A Mini Adventure in Monticello, Utah

by jdroth on 22 May 2015 · 4 comments

We packed up and left Page early last Sunday morning. (Early for us means rising at about seven nowadays.) We drove through more beautiful Arizona mountains and mesas as we made our way east and north to Monument Valley. There, just a couple of miles across the Utah border, we paid $22 per night to dry camp in the lot across from Goulding’s Campground. (We could have paid more to have electricity and water, but why? Our water tank was full, and we only needed a little electricity now and then, and for that we used our generator.)

On Monday, we entered Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

For some reason, nobody else was dry camping in Monument Valley.
There were lots of RVs in Monument Valley, but we were the only ones dry camping.

Note: In the U.S., the federal government operates National Parks and National Monuments, plus there are National Forests and National Grasslands and National Recreation Areas and so on. Individual states have state parks and state forests and state historial parks, etcetera. Until this trip, I didn’t realize that individual Native American tribes operated their own parks too.

Monument Valley

“Are you driving that?” asked the fellow who took our $20 at the entrance station. He gave our Mini Cooper a skeptical glance. “The roads are rough, and that thing has pretty low clearance.”

“No worries,” Kim said. “It’ll make it.” She smiled and thanked the man.

“I hope you’re right,” I said.

“I can handle it,” she told me. “I’m a better driver than you, remember? Besides, I did plenty of four-wheeling when I was younger. Even though this isn’t meant for off-road driving, it’ll work.” She was right.

Monument Valley was fun, but not worth two nights
Monument Valley isn’t worth staying overnight. Swing by as you pass through.
But beware the rough roads — they’re mostly dirt and mostly rough.

Our little yellow car handled like a champ. As other people passed us in the park, they gave us the thumbs-up sign. Others laughed. When we parked at lookout points, a couple of folks stopped to admire our rig: 2004 Mini Cooper with tow bar mounted to the front, two bikes mounted the back, and a GoPro filming everything from the roof. A guy in an old VW Vanagon stopped to lean out his window: “I like your car!” he said.

We finished the seventeen-mile loop. “That was fun to see,” I said. “It’s cool to see where all those old westerns like Stagecoach and The Searchers were filmed.”

“Yeah,” said Kim. “But I’m not sure we needed to spend two nights here. We could have just stopped for an afternoon while passing through. Oh well, we can take some time off to rest.”

Monticello

On Tuesday, we left Monument Valley for a short hop to Monticello, Utah. (Named after Thomas Jefferson’s estate but inexplicably pronounced “mont-uh-sell-oh”. Also, here they pronounce Mesa Verde as “mess-uh vehrd”.) While stopped for construction just south of Blanding, I made a post to Facebook praising the perseverance of our Mini Cooper.

Famous last words...

Half an hour later, in the middle of a rainstorm, we rolled into Monticello. I parked the motorhome in front of the public library; Kim parked the Mini behind me. “I think the Forest Service office is just a couple of blocks up,” I said. “Let’s go ask if there are any places we can dry camp for a few days.”

She got back into the Mini and…

…and nothing happened.

The car tried to start — but wouldn’t. The lights and radio worked, but the engine wouldn’t turn over.

“Haha,” I said. “I must have jinxed us by posting about how awesome our car is. No worries, though. There’s a repair shop just up the street.”

At Draper Towing and Repair, we explained the problem to owner Steve Draper. We asked if he worked on Mini Coopers. “It’s a car,” he said, “I’ll figure it out. Can you tow it over here with your RV?”

We hitched the Mini to the motorhome and pulled it to Steve’s lot. For the next few hours, we killed time walking around Monticello. That didn’t take long — and another rainstorm came over the mountains — so we parked ourselves in the public library, which had the best internet connection we’d experienced in weeks. We listend to the thunder of the rain on the roof while we caught up on what our friends have been doing back home.

Steve called in the mid-afternoon. “Good news,” he said. “The problem’s just a dead battery. We don’t have one for a Mini Cooper in town, but I’ll have one for you tomorrow morning at eight. You can be on the road by ten.”

Boondocking in Town

“What should we do now?” Kim asked after we got the news. “Dry camping on forest roads won’t be good right now because of all the rain. They’ll be a mess. And I don’t really feel like paying for an RV park.”

“Look over there,” I said, pointing across the street from the public library. Next to Blue Mountain Foods stood a huge empty lot. “There are already several semis and a couple of RVs in that gravel lot. I bet boondocking is allowed there.”

