Travel in the Time of COVID

My wild west adventure plans for summer 2020 hit a screeching halt when the COVID hit. I had been spending time every day on the plans. When I realized I wouldn’t get to go on a road trip that summer, I didn’t feel like working on the plans anymore. I haven’t touched them since, but a couple of weeks ago, my friend, Mary, told me that she was ready to go on the trip that we had been talking about for years, a drive down to southern Arkansas to the Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro.

So, I’ve had one short road trip in the last couple of years. There are a lot of hurdles these days, but I’m determined to get back on the road more.

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Finding Utah

Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument

The quarry at Dinosaur National Monument in the late 90s before Benjamin was born. The building began to sink, and it was closed to rebuild it when we went back there in 2012 so Benjamin has never seen the quarry,

While searching for slot canyons, I find Road Trip Ryan‘s very nice travel site. In addition to an extensive list of slot canyons, each with a page of descriptions, directions, and maps (and a handy page on the canyon rating system), Ryan also has all this great information for petroglyphs, Indian ruins, hot springs, caves, ghost towns, and other geological oddities out west, mostly in Utah. It will take a while to get through all of it. I had already been looking at some petroglyph sites, so those are especially exciting to find.

Ryan says on his ghost town page, “Utah’s West Desert is a barren place, far more populated by wild horses and coyotes than people.” Wait… wild horses? There are wild horses in Utah? A little searching on that finds the BLM’s Utah Herd Management Areas and the Wild Horse Tourist site. We will need to find these horses. We’ve gone looking for wild horses before with a tiny bit of success on Shackleford Banks.

Wild horse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Wild horse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Another find at Ryan’s site is the Burpee Dinosaur Quarry. We love us some dinosaurs! Turns out there’s a museum too, the Burpee Museum of Natural History; looks cool, it is associated with the quarry, and I mark it on the map, but it turns out to be up near Chicago. I guess that’s for another trip. While I’m looking around Hanksville, Utah for the quarry, I spot the Mars Desert Research Station. So, I mark that too. I’m having trouble finding the quarry. Google doesn’t even know where it is. I find more articles and see that they have had tours every summer, but I see nothing on a tour schedule for this summer, just instructions to go to the Bureau of Land Management there in Hanksville if you want a tour. I do find current prices for getting to actually dig up dinosaur bones out of the quarry. It costs over a thousand dollars for a week, and you don’t get to keep them, of course.

While I’m trying to find information on the Burpee Quarry north of Hanksville, I discover another, maybe better dinosaur quarry to the south of Hanksville, the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, which is so cool that it’s also called the Jurassic National Monument. In this quarry has been found the densest concentration of Jurassic-aged dinosaur bones in the world. Their site doesn’t have hours; they still show “Closed for the season”. That’s something you encounter when you plan a vacation in the winter. But it does say that it’s only $5 for admission.

While marking these places on the map, I notice that I’ve already marked some other places around Hanksville, a couple of slot canyons and Goblin Valley State Park. And can’t forget that Martian research station. It’s looking like a pretty interesting area.

Then I find the Utah Geological Survey’s Fossil Guide! They have a list of rock collecting sites where you can pick up some wild geodes, chunks of agate, petrified wood, obsidian, quartz, and other neat rocks. And that’s just the beginning! Their site is really nice; they have an interactive map with tabs for dinosaur trackways, museums, and fossil quarries. In addition to the Cleveland-Lloyd quarry, they also list the quarry at Dinosaur National Monument on the border of Utah and Colorado, where I had already planned for us to go on this trip. Terry and I have been there before, but before we could take Benjamin there, the building began to sink. When we took Benjamin out west to see dinosaurs, we did go to Dinosaur, Colorado, but he didn’t get to see the quarry. So, we need to go there again.

A bunch of their dinosaur trackways also mention petroglyphs! I had no idea there were so many. So, now I have Ryan’s lists of places to go through as well as the Utah Geological Survey’s lists. I have to carefully go through that list of museums. We’ve been to several museums up in that area, and while it wouldn’t be the worst thing if we went back to one we had been to before, I want to look back over our previous trips and see exactly where we’ve been.

So I have a lot of places to mark on the map. And find those wild horses!

