Visiting Walter and Jesse’s Haunts

We were latecomers, but hardcore Breaking Bad fans. So it wouldn’t be right to ride through Albuquerque without visiting a few of the film locations from the show. I drew up a loop that covered seven of the sites in about an hour. But first, we had to get some coffee…

Although Walter White blew up the building housing Tuco’s headquarters in the show, the building has mysteriously survived, and is the home of Java Joe’s, which not only serves some great coffee but some delicious breakfasts.

While sitting in front having coffee, the MethLab Bounder motorhome drove by.

After all these years, people are still doing tours in a Bounder motorhome just like Walt & Jesse’s.

A few blocks down the street from Tuco’s is Jesse Pinkman’s aunt’s house, where he lived and hosted parties:

There is a two car garage where the Bounder motorhome sat in Jesse’s driveway, but otherwise the house looks the same (although much cleaner and greener now that meth-heads aren’t living in it).

Around the corner from Jesse’s is the Dog House, which made several appearances in the show, particularly in the opening.

Then it was a few miles south to Los Pollos Hermanos.

The place still looks the same, although the actual name is back on the building. You can even sit in Walt’s booth.

Then it was a run up north to the Laundry Facility

It’s actually a commercial laundry facility. But I’m pretty sure there’s no meth lab in the basement.

A bit further east is Walt & Skyler’s car wash.

It’s a Mister Car Wash these days.

And last but certainly not least is the White residence.

I’m sure the production company didn’t pay these people enough to use their home, and the owners had no idea that years later 400 people a month would still be taking photos in front of their house. They had to put up a fence and several “No Trespassing” signs to keep people out. And they put a metal roof on the place…probably so the pizzas would slide off the garage roof easier.

After a morning of roaming Albuquerque, and laughing at ourselves and all the others that we kept bumping into taking photos of these landmarks, we headed north towards Colorado. At one point on the highway, we saw a wildlife crossing that made us turn around and go back.

Typical wildlife crossing warning

Apparently this location is so frequently used by wildlife that there is a crosswalk painted across the road, and lights flash when the animals are crossing. I thought to myself, “They must have cameras that sense when there is wildlife crossing, and the lights flash”. But no, it’s a much more simple system:

They actually have “Push to cross” buttons on each end of the crosswalk. There are some smart wildlife in this part of the country!

We had planned to wild camp near Mancos, Colorado, but stumbled on a nice campground that had a few remaining spots just a few miles before our destination.

Natural Bridges

For those who don’t know me well, I’m a bit of a hermit. I enjoy traveling, but absolutely hate crowds; especially the American kind (loud, obnoxious, entitled, etc). In this vein, the thought of going to Zion National Park — and other parks in Utah — has been stressing me out. As much as I want to hike The Narrows, I don’t really want to listen to two thousand other people oooh and aaah and generally tell their life stories loudly while I hike.

So when we discovered Natural Bridges National Monument, it seemed like the right direction: small park, smaller crowds, and still some good hikes and sights.

There are three large arches or natural bridges in the park that you can hike to the bottom and back. There’s also a campground. The campground is first-come, and only has 13 spots, so we left Mancos with the intent of getting to the campground early afternoon and hopefully there would be an open spot. If not, our backup plan was wild camping on BLM land just outside the park.

We arrived around 1:30pm, and found there were three spots still open. So we set up and relaxed for the rest of the day, while we watched the parade of motorhomes drive through looking for an empty place to park. Even though the campground is at 6,500 feet elevation, it was 87 degrees in the afternoon, and the sun was blazing.

The next morning we hiked to the bottom of the canyon to Sipapu Bridge and Kachina Bridge, and also hiked out to the rim to look across to Horsecollar Ruins, the remains of an ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling.

Sipapu Bridge is the second largest natural bridge in the world; only Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon is bigger.

The trail to the canyon bottom is the steepest in the park. A staircase and three wooden ladders aid in the descent.

What goes down must come up…the elevation and the heat gave us a good workout.

Hard to see in this photo (nearly impossible actually), but there are cave-dwelling ruins at the lowest level on the opposite canyon wall here.

Kachina Bridge as seen from above.

The Kachina Bridge is the youngest of the three.

Just to the left of Kachina is a “Knickpoint” pour-off into a small pond. When it floods here, a muddy red waterfall plunges into the pool below.

