We thought it was cold when we went to bed… It was far colder when we woke up in the morning!
Throughout the night, it had snowed, and so the car park we had stopped in now was decorated in a thick layer of white snow. Completely changing the surroundings around us.
Desperately for the loo, I made my way through the blanket of snow to the public toilets; only to find them locked. Fortunately, we have our own toilet for emergencies. I would use it all the time if I didn’t have to empty it as much as we did!
Aimee was as eager as ever to venture outside, however this was the first time she had ever been around snow. Strapped in her harness, she leapt out of the van and plunged straight into the snow.
Her initial reaction was one of confusion and disgust, as her apparently delicate paws hit the cold slushy floor. Looking at me with a look of dispair, she quickly bounded through the snow, in what looked like a desperate attempt to find dry land.
I ended up waiting around for at least fifteen minutes under a sheltered picnic table, whilst Aimee begrudgingly sniffed around and licked her paws in protest of the cold.
After taking Aimee back to the van, she soon decided that she wanted to go back outside, so Willow took her for another short walk on her lead, whilst I spoke to a couple from Seattle, who offered to give us a behind closed doors tour of the Seattle Chinese botanical gardens.
Our next destination was Shiprock, and with the main road shut, it meant that we would have to take an extended detour, which would take over four hours to get to.
With Willow still suffering with her virus, I continued to drive, trying to allow Willow as much time as possible to get back to full health.
The drive was long and tedious, and only offered a few moments of interest. One being a large lake, surrounded by intriguing rock formations.
It was so astounding that we pulled over to get Steve out to record the drive.
Sadly, the road was busy and full of electricity towers, and so we weren’t able to get any footage that served justice to the surroundings.
We pulled into the town of Shiprock in the late afternoon. With no plan as to where we where sleeping, we pulled into a petrol station to research suitable spots.
For the first couple of minutes, we were distracted by the loose dog and peacock wandering around the forecourt of the station.
Eventually we regained our focus, and frantically searched for a place to sleep. Shiprock was located on the Navajo Native American Reserve, and the rock formation itself was considered to be holy land.
As you can imagine, wild camping opportunities were sparse, and so we decided to drive as close to the site as possible before sunset.
Pulling of the main road, we drove along a minor road, looking for an ideal spot to take pictures.
If we had timed it better, we probably would have had time to drive along a dirt track, right up to the rock itself. We hadn’t though, and so we had to ‘make do’ with pulling over to take pictures from the side of the road.
By the time the best of the sunlight had left, we decided to head off. We had identified a spot which apparently other people had stayed peacefully, without disturbance.
Our route was forty five minutes away, and the nearest petrol station was fifteen.
Pulling off the main road, we made our way down a minor road, our surroundings now wrapped in darkness.
We soon pulled into a smaller fort track, which was not pleasant to drive along, even at low speeds. We were both aware that to much vibration could knock an important lead off from its connector.
At a slow pace, we did finally pull up to our spot for the night, hidden behind a disued oil drilling machine.
The spot was very peaceful, and we went the entire night undisturbed by any traffic.
In the morning, I let Aimee out to explore the surroundings off of her lead. Obviously, she had to climb under the fence and climb all over the disused machinery.
Whilst I was outside keeping an eye on her, a pick up truck pulled up along side us, and a local native got out to speak to me.
He informed us that we were parked on a very interesting site. And if we were to walk around, there would be a small possibility of finding dinosaur bones. Before leaving, he asked us if we had any change we could give him, as he need petrol to fill up his car.
We didn’t have any spare change on us, and as it would turn out, it would be us in need of petrol very shortly.
We once again went through the daily routine of packing the van away, and then set off back to Shiprock. We had charged Steve up over night and had decided to return to the same spot to send him closer for better pictures.
Our fuel situation wasn’t great, but we managed to get back to the same spot as the previous evening.
We sent Steve out towards Shiprock, but we were still so far away, the footage wasn’t as impressive as we had hoped.
We believed at the time, that we would have enough petrol to get us back on to the main road and to a petrol station.
Ruby started to splutter and judder, indicating that we had made the wrong choice, but before I even had a chance to pull over, the engine died completely. Starved of any fuel to get us even to the main road.
In our desperation to get to Shiprock before sunset, we opted not to fill the empty tank up at the petrol station we were parked at. Big whoopsie!
This would have obviously been a major problem, if it wasn’t for the full Jerry can we were carrying on the roof rack for the generator.
There have been times, where I would have preferred to have to van void of the roof rack and bike rack that we carry, in order to take more picturesque photos of Ruby, out in front of beautiful landscapes.
The fuel in the Jerry can was enough to get us going again, and we just about managed to get to a petrol station back in the main town!
Ultimately, practically has to prevail, and we had the common sense to carry items that would help us in dire situations.
With the tank refuelled, we were back in another long drive, this time head to Mesa Verde. I giant rock formation, located in Colorado.
With the recent snow, we were dubious as whether we would actually be able to make it up into the National park, but from what we had been told, it seemed worth the risk!
The drive was once again breathtaking. As we drive along giant rocks, resembling something you would more likely find on Mars, as opposed to Earth.
Arriving at the last main town before Mesa Verde, we stopped at Walmart for supplies, and to use their WiFi to download more shows to watch in the evening. Both MasterChef and the Apprentice we’re reaching the finals, and we didn’t want either to be spoiled by results posted online.
On MasterChef, a Birmingham born chef, who had cooked for us that year at Wilderness, was making great strides towards the final three.
