Home, but not for long

We arrived back on the boat in Anacortes just in time for Halloween. It will be a short one month stay to do a little cleaning on the boat and prepping it for us to be gone until summer.  No worries though. Friends on the dock will keep an eye on her, and we have a boat-watcher who’ll come in regularly to run the engine and check all systems.

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The good news is that everything was fine, no mold, no smells. All we needed to do was close at the cabinets and fire up the heaters.   And for the first two weeks of November it’s been amazingly sunny and dry.

November 10th the Seattle Sounders made Toronto cry and gave us another MSL Championship.  We watched at Union, one of our favorite local hangs.

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OK, now it’s mid November and The Big Dark has officially begun.  Rain, mist, rain, getting dark at 4pm.  Where’s my coffee and dark beer.    The good news is that while we’ve been gone Bastion Brewing has taken up BBQ…and someone knows his or her way around a pit.  It’s great.  That and their lovely beers will get us through.

While we stay on the boat we’ve also been cleaning up the trailer, getting bearings re-packed for the next long road run.  We’ve also been getting the truck’s standard maintenance done so we can hit the road with all systems tuned and working

Being here has also given us time to hang with Mom and BD. We’ve been stopping by every few days both to see them and so Karin and use Mom’s space and machine to do some sewing.  She’s finished more Christmas stockings, altered some of our “Santa Gear” and even gotten around to restoring the quilt she first made for Christian 30 years ago when he was a kid.  It was on his bed all his growing up and even at the UW.  He used it so long the edges were all tattered.  Well, not any more.  Yes Christian, she does love you.

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Sequoia and Yosemite

From Tehachapi, we headed North to an Army Corp of Engineers campground on Kaweah Lake, just outside Sequoia National Park.  It was a great place to stop for two days and NOT try to bring our 30 foot trailer into an old national park.  One thing about national parks. The older, the smaller the roads and campground sites.

Once we were in the park we looked at the campground, and were glad we left the trailer at a much more spacious place only a few miles outside.

Sequoia National Park did not disappoint. 

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The climb up to the grove of Giants was breathtaking, and once  you were in the trees, their massive size was also awe inspiring. 

You can’t walk about the massive General Sherman tree (the largest living tree in the world) without thinking that the United States entire history has happened in this tree’s lifetime, and it’s still getting bigger every year.

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We still had a day to kill before our reservation at Yosemite Lakes so we once again turned to Harvest Host to find a winery where we could park for free…and drink wine.

Twisted Oak winery is an 18 year old place on top of a Sierra Nevada foothill near Sonora, CA. They have a lovely wine shop and three friendly wine cats who want to say hello…and probably “try the Tempernillo.” 

Their production winery is open sided, and has a cave for fermentation. The fall crush is going on, so we got to see the winemakers working their open vats. When they are done, they us gravity to drain the tanks down to oak barrels in the cave so the wine can develop.

Needless to say, we found some wines we liked. 

Then promptly at 5:30pm, they all left for the day and we were left alone on the top of the hill to watch the Sierra Nevada sunset. A herd of deer wandered by, and whole lot of wild turkeys too.  It was magic.

The next day we were off to our first Thousand Trails park. We bought a TT camping pass this year to find out if this system of paying an annual membership once….and no fees when you stay at a park can work for us.    We’re not really RV park folk…but the ability to come into parks all across the country and stay a few days (or 2 weeks) to recharge, fill and dump, do laundry, and not pay anything may be a good deal.

Yosemite Lakes RV Park seems pretty nice, though really the camp sites are way too close for what we might actually want for “real” camping.  But we’ planned to be away in the park, or gone all day on chores, so who cares if neighbors are close; so long as they are quiet.    And camping in the shoulder season means there are fewer campers…and less noise and crowds. So far, this is a good test.  The laundry was large and clean.  There are all the normal hookups. Wireless coverage is zero, but they have WIFI that was ok.  And rather than pay as much as $200 for 4 nights….we pay Zero.   So far, Thousand Trails is ok.  We’ll try another park on the way home.

Yosemite National Park.  

