Yellowstone National Park

Sorry for being so late with this post.  I have made some new traveling friends in New Mexico and have ignored updating the blog.  Will try to catch up ASAP.

Anyway, we drove into Yellowstone the day after Labor Day, hoping to avoid the summer crowds, but before it got too cold.  I was hoping to camp in Norris Campground, since it is pretty central and my friend Dwight was camping there on his annual trip.  We stopped to see Lewis Lake, Lewis River, and Lewis Falls.  Then to Grant Village on Yellowstone Lake.  I had heard there was internet and phone signal there – I had been without for 3 days.  The lake is really huge, from what I could see.  I was walking Riley, but couldn’t go too close.  Dogs are not allowed on the boardwalks that go along the geysers, which are all over in Yellowstone.  Probably should have put him back in the RV and gone back out to the lake for a good picture, but didn’t think of it.

Yellowstone Lake

We went up and over the Continental Divide a couple of times, then to Old Faithful.  The next eruption was about an hour away.  I started to wander around and wait, but decided it would be too long, so bagged it.  Needed to get to Norris by early afternoon to get a decent campsite.  Stopped at Midway Geyser Basin to view the Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring.  The hot geyser water drains into the Firehole River (more pictures in the slide show at the end).

Excelsior Geyser

One thing I wasn’t adequately prepared for is how big Yellowstone is.  It’s huge.  Takes a lot of driving to get from one place to another.  And it’s super-hilly.  Anyway, we got to Norris Campground around 3PM and it was full.  Drove around to see if I could see where Dwight’s group was camped, but didn’t see him.  Had left a message earlier in Grant Village, but had not connected.

Yellowstone Map

I decided to drive to Mammoth Campground.  Would need gas soon, and I could go to Gardiner the next morning, which is right outside the park, about 5 miles from Mammoth. At Mammoth I got one of the last sites.  I met a guy parked above me who was tent camping, but owned a Lazy Daze back in Austin.  Small world. Riley and I took a walk around the Mammoth area.  A lot of the buildings there are from a time when the park was guarded by the Army.  Now they are used for the Visitor Center and residences.

Fort Yellowstone

Mammoth Residence Area

The next morning I filled up in Gardiner and stopped to take a picture of the Roosevelt Arch at the park entrance.  Unfortunately the sun at that time of day was not at a good angle.

Gardiner Entrance

From there we drove to Tower Junction, then to Canyon Village, where we checked out the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Upper and Lower Falls.  Really amazing, beautiful, diverse country.    As you drive along the scenery is constantly changing.  And the rivers are amazing.  I noticed in Wyoming that the rivers are all really alive, rushing along, over rocks, beautiful colors, all very lively.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Lower Falls

I went by Norris Campground, but it was full again.  I had no signal to call or email Dwight, plus it was Wednesday, the 5th, the first night of NFL games.  I decided to go to West Yellowstone, Montana (right outside the park) and get a commercial campsite where I would have electric and could watch the game.  I’d have Verizon and phone, could charge up, and take care of the tanks.

The next morning Dwight called. He had gotten a signal and was able to get my messages.  I headed back to Norris, seeing a bison right next to the road.

Bison near Madison Junction

At Norris I got to meet the ‘Mountain Men’, a group that camps at Yellowstone every year.

The Mountain Men – Scott, Ernesto, Nathan, Paul, Dwight

Dwight and Scott grew up in the area, Ernesto is their friend from Guatemala, and Nathan and Paul are Dwight’s sons. Normally they go back-country camping, but this year they decided to camp at Norris and explore more of the central park areas. They had 2 fantastic campsites together and I was able to park there with them for Thursday night.  We had a great time and it’s always good to see Dwight. (We worked together, but for different companies, and in different cities.)  What a great group of guys!!  Scott’s wife would like to get a motorhome, so he took a good look at my Lazy Daze.  I think he was a bit surprised at how much can fit into such a small size.  (Personally, I think I have everything I could possibly need, except solar.)  It got down below freezing that night.  I’m glad I didn’t take too long getting to Yellowstone.  It gets cold in a hurry up there.

On Friday morning we went our separate ways.  I was heading up to Montana – to Ennis, Bozeman, and the Madison River.

By the way, Yellowstone was busy.  Guess a lot of folks had the same idea to go right after Labor Day, especially the tour groups.  Still, glad I went at that time, and certainly glad I got to see Yellowstone and the Tetons.

