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The rest of the west

Return of the cargo van, final instalment of the road trip trilogy

View the big trip on jamienrach's travel map.

Thank god, lets get out of the cities back onto the road and see some of that grand scenery that is littered across the country. And there really is some stunning things to see around the states, it’s probably the most beautiful country in the world. There’s just so much flat nothing and boring straight roads in between that you forget about it. So when you get to those few and far between places of great beauty you really appreciate it. Our next stop was definitely one of those places.

Four hours up from Las Vegas and into Utah is Zion National park, home to another one of the great canyons that scar the landscape of this past of the Southwest. But there were some pretty stark differences between this place and the grand canyon. Firstly when you look out on the grand canyon you’re looking down on vista from the flat mesa up top but in Zion you’re down on the canyon floor looking up at the crags.



Just like at the Grand Canyon we camped out in the van for 2 nights setting up on the first day, going for a massive hike up into the canyon on the second day and then pack up on the last.


The hikes that we did on the second day were right up there with the hikes we have done in the GC, Scotland, home in NZ and really giving our Alpine hike in Switzerland a run for it’s money. We did a quick 1 hour turnaround to some waterfalls just out from the park lodge, another thing which gives Zion a different look that the grand canyon... this place is wet. Then went to another trail head down the road and chose the Hidden Canyon trail over the Angel Landing trail as it sounded more mysterious.


It was about 1hour walk up the side of the main canyon until we got to the entrance to the ‘hidden canyon’ which you can then walk along the bottom of, and when I say walk I mean scramble.


The actual trail was about 3m under this ice drift which lead straight onto a 100m drop, slipping was not an option

The hidden canyon finished quite soon after this as I forgot to bring my ice climbing gear for the frozen waterfall climb which was around the bend.

150m drop directly behind Rach

On the way back to the campsite we saw 3-4 large eared deer foals so cutie cutie

The next day was a full on driving day heading from Zion in Utah to Holbrook one of the old route 66 town in Arizona. No Wal-Mart’s here so we had to deal with in a trailer park and the folk who occupy said trailer park were true redneck trailer trash. But there was wifi, say what you want about trailer trash they know there tech.

I made the mistake of sleeping in the van on the road, quick draw Rach was able to take a few snaps.

Route 66 marker

The reason for stopping in Holbrook was the proximity to the Petrified Forest, hundreds of petrified trees scattered across the Arizonan desert. It was ok, but nothing much to rave about.



From the Petrified Forest in Arizona we were planning on going to Gallup in New Mexico for some Mountain Biking, we got there at about lunch time and for reasons I now can’t remember we decided to carry on up to Durango in Colorado for some snow action.

One of the things I’ve noticed in the Southwest is subtle differences in the landscape between states. Texas was a big flat burnt grassland, New Mexico has huge tumble weeds blowing over flowing hills and rocks, Arizona is dominated by the Mesas and canyons of the north, Nevada in a super flat dust bowl and Utah was all weird red rock formations. The other thing was that you seemed to start noticing these changes as soon as you cross over state lines, this was most true for New Mexico into Colorado.


Literally 2 miles past the state line and the flowing hills and rocks of New Mexico changed into forested mountains covered in deep powder snow. We stayed one night in Durango township at a standard roadside motel. Durango’s a small place but it’s got about 4 different microbreweries of which we planned to vist all but ended up liking the first too much so stayed there.
We’d heard of a deal where you stay 2 nights at one of the ski lodges up the mountain and get an extra one free plus 3 days of skiing. So in the morning we wrangled that deal, brushed a ½ metre of snow off the top of the van and rented some gear before heading up the mountain.
Stupidly we’d booked the cheapest room possible which happened to be half a mile up the private hotel road and then when they asked us if the van had 4 wheel drive we said yip in another fit of stupidity. It took us 5 attempts to get up the road and the park we chose wasn’t exactly the best choice, facing downhill the only way out being in reverse. The room on the other hand was an great choice, LCD TV’s, big cushy bed (anything cushy after the van mattress) and full kitchen.
So we got up the next morning ready for our first day-o-ski-fun and found our van fully snowed in, a full meter of powder and all iced up under the wheels. We ended up having to call the reception and get them to send up someone so we didn’t miss the shuttle up the mountain.
When we made it back after a full day of snow fun times, reception told us to pack up our things as they were upgrading us to a lodge room, a sneaky ploy so they didn’t have to send someone up to get us each morning. Which is fine by me because the lodge has the best access to the spa and bars and we were told the rooms were way better, score!

