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Trip Report--Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches
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joetiger Premium Member
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:45 am    Post subject: Trip Report--Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches Reply with quote

Hi Folks,

We got back Friday night from a 1400 mile, six day trip in our Vanagon. We hit Durango, Mesa Verde, Four Corners, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Canyonlands, Moab, and Arches National Park before heading back to Denver. We crossed eight passes (with Wolf Creek and Vail being the hardest on the Vanagon) and the continental divide a couple of times.

I averaged about 20 MPG and had absolutely no problems with the Vanagon whatsoever, although I do now have a tick when I start it up...Research tells me that it's probably a hydraulic lash adjuster in the EJ22.

We saw a total of twelve Vanagons on the trip:

Three titian reds, four savannah beige, two Alpine white, two Assuan Brown, and one Orly Blue. We also saw twelve white Eurovan campers. We met a few super nice Vanagon folks, and went 2 for 12 on Eurovan waves...

It was an epic trip and easily our best yet. My girls are super-resilient and seem to love life on the road.

On to the pics:

It was seven whole degrees when we embarked from Denver. The roads were icy and terrible from Denver to about Buena Vista, then things cleared up nicely.
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It's worth mentioning that we stopped at the Cutthroat Cafe in Bailey and had the best pancakes in all of Colorado. It's right off Hwy 285 and the staff is extremely friendly.

We made Durango that evening. It was chilly and windy, so we got some dinner and stayed in a hotel that first night. I really like Durango. It's got a lot of the charm of a former mining/current ski town without the overload of art dealers and overpriced crap (at least on the part of Main Street where we were walking...)

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The next morning we headed to Mesa Verde. The place was basically empty; I think we saw five other cars the whole time we were in the park. My kids loved the exhibits, and while we could hike down to the cliff dwellings due to it being offseason, we still got to see a lot, even some open range (wild?) horses. It really is beautiful there. From the top of the mesa you can see several ranges, Shiprock in New Mexico, etc.

The virtually empty parking lot at Mesa Verde:

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After a quick stop in Cortez...Wait. Cortez deserves more description. That is an interesting place. It feels like a modern-day frontier town, with the Ute lands and Navajo Nation right there. Just a very different vibe than anywhere we've ever been. It looks like a rough place; we counted eight giant liquor stores in a row on the outskirts of town. My kinda place. Smile

Next was Four Corners. Such an odd little monument in the hills outside Cortez. The girls absolutely loved it. Yes, it's not the actual spot, but nobody seems to let that ruin a good time.

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After that, it was on to the Navajo Lands. If you haven't been there it's really difficult to describe the desolation and beauty. In every Vanagon adventure, there's a point, usually in a very distant place, when I have a minor panic attack. I look next to me at my wife and glance in the rearview mirror and see my treasured daughters, then I think about every single nut and bolt and fastener and procedure and new part and worn part and wonder if I've done everything right in building this thing or if I'm completely insane to take my family way, way out on the road in a 28 year-old vehicle. This is where we were when the (very internal--never let them see you sweat) panic attack occurred. It truly felt like we were in the middle of an expansive nowhere.

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After I cook Easter dinner, I'll post more of our trip.
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"get metaphysical with it. if it's simply a means to get to and from places, it will let you down. if it becomes your zen, it can't fail you." -dabaron

"Still, it's good to be afield."--VWagabond
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joetiger Premium Member
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 12:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The ham's in the oven and the potatoes and casseroles are cooking, so I'm going to continue...

The back was full of crap, but the girls had plenty of room to move around and anything that needed to be stowed was stowed. The new headrests make a great barrier...

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This was the first thing we saw when we pulled into the southeast entrance/first view at Grand Canyon:

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The Grand Canyon is truly breathtaking, but my second thought after that was, "I really want to go to the bottom." Unfortunately it wasn't to happen on this trip. I was surprised by how nice Mather Campground turned out to be. Huge and full, but not a bad place. It was chilly, getting into the 20's both nights, but I've taken steps to remedy that issue (namely the Coleman Big Game Sleeping Bag.)

