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Rocky Mountain National Park

Unlike the Grand Canyon, and also unlike Zion National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is incredibly easy to photograph. Really, you could close your eyes and wave a $25 disposable camera randomly in the air and get good pictures. Everywhere you look there is some magnificent feature. So I put away my digital SLR and bought a $25 disposable camera, put on a blindfold…

Well, it looks like that, anyway. I just couldn’t stop snapping.

Trail Ridge Road runs through the park, across the Continental Divide, climbing to just over 12,000 feet. Although I have hiked at that altitude (lo, these many years ago), I have never been that high in a vehicle before. Needless to say, it was magnificent. Sub-alpine terrain is my very favorite, and the tundra above the tree line was stunning as well.

The main campground is at about 8100 feet, which is pretty much the lowest point in the park. After a night there, I drove to the Park and Ride and rode my trike up to Bear Lake, which is around 9500 feet. This is a new VT triking altitude record.

Climbing up the west side of the divide

View across the tundra near 12K feet

Tarns just east of the divide

Many places to break your leg or arm east of the divide

Campground. You can see the low-rent nature of our decorative paint job here.

Impossible light, beautiful creek on the way to Bear Lake

Biking to Bear Lake. The road looks so nice and flat here that you would never imagine how steep it really is.

On the way to Bear Lake, I stopped at Sprague Lake, a gentle walk and some gorgeous scenery

More Sprague Lake

This photo is duplicative and compositionally inferior, but it shows some of the golden aspens that are just everywhere this time of year.

Canada geese at Sprague Lake. Plus some fuzzy tourists in the background.

Aspens on the hillside

Bear Lake elevation 9475 ft.

Aspens in the sun, Bear Lake

Rocks and aspens, Bear Lake

The aspens are golden, but also can blush a delicate red, like these

It's almost as if we had never stopped...

We left off our journey in Colorado in July because the Vagabond Tourist got sick and had to flee for home. Or be rescued by someone else who fled for home.

But now, we are back on the road, and back in Colorado, in fact, with a resplendent new paint job making our flamingos lovelier than ever. The aborted trip to Rocky Mountain National Park is happening at last, just a couple of months later than planned. It is very early in October, and the aspens are all golden. It’s a perfect time to visit the park. On the way to the park, we paused outside Steamboat Springs to soak up another glorious Colorado view. Then we stayed west of the park in the National Forest for a night.

Outside Steamboat Springs 10-19.jpg

Mason Crosses the Divide

Here is Spring Creek Pass, one of the multiple times we drove across the Continental Divide. And here is my aging but fearless co-pilot strolling across the divide at another point (possibly Wolf Creek pass) as if she didn’t know how momentous the occasion was.

Heavenly Colorado

And I really DO mean that Colorado is heavenly. I have never seen any place that I love as much as southern Colorado in the springtime. Unless it might be northern Colorado. These pictures were taken somewhere in the National Forest south of Pagosa Springs when I was riding my trike around the forest service roads. And what are those giant dark blobs covering the ground? Could they be …. CLOUD SHADOWS??

Butterfly CO.jpg

Heavenly Flagstaff

I don’t really mean that Flagstaff is heavenly. Flagstaff is not even remotely heavenly. But the mountains around Flagstaff are chock-full of places that are just heavenly when the weather is fair and in the 70’s, just like this spot a bit to the south. I took advantage of some dispersed camping opportunities in the National Forest there, and rode my trike a few miles to this lake, which might be Lake Ashurst. Or Lake Ashburn. Or Ash-something. I called it Heavenly.

Cloud shadows. On the mountains. Version infinity plus one

After Zion NP, and still between halves of the Grand Canyon, we spent some time bumming around Hurricane and St. George, doing interesting things such as laundry, going to Costco, replacing bad tires, and so on. We were really still waiting for the north rim to open, or for the weather in the mountains to become bearable, as we had the idea of driving east to see a bunch of National Parks in Utah and Colorado, culminating with Rocky Mountain National Park. That never happened because the weather never got any better. We just kept driving around trying to get out of the rain.

