Arizona – Utah RV Trip Part 5 Bisti Bluewater & El Morro

I figured on two driving days to get from Hovenweep National Monument (Utah) to El Morro (New Mexico), with a stop at Bluewater Lake State Park to check on the eagles (see Part 1). I don’t like driving two days in a row, so I might stay a couple of days in between at Bluewater.

I set off early and took the road to Aneth, Utah – the one I should have come in on. Left Utah, drove a short way in Colorado to Four Corners. I’d been there as a young adult, when it wasn’t so commercial. Didn’t stop this time.

Took in a bit of Arizona before turning east into New Mexico, heading for Shiprock. I think Shiprock is as impressive as anything in Monument Valley.


Turned south in Farmington. I was starting to race the clock a little. Rain was forecast for the afternoon and I wanted to be in Bluewater before that. And in time to get a good site. Would I make it in time? Would I get a good, level spot? Could I avoid driving in the wind and rain? Should I go faster? This is NOT the way I like to travel. I decided to stop at the Bisti Badlands trailhead. It’s a three mile drive on a good, gravel road into a gravel parking lot. No amenities, but I knew I could get out safely if it rained. It was a relief to stop pushing. And it would be an easy drive the next day to Bluewater.

There were nine cars and three RVs already – everyone was out hiking. I was not prepared to hike here, so we took only a short walk. The wind picked up and along with it, dust. Several people returned to their vehicles. Cassie was shaking, so I knew thunder was nearby.

Dust at Bisti

Suddenly the wind gusted so hard I had trouble closing the door against it. Dust filled the valley. So glad I wasn’t driving my high profile RV. And then it rained for a little while, but not enough to settle the dust. The dust and the rain dueled in a strong wind. It was so nice to be inside. Rain, with thunder and lightning, won out before giving way to pea-sized hail.

There was a break in the rain so I took Cassie out for a quick pee walk (very necessary). Even in the gravel parking lot, we got muddy. Fine, sticky mud. We tracked a lot into the RV. Good thing we will be home soon.

Acres of sticky mud.

One more storm passed by. And then we had a quiet night. Got the necessary walk in the morning and then waited out another patch of rain before leaving.

It was only two hours to Bluewater. We chose a new-to-us site (#23). I liked it. Many bluebirds around. It rained a little, but we still walked to see the eagles. Still two chicks, bigger – maybe feathered out now.

I stayed two nights – lazy, relaxing days. There was a prescribed burn in the Zuni Mountains to the south. Looked like any wildfire I’d ever seen, but it was under control.

Often there are many wild horses here. We saw only one mare and foal – quite content to meander among the campers.

I was pleasantly surprised when Bill and Kimberly, friends from home, walked by. Nice conversation about camping – she and I agree on many things. We like the solitude of camping.

In the morning smoke covered the campground and nearby valleys. Thick. I was happy to be leaving.

It was only about two hours to El Morro. For the first time in three weeks, I had hook-ups and, best of all, an excellent, hot shower. Another reason for liking this RV park is it includes Ancient Way Cafe, an outstanding restaurant. The spaces here were a bit pricey for me ($32), but there’s no other places close with full hook-ups.

I’ve been avoiding sugar and being careful with carbohydrates to see if it would make a difference. It has. But at the cafe I had a Reuben sandwich with potato salad. Outstanding! Also had a fine dinner there later with friends.

Because I was headed home in the morning, my mind was already traveling there. I had a to-do list for home going. I found it difficult to work with my photos on my laptop. I needed the keyboard and mouse, but don’t usually bring them. Photos will be the first thing to do at home.

It was just over five hours to get home and a pleasant drive. I saw a herd of elk along the way. No photo, but a nice bonus for the trip. My best trip yet.

21 days, 1311 miles.

