St. George, Utah 2008
Dave and Helen Damouth
10/5/2008 to 10/20/2008
Click Photo Album for many more photos from this trip.
This year, our usual trip to St. George, Utah will include a few days exploring the Wasatch Plateau high country in the Manti-La Sal National Forest and the communities along US 89 north of I-70. We have not previously been in this area. In particular, Skyline Drive is supposed to be very high and scenic. The tourist literature says "Skyline Drive winds for over 100 miles along the very top of the Wasatch Plateau, providing access to forested mountains, alpine meadows and numerous lakes, streams and camping areas. At elevations ranging from about 9,000 to 11,000 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest roads in America. Views of the mountain basins and surrounding valleys are marvelous." See Skyline-Drive
10/5/2008: We didn't get away from home until about 1:30 PM. Part of the slowness was that we have house guests arriving in a few days and we needed to have the house reasonably neat and organized so that a stranger could be comfortable (Bethany Carrasquel and 12-year-old son Aidan). But also, we had been very busy with other things and didn't really get started on packing until quite late. And since this is our first trip in a year, we were out of practice.
The weather was unsettled, with a major storm front coming down from the northwest. We met the front near the Continental Divide, and starting at about Georgetown, we were driving through snow and sleet. By the time we got to Eisenhower Tunnel, the snow was accumulating on the road. We drove cautiously and had no problems. On the way down to Frisco, we saw a car upside down in the ditch, and many other cars stopped with people running back toward the accident, which apparently had happened only moments previously. As we descended toward Frisco, the snow stopped and we had dry road for a while.
Then, as we climbed toward Vail Pass we encountered snow again. A long semi had run off the road in the eastbound lanes and crashed, hanging down the slope toward a big gully between the east and west lanes, which were several hundred yards apart. A wrecker had arrived and was blocking one east-bound lane. Traffic was backed up for many miles.
We got over Vail pass uneventfully (less snow than at the divide) and then stopped at the Hanging Lake rest area in Glenwood Canyon to stretch our legs for a few minutes. Then, while accelerating up the entrance ramp back to the expressway, I felt an unusual lurch in the rig, and the Transmission warning light came on in the dashboard console. This transmission problem plagued us for the rest of the trip, but we were able to continue on. I've separately documented the problems and the eventual solution in Allison Transmission Problem.
We arrived at Colorado River State Park in Fruita at about 7 pm, just about full dark. A ranger was still on duty and we booked a water/electric/no sewer site for $19. The ranger gave me quite a pitch about the senior Aspen Leaf pass - half price for campsites (and free day passes) for $30 per year. It probably will be worth doing next year. There were no further transmission problems on the way into the campground. Helen went to bed almost immediately.
I had a leisurely dinner, read a while, wrote these trip notes, then spent some time editing parameters in VMSpc. I just recently installed this new system. It is software running on my laptop, with a custom hardware interface connecting to the engine/transmission data monitoring system that is standard in most contemporary Freightliner chassis. The display is highly customizable, and can show any of dozens of types of information about current and historical engine and transmission performance. Another feature I particularly like is the ability so set alarms so that, for example, if the engine oil pressure drops below a safe level I will immediately be notified with both a visual and audible alarm. It is also a trip computer which can display current or average fuel mileage, elapsed time, etc. See VMSpc for more details.
10/6/2008: Under way about 9 am this morning, under clear skies. On the way up the San Rafael escarpment, the transmission started malfunctioning again. With practice, I learned how to avoid the problems. I'm now optimistic that we can finish the trip and postpone repairs until we're home.
While stopped at a scenic rest area, I noticed a wet spot under the front of the rig, and discovered antifreeze dripping from the cabin heater radiator core. To stop the leak, I bypassed the heater core by re-routing the hoses. So we're now without a dashboard heater. We had the same problem and replaced the heater core three years ago - see Chapter 78. It must have just started leaking, because the fluid level in the radiator was near normal.
At the point where I-70 turns south near Salina, Utah, we turned north on US-89, then stopped for the night at Palisade State Park, near Sterling, UT. It's a pleasant place except that the lake is drying up - just a mud puddle in the middle of a big mud flat. We're in site 12 - probably the best site for us because we have a nice view from the big front and dinette windows.
(Click the photo or the above
link for a larger image.