While ‘exploring’ the southern UT area (really just looking for a dry spot), we spent a couple of nights in the National Forest outside St. George. My never-ending obsession with photographing cloud shadows attracted me to this view.

Also by way of Zion National Park

After stopping at Vermillion Cliffs on the way from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the north rim, we discovered that the road to the north rim was closed due to snow. Hmm. This was round about mid-May and we somehow figured the north rim would be similar to the south rim, which was lovely and temperate. We were in error. So, having nothing better to do while waiting for the road to open, we went to Zion National Park in southern Utah.

To get from one side of Zion NP to the other, you have to drive through a tunnel. RVs don’t fit well in the old tunnel, so you have to buy a special permit that enables you to hog the entire road for the length of the tunnel, blocking all the traffic going the other way until you are through. Then, having hogged the road and navigated the tunnel, you discover that there is no place to park an RV within the boundaries of the park. The handful of RV parking spaces are, of course, full by the time you get to the Visitor’s Center and there is no ancillary parking whatsoever. You must drive to town (I have blocked out the name of this town due to trauma) and pay $25 to park on the street there. Then you can ride a shuttle into the park and ride another shuttle around the park. Very little of the park is accessible by road/shuttle, and there are about a billion people trying to see the place, so what I mostly saw was other people. I didn’t really enjoy this whole process all that much. I would rather have ridden my trike around so I could see. But I didn’t know I had that option, so I spent the majority of my visit catching partial glimpses of this and that through the windows of a shuttle bus. When the bus stopped, I got out and walked as far as I could. Unfortunately, being handicapped, that isn’t terribly far.

In addition, the slot canyon known as The Narrows (which is what I most wanted to see) is accessible only by wading up a river which was, at this time of year, a raging torrent, and completely off-limits to the public. If the public was stupid enough to try to wade into it anyway, the public would be swept away. Even the public that climbed over the railings at the Grand Canyon was not silly enough to try to see The Narrows. Even I was not silly enough, and I wanted to see it very badly.

In my quest to See Absolutely Everything, I made a few stops along the road on the east side of the tunnel as I drove into the park. This was one of them.

More east side

The views at Zion National Park are all vertical. One spends a great deal of one’s time resting one’s head on the back of one’s neck while trying not to fall over.

This is the gentle stream through which one must wade to see The Narrows.

Here is Lower Emerald Pool. The stuff that looks like rain is actually waterfall. There are two of them falling from rocks that loom over the path so you end up walking behind them.

This is a picture of waterfall #1 taken from behind waterfall #2.

By way of the Vermillion Cliffs and Marble Canyon

In order to get from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the north rim, you have to drive something like 200 miles. If you are the Vagabond Tourist, that is too far to drive in one day, so we stopped at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument on the way. The Vermillion Cliffs are red. I know. Insane! Yet so it is.

The Colorado River also runs through this area, looking anything but mighty enough to carve out the Grand Canyon. Across the road from the imposing vermillion cliffs is a non-vermillion desert area with boring beige soil that looks flat but actually rolls a bit. We pulled off the road there and parked along a dirt road that appears to go nowhere, and in fact DOES go nowhere. I rode my trike down this road, and before I got to Nowhere I ran into the Colorado River running through the Marble Canyon. It surprised me because there is no sign whatsoever that there is a river, or water of any sort, in the area. You cannot see it from the road. I had to look on the map to ascertain that the meandering stream I found at the end of the dirt road was actually the Colorado River.

Here are some of the vermillion cliffs looking characteristically vermillion

Here is the Colorado flowing through Marble Canyon with some more vermillion cliffs in the background. It looks more like a drainage ditch than the Mighty Colorado. Let us contrast this view with the below, which is the only glimpse of the Colorado that I could get from the top of the Grand Canyon…and believe you me, it was hard to find. I shot it with a 200 mm telephoto lens because otherwise it would have been invisible.

