After a great summer in North Dakota, we left the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery short after Labor Day and spent three months on the road to get to our winter quarters in Florida. We had many National Parks on our bucket list and in retrospect we liked especially those parks which were not on every travelers itinerary as well as to find quiet places at top ranked destinations. This is why I would like to share with you the “Off the beaten Path” locations of our journey.
Fort Union near the upper Missouri River was one of our first stops. It was a major trading post from 1828 through 1867. The Assiniboine and six other Northern Plains Tribes exchanged buffalo robes and other smaller furs for goods from around the world. It was a peaceful place and earned its name with honor.
Fort Buford was our next stop. It was built in 1866 near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers and became a major supply depot for military field operations. The fort is probably best remembered as the place where the famous Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, surrendered in 1881.
Crossing over into Montana, we checked in at a USACE campground downstream from the Fort Peck Dam. It is the largest hydraulically filled dam in the United States and creates Fort Peck Lake, the fifth largest artificial lake in the U.S.. The two generator buildings look like Manhattan Skyscrapers and house the surge tanks. The dam, generator buildings, and spillway are a marvel of engineering. At the peak of construction, more than 11,000 people worked on the project. The Fort Peck Interpretive Center was a great place to learn more about the areas wildlife and the construction of the dam. It is part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail and it shows.
Fort Benton is one of the oldest settlements in Montana and it claims that it is the birthplace of the state. Old town still shows the grandeur of this city along the Missouri River. It was worth it to walk along main street to the Lewis and Clark Memorial.
Grand Teton is one of the well visited National Parks. To get off the beaten path we enjoyed to head up Signal Mountain and to take a detour to Mormon Row. The pictured barn is most likely one of the most photographed outbuildings in the park. The Grand Teton said goodby to us with frost and snow covered peaks. “Grand” is the only word to describe it.
On our way further south, we stopped in Debois, Wyoming, to see dear friends. Debois is a small quaint town and has a lovely main street. Our “local guide” hiked with us and brought us to petroglyphs along the trail to a small waterfall.
After crossing the Rocky Mountain NP, we stayed at a campground overlooking Lake Granby. The hike around Monarch Lake was picturesque and relaxing. While going back into the busy park the next day, we found a quiet oasis in the Endovalley. As an extra bonus we were serenaded by a local, playing the harp in the middle of nowhere. The rushing stream of the Fall River behind her added to the solitude of this place.
Can you imagine a canyon that is so deep that the sunlight never touches the bottom? The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of these geological wonders. There are many overlooks along the parks main road and we were “awed” by each of them. The rocks look like marble and create contemporary images. At one point the canyon is so deep that the Empire State Building could be put three times on top of each other and it still would not reach the canyon rim. What a place!
Mesa Verde was our next stop heading south. We booked a guided tour and had a long conversation with Ranger Nighthawk who has served more than 25 years at this wonderful place. Mesa Verde stands for “Green Table” and it was the richness of the soil that brought the Pueblo Indians to this area. Our trail went down to the Long House and we were just mystified by the more than 750 year old site perched under the overhang of rocks. The Step House was another yet smaller dwelling we were able to visit and it was an astonishing site as well. What a great day to spend our wedding anniversary.
The Otter Creek Campground was one of our basecamps to experience parts of Utah. Bryce was our first day trip. It is overwhelmingly beautiful, busy even off season and not dog friendly. Yet, we enjoyed the day of endless red rock formations.
Capital Reef NP was next on our list and we looked again for off the beaten path places. The schoolhouse of the early Mormon settlers was one of them. They also planted fruit orchards;
some of which are still on public grounds so that you can get the ingredients for a fruit salad at no cost. Strolling along the boardwalk with the petroglyph panels created by the Fremont people was another highlight.
Kodachrome Basin Sate Park is surrounded by the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It got its name from a National Geographic Society expedition in 1948. The hues and beauty found here prompted the crew to call it after the popular color film. The sandstone layers reveal 180 million years of geological time and the sedimentary pipes create an uncommon landscape.
The Red Canyon is located within the Dixie National Forrest. The uniquely vermilion colored rock formations and the Ponderosa Pines make the canyon to an exceptional scenic area. On top, it is not crowded and dog friendly. There are plenty of trails and the views are remarkable.
