Today was my travel day for the week and I’m heading to Monticello, about 40 miles south of Moab, UT/Arches Natl Park. I spent time in The Arches area in 2003 at Portal RV Park and 4 yrs ago, I think, at ACT campground, both in Moab. I priced campsites in the heavy tourist area of Moab and found pricing between $75-90/nite. Moab comm’l campgrounds with services just aren’t worth that kind of $. On the other hand, the next nearest town is Monticello, 40 miles away. I opted for a nice full service, treed campground in Monticello for $200/week.
It was kind of an ugly drive. Having been here before, I know the scenery is fabulous. It’s just that I have a nephew and wife in California who apparently are entertaining their grandmunchkins around the campfire and the smoke is drifting this way. It was beyond a hazy drive – more like a smokey fog obscuring most of the views. Thankfully the wind has shifted out of the East and is predicted to continue that way for the weekend so it should start clearing this evening and be much better tomorrow. In addition I didn’t feel well last night and got very little sleep.
Saturday, Sept 19, 2020
Far less smoke this morning close in and at semi ground level. Still very hazy in the distance and the higher up you look. The campground I’m at is not fancy but the sites are long enough, level and easy to back in. Shade, water, electric (50A) and sewer, what more do you need?
Across the side street is the 18 hole Hideout Golf Course. So I drove over to see what kind of course they might have in this arid rocky area. What a surprise! The entry and clubhouse are at ‘high ground’ with the lush green, treed course rapidly descending into the valley and then back up the incline. Greens are visible in the far distance nestled in the hills and trees. It seems that in the 1940’s through early 1960, Monticello was the site of a private and then US Dept of Energy uranium/vanadium mine and processing plant – in fact one of the largest in the country – contributing radioactive material for the Manhattan Project. In 1960, with demand for uranium diminished, the mine and plant were shut down. The area suffered from heightened incidence of cancers.
The current golf course site was the location for the plant’s tailings and uranium/vanadium sludge. In the 80’s it was the location of 2 superfund cleanups and in the 90’s the community received millions to rehabilitate the land. The golf course became part of that rehabilitation and is considered the second best course overall in Utah and the 23rd best Municipal course in the country. It and the local Morman temple are the highlights of the community.
I got quite the local story on the mine from the lady running the very nice information center and museum. Her dad worked in the plant and her mother corresponded with her dad about 6 months before coming west to marry him. Amongst the first things her dad took her on a plant tour (no security) and he opened a regular door in the plant into a big room to show her the big pile of yellow rocks in the middle!
I decided not to drive the nearly 60 miles north to Moab. First, Moab would be only the beginning then of the sightseeing day; second Moab, due to its closeness to Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Deadhorse SP, is a tourist Mecca and even though it’s mid Sept. the town was teeming yesterday when I went through it. They were turning cars away from Arches yesterday when I drove past and I heard a report from my former Last Resort crew member who is camped some 20 miles further north of Moab that visitors were being turned away from Canyonlands, north of Moab, today. Third, I’ve spent time in Moab, Arches etal in 2003 and again 4 yrs ago so I really don’t need to see it all again.
Canyonlands NP is effectively divided into 3 huge areas, though contiguous. This is because of the paucity of navigable roads. US 191 (from Flaming Gorge/Vernal) runs north south along the eastern edge. Access to the most popular part of the park, ‘Islands in the Sky’, is off US-191 about 10 miles north of Moab and Arches and dead ends some 50+miles south against basically impenetrable rock, mountains and canyons. Adjacent to the west is ‘The Maze’ part of the park accessible only by off road vehicles. The 3rd part of the park, ‘The Needles’, is accessed about 10 miles north of Monticello or about 65 miles south of the north entrance. That south access road runs westerly about 20 miles before coming to the actual park boundary and then runs another 30 miles in the park before it too runs into impossible canyons. You then have to reverse course and return the whole distance. Never having seen this part of Canyonlands NP, I decided to explore The Needles.
The drive along the road to access the park is interesting in its own right…
…but the sights within the park are amazing.
In the third picture above, immediately below the Wooden Shoe Arch, there is a horizontal band. Could you read the inscription? It says ‘Albertus Van Raalte was here’.😎😂 (For my West Michigan Dutch friends and relatives)
Monday, Sept 21, 2020
After some chores this morning, I took a ride to check out two sights I saw when driving the motorhome to Monticello. I couldn’t find a safe place to stop at the time. One is called Wilson Arch and it’s not part of any park system. It’s just sitting there on the side of the US191 road,
About 10 miles further up the highway was a tourist trap called “Hole N the Rock”. A very kitschy looking place. I had to look it up online and decided it was probably worth a stop.
In the 1940 a Mr Christensen started blasting a cave in this rock. He and his wife worked on it for 12 years. He was a former miner, an artist, a sculptor and taxidermist. Over that time they built and blasted a 5,000 square foot interior structure which became their home and business. The business was a diner blasted into a large cave. Adjacent was another cave room which was the commercial kitchen. In addition to regular appliances, the carved a large stone bowl in the wall with piping from a propane tank to a burner within. The stone bowl served to hold frying oil in which they made their French fries. Ice boxes are blasted into the rock. No heat or air conditioning inside as temps stay between 65 and 72 degrees year round.
Thru the back door of the kitchen, you enter their home. IT IS SPACIOUS AND WELL OUTFITTED. 3 bedrooms, either 2 baths or 1.5 baths (large deep tub is carved out of the rock wall), home kitchen, dining room, huge living room with beautiful fireplace, an large office, a studio for his painting, sculpturing and taxidermy, and an equally large studio for her rock collecting, sanding, polishing and jewelry making. In one corner of the living room is the start of a planned 100 step interior stairway which he was building to the very top of the rock where they were planning on a patio and garden. He died, in his 50’s, of a heart attack shortly after starting it and she continued the diner, tours and jewelry businesses for 17 more years. The interior guided tour of 12 minutes duration was $5.00.
No pictures are allowed inside. I was fortunate enough to snap a pic into the diner’s kitchen before being reminded of the rule. The kitchen is the only painted room to conform with health regulations that a restaurant kitchen must have walls, ceilings and floors that can be cleaned. I’ll try to find some online pics that may show the inside of this incredible dwelling. The outside (and inside) is littered with eccentric sculptures. There is also a zoo of some sort on premise which I did not visit.
Stock photos; Art studio, taxidermy and sculpture studio, and child’s bedroom.
After 2 weeks in Vernal/Flaming Gorge area, I left this morning heading south. I’ve spent the last few days trying to decide where to head. I didn’t want to head back north or west as that would just have me heading towards CA or Oregon/Washington and fire country. Anything north in UT, WY or MT is at best hazy with the western fires. Denver and East is not on my radar as I’d end up crossing the Rockies twice (going to spend some winter time in AZ). It’s still too early and hot to really head a lot further south. So it seemed like a good compromise to head south along the Rocky Mtns where hopefully the temps will stay below the 90’s and the smoke may stay further north.
There’s really no direct or semi direct road to the Fruita/Grand Junction and as shown in the above map, it’s a lot of mountain driving. Very pretty but not a lot of opportunity to take pictures. Then besides typical mountain driving there is a 20 mile or so section of steep southbound ascent followed by even steeper southbound descent with lots of hairpin turns. I think there were only a few places on the 10 mile long descent where the official speed limit was higher than 20mph. The road is narrow two lane and the drop offs aren’t life threatening, they are life ending.
The mapping program I use is set up for boat cruising and so doesn’t incrementally chart speeds above 20 mph. Below that speed, the route taken shows in different colors depending on speed. On the map above there is a small section which appears generally in the color yellow (a slower boat like speed). That is the Douglas Pass. A blow up of that area and color chart of my speed is below
I saw a lot of snow in Douglas Pass as well. Thankfully, none on the road. Well before the Pass there were some places to stop and look around. Additionally past the apex of the Pass there was a spot where I could see no traffic and could stop on the road and take a picture of the road below me where I would soon travel. That portion of the road shown in the pictures is probably only half way down.
I arrived in Fruita, CO, about 8 miles west of Grand Junction on I-80. I was unable to get a site at Fruita – James M Robb-Colorado River State Park Campground but did manage a spot across the road at the commercial campground Monument RV Resort but was only able to snag 4 nights. The main draw in the area is the Colorado National Monument (CNM), about 6 miles down the road.
Tuesday, Sept 15, 2020
This is my second visit here. I think I was last here, with Sharon, in 2003. Many travelers have never heard of CNM. It was awesome on the last visit and even more so today.
The highcountry of CNM rises far above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River at the edge of the Uncompahgre Uplift. The park is part of the greater Colorado Plateau which also includes wonders like the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands national parks. In many ways it reminds me of Bryce but without its multitude of hoodoos and of a smaller Grand Canyon. In all, you basically drive your car atop the canyon and look down vs Arches or Zion where most of the view is up above you. At CNM, for me, the road began at Fruita and ended about 27 miles away in Grand Junction after having completed a rough semi circle atop the numerous named canyons. Grand Junction could also be a starting point ending in Fruita. Either way, one will spend about an equal amount of time driving on the canyon side, or for me the wrong side, of the road.
The road, either way, is basically cut into the steep sides of canyon walls. I lost count, at 26, of the extreme hairpin turns. On the Fruita side there are two tunnels cut thru canyon walls and on the Grand Junction side, one. All three narrow and somewhat curved tunnels are 10’6” high on the sides by 16’ in the middle. When the road is not on the side of a canyon wall, it is a basically a ridge road meaning steep drop offs on both sides with little shoulder. For the most part, it seems the Natl Park Service ran out of guard rails. Since ones choice, as a driver, is to keep your eyes on the road OR drive off a 2000’ canyon wall, it’s a good thing that they built a lot of little one or two car turnouts and a number of real parking lots or else the driver wouldn’t see anything other than his/her white knuckles.
