The first was shot at ISO 200, f8 for 1/250 second. At the 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions on the disk you can see small red flares. I first thought these were chromatic aberration or other camera artifacts, but I later looked at images taken from other locations that contained the same features. I assume they are solar flares.

Unfortunately these images are quite low resolution because of the necessary cropping to make them large enough to enjoy. If I were to do this again, I hope I get the chance, I would use at least a 400mm lens to enhance the results.

The second image I share was shot at ISO 200, f8 for 1/100 of a second. The result is a much brighter view of the corona. In this photo the flares are still there, but they are much harder to distinguish because of the brighter corona.

The final image I share was taken just as the sun revealed itself at the end of totality. This diamond ring effect is stunning, but made even more so by the minutes of darkness preceding it. This was a very pleasing sight that won the cheers of those around. This shot was taken at ISO 200, f8 for 1/50 of a second. It is my favorite shot of the three.

It was quite amazing how quickly it got bright after totality ended. It doesn’t take much of the sun’s surface to light the earth. The frogs went quiet, the birds awoke and everyone was very quiet trying to grasp what was experienced. It was absolutely amazing!

We packed up, said our goodbyes, promised to send prints and left for home. Little did we know that the four hour drive up would take ten hours to repeat going south. The traffic was horrendous from Victor, Idaho to Alpine Junction, Wyoming. I think the police officers in that little town had no idea what hit them and had no clue how to deal with the huge number of vehicles traveling through their little town. Once we got through Alpine Junction we travelled at 60 mph the rest of the way home. Four hours up, ten hours back and I would do it again for what we experienced. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience. My son will remember that day and will get his sons to the Great American Eclipse of 2045 in Utah.

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Te-Ah Campground, Utah

On July 29, 2017 we left Arizona at 8:30 in the morning and headed due north to Utah. Many years ago we stayed at a campground near Navajo Lake and decided we’d like to go back to this area. We decided to look for space at the Te-Ah Campground northwest of Navajo Lake.

We arrived at Te-Ah Campground and found a nice site. The camp host was a bit of a male chauvinist and asked me if my wife needed assistance backing the trailer into the site. He once even volunteered to drive. I reassured him that she had this handled and she impressed the man by pushing our rig right into the site. The host muttered something as he walked back to his site. It was like he’d never seen a woman back in a trailer before, but today he was educated a bit!

At 9200 feet we were quite sure Te-Ah Campground would be a cool pleasant place to spend the last night of our 31 night adventure. We weren’t disappointed. When we arrived it was either threatening to rain or drizzling imperceptibly. I built a fire to roast brats and cook marshmallows. While It went unsaid, I think all of us wanted to do everything one does on a campout on this one, last night. We cooked brats, we roasted marshmallows, we played games, we sat out and hoped for stars and we stayed up late. None of us wanted this to end!

The next morning we slept in until 9:00am, we packed up the few outdoor items we used the previous night and we thoroughly cleaned the inside of the trailer. We like cleaning the last morning while there is still water in the fresh water tank and the other tanks have not yet been dumped. By doing this we find the trailer clean and ready to go the next time we want to go on an outing.

We left the area about noon and headed north to our home. As we drove north on I-15 and approached the I-70 east exit, we were tempted to take it and go for another month. As tempted as I was, I had to get back to work and earn time off for the coming July when once again we’ll leave the world behind and enjoy open spaces.

There will be other short outings before next July, but nothing beats getting away as a family for a long period of time and enjoying the best our land has to offer. We saw many incredible things, we enjoyed good food, great company, had some fun activities, caught fish in five states, and increased the unity and love in our family.

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Cave Spring Campground, Arizona

On July 26, 2017 we arose, ate a great breakfast and got underway towards Arizona. We left the Gila National Forest area with some trepidation. New Mexico was quiet, spacious and interesting. We knew that the part of Arizona we were headed towards was more populated and we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of camping and availability.

