USA, Rockies: A Most Excellent Adventure - RV Trip Part 2Departing the Black Hills of South Dakota we turned our RV (recreational vehicle) west, back into Wyoming on our return journey to Los Angeles via Utah. There were no clouds in the sky as we drove into the wide open expanses of America’s cowboy state, a state littered with the remains of the early days of the wild west.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2014
Departing the Black Hills of South Dakota we turned our RV (recreational vehicle) west, back into Wyoming on our return journey to Los Angeles via Utah. There were no clouds in the sky as we drove into the wide open expanses of America’s cowboy state, a state littered with the remains of the early days of the wild west.
Since the first westward wagon crossings opened up the western states to what was then Indian Territory, routes were named by the people who crossed them heading to new lands such as the Mormon, California and Oregon emigrant trails. Other routes were synonomous with the transport of the day: the Overland Stage Route, the Pony Express Route and the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Route. Other more rugged routes were named after mountain men such as the (John) Bozeman Trail and the (Jim) Bridger Trail – both overland trails connecteing the Oregon Trail to the goldfields of Montana.
From Casper, Wyoming we followed Route 220 which was once part of the Overland Stage and Pony Express routes that passed Independence Rock, significantly named in 1840 as the Register of the Desert. During the middle of the 19th century, this large granite rock was a prominent and well-known landmark on the emigrant trails where many of the travellers in ‘Prairie Schooner’ wagons stopped to carve their names and dates into the rock face.
As we crossed the Continental Divide in the southwest part of Wyoming, millions of acres of land lies empty, an arid plateau defined by the rugged beauty of vast expanses of sagebrush, towering buttes, hogbacks, caprocks and fluted rainbow-covered hoodoos - a land of stark contrasts created by millions of years of deposits and erosion and little else.
At Rock Springs we gassed up and turned south on Route 191 into Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Named by the John Wesley Powell expedition of 1869, this region of Flaming Gorge in the southwest corner of the Wyoming is where the Green River has been dammed to create a stunningly spectacular, yet little known recreation area.
Either side of the lake steep cliffs of colourful banded sedimentary deposits from a 60 million year old lake have been exposed by centuries of weather related erosion, rising majestically above a desert landscape that supports a diverse wildlife population such as black bear, coyote, pronghorn antelope, cottontail rabbits, badgers, foxes, big horned sheep, mountain lions, bobcats, wild horses, eagles, turkey vultures, geese, ducks and sage grouse.
At the Firehole Campground we hunkered down for two nights with views of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, shared equally between Wyoming and Utah. The lake is about 90 miles (140 km) long and sits at an altitude of over 6,000 feet (1,840 metres). The reservoir is famous for its trophy lake trout; rainbows, brown trout, kokanee salmon and smallmouth bass. A good number of 30-pound (13.5 kg) fish are caught each year.
On our last night we invited a guy in the next site over to share our barbequed steaks. Steve, who was from West Virginia had arrived on a motorbike. He’d been a US Marine for 22-years and he had all the tattoos to prove it. “I’m just seeing what I missed of America,” he said, “22-years is a long time away from the scenic beauty I’ve been passing through in the Rockies.”
The next morning we drove about 20 miles (32 km) before crossing into the State of Utah. Our next campground would be in the adventure renowned town of Moab. Our drive prior to that however was one of the most spectacular in North America – a little known backcountry road off Interstate 70 – Route 128 – this innocuous route is the back door road into Moab that follows the Colorado River through one of the least-known canyons in America . . . a place where red rock cliff faces rise thousands of metres into the blue sky above.
Moab is known for being the gateway to Arches National Park as well as the elevated vantage point known as Dead Horse Point – a truly iconic vista in the southwest – the abyss that is Canyonlands National Park. For those people who remember the ending to the movie, ‘Thelma and Louise’ then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Moab is considered by some to be the ‘adventure capital of America’ and it certainly lives up to that title. Moab’s unique combination of beautiful red rock scenery, along with the cool waters of the Colorado River has made it one of the most sought after destinations in the southwest. When you visit Moab expect to see stunning overlooks, world famous mountain biking such as on the ‘Slick Rock Trail,’ best known to mountain bikers as probably the most demanding in the USA, whitewater rafting and red rock desert hiking trails.