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This trail, Kaibab I think, was windy, cold, treacherous, and crowded, but still really fun:

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Unfortunately we spotted no mountain lions, but my daughter loved this sign...

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Again, Mather is not bad. Very reminiscent of Canyon Village in Yellowstone, minus the Bison, bears, and frigid temps:

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We met a great couple and their daughter from Munich who were camped next to us and made fast friends. He convinced me that even though T3's were produced in Hanover, that's not a good enough reason to visit there. The more we talked, the more it sounded like Hanover is the Shreveport of Germany...

After two nights at the GC, we headed back across Navajo country to Monument Valley. Pictures cannot do it justice-- I was not prepared for how awesome this place is, straight out of a John Ford western. If John Ford westerns had Vanagons.

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Mexican Hat, Utah

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Taking it in, life from the back seat of a Vanagon:

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Before we left the Grand Canyon, I'd gotten a text from SoonerDave (who we were going to meet up with in Moab) telling me to meet him at Squaw Flats Campground in Canyonlands National Park. I was surprised to find it on the map; it was about fifty miles south of Moab and about fifty miles off of Highway 191 on a twisty, crazy road through canyon after canyon.

I have to back up for a second here--at the first Syncro Solstice two years ago, Sambanista Jeremy (aka Camp&Ride) asked me if I'd ever spent time in Canyonlands. When I said I hadn't, he told me very sincerely that I really needed to go there.

Jeremy, you were absolutely right. I should have taken your advice the moment you gave it to me.

More to come.
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"get metaphysical with it. if it's simply a means to get to and from places, it will let you down. if it becomes your zen, it can't fail you." -dabaron

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msinabottle
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 1:02 pm    Post subject: Yaaaaaaaaay! Reply with quote

Happy Easter, Joe. So glad you had such a lovely time, so glad you're all back safe, and thank you for the lovely photographs and the write-up!

Also lovely, isn't it, to know EXACTLY why you are so fond of our weird old German vans, isn't it?

Best!
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 3:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Always enjoy reading what you write. Good stuff.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 3:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the trip post. I live for that feeling of being on a mini adventure and looking back to see the girls wrapped up in their projects, just as you describe. Minus the panic attacks of course. My daughter is 14 now and refers to our Westy as the hippie van or creeper van. Her friends love to take trips in it with us though. Any one know how old the kid has to be for the van to be cool again?
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 6:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, the in-laws have left and the kitchen's clean, so I'll finish up my report...

We traveled through some truly beautiful country and into the southeast entrance of Canyonlands. Squaw Flats campground was not far from there. SoonerDave and his family were waiting in possibly the nicest campground campsite I've ever stayed in.

In one direction, rock formations as far as you can see; to another, the LaSal mountains and more formations. The site itself is concrete but then goes back into a grove of trees next to a giant red rock formation where the firepit is.

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We sat around the fire and drank Sierra Pale Ale and Ranger IPA while the kids played. It was a full moon, also.

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The next day we saw a couple of titian red Vanagons pass by; one stopped at the site next to ours. It was owned by a very nice family from Nederland. We looked at each other's Vanagons and discussed our modifications and histories (the Vanagon equivalent to dogs sniffing butts.)

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We had a big breakfast and went on a good hike. It was a bit frightening watching my younger daughter on her first slickrock hike, but as it turns out, she's part mountain goat and part spider. She scrambled like a champ. She's also fearless, which terrifies me.

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After the hike, we packed up and headed to Moab. I hated to leave there and can't wait to go back. As Dave and I were discussing, when you get up in the rocks away from everything, it's quiet enough that you can hear yourself breathing. It's hard to find places to experience that.

I followed Dave out, and we headed to Moab Brewery for an excellent beer and a gigantic burrito.

