We came into Utah via the 80 from Nevada and drove through the Bonneville Salt Flats. It was definitely strange to lookout and see white ground as far as you could see. It glistened too and wreaked havoc on my eyes. We also passed the lower part of the Great Salt Lake. We had hoped for some lookout points or scenic loops – but it was mostly just wasteland with some big industrial looking factories peppered about. Going from the big open road of the 80 to the more traffic filled freeways near Salt Lake City was a rude awakening! I had gotten so used to having lanes to myself and passing the occasional truck or trailer. I got my LA driving game-face on and maneuvered through the traffic just fine. We were headed to the Cabela’s in Lehi. If you have not been to one of these stores – I really suggest you stop in. This one in particular was HUGE and was a mix of outdoor store, museum, and aquarium. Since this store really caters to folks who hunt and fish, the walls are covered in old-timey pics of people showing off the animals they killed. I really wasn’t a fan of this aspect – but it’s also so odd and different that we were drawn in. As much as I dislike hunting, it is interesting to see all the supplies and what’s involved. We’re so used to stores like REI and Sport Chalet – this takes outdoor outfitting to an entirely different level. This store also had multiple dioramas filled with taxidermy animals. There were different scenes: Alaskan/Arctic with a large pond filled with actual fish – VERY LARGE fish and a bi-plane hanging from the ceiling, general woods, African savanna, and then a big aquarium area that you walk through to check out all different kinds of trout. I had NO idea that lake fish could get that big. I will definitely be a bit more nervous the next time I dive into a lake – ha ha! No need to keep going on and on about this bizarre place – but it’s definitely worth a stop (they have a cafe and food too – so something for EVERYONE). We made this stop because these places are very friendly to RVers and allow folks to park and stay overnight and offer dump stations and water to fill-up.
We had scouted out a number of campgrounds in the Uinta National Forest / American Fork area just east of Cabela’s – so after some shopping, lunch, showering, tank dumping, and water filling we headed into the forest. This forest area was just outside of town – so I wasn’t expecting much. We had planned this stop to just be a place to park Merlin and then do daytrips into Salt Lake. We could not have been more wrong. Within just a few minutes we went from the city with houses, stores, big office buildings, etc. into a windy mountain-type road that took us into a canyon where we were instantly surrounded by huge mountains, amazing rock faces, trees, and even a large rushing stream alongside the road. We lucked out and found an awesome spot at the first campsite, Little Mill Campground. Our spot was shaded by a number of trees and the stream was just a few feet down from the back of our site. In no time, we had Merlin and Smarty settled, our chair setup, and I had my feet in the stream. It was absolutely glorious. There was not a bad view from any angle of our site. We were tucked into this canyon with beautiful cliffs and precariously rooted trees all around. It was early evening at this point, so we soon made dinner and spent the night enjoying the cool breeze coming in and having a chance to relax. We had paid for 2 nights when we arrived – but knew right away that we would want to stay as long as we could – so we paid for another night (all the sites were booked for the weekend). On our second day, we took Smarty out for a tour around the mountains. The farther you went the lookout points got even better. We spent the rest of the day working on a few RV projects, relaxing, and doing some harness training outside with Gemma. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. The temperature dropped by a good 10-15 degrees just coming the few miles into the forest from the city. The evenings were in the high 50s/ low 60s and days were in the mid-80s. This was such a relief from the 100 degree days in Nevada. The kitties were enjoying the comfortable weather too. Gemma spent a lot of time on the dash taking in the sights and sounds of the campground.
We had seen a sign for a cave just down from our campground. It was a really non-descript sign and gave us the impression it would be a simple little hike and a pretty minor attraction. Again – we could not have been more wrong. On our last full day at this site, we went down to the ranger station to get info on the cave and found out that Timpanogos Cave is a pretty big deal and you need tickets. The first tickets weren’t available until 4pm – so we snatched those up immediately. We were informed that the hike to the cave is a 1.5 mile hike up the side of the mountain with over a 1000 feet elevation gain. They give you 1 ½ hour to get up to the cave entrance and then you’re taken on a tour of the 3 caves (Hansen, Middle, and Timpanogos) by a Park Ranger. The caves are 45 degrees (f) – so you’re instructed to bring a jacket. With some time to kill, we did the little nature hike across the street and then back to camp for lunch and relaxing. At 4pm, we got to the ranger station and started to make our way up the mountain. While preparing for this trip has been physical, it certainly hasn’t conditioned us for any type of hiking – so this hike was a bit rough. We are really out of shape and can’t wait to do more hiking so it’s less painful. But it was awesome to climb up the mountain so fast. We had spent the past few days looking up at these mountains – so it was incredible to actually be up on them looking down! And the views just got more amazing. We made the hike up in an hour and started our tour. Wow – the hike was SO worth it. The caves were super awesome! Besides a few hand rails, walking grids, and lights – they seemed to be natural and mostly untouched. It was really a confided space and you were ducking and crouching a lot of the time – but I never once felt claustrophobic. The formations inside were really cool and it was absolutely mind-blowing to think we were deep inside the mountain. Coming out the other side – we were so stoked that we had done to the hike and earned the chance to explore these caves / monuments. We were on a super-high as we hiked back down and were so glad to be going down the mountain this time! For our final night, we dipped our feet in the stream again and did a BBQ cook-out that we enjoyed eating outside.
We were off the following morning – but to where we weren’t sure. We were considering trying to stay somewhere north of Salt Lake City to explore the city a bit – but we had no luck finding anything that would meet our needs. Plus – after spending 3 wonderful days in nature, it’s really hard to want to jump back into a city. We drove on past SLC and sought out a place with free Wi-Fi. We ended up staying the night at a Cracker Barrel (another place that is kind to RVers and allows for free overnight parking) and took care of some errands in the town. With just a bit of North Utah left, we know we are headed to Idaho and ultimately Wyoming.