Wyoming and National Parks

For a time you zig zag from Idaho into Wyoming before you get into Wyoming proper at a really quirky town of Afton. The main street was very cool with the main town sign made up of a collection of deer antlers. Deer and bear were represented at a load of the places in town. From there you work your way up and through Snake Canyon – a really nice stretch of road – with loads of water activity taking place – rafting, kayaking, fishing. You wind your way through the canyon before dropping down into to the town / city of Jackson – the southern hub to the Wyoming National Parks. We stopped and had a look around – the town still has a lot of the ‘old west’ style about it with it’s buildings and decor – very cool. We loaded ourselves up with info and advice and made for a camping ground up the road – Cros Ventre which translates I’m told to ‘camp by the water’. We had a good talk to some ‘locals’ and headed out in search of some of the wildlife the area is famous for (to date a small snake was the extent of our wildlife locally).

We joined the other wannabe wildlife spotters in completing one of the circuits in the Grand Teton National Park. A nice late afternoon drove yeilded us some Prong-horn Antelope but some wonderful vistas – the Grand Teton’s and the lakes in the area are quite stunning. We headed back to the camp and attended a ranger lecture on ‘bear awareness’. Being the better for it, we still hoped we might spot a bear in the coming days. The following morning we were up and away early and headed out via a back road and were rewarded by coming upon a large herd of Bison slowly wandering across the road, munching as they went – we were very lucky. The early morning vista of the Teton mountain range was stunning – Grand Teton stands at around 13000 ft so a bit bigger then Mt Cook. We stopped at a really nice area called Coulter Lake (this and Jenny’s Lake were both tranquil amazing spaces). From there it’s just a hop skip and a jump out of the Grand Teton NP and across into Yellowstone NP.

We stopped at the first Visitor Centre we came to Grants Village and the ranger team there helped us secure some accommodation for the night and then recommended the ‘Yellowstone must do’s’. First stop was to work up and around to Old Faithful which we timed well (along with the other 1000 or more people) to see it spurt and perform. From there we found a spot and hiked into an area called Fairy Falls – very nice, and the hike puts you in a really good aerial position to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. We then worked our way around to the Grand Canyon Falls area – very impressive, before dropping down to Yellowstone Lake and the Yellowstone Lodge. Our accommodation for the night was near by in a large camping areas at Bridge Bay (something like 400 plus camp sites for tents and RV’s etc.). It was a long day not getting ourselves parked up till after 7pm – knowing we would do it all again or part thereof of the next day.

Thursday turned out to be a quieter day for us – leaving the Bay Camp site we worked north, spotting some elk and bison on the way. We wanted to head to the north of the park which involved crossing Dunraven Pass. It was a good climb up (to around 9000 ft) but a very long windy way down so by the time we made it to Tower Falls we had smoke coming off of the front brakes – a bit hotter than planned. There is a camp site at Tower Falls so we secured ourselves a spot and parked Romin up to ‘cool down’. As we settled into the camp site (much more rustic and smaller than the first night) we were surprised by a large male Bison just wandering up and through the camp. We ended up having a quiet day in the camp and went out later in the day to hike down to the Tower Falls and explore that area.

Friday was another early start – we needed to see some wildlife so we were up and away and made for the Lamar Valley area – along with a load of other early risers it turns out. We were all rewarded with loads of Bison – many of whom decided to loiter on the road making for some slow going at times (that and cars forgetting that they had traffic behind them and stopping when they glanced something). Turned out we weren’t early enough on the road to get a prime spot and so the key bear spotting areas were already full when we got there. We ended up being rewarded with more elk and bison sightings and even came upon a wolf. We left the wildlife spotters to it – long range binoculars seem to be a must) and made our way across the top of the park to the Mammoth Hot Springs area – which doubles as the Park HQ. The hot springs area appeared to be something like I would image the Pink and White Terraces in NZ were before being destroyed by eruption.