By mid-afternoon we had settled into our campground at the south end of Moab as the temperature registered 107 Fahrenheit (41 Celsius) on the gauge. The ‘desertscapes’ just out of town is an area where you can walk in the footsteps of ancient civilisations and even follow in the slick-rock paths cut by nature itself – some of it found nowhere else on the planet.
Our main adventure pursuit was a half-day river rafting experience on the Colorado River. Operated by Canyon Voyages, it’s not exactly a serious whitewater experience but a pleasant float trip in one of the most scenic stretches of the Colorado in Utah. Add a couple of fun time river rafting guides like Sarah and Mariah who looked after our group and the trip becomes a wonderful watery blast.
By mid-afternoon the next day we were in Monument Valley, part of the 30,000-acre Navajo Tribal Park that was established in 1958, lying within the 16 million-acre Navajo Reservation. With an altitude of 5,500 feet (1670 metres), there is almost no water in the region, where temperatures reach over 100 Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius) in summer and 25 Fahrenheit (-3.8 Celsius) in winter.
On a specially organised tour we drove into a backcountry region of Monument Valley, a restricted use area and only accessed by local Navajos. Called Mystery Valley it is known to the Navajos as Si Ya Nie Chi – translated as ‘Red Rock Comes Down.’ When we ventured into the vastness of rock formations we never saw another person, but we did get to view petroglyphs and ancient rock art, buttes and mesas rising thousands of metres, wind caves and giant arches with a number of well-hidden and little seen Anasazi cliff dwelling ruins dating from the 1300s.
It was another 160 miles (260 km) to drive from Monument Valley to Lake Powell where we had planned a two-night stay, with the bonus of a day out on the lake in a powerboat.
Lake Powell was very low, a sign that the drought in the American Southwest was having a significant impact. Formed on the Colorado River in Arizona by the concrete arch of Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell is the second largest artificial lake in the USA and extends upriver about 185 miles (300 km) well into Utah where salmon pink, vermillion and ruby-red Navajo sandstone, rock gorges, rock strata and weather ravaged buttes rise majestically above a deserted desert landscape.
Exploring the American southwest and in particular the desert regions of Utah and southwestern Wyoming should be on everyone’s must-see list. One of the best ways of doing this is in a recreational vehicle (RV) camping in the great outdoors. So on your next visit to the USA, try turning an ordinary road trip into your very own ‘excellent adventure.’
Caprock: Layer of hard, impervious rock which lies immediately above a source rock and which, because of its impervious nature, acts as a barrier, preventing the migration of hydrocarbons or water up-sequence. Such impervious rocks include clay-rich sandstones, limestones, and evaporite deposits.
Butte: is a flat-topped hill, produced when hard strata of rock overlie weaker layers and protect them from being worn down. A butte is similar but smaller than a Mesa.
Hogbacks: A long narrow ridge in which both Dip slope and Scarp slope are steep.
Hoodoo: or earth pillar are tall columns of earth, capped by a large boulder. The boulder has originally lain on the soil; when most of the soft surface material surrounding it has been gradually worn away by rain protecting the earth beneath it.
Wyoming Office of Tourism
T: +1 800 2255996
Utah Office of Tourism
T: +1 801 538 8777
San Juan County Tourism:
T: +1 435 587 3235
T: +1 435 259 0959
Monument Valley Trading Post, Lodge & Tours:
T: +1 435 727 3231
Lake Powell Resorts & Marina
T: +1 928 645 1119
Shane Boocock travelled to the United States courtesy of Fiji Airways ‘The Worlds Friendliest Airline’ who offer daily flights to Los Angeles via Nadi.
Assistance with outfitters, campgrounds, resorts and attractions in Wyoming was courtesy of Rocky Mountains International. Visit www.RMI-RealAmerica.com
If you would like to read this article in full or licence it for your own publication, please click here to contact Shane.