Welcome to our On the Road Series with Beatrix the Toyota Highlander, and Marion, her Trillium trailer sidekick as they take us—Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate—through the western states. On the road for 11 weeks so far, our last story was all about Aspen, a peak experience in many ways. On this leg of the journey we camped in many places: Fruita CO, Midway UT, City of Rocks ID, Montour, ID, and Joseph OR.
It’s June 20, the day before the Solstice, and the day after Father’s Day/Juneteenth. We are sitting upstairs in the lounge of the delightful Kokanee Inn, a cozy bed and breakfast for adventurous travelers in scenic Joseph OR. Our arrival in Joseph is a big departure from our intended plan of camping the next two weeks in Idaho. You’ll learn why we changed our plans later on in this story. In the mean while, let’s travel back in time to Friday, June 10, the day we drove away from Aspen CO, a place which claimed our heart in a big way.
Colorado Monument and Fruita CO
The temperature read 98° as we drove west in mid-morning on Hwy 70 toward Grand Junction CO. By 3:30 the temperatures reached 100° as we arrived at our pull-through campsite #34B, perched on a red rock and sandstone rim a thousand feet above the Colorado River and the town of Fruita CO. The campground has flush toilets and bathrooms with running water sinks. The sites do not have electric hookups or showers. Our site looked out at the twinkling night lights of Fruita and at the Book Cliffs Range across the Grand Valley.
The Colorado Monument offers stunning views of monuments, monoliths, dramatic canyons and phenomenal shapes carved in stone. Originally home to the Ute people, their population was displaced with the arrival of the western white migration.
When naturalist John Otto first visited the site in 1906, he began a lifelong love affair with this theater of stone and called it the ‘Heart of the World.’ He bent the ear of everyone he met, wrote letters, and dug trails, all with the intention of preserving the canyon as a national park. John Otto’s single-minded campaign resulted in the 1911 creation of Colorado National Monument. Otto was appointed as its custodian.
Nowadays an ingeniously engineered road takes visitors twisting and turning along a 23-mile resplendent vista on Rim Rock Drive with views of “rock layers dating from the 1.7 billion year old pre-Cambrian gneiss, schist, and granites at the bottom of the canyons, to the much younger sandstones and shales at the top of the road,” as the website notes.
Competing for our attention were newly hatched midges/chiggers/no-see-ums/nasty biters, which swarmed us by the hundreds, sucking our blood to feed their babies. We learned they hatch in juniper, which were plentiful in this country. Visitors sprayed up with bug spray, stayed in their screened tents or in their campers. Having suffered from dozens of itchy long-lasting welts by the feasting beasties two weeks before in Abiquiu NM, I applied essential oil to my exposed skin and planned to buy some bug repellent when we drove down to Fruita.
We cooled off in the pool at the Fruita Community Center. Followed by a good shower, we returned to camp, ate dinner, and drove halfway along Rim Rock Drive, annointed with bug-repelling oil. Admiring the setting sun turning the cliffs all kinds of shades of gold, purple, orange and red, we took dozens of photos to remember the night. Back in Marion we kept our lights low to discourage the midges from entering the screens. The heat had baked Marion’s interior to the extent that even the chocolate chip cookies were warm and melty that evening. We slept poorly in the hot trailer. Heading out for an evening visit to the restroom, I admired the twinkling lights of Fruita below us.
Izzi, who we had met in Aspen, suggested we have breakfast at Best Slope Coffee in Fruita. She was spot on. Saturday June 11th we enjoyed Best Slope’s coffee and breakfast burritos. We sat outside people and dog watching. The folks here look like they live a healthy happy life.
Fruita is a magnet for outdoor people who enjoy bike riding and hiking. We noticed a number of families biking around town, or moms jogging with strollers. We learned that a number of young families are moving here because it is still affordable and is a great community to live in.
As a comparison, Aspen is 138 miles east of Fruita, and its homes average $2.7 million. Fruita is 101 miles east of Moab UT, a huge mecca for outdoors people. Housing there has seen a 75 percent increase each year the past several years. Median home prices range at $769,000 as of April 2022. In Fruita, homes are averaging $428,130. We camped along the Colorado River in Moab 36 years ago, then it was a sleepy town of cafes, modest homes and pecan orchards.
Walking to the nearby farmer’s market we talked with a local woman who bicycled in, dressed in tie-dye. Tammi told us about the no-see-um/chigger population explosion this June among the junipers. Yikes! She recommended buying Avon’s Skin So Soft as a more natural insecticide. Where was my Avon lady when I needed her? As it turned out, a nearby booth sold Skin So Soft labeled as an insect repellant. Thank the gods! I could go outside without attack at our camp.
