Monday, September 11, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse Trip 2017 - Part 3

Continued from Part 2 - Starts with Part 1

Part 3 of 3

Remember, click on any photo to open larger versions of all images.

Friday, August 25th, continued

At Dinosaur, CO, I turned off Brontosaurus Blvd (US-40) onto Stegosaurus Fwy (CO-64) which passes through some oil/gas fields near the town of Rangely, where I turned south on CO-139.

This road runs though a few miles of dry, washboard hills which I later discovered is part of the Canyon Pintado National Historic District. Apparently there are hundreds of archaeological sites, pictographs and petroglyphs, but I was not able to find very much detailed information about the area online. I had noticed cars parked at a few trailheads while driving through. The highway ascends the 8300' Douglas Pass before dropping back down and reaching I-70 near Lorna, CO. Just south of the pass I did notice a dirt road that might have dispersed camping. It would be a cool spot surrounded by dry desert if one needed a stop and it is BLM land.

I took the interstate to Grand Junction where I turned south on US-50. I passed Delta with Grand Mesa on my left and the Uncompahgre Plateau on my right - I was back in familiar territory. I'd never noticed Olathe before, but that's where much of the sweet corn we have been getting lately in NM is grown. At Montrose US-550 begins and leads to Ouray, "The Switzerland of the Rockies."

South of Montrose I could see the mountains near Owl Pass, east of Rigway

The skies were blue and the atmosphere clear showing off the dramatic mountains. I was so happy to see them again as I'd spent my camping time last year mostly in Utah and northern Arizona.

Looking toward Ouray as I drove south on US-550

Red Mountain south of Ouray, north of Silverton

South Mineral Creek

I wanted to visit one of my favorite places even though it seems to have been "discovered" the last few years (and I was coming in on a Friday.) I first camped up South Mineral Creek in 1972 in my VW Campmobile (tm) with a pop top. It, and similar Colorado treasures, had been one of the things that had encouraged me to get my current truck and pop-up camper.

The last time I tried to camp along South Mineral Creek it was so crowded that I abandoned the plan and drove over Ophir Pass instead and camped near Telluride. This time it was pretty crowded, too, though maybe not quite as bad. As I was driving up the road I saw cars pulled to the side and people looking at something with their binoculars. I turned my head to see what held their interest. There were two moose with full racks browsing in the willows on the other side of the creek. I took a few photos, and although the brush hid most of these big mammals, they are nonetheless the best photos I've yet gotten of moose.

Just look at that rack!

Camping along the road is informal, but restricted primarily to designated areas, most of which were very full. I did find what I thought was an isolated spot away from the creek, but after I got all set up and sat down to enjoy the evening, someone's dog nearby began to bark and bark and bark and bark. I just don't understand people who either let their dogs bark incessantly or leave them alone to do so. It was getting late, and the dog had not stopped in 15 minutes, so I had to decide right away: hope the barking stopped or move camp.

I dropped the top, battened down, and left. There two sites that I'd passed up before as they were little more than spaces where the road widened - not bad for tent campers who could walk down to closer to the creek, but no so great for a truck camper. Both of those were now taken, so I returned to the first camping area closest to the highway.

Lovely evening along South Mineral Creek. Looks nice and peaceful, doesn't it?

Evening view of South Mineral Creek. See the crescent moon?

This is a fairly large area covered with round cobbles; a flood zone in spring I conjecture. There are sections screened by trees and others more like a parking lot. Only one of the "parking lots" had space. I backed between a 5th wheel trailer and a giant Class A mobilehome. At least I was near the creek. It was fairly quiet until the behemoth next door fired up their diesel generator. The noise wasn't too bad, and I was listening to a baseball game on satellite radio, but the darn thing literally made my camper vibrate. Fortunately, they were not bad neighbors and cut it off about 9:15pm. The campground was quiet after that and I could once again fall asleep to the sound of water running over rocks.

Saturday, August 26

A wider angle photo of my campsite and neighbors, but with gorgeous mountains on all sides.

Actually, that first camping area on South Mineral Creek is useful. I got there earlier in the day a couple years ago and was able to park in a moderately isolated space right next to the creek. It is also not bad if you come late in the day and want to spend another night or two in the area - simply find an acceptable site the first night, then drive up the road the next morning to find and claim a nicer site.

The road up South Mineral Creek.

More beautiful scenery

I caught a reflection in this beaver pond

This little Pine Siskin was foraging along the creek

I knew I was only 5 or 6 hours from home, so chose to spend the morning in this beautiful area. I drove up South Mineral Creek road, stopping a couple of times to walk along the creek and take photos of the striking mountain peaks. I kept an eye out, but saw no moose this morning. There was also a jeep trail I'd been daring myself to try for years. Would I be brave enough to try it this time?