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Looking for Water

The reason I want to take another Roadtrip through the desert is that I still know barely anything about it. Growing up in the woods and living in the mountains had always made me curious about the desert. Until I saw desert in real life back in the 90s on our first Extreme Roadtrip out west, there were many things I didn’t know about it. I didn’t know there were mountains in the desert. I mean other than the mesas, balanced rocks, and other fantastic geological formations in the world of roadrunners and coyotes. I didn’t know about the high desert and the low desert.

1997 - Petrified Forest National Park

1997 – Petrified Forest National Park — photo by DK Sanders-Weatherford

I didn’t realize that people who live in the desert don’t have grass in their yards. I knew there wasn’t a lot of grass out there in the desert, but I had never put it together. After driving through there, I now know that many people living in the desert decorate their yards with cacti and old west pieces. Some have Joshua trees.

I couldn’t imagine water in the desert, lakes or rivers, but sometimes I would dream of a desert lake. Sometimes I wonder if I’m looking for that lake. I use the Google satellite map to look for water, lakes in the middle of rock landscapes and rivers running through sand and scrub.

Today I was gazing at my map markers and noticed that I have a big gap out in the southern California Mojave. So, I zoomed down.

Pisgah Lava Tubes on the Google map

Pisgah Lava Tubes on the Google map

I saw what I thought was a body of water, a desert lake, but as I zoomed down more, I realized it wasn’t water, but some sort of black dirt. It turns out it’s a pile of volcanic rock, and there are lava tubes there. What’s a lava tube? I guess I need to go there and find out. From what I can tell, it’s like a cave. The ones I found are the Pisgah Lava Tubes. I’ve saved it to the map.

About a hundred miles to the east, I see another dark area, and this one is water, Mojave Lake, a wide spot in the Colorado River. Then I glance to the east and see the town of Santa Claus. Planning the trip at Christmastime compels me to save that on the map also. It’s in Arizona.

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Roadtrip Plan Step Two Part Three: Playing Maps — The Salton Sea & Slab City

Google Map So Far

Places I have saved on the Google Map so far; a lot of places, more than we can go to in one trip

I’m still saving the places I want to go on this next trip in Google Maps into the Want to Go list. Someday I’ll organize those Google Map lists. I’m also using Trello with its new map feature and browser button; I’m liking it so far.

I’m at the most fun part in the trip planning now, Playing Maps. I just start looking around on the satellite map, always the satellite map. I’ll find something near an attraction I’ve marked, or I’ll notice something odd on the satellite photo, some weird geological feature or some human-made thing out in the middle of nowhere or even a town with an unusual name (like Dunmovin and Santa Claus), and I’ll find out what it is and maybe make it a consideration.

I do this even when I’m not planning a trip. I was delighted to learn there’s a show about it, What On Earth. I guess Playing Maps isn’t all that unusual.

Salton Sea - Google Map

Salton Sea – Google Map

One thing that stands out on the satellite map in Far Southwest is the Salton Sea. It’s a big body of water just lying out there in the desert. I’ve seen a few shows about it. It’s not necessarily the safest place, environmentally, but I think it’s ok if you don’t live there. It does have a Salton Sea Visitor Center, some restaurants, and the International Banana Museum.

Southeast of the Salton Sea is a huge swath of farmland that stretches all the way to Mexico (and continues into Mexico), really stands out in the desert, might have to have a look at that. Out in the middle of the crops are scattered a few towns and a state prison.

Dragging the map around, I see a place nearby, across some desert farmland from the Salton Sea, a town I suppose, called Slab City. The name intrigues me. So I zoom down.

Slab City - Google Maps

Slab City – Google Maps

I notice Salvation Mountain and look into that. It appears to be a mountain that someone painted that’s become a tourist attraction. Always a sucker for a weird tourist attraction, I add it to the map.

Google Maps shows several restaurants, motels, and nightclubs in Slab City. Most of them have photos too. Weird photos. The restaurants are plastic chairs scattered around on the desert ground. The motel photos are of trash piles. The nightclubs have chairs and old couches with the stuffing coming out spread out under tarps. And there’s a Slab City Library, an internet cafe, a cat hostel, and a skate park. They all appear to be graffitied ruins or shacks with rusted parts hanging from the walls. There’s a 360 photo of the library that shows that there are some books there. After a little research, the place appears to be an artists’ community and also a squatters’ town. Apparently, anyone can move there, throw up a tent or build a house from tin and cinder blocks with no concerns to permits or land ownership and live there tax-free.