What is there to say really. It’s phenomenal, just as it was 35 years ago when we brought the kids here.  It’s also crowded as hell, just as it was 35 years ago.  But with all of our recent NP experience, we decided to leave before dawn and arrive in the park as the sun came up.  The goal was to beat the expected crowds.

In a word, it worked.  We were not alone when we arrived, but there was not a lot of traffic, parking was easy to find, and when we did walk across Swinging Bridge, where the kids saw hang gliders landing 35 years ago, we were all alone.  

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That big field where the gliders landed is closed now to recover from all the people walking on it.   A lot of the work going on now in Yosemite is about recovering the park from all the human damage from so many visitors.  It’s great to see paths pulled back from the edges of the Merced River and the riprap pulled out so the river can meander in the spring floods….as it was meant to do.   Good stewardship!

As the sun started going higher in the sky, so did the volume of traffic in the park.  People were arriving.

We easily got a spot at the visitor center and got to look at exhibits. By the time we were done, the parking lot was jammed.  It was only 10am.  We had been there for several hours now, and started to get itchy from the traffic.

On our way out of the park we stopped to watch the climbers on El Capitain.   As you look at the 3000 foot sheer granite face you can’t see anything.   Then you spot a dot along a crack, and think…that might be a climber.   When you get your binoculars you can finally confirm, yes. That is a climber. Oh, wait, it’s two climbers, and there’s another one above them. 

As you continue up the cracks in the face you realize there are dozens and dozens of climbers on the face, at all different levels.  You can see some just getting out of hanging tents where they spent the night, others nearing the top, and still more near the bottom. They are just getting going. 

It’s amazing to watch, and to think about going up there willingly. 

They are crazy of course.  And yes, we’ve seen the documentary “Free Solo.”  He’s especially crazy. Amazing, for sure. But still crazy.  It’s a good documentary. If you have fear of heights, you may not be able to watch it.

Finally we were on our way out of the park.  The traffic coming in against us, backing up at intersections and at the Park Entrance convinced us again that our strategy was correct.  Come to the bit destination National Parks early to avoid crowds.

After four days of resting up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I think it’s time for wine. Onward to the Russian River area North of San Francisco.  We’re bending homeward…but it’s raining up there.  Along the Russian River it’s in the 80s.

 

 

 

 

Vegas and Tehachapi

One thing has become clear. Karin needs her chiropractor.

All the walking in National Parks has aggravated Karin’s hip, and we needed to get to a Gonstead Chiropractor, and the nearest we could find was in Las Vegas. While she managed getting medical files from home down to the clinic in North Las Vegas, I was charged with finding somewhere to stay.

And it turns out the best place to stay with your RV in Las Vegas is, and I did not see this coming, the Clark County Gun Range.

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I know. Who knew?

Turns out the Clark County Shooting Park (calling it a gun range is selling it way short) is the largest shooting complex in the country, if not the world.   Las Vegas is in the bottom of a big bowl, and Clark County has built this facility to the north of town just as you begin to rise out of the valley.  It’s the very last thing before you reach the Mojave desert and the Desert Wildlife Refuge reaching up to the northern hilltop. It’s unlikely any more building will happen nearby.

When they put in the trap and skeet lines the county also built a long line of full RV hookups. 

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Sure it’s gravel, but it’s also only $25 a night.

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Once shooting is done, its a quiet, secure, place to stay with full hook ups, great cell coverage. In the morning you get to see the sun hit the red rock mountains to the West.  If you’re into Vegas, you’re only 14 miles from the strip. It’s not my thing, but to each his or her own.  20191011_153652_thumb1It was perfectly placed to get Karin to the chiropractor for an adjustment.

With Karin “adjusted” we decided to head for Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks….by way of Tehachapi.  That meant joining the schlep of folks leaving Las Vegas to the South on the main highway to LA.   Before turning right at Barstow, we came across the solar power plant where there are acres and acres of reflective mirrors focusing light on a central tower where the sun’s rays concentrated to heat water, make steam, and drive generators.  I’ve seen pictures before but to see it in person is amazing.  There are so many mirrors concentrating the light that you can see it all coming together around the towers.  I assume it’s lighting up dust to make it look like this.