Some of the buildings in the Mammoth area are amazing – we passed one area which had elk resting / eating on the front lawn – very cool. With that our National Park adventure draws to a close – from Mammoth it’s a 5 mile run to Gardiner and the Roosevelt Gates which mark the northern most entrance to the park. With that we had also crossed the border into Montana – Yellowstone is a bi unique in that it spans Idaho, Montana and Wyoming – I think 90 percent of the park being in Wyoming. We didn’t spot a bear, and we didn’t see a moose, but we’d taken in some great scenery in this area – let’s see what Montana has to offer.

Utah

Pulling away from the Salt on Thursday morning we made the long straight haul to Salt Lake City on Interstate 80 (from Wendover you cover something like 80 k’s without any bend in the road). We worked our way into the city and found a park on a side street and headed up to get the light rail train into Temple Square – the Morman Church ‘centre of the universe’. The church have a large portion of Salt Lake’s downtown set aside for church related properties. It’s a big facility but well worth a look. Their temples were quite different to what we had seen elsewhere in the world – not such a religious presence to them – no crosses etc. We went to an organ performance in the Tabernacle and then went over to the Convention Centre where Celeste guided us through – answering lots of questions we had about the Mormon religion on the way. The centre piece to the convention centre is its convention hall – it can sit 21000 and there are regular performances / concerts staged here. The building architecture was very neat – the roof of the building is a living roof with trees, plants and grasses all growing to reflect Utah and the Mormon journey to Utah / Salt Lake City.

We had a look around downtown – you can see the Mormon presence in a lot of the city. We got the light rail back to the camper and then worked our way north of the city to an area near Clearfield to a free RV camping site. We had some motor troubles along the way and hoped this wasn’t an omen for what lay ahead. Fortunately Romin started fit and well on the Friday morning so we called on an RV yard for some advice and after a stop at the auto shop and a fuel fill up, we were off and running again. Our next stop was Hills Airforce Base north of Salt Lake City. This facility is great – and it’s free! We spent the bast part of 4 hours looking around and talking to the very friendly volunteers. We were given plenty of advice for the road ahead. For me the display was very impressive – great collection of World War 2 – present US air power on display – being US Airforce, all the craft were of US origin. I was amassed at how close you could get to the likes of a B-1 and B-52 bomber and the scale of some of these planes up close really surprised me (thank you Murray Trim for the suggestion – thoroughly recommend a visit to this museum).

Pulling away from the museum we pushed north before cutting back across to the east to a really nice town of Logan (Utah State University is based here). We stopped at the National Parks office and got our annual pass for the coming parks ahead. From there we headed into Logan Canyon – a really nice area full of really nice camping spots. We stopped at a spot called Franklin’s Basin and secured ourselves a nice spot that we settled into for the next couple of days. Goal was to see some wildlife but with exception of a few squirrels and some deer, the wildlife was a bit limited. The camping area was busy with ATV’s and off-roaders roaring around, and those hunting and fishing in the area. Later on Sunday afternoon we packed up and headed up and over in a really nice area called Bear Lake which is split by Utah and Idaho. We found ourselves a spot at the south end of the lake and parked up for the night. Again, Bear Lake was a bit like a Wanaka – loads of water sports and people out and around the lake swimming, barbequing and sunning in he late part of the weekend.

Monday morning we were up and away early – we following the shoreline up and along the lake going through Garden City – the lake’s base. From there we stepped across the border into Idaho for a number of miles before cutting back over into Wyoming – next stop the national parks.

San Fran to the Salt

Sorry about the delay in updating – we have been ‘off the grid’ so far as we haven’t been connected to any wifi for best part of a couple of weeks so I have some catching up to do.

Last time I updated we were finishing up in San Fran. On the Friday morning we had to get the rental car back to the airport early and then got the local BART light rail train into and across San Fran for us to connect with the Amtrak train in Richmond. We took the train up to Sacramento – about a 2 hour ride. Got talking to a local lady on the train so that always helps. Sacramento is the state capital of California and looks like a nice city – we didn’t have as long as we would have liked to explore but we hiked into the downtown area for a while before getting a lift to the RV place we were working with in South Sacramento. Plan had been to pick up the motor-home and get on our way – not to be today – the team at the yard needed to do some work on it, so a little stranded we ended up sleeping in the camper in the yard for what we thought would be one night. We enjoyed a nice meal at a Pakistani place across the road and settled in for a bit of a restless night.

