**WARNING: This is going to be a long one**
We started our May in Sedona, AZ. Our original plan was to be there just for a weekend, but we ended up staying a little longer to try and get more exploring out of our time there. Our campsite happened to be very close to the ancient cliff dwellings and pictographs of Palatki Heritage Site. We enjoyed exploring them and learning about the people who lived in the Sedona area so long ago!
From Sedona, we headed north to spend the rest of the work week in Flagstaff. There, we hung around town and took care of business. We also had the chance to meet up with some van folks, Joel and Randi. They gave us some great local recommendations and camping.
With the weekend approaching, we made plans to visit Monument Valley, which has alluded us for a while now. On the journey we encountered a few mountains, and it became evident that our (not so) trusty steed, Stanley, was not feeling well. We were really dragging up hills and even on flat ground we weren’t getting the kind of power we are used to. We made note of this, but pushed on to camp that night, which was an hour south of Monument Valley. The next morning we woke up early so that we could make it to Monument Valley for sunrise. It was absolutely breathtaking. The sky was full of magnificently contrasting layers due to a fast approaching storm. The clouds were a vibrant blue ceiling to a fiery red horizon that created powerfully ominous silhouettes out of the sandstone monoliths.
Our time inside of Monument Valley was in a word… disappointing. Perhaps our expectations were a little too high, but it was quite touristy. Luckily, as one of the first groups in the park that morning, we got to do the valley road in relative solitude. After, we made our way to THE place to take photos outside of the park itself, and goofed around jumping and doing cartwheels in the middle of the road with the impressive Monument Valley skyline in the background. Some Japanese tourists had pulled over to take some pictures and got a kick out of us and our van. They hopped on Stanley’s ladder and started posing — all five of them! It was really fun. We snapped some photos for them and they did the same for us.
We left Monument Valley feeling content. Even though we found park itself to be sub-par, connecting with strangers (especially ones with such contagious enthusiasm) more than made up for it. When we got back to the nearest town we stopped to try the legendary Navajo taco. If a taco and a pizza had a baby, it'd be a Navajo Taco. In this version it was American taco toppings on Navajo Fry Bread. The best part was the Fry Bread! We would give the Navajo taco 2 out of 5 stars.
With the van’s performance steadily declining, we decided to check the oil. The dipstick read almost nothing. We popped over to a gas station to get some oil, filled it back up, and started to head towards Page, AZ to see Antelope Canyon. About 5 miles out of town the van started spewing smoke out of the exhaust, which happened just a week before. We pulled over and made a difficult decision. We decided to abandon our plans (and reservations) for Antelope Canyon and head to Fort Collins. There we would find Rocky Mountain Westy (RMW), who could help us figure out what was going on, because they are who did our original Subaru engine swap in 2015.
While staring down a 10+ hour drive to make it to RMW in the powerless wonder, Stanley, Great Sand Dunes National Park was a short detour and a much needed break from the drive. This park is where the United States’ tallest sand dunes call home, nestled between huge mountain peaks and grass/wetlands. It makes for a unique ecosystem and a breathtaking scene unlike any we’ve encountered. We pushed to hike up the second highest dune. It was difficult and the sand was impressively HOT.
After leaving the dunes, we made the final portion of the journey to Fort Collins and RMW. We dropped the van off and headed to nearby Loveland to stay with our friend Mandy. When the diagnosis came back on the van it was not good news.
Compression on one of our cylinders was down to 20% and oil had clogged our air filter (which was a huge part of the power loss). The recommendation was to drop in a new engine since the labor to fix the cylinder could cost the same and the project would take 3–4 weeks.
The new engine could be done in just a few days, and it would come with a 3 year, 100,000 mile warranty*. No matter what, it was going to be expensive. Very expensive. We took some time to discuss, and decided to go with RMW’s recommendation of new engine. With the warranty, if something like this happened again, we would at least be covered.
At the end of the week, we picked up the van and headed to Boulder so we could caravan with some friends to go climb for the weekend. We made it about 5 miles outside of Boulder before, once again, our exhaust was blowing an impressive amount of oil soaked smoke. This was the worst it had ever been, and I imagine that no one behind us could see anything. We limped to the next exit and examined the brand new engine. Much to our dismay, there was oil seemingly leaking from everywhere. We decided to get towed, rather than driving it back to RMW because we were unsure of the issue and source of the oil. Around 12:15 A.M. we got picked up by the tow truck and got back to RMW at 2:00 A.M. Mike, the owner of RMW was nice enough to come in on Saturday, take a look at Stanley, loan us a car for the weekend.
It was nice to get away from the van and all the problems associated with it for a day. We took the nice, quiet, fast, comfortable AWD Outback loaned to us, and went to Rocky Mountain National Park. There, we vented some frustration with a 12 mile sufferfest of a hike in waist deep snow past the top of Flat Top Mountain and to what was supposed to be a majestic Alpine lake. Well, we’re pretty sure there was a lake, but it was completely covered in snow so we had to use our imagination.
On Monday, the techs at RMW took a look at Stanley and determined that the PCV valve, which was reused from the old engine, was the culprit. You might remember that we thought this was an issue from last month’s blog post. Luckily, this was something cheap and easy to fix. The rest of the week we continued to drive the van, but we stayed close just in case.
Friday, we had a final check up on Stanley and the engine looked just fine. However, we noticed a coolant leak in the front of the van and, upon further inspection, our radiator was cracked (when it rains, it pours right?!) RMW replaced it, and we were off on our merry way: Poorer but happy to get moving for a weekend of adventure.
We met up with our friends Thomas, Justin, and his dog, Rocket, for some snowshoeing at Indian Peak Wilderness. This was everyone’s first time, so we got to experience the awkwardness snowshoeing has to offer together. It didn’t take long to see the benefits of snowshoes (we really could’ve used them the previous week in RMNP.) The hike didn't take us anywhere in particular, but the sights were beautiful and it was fun running around in the snow.
The next day, Sunday, we met up with a friend from college, Vitali, and his wife Leandra. It was a great day of catching up with old friends. The next few days we bopped around Denver and waited for our fast approaching trip to Richmond, VA. There, we'd be attending the wedding of two near and dear friends!
Richmond took us by surprise. It’s a beautiful, old, culture rich, Southern city. It definitely made us miss the south a little bit. We got to see a lot of great friends, family, and witness the marriage of Joe and CJ Grace! Not to mention it was nice to distance ourselves from the recent van troubles. It was a much needed break. In total, we were gone for five days, and when we got back to Denver (at 2 A.M. due to some inclement weather) we were feeling refreshed and ready for action.
To end the month we headed to Boulder (again) to climb up the second flatiron. We were joined by Justin, Thomas, and Austin. It’s a very casual climb, that did not require ropes or even climbing shoes. We quickly made our way to the top and enjoyed the view that laid out in front of us. It was a good way to end the month!