Week 49.1: Arches National Park

As a day trip from Moab, we headed in early June to the fourth of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks, Arches.  Actually, we did this several times!  Arches is just a few minutes from Moab, and since it was insanely hot, we decided to do multiple, shorter trips in the mornings and evenings.  (National parks: the only good reason to wake up early.)

Arches is a desert park chock full of huge, stunning rock formations.  The most famous formations are the natural rock arches, but there’s quite a lot more, sprinkled seemingly at random throughout the otherwise empty landscape.  For example, near the entrance is a formation called Park Avenue, a massive – but thin – rock wall which evokes Manhattan skyscrapers.

Another famous landmark is called Balanced Rock, visible throughout much of the park’s scenic drive.  The eponymous rock is the size of three school buses, and it somehow sits on an impossibly small pedestal, 128 feet above the desert floor.  Someday it will fall – but hopefully not while any tourists are nearby.

Arches Square

Park Avenue and Balanced Rock were cool, but we came to Arches for one thing: arches!  The park is well named, with over fourteen billion natural arches present inside its boundaries (approximately).  Beautiful arches were found practically everywhere we looked.  Our favorite of these was the magnificent Double Arch – note how small the person in the photo appears:

There were a lot more arches to be seen, all with unique names that we have since forgotten.  Arches is definitely more fun to show than tell, so check out a few of our favorite arch photos below.

Most of the arches were found along the Devil’s Garden trail, an extremely cool hike which took us through, around, and over tall rock formations that looked much like shark fins.  Well… maybe not entirely “cool,” since it was 100 degrees by noon, but we endured for the sake of adventure.

A Utah Delicacy

After roasting on our Devil’s Garden hike, we took a break from the heat for a couple days before returning to Arches one evening near sunset.  Our aim was to visit the most famous landmark in all of Utah: Delicate Arch.

You may not have heard of it, but this iconic arch shows up everywhere in the state.  It’s even on their license plates!  And although we were prepared to be disappointed by the hype, we found that Delicate Arch more than lived up to its reputation.

The arch is gorgeous in person.  It really is a perfect arch, tall, thin, and gracefully proportioned, and we were lucky enough to capture it during an incredible sunset.  We took a lot of photos on our trip, but our Delicate Arch pictures are some of the best.

One thing you don’t see in our photos are people, but trust us, it was crowded.  Arches is a pretty busy park in general, and Delicate Arch particularly so.  We had to snap our pictures during the brief windows between selfie-takers, which isn’t that unusual but does add a degree of difficulty.  There was quite a crowd sitting in the amphitheater-like area overlooking the arch, just watching and enjoying the sunset.  It made for quite a silhouette.

Twinkle Twinkle

It was dark as we headed back from Delicate Arch, so we decided to try something we’d been meaning to do for a while: night photos!  We stopped near Park Ave., got out our tripod, set up the camera, and… realized we had no idea how to take night photos.

Luckily for us, a young man on a motorcycle stopped to take his own photos, and he noticed us peering at the buttons on the camera and Googling things like “night photo how” on our phones.  He was kind enough to give us a quick tutorial and help us get set up, something we’re eternally grateful for.   And with a little help from our new friend, the night photos we took at Arches turned out pretty well!  They’re a little blurry and digitally “noisy,” but we’re still happy with how they came out.

It doesn’t look it in the photo, but it was almost pitch-black outside.  However, the camera collects enough starlight over thirty seconds to light the entire shot.

By the way, after our photographer friend left to go further down the path, there was silence for a moment.  But he must have found another group, because we soon heard him patiently give the same tutorial to another group of clueless newbies.

Something tells us there’s a business opportunity there.

Roadtrip Time Travel

Roadtrip Status

We’ve reached the end of our roadtrip!  We’re settling down in Denver, but we’re going to keep making blog posts and posting our favorite photos from the trip, so stay tuned for more.

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Week 29: Elderly Burning Man

As we wrote before, after our crazy road trip back to the Northeast, we spent a few days recharging in Phoenix.  Then, we headed back out onto the road in our RV, southwest from Phoenix into the desert.  Our destination was Quartzsite, Arizona, home of what we call “Elderly Burning Man.”

Gathering of the Clans

Quartzsite is not just annoying to spell, it’s a highway town of 3,600, very near the border between Arizona and California.  Quartzsite is in the for-real desert, and it is nearly “deserted” in the summer, when temperatures can reach 120+ degrees.  But in the winter?  Oh, that’s quite different.

For reasons we still do not fully understand, Quartzsite is the winter meetup location for over one hundred thousand RVers.  Every winter, swarms of people come and meet up in the desert outside of the town, where you can park for free for as long as you like.  Some people live there all winter long.  There are very few places to hook up, but this area attracts an off-grid crowd, with large solar panels and giant tanks that can go weeks without filling.