“Why don’t you go ask one of the truckers?” she said.

I walked across the street and knocked on the door of a big rig. A man with a beard rolled down the window. “Hey,” I said. “Do you know if dry camping is allowed here?”

“I sure hope so,” he said, “because I’m done driving for the day and I plan to be here til 5 a.m. tomorrow.” He thought for a moment. “I guess you could always go ask, but then you run the risk or ruining it for everyone else.”

“Good point,” I said, laughing. “Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.”

We pulled Irvin — we’ve taken to calling the motorhome “Irvin”, which is an extension of “Irv” for RV — we pulled Irvin to the back of the gravel lot next to a big Class A motorhome from ???. As we did, the owner pulled up in his Honda Pilot. I walked over to introduce myself and ask what he knew about boondocking in town.

The guy told me he’d been parked in the lot for a couple of nights already. “We parked here last year too,” he said. “I think we were here a week or two. I lose track, you know? We’ve been on the road full-time for thirteen years now, and sometimes I can’t even remember what month it is… But you should be fine. This place is always packed with RVs and semi-trucks.”

One of these things is not like the others...
This photo is from camping at a casino in Phoenix. Monticello was much more rustic.

Dinner with Daniel

As I chatted with the other RV owner, Kim joined the conversation. We were soon joined by the truck driver I’d talked to earlier. He was taking his little dog for a walk.

“My name’s Daniel,” the truck driver said after the other RVer left. “I was wondering,” he said to Kim. “If I bought the steaks, would you fix dinner for us?”

“Why not?” Kim said. “We’ve got nothing better to do. There isn’t even a bowling alley in this town!” Daniel and Kim and I walked across the lot to Blue Mountain Foods. We bought salad and steaks and beer. “I’ll marinate the steaks,” Kim said. “You come back by our RV at around five.”

At five, Daniel and his dog sat down for dinner and conversation. We learned that he’s been a long-haul trucker for thirty-six years, since he was nineteen years old. Although he lives in Osceola, Arkansas, his employer is based out of Fargo, North Dakota. Daniel spends seven weeks at a time on the road before receiving a week off. It’s a tedious life, but it pays the bills. He welcomes any break from the routine — such as dining with a couple of RVers from Oregon.

“The freight I’m hauling now is from Oregon,” he told us. “I picked it up in Portland and I’m on my way to San Antone. After that, I hope I’m heading home for my week off.” But he’s not exactly sure. He goes where his employer sends him.

We chatted about driving and about life on the road. He and I commiserated about southern California’s shitty drivers. “They’re awful,” he said. “The worst in the country.” In his thirty-six years of trucking, Daniel has never had an accident, although he’s seen plenty of terrible wrecks. He gave us some driving tips: go slow, always keep a safe following distance, don’t let rude drivers rankle you.

He also gave us an important tip about drycamping: “As a general rule,” he said, “if you see a group of big rigs gathered somewhere, you can park your motorhome there for the night too.” (Kim and I have decided that we’ll start paying attention to places we see clusters of trucks to see if there’s a pattern.)

After a pleasant meal, Daniel returned to his rig while Kim and I went for a walk. The afternoons rain clouds had moved on to Colorado, and now the late evening sunshine cast a warm glow over the small town. Kids were out riding their bikes and motorcycles. A couple of men were mowing their lawns. The cottonwood drifted thickly through town.

“Well,” I said, “that’s not what we’d planned for today, but it wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was kind of fun.”

“Yep,” Kim agreed. “But I’m ready to get on the road tomorrow. It’s time to see Arches and Canyonlands, and then to move on to southern Colorado.” We walked home to read by candlelight, contented with our day of mini adventures.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben 23 May 2015 at 11:27

What a well-written post and a charming story! You’re making me want to give up the daily grind and do something similar. Keep ’em coming—

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2 PawPrint 25 May 2015 at 17:50

How fun! Meeting people was one of the greatest parts of RVing. I’m eager to read your impressions of Arches, Canyonlands and southern Colorado.

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3 lostAnnfound 26 May 2015 at 06:18

“go slow, always keep a safe following distance, don’t let rude drivers rankle you.” Good advice from one who has experienced a lot of road time. My husband has been a truck driver for 25+ years (from Local to OTR) and he encourages the sames rules for us when driving.

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4 lostAnnfound 26 May 2015 at 06:19

And especially when we are towing our camper.

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