Home, Sweet Home

Home —  It’s been three weeks to the day and I’ve arrived back where I began.  On this trip I drove close to 6000 miles as I traveled through 12 states.

I want to thank everyone for your support and interest in my road trip.  I appreciate your comments (keep ’em coming!), and as I was traveling alone, I really enjoyed having you along for the ride!

As I expected, by the time I left Utah I was ready to come home.  When I punched home into the Garmin it said I would arrive by 8:15pm.  Given the time-zone change that translated into 13 hours without stops.   I didn’t think about that, I just decided that 8pm wasn’t that late, and that I’d rather come home to late-night traffic than arrive in Friday afternoon traffic.  So my last day of driving was a long one.   I made it home just before 11pm having pulled out of the RV park near the Utah border at 8:30am (Mountain).

The trip was a complete success.  I suffered no major problems or breakdowns.   This was a great time of year to do a trip like this.  I might have left a few days earlier but otherwise the timing was perfect.  The Garmin only seriously messed up once. The camper performed flawlessly and I used every system including the propane heater (many times) and the 110VAC air conditioner (twice).

Except for the service engine light which went on and off almost every day, the truck was great.  For a vehicle which mostly sat around doing nothing for the last decade, it enthusiastically started every time I turned the key.   The ride was a bit noisy, but otherwise was very comfortable.   The air conditioner worked the entire trip, and I was very glad I had it repaired before leaving.  Discount Tire provided a free rotation and balance when I passed through Colorado Springs.

Except for the short thunderstorm in New Mexico, the weather was great the entire trip.  I had a little bit of rain at the start, and used the wipers for short intervals a couple of times.  There was a bit of snow in the shadows at Beartooth Pass, and nothing yet in Colorado, even at Independence Pass.

The only thing I wish I had done before leaving was to upgrade the sound system in the truck.  Lacking a CD player I tried to use a cheap bluetooth speaker with my phone.  That didn’t work as well as I had hoped in terms of both sound and ergonomics.

Buying a month of cell/data service from AT&T turned out to be a very smart thing to do.  It wasn’t flawless, but having internet access more often than not gave me a lot of more options in terms of deciding where I would go next.

I never used my boat’s high-gain wifi antenna.  In my fiberglass camper I was always able to get the RV park’s signal using the WiFi in the computer or phone.

Twice I stayed overnight in Walmart parking lots, both times as my other lodging options didn’t pan out.  I’m grateful to the company for providing me that option.

Most of the pictures in this blog were taken with my Canon G11.  I brought my big Nikon, but it wasn’t working well.  The exposures were never right and were always changing.  I finally gave up using it after I decided it was the camera body that was broken, and not the glass.

For us analytical types, here are the final stats:

Miles traveled today: 770 (a record)
Total Miles Traveled: 5837
Total Days:  22
Average Miles per day: 265 (including 3 non-travel days).

Average Lodging: $14.16
Total Lodging $297.40
Total Fuel: $1,139  (averaged very close to 12 mpg)
Total Fuel:  490 gallons
Total Trip: $1436
Average Cost per day: $65.30

I’m quite pleased that my trip costs were under $500 per week. Hotels alone would have cost more than that if I’d driven my car.

Here’s what I paid for regular unleaded in each state.  As you can see, more than once I paid less than $2 gallon.   The spike was at the south entrance to Yellowstone.



Here thar be dinosaurs

Snowville, UT —  Not having done any research I would have expected to find dinosaurs in, well, the town of Dinosaur, CO which I passed through after spending the night near Rangely.  Had I turned East on I-40 I might have found some at the Dinosaur National Monument Canyon area Visitor Center.  I instead  went west towards Jensen UT and Salt Lake City.   I only went dinosaur hunting after discovering that the Dinosaur National Monument Visitor Center  was only a few miles off the main highway.  Dinosaurs weren’t on my itinerary — it’s that kind of trip.

