Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 8 – Saturday, 12/26 – The Adventure Ends & Lessons Learned

The Plan

Drive back to SLC, drop DJ at the airport since he was taking a side trip to Idaho to visit a friend, drop off the Behemoth and fly back to LA.

The Reality

The day went mostly according to the plan with one thankfully minor hitch (which could have been much worse) along the way.

The Good

Other than the below, everything went smoothly.  Dropped off the Behemoth, an Uber picked us up and we arrived at the airport in plenty of time.  I even managed to get us into the Delta Sky Club so we could relax and snack while we waited for the flight.

The Bad

As we left Zion, the winds were amazingly fierce which led to some white-knuckle driving for a couple of hours.  Once past that, it was smooth sailing to SLC, which led me to let down my guard.  I had been a little concerned about driving the Behemoth into SLC airport, but we spent a little too much time at a truck stop gassing up and cleaning out the RV.  As we were driving in, we saw that the clearance was 13’ (the sticker on the Behemoth claimed it was 13.5′ tall)!  Six lousy inches and we only had about 20 minutes to get DJ there.  I admit I lost my cool for a few minutes.  It was the last straw on a challenging trip.  However, we got it together and Teri called the airport.  She managed to talk to someone who sent us to an alternate entrance.  When we got there, the attendant judged that the RV was not that tall and we could make through the normal route.  Holding our collective breath, we dropped DJ off at the first opportunity (he made his flight) and then inched our way under two pedestrian bridges without a problem.  When I dropped off the Behemoth, I calmly gave my feedback to the owner of the El Monte partner that he should have instructed us about the anti-freeze and the proper clearance height.  He couldn’t have cared less.

Final thoughts

In spite of the challenges, it was a wonderful trip which I don’t regret for a minute.  The parks are awesome and even more so in the snow.  I might not recommend taking your first RV trip in Utah in the winter, but we all, including the Behemoth, survived and we have some amazing photographs of a unique trip to memorialize my 50th birthday.  More photographs will appear on the site eventually.

As always, DJ was a remarkable help.  More often than not, he was the one who managed the hook-ups and other RV maintenance chores.

Lessons Learned:

  •  – Make sure the RV totally checked out before picking it up, perhaps avoiding the issue we had right out of the gate.
  •  – Know the exact vehicle clearance and check route for any issues.
  •  – Make sure to pre-check the route for any RV-unfriendly roads and make necessary adjustments.
  •  – If winter, use RV anti-freeze in gray and black tanks or get a RV with heated tanks.
  •  – Skip the kits sold at RV rental places and buy at Target or the equivalent. The RV rental places sell kits with basic necessities (personal kits with towels and sheets and kitchen kits with pots, pans, utensils, etc.).  They are junk and we only used about half or less of what we bought.  We would have been much better off spending that money at Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond, getting better quality products and just what we needed.
  •  – At RV parks, a water hookup and a waste dumping site are more important than power as long as the RV uses propane for heat, which I assume most do.
  •  – Costco hiking socks (Men/Women) are awesome. I couldn’t find the links on Costco.com, but they were much less expensive than shown on Amazon.
  •  – A clothesline inside the RV would have been handy.
  •  – Pick up a pack of cheap shop rags somewhere. Very handy and disposable.
  •  – Bring/buy a variety of containers of various sizes. While RV’s have a number of cabinets and drawers, it helps to have something to organize with, especially for small items which tend to move around a lot within the cabinets or on counter tops when driving.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 7 – Friday, 12/25 – Bryce, Zion & Turning 50

The Original Plan

See Zion National Park, celebrate my birthday, and stay either in the Watchman Campground at Zion or nearby.


The Revised Plan

See Bryce Canyon National Park in the morning and Zion National Park in the afternoon.

The Reality

The day went mostly according to the revised plan with one significant hitch along the way.

The Good

In spite of freezing temperatures and steady snow, we hiked out to two viewpoints on the rim of the Amphitheater at Bryce, Sunset and Sunrise Points, and drove to two more, Bryce and Inspiration.  The famous hoodoos were in full evidence and the park is breathtaking in the snow.  Due to the weather, we only spent a couple of hours there and, after getting some advice from the manager at the lodge, headed off to Zion.  Breaking free of the snow around Bryce was a relief and we were making good time to Zion when hit our major hitch of the day.  More on that below.

