We are loading the family up in Kris's car and heading back to Wyoming to dodge the Mississippi heat and take in the Teton Mountains and the cooler air. This will be our second summer in a row to make this trip. last summer we rented an RV and drove/camped our way to western Wyoming and back. This year I rented a cabin less than an hour northwest of Jackson Hole (in Victor Idaho) and we will concentrate our vacation on cooler weather, mountains, buffalo hunting (with camera) and the hopeful sightings of elk, bear and maybe a moose.
Tune in to catch my regular posts and pictures.
We are east of Dallas eating at IHOP. We turned in our RV, cleaned and empty, paid for the extra mileage, loaded Kris's car and roared out of town. Extra mileage is an understatement. We paid for 1300 miles but drove over 3200 miles. That ate up our deposit and we owed them on top of that, but we did not break anything that was not already broken. Ethen opened a storage cabinet above the rear bed and it fell out, nearly hitting him in the face. The storage cabinet under the gas stove eyes did not stay clicked closed so unless we had a plastic grocery bag hung on the gas knobs, it swung free. I showed the RV people these things and they made note and did not charge us.
By the way, we drove thru 105 to 109 degree heat yesterday from New Mexico to Fort Worth. We sweated our shirts out unloading the RV and packing the car.
But now it is all roads east to Madisipi.
The cab, Me and Summer's bunk and the dining/gaming table at the picture window.
The side door and kitchenette.
Kris and E's bed and the "water closet".
After visiting friends in north Denver and doing another Walmart RV camp night, I made an executive decision to drive south and cut across the northeast corner of New Mexico. The decision was by no means reactionary to the soiled spent condom I found by the RV's rear tire this morning... shudder.
The above picture was taken along New Mexico Hiway 64 as Kris drove us east. There were isolated thunder storms in all directions as we drove along. I probably shot 50 pics from the viewing window to get the lightning shot.
I also kept an eye out for the roadside spot where Patrick Welty and I camped in my blue Suburban in October 2001 on our way to Colorado and California. I remember it was in a depression in the land, between the hiway and the railroad and there was a shock of short old trees. I guess I was too busy trying to photograph lightning with Ethan to see the spot but I'm sure we passed it. Maybe the old tree died, it has been 13 years. The 2001 trip cross country from Charleston to California and back was my second trek across the US. My first was in 1995 when I moved to Oregon.
The landscape did not look the same as it did so long ago but it has been a damp summer across the West and everything is much greener than usual. We see lots of pronghorn on either side of the hiways and I wonder how they would taste. I would think it would be great if the meat were from a one or two year old pronghorn, marinated and grilled. If I can make light geese and mergansers taste good... altho I was told in Vail that mule deer weren't very good b/c they eat sage and twigs, but I'll bet my bottom it can be prepared tastily. If people eat coon and possum... anyway we reached the dusty megopolis of Clayton before dark. We did see another elk outside of Raton, NM. It was on the side of the road, emaciated, somewhat flat and dead. It had been hit by a vehicle days before. There were no horns.
In Clayton, we decide to get a hotel room to get showers and do laundry but as Kris did laundry the rest of us swam in the indoor pool instead. The pool, like the hotel, was full... and small. It was no bigger than our RV and had twice the occupants but the water was cool and the hotbtub was hot and soapy... yes, soapy. We had a big time and are now all in the room, chlorine clean and relaxed.
Ah yes, I forgot about our supper in Clayton. After we checked in we walked over to the Rabbit Ear Cafe for some New Mexican food (as advertised) but they were closing as we walked inside. This was the third time on this trip we walked into a restaurant at a quarter to 9 and were turned away. So we walked down to Dairy Queen. We watched the lightning popping on three sides of town but it never rained. Inside DQ we order burgers, fries and chicken strips and after a few minutes of eating, Kris shows me something on her burger wrapper. I look close and I know I see a smudge of cheese, only... it has several black legs! It is a black fly, sort of like a love bug, in her burger wrapper! I show it to the workers and they look at it like, What is it? I say it's a black fly and I've seen others in the place. I had. They offer my money back but I ask for free ice cream for the kids. Amazingly Kris ate her burger!