With enough food and drink to last us the next couple of days, we headed off to our next free camp site. A spot located half a mile from the main entrance to the National park.
The camp spot was located down a dirt track, and pulling up, we weren’t surprised to find the track covered in snow.
Our only other experience of driving Ruby in the snow, was when we attempted to take her out for a drive in England during a light snow fall, to take some pictures of her.
That experience hadn’t gone well. We struggled to even reverse her out of the car port. But, we were determined to give her another go. Our friend Michael, who we had met at the VW gathering near New Orleans had recommended that we buy snow chains for Canada, and so we thought this track would be a good test to see if we would be able to manage in snowy conditions.
The track had other tracks made by other vehicles that had driven along it, and so we figured it must have been accessible, if others had made the trip.
Surprisingly, we managed over the snow fairly well. However, all of the early spots were off the main track, on a decline.
I decided to get out and scout ahead, and was pleased to find a suitable position a couple of minutes away.
Returning to the van, we drove the rest of the way without any problems from the snow. Maybe our experience in England was a one off!
Soaking in the views around us, we took some pictures of Ruby looking festive in her decorations, surrounded by snow.
Battling the snow was the least of our problems. Temperatures that night were heading down to -15°c, and so we doubled up on clothing layers and turned out heater up to max.
Once again, the Wallas leapt into action, heating the van to a pleasant 20°c.
Sadly, it wasn’t able to keep the cold out completely. With ice forming inside the windows, and all along our sleeping compartment during the night. Luckily, we went to bed with an extra blanket and double layered clothing!
We woke in the morning, relieved to have lived through the treacherous temperates. All we had to do, was drive the van round to the visitor centre and then we would be free to explore more ancient cave dwellings.
Just one problem… The minus temperatures had set in around us, and so as we went to pull away, we lost traction.
We were stuck… Maybe snow chains might be needed on this adventure.
I frantically hacked away at the ground around the back wheels, but the ground was frozen solid. I barely moved anything. Desperate to get Ruby moving, I stuffed branches underneath the tyres, hopeful that they might provide something for the wheels to grab on to.
We must have spent a good ten minutes, working on freeing her, and fortunately, our efforts were eventually rewarded. Ruby creeped forward and onto the track. We were free!
It looked liked she had sunk slightly before the temperatures dropped, and the the ground froze around her. I was just relieved to be back inside the warmth.
We navigated the rest of the track without any further problems, and made our way to the Mesa Verde visitor centre.
Our entry was once again free, thanks to the good ol’ National Park pass Victor had given us, so we made our way towards the long drive up to the cave dwellings. A staggering twelve mile drive from the entrance.
As we passed the guy in the toll booth, he informed us that the road may be a little tricky to navigate in aces, due to small amounts of ice on the road.
We would later find out, that his idea of ‘a little ice’, was not the same as ours!
As we ascended the winding road, up around the mountain roads, we had to stop to collect the lid for our roof rack box, which had blown off a quarter mile down a long tunnel we were driving through. Luckily, there was no one driving behind us, otherwise that could have turned into quite a nasty conversation.
As the incline became more apparently, the conditions of the roads quickly became more precarious. With large sections of the tarmac covered in thick layers of snow and ice.
‘A little’ we both mused as we held on tightly round sections with a steep drop, and not much keeping us on the road.
The conditions were so treacherous in places, that the park had a gigantic contraction, literally scrapping the snow and ice off of the road, ejecting it over the cliff edge.
When the road was cleared enough to be passable, we were waved through, by workers who looked on anxiously as we drove down a steep decline that was previously a death trap waiting to happen.
Through all of this, our little van soldiered on, and eventually we arrived at the main museum.
We spent about half an hour, studying the ancient artefacts found in the cave dwellings, long after the native Americans had left the Park.
I was deeply fascinated by the intricate tools and weapons, painstakingly hand carved out of bones and rock.
From the museum, we followed a path around to a viewing point of one of the main dwellings.
Sadly, we were not able to walk all the way down to the ruins, as the path was shut due to the conditions.
The structure was still impressive from a far, and gave you a great idea of what life would have been like 500 years ago.
Because of the location of the dwellings, this national park was more like a safari, and we had to drive from site to site, stopping every couple of minutes to get out and explore.
Some of the dwellings were located in hard to reach locations, offering protection from the harsh conditions. Reading about it, we found that the inhabitants would often have to climb down using ropes and footwells carved into the soft rock.
Definitely not the type of home you would want to stumble back to after a night at the pub!
Once we were satisfied that we had seen all of the sites available, we started our drive back to the main entrance, stopping at a few view points to grab a few pictures.
The sun was hot, and most of the snow and ice that we passed on the way up, had melted. Meaning we had a much calmer journey back down.
With the daylight fleeting, we made our way to ‘Four Corners’. A unique place in America, where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah state lines meet, giving you the possibility of being in four states, all at the same time.
Our drive took us back down the road we had driven from Shiprock the night before. Once again taking us through the barren ‘Mars like’ scenery.
As it was getting late, we parked up at a spot that was five minutes from the monument, and decided to make camp for the night. We would then be able to drive round in the morning and spend more time at the site.
Our spot for the night was located on a bit of land hidden away from the main road. Another harsh chill hung in the air, chilling us to our bones.
It would be another night wrapped in layers of clothing, once again praying that the Wallas would survive the night without issue.
And hopefully, in the morning, I wouldn’t be required to push Ruby out of another slipper patch!