Monday, July 17, 2017

Hummer Tour Through Hell's Revenge

Mike, the driver announced, “Here we go,” and our vehicle began jostling up a red rock fin at a 30-degree grade, but it felt more like vertical. The Good Girls and fellow passengers bounced in the seats like bobblehead dolls. Scaling toward the summit, the sides of narrow path dropped to reveal a miraculous rock canyon below. Astounding, and we had just begun our off-road Sunset Hummer Tour of Hell’s Revenge in Moab, Utah.
Mike takes the controls of the Hummer.Photo by Debi Lander.

“Never fear,” said Mike, “This Hummer can pass through deep ditches and traverse large dirt mounds without suffering any front or rear end damage. It can scale a 60-degree slope, but we’re only planning to encounter a 40-degree rise.” Thankfully, our tour made no attempt to climb the infamous Escalator or Hot Tub trails in the park. 

The Red Hummers have no trouble maneuvering through the park. Photo by Debi Lander.

Our hearts pounded as we bravely smiled and nodded at one another for reassurance, but our driver never missed a beat, continuing with confidence. He began the descent of the steep sandstone hill nicknamed the Roller Coaster. I don’t know if I was more jazzed by the thrill of the ride or the wickedly wild landscape. 
A slow roller coaster to the top. Photo by Judy Wells.

Stopping for a look at the canyon below.Photo by Debi Lander.

Hummer Tours through Hell's Revenge. Photo by Debi Lander.

The Good Girls were headed to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, both near Moab, the adventure capital of Utah, Our juices started flowing as soon as we crossed into Utah. After the speed limit rose to 80 miles per hour, we encountered a warning sign along the highway, ” Eagles in the road.” What did that mean? A few miles later exit signs began to warn of “No Services”, begging the question of who would dare turn off?

At our age, we don’t go for extreme physical adventures, treacherous mountain bike trails or Class 4-5 white-water rafting. We settle for speed and automotive thrills and thought a Hummer ride would fulfill our needs. So, we signed up and purchased tickets for Sunset Hummer Tour from the Moab Adventure Center.
The path through the canyon is very confusing. Debi Lander.

Moab cozies up to the banks of the Colorado River between eye-popping red sandstone cliffs. The National Park gateway offers Mom and Pop type lodging, restaurants, and outfitters along Main Street. The surrounding scenery attracts millions to hike, bike, and camp around windswept rock domes, magnificent mesas and otherworldly rock formations that conjure up imaginary faces and places. No surprise that filmmakers have used the craggy region as a backdrop in films such as City Slickers, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and our favorite, Thelma & Louise.


So there we were gasping with excitement as Mike veered up and down the zigzagged trail. After about 15 minutes, we stopped, caught our breath, and took in at the blazing spires and valleys. The riders from all the Hummers in our group gathered to hear a geographical explanation of the canyon sliprock: outcroppings of smooth weathered sandstone - - great for biking but dangerous for hiking because you can lose your footing. The guide also pointed out some fossilized dinosaur tracks. How very cool. 
Fossilized Dinosaur Tracks. Photo by Debi Lander.

The groups returned to the vehicles to attack the craziest, most rugged section of the trail, venturing up seemingly impossible rises and then carefully easing back down. Thankfully, Mike proved his worth as a sure-footed driver. We stopped again for photos and a chance to test out echoes in the canyon.

Yes, the incline is breath taking! Photo by Debi Lander.

Eventually, the group snaked up to a panoramic overlook, and peered down a gorge through which snaked the winding Colorado River. I sat for a minute to ponder the vastness of our country. This landscape speaks to visitors, teasing the timid who stand back in awe and taunting those who challenge its powerful pull.

Debi found the view thrilling! Photo by Debi Lander.

Judy found the slip rock slippery.
Shadows lengthened as we weaved along the paths to our sunset location.  Unfortunately, the cloudless sky muted the often dazzling sunsets. Still, the vista took on a golden glow. As the sky dimmed from warm afterglow to low light, the desert developed a somewhat creepy aura. It was time to climb back into the Hummers for a slow headlight light return trip.

