Cottonwood Canyon considerations + Turnbuckle Trouble

I didn’t expect to come home a day early, reeking of coffee. But that’s what happened.

Lessons learned on this trip:

1. Just because you can, does not mean that you should.

2. It is very easy to get lost on Forest Service trails! That could be dangerous. Really. Kind of like cute woodland creatures, just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s safe.

3. Take the time to highlight the route on your paper map. GPS will take you the shortest or quickest route, but often it is not the best route (and on the forest road, can be a dangerous route, or just end you up in the middle of nowhere cuz it got confused).

4. Just because someone gives you directions, doesn’t mean they are correct. Same with their coordinates. Double check on your own map and highlight the route.

5. Bring extras of essentials. Like turnbuckles that will strand you if they break.

6. That goodness for those brown Forest Service signs. But don’t count on them to be there!

7. Do one thing at a time. And when things start going wrong, slow down. (I did those!:-) )

I started this unexpected three-day weekend with a visit to a friend in Flagstaff. My plan was to pop-up in his driveway, but he had a guest room! Fancy! The dogs had a grand time. His pup and Argos are pretty evenly matched in size and age, so they romped for hours.

Pugsly got a chew to gnaw!

Thursday morning started with a “meh” breakfast at a restaurant en route. But it filled me up, and because they had forgotten about me sitting outside with the pups on their patio, my waitress didn’t charge for my coffee. I gave her a good tip.

My first plan of action was to drive up to Cottonwood Canyon, UT to scope out a possible location for a Fall campering gathering. I headed up toward Page and stopped at the atrocity known as the “Glen Canyon Damn”

It wasn’t too much further to the turn off for Cottonwood Canyon. I saw a number of vehicles on that dirt road while I was on my trek. I didn’t realize it was so popular.

That’s Paria River there. River. Yah. Welcome to arid land.

I keep forgetting to take pictures of this little guy, but he’s the fourth* doggie on these road trips. Doesn’t have a name yet tho.

*Pugsly, Argos, the stuffed dog inside the camper Dumpling who has traveled with me since 4th grade, and this guy

After arriving at the location where our coordinates led, I wasn’t impressed. There was only room for one or two vehicles, and heavy power lines lined the road up further. (Apparently, according to Trip Advisor I should have kept going. Although, while lovely, it doesn’t look like there are any larger areas to set up group camp.)

Our spot:

I backtracked to check out an area that I’d passed that looked promising. Hard to get perspective, but there’s a fire ring up behind my truck a short ways. Perhaps….

It would have been ideal to camp there. I really like the open spaces, and the stars are probably amazing there, but temps were hovering in the 90’s and felt like it was getting hotter. Too damn hot. And Pugsly, the snug-nosed, is definitely not fond of the dry heat. So, we skedaddled to my Friday night planned location. I figured, if it was nice, I’d just stay there til Sunday.

I don’t know when this fire happened, up in the Kaibab forest East of Kanab, but it was huge. Not much in the way of Aspens still.

The Forest Service roads out to the North Rim Crazy Jug point weren’t supposed to be too difficult. This is where the lessons at the top kick in (pretty much all of them). I ended up paying attention to my on-board Navigation instead of re-reading the directions I had written down (which were actually two roads more than necessary, I found on my way out this morning).

Looks pretty and fairly benign, right?

Instead of taking NF 22 NF 206 NF 425 NF (something else I wrote down takes ya to the point), I ended up on NF 214, which turned out to be a crazy 4×4, with occasional need for Low, super narrow at times, unproductive 15 miles round trip waste of around 2 hours. (that said, it would have been fun if I hadn’t been focused on gas and not getting lost)

I didn’t get a lot of photos, because I was concentrating on driving and not getting lost.

Road?

Got our share of “Arizona Pin-striping”… oh, I guess it’s “Utah Pin-striping”!
I also picked up a branch later on!

Good thing that layer of dirt is protecting my paint!

I went round trip on that road. Wish I’d gotten some pics of the more harrowing areas. There was also one darker section that was so buggy, I had to roll up the windows. I felt like I was in that scary forest in The Wizard of Oz where we first see The Flying Monkeys.

After backtracking the whole way, I considered just going to find a pay campsite at that Park Service sanctions site off of Hwy 87. Then I saw a sign for NF 22… It was wide and nicely graded… so I decided to give it a shot. I think I was past the logical thinking part of the day.