I must have aged some since 2003 ‘cause I remembered it as very scenic but didn’t remember how scary it was. I’ve never loved heights and the older me now has some balance, stumble and height induced weak knee issues. Even at the stops, I took my pics quite far back from the railing. There are many many miles of designated trails (46+ miles) some of which are from top to the bottom. I chose to walk about 1/2 mile on a short one thru the really pretty pinions and stunted junipers to the edge (or close) at Ute Canyon. Atop the canyon like that, the pinion and juniper trees showed what a hardy lot they are growing in the rocky and windy conditions. The ‘trail’ degenerates into whatever route you find thru the trees and on the way back I followed some footsteps in what I thought was the right direction and I got lost. I finally remembered I had my car fob in my pocket and pressed for the horn. Nothing. I walked further, this way and that and finally heard a very faint ‘beep’ which I followed and which eventually led me back to the Jeep.
I had one other most remarkable thing happen. On a steep climb, shortly after coming out of a curve and shortly before entering a hairpin, I saw a bighorn sheep crossing the road maybe 25’ in front of me. Now having seen one close up, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one before. It walked like it owned the road. Sadly there were no shoulders for me drive to/on so I had to stop right on the road. There was a vertical cliff across the lane on the drivers side and a steep ravine culminating in a humongous drop off on the passenger side. Thankfully, traffic is about 1 car from one direction or the other every five minutes. Unfortunately the sheep was off the road and down the rocky ravine before I could grab my iPhone and get a picture. One time in my life I get to see one in nature and I’ll only have a memory. It was magnificent! I probably stayed parked right on the road with my hazard lights on for 10 minutes or more. I got out and walked close to the road edge but it was gone. Where, I have no clue. As far as I’m concerned that ravine was so steep as to be impassible.
One other thing worth mentioning. I saw about a half dozen people who had lost their minds. I can only hope they’ve come to their senses. They were riding their bicycles! While I can’t imagine being able to make the climbs, I surely can’t imagine riding the downhills!! From the number of cars and RVs toting bikes, it appears that biking at 8,000 feet is a popular sport here. Go figure!
Tomorrow and Thursday will be easy days for me, I think. I plan to do some laundry, some grocery shopping and pick up some prescriptions between now and leaving Friday morning.
Depending on your internet connection, it may take some time for photos to download.
Monday, August 31, 2020
Left Rock Springs for what should be a short, mileage wise, mountain and gorge drive south on East Flaming Gorge Rd (Rt 191) to my next campground in Jensen. It was to be 124 miles and the purpose was to position myself at the more picturesque UT section of the Flaming Gorge. For the most part it would be mountain driving (up to 10,100’ elevations) on a narrow shoulder 2 lane road bounded on one side by rocky walls and on the other generally by drop offs of several hundred to thousands of feet. At least it is very lightly trafficked.
Fifty seven miles south of the nearest WY town of Rock Springs and 57 miles north of the nearest UT town of Vernal is the State Line between the States. About two miles north of the State Line, descending a substantial grade on a curving road, my dashboard panel changes digital messages from the normal trans. temp`etc to blank and then flashes on and off a single message in bold CAPS – STOP ENGINE! There was about a 2’ shoulder with a steep drop off, on a steep downhill grade and curve. No place to stop.
After about another mile downhill (easy on the engine), the descent started flattening, the shoulder increased to about a slanted 7’ with only a damaging but not deadly drop off beyond. I continued till well into the straightaway where vehicles would be able to see me as they came off the curves and then pulled over as far as I dared, put on the air brakes and shut down the diesel.
It’s about 12:30 pm. Virtually zero cell service. I see something blue colored further down the hill. Disconnected the car and drove only to find it was a blue roof on an old building. Another mile down the road was a level turnout with some cell service. I called my insurance which has roadside service, and they gave me the number of their call center (with fragile cell service thought it best to limit the number of connections) which I called, gave the pertinent info such as vehicle size, my GPS coordinates and the fact that the Motorhome was a safety hazard as it was not completely off the road.
Short version, they had difficulties finding a willing tower. I was googling in outward circles also trying to find one. By 3 pm I got a call that they had located 1 tower out of Rock Springs willing to come and tow me. The bad news was they would charge $4,500.00 and the worse news was that I, having used the same insurer used by me some 10+ yrs before, neglected to determine that their coverages had changed from unlimited then to max of $250 per tow now. Both I and the insurer thought the tow company was being predatory. We both continued trying. Soon the insurer determined they were not finding anyone and said they’d call the WY State Police about my hazardous location and that some times the police had ‘powers of persuasion’.
By 4 pm I had a trooper with flashing lights guarding my rear (visible behind me in the above picture). Talked with the trooper several times as he said dispatch was trying to find a tow company. By 5pm I had found a tow company in Salt Lake City that would come out Tues morning and tow me to Vernal if I could just get the motorhome to the level, off the road turnout a couple miles away. Shortly thereafter the trooper advised they had twisted the arm of a tow company which would come all the way out and tow me the two miles for $1400. The combination of the two tows would still be less than the $4,500 so I agreed. The tower made good speed and arrived by about 6pm. Outside temps were already down to nearly 50 degrees and snow was reportedly possible at elevation this night. Upon arrival of the tow truck, the trooper did a hurried UTurn and disappeared.
I learned that towing a diesel pusher up and down mountain grades was more involved than I thought. In addition to just hooking it up, it is REALLY hooked up. Since the motorhome had sat for the afternoon without running and without the air compressor operating and because temperatures had gotten colder, a lot of air had gone out of the air suspension so truck air line had to be hooked up to ‘reinvigorate’ the air suspension. Then the drive line is taken off the motorhome.
The motorhome has air brakes which are just the opposite of regular brakes. Regular brakes on cars etc have a default position of the brakes being separated by a distance from the wheel hub and when brakes are applied the brakes are forced against the hub to stop the car. On big trucks and motorhomes with air brakes, the default position is for the brake drum to be firmly mated to the wheel. When brakes are ‘off’ the air compressor forces air to the brakes which then are released from the wheel drum allowing the vehicle to move. No air equals brakes are on and vehicle isn’t going to move. So then they needed to run an airline over the motorhome axles to the rear so that the tow truck’s air compressor could keep the motorhome brakes from actuating. By 7 pm ish, we were ready to leave.
The tow crew was two men. The driver was obviously in charge and the other an older man who did all the hard work but very much seemed to know what he was doing with little direction. Watching their interactions, the driver was the boss of the crew but ‘very gently’. I figured that maybe he was the owner and his gentle treatment indicative of not wanting to have the other guy, a good worker, quit etc. So during one of the times we were both watching the older guy work, I broached the subject of them towing me all the way to Vernal, 57 miles away, rather than 2 miles to the turn out which would save me the time and expense the next day of getting the SLCity company all the way out to complete the tow. He kept saying it would be so much more expensive but we finally broke down that his averages speed towing thru the mountains would be 30 mph or 2+ hours to Vernal and that his return trip to this point would be about 1.3 hours and he finally decided he’d do it but that the total tow would be $2500.
Shortly after 10pm (and after a couple of brake and security checks before descents) and with me following in my Jeep we arrived at Cummins engine shop in Vernal. I had lots of time during the drive to think and decided that the driver indeed was the owner (he made the decision to go on, price etc without checking with any dispatcher or boss) and that the worker bee was pretty important to him. So in the Cummins lot I asked him if he was the owner, he stuttered and finally said he technically wasn’t. I explained that it had been decades since I had been towed and would it be appropriate if I tipped both of them $100 apiece for their help. He was thrilled that his sidekick would get a C note.
They finished up, I gave each of them $100 and “sat back” while he figured out the invoice. When done, he said he figured that I should only pay $2,000 so I’m thinking the $100 to his sidekick ended up saving me considerable. It was then he said the business had been his dad’s and now was technically in his wife’s name. He told me the State Police had begged him to take the tow and that he had said “No.”. That it was really a difficult tow both in terrain and because of the motorhome. His wife told him “you will do it” and that’s how I got to Vernal, 10 miles short of my campground destination.
They left at 11 pm. My car, which instead of being towed the whole trip, had been driven and had been idled for some hours while waiting, showed the ‘low fuel’ light when I pulled into Cummins so I decided I probably should go to the nearest gas station and fill up before settling in for the night. While at it, I got my first McDonalds cheeseburger, in probably 10 or 20 years, for a combo lunch and supper. Even though hungry, it tasted like the same old crap of years gone by. How is it Mickey D is still in business?
It was a cold night and I was up and waiting by the time the sole Cummins employee got in to work. I knew what the problem was. The coach had leaked a lot of coolant which I could see and smell at road side. However the leaking coolant was not coming from the engine in the rear but rather was flowing from a compartment ‘mid ships’. In that compartment is the AquaHot. AquaHot provides instant hot water and heat to the coach either by propane, electric or by transferring engine heat to the water and furnace air. That transfer, like on the boat, is by routing the hot engine coolant to the AquaHot before returning it to the coach radiator (or in the case of the boat, heat exchangers). Coolant coming out of that compartment meant a busted hose or broken hose clamp in that location. Not something I was absolutely certain about not had the tools and supplies to fix on the side of the road.
By 11 am, Tuesday morning, the Cummins tech had replaced the feed hose which had split longitudinally and added 6 gallons of additional coolant. No damage of any kind to the engine or the AquaHot system ( are just shy of $5k to replace). He explained to me that if the coolant gets below a certain threshold, there is an automatic complete engine shutdown to protect itself. Glad to hear that on one hand, concerned of a shutdown at the wrong time on the other hand. Arrived at my destination campground about 15 minutes after leaving Cummins. The balance of the day was spent taking it easy.
Vernal is a town of 10,000. It is also known as Dinosaurland. More on that in days to come, I think. One thing that is spectacular is the mile plus long Main Street. At the curb on the sidewalk on both sides of the street are huge concrete pots brimming with petunias. I would guess there is a pot every 100’ or so. Actually interferes a bit with street parking and opening the passenger doors. Anyway, I’ve never seen pots of petunias that large and I’m betting along the way that there are over a thousand. The streets are lined with street lights on both sides and on each pole hangs not one but two immense hanging baskets of petunias. Not a dead one visible. None are ‘leggy’ as ours used to get. The fragrance is amazing as you walk the streets. I asked and am told that each pot gets watered, fed, dying flowers pinched off every night by city staff.
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
I decided that today I would take the Jeep back up the same road to see what was in total darkness Monday night. Basically a 50 mile or so drive up the east side of the Gorge, past the Flaming Gorge Dam and the Dutch John marina and fuel stop, ending maybe 10 miles short of the WY/UT line plus maybe some little side trips like to Antelope Flats campground. Thursday I’ll drive what I think will be the more scenic west side of the Gorge to Manila and beyond.