On our approximately four mile hike, we met an average of two people per mile. Quite a difference to what I expect Zion to look like.

On our second night in the campground, it was nearly empty. We couldn’t figure out why on a Wednesday night it was packed and had an overflow of people who were too late for a spot, while on Thursday night practically nobody showed up.

At the campground we met a German woman from Seattle traveling in a Honda Element, who gave us some great tips on Azerbaijan and Czech Republic, and just before leaving we met two women from Seattle and San Jose doing a two week tour on a Ducati Scrambler and a Honda. It’s great to see these others (especially women) traveling solo or together on adventures.

Tomorrow will be a hot one: It will be close to 100 degrees as we head south into Arizona before heading north again back into Utah.

Moki Dugway

We left Natural Bridges National Monument, and just a short ride down the road, we turned south on Utah State Route 261, a nice two lane road that eventually turns to dirt. And then turns to stunning.

The Moki Dugway was built in 1958 to transport uranium ore from Fry Canyon to a processing mill in Mexican Hat, Utah.

The term “dugway” refers to a road that is cut into the side of a cliff or hillside. The road here descends at an 11% grade, and has several switchbacks. It overlooks the Valley of the Gods, and in the distance, Monument Valley.

The road has even been listed in the Top 10 most dangerous roads in America, although I would argue that any freeway in Southern California or Houston can be more dangerous. Then again, it’s only as dangerous as the operator(s).

We dropped down the Moki Dugway and into Mexican Hat, then across to Page, Arizona before heading back into Utah and to Kanab. The meter on the bike briefly showed an ambient air temperature of 100 degrees. I decided that our new Klim gear was quite comfortable up to about 84 degrees, even when just standing around, but at 100, with all the vents open, it was warm. Okay, hot when standing still. But still quite bearable when moving 65mph.

We had planned to camp at an RV park in town where I stayed in 2018 with our Polish friends Marcin and Ella, but when we arrived, the manager informed me that they didn’t really have those places available for tents any longer. And sure enough, the nice grass, shrubbery and trees were mostly gone in that area, and it looked blazing hot. When I mentioned that we might just try to find a hotel, he offered that we could “stay in the basement” for just a little more than a tent site. The basement turned out to be just a small room with a bed, but it was clean, and most importantly cool. Sure, we had to walk to the RV Park toilets and showers, but it was closer to our budget than the tourist-hotspot hotels in town.

That’s the stairs down to our room to the right of the bike, in the basement of the office at the Hitchin’ Post RV Park in Kanab. Nice and cool, good wifi, reasonable, very nice hosts.

Some hiking in the morning, another night in the basement, then we will move a little north for a couple of nights before settling into a small cabin for four days.

Playing the Slots in Utah

We were on the road this morning before 7am, headed forty miles back the way we came yesterday. The reason: Slots. Not the gambling kind. The canyon kind.

Arizona is still fairly locked down under Covid restrictions. McDonalds are drive-thru only. Mask or no mask, vaccinated or not, old guys like me can’t even use the restroom there, as the lobbies are locked. Likewise, Antelope Canyon, just south of Page, is shut down to tourists. It was strange to see the large parking lots, typically filled with tour buses and mobs of tourists, completely empty.

Just across the border in Utah, the outdoor attractions are open and doing brisk business. I had tried since January to get passes to hike to The Wave, a spectacular geological formation. Each month I lost the Wave Lottery; only 66 people a day get to do this hike, and my name never came up. However, in the Vermillion Cliffs area — the same area as The Wave — is Buckskin Gulch, and Wire Pass, which have some good slot canyons. And no lottery. So we decided that the earlier in the morning we arrived, the better chance of beating the crowds and the heat.

And we were right. It’s about seven miles down a somewhat rough dirt road to get to the Wire Pass Trailhead parking area. When we arrived there were already several cars there, but no crowds. This is the same trailhead that feeds The Wave, so I expected more people.

The hike down Wire Pass is primarily a creek wash, at least until you get to the first slot canyon.

“Are you sure this is the right way?”

“Yep, this is it. Cool.”

Even highly claustrophobic people enjoy slot canyons, eventually. Within the canyons it was like air conditioning. A nice breeze and temperatures in the low 70s. Outside the canyons in the wash it was already in the low 90s by 10am.