After setting up camp, we took the jeep and explored a route up to Skyline Drive. Six-Mile Canyon road became very bad about five miles up - wet, muddy, and rough. We came down, drove up to Manti, and tried Manti Canyon Road. It was better for a while then, again about 5 miles up, just past a Federal campground, started to deteriorate - wet, muddy, deep potholes and big rocks. At about 8 miles, we gave up and turned back - we could have gone further, but very slowly, and it was getting late.
Back at camp, in the evening, I asked the campground host about the conditions on Skyline Drive. He called someone at the Sheriff's office, who said they had talked to NFS people who had been up there. The area had 8" of snow a day or two earlier. We were strongly advised not to go up there.
10/7/2008: We decided to sightsee among the small towns, and drove up SR-89 to Manti. The John Patten House, a restored home built in 1854, contains a Visitor's Center and a small museum. We enjoyed the restored old building and picked up brochures about the area. The lady in charge said that the road up to Skyline Drive from Ephraim, the next town north, was recently rebuilt and was much better than the ones we had tried previously.
So we headed up to Skyline again. Indeed, the road was very good gravel all the way up (about 15 miles). And Skyline Drive was also fairly decent for five miles or so - the snow had mostly melted, except for a few areas where it had drifted. The road was wet but firm and the scenery impressive. It's elk hunting season, and we saw lots of hunters in blaze orange carrying rifles, in either ATVs or trucks.
(Click the photo or the above
link for a larger image.
After five miles or so (northbound), we met a forest service truck, and the ranger warned us that the road got much worse ahead. We continued on, and shortly after a sign that said "beyond this point, road not maintained for passenger vehicles", it indeed deteriorated. Worse, it began to be a greasy sort of mud, with poor traction. Probably ok while dry, but even in 4WD, we were starting to slip around - not pleasant with a steep drop-off on one side. So we turned around and went back the way we came. Someday, we'll have to do the entire length under better conditions. We spent the rest of the afternoon doing a walking tour of Manti. It's an interesting small city. An informative guide for the walking tour is at Walking Tour.
When I got home in the evening, I hooked up the outside city water (we're in a full-hookup site), and discovered it doesn't work - there's only a low pressure trickle. The check valve built into the entrance fitting of the motorhome is probably bad. I played with it, but didn't get any improvement. One more thing to fix. Water is fine with the internal pump. [note added later: This problem apparently fixed itself - we have not any problem since then].
10/8/2008: We had planned to spend another day exploring, but given the fragile state of the transmission, we decided to take the direct route to St. George. I phoned and discovered that we have been upgraded to a full-hookup site, and that we were welcome to come in a day early and stay in their overflow dry-camping area for one night. We stopped at a local gas station and gassed up the Jeep. I intended to top off the motorhome too, but discovered that while their gas price was competitive, their diesel was much higher than we had seen elsewhere, so we passed on that. We drove straight through, except for one short side trip.
At Beaver, we parked the motorhome at a Flying J, unhooked the Jeep, and drove east up Beaver Canyon, which we had read was a scenic drive. It was twisty but paved all the way to the summit (we didn't have the GPS with us, but the summit was probably around 10,000 feet). We drove just a couple of miles down the other side, discovering a lovely little lake which seemed to be surrounded by private land of the Mt. Holly Club. At the summit on the west side, there is a substantial ski area, and a bunch of condos and private homes, also part of the Mt. Holly Club. [note added later: less than a year after we were there, the Mt. Holly Club was in the news - bankrupt and entangled in a complex legal mess.]
On the way back down the mountain, we had to brake hard as we came around a corner because the road was full of turkeys - at least a dozen big birds. Another truck came up from below, also going a bit too fast and braking hard, and the turkeys scattered to both sides on the road, one flying ponderously up into a tree.
Back at the Flying J, we hooked up the Jeep and filled up with diesel ($3.55/gallon cash price). I was in a hurry and discovered that with my Flying J card, I could pay with a VISA at the pump - going inside only if I wanted a receipt (which I did). The premium for using the card was 9 cents per gallon! We continued on to St. George uneventfully, arriving at Temple View RV Park in plenty of time to set up camp and get to my evening volleyball practice. The transmission acted up twice, and continued to down shift very hard with the exhaust brake on - so I babied it and avoided using the exhaust brake.
10/12/2008: A day off volleyball. I didn't want to do a long hike (knees are sore from volleyball), so we left about 9 am to do a 200 mile loop drive to Valley of Fire State Park, about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas and only a few miles from the northwest portion of Lake Mead. Just south of St. George, I-15 drops down into the canyon of the Virgin River - a lovely scenic drive.
