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Day 1: Prescott, AZ to Goosenecks State Park, UT


Packed the van, loaded up the parents, and hit the road to our annual stopover at Goosenecks (which now charges $10 to stay there, if you're an honest camper).  Drove in at dusk to find our usual spot taken, so had to opt for the next spot down, which provided us with a table for a change.  While eating dinner, beautiful moonrise was viewed on the horizon.


 


Day 2: Goosenecks State Park to Moab


Dad awoke at 2am to find another Vanagon parked up the road.  Come to find out, it was Joseph's Syncro and Joseph didn't even see Old Blue when he and his wife left at around 6am!

During the night, woke up to hear the fridge trying to re-ignite itself.  It was a cool night so I simply flipped the fridge off.  After a leisurely, but early-for-us breakfast, tried lighting the stove and… nothing. Cracked the vapor valve and, sure enough, out of propane.   We packed up and drove onward to Moab, making a dual gas stop (propane and gasoline) in Banning.


Drove into Lion's Park to have lunch and fill the water tank.  One problem: In walking over to look at the river, couldn't help but notice that the water spigot was locked up. Hmm, now what?  The spigot over near the outhouses was still operational and it appeared that there was just enough room to drive the van through the "park" over to it.  So I did!

Arrived at Lone Mesa Campground to find a handful of vans already there.  Parked in the B Group area since there was a good pad for the gear tent.  One by one, vans rolled in.


Day 3: Tusher Tunnel/Mill Canyon and Dead Horse Point State Park


While checking out Jeffrey C.'s Syncro in person, Johnny gave me the Syncro Solstice gear and recommended a few places to go see, one being Tusher Tunnel.  We decided to go check it out since it was relatively close and sounded interesting.  Drove down Mill Canyon Road to the ATV unloading area where there was a map of the region, which was rather cryptic; no pinpoint of where the tunnel was.  We continued on, arriving at the wash fork where Johnny said to hang a left.  I looked down there and saw nothing but boulders and deep red sand… not a route for Old Blue.  Took the right-hand, main road for a couple m ore miles to where a side road went off towards the canyons, with a sign saying "Bartlett Wash".  Going on instinct, we hung a left only to come to yet another fork in the road, this time the left road being marked as "Tusher Tunnel".  We wound our way up and down the rolling hills, over rocks and boulders, while wondering if this was a good idea.  Arriving at an uphill rock garden, Old Blue was pulled off the road and parked.  We hiked to the top of the hill, seeing the route down to Tusher Tunnel… definitely not a two-wheel drive section.  After watching all of the ATVers explore the cave we couldn't reach via wheels, a Jeep Wrangler nearly getting stuck in the sand, and taking in the beautiful views, we hiked back down to the van.  When we were about halfway to our destination, a dirt biker asked, "Did you lose your Jeep?"  LOL!  We hung a U-turn and drove back out the way we came in, a little nervous about the potential for getting stuck at one particular uphill.  Our nerves were eased when Old Blue motored out to the main road without a single hitch!

Once back at the unloading area, we continued on down Mill Canyon (with Determination Towers in the background) to see the fossilized dinosaur bones, an old stage stop, remnants of an 1800s copper mill, and to eat lunch.  Funny, the van was filthy after this jaunt, but still looked pretty!

We had just a few hours until sunset, so we decided to spend them out at Dead Horse Point where we spotted a Vanagon Syncro headed up to the Shafer Trail, as well as a motorhome parked out at a viewpoint off Potash Road.

Back at camp, it was apparently van tour time ~ a dozen or so vans had crowded together in the Group D area with their doors open and engine covers off (sorry, no pics).  Awhile later, Bob S. walked up, jokingly tossing me his keys, but seriously asking again, this time in person, if I wanted to drive his van.  I told him, "Something easy!" and we decided to hash out the details in the morning.


Day 4: Tusher Tunnel/Bartlett Wash & Dead Horse Point


While eating breakfast, Bob returned, this time with maps in hand.  He suggested going back to Tusher Tunnel, but via the Bartlett Wash road.  An hour later, I was handed the keys and told to hop into the driver's seat… away we went on my first ever Syncro drive, one with a Subaru engine at that, with Joseph and his wife coming along in their Syncro too (to capture any of my screw-ups, LOL!). Missed the first turn and had to hang a U; missed the second turn thanks to crappy signage and had to make another U-turn.  Once on the Bartlett Wash road, we went over rocks and boulders, through sand and mud, up and down hills… nothing stops a Syncro!  Ironically, we ended up on the same road that we took yesterday in Old Blue. When I pointed out where we had stopped, Bob said, "Let's stop here then" and proceeded to explain the Syncro's "granny gear".  I engaged Granny Gear and we seemed to float up the rock garden without any effort.  After the steep downhill, we hit the deep sand, which was no problem for the Syncros.  We parked to tour the tunnel and its surroundings.

