Last year on our trek across the country, we took a detour to go see Shiprock. This plan came about one day on our trip while Chad was studying the map. He said something like, “One possibility if we go through New Mexico would be to stop and see Shiprock.” I’m sure my eyes lit up and that I couldn’t even respond with a sentence, just an “OoooOOOOO!!”
I had seen images of Shiprock while doing keywording work years ago. The idea of a huge rock in the middle of the flat desert was enticing, even worth adding extra time to an already long day of driving.
We weren’t able to get very close to it because it’s on tribal land and is considered sacred to the Navajo. They don’t want silly tourists bumbling around this amazing spot with their cameras. Can you blame them? So we kept a respectful distance and looked on in awe.
It started with Goblin Valley. The name caught my attention, of course, and when I looked it up to see what it was like, I was even more intrigued. Then Chad told me that there was a place not too far from here that was similar, with strange, fragile rock formations. Fantasy Canyon, the place was called.
He warned me it was in oil country, surrounded by oil wells. That did not prepare me for our drive, going past oil well after oil well, and apparently at least one hydraulic fracturing set up as well. About a mile or so from our destination we drove past incredibly beautiful and fascinating landforms – badlands and hoodoos – that were backdrops for pumpjacks and oil storage tanks. Just the beauty of the place could have easily qualified it to be a national park; alas, it would mostly be scenery to the oil and gas crews, and the 5000 visitors per year to the BLM site.
Once arrived at Fantasy Canyon the oil wells were only visible in the mid-distance. A path bordered by rocks led us through the site to admire the strange sandstone formations. Well it kind of did. In places the path was well designated, in other places it was hard to tell what was path and what was off-limits. We walked cautiously so as not to disturb these ancient deposits, some of which were named for animals (diving porpoise) or characters (flying witch).
Visiting this site made it even more clear to me why Chad is such a passionate defender of wilderness. When land is not protected, even land of extreme geological interest such as Fantasy Canyon, instead of remaining a resource of beauty, education and wildlife habitat, it can easily become an industrial casualty. Fantasy Canyon is still intact, but with deep rock fracturing fracking operations nearby, who knows how long it will remain so?
Waking up in Chaco was hot, really hot, so it was a relief to finish out the day in the cool evergreen forest at Mancos State Park, Colorado. The next day before we hit the road we had a fun time doing some yoga, taking photos and relaxing. As ready as I was to get to our destination and get our dogs and cats out of the RV and into a more permanent living situation, I had a lump in my throat as we took down our tent and prepared to leave. The soft forest floor of Mancos had been so inviting!
As we made our tired way along the last leg of our cross-country odyssey (day 10!), I was thrilled to snap photos of the amazing scenery in Southeastern Utah. These landscapes always make me feel that I should be seeing big cats roam along them, as if they belong in Africa or southeast Asia. Beautiful scenery to end our trip with!
The road to get there was 21 miles of washboard purgatory (why not hell? well, we didn’t know if we would ever arrive…), but the arrival was cool moonlight silhouettes of astounding buttes. Coyotes howled all night and the burning sun woke us in the morning. This was my first real experience of the desert.
I got some good driving time in on the RV going from southwest Oklahoma to northeast New Mexico. The roads were nice and straight, which made for smoother sailing in the RV (which over 55mph often felt like a boat rocking on a troubled sea), and I started to relax a bit driving such a behemoth.
Out of all the stops on our trip this may have been my favorite place to arrive. Both Chad and I had started growing skeptical about what the park would be like as we navigated through the town of Clovis. But when we drove into the state park as the sun was setting, I felt a sense of excitement overwhelm me. Beautiful shades of mauve settled across the horizon as the grasslands moved under a cool breeze.
The campsite had an adobe-type wall around it which provided some privacy where we could look out at the beautiful view. We had a nice private site at the campground. I loved seeing the waving grasses the next morning and really wanted to stay there for a few days.
The Wichita Wildlife Refuge was one of the few destinations that were on our original travel plan that we actually made it to. It was exciting to be arriving just around sunset and to have a wide choice of campsites to pick from. Also, we were finally out of the humid forests of the Southeast and into a different type of habitat – open canopy woods.
Arriving at Tishomingo State Park in Mississippi late on the second day of our cross-country honeymoon trip was exciting because I was out of known territory. The camp sites were nestled in around a lake, and we drove around in the dark trying to pick the best one (ie, the one that was both close to the bath house and away from other people). Our night there started out well but became harrowing when one of the cats escaped. Luckily the next morning we were able to relax, go for a walk by a stream, get our paws wet and hit the road again feeling poised.
Our first stop on our cross-country trip was Victoria Bryant State Park. This was not where we had planned to stay, but once we got on the road, we quickly realized we weren’t going to make the 10pm gate closing at Fort Mountain State Park in Georgia. (Note to fellow travelers, 10pm seems to be the universal gate closing time for state parks!)
We were relieved to arrive at the park minutes before closing and find a campsite that was somewhat private. Traveling through the south during the heart of summer we realized that we would be using the electric hookup to cool off the RV with the AC. The generator on the RV is impossibly loud and makes the RV feel like we’re experiencing an earthquake. Luckily we didn’t have to choose whether to sweat or undergo tremors as we were able to hook up to electricity when we needed it most in the sweltering south.
After making the big decision to get married and move me across the country, we had to decide what route we would take getting there. Earlier that June we had driven a quick, direct line from Utah to NC passing through Kansas. This time we wanted more parks to stay in on our trip. Our initial route required a little adjusting once we got on the road. This is what we ended up traveling:
Day 1: Charlotte NC to Victoria Bryant State Park, Georgia
Day 2: Victoria Bryant State Park, Georgia to Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi
Day 3: Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi to Village Creek State Park, Arkansas
Day 4:Village Creek State Park, Arkansas
Day 5: Village Creek State Park, Arkansas to Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas
Day 6: Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas to Wichita Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Day 7: Wichita Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma to Oasis State Park, New Mexico –
Day 8: Oasis State Park, New Mexico to Chaco National Heritage Site, New Mexico
Day 9: Chaco National Heritage Site, New Mexico to Mancos State Park, Colorado
Day 10: Mancos State Park, Colorado to Home (Roosevelt Utah)