Here is the Mighty Colorado flowing through the Grand Canyon.

You didn't really think we were done with the Grand Canyon, did you?

There is another half to the Grand Canyon: the North Rim. It doesn’t open until June 15th, so it took me a while to get there, but get there I eventually did. The weather was not the best. I found a wide spot in the road to park my RV (the lot at the Visitor’s Center was full) and rode my trike 11 miles up to the rim, where I took these photos. The place I rode is the highest point on the canyon rim, somewhere in the neighborhood of 8100 feet. I felt all virtuous about riding that high until recently, when I rode to 9475 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park, which post will follow shortly.

OK, this is not really the North Rim. It is a picture of cloud shadows at the South Rim that I left out of my preceding post.

THIS is the North Rim, and you can see what the weather was like. I didn’t reach the rim until late afternoon, and fortunately it was not raining in the place where I was standing.

More rain over the canyon

There was actually as much sun as there was rain that day at the North Rim, and it made getting pictures quite a feat, as portions of the photo were in the sun, and therefore over-exposed, and other parts in deep shadow, and therefore under-exposed. Still, the rain brought out the intense colors in the rocks and made for some amazing views.

This is probably one of my favorite pictures of all time…in fact, I like it so much that I posted two versions of it (see below). It is so abstract that It looks almost unreal. It demonstrates perfectly what I was saying about the light the day I was at the North Rim.

Here is version number 2. It’s less abstract, which is what I don’t like about it, but the sky is so much prettier that I can’t resist it. So you tell me….which one is better?

Grand Canyon National Park

The first time I went to the Grand Canyon, about three years ago, I took many pictures. None of them came out. Every single one was hideously over-exposed, and they all looked like bleached white rocks against an even whiter background. Well, this year I was determined to expose my photos properly. It turns out, though, that the Grand Canyon is actually kind of hard to photograph. The photos all look rather featureless. The canyon is so vast and deep that it is difficult to get any sense of scale in a photograph. One could be looking at a pit mine or some other dull expanse of dirt and rock. This isn’t a commentary on how magnificent the canyon is in person. It is just hard to capture the hugeness of it in a photo.

Naturally, this difficulty did not deter me from trying. I wasted many, many pictures trying to reproduce the breathtaking expanse of the canyon on film (figuratively speaking, film).

And now, I am sharing the fruits of my efforts, lots and lots of mediocre pictures of seemingly uninteresting rocks, with lucky you. If I could make viewing this post mandatory so that each and every visitor to this site had to sit through every single photo, I would. In fact, I would blaze the pictures across social media and forbid anyone to navigate past them until they had endured them all. That is how important I think the Grand Canyon should be to all Americans. So enjoy these pictures, and remember: suffering builds character.

Canyon within a canyon

It just goes on and on…so far it’s hard to see the other side clearly. And the top, the land out of which it is carved, is utterly flat. It is like a reverse mountain range.

Clouds marching over the canyon

Here are some very silly people (IMO) who are ignoring the signs telling people to stay safely behind railings in viewing areas. Instead, they have clambered out upon some of the rocks perched thousands of feet above the canyon floor to take pictures of themselves defying death. Hopefully, they will continue to defy it rather than falling victim to it. To a person such as myself, who cannot stand securely on her own feet in the middle of a parking lot at the bottom of Death Valley, it seems exceptionally foolhardy. My hands are actually sweating in fear as I write this. Most of the pictures I took of the Grand Canyon were taken from a sitting position because raising a camera to my eye is enough to make me lose my balance, and the railings at the Grand Canyon are actually quite low, or, in many cases, non-existent. In this case, though, the people are below one of the main viewing areas near Grand Canyon Village, and they have climbed over the railing to immortalize themselves.

Your Neighbor....

I know that I keep publishing pictures of cows that wander through my campsites. I can’t help it. How can you resist these faces? And look! These gals are wearing earrings!

Your neighbor, the cow.