Once back at the vans, there was a big decision to make: Go back the way we came, or go out via the main road in.  I decided to take the main road to see what we didn't get ourselves into yesterday. Upon driving down this road, I realized the right decision had been made the day before: The whole road is nothing but sand hills, deep in some parts.  Reaching the end, there was a fork in the road; I made the wrong decision to go left, which ended with a few big boulders blocking our way.  Thankfully, to the left was a go-around, but it required some dexterity… up a steep, short ramp followed by a 90° right turn around a tree, with a rock or two in the way.  Phew, made it!  Disengaged Granny Gear and we were off to the unloading area where I handed the reigns over to Dad for him to experience a Subaru-powered Syncro (I won't mention that he stalled it way more times than I did!).  After this trip, do I want a Syncro?  Well, who doesn't want a Syncro?  But I'm certainly not giving up my lovable 2WD Westy for one.  If anything, I want that Subaru engine!  That Syncro drive did make me much more appreciative and amazed of just where my "lowly" 2WD can go!


Very special thanks to Bob and his awesome rig for the incredible opportunity to see and feel what a Syncro can do.


After an ice cream treat, we all headed back to camp.  Bob took a nap, while we ventured back out to Dead Horse Point where I took a walk and the parents went for a bike ride.



Day 5: Moab to Goblin Valley State Park


A lot of folks left late last night and during the early morning hours, so the campground was was pretty sparse by the time we got up.

Said our goodbyes and were the last ones to leave, behind Jeffrey, Dave, and Rich, who were destined for the Shafer Trail.  We headed for Goblin Valley, since we had never been there (drove right on by two years ago when we went to Capital Reef).  We had a nice tail wind going up highway 191, but once on highway 70, the wind was all over the place: tail wind, head wind, cross wind at any given mile. At one point, I had to turn the flashers on since my foot was on the floor doing 47… on a highway whose speed limit is 75!  Watching the GPS, I was counting the miles until the turnoff to highway 24. Highway 24's wind wasn't much better, but at least there wasn't much traffic and the speed limit was more reasonable for an old VW.


Pulling into the State Park, the ranger station was closed, so we headed straight for the campground, thinking that we might stay the night.  All of the individual sites had reserved signs, while just a couple of the walk-in tent sites were blank, usually meaning they are available.  After making one complete circle, we pulled into tent site #6, filled out the self-pay form stub and stuck it on the sign. While filling out the information, a familiar vehicle pulled into site #4: a 1987 Titian Red Westfalia!  We waved to them and they walked on over to talk Vanagons.  They were headed home to Oregon after visiting, ironically, Waterboxer-builder Chris in New Mexico before he went to Moab for Syncro Solstice.  They were given site #4 when they drove in, but were rather unimpressed with the park; they were showering and driving on.  Anyway, we then went to see the fascinating "goblins", with the San Rafael Swell as the backdrop.  Walking among these amazing natural creations, I couldn't help but think they are giant versions of the mud "drip castles" I made as a kid.

After wandering among the sandstone "mushrooms", we returned to the ranger station.  The law enforcement officer on duty stated that site #6 was already taken and that there were no sites available. Oh, really?  Then why not put "claim tags" on the signs, you lazy, good-for-nothing government officials?! Anyway, we mentioned site #4 and the officer said that it too was unavailable.  "But those people aren't staying; they showered and left."  "Well, they paid the entrance fee, not the camping fee; so, if they left the site is yours."  Great! We then camped in site #4's two parking spots.


Day 6: Goblin Valley to Sand Island


The young lady in site #6 left just as dawn was breaking (thank you very much), so we were awake rather early, but remained in bed drifting back to sleep among all of the car alarm beeps, car doors slamming shut, engines, and generators. At around 8am, an older retired couple from Montana arrived and back into site #6.  The old guy was having a hard time disconnecting the trailer; I made mention of it to Mom, who in turn told Dad to go help him out.  Just as he walked up, the ball broke loose.  Dad took a look and the ball was close to falling off the guy's hitch.  He dug out my wrenches, since the 'ole guy didn't have any, and tightened up the ball.  Later, as we were packing up, the old guy came over and said, "Before you leave, I want to give you something."  Long story short, he's a photographer who had recently gone on an African photo safari and had a pile of beautiful photos of numerous African animals.  After looking at them all, Darrell said, "Pick one, it's yours as my way of saying thanks".  No, Darrell, thank you for being so generous!