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Amazing.

We stopped in Tehachapi again as it’s a great waypoint between the Mojave Desert and the Central Valley of California.  The little RV park along the glider airport is away from the town and noise of the freeway and allows you a front row seat of all the action in the sky.  All day Sunday gliders were being towed into the sky and the after 10 minutes of soaring they’d silently swoop in for a landing right out our back window.

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We also happened to land in town the weekend of the Tehachapi Apple Festival…which was small town fun at it’s best.

Yes, that last photo is Karin buying me a piece of apple TehachaPIE. I suspect Tehachapi will be a regular stop for us when ever we head East via the Southern Route.

Zion National Park is always busy

First, Zion National Park is stunning, and everyone who can should visit.  Second, everyone seems to know about point number one, and they are all coming to visit. That makes for one damn crowded park, even in the off season.

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It has been fun visiting Bryce Canyon, Capital Reefs, and Zion National Parks in Southern Utah.  And we’re clearly coming back, as we still have to see Arches, Moab, and Cayonlands. This trip has seemed not so much our first visit to this area, which is it, as it’s a “training” visit that teaches you how busy these stunning parks are, and make you realize that they will always be busy so you need to find strategies around the crowds.

So Zion, specifically, is interesting as you enter it via a long skinny town to the south, Springdale.  You have been in rural Utah a long time to get here, but the minute you’re in Springdale, you see the “Pay to Park” kiosk everyone, just like in a big city.

You need to be looking for parking immediately because I assure you, unless it’s 7am, the Zion parking lots will be full before you get to them.  The cool thing is there’s a free bus shuttle that runs up through town and lets you off right at the park entrance. 

Finding parking is a timing question really. The Zion lot will be full, but street parking will start filling from the park entrance back down through town, forcing you to take a longer shuttle ride up town.   We arrived at about 9:30am, and just as we were approaching the park I could see up ahead traffic bogging down. So I ducked to the open street parking right where I was, and we only had a short walk to the entrance.  By the time we left around 2pm, all street parking was jammed.  It was early October, on a Tuesday. I suspect times for the parking jam will vary by season.

Approaching the park entrance, you go through the gauntlet of tourist shops, coffee shops, and an outfitting service. Cross a bridge and you’re at the entrance pergola where you pay to get it (or in our case show our annual pass. I can’t wait for my birthday next year as I’ll finally be able to buy my lifetime pass). Then, of course,  you get into the line for the Park Shuttle bus.  Think airport security line.  There are a lot of people, and many have on the same rubber hiking boots and are carrying a staff. Hmm, more on that later.

Turns out Zion is so busy it has it’s own bus that goes all the way up the canyon, letting out out at various Park hot spots; the Museum, The Zion Lodge, The Grotto, and finally the last stop.  From there you walk the last mile up the entrance to “The Narrows.”    And when the shuttle is running, they don’t allow any private cars. 

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The Narrows is one of the most famous features of Zion, where the red canyon walls come together with only the North fork of the Virgin river that carved the canyon spilling out between them. This is where the rubber hiking boots come in.  It’s very possible to continue into The Narrows for many miles with the canyon’s towering walls arching over your head, blotting out the sky they are so close.  But for the most part, the trail is just the river itself. If you don’t have rubber hiking boots, and that staff the outfitters give you when they give you the boots, you can’t really go on.

We didn’t get into The Narrows this trip as we didn’t have the boots, and Karin’s hip issue started acting up when we were out on the hiking trail, making even normal walking painful. She had to make the call on the hike as to when we had to turn around just to make sure she could get back to the shuttle.  It’s frustrating for her.

One hike we didn’t do is Angels Landing That’s about 2/3 of the way up the canyon and is one of Zion’s featured walks.  It’s a hike that’s about _ miles from the road, and goes just about straight up…to where angels would land if they were visiting from heaven. There is a long slope up to the base of the zig zagging switchbacks that were designed by the Park’s first Superintendent. The zigzags are an amazing climb in their own right, but they are only there to get people up to the real challenge, the ridge that takes you up to Angels Landing itself.   This ridge has a 1300 foot sheer drop on one side, and 900 foot sheer drop on the other side.  Did I mention the ridge is about 3-4 feet wide? There are posts with a chain running down the middle, and they point out you “WILL” be holding on to the chain at all times.