I bought refreshing iced-coffee from a couple whose innovative food truck—Sugar & Ice—sold munchies and coffee drinks. Living in nearby Grand Junction, the food truck’s friendly woman with rainbow hair spoke of the great vibe here, “How can you feel bad with all the mountain energy?” she asked. In spite of the scorching heat and no-see-ums, we liked the place.
Bill’s uvula was inflamed again and we drove over to visit a Grand Junction Urgent Care. His diagnosis was inflammation due to the extreme dryness and was given a prescription of gargling with salt water and using a saline spray to keep his sinuses hydrated.
After showering at the Fruita Community Center in late afternoon, we drove over to Hot Tomato Pizza, also suggested as excellent by Aspen’s Izzi. The place was packed and full of bonhomie. Our GF pizza with pineapple and bacon was delicious. The teens working in the kitchen said they were well-treated and compensated. Their good humor in the kitchen, no doubt, added to the goodness of our pizza.
24 hours in Utah
Sunday, June 12, we said adios to Colorado—so sad to leave—and drove to Utah. Our campground was located near Park City, the booming ski town which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. Our campsite in Midway UT was at Wasatch State Campground. Orderly and neat, the park’s roadways are paved. Campsites are raked and hosed down after each use. They have power and water. The spotless bathrooms feature flush toilets and free showers. With proximity to Park City’s wealth, mansions sprouted on the hill tops above our camp. Camp neighbors looking for their next place to live told us regular houses in Midway were now selling for more than a million.
We recalled Park City as a quaint ski town when we visited 36 years ago. Now it’s exploding with new condo construction, shopping centers, additional ski slopes being carved from the mountains, and heavy traffic. While I sat at the Park City Library assembling last week’s Aspen story, Bill wandered around town, unimpressed with the clogging crowds visiting a festival.
City of Rocks ID
Leaving Utah the next morning we drove through green hills and pastures. Exiting at #245 heading toward Malta, we stopped at a gas station. Except we couldn’t buy any gas. The signboard read: Gas. Regular-an arm; Premium-a leg. The gas station was called the Middle of Nowhere.
We did stop to fill our tank in the tiny town of Malta before heading south on Hwy 77 to the City of Rocks National Reserve. We liked the friendly small town feeling in Malta, along with the three dogs waiting for their owner in this vintage Ford F150. We are lucky that Beatrix is a hybrid, averaging 34 miles a gallon.
At Smoky Mountain Campground we parked comfortably in site 19, along a long paved surface. We were in the farming valley of Almo ID. Our Wifi was found at the nearby National Park visitor’s center. City of Rocks is popular with rock climbers these days.
During the mid to late 1800’s west-bound emigrants along the California Trail stopped here. They added their signatures in axel grease to granite walls that held centuries-old art made by the Shoshone people. A signboard at the park informed us that Chief Pocatello negotiated with the westbound settlers peacefully at first, accepting goods in exchange for the roads made, plants and animals eaten, and safe passage of the 250,000 white people moving through, seeking a better life.
But tensions rose, and legislation was passed, removing Native Americans from their lands to reservations.
A marker in the town of Almo, notes a massacre of nearly 300 immigrants in 1861 by the tribes. Jonathon Floyd, a rock climber, wrote a paper, as part of his Master’s thesis, published by the Utah State University, on the Legend of the Almo Massacre, looking at the event through the lens of folklore and legend, presenting at least three versions of the tale. He theorizes the legend could be historically inaccurate, as news organizations such as NPR, noted in the 1990s. But, Floyd notes, the town of Almo liked to perpetuate the myth to attract tourists.
We enjoyed walking around the granite boulders in City of Rocks, admiring the wildflowers, and viewing the cattle and their babies. A pair of boulders, ‘Twin Sisters,’ was described as a romantic vale by a writer along the Emigrant Trail: “After dinner a ride of 2 miles brought us to the outlet of this romantic vale, a very narrow pass, just wide enough for a wagon, and on either side very high, jagged. and thin walls of granite…. This is called the “Pinnacle Pass.” — J. Goldsborough Bruff, 1849.”
In truth, one sister is as old as 2.5 billion years; the other, 28 million years old. Both rise about 750 feet above the valley floor and I felt their good vibrations while standing in their proximity.
On our last night at our serene campground, Bill drove to the NPS visitors’ center for Wifi and to virtually attend the monthly board meeting of the Saratoga Water District. Bill is one of its three elected board members. About 9 pm—it was still light out— he drove to Durfee Hot Springs. However as he started to get out of the car, six mud-splattered off-road vehicles came roaring up, depositing four passengers each. The ORVs posted flags supporting the far right. Bill got back in the car and drove back to camp.
