Goblin Valley State Park

Utah has an abundance of scenic beauty.  First impressions of Utah are often blah.  Desert, sand, desert, mountain, desert.  But the state has many national parks and monuments and spectacular scenery.

Ripple in the earth at
San Rafael Swell

A recent stop at an information tent told us about Goblin Valley State Park.  What bizarre rock formations!  Like big and little toadstools all arrayed across just one desert valley.  We imagined all kinds of animals and faces.  Utah has the most impressive collection of rock formations.

Spires in the desert

Goblins in the foreground

I see a rat

After visiting the goblins we headed off to a slot canyon hike.  The weather was threatening so we cut it short but it was still beautiful.  Some real skinny spaces and scrambling up dry waterfalls.

Di in the slot

So if you’re visiting Utah, there is much more to see besides Arches, Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef, Canyonlands et al.  There are scenic wonders most of us have never heard of.

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Nine Mile Canyon, Utah

Goldie at Nine Mile Ranch

After Ogden we wanted to travel toward Moab.  On the way we researched a place to stop and discovered Wellington UT and Nine Mile Canyon.  About 24 miles north of US6/191 on Nine Mile Canyon Road is Nine Mile Ranch, the only campground in the area.  The rancher and his wife offer a basic parking spot with available water, flush toilets and a dump station.  There is room for only 3 large RVs.

The Hunt

Utah scenery is hard to beat

Nine Mile Canyon is known as the world’s longest art gallery.  There are 40 miles of rock art from Archaic, Fremont and Ute people who have been traveling this canyon for hundreds perhaps thousands of years.  Great accessible sites are all along the road winding through the canyon.  The skill of the rock artists is remarkable.  It’s amazing that its not a national or state park.Utah is a state with an abundance of natural beauty.  Nine Mile Canyon is another example of under the radar sites that we enjoy discovering.  It is a true joy of the RV lifestyle that we have the time to dig down and find these treasures.

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Sunset Crater, Wupatki and Walnut Canyon National Monuments

While visiting Montezuma Well a volunteer told us about Wupatki north of Flagstaff.  We immediately added it to our itinerary.  Turns out, Wupatki, Sunset Crater and Walnut Canyon are 3 national monuments managed together in the Flagstaff AZ area.  All 3 are worth a visit for different reasons.

We found great free dry camping (boondocking) on Coconino National Forest land off the road directly west from the road to Sunset Crater.  We originally planned to camp in the Bonito NFS campground but they didn’t open until May 3rd even though the weather was gorgeous.

Sunset Crater Volcano erupted in 1085  spewing red hot lava and ash over people who had lived here hundreds of years.  Most fled but returned later to farm the changed landscape.  Today the volcano, cinder cones and solidified lava flows are stark reminders of earth’s violent potential.  Slowly flora and fauna have returned too.

Cinder cone

Craggy rugged lava

Sunset Crater Volcano is closed to hikers

Wupatki National Monument was created to protect the abandoned structures of Sinagua people who had farmed this area for hundreds of years.  In the year 1180 thousands of people lived here.  By 1250 they had moved on.  Their descendants are the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo people.  They were great builders.  The Wupatki ruin is the largest and tallest in the region and even includes a ball court the northern most example of such a structure. 

Short walk to Wukoki Pueblo

Wupatki Pueblo was home to over 100 people

Box Canyon Pueblo

Walnut Canyon National Monument preserves dwellings sheltered by overhanging cliffs in a canyon inhabited over 800 years ago.  It was named a National Monument in 1915.  Artifacts indicate Archaic people had visited the canyon for thousands of years.  The plantlife zones of the canyon range from Sonoran Desert to cooler, moister Pacific Northwestern forests.  The varied landscape was probably a great benefit to native people.


Island Trail passes 25 rooms

Leaving the Flagstaff area on our way to the Grand Canyon we stopped to see the canyon of the Little Colorado River.  Very impressive on its own.  Note the flat-as-a-table land right up to the canyon.