I took NF22 the 10.5 miles my original instructions said, found NF 206 and turned onto it for a mile. I had to backtrack and actually put NF425 into my Navigation – and it found it! A half-mile back… NF425 was pretty long, and I was running the mantra “this better be worth it” over and over in my head, while keeping an eye on my gas level.

Hey look! A sign! Holy cow, I was super surprised that this was actually going to work out. I’d thought perhaps I could ask someone at some point, but I hadn’t seen another person since I left closer to the paved, where there were a few campers parked back in amongst the trees. (I wish I’d gotten a pic of the weird painted green school bus that had found it’s way reasonably far in. It was painted with “Yawway”(sic) and a few other religious words. I’m glad I wasn’t camped near them. Talk about creepy)

It was a little tricksy finding a spot. Out at the point itself were signed tacked to trees declaring “No Camping Here”. At first I was tempted to just set up, because it’s a pretty out-of-the-way place. But I thought better of it, when I considered that a Forest Ranger might just come knocking at my door after dark and scare the crap out of me… and my bear spray….

There was a ‘four way’ where four forest roads met. Obviously, I took one in, one went to the Point, and the other two? I explored down one and found a pull-in with a fire ring.

So, I set up camp there. It wasn’t level, and after trying various variations of levelers and angles, I gave up. Turned out to be pretty okay, if a bit angled towards the back. But side-to-side was level.

Fatigues is dangerous and also something to be very aware of (difficult if you are the fatigued person!) I put rocks under the tires (I’m still paranoid about rolling off the edge of cliffs when I camp at them), got the camper popped up, set up, and the dogs inside… and I kept misplacing things. Like my water bottle that I just had in my hand. Or the dog food lid I’d just taken off and set down.

Even though this was my view from my campsite, I started to get anxious and the Fear was starting to creep in “alone… twisty roads… cliff… alone….”

and out my camper window!

I had gone past hungry, but knew I needed to eat. I had a little chunk of Trader Joe’s Blueberry Goat’s Milk Cheese (http://www.traderjoesreviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/blueberry-vanilla-chevre.jpg ) and crackers (seriously, if you haven’t had this cheese, go out to your TJ’s right now and get some. It’s delicious and it keeps the existential heebie jeebies at bay) I also made some minty tea and felt a bit better.

There was sagebrush near my door, so I breathed in a few huge gulps to clear my senses of the days stress.

Hey! There’s the fire pit. And that’s how close to the North Rim I was camped! Whoa!

My Four Wheel Camper in North Rim glory

The dogs weren’t as impressed.

My view from reclining position after sunset. Not too shabby

Since I had a lovely view of the not-so-spectacular sunrise, but could see the amazing sunset last night peeking through the trees, I decided to check out another potential campering spot just up the road and around the bend. Before I did that, it was time for breakfast! This is where lesson #7 up there comes first into play. I had too many things going on: feed the dogs, make coffee, make breakfast, clear dishes…. And that’s when the full cup of beautifully dripped dark, steaming, delicious coffee got knocked over and spilled into my stove, and cascaded down onto the floor. I got it all cleaned up, learned my lesson, and started all over – one thing at a time. I ate, put the various food stuff away, then made my second cup of coffee.

Before breaking camp, I did my Good Campering Maintenance and checked the turn-buckles. Imagine my surprise when the rear left turnbuckle itself was loose (driver’s side, the one that had previously had a dramatic loose fastener and I put blue Loctite on it a few weeks ago) and imagine my Fear when I found the left front one completely off! Of course, it was the difficult to reach one. I got down on my belly, not realizing that coffee had spilled on the carpet… and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out why the fastener kept slipping off when I thought I’d hooked it?!? Finally, in a stroke of pure mechanical genius, I decided to take the turnbuckle out and see what the heck.

This was what the heck.

and I immediately remembered my not-done shopping list that was still stuck to my dashboard.

Crap.