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So one thing we learned that we will definitely do next time is to bring our bicycles into the park.  All the shuttle buses have bike racks.  The way to get some space in Zion is to let them carry your bicycle up all the way, lock it up and go on hikes, and then ride your bicycle back down the valley.

Bryce is Great, Unless you have Acrophobia.

First, lets just cover the basics. Bryce Canyon National Park in Southern Utah is stunning to see.  Everyone should go.

But if you go, know this; there are lots and lots of viewpoints out over the canyon where the only thing between you and the abyss is a National Park Service railing.  Now these rails are made with huge sandstone pillars and three 9 inch diameter log rails. They are pretty solid stuff.  But if you have acrophobia, your eyes see the rock pillars and rails…but your brain stem knows they are actually made of paper mache’, and you are going to die. 

The cortex is funny that way.

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The look on her face says how she feels

 

It’s interesting what kicks it off.  Karin had no issues at Artist Point overlooking Yellowstone Falls. Why was that no issue, but as we were walking up to Rainbow Point  viewpoint at the end of the road in Bryce Canyon National Park,  she saw the trail, no rail and open valley.  We were still 20 feet from the edge and Bam! that feeling of being swept over an edge came screaming back.

Here’s a nice photo of me looking at the view.  Karin took it from about 12 feet behind me, where she was comfortable.

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One the way out of Bryce and back to our trailer you have to do through Red Canyon and we were able to spend some time walking through their viewpoints near the visitors center.  The colors are hard to capture with the bright sun and don’t do it justice like the naked eye.  We had a great day of sunny weather and deep blue skies

 

Next time…

  • Pick a hike or two that Karin can do (she has a bum hip issue).
  • Camp closer to the park
  • Stay more than a day visit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capitol Reef National Park is really big

We visited Capitol Reef National Park as our first big rock canyon. 

We had originally planned to go to Moab this year with Dennis and Carol and some of their friends, but one Dan Stephens got sick.  Get well Dan. We’ll save Moab, Arches and Canyonland National Parks for next year with all of you. 

Given our great experience with Utah State Parks so far we looked South and opted to stay at Fremont Indian State Park at Sam Stowe Campground. It’s more or less centrally located to see Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion.  The bonus is we wouldn’t have to move every day.

Being our first visit to this area we were really impressed with all there was to see not only at the state park but on the drive to the National Parks.

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Capital Reef, like all the other national parks, the word amazing doesn’t do it justice.  In the Pacific Northwest we have some pretty exceptional terrain but this just seems so much more stark and abrupt.  Trying to capture it in photos was unsatisfying but try we did.

One cool and unusual feature at this National Park is all the orchards in the  Fruita area, which is where the Park’s visitor center and main campground is located. Mormon pioneers were a little busy trying to stay alive 150 years ago, so they didn’t worry about creative names for places.  They lived here. They grew fruit. “OK, how about we call it Fruita?”  The cool part is that today the park rangers maintain the orchards…and park guests get to do the picking for their camping baskets. So we picked apples. 

Key learnings for next time…

  • We’ll stay closer to the park or in the park
  • We’ll visit more than one day to see more sites
  • We’ll do a hike or two and take more photos

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Fremont Indian State Park where we camped was created when they were building I-70 and as a result wiped out an old Indian village that had been there from the 300s to the 1300s on the hill above the freeway path.  The state DOT wanted the hill to use for fill and base.  It was also the early 1980s, and they made stupid decisions like that.  The penance was to build a great State Park and Museum, keeping the artifacts they did find in the canyon where they belong. 

It’s great to see the many petroglyphs and pictographs that are still in great condition.  Sadly, several of the best ones have been defaced in some manner or another…people are such idiots. 

The visitor center has a small museum of the known history of the Fremont Indians as well an outdoor re-creation of their home (half dug out and half covered with a ladder going down through the hole in the roof) that you can climb down into) and short canyon hike to some petroglyphs up close. 

