Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 11: Gorgeous Gulches

Our last episode ended at Desert Hot Springs, CA. From there, we headed east and visited some beautiful canyons as we began heading back home.

March 15-21 (Friday-Thursday): Our first stop was the Pirates Den RV Resort, located in what’s known as the Parker Strip in Arizona, a 10-15 mile stretch along the Colorado River just across from California. We had driven westward along Highway 95 through the area back in December, and I was entranced by views of a beautiful golf course on both sides of the highway. At the time, I vowed to play the course on our way back east, so before leaving California we made a one-week reservation for a full-hookup site at the RV park closest to it. The RV park was a bit silly with its pirate-themed décor, but the on-site restaurant (The Black Pearl) had very good food, and we enjoyed a couple of meals there, including a dinner commemorating our 40th Anniversary on March 17. The park also had good laundry and shower facilities, but the real attraction was the golf course, called Emerald Canyon. The clubhouse is located just across the main access road to the park, about a half mile walk from our RV site. During our week’s stay, I trudged over there and back with my clubs three times and had probably my most enjoyable golfing of the entire trip. The course was even more beautiful than I had expected based on my initial sighting back in December. Twelve of the holes are located on the northwest side of the highway, and six are located on the southeast side – the cart paths go underneath the highway four times through two tunnels during the course of an eighteen-hole round. Some holes are located in the relatively flat terrain of the Colorado River basin, while others are at substantially higher elevations in a beautiful series of canyons that wind among the foothills of the nearby mountains, and the elevation changes result in spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The fairways and greens were in beautiful condition; even though the Parker Strip region is semi-arid, the course has several ponds that serve the dual purpose of irrigation for the course and fish hatcheries for the Arizona DNR. The fairways that run through the canyons are very narrow, placing a high priority on accurate tee shots as opposed to distance. I played from the Diamond (white) tees at an overall length of 5897 yards for the par 72 layout. Despite fighting an occasional wicked duck hook, which resulted in several lost ball penalties, I managed to play fairly well the first two times and quite well the third time – over the three rounds I managed to birdie one hole, make bogey or par on sixteen others, and only had one unconquerable hole which I double-bogeyed every time. After those three rounds, I decided not to give up the game again in the foreseeable future.

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March 22-24 (Friday-Sunday): On Friday, we headed for Bullhead City, AZ, where we decided to stop for three nights at the Silver View RV Resort. This is a place we had stayed at back in November, located on a hill overlooking the Colorado River. I remembered the on-site deli where I had a Nathan’s hot dog special the last time, so naturally I needed another one of those for lunch on Saturday. We did a little biking and hiking around the RV Park, but basically were just resting up over the weekend for our upcoming visits to more gorgeous gulches.

March 25-27 (Monday-Wednesday): On Monday, we headed north to Utah, where we stayed for three nights at the Temple View RV Resort in St. George. The drive from Bullhead City to St. George was interesting, consisting of three distinct phases. First came the flat, desert terrain of southern Nevada as we headed toward Las Vegas. Then came the hectic freeway jumble of the greater Las Vegas area, followed by a long stretch of straight road, again through flat, desert terrain, as we followed I 15 to the northeast and across the northwest corner of Arizona. But eventually the highway ahead seemed to just disappear into the distant mountains. As we neared the Utah border, I 15 took a sharp left turn (which had hidden the road from view) into the foothills, and we were then treated to spectacular canyon views as the highway wound back and forth through multiple switchbacks for the rest of the way. St. George itself was not a particularly scenic city, but the surrounding views in all directions were stunning, with several snow-capped peaks providing a sharp contrast to the predominant red of the nearby hills. The RV park took its name from a nearby LDS Temple, its brilliant white spire rising majestically about a mile away. I was very excited to find a DQ adjacent to the RV Park, literally steps from our site, so we naturally had to go there for a late lunch on Monday. (I had the 4-piece chicken strip basket, to no one’s surprise, since I hadn’t had one since leaving Grand Marais six months ago.) We discovered a bike path about two blocks away, which provided access to an excellent network of paths that we explored on Tuesday and Wednesday. Our Wednesday circuit covered about 8 miles, so I didn’t feel too guilty about the DQ indulgence.

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March 28-30 (Thursday-Saturday): On Thursday, we headed west to the town of Springdale, UT, where we stayed for three nights at the Zion Canyon RV Campground, just outside the Zion National Park. We spent the next three days exploring Zion, our eighth National Park visit since October. The National Park Service (NPS) runs an excellent shuttle bus service with nine stops in the town of Springdale, including one about two hundred yards from our RV site. This shuttle takes people to a small market square area adjacent to the National Park. A pedestrian walkway leads to the entrance gate, where I happily displayed my Lifetime Senior Access pass for free entry into the Park. Inside the park, the NPS runs another shuttle service with stops at nine of the most popular sites. On Thursday, we rode the shuttle all the way to Stop 9, the Temple of Sinawa, enjoying the recorded commentary describing the various park attractions and trails along the way. From Stop 9, we took a 2.2-mile hike along the Virgin River, before riding the shuttle back to the main Visitor Center.