They also have a hot spring! Reviews say it’s dirty and is often filled with naked hippies, and the water is very hot. It’s the desert though; I would be more surprised by a cold spring.

The part of town on the north end of Slab City is called East Jesus. Says it’s an art center. A 360 photo shows it to be pretty darn artsy. Northeast of East Jesus is West Satan. Says it’s an art gallery. The few photos from West Satan show it looks basically like East Jesus, but with less art and more dogs. Both places got decent reviews and apparently also provide lodging of some sort.

I’ve saved it all to the map.

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Roadtrip Plan Step Two Part Two: Mapping Slot Canyons and Other Places

Death Valley, May 2005 by DK Sanders-Weatherford

Death Valley, May 2005 by DK Sanders-Weatherford

I want to go back to Death Valley to see those moving rocks (Death Valley Back Country Roads map PDF), and I want to see some slot canyons. I’ve been seeing a lot of photos on Facebook lately of slot canyons. They’re totally cool looking. I so want to take pictures of slot canyons. I assumed the slot canyons are in the southwest (they are), and I know Death Valley is in the southwest, so it appears that desert geological formations has become the basis for this trip.

What else is in the southwest? Dinosaur bones. There are more dinosaur bones found in the desert because it’s just a bunch of sand and easier than digging around in the woods. I guess. Of course we’ve already been to most of the dinosaur places in the U.S. southwest and all the other directions. But Benjamin was little and doesn’t remember them that well, and the quarry near Dinosaur, Colorado was closed because the building was sinking, and that’s been rebuilt and reopened. And he’s been wanting to return to Dinosaur, Colorado; he remembers the store with the great prices on model dinosaurs (and other prehistoric beasts). They had a pretty good sandwich shop there, too. And yeah, I realize Dinosaur, Colorado isn’t in the southwest…

What else is in the desert? Petroglyphs! Ancient Native American dwellings! Ruins! I will Google all of these things! I’ll also look in southwestern states for living history farms (Wikipedia’s List of open-air and living history museums in the United States) and natural history museums and mazes. I really want to go through a maze; with my lack of any sense of direction, I want to see if the playing field is leveled any for me in a maze.

But first, I Google slot canyons and find several lists of the best ones. I see which ones are on multiple lists and start with those. First up is Antelope Canyon; the photos are incredible. I would love to see it, but the website tells of tour-only visits with strict guidelines. I understand this, cutting down on the wear and tear on the canyon, but I’m wanting a more laid-back experience.

These in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (southern Utah) look interesting:

  • Zebra Slot Canyon
  • Tunnel Slot Canyon
  • Spooky Gulch and Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyons (3.5 mile round trip through both)
  • Dry Fork Narrows
  • Singing Slot Canyon on the Burr Trail (Yes, it sings!)

I placed these on the map separately, and then realized they’re all in the same area. That’s why the mapping comes first. It lets you see clusters of places, so you can start getting a sense of the route. It also makes it obvious when some of the places are way off from everything else, and then you know those places are probably getting cut. Unless you add a lot of other places near them.

I also found Buckskin Gulch on the Utah/Arizona border; it’s the longest slot canyon in the world! It’s just south of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Also Pastel Canyon in Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada just north of Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam.

Further research on the slot canyons will involve how long is the hike, how rough is the hike, how much water to wade through, is a permit required, is it tour-only, etc.

All goes on the map. I’m trying something a little different this year. I’m using Google Maps Save function with each place and saving them to the Want to Go list. I usually start out making a new Google map, but decided to try this first. Like a first draft. Then I’ll go through all the Want to Go places and create a map. When I’m done with the Want to Go map. That’s probably where I’ll hit a snag, knowing when I’m done and ready to create a map. I want to keep adding places; I want to go everywhere!

I’m still adding everything to Pinterest on a Roadtrip 2020: Southwest U.S. board. But this time, I’m also sending everything to Trello to create cards (using the Send to Trello link I added to my bookmark bar in Firefox), and I’ll add them to a map in Trello. I’ll see how useful this works out to be.