Our campsite is a short drive from the visitor center and we have petroglyphs a few feet from our trailer.  Pretty cool.  The campground is well kept and have full services.  No cellular signal gets into the canyon though which after a week get a bit frustrating. 

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We were able to do some bicycling in the state park as well as a nice paved bike path that runs quite a distance along highway 89. 

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For our last day’s excitement we saw what we think was a baby Copper Back Rattlesnake (no rattle, maybe 12” long, ) by the public bathroom.  Coincidentally, I read a warning about these a few weeks ago in a camping guide..September is the season for babies to hatch.  I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t stopped walking to turn and talk to Dan.  When I turned back, it moved so I wisely kept my distance.  Funny, when we got back from our ride two sheriffs deputies came by with a snake tool to move the little guy to more appropriate snake terrain.  Scary if you dwell on it. 

Utah is a really nice place

Snow was forecast in Jackson in few days which we took that as a sign from God that we needed to get South to Utah.  The drive out of Grande Teton area to the south is amazing.  You follow a winding river down to Bear Lake near the corner where Wyoming, Idaho and Utah meet.  It’s beautiful, and will get it’s own trip some year.

 

Our first stop was a Harvest Host South of the Greater Salt Lake City area.  We were sitting in the trailer parked for a night at the Rowley’s Farms Big Red Barn (See, HH is not just wineries) and we got to talking about how stunning it was up around Sundance, Heber City and such. 

We decided to backtrack up to Deer Creek State Park, which is just at the top of the Provo Canyon on Deer Creek Reservoir. 

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We got two nights in their dry campground and another four nights in their full hookup campground just up the hill.  Both were wonderful places to just park for most of a week and venture out to explore.  The facilities were good and the view of Mt Timpanogos and the red foliage and the lake from inside the trailer was great.

One day we bicycled in Provo Canyon near Bridal Veil Falls, the next we drove up to Sundance Resort for a Fall Festival under the tents at the base of the ski lifts.  This time of year those are mountain bike lifts. They also take people up to Ziplines up in the mountains.  We may have to come back to try those.  The Fall Festival was fine, but it’s clear that the clientele is of a different order than your normal town Saturday market. Everything was handmade and kind of pricy. But the women were lithe and sun kissed, the men were ruddy, handsome, and about to get on an important call, and the children were all wearing Hanna Anderson and amazingly clean for toddlers. Au Pairs are wonderful things.

 

I did find one thing I had to have. A natural amplifier for my cell phone. So, a retired gentleman who has taken up making no power amps for cell phone out of old radios, old telephones, old anything…or even just a cow horn.  He builds a landing spot for your cellphone out of copper tubing slit open and lined with leather to prevent scratches. Another copper tube is soldered into this base right about where your speaker is on the bottom of your phone. This tube leads to some larger horn…made of horn, a funnel, or sometimes an old gramophone. The music makes it’s way down from your phone, through this gizmo, and comes out louder and usually brighter. Every one of them has a different sound since they are all different. Prices start at $20 for my cow horn version but run up to near a thousand dollars for some of the more intricate units.  Sweet.

Another day we explored Park City, Heber City and Midway City, the towns up on the backside of the Wasatch.  Park City is a resort, we where there for Wasatch Brewing Company pub.  It was ok. Liquor laws in Utah still force them to sell 4% beers in groceries and pubs. (Going to 5% in November). This limits the range of intensity they can get in the beers. They were Meh.  Go to state liquor stores not the grocery stores. They can sell you real beers (even the real beers of Utah breweries), along with wine and liquor.

We also took one day to take the narrow winding road up over the Wasatch Front and down into Salt Lake City to visit the Church History Museum which is right across the street from the big LDS Temple.  We’re not supposed to call it Mormon anymore…they are doing a branding change.  The drive was glorious in its red and orange maples and stands of birch trees some of them turning yellow.  I’m sure there were aspens as well.

We wanted to stop into the museum as it’s one where our son Christian’s company, Pacific Studio, did all the displays a few years ago. We wanted to see his handy work.

