Looking for Hubcaps in Death Valley

Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
Trip End Feb 12, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Friday, January 8, 2010

Since our last update, we headed out of the fair city of Cortez with fuel, propane and supplies on our way toward Monument Valley.  Despite knowing we would have nearly a 1-1/2 hour backtrack to continue our route North we didn't want to miss this iconic landmark.  Blown away by the beauty of this place, we pulled over and attempted to capture some aerial images with my kite aerial photography equipment. Lea felt compelled to ask permission of the landowners who were in a trailer some 500 yards down a dirt road in a wide-open range.  Clearly, the inhabitants found us quite alien and had simply no idea what we were talking about.  After explaining to the male occupant that we wished to ask permission to fly our kite and take photographs - he responded "otay, buuut I dun have a kite".  He then directed us to the "lady" of the house who was inside.  Her daughter barely opened the door to us and told us the lady was busy and after once again explaining our intentions she agreed although had absolutely no idea what we were asking for.  Ultimately Lea gave up on the idea of getting permission and we carried out our attempts of capturing the monoliths. Unfortunately it was not meant to be.  In setting up the kite, I tore part of it, which Lea then repaired.  However, once all was in order you could hear a pin drop - there was absolutely no wind at all.

We packed up and carried on, spirits soaring, unlike our kite.  We continued North through a huge overpass that climbs out of Monument Valley where Lea nearly soiled herself in fear on the narrow winding switchbacks that climbed well over 1000 feet into the sky. We rolled into Natural Bridges National Monument where the ranger told us we were free to head on to the campground.  Unfortunately, this proved too much for Etien. The snow was unplowed and insurmountable without chains on our vehicle.  We dug out our Westy and backed onto the road and located an ideal location, although prohibited, overlooking the bridges valley and camped here instead.  We woke to a bright, frosty day and proceeded to explore the natural bridge formations.  The day brought on some of the most scenic driving both of us have ever seen, coming upon places with mystical names such as Cataract Canyon, Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase National Monument, the types of places that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and give you that upwelling feeling of being in a place that defies words.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words - seeing these places is beyond them.

We arrived in another gem that I have always wanted to visit - Bryce Canyon National Park. The next morning we descended into the canyon and explored the "hoodoos" which are unusual formations of sandstone created over a millennium of time.  Once again we were treated with the luxury of having this very popular park to ourselves for the bulk of our hike.  A short distance away awaited Zion National Park - another bucket list location for me.  Again the drive entering the park was mind-blowing.  We took a quick visit to the visitor's centre for information, were I quickly picked up a local book on Canyoning and off-trail hiking (some objectives already bouncing in my head for a future visit). The park was busier than the others, perhaps due to the more favourable weather at this altitude, nonetheless extremely quiet this time of year.  We decided on a short hike to become familiar with the area and it was already late in the day with sunset being earlier this time of year.  After our  "Riverview" hike we clearly felt we needed to push further and decided to rent dry suits to take on the 8C water and hike in the river into the slot canyon known as the "Narrows".