While traveling west we noticed that the Petrified Forest National Park was not far out of our way. It is in the northeast corner of Arizona and accessible via Highway 180. We entered the park through the south entrance and headed to The Giant Logs trailhead. It is a very short, pet friendly, loop just behind the visitor center. As the name implies the loop features many quite large, even giant, petrified logs. After this short hike we drove further into the park and found the Crystal Forest trail. This hike was much longer and while it was easy going, it was very hot. The trail didn’t really offer much more than The Giant Logs trail, but it was fun to be out and about.

It was interesting seeing so many petrified logs in one area. I guess that’s why it’s called a forest. On their sides the logs are impressive in terms of length and sheer size, but the end cuts are quite colorful.

We exited the park through the same gate we entered and continued west towards Flagstaff, Arizona. Near Holbrook, Arizona we noticed many stores had large petrified logs out front for sale. I guess what you find outside the park can be collected and sold.

We had an amusing incident in Flagstaff. Remembering the fuel situation we had in our last area, we decided to refuel in Flagstaff before heading south towards our planned destination of Pine Flat Campground. We went to one gas station after another only to find that none of them carried diesel. When we finally found a station that carried diesel it was in a crowded section of town. We entered the station and found that the diesel pump was on the wrong side of the truck and the hose would not reach. We left the station drove around the block and reentered from a different direction. We then noticed that the exit we were planning to use dumped onto a road that had a center divider, blocking our route to the other side of the road. We spent a significant amount of time backing the trailer up, wiggling it into a position where we could fuel and escape, and inconveniencing a few other potential customers. We finally fueled and successfully got on our way, but I think it was the longest fuel stop we’ve ever experienced.

The fun didn’t stop there. The sun was setting and south of Flagstaff we encountered road construction. This was some serious construction. For several miles we were the first vehicle behind the construction lead car that wove left and right down the one lane road of dirt between cones and signs. It had evidently rained very hard for some time just before our arrival and the mud was at least a foot deep. There were many spots where we had to switch to four wheel drive in the hope that we could stay on the road and keep up with the lead car. It was pretty nerve racking, but my wife’s excellent driving got us safely through.

An hour or so later we arrived at Pine Flat Campground to find it completely full. We had worried about this all the way here, but that didn’t make it any easier. We were tired of tight gas stations, road construction and the day. Fortunately, the next campground down the road, Cave Spring Campground, had one spot left that would accommodate our vehicles. The camp host helped us back into the spot and we were set.

The next day we slept in, ate breakfast and simply hung out at the trailer. Our son hung a hammock between two trees and rode his bicycle around the camp a few times. It was pretty relaxing compared to the previous day.

The Pine Flat Campground was an amazingly crowded and busy place. Even on weekdays it filled to capacity each night we were there. The camp sites are very close together. Where we backed in we had a table and fire pit just behind the trailer and then about 20′ of open dirt to the camp sites of three neighbors. Some of the sites are like camping duplexes. The back in parking spots are only separated by short logs space a few feet apart and then both neighbors camp directly behind their vehicles. One tent could not possibly be more than 10′ from their neighbors’. This was our least favorite campground of the entire trip.

In the afternoon a thunderstorm came up with some very close lightning strikes and powerful canyon thunder. We travelled down to Sedona, Arizona to have pizza that our son was craving. Afterwards we returned to the trailer, played games and went to bed.

The next day, July 28th, we drove down to Slide Rock State Park and paid our $30 entrance fee to go swimming. This park is not pet friendly and we were obliged to have one of us stay with our pet at all times. It was not lawful to keep the dog in our trailer without being with him. My son and wife hiked down the path towards Slide Rock while I watched Leo. They played for a while and then came back for me. I switched with my wife and my son and I went swimming. There were lots of people there with their dogs, I guess they were service dogs and comfort animals.

Slide Rock was pretty interesting and fun. Basically the river, Oak Creek, carved its way through the sandstone and created an 80′ long slide through it. The algae makes the rock a bit slick making it ideal to simply slide from the top to the bottom. Unlike the river in the Gila National Forest, Oak Creek is very cold and the hardest part of the slide is getting in. In addition to the slide, there is a deep swimming hole and short cliffs you can jump off into the water. You can see from the number of people in the photos that this place is well known and popular. It is just like going to a water park with parties, loud music and lots of people.

