Zigzagging Toward the Light

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.

While most BLM camping is dispersed (remote, separated sites along dirt roads), this is actually a free BLM campsite in Brown Springs Campground in Farmington, NM. There are miles and miles of off-road trails for quads, dirt bikes and mountain bikes. I called it Mini Moab.
Some of the slickrock at Brown Springs Campground. This has excellent grip, and is a blast to roll up and down.
We then visited Aztec Ruins National Monument in the town of Aztec, NM. Fun fact: Aztec people never lived here. The Ancestral Pueblo people who settled and farmed here used the site for generations, and then simply left. The stone was quarried and carried by hand from nearby, and the heavy wood timbers came from at least 40 miles away. No carts, no wheels, no pack animals. All by hand.
The interior of the main Kiva at the ruins. This space was used for public matters, spiritual celebrations, storytelling and other matters of community.
A feature of the entryway of the Kiva, purpose unknown to me.

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.

A bridge over the Animas River in Durango. The town has great bike paths to get around.
En route to Durango, we got our first glimpse of the snow covered San Juan Mountains. Painting by Holly.
The next day we found ourselves on more BLM land. This was our spot in Valley of the Gods, near Bluff, Utah. This is part of a 17-mile road with many free campsites. Most of the dirt road is manageable in normal cars and SUVs.
We biked much of the Valley of the Gods.
You can see how fine the red dirt is. Before we departed, we rode out a windstorm with 50 mph gusts that utterly blacked out the vast valley.
We spent one night at Walmart in Page, AZ, where we stopped to see Horseshoe Bend, a charming meander below the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. The town of Page charges $10 to park and look at the river. We never do stuff like that, and here’s why. I calculated that Page is pulling in tens of thousands of dollars daily from parking. I hope local teachers are well paid!
We couldn’t wait to get out of Page, but not before Sandy got a bath.
On our way to our next BLM spot, we crossed the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River, near Lees Ferry. The old bridge is now a foot bridge, and has a Navajo market at one end. We saw a California Condor over the river valley. The quality of the Navajo art and crafts was stunning.
This is our free BLM spot in Marble Canyon, just down the road from the Navajo Bridge. This land is directly on the Colorado River. In the background, to the west, is one edge of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.
The Colorado River above Marble Canyon. Fun travel facts: There is no ferry at Lees Ferry; there are no cliff dwellings down the road at the Cliff Dweller Stone House; and, there is no lake farther down the road at Jacob Lake. Plan accordingly.
Marble Canyon, AZ.
Marble Canyon, AZ. Sandy is centered in this picture.
Our ebikes are letting us cover a lot of ground. We love them!
Sandy at night in Marble Canyon. This is pretty, but we haven’t seen the dark starry skies yet. We have either moonlight, as here, or clouds and dust.
Leaving Marble Canyon heading west, we hugged the Vermillion Cliffs for about 30 miles until we climbed to the Kaibab Plateau. We reached almost 8,000 feet of elevation and thought we were in Vermont! From Jacob Lake (no lake) at the top, one can turn down Route 67 to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. That road is closed until May 15. There is endless free camping along North Rim, which gets only 10 percent of the annual visitors to the Grand Canyon.
We had a wonderful late breakfast at the Jacob Lake (no lake) Lodge, surrounded by stunning Navajo paintings and textiles.
Our next rig.
We were soon off the Kaibab Plateau and in the town of Kanab, UT. This museum is closed for renovations.
We stopped by a laundromat/car wash in Kanab. Luckily we only needed to put some things in a dryer.
Not far north was our next BLM camping spot, just outside of Zion National Park. This is a serene spot with lovely views.
Our spot outside Zion NP.
Moonrise to the east.

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.

One thought on “Zigzagging Toward the Light

  1. Utah is amazing. So many national parks – but some of the real gems can be found in areas managed by the BLM like Valley of the Gods, Escalante and others.

    We have never gone to gaze at Horseshoe Bend. $10 is steep to walk a little
    ways and look over a railing. But obviously lots of people think it is worth it.

    Lovely painting.

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