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Four Corners trip plan, part II

The Democratic National Convention is driving us out of town. We didn’t realize when we booked our stay that the DNC was coming, nor the massive impact that it would have on everything near Denver. It is already nearly impossible to drive near the city, and things will only get worse when Sen. Obama shows up next week. All the state parks are booked solid this weekend, so we have to bail out today.

Otherwise we might have stayed another week. We’re always very comfortable in Cherry Creek State Park — it’s one of our favorite places to go. Not only is it a beautiful and super-convenient oasis right in the middle of Aurora, but we have lots of friends and collaborators in the area. If Airstream Life magazine had a fixed headquarters, it would be in Aurora CO. Three major contributors live here: Jody Brotherston, Fred Coldwell, and Forrest McClure. Many members and leaders of the Vintage Airstream Club are in Denver. TTT is in nearby Wheat Ridge. We’re near the center of the country, and the Denver climate is decent most of the year. This area has a lot going for it, Airstream-wise.

We caught up with Jody at her home on Wednesday night, for a superb dinner out on the patio, and saw Fred last night at a local Mexican restaurant near his home, too. Forrest is off on a caravan this week, so we couldn’t connect with him, but otherwise we’ve managed to do the rounds of business associates.

Brett flew home on Thursday, so the Airstream is now larger inside than it was. We had him with us for ten days, and it was a pretty good time all the way, despite the fact that he made us all sick. I suppose that’s a testament to our long friendship, because if it were anyone else we probably would have pitched him out somewhere in Kansas. As with all Airstream relationships, we don’t know when we’ll see him again, but we know we’ll see him someday.

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday morning developing a highly detailed trip plan for the next few weeks. In all our travels we’ve never researched and recorded such detail. But this trip is different from all others. In Utah, the parks are remote and resources are scattered. Internet, fuel, repairs, supplies — all will be sporadically available as we make the loop through Utah from Canyonlands to Capitol Reef to Bryce to Grand Canyon and finally to Page AZ.

Because I must work on some heavy projects in the next few weeks, I tried to work up a plan where we can alternately stop in a campground with connectivity to the Internet for a few days, and then disappear into a park for some hiking and exploring. It’s not a perfect plan, so we don’t have reservations and we are prepared to make sudden changes as events warrant. But Eleanor and I have a document on our computers now with phone numbers, addresses, resource notes, dozens of local maps, wifi locations, recommended campgrounds, Ranger programs, fuel locations, operating hours, and many other details for each stop. It should be enough to allow us to fumble through Utah for a few weeks.

The Internet, as always, has been instrumental to my research. I usually have four or five browser windows open simultaneously as I plan (as well as a paper map). My favorite sites for trip planning include:

National Park Service: great info on every national park site. This is the first place to go when planning a park visit.

RV Park Reviews: If you need a campground outside the national park, this site gives you great info from people who have been there. Be aware that the price other people paid isn’t what you might pay, so be sure to visit the specific campground’s website as well.

RV Dumps: Good for finding dump stations along the route, if you are going from one extended boondocking (or courtesy parking) situation to another. Most dump stations listed here are along highways but sometimes in small towns.

Google Maps: Excellent trip mapping tools. You can grab the route suggested and drag it on the screen to explore alternate routes.

Recreation.Gov or ReserveAmerica: These are both powered by ReserveAmerica, and are THE way to make online reservations for most national and state parks.

Bureau of Land Management: If you are traveling in the western states, you’ll find some sites are BLM rather than NPS. This includes places like Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The BLM site is not easy to navigate, but click on a state and then on a region and you can fumble your way through to the place you’re interested in.     BLM also operates a lot of primitive campgrounds that are free or very cheap.

There is so much in Utah to do that I have been forced to trim several places from the trip plan. Vermillion Cliffs NWR is going to be saved for another trip. It’s a massive hiking destination and deserves a couple of weeks all by itself. We may have to skip Canyon de Chelly, Rainbow Bridge, and Navajo too. The White Mountains and Monument Valley in northern AZ may get skipped if work starts to become an issue, but we can get back up there from Tucson pretty easily. It pains me to pass by great spots like these, but I also don’t want to blow through them in a hurry.

Instead, we’ll concentrate on Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Grand Canyon’s north rim. Even still we’re not giving them their due, but I am hoping 2-5 days in each will be enough to at least get to know them a little and plan a follow-up trip another year. If we find one park we particularly like, we may stay much longer, which is the major reason why we aren’t making reservations right now. Instead, we’ll make reservations every week for the next week’s stops.

While work is a huge factor right now, the other deadline is the season. September is a great time to be in these parks, which run from 4,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation. But by mid-October things will be quite different. Campgrounds will start shutting down and, nights will be close to freezing, and sunsets will be very early. I think we’ll want to be moving to lower elevations in October, below 4,000 feet.

That still leaves the possibility of Canyon de Chelly, Navajo, Wupatki, Sunset Crater and other spots, so it’s not a hard deadline, just something to keep in mind. In the west, weather is not determined by latitude as much as altitude. (Having a topographic map would have been extremely useful in this trip planning process, and if I find a good one for southern UT and northern AZ during our travels I will probably buy it.)   When things really start to get chilly, we’ll be in Tucson at 2,000 feet, settling into our winter home base.

One Response to “Four Corners trip plan, part II”

  1. Deb Kohls Says:

    I couldn’t help but read your informative blog on your upcoming trip. We are an internet company who is focused only on the outdoor recreation and leisure travel marketplace. Targeted at providing good information for RV’ers, our website, http://www.camping.com has a complete listing of campgrounds in the private sector that offer the amenities which you mention you need from time to time in your travels. I thought you might like to add our site as a resource for those who read your blog!

    Happy and safe travels!

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