Some elevation change within the canyon.

We were there early enough that we had the canyon to ourselves for a while. I even made a comment about how nice it was and less crowded than I had expected.

In the shade along the canyon walls, we saw these flowers blooming. Diana identified them using her iNaturalist app as Thorn Apples, which are apparently highly poisonous.

Wire Pass Trail tees into Buckskin Gulch, and there are more slot canyons in both directions. We turned left towards the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead and hiked up another slot canyon to the end, then turned around and headed back to the bike.

On our hike out, the people started arriving. We probably passed fifty or more people headed down Wire Pass on our way up the wash. And that feeling of “this is a small percentage of what Zion will be like” began to haunt me.

Ebenezer Bryce’s Canyon

I have traveled through over 40 countries, mostly by motorcycle, and seen some amazing places. La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Santuaria de Las Lajas in Colombia, the Carretera Austral in Chile, and more.

There are a lot of places in our own backyard that we have yet to explore, but we’re working on it. The past two days have definitely added another to my Top 10 — and probably Top 5 — places to see worldwide.

We were once again aiming to get a “first come” campsite in Bryce Canyon National Park, and we were somewhat surprised that we were able to secure a nice spot in the North Campground. With the campground at 8,000 feet elevation, the temperatures dropped from mid-80s in Kanab to mid-70s in Bryce, and in the mid-40s at night. After setting up camp, we rode the 18 mile long scenic drive and stopped at the overlooks on the way back. The views here are stunning, and for the most part self-explanatory, so I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves unless I feel I have to comment.

After relaxing at camp for a few hours, we hiked about a mile to Sunrise Point to watch the sunset. Yes, there is a Sunset Point also, but who are they to tell us where to stand at what time of the day? 🙂

There are 65 miles of hiking trails in the Park. The next morning, we chose a short six mile hike from the Rim Trail down Queen’s Garden into the canyon and back up the Navajo Loop trail through Wall Street to the Rim.

The height of these two trees in between the narrow canyon walls was impressive, but look closely at the tree on the left: it has another toothpick of a tree growing out of it (different bark) that is nearly as tall. Incredible!

Wall Street on the Navajo Loop is near Sunset Point, so it gets a bigger crowd. But it is a cool short trek from the top. We did it at the end of our hike, so we climbed up Wall Street to the Rim Trail.Some of these spots had an almost Disney-like crowd feel to them. The people-watching is priceless. We quickly saw that those with the designer hiking clothes struggled the most with the elevation and climbs.

After our hike, we stopped by the General Store for a beer on the porch. That’s where we overheard this short conversation between a woman and a store employee:

“What time do you open in the morning?”
“Eh, 8:30, 9am.”
“And what time do you close?”
“Six o’clock sharp.”

I almost spit my beer out. The difference between what time he chose to arrive to work versus the definitive “we are outta here at 6pm” was priceless.

After two days at Bryce, we moved to our “base camp” for the next several days.

Hidden Valley Cabins near Alton is a quiet, out-of-the-way spot that is fairly central to Zion, Bryce, etc. The cabins were built in the 1920s in Bryce Canyon National Park as ranger cabins. They were moved here in the 1980s, and had bathrooms installed. Josh and Jacey have recently taken them over and remodeled them.

Our cabin didn’t come with a cat, but one showed up shortly after we did and quickly made it clear that we were guests in his home. We don’t mind; it’s a little bit of home that we miss.

As impressed as I was with Bryce, I keep hearing the scenery at Zion will blow me away. We will soon find out. Our next door neighbor in the Bryce campground (on a BMW 850GS) returned last night from riding through Zion and couldn’t say enough good things. He didn’t do any of the hikes, but we hope to.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon

We visited Zion a couple of days ago, but I am not going to post about it until we have a chance to return there next week. Meanwhile…

Yesterday was a “down day” while we did some basic maintenance and just relaxed. Around 4pm, we suddenly decided we had time to go hike Willis Creek Canyon, which is the other side of Bryce and about 60 miles away, before dark. We jumped on the bike and rode north and east, past Bryce, through Cannonville, and then six miles down a dirt and sand road to the trailhead.