The museum was interesting. It has a few actual historic artifacts but they are not the focus. They were there to give an opportunity for the Church to tell its origin story, in its own words.

The displays are designed as a timeline from Joseph Smith’s religious upbringing, awakening and forming of what became the LDS church, and through the early spread of the religion. It outlines conflicts with non LDS neighbors and how the church was persecuted in New York, Missouri and Illinois. The story then covers the murders of Joseph Smith and his brother in Illinois and then ends with the main church migration to Utah. Smith’s visitation by angels, gift of golden plates translated by Smith into the Book of Mormon, baptism into priestly authority by characters from the Christian Bible are treated as fact. The museum doesn’t go into great depth about what led to conflicts with Christian and secular neighbors as the church was spreading and why some disagree with certain parts of LDS teachings, even from within the church. But again, this is the LDS church telling it’s version of it’s origin.  It does that.

Grande Teton before the early snow

Time for a change of scenery, so we hitched up, and finally waved goodbye to Henrys Lake State Park. It was a lovely place to stay.. We’ll be back to Yellowstone National Park, and we won’t wait 30 years this time.  On to Grande Teton National Park.

 

These two are twin sisters and a lot of people visit on the same trip. How could you not? They are right next to each other, and fabled in their own ways. But they are also different. First, Teton’s road are wider. Ok, maybe not the lanes, but Teton has one thing Yellowstone mostly does not. Shoulders…wide ones.

One thought that struck me as a bicyclist driving through Yellowstone was that I didn’t want to be on a bicycle in Yellowstone. There were a few, but every time I saw one I thought, “Man, that’s a tough ride.” Sure, there’s a lot of elevation gain in the roads, but the tough part is that you have to do those climbs on the park roadway with cars, campers, trailers, and trucks all backing up behind you. They want by. There’s no shoulder. They have to wait for clear traffic to go around. Most do. Some get a little close. We were there in September when the traffic was a little lighter. In summer I don’t want to imagine how nasty it could get for a bicycle rider. Plus, there are bears, buffalo and moose to think about.

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Teton was night and day different from a bicycle POV. From the North Entrance on, there was a wide, smooth, shoulder. Bicycles could ride 2 up and still be off the road. I could feel my bicycle self relaxing. When you get down to pretty little Jenny Lake you even pick up a paved trail that will take you the last 20 miles into the city of Jackson outside the South Entrance to the Park. Nice.

My second thought on differences in Teton vs. Yellowstone is on the view while driving. Yellowstone has amazing vistas that open up as you drive its narrow loop highways, but the best views can take some hiking down a trail. In Teton, there’s one main North/South highway (with a split in the South end) and running most of it’s way is Jackson Lake. And the parts that aren’t on the lake are along big meadows of sage. The point is the view of the Teton mountains to the West are always with you…and stunning as they rise from the lake or meadow straight up to their 13 thousand foot jagged peaks.

It’s stunning. As you drive along, you stop at a lot of pullouts to take photos. You stop because each new vantage point offers a new view…of the same mountains…and somehow you convince yourself that the view keeps getting better. I suppose it’s the same view really…but your brain is on mountain overload at this point and you get that “I wish we could all live in the high country. That’s where I see myself in 5 years” vibe going.

Speaking of living here. After a while, you will invariably start looking at those little booklets Berkshire Hathaway Realtors put everywhere. Side note on that. If Berkshire and Sotheby’s are the dominant realtors in an area then it’s highly likely you and I can’t afford to live there. Just sayin’.

We parked the trailer this time at the Gros Ventre Campground at the south end of the park for three days. It’s big, flat, and there are lots of loops. Some loops are for tents only, some no-generators, some with only electric and water. We weren’t sure we liked it at first, but after a few days using it as basecamp to explore the park, it grew on us…as long as we’re in Loop A, to the north. That loop has fewer trees, but better view of the mountains. We were in loop B this trip.

We were able to get the bikes our for the first time since we got the trailer for a ride near Jenny Lake. There is a very nice blacktop bike path from Jackson 20 miles up to Jenny Lake. The view of the mountains was exceptional and the much needed exercise was great. We considered riding to Jackson from our campground the next day but decided that getting our laundry done was more important.