We sourced the suits and also picked up walking crampons for our planned hike to "Angel's Landing", a 1500 ft.  icy climb to the summit through a very exposed knife-edged ridge.  Lea was clearly very apprehensive about the next two days' activities.  I on the other hand knew she would rise (no pun intended) to the challenge. During her repeated nervous trips to the bathroom, I decided it might be a good idea to pack a climbing harness and some slings in the event there was a need to tie in should the route prove too much for her.  We spent the next hour or so switch-backing up an aggressive trail which topped out on a ridge some 1,000 ft. above the valley floor.  This is where the real "alpine climbing" begins.  It's hard to believe the park actually still calls this a "hike" and has proceeded to install chains into what only a climber or mountain goat would feel comfortable on.  The pathways became icy and snow-covered at which time we both donned our new walking crampons that proved to be invaluable (worth the $24 - for everything else there's MasterCard!).  Almost near tears, Lea begged to turn around at which time I convinced her she'd be comfortable and safe in the harness (I was wrong...)  Despite doubts she allowed me to tie her in and she proceeded like a champion, although as you can clearly see in the photographs, the fear in her face was pronounced to say the least.  We arrived at a very exposed narrowing of the ridge with a mere 4 ft. of land on either side to a drop of over 1,200 ft.  Lea and I decided that she had reached her turn-around point, knowing her personal abilities had already been exceeded or extended, depending on which of us you ask.  She agreed to wait on a safe ledge area while I proceeded up the remaining 500 ft to the summit.  Alone I looked back every few hundred ft and gave a big wave knowing she was probably very concerned for my welfare.  Shortly after a few hundred feet I felt the same way, concerned for my own welfare!  The route, challenging and exposed, even in summer, became a full-on alpine climb, lacking the necessary axe and full crampons required.  I did reach the summit, took a few photos and carefully made my way back to rendezvous with Lea.  Delighted to see me not splattered all over the canyon floor, we made it back down to safer ledges and had a bite to eat.  That afternoon we celebrated in town by treating ourselves to a nice lunch and some local beers, wherein I discovered the best ribs I have every tasted (sorry Steve!).  We headed back, sore shins and knees from our hike, and took in some well-deserved downtime at our campsite. The next morning we embarked on the planned Narrows Canyon adventure.  We stopped in to see Amelia at the Zion Adventure Tours outfitters where we rented our dry suits and equipment and headed out on the Riverwalk towards the The Virgin River.  Initially the walk was easy but steadily crept upwards and narrowed.  Lea fell in the water in the first few minutes but quickly realized the dry suit actually worked.  The temperature of the water was approximately 8C but despite the cold we were very comfortable in our suits.  The Canyon then split into the Narrows and Orderville.  We proceeded in exploring both Canyons and were soon rewarded with both challenging climbing, shoulder-depth wading and shear natural beauty.  We believe our photos will do this more justice than words.  After an exhausting return to Etien we returned our gear and headed towards Las Vegas!  No mom, we did not tie the knot at the Chapel of Love!  Instead, we drove down the Vegas strip and felt like aliens in an obscene display of wealth and excess.  It's hard to believe that this is what society has come up with in all our years of evolution.  Perhaps spending so much time in unison with nature over the last 2 weeks has made this a more pronounced juxtaposition.  Needless to say, we've both been to Vegas as a destination on its own and rather enjoyed the circus. We nestled in at Red Rock Canyon for the night with the intention of doing a crash course (no pun intended) in rock climbing for Lea.  However, the location and my lack of knowledge of the area permitted this.  We ended up lugging all my climbing gear for 2 hours while we circumnavigated the base of the mountain on our approach.  The approach was much more difficult than the climbing would have been.  We will have to pick this objective up again at a later time in our trip. We headed towards Death Valley where Roger felt compelled to take the Westy up an incredible off-road precipitous and sharp rocky road in order to get a prized view of the sunrise in the morning.  The Westy chugged its way up and we enjoyed our dinner overlooking the mountains.  This was the first night we slept in the upper bunk of the Westy.  The upstairs afforded much more room and we slept very comfortably.  Roger awoke at 6:00 am and made me breakfast until the sun came up which was quite spectacular.  We attempted for the second time to fly the kite which we managed to do and attached Roger's new rig.  However, technical difficulties got the better of us once again and we spent an hour taking "apparent" photos while in reality no images were being captured.  Oh well!  Better luck the next time - Roger has to work on the new equipment - AGAIN!  Death Valley seemed an immense and expansive park but very comfortable this time of year (it is one of the hottest places in North America in the summer).  After spotting some Coyote's we navigated over mountainous terrain and stopped to inspect our now smoldering brakes.  Despite our down-shifting our brakes have been overheating, not having a manual transmission has taken its toll.  We stopped at a junction in the road to check our map and were startled by the overwhelming sound of fighter jets above - one cleared the Westy by no more than 200 ft.  We even got the blast of their wake and jet fuel along with the ear-splitting roar of the jets.  It was quite incredible and surreal.  We promptly discovered on our map that they must have been on exercise from a nearby naval weapons base.  Just before heading off I noticed that the hubcap was missing on the front driver side and given how expensive these things could possible be Roger decided it was best to search the tumbleweed-ridden waste land that is Death Valley Desert.  Knowing we had very little chance of locating it we decided to double-back the 7km to our last stop in search of Etien's missing tooth.  Remarkably, I spotted it perched against a desert rock waiting for rescue and subsequent reunion with the mother ship. We ventured on into Bishop, CA, mecca for bouldering and climbing where Roger again hangs his head low in sadness not having a partner to undertake the challenges before him.  He should have planned ahead (isn't he Swiss or something like that?). We are off tomorrow morning for Yosemite where Roger can hang his head again with no climbing partner in site.  We'll send an update soon and hope all is well with everyone!