Zion was as spectacular as I remembered!  We were able to maneuver the Behemoth through the 6-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive stopping every few minutes to take pictures.  Parking was often a challenge, but in spite of being reasonably busy, we had no real trouble.  Trails were mostly too icy to hike, but we packed a lot of sightseeing into the time we had there.  Again, being at the bottom of the massive Zion cliffs and rock structures was just awesome.

We celebrated my birthday dinner at Oscars Café, an excellent Mexican restaurant right outside of Zion in Springdale.  Everything was good, but try the carrot cake, you won’t be disappointed.

We stayed in the Zion River Resort, a terrific campground about 30 minutes outside of Zion.

The Bad

When we got to UT-9 to drive into Zion, we discovered that high profile vehicles needed special escort because the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel is too shallow on the sides for any vehicle over 11’ 4” tall (the Behemoth was supposedly 13.5’ tall).  They have to stop traffic from the opposite direction so you can drive down the center of the tunnel.  Unfortunately, due to weather (though we were first told it was due Christmas), they had suspended escorts when we arrived.  Fortunately, we figured that out before we drove about 10 miles to the mouth of the tunnel.  Unfortunately, the only other route was a 100 mile detour south on US-89 into Arizona, west on AZ-389, northwest on UT-59 and back to UT-9 on the other side of Zion.  That little hiccup cost us two precious hours and I was steamed that the manger in Bryce hadn’t mentioned the issue with the tunnel.  If she had, we could have taken an alternate route which might have saved us an hour.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 6 – Thursday, 12/24 – Frozen Tanks

The Plan

Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park then back to Escalante Petrified Forrest State Park for our second night in the campground.

The Reality

Spent the day thawing the gray and black water tanks which had frozen overnight and then drove to Bryce to spend the night (for some of us) at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon.

The Bad

Woke up in the morning to two problems – DJ was sick with terrible stomach and head aches and our gray (shower and sink drains) and black (toilet) water tanks had frozen which we knew because the drains in the shower and sinks started to back up.  This was the most frustrating aspect of the trip since I had realized this was a risk and had asked at El Monte how to deal with the problem.  His advice, and the instructions in the manual, simply said to never let the tanks get more than two-thirds full (the gauges for all the tanks are in thirds).  I realize now that the point of that was that if they did freeze, since water expands when it freezes, the tanks and pipes wouldn’t burst.  I kick myself for not doing more research on the subject since we quickly found out that that there is inexpensive RV anti-freeze which can be poured into the tanks to prevent this issue.

Regardless, knowing we were going to remain in sub-freezing weather for the foreseeable future, we realized we had to thaw them out before we could do anything else.  First, we went to a local hardware store, Do It Best Escalante Home Center, on Christmas Eve Day and bought a drain snake, but that couldn’t break through the ice in the pipes.  Second, we tried dumping hot water down the drains and over the pipes under the Behemoth – fail.  For each attempt we had to drive back and forth to the campground because we had to be positioned at the dump site before we tried anything in case it worked and the tanks cut loose.  Third, after consulting El Monte and some online research, we decided to buy a space heater and position it under the Behemoth and see if it would thaw the tanks.  I was concerned because it was still below freezing as well as windy with the occasional snow flurry, so I had no idea if it would work.

The Good

Fortunately, back at the hardware store, minutes before they closed for the holiday, we met Reed Munson, a gentleman in every sense of the word.  He loaned us a couple of concrete blankets, which are like large fiberglass comforters, used to facilitate drying concrete, which we wrapped around the bottom of the Behemoth while the heater was running.  After about an hour-and-a-half, we tried again and the tanks drained.  The black tank was never the same after that, always reading at least one-third full, but we simply dumped every chance we had and it worked out.

DJ was a total trooper, helping out occasionally even though he didn’t feel well.

Since we had lost most of the day, we decided to get a room at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon where the kids, both of whom were not feeling well, would sleep while Teri and I stayed in the Behemoth.  It was another treacherous drive through snow and ice to Bryce, but we got there without incident.  We all took advantage of the shower in the room and planned to get an early start on the next day since we would be covering both Bryce and Zion.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 5 – Wednesday, 12/23 – Natural Bridges & Capitol Reef

The Reality

Here’s where I made my second rookie RV mistake.  I didn’t check our revised route (163N to 261N to UT-95) for any sections closed to large vehicles.  Turns out there is just such a section on the 261, so we had to turn around and drive back through Bluff to pick up UT-95.  The detour cost us about 45 minutes, which would have been avoided had we just stayed in Bluff.  No regrets.  Goulding’s Campground in Monument Valley will likely turn out to be our favorite RV park of the trip due to the spectacular view from our slip.

