PJ and Paul’s Epic Adventure
My dad (PJ) and I had the opportunity to embark on an unforgettable Road Adventure trip that was filled with lifetime memories in October 2022.
Day 1: We started our first day with the always fun 6 am flight out of Columbus, OH to Phoenix, AZ. We landed in Phoenix after the 5 hour flight and picked up our Thor Four Winds 24F. Once we had the RV we were almost ready to hit the road. After a quick lunch and stop at the grocery store, we were off towards our first campground in Utah. Following our 8 hour drive we arrived at our first Campground: Sun Outdoors Canyonlands Gateway in Moab. Clearly, by the name, this campground is located next to the entrance of Canyonlands National Park, as well as being just a few miles north of Arches National Park. Moab has a plethora of campgrounds, hotels, and resorts to choose from, including some located downtown or at the entrance of the national parks. After a long day of flying and driving we settled in, able to enjoy a nice long hot shower in the bath house, which is always a big plus when looking at campgrounds. They also had a small convenience store which sold some groceries, firewood, and medical supplies. We knew we had quite a day ahead of us, so it was an early night for us, falling asleep right after dinner. We were hoping for some better stargazing weather, but the moon was nearly full so unfortunately it did drown out the night sky a bit.
Day 2: We decided that we wanted to visit the world renown Arches National Park before the massive crowds arrived. So, we set our alarms for 4:45 am, that way we had enough time to get ready, eat breakfast, and enter the park under the night sky. Even though this wasn’t their peak season, Arches can become very busy and difficult to find parking spaces during the day. So much so that during peak season you must have a reservation time to visit the park. To learn more about making a reservation or when you don’t need one click here. The most popular parks throughout the country are beginning to implement this to help avoid overcrowding. Knowing when to visit certain parks can make or break your experience, we chose the non peak season weather over the peak season crowds.
We arrived at Balancing Rock, one of the many rock formations in the park, and waited for the sun to rise being the first vehicle in the parking lot. Getting to witness the transition from darkness to daylight was spectacular and needs to be seen in person. The colors just kept getting more and more vibrant, exposing the millions of years these formations have been around including tens of thousands of years where it was a part of the ocean while dinosaurs walked, or under a glacier in the ice age, or now the near desert climate. Just reading the signs in the park about the age of these rocks is hard to wrap your brain around. About 30 minutes after sunrise the parking lot was nearly full and we began our exit from Arches, not before visiting a couple more formations.
Our next stop was to pick up our OHV (off highway vehicle) at 8 am from Cliffhangers Jeep rentals. We were so excited once we saw the vehicle- we were like kids in a candy store.
Our first destination was Moab Sand Flats recreation area. This park is home to an almost unlimited number of mountain biking and off-road trails, with the most well known (and scariest) being Hell’s Revenge. My dad and I were not going to miss out on trying the biggest and baddest trail, but we decided to complete a few milder routes first that weren’t so intimidating, including one known as Fins N Things. It took a few minutes to get comfortable going up and down nearly vertical rock walls but each time we completed one our confidence rose. A couple hours of testing this vehicle out, we were ready to try and complete Hells Revenge. While picking up the vehicle, the lady did tell us someone had flipped their Jeep the week prior. We decided to not tell my mom about this opportunity, and would tell her after we finished it unscathed (hopefully). We were able to complete it, without flipping our vehicle, but there were some heart racing moments. The best view came at the top of the route, where you had a beautiful view of the Colorado River.
After lunch, we made our way to the next route named Chickens Corner. The route is just on the outskirts of Canyonlands National Park, allowing you to skip the crowds and entry fee of the actual park. The amazing part of this section was we had it all to ourselves. At the top you are able to see for miles and it was just us and the canyon. Knowing that just one mile away was a parking lot full of visitors fighting for a view of this land made it a little sweeter.
We returned the vehicle around 5 pm and made our way to a local restaurant for views and a quality meal. Moab is truly an outdoor enthusiast perfect playground. This beautiful city offers world class white water rafting, hiking, off-roading, mountain climbing, skydiving, and much more. After dinner, we headed back to our campground and rested for the night.
Day 3: After another early morning wake up call at 5:30am and we got ready and hit the road. Our next campground was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park campground just outside of Gunnison, CO. But we weren’t just going to drive straight there, as we had some trails and scenic drives planned for the day. The first drive was Scenic St Route 128, which runs along the Colorado river with stunning cliffs and views of the river.