I went to lesson # 7 again. Okay, who knows when this broke. I could have been driving lopsided for a while. I had no cell signal and a SPOT but hell if I was going to Alert for this! Not while the camper was still on the truck! (ahem)

I gathered my wits, made an assessment, made sure the remaining three turnbuckles were tight, and decided to leave. It’s Saturday. As much as I wanted to say, “hey, it ain’t gonna fix itself, might as well just enjoy this spot and stay over again” … it’s Saturday. Which means tomorrow is Sunday. I wasn’t going to risk a store being closed cuz I was stupid enough to stay over at this pretty place for another sunset. I got packed up and started to head out.

Remember that four-way forest road intersection I mentioned a short while ago? Well, I got there and couldn’t remember which way I’d turned in my fatigued state. Fatigue can screw you up at the time it’s happening, and even the next day! I felt an adrenaline rush and The Fear started to creep in. Oh fcuk. Oh fcuk. I knew it was about 25 miles back to pavement of Hwy 67, and wasn’t sure how far to the cute North Rim Country Store I’d passed the previous day. I pictured myself, afloat at sea, stranded on some random FR10365, out of gas, and with no one in sight.

I had pulled out my Kaibab Forest map, but wasn’t able to find these roads at all.That goes back to Lessons # 3 and 4. I shoulda pulled that map out with a highlighter marker or at least some marking removable tape (so I could use map again) before I left the house.

I took a few breaths and remembered that I’d put in FR425 into my Navigation yesterday and it had found it nicely! I searched my history, plugged it in, and skeptically followed it’s lead. Since it had led me so far astray yesterday, I was still nervous that I would end up stranded… but it led me right to a nicely graded FR425! WOOT! I wasn’t going to have to SPOT call in the cavalry! YAY! WHEW! Whoa. Be better f-ing prepared, Dawn! I thought I was… but I was not.

The sign itself was not blurry. This is where I had a decision to make. Go the 18 miles to the paved Hwy 67 and hope the Country Store was close, or take dirt the 33 miles(!) to Fredonia where there was a gas station?

I’d been crawling along at about 3 – 10 mph for an hour at this point. Every bump making me worry about the camper sliding off my truck. I stopped and checked the three turnbuckles every ten miles, to be certain. The right side ones were solid (!) and that poor one on the left needed tightening frequently, but was holding. (in retrospect, and after reading about turnbuckle tightening on the FWC site, I wonder if I should have moved that one to the front left – closer to the cab?)

I opted for pavement. I figured that at least if I run out of gas there, or if something more drastic happens with the camper, I’ll be where other people regularly travel. I hated the thought of getting stranded on the FR roads. (I did see two trucks – loaded with quads – on FR22 a few miles later.)

Oh! My tree branch! It decided to come along for a ride. Argos was a bit confused by it.
Come to think of it, I think there’s still a piece wedged in behind my awning. Will need to remember to get that out.

Turned out the North Rim Country Store was a few steps away from where I eventually exited FR22! Only took me about 1.5 hrs for the 30 miles (better than my 2 hrs for 15 miles yesterday!)

I gassed up at $2.80(!) and talked to the nice folks working there. They told me that my best bet was to go back to Kanab (some 62 miles backtracking). They told me where to find the True Value, and if they didn’t have what I needed there was some other hardware store just up the road. That seemed to be my only option, so off I went back to Kanab.

Luckily, it was an uneventful drive back and I easily found the True Value. They had different turnbuckles, but who was I to argue? Unfortunately, the hook part is smaller, so I can’t just interchange parts.

Funny story. Many moons ago, a boyfriend was using my tools and lost my 16mm shorty from my set. I told him it was fine as long as he replaced it. He never did.
I also never replaced it because in reality, it was rare that I needed a 16mm shorty….

Neither True Value nor the hardware store just up the road had a 16mm shorty, so I tightened it the best I could with an adjustable, and set out for ?

I was considering camping over near Lake Powell on a beach area that a friend of mine had recommended. He said that it was lesser used (but still often quite crowded), pretty, and had a big Lone Rock in the middle of the water. Perhaps up a Utah mountain? And I vaguely considered going over to my beloved Valley of the Gods… But the dogs didn’t seem happy about the heat – especially Pugsly, she doesn’t do good in heat – I decided to head back towards Flagstaff, see how we were all feeling, and make a decision then. There are a bunch of spots up in that neck of the woods (so to speak) that are nice, higher elevation, camping areas. But by the time I got to gassing up in Flag, I decided to just get us home. I wasn’t convinced that the new turnbuckle was going to hold (it did) and that nagging my mind made me not want to try more ‘adventures’ right now.

