We left camp early so we could try to find a campground in Helena for the night. We wanted to stay in Helena where we would have enough cell reception to watch the BYU vs, Arizona State football game later in the night. We also wanted to be in town so we could attend church on Sunday.
It turned out that there was no need to be in such a hurry. We learned that we could camp at the county fairground and there were plenty of camping spots.
We spent most of the day in Helena updating the blog and visiting different areas of Helena. The weather was great and we enjoyed the day. Around 2 pm we drove about 20 miles north of Helena to Holter Lake.
At the lake we took a 2 hour boat tour of the Missouri River upon a boat named the Sacajawea 2. This section of the river passes through the Gates of the Mountains, so named by Meriwether Lewis while on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In July of 1805 they paddled up the Missouri River and were faced with 1200’ ft high cliffs on both sides of the river. It looked like the river had carved a path thorough the solid rock cliffs. He considered these cliffs the start of the Rocky Mountains and named this area the “Gates of the Mountains”. This section of the river hasn’t changed much over the years and is similar to what the expedition members saw in 1805.
It was a fun boat trip and we saw deer, big horn sheep and many bald eagles. It was a warm afternoon, but wildfire smoke had moved into the area earlier in the day so the air quality was very poor. The boat tour was for 2 hours and well worth the trip.
After the tour we ate dinner at a pizza place and then went back to our camping spot at the fairgrounds. We watched the football game until midnight and then went to bed. It was a very windy night and I got up and moved the van so we weren’t under the big trees. I was afraid that a branch would break with the wind and fall on top of us.
Sept 19, 2021
This morning we went to church in Helena. The church building was very interesting and different that other chapels. After church we drove about 25 miles west of Helena into the National Forest and found a place to spend the rest of the day and camp for the night. A storm came through and we had a few minutes of snow/hail. It is going to be a cold night tonight.
We up early and quickly broke camp so we could get on the road to avoid the crowds. We drove back to the “Trail of the Cedars. This was the hike we tried to go on the night before but were unable to find a parking spot. There were still a lot of people there at 8 am, but we were able to find a spot to park the van. The hike was short, but it was like being in a rain forest with all the water and different trees. By the time we got back to the van, all the parking spots were filled.
Our next goal was to drive the “Going to the Sun Road”. This route is said to be one of the most scenic drives in the US. It takes you from the west entrance of Glacier National Park to the east entrance at St Mary’s. It climbs over the mountains and has many scenic sites and views.
The drive itself was great. There was a bit of traffic, but not bad. However, when we arrived at the visitor’s center that is on the top of the continental divide the place was over-crowded. There were no parking spots and cars were parked up and down the road. I wanted to go through the visitor’s center and there were several trails that we wanted to hike, but there was no where to park. We circled through the lot before just continuing down the road. The east side of the park was also very nice to view and there were several lakes and viewpoints.
The scenic drive ended on the east border of the park at St. Marys. From there we headed north to the Many Glaciers section of the park. This was about a 20 mile drive north, close to the Canadian Border. This was also a traffice problem as they were rebuilding the road and we were stopped several times by flagmen. This added about 40 minutes to our drive.
At Many Glaciers, it was another parking nightmare. Also, most things were closed for the season. We had planned to do a few hikes, but the trailheads parking lots were packed. We ate our lunch and then left the park for the final section of the park. The Two Medicine section of the park is in the south-east corner and about 50 miles from Many Glaciers. We arrived around 4 pm and were able to find a camping spot. This section is less visited than the other areas, and we were happy with that. It was a little cold and windy, so we spent the evening in the van, practicing Spanish, except for a short walk down to the lake.
Sept 17, 2021
It was a cool morning but after breakfast we broke camp and drove to the trails for two different waterfalls, Appistoki Falls and Running Eagle Falls. The hikes were short, but both were nice hikes that were not too crowded. After we finished hiking we were done with Glacier National Park. It is a very pretty park, but the crowds made it difficult to enjoy. But we are glad we came.