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Roadtrip Plan Step Two Part One: Mapping

Death Valley, May 2005 by DK Sanders-Weatherford

Death Valley, May 2005 by DK Sanders-Weatherford

Extreme Roadtrip Planning Step One is basically figuring out which direction you’re going, what part of the country you’re going to. Step Two begins the mapping! Step Two is recalling all the places in that part of the country that you’ve wanted to see and pinning them on a map.

The map….. always an issue for me. Every trip, I’m trying some new, free trip planner app or some old, free trip planner app that has maybe been improved. I’m always disappointed. Maybe it’s the free part, but probably more likely the OCD part. There’s no app that’s going to let me plan the nitty-gritty like I need to do. There’s no app that’s going to check the roadside oddity sites and the penny smashing machine site and the geocaching site for locations near the route. And check the days and times that places are open against our schedule. I’m going to have to do that myself. Most of the apps have location suggestions for attractions, landmarks, museums, parks, cool destinations, and they’re all different; each has places the others don’t. If I only used one, I would miss a lot of places.

Some apps have motel suggestions set to the driving time, and that’s sweet, but on an extreme roadtrip, it’s hard to know where you’re going to be that far in advance. You might think with all the prior planning, that your lodging would be a part of the plan, but it’s not. That’s how extreme roadtripping is. Whenever I’ve planned motels in advance, it has rarely worked out. Every day of a roadtrip, one of my many duties (in addition to planner and navigator and all that) is using my phone to find a motel room as we’re driving away from whatever attraction we visited last that day. Map the route out of town (while still in the parking lot with Terry demanding to know which way to turn) and route us on to the next city or state and book a motel room at the same time. I’m getting pretty good at it, but it’s stressful. One upside to back country camping, I guess.

Another problem is that I still need a place to store links and information about the different places on the route. None of the free travel apps that I’ve looked at have this feature. I’ve used Pinterest for the last few years, just a place to dump links really, and since they got rid of their map feature instead of improving it, travel is not what Pinterest is designed to do. Pinterest also can’t link to many of the travel pages that I want to keep track of (PDF maps for instance).

I always wind up going back to Google Maps. I can at least add links and information to the pins on a map I’ve created. And I can have multiple routes in layers. Since I’m already using Google’s satellite view and street view in the trip planning and utilizing all the place markers that people have added (way more than other maps have), Google Maps is the most convenient and gives me the freedom to plan the extremities of an extreme roadtrip. One BIG problem with Google Maps… You can’t create maps or add markers to a map using an iPhone! I can view my maps on the trip, but I can’t edit them on the road.

There is something new I’ve found! Trello now has a map feature! I’ve just started playing with it, so I don’t know how good it is yet, but I like Trello and have been using it for a while.

Back in the day, I used a highlighter and a Rand McNally atlas, and I was perfectly happy with that.

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Moving Rocks in Coyote & Roadrunner Land: the Beginning of a New Roadtrip

Death Valley 2005

Death Valley, May 2005 by DK Sanders-Weatherford

Recent life stuff had me itching to plan a new road trip. So I am. Roadtrip 2020: the Southwest! Why the southwest? Because of the results of Roadtripping Step One…..

Roadtripping Step One: What’s something I’ve been wanting to see for a while and still haven’t? Something that just never worked out.

Of course the moving rocks on the Racetrack Playa out in Death Valley were the first to come to mind. I’ve wanted to see them for so long. I’ve tried. I even cried on that one trip when I realized I had mapped and planned badly, and there was no way we could get out there before it got too hot.

Ideally, we would go see the moving rocks in the early spring, but the public school system doesn’t understand about moving rocks in the desert. So the only way we can do it is to go in the early morning, before it gets hot. The problem has been finding a place close enough that we could get up before sunrise and drive to the playa by the time the sun comes up. There’s a long, dirt road that goes out there, and the closest motel looks to be about two and half hours away.

But figuring out this dilemma was for another day. The first step is just figuring out your primary destination. Keep in mind that “primary” doesn’t necessarily mean your main goal, only a starting point for the trip plan.

The moving rocks also fit right in with a lot of destinations I’ve been bookmarking lately, slot canyons and abnormal rock formations, you know, the kind of geography that you see in the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons.

I’ve been wanting to see this ever since I was a kid watching Saturday morning TV.

The Second Step is to start mapping!