Arizona – Utah RV Trip Part 1 Bluewater Lake State Park

Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, and Hovenweep National Monument. That’s where my friend wanted us to go. I got the map out and found several more places to go in northeast Arizona and southeast Utah. Then the friend couldn’t go. But I was excited and decided to go on my own. Well, with Cassie, my canine friend, who always wants to go. So began my longest, most adventurous, and best RV trip.

I left in mid-April and the first stop was Bluewater Lake State Park (off I-40 between Grants and Gallup). This is one of my favorite stops – convenient, pretty, good walks and hiking, a lake, and it’s reasonably quiet. From home (Truth or Consequences, NM) it was 234 miles, a 5-hour drive. The only part of the drive I don’t like is a short stretch on I-40. I take I-25 north from T or C to Las Lunas, take Highway 6 to the northwest to I-40. I’m on the interstate for about 8 miles to the first exit where I gladly join old highway 66. This is a scenic frontage road, a slower drive. And few big trucks. At Prewitt, NM, I turn off for the 7-mile drive to the park.

View of I-40 from Old 66.

I chose a dry camping site (free with the New Mexico state park pass). I like to park on the ridge overlooking the canyon, but there are also many spots with a lake view.

This site was being refurbished. When it’s complete, it will be a handicap spot – concrete pad, new shelter, and new table.

Cassie checking out the new campsite.

The first morning I sat outside with my cup of tea and saw the neighbor’s dog sitting patiently, backlit in the morning light. Grabbed the camera! It made me happy to start my day ‘seeing’ well, visualizing photos.

I camped here last May and had found a hawk’s nest in a tall tree in the canyon. From the opposite rim I could look down into the nest. It was a long way away, but I could get some decent photos.  I wanted to check the nest for activity this time. To my amazement it was occupied by bald eagles – including two chicks! Big chicks, but not feathered. And kind of ugly.

I spent a lot of time sitting on sharp, rough rocks, with a fully-extended zoom lens to get shots of them. And I still cropped a lot out of the photos. I did not realize that there were chicks until I got back and could look closely! Now I know why bird photographers have cameras with gigantic zoom lenses. Oh well, I’m pretty happy with what I captured.

I stayed only two nights – this was just a stopover on the way to Canyon de Chelly. The morning I left it was raining with a bit of snow – in the 30s so the snow didn’t stick. The elevation here is 7480’ and near the continental divide.

I drove toward Gallup – mostly on old 66, but there was an eleven-mile stretch of I-40 I had to take. My last interstate driving until Day 21. Yay!

Bisti and Beyond – Part 2

(Part One is here)

A very pleasant drive from El Morro to Grants, Milan, and Prewitt to Bluewater State Park. Again I took only the I-40 frontage road – Old Route 66. The park is just seven miles south of the highway.

I found a shaded, fairly flat site with electricity ($4/night with a park pass). The campsites are well spaced, but many are not very level. There are tables and fire rings, vault toilets, but no water. I heard that the system has been broken for several weeks. And the dump station is under construction. I’ll stay at least two nights. The park is long and narrow – the lake on one side, the dam on the end, and the canyon below the dam on the other side.

We walked around the campground and then called it a night. Tuesday was my first day alone for a while. I needed more like this. No involvement in anyone else’s drama. Just a few campfire stories to entertain.

In the morning, Cassie and I walked the Dam View Trail, past Piñon Campground. Piñon is closed for the season, but has beautiful hillside sites facing the lake. The trail was easy, not much elevation change.

On this trip I haven’t made a ‘nest’ for myself outside. On other trips I’ve set up my recliner and been happily ensconced with book, camera, drink, and journal. Part of it is that the newly remodeled ‘lounge’ is so comfortable. The table isn’t perfect, but I don’t have any ideas how to change it yet.

I’ve been amazed at the number of folks who come in after dark to set up. I don’t know if I could choose a site in the dark. This time I noticed those who came late often left early. I think they are travelers more than campers. They are headed somewhere and this is just a stop for the night.

