The Drive Back: a Trip Journal

Published at 11:47 on 25 July 2022

Introduction

I have for at least several years desired to make a road trip at least from New Mexico back to the Pacific Northwest (if not a round trip), camping instead of staying in motels and carrying mementos of my parents back with me.

While stuck in Albuquerque handling Mom’s estate, it occurred to me: things were slowing down, I could leave about a week earlier than planned without harming much, and use much of that extra time to drive back… if I could secure a one-way rental car at a non-extortionate price. Surprisingly, I could! It was still pretty expensive, mind you, but still doable, and still worth it to me at that price. I really wanted to revisit some of the places I passed through on my drives from New Mexico to northern Utah in my college years, and now, unexpectedly, I could. Plus it would salvage what has been basically a blown summer as far as camping and vacation opportunities are concerned.

Thursday, 21 July 2022

ESCAPED TODAY!

It all went pretty much as planned. Collected the rental car (2018 Buick Encore, as hoped, a compact car was unavailable so I got bumped up to a small SUV) shortly after 09:00. There was a little trouble locating the rental car place, but not a whole lot.

Drove back to my Mom’s house, loaded, went with my sister Mary to Dad’s grave, and departed Corrales at 10:45. Lunch at noon near the Continental Divide north of Cuba.

Was in the 90’s Fahrenheit until I dropped down into the San Juan river valley, then it was in the 100’s. Had forgotten just what a barren desert it is for much of the way between Shiprock and Cortez.

Since I had left before noon, I was optimistic about being able to get to Soldier Summit. Nope, didn’t happen. Back to the original plan of camping near Monticello. Am at Dalton Springs Campground. $20, but decided it was worth it for a picnic table and the ability to refill my water jugs. About 8,000ʹ. Gambel oak and aspen.

Was in the 80’s when I arrived (17:00), but has already cooled into the 70’s (19:00). Bet ABQ is still in the upper 90’s at this time. Should be a nice, cool night for sleeping.

Lots of mule deer in the area. The cheap Walmart tent and sleeping bag are indeed cheap. Would not want to rely on the tent in a storm. It is fine for keeping the bugs out in present conditions.

There were plenty of campsites when I arrived. Looks like there will be vacancies tonight [there were]. So glad to be here and not in the desert below.

——————–

US.550 is 4 wide lanes all the way to Bloomfield. Used to be called NM.44 and be mostly two lanes, sometimes two narrow ones and with “aprons” that would flood in each heavy rainfall, closing the road. Highway to Monticello no longer narrows significantly when one crosses into Utah. Ah, the changes that happen in 35 years (more than half my life).

Friday, 22 July 2022

Left Dalton Springs CG at 07:30. The decent into Moab was spectacular [it was, in retrospect, probably the highlight of the entire trip]. It also warmed up like crazy, from around 60˚F at daybreak at 8,000ʹ to 90˚F in the desert by 10:00. Right after I left Monticello, a family of wild turkeys (a mother and four poults) crossed the road.

Stopped in Moab to buy a few groceries, text a status update to Mary, and check on a debit card, which both the gas station in Cortez and the supermarket in Moab declined. They couldn’t find any problems with it and there is plenty of money in that account.

Lots of road modernizations. About half the road from I.70 to Moab has been 4-laned. There still is a rest area on US.6 between I.70 and Price, but much larger (and in the process of being expanded) and in a slightly different location (atop a plateau, not below it). The Thistle Slide bypass no longer sticks out like a sore thumb for being 4-laned. Was hard to recognize Soldier Summit as the road had been straightened and 4-laned there.

It has been 35 years (2022–1987) of course. When Dad helped me drive home from USU that time it was so hot in an old car without A/C, he was younger than I am now!

Stopped for gas at Ogden. My debit card worked. It was in the 100’s when driving through the Wasatch Front megalopolis. Did not make any other stops there.

Camped for the night at Bennett Springs, a free USFS campground near Burley. Was a little worried given the lack of a reservation, the late hour, and Pioneer Day long weekend that it would be full. False alarm, though it did not take long after I arrived for it to fill up.

It is on a paved road, but the sign on the road just says “Bennett Springs,” not “Bennett Springs Campground.” Bet that helps keep the riff-raff out.

Lots of dejected latecomers, including ones in large RV’s, are now showing up. I dread one of those “squat-camping” along the road in front of my site, generator running until late [false alarm]. One of the annoyances of Dalton Springs last night was how the host (yes, the host) ran her generator until 22:00.

There is no drinking water here and the camp sites are a lot less level. But, hey, free!