There is an interesting museum just before you enter Jackson call the National Museum of Wildlife Art. the entire place is very well done. There are sculptures all over outside grounds and throughout the museum.

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The building itself is beautiful and blends into the surroundings. The art was very good all through the museum.

Karin’s fav painting from the museum.

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Dan’s fav painting from the museum.

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Next time…

  • We will stay longer than 3 days.
  • We’ll try to stay some of the time on Jackson Lake or nearby by RV park or just further north.
  • We will stay in Loop A at Gro Ventre Campground
  • We will ride more days and more places
  • We will play at a lake (in whichever lake or form that takes).
  • We will look for critters, maybe a tour? We saw one deer buck, and one moose (young, no antlers) walk through the campground…not enough.

Jackson, Wyoming. What can I say about Jackson. Well, it has nice stores for resupply. It has a decent brewery; Snake River Brewing. There’s a laundromat that has a little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant next door. Despite the many fancy Mexican places downtown in Jackson, I suspect that El Metate is actually the best, and most authentic, Mexican food in town. When we popped in for lunch, more than half the customers were dusty construction crews with large bowls of Pasole in front of them. I took the hint and ordered the same thing. It was some of the best Posole I’ve ever had.

We walked the streets in downtown a little. It hasn’t changed in the 30 years we’ve been gone. The town square park still has Deer/Elk antler arches at each corner and you are required by city ordinance to post a selfie of yourself standing under one.

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The shops are one of two types (three if you count going out of business or grand opening as a type). They are either tourist traps selling cheap assed “I (heart) Jackon” stuff or they are high end jewelry or art gallery places that cater to the rich folks who flock here for the skiing in winter. They’re the folks who own those big houses you see on the hills and ridge tops approaching town. They don’t live here really, but buy summer homes so they can come in the season.

That playground for the rich vibe is what bugs me about the place. It’s the same feeling I get in Hailey/Sun Valley, Park City, Utah, and mountain resort towns in general. They are stunningly beautiful and everyone who visits has the “I wish I lived here” thought at some point. They are also places where our nation’s wealth and income disparity is on full display. When the amazingly rich have that “I wish I lived here” thought, they just buy a second or third house…or have one built with custom whatever. When the rest of us get that “I wish I lived here” thought we look at the real estate listings, see the prices, and that thought goes away, or we think…maybe prices will be lower one valley over.

Sit at a bar in Jackson drinking a local beer long enough and you’ll also wonder what you’d do for a job here? Everyone is hiring, but no one is paying much over minimum wage. You see young people working retail or service jobs in summer season. OK, that’s fine for college aged folk for a few years. You also see many seniors working those same retail/service jobs. That’s concerning. And in every one of these mountain towns, there’s no housing for workers. They often live a long way away and commute…adding to those nasty traffic jams in season.

To be fair, I have the same feeling when we sail into cute marina towns on our boat. They have the same vibe, and all the exact same problems.

Yellowstone, In the Fall

It’s hard for us to believe, but it’s been 30 years since Karin and I went to Yellowstone National Park. After Tim Valadao’s wedding in Idaho, we headed East from Corral Creek Ranch in the Camas Prairie toward the world’s first National Park.

Being a little late to plan the trip, we knew we’d not find a camping site in the park. Not to worry. There are tons of state and national forest camp grounds just outside of the park to try.  And if folks get desperate, there are also private RV parks.  Not our cup of tea; but it’s always an option.

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Everything in the park was full or closed but we found a great RV campground at Henrys Lake State Park in Idaho, just a 13 mile hop over a hill to the park entrance at West Yellowstone.    From here It would be easy to spend a day poking around the park, and return at night to our trailer.

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Day 1:  Our visit didn’t start out so great.  We went to bed the night before to snow falling and woke up to the same snow next morning. No further accumulation but still pretty cold.  As we got to the park it started to rain.   By the end of the day the weather had eased up but still pretty cold.