We were now on the east side of the mountains and on the plains of Montana. The terrain was either flat or rolling hills covered with farms and ranches. We wanted to stop early for camp, so we found a spot in a Wildlife Management area about 50 miles north of Helena. We were camped on the edge of the lakes and saw many birds flying around. We spend the afternoon and evening studying Spanish.
We were slow getting going this morning, so it was around 10 am before we reached Philipsburg. After updating the blog we walked around the historic section of town. The main attraction of the town is The Sweet Palace, a large candy store with many types of handmade candy. It was interesting to see all the different types of candy. We bought a few thing and then left town and drove about 5 miles up the mountain to Granite Ghost town.
Here is the description of the town that we found on the internet.
Granite Ghost Town State Park showcases remnants of this once thriving 1890s silver boomtown that bears stark witness to Montana’s boom-and-bust mining history. Hector Horton first discovered silver in the general area in 1865. In the autumn of 1872 the Granite mine was discovered by a prospector named Holland. The mine was relocated in 1875.
This was the richest silver mine on the earth, and it might never have been discovered if a telegram from the east hadn’t been delayed. The miner’s backers thought the venture was hopeless and ordered an end to its operation, but since that message was delayed the miners worked on and the last blast on the last shift uncovered a bonanza, which yielded $40,000,000.
In the silver panic of 1893, word came to shut the mine down. The mine was deserted for three years, never again would it reach the population it once had of 3,000 miners.
The description is more exciting than the actual towns site. There were a few ruin and a stone building that was once the bank. We spent about 30-40 minutes walking around before returning down the mountain.
We continued north through the wide Montana valleys to Arlee, MT. Just outside of Arlee is the Garden of 1000 Buddhas. The is a spiritual site that contains 10 acres of gardens and at least 1000 statues of Buddha. It was very interesting and we enjoyed walking through the gardens.
It was getting late in the afternoon so we drove a few more miles north and then headed up into the mountains to find a place to camp. We had a location in mind that we thought was a Forest Service campground, but when we arrived we found out it was on the reservation and a permit was required to recreate on reservation land. We turned around and went back down the road until we found a narrow spot on the side of the road, below the reservation sign. We weren’t sure if we were on the reservation, forest service or private land. However, it worked out fine. We had a few people drive by, but it was quiet most of the evening.
Sept 15, 2021
We got up early and left camp by 7:30 am. We had about 2-1/2 hours of driving to get to the campground in Glacier National Park. We want to get there as early as possible to ensure we could get a campsite.
First we wanted to see the Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ (formerly Kerr Dam). This dam is in a narrow canyon and stands at 204 feet high, which is 54 feet higher than Niagara Falls. We followed a boardwalk of over 350 stairs to an overlook of the dam. This was an interesting view of the dam. When the water level is higher, the spillways are overflowing an it is very pretty. However, since we were at the end of summer, not much water was flowing.
We arrived at the campground at 11 am and were lucky to get the last campsite. The campground loop we camped in is closing for the season tomorrow, so we will only stay here one night. We talked to a park ranger, and they are closing down due to Covid policies and lack of getting people to fill position with the park service.
After securing our campsite, we stopped at the visitor center and then drove up to a hiking trail. It was supposed to be a beautiful hike, but we were never able to find out. We circled the parking area twice and couldn’t find a parking spot. We then went to a few other scenic sites for about 30-45 minutes and then returned and circle the parking area again, but still no parking. There were probably 100 cars filling the parking areas and jammed on the side of the road. The place is packed with people, so we probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the hike anyway. We returned and spent the rest of the evening at camp.
Sept 12, 2021We were up a little early and drove to Belgrade, MT to attend church. It happened to be stake conference so the church meeting was broadcast to the building we were at from Bozeman. The visiting general authority was former BYU quarterback Gifford Nielson. He gave a nice talk.
After church we continued east on I-90 and made our way to the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. We were lucky to find an open campground and we just relaxed around the campground the rest of the day. We spent most of the afternoon studying our Spanish lessions.