Here's another animated gif for your viewing pleasure.
Let me know in the comments of you love, or hate, these gifs in my blog.

Clear Lake

I got up the nerve and started up Clear Lake Road. It is not marked as 4-wheel drive only, so I was hopefull it would not be too rough. At the first switchback there were a number of cars parked. I later learned this is a trailhead to Ice and Fuller Lakes. I stopped to chat with a gentleman and his son who were descending the road in their Jeep. I asked about the road condition. He said it was fine, I'd have no problems. I was encouraged.

View up South Mineral Creek valley from Clear Lake Road

A similar view, wider as I'm farther up the road at this point.

As the road climbed the views were spectacular, especially toward the valley in which South Mineral Creek descends. I could see the road that parallels the creek. I'd driven up that way a few years ago and man, it was so rocky - large rocks that you had to slowly lurch over. The Bandaras Mine ruins are up there and if you ford the creek you come to a wide meadow with space to disperse camp. I didn't camp up there that time as it was cold and at a very high elevation.

Outflow from Clear Lake forms this cascading waterfall.

About 3/4ths the way to the lake there is a tall waterfall with space to park at a switchback. I also got a pretty good photo of a marmot there.

This good sized marmot was following the creek down along, then below the waterfall

This Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel ran across the road right in front of me, so I took his picture.

It didn't bother him that I was so close as I drove by him, so I snapped this one.

The road gets a little rougher for that last stretch, but not that bad. I made it to Clear Lake. A beautiful spot at 12000' elevation. The lake is surrounded on three sides by mountain peaks. You could camp there if you didn't mind a parade of visitors all day and the cold temperatures of that elevation at night - still the view is terrific.

Clear Lake

A phone panorama - I had to do a little cloning near the mountain peak, so it might not be totally accurate

I walked around taking photos and a panorama with my phone. As I was leaving the lake I took photos of the wildflowers. About halfway down I stopped where there was a small site at at switchback, and made a picnic lunch. I drove back out South Mineral Road, past Silverton, and south on 550.

A field of yellow wildflowers below Clear Lake.

The road as it approaches Clear Lake

A view of the lake from the same vantage as the previous photo

A close-up of the wildflowers - Mule's Ears

A last view of the lake from the shoreline

A close-up of colorful Fireweed.

After leaving the South Mineral Creek valley, I passed Silverton.

Silverton, Colorado

This small peak is just to the left (north) of Silverton. Photo taken from the same spot as the shot above.

I checked out a few side roads for dispersed camping possibilities for a future trip, including the no-fee campground at Little Molas Lake. I relished the views and cool air as I drove down the mountain.

View from the Molas Pass overlook

The Highway Home

As I'd already had lunch, I didn't stop at Zia's Taqueria in Durango, even though they have the most delicious fish tacos.

Soon I was back in New Mexico and followed US-550 home.

It was a great trip, even with the smokey skies. I made it to three states I'd never visited before. I witnessed a total solar eclipse for the first time. Saw an old friend and met new friends. Thanks for coming along via my blog.

Total Solar Eclipse Trip 2017 - Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Part 2 of 3
Idaho and a bit of Utah

Remember, click on any photo to open larger versions of all images.

Wednesday, August 22nd, continued

Big Hole River

As I passed through Butte, Montana, I stopped at the last freeway exit for gas. I then took I-15 south as I had seen that State Route 43 cut from the freeway over to US-93 roughly 35 miles north of Salmon, ID. This was in the national forest and looked like there would be camping opportunities. The eastern half of that route was very pretty, following the Big Hole River where there were lots of fly fishermen.

I thought about finding a dispersed site near Chief Joseph Pass off 43, but kept on, turning south on US-93 toward Salmon. I was in Idaho now and it was again smokey.

Twin Creek Campground

About 8 or 9 miles south of the 43/93 junction is the turn off for Twin Creek CG. The campground looked pretty nice, there were only 2 or 3 other campers, but I continued up the forest road to look for a dispersed site. The mountains here have very steep slopes. I didn't find a suitable camping spot within a couple of miles so returned to the NF campground.

Twin Creek Campground

I found a spot at the end of one loop that was fairly private. The camping fee was only $5 with my Senior Access Pass and the campground had the cleanest vault toilet that I had ever seen, plus drinking water hydrants near most of the sites. There was a creek below me judging from the pleasant sounds. It was down a steep bank and through some thick growth, so I contented myself with hearing, but not seeing.
A small sprig of Oregon Grape created a colorful bunch of blue berries

Wednesday, August 23

I'd been puzzled the night before, and again this morning, why I needed to catch my breath walking back to camp from the toilet. The elevation was only about 5200' and I my house is at that elevation, so I should be totally acclimated to that altitude. Once I started back south on the highway and saw how the mountains were behind a veil of smake, I figured I was being affected. By the time I reached North Fork I was feeling a tightness in my chest - from then on I ran the airconditioner in my truck in recirculation mode, and was very glad I had recently replaced the cabin air filter with one featuring activated charcoal. I had no more breathing issues and my chest cleared up, but I realized I needed to keep going until I was out of the smoke.