We started our hike about 5:45pm, which meant we could go about an hour in before we would need to turn around. This turned out to be perfect, as it allowed us to go through the canyons to the point where it opens up again, then turn around and make it back to the bike before it started getting dark.

The canyon narrows not far from the trailhead.

We met four other people on our hike in and out. Once again, my kind of crowded.

The canyon isn’t as impressive as Wire Pass, but was still good. There was a small trickle of water running the length of it, which required us to jump back and forth across it multiple times as we traversed the length.

At one point, the drop is too high, so you have to climb up a trail and across the ledge before dropping back in. You can see one of the other hikers still in the canyon in this photo.

We made it out of the sandy road and back to the highway with daylight to spare, and arrived at our cabin in Alton right at sunset.

We have one day left here before heading to Salt Lake City. Sadly, Diana’s only uncle passed away earlier this week, and she will fly home for the funeral. Due to logistics and expenses, I will not go with her. I’ll be on my own in Utah next week.

Beat The Heat

It’s 95 degrees as I look from Salt Lake City at the Wasatch Mountains. There’s a bit of snow remaining at the higher altitudes. I just dropped Diana at the airport, and my goal for the day is to find a campsite at elevation. The forecast for this week is record highs — over 100 degrees every day — and as high as 108 in Moab, which is where I was headed. I’ve talked myself out of it for now. There is also a large fire burning between here and there, just in case the heat isn’t enough already.

I head out of SLC on I-80 and immediately begin climbing. The temperature drops to 93. I was hoping for cooler. I turn off and head for Park City, and climb above the ski areas to the top. The giant ski jump ramp, built for the 2002 Winter Olympics, stands out on the hill as I enter town. I’ve forgotten what a busy place this is even in the summer. Tons of mountain bikers are everywhere. It’s a beautiful place, but clearly an expensive place as well.

Just beyond the summit I turn off on Pine Creek Road. My ambient temperature gauge reads 79 degrees, and it feels great. I wish I could find a side road or path to camp out of the sight of all of these people. Unfortunately there isn’t any, so I continue on. The road begins to descend, and the temperature once again begins to rise. By the time I get to Pine Creek Campground, I am down to 5,500 feet elevation. The bike says 106 degrees, though I’m fairly certain it’s really just in the mid-90s. But the sun is strong. I pitch my tent and add a tarp off the side for a little extra shade. The campground office sells popsicles for 50 cents, and I’m all over that.

Looking out from the descent on Pine Creek Road, you can see snow on the mountains. Unfortunately my campsite is closer to the lake at the bottom of the valley, where it is much warmer.

Ambient temp reads 106 at my campsite. I think it was really more like 96. Still, people are saying these are record temperatures for here.

Once the sun goes behind the mountain the temperature drops quickly and it’s suddenly a very comfortable 60 degrees. Even so, it will be even hotter tomorrow. As much as I don’t want to do an extra 500 miles round trip, I think I’m going to head to Duck Creek, which is at 8,500 feet and has a nice campground in the Dixie National Forest. That should help my heat problem and help my budget for a few days.

Duck Creek Detour: Testing out the OffRoad Capabilities

As I was eating my third popsicle last night, the woman at the entrance to Pine Creek Campground mentioned a place called Cascade Springs. “It’s a beautiful place”, she said. “They recently paved the road up there, except the last few miles. You can’t do that part on your motorcycle. You’ll need a Four Wheel Drive or Polaris RZR for that.”

I don’t think she intended it, but the gauntlet had been thrown. As I left Pine Creek Campground and rode through Midway, Utah, I saw the sign for Cascade Springs. I turned up the road. It was maybe five miles to the actual Springs, and beautiful fresh pavement.

The newly paved road continued on past the Springs, but I turned into the parking area and walked down to the falls area to take a look.

At the back of the parking area was the dirt road she was talking about. My GPS said it would take me through to another highway and on toward Duck Creek. It was a rough drop-off from the paved parking lot to the two-track rocky road. That should have been the first clue. The first mile and a half or so weren’t too bad. It was more trail than anything I encountered on the eastern half of the “Trans America Trail”, with loose rocks, large boulders, and steep downhills. I switched the ABS off and started down. It was fairly steep, and loose in places, but with rock steps in other places. I thought to myself, “I sure hope I don’t have to come back up this.”