NatMonumentSignHad I done any research I wouldn’t have been disappointed by the visitor center because I would have known that the quarry was where they keep the dinosaurs.   All they really have at the visitor center is a 12 minute movie and a gift shop.

Leaving the visitor center in search of dino’s I went on a walk along the “Fossil Discovery Trail”.  Here are a few of the things I discovered on the discovery trail.

Interesting mix of new and old petroglyphs

This next discovery took a bit to find.  I had to walk up a narrow rock ledge until I could go no further.  Knowing that there had to be something there I looked for several minutes trying to find the “white arrow”  which you can see at the lower, left edge of my discovered backbone in the picture above.   The white arrows are, apparently, what palaeontologist look for when dino hunting.

The discovery below was actually right in front of me, but was hard to see in the rock.  It’s a bit easier to see in this picture because I’ve centered my find, and adjusted the contrast a bit to make it easier to spot.  The tell-tale white arrow has almost completely faded over the last 150 million years.  It’s above the far left edge of the fossil pointing down.

Can you spot the dinosaur fossil?
Can you spot the dinosaur fossil?

While on my discovery walk I also spotted a building up on top of a ridge. It looked like another visitor center.  I hiked up there hoping to see at least a bit more than what I saw in the first visitor center.  Having not done any research I honestly wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see.

The building on top of the ridge wasn’t another visitor center containing the usual fossil displays, it was a building which covered the entire quarry — a rock wall containing thousands of fossils.  Way cool!

Am I alone in thinking that you go down into quarries, not up into buildings?

quarry1When the Rockies were formed, it pushed this bit of ground up to the 60 degree angle you see here.  Before then the dinosaurs collected and died here in large quantities at what used to be a river.


From the two pictures above you can get a sense of the size of the building.  It’s not small. Click on the picture below for a closer look at one section.  The density of fossilized bones is amazing.

A closer look at one section
A closer look at one section

This sign helps explain the quarry and building

exhibitSignBeing an obedient guy,  I did as I was instructed…

boneTouchI did eventually find a real dinosaur.

Moving on, I made a family-related stop in Salt Lake City before heading north in search of a bit of family history.  Some of my relatives were well known in the early days of Utah’s state history.

I found it!

IMG_2591(I know what you’re thinking.  It should read Damn Cutler.)

Here’s the dam, what you can see of it.  It’s not large, and access was blocked.  I fully expected black helicopters to appear after I got my camera out and started taking pictures of a dam and powerhouse.  On the other side of the dam is Cutler Reservoir.  Here’s a link to better pictures, and a bit of info about the dam.


Miles traveled today: 393
Total Miles Traveled: 5067
Average Miles per day: 241

Next stop:  Home



I forgot to bring some John Denver!

Rangely, CO — My previous visits to Colorado always involved driving from the Denver airport to Loveland, Fort Collins, or Colorado Springs  so you might understand why I never really understood John Denver’s passion for the place.   This trip I came up from New Mexico on 285 into Walsenburg,  a pretty drive, and then took 24 out of Colorado Springs to Aspen.  Wow!

I know many of you reading this blog are familiar with I-24, so you might recognize some of these places.    This first picture was taken west of Ute Pass.  Not a lot of trees here!

West of Ute Pass
West of Ute Pass


Fall Colors
Fall Colors

Now, about this time I’ve got a John Denver tune running through my head.  Unfortunately it’s completely wrong.  “Take me home country road” is song about West Virginia!  Oh well!!

I was hesitant to take the road over Independence Pass, because of both the elevation, and the weather.  But having conquered Beartooth Pass I figured what’s another thousand feet?  Except for a few hairpin turns, the road up the east side was pretty easy driving.  The sky ended up being overexposed in these next shots, even when I manually under exposed them by almost two stops.