Slideshow:

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Camping on the Snake River

Between the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks is the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Parkway.  That’s the name of the road, and also the name of the area that connects the two parks.  Grassy Lake Road comes off the Parkway and goes behind the Flagg Ranch resort complex.  It runs along the Snake River for a few miles, then connects to Ashton, Idaho.  The road is reported to be very rough, but the first few miles aren’t too bad, and the Park Service has constructed several mini campgrounds there. It’s free to stay for up to 14 days.  I stopped at the 2nd campground, which has 2 campsites.  One site had a tent but no car, and the other site was vacant.  I grabbed the vacant site and hoped the tent didn’t belong to an axe-murderer.

Grassy Lake Road Camp

Grassy Lake Camp. The little building on the left is a new rest room (pit toilet) constructed by the Park Service.

After getting level and setting up, a car drove up and I got to meet my neighbor. It was a young woman named Gillian, solo camping with her newly adopted dog – a Chihuahua named Mouse.  Gillian had been living in New York, but was originally from Scotland, so had just the best accent.  We had a great time talking about how we each took to the road (many similarities), our plans, and had fun playing with the dogs.  She left early the next morning, as she had many miles to make that day.  She was such a lovely, fantastic, free-spirit I was sorry we didn’t have another day or 2 to visit.  That’s one of the hard things about traveling around – you meet fantastic people and make great friendships, but the time is too short before saying goodbye.

The Snake River runs directly behind the campsites, and in the mornings there would be fog in the area and mist over the water.  It made for great pictures.  Usually there were fisherman further along the river, and I often thought about how much my friend Chris Turner, an avid fly-fisherman, would love that site.

Morning on the Snake River

After Gillian left some deer came by, checking on the site.

Deer wondering where Gillian and Mouse went

The National Park Service patrols the campsites, both with rangers and a very nice retired volunteer gentleman.  He told me there were other campsites further up the road (I was aware about just the first 2 campgrounds), so Riley and I took a walk up the road a mile or so to check out the other sites.  We met another lovely woman, Jen from New Jersey, solo tent camping out of her car.  She too had quit her job and hit the road.  Her goal was to do some back-country hiking in the Tetons, so was very excited to be there and close to her dream.  We talked for a couple of hours, then later, she came to visit at our campground.  Turns out she had been camped next to me at Colter Bay 2 days before, and really liked the look of my Lazy Daze motorhome.  She was surprised and glad to see me in the same area, but had camped further up the road since our little 2-site area was full.  So, I gave a tour and we talked a couple of hours more.  I was planning to leave the next morning to go to Yellowstone, and we arranged for her to come by and take my site, as it was nicer than the one she had up the road.  Again, I made a great friend and was saying a sad goodbye to head on to the next part of my trip.

I love a campsite with a nice view!

I had stayed Sunday/Monday, Sept. 2nd & 3rd at the Grassy Lake Road camp.  Now that Labor Day had passed I wanted to get to Yellowstone, since the crowds should be smaller than during the ‘summer season’.   There would be a lot to see there, and I planned to meet my friend Dwight, who was in Norris Campground.  I have a LOT of pictures from Yellowstone and will post on that part of the trip soon.

Grand Teton National Park

Next we headed to the Tetons.  Approaching from the east on Hwy. 26, the Teton range is seen from the side, a great angle.  What I didn’t expect was to see glimpses through openings in the trees as I was driving towards Moran Junction.  I was stunned.  You see pictures, but nothing can prepare you for the first sighting of the Teton range.

Glimpse of Tetons, approaching on Hwy. 26

The prior night had been stormy and there were still a lot of low clouds hanging around.  Unfortunately, a lot of my pictures have those clouds along the mountaintops.  (By the way, clicking on the pictures will open them to a bigger view.)

Low clouds over the Teton range

We stopped at a few places, including along the Snake River, a view made famous by Ansel Adams.

Tetons from Snake River Overlook

We drove through the park down to Jackson, passing by fields of bison, to take care of our gas, grocery and internet access needs.  Then we took the park road back north, to the visitor center at Moose, to viewpoint pull-offs, by Jenny Lake, and to Jackson Lake, where we would get a site at Colter Bay campground.  Another storm was gathering over the mountains and we were driving into it.

Storm over Tetons

Closer view

Jenny Lake

Colter Bay Campsite

At Colter Bay, Riley and I walked around the area, including to the beach at Jackson Lake.

Tetons and Jackson Lake

Jackson Lake near Colter Bay campsite

Riley at Jackson Lake

Back at the campground we met Margaret, from New York, originally from Australia.  She was traveling solo with her bird and tent camping out of her car.  A spunky, lovely lady.

The next morning we headed toward Yellowstone. The road hugs Jackson Lake north of Colter Bay and I got a picture of Myrtle (my rig) with a pretty backdrop.

The low clouds hide the tops of the mountains. You can just see a few tips above the clouds in places.