Sept 13, 2021
Last night was a pretty warm night, considering we were in the Montana mountains. After breakfast we drove up the mountain to the parking area for the Lewis and Clark Caverns tour. This was only 3 miles from the campground and was a pretty nice road. We signed up for the longer 2 mile/2 hour tour that started at 10:30 am.
We had a small tour group of only ten, plus Jon, the tour guide. The history of the cave was interesting and there were many beautiful natural formations. We learned that Lewis and Clark never visited the caves, but had followed the Jefferson River in the valley below. The caves were discovered by deer hunters in the early 1900s and the area and cave was improved by the CCC in the 1940s. The tour consisted of about 0.75 mile hike up the mountain, a 0.75 mile walk through the cave and then after exiting the cave further down the mountain, it was a 0.5 mile walk back to the parking area.
After exploring the cave we drove back to I-90 and continued west to Butte. Our next stop was to visit “Our Lady of the Rockies” which is a 90 ft statue of the Virgin Mary situated above Butte. The statue is on top of the mountains along the Continental Divide. We were able to see the statue from the highway, but the tours had ended for the summer because all the bus drivers had gone back to work as school bus drivers, and they couldn’t find anyone else to drive the tour buses. We were able to stop at their visitor center in town and watch a short movie about the construction of the statue.
We continued west to Anaconda and then we drove north on a scenic highway towards Philipsburg. We had planned to visit Philipsburg today, but we were later than we planned so we found a campsite in the mountains outside of Philipsburg. It was a very nice spot on Fred Burr Creek, with a small swimming hole near the camp. We enjoyed the evening sitting near the water. A couple of local ladies came by and we talked for a while, but the rest of the evening was quiet.
We left home around 10:30 am and headed north. We drove straight through to Island Park, Idaho, only stopping in Idaho Falls to gas up. We found our first night’s campsite on a hill above the Henry’s Fork river, right where it exited the Island Park lake. It was a nice private spot for the night.
Sept 11, 2021
Today was a waterfalls day. Our first stop was at the Ousel Falls just west of Big Sky, Montana. This was a short 1.6 mile hike through a beautiful canyon. It was an nice smooth trail and it took us about an hour for the hike and viewing the waterfall. There were a lot of people on the trail, but we got lucky and only a few people were at the falls.
After lunch we continued north to Palisades Falls, about 20 miles south of Bozeman. This was another short 1.5 mile hike. This waterfall was quite a bit taller, but we liked the Ousel Falls better. Both of the waterfalls were worth the trip.
We finished the hike to Palisades Fall around 4 pm. We had planned to camp somewhere in Bozeman so we could get cell reception and watch the BYU vs. Utah football game. Before coming down from the mountains we found a secluded parking area and took showers in our shower tent. There was a big construction truck in the parking area so we used it to block the breeze and tied the shower tent to truck.
We really don’t like camping in the cities, but sometimes it is required. This time we found a secluded street behind the Lowes store in Bozeman. There were about 6-7 other campers and trailers parked along the street. It looked like some of the campers had been there for a while. We took the spot at the end of the road and it ended up being a good campsite. It was pretty quiet and dark, but a few vehicles did drive through during the night.
After parking, we walked to a pizza place for dinner and got back to the van in time to watch BYU beat Utah for the first time in 12 years. That made Eva happy.
Panguitch Balloon Festival and Exploring the Bryce Canyon Area
June 25, 2021
Eva and I decide to take a short trip to see the Panguitch Balloon Festival and do some riding in the area. We left on Alyssa’s birthday, so we stopped by their place on our way south to wish her happy birthday.
We stopped at the Nephi park to eat a sandwich for lunch and just as we finished the rain started. It was soft rain at first, but it rained pretty hard for about 15 minutes. It wasn’t a lot of rain, but everyone in the state is grateful for any moisture we get this year.
We arrived in Panguitch about 4 pm and set up camp at the Hitch-n-Post campground on Main Street. All the campgrounds were full, and we were lucky to get this site, since we only reserved it about 10 days ago. We had heard that most of the campgrounds were fully reserved by February.
It was a hot day, so we sat in the shade at camp for a while before walking downtown for dinner at Henrie’s drive-in. We ended the night walking up and down Main Street. There are a lot of people in town for the festival. Panguitch population is about 1800, and there were at least that many more people in town.