I checked out a couple of side roads on my way south to scout for future dispersed camping. Both looked interesting, but I did not go very far and there were summer homes along both for the first couple of miles.

North Fork

My maps showed what looked like a paved road heading west at North Fork. This is Salmon River Road and follows the main branch of the river west. I drove about half a mile and spotted a picnic area on the left. It was a lovely spot right next to the river, which of course attracted me. I pulled into the Newland Picnic Area and discovered that it was also an informal, no-fee camping area with a couple metal fire rings and a vault toilet. I took a couple photos, then headed back toward 93.

Beautiful picnic/camping area beside the Salmon River

Just before reaching the highway there was a driveway up the hill to the district ranger station. I stopped there and had a great conversation with a couple ladies who worked there. They were very friendly and were from the area and had much local knowledge. They told me about Salmon River Road and how it was 43 miles long with no access other than some forest roads. I mentioned the picnic/camping area I'd seen, and they said there were more along the road and they were even prettier. I asked about the smoke, if this had been a bad fire year. "No," they responded, this was normal for this time of year. They suggested I return earlier in the season. As beautiful as the area was, even in the haze, I decided I would indeed return, maybe even early season next year.

I told them I intended to drive down to Stanley, as that was supposed to be a beautiful area. Without actually contradicting me, the subtly let me know that one drives "up" to Stanley. Once again my experience of rivers mostly flowing north to south got me oriented backwards.


It was a nice, though hazy, drive up the river to the town of Salmon. I stopped at the public lands visitor center there and another super friendly lady helped me. They'd been out of maps of the area in North Fork, but Salmon had just received new ones. I purchased one and picked up a number of free brochures that might come in helpful for my next trip to this area.

I should mention that all along US-93 there were frequent historical markers for the Louis and Clark Expedition. That was pretty cool. In Salmon I picked up a historical map/brochure published by the BLM, but have only glanced at it so far.

I don't remember exactly where this was taken - somewhere between Salmon and Challis, I think.

This was the other bank of the Salmon where the previous photo was taken.


I continued on US-93, admiring what I could see of the view, up the river to Challis. I had lunch there at the Village Inn. The service wasn't real fast, but that gave me time to spread my maps and atlas on the table to try and come up with a plan for the rest of the day. I needed to get out of the smoke, but making it all the way to south Idaho would be a very long slog. South of Stanley was Ketchum, just beyond the boundary of the national forest. There wouldn't be any camping past there, except maybe along the desert road at Craters of the Moon National Monument. It was very warm here, I figured it would be hot down there. Well, I'd play it by ear.

When my Mushroom Swiss Burger came it was delicious and the plate was full of yummy fries, Idaho pototoes. I gave them 4 stars on Yelp.

South of Challis, I turn off 93 onto ID-75 to continue up the Salmon River, toward Stanley. This was a drier terrain with dramatic cliffs up from the river, but still smokey. I couple times I saw interesting dirt roads with possible campsites on the far side of the river, but didn't see how one got there. There were other side roads. The first section is BLM, then the highway moved into National Forest, so there must be camping opportunities along here to be found.


Sawtooth Range south of Stanley. Photo heavily processed with the de-haze presets.

When I got near Stanley, the dramatic Sawtooth Mountains hove into view, but again shrouded by smoke and haze. There was a notice at the ranger station that Stanley Lake and the campground was closed due to wildfires, but as I wasn't heading up ID-21, I didn't bother getting details. Instead I stayed on 75 which continues to follow the Salmon River toward its headwaters.

Marker for the Salmon River.

Looking back at the ascending highway from Stanley

I stopped at an overlook as the highway begins to climb away from the river and took a hazy photo of the headwaters basin. Once the highway crested the pass at Galena Summit, I was relieved to discover the smoke was much thinner on this side of that barrier. I was hopeful of finding a dispersed campsite as my Benchmark atlas showed a number of forest roads in the Galena area. The most promising looking was Owl Creek Road, but when I finally found it, it was unmarked, I discovered the road was totally washed out at the creek. It must have been that way for some time as it was very overgrown.

Spring Creek Road

Luckily right across the highway was Spring Creek Road. I drove up and found two dispersed campsites. The most level one was already occupied by one of those hard-sided, pop-up camp trailers. The road continued on but became very rough and not promising for other sites. I turned around and tried King Creek Road just south of there, but that turned out to be an ATV only road unsuitable for a full size vehicle. I returned to Spring Creek and by using nearly all my leveling blocks managed to get my camper level enough.