Another good thing for today. Got an email from my mail forwarding service that I got mail. So I went on line and looked at the envelope scan. A large envelope from a title processing company. It appears as though Avis has finally got my car titled and plated to me, nearly 120 days from sale and after 60 days of my having to illegally drive the car. Fed Ex should deliver to me tomorrow and we’ll see.
Thursday, Sept 3, 2020
My phone woke me up this morning. I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t take the call and it went to voice mail. Surprise! It was an attorney from Avis Corporate. A recent news release by a large law firm had indicated that Avis had hired that firm plus 6 others to help streamline their business and legal operations. Of course, a senior partner needed to have his face and name displayed in the news release and I obliged their wish to streamline by emailing this partner about my Avis experience, my complaints to FL DMV and FL Atty Genl. I mentioned that the problem of not delivering title appeared to be systemic, indicative of perhaps Avis using customer money for general corporate purposes rather than paying down a line of credit to obtain the car titles (another form of a Ponzi scheme) and that I’d contacted a law firm to see if the would be interested in doing a Class Action.
So after leaving me a voice mail message, the Avis staff attorney also sent me an email expressing his wish to talk to me. Attached at the end was a copy of the outside firm’s email to the Avis staff atty to take care of this and appended to that was my email. The two sentences in my email about there being so many similarly affected buyers across the country that I’ve contacted legal counsel about a possible Class Action were highlighted in yellow. Sure wish the news release had come out 2 or 3 months ago! I might have been less stressed always looking to see if there was a police officer around that might hassle me.
Left about 10 am to drive north along the west side of Flaming Gorge to Manila, UT. As I thought from looking at the maps, the west side would be the more spectacular side. I probably took over 100 pictures.
After getting further north of Manila, over the WY line and back south a bit onto a Utah peninsula, I stopped at a Natl Forest Campground , Lucerne Campground. There are probably 100 or more Natl Forest Campgrounds around the Flaming Gorge, this one, I believe, is the only one that has any sites with electric service (no water, no sewer) and I wanted to see it. I was surprised. It was on par with many Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds- mowed, defined sites with fire pits and ramadas. From there I headed back south retracing, almost, my route back to my campground.
Almost because about 10 miles south of Manila I took a sometimes asphalt, most times gravel 21 mile loop side road called Sheep Canyon Geological Loop. The name was intriguing. It turned out to be the absolute best part of the two days. The ‘road’, with no traffic, basically followed a brook deep in a valley with canyon walls bordering both side. No hills to climb or descend.
It was an absolutely lush verdant canyon and the canyon walls were spectacular evidencing several dozen forms of rock and formations. Sandstone, red stone, granite, shale, boulders, hoodoos, peaks, massive overhangs, fins, a rift/cleft/split in the mountain, uplifts of rock, volcanic formations, horizontal and vertical striations plus one amazing massive arched rose striation bordered by an almost black slanted vertical one on one side and white slanted vertical on the other side. Didn’t see any glacial influence on the rocks and formations. There was one couple mile long caldera. Also saw some mountain top glaciers in the distance. There was a plethora of trees with fine spidery white flower bushes climbing the tree. If no tree was available, the bush was just freestanding. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this flower. A picture of one such is the second slide picture below. Maybe someone can comment if they know what it is? Also saw what appeared to be a mountain ram but too far to be sure.
I stopped at what used to be Palisades campground (NFS) where there was a large rock with a metal plaque attached. It commemorated 7 campers who, in 1965, lost their lives to a flash flood through the canyon campground. It has been closed since. There was another spur off this side road to Spirit Lake which I did not take. After 21 miles, the Sheep Canyon loop rejoined State Rt 44 and I headed back to Vernal, exhausted.
And yes, the 12th photo above is oriented correctly. It is a huge rock overhang towering over the road.
Returning to Rt 44 there were, again, several areas where the cattle competed with the vehicles for space.
Friday, Sept 4, 2020
Today was a different day. Destination only 6 miles away. Dinosaur National Monument covering the northeast corner of UT and northwest corner of Colorado. It’s a massive area of the Rockies but only 6 miles from the campground is the Visitor Center and Quarry Exhibit Hall. A Natl Park Service shuttle took me from the Visitor Center up a steeply graded road about a mile to the Quarry Exhibition Hall. There is a large but not tall (maybe 15-20 stories) mountain ridge which has been quarried since the early 1900’s. It was a bonanza of fossils and bones. As water receded and the sharks and fish and shell fish died and all the varieties of dinosaurs, their bones etc. lays on the ground. At some time and at some age, rivers returned and bones were washed away and accumulated in specific areas in layers and over time covered with silt, then rock, lava, upthrusts etc. This ridge was one such depository.
In the 1950’s the Federal Government was persuaded to make the area one of learning for the public and an exhibit hall was constructed. It was poorly engineered and its foundations crumbled with the shifting earth. It has been rebuilt with piling down to bed rock. The ridge itself over time has had several hundred lineal feet excavated to the point where that section is now only 60’ or so tall. The rebuilt building is about 10 feet short of that height with an exterior ramp to the highest level where you enter. The building has 3 walls and the 4th is the sheer rock vertical wall of the ridge. You enter at the top and walk the length of the building along the rock wall. Many bones and fossils are plainly visible in the wall in front of you as you walk with many explanatory signs on the railings (you are very high up with this steep wall going far below you) and displays behind you. At the far end is a ramp taking you down another level where you can again walk the wall and see the bones/fossils from a new level. Etc. In effect you zigzag yourself down alongside the wall until you get to the bottom and the return shuttle. It was a good 3/4 hour and extremely interesting.
I was brought up to not believe in the existence etc of dinosaurs. Decades ago when I went to the GR Museum they had a reconstructed 2 story dinosaur in the lobby. Though I’m sure it was a reproduction, I didn’t believe the concept was believable. Later, my grandchildren were ‘enamored’ of the various types of dinosaurs, playing with miniatures fighting etc. and I didn’t know what to think. It was contrary to my inner core. Decades have passed. I looked today with as much of a critical eye as I had to be sure I wasn’t looking at plaster of paris etc. I’m now convinced these fossils and bones are real. That there were sharks in the Rockies. That these huge animals did roam the earth and that their remains after time were embedded in mountains.
Most of the above pictures are my iPhone ‘telephoto’ pics of the granite or sandstone wall. It was hard to believe so many fossils and bones in such a relatively small location. One exhibit showed how many places in the country have received complete dinosaur reconstructions from bones found in this Jensen, UT quarry. Something like 20.
Also within the park are a hundred miles or more of passible roads (some by means of high clearance vehicles) to locales such as Split Mountain, Echo Valley, Moonshine Rapids, Gates of Lodore, Cactus Flats, Starvation Valley and many more (including several petroglyph areas). I didn’t take any of these as I have had enough mountain driving where I had difficulty keeping my eye off the scenery and on the road. I’ve always considered the whole of southern UT worthy of being a National Park in its entirety and thought of Northern UT in terms of unimpressive Salt Lake City. Wrong. This area rivals the Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Arches, Zion, Bryce and others. Different but equal. Not up to the standards of the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs perhaps, but a worthy rival.
Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Sept 5-7
No sightseeing planned. I made a major reprovisioning trip to the local Walmart and basically sogged. I am supposed to leave on Tues, Sept 8th. Tuesday is supposed to bring wind and a major cold spell. Current forecast shows a high for Tues here in the valley of 45 degrees and a low of 33. Unfortunately you can’t drive all that far without going up and elevation equals colder. The mountain areas featured in my pictures above are forecasted to get 6.5” of snow. I don’t have to be anywhere and I’ve not yet decided where to head to next, so I think I’ll stay wrapped up and warm in the motorhome for an extra day or two.
Easy drive today of 200 miles. About the first 1/3 was valley type driving – mountain ranges to the east and west driving in a relatively flat and green (much of it irrigated) miles and miles wide valley. Did I mention the valley is also a major US oil and gas producing region? No evidence of the kind of ugly, at least to me, derricks, rocker pumps, flaming torches; instead just hundreds, no thousands of neat vertical storage tanks with an occasional 6 or 8” pipe coming out of the ground with a valve attached and then disappearing back underground. Very little to disturb the beauty of the landscape. Then the valley started narrowing and narrowing some more followed by an easterly turn over the mountain and voilà, I was on the Wyoming high plains. Totally different geological features. Generally flat, rocky, arid and replete with massive buttes – beautiful in a very different way. The highway finally dead ended/merged with I-80 which I traveled for about the last 40 miles of this segment.
I had been unable to get a weeklong campsite at a National Recreational Area campground south of the town of Green River and in the huge Flaming Gorge NRA nor at a number of other public and private campgrounds radiating out from the Gorge area. So I elected for a ‘sure thing’. The northwestern corner of the Flaming Gorge NRA is anchored by the town of Green River and the Northeastern corner by Rock Springs, WY. The southern portion of Flaming Gorge is in Utah. Rock Springs is a town of about 25,000 and is a hub of WY’s oil and gas industry and was a hub of its coal industry. The old coal section of the town is just plain tired. The outskirts exhibit the wealth of the oil/gas industry with modern major buildings for storage tank suppliers etc, for industry servicers like Caterpillar, Cummins, Peterbilt etc and facilities for actual oil & gas exploration companies like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger. City and county buildings, roads and parks reflect the immense financial contributions of this industry.
Though these facilities still look sharp and new, the current worldwide slump in oil prices is evident wherever you look. Baker Hughes, Halliburton and Schlumberger buildings stand empty and vast parking lots vacant. The huge Caterpillar facility has two cars and a pickup outside. COVID19 and the oil recession has closed many restaurants. It’s not a ghost town by any means but it is suffering.
So, back to camping. In the recent glory days couple of decades or so, the County – Sweetwater County – built Wyoming’s largest and likely most modern fairgrounds/events complex.
Reservations for a night, a week or a month or more are no longer required. Just drive in, pay a very modest fee, drive around and pick any site you wish and settle in. No stress. And though not along a beautiful riverbank etc., it is very centrally located to many interesting, at least to me, things to see. I’ll be here a week, perhaps longer.
Tuesday, Aug 25. A complete rest day with a couple easy chores like ordering Rx refills etc.