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We stayed that night at a friend's house in Moab. They have a beautiful setup, and we saw two Savannah Beige Westies in driveways in their neighborhood. We were extremely grateful to get a shower, and slept comfortably in the driveway. I didn't want to unload everything in my van, so my wife and kids slept upstairs in mine and I stayed in Dave's Vanagon (he and his wife and kids stayed in the house--they're family.)

It was odd to wake up in a Vanagon and think, 'wait...this is a Vanagon, but it's not MY Vanagon."

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That next morning, we went into Moab (unable to avoid the litany of Jeeps large and small visiting for Moab Jeep Safari) and headed to the Jailhouse Cafe for deeply delicious Southwestern Eggs Benedict.

From there, it was off to Arches to do a bit of hiking and slackjawed scenery-gazing. It was crowded, being Good Friday I suppose, so we only hiked enough to get better views.

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From there, we took Highway 128 up the canyon and out to I-70.

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The drive back wasn't bad. We saw a perfect '90 or '91 White Westy in Fruita, and passed a Savannah Beige Syncro Westy on the road. We ended up stopping at the same gas station in Avon and chatting awhile (like two dogs...) he had the original motor and transmission with 250k miles Shocked. Very nice guy and a nice family.

Then, of course, Summit County had to take its pound of flesh, as always. Wet, snowy, foggy.

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Soon after, we were back in Denver. The next morning, my wife told me she wished we were still on the road. It had been a great vacation in the truest sense of the word; we were able to get away from the daily bullshit and be a family, living for the next stop, the next thing to look at. Filling up with gas. Setting up camp, deciding what to cook, deciding where to go. Priorities tend to simplify themselves. That's always a good thing.

A few thoughts:

--The MVP of the trip parts-wise has to be the T3 Technique steering rack bushings. I've never had that much control; we spent 1000 of the miles on two-lane highways, and even in severe winds I never had a semi blow me off the road.

--Second place goes to the three-window canvas. It's great to wake up and unzip a side window to see what's happening out there.

--My Coleman Big Game sleeping bag was fantastic. Made for big and tall people, I could slide down in there and cover my head completely (I'm 6'1") and I slept like a log even in 20 degree temps and no heat in the Vanagon.

All in all, another great journey. A lot of my friends spend their vacations by flying to a resort on a beach. It doesn't matter if it's Mexico or Jamaica or wherever, you ask their kids about the trip and they say it was "okay." I think those resort trips tend to eventually all blend together for them. That's not the case on the road, going to incredible places and making new friends.

We are so very fortunate to live in this country. The more I see, the more awestruck I get.
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'86 NAHT Vanagon GL Syncro/ supercharged ABA 2.0
'85 928S
'19 Golf R
'02 Beetle GLS

"get metaphysical with it. if it's simply a means to get to and from places, it will let you down. if it becomes your zen, it can't fail you." -dabaron

"Still, it's good to be afield."--VWagabond


Last edited by joetiger on Mon Apr 01, 2013 8:39 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Farfrumwork
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 8:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report!

I think our families would get along. My wife has the same sentiments after every van trip, no matter how long or short. Kids ditto!! (Mine are 3 & 10)

I think we'll do a winter trip to the desert next x-mas time.

-chad
(in Louisville)
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 8:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

joetiger wrote:

The Grand Canyon is truly breathtaking, but my second thought after that was, "I really want to go to the bottom." Unfortunately it wasn't to happen on this trip. I was surprised by how nice Mather Campground turned out to be. Huge and full, but not a bad place. It was chilly, getting into the 20's both nights, but I've taken steps to remedy that issue (namely the Coleman Big Game Sleeping Bag.)


Having been to the bottom 30+ times now I have to say I absolutely love it. If you want to come along some time it's an awesome hike. I could probably bore you with about 10,000 photos I've taken, and many miles of topo maps that spread around the canyon.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 8:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

joetiger wrote:
That's not the case on the road, going to incredible places and making new friends.

We are so very fortunate to live in this country. The more I see, the more awestruck I get.