Road East of Independence Pass
Road East of Independence Pass
East side, Near the top of the pass
East side, Near the top of the pass

Here’s a couple of shots from the top

View from Independence Pass
View from Independence Pass
Made it! 12,095' elevation
Made it! 12,095′ elevation

Despite having a vehicle length restriction of 35′, I think this road is much easier to drive than Beartooth.  The only challenge was on the west side where, in several places, the road was less than two lanes wide. I could have easily scraped the camper along a rock wall like in this next picture.  I was lucky that I never had to pass oncoming traffic in the narrow bits.  In the picture you can see that they simply stop painting a center line when the road gets narrow.  Notice the skid marks?

narrow road

The aspens were amazing on the west side of the pass

More Aspens

I passed through the town of Aspen, and ended up on I-70.  I then turned north at Rifle, CO and eventually found my way onto highway 64.  This road runs along the White river as it wanders for miles through a beautiful river valley.

White River
White River

Looking for a place to stop along the river I stumbled upon this unmarked campground on a small reservoir near Rangely.  I was hoping to find a place like this.  There wasn’t a sign on the road, just a small sign down off the road that said campground open.  I had the entire campground to myself — it was just me, the fish (they were jumping), and a couple of rabbits.  I’m guessing that if there had been a sign, it might have cut into the business of a couple of RV campgrounds a few miles down the road in Rangely.  It only cost $8 to stay here.

Rio Blanco Water Conservancy
Rio Blanco Water Conservancy


Miles traveled today: 219
Total Miles Traveled: 4674
Average Miles per day: 234

Next stop:  Utah

Answer: 3638 and 15

Los Alamos, NM —  Question:  How many miles and days did Bob have to drive before he reliably remembered to latch the refrigerator door?

Honestly, it’s not that hard, but then neither is remembering to put down the toilet seat.  I’m proud to say that I’ve now gone three days without dumping the refrigerator contents.   I’m not saying it won’t happen again, it’s just that I’m probably now trained about as well as a guy can be trained.

The last time I was in Santa Fe was 40 years ago.  I guess it’s reasonable to expect things to change, but I’m sorry to see what’s happened to the place.  If you haven’t been there recently, imagine Seattle’s University Village in adobe.  Santa Fe used to be a quaint, quiet, rustic place.   Now it’s filled with upscale shops and clogged with traffic jams during all daylight hours.  The population is supposed to be less than 70,000 people yet the town sports Mercedes, Lexus, and BMW dealers.  I was looking forward to spending time in Santa Fe, but once there I couldn’t wait to get out.   I did have a really nice Mexican food dinner at Tortilla Flats.  In fact I have to say that the chile rellenos were the best I’ve ever had.  Unfortunately it’s not a chain restaurant, you’d have to got to Santa Fe to give them a try.

I did do one touristy thing while in Santa Fe.  I went to the Loretto Chapel, home of the “mysterious staircase”.  This particular attraction appeals to the engineer, and sometimes woodworker in me.  You can read more about the interesting history of this staircase on the Loretto Chapel web site.   These next two pictures were actually taken using my cell phone as the battery in my Canon gave out.  I used the cell phone’s high-dynamic range option for the first picture.  The stained glass windows were very bright relative to the lighting in the chapel. Not bad for a cheap smart phone.  Good job Blu!

Loretto Chapel
Loretto Chapel

The staircase is supported in part, in the middle, by a wall anchor that goes into the stone column on the far right in the picture above.  I think I read that that’s a more recent modification.

Loretto Chapel Staircase
Loretto Chapel Staircase

I left Santa Fe in the morning bound for Los Alamos. The scenery on the drive up was absolutely stunning in the morning light.

Near Los Alamos
Near Los Alamos

I had toured the Los Alamos National Labs as a high school student.  At the time I remember seeing fusion experiments and some work on solar power.  You can’t get close to the labs now, but the Bradbury museum was nice.  It’s free, and run by the labs.  It’s not that big, but it still took a while to go through.  They have replicas of Fat Man and Little Boy, as well as some of the original equipment used in the 40’s to develop the first atomic bomb.   The Hallicrafter radio and scope below were used to measure the pressure waves to determine yields in atomic test blasts.

