National Parks Camping Proves To Be Challenging & Awe-Inspiring!
national parks camping

Our route to escape the bomb cyclone & visit some national parks

National parks camping will get the test coming up as we will try and stay in a couple on very short notice. The wind is still howling & snow is predicted for the mountain passes. This weather dodging gets more challenging as each day goes by. To read how this weather all started, read our blog Intriguing Antelope Island. An Interesting Detour from a Cyclone Bomb.

Going east & south looks best so off we go. And we are heading toward Arches National Park. This was definitely not on our original itinerary but I am psyched to see the famous landscape.

Dead Horse State Park

national parks camping

The Colorado River runs 2,000 feet below Dead Horse State Park.

Checking in with my sister Corrie, I mention we are nearing Arches National Park. She exclaims we must go to Dead Horse State Park which is only about 30 miles from Arches. It is one of her favorite places in the world. So how could we not go!

And it doesn’t disappoint. As we pull in, we get the last RV parking spot for the Atlas. The luck gods are with us. But why in the world do you name a park for dead horses? 

As the legend goes, wild mustangs were rounded up by some cowboys back at the turn of the century & then left forgotten to die on the point. Not a nice story!

But the views of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below us are spectacular. We decide to do a 2-mile hike to one of the canyon rims where we learn about cryptobiotic soil. Now that is a new term for us. 

If you are a Latin major and believe it or not, Dale is, the term crypto means hidden & biotic means life. Algae, fungi & soil mix together to form a crust on the surface of the landscape. This crust acts like a sponge when wet, helping prevent erosion. 

Even a single footprint can destroy the crust so we are warned to stay on the trail lest we damage the delicate ecosystem. With this soil all over Southern Utah, I hate to think of the damage a 4 wheeler does. 

Arches National Park

national parks camping

A rainbow cloud greets us as we drive into Arches National Park.

We quickly learn we will not be national parks camping at Arches. The campsites are completely full so we head to Moab and stay in a dreadful RV park. But it is a short stay as we are up at 4:30 the next morning to get to the park early. Arches often closes by 10 or 11 am when the park reaches its parking capacity, even in the fall/winter months.

Our entrance into the park is spectacular. As the sun comes up, we see a beautiful rainbow cloud. I wonder, what causes this relatively rare phenomenon? In a rainbow, water droplets act as a prism. But in a rainbow cloud, also called a fire rainbow, ice crystals (or very tiny water drops) diffuse the sun’s light. A stunning way to start the morning. Ah, life just doesn’t get much better!

The Landscape Arch

national parks camping

About a mile hike takes us to Landscape Arch which is spectacular.

We didn’t realize there are numerous arches in the park, each with a name. The most famous is Delicate Arch which we see from a distance. Our goal is to hike the 2-mile roundtrip trail to Landscape Arch. After we get the last parking place in the trailhead lot we are thankful our Atlas is so compact.

The hike is very windy, but gorgeous. Not too crowded with enough space to enjoy the scenery in mostly quiet surroundings.



national parks camping

The hike to Landscape Arch is stunning!

Next up? Mesa Verde National Park

national parks camping

The Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde with over 150 rooms was built in the 1190s.

Our hopes to camp in Mesa Verde are quickly dashed. The ranger says the campgrounds closed at the end of September for the season. We are completely winging this part of the trip with no reservations anywhere! Maybe we should go get a campsite since it is late afternoon and then come back.

Just down the road is a quirky place called Ancient Cedars Rv Park which is virtually empty. And they have the biggest dog park yet! We get a great spot & head back to Mesa Verde.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, we opt for the Mesa Top Loop Road. On the 6 mile drive, we see the famous cliff dwellings built by the Puebloans back in the 1190s. Absolutely mind-blowing. Since I am afraid of heights, I can not imagine crawling across the steep canyon walls to gain entry.

Finally, national parks camping

national parks camping

Our first boondocking in Bandelier National Monument.

We are off on an adventure in search of tarantulas! But first, we have finally found an open national parks camping spot at Bandelier National Monument. It will be our first night ever boondocking (camping with no electric, water or sewer hookups) which turns out to be a bit more of a challenge than we anticipate.

But first. I am confused. Why is one park called a National Park & this one is a National Monument? Turns out parks are protected for their scenic or recreational value & monuments generally have a historical or cultural value. Besides, having tarantulas, Bandelier has ancient cliff dwellings & petroglyphs which is why it is treasured as a monument. 

Now back to boondocking. We have a great private spot but with no hookups, we have to run our generator for things like coffee, tea, & using the microwave. And they have a rule no generators between 8 pm & 8 am.

The temperature will be in the upper 20s so we plan on using our propane heater but even this needs electricity to run the fan. That’s where our solar batteries come into play. We should have enough stored solar power to run the refrig/freezer and lights until we can start our generator at 8 am.

Dale checks the solar battery usage a couple of times during the night & the battery is draining fast. Will we have enough to get us through the night? It turns out barely so that goes on the list to get checked out when the Atlas goes in for service.

All in all, we probably will limit boondocking to places where we can run our generator for longer hours. But at least we have now done it. And not only do we survive, but we are no longer boondocking virgins!



On the hunt for tarantulas

national parks camping

Male tarantulas come out in Oct looking for a mate.

At Bandelier, you can actually go in some of the cliff dwellings. We pass as it requires climbing up multiple wooden ladders which goes against my fear of heights.

So we go in search of tarantulas instead. We are at the very end of our hike & no tarantulas. I am so disappointed. But wait. Dale spies one and he is a beauty. Making its way across the desert at high speed, we get some video & photos & leave him to go on his merry way.

A couple of interesting facts. Most tarantulas (there are over 1,000 species) don’t have teeth. So they liquefy their prey & then slurp it up. Yum.

Also, the males often get eaten by the females after mating. Hmm, maybe that’s why males only live about half as long as females. And while they look scary, they are relatively harmless with a bite weaker than a bee sting. So be kind to them!

A quick trip to Sante Fe

national parks camping

Gibbs is in heaven in sister Cindy’s backyard in Sante Fe

Sister Cindy moved to Sante Fe a few years ago & we are anxious to see her newly remodeled house. Since we had not planned on taking the southern route (I-40) home, it is a last-minute visit.

Her house is amazing. It could easily be in Architectural Digest! Plus Gibbs is in heaven. He runs through the house like he has been let out of Atlas prison. He basks in the sun while we enjoy take-out Mexican food for lunch. I am not sure we will get him back in the Atlas! But we need to head back to our campground.

Sante Fe Skies RV Park is one of the nicest campgrounds in which we have stayed. Plus they have a great laundry & we are long overdue in getting clean clothes. 

As we are walking around the park waiting for our towels to dry, I look up & there is an Atlas at the dump station. No way. We have now seen 2 Atlas’s on this trip. 

Wow, who could it be? Are they members of the Airstream Atlas Facebook group? And the answer is yes! Tom & Jeanne Cunningham are dumping their tanks before heading to their home in Sante Fe. After an hour of chatting, we feel like old friends. And we get some more great ideas for making our Atlas homier. 


national parks camping

A chance meeting with fellow Atlas owners, Jeanne & Tom Cunningham.

We wish we had more time to spend in Sante Fe. But we will back. Now, it is time to head home.

Our journey will take us through Oklahoma (a new state for me), Texas, Arkansas & Tenn. Our last week on the road! 

Stay tuned for our final edition to learn about the cool non-national parks camping we find & some new animals. Plus a map of our complete trip.