On our way out of the park, we went down a dirt road that wound into the Swell.  There were no signs anywhere saying so, but there were a bunch of free camp sites down this road.  We went as far as Temple Mountain, where uranium and vanadium were once mined.


We ventured on, stopping at the Philips station in Hanksville for gas and refreshments, which was built into a giant boulder.

The drive on highway 24 took us through a gorgeous sandstone canyon, through which North Wash flows, making its way to Lake Powell.  Speaking of Lake Powell, we stopped at the official viewpoint to see what the upper end of Lake Powell looks like now.  What a shock from what we saw back in the mid '80s.  Hite Marina is no longer a marina; its launch ramp ends where a couple hundred feet of silt begins.  Very sad to such a beautiful canyon, that had once been flooded with blue water, now filled with silt.  In fact, there is so much silt, it is creating a dam at North Wash.

  

Driving on, I couldn't help but notice that the GPS was still showing a lake where water hasn't been seen in years, and the old shoreline outhouses now serve hikers rather than boaters.


Although it was late in the afternoon, we decided to give Natural Bridges a try for a camp spot ~ we lucked out last year, perhaps we'd be lucky this year too.  Nope… missed it by two hours.  After driving the bridge loop anyway, we drove through the campground thinking that if there was a Vanagon, we could stop and ask if they'd be willing to share with a fellow Vanagon.  Amazingly, there was indeed an Orly Blue Carat across from where we camped last year!  We waved to each other and drove on (the parking spot wasn't quite wide enough for two vans) to Sand Island, a launching point for San Juan River trips, where there happened to be a couple of spots available right on the river (and just up from the highway 191 bridge… yes, it was a Z-Quil night), and where there are lots of petroglyphs, some ancient, some relatively new.


 


Day 7: Sand Island to Prescott, AZ


Just as we were getting ready to make breakfast, Colorado River friends went floating by on rafts!  What are the odds?!

After bacon and eggs, we were off towards home with another windy day ahead of us.  We stopped in at Mexican Hat for SlushPuppies, where the fuel gauge read above 1/4, but below 1/2… plenty to get to Kayenta.  Hmm… driving down the road towards Monument Valley, the gauge quickly went to 1/4, then to "reserve" line, then dropped into the red zone, and hovered around the "empty" line for miles. And, of course, the wind is raging, red dirt blowing.  I kept the speed at 55, hoping to make it to Kayenta, keeping one eye on the GPS-calculated miles to go, and the other on the fuel gauge.  Finally, Kayenta Chevron was in sight.  When the pump shut off, it was revealed that there were 1.5 gallons in the tank… just made it!  Should've filled up in Mexican Hat though!


Driving on to Tuba City, we witnessed some insane passes by a few idiotic drivers: Nearly a head-on with a semi, passing in a double-yellow section (twice!).  We also saw rental motorhome after rental motorhome… travel season is in full-swing!  It was a long, windy 70 miles to Tuba City, but thanks to the new stiffer suspension and proper tires, it wasn't as white-knuckle as it could have been.


Out on 89, the wind calmed down; just a couple of sections with a head wind, and a cross wind just here and there.  Made it to Flagstaff where it was still windy; because of that, it was decided to take 89A down through Sedona and up through Jerome.  Bad idea.  On I-17, the overhead sign read, "Road closed at Mile Marker 262 due to fire".  Cruising down 89A, a sheriff flew by with lights and siren, followed a bit later by a forestry truck.  Cresting the hill at the viewpoint, we could see smoke rising in the distance.  Going down the switchbacks, my instinct was to turn around at the first pull-out, but Mom hinted that we keep going.  Should've turned around.  We reached the road construction flag man, with cars backed up and ash falling.  Long story short, the Slide Fire broke out just 45 minutes to an hour before we arrived, at which time Oak Creek was evacuated.  We had to turn around where the flag man stood (thank goodness for our mini-motorhome!).  We ended up taking I-40 anyway, which had some bad gusts, but the entire trip down that highway was not as bad as I thought it would be (wind-wise; the pavement is another story).  As I type this, the fire has exploded up to 4500 acres and is en route to Kachina Village and Forest Highlands, just south of Flagstaff.  On the other side of the state, a fire broke out near Woods Canyon Lake (where we were a couple of years ago)… this is going to be a bad fire year, unless monsoon season comes early and actually produces a lot of moisture.


Aside from the wind and pound of dirt inside the van, it was another fun trip.  A total of about 1200 miles traveled with just a bit of coolant added.  Waved to two other Westies on the road (who weren't in Moab), but didn't get any waves back.


Total miles: 1,536

Avg. MPG: 17.1

Adventure 17: Syncro Solstice IV / Moab                                                                         May 15-20, 2014