The multicolored, interestingly eroded sandstone rock formations in the state park are quite interesting, and there are several short hiking trails in and around the formations. One hike led to some nearly intact petrified logs. Another led through a small canyon where one side had frequent petroglyphs - pecked into a dense, dark layer of desert varnish to show the light stone color underneath. Lots of animals, hands, distorted people, and fanciful abstract designs. This area had communities as far back as 5000 BC. The last community was Puebloan, like most other desert areas in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and this southeastern portion of Nevada. The community died out here in around 1200 AD - presumably because of drought.
(Click the photo or the above
link for a larger image.
Just a few miles east of Valley of Fire State Park, we found a park and marina on what used to be the shore of Lake Mead in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The water was barely visible in the distance, and the park appeared completely abandoned. On the way back to St. George, driving along back roads, we saw a row of pomegranate trees with lots of fruit on them.
On the way back, traveling along SH-12, we stopped in Overton to see the Lost City Museum. "The story of the long-lived and rich civilization buried beneath the Mojave Desert sand is unearthed in meticulous detail at the Lost City Museum. The artifacts within tell the narrative of people who traveled through and lived in southern Nevada for centuries. Archaeologists have worked tirelessly for decades to uncover and study these pieces of the past to give us a glimpse of what life was like for the early inhabitants of the hot, dry Mojave Desert. The museum is located on an actual prehistoric site of Ancestral Puebloan Indians who first populated southern Nevada beginning about 300 B.C. On display are an excavated pit house and reconstructed Puebloan houses." See Lost City Museum.
The museum was built by the National Park Service and the CCC in 1935, on the site of a pueblo settlement which extended downriver into what is now Lake Mead. Some of the artifacts were recovered from the sites in Lake Mead, just before the lake was filled. It is now owned and operated by the State of Nevada. We arrived at 4 pm, and they close at 4:30. Helen dashed in to do a quick exploration. I took a nap, read a little, and explored the extensive desert plantings on the grounds. At 4:30, there was no sign of Helen. At about 5 pm, she finally appeared. She was the only visitor in the museum, and the one attendant hadn't noticed she was there until Helen wandered out to the front and asked about restrooms.
On another day in St. George, we visited Johnson's Dinosaur Farm on the east side of town. Its claim to fame is dinosaur swim-tracks -- made by dinosaurs while they were swimming in shallow water. These looked more like wide gouge marks than a foot print. There were many recognizable tracks. Ongoing excavation may reveal even more interesting things.
On other occasions, while Dave played volleyball, Helen did the usual tourist things. The weather was very nice and mostly mild. The plantings in the city are semi-tropical: a Pistachio tree, plants adapted to very dry heat, tropicals, etc. Joshua Trees have been planted along I-15 for many miles on both sides of St. George, and some of them appear to be thriving.
10/19/2008: My volleyball team got all the way to the finals of our division yesterday, and we weren't finished playing until dark. So we decided to stay another night and leave in the morning. The drive was surprisingly uneventful. No precipitation! The transmission actually improved a bit. and with gentle use, it caused no further problems.
We stopped for the night at Island Acres Division of Colorado River State Park - first time we've been there. In previous trips, we've stayed at the other Division of this park, also on the river, but further west at Fruita. Island Acres is in Debeque Canyon, just east of Palisade. The park (or at least our electricity only loop) was nearly deserted. There are also no-hookup and full-hookup loops. We chose a site right near the river. There was a dike, but it wasn't much higher than the RV floor and we could see over it to the river and the cliffs beyond. We arrived at about 5:30, were set up and paid by 6, and started out on a 1.2 mile hike along the dike in gathering darkness. A nice walk - good views and some interpretive signs about the plants and animals. It's fairly noisy, with the expressway in sight and the train tracks just across the river - but this didn't bother us.
(Click the photo or the above
link for a larger image.
10/20/2008: We got underway about 8:15 am, and again had an uneventful drive. I was still babying the transmission, and had no further problems. We got home around 1:30 pm, and found everything normal except that it looked like our houseguests had left in a great hurry and left a bit of a mess in the kitchen. That turned out to be the case - I'll separately document the saga of Bethany, Jean Carlos, and Aidan Carrasquel. There had been a mild frost the night before and our more tender flowers are gone. Win, who was taking care of the house and plants while we were gone, had picked some bouquets in anticipation of the frost, so the house is colorful.