Found the campground no thanks to the Gaia app. The latter is the worst $35 I have ever spent. They claim you can download data for use off the network, but the downloading often randomly fails to include route data. The app itself sometimes randomly fails to work properly absent a network connection. Total P.O.S. Wasted an hour getting sent in the wrong direction this evening thanks to it.

The way back from here on (actually, from Spanish Forks on) is mostly interstate. Rural interstates were built to such ridiculously high standards that there will be a lot less changes to the roads from here on. Plus, I drove most of this route with Rick not too long ago.

I.15 through the SLC metro area had been widened to 4 or even 5 lanes in each direction, however, and rebuilt using concrete. No bridge work noted! [In the 1980’s, that stretch of freeway was notorious for having perpetual bridge repair work.]

Mimulus lewisii, Penstemon procerus, Rudbeckia occidentalis. The flora is starting to look familiar. I can tell it is going to get cooler here than it did at the last place [it did].

21:10 — Incredible sunset underway.

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Left Bennett Springs at 07:30 despite waking at 05:30 and not 06:00. Rolled up the tent with half of my jewellery in it (no harm done).

After a somewhat weak start (exhibited poor stopping discipline, making separate stops for ice, water, and fuel when one would have sufficed), realized that this had to change because making it past The Bottomlands (otherwise known as the Columbia Basin) meant for a long day.

Between then exercising greater discipline and gaining an hour due to a time zone change, I’ve made it to Taneum Creek Campground [near Ellensburg]. Plenty of vacancies, despite it being a few hours from Seattle and one of the nicest Forest Service campgrounds there is. $20/night, and the water system is working.

Not that I need water. A janitor at a rest stop in Idaho saw me walking around with empty jugs and invited me to fill them at his janitor’s sink “because the hydrants outside are broken.”

Was nowhere near as hot today. Car thermometer never got warmer than the mid-90’s Fahernheit (and was doubtless reading several degrees too high).

My down-to-business pace today did not allow for photography, but I don’t feel terribly deprived. The gap between seeing most places I drove was not 35 years. Only exception was the stretch between Ontario and Baker.

Speaking of the latter, opted to eat lunch by the train tracks on the hunch that I might see a train (I did). (Messing with my phone to find out how far it was until the next rest area would have made for an extra stop.)

Now it is time for a brief walk into the nearby state wildlife lands.

——————–

Boise still sprawls very little to the east. Even 8 miles out, nothing but arid grassland as far as the eye can see. Then you crest a ridge and BOOM!

Sunday, 24 July 2022

Dropped the rental car keys off in the after hours drop box at the Bellingham airport, with a note that I’m returning the car a day early (will not get credit for the time it sits until the desk opens tomorrow morning). There were only 2 drop off spots available, and it was tricky to find a bus to Vancouver that left at decent hours — but I found one.

The drive from Taneum Campground felt very short, and very anticlimactic. Was hard to believe I had driven that far. Was odd looking though the various items I had bought and realizing I had bought them in various distant places all within the past several days. Hard to believe just two mornings ago I was savouring the sight of the rock formations near Moab in the morning light.

The night spent at Taenum was cool and crisp, easily the coolest night of the three, ideal for sleeping.

Now comes the wait for the cab.

Monday, 25 July 2022

The final leg of the trip went just fine. As hoped, I arrived at my Vancouver home before nightfall yesterday.

The wrinkle was figuring it all out. There are at least three bus lines running between Bellingham and Vancouver these days: Greyhound, FlixBus, and Quick Shuttle. The latter would have been optimal, because it departs from the airport terminal, which is the same place I had to drop the rental car off at. Alas, all seats were sold out. A further complication was that the Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty (all three are merely different brands owned by the same parent corporation) counter at BLI is closed weekends. Worse, all buses on Monday were booked until the evening runs, meaning I would have to blow over 24 hours waiting for a connecting trip. But FlixBus had vacancies on a Sunday evening run, if only I could drop the car off after hours. There really wasn’t anything specific on after-hours returns, so I had to go to the airport and verify that: a) there was an after-hours key drop, b) with my contact, I was allowed to use it, and c) there was space in the lot to drop off the vehicle. All three were the case, so the key drop and FlixBus it was.

FlixBus was a bit strange. It was a nice new, clean bus. However, it was a pretty basic bus (no outlets for laptops or anything like that). The bus showed up in Bellingham promptly on time. What floored me is how little the bus driver scrutinized anyone’s tickets; she basically did not scrutinize them at all! She announced it was the bus heading north to Vancouver and requested Vancouver-bound passengers board. I could have gotten a ride for free if I had wanted to! Got off at Pacific Central Station and took the No. 19 trolleybus home.

Was expecting to start work today, but that cannot be done because my access to all accounts got suspended and it will take about a day to un-suspend it all. So I have an unexpected day in which to tie up loose ends.

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