June 26, 2021
Each morning of the festival they have a mass ascension of the balloons from a grass field on the edge of town, starting at 6:30 am. We drove the 5 minutes to the field, but as we arrived, people were leaving. The weather was overcast, and we heard that the event was canceled. Either because of higher elevations winds, or possibility of rain. Or maybe both.
Back at camp we ate breakfast, and then later we talked to our campground neighbor. They were from New Jersey and have been traveling full-time since last September. We have met a lot of young people that are full-time Rvers over the past several years.
Around 10 am we left from camp on the RZR. We drove a couple of miles down the highway and then on dirt roads to the mouth of Casto Canyon. We have rode up this canyon a couple of times, and it is one of the prettiest OHV trails in the state. It is very similar to the rock formations in Bryce Canyon.
At the top of the canyon we took the Fremont trail north across the mountain plateau. It was a beautiful ride through the mountain and we only saw 6-7 other riders the entire day. We descended from the mountains about 10 miles north of Panguitch and took the roads back to town.
After showering we walked back downtown to eat at the food booths and watch the Balloon Night Glow. It was an interesting sight when the balloon were inflated in the dark and the flames lit up the balloon. There was still some wind and a few of the balloon had trouble getting up.
June 27, 2021
The morning had crystal clear skies and the mass ascension went off as planned. We were able to walk between the balloons as the were all inflated and took off. We counted 35 balloon and it was a pretty site with the blue skies and green fields in the background.
After getting back to camp we packed up camp to leave town, but stopped to attend church at the Panguitch 2nd ward. It is fun to visit these small town churches, they are always happy to have visitors.
We drove about 1/2 hour to the forest outside of Bryce Canyon and found a nice secluded campsite in Dave’s Hollow, only about 2 miles from Bryce City. We parked the van and just relaxed at camp the rest of the day.
June 28-30, 2021
The next few days we camped in the forest and went for several long rides in the mountains and valleys surrounding Bryce Canyon. There are several small canyons that are very similar to Bryce Canyon, but without all the people.
We also stopped at the famous Tropic spring, which is supposed to have the best tasting water around.
On Tuesday night we drove into the Ruby’s Inn area for dinner and a country western music show. At our table we sat with a couple from San Franscico and another couple from Fort Worth, TX. It was a fun night. We rode the RZR back to camp in the dark, so Eva was a little cold.
Wednesday we rode to the east side of Bryce City to a couple of overlooks near the Tropic Ditch. This 10 mile ditch was dug by hand in 1882 to supply water across the plateau and down to the towns of Tropic and Cannonville.
After riding in the morning we parked at the shuttle lot and took the NPS shuttle into Bryce Canyon National Park. The shuttle took us up to Inspiration Point and we hiked down the Rim Trail to the Visitor’s Center. It was about 2 miles, but it was a hike we had not done before.
We took the shuttle from the Visitor’s Center back to the parking area. Just as we exited the bus, the rain started, but it was pretty light and stopped by the time we drove back to camp.
We spent the night at camp and plan to drive home tomorrow.
It was 34 degrees when we left camp at 6:30 am to drive to the North Rim Lodge, but the sun was rising, so it warmed up quickly. We ate breakfast in the parking lot as we waited for the shuttle bus to carry us to the mule corrals. The drive to the corral was our first excitement, the transmission on the bus gave out and left us stranded about a mile from the corral. Fortunately there was an empty lodge van just behind us. They picked up most of the group and we had to wait for a truck from the corrals to pick us up.
At the corral we were assigned mules and we saddled up for the ride. Eva rode Pumpkin and I rode HighBall. They were both very good mules and we had no problems on the ride.
The ride was about 2 miles and 1800’ descent into Roaring Springs Canyon to the Supai Tunnel. The trail was steep in areas with many switchbacks. The mules were well trained and essentially know their way on the trail. We just had to keep them moving so they didn’t stop and just eat the foliage along the trail.