Participants watching the sunset. Photos by Debi Lander.
The effect was better away from the sun. Photo by Judy Wells.

Darkened canyon after sunset.

We learned from Mike that eagles prey on the pririe dog villages on either side of the road and pause to dine on the highway. Their retreat (take-off for flight) is slow. Cars zipping down the highway at 80-plus mph need to watch out for these magnificent scavengers. And, by the way, no services means zero gas, food or lodging. These exits hark back to the time when uranium was mined in the area.

The Hummers dropped us back at the Adventure Center after a three-hour unforgettable excursion. A very walkable Moab made for a pleasant stroll to one of the family operated restaurants along Main Street. Eventually, we rambled back to our basic, but adequate and well-located motel - - the Bowen.

Watch the video for a taste of the adventure.

If you go: Getting to Moab.

From the East, we flew into Denver, leased a rental car, then drove over four hours to Grand Junction.  We left there the next day for Moab,  a one-and-a-half-hour drive. Grand Junction offers a regional airport and Moab a tiny one, but flights are more expensive. Flying into Salt Lake City, Utah is another option, requiring a three-hour drive.

The Hummer tour in the untamed landscape of Hell’s Revenge is not for the faint of heart, however, it appears to be safe. We saw no white knuckles in our group. We both agree that attempting to self-drive ATV’s or 4x4 Jeeps tours through the canyons is too much. Leave the driving to the experienced.

Disclosure: Our adventures in Moab and Utah, including the Hummer Tour, were self-funded. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Back into the Great Amercan West

The Eastern Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers was meeting in Sheridan, Wyoming, and our friend Gaylene Ore suggested we stop en route to see her territory in Colorado which is all the Good Girls needed to start planning our 2017 road trip. 

Most appropriate as a travel writers' meeting in South Dakota inspired this site, our moniker and these annual jaunts six years ago. We invited you to come along then and hope you are still riding along today. #Good Girls Westward Ho!

Day 1, June 12, 2017: We're stopping here why?

From this to the jail? Photo © by Judy Wells.
After flying into Denver and picking up a rental car, our GPS steered us through mountains, Vail Village where Judy waxed nostalgic over idyllic summers, past the turnoff for Aspen where Debi recalled ski trips, through Grand Junction's lengthy homelier side, dumping us a what it said was our destination, the driveway of the county jail.

Relying on our hostess Gaylene Ore more than electronics, we eventually landed correctly, in a well-equipped room at the Springhill Suites Hotel. It got better.

Grand Junction Visitors Bureau left a tote bag of goodies welcoming the Good Girls.

Pie improves everything. Photo © by Judy Wells.
After a day of 1/2-ounce packs of airplane peanuts or pretzels, a whole dinner anywhere would have been good but at Bin 707 it was superb. Fried artichoke hearts were intriguing, the lamb tenderloin was beyond good and a slice of Momofuku's pie with its ground oatmeal cookie crust was too rich for even the Good Girls to finish.

Photo © by  Judy Wells.
A quick stop at the hotel breakfast buffet and we hit the streets of downtown Grand Junction for real revelation. Flowers and fountains brightened the wide streets.

Art on the Corner added interest everywhere around the restored 19th century storefronts.

Apt entrance to the West, 19th century facades. Photo © by Judy Wells.
So intrigued were we that we forgot to stop for coffee at Enstrom Candies famed for their almond toffee for four generations. (When the Good Girls pass up a sweet or caffeine treat you know they have been captivated.)

Sculpture to look at and play with. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Best of all, on a Tuesday morning, the many cafes were bustling with business. Customers sat outside, often with dogs at their feet. Mothers shared coffee while their children played around fountains and climb-on-me sculpture.
Older residents lingered over bagels.

That's one large shiny bison. Photos by Debi Lander.

We resisted adding retail therapy to our itinerary, but stopped by Cafe Sol to pick up wraps, salad, desserts and beverages for lunch.