We then made it through Grand Junction and started our second scenic route through Grand Mesa on RT 65. With the mesa top sitting around 10,000ft in elevation the views are breathtaking everywhere you look. On a clear day, like the one we had, they say you can see nearly 100 miles in each direction! We stopped halfway through Grand Mesa and started out on foot on the Crag Crest Trail. The trail offers a pristine hike through beautiful 60ft pines, freshwater springs, and lakes so beautiful you could think it’s a mirage.
Our hike was just about 10 miles of jaw dropping scenery with the highest elevation being 11,200ft. There was already some snow on the trails, but nothing like their season total. Some parts of Grand Mesa have totaled over 500” of snow from October-March!
Once we completed the trail, we continued our journey towards Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Day 4: After arriving at our campground under the cover of the night sky for the third day in a row, we decided to sleep in and set our alarms for 7am. We woke up and scurried over to the visitor center so we could hopefully acquire a permit for the Gunnison trail. They only allow 15 permits per day, so if you arrive after the visitor center is open you are already too late for that day. By the time the center opened there were more people than permits, but luckily, we were second in line and obtained the coveted pass.
The Gunnison trail is not for everyone, as it is only 3 miles long round trip, but with an elevation change of 3,700 ft it can feel more like rock climbing than hiking at times.
Heading down the 1.5-mile trail took us just over an hour, but the trek was worth what was waiting for us at the bottom. Black Canyon is one of the narrowest and steepest canyons in the country, and the views are rivaled by only a select few places in the United States (IMO). We stayed down at the river soaking in the canyon knowing that this has taken hundreds of millions of years to form what we were looking at presently.
While down there we filled our water bottles back up with the water from the river. We did use a filter, even though the park rangers told us the water was clean enough to drink without a filter.
After some hiking, lunch, watching people fly fishing, and listening to the river we knew what was ahead of us; a 1.5-mile hike going uphill 1,850 ft. I knew this was going to be a monster of a trail to complete, there was a section that had a chain to hold on to for the steep grade. There were also multiple sections where you actually were climbing up an 8ft vertical face.
I’m not going to lie, my 63-year-old father (who still runs marathons, just fyi) kicked my butt heading back to the top. I had to stop a few times to “take in the view”, but it was really to catch my breath and have some water. Finally, we made it back to the top and started to stop at the legendary viewpoints overlooking the canyon. It was hard to fathom looking at the visitor center and river from afar, knowing we had just trekked that land. Once we soaked up the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, we headed to our final campground which was located in the massive town of Cotopaxi, CO with a population of 34! We again arrived at this campground in the dark, not realizing the beauty that awaited us in the morning.
Day 5: We knew this campground had beautiful scenery from the pictures we saw, but they did it no justice. We walked out of the RV and were a mere 30 feet from the crystal-clear waters of the Arkansas River and could see the snow-covered mountains tops of the Rockies in the distance. One of the most unbelievable parts; there was no one at the campground other than the owner.
Side note, the owner of the campground caught five trout during our stay there.This was our final day of hikes and we set off to explore the San Isabel National Forest. Before leaving we again used our water filter and filtered all of the water we needed to drink for our hike from the Arkansas River. We decided on doing a mild hike today, about 8 miles, so we could get some food from a local store and finally be at a campground for sunset and dinner.
But before that, our hike near Westcliffe, CO in the San Isabel Forest was one not to forget. We followed streams most of the way out, crossing over multiple times. Even when we couldn’t see the streams, they were never out of hearing distance, which makes a hike even better when you can just stop and hear running water. We finished the hike outwards when we reached this beautiful lake at just over 10,000 ft of elevation.
This lake definitely fit the category of a “mirror lake”, as the views of the cloud off the reflection of the lake were nearly identical if you looked up at them.
After meandering down the trail, we drove to the charming town of Westcliffe, where downtown looks closer to the 1800s than modern day and bought some dinner to cook at our campground.
We settled on some steaks and salad for dinner, and even though we didn’t buy filets or have fancy seasoning (or any actually) this might have been the best steak in my life. I was sitting next to my dad, along the Arkansas River, snow top mountains with the sunset in the background creating a picturesque moment I had only dreamt about. Trips like these make you understand you don’t need to stay in 5 star hotels, eat at fancy restaurants, and explore big cities for life to leave you breathless.
The next day we woke up and made the 19 hour drive back home to Columbus.
See below for a special highlight video showcasing even more of Paul and PJ’s trip!