On one of our day trips from Otter Creek we came across Butch Cassidy’s boyhood home along country road 89, which triggered us to stream the movie in the evening.
Our next base camp was Coral Pink Sand Dunes Campground. It was a paradise for ATV fans and some campers had ATVs for the entire family. For us, it was a great place to encounter a new region and to get the first signs of winter.
Zion is a busy place and we would like to come again off season. However, even in the busiest National Parks you can find places of solitude, like The Patriarchs overlook and the trail to the Emerald Pools.
From Coral Pink we headed south into Arizona to get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Wonderful fall shades greeted us along the way. To beat the crowd, we were told to go up to Cape Royal and we were glad we did. Many overlooks offered stunning views and we counted probably 10 cars on our way up.
Water Holes Canyon was one of the highlights of our trip. It is located just a few miles south of Page. It can compete with Antelope Canyon and most of all it is not crowded. We had a group of six and our Native American guide was very knowledgable. The canyon is a symphony of red, bown, yellow and ocher. The lines and curves are breathtaking and the hike is pure fun. It is impossible for the camera to capture the beauty of one of the most magnificent places we have seen so far. What a birthday present for Peggy.
The Museum of Ancient History and the Moqui Caves were on our way from the campground to Kanab. The original owner started it as a museum, yet since it did not attract enough people to make money, he decided to make a bar out of it. After the bar crowd got to rowdy, the next generation owner brought it back to be a museum, yet the bar is still there. The caves above the museum can be hiked and offered exceptional views.
Homolovi State Park was our first overnight stop in Arizona and is located just north of Winslow. With seven ruin sites scattered with broken pottery, petroglyphs, kivas, and traditional pit houses this place just invites you to become a novice archeologist. It is always fascinating to walk on grounds where Indian people settled in the 14th century. The area is still a cultural hub for the Hopi community.
By the way, a stop in Winslow was a must for us and we enjoyed the downtown area and good food at a local brewery.
Phoenix, Arizona, has a lot to offer. We were lucky that our local host (a dear friend and ex-colleague) recommended to visit the Musical Instrument Museum. We could have spent days there and still would not have seen all. The architecture is stunning, the exhibits reach from ancient instruments to original guitars of famous musicians (such as Jimmy Hendrix). A place that is fun, educates and is for all ages.
While staying at a RV resort near Holbrook, AZ, we visited the Petrified Forest National Park. It is a land of scenic wonders and contains one of the world’s largest concentrations of petrified wood, multi colored badlands, portions of the Painted Desert, and historic structures.
A weathered Studebaker automobile is a landmark and is placed at the Old Route 66 near the crossing of I 40.
On the way back to the campground we stopped in Holbrook at the Wigwam Motel. What a place to stay while traveling along Route 66.
Heading further west and after a short stop at our all time favorite Big Bend National Park, we enjoyed the not so much traveled areas of Galveston. We went along the Tree Sculptures self guided tour. The sculptures are made out of trees which died from the salt water spilled into the city by hurricane Ike in 2008. Magnificently restored homes are the backdrop for these unique pieces of art.
We are great fans of Harvest Hosts and are always surprised of the uncommon places to stay. Houmas House and Gardens near Darrow, LA, was no exception. This plantation is also called the “Sugar Palace” and offered a view into southern living at its best. The gardens were gorgeous, the buildings were grandiose, and the food was superb.
West Point Lake, GA, was a great place to meet with dear friends. It was an optimal choice to explore the area with them as guides. Visiting the Little White House near Warm Springs opened a window into Franklin D. Roosevelts fulfilled life.
Callaway Gardens, nestled into the southern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, is a place to relax, to be active, and to just take in the beauty of nature. The visit at the butterfly center completed our excellent experience.
General Coffee State Park in the southern part of Georgia was a superb choice to relax after an amazing three months on the road. Quiet nature trails allowed us to reflect on our journey, the wondrous places we have seen on and off the beaten path, and the new friends we have made. The historic farm and small lake invited us just to slow down.
Driving through the gate of the Fort Clinch State Park felt like coming home after a long and phenomenal 2021. We are looking forward to reconnecting with friends and to call this place home for a few months.