Your neighbor, the elk. You can see the resemblance, right? No earrings here. Wild cows do not wear jewelry.

Another elk. Both of these were wandering around Grand Canyon National Park. This particular one was about four feet from a busy roadway.

Now this is the view of an elk that you are, in my experience, most likely to have. I saw many, many elk butts whilst riding my trike through Grand Canyon National Park.

Always Trying to Capture it on Film, and now, SUCCESS!!!

One of the things I love to look at is clouds that sit below the tops of mountains. I don’t know how many pictures I have taken trying to capture the feeling of clouds drifting at the foot of a mountain (as opposed to being up in the sky where they belong), and the photos usually come out looking like dim mountains partially obscured by overcast skies. Here in the Prescott National Forest at one of my prettier campsites, though, I finally got a decent shot of clouds below the mountains. And to make the whole day even better, I also saw a rainbow, and got a decent shot of that as well. Life just doesn’t get any better than this.

It is quite true, as the purists among you may be tempted to point out, that I did not actually capture these images on film because I am not using any film. Thank you, Captain and Ms. Obvious. Can we just enjoy the moment without chopping logic?

Pictures of something besides nature

I actually don’t care the least little bit about pictures of anything but nature, but to provide some light relief, here are a couple.

So here is my house. As you can see, I’ve beat it up pretty badly. In the lower right corner is my co-pilot, Mason, and barely visible behind her is the cat, whom I can’t train to do a blessed thing but jump in my lap when I’m trying to knit or blog or eat or, really, anything that would cause maximum inconvenience.

And here is my trike. I ride this all sorts of places that people don’t generally ride trikes, or, for that matter, anything without a motor. I know people go mountain biking on these trails because I see the occasional tire track. The only actual human beings I see, though, are the ones riding OHVs, ATVs or motorcycles. They sometimes stop to ask me if I’m all right (which is very nice of them) because they can’t imagine what I might be doing out in the desert (or forest) miles from the nearest outpost of civilization. It seems inconceivable that anyone would choose to ride 15 or 20 miles on a trike. Although people do it all the time. Maybe it is because I am old and should be sitting in front of a homey fire eating bon-bons or knitting tea-cozies or something.

All deserts are NOT created equal

To prove how different the deserts of the southwest can be, I have provided some comparison photos.

Let’s start with the desert outside Yuma. The closest thing we get to greenery is creosote bushes and the odd Palo Verde. No cacti here. To ensure you don’t miss the cacti, all the bushes and trees have dreadful thorns. The only thing missing is the remarkable ability of the cacti to leap out and stick themselves to you with barbed thorns that hurt coming out more than they do going in. Actually, the desert around Death Valley looks a little like this, except it has even less foliage, prettier rocks, and a whole lot of salt.

Just a few miles east of Yuma we have the KofA National Wildlife Refuge. I really love KofA (that stands for King of Arizona, the name of a now-defunct mine for, I believe, copper, in the refuge). Unfortunately, it presents two difficulties. First, virtually none of the roads are appropriate for RV travel. Naturally, that doesn't stop us from traveling into the refuge to camp. It simply means that it takes 45 minutes to travel 5 miles over sharp gravel, washboard surfaces and the occasional giant pothole. Plus you are risking the health of your tires. After you leave the camping area, the going gets much worse. I can’t even ride most of it on my trike, although I gave it a valiant effort. Second, there are a gracious plenty of cacti, and my co-pilot doesn’t seem to have the sense to avoid them, so she is constantly dragging bits o’ cactus into the house which I must try to pull off her while she strenuously resists.

Here we have the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge south of Tucson. There are actually a few different types of landscape here, but this is where we camped, and I rode through 18 miles of pretty much the same thing looking for Pronghorn Antelope. Of which I saw, regrettably, none. The only wildlife I succeeded in viewing were some deer, which are small in comparison to the ones that wander across my property in northern Idaho in giant herds. Apparently, though, there is great birding here, and sightings of the antelope are not uncommon.