Wednesday, August 26.
Ambitious plan to see the 2nd largest living (shifting) sand dunes in the country, petroglyphs and a drive through a wild horse sanctuary. Accomplished the sand dunes and petroglyphs. About 14 miles north of the campground is a dirt road towards the petroglyphs and then further to the dunes. Two lane gravel with shoulders about a full foot to 1.5’ below. You better not wander and if there is an oncoming vehicle, best to slow to a crawl while passing. Pictures absolutely do not do justice to the vastness, the buttes in the distance, the incredible amount of sagebrush, the arid conditions and emptiness. What was completely surprising was the occasional cow/steer or even several grazing on what, I’m not sure. And these animals are LARGE. Even got to see a pronghorn antelope which startled me by jumping across the road and running into the distance. Unbelievable speed. Of course it was way too fast for me to grab the camera and snap a picture but I’ll remember the sight. Never have seen one before.
And at the end of the 28 miles is the beginning of 72 miles of sand dunes (but with a maximum width of 3 miles) headed by an ATV area and primitive, though not dispersed, camping area. No water, power or sewer. A primitive toilet, a dozen or so concrete picnic tables and fire rings. Evening silence, no light except stars and moon = solace.
Thursday, August 27th.
Today proved what a smart decision it was yesterday to postpone the drive through the wild horse sanctuary. I did that today and though it was just ‘driving’, it was exhausting. It is known as the Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Tour. Directly across the road (Yellowstone Road and yes, it does run the 200+ miles to Yellowstone) from the campground are the White Mountains, more like a Mesa -flat top vs jagged peaks).
The scenic tour starts about 15 miles north of the campground where a “gravel” road climbs to the top of the White Mountains. The “gravel” road runs some 25 miles along the mountain flat top and bluffs until it once again descends the side of the mountain to the town of Green River. To one side are the steep bluffs to the valley while to the other side are miles and miles of flat top rock and scrub brush. Extraordinary scenery. First let me tell you why I put the word gravel in quotes when saying “gravel” road and why driving the 25 miles is so tiring.
I wonder where that pothole goes?😀. Those pieces of “gravel” are tough on your tires, back and butt.
‘Wild Horse Scenic Tour’? What’s with the ‘wild horse’? What is so scenic?
WY tries to maintain a population of about 6000 wild horses in the state. About 2500 are in the Rock Springs region and this sanctuary on the White Mountain Range is home to many. The sanctuary comprises about 400,000 acres but without any border fences, it is whatever the horses say it is. It is also home to elk, coyote, pronghorns and multiple other animals, most of which you will not see. Indeed, I saw only two groups of wild horses. One was too far off the ‘road’ that my iPhone pictures could barely show them. Another group of five I saw and took some distant pics while I could for fear my car might scare them off. Not so and I was able to get closer and even better pics. Amazing animals. I felt very fortunate that I got to actually see any in their natural vast habitat
So that’s the horses, what else is there to see? In a word, vistas!
Friday, Aug 28, 2020
I’ve decided to make a slight change of plans. I was going to drive the Flaming Gorge yet from here. It would be an approximate 200 mile route south from Rock Springs along the east side and around the ‘bottom’ in Utah returning north up the west side to Green River, WY and back to Rock Springs. Instead I’ve decided to relax through the weekend and then move south along the east side to a campground in Utah. The southern end appears to be more scenic per the brochures and more accessible to the water. Also from the Utah location I’ll have more exploring opportunities.
So today I went into the historic district of Rock Springs where they have an area museum. It was a bit disappointing. No real theme and somewhat unorganized. Other than a few ‘built in’ exhibits (like the building used to house the county jail and court) the rest sort of appeared to be that folks cleared out their attics, donated the stuff to the museum in return for a tax write off and placard “Donated by the XXX family”. While one jail cell was ‘dedicated’ to Butch Cassidy it was mostly pictures. Another cell was all Calamity Jane but I can’t find anything that shows she spent much if any time here or that she was in a jail cell, anywhere, anytime. Another cell had a display of women’s formal gowns of the day. From what I can tell, there wasn’t much call for satin gowns in this hard scrabble country and even if so, in a jail cell? Nonetheless a few items that I actually have memories of caught my attention.
All in all, if any of you really want to go back in time for the largest collection of anything and everything Americana and old, go to Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village in Minden, NE. Twenty six very large, some multi story, buildings spread over 20 acres. Guarantee it’s good for 3 full days of browsing.
Star Valley, home of this RV Park and others and a number of towns, is surrounded by the Bridger-Teton Mountains and Carribou and Targhee Natl Forests. It was originally known as the Salt River Valley named for the river running through it. The valley is 12 miles wide and 45 miles long. The altitude of the RV park is about 6,200’ with surrounding peaks rising to 10,ooo’. The major outlaw who surfaced as a Star Valley resident was Butch Cassidy who earned his nickname working in a butcher shop. For my nephew and nieces, I should report that the park, in addition to a large pool ets, has 12 pickleball courts!
I drove 10 or so miles further south of the campground to Afton (the town in WY and not the Scottish River). Afton boasts the world’s largest arch made of Elk antlers.
I am going to be here a week so I thought I’d take it easy for the weekend. in the local neighborhood of the campground, I saw a couple other things of interest.
So Monday, I decide to drive to Jackson to take the gondola ride up to the top of the Grand Tetons. Best laid plans! It didn’t happen.
After lunch I’m driving north heading to Jackson doing the speed limit/65. A much faster suv comes up behind me, the road is open and he/she passes me. When along side, my drivers side window literally explodes. Right next to my ear. Tremendous noise. A shattered piece of tempered glass about 6”x8” is on my lap. Fragments on the floor, on the seat, on my arms, my shirt, the center console, even the cup holder. I pulled over on the side and composed myself, opened the door and removed what was still hanging from the door window frame.
I’m about 35 miles from the campground. What to do. Was able to get the internet so googled ‘auto glass near me’. Nothing. Not a good sign. Googled Safelite and NONE in the State of WY. Not a good sign. Googled and saw two auto glass installers in Thayne – where the campground is so turned around and headed to the one that had the best looking building. Thurs night is my last night here and the campground is full for the weekend so I can’t stay longer.
Good sign. Autos in the lot with blue tape on windshields. A truck in the lot with one of those glass carriers on the back. A real place!
They tell me they have only seen a complete explosion like that once before. They looked up what glass was needed for the vehicle/model. They don’t have it but called their supplier in Salt Lake. Yup, they have one in stock. I waited while he ordered 3 windshields and one rear window for other cars and one drivers side front window for mine, all to be shipped overnight for morning delivery. He’ll call me in the am when it arrives and will need 2 hours to install and vacuum up all the glass. Whew! Feeling lucky.
I was worried the next morning that I’d get an ‘I’m sorry’ type phone call telling me the common carrier dropped my new window en route and it broke. I did get a phone call but it told me the window arrived and they’d install it at 1pm. It took them a fair amount of time to remove the door panel and then they meticulously, very meticulously, scraped, vacuumed, blew out all the glass shards out of the window track. It was explained to me that if the new window encountered fragments as it the window raised or lowered, there was a good possibility it might ‘explode’ again. The cleaning took the better part of an hour and once done, the new window was quickly installed and the door panels reinstalled. I was happy ‘cause my air conditioning can’t keep up with mid nineties temps and the window open. I had filed a glass claim the previous evening and was pleased and surprised that all the paperwork had been sent to the glass shop and all I needed to pay was my $50 deductible. Many thanks to that little green Gecko.
I also have had some paperwork to take care of today. Not sure if anyone would be interested but it has consumed a fair amount of time in the past month+. It really has nothing to do with the ‘traveling’ so to skip it, drop down 7 paragraphs and start again at the ****.
Prior to buying this motorhome from a small consignment dealer, I had purchased my Jeep from AvisBudget Orlando used cars. They got paid for the car, for the So Dakota sales tax due, for the SD plates and for the title transfer with the excess to be refunded to me. From both dealers, I received a 30 day FL temp registration and paper tags and that’s where the similarity ended. FL law says the dealer has 30 days to accomplish the retitling, reregistering and plating process.
Little old motorhome consignment dealer had it together and the motorhome got registered, titled and plated in MT in the name of my LLC within the allotted time. Avis not so much. 30 days passed and no progress. Spoke with Avis Orlando and they were of little help. General manager said that all paperwork etc is handled at the corporate level and that he had heard they laid off 70% of staff that handles sales. He also said “corporate is inept”. However he would not give me contact info for the responsible ‘corporate’ department. He did email to me a second 30 day FL temp registration and paper plates. Under special circumstances, a dealer may do the 30 day extension.
So now I was good till very early July and well before that deadline I started the process of following up for a progress report. I separately wrote Avis’ President, it’s Genl Counsel and the Corporate person in charge of used car sales. I’ve not even gotten the courtesy of a acknowledgment reply much less an on point response from anyone. I’ve called the Orlando Genl mgr but only get voice mail. To date my messages haven’t been returned. I’ve emailed and texted him as well, numerous times, and no response. Thru the internet, I’ve found quite a number of people with the same problem and not just with the Orlando facility. At the end of the 2nd 30 day temp registration I contacted and then filed a 10 page (incl exhibits) formal complaint with the section of the FL DMV that regulates titling etc and licenses dealers to sell vehicles. I since have had many phone calls with the examiner in charge. She says that FL is well aware of the “Avis situation” and of the many who are still waiting for title and plates. She said the department is working to get it solved. But I get no promises. She told me that FL has set up a temporary solution, that all I have to do is go into any FL DMV, tell them I’m caught up in the “Avis problem” and for $4. the DMV will issue another 30 day permit. This could be done over and over again. I asked how I do that when I’m 3,000 miles from the FL border and she had no answer. Unlike a dealer, the DMV does NOT have the ability to email the permits. You have to appear in person. I asked if FL is the authority which allows Avis to do business in FL, why FL doesn’t shut Avis down throughout the state instead of saddling citizens with the burden of visiting the DMV and forking over $4 each month. No answer.