After Slide Rock we retuned to the trailer just in time to experience a huge thunderstorm at the camp. Very close lightning with enormous, booming thunder. We were in swimwear so we simply sat out at the picnic bench and watched the rest of the campground try to stay dry. At one point I danced with my wife on the table singing Dancing in the Rain, it was fun. We went inside, showered, warmed up, ate dinner and watched Pirates of the Caribbean 2. – the beauties of having a trailer!

When the rain reduced to a drizzle and the sun went down, people started to build fires. The wood was wet, the air was heavy with moisture and the smoke was very thick. It reminded us of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. We walked around the campground wanting to say ARGH.

The next morning we awoke and had a strawberry flavored oatmeal from our food storage. It was absolutely awful. Potentially the worse thing I have ever eaten, and absolutely the worse thing I had eaten on our adventure. One bite each and we put it right where it belonged, the trash can. We then made normal oatmeal and it was amazingly good given the appetizer.

We headed south on our way out to miss the road construction nightmare to the north. We went through Sedona and then headed north on Highway 17 back to Flagstaff. This scenic byway was much better than the construction war zone we traversed days before. Instead of mud, delays and construction equipment we enjoyed beautiful red rock hills and lush trees along the creek. We avoided our favorite gas station in Flagstaff and headed north towards our home state of Utah. We had one more night of camping before us and we were hoping for a much quieter and peaceful experience than what we had in Arizona.

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Forks Campground, New Mexico

On July 24th we left Saddle Campground and headed west towards the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. We had determined to stay in Scorpion Campground, a very unappealing campground inside the national monument, but found a pleasant alternative on our way called Forks Campground. We were excited for the adventures ahead, but the late date in July and heading west meant our trip was nearing its conclusion.

We had heard that sliding down the dunes at the White Sands National Monument on snow sleds was fun. Surprisingly, we didn’t happen to bring our sleds with us on our July vacation. We stopped in Alamogordo, New Mexico and believe it or not the Walmart there carries snow discs all year round for nuts like us. We purchased three and headed to White Sands.

We arrived at the dunes about 11am and the day was hot already, about 90 degrees. However, the sand here is made of gypsum rather than silica and stays cool to the touch in spite of the temperature and sunlight. The sand packs well, but is soft to the touch. We had fun sliding down the hills, watching the dog dig holes and simply taking in the views. If I were to do this again I would arrive at 8am or 9am and enjoy the cooler hours. We have also heard the sunsets are stunning.

From White Sands we continued west towards the cliff dwellings. We drove to Silver City, New Mexico and then headed north through Pinos Altos. The road from there to the campground was crazy. It was 16 miles of reasonably steep, but amazingly twisty road. Signs indicate that the road is for two way traffic, but too narrow for a center line. The signs indicating an upcoming switchback were u-turn signs. There were several switchbacks where we had to take the entire road and hope there was no oncoming traffic. We came around one of these and there was a Prius with two women in the front seats and they looked scared to death. We later learned that approaching more from the east is a much easier drive, but not nearly as fun.

After the road became wider, straighter, and flatter we found Forks Campground. It’s a big rather primitive free campground where each site has a fire pit, but no table. It was completely deserted and perfect for us, and much better than where we were headed. We took a pull-through spot near, but above the river with a great view of the cliffs to the east.

We setup camp and then headed north towards the Gila Hot Springs Campground. This is a private campground with only a few sites and poor access for any trailer over about 20′. However, for $5 a person you can soak in the hot spring water. The owners have created three natural looking pools on the shore of the river that they pump hot spring water into. Some of the pools have sunshades over them, while others have clear views of the night sky. The pools were clean, clear and about 102 degrees or so. These were a fun discovery!

The next morning we again travelled north, but this time to the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. We looked through the visitors center and then took the short hike to the cliff dwellings. The volunteers at the dwellings were informative and fun to talk to. Our son was excited that they knew something about the local lizards that he caught on the way up the trail.