Here is a little gem buried within the BA NWR. It is a riparian area I stumbled across while riding the “paved” road through the refuge. I say “paved” because, though it does actually have black stuff on it, it is worse than some gravel roads I’ve been on. The whole thing is nothing but patch on top of patch, infrequently interspersed with a bit if loose asphalt gravel and some large potholes. Apparently, one can take this horrendous road all the way to I-17. If one wanted to for some strange reason. Obviously, this is not a desert. But is right in the middle of a desert-like area.

Here we have the Ironwood National Monument northwest of Tucson. The saguaro (which these cacti are) aren’t really an issue because they keep to themselves rather than leaping on unsuspecting tourists.

Here is part of Saguaro National Park (west unit), also west and slightly north of Tucson. Plenty of saguaro here plus the ubiquitous Prickly Pear. Although this photo doesn’t show any, there are also Barrel Cactus, Cholla and Hedgehog Cactus. More on that in a future installment.


Here’s something else I found near the Chocolate Mountains. If this looks like a picture of the ground, that is because it IS a picture of the ground. There are two large, fenced areas with signs outside explaining that they are rare geoglyphs. I spent a lot of time walking around the fences trying to tell the difference between the geoglyphs and normal desert landscape, and was never quite sure I had done it. I thoughtfully took many pictures in hopes that the glyphs would be more obvious in the photos than in real life. Alas. They aren't. However, the BLM assures all of us that the glyphs are there.

I finally decided that these straight lines must be part of a geoglyph. I can’t make out what the glyph is depicting, but this looks too straight to be natural.

Here are some zig-zag lines that I also concluded must be part of a glyph.

And here is the sign proving that there are, in fact, geoglyphs here.

More interesting stuff around Yuma

I did a lot of trike riding around Yuma, and ended up in a lot of cool places. I would take off on a BLM road and ride it all the way into the mountains where it either ended or got so steep and so loose that I couldn’t get traction any more. One of the first things I found was these old basins that were used for sluice mining. How they got enough water to sluice mine is a mystery to me, as there isn’t a whole lot of desert as barren as the desert around the Chocolate Mountains. Nevertheless, there were basins at the top of a cliff, and below the cliff was a wasteland of sand and gravel typical of this type of mining, so somehow or other they found the water.

Here is the inside of the basin plastered over with concrete

Here is the lush, green desert around the Chocolate Mountains. Well, it is as lush as it gets, anyway.

Vertical mine shaft thoughtfully fenced off to protect mindless tourists

Vertical mine shaft that has NOT been fenced off to stave off terrible accidents involving holes and vehicles. Vagabond Tourist’s Helpful Advice: DO NOT RIDE YOUR OHV AROUND HERE IN THE DARK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I tried and tried to find a shaft I could see into so I could see if the bottom was visible, but no such luck. The gravel around these holes is so unstable that I didn’t dare get close enough to see. Perhaps another, more intrepid person would have done it anyway, but I’ll have to leave that up to someone else.

Very seldom do you find any of the old structures around these mine shafts. Here is a rare exception. I was hoping to determine whether miners actually went down into the mine via these vertical shafts or whether they were just for air or light or something, but I could not tell from the wreckage.

Much less often, you find a horizontal mine entrance like this one. I think I found three of them all told, although I know there is another one somewhere around American Girl because I saw a photo of it on-line. On the roads to these mine shafts, the BLM has placed signs advising us that abandoned mine shafts are dangerous. That is the reason I can tell you, with confidence, that you should be very careful around them.

Here is the second of the three horizontal mine shafts I encountered. It may appear that this one was unfenced, but that is inaccurate. I am shooting through the fence. Not that I would have gone into the mine if there were no fence… Well, okay, I WOULD have gone into the mine if it were not fenced, but not very far in because I am only a little bit stupid rather than very stupid.

This is the view from inside the mine shaft, or at least as far as I could get inside the mine shaft.

At the end of another road, I found this old cabin. Since there was the usual warning sign on the road approaching the cabin, I knew there was a mine shaft somewhere in the vicinity.