At the tunnel we dismounted and stretched our legs, took pictures and got a drink of water. The ride up was much easier and more comfortable on both us and the mules. The entire ride took about 3 hours and it was a lot of fun. Eva was a little concerned about riding as her last few attempts were not too successful. She did great and I think we will try it again some day.
We originally wanted to do the afternoon ride because we thought the morning would be too cold. We wore jackets for the first 30-40 minutes, but it warmed up quickly and the temperature was real nice for the entire ride. I think the afternoon ride would be too hot.
After the mule ride we did the short hike to Bright Angel Point, starting near the visitor center. We then drove the Cape Royal scenic drive and walked to the viewpoints at the end of the road.
After returning to the main road we turned north and continued our way home. After a stop in Fredonia for gas, we drove to just south of Mt Carmel Junction and camped alongside the east fork of the Virgin River. The next morning we continued home arriving around 3:30 pm.
From Tucson we first drove to Chandler to visit Alan, Jinhee and the twins. We had fun talking to them. I needed the kids to say I am the best uncle because have I visited them the most.
Later that afternoon we drove to North Phoenix and spent a few days with Hilda. We will see her in a few days, but we wanted to visit before heading home.
This morning we left Phoenix at 9 am and drove to Sedona. We had never been there before and were excited to see the town and do a few hikes. The scenic drive into town was very pretty, however, the reality of visiting Sedona hit us when we got close to town. The place was packed with people. We thought being Monday it be less crowded, but we were wrong. Everywhere we tried to visit had full parking lots. We were able to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross, but only after getting caught in a full parking lot and retreating to park 1/4 mile down the road from the entrance. We took several pictures from the road, but there were too many cars to make it very safe.
We thought we could go west of town to the Devil’s Bridge trailhead, but it was worst there with no where to park, so we skipped the hikes and hurried out of town. I say hurried, but we probably spent close to an hour in traffic as we passed through town.
Once we were out of town heading north, it was not nearly as crowded. The canyon drive was nice and we took a few pictures from the overlook at the head of the canyon.
After gassing up in Flagstaff, we continued north on Hwy 89A. We stopped at the Navajo Bridges which cross the Colorado River in Marble Canyon.
From the bridges it was another 80-90 miles to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The road to the rim had just opened for the year two days previous, on Saturday and we hoped that we would get a campground in the national park, but at the entrance the campground was marked full, so we backtracked a few miles and found a camping spot in the Kaibab National Forest.
We are camped at almost 9000’ so we expect a cold night and morning. Tomorrow we have reserved a mule ride into the Grand Canyon, the ride starts at 7:30 am and they ask that we be 30 minutes early, so we will need to get up early and drive 20 more miles to the Grand Canyon lodge.
Last night at dinner, we all decided that we would head for the border the next day. Given the hot temperatures and our location in Mexico, it seemed the best option was to head north. However we did want to visit a Seri Indian village about 25 miles from Bahia de Kino. Frenchie had told us of the baskets they sell. They are woven so tight that they hold water. So we wanted to visit and see a little more of the Mexico culture.
In the morning Eva and I enjoyed the nice ocean view from the patio at the hotel. We decided that we need to come back and have a relaxing vacation at this hotel. A similar hotel in the US would probably be over $400 per night.
The drive to the Seri village of A Punta Chueca was on a paved road and the village is near the coast. The Seri tribe was relocated, by the Mexican government, from their historic home onTiburon island to this location many years ago. The town is very poor and while they have a paved road and electricity, it still looks like a rough life.
We pulled into town and parked at the town square. There was no one around when we parked, but Frenchie had warned us what would happen next. The people quickly learned that we were in town and they poured out of their homes with items to sell. They were selling necklaces, bracelets, wood carvings and baskets. They mostly gathered around Eva and she looked at many items. We spent about $120 USD on several necklaces and bracelets and a basket. We really didn’t need any of it, but they are in such poverty, we wanted to help in some way. We also gave away the last of our fruit snacks and the kids gathered around Frenchie as he gave away handfuls of candy.