There is time for more adventuring – with spare turnbuckles and better pre-mapping any remote locations.

Tacoma rear-seat platform mod

Since I got my FWC on my truck, I’ve been wanting a better way to pack my gear in the truck (and travel with the dogs)

A month ago or so, I took the rear seats out and have been researching platform ideas. I found a lot of great photos and started to plan.

As a lot of early planning goes, my plans were bigger than my stomach… er… my plans were bigger than my eyes… um. My plans were fairly grandiose.

My ultimate goal was economy of cost and a functional and secure platform.

I was planning to just take some plywood for a top, and some 2x4s for legs. One night a couple of weeks ago, I found this metal frame in an alley, and decided to use it. It’ll definitely give me a stronger backbone than just plywood.

The only problem was that it was about 6″ too wide and so it stuck out the truck door. That wasn’t going to work.

A friend had a cut-off wheel and mig welder, so I borrowed his tools and set to work.

Got the extraneous pieces cut out.

and it was time to do some hoopty welding.
There are no photos of my wields because I’m terribly out of practice and my beads were rather ugly.
I did have at least one good run tho 😉

Hey! It fits now! Yay!

Yesterday, I went to Home Depot, picked out some 1/2″ plywood, and had them cut it to size there (what a great service! Woot!)

You can see those triangle tabs sticking up on the frame? I left those on to use as tie-down points for whatever stuff I pack in there, but it meant that I needed to cut some holes in the wood top for them to fit through.

After my grandpa died in 2001, I got his red Craftsman toolbox and some of his tools, including his old jigsaw.

Unfortunately, somewhere over the years, the set-screw got cross-threaded, so the damn blades wouldn’t stay in and kept stripping out. I got some cuts done before the cussing commenced, then the impatience set in and I took a rather large drill bit to the cut.

That left me with some rather ugly areas and it still wasn’t wide enough.

I sent a friend a text message and luckily, he had a brand new Black and Decker I could use! Yay!

Bing, bang, boom! Zippo, Presto! Had it done in just a couple of minutes.
Still ugly, but functional. I’m okay with that.

The guy at Home Depot had recommended I use a piano hinge for this to give me a more solid and less flexy movement. Seemed like a good idea…

Until it wasn’t.

Der. Measure twice! Gotta remember that….

Back to Home Depot to get some different hinges. I got a three pack and quickly discovered that the screws were too long for the top (went through the wood, and pushed up against the metal) and that I didn’t have the right drill bit to make starter holes for the screws in the metal of the platform.

Fergeddabouddit. It was getting too hot to be working outside anymore anyway, so I decided to do hinges later. I do want to put them in though so that I can have decent access to the built-in cubbies on the floor.

(please pardon the dirty – got this pic right after I took the first seat out. Built in cubbies: )

So I got the platform set in the truck

and put my stuff back in.

Works!

A few things I want to do:

– I need to get a better drill bit to make holes in the metal part for the hinge screws
– I’d like to cover the wood with some cloth for splinter avoidance
– A better way to bolster the frame legs other than pieces of 2×4
– Vaguely considering making an upper shelf so things aren’t just stacked up and I can utilize the space more efficiently.
– Need to figure out a good way to secure the platform to the truck and ‘stuff’ to the platform
(I’m paranoid about getting into an accident and having stuff flying about inside. Saw a video in EMT class years ago about an unseatbelted back seat person who bounced around the car in an accident and killed the other three people. Eep)

Cayuse suggested I put thin closed cell foam for the top of the wood before I put the fabric cover on to make it more comfy for Argos doggie. That’s a good idea because then I don’t have to deal with the clumsy dog bed back there.

When I took the seats out, I left the outside mounts in. I can use those as mounting points for the platform but have to figure out how, exactly. I’m thinking zip-ties won’t do the trick. (Also, should have a mount forward too for better anchor of everything….)

Considering turnbuckles, hose-clamps….

Chasing Abbey

I thought I had a pretty good plan, with a couple of back-up places to camp at higher elevations in case the heat got to us. But unfortunately, and fortunately, tunnel-vision and exhaustion made the decision for me.

