Friends are such an important ingredient in the recipe for a good life and we are blessed with some great ones! On our return to Denver, Colorado, we were met by a dear friend who graciously picked us up at the airport and delivered us to our car, which had been stored at their house. After a brief “Hello, how are you, how was your trip?” we were on our way to the foothills above Golden, Codorado, to overnight with other friends. It was a beautiful evening and we enjoyed the view from their house, as well as a fire outside with them after dinner.
The morning proved just as beautiful with abundant sunshine, so we made plans to take a little detour on our way to our hometown of Durango, Colorado. Neither Michael, nor I had ever been over Guanella Pass, west of Denver, and now that the whole road is paved, it really is quite easy. The road crosses a high mountain pass linking Georgetown on I-70 with Rt. 285 north of Jefferson, so it was only a small detour from our usual route. We were treated to a hint of fall color starting to show in the trees and spectacular mountain views.
The drive to Durango was as beautiful as ever. We saw two moose in a pond at the top of Kenosha pass, very close to the continental divide! The white mass of Great Sand Dunes National Park shimmered in the distance as we drove down the San Luis Valley, and the San Juan River sparkled when we pulled into Pagosa Springs to stop for a soak at the hot springs.
Pagosa Hot Springs has 23 outdoor soaking pools to choose from in a riverfront location, and it’s one of our favorite indulgences. There is nothing quite like slipping into the hot water of the Overlook pool and taking in the view of the river and other pools below. You can stay overnight if you wish, or partake of some of their spa treatments and massages if you want to go all out. Here’s their website if you’re curious or want to see photos. I didn’t take my phone or camera in with me. Pagosa Hot Springs
We languished there, sampling various pools, for more than an hour before cleaning up and finishing the drive to Durango into the setting sun. Although perhaps it felt a little strange not to be driving up to our own house down the street, we received a characteristically warm welcome from our dear friends Bill and Machelle. It was good to be home, albeit for a short visit.
We spent three days in Durango getting organized and geared up for the next leg of our trip – driving to San Diego, California, with camping and scenery stops along the way. Our tenants were gracious about our comings and goings to the garage to retrieve camping gear, other belongings, and returning what we decided not to take. Michael did a little maintenance on the house and garden and we enjoyed visiting with friends and fine weather.
In the end, after some trial and error, we loaded up the Subaru with about as much stuff as you could possibly fit! We had a box on top, one bicycle, and no rear view from the inside. Our tentative plan was to head to Monument Valley and then on to Page, Arizona to camp for a couple of nights. By the time we had breakfast with Bill, said our goodbyes, shopped for some camping groceries, fueled up and hit the road, it was late morning.
The drive to Monument Valley was mostly familiar as it follows a similar route through the four corners region as we took when we rafted a section of the San Juan river some years ago. However, neither of us had ever actually been to Monument Valley, so it was fun to recognize some of those iconic buttes and vistas as we approached, and hard not to stop every quarter mile to take more pictures!
When we arrived and paid the entrance fee to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, we found it to be VERY windy. Since it was later than we had originally planned to be there, we thought we might just camp at Monument Valley and head to Page in the morning. However, after checking out the campground, we decided against that. Although the campsites had a fantastic view of the valley, we didn’t like the prospect of trying to set up in high winds or huddling in our car or the tent to get out of a sandstorm. Oh well. We did look at the visitor center and take the scenic drive around the loop in the valley. The scenery was awesome but with the wind, we limited our vehicle exits. Nevertheless, it was fun to finally see it in person and to take some photos. One couldn’t help but recall the many western movies that have made that scenery iconic on the big screen.
At one spot on the loop drive there was a native american man on a horse posing for photos on a ledge. By the viewpoint he had a sign asking for a dollar for photos and a jar beside it. Kind of cheesy, but I couldn’t resist the photos, so I guess it worked! Up by the visitor center I saw a native american man in traditional dress and paint looking at his cell phone. An illustration of our times I suppose.
After the scenic drive, we debated where to go for the night. Our original plan was to camp in Page for a couple of nights to visit Antelope Canyon and then head up to Bryce Canyon. However, there was a high wind advisory for Page for the next day and we would be setting up camp after dark. So in the end, we bagged that idea and drove down to Flagstaff, Arizona, and got a motel room. The motel rooms in Flagstaff were about half the price of what was available in Page!
I had been looking forward to going to Bryce Canyon National Park because I hadn’t been there since I worked there as a Park Ranger 27 years ago. With our new trajectory, however, it just didn’t make sense to head back up to Utah. Maybe we’ll go there on the way back to Durango. In the meantime, we had figured out that Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona might be nice places to explore. After our motel stay, we drove down the scenic Rt. 89A into Oak Creek Canyon. The road follows the creek and becomes progressively more scenic as you get closer to Sedona. Along the way we checked out a couple of the campgrounds that lie by the creek. They are listed as some of the most popular in Arizona and I can see why. We chose a spot in Cave Springs Campground which has nice sites with good shade, well spaced, with some along the creek and some amongst the pines. There are vault toilets, showers, water spigots, and a camp store that sells firewood and sundries. The campground was not full our first two nights since it was mid-week. This made it quiet and spacious. On our third night, we noticed it began to fill up more with families come to camp for the weekend. This campground typically fills every night in season, so we felt pretty lucky to catch it at the right time. Cave Springs is about a 20 minute drive north of Sedona. We went back and forth a few times during our explorations and found it pretty convenient. As there was no cell service in the canyon, we had to drive down the road if we wanted to check our digital tethers or do any research, but for, us this was not really a problem. Here is our campsite.
Sedona is a town nestled in the embrace of red rock canyons, cliffs, and valleys in the pine forested high desert of Arizona. Every direction you look there are stunning views. The main tourist area is replete with shops, restaurants, art galleries, and peddlers of new age paraphernalia. We walked around town, went for a beautiful hike up Brins Mesa, admired the incredible red rock scenery, and had a meal or two. Here are a few photos of the Sedona scenery, including some art installations in town showing painted javelinas. When you click on the photos you can see a larger version, if you wish.
Our hike up Brins Mesa was pretty spectacular. The view from the top in all directions was worth the climb.
One day we spent the afternoon at Slide Rock State Park, which has a series of rock slides and pools you can swim in. It’s a good thing it was hot out because the water was COLD!! There were quite a few people enjoying the water and relaxing on the rocks and it was a pleasant way to while away the afternoon.
Our last evening in Sedona, we were driving back through town after dinner when we saw the harvest moon rise above the canyon rim at twilight. We managed to find a high spot to snap some photos before stopping in town for an ice cream and a different viewpoint. Gorgeous!
After three nights in Oak Creek Canyon, we decided it was time to head for San Diego. So after packing up our campsite and shoehorning everything back into the car, we hit the road for the 7 to 8 hour drive to La Jolla, California. Most of the drive is through desert and very hot, but we managed it with minimal stops and not too much wind. Upon arriving at the Pacific Ocean, we couldn’t resist a quick stop at the beach to watch the sun set before ending the day at our next “home away from home” – Michael’s parents’ house.