I brought filtered water from home for drinking, especially for making tea. It lasted about six days. I switched to a Brita filter pitcher with the potable water in the fresh water tank. This is tap water from home that is okay, but doesn’t taste very good. Have to say the Brita filter didn’t improve the taste.

I can do without cell service and most wifi, but sure would have liked weather reports. Decided I’d head to Bisti/De-Na/Zin Wilderness area Wednesday and take my chances before the weather changed too much. Other than that one cold night, it was okay. And the days were just glorious. October is a beautiful month in New Mexico.

Early the next morning I started getting ready. One thing to do before we leave is to give Cassie at least a short walk. About 30 feet from the RV we came across two piles of horse manure. i had been told that there were wild horses here, but I had forgotten. Didn’t see them – just their calling cards. And Cassie did not alert me to anything in the night – a moonless night.

We started for Bisti – along Old 66 to the west and then north on Highway 371 out of Thoreau. Good roads all the way. I refueled at Thoreau because I didn’t know what to expect, but there were several gas stations on the way north. Bisti was about a 90 mile drive – then three miles on a good gravel road to the trailhead. Just a parking lot for a camp area, no facilities – this is a wilderness area. There were several other cars and one RV – New Mexico, Illinois, Colorado, Texas, and South Dakota. Good variety.

We hiked out towards two orange peaks – really orange. It was less than a mile out, but in the heat of the day, it was plenty for me.

I decided to stay the night, but I wasn’t sure I’d do more hiking. It is bleak in a wonderful way, but the good formations are about two miles out and the best are four miles. That’s more than I could do by myself. It would be better to camp out there for a few days. The only way I can see doing that is to hire someone to take the essentials out for me – water and food for two or three days, a tent, sleeping bad, and stove. That’s way too much for me. It remains a dream.

Staying the night was so easy with the RV – a bit of leveling and I was set. So much easier than tent camping. And I could have driven away if I wanted to.

Lots of folks came and went during the day – maybe 20 or so. That surprised me. A couple of guys came in late afternoon. They had huge backpacks – planning to be out there for a couple of days. They even had a beautiful red umbrella. There is no shade here.

It was a quiet evening. Someone came in a couple of hours before sunrise. He got his gear together and headed out. The first stop is the book where you sign in. Then there’s a stile off to the south to get through the barbed wire fence. But he didn’t go that way, he went straight to the fence, couldn’t get through and headed north – all this in the dark. He went out of sight and then about dawn showed up across the road and headed back to the trailhead. This time he found the way through the fence. He headed out for the wilderness. Now I was a bit quick to judge him as clueless, mostly because I like to do a lot of research, especially with Google Earth, to know where the trail is. Then I decided that maybe this is his way to get comfortable in a new area. I hoped so. This landscape eats clueless.

Sunrise at Bisti

I decided I would go back to Bluewater SP. Couldn’t find anything else in this area that was appealing and not too far north (read: cold). Pleasant drive back. I found a campsite on the edge of the canyon. And horses everywhere! About a dozen, mostly sorrels.

We took a short walk to see where the horses were going. Short because the clouds came in with lots of thunder and Cassie was not happy. We headed inside.

Got settled just in time for a few scattered showers. I loved being in the lounge, reading, with rain outside. It was cozy – like being in tree fort when I was a kid.

Cassie was not as comfortable on this stormy evening, so I decided to see what it would be like to sleep ‘downstairs.’ I usually sleep over the cab where the dog cannot go. But the lounge still converts to a bed so I tried that with just my sleeping bag. Very comfortable and Cassie was happy to cuddle.

We stayed two nights, hiked a little, read a lot (finished ‘Salt’ – very good history of my favorite seasoning). I like this park and will definitely come back to spend more time. I’d like to hike in the canyon – didn’t this trip because I just didn’t feel very energetic. On the way out, I saw that the new dump station was open, but I didn’t stop. I was headed home.

Came home after ten days and 768 miles. My longest trip so far and I loved the meandering aspect. I can do longer trips, but would like to work out the wifi issues a little. I like this RV travel!