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To Get Done Before You Leave

A couple of things I’ve learned that should be done well in advance of leaving on a road trip.

  • Getting a new camera, phone, or other “necessary” device
    This one should be obvious, but I did find my camera broken only days before vacation one year, managed to pick out a new one by the day before we left, and my photos left a lot to be desired. This was back in the days before cell phones, by the way. If it’s something new that you’re going to have to learn how to use, get it in time to learn it. Don’t think like I did that it would be something to do along the way. You’ll need it before you learn it.
  • Getting a new swimsuit
    Depending on what time of year you go, you could either find a lot of swimsuits or a few leftovers on sale. We often go later in the summer, so I’ve dealt with the sale leftovers; I’ve occasionally gotten lucky.
  • Figuring out just what all you can pack in for a back country island beach camping situation
    This is what I’m working on now…

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Planning Anew

I wasn’t actually planning a road trip for this summer. I didn’t feel I could leave my Kitty Cat who was 21 years old and had just had a stroke; I lost her this winter, though, and I guess planning a road trip might be a good distraction. I told Terry and Benjamin this (they didn’t realize I hadn’t been planning one) and asked where we should go. Terry said, North Carolina. Ok… We’ve been there a couple of times before — in 2006 and 2013. So the first things that popped into my head — wild Venus flytraps and wild horses!

Wild horse on the beach in North Carolina

Wild horse on a beach in North Carolina, August 16, 2006

We only found one wild horse or Banker pony (from Outer Banks), so I want to go back and find more. So, I have to figure out which island we were on. I remember a ferry; it was on an island, and when we got there, they told us to go one direction to find horses and the other to find massive amounts of seashells. I chose the horse direction, since that’s why I was there, but thought, what seashells? I want seashells, too. This time, we’ll need to go both directions.

Wild Venus Flytrap

Wild Venus Flytraps, July 21, 2013

Of course I can’t remember right where the Venus flytraps were either. We went one place, but they said they didn’t have them anymore because vandals and thieves had dug them up. We went to another place, a place with an admission fee, but they didn’t have them. Then we finally wound up somewhere around the Green Swamp on a trail with a boardwalk that went through the swamp where there were the largest, meanest, biting, blood-drinking creatures I’ve ever seen. And then there were Venus flytraps! So… gotta find that place again.

And then Terry got to thinking how I said I might go camping if it were on a beach, so he brought that up. So, I’m looking into that; the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on Okracoke and Hammocks Beach State Park on Bear Island look good. I think we might have to kayak over to Hammocks, and I’ve never been in a kayak, but it sounds kind of fun. I probably need to be in a kayak at least once in my life, right?

Then I remember that my last post on this blog was about the Mothman Museum, and it’s in North Carolina! Boom!

Terry also wants to go through Virginia and West Virginia. He wants to see them. So, I’m thinking, West Virginia… what’s there? I want to see the landmarks, the big cities, the famous stuff… but I don’t think West Virginia has any of that stuff. Maybe it does; I will have to do more research. But I thought, what does West Virginia have? What do I know about it? What is it known for? I think, rural, mountain villages… Then I think, I will Google the towns in West Virginia with the lowest populations! So I did. I’ve looked at the smallest two so far. They both look interesting. By “looked at”, I mean zoomed down with the Google Maps satellite view. The Google car had even driven through one of them (the bigger one).

I also figured there would be some of those historical farms in the area, so I started looking into those and remembered Land Between the Lakes. We were there years ago, but I remembered Terry enjoying it, so I put it on the map.

I’m also looking at waterfalls. And I’m thinking that we’re going too close to Washington DC not to drop by and see some of the museums that we’ve still never had time to go to.

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Places I Want to Go: The Mothman Museum

The Mothman PropheciesThe Mothman Museum is in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Mothman is a large winged man who was seen by a lot of people in and around Point Pleasant in 1966 (an important year for me). I’ve been reading The Mothman Prophesies. I haven’t finished it; I don’t have any time to read, and I keep having to return it to the library. Anyway, I saw the movie. It’s interesting, and it’s interesting enough to have a museum, so I need to go see it. You can’t beat the admission price.

Adults – $3, 10 & under – $1

There’s a museum and a store.

Monday-Thursday: 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Friday and Saturday: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00pm – 5:00 pm


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