Canyon of the Little Colorado River

Sunsets in this part of the world can be spectacular.  This one was OK.

Goldie in her forest hang-out


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The Grand Canyon and Grand Canyon Railway

The Grand Canyon Railway is a thriving tourist train in Williams Arizona.  The associated RV park there is one of the nicest in the country.  The railway was built in 1901 by the Atchison Topeka and Sante Fe Railroad.  The train service led to an increase in tourism to the area and the railroad was a leader in building the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim.  ATandSF designed and built the El Tovar Hotel.  The railroad ended service in 1968 but a couple from Phoenix bought the line and resumed operations in 1989.

AT&SF Depot

Today its still a great way to visit the park. The train depot is close to the South Rim and provides easy access to the park’s shuttle bus system.  We had 3+ hours to hop on and hop off the buses and to many sights in the park while eating our picnic lunch.  We felt great about seeing so much using public transport.

Grand Canyon Railway locomotives

Thru the forest to the canyon

Grand Canyon National Park is still a not-to-be-missed wonder of the world.  At up to 18 miles wide 277 miles long and over a mile deep it is a bit overwhelming.  The rock exposed at the bottom is nearly as old as the earth itself. The park service has an excellent film narrated by Peter Coyote.  Visiting on your own takes some planning.  The park is extremely popular with people coming from all over the world.  Plan to see the most popular areas early or late in the day to avoid the crowds.  We were lucky to find free dispersed camping near the Desert View Watchtower side of the park so we got in early.  The watchtower was designed by Mary Colter.  The human history of the park is a whole other story.  Native Americans have lived here for thousands of years.  One armed Major John Wesley Powell was the first to run the river by boat in 1869 after having his boats shipped from Chicago via the new Transcontinental Railroad.  President Theodore Roosevelt created Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 shortly after the Antiquities Act was passed.  Mining and land interests keep the canyon from becoming a national park until 1919.  It was the 17th such park.  Amazing it wasn’t #3 or 4.

Native American at the canyon

Desert View Watchtower


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Golden Spike – 150th Anniversary Celebration

Our primary goal traveling in the Spring 0f 2019 was to attend the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the driving of the Golden Spike May 10, 1869 in Promontory Utah.  This one event did more to change the United States than arguably any other single event.  It united the East with the West.  It instantly opened up vast territory to settlement for good or bad.  Books and books have been written of the story of the Transcontinental Railroad including “Nothing Like It In The World” by Stephen Ambrose.  The whole story is fascinating to fans of history or railroads.

Big Boy 4014

Heading to Ogden

Double-heading with 844


We arrived in Ogden to scout the area the day before Big Boy 4014 arrived in town.  Seeing the newly restored Big Boy was a close second in our reasons to travel to Utah.  We had visited the behemoth in static display in Pomona CA the year before Union Pacific took on the enormous job of restoring this colossal locomotive to operating status.  The job was completed in UP’s Cheyenne WY shops in 5 years.  The restoration of a Big Boy is a dream come true for railfans worldwide.  UP sent both the Big Boy 4014 and the “Living Legend” locomotive 844 to Ogden as part of the celebration of the Golden Spike.  Thousands of railfans from all over the world converged on Ogden to see these giant steam locomotives operating together.

4014 and 844 Meet

Symbolic driving of the Golden Spike

844 “The Living Legend”

Little boy – Big Boy

The National Park Service commemoration of the 150th was a long planned event.  Tickets to park near the site were doled out months in advance.  Approximately 25,000 people attended the festivities on the May 10th anniversary.  There was a highly choreographed musical play performed by mostly young people.  There were speeches from 2 Cabinet Secretaries, Utah’s governor, a Congressman, the Union Pacific President, Irish Ambassador and others.  The United States Postal Service issued a new stamp.  The park service changed the name of the place from a “historical site” to a “Historical Park”The event was covered by newsmedia and a film crew.  It was crowded but we were thrilled to witness such an historic event.