Up early on the Saturday we were optimistic that the team at the RV dealer would have us out of the load later in the day. One of the team from the RV yard took us to do some shopping locally so we could get bedding and bits like that so we go back and then waited, and waited and then waited some more. Reality was the camper wasn’t going anyway too far that night again and as we wanted things to be right, we camped out in the RV yard – again. Our delay gave us a good opportunity to get some things cleaned and set up so that once we were finally hitting the road we would be set. Well that opportunity finally came around 1pm on the Sunday – with walk through complete, and notes made, we were on the road. Plan had been to get up to Reno for the Hotrod shop by Friday but that wasn’t to be – another trip another time maybe.

We headed east, making our first stop at RV World – we needed good camping chairs for the weeks ahead. Whilst there we signed up for Good Sam – the RV version of our AA so should something go wrong North America wide, we should be covered. We stocked up at the supermarket and finally around mid afternoon we started to head out of Sacramento proper. First stop, first test for us was to head to Lake Tahoe – a good workout for ‘Romin’ (you have to name your camper don’t you). The climb into the Tahoe area was a good steady workout for us – you get up to around 7400 ft and then summit the pass and drop down into this wonderful valley with Lake Tahoe at the head. We opted to pull into an RV Camp ground in South Lake Tahoe with around 125 miles on the clock for the afternoon. Campground was fine – set in the wooded area – very busy with it still be summer school break here, but enough distance between sites for it not to be a problem.

The following morning before heading off again we had a good walk around the camper, talked to some ‘local’s’ for some ideas on where to head, what to see, and what to expect from life in an RV – met some really interesting people who now lived full time in their respective RV’s – much bigger and better equipped than ours I might add. Hitting the road again we traveled up and around the lake (bit like Queenstown but up-scaled) and then cut up and over into Nevada dropping down into Reno – destination the National Automobile Museum. We had a great look around the local collection – museum was set up by Harrah the Casino man and he loved cars – so much so that at one stage he had 1400 cars in his personal collection. He was all about restoring vehicles to true / period running standards and set up a great facility to do so. Unfortunately he died in the late 70’s and his wife and family sold everything off (casino’s, car collection etc.) to the Holiday Inn group. Fortunately Holiday Inn ‘gifted’ 175 cars to the city of Reno to keep the Bill Harrah collection / museum alive. Great facility and really enjoyed our time looking around. (as an aside, the Hot August Nights Hot-rod show had wrapped up the day prior – something like 10000 hot-rods and cars in attendance – next time)

From there we had to fight our way out of Reno to head East for Wendover and the Salt. Most direct way would have been Interstate 80 but Romin was favouring the slow lane so as soon as we could we cut off and onto Interstate 50 and plugged away at 55 miles and hour. With less cars and trucks buzzing by us we just chewed into the road ahead – the I50 or ‘Loneliest Highway’ would take up right across Nevada. After something like 3.5 hours and 180 miles of driving we pulled off the main road in a quiet stretch outside of Austin and ‘camped out’. Up and on the road early the following morning we first came to the town of Eureka (still looking quite wild west like) and then across to Ely before the last push of 120 miles back north up to the Nevada / Utah border. Nevada was full of undulations – we climbed up, we dropped down and so it went. Around 25 miles out from Wendover you crest a summit and are rewarded with a view of the salt flats on the horizon – then you just have to get there – that last 25 miles always seems to take an age.

