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Day 1: Phoenix, AZ to El Morro National Monument, NM

Leg I: Phoenix to Flagstaff; 133.3 miles.  

Mom & Dad came down to Phoenix from their home-base inPrescott yesterday to help organize and load, and this morning our friends arrived at my place to rendezvous before starting the long trek to Colorado.  The van being fully loaded with 3 people, gear, food and 2 bikes on a hitch rack, and considering Flagstaff is basically all uphill from Phoenix, we joked about it taking more like three hours to get there.  Stopping at a Chevron in Flagstaff for fuel, we were surprised to see that, despite having to use 2nd gear up quite a few hill climbs, it took just slightly more than 2 hours to get to Flagstaff! After filling the van's tank at Chevron and ours at Sonic, we were off to New Mexico.  MPG: 16.07


Leg II: Flagstaff, AZ to Gallup, NM; 181.6 miles.

En route, we made a detour through Winslow.  We didn't go "standing on a corner", but we did stop to see the beautifully-restored La Posada Hotel.  While there, a couple who had owned a 1980 Westy many years ago chatted with us.  They had lots of problems with it, but traveled everywhere in it, even down to Mexico.  The engine eventually burned up, literally, and that was the end of their Westy adventures; they appreciated the opportunity to "drool" over Old Blue (see the quotes page).  I couldn't help but notice on this hot day  that very warm air was blowing on my right foot.  While at La Posada I stuffed a small towel into the "air hole"; problem solved, but after the trip a more permanent solution will be installed (come to find out, it's a common malady known as the Vanagon Hot-Foot Syndrome; even Volkswagen issued a repair kit for it!).


   


Leaving Winslow, we intended to make a non-stop run to Sanders and then down to Zuni Pueblo.  However, our friend's old Chevy truck that was traveling with us had some issues.  On the climb to Flagstaff it overheated; near Holbrook it quit running altogether (problem with the fuel system in addition to running hot).  We stopped near Petrified Forest National Park to wait for our friends to catch up.  After 15 minutes or so, they finally arrived and we hit the road again.  However, looking in the mirror, no brown Chevy truck was in sight.  We pulled off on the nearest off-ramp, which was rather distant from where the truck was, which was back near the Holbrook-end of Petrified Forest -- it never made it back onto the highway! -- to wait for an update.  Just as we were about to turn around and double-back, our friends rolled up behind us.  To play it safe, we opted to bypass Sanders (and ultimately Zuni) and head straight for Gallup, NM so that we could stop at an auto parts store.  We made it to Gallup without any further issues.  I would like to make note that during this leg, the Vanagon followed the truck in case the Chevy had more issues!  MPG: 18.03


Leg III: Gallup, NM to El Morro National Monument, NM; 53.6 miles.  

After stopping in at Pep Boys and AutoZone, we filled up the gas tanks and made a dinner stop at Denny's.  It was about 9pm or so when we left Denny's, so the sites along "scenic route" SR602 remained hidden from view.  In typical fashion, we didn't pull into the campground at El Morro until pretty late.  Three notes were made during this leg: 1) The new high-powered headlights are awesome!!  Road signs could be seen a mile up the road!  Ironically, the sign to El Morro couldn't be seen; it'd be nice if they added some reflective paint to the wood sign there. 2) No matter where the temperature slider is set, hot air blows out of the dash.  I presume the control valve is stuck open; will look into it after the trip.  3) The memory foam pad bought for the upper bunk (cheap-o version found at Wal-Mart) worked perfectly!  The upper bunk is much more comfy now.



Day 2: El Morro National Monument, NM to Durango, CO

Leg I: El Morro National Monument to Pine Hill, NM; 17.1 miles.  

In the morning, the truck's thermostat was replaced.  Just before leaving the campground, however, another issue arose: there was a small puddle on the ground under the rear of the van and the coolant refill tank was empty.  Upon closer inspection, coolant was seeping out of one of the new coolant hoses going to the new oil cooler.  The clamp was tightened up, a secondary clamp added as a back-up and the tank refilled (extra coolant and oil is always on-board!).  Once the repairs were complete, we headed up to the monument where folks hundreds of years ago stopped to cool off in the nature-made pool.  Today we'd call it graffiti, but many of those travelers left inscriptions in the magnificent rock walls that surround the area.