Radio and Oscilloscope
Radio and Oscilloscope

The library and bowling alley that were in Los Alamos when I visited in the 70’s are all gone, or are remodeled beyond recognition.   One of the buildings that survived through the years is Fuller Lodge, the main building from the original boys school that was shut down in 1943 to make way for the labs.  It has had some additions.   When I wandered inside I found a US citizenship ceremony underway.  It was fun imagining people like Oppenheimer, Feynman and others in this room.

Fuller Lodge Interior

I hadn’t expected to be able to visit “The Black Hole“, a rather unique surplus parts store run by “Atomic Ed” Grothus until his death in 2009.   The shop eventually closed.  I wasn’t even going to try and find the place except that the gentleman at the visitor’s center thought that it had been re-opened.   Re-opened?  Yes!!  Well… it was closed.  All that’s left to buy are shelves according to the guy that was there.  Bummer.

LosAlamosBlackHoleLeaving Los Alamos I went to the Bandelier National Monument.  Unfortunately there were thunderstorms and quite a bit of rain while I was there.  No one left the protection of the visitors center, which is right below some of the Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings.  If the weather had cooperated I could have climbed up to these ruins.  If you click to enlarge, and then look closely at the picture below, you can see doorways in the rocks.

Bandelier Pueblo Cliff Dwellings
Bandelier Pueblo Cliff Dwellings

The Los Alamos area is one place I may have to return to and spend a bit more time.  The natural beauty of this place is amazing.  The picture at the top of this post was taken from the White Rock Lookout Park.  You’re looking at the Rio Grand River and Valley.

Tonight I’m in Blanca, CO.

Miles traveled today: 213
Total Miles Traveled: 4169
Average Miles per day: 245

Don’t mess with Texas

Amarillo, TX — “Don’t mess with Texas”  That’s the first highway sign I saw after crossing into Texas from Arkansas.  The rest of the sign lets you know that you’re not supposed to litter.  What a nice welcome!

I came to Texas to visit more relatives.  They live near Atlanta, a small town not far from Texarkana.  The terrain there is a lot like Missouri and Arkansas, though the hills are less pronounced.  What you can’t see in the pictures are the bugs, and other critters.  There’s a lot of life in these woods!   I almost ran over an armadillo one night.

texas_eastAs I was in Texas to visit relatives  I haven’t done any sightseeing.   I did stop at this “picnic area”  which is Texas’ version of a rest stop, except without rest rooms.

Oil Derrick Picnic Tables
Oil Derrick Picnic Tables

After two weeks, I’m now getting closer to home with each mile traveled.

Today was a rather long drive — my longest so far.  I want to have some time in Santa Fe and hope to be there tomorrow afternoon.  I don’t think there’s much to see here in Amarillo, however there is a scenic canyon just south of here called Palo Duro.  I don’t think I’m going to have time to see it, but I’ll look at the map in the morning

Since this is a rather short posting, and since I’m now headed towards home,  I’ll expand on some of the trip metrics.  In the two weeks I’ve been gone, there are only three days where I haven’t traveled.

Costs to date (10/1/2015)
Total Lodging: $186
Total Fuel: $699
Total Trip: $885
Avg Cost/Day: $59 (fuel and lodging)
Avg Lodging: $12.39  (includes no-fee parks and 4 nights in relative’s homes).

Most expensive gas:  $3.25 at Yellowstone’s South Entrance
Cheapest gas:  $1.89 at a station on the Missouri/Arkansas border.

Miles traveled today: 507
Total Miles Traveled: 3638
Average Miles per day: 242 (includes zero-mile days)

I had hoped that the truck and camper might be a bit cheaper than driving the car and staying in motels (and eating in restaurants).   From the data so far, it looks to be a lot cheaper.  Of course, $2 gasoline helps!