This is where the hardcore RVers go, and as we know well from our travels, full-timers are almost exclusively retired.  We’d guess the average age is about 80.  (Relatively) wealthy, white retirees, with a… let’s say, “Midwestern” build, gathering in their off-grid RVs in the middle of the desert.

Elderly Burning Man:  It doesn’t get much weirder than this.

Desert Sea

Vendors set up tents and stalls in a huge area inside the town, and we walked through.  There was a lot of RV-related stuff, but also plenty of touristy stuff, rocks and minerals, and especially deep-fried food.  Considering the demographics, Quartzsite is more than a little like being in an Iowa county fair, just mysteriously transported into the desert.

Some of the stuff we saw was just bizarre – dozens of cow skulls, laid out for sale, next to fifty large geodes and a table full of T-shirts.  A few of the stands appeared to just be piles of junk to scavenge through – the desert drifter dream.  Nearby, there were crazy RVs for sale, with kitchen islands, electric fireplaces, and full master bathrooms.

There are also a few permanent shops in the town, and the one we wish we had visited is the Quartzsite Yacht Club.  Despite being utterly landlocked, the Quartzsite Yacht Club touts itself as having the “largest membership in the world.”  Membership is open to the public for a nominal fee, and it comes with one real perk: “real” yacht clubs often offer reciprocal access to members of other clubs, so membership in Quartzsite can get you in the door elsewhere (they claim).

It was so crowded everywhere we decided not to bother trying, but we’ll likely always regret it.  If nothing else, it probably would have helped Jake’s odds at becoming a maritime lawyer.

Thug Life

Not having been there before, we were a little unsure what to do.  We ended up just driving into the desert, weaving between all the other RVs (they gather in packs), and parking in a random unoccupied area.  Everything seemed fine, until the next night, some new entrants parked, like, 8 feet away.  In the middle of a giant, empty desert.

And then they glared at us, every time we went outside.

We have guessed, in retrospect, that we were somehow encroaching on their (unmarked, unoccupied) “turf.”  Friends, we have never claimed to be the most heroic of travelers, and it’s fair to say we fled from this confrontation.  Those “toughs” were up to no good, and there were more of them than us, never mind that they were in their 80s.  Like Jesus, we turned the other cheek, and like Sir Robin, we bravely drove off to a different, empty spot in the desert.

After getting muscled out of our first spot by the infirm, we took a stroll around our new, neighborless backyard. Highlights of our hike included: a cactus that looks like an armless man buried headfirst, lots of rocks, and a coaster from cybererotica.com – “It’s where you go to make money!”

An Oasis of Youth

It wasn’t all snark and fear in Quartzsite, as we did have one positive interaction with other humans.  We learned via social media that the “Xscapers,” a “working-aged” sub-group of an RV community, was meeting up in Quartzsite at the same time we were there.  We crashed their meet-up, and were rewarded by meeting friendly people who were – *gasp – approximately our own age!

Yes, it was an exciting night for us, although sobering.  (Not literally – we of course brought beer.)  Because our online business has been lackluster, we can’t live like nomads in the desert forever, like many of these folks do.  Still, it was a fun time, and we were invited back for movie night the next day.

The movie was “The Martian,” projected onto a screen.  Although we had seen it before, it was still kind of a trip to watch a story of survival while under the stars, running off of solar power and batteries, in the harsh desert landscape of Arizona.  Thanks, Xscapers!

Those Sunsets

We stayed in Quartzsite for three nights, which is about as long as we can last before our batteries run low.  If you’re curious, we have a generator for power in a pinch, but it doesn’t do much to recharge the batteries, and we don’t have any fancy solar panels to help out.

Of course, we could always put away our computers and phones and just live in the moment, but on the other hand, no, we aren’t doing that.

We won’t miss the crowds, the bizarre bazaar, or the elderly gangs, but there is one thing we’ll certainly miss from Quartzsite.  Desert sunsets are always amazing.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Portland, Oregon, getting our blog post on!

Next location?  We’ll be here for a while longer, then on to Seattle!  For more information, check out our shiny new road trip plan.

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Weeks 21-22: Facing the Truth or Consequences

After spending several weeks retooling our RV in El Paso, it was finally time to get back on the road. Our first destination? The oddly-named town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The town was originally named “Hot Springs,” but it changed its name in 1950 to win a radio show contest. The show has long since ended, of course, but the town kept the name anyway.

A real marketing success, if you think about it.

We visited the town and had some “mind-blowing” waffles (according to Jake), then wandered around. It’s a strange place in a good way, with random incredibly-pink and purple buildings, and a window covered with cassette tapes.  (We forgot to get a picture, but here is one by someone else.)  There were a lot of shops but we have no idea what they are like, since at around 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning, almost everything was closed, and wouldn’t open until noon. (Or “noon-ish.”) Retail was apparently suffering a hangover.

