Woke up to the sound of the Green River roaring by just outside our backdoor. A pleasant kind of white noise following a good nights sleep. We’re camped at Lower Gray Canyon Recreation Area, just a few miles north of the town of Green River in Utah. Today marks day six on a three week road trip. We found this camp through Campendium, one of our favorite apps for locating camp sites. We are headed for Canyon Lands and Dead Horse Point State Park and as we dallied along yesterday, time passed and we decided to look for a lesser known campsite that might have room rather than risk finding the campsites full at some of the more popular locations on our route. This turns out to be a lovely site, shaded with cottonwood trees on the bank of the river. Only a handful of campers with plenty of open spaces. Once we had settled into our site we went for a swim in the river. Weather is very pleasant this morning, 68 degrees F when we got up at 6:30. Felt a bit cool with the gentle breeze. I put a light jacket on. Now as we’re breaking camp to hit the road at 9:00 the temperature is approching 90.
We’re spending the night at Diamond Campground, near Springville, Utah. Our destination is Santa Fe. We have a week to get there. So we’ll be wandering the South West for the next few days. No WiFi here so I’m writing a short post on my iPhone. More to follow when I can sit still long enough to edit photos on the laptop. Our travels so far have brought us over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via highway 120 through Yosemite and down the east side of the Sierra to Big Pine, where our son and daughter-in-law are expecting in July. Our first grandchild. From there it was on to Great Basin National Park, and then on to Salt Lake City where we celebrated the anticipated birth of our second grandchild, due in August.
On Saturday morning, May 11 we threw our sleeping bags in the back of the camper and pointed our rig south. Our destination was Big Pine in the Eastern Sierra. Our favorite route over the mountains is closed. That route takes us through Yosemite and over Tioga Pass on Highway 120. With 120 closed we picked an alternate route going over Walker Pass near the south end of the Sierra. We made camp at Walker Pass Campground just before sunset.
We discovered that the camp only has two sites for RVs, and both of those sites were occupied. There were a few open sites for tents. A number of sites are walk-in and serve through hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. We found a flat spot on a turn-out between the established RV sites and the highway and popped the top to spend the night. A quiet location with a view looking west across the mountains. I was able to set up my camera and capture a few photos just as the sun was setting. The campground has an “iron ranger” to collect donations for overnight camping and no established fee. There were pit toilets. Be advised to take your own toilet paper. On Sunday morning we broke camp and continued our journey.
After scouring wildflower reports we decided to drive up Nine Mile Canyon to see what we could find. It seems we were on the tail end of the wildflowers, although we did find a few penstamon, coreposis and many tiny little flowers close to the ground.
Following our wildflower detour we went back down the canyon to pick up highway 395 heading north to Big Pine. In Big Pine we spent the day with family celebrating mother’s day. On Monday we finished our loop by driving north on 395.
Passing through Bridgeport I was fascinated with the clouds and when we passed the abandoned Busters Market I decided it was time for a photo op. I’m fascinated with abandoned buildings and I’ve passed this old abandoned market a number of times without stopping. This time with the clouds passing by we stopped and I took a few quick snapshots with my Sony RX100 thinking I might get a nice black and white composition. We used to stop at this store for supplies when backpacking out of the Twin Lakes trail head.
After crossing over the pass and heading down the west side of the Sierra we stopped at , a roadside stop with a short walk to an overlook looking down on Donnel Reservoir. Dinner time found us passing through Oakdale, so we found a picnic spot at Woodward Reservoir Park and had a very pleasant picnic dinner by the lake. On arriving home we logged 876 miles for our three day adventure.
On the afternoon of April 20 we pointed our rig towards Bodega Bay to join fellow Four Wheel Camper owners for a weekend rally. We’ve had our camper for six months which means we are rather new to truck campers. We were anxious to see how other people have equipped their rigs. By sundown there were 65 camper rigs parked around the grounds of Chanslor Ranch, with people gathering in a big red barn for dinner.
Saturday was a bright clear day and we took a walk around the lush green rolling hills of the ranch admiring the view and the wildflowers. Saturday afternoon provided a question and answer session with some very knowledgeable staff from Four Wheel Camper. The hot topic seemed to be the new solar panels which prove to be lighter weight and more efficient than earlier models. With a pop-up camper any weight you put on the roof affects the effort it takes to pop the top up. The new panels are 20 pounds lighter than the previous model. We’ll stick with what we have for the time being.
We met people from all over the west; from San Diego to Whidbey Island, from Oregon and Nevada. Quite interesting to see the creative solutions people have come up with for their rigs and to see the various options and camper layouts that are possible. We also learned about a couple of website for trip planning including wanderthewest.com and expeditionportal.com. Many thanks to the folks at Four Wheel Camper and the camper owners that made the rally possible. Quite fun! The next rally will be in October near Anza Borego. We’ll be there!
Sunday morning we packed up and drove a short distance to the Pinnacle Gulch Trail. It’s a lovely walk down the trail, not quite a mile and the beach is known to be dog friendly.