I also filed a similar documented complaint to FL’s Attorney General alleging fraud (I haven’t gotten what I paid for – title, tax bill paid, registration and plates and overage refund ), embezzlement (Avis hasn’t paid the So Dakota Sales tax and registration fees that I’ve funded) and Elderly Abuse (I’m old; deprived of legal use of the vehicle on the alleys, roads, streets and highways of this country; can’t sell the car since I have no title; I can’t finance or refinance without ownership; and my insurance requires me to have a properly licensed vehicle in order for my ins to be effective). It’s been 60 days and I’ve yet to hear from the AG’s office.
I’ve filed the same complaint with the BBB responsible for AVIS Orlando and AVIS/Budget Corporate. The BBB has managed to get a response from Avis Corporate – a short letter stating ‘thanks’ for advising them of the issue and they will contact Avis Orlando to find out what happened and get back to BBB. BBB asked if I would accept this response. Of course I didn’t. Corp has 3 letters as yet unanswered. It is reasonable that a national fleet of vehicles (any vehicle of which can end up anywhere in the country; a fleet probably centrally pledged as collateral for Corp financing) would have centralized control over the used car sales and transfers. I furnished BBB with the Orlando Genl Mgr’s text stating that everything post vehicle delivery is a Corp function and I argued that the letter from Avis was pure BS. 99 days into this transaction as of today and Avis is doing a Sgt Schultz “I know nothing” routine!?!
As a career banker/lender, I have been blessed/cursed with skepticism of anything I’m told (all/most borrowers lie thru their teeth about how much they make or owe when borrowing and about how little $ they make or have when defaulting). Knowing that a local Avis office wouldn’t have physical title on hand (and confirmed when I asked) I wanted a partner with me and so I told Avis Orlando that I wanted 100% financing including taxes, plates etc. They provided a national lender happy to accommodate. So I have no money in this deal other than 2 payments in 3 months for an amount less than a total of 3 weeks rental. Of course if the car hasn’t been titled to me and no title has been issued, the lender has NO lien. I’ve been in similar correspondence with the lender’s Genl Counsel asking if they have a preference where I should abandon the car (closed industrial park, an off road canyon somewhere?) and if they wanted to hazard a guess where in the continental 49 states it might be. And if they did look for it and find it, they had no basis to repossess in that Avis still owns the car and the lender has no lien as a basis for repossession. I don’t need the car. There’s many for sale with titles available and all I need to do is wire the funds.
So why tell the story. In case you are thinking of buying an Avis fleet car, be forewarned. More likely amongst those I know, you may be an investor. Avis/Budget PR and investor department has been working overtime touting the company as a stock investment and separating itself from the bankrupt Hertz. Maybe the Orlando manager is right and Corporate truly is “inept”. I think it more likely, based on number of people whose complaints I’ve seen, that Avis is collecting the thousands and thousands from each sale and rather than reporting the sale and paying down the fleet loans and thereby obtaining the title or MSO (manufacturers statement of origin for a car that has never been titled), Avis is just using the $$$$ to pay for toilet paper, lights and other general operating expenses and using subsequent car sales proceeds to liberate titles owed from months (or even longer) earlier. Can you spell P O N Z I? Just my theory. And wondering why the Avis/Budget President/CEO and also its General Counsel both resigned within the last 6 months and why the Avis CFO resigned just last Thursday? Connect the dots. Investors, take heed.
I think I’ve come down with a head cold. Congestion, runny nose, watery eyes. That together with more difficulty breathing due to an even higher altitude (the Valley is at 6,200’ elevation) makes me feel a bit miserable. I’ve been here for 5 nights already and haven’t managed to even get to Jackson, Grand Teton or Yellowstone yet. I’ve extended my stay from 7 to 10 nights. Gotta be flexible! An article today in an Idaho newspaper pointed to N CA as the source of all the smoke in eastern ID and pointed out resulting shortness of breath and, runny nose and watery eyes. Maybe I’m not sick after all.
I think I’ve come down with a head cold. Congestion, runny nose, watery eyes. That together with more difficulty breathing due to an even higher altitude (the Valley is at 6,200’ elevation) makes me feel a bit miserable. I’ve been here for 5 nights already and haven’t managed to even get to Jackson, Grand Teton or Yellowstone yet. I’ve extended my stay from 7 to 10 nights. Gotta be flexible! An article today in an Idaho newspaper pointed to N CA as the source of all the smoke in eastern ID and pointed out resulting shortness of breath and, runny nose and watery eyes. Maybe I’m not sick after all.
Nonetheless, I’m taking a whitewater rafting excursion tomorrow (Thurs, 8/20). I’m told this late after spring runoff, the whitewater shouldn’t be real bad. Instructions require wearing tightly laced shoes and suggesting a swim suit. It’s an 8 mile trip. A bit nervous. I’ve done the Snake River with this rafting company before but then I chose the lazy river ride – and enjoyed it. This should be fun🤞.
As I now write, I’ve finished the whitewater rafting. I’m beyond tired. It was fun and WET. Thoroughly wet. I know absolutely nothing about the sport but am told these were Class 2 and 3 rapids (rapids are rated from Class 1 to Class 6 depending on difficulty. Class 6 rapids are too dangerous to be run commercially anywhere in the US). The Snake River, in this section and at this time, ranges from a shallow 2’ deep to 100’ deep. During Spring runoff and lasting to July, the river rises over 30 feet and of course the speed of the current is much much higher than now. It was a little disconcerting to see debris (humongous trees trunks) scattered on mountain sides, where the Spring flood water tossed them, so high above your head. During the Spring runoff, these same rapids are classified from Class Three to Class Five.
The adventure starts in Jackson, WY where you board the bus of the tour operator, in this case Lewis & Clark River Expedition. Masks were required and the dozen or so passengers were well spaced. Other participants of the the 10:30 am either followed in their own vehicles or met us at the launching site. Our group was 4 rafts of 8 persons each (16 person capacity rafts). The trip to the launch site was about 40 miles. The equipment van and trailer was already there when we arrived. Sanitized life vests were provided as was a dry bag to attach to the vest. Rubber boots were furnished to those who hadn’t followed instructions to wear laced shoes. Safety instructions on what to do if capsized or thrown out of the raft were given. Nervousness increased. Also given were instructions on proper paddling. We were told that in a rapids, you paddle or you risk going overboard as the paddle provides you with a third point of balance, the other two being your butt sitting on the outer tube and your inside foot wedged under the cross raft tubular ‘pillows’.
And we’re off in nice calm waters. In the front was an ER doctor and his youngish son and daughter. He was experienced in rafting and kayaking (and climbing) around the world and even spent some time as a member of a rescue team. Feeling a bit better. The two children did not paddle. Then sitting ahead of me was an experienced couple from Naples, FL and ahead and behind were two grown daughters. Filling up the crew was an old man, me. Behind us all was our guide and steersman, Jesse. He would tell us when he wanted us to paddle and how many strokes when actually in the rapids. In the calm areas, no paddling was needed, the current kept us moving. Seated low in the water like this, often the rapids were hard to see as you approached. The biggest clue was Jesse saying “I’m going to need 4 strokes in a few seconds…..NOW!”
At one point downriver, there was a clearing on the side of the mountain and it looked like a log cabin type lean to. What’s that, I wonder. 10seconds later, it appeared as though there were a couple of people there and…what’s that equipment?
It was two photography companies taking rapid sequential pics of each raft going through the rapids at that location. Probably 15 seconds of pictures and then your raft would be through the rapids. Once back at Jackson we received the brochure of each company with instructions how to buy and download digitally or buy prints.
Watch the below slideshow and you can see why you keep your money, wallet, iPhone, bottled water etc. in a dry bag and attached to you. Totally soaked from head to toe. I had my foot jammed under the white cross tubular pillow so hard, in order to stay aboard, that I needed both arms and a fair amount of strength to pull it out. The sequential ‘slideshow’ below covers about 15 seconds, or less, time on the water (out of @ 2.5 hours total water time).
It was, I’ll admit, a fun ride. Don’t think I’ll do a white water ride again but the views in a canyon are so spectacular that a float trip again might be in the future, somewhere. An hour drive back to the campground and I collapsed into a two hour nap 😴 💤 💤 💤 from which I wasn’t sure I would awake. Thinking of what to do next. Skydiving??? NOT!
The smoke from the California fires (according to the weather reports, all the smoke we’re seeing here is coming from N CA, over Nevada and Idaho. The smoke from the MT Dillon area fire is being carried further north. I still have on my list taking the gondola up the Grand Teton mountain but I don’t think that’s going to happen. The smoke was even heavier the day after the whitewater trip and Saturday heavier yet. I can’t see the mountains which start their rise about 6 blocks from the campground. If you look back at the picture above of the church, the background mountain range is completely, totally obscured. No sense dropping a tourist dollar or two or thirty to ride up a mountain you can’t see for a view that doesn’t exist.
So I’ll just hang today and tomorrow and head out Monday. I think I know where I’m heading, generally, but that could change. If relatively smoke free, I’ll stay a week or so before moving even further south.
Not even ten feet of Interstate driving. All cross country driving with mountain climbs and descents, twists and turns plus beauty thrown in for good measure. A bit windy but for the most part a tail wind.
Use two fingers to enlarge
I’m actually in a RV park (Star Valley Ranch Resort, RV and Golf ) in Thayne, WY. It’s about 45 minutes south of Jackson Hole. I wanted a week stay and campgrounds are generally either full or don’t have 1 week availability. It’s a very large (700-800 sites) park with most sites individually owned. Am hoping that this is the ‘last gasp before school starts’ weekend and it becomes a little less congested.
I plotted my general trip so far on a map. I think it’s a good overview. It doesn’t represent each stop, just enough to map my route. 4,550 miles/17 states. Don’t know yet where I’m heading after next week. I probably won’t post again until I’ve finished checking out Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons next week. Whether or not I head into Yellowstone with the Jeep will, to some degree, depend on time and traffic. I think I’ve ‘done’ Yellowstone three times already so it’s not a high priority.
Another reasonable starting time this morning even though my planned drive wouldn’t be that long. Weather forecasters are predicting heavy winds of 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 35 today. Additionally, the wind would be out of the SW which would be partially headwind and partially broadside. The motorhome is much more affected by wind than was the boat. With cool morning temps (48), with the wind, and the temps building to the hi 80‘s in the afternoon, the morning’s lighter wind was advantageous.
