Saturday, July 2, 2005

Wow, we've had a spectacular couple of days.

After leaving Blue Mesa reservoir on the Gunnison River and the Curecanti National Recreation Area yesterday morning, we proceeded west on US 50 to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument. After climbing the considerable grade into the park at ten MPH, we were rewarded with absolutley stunning views into the canyon that many early explorers deemed impenetrable. With our binoculars, we were able to see kayakers on the river 2,000' below, and even two unoccupied kayaks involved in an earlier heli-rescue drama. It is a challenging class-V run with much portaging, apparently.

Our National Parks Pass (with Golden Eagle upgrade, natch) expired at the end of June, so we needed to buy a new one yesterday. The seasonal worker at the entrance booth and I had a long chat, since their credit card machine was unbelievably slow, a problem exacerbated by the fact that the Parks Pass and the Golden Eagle must be rung up and charged separately -- your federal government at its finest. At some point I mentioned that we were planning on stopping at Colorado National Monument, and she allowed that her brother happened to be working at that park. I also learned that she was a nursing student at U of C (or maybe that was CSU).

After leaving the Black Canyon, we continued along US50 which eventually returned to the Gunnison and followed it into Grand Junction, where it joins with the Colorado. The layout of streets in Grand Junction had us cross the Colorado twice, once just upstream and once just downstream of the junction, on our way to Colorado National Monument.

Entering our second National Monument of the day, we stopped at the entry booth to flash our brand-new Parks Pass, and who should be working the gate than none other than nursing-student-summer-ranger's brother, whom I recognized by his name tag. Small world.

This park also demanded a several-mile climb in excess of six percent, which we again did somewhere in the teens, and we still had to stop a few times for cool-downs. We now have a pretty good idea that something is not 100% correct with our cooling, and I am suspecting now a missing section of exhaust insulation blanket that stems from our work at PEDCO, coupled with a gap between the engine bay and the intake ducting for the radiators that stems from the redesign of that section at Infinity. The gap in the ducting is right next to the exhaust plumbing that is missing its blanket, and I am thinking that enough super-heated air is being sucked through this gap into the radiators to affect their performance.

The view from the rimrock drive was absolutely stunning, with red rock formations to rival some of the more famous parks in Utah. I kept expecting to see Wile E. Coyote-shaped holes in the ground next to the various balanced rocks. After stopping at many of the overlooks, we made it to the visitor center at the other end of the park just as they closed, and decided to call it a day. Conveniently, the park has its own campground perched on the rimrock, and that's where we spent the night (map).

It was still in the 80's when we stopped for the night, so we decided to run the generator for a while to get some AC going, but it absolutley refused to stay running. Between the heat in the engine bay and the high ambient temperature, the genny kept overheating and its temperature safety would shut it off. A week or so ago we were having similar problems and I rewired the cooling fan from its lowest speed setting to its second-highest setting. Next chance I get, I will switch to the highest speed, but I suspect even that will not be sufficient. A redesign of the fan ducting is probably in order. We ran one unit on batteries for a while, and an hour or so later, when the engine had cooled down and the ambient temperature had dropped, I was able to get the genny running long enough to replenish the batteries for the night. This last few weeks has really proven to be a good hot-weather test of Odyssey's systems, and a key finding has been that the generator installation is marginal in precisely the circumstance under which it is most needed.

After leaving Colorado NM this morning, descending another steep grade and transiting two tunnels right out of a Road Runner cartoon (the exact kind that a giant bus comes out of, right after the tunnel has been merely painted on the side of the rock), we crossed the river again and headed north on Colorado 139, joining up with US40 in Dinosaur, CO. US 40 brought us into Utah, and a brief detour from that route took us to Dinosaur National Monument, our third park in two days. At this rate, we will have recouped our annual park pass investment before another week goes by.

Dinosaur NM is a park that encompasses some of the most prolific excavation sites of dinosaur fossils in the world. Many nearly complete skeletons have been excavated here and are on exhibit in natural history museums around the world.

As part of the preservation of the history of the site, the park service has erected an exhibit building on top of one of the fossil quarrys, and painstakingly excavated a collection of fossils half way. That is to say, the fossilized bones are still embedded in the surrounding rock, just as they were found and as they have been preserved for a hundred million years, but they have been "relieved" or partially uncovered from the rock to be clearly visible to visitors. It is really quite impressive, and must be seen to be appreciated.

The green river runs through the monument, and a nice campgound accompanies the spot where outfitters put in and take out rafting trips on the river.

We continued on US40 into Vernal, then turned north on US191, for yet another 3000', 6% climb to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We made a six mile detour east to have a look at the dam and stop in the visitor center (including, you guessed it, another 6% grade) before continuing west on Utah 44 to land here, at Greens Lake campground (map).

We first tried to get in to two other forest service campgrounds on this same side road, but a little closer to the gorge. However, this being a holiday weekend, they were already full. We counted ourselves lucky to get one of the last two or three sites here, and it's actually quite a nice spot. As a bonus, we were able to walk to nearby Red Canyon Lodge for dinner, which was actually quite good.

Tomorrow we will continue west, and intersect I-80 in Wyoming.

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