The Good

The entire ride from Monument Valley to Natural Bridges was beautiful though we did run into a snow storm about half way there.  Natural Bridges is gorgeous.  You can watch a brief video at the Visitors Center about how the bridges are formed.  Not sure if it was due to the snow and ice on the ground, but I actually had trouble seeing two of the bridges at first, but after a few seconds of staring, was able to clearly make them out, kind of like looking at those old 3D prints.  Natural Bridges is a gorgeous park and well worth the visit.

We arrived at Capitol Reef late in the day and only got a glimpse.  As we drove up to the Visitor Center, we saw the petroglyphs carved by the Fremont people roughly 1,000 years ago.  A unique and very cool element of the trip!

The main road through the park is not RV friendly (there are shuttle during normal business hours), but what we were able to see of the massive cliffs and canyons was amazing.  It reminded me a bit of Zion (which I visited when I was a teenager).  Up until now, we were either overlooking canyons or seeing mesas and plateaus from a distance.  This is the first time we were up close and personal at the bottom of massive cliffs like these and it was awesome.

The ride from Natural Bridges to Capitol Reef was challenging. While driving through our second snowstorm of the day, I also had to deal with snow and ice on the road from a recent snowstorm or two.  It was one of the longer legs of our trip and I had to drive very slowly.  Fortunately, we saw very few other vehicles on the journey so my slow driving didn’t get in anyone else’s way.

We wanted to grab dinner at a restaurant before driving on the Escalante, but we found the majority of restaurants in that area were closed for the season.  We did find a place that was serviceable.

The trip from Capitol Reef to Escalante Petrified Forrest was even more hazardous than the trip’s previous leg.  Dark, rain, snow, ice, narrow roads, and herds of deer dashing out into the road made for a frightening drive.  When we finally reached Escalante, Google took us off course into a residential area until we corrected and found the campground.  Teri joked that she wondered if when some of the residents see headlights flash by their windows late at night they get a good laugh at the Google-misled tourists.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 4 – Tuesday, 12/22 – Bluff Fort & Monument Valley

The Plan

Drive south to Bluff, Utah, check in at the RV park, visit Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, and return to Bluff for the night.

The Reality

Headed down to Bluff and checked in at the RV park I had reserved.  We then visited the Bluff Fort Historic Site which was mostly a re-creation of the original settlement.  After that, we continued on to Monument Valley and ultimately decided to stay near Monument Valley instead of returning to Bluff.

The Good

Bluff Fort was surprisingly interesting.  We watched a fascinating documentary which told the tale of the Mormon pioneers tasked with settling this area in the east part of Utah.  The trip from Parowan in southwest Utah to Bluff through the famous Hole in the Rock  and across, as they put it, some of the most “broken” geography in the world, was originally estimated to take 6 weeks, but took 6 months.  I highly recommended checking this out if you ever find yourself passing through Bluff.

Monument Valley is stunning.  We braved high winds just walking to and taking pictures from the Visitors Center.  Hiking was simply impossible.  After reviewing possible alternative routes to Natural Bridges National Monument (our next destination planned for tomorrow), instead of trekking back to Bluff, we decided to stay at the Goulding’s RV Campground which offered a spectacular view of Monument Valley with clear skies and a nearly full moon.  Awesome!

The Bad

Frankly, was underwhelmed with the RV park in Bluff, which contributed to our staying in Monument Valley.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 3 – Monday, 12/21 – Canyonlands

The Plan

Visit Canyonlands National Park.

The Reality

Got the call from El Monte in the morning and dropped the Behemoth off at a local repair place.  While the RV was being fixed, had brunch at Sweet Cravings.  Fortunately, the Behemoth was repaired by noon.  We saw my father and Susan off and headed out to Canyonlands.  Just in case, we decided to stay at the Moab Valley RV Resort again instead of the more remote, and waterless, Dead Horse Campground.

The Good

Canyonlands is stark and beautiful and exceeded our expectations.  It is like a smaller Grand Canyon, but frankly more beautiful with a more varied topography.  We visited the Island in the Sky district which was the one most accessible from Moab.  It was cold and windy and we had to navigate some snow and ice covered paths and trails, but it was worth every moment.  Hiking the trail from the first to second viewpoints at Upheaval Dome with the snow, ice, cold and wind was a thrill!

We had a terrific dinner at the Sunset Grill in Moab.  The specialty is prime rib and it was excellent.