After our hike wetook a drive in search of diesel for our truck. We ended up having to drive one hour down the canyon before we found a station. By this time the 36 gallon tank was nearly empty. We put just over 35 gallons in the tank and were thankful we didn’t wait any longer. We were low on fuel when we started up the canyon the night before, but decided to take a chance. Bad idea! Lesson learned, before heading up the last stretch of road before camping, GET FUEL!

With the truck full of fuel we headed back to camp. We filled our water toys, tube, etc. and head down to the river. The river was wonderfully warm and had great pools to play in. We floated down baby rapids and had a great afternoon.

After dinner that evening we made a fun discovery. We were sitting out under the stars and for some reason I turned on my flashlight and pointed it upwards. This attracted insects into the cone of light which in turn attracted bats. It was very fun to see bats in flight, up close, feeding and illuminated. I’m looking forward to trying this on future trips.

The next morning we awoke, packed, ate breakfast and headed south and then west to the Sedona, Arizona area. While we had many great experiences on this trip, I think the Gila National Forest area was my favorite because it had points of interest, a nice campground, the weather was great and there were no crowds anywhere. I’d love to come back to this area.

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Saddle Campground, New Mexico

On July 23, 2017 we arrived at Saddle Campground near Cloudcroft, New Mexico. This was one of our few one night stays, but we wanted to get back to high altitude, where it is cooler, and begin our journey west towards home. We didn’t have mixed feelings about turning towards home, we simply wanted to keep traveling.

While heading up towards Cloudcroft, road signs repeatedly warned us about steep canyon roads and the difficulty they pose for trucks. Our experience was that New Mexico over warns motorists, but I guess it is better to be safe than sorry.

Saddle Campground is at 9000 feet and when we pulled in a thunderstorm was brewing. We leveled the trailer and left it connected to the truck. I always use the front trailer jack to lift the truck and trailer to simplify the sway bar connection, but I had never done it to level the trailer for an overnight stay with the truck attached. It seemed to work great with no noticeable degradation to the jack.

I started a fire so we could cook brats for dinner before the heavy rain came. We cooked and ate watching lightning and listening to the thunder rumble its way up the mountains and through the canyons. Not much rain fell and we enjoyed a nice cool evening. The campground was sparsely populated and the sites were reasonably well spaced. There were plenty of trees for shade and beauty. Our site was a pull through that had a nice table and fire ring just down the hill. It seemed like a great place with much to offer in the area. We plan to return someday.

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Carlsbad RV Park and Campground, New Mexico

On July 20, 2017 we arrived at Carlsbad RV Park and Campground in Carlsbad, New Meexico. We arrived in time to check-in, park, hookup, and cook dinner. It seems funny calling parking with 100 other RVs hooked up to utilities camping, but it’s as close to camping as it comes near Carlsbad Caverns.

While the RV park sort of setting is not my idea of a great camping experience, the Carlsbad RV Park and Campground was clean, the staff was helpful and friendly, the pool was refreshing, the dog run was acceptable, and the park was quiet. It made for a good base of operations to see what we came here to see, the caves.

The next morning we rose early and left the trailer at about 7:30am to get to Carlsbad Caverns early enough to make our reserved cave tour at 8:15. While in Colorado we made reservations for a tour of King’s Palace. We would have loved to tour other parts of the cave, but other reservable tours were full. In addition, several of the other more strenuous tours require participants to be 12 years old or older. We’ll come back.

When we arrived at the park I took a look at my watch and was very unhappy that we had missed our tour time due to a time zone change. My phone confirmed the time. We went into the visitors center to see what could be done. It turns out that while we were in New Mexico we were up high on a plateau overlooking Texas to the south. My phone, and therefore my watch were getting their time information from a Texas cell tower broadcasting central time. We were early and happy!

From within the visitors center we took the elevator down about 800 feet and joined our tour group. The tour of King’s Palace was about 1.5 hours long, was interesting and quite beautiful. These caves were formed differently than others we’ve been in and learning about the process was interesting.