Beautiful campsite, though not exactly level.

View of my campsite and Spring Creek

This was a beautiful campsite surrounded by evergreens and next to a grassy meadow down which a narrow creek rushed. There were scenic, mountain views looking both up and down the canyon - the smoke was thin enough to allow this view. The creek though small had a voice loud enough to make a pleasant babble. I sat out and enjoyed the evening.

Looking down the road toward the highway

Looking up the valley from near my campsite

There were lots of these beautiful wildflowers that I later learned are considered invasive weeds forcing out native plants in many areas.

Thursday, August 24

I walked around a bit, taking pictures of the scenery and flowers, before hitting the road. I proceded down ID-75 and through the village of Ketchum, where McMansions were growing like mushrooms after a rain. Soon I was out of the mountains and into grasslands.

Craters of the Moon

I was curious about Craters of the Moon National Monument, so turned east on US-20, then at Carey joined US-26. Turns out the national monument is part of an enormous lava field. Near the visitor center are several cinder cone volcanos. I asked a ranger at the VC if the lava was from the volcanos, but she said no, the volcanos and the lava were both caused by a rift opening along there. The monument was swamped with visitors, and as it was also hot and windy I continued on my journey toward home. I have spent time in the past at El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico, which is also a large lava field, so this one was not novel to me. There is a small campground near the visitor center, but I'm told fills early during busy times.

Lava field and cinder cones at Craters of the Moon National Monument


I stopped for lunch in the community of Arco at the Golden West Cafe, "Where the locals eat." I ordered the open-face, hot beef sandwich. It was huge and delicious, the tender roast beef was sliced thick, the potatoes were freshly mashed, and both covered in rich brown gravy. It came with a crisp, side salad. I awarded another 4 star rating on Yelp.

Arco called itself "the Atomic City." I later read Wikipedia: Arco was the first community in the world ever to be lit by electricity generated solely by nuclear power. This occurred for about an hour on July 17, 1955, powered by Argonne National Laboratory’s BORAX-III reactor at the nearby National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), which eventually became the site of the Idaho National Energy Laboratory, a predecessor of the current Idaho National Laboratory.,_Idaho

I continued on US-26 to Blackfoot, ID, where I joined South I-15 again. I got gasoline at Pocatello and followed the freeway south though a dramatic valley. At Ogden, UT I took I-84 to I-80 to UT-32 to Francis, UT. From there I took UT-35, which follows the South Fork of the Provo River east up into the Uinta National Forest.

Mill Hollow, Utah

Why had I decided to come this way? Somewhere back along the road, when I'd looked at my maps, I searched out national forests that were high enough to have cool temperatures, might afford dispersed camping, and were roughly along a route that would take me back home. I used my Garmin navigation app to input various destinations and would check the travel time to see what would work and what would not. Thus I came up with this forest that had a few side roads which hopefully held campsites.

The first such road was FR-054, a wide gravel road. It climbed south from the highway. The first couple of dispersed sites were occupied by small trailers. I drove through the NFS Campground, which was adjacent and above the Mill Hollow Reservoir, but found it a bit claustrophobic so continued up the forest road. I passed a couple more occupied dispersed sites and finally decided to turn around and check the other roads. But on my way back down, I espied a site I'd not noticed on my way up, perhaps as the access road ran right by an occupied site.

My campsite along Mill Hollow Creek

Another view of my campsite

Baneberries - don't eat these.

I set up camp on this site next to a creek that I'm going to assume is Mill Hollow Creek, though I never actually determined its official name. This site is about 4 miles from the highway. It was a nice campsite and I was happy to be there, but it also gave the impression of being over used, a bit worn down, perhaps you know what I mean. Though to the credit of those who came before, the site was free of trash and debris. There was also some sort of leafy groundcover that kept it from being too muddy after a brief rainstorm that moved through.

The little creek next to my camp

I also noticed, especially when processing my campsite photos, that there are many dead trees in this area. I'm guessing the bark beetle has been active here for years. That might explain the signs on the road warning of logging trucks.

Friday, August 25

Wildflowers along the road

On my way back down the mountain to the highway I noticed a traditional, mobile shepherd hut, then later on the highway, driving over the pass, there were sheep on both sides of the highway. If you drive through there, exercise caution.

Sheep were on both sides of the highway

I descended into a green valley. I'd noticed the whole trip that Utah and other mountain states do big business in growing grass as fodder. At Duchesne, I turned east on US-40/191. I had driven from there to Vernal on my way up to the eclipse site, so my trip was more of a figure-8 now, than a loop.

From Vernal I continued east on US-40 toward Dinosaur National Monument. It was too hot to stop for a visit, however.

Trip continues in Part 3