Tomorrow we long haul to Dallas and get the RV in ship shape for the return Monday morning. This has been one of the best road trips since Kris and I drove back from California in 2005 pre-Katrina. After that drive, Hurricane Katrina and Del Rendon's passing, things got very real and I asked Kris to marry me. Awww! And here we are, together with our kids, happy and having fun.
I must say that after this trip and some reflective time thinking behind the wheel, only two things are keeping us from moving to western Wyoming... family and friends. The place is that awesome. Of course the winters are pretty heavy but the summers are delightful!
Kris is driving us south and east across the center of the state of Wyoming. We are blessed with a hard tail wind again today which gives us great gas mileage for this big cracker box of a RV.
After supper last night we drove several miles back out of Cody to the Buffalo Bill State Park whick surround the enormous Buffalo Bill Resevoir. We drove to a campsite on our eMap but only found a trailer park on the lake, even though there were state park signs, an entry box for fees and a day use only area that had the best place to camp in the park on the lake. We drove over the place twice figuring what to do and I noticed a truck trail leading below the levee that protected the head of the lake. It looked like a two spot camp sight so I pulled down there and parked in the fluffy weeds and wild sunflowers. Kris protested the spot but I told her we were so out of the way from any main route nobody would care. She says, Well YOU get to deal with whoever bangs on the door in the middle of the night. I said, WHOMever... just kidding. We agreed and shut the RV down and opened the screened sliding windows.
The high winds yesteday were still up when we parked and it was getting dark. The sun had already dropped behind the western mountains but the color was still brushed on the sparse wind whipped clouds and on the two foot seas of the resevoir. The wind must have been blowing from the west here for days. The entire eastern shore as far as I could see was crammed with drift wood of every size and shape. The wood was thrown up on the shore and pushed together in a bustling flotilla of drift wood 20 yards out into the lake. I half wondered, since we were parked at lake level, if we would wake up with wood and water around the RV.
I had my revolver in its usual hidden but reachable spot between me and the side door but the night's whistling wind cradled us in our womb on wheels and we slept like babes.
No one banged on our door or left us a ticket, but when I awoke and hopped from the upper bunk to go pee and Kris said, from bed, drive us to McDonalds, I opened the windshield curtains and climbed into the driver seat, cranked her up and looked forward and saw that a man in a pickup had driven past us and had nearly filled his truck full with driftwood. I waited for him to drive past and we waved to each other. I made a three point turn around and as I drove out, I watched his truck disappear into the trailer park.
We breakfasted in Cody and hit the road. We went to the post office in Thermopolis and mailed out post cards. If you get one you are special to us, if you don't it was obviously lost in the mail, blame the government. We have been crossing south central Wyoming and it is dedolate and deserted. The rivers hold the life and are boxed in with high rock canyons in places so striking you want to take a picture, so we did.
Several hours later, we have left the arid, high risk wildfire center of Wyoming (the only zone considered a fire risk on our trop), fueled up in Laramie and dropped down into Colorado. We've passed thru two good rains and the landscape has changed yet again. The upper Wyoming plains look like western Oklahoma or Kansas whereas we are now on the eastern edge of the Rockies in Colorado and the land is greener and there are great big piles of rocks protruding from huge would-be hay fields. That was all we saw them farm in Wyoming was different types of straw with balers and bales and irrigation on the flatter areas.
Finally, on our return from the on-Earth heaven of western Wyoming, after the Tetons and Yellowstone and central Wyoming where we drove thru a 13 mile beware-of-elk corridor... finally, on Interstate 80, mile marker 276, one hour west of Laramie... finally we see ELK!
I'm driving with a 25 mph tail wind in light rain and Summer, riding shotgun points and screams, Look! I don't at first b/c she "cries wolf" alot but then I look and there they are on the north side, up on a hill overlooking the 4-lane like it's entertaining to them: three dark brown elk, two with big spreading racks so heavy it is no wonder their necks are as great as the girth of their body at the loins. Mmmm, elk loin.