I had read about a park campground just south of Yellowstone, right on the Snake River and free!  This post is already long enough, so will write about that stop separately.

Casper, Thermopolis, and Brooks Lake

From Wheatland I headed to Casper, stopping in Douglas for lunch.  They have a city park with overnight RV parking allowed on the banks of the North Platte River.  It was too early to stop for the day so I kept on to Casper.  The highway in central Wyoming is really boring, about like driving through west Texas.  But, I had “This American Life” podcasts on my Ipod playing through my new dash radio.  So, it wasn’t a bad drive.  I planned to go to Stalkups RV in Casper for some parts, then go up to a county park on Casper Mountain where it would be cool.  I’d rather be at elevation with windows open than parked cheek-by-jowls in a commercial RV park in town with A/C running.  Personal preference.  The drive up the mountain was steep and windy, but eventually I was up there driving through the campground looking for a suitable site.  There really weren’t many folks there.  I saw just one RV and a few cars parked with guys just sitting in them.  Most of the sites were small and unlevel.  It just seemed creepy, so I decided to go back down the mountain and find someplace else to stay.  I tried not to think of how many gallons of gas I just wasted going up, then down the mountain.  I did need to go by Walmart, so I just decided to stay there overnight.  RVers stay at Walmarts all the time, but I hadn’t yet.  It was a little noisy, but fine.

North Platte River in Douglas

On the way back down Casper Mountain. It is steep.

The next morning I got my oil changed, then stopped for gas and propane on the way out of town, heading to Thermopolis.  There is a state park there with hot springs.  Supposed to be good soaking, and I had never had a dip in hot springs.  The propane guy gave me the name of an RV park with their own hot springs pool.  Seemed like a good place to stay.  I would need electric hookups for A/C and needed to do laundry.  When I got there I checked in and parked.  If I had paid attention I would have noticed it didn’t look like a nice place.  It wasn’t well kept up, and the laundry room hadn’t been cleaned recently.  I need to remember to drive through and inspect before setting on an RV park.  Oh well, I did get my laundry done, and had a soak or 2.

The drive to and from Thermopolis is through the Wind River Canyon.  It’s a really nice drive, and I wished I wasn’t driving so I could have enjoyed it more.

Wind River Canyon

Wind River Canyon

From there it was on to Dubois and then Brooks Lake Campground.  Brooks Lake was a location I saw RVSue visit a few months before.  I remember showing Sue’s posts/pictures to my folks on my Ipad, saying I wanted to visit a pretty place like that on my travels.  Since it was on the way to Yellowstone/Tetons I would have the chance.  The road to Dubois runs along the Wind River and there was interesting rock formations, too.  At one point we had to stop for a cattle round up crossing the road.  As we passed I noticed they were cowGIRLS herding the cattle.  Giddy-up!!   I stopped at the visitor center in town and the Shoshone Forest office to get info on the forest and fires in the area.  (There were a couple of fires, but not where I would be going.)  Forest road 515 gains about 2,000 feet elevation to 9,200 feet, and is about 5 miles of washboard road.  I really did not enjoy the road to the campground.  But, when I got up there it was really pretty and worth the drive.  The good sites in the main loop by the lake were taken so I drove up a small hill on a spur where there were 3 more sites.  They had recently cut down dead or dying trees and left the wood for campers to use.  There was a nice stack of wood at my site!

Brooks Lake Site

Brooks Lake

On one side of the lake was The Pinnacles and the other side had the Breccia Cliffs.  There was a fire past the lake and the smoke makes interesting sunset color on the Pinnacles.  There was also a trail leading from the lake that is part of the Continental Divide Trail.

Start of Trail and Breccia Cliffs. Across the lake is smoke from the fire.

Pinnacles at Sunset

I got to talking to the Richard, the Camphost.  He said there was a trail branching off that went to Jade Lake, a really beautiful lake.  He had seen a bear in the area, so lent me his bear spray for the hike Riley and I would take the next day.  It was a pretty hike, longer than I thought, and when I got to the lake I was really disappointed.  It seemed really small and unimpressive.  But the sign said Jade Lakes, so maybe there would be another if I kept walking.  After a bit more walking there was still no 2nd lake.  Some folks came walking along and said yes, it was just a little way further.  It was truly a storybook looking lake, so I’m glad we kept walking.

Jade Lake

At Jade Lake

We stayed 3 nights.  On the last night some women pulled up to the site next to me, several women, several trucks.  Turns out they were having a bachelorette party for their friend that works at the fancy lodge/dude ranch next door.  I had seen a cowgirl herding some horses on the trail a day or 2 before, and she was the guest of honor.  It seemed quite ‘Wyoming’ to have a campout bachelorette party.