   


After touring the monument, we headed back down the road, literally, to Pine Hill.  What's at Pine Hill?  The Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, of course!  The 5-mile dirt road getting there is atrocious (I thought the dash or my teeth were going to fall out!), but seeing the wolves is very worthwhile.  With all the ranchers and hunters and politicians giving wolves a veritable death sentence, it's wonderful to see places like Wild Spirit and Discovery Center (visited last year) giving these beautiful animals a safe place to roam while educating the public at the same time.



Leg II: Pine Hill, NM to Bandera Crater & Ice Caves, NM; 26 miles.

After playing with the wolves, we stopped in to see the ice cave.  Who would've thought that a volcano could produce ice?  Strange, but true!  And a nice place to be on a hot day!



Leg III: Bandera Crater & Ice Caves, NM to Grants, NM; 27.4 miles.

Although it was lovely being in the ice cave, we had to press on... the sun wasn't getting any higher in the sky and we still were well over 100 miles from Colorado.  After gassing up and eating a late lunch in Grants, we headed north.  MPG: 19.68 ( yes, I double-calculated that one, just to make sure!)


Leg IV: Grants, NM to Farmington, NM; 138.9 miles.  

Beautiful scenery around the Thoreau area; it's quite similar to Sedona.  En route to Farmington on SR371, we had a colorful sunset to the west and a fabulous lightning show to the east.  By the time we arrived in Farmington it was dark.  After a brief refueling stop we were on the road again.  In case you might be wondering, the campground fix did indeed solve the coolant leak.  MPG: 17.08


Leg V: Farmington, NM to Durango, CO; 55.2 miles.  

We were planning to swing by Navajo Lake en route to Durango to see what it's like.  Being behind schedule nixed that idea, however.  From Farmington, we took Highway 550.  Given the fact that New Mexico doesn't care to put up very many mileage signs (or speed limit signs for that matter), I joked to myself that there probably wouldn't be any X-miles-to-Durango sign until we crossed into Colorado.  Sure enough, not one single sign; but as soon as we hit the state line, Colorado welcomed us and told us we had 22 more miles to go!  Ironically, Mom was thinking the exact same thing!  It was rather late when we finally pulled into United Campground... nearing midnight, in fact.  The management kindly taped a map with an X on our spots.  After a long drive, a trip to the nearest restroom is usually in order.  Well, United has nice facilities, but they are locked; a code is required to enter the bathrooms and said code was not provided in the appropriate space on the map!  Sorry, United trees, but when Nature calls you gotta answer.



Day 3 to Day 7: Seeing the sites of Durango

Day 3, Monday.  Train #1 woke us up bright and early!  The Durango & Silverton train runs right through camp, RV'ers on one side of the tracks, the tenters on the other.  Because of that, there is a connecting road that crosses the tracks, which means the train blows its cute whistle right there at the campground.  No need for an alarm clock!  After train #1, if you wish to snooze some more, no worries; train #2 comes by 45 minutes later.  If you still need a bit more sleep, go ahead; train #3 comes by in another 45 minutes to give you one final chance to get out of bed and enjoy Durango's fabulous offerings.  Today was mostly an R&R day: The boys went bike riding while the girls went trolley riding (speaking of the free trolley, more cities need to do this!!).



Day 4, Tuesday.  Today was our day to ride the train!  Train #2, with engine #480, to be specific.  Fabulous trip!  Gorgeous scenery that no one should miss. (Note to parents: If you're going to the expense of taking your kids with you while traveling, don't give them electronic toys to play with; traveling is one of the best ways for kids to learn and to see sights they may never get another chance to see!  The kids in our train car had their eyes glued on their toys until the batteries finally went dead.)  There are places where you lean out of the train and look straight down into the gorge, while on the other side, the train comes within 8 inches of touching the rock wall.  It took the train just over 3 hours, 5,000 gallons of water and 3 tons of coal to climb the 3,000 feet into Silverton.  