About half way down one particularly loose, steep section, I slid the front wheel and lost it. Would the ABS have saved me? No, because I was going about 2 mph, and the ABS doesn’t work at those speeds anyway. Luckily there was a large boulder on the side of the trail, and I fell into that with the right handlebar and top of the right pannier. The bike was about two-thirds of the way over, but with some added adrenaline, I was able to pull it back up and continue down the hill. Let’s see…500 pound motorcycle, 80+ pounds of accessories and gear, 200 pounds of me. Yep, this is no dirt bike. But still way more capable than my 1200 Super Tenere, which I never would have considered taking down this trail. If I had left the panniers and camping gear off, this would have been an easier ride. But then, that’s not how we travel, and there will be plenty more situations, whether in Mongolia, the ‘Stans, or the outback of Australia, where we will be in true off-road situations fully loaded, AND two-up. So this is great experience for later. I wish now that I had slowed down a bit and taken photos, but at the time, I was more focused on the trail.

A few miles in I reached a creek crossing. It wasn’t that deep — a bit below knee level — but the bottom was rounded rocks about the size of softballs, and the water was moving pretty fast. I picked my way across and up the hill on the other side. At the top was a boulder field, like there had been a rock slide across the trail at some point earlier. It was about 80 feet across. I again slowly picked my way across it, and less than a quarter mile later I came to a large locked, fenced gate. There was no trail remaining on the other side. It had grown over long ago. This was the end of the road. There were some fire rings scattered around; signs of campsites.

I did a 10-point u-turn and headed back the way I came. By now I was beginning to get a better feel for the 700 off-road, and although the handlebars are a little low, standing on the pegs and staying on the gas, I was able to pick my way back up the hills through the rocks.

Once I popped out at the parking area for Cascade Springs, I looked at my GPS again. It said I could continue west on the newly paved road and connect to another highway. And of course, once again, I believed it. And of course, once again:

So finally I gave up, turned back and rode back down to Midway, and continued on to Duck Creek, which was about 300 miles yet.

We did a lot of miles on I-15 getting to Salt Lake City on Saturday, and I didn’t want to do that again. So I took the “back way”. It was warm — the gauge read 100 degrees a few times — and for the most part there isn’t a lot to see. But here’s three things that did catch my attention:

This temple in Manti is the fifth temple constructed by the Latter Day Saints, and can be seen for miles, as it is huge and sits on a hill in the middle of a relatively flat arid area. The small town of Manti has a population of just 3,600 people, so the temple dominates it.

Off Highway Vehicle recreation dominates Utah, and this “Caboose Village” seemed to be a hotel for OHV’ers, along with a nearby campground.

The State of Utah restored Butch Cassidy’s childhood home, and it’s open for self-guided tours.

How many places make a monument of an outlaw’s home? I guess the Butch & Sundance history and popularity have made them heroes as well as outlaws.

I finally made it to the campground around 4pm, and found a nice shady spot in the pines. The campground host stopped by, and we talked about the record heat. He said it was 37 degrees when he got up this morning, and that was hot for this time of year here.

I am SO looking forward to that for the next few days.

The Longest Day

Monday was a long day. In fact, it was the longest day of the year: the summer solstice. For us, it was also a long day. Diana arrived in Salt Lake City at noon, and after re-packing, we set off for Ely, Nevada. Passing the Great Salt Lake and into Wendover, Utah, the ambient air temperature gauge on the bike showed as high as 106 degrees. We were both already tired, and the heat was taking a toll, so we didn’t bother to stop at Bonneville Salt Flats for photos, although in hindsight of course (now that we’ve cooled off), we wish we had. We also stopped at a rest area in the middle of nowhere, about 30 miles or so before Ely, that had a historical marker discussing the Pony Express, which passed near here. Again, no photos (mistake), but we learned some interesting history, such as:

  • The Pony Express only operated for 18 months in 1860-1861, before the war with the Paiute Indians paused delivery, and the Trans Continental Telegraph made it virtually obsolete.
  • The riders could only carry about ten pounds of mail in their “mochillas”, special pouches that quickly slipped over the rider’s saddle and saddle horn for fast horse changes.
  • The cost to send a half-ounce of mail was five dollars, the equivalent of about $160 today. And we complain about the cost of postage!