As for the hot springs baths in the former Hot Springs, which are supposed to be quite enjoyable, we’re sorry to report we never tried them. We fully planned on it, but then, we kinda just forgot?

Whoops!  What can we say, we do a lot of stuff.


Our campground during our stay in Truth or Consequences was Elephant Butte Lake State Park. “Butte” here is supposed to be pronounced like “She’s a beaut,” and not like “Elephant butt,” but to be honest, we pretty much called it “elephant butt” the whole time we were there. I mean, how could you not??

Anyway, it’s a popular destination, and for good reason. The lake itself is large and very pretty, and very man-made – not many natural lakes in this part of New Mexico, we reckon – and the lake is surrounded by scenic-looking mountains (the “buttes”). Our RV parking spot was more or less right on top of the lake, and the view was fantastic.

Before and since, it’s the most beautiful place we have parked. The sunsets were glorious.

There was one quirky aspect to the view, though. Imagine a beautiful lake with beaches and sand, glistening in the sun.  Picture it in your head. Nice, right? OK, now, just sprinkle some port-a-potties around out there.

Yeah, you read that right.  Just mentally drop them right out there by the water, or maybe in a nice scenic area. That’s how they do it at Elephant Butte Lake.

At first, we thought the restrooms were ugly, and probably a little unnecessary, since we never even saw one get used (and there were many). But in time, we came to appreciate: these are the most majestic port-a-potties we will ever see.

This must be what port-a-potty heaven looks like.

We Are The Ones Doing The Knocking

Portable facilities aside, we liked the view at Elephant Butte Lake so much that we decided to shoot our Breaking Bad-themed holiday cards there.

Not with a view of the port-a-potties, of course.  Those were carefully avoided.

It’s March, so this is dumb, but: Happy Holidays 2015!

The shoot entailed driving out on one of the park’s dirt roads with our RV to what we hoped was a quiet spot. Then, we put on our costumes: santa hats, hazmat suits, gloves, goggles, and fake respirators. We set up a tripod, mounted the camera, and… wasted 20 minutes trying to figure out how to trigger the image remotely using our phones (while wearing goggles and santa hats, mind you).

We eventually gave up and just had Jake trigger the 10-second timer, then run back down the hill in his hazmat suit into a pose.  (Many poses.)

It turned out pretty awesomely, even if some of the resulting scenes were… strange. (We may have been practicing our rap poses a few times.) Three different cars ended up driving by the road while we were doing our photo shoot. Two of them were curious about what we were doing, then laughed and drove on when we said it was “for our holiday card” (why does that make it OK?).

The third driver stared straight down at the ground the entire way. As he drove past the two people wearing hazmat suits and respirators and Santa hats, with an RV, taking pictures on a dirt road in a state park in the desert. We aren’t exactly sure what that driver thought might be going down, but we are pretty sure he thought it would only be real if he acknowledged it.

Switches Get Stitches

While staying in “T or C” (as they say), we took a “day” trip to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings.  During this trip, we learned two important things.  First of all, we naïve Northeasterners learned that Western states are insanely gimungous (real word) (probably). It was 117 miles to the cliff dwellings, each way, which is a pretty normal distance for things to be apart in New Mexico.

Second, we learned that there are LOTS of mountains in New Mexico.  So many mountains!  Just mountains everywhere, really, and switchback roads going back and forth, up and down them, forever.

And those two reasons are how it took us almost four hours to go that 117 miles to the cliff dwellings.  Granted, we stopped to take some pictures on various mountains – and one mountain pass – but mostly we just switched back.  And back.  And back.  And back again.

For 117 miles.

After gawking at the snow capped mountains and pine trees of New Mexico, we finally made it to the cliff dwellings.  Set in a steep-sided, lush forest valley, 10-15 Mogollan families at a time lived in these caves, for hundreds of years, before every resident mysteriously departed in the 1300s. We wandered around inside the larger caves, marveling at the building and the black ceilings (due to soot from the fires).

We have to say, they certainly picked a good spot: the view looking out from the caves was amazing.

On our way back, since the sun was setting, we decided to take a less adventurous route.  Well… turns out that we could have easily just driven most of the way to the cliff dwellings on a highway, if only we had come from a different direction.  And not just any roads, but classic New Mexico super-straight, totally empty highways.

So, our recommendation:  see the Gila cliff dwellings, but don’t come from the east.


What’s now:  We are in Mariposa, California, right outside Yosemite National Park.  Beautiful and Internet-scarce.

What’s next:  Drinking wine in Napa!  We have a rough life.

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