Thursday morning, June 16, we left to the clicking chorus mating call of male cicadas. The temperature was climbing as we drove to Twin Falls, where we did laundry. A new raspberry-colored T-shirt bought in Aspen turned several white items pink. We noticed a distinct Latter Day Saints-influence, in the tidy brick homes and stores, along with a number of young men in white shirts, black trousers, and ties walking around town.
We researched healthy food places, and ate lunch at 4 Roots Juice Bar and Gluten Free Cafe, where we met a woman named Lara, in town for a National Park Service meeting. She works at Joshua Tree National Park and told us she knows community builder Marta Mulholland from Whidbey Island. Via Facebook, Marta said she knows Lara as well.
The temperatures climbed and it was 98° when we pulled into Bruneau Dunes State Park about 4 pm. We had made previous reservations for the next three nights. Not a lick of shade for Marion and we knew we wouldn’t sleep as she was already a hot box. So we canceled the reservation and headed out toward Boise, thinking we could find a place to stay. A kayak convention, the North Fork Championship, had taken over the region. Hundreds had gathered, filling campgrounds, hotels, and guest houses, to watch local hero Hayden Vorhees of nearby Meridian claim the title of king in the world class rapids of the Payette River’s North Fork.
No vacancy greeted us most everywhere we checked. The few motels and hotels available were charging upward of $200 and $300 a night and they were located along the busy freeway corridor along I84. By Googling all sorts of alternative lodging options, we found a place in nearby Nampa. It was billed as a ‘Unique Hostel,’ a kind of halfway house for people trying to get their life together. We pulled in and didn’t like the feel of the place. We were to be charged $75 for the night. We phoned the owner to say we were moving on.
Next, we called a budget hotel down the road and were told we’d have to pay a deposit of $50 cash before being allowed to stay the night. What kind of a place was this? We drove to downtown Nampa, where the evening past time is racing pristine vintage cars with no mufflers along the main street. The library and its precious Wifi was open until 8 pm. But, we didn’t like leaving Marion and Beatrix parked out on the street while the high testosterone men in cars roared by.
I sent a Facebook personal message to my sister’s former fiancé, Jon, who lived with his wife Fran, near Boise. He suggested we try the Roystone Hot Springs RV park, about 45 minutes’ drive away in the small town of Sweet. If all else failed, Jon told us, we could park in front of his house and plug in.
We took a last look at an appealing—on the Internet—campground in nearby Caldwell. Yikes! It was located on the freeway, with broken down RV’s parked there. The place exuded a seedy atmosphere, seemingly broadcasting that we’d wake up to our tires being possibly stolen or slashed in the night.
We called Roystone and were heartened to learn there was one site left for one night only. Hallelujah! It was 9:30 by this time and exhausted, we were grateful to drive out of the intensity of sprawling Nampa and Caldwell, out into the welcome farm fields and rolling green hills of Gem County and Idaho’s Treasure Valley. Hearing our tires crunch on clean gravel in a safe park was soooo appreciated after a grueling several hours spent searching in vain at rough places.
Jon also recommended we try camping at the nearby Montour Campground, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. With pit toilets and available on a first come, first served basis, we found a site for Friday and Saturday nights, and paid only $4 a night to camp there with our Golden Age passes. We pay half the rate for camping on federal lands, and have free admission to national parks, recreation areas, monuments, wildlife refuges and more with our senior passes.
Montour Campground is located about six miles up from the Black Canyon Diversion Dam, a recreation area, and flood control district. Our campground host told Bill the dam was leaking and the adjoining reservoir was operating at a lower capacity to accommodate the heavy rains that inundated the area.
We had a 10 a.m. appointment Friday June 17 at Peterson Toyota in Boise. This is a tiptop dealer with friendly and competent employees. Our odometer read 10,000,-plus and dashboard reminders told us to take the car in. We learned there was a recall on the car’s software, which needed investigation as well. An ex-cop named Rick, who now operated one of Toyota’s shuttles, drove us to the Boise Public Library downtown. We liked his fast repartee, and curiosity about the new people he shuttled about. We took a liking to Boise’s downtown and its view of the State Capitol dome. A friendly guard outside the library recommend we eat second breakfast at Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro, a landmark popular place for breakfast and lunch. Housed in an old building on Capitol Blvd., Goldy’s food is fresh, hearty and delicious.
Leaning across our table to talk with a Salt Lake City couple, we learned that the gentleman had gluten intolerance like I do. Since being diagnosed, he changed his diet, eliminating all grains, and said he’s never felt better. He ordered six eggs and a rasher of bacon. We all agreed that we keep our news intake to a minimum, and, as a result, find the world we traveled in to be a mostly friendly place.