Couldn't agree more! Great post, I'm planning on doing that same loop next year(Yellowstone is this year)
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:45 pm    Post subject: trip Reply with quote

Blue Bay Bus X2- love your post, great trip. And yes the Grand Canyon is best from the bottom. Ran a rafting co. for the last 20 years, seen it many times from the bottom! Very Happy
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 10:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow! Thanks so much for the lovely trip report! It looks like you guys had a blast! This kind of post really is an inspiration in the midst of TheSamba, where mostly what we discuss is solving Vanagon problems. It's refreshing to see and read about (and remember) the justification for all the blood, sweat, and tears we pour into these beloved machines.

Thanks again!
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 10:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for posting this report! Really needed to see this, I've been prepping for a 6 week trip in our 85 camper for about 6 months now, replacing the engine and tranny(GW 2.2/Rancho Trans) complete cooling, fuel and brake systems, tires, wheels and other maintenance and upgrades. I have reservations for Mather, Yosemite and Limekiln SP(CA) and I'm trying to cover all my bases but most importantly I want it to be about my family (wife, son-12 and daughter-13) seeing our country together. I've already questioned my own sanity a few times for choosing a 28 year old vehicle for the trip but since I'm a life long VW owner there really wasn't another choice. I sold my all original 78 camper to put the Vanagon together after a lot of hand wringing but it was the right thing to do. It's great to know that the anxiety factor isn't abnormal, since I've felt that way a couple times and haven't left yet. I'm planning to start a trip thread before we leave, thanks again for your story, awesome!
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"All in all, another great journey. A lot of my friends spend their vacations by flying to a resort on a beach. It doesn't matter if it's Mexico or Jamaica or wherever, you ask their kids about the trip and they say it was "okay." I think those resort trips tend to eventually all blend together for them. That's not the case on the road, going to incredible places and making new friends.

We are so very fortunate to live in this country. The more I see, the more awestruck I get."

True words Joe! Sounds like a great trip! We were on White Rim in Canyonlands at the same time. Only a few jeepers were out there.

Steve
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This trip report got me motivated enough to spend 3 hours on our Multivan yesterday. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Awesome trip! It's great to hear the whole family enjoyed it and the Vanagon got to do exactly what was designed for.
I think I had a more than a few "panic attacks" driving all the way to Moab from Vancouver last year. Ironic that i broke down pretty much as I was driving into camp!
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 1:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sounds like an awesome trip! We are headed to the Moab area in a couple of weeks--can't wait! Next time you are in Moab, stop at Milt's--the best burgers and fries around! Will also be heading down to Cortez in May. It is a funky place, but actually really cool. There's a whole network of mountain bike trails there called "Phil's World" and it's amazing biking. Also, Dolores is right up the road from Cortez, and it is a really cool little place with lots of great trails. Love the picture of your daughter looking out the window. I'm sure your girls have wonderful memories of all your adventures!
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 2:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

GReat report. Ours started in Yellowstone/then Ckinton, UT where we awoke our Westy from it's long winter nap. We will be in Arches the end of this week.
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 8:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, thanks for all of the kind comments.

I really think one of the reasons I dig my Vanagon so much is because I can justify spending time and treasure on upgrades and maintenance and justify it, and stay motivated by it, because the payoff is trips like this one. I don't think I'd get nearly as much satisfaction out of something that my whole crew couldn't enjoy.

I showed a very stressed out buddy of mine and his wife the pictures from the trip, and he muttered, "we gotta learn to have fun."
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"get metaphysical with it. if it's simply a means to get to and from places, it will let you down. if it becomes your zen, it can't fail you." -dabaron

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 9:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fantastic report of a great trip. Glad we were a part of it. And that site in Canyonlands was indeed nice. I could have stayed there a week.
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 9:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

And this seemed like a good place to put my favorite quote about our national parks.

“Ever since I was old enough to be cynical I have been visiting national parks, and they are a cure for cynicism, an exhilarating rest from the competitive ava- rice we call the American Way. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

~Wallace Stegner, “The Best Idea We Ever Had,” Wilderness Magazine, 1983
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