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On Friday, we first rode to Stop 7, Weeping Rock, for a short, half-mile hike and a close-up view of a fascinating waterfall that spews directly out of the sandstone cliff. We then rode back to Stop 5, Zion Lodge, where we took a 1.2-mile hike to the Lower Emerald Pool before having lunch at the Lodge. We then rode to Stop 3, Canyon Junction, and walked 2 miles from there to the Park entrance. On Saturday, we eschewed the shuttle, walking a mile to Stop 2, Museum, where we watched a movie about the park history, before heading back to our campsite.

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Zion was definitely a highlight of the trip, with an endless supply of beautiful scenery, excellent, easy access to all the main sites, and just the right amount of hiking for two old duffers. We did see some people climbing along the Park’s most famous trail, to Angels Landing. They looked like ants as we rode past on the shuttle bus. After listening to the description of the harrowing trail, from which several people have plunged to their deaths over the years, I opted to skip that hike and buy an Angels Landing tee shirt instead.

March 31 (Sunday): On Sunday, we left the Zion Canyon Campground and headed back to Nevada, planning to overnight at Lake Mead on our way to the next Gorgeous Gorge. We decided to take a more scenic route rather than going back via Las Vegas, and as a result, we had one of the overall most interesting drives of our adventure. After backtracking through St. George and the scenic mountain canyons we saw on the way to Zion and cutting across northwestern Arizona, we turned south off of I 15 onto Nevada State Highway 169. This less-travelled highway passes through the Moapa Valley and enters the National Recreation Area from the north. Along the way, we stopped for lunch and took a short hike along the Redstone Dune trail, where we saw some fascinating red sandstone formations.

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Then it was on to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s Boulder Beach campground in an RV site with no hookups. We had stayed here for two nights back in November and found it very nice, so it seemed like a good overnight stop. I did some biking along the nearby bike trail in the afternoon, but otherwise we were just resting up for the next day’s long trip.

April 1-2 (Monday-Tuesday): On Monday, we departed from Lake Mead and headed for Tusayan, AZ. This was roughly a four-hour drive, which is the most we like to do in one day. At Tusayan, we stayed for two nights at the Grand Canyon Camper Village in a site with electric and water hookups. After settling in and getting oriented on Monday evening, we boarded the Tusayan shuttle on Tuesday morning and headed for the granddaddy of Gorgeous Gorges, the Grand Canyon itself. We last visited the Grand Canyon in 2005 with our sons, Nick and Brian. Since then, the NPS has instituted a shuttle system much like the Zion system. (Or, if it did exist back then, we weren’t aware of it.) There is a line with about five stops in the town of Tusayan that runs into the Park, bypassing the long line of vehicles waiting at the entrance gate, with a drop off at the main Visitor Center. Within the park, there are three lines that run along the south rim road and through the Grand Canyon Village, with multiple stops at excellent viewing locations. Once we arrived at the Visitor Center, we took the Orange Line to Yaki Point, the easternmost location served by the shuttles. After some walking and gawking, we rode back to the Visitor Center, rode a Blue Line shuttle through the village, then took a Green Line shuttle to Hermits Rest, the westernmost shuttle stop. The total distance from Yaki Point to Hermits Rest, if one were to walk along the rim trail, is thirteen miles. We had a sandwich lunch at Hermits Rest and had planned to walk around there for a bit, but the weather had turned a bit snarly and we were pelted with rain and wind as we ate. So, we jumped back on the shuttle and stopped for short hikes at Hopi Pont and Powell Point. Then it was back to the Village to look at the Railroad Station, on to the Visitor Center to buy a cap, and some walking along the rim trail (by then, the weather had become more pleasant.)

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The Grand Canyon, our ninth National Park visit of the trip, is truly spectacular. There are two main differences as compared with Zion. First, the scale of the Grand Canyon is immense – no description or photo can truly convey the vastness of the place – while Zion is huge but more fathomable. Second, Zion visitors enter the canyon at the bottom and look up at the scenery above, while Grand Canyon visitors enter at the top and look down at the scenery below. The Grand Canyon (6.4 million annual visitors) and Zion (4.3 million) are the second and fourth most visited National Parks. The excellent, totally free shuttle systems make them both extremely visitor friendly, and they both ought to be on most people’s bucket lists.

 

That’s it for this episode! Now we’re starting to head for home, back in Minnesota. Check back in a couple of weeks for the final installment of this Excellent Adventure series. Below is a map of our travels since leaving Palm Springs for the second time in March. (Click here for maps of the entire trip so far.)

Map 5

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