Wendover is spread across Nevada and Utah – casino’s only on the Nevada side of the state line. Also we found we gained an hour crossing state lines so by this stage it was mid afternoon. We had a good wander around Wendover – saw plenty of cars coming back in from the Salt – you just had to follow the stream of salt on the road. We had a good session with the team at the local Visitor Centre who helped us out with some Utah and Wyoming options, loading us with maps in the process – very helpful. We’d stayed here in Wendover in a camper back in 2016 so we retraced our footsteps and headed out to the camping area near the salt. we’d heard that conditions on the salt hadn’t been so good this year with an unexpected rain shower, and so a number of teams had already packed up and headed home. The main camping area reinforced that – a lot less camping to what we had experienced back in 2016.

We talked about having another day on the salt but thought better of it – vehicles weren’t running at their best and a load of competitors were already packed up and gone so we decided we were move on ourselves, grateful for the opportunity to come back to this very cool place (well it’s not cool – it’s hot as heck as my sunburn will attest).

San Francisco

Well we made it into San Fran early afternoon on Tuesday (US time) and after a drawn out customs process got ourselves out and had a ‘rapid’ taxi ride to the AirBnB we were staying in Millbrae which is a really nice hill suburb overlooking San Fran Airport. Trouble is we overlooked the day we gained in transit and arrived at the AirBnB to find we were a day early – hence the room wasn’t made up and they were somewhat surprised with our arrival. That said they were great hosts and found us a room in a house down the hill (which had a better outlook to the airport).¬†We headed down the township of Millbrae, managed to purchase a US phone plan and got ourselves some supplies.

On Wednesday our time we started our quest to locate an RV to buy (well they don’t call them RV’s – we were corrected that what we wanted was a motor-home). We’d hired a car and first stop was to fight the San Fran traffic and head out and across the bay to a nice area about 90 mins away called Rio Vista. The heat was greater being inland and got up to @ 95 Fahrenheit which equates to 35 of our degrees. We were dealing with a private seller who was over in Europe and he directed us to a storage yard just our of Rio. His camper had been parked up / stored for 12 months and when we opened it, it looked like it was stored in a hurry. We hummed and harred and decided it wasn’t quite for us – good price, but it was in a bit of a state and we had no certainty as to how it would run. So we headed further inland to a big RV yard in Vacaville and whilst they have a load of campers, the pricing far exceeded our budged so it was back to San Fran to do some more research.

Our research picked up on a couple of options near Sacramento, so that’s where the road took us today – took @ 2.25 hours to firstly drive to a yard in Lodi which had more of a ‘vintage’ camper at a good price (and some other great classic cars on the yard – and good prices). From there we head on up to Sacramento and after much indecision from me we agreed on a machine that had just come into a dealer there and whilst it was more than we had budgeted for, we think it will be an ideal ‘home away from home’. Not quite as hot today, but still very pleasant and we have seen some great countryside in the area. There are some great bridges that span San Fran Bay (apart from the obvious golden one) and we have been really impressed with our journeys to date.

Tomorrow / Friday our time we have to drop our rental car back and then work through the process of getting a train up to Sacramento – I’m sure it will be fine. We have all day as the camper is being groomed and given the once over for us so we won’t be on the road until end of day tomorrow so not looking to go too much further but we will be fine. The start of our journey’s proper.

And to cap things off we got the news just before leaving NZ that we have a new grandson – Tara and Logan welcomed Charlie William into their home on Tuesday – no facial hair yet and apparently baby isn’t too fond of Dad’s beard so could be some grooming needed there – congratulations.

Here we go again!

So come Tuesday 6 August 2019, yep, Carol and I are heading away again. Home a year, and time to go see some more sights. On Tuesday we head to Auckland and then get a connection to San Francisco on Tuesday evening, which will have us arriving in San Fran on Tuesday around lunchtime.

We have a ‘very fluid’ plan at the moment – we have a couple of nights accommodation booked in San Fran but that’s it. We have booked a rental car for Wednesday for our quest to find a reliable, tidy, ‘cheap’ RV so we can hit the roads of America and explore.

As I can, I’ll load some pictures, and I’ll get some regular updates posted and hope you will have fun following us as we explore further. Right, now to get my bag down to 23 kg’s or less – could be a challenge.