September 29, 2018.
I'd returned from The Re-Tour a mere three weeks before our departure date, but that didn't mean there were only a few short days to plan for our next epic adventure. In fact, quite the contrary - we'd been planning our trip south to Arizona and Utah for nearly a year - knowing that there was way more ground than we could cover in the two weeks we had allocated for the excursion.
Our plan was simple, if long. Start in St. George, Utah, and work our way east - first along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then through Glen Canyon National Monument (Lake Powell), and then through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to Bears Ears National Monument and Natural Bridges National Monuments. Then, finally, we'd work our way back north through Capitol Reef National Park, having seen the plethora of sights and plenty of dirt roads along the way. It was, to be sure, the most ambitious trip to date!
Over the summer, invites were extended and permits were obtained. We'd have six trucks making the run, the max we were allowed in the National Parks. But as is often the case, as the departure date neared, not everyone was able to make it - so it was that on the last Saturday in September, Monte @Blackdawg left from his home in Montana, and Mike @Digiratus and I left from Washington to meet up the next day in St. George.
It was - to say the least - an early morning, when I headed out at 4:15am - 12 hours or so of driving to meet up with Mike, and then another 6 hours to our rendezvous with Monte.
As I cruised south, the miles unfolded in front of me, slowly. You see, I'm the slowest driver of our group - moseying along at 62 mph - taking in the sights, and hypermiling. For me, it's enjoyable. This morning, I enjoyed an amazing sunrise about the time I crossed from Washington into Oregon.
And then, not long after - I hit a major milestone for the truck. One I thought I'd hit returning from The Re-Tour, but which I was just a couple hundred miles shy of when it was all said and done - 100,000 miles! Clearly, after some 19 years of ownership, the truck is just getting broken in.
I continued south and east, stopping only for fuel and food until early afternoon when Mike and I finally realized that we could communicate not only via ham radio, but also via some new-fangled SMS technology, which had distances much greater than our radio transmissions! We found each other around Boise, Idaho and were from that point on, a caravan of two - our speed increased or decreased depending on which truck you were riding in - to a middle-of-the-road speed around 67 mph.
Our destination for the evening was just south of Wells, Nevada, and we made reasonable time getting there - again, our stops only for fuel and food. And so it was that shortly after sunset, we found ourselves looking for a place to camp on BLM land, where we'd enjoy a propane camp fire and wonder how late Monte would be to our noon rendezvous in St. George the next day.
In the end, we figured that if we showed up around 1:00 pm, we'd probably only have to wait an hour - so we set our alarms and hit the sack, eager for the adventure that lay ahead.
- - - - -
September 30, 2018.
We awoke the next morning just a few minutes before sunrise. It was beautiful and clear, and we'd slept well - protected from the wind by the surrounding trees. And, as we got to putting away our tents, sunrise played across the sky.
It was only as we were pulling out of camp - the sun hitting the mountain range to our west - that we realized we had a "problem." Monte had found a spot to camp the night before that was closer to St. George than we were, and he was already on the road - now a good couple hours ahead of us.
Hmm. We booked it out of camp, a trail of dust in our wake.
As we headed south and a bit east, we stopped only once for fuel - opting to skip breakfast in favor of having Monte find us a tasty-looking Mexican eatery for lunch. After all, it was clear he was going to have a bit of time on his hands.
In the end, it turned out that Monte was early - a first in my experience, though he insists that he's be "on time" twice before - and we were half an hour late (or, an hour and a half late, if you considered that we were technically now in Mountain Time). Happy to have met up - and for the beginning of our adventure - we promptly sat down in a booth in a Mexican restaurant and ate a leisurely lunch.
Eventually, it was time to head out - picking up fuel, firewood, and a few last supplies on our way out-of-town and out-of-Utah - St. George being right on the Arizona border.
That border also turned out to be the end of pavement, and we were more than happy to air down and hit the dirt, even as clouds started to gather in the sky. This was Arizona after-all, and it was still September - how could the weather be anything but fine?
Tire pressure's lowered, we hit the trail. There were a few hours of dirt ahead of us to our first Grand Canyon National Park destination - Whitmore Overlook - where we'd camp for the night, but that didn't stop us a few miles in from pulling over and taking the first of what would be thousands and thousands of photos.
It was also here that the first raindrops feel on us and our trucks. "F*ck you rain!" Monte joked as we climbed back behind the wheels of our first gen Toyota Tacoma's and sped off along the trail, sure that what we'd felt was just a fluke.