The Bad

Only the lost time due to the RV repair.  Otherwise, a great day.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 2 – Sunday, 12/20 – Family & Arches

The Plan

Visit Arches National Park with my father and Susan and have dinner together to celebrate my birthday.

The Reality

We drove to a private RV park, Moab Valley RV Resort, to fill our fresh water tank which they were kind enough to let us do for free.  After filling up, we drove to the Hampton Inn where my father and Susan were staying and we all piled into his car for a trip to Arches.

The Good

We took a ride up Highway 128 which is a gorgeous scenic byway and managed to get in some photography before having lunch at Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro.  After lunch, we drove through Arches, which was spectacular!  My father, as I mentioned elsewhere on my site, is a fantastic amateur photographer, so having him along (and his having pre-scouted the trip) allowed us to maximize our viewing and photographing the amazing Arches.  We had a great time hitting each of the major viewpoints and taking tons of pictures.

We had a lovely dinner at Jeffrey’s Steakhouse in Moab.

The Bad

At the Hampton Inn, we noticed that the fresh water was leaking out of the Behemoth.  I called El Monte’s roadside assistance and they told me that they would make an appointment for the next day to get it repaired.  We decided to move to the Moab Valley RV Resort so we could hook up to the continuous water supply (“city water” in RV parlance).  Unfortunately, the problem was located in a part of the water system which leaked regardless of whether the water came from the tank or city water, so we had to be careful and only turn on the water from the outside when we needed it.  It was a better situation than Dead Horse and, again, we made do.

Utah Mighty 5 RV trip, Day 1 – Saturday, 12/19 – The Adventure Begins!


On December 25, 2015 I will turn 50, so I decided to have a brief mid-life crisis and do something a little crazy.  My family and I have always talked about renting an RV for an extended road trip to several national parks.  With a college freshman (Isabelle), high school sophomore (DJ) and a girlfriend (Teri) who works at a school, opportunities for extended trips are actually rare, but there is one time of year when everyone is free – winter break, which is, of course, not the ideal time of year to drive a RV (for the first time, mind you) through the Utah wilderness, but that’s just what I decided to do.   We’ll be visiting the Mighty 5 national parks in Utah – Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion – via RV.

I did a great deal of research on RV’s – rental places, type of RV to rent, RV campsites, etc. and the weather in Utah this time of year.  I rented a 28 foot RV from El Monte RV, a national chain with decent reviews.  Weather was a risk.  There was no doubt it would be cold, but snow was an unknown.  As it turns out, it snowed before we arrived and will continue to snow on and off during the trip.

Each day, I will highlight the original plan, any revised plans, the reality, the good and the bad of the trip.

The Plan

Fly to Salt Lake City from Los Angeles, pick up the RV, and stock up with food and supplies.  Drive from SLC to Dead Horse Point State Park Campground just outside of Moab.  My father and his girlfriend, Susan, were also meeting us in Moab.

The Reality

Our plane was delayed an hour at LAX but we arrived in SLC with all of our luggage and plenty of time to get to the RV place.  After a brief tutorial and instructions on how to maintain the RV, which we promptly dubbed “The Behemoth,” we were off.   The snow made the roads, parking lots and side streets slippery and I had to get a feel for the stopping time of the Behemoth, due to both the size and weight of the vehicle and road conditions.  The width of the Behemoth, especially the large side-view mirrors, required some adjustment as I had people screaming at me that I was too close to cars and other obstacles on both the left and the right at times, particularly on city streets.

The Good

Just flying into Utah was beautiful made even more so by the recent snowfalls.  We made it to Whole Foods and Target and stocked up with little incident.  We had prepared well in advance and knew what we needed.  Once we hit the major freeway from SLC to Moab, driving the Behemoth was no problem.

The Bad

An overturned big rig delayed us even further and we arrived at Dead Horse after the park technically closed.  It wasn’t a real problem because we were able to drive right in, with a little help from my father who had scouted the site earlier in the day, and set up.  There was a ton of snow on the ground, but I just drove slowly which was not a problem since we were pretty much the only vehicle on the road to Dead Horse.

The biggest problem was that I had made my first rookie mistake.  I was told that the most important hook-up needed was power since the built-in generator could not be run all night and, as you might imagine, we had to run the heater all night.  Turns out the heater runs on propane, not power, which is both efficient and cheap.  Much more important is water, which Dead Horse did not offer.  Fortunately, there were open, if chilly, bathrooms at the site, so we were able to make do.