View out of the lodge room, icy.

Ok it wasn’t as easy as just packing up our stuff and driving down to the lodge. If you recall there was a full meter of snow around the van and thick ice under the wheels. So as Rach packed up I began to dig out the van with a plastic container lid, I did eventually get a shovel from some amused on-lookers. And of course after a full day of constant falls off my snowboard and an hour of digging ice I was quite disheartened when all we managed to do was get more stuck than before. Eventually we got a guy from reception to drive up and tow us onto the cleared road which is what we should have just done from the beginning.

But onto the skiing, Duragno Ski resort is way better than any of the ski fields back home. There was at least 8 lifts and 80 runs to choose from and the powder was so powdery that you could basically just point forward and go, but don’t fall off cause if you end up under a metre or 2 of powder is pretty hard to dig yourself out and start again.


On the first day we rocked up all ready for some fun times, went right to the counter to pick up our 3 day passes and got a small form to fill out before we got them. Both Rach and I got to the end of the form at the same time and had to ask the date, ‘10th of Feb’ the guy behind the counter replied. We just had to look at each other with a wry grin and silently say happy anniversary as in the excitement of getting up the mountain we’d both forgotten.

It was pretty cold and snowing, which is apparently just how the locals like it but they also seem to be oblivious to the sore red patches of skin on their faces. After a morning on the beginners slopes it was pretty obvious that Rach was a better skier than I was a snowboarder but it was time to progress to the main slopes. This was where the fact that the locals like it when it’s snowing made sense as even on the groomed trails you’d still have about half a foot of powder down and off the trail you can push through a metre of powder. Which was great for me as falling became as pleasant as falling onto a marshmallow.


The next day was bright a sunny if not a few degrees into the negatives and all the main slope trails were groomed, this was not so good for me as it was like boarding on glass and falling on concrete compared to the day before. I spent the day in frustrating pain wondering where all my skill from the previous day had gone to.


After a soak in the spa and a good nights rest we headed back up the mountain for our last day skiing. Rach went out the back with some cool oldies we’d met from Canada, I think she was a bit passed being amused at my falling antics and I forced myself to relearn on the beginners slopes. This Canadian couple was crazy, they must have been into there 70’s and they were killing the black runs and he was practising on the moguls so that his 10 year old grandson didn’t show him up. By lunch I was back on the main slopes feigning competency and Rach had made it back with the Canadians.

The last afternoon was easily the best, the weather was sunny and was even warming up a bit, Rach was happy about learning a trick or to off her Canadian friends and I was even hitting a few intermediate runs.


After 3 days of solid skiing and almost 3 weeks on the road we were getting pretty tired so the first morning after finishing up at the ski resort we decided to make a bee line right back to Texas. One thing we remember about that part of Northern New Mexico was the tumble weed, the wind had picked up something chronic and then tumble weeds it was blowing were massive. Because you could see for miles in any direction I’d pick put a 6ft weed rolling across the plains from a mile away and time it so I’d hit it as it went over the road. All seeds and stick flying everywhere... it gets boring on the road.

There was going to be some more stops in New Mexico like Santa Fe and Taos but we just blew right past them and kept on I40 until it got dark. There’s no Wal-Mart’s in the middle of nowhere interstate-land so we pulled up into a rest stop with a bunch of 18 wheelers and bunked in the van for one final night.
Alright then only 8 hours of straight road between us and a well deserved rest and only one last thing even remotely worth going to see. Cadillac Ranch is a barren dust bowl just west of Amarillo, Tx where some guy decided to plant 10 Cadillac’s in the ground. It’s about 50m off the interstate and you can just walk in and graffiti them or as we had no paint just jump around a bit.



4 ½ hours after Cadillac ranch and one last fight with the voice in the GPS on the best way back into DFW and we’d made it back to Andrew and Sarah’s. Ready to do it all again, pack up and California here we come.

Posted by jamienrach 17:07 Archived in USA

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