After our tour of King’s Palace we took the self guided tour of The Big Room. It was easy to get to because it’s simply another path leading out from the cafeteria / gift shop area 800 feet below the surface. The Big Room is well named, it is huge having an area equal to that of 14 football fields. The trail around the room is smooth, easily traversed and has many signs yielding information. The decorations are quite spectacular and when you take into account the sheer number of them, it is quite amazing. The trip around The Big Room took us about 1.5 hours, but that included several stops for pictures and to admire the handy work of God.

After our tour of The Big Room, we got in the five minute line for the elevator back to the surface. We were glad to have done this early in the morning because evidently later in the day the wait for an elevator can be as long as two hours.

At the surface we shopped at the gift shop and headed back to Carlsbad for lunch at Angie’s Mexican Restaurant and a peaceful afternoon.

On July 22nd we returned to Carlsbad Caverns and hiked down the Natural Entrance. We had been told that this is difficult, hot and a tough hike. It took us just 50 minutes and was none of the above. It was easy, but frankly less interesting than the other two tours. It was fun and worth doing, but not as decorated as the other parts of the cave. As you continue down you make the transition from full sunlight, to a partially lit area to complete darkness. Amazing to think that someone long ago found this entrance and struggled through the darkness to map a considerable amount of the known cave.

If we had this to do over again we would do things a bit differently. We would reserve more guided tours, but we would also do what we did in a different order. We would enter the Natural Entrance at 8:30 when it opens and walk down for the King’s Palace tour at 10am. After the King’s Palace tour we would walk around The Big Room and take the elevator back to the surface. This would give you a great sense of the cave in one day. It also allows you to enjoy the Natural Entrance without comparing it to other more spectacular parts of the cave. In addition, the guided tour before The Big Room would help you appreciate it even more.

At dusk we sat in the amphitheater and watched the bats emerge from the cave. It is interesting how they come out and circle in the entrance as they climb. When they reach the top of this “bat vortex” the leaders head south while more bats join the vortex at the bottom. This continues for 30-45 minutes until they’re all gone. Nice experience.

On Sunday July 23rd we attended the Carlsbad Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was nice to worship with the saints in Carlsbad. After church we hooked up the trailer and headed north to Roswell, New Mexico to see the International UFO Museum and Research Center. We knew we were nearing the museum when we saw aliens. 

One must visit the museum if you’re driving through Roswell, but I wouldn’t go out of my way again to see it. In fact, I wouldn’t cross the road to see it even if I found myself in Roswell again. The name alone is a stretch, but after you enter and pay your fine for being dumb enough to enter you’ll see nothing more than what you’ve seen on TV, in the movies or on the cover of the National Enquirer.

Having not been abducted by aliens we decided to drive west from Roswell towards Cloudcroft, New Mexico. We figured a trip back to 9000 feet would be cool and refreshing.

Along our path we came across the Tom and Pam Runyan Ranch. This is simply a family run petting zoo, fish farm and market on the side of the road. We stopped and petted animals, admired the huge trout in the ponds and bought a few edibles. I think we would have fished in their ponds, but you had to keep what you catch and we were on the road. It was everything I could do to keep my wife from grabbing those beautiful big trout. This was a beautiful spot that made the pain of the UFO museum fade and made the remainder of the day better.

We continued west towards Cloudcroft and arrived at Saddle Campground in the late afternoon. We had time to get settled in and then watched a thunderstorm blow through. It was cool enough to wear a light jacket and that was awesome!

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Agua Piedra Campground, New Mexico

On July 18, 2017 we left South Meadows Campground at about 8:30 in the morning and headed south to Agua Piedra Campground, located in northern New Mexico. This stretch took us about 4.5 hours.

The Agua Piedra Campground is located off of Highway 518. You enter the campground by crossing over a small bridge that crosses the Pueblo Rio. There are three main areas for camping. The first area is where the camp host and administrator, whatever that is, camp and was quite full of RVs parked pretty close together. The next portion of the campground is made up of two loops, A and B. Loop A is closer to the Agua Piedra Creek and is reasonable for RVs. Loop B is up a fairly steep hill, the sites have small pull-ins, and is best for tent campers. We chose site 25 in loop A because it was large enough, easy to back the trailer into and away from others. The site was right on the creek and had a very nice fire pit and table setup. There was also a water spigot just to the east of our site.