Some 70 miles south of Dillon, I crossed into Idaho and nearly immediately entered a small portion of the Targhee National Forest, a major change of scenery from Montana ranch land to heavy forest.
The forest scenery soon morphed to endless vistas of brown and sagebrush entering the northern border of the Great Basin Desert, one of four North American Deserts.
After roughly half of the segment on the Interstate, I left it at Dubois to get on the Nez Perce Trail. Every once in awhile the landscape would jump in my face as some acres of real green would appear together with those huge sprinkler systems rotating around a central pivot point. I even passed two corn fields. I was shocked. At the second one I slowed way down (no traffic so it didn’t bother anyone) to make sure it was corn. As far as I can remember, the last corn fields I have seen were in Eastern South Dakota.
At some point the Nez Perce Trail turned more due west over the mountains (the mountains probably didn’t bother the Nez Perce indians as they fled the US Cavalry to try to escape to Canada) while my road angled southerly to skirt the mountains. Soon the road joined and became the Oregon Trail.
I arrived at my destination for the next three nights, Arco, ID and checked into the Mountain View RV Park. Arco is a town of about 900 people and is sited at about 5,300’ elevation. Even though I’ve been generally at a mile high for a week to ten days, I’m still not comfortable with it. Ain’t age wonderful? Again this is a minimal amenity park but well designed/built i.e., long enough sites, level, well placed utilities and relatively green and trees. I have a great view of the nearby mountain right out my living room window.
So why Arco? The world’s first peacetime use of nuclear power occurred when the U.S. Government switched on Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 (EBR-1) near Arco, Idaho, on December 20, 1951. The town of Arco became the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power from a reactor on July 17, 1955. Nearby is the Idaho National Laboratory facility, one of the 7 national research parks of the United States Department of Energy (Fermilab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, Nevada Research Park and Hanford). It is on a 890-square-mile complex in the high desert of eastern Idaho, between Arco to the west and Idaho Falls and Blackfoot to the east.
Twenty miles south of Arco is the large physical laboratory complex. It is located a long way off the public road too far to get a recognizable photo. There is a self guided tour but it as well as the entry road was closed due to COVID19 🙁, a real disappointment. About 30 miles from Arco and on the south side of the laboratory physical complex is Atomic City, population 29, up from 25 in 2000. It is located maybe 10 miles down a dusty gravel road.
Today, all this place has going for it is a funny name. It is an isolated ghost town-to-be. The gas station is also the post office and bar.
I saw one of the 29 residents and she was pulling up to the bar. It would be with some degree of apprehension that I would ever get out of my car. The thought crossed my mind that if ever some manufactured illegal drugs were found contaminated with radioactivity, they might have been made here.
At 9:01 p.m., on January 3, 1961, a nuclear reactor the size of a small grain silo exploded in the nearby desert. All three men inside the Stationary Low-Power Plant Number 1, or SL-1, were killed. To this day, they are among the only recorded nuclear fatalities ever to occur on U.S. soil. Even in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown, in March 2011, no one in the mainstream media mentioned the SL-1 disaster.
The reactor went critical and in 4 milliseconds, the surrounding water became steam slamming against the lid of the reactor like a piston. The lid was blown 9’ in the air. The men’s bodies were wrapped in several hundred pounds of lead, placed in steel coffins, and buried under a foot of concrete.
On my drive back, I wondered if the research labs were actually operational etc. As I approached the entry road, I decided they were. I passed at least 40 beautiful new luxury passenger buses, each painted the same and labeled with the laboratory name, complete with electronic signs for their various routes to the populated cities of Pocatello and Idaho Falls, 80+ miles distant. It was 4:40pm and obviously the facility draws its large workforce from long distances. Also obvious is that the facility is productive.
The Arco area has a long history of military testing
One Small Step for Man… a/k/a Al Does the Moonwalk
Eighteen miles west of Arco is Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. CoM are definitely of volcanic origin but not of the stereotypical Mt St Helens type where the mountain blows its top, not of the caldera type like Yellowstone, a giant bowl that sinks into the earth but of the rift type, a giant fissure . CoM is a 52 mile long fissure called the Great Rift. The vast volumes of lava cane not from one volcano but from a series of deep fissures that cross the Snake River Plain. In addition to horizontal lava flow from the fissure, there are a number of craters stretching from south to north. Geologists say the earliest of the craters is in the south and occurred some 15,000 years ago while the younger, north craters last erupted 2,000 years ago.
The publicly accessible portion of the Park is located on the north side and includes the “North Crater” and “Big Craters” along with a number of spatter cones and an area of lava formed caves. There is also a visitor center (mostly closed due to COVID19) and a primitive (no utilities) campground with sites widely dispersed among tall and rocky lava formations. Additionally there is an excellent 7 mile long loop road with numerous turnoffs and trailheads.
I stopped at all the turnoffs and walked some of the shorter trails while skipping a few with steep climbs or long distances. The trails leading to the North and Big Craters are nearly 2 miles long, each way, and I skipped those. I did manage 2 short but very steep trails to two spatter cones. Spatter cones are small eruptions or vents. One such climb was only .2 mile but was 18 degrees steep with no guard rail protecting one from a drop off. Climbing up took all my breath but coming down was scary. Not a downslope to be wearing flip flops (I wasn’t). The trail, though paved, was about 30” wide. Up & down traffic passing each other needs to pass carefully or better, sideways. On the way down, I was alone the whole way, thankfully, and I made good use of holding on to the lava rock sides next to me. The other spatter cone I climbed is named “SnowCone” and was a shorter climb. It gets its name from the fact that there is constantly snow and ice at the bottom of the crater. It has steep straight down interior sides such that direct sun light never reaches the bottom and thaws the snow. There is a chain type fence right at the top and if you lean over or, as I did, hold your camera over the edge, you can see or get a picture if the snow. 90 degrees outside and you are probably 100’ from snow!
Other areas of note are the cinder hills and flats. While some of the eruptions result in lava, many are so hot that the lava is incinerated leaving just black cinders. Over the years, decades and centuries prevailing winds deposit the cinders into hills, much like black sand dunes, and accompanying flat lands interrupted here and there by giant boulders or lava formations. The cinder fields are often populated by what looks at a distance like patches of white mold. Closer inspection reveals 6” or so patches of tiny white flowers. They are spaced from each other with such precision that one would think they are planted but they’re not. Since the area is so arid, the little plant has a root system of about a 3 foot radius to sip what water is available and thus the plants are separated by available water. The flowers are white to reflect as much of the sun’s heat as possible.
There are also lots of area of scrub brush and rugged looking Limber Pine trees. One of the walks I took was in a flat area called Devils Garden, a cinder, brush, Pine tree and rock strew area. No path, you just wander clearing areas between the scrub brush listening for the sound of rattling. Didn’t hear any 😀. The cinder is really thick and it is the softest walk I can remember. It almost felt like I was walking on pillows or a mattress. Also in this area small yellow lichen manifested itself growing on the lava. Almost looked like veins of gold. There were also some petrified trees and other pretty flowers. It was an unworldly section in an unworldly fascinating park and well worth the visit.
So where is Arco, ID and why would someone go there?😎
The RVPark owner also runs a Friday and Saturday night restaurant on site. It is listed as the #3 rated restaurant in Arco (out of 12) on Trip Advisor and on the campground sites, most reviewers rate the food as 5 star. His specialty is smoked ribs and loaded smoked potato (nobody seems to have ever had this and it draws special raves) baked beans and cole slaw. The ribs are smoked all day behind the restaurant and the restaurant opens when the ribs are ready. He has nearly a full park for tomorrow, Thursday, so the restaurant will be opening a day early. lucky me!
I got to sleep in this morning in that I have a short travel day and can’t check into the Dillon campground until after noon. I plan on staying there 2 nights and perhaps more if there’s availability and if I can’t find something nice further down the road for the weekend. Dillon is a decent sized city and is home to the University of Montana Western.
The drive through western MT is amazing. Lots of mountain driving not only easy on the eyes with the views but easy driving as well. Uncrowded Interstate and 80 mph speed limits (I set the cruise at 70 mph.) The following video is pretty bad. It’s really not that bumpy and what bumps there may be are smoothed out by the motorhome (Roughing it Smoothly) but holding my iPhone at arms length causes jiggling with every breath and at higher elevations like I’ve been at for the last week+, I tend to breathe quicker with some deep intakes. Anyway, FWIW, here’s 1 1/4 miles of what I see at 70mph.
I am situated at the Southside RVPark. It is a good place to stop. Reasonable sized commercial sites with well placed full utilities. The gravel sites are very level. The park is divided in two by a nice running creek. They have an interesting half picnic table at each site. I was hoping that they might have a cancellation such that I could extend longer than two nites. That didn’t happen so Sat I moved to another local park for 3 more nites (trying to fill some time between now and next Friday when I’m scheduled into the general Jackson Hole area).
This second park, (Beaverhead River RV Park – more on the name later) is a former KOA in which the ‘former’ probability occurred because the park franchisee didn’t modernize enough. The sites are typical KOA sites meaning level, gravel, long enough but probably a couple feet narrower than today’s comm’l standards. Full utilities and amenities including pool (closed due to COVID19) however their electric service is only 30 amps and via shared pedistal. Guessing that was the ‘modernization’ issue. Not a problem, just attach the adapter to my 50amp cord and I’m 30 amp.
Though I eat dinner out most nights, I rarely mention it unless there is something memorable and such was the case here. A 3 short block walk from Southside Park was a place called Sparkies Garage. Though the location at one time may have been a garage, it is now a newer building made to look like a (large) garage complete with memorabilia. But the food! Must not be a cook in the kitchen but a chef. I ordered two appetizers for dinner…a crock of French Onion soup with cornbread and a honey sauced baby back rib appetizer.
I took the Jeep on a drive east towards, but not to, the western border of Yellowstone National Park. (Yellowstone was 20 miles away as the crow flies or mountaineer climbs but 90 more miles away by road). My destinations were the sister “ghost” towns “of Nevada City and Virginia City some 60 miles away from Dillon. These are two of the many 1800’s mining towns in the area (gold, silver, garnets etc). Virginia City is a well preserved, very much alive, ghost town which is frozen in time. Both towns are on the National Historic Register.