I found the old mine shaft way above the cabin. I actually clambered up here to see how far I could look in. Clambering up, and particularly down, is extremely treacherous if you are me and have CMT. It is steep enough that I was worried about teetering down the hill in an avalanche of rock, or breaking my leg or something. Unfortunately, the shaft had been blocked by a cave-in (deliberate?) not far from the entrance.

Ah, here is the desert near Yuma in springtime. It is not entirely without color. The track you see going around the Ocotillo is the road I am riding up. I believe this road ends up in the area around where I found the vertical mine shaft with all the wreckage at the top.

Fleeing the snow and coming to Yuma

Very shortly after I took the pictures at Lagoon (like the next day), it started raining on the Oregon coast. And raining. And raining. And then it started snowing in the mountains, which I had to get across. And then there were storms coming everywhere…so I fled south as fast as I could go. I didn’t miss a blizzard in Nevada, though…I had the pleasure of driving 25 mph through a white-out in a motorhome with no snow tires. That was fun. Also, my entire propane system stopped working. That meant no heat, no refrigerator, and no hot water. In freezing weather.

In addition, I couldn’t make any arrangements for propane repairs because 1) I had no cell service, and 2) there was a winter storm warning for the next day. So I got myself an ice chest and a little electric heater and squatted in the Walmart parking lot in Fallon, NV for a few hours, then continued south.

I made it to Yuma in record time and camped on BLM land west of town. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, but this year I discovered a bunch of interesting things to see that I had no idea were there.

It seems that the Chocolate Mountains have a long history of gold mining, starting early in the 20th century and continuing through several incarnations after that. The American Girl pit mine, which closed in the 1980’s, is apparently the last of these.

Here is the American Girl mine pit. And there’s plenty more of it that you can’t see here. All pit mines look pretty much the same…enormous, desolate pits. The American Girl mine is typical in this regard.

And here is a bunch of equipment sitting on the edge of the pit. I have no idea what all this stuff is for.

Also at the American Girl mine is this battered wooden structure. It is perched on a hill of what appears to be mining leftovers…gravel and sand and rocks.

Here is the front of the structure. The bit of ramp sticking out below the main structure seems to be part of a sluice, although it’s hard to be sure about that. Perhaps this is American Girl Pit Minus One (AGP-1 — previous incarnation).


My next camping spot was at Lagoon, south of Florence. It’s pretty hard to beat Tillicum Beach, and in fact, Lagoon didn’t do so. It was pretty in its own way, though. If you walk across the dunes to the beach, you find a bunch of flatness where many people in OHV’s dash around roaring up and down the dunes. At this time, though, they were not dashing (or roaring) in this particular spot because it was nesting season for the Snowy Plovers and so, temporarily, off limits.

This is what the lagoon looks like, all stagnant and peaceful.

The lagoon is so still that everything appears twice.


On my way from Tillicum Beach to Lagoon, I stopped at a number of scenic places, state parks, etc. The entire Oregon coast is one giant scenic view. These photos were taken near (and at) the Hecate lighthouse.

It is hard to resist taking zillions of pictures of the scenic Oregon coast. So I made nom effort to resist, and here is yet another picture of waves and rocks.

Here is the lighthouse…

And this shows the many lenses of the lamp inside.

Very important and critical vote required

So at Smelt Sands, I took a bunch of photos of the waves crashing into the rocks. I chose two that I like, but was not able to choose which of the two I like best, so I thought we would have a vote. Generally we here at Vagabond Tourist don’t encourage this sort of thing because, well, you can see how easily it could get out of control with people actually expressing their opinions and stuff. We can’t have that!

In this case, though, I couldn’t figure out any other way to break the tie. Please indicate your vote in the comments. There never are any comments, so I suppose the tie will remain unbroken, but you never know. A single vote could decide the entire race! Your vote will never again count for as much as it does here!

Here is wave picture 1

And here is wave picture 2