We probably shouldn't have been quite so sure with what was behind and ahead of us - but it didn't matter, we were out in our element, sights to see; excitement (more than we knew) ahead.
The roads were well graded, and it wasn't long before we came upon a cluster of dilapidated buildings, foundations, and corrals. Not knowing exactly what these were, we mistakenly identified them as the old Mt. Trumbell Schoolhouse at the time - something we'd correct in the next 15 minutes of driving.
Naturally, we got out to explore. Hesitantly, in the case of the leaning building.
Keen to get to camp before dark, we pushed on, and it wasn't long before we came upon what was clearly the actual Mt. Trumbell School. This building was much better preserved, and there was no way we were just going to blow by it.
The original Mt. Trumbull Schoolhouse was built by homesteaders who began settling this remote area of the Arizona Strip around 1916, farming the surrounding land and eventually replacing the original schoolhouse with the "existing" building in 1922. It was then used for some 44 years for schooling, a church, a dance hall, and a town meeting place. People came from miles around to attend dances and listen to music played by local musicians as their main source of entertainment. In 1990, restoration efforts began and within four years, the schoolhouse had been restored to near original condition, opening it's doors as a museum to the public. Then, in July 2000, arsonists burned the historic Mt. Trumbull schoolhouse to the ground. The building standing today is a replica, built through a partnership between residents, the BLM, and the public - completed in 2001; a symbol of the area's pioneer spirit.
Inside and outside the schoolhouse were interesting artifacts of days gone by. A large model of the surrounding land showed the plethora of homesteads that sprawled out over the landscape. And outside, and old truck and signpost - pointing travelers in the right direction.
Beyond the Mt. Trumbell school, we started our descent toward the western-most section of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. There was nothing immediate or overly notable about this descent - it really just felt like driving through tundra-y mountains - so deceptive of what was to come!
We had a great time, maintaining high(er) speeds for much of the way, slowing only as we'd decide that there was an amazing photo to capture - or four horses on the road!
Eventually we made it to the edge of the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument, rain - hopefully just passing - clearly ahead of us and in our future. Desert landscape and cactus all around.
As we descended into the edge of the canyon, we couldn't help but make more frequent stops. This was after all, our first glimpse or what was to come. No idea that it would be tame and perhaps even a bit ho-hum in hindsight, we were constantly stopping to soak it all in. The orange of the rock walls a stark contrast to the dark clouds above and the clean trucks.
And then, our first glimpse of the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. The river that had carved the canyon itself.
We pushed on, making our way to Whitmore Overlook. Right on the edge of a steep cliff, the canyon walls dropping hundreds of feet down, only to rise back up just a few hundred feet to the south, we were excited to say the least.
As is tradition, Monte and I pulled our trucks into location as close to the edge of the wall face as we could - the perfect camp site. And, as is tradition, Mike kept his distance.
The light was amazing. At this point the sun was casting long rays of orange light below the clouds, setting the canyon walls on fire. It was quite the introduction to this special place, and one that would stay with us throughout the entire trip - this being one of our favorite locations even as we were re-amazed day after day.
Fighting our desire to continuously re-take the same photos over and over, we eventually got camp setup - then rewarding ourselves with another round of "different, obviously, with tent's deployed" photos.
And then, sunset happened. It just sort of snuck up on us - the light on the canyon walls gone; us sure that the light show was over for the evening. We couldn't have been more wrong - and more happy at the same time. Blues and oranges, pinks and purples, and brilliant yellows played overhead.
It was all we could do to try and capture it all, and I'm sure that we're not doing it justice. It really was a special evening, and an amazing introduction to the Grand Canyon.
At some point, as the light started to dim, we gathered our chairs around the fire ring and settled in for the evening. Despite the clouds and earlier rain, it was hot and muggy - enough so that we skipped the camp fire altogether. And, we skipped dinner as well, all of us still full from our enormous Mexican food lunch.
But we didn't skip dessert. Monte had brought some amazing cookies his mom had made - full of M&M's, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, toffee, oatmeal, and enough other goodies negate the need for any actual "dough" - these things were warm, gooey, and delicious.
We chatted late into the night, everyone too excited for what lay ahead to climb into the tents - but as 1:00am rolled around, we eventually called it, knowing there was a long trip and many evenings ahead.
Hopefully, all of them as amazingly beautiful and pleasant as this one. I mean, one can always hope, right?