This long weekend started off with two objectives:

1) Get that photo of Muley Point for my (step)dad like I’d promised last time I went up there.
2) Travel the road into Arches to Balanced Rock that Ed Abbey talked about in Desert Solitaire. The original entrance into Arches BLM 378 Willow Spring Road.

The first night, I camped at one of my favorite-not-too-far-from-home places to camp out near Munds Park, AZ.

I suppose you could say that the weekend was a resounding success on those two objectives:
I drove up the Moki Dugway

and got the photo:

and


and stayed overnight up at Muley Point. This time, however, I didn’t stay right out at the point where it was so horribly windy last time, but instead, moved south to a somewhat treed area I’d scouted before. (Point over there to the left, my campsite somewhere on that red circled road.)

It was lovely, protected, and still had an amazing view. That’s Monument Valley out there!

Because it was so warm, I stayed inside and got some little projects done in the camper.
Set up my paper towel holder


Added Velcro to under the runner rug so it will stop scootching up. Cut out a reflector and added Velcro to keep sunlight from streaming in the ceiling fan.

I wondered if I could put in a skylight instead of fan over my bed?

Made a lunch of guacamole while working on the projects.

Wondered about changing out my sink faucet with on that swivels, as well as goes up/down?

Pugsly’s favorite napping spot. Need to organize that for her better.

Did my routine check of the turnbuckles and much to my surprise, one of the fasteners was loose! Eep!

Chris, from Rocky Mountain FWC, recommended adding blue Loctite. I’m going to pick some up today!

Unfortunately, there were bitey gnats that drove us inside the camper to spend some time viewing the sunset through the mesh. Still, not too shabby!

———————————

I also accomplished the second thing on my list:

I drove the original entrance to Arches. BLM 378

Not only did I traverse the original Abbey road into Arches, I conquered a fear and used my Low 4 on the truck for the first time! I was fine in the high-4 for the first part of the road, but then I came to a wash and encountered two problems. The first one was the big rock that stepped down at a rather alarming angle

and the second, was that I couldn’t see where the “road” went after the wash. I got out to scout, and saw some faint tire tracks so thought it angled off to the right.

This is looking back to the truck from where I thought the “road” led across the wash.

I sat there for a while, and texted my (unintentional) “navigator” Cayuse, and sent him some pics. He suggested using 4-low to slowly “walk” the truck down the decline. I thought about it, then decided that I wasn’t ready, backed up, and turned the truck around. Feeling like a wussy loser, I paused. While I was in that pause, a Land Cruiser drove by. I decided that if they could do it, so could I! Plus, I could follow them to find the rest of the path.

By the time I got turned back around, the Land Cruiser was disappearing behind a left angle of the road beyond the wash. I was correct in my initial assessment of there the road led, so with my confidence up, I slipped into 4L and slowly creeped down that rock.

The truck bottom scraped momentarily, but with a smooth transition, I was in crossing the wash and up the other side. What fun! I’m now considering adding an extra leaf. Nothing major, just to get a wee bit more height for next time….

Pugsly slept the whole time.

Balanced Rock was disappointing for the reasons why I dislike tourist attractions.
This was my view when I pulled into the small parking area.

That’s Balanced Rock peeking up from behind the bus.
The bus was sitting there, idling, spewing fumes and noise into the lovely view. I skedaddled away from that crowded area, and did a tour of the main attractions. At all of them, people were crawling about like ants. I had to leave.

This is near Devil’s Garden. The “dotted” line in the rocks fascinated me. How was that made? Did an alien ship set that top part down on top? Is it removable with internal hinges and there’s actually a whole gnome world inside?

The original idea was to boondock at the camping area that starts that original Arches entrance road BLM 378. But I didn’t have the energy to go back over that road, so I made my way back down the 191 to camp.

I ended up at Windwhistle Campground. Not boondocking, but it was a lovely place to camp. I wish I’d explored a couple of the red dirt roads that split off into the distance on my drive out to Windwhistle, I much prefer campering away from people and well, civilization. But there is a convenience to having a toilet and trash cans. Plus, there were these lovely giant rocks to scramble up behind my site.

It was too hot to do much during the day, so I got some reading done. Pugsly got a cool treat (my vet told me to freeze baby food – vegetable turkey for example – and give to pups) Great for a hot day!