Not quite ready. Photo by Debi Lander.
Next stop, Two Rivers Winery & Chateau, a lovely pale stone complex complete with B&B.  They currently ship 12,000 to 14,000 cases a year to 20 states. We liked the cabernet.

Gaylene suggested we spend several hours visiting Colorado State Monument but thinking in terms of a statue of some kind, we wondered how much time seeing a monument could possibly take.

Could the day get any better?
Imagine our surprise when we drove into what was more like a national park with spectacular scenery and clouds that vied for attention.

Deep canyons...

soaring cliffs...

eons of geologic history ...
and yes, a monument.
Independence Monument.

There was a photograph demanding to be taken at every turn in the road and there were many of those. Not crowded either.

Sometimes there is an advantage to not having a clue. Our reactions were stunned delight.

Unlike the stunned horror of Beatrice Farnham, the young Boston artist who was briefly the wife of John Otto, the man responsible for protecting this piece of irreplaceable territory.  He wanted to live life in the open, visiting every inch of his spot of heaven. As the brief bride said, "I tried hard to live his way, but I could not do it, I could not live with a man to whom even a cabin was an encumbrance."

Add caption
We felt sorry for her but grateful for Otto's dogged dedication. And to Gaylene for introducing us to this monument.
Art and life combine in this image of John Otto against the side of the Visitors Center. Photo by Debi Lander.

If you have a choice of approaching from the east or west, choose the east, Grand Junction, gate. That puts most scenic pull offs on your right. Trust us, you will use them!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Palo Duro: Grand Canyon of Texas

On the last morning of the Good Girls trip to Amarillo, we rode out of town to the heart of the Texas Panhandle. Along the way, I managed to make a wrong turn (a rather common occurrence for me), but it ended up giving us the opportunity to discover Big Tex. Well, you don’t have to do much to notice a 47-foot-tall roadside attraction. Since we’re always in search of a good story, we were excited to find that Tex has one. 
Big Tex, newly refreshed.
Photo @ Debi Lander

Tex Randall began life in 1959 as what was then called "Texas' Biggest Texan" -- and he was. The seven-ton slouching cowboy was built of cement and steel by William "Harry" Wheeler, a high school shop teacher, for Wheeler's Western Store on US 60. The store sold Western clothing, so the seven-ton cowboy was outfitted with a bandana, a real Western-style shirt, and an enormous pair of Levi's jeans, courtesy of a local tent and awning shop. An ingenious network of steel struts and cables, anchoring him to the ground, supported the galoot’s lanky frame.

Decades passed. The Texas Department of Transportation rerouted US 60 through an underpass, cutting off Wheeler's drive-by traffic and driving the Western Store out of business. Panhandle winds shredded the cowboy's canvas duds. A semi crashed into his left boot, and the cigarette was shot out of his right hand.

Local leaders rallied for a "Save the Cowboy" campaign in 1987. The no-longer-fashionable cigarette was replaced with a spur. The cowboy was given a new face with a mustache, a new set of painted-on clothes -- and a new name, "Tex Randall," in honor of his home in Randall County.

More decades passed. Panhandle winds again ravaged Tex, sandblasting away large portions of his skin and clothes. His fiberglass fingers crumbled. A local businessman bought the cowboy but gave up when he learned it would cost $50,000 to move him. Local boosters mounted an Internet fundraising campaign, but the amount needed to save Tex seemed beyond their reach. Time appeared to have run out for the big cowboy.

Then an unlikely hero rode to the rescue: the formerly villainous Texas Department of Transportation, which in late 2013 set aside almost $300,000 to turn the land around Tex's boots into a park. Keith Brown, chairman of the Canyon Main Street Program, raised enough money to "re-skin" the statue. Despite Tex's battered appearance, the cowboy was studied by engineers and found to be perfectly capable of handling yet another makeover.
Rather hard to miss Big Tex!