Please feel free to comment or give feedback on our blogs.  If you want more detail and more photos please let us know - trust us, we have tonnes!

Roger and Lea
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Cristina on

Good morning you two!

First, thank you for sharing this awesome adventure with us all, you two are one in a million, I don't know too many people who would've had the courage and adventure to do this road trip in the dead of winter.

Roger, I love the writing on this site and congrats on the photography - it really is amazing despite the 'technical difficulties.' There are some awesome shots of these breath-taking locations. I know in the latest entry you don't have a rock climbing partner, but without a doubt you have found a partner to match your adventurous curiosity. Besides, don't you need someone to 'spot' or keep you fastened....( i forget the term). I figure you know this that you've got quite a remarkable woman at your side. Big points to you for cooking up the 'romantic' sunrise breakfast your beautiful partner.

Lea, you have blown my perceptions of you out of the water... facing these often foreign and unfamiliar territories and no I'm not talking about traveling in the US. I'm referring to the extreme weather, the sleeping in a camper ... and finding the hubcap - only you could do that. You do all of this and your hair and nails still looking great :)

Now seriously, I've clearly seen and read enough that you two are adventure soulmates. I speak for myself and possibly others I think most would've abandoned this way back when Etien decided the starter wasn't ready for this extreme trip.

You two should do Amazing Race together. I would think after your experiences together this with the elements against you - that scavenger hunt would be a walk in the park.

Wishing you two the very best of luck (you'll need it), love and happiness to carry you through the next several weeks. I eagerly anticipate reading more of your awesome adventures and continuing to see more beautiful pictures.

With love,


Edith Paul Brun on

Hi Roger and Lea
It is very interesting reading your comment. You are really an couraged couple. Also we have been in the dead valley and it is amazing like on the moon it seems. It is soo nice travelling arround. Last april we were in CUBA and it was very exited.
No we are waiting of the baby from André and Patricia and soon the marriage next friday. On your birthday mai the baby from Michèle and Marcel will be born.
Good luck for your for the next few steps and enjoy. Lot of hugs Edith Paul

Chriss Horstman on

Roger and Lea:
I met you while at the Zions Narrows. We talked for a long time along the trail side. I was with a friend who was showing me around. I was interested in winter walking the narrows. Little did I know you were going to do the same until reading your wonderful blog. So odd, I left home over a year ago and traveled as you while writing a blog. We have been in the same places. See.............

I would like to send you the picture taken of the 3 of us at the narrows. Take care. Chriss

nightrider on

Roger and Lia. I met you at the Zions Narrows. I have signed up on this site as "NightRider" and will follow your exciting trip. So odd that we have traveled the same way and places. Take good care. Chriss

Deniz Benjamin on

Hi guy I just got access to this marvel of an adventure. I am sooo jelous. This is where I need to be. I hope you guys are taking it all in and have the time of your lives. I will be holding my breath till the next update. Stay safe and be well! Love Deniz

Deniz Benjamin on

I'm finally up to speed. Your blogs are great and I'm gushing with pride excitement and Jealousy. I eagerly await your next entry. Roger, I'm actually not worried about my dear sister as I know she's in trusted hands. Very intertaining read, keep up the good work (reunited with the mothership, still laughing). Deniz

Gabriele on

Hey guys, i am reading your blogs, look at your incredible pictures with tons of envy and can really only think of one thing to do: cry ..... my little BFF Lea, who ..... when i met her years ago ..... wanted no part of nature and its adventures. She called me grazy for going up north close to Algonquin part every weekend with no phone and no neighbors ...... and couldnt understand what was there to see ....
You found your soul mates in each other and i can not write a single word to express how proud i am of both of you.
Lea, you are mastering the adventure like a trooper and i have no worries about you cause you are in great hands.
Roger, thank you for being in my friends life and showing her what this planet is really all about. Not too many people will ever have that chance.
I know 3 is a crowd but boy do i wanne go on the next trip LOL
take care

Brun Edith Paul on

It is always very interesting reading your comments about your adventure trip. We have been also in the Death Valley and I have a lot of impressions which I never forget.
The marriage from André is over and now we are waiting for the baby in about 3 weeks. Have nice holidays and enjoy Mexico with your parents. Bye Edith Paul

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