Zigzagging toward the iconic southwest has revealed the nuances of flora as we change elevation and latitude. We’ve done a lot of up and down, north and south, east and west, and find ourselves today perched outside Zion National Park, battened down against a rising wind.
We have found the truism to be true that free camping abounds in the West. We are now habituated to using Bureau of Land Management land for camping. We’ve also become accustomed to taking Sandy off-road a bit. She does OK in her creaky way, and gets us where we need to go.
After we left San Lorenzo Canyon in New Mexico, we traveled to Farmington, NM – spending one night a delightful coffee shop/skateboard shop/campground called Juicy Jitters – and from there we saw Aztec Ruins National Monument, went north to Durango, CO, then west to Valley of the Gods in Utah, Marble Canyon south of Page, AZ, up and over the Kaibab Platueau (where the road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is still closed for winter), and finally off toward Zion.
In this ebb and flow, we’ve weathered blinding dust storms, freezing nights, rough hardpack land, and – briefly – a subalpine forest. Our next report will tell what we see at Zion, and points further north. Of particular interest is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is huge, and contains many of the iconic features one may find at more mainstream sites. We’re also finding ourselves more alone. The faces and personalities we have encountered in our small town travels are more hidden – perhaps along with all the critters we don’t see.
We had intended to head directly west from New Mexico, but a guy in a bike shop (with a giant screen map in the shop!) convinced us to travel north on US 550 – the Million Dollar Highway – at least as far as Durango, CO. We took his advice, and the drive was lovely, especially the recommended departure onto State Route 213. Durango is a very cool town, with a local ordinance that each resident must own two mountain bikes and a cool truck. However, we were overwhelmed with the crowds and traffic. We’re more sensitive to that then in the past, and we’ve always been sensitive to that. We stayed a night in town and headed west on US 160 the next day. For a day we saw trees and a river before heading back into hardpack and dust.
We’ll see what Zion has in store for us. Sandy will need a $15 escort through a tunnel just to get in. I expect it will be gorgeous – and crowded. Beyond that we will be turning north a bit, but the plans are flexible – our greatest luxury. We are preoccupied with Natalie’s baby shower back in Connecticut, and, of course, with what lies around the next bend.