Repairs began in November 2015, and we were lucky to see the new, better-clothed Tex. He’s no longer the “Biggest Texan, ” but he makes a fine icon for the Amarillo area.

After this brief detour, we found the one and only road that leads to Palo Duro State Park, country route 217, appropriately 16 miles south of Amarillo. We soon reached the entrance and were lucky again. Normally the entry fee is $5.00, but the day we visited was a free for all day.

Our first peek - Approaching the rim
Photo @ Debi Lander

We parked near the rim and began to understand why this is called the Grand Canyon of Texas. The nickname applies because it’s second largest canyon in the country, which is based on its length (120 miles) rather than depth. The rim elevation stands 3,500 feet above sea level, but it’s only got a maximum depth of approximately 800 feet. To compare, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,000 ft. deep.

View from the Rim
Photo @ Debi Lander

Where does the name come from? Legend claims the early explorers who discovered the area, dubbed the canyon "Palo Duro. That’s Spanish for "hard wood," a reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees. We peered over the edge and were impressed by the splendor of the bushy and wooded areas juxtaposed against the clay to fiery reddish rock bands and cliffs. 
Looking at the canyon walls and greenery
Photo@Debi Lander

We noticed the main ranger station, however, it was closed on this Sunday morning. We picked up a brochure and sure enough, learned that the building we thought looked like a CCC construction indeed was! The Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930's constructed most of the buildings and roads still in use by park staff and visitors.

The brochure also informed us that:

There is evidence of settlement in Palo Duro Canyon for around 12,000 years. In more recent times, the Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa tribes inhabited the area for various periods until 1874. That year, they were forced to move west into Oklahoma, as a result of the Red River War that displaced Native Americans all across the southern plains. Soon after the clearance, the 100,000-cattle JA Ranch was established and the canyon remained privately owned until it opened as a state park in 1934.

Our plan was to drive the park loop, stopping for photo ops, rather than hiking a trail. So, we started down the steep road pausing once to appreciate the stunning view of the canyonlands. When we reached the bottom, we found the Trading Post open so went in for a look. As expected, the shop carries food and all the sundry items campers and hikers might be looking for, but nothing special. 

We weren't the only visitors driving the Canyon Loop road.
Photo @ Debi Lander
Next stop was the trailhead of the Lighthouse Trail, a 6-mile path to the most famous formation in the park. Some folks rode bicycles over the ruddy trail, but we weren’t ready for a six-mile escapade. We wanted to capture shots of riders on horseback but found none. 

The Lighthouse Trailhead

The famous Lighthouse Rock Formation
Photo @ Debi Lander

So, we drove on, noting the well-developed infrastructures like campsites, car parks, and pavilions. Obviously, this park is well-used, a good thing. Campers need reservations, especially during the summer. 
Crossing the Creekbed
Photo @ Debi Lander

We crossed over streambeds six times. Thankfully, there were no flash floods that day, but there were warning signs. We completed the loop, stopping again and just letting ourselves enjoy the beauty of the Southwest.

Enjoying the beauty of Palo Duro State Park
Photo @ Debi Lander

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The 2016 World Ranch Rodeo Championships

Teams assemble before competition.
Photo @ Debi Lander
Debi says,

The only rodeo I ever attended was years ago in a small town in South Dakota.  I ‘d certainly never been to one with hard working ranch hands and real cowboys. I was ready for some action.

From the moment the  arena lights were dimmed and the announcer took to the mic, excitement could be felt. The various contestants rode in bearing flags from their state and ranch. After all were on the floor, a rider circling the arena proudly presented the American flag.  A rousing version of the National Anthem was sung by the crowd.  These ranchers are a patriotic group and they showed their true colors. 

Bringing in the flag. Photo by Judy Wells.
First up was the Ranch Bronco Riding event or what I’d call bucking Broncos.  No bull-riding here, ranchers must break their horses and these guys are the best of the bunch. The rules say to “Ride as ride can” for eight seconds. Eight seconds can be awfully long when you are on these wild horses.  I can’t comprehend the impact this must take on the body, but these cowboys struggle to control the assigned horse in the allotted time.  In case they fall off, and some do, clown cowboys try to attract the riderless horse away from the fallen contestant. This event really grabs your attention.