           

           

Once we arrived in Silverton our stomachs were growling for lunch.  Seeing the large "hot roast beef and turkey sandwiches" sign painted on The Shady Lady building (yes, it's a former house of ill repute), we opted to dine there.  We grabbed the empty table right at the front door.  This turned into a rather amusing time: There are no locks on the bathrooms, including the stalls (my sincere apologies to the two elderly ladies I accidentally walked in on).  About five minutes after the orders were placed, the rather unhappy waitress returns saying, "We're out of mashed potatoes, are french fries okay?"  Five minutes later the same waitress returns saying, "We're out of french fries, are potato chips okay?"  Five minutes later she returns again, "We're out of the vegetable of the day, so the cook has said no more hot plates altogether."  "Can we get just the sandwich?"  "No; the cook says no hot meals whatsoever."  Dad and I looked over the menu and replied, "Okay, we'll have burgers."  She returns five minutes later, uh-oh, to report that they were now out of what our friends ordered.  "Add another burger then!"   Sometime later the meals finally arrived and the burgers were actually pretty good, so can't complain about the quality.  The couple seated at the adjacent table were laughing as much as we were over the whole thing.  As we were finishing up, the man at that table says, "This will put the finishing touch on your day: They don't take credit cards. Cash or cashier's check only!" You've gotta be kidding?!  What business in this modern age doesn't take plastic?!  Nowhere is it posted that this is the case; not on the front door, not in the menu.  While enough cash was scrounged up, Mom decided to take this issue up with, first the cashier, then the manager, then the owner because of the principle of the whole thing.  If you can believe this, they told her to go to the bank, get cash and come back... and didn't require a single thing in return!  We could've turned this into a dine-and-dash, but it being a small town and the waitress leaving the drinks off the tab, we did the right thing and paid.  Leaving The Shady Lady, we noticed the "ATM Inside" sign. Now it makes perfect sense: The Shady Lady continues to live up to its name!  We walked around town, stopping to talk to a woman who was weaving fabric that she then sews into beautiful sweaters and such.  We also toured the impressive Wyman Hotel and chatted with the owners for awhile.  


       


Day 5, Wednesday.  Mountain biking day!  We followed the river-front path to its end, watching rafters and kayakers along the way (saw one passenger get flung out of the boat in the kayak slalom section!).  We made a stop in town to ask the river rafting outfitter if their kayaks could be used tomorrow; because the owners weren't around, we'd have to wait for a phone call.


Day 6, Thursday.  Rafting day!  Durango Rivertrippers picked us up at the campground and shuttled us over to the put-in spot on the Animas River just a few miles away.  The trailer had 3 rafts on it (and no kayaks) so, naturally, the 17 of us in the group presumed that we'd be using 3 boats.  That was not the case; there were to be 9 in one boat, 8 in the other and the third boat was to be used by a large group of kids.  A couple of folks vocalized their objections, but the outfitter did not give in.  Not much sun today, of all days this week, and the water was cold! After getting drenched in Smelter Rapid (no one went swimming!), we were called to shore by the owner of Durango Rivertrippers.  Waiting on shore were two inflatable kayaks!  We theorized that they didn't believe, at first, that we were experienced river runners, and that supplying the kayaks would alleviate the "too many people on the rafts!" complaints.  Dad and friend kayaked down to the take-out area we biked to the day before; this was merely a lunch stop on today's trip.  After lunch, Dad and Mom kayaked the remaining portion of the trip (no sun + cold water = me staying in the raft despite wanting to try the kayak).  Fun time! Amazing thing is: No permit is required; put your raft, kayak, etc. in anywhere and float on down the river!  It's no wonder every other house in Durango has a raft in the driveway!



Day 7, Friday.  Another R&R day.  Three went bike riding, one went trolley riding, I took Old Blue to the car wash to get him ready for the return trip.  While drying the van (roof was popped up), a couple drove out of the wash bay and stopped to ask about the van because they never knew what Westfalias were all about (see the quotes page for details).  They thought the pop-top part was an owner add-on! The van looked nice and shiny for the first time in a week... for a few hours; storm moved in and made a brand new mess overnight (typical!).  We did, however, get to try out the new rain fly I made; it needs some minor tweaks, but it worked very well!  Noticed in the morning that the aux battery was low; after its bath, drove the van around for a bit... battery still no good.