They quickly became boomtowns of thousands of prospectors and fortune seekers. This remote area of what was then Idaho Territory had no law enforcement except for the miners courts. It is estimated that “road agents” were responsible for up to 100 deaths in the area in 1863 and 1864. These “road agents” would ride out from Robbers Roost and terrorize stagecoaches, miners and travelers in the area. The locals were afraid to do anything about it because the road agents had spies everywhere and would soon find out who was working against them.
The county Sheriff was suspected to be the leader of the road agents gang called “The Innocents”. The suspicions about the Sheriff and the increasing number of murders in the immediate area prompted the citizens to form the Vigilante Committee. After obtaining confessions from some members of “The Innocents” the Vigilante Committee ‘arrested‘ the Sheriff and hanged him without a trial. Many recipients of the Vigilante Committee justice reside atop Boot Hill. (These actions and others became the genesis of the historic Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, see previous blog post). One of the notables, who at one time lived there, was Calamity Jane. When mining died, so did the towns.
In the 1940’s a private couple started buying Virginia City and doing maintenance. In the ‘50’s the town began to be restored for tourism. Most of the city is now owned by the state government, is a National Historic Landmark and is operated as an open air museum. There are nearly 300 structures in the town with almost half of them having been built prior to 1900. Many of the buildings are in their original condition with Old West period displays and information plaques.
This same couple undertook a restoration of Nevada City moving many historic cabins there. A narrow gauge railroad operates between the two towns. Below are some pics from the area.
About in the middle is a buffalo robe, one of many displayed. Also shown is a masked road agent member of The Innocents gang who arrived in town today to wreak havoc.
About five miles from the campground is the Clark’s Lookout State Park. It’s located above the Beaverhead River and is a place that provided the Lewis and Clark Expedition with a view of the route ahead. On August 13, 1805, Captain William Clark climbed the hill overlooking the Beaverhead River to get a sense of his surroundings and document the location. His written record of the three compass readings triangulate to show the exact location where he stood. That location is commemorated with a large compass monument complete with directional readings so one can see exactly his data points. It’s a small, 8 or 9 acre park complete with a small parking area and two gravel trails climbing to the site. Not too bad of a climb for an old man.
The hill, the climb and some flora.
My plan for Monday failed. Dillon has 2 block long section with a former rail depot converted into a museum featuring a Lewis & Clark diorama occupying one block and a wooden boardwalk with log cabins, old schoolhouse etc museums. The big sign showed it closed on Saturday and Sunday so I planned to take a look on Monday. Unfortunately, everything was still locked tight on Monday. Maybe they have trouble recruiting volunteers during the pandemic?
Short travel day today. I finally got a reservation in a RV park near Jackson Hole, WY/Grand Tetons/Yellowstone. I’ll be about 40 or so miles south but I reserved a spot for a week. I couldn’t find anything much closer much less for a chunk of time. But it starts August 14th so I’ve got 10 days to do 400 miles and now I’m slowing it down to ‘boat speed’.
I took an Interstate today. There were a number of construction slowdowns including 2 way traffic sections and even stoppage for a flagman. That together with a lengthy rest area stop for some lunch and some phone calls to confirm reservations played right into a slow trip.
I usually try my best to avoid Interstates but this area (and southern Utah) provide some nice scenery while driving.
Took the Jeep for a drive of nearby towns. Of most interest were Anaconda, MT and Deer Lodge, MT.
Deer Lodge is the location of the first Montana Territory Prison. Bands of outlaws and vigilantes roamed early MT territory leaving a path of destruction and death. The Old Montana Prison was established in 1871 and was active until 1979. It and associated museums are the tourism hun of this town.
Connected to the prison self guided tour facility is the self guided Montana Auto Museum. Why they are connected is beyond me. It contains over 160 cars and conveyances from the 1880’s to the 1970’s. I really enjoyed walking through it.
Also located in Deer Lodge is the The Grant–Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, created in 1972, commemorating the Western cattle industry from its 1850s inception through recent times. At 1600 plus acres, it is maintained as a working ranch by the National Park Service and is open for walking tours. A good portion, like the main ranch house, is currently pandemic closed. I was too tired walking to attempt the walking tour. Also dominating Main Street is the large fairgrounds and rodeo facility.
I am staying in a nice commercial campground named Indian Creek Campground. Well laid out and well kept.
Hard to believe it’s August already. I left late this morning for a short drive to Missoula @ 120miles. Kinda slipped my mind that I’d spend a lot of those miles between steep mountain sides on one side and steep drop offs down to Flathead Lake on the other. From Bigfork to Polson just enough room for two lanes and railroad tracks. For the most part no room for even 2’ shoulders. Up and down, twist and turns keeps you very awake and alert. Focused too much on staying on the road to see much of the fabulous views. No pictures except in my mind. One thing I did notice along the entire drive was cherry orchards. If there was a little room along side the road there was a little, medium or large cherry stand. I didn’t see many with sufficient room for my rig.
I noticed last night while looking at my one of my campground apps a familiar sounding campground in/near Missoula – Jim & Mary’s Campground. Sharon and I stayed there in June 2003, our 5th yr of fulltiming. I remember nice views and flowers. So I texted and they had a site for tonite. In 16yrs, the views have been marred by building development but the park is still nice and there are still flowers at each site. Cell service and wi fi sux, though.
One other item of note, there was a hurricane/tropical storm that came up FL’s east coast this past weekend. My boat broker and the Captain I’ve hired to keep the boat ship shape till sold both, somehow, moved the storm further east offshore. Zero damage😎
It’s been a fun but hot (90’s even at elevation) four days here. I don’t know if this post will tell much of a story or just be a lot of pictures. If you’re lucky, it’ll be the latter.
Cheating a bit, here are some Lodge images taken when I had lunch there in 2015
I also took a short drive to Kalispell on Flathead Lake
Also nearby is the town of Whitefish which appears to be an upscale western town. Many more condos on the outskirts than the local business opportunities would seem to support. Guessing they are Air B&Bs, summer residences for mountain, rafter and fly fishing lovers and winter places for cross and downhill skiers. The town definitely imposes architectural standards with everything having a very western look. Downtown area looks like a great place to walk and browse. I didn’t.
Everyone did their part. Freightliner in Reno got the air dryer shipped yesterday. Fed Ex got it to Shelby Montana the next (this) morning and good ole Harley knocked on my door in the campground around 11am. After sitting all nite, pretty much all the air was out of the suspension and my exit steps were down on the ground and the full width hanging mud flaps were nearly horizontal on the ground. I cranked up the rear jacks as much as I could and Harley slid under and disconnected the air dryer and, at his truck bench, reattached all the fittings to the new dryer, slid back under and hooked it all back up to the coach. By noon, I started the engine and after about 2 minutes the air bags were at proper 1oo# pressure and the coach was no longer basically sitting near the ground. Brakes were working again and after disconnecting electric, water and bringing in the slides etc., I was ready to roll. Once again, the coach became the smoothest riding vehicle I’ve had.
The drive was pretty easy. I really enjoyed the 50-60 mile drive crossing the mountains. I saw my first snow, lots of it, in several years. Coming down the mountain grades I got to do a real test on both the exhaust brakes and engine brakes to compare. Both will hold the rig including car to 30mph or less without touching the brake pedal and momentarily tapping the brake pedal will slow it even further. Actually often needed to hit the accelerator to maintain a reasonable speed heading down a mountain. The road thru the mountains was not in good shape. The views were spectacular especially of the river and rafters below. I was paying attention to my driving so no pics🙁. I’m in a comm’l park, nothing fancy, for 4 nites so I’ll have time to explore. It’s about a 20 minute drive back to the West Entrance. All the East Entrances are closed.
My next destination was to be Glacier National Park which, for a change, isn’t burning with my arrival. I do not like to travel subjected to a schedule. That means I generally do not make reservations. But a high traffic destination and one I really want to see again means a different strategy. So yesterday afternoon I started looking for places to stay. I thought I’d stay in less popular East Glacier Weds (tonight). There’s a no frills cg there that has sites on a cliff overlooking the valley and river below. It’s a breathtaking location in a dumpy town. I look them up online and it says they are closed because of the COVID19 pandemic. I called – no answer. Scratch that.
Next option is the National Park. I’ve ridden thru their campgrounds. Tight. Few utilities. Lots of munchkins, smoke, bikes etc. Not my style. There must be 50 or more cgs in the nearby cities of Columbia Falls, Kalispell (on Flathead Lk) and the town of Whitefish. Most of them are above average to resorty. And so I started calling, leaving messages and emailing to get Weds nite reservation for at least 4 nites. No room in the inn or, the same thing, not even a response.
This morning I got back on the phone and started contacting parks that hadn’t responded. Voila’. A high rated park that was very much on my list said they had a full hookup, 50 amp pull thru site for me for only $65/nite (about mid price for comm’l parks in the area. I reserved 4 nights, ascertained that I could extend beyond for a couple nights if I wished, and started getting the rig ready for travel.
Everything set, I put the coach in gear and released the air brakes. The little red light stayed on and the incessant beeping continued. Sometimes one of the hydraulic jacks doesn’t retract the last 1/4” and the beeping sounds the same and red light stays on (though a different light) and when the rig hits the first ‘bump’ the jack makes the last 1/4” connection and all is well. So let’s try that. Exiting the campground is a decent uphill climb and the light and sound went away. But then it’s downhill and flat and the light and sound show returned. Worse, it seemed as though the rig would brake on and off slightly and worst of all, the bus bounced. I don’t mean a nice little bounce. It was like hitting a large speed bump every 3-4 feet. I stopped at the end of the block across from a truck stop.
I am far, very remote, from being a mechanic but I once pulled our 5th wheel with a small semi tractor and I understand the air systems. The air provides the equivalent of spring/shock absorber suspension and its the presence of compressed air that keeps the brakes free. Pressing the brake pedal lowers the brake air pressure and the brake shoes engage the wheel drums. I’m having a suspension issue (violent bumping up and down) and slight braking issue. Sounds like something wrong with the air system/compressor.