My wife and I setup the trailer, got our son comfortably situated and went fishing. On the Agua Piedra Creek my wife caught several two inch fish, but all I caught was some shrubs, bushes, tree limbs, etc. She nearly always out fishes me! We followed the creek down to its confluence with the Pueblo Rio and then walked up this larger stream. There were many beautiful holes and we each caught several reasonable fish.

The next morning we arose and travelled to New Mexico River Adventures near Dixon, New Mexico on Highway 68. There were quite a few people at the meeting place, but the three of us ended up on a raft with our guide, Cody, and a former guide, Karen, along for the ride. Cody was great and Karen was crazy in a fun way. The river wasn’t high, but the rapids were still fun and just the right size for our skill level. The Rio Grande was warm and comfortable to swim in. We’re use to cold Utah rivers and were pleasantly surprised when we were invited to swim and found it surprisingly enjoyable despite its color.

Along the way we stopped on the shore and had a snack / lunch consisting of watermelon, chips, salsa and Oreos. The salsa was great and the chips really hit the spot.

While we’re away from the trailer on adventures like river rafting, visiting national parks, etc. we put our dog, Leo, in a kennel in the trailer. We ensure the day will be cool, open windows, etc. to keep him comfortable and safe . While he’s not a big fan of being caged up, we figure its better than returning to find screens torn, furniture ruined or doors scratched. He seems to do just fine.

After our river rafting experience we returned to the campground, our son watched movies in the trailer and we went fishing on the Pueblo Rio from the campground bridge upstream. We caught many Rainbow Trout between 12 and 14 inches in length. We were using our Euro Nymphing rods and some olive green colored nymphs. It was great fun.

The next morning we travelled to Taos, New Mexico. Everything in the town is constructed and decorated to look like a pueblo. This includes small stores, houses, churches, etc. Even the large Smith’s grocery store follows the style. It actually all works well because they strictly keep to the look. It’s clearly a tourist sort of shopping mecca, but was fun.

Our primary purpose for visiting Taos was to see and explore the Taos Pueblo. The Taos Pueblo is an area of Taos where the original Taos Pueblo people settled and where they still live in much the same way they did more than a thousand years ago. Some of the Pueblos are over 1100 years old and people still live in them. They don’t have electricity or indoor plumbing, but because of cell service they have Internet connectivity. While we were there they were performing maintenance on the church. They were simply mixing the local dirt with water to make mud, included some straw, and smeared it over the existing structure where there were cracks. It was interesting watching their technique. From the appearance of the dirt street in the vicinity, the mud they put on the buildings regularly erodes away with rain and wind.

We took a guided tour, enjoyed learning about their unwritten language, enjoyed some of their food and bought a few souvenirs. Our son purchased a dreamcatcher and asked for a picture of it with its creator. It is now proudly displayed in his room and stretches from nearly the ceiling to the floor.

After Taos we headed back up the canyon to our trailer. We put everything away, hooked up the trailer and left at about 12:30 for our next stop, Carlsbad, New Mexico. As we headed to Carlsbad we saw a scene that seemed to repeat each time we headed to a new location. In the direction we needed to travel there was a thunderstorm on the horizon. The weather was quite good for most of our trip, but it was as if we were guided, we simply had to follow the dark clouds.

As we drove south through New Mexico I started to realize there was absolutely nothing to see between Las Vegas, New Mexico and Carlsbad. It is amazingly flat, arid, and boring.

We arrived at the Carlsbad RV Park and Campground at about 7pm. We pulled in, hooked up to the utilities, and started the AC. We didn’t turn the AC off until we left three days later. We were excited to visit Carlsbad Cavern National Park.

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South Meadows Campground, Colorado

On July 14, 2017 we departed Trappers Lake, Colorado and headed towards the Pikes Peak area. Without Internet connectivity we simply headed back down the canyon on Highway 8 and hoped to get connectivity before we had to make decisions with serious consequences. We travelled back through Meeker, Colorado and gained connectivity soon afterwards. We headed south on Highway 13, east on I-70, and then south on Highway 9 through Alma and Fairplay, Colorado.