Outside of Ely, we found a fantastic campground. Ward Mountain Campground is at 7,400 feet elevation, so even though it was nearly 100 degrees in Ely, it was around 82 at our campsite, and in the low 60s in the morning. This was also the best bargain for an established campground at $8 a night.

Crossing Nevada can be a lonely affair. We saw very little traffic along the way.

This is the view for much of the way across Nevada. No complaints.

We had planned to head for Bishop, California on Tuesday, as the county fairgrounds there has showers and we can camp on a large grass field for $15, but the heat once again had me thinking. We made a detour for Mammoth Lakes, crossing through Tonopah, Nevada and a great road called the Benton Crossing over to Highway 395 and into Mammoth.

Benton Crossing Road, approaching the Sierra Nevadas and Mammoth Lakes. Not another vehicle the entire length of this road, and nice scenery.

At just under 8,000′ elevation, it was 77 degrees when we pulled into Mammoth mid-day. While Mammoth is a ski area in winter, it’s also incredibly busy in the summer, and it took us a while to find a place to camp. Eventually we ended up at a National Park Service campground in town, just across from Starbucks, which allows us to walk to wi-fi and charge all our devices.

We’ll stay here another night, then head south to meet up with a friend for a ride toward the coast.

Dash for Elevation

On our way out of Mammoth, we took a couple of quick detours, first just above town to Lake Mary, and then north to Mono Lake.

No, this is not a joke or Photoshopped. We paid $5.09 a gallon for gas in Mammoth. Most of the rest of California seems to be between $4.59 and $4.79/gal. We saw as high as $5.14/gal.

Lake Mary, above Mammoth Lakes.

We then headed south on Highway 395. As we expected, it quickly warmed up, and we found ourselves just wanting to get through the heat and to our destination for the evening, which would again be at elevation. For several weeks now, this has been our routine: find a spot to camp at high elevation, ride through the lower roads to it in 95 degree temperatures, then arrive at a nice climate for the night.

We stopped at the historic site of Manzanar, which was a Japanese relocation facility during World War II. Unfortunately, they were closed (open Friday through Monday only), but a couple of the reconstructed buildings/exhibits were open as was the rest of the outdoor area. Only the large auditorium building remains from the original camp, but there are signposts indicating where each of the other buildings stood, and what it was.

Manzanar Internment Camp, 1943 (AP Photo)

A bit of the history of Manzanar, from the sign in front of the administration building/visitor center.

Walking through the buildings had a little bit of the same feel as walking through some of the German concentration camps. I’m sure the treatment was different, but it still felt like we were intruding on something very wrong that happened. I felt like some of the stories in the exhibits (some based on newspaper accounts from the 1940s) seemed to put a “happy face” on the lives of the people there. It seemed quite biased and skewed to me. Taking about how much some of the inhabitants enjoyed the “mountain views” seemed crazy. This place is extremely isolated in the high desert; it does have a view of the mountains, but it is not in a forested or nice area. Referring to the “laughter and music” coming from the auditorium likewise didn’t feel right; there may have been nights like that, but overall these people were taken from a much better life and put in a guarded concentration camp in the desert, against their will. Like the German camps, it’s good to preserve this history in the hope that it never happens again. But don’t sugar-coat it.

South of Manzanar, we turned up Nine Mile Creek Road, and headed for Kennedy Meadows. It was 97 degrees at the bottom, but 72 when we arrived at Troy Meadow Campground.

Our camp at Troy Meadows, elevation 7,800′. For those who aren’t campers or may be unfamiliar, the large steel box in the center of the photo is a “Bear Box”. It has a special latch that a bear can’t get its paw into to open the door. You store all of your food and other stuff that might attract bears in this box. Or, if you really don’t like bears, perhaps you sleep in it. Just kidding….don’t sleep in it; there’s no inside latch. Don’t ask me how I know…

The campground was only about 20% full, and nearly everyone there had a dirt bike. It’s a bit hard for me to believe that with all the time I spent riding off-road in Southern California, and having ridden at Kennedy Meadows, I never bothered to drive past the General Store in this direction. There are multiple campgrounds here with single-track trails leading right out of them. You can ride your dirt bike right out of your campsite onto dozens if not hundreds of miles of great trail.