“People are frickin’ awesome,” our neighbor said, and we agreed.
We walked over to the newly restored in 2011 Capitol building and felt a sense of awe and pride in the power of law. Given the stereotype Idaho has for attracting wing nuts and mercenaries, we were heartened to feel the power of democracy in the building.
Outside stood a statue honoring Idaho’s fourth governor, Frank Steunenberg. He arrived in 1899 to thwart the ‘organized lawlessness’ of the times. Though he was credited with restoring law and order, he was murdered, after serving a second term as governor. Harry Orchard, formerly a member of the pro-union Western Federation of Miners, was arrested for the crime and jailed. Anger simmered from the time Steunenberg called in federal troops to protect a non-union mine, which paid lower wages, from the violence of the unionized mines. The unions felt Steunenberg betrayed them by declaring martial law.
We like Boise, a progressive city, which plans to be carbon neutral by 2050.
We returned to camp, admiring the late setting sun and the wild cats roaming about, the many birds calling in the reeds and trees.
Saturday morning we moved our camp from site 16 next to a big family reunion, to a quieter camp at site 8. We thought it would be quieter, camping next to a pair of twin brothers, Lee and Lou. Lee lived nearby in Horseshoe Bend. His brother Lou drove up in a new RV and truck from Southern California to spend time with Lee, who was in poor health. The twins had a visitor from a nearby camp site.
We nicknamed the visitor ’21 visions John,’ for his nonstop chatter, even as we were unhooking the trailer and leveling it. One of his 21 visions was for a relative who had died, bald, and full of cancer, and seeing her restored to life on the other side. He ran to his tent and returned with a handful of bolo necklaces, many on elk hide he’d fashioned into leather thongs from elk he had hunted in the past. He insisted we take one as a gift. He said in retirement he likes to keep busy. John told us he’d lived in Nampa since 1952 and has seen it grow from 17,000 to over 108,000 now. How he’s going to marry a rich woman. That he’s 82 and healthy. That he was going to visit the nearby car show in the town of Emmett, and that we ought to visit the town’s cherry festival the same day. He continued to banter on nonstop, even as we climbed in the car to drive to Emmett.
We drove into Emmett, and, after noticing several booths with scary-looking men promoting their rights to the Second Amendment, I told Bill I did not want to get out of the car. I was getting the feeling I got when reading about the recent Uvalde massacre, watching the coverage of the Jan. 6, 2021 attempt at taking over the Capitol, and when learning from Boise Public Radio that white nationalists were arrested prior to their attempts to create violence at a recent LGBTQ event in Couer d’Alene. Here were the people I’d read about and the feeling of hate and distrust of others seemed to hang thick in the air. I felt numb. We later learned Emmett is the hometown of Amon Bundy, a far-rightwing independent candidate for Idaho governor, charged with trespassing in a child welfare case.
We left Emmett in a daze, driving north toward Banks, hoping to have our sense of well-being restored by nature. However throngs of kayakers were out, many with kayaks mounted on their roof racks and piled in pickup beds. The North Fork Championship was on. We left the freeway rush hour traffic of kayak-laden vehicles and headed east on Hwy 17 from Banks to Lowman to check out our Sunday night camp site at Pine Flats Campground. Much of the forest here had burned in recent fires. The campground was poorly maintained. The pit toilets had seen much better days. The rough-looking campers looked like they all packed heat, and the water pump was dry. I told Bill I’d rather sleep in a closet than camp here.
Stopping to swim at a Boise YMCA, I felt my power returning. I was puzzled that I let the feeling in Emmett steal my sense of well-being and wonder still about the phenomenon. Meanwhile, Bill sat outside and suggested we avoid camping in Idaho during the next 12 days and aim for Joseph in northeastern Oregon, instead.
Since we entered the Nampa/Emmett areas June 16, we started getting right wing emails. We wondered who sold our data to American Retirement Insider, Daily Patriot Poll, and Fellow American Daily. I have written STOP in the subject line from each of these unwanted senders and sent the email back.
Sunday morning, Father’s Day and Juneteenth, we visited with Jon and Fran, grateful to be with such loving people; we had felt invisible in Emmett.
After Mexican food in nearby Eagle, we drove north and west to Oregon. Perhaps it was only in our minds, but knowing we were in Oregon—and it has its conservative pockets—we felt like we could breathe freely again. We learned that we actually breathe better in areas of tolerance. And the snow-capped mountains here are breath-taking and spirit lifting.
That’s the news from Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate, grateful for the welcoming community of Joseph OR, named for Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people.