March 4. We’re going on a lion hunt! Early start. At 5:00 AM our steward hails us with “good morning.” He unzips the tent and leaves us a tray with a pot of coffee and fruit. Then it’s breakfast in the dining tent: porridge, fresh fruit, eggs, sausage and toast. At 6:00 we’re on the road. David tells us our objective today is to look for cats. It doesn’t take long before we find a koppie (a rock outcropping on the savannah) which seems to be a hangout for a pride of lions. We watch as the pride returns from their night time hunt. Their bellies look full, so it seems they had a successful outing. The pride includes a number of cubs ranging in age from perhaps six weeks to several months. We spent the better part of an hour and a half watching them and photographing their activities. Most of the lions just wanted to lay in the sun and nap. The cubs wanted to play.
At 8:10 am we leave the lions. Soon David had us poised to photograph a pair of cheetahs. I’m using my Nikon D800 with a 200-500 zoom lens. This is a substantial piece of equipment, and handling the camera and lens requires support. The drill is to stand up slowly and stealthily and place a beanbag (a device to help hold the lens steady) on the top of the truck, and then to put the camera and lens on top of the beanbag. This is a new drill for me. I’m used to photographing architectural subjects with wide angle lenses and a sturdy tripod. Shooting wildlife from the top of a truck proves to be a challenge. It takes me a few days of practice before I’m feeling comfortable with the drill. I’m starting to appreciate how much skill it takes to photograph wildlife.
The cheetahs moved on. One of them passed quite close to our truck and David was concerned it might climb on the truck. We continued our game drive. Close to noon David suggested we stop in the middle of the road and have our lunches while a herd of wildebeest and zebra were crossing. This is the start of the wet season and the zebra and wildebeest are on migration following the rain and looking for green grass.
After lunch we continued, stopping for a family of warthogs with the mother nursing her young. We also stop for Thompson’s gazelles and a pair of jackals. By mid-afternoon, we were feeling like we had put in a full day and we headed back to Seronera Sametu Camp
Dinner was a special treat. Being that we were the only guests in camp the staff moved a dining table out under the stars, and the three of us, David, Joann and myself, had a exquisite dinner by candle light with a campfire crackling near by and the stars twinkling overhead. For dessert, we were presented with a cake that said “Happy Retirement Joann.” It seems as part of our safari itinerary we indicated that our safari adventure was in-part a retirement celebration. A fun surprise. We were so stuffed we could hardly touch the cake.
Two weeks have passed since we returned from Africa and I’ve managed to edit my photo collection down to a few images (143 to be exact) that I think tell the story about our adventures. We’re rewinding to March 3, the first day of our Safari. Our adventures began when we boarded a small plane in Arusha for our flight into the bush.
Our flight took us to the Seronera Air Strip in the middle of Serengeti National Park, a dirt airstrip with a small terminal. We landed at 11:30 in the morning. Our guide David walked out to the plane to greet us. We spent a few minutes in the terminal while David resolved some issue regarding our park permit. Then it was off to the Land Cruiser that would be our base for game drives for the next eight days. I’m quite thankful that we had an experienced guide. Traveling the parks in Tanzania involves paperwork. Having a guide that knew the language and the customs was quite helpful. Our destination for the next two days was the central woodlands of the Serengeti. It doesn’t take long on a game drive to appreciate how abundant wildlife is and the variety. Impala, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and baboons were among the first animals we spotted on our drive. If feels surreal sitting in a car and watching zebras amble by.
For lunch we headed to the Retina pool to watch hippos, and with a picnic area there, David broke out the box lunches. We didn’t have high expectations for the food and we were surprised at how much was packed into our lunch boxes: a skewer of beef kabobs, hard boiled egg. quiche, ground beef patty, a Kat-Kat bar and an apple. More than enough for our needs. Our guide, David, collected what we didn’t eat and gave it to the the washroom attendant. After lunch we continued our game drive adding warthogs and leopards to our list. We spent some time watching a mother leopard with her cubs playing in the grass at the base of a tree. The cats were a fair distance from us which made photography a challenge. As we watched though the mother leopard climbed up into a tree where she had stashed a wildebeest kill and I managed to capture a photo.
It’s very easy to get caught up watching wildlife; watching animals and talking with our guide about animal behavior and such. The afternoon seemed to pass quickly as we made our way towards our evenings accommodations at Seronera Sametu Camp. Not far from camp though, the road became very muddy and David started to speculate about the possibility of bushwhacking, should we become mired. Fortunately, with expert driving, slipping, sliding and mud flying, we made it to camp arriving about 6 pm, with plenty of time for a shower before dinner at 7:30. Seronera Sametu Camp is a tented camp, meaning the guests stay in tents. Camping is pretty luxurious by our standards. The tents are quite large, with queen size beds, desks, a sitting area, a private bath with flush toilet and a shower. For a shower though you have to order ahead so that the stewards can heat water and haul it up a pole for a gravity fed shower. Even so it feels like a luxury to have a hot shower in a tent. Being that we were the only guests in camp we felt well taken care of. We were instructed to stay in our tent after dark, or call for an escort should we want to leave the tent. Walkie-talkies were available to communicate with the staff.