For our first foray into the park, we headed North, working our way up to Mammoth Hot Springs.  Along the way we stopped at a hot springs or two, and marveled at the views.

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One of the joys of driving into any National Park is that the speed limit drops.  You get to slow down to 45, and not worry about people behind you.  People are going to pull out to see things anyway, so it’s lovely that life slows down.

Getting into Mammoth ended up being a major pain.  By 11am all the hot spring parking lots were full (shorter walk), and drivers were getting frustrated (including our own) so we cruised on through, and went up to Gardiner, Montana at the North entrance. We found a nice lunch spot then went South again, and finally found a parking spot near Mammoth. 

It’s interesting to travel in the fall.  There are fewer crowds we are told, but once there to wonder how bad it must be during the summer!  The crowds that are there tend to concentrate in the most popular places…such as Mammoth.  Still, we’re here, and found parking, walked the boardwalk around the the pools.  Even with all us tourists it is still an amazing site as is the entire park. 

Day 2:  After the prior day we decided we needed a new strategy to deal with the crowds.  Of course everyone says you need to get there really early to see the critters and miss the crowds.  We took the advise and headed out early.

Our target today was Grand Prismatic Springs.  We left our trailer at 7am.  We weren’t the only one out early that day but the line was shorter and we did see a herd of Bison along the way much to Karin’s excitement (we only saw a deer the day prior). 

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We were pleased that lots of parking was available when we got to the springs.   It was in the low 40’s when we got there so the steam was pretty thick and hard to see the actual springs.  There are four large one in this particular site but there’s got to be 100’s in the basin.  Steam was coming up all over the place! 

 

By the time we left an hour later, the parking lot was full with cars and 4 tour buses, and the traffic backed up out of the attraction.  Glad to be leaving.

Next stop was Old Faithful.  Once we got there we found that the next eruption was due in 90 minutes so we headed toward the Visitors Center for an informational tour of the Yellowstone and Geyser Basin geology.  Then off to the Old Faithful Inn for a coffee.  The lodge was wonderful and charming.  Lots of Arts and Craft furniture, the log structure itself and split log steps (none of them even!).  Best of all we found we could watch the eruption from the upstairs balcony with our coffees.   Old Faithful did not disappoint!

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We decided to walk path and boardwalks above Old Faithful where were are dozens of other geysers and hot springs of different kinds.  Their naming is pretty literal based on the shape of the geyser such as pork chop, ear, beehive, you get the idea.  There was a much longer walk but Karin’s hip was starting to act up and didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of the basin without access to a car.  We’ll get to it next time.

Day 3:  Today was Yellowstone Lake and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone , and Hayden Valley loop day.  We left early again drove past the attractions we visited yesterday.  It was interesting to to see the tree regrowth from the big fire in 1984 (or 1989 check this date).  lots of areas affected where you see the line where the new growth starts.  Some other areas looked as if they they had more recent burns but the reseeding keeps happening, which is great. 

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When we first saw Yellowstone Lake it made me think of SE Alaska.  It is huge.  Trees grow up to the lakeside  except where there’s a road.  Not much beach to see or access.  We did stop at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel and had a drink as recommended by our friends Shirley and Jim Runkel.  Nice place. 

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Nearby there is a marina for fishing boats and Fishing Bridge RV park that will take trailers our size so we’ll try for next time to come here.  It was closed for repairs.

So off we go looking for critters for Karin in Hayden Valley.  We saw one Bison (so sad), but lots of birds along the lake and river (White Pelicans, Trumpeter Swans, eagles and other ducks I haven’t identified yet with plenty of Canadian Geese in the mix). 

Now we come to the Canyon Falls.  Yes, it is also amazing.  You almost get exhausted from all of the wonderful sites!   The day had warmed and clear blue skies.  Just a great view.

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Yellowstone National Park was all amazing in its sites and  diversity.  We will come back. 

Next time…

  • We will hope to camp inside the park if possible. 
  • We will leave early every day in hopes of seeing more wildlife. 
  • We will pick only one site per day to visit and do some hiking nearby to really experience the place.
  • We will stay more than 3 days.
  • We will be Bear Aware and carry our bear spray everywhere.