They were all very nice and courteous, but were continually showing us their items. Eva also met a special friend that was carrying his pet bird that he had found.
After returning to Bahia de Kino we gassed up and headed for the border. It was about a 3-4 hour drive, but it was mostly on toll roads, so we were able to cover ground quickly. At Imuris we all separated. Frenchie, Chris and JC turned east on highway 2. They were headed to the border crossing at Naco and Eva and I continued north to the border crossing at Nogales.
The border crossing was quick, but we did have to stop at the agriculture inspection station. They told us they stop anyone with a refrigerator. They took our avocado pit and some old oranges that we had in the trash. They warned us about other food items that we had, but let us keep them.
We had a great tour of Mexico. We were glad to see this beautiful part of the world with such a great group of people. Frenchie, our unofficial tour guide, did a great job directing us through this remote part of Mexico. Without his experience, we would have never been able to visit the Copper Canyon area.
We drove north to Tucson and gassed up at Costco and then found a nearby manual car wash. It cost $7 to just spray off the main dirt and dust from our 3 weeks of travel in Mexico. The van is not clean, but at least most of the dust is gone.
We spent the night at our favorite campsite about 20 miles north of Tucson in the Ironwood National Forest. When we stayed here in January and February and the area was full of campers that had escaped the cold. However today, there was no one camped in the area. After setting up camp I noticed that we have a tire that is losing air. We had driven thousands of miles in Mexico and we ended up getting a flat tire in the US. It is a slow leak, so I will just fill it with air and fix it when we get home. We spend the evening at our warm, quiet and dark camp looking at the stars.
This morning the group split in half. Gus, Tino, Jeff and Wendy turned south, heading towards Guadalujara. Gus was going home and Tino to visit his family. Jeff and Wendy continue to somewhere cooler so they could stay in Mexico for a few more weeks. The forecast for Alamos and this part of Mexico, was temperatures over 105 degrees, so none of us wanted to stay for another day.
The rest of us turned north and drove to the coast of the Sea of Cortez. We planned to spend the night at Bahia de Kino, just west of Hermosillo. As we drove north the roads improved dramatically and we were able to drive faster than 15 mph, even as fast as 60-70 mph. This was a big change over the past two weeks.
As we drove towards Hermosillo, we drove on the toll road. This really allowed us to cover ground quickly. The first tollbooth we passed cost us $176 pesos (about $9 USD). However, passing through the rest of the tollbooths was more interesting. Tino had warned that in Sonora, groups of the native people have taken over the tollbooths. They don’t feel they were adequately compensated for the lands that were taken to build the toll road, so they stand near the tollgate and ask/demand for money. There are no officials to man the tollbooths, but just 8-10 individual there to take money. We were told it was optional and most people just drive through.
We gave some money at a few of the tollbooths, but most were very aggressive in demanding money. At one gate they held a rope stretched across the road to force you to stop. We followed the vehicles in front of us and just slowly rolled through as they yelled at us. At the last minute they dropped the rope and allowed you to continue. When we passed, the rope caught on our bumper and about pulled the guy down. I stopped for a moment and the guy quickly unhooked the rope. I think the reason the toll at the first booth was so high is the owners of the road have realized that they will not collect any tolls at the other booths.
We arrived in Bahia de Kino around 3 pm and drove through town. This town is essentially one long road that parallels the coast. We had planned to stay at a campground that Frenchie was familiar with, but it had been torn down and it looked like condos were being built at that location. The coastline is essentially end-to-end condos and has become a tourist destination. It is still small and quaint, but it looks like it has been discovered and is growing quickly.
We ended up staying at Hotel La Playa. This is a very fancy hotel and we got rooms overlooking the beach. It was the most expensive place we have stayed at ($90 USD), but by far the nicest hotel. We thought it would be a nice indulgence for one night.
The hotel has two infinity pools that overlook the beach and water. Eva and I spent time in the pool both before dinner and later after dark. We both commented that this is such a change from the 2 weeks of camping in the mountains and valleys of Copper Canyon. The hotel was nice and relaxing. We all had dinner at a restaurant in town and made it back to the hotel around dark.