Day 8: Durango to Mesa Verde National Park, CO; 101.8 miles

Durango was fun, and so scenic!  Definitely a town built for people who enjoy outdoor activities -- there's something for everyone there!  And, we saw lots of Westies around town (and got a wave!).  But, all journeys come to an end; time to head home.  Leaving United Campground we couldn't help but notice another small RV had pulled in: a Eurovan Camper!  Since our friends had never been to Mesa Verde (we were there last year), we opted to take a detour to see the ruins.  Old Blue went pretty slow up a few of the grades out of Durango, but did end up passing a pick-up truck towing a 5th-wheel trailer... at 45 mph!  Given the time, it was determined that getting a camp spot at Mesa Verde would be a wise choice.  After seeing Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House and a few others, it was getting late (the gates were about to close!).  Shortly after arriving at the campground, it began to rain (snow was expected at higher elevations).  Another test for the new rain fly -- of course, just like with regular tents, the downpour begins as the fly gets pulled out of the bag.


   


Day 9: Mesa Verde National Park, CO to Lake Powell, AZ

Leg I: Mesa Verde to Cortez, CO; 31 miles.  

Another gorgeous day, enhanced by lots of puffy white clouds floating in the sky.  Leaving Mesa Verde, fresh snow could be seen on the mountains off in the distance... yes, snow! This is June, yes?  After making a gas and snack stop in Cortez, we were off to Arizona.  MPG: 16.44


Leg II: Cortez, CO to Four Corners; 39.4 miles.  

A sign on the highway says that Four Corners is closed; however, our neighbors back at United Campground verified that it's open Friday through Sunday.  Sure enough, the gates were open.  There is a catch though: The monument itself is closed due to reconstruction; but, the Navajo "strip mall" at the monument is, of course, open for your patronage, not to mention the actual four corners is 2.5 miles away. ;)



Leg III: Four Corners to Kayenta, AZ; 79.5 miles.  

Leaving Four Corners, we moved on to Kayenta, stopping in at McDonald's and Subway for lunch.  Because we hadn't been there in decades and because it was such a gorgeous day, it was decided that we'd take a little detour out to Monument Valley.


Leg IV: Kayenta, AZ to Monument Valley, UT; 26.3 miles.

At the entrance (i.e. fee station), we decided not to pay the $6 per person and, instead, pulled off to the side of the road to determine where to head next.  After a brief stay in Utah, it was back to Arizona.  Pretty day to be at Monument Valley though; perfect for photos!



Leg V: Monument Valley, UT to Kayenta, AZ; 26.3 miles.

After filling up the gas tanks and a long wait in the restroom (van-full of kids using the bathrooms at the same time = ), we were off to Lake Powell.  MPG: 17.30


Leg VI: Kayenta, AZ to Lake Powell, AZ; 100 miles.  

While it might have a lot of hills (i.e. lots of opportunities to take in the sights!), Highway 98 is a very scenic route up to Lake Powell.  Driving through the campground looking for a site, a guy playing with his kids asked as we drove by, "How's Old Blue?!"  The spot we chose offered us the opportunity to finally use the new leveling blocks, which worked very well -- we're officially playing with the Big Boys now!


        



Day 10: Lake Powell, AZ to Phoenix, AZ

Unzipped the master suite window in the morning to see another beautiful day; crystal clear, sunny and a pleasant 85 degrees.  After packing up for one last time, it was off to Glen Canyon Dam for a tour.  Dad says he's never been through it, but I recall touring it way back in the '80s.  Following the dam tour, we stopped in to peruse the John Wesley Powell Museum in Page.   After loading our brains with historical facts and filling our stomachs with sandwiches, we began the 4-hour voyage home.



You know, a loaded-up Vanagon Westfalia might go slow up hills and be laughable to the big RVers, but Westy owners can easily go to more places with their "homes on wheels", they enjoy the journey as well as the destination, and they definitely have more fun!


Fabulous trip... All said and done, Old Blue drove over 1000 miles and averaged 17 miles per gallon driving mostly 65mph.  Aside from the coolant leak, the Hot-Foot Syndrome, and the stuck heater control valve, the van had no major issues.  Oh, and the dead aux battery, come to find out, is due to the fridge's fan (which, I recently learned, runs even if the fridge is off when the interior gets to be 100+ degrees).  If the van sits for days on end, a charger needs to be used (or just pull the fuse if the fridge goes unused)!


We all had a fantastic time and I, for one, can't wait for Adventure #4!!   (I think it'll be soon... to a mountain lake... where I can escape the desert heat!)



Total miles: 1,335

Avg. MPG: 17.3

Adventure 3: Durango & Four Corners Tour                                                                       June 5-14, 2010