The route we chose had a tremendous amount of beautiful scenery. The Colorado Rockies are quite amazing. We wound our way up and down passes and at Hoosier Pass, on the Continental Divide, we reached an altitude of 11,539 feet above sea level. We passed through Alma, Colorado which is the highest incorporated town in the United States at 10,355 feet.

After passing through Alma, Fairplay and a few very small places we headed nearly due east to Woodland Park. We arrived about 7pm, started looking for campgrounds and realized our tactical error of arriving on a Friday night. We began this adventure with the plan of moving on Mondays and Thursdays, but here we were a couple of hours from Denver, in July, on Friday night, looking for a campsite. We tried a few places northeast of Woodland Park and found them full. We headed north towards Denver and came across the South Meadows Campground. We expected it to be full, but just as we were headed up the highway the campground host popped out of the woods at the entrance of the campground on her golf cart. My wife rolled her window down, while driving, and yelled to the host inquiring about availability. The host yelled back that she had one left and it was just the right size for our rig, we pulled in.

We arrived at site 49 about 9pm and found it to be a bit tricky to back into. A couple of men from a nearby campsite came to our rescue, jumped in the cab and put our trailer in the spot. I’m sure they were being helpful, but I also think they were trying to get us settled so the rest of our neighbors could get settled as well. One of them made the comment that it was a pleasure to drive my wife’s truck, we get that a lot. We ate dinner about 11pm and called it a day!

When we awoke Saturday morning we indeed found the campground full, but the sites were well spaced and wooded. We headed to the Laundromat and poured an amazing number of quarters into washers and dryers. While washing clothes I made arrangements to take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak. We were very fortunate to get a few of the last tickets for the 4pm trip; there was no other availability for over a week. Before our trip up the mountain we went grocery shopping and did a few other errands.

We’ve driven to the top of Pikes Peak before, but we’ve always wanted to take the cog train. From the platform you take your assigned seats in one of several railway cars. The three of us faced uphill and we sat across from three others. There wasn’t a lot of room, but it was tolerable.

Most of the trip up is quite steep and well in excess of what traditional trains could climb. This is made possible by the cog rail in the middle of the track the entire way up. The diesel engine engages on this rail and literally pulls the rest of the train up. This is not a speedy process and the train seems to go up and down at about 10 mph.

The trip begins in a forested narrow canyon with a stream and a couple of little waterfalls. It then climbs onto the mountain and the views into the distance begin to appear through the trees. The climbing continues beyond the tree line into tundra covered meadows. Beyond this you come to boulder fields near the top before the trip terminates at the peak. At the top you get a chance to get out, stretch your legs and spend money at the gift shop. At the top you are at 14,115 feet above sea level and the views are spectacular. The clear refreshing air makes the whole trip worth the money, time, and effort. After just a few minutes at the top you are requested to board the train for the return trip down the mountain. It’s unfortunate that you don’t get to change seats to the other side or even face the other direction on the return trip. What you see on the way down is precisely what you saw on the way up. This makes the return trip a bit boring, but the time goes pretty quickly and is tolerable.

On Sunday morning we attended the Woodland Park Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After church we spent some time in a Woodland Park park to plan the remainder of our trip and decided to reserve some cave tours at Carlsbad Caverns.

When we returned from worshiping the campground was nearly deserted and remained so for the remainder of our stay. We really enjoyed the campground. The few neighbors we had were quiet, the hosts were great and the sunsets filtered through the tress were inspiring.

On Monday we drove to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. It’s interesting, but quite small in comparison to other cliff dwelling such as those in southwest Colorado or New Mexico.

We also drove through the Garden of the Gods Park. We decided that for those traveling from the east this park would be a lot more interesting. This would be a great introduction for those new to red rock. The red rock is beautiful, but for those of us from Utah, Arizona, Colorado or New Mexico there are lots of other places with a lot more majestic red rock. We’ll skip these last two attractions in the future.

On July 18th we left South Meadows Campground and headed south to New Mexico. Our next stop was Agua Piedra Campground northeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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