The next day was Saturday, September 1st, time to head out to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.  I would take highway 26 over the Continental Divide at Togwotee Pass, through Moran Junction and then to Jackson, as I needed gas and groceries.  Then we would visit Tetons, getting to Yellowstone after Labor Day (when hopefully the crowds would be smaller).

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Southeastern Wyoming

Now solo, I headed up I-25 into Wyoming.  Stopped at the Visitor Center to pick up a map and brochures on places I would be going or may be interested in seeing.  I knew I wanted to go to Wheatland, after reading about their park on RVSue’s site.  They have a city park with electric hookups where you could stay (3 days max) for a small donation.  I had changed my address to my folks’ place, and needed to get my mail delivered.  Wheatland seemed like a place where I could wait for a few days, within walking distance to downtown, and decent weather.

But, it would be a few days before the mail package that my dad had sent would arrive.  A couple of the ladies on the solo women RV group I subscribed to were camphosting at Vedauwoo (pronounced VEE-da-voo), a National Forest Service campground between Cheyenne and Laramie.  They had said it was a fantastic site and I figured I would check it out, then maybe visit Laramie and  Cheyenne.  When I got there it turned out to be very cool (fantastic rock formations) and very cool (higher elevation with a nice breeze), and I immediately paid for 2 nights. [This was Thursday/Friday, August 23rd/24th.]  After getting set up, Riley and I took a walk around the campground and onto the trail that led into the Medicine Bow National Forest.  We saw a moose part way down the spur trail that led to the longer trail that goes all around the outside of the rock formations.  I kept thinking how much my nephew, Kevin, would enjoy visiting Vedauwoo.  He’s an expert rock climber.  (Additional pictures in a slideshow at the end.)

Vedauwoo Site

Campground

Moose! We saw a Moose!

The next day I noticed my house battery was VERY low on charge.  I figured I would drive to Laramie so it would recharge.  Laramie is a nice little college town.  University of Wyoming was having their ‘move-in day’ for the students and families, so it was a little busy traffic-wise.  I ended up stopping at Advance Auto Parts to look for an amber bulb for my outside light and a copy of my gas key (couldn’t seem to find anywhere that had a blank for that odd-size key.)  Ended up checking out batteries.  I knew 2 golf cart batteries (6-volt) was a better setup than the 12-volt I had.  The salesman said the 6-volt farm tractor batteries they had were the same thing.  I was skeptical, but figured he knew his stock.  He gave me the directions to Kett’s Auto Electric for installation.  When I got there the owner said no, farm batteries were not deep-cycle discharge batteries, and I needed the golf cart batteries.  He called Advance and they sent over a guy with the correct batteries.  After installation I swung back by Advance and settled up on the difference.  The GC batteries were more expensive, but he knocked $10 off of each for his mistake.  I went by Walmart and then back to the campground.

Nicole and Darlene, the camp-hosts, stopped by on their rounds and we got to visit a bit.  Nicole is very knowledgeable on electrical systems and she looked at my generator and the wiring going to the batteries.  She couldn’t really see why my generator wasn’t charging the batteries.  Really, it’s just a 200 pound piece of junk and I should have uninstalled it before leaving.  Later, Riley and I hiked the full trail – 3 miles or so.

Forest Trail

The next morning we got on the road early to go to Wheatland.  Since it was Saturday, I wanted to get to the campground reasonably early for a better chance at a site.  With only 10 sites I thought it might fill early on weekends.  Also, I wanted to stop by Cheyenne to visit the farmer’s market they have on Saturday mornings.  When I got to Lewis Park in Wheatland there was only one other rig there.  It was a guy from England.  Alan travels in a motorhome about 6 months of the year then flies back to England for the rest of the year.  He said there had been a bluegrass concert the night before and rumor was there was another Saturday night, too.  Not long after I got set up another motorhome pulled in.  I met Phil and Karon from Gulf Shores, AL.  Phil helped me get level on my new Lynx leveling blocks that I had picked up at the Walmart in Laramie.  Nice folks.  We ended up setting up our chairs near the amphitheater and watching the bluegrass concert.  Well, mostly we talked about our travels, with bluegrass background music.  They headed on the next morning.  Sunday night there was a gospel concert and Alan and I listened a bit, mostly talking about our travels.  He gave me a couple of boondocking sites to check out when I got to Bryce Canyon.

On Monday morning I walked over to the post office and my mail had just arrived.  So, I packed up and headed on.  I wanted to get to Casper.  Then I would probably go to Thermopolis and Brooks Lake before my main Wyoming destination – Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

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