Iconic Golden Spike photo

Crowds at the Golden Spike

Performers in
“As One”

Historic pose

The Spike

Driving the Spike

Unveiling the new park sign

Ogden itself had a celebration at Union Station.  Their annual Heritage Fest was expanded from 1 day to 3 days.  Attendance was huge for all days with a big local turnout on Saturday, the final day.  Locals seemed thrilled to see the steam locomotives.  We also attended lectures on the Chinese workers so integral to the completion of the transcontinental railroad.  The contribution of the Chinese was emphasized this year as they were totally ignored on the 100th anniversary in 1969.  Speakers also addressed the Irish, African American and Mormon workers.  As part of the Heritage Fest we saw excellent dance performances from Native American, Irish, Pacific Islander, India and Mexican dancers.

Union Station Water Tower

Locals loved the Big Boy

Ogden town and the Wasatch Mountains

Navajo Shawl Dancer

Our final event over the 150th celebration was a chase of the Big Boy as it headed east back to Cheyenne.  Thousands of people lined the shoulder of I-84 and every side road along the route.  Big Boy 4014 did not disappoint.

4014 and 844 heading East

Last but not least we have a rare (for us) you-tube link to a video Dianne shot of the 2 giant steam locomotives on their way back to Cheyenne WY… https://youtu.be/ru6kzh058j8

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Verde Valley Arizona

Verde Valley is truly a greener valley in the desert that is Arizona.  Located about midway between Phoenix and Flagstaff it has several year-round rivers providing water to support a thriving population for thousands of years.  It is estimated that up to 30,000 indigenous people once lived in this valley.  There were over 40 communities of these Ancestral Puebloan people and now many sites are accessible thanks to the National Park Service.  We visited Palatki, Honanki, V Bar V Archeological Site, Montezuma Castle NM, Montezuma Well NM and Tuzigoot NM.   Most of the sites were abandoned by around 1400 CE.  There are many theories as to why they left but the nearby Hopi simply say they were on their way to the lands of the present-day Hopi.

On the road to Palatki and Honanki



1000 year old handprint




Tuzigoot NM


V Bar V Ranch archeological site

V Bar V petroglyphs

more V Bar V

Montezuma Well

Montezuma Castle


We stayed at the Thousand Trails RV Park in Cottonwood.  Cottonwood is a nice size community that has become known as Arizona’s wine country.  It is also nearby the former mining/ghost town Jerome and Clarkdale, a planned community founded by copper magnate William Clark.  Sedona is also nearby with its world class hiking and home to billionaires.

Clarkdale model home – updated

Sedona – on the trail

Red Rocks of Sedona

Red Rocks

Devil’s Bridge

Overall Cottonwood checks many of the boxes as a place to settle down after RVing.  Winters are not severe, summers are hot but dry.  Its a nice size community with a good deal of natural diversity.  And they even have a train – the Verde Canyon Railway, booked solid so we could only chase.

Verde Canyon Railway


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Apache Scenic Loop and Kayaking with Saguaros

Saguaros, desert, mountains

Casa Grande gave us a good jumping off point to explore the greater Phoenix area.  The Apache Scenic Loop is a spectacular highway tour of the Superstition Mountains.  Starting in Apache Junction east of metro Phoenix the route took us past Tortilla Flat and 22 miles of dirt road along with 3 reservoirs.  After arriving back on pavement at Roosevelt Lake we were surprised to find Tonto National Monument, an Ancestral Puebloan monument in a beautiful setting. 

Apache Loop view

Apache Lake flowers

Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Bridge

Hedgehog cactus blooms

Tonto National Monument

Tonto Lake Roosevelt view

We are always on the lookout for kayaking opportunities so imagine our surprise at finding a kayakable lake on the Apache Scenic Loop highway in the Superstition Mountains.  Canyon Lake was created in 1925 when the Salt River was dammed.  It is one of 4 lakes in the area.  We had a great day paddling the lake and up little canyons where we literally had to back out.  Great day, perfect weather, no crowds during the week.  One of our favorite paddles of all time.

Canyon Lake

We love the Apache Loop area.  Great vistas, great flora.  In March we had great weather.



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