Ride 'em cowboy! A rider holds on in the Ranch Bronco Riding Event
Photo @Debi Lander
Next was Roping or officially, Stray Gathering event. A group of four riders enters one end of the arena while cattle enter the opposite.  The riders are timed as they try to single out and lasso a calf.  Then their helpers jump off their horses and tie the calf’s head and feet.  When the steer can no longer escape, the clock is stopped. 

The Roping Event
Photo @ Debi Lander
Wild Cow Milking proved to be a bit humorous. This event includes another four-man team: a roper, milker and two muggers!  Only the roper is on horseback. (Honestly, the term mugger is what they are called.)  Like roping, cows were lassoed but this time held down by teammates.  One is assigned to get milk and must run it up to a judge for verification. The judge will pour the milk out of the bottle.  Sometimes, there is not enough milk and sometimes the cows break away. The crowd responds with enthusiasm or laughter.  

Judy says:  Usually both.

The Milking Event
Photo @ Debi Lander
Team Penning was one of the most fun events.  Teams of four riders are assigned a number.  All the cattle are marked with numbers, so the contestants must pick out the correctly numbered calves, and move them down to the opposite end of the arena and into a pen.  Often times two or three of the needed four are penned, tbut hey somehow they make a fast break and escape, causing the riders to start all over again.

Team Penning
Photo @ Debi Lander

Judy says: This task can take a l-o-o-o-n-g time to complete because most calves want to rejoin the herd. For some reason it took all four team members to cut the laggards out and herd them to the others which gave the others plenty of time to find the open gate and escape. Never could figure out why one team member wasn't left behind to tend the penned ones.

During a break in the contests, the Budweiser Clydesdales Team and Beer Wagon, complete with a Dalmatian riding on top, entered the track.  These huge beautiful beasts prance so delicately.  I especially loved when they crisscrossed their hooves, side stepping to turn the wagon 180 degrees.  These are expertly trained performers and a real joy to watch.  

Judy says: Dressage fans will recognize that as coming from the half-pass  (which the Clydesdales did crossing the arena at a diagonal) and to see these behemoths handle it like dainty ballet dancers is remarkable.
Budweiser Clydesdales
Photo @ Debi Lander

Team Branding consists of four- to six-man teams: a roper, two flankers, a brander and two herd holders. Two calves must be roped and pulled to what is called the fire.  But, at the rodeo, these calves are not really branded with a hot iron.  They used some sort of dark chalk.  Two teams compete at the same time, so there are anxious moments between teams.

The night ended with a second group of competitors in Bronc Riding.  These horses didn’t seem to buck as wildly as the first group.  But, maybe I’d just gotten used to all the action.  I especially loved trying to take photos of the horses when all four feet when in the air.   

Hand on Cowboy!
Photo @ Debi Lander
I found the Ranch Rodeo absolutely fascinating and the time flew by.  I was sorry when it ended.  I would definitely go again if I lived in Texas. Hee-Haw!

Judy says: Teams qualify by competing in 22 sanctioned  Ranch Rodeos in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming throughout the year. The WRCA  Championship Ranch Rodeo in Amarillo goes on four days, with half the teams competing per night. Championship is announced and prizes are awarded on the final night (Sunday).

During the day, competition for junior riders fills the arena and performances by cowboy poets and musicians take over the complex's large side rooms so there is always something to see. 

The horses used by the teams are judged as well as those back at the ranches. Ranches, by the way, are rarely in one location; many have operations in more than one state. Each year the ranches are judged on the quality of their remudas, cowboy for the herd of horses used by the cowhands. It is the ultimate award for a ranch owner.

Sportsmanship is key and it is normal for one ranch to assist another, even during a competition. If a team finds itself short of a rider, they can borrow one from a competing team!