Around sunset, Argos and I took a wee hike up on the rocks. I found a perfect spot for a tent up there… wish I’d brought mine along, although carrying Pugsly up would have been a trick. You can see my camper just off center, to the left.

Couldn’t resist a selfie with my goofy dog:

My original back-up plans for “in case of heat” included a couple of higher places near-ish, or to drop down to the Mogollon Rim back in Az. Instead, I headed to Capitol Reef (and on to Escalante) in what turned out to be a grueling and beautiful, and exhausting day of driving more than I’d intended.

I was cursing myself, but I also got to scout out places for future trips, and the following day, happened upon a favorite childhood memory.

Saturday morning, I first headed to Needles Overlook in Canyonlands. Wow. Just…wow.
What amazing earthly forces created these places. At 7:40am I could already feel the heat building.

I headed off for my unintentional crazy trip across Utah. Blanding –> Fry Canyon –> Hite –> Hanksville (the then through armpit of UT) –> Boulder –> Escalante.

Most of Utah is state parks. It’s pretty amazing.
I need to go back to Bryce Canyon NP

And I should have camped up near Torrey – it was amazingly beautiful, and satisfied my need to get out of the head.

However, and here are lessons to be learned, my stress of Time did not align with my need to be out of the heat. I got tunnel-vision on the Time part of the equation and let that rule my decisions. That landed me a full day of driving behind me, outside of Escalante driving down washboard for 14 miles in search of a campground before giving up with worry of my poor turnbuckles and turning around. I found a boondocking site closer to the Hole in the Rock turn-off and pulled in there.

This looks a bit how I felt: dusty and rumpled

It was hot and a good portion of that day I felt kind of lost. That feeling of not having your bearings.
When I was 15, I visited my cousin in Houston. She took me to Galveston beach front to look at boys. I was excited about the big water and ran in – and got pulled down and topsy-turvy by the undertow. That feeling, of not knowing which was is up and feeling trapped in that place, stayed with me. It’s the feeling I get when exhausted and without a firm grasp on my location, even if I’m at home in my bed. My dad and I used to call it “the existential heebie jeebies”.
This time, I reminded myself that I was a day’s drive from my cottage, and not lost on a remote island.

Once the heat abated, it was a lovely sunset there outside of Escalante.

The dogs and I settled in for a good sleep and woke with the sunrise. As usual, the previous evening’s worries were gone with the fresh morning light.

Sunday. Heading back towards my cottage. Since I had another day, and was feeling on the home-stretch, I didn’t have that same frenetic stress as the day before.

I had planned to stop in Kanab, UT to visit Best Friends Animal Society. They do a ton of animal rescue and adoption and I’d once considered applying to work with them. On the way, I saw an unexpected sign:

When I was a kid – 9 or 10 years old – my mom and grandparents and I took a road trip to the Southwest. I was smitten. Grandpa and I peeked under rocks searching for scorpions, I picked sagebrush, and I saw the giant forever skies.

One of the stops we made back then, was to an off the main path state park the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. We rolled down those soft pink sand hills and had a glorious time. It is one of my fondest childhood memories. It was a location I’d put on my list to visit. I was surprised to see this sign and immediately turned down the road.

My family drove down this road some thirty years ago. I imagine it looks pretty much the same.

It was too hot to stay, and so I left the dogs in the truck (running, with a/c), clambered up a hill and buried my feet in the soft, pink sand. I could almost see my grandpa walking barefoot along the crest.

After I reluctantly left the Sand Dunes, I stopped in at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. It’s huge! They have acres of land dedicated for the rescue, rehab, and adopting of animals. Amazing.

I made some good time on the road, until I saw the sigh for “Lee’s Ferry”. Well, what good Abbey-adventurer can pass up that sign? I had to see where the MonkeyWrench Gang met up! I drove down and saw another “Balanced Rock”

It was too hot to meander, so I left the dogs in the truck (a/c on…) and ran up to the mighty Colorado.

Then it was a push on to Munds Park area.

After the long, hot trip, it was a relief to find this idyllic little spot away from even the Forest Service road.

I arrive home somewhat conflicted as to whether sticking to original plans would have been the better of decisions, or if coming across my childhood memories and some lovely new areas was worth braving the harrowing heat and long drive times?

Either way, it was an adventure.
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

.