CJR Escalante Adventure 2005 – Days 1-3

Synopsis: Travel from home to Camp I. Driving; May 17-19.

These three days were consumed by the drive from home to the Escalante region. John and I left Minneapolis, Minnesota on Day 1 and traveled to Camp I via Des Moines, Denver, Grand Junction, Green River, Hanksville, and Boulder, UT. Charles is fortunate enough to live only a single day’s drive from the Escalante. He left Las Vegas, Nevada on Day 3 and traveled via St. George, Zion National Park, Escalante, and Boulder, UT.

Charles drove his 1998 red Ford Ranger pickup. John and I traveled in John’s green van, Myrtle, which he purchased this spring and is converting into a camper. At the time of this trip, Myrtle sported a full-size bed with thick foam padding, a counter, sink, and snazzy light-blocking privacy covers for the windows. You will see more of both vehicles as the report progresses.

Charles’s trip was uneventful, and he enjoyed touristing in Zion National Park for a few hours. John and I had a somewhat more eventful trip. The first event was Car Trouble halfway between Des Moines and Omaha (fortunately, this Car Trouble wasn’t as Troubling as when I totalled my Explorer outside Hanksville in 2001). For several weeks, Myrtle had been pulling to the right, and soon after John began his driving shift she began to shake more and more. Finally, John blurted, “is it me, or are we really shaking?”

We pulled over at the first exit and examined the car and all four wheels — nothing was wrong except that the left front tire pressure was quite high (observe: foreshadowing). John brought it down to normal and we tried again; still shaking. At the next exit, we still couldn’t find anything wrong. The third exit had a gas station; we pulled in, got out, and the problem was immediately apparent:


Damaged left front tire. Before deflation, the tire looked quite a bit worse, sporting several funny bulges and with pink visible in the crack. (Note that we weren’t idiots to miss it the first two times — the damaged part was down.)

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So, out came the jack and the spare tire. We put on the tinker-toy spare, inflated it, and limped along at 50 mph to Omaha, where (it was around 9 pm at this point) obviously we couldn’t do anything until morning. We decided to keep limping to Lincoln, where we camped in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

In the morning, we got up bright and early at 7:00 am, when the Tire & Lube Express™ at Wal-Mart opened. John bought two brand-new tires and we were on our way to Denver, where deadlines loomed: the USGS map store closed at 4:00, and John had to give a urine test by 4:30. Fortunately, we were idiots and forgot about the time change, so we arrived in Denver at about 2:45.

The map store wasn’t just any map store; it was attached to the main USGS map warehouse, a 16-acre building filled, less a few offices, entirely to the brim with maps! Realizing that I couldn’t afford to buy all the maps, I settled on the 6 topographic maps necessary for our trip, plus the map indices for about 16 states (these are free). John left after a few minutes to go urinate in a carefully controlled environment, leaving me to drool.

My cousin Kate moved to Boulder, Colorado two weeks before our trip. She, her roommate Jimmy, and the two of us had a fabulous Mexican dinner at Gregorio’s. John and I left after supper and camped near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. (As we saw in the morning, we camped along the access road to the city dump!)

Finally, we arrived in Boulder, Utah at 4:15 on Day 3, 45 minutes ahead of our scheduled meeting time with Charles. He pulled in 45 minutes late — turns out he neglected his own time change too. After supper at the Boulder Mesa Restaurant, we drove out to Camp I, which lay 30 miles down the Burr Trail (paved) plus another 18 miles down a steadily deteriorating dirt road.


Abandoned tow truck in Hanksville, UT. Carl Hunt of Hunt’s Wrecker Service had a starring role in 2001 when he rescued John and me after I wrecked my Explorer.

Photo by John Garbe.
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Henry Mountains from Highway 12, half an hour north of Boulder, Utah.

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Please continue reading on Day 4.

E-mail: reid@reidster.net
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