The truck stop didn’t have repair facilities and there was no Freightliner shop in town but they called a mobile semi truck repair company and 10 minutes later I raised the rear with the jacks and “Harley” was underneath. He diagnosed that it needed a new air dryer and after some calls advised the replacement was not locally available. Nearest availability was Reno, NV. The part has been ordered and is being overnighted via FedEx. Harley says he can install tomorrow in under an hour. So I limped back to the campground and hooked back up to power and air conditioning (mid 90’s again). I called my Columbia Falls Campground and they graciously slid my arrival to Thurs evening and assured me I could still extend. Smart as I am, I waited till the heat of the day before I hooked up a hose to wash off the mat of bugs plastered to the front of the rig.
Fingers crossed that the part actually gets shipped, that Fed Ex de.ivers in the am and that Harley knows what he’s talking about. 🤞🤞🤞
Today was a tougher day. First, it was hot. 95 degrees. Not humid but still hot. Second, it was a struggle driving. The amateur meteorologist in me equates the heat and wide open spaces into wind. Not just wind but unpredictable heavy gusts. That meant on these asphalt laser straight roads, I couldn’t just stay on the right side of center channel and set the auto pilot. Oops, getting confused about my mode of transportation. No there was a lot of real physical steering involved today. (For the most part the motorhome tracks very well without much steering effort).
Finally, there was a 20 mile or so stretch of highway that was absolutely torn up. All pavement was torn out and just two lane gravel. Max 35mph for the entire way. Slower if you wanted to treat your shocks or air bags with some degree of respect. In that stretch there were probably nearly a dozen minor bridges partially out with one lane open. These were controlled with those portable traffic lights alternating the direction of traffic. Lots of slow, dusty driving and stops.
For those of you who enjoy cereal in the mornings, I wish to report that I also crossed Battle Creek today. No pic ‘cause it came and went too quickly.
Left Dickinson, SD and headed north with the intent of getting back on US2.
On the way I planned on stopping at the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt NP located about 60 miles north. Within the park is a primitive, no services, campground – Juniper Campground – and I thought I might stay the night if there was availability.
Leaving Northbound from the Park, you enter the now famous Bakken Formation or Bakken Shale Formation. Whether the name is known or not, this area is pretty much responsible for breaking the back of OPEC and Russian oil domination. As one of the worlds largest oil fields, the oil is extracted by the fracking process which was profitable during the high priced oil era. The towns resemble boom towns with commercial streets filled with machine shops, drilling equip sales, welding operations and myriads of support facilities. Neighborhoods of hundreds each new manufactured home are everywhere – pretty much vacant now. With the Bakken oil fields helping the U.S. gain its independence from foreign oil, prices have plunged to the point that fracking is no longer profitable. A hundred miles or more driving thru an area exemplifying “boom or bust”.
At Williston ND I finally hooked up with US 2 and made the turn West heading to Montana. By this time, with the ‘detour’ into the North Unit, it was becoming a longer day than I intended and looking at my options I decided to head to Fort Peck, MT. Fort Peck is the location of another large Missouri River dam with numerous Corps of Engineers campgrounds. One, where I’ve stayed before, has electric and water and nice spacious sites. Located within a mile is the Montana State Fish Hatchery which I’ve seen before and which is most interesting. It’s huge and they stock MT lakes with millions of fingerlings each year (125,000,000 walleyes, 500,000 chinook alone annually). They raise the fish from eggs transferring the tiny fish into huge regulated interior vats and from there into one of forty 10 acre ponds.
The campground was the Downstream Recreation Area and Campground and it is located in a wooded area at the bottom of the dam near the spillway. Sites are level, large and with lots of space between campers.
I planned on staying Monday to spend time at the fish farm. I went there when it opened only to find a very small section of the building, housing maybe 20 stuffed fish specimens, open. All the good parts – being able to walk around the tanks, vats and ponds – were closed due to COVID19. What a disappointment. Since there also was zero cell phone coverage, no WiFi and no TV (No over the air and the satellite was blocked by trees), I went back to the campground, hooked up the Jeep, pulled in the slides and left.
I thought about getting to Havre MT but instead opted for a shorter day stopping at Malta, MT, primarily a ranching town. I’m camped for the night at a motel. It’s a ‘walkout’ motel with a grade down behind it where they have a reasonable full hookup transient campground. I napped a little while the washer and dryer were doing their bit.
Once again I left on a gray morning which by noon turned into a blue sky special. I had a 190 mile trip ahead with 160 miles of it on wonderful 2 and sometimes 3 lane back roads – the kind of driving I like. Maybe an opposing vehicle every 3 or 3 miles and lots of nature to see. Rolling hills, steep climbs and descents and big valleys.
I find the people to be excellent stewards of the land. Fields of corn and wheat and soybeans and fallow land. I got to see my first big field of sunflowers this trip. Unfortunately, the field was on the sunside of the road meaning all the flowers were facing the sun – away from me. Instead of seeing all their bright yellow smiling faces, I could just get a glimpse of the back edges on the petals. Oh well, it’s a taste of more to come (I hope). Fields of hay and grass have been mowed and the fields are littered with giant rolls of hay as ranchers prepare for wintering their livestock. Not much waste. Road medians, right of ways and land between the roads and RR tracks are mowed and also littered with the rolls of hay. I wonder about the economics. Do the RR or State/County road commissions sell the harvest rights to the highest bidder or is it first come, first served free? Regardless, it is nice to see neatly trimmed roadways and evidence of good stewardship. The ‘elites’ who complain of livestock abuses and land rape really should get out of their ivory towers and see America’s work ethic in person. Off soapbox.
As I mentioned in my prior post, I wasn’t able to get 3 or 4 night reservations in Medora, ND. Medora is a small totally tourist oriented town which serves as the gateway to the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
So instead I reserved a spot in campground in Dickinson ND about 30 miles East. north Park Campground is an interesting if boring campground. It’s large and quite new. It’s laid out totally on a grid and devoid of any real amenities but modern as far as utilities and hardpacked gravel sites. 3 sections of transient camping, 2 large sections of long term camping, a couple sections for storage and a street or two of manufactured homes. A good overnighted. Not so good for a vacation spot. Pretty sure it was built to take advantage of the huge fracking boom around here and the current high vacancies reflect the current depressed oil market.
Friday, July 24, 2020.
I woke up to a very light rain which passed quickly. Gray skies were showing tinges of blue in the west. I decided to take the Jeep and head to Medora and the Park. The town as well as the Park are located in the Little Missouri National Grassland, over 1,000,000 acres – 1,600 sq. miles – managed by the US Forest Service. The Park is comprised of 3 separate areas, the Elkhorn Ranch Unit (26 miles nw of Medora), the South Unit (at Medora with I-94 serving as it’s southern border), and the North Unit (60 miles north of The South Unit). Taking advantage of my old geezer National Park Pass, I flashed it for free access to the South Unit.
Within the South unit is a 36 mile long two lane curvy, hilly driving loop from the entry point and returning back to the entry point. There are many many overlooks and parking areas. There are also numerous short and long, flat and hilly, easy and hard hiking trails and a couple of spots where you can rustle up a horse for what I would guess to be a spectacular ride. This past Spring there was a large washout and cave in of part of the road so the final 12 miles is barricaded off. This means instead of doing a 36 mile long loop, you can drive 24 miles, then turn around and drive it back for a total of 48 miles. A good 3 hour drive if you don’t stop at every opportunity.
The views are fantastic, up close and personal. There are mountainous vistas; areas of typical Badlands; white dome rocks with shades of red reminiscent of southern Utah; and verdant forests and green belts created by the Little Missouri River meandering through the valleys.
It is said to teem with wildlife, feral horses, Buffalo, rattlesnakes, elk, deer and prairie dogs amongst others. It is ‘said’ because you really need to be slow, take all the trails and then be lucky to see most. About 4 miles in, I saw my first of about a half dozen prairie dog towns – vast flat and elevating green land pock marked with white 2-3’ diameter round hills (maybe a foot or so tall) with a entry hole in the center. It took a bit of time for me to finally see the animals but once I did, they were everywhere. I’m sure I saw over a 1,000 of those alert little animals.
Finally 20 miles in, the jackpot. There had been evidence from time to time of deposits on the road. Smashed road apples from the horses, I wondered? Then in the distance, a far distance, was a grouping of large brown bushes well up on a hill. Wait! Is there movement in or of those bushes? My trusty binoculars, late of boating history, revealed the presence of grazing buffalo rather than bushes. Elated to see but disappointing in that there was no way I was going to get a discernible picture at that distance. [In 2016 when I did this route, I was forced to wait, first in line in my car, for at least a half hour when a herd of about 20 Buffalo and papooses climbed out of a gully and elected to stop and mill about on a bridge, totally blocking traffic.] But maybe a half mile down the road and around a bend there was a line of cars, not in a scenic lookout, but on the road. Yes, a group of stragglers (or maybe leaders?) taking it easy along the road. Took some pic and decided to hurriedly leave back to the car when one of the Buffalo decided to come close and see what all those humans were about.
So I finished the last 4 miles, turned around and started back wondering all the while if maybe I should just shift the Jeep into 4 wheel drive and go cross country
Weds., July 22, 2020
A couple of unforced errors this morning. I didn’t have a reservation for tonight or for the coming weekend and I didn’t check the weather. Well, I did see weather on TV this morning and noted tstorm warnings but I didn’t recognize the counties. I called to make reservation for this evening but had to leave a message and I didn’t wait for a return call before leaving. My intent was for a long 250+ mile day so I hooked up and left a great site/location and headed straight north cross country towards ND.
About 30 miles later the sky turned black. Pulled up radar on the phone and in another 20 miles or so I’d be in a big area of RED. So that’s where those counties were! Tstorm and hail warnings for about 50 miles and the another 50-75 miles of green -light rain. Too late to turn back. Narrow road, no place to turn around even if I wanted to. I did run into heavy rain, no hail, no lightening but some cross wind. Relatively back roads so light traffic though what traffic there was was double bottom farm haulers. Only problematic section was 13 miles with a 3-4” drop to the dirt shoulder immediately off the traffic lane. Zero room for error and even less when facing an oncoming double bottom crop hauler and wind. But by noon, the day brightened to blue skies, the evening’s park confirmed ‘no room in the inn’ and so I stopped to fuel up, raid the fridge for some lunch and figure out a Plan B. A call to the park in Medora ND (by the entrance to Teddy Roosevelt Natl Park) revealed that they also were full till Monday. So I found a park with decent service and reviews located in Mobridge, SD, along the Missouri, and headed there.