I have a correction to make on a previous blog. I wrote where Bethany Culley once got a ticket from Nevada Barr on the Natchez Trace. It was my mother who got the ticket and later made a copy of it to give to Mrs. Culley. I also believe my mom got Nevada to sign a copy of one of her books my mom happened to have in the car.
What a long day. We have achieved the apex, the high water mark, the furthest point of our trek today. We saw some amazing scenery which I will get to, but to descend into the gutter I must to start off this day. We awoke, ate, buttoned up the RV and then went to the entry/exit station and emptied the shitter. There is no delicate way, no white gloved manner, to empty the RV shitter. Thank goodness I flush the shower and sink water after it to clean out the ribbed hose and there is a fresh water hose to rinse everything off. Then we pull up 100 feet and top off our fresh water tank and hit the open road.
We pull onto the two lane hiway north and nearly hit a huge buffalo! Here and there a buffalo will graze thru a field and people will pull over and take photos. We drive past a car there by the buffalo when the beast decides to charge up to the hiway! I hit the brakes and contents go everywhere but the buffalo hits his brakes too and we have a brief stare down before I drive on. Good morning Wyoming, empty the shitter and don't run into that giant buffalo!
We drive north for less than an hour, the ice capped Tetons to our left, and enter the Teton and Yellowstone parks at the pay gate. For $25 you can drive an RV full of people and stuff thru both enormous parks for seven days. The park ranger woman said people actually complain about the price! Later I look at our ticket and she signed it R. Barr. When we entered the Yellowstone gate I asked the park ranger lady if R. Barr was actually Nevada Barr the novelist who worked for the National Park Service and came up with story ideas. Nevada was a park ranger on the Natchez Trace and once wrote a ticket to Bethany Culley for speeding. Big Bethany kept the ticket as an autograph. R. Barr was not Nevada.
So our plan was to drive around the southern loop of the park and exit east to Cody, Wyoming. Our first stop was Old Faithful. There were thousands of people at the complex: parking lots, lodges, cabins, gift shop and eatery and maintanance buildings, but over thru the trees, down a wide path between evergreens whistling with wind (the wind has been in excess of 20 mph all day) was the raised, sulfur stained rock and hole, Old Faithful. She only blows for a few minutes every hour and a half but we luckily walked up with 20 minutes to blast off. We find a good spot to stand for the large semi circle of benches in rows of two are filled. Old Faith is steaming. The wind whips it away from us. Down the valley a quarter mile there are two other geysers blowing hot water into the air with steam dissipating into the trees. Finally Old Faith blows and the crowd goes ooh and ahh and cameras click and videos roll and two minutes later its over. Me and the fam hustle to a lodge before everyone else, get double scoops of ice cream and hit the road. You'd think that was the highlight of the day, and it was cool, though not as big as I'd imagined. The first blast is the highest and then it gets shorter and shorter til flup.
We still have most of the loop to drive so off we go. Here's what people may not know about Yellowstone. In 1988 there was a tremendous wildfire that burnt much of the park. I'd say on our interior loop drive, 90 % of the trees were 15 feet tall and young, like grown from seed in 1988. There are still standing dead trees but there are uncountable fallen trunks lying like armless skeletons everywhere. And the guide book mentioned we may see upwards of 70 animals ranging from buffalo to elk, moose or bear, mule deer to a variety of great birds. We saw one mule deer, three raven/crows, five buffalo and alot of canada geese. Of all the animals I wanted to see an elk. I didn't expect to see a bear and a moose was a longshot but one elk... nope. Still a beautiful park and lots of hot holes blowing steam into the wind... the wind. The wind only got stronger as the day went on. It laid the grasses flat. I figured if whitetail deer don't move in high wind in Mississippi, why would it be any different here. The elk were laid up in the thickest of thicks, so were the moose, so were the bear. What I didn't expect was the size of Lake Yellowstone on the east side of the park and the fantastic vistas as we drove east with a heavy tailwind. The entire lake was whitecapping. All the trees along the northern bank were dead though many were still standing. The entire devastated forest floor was lush with green grasses. It was surreal like going thru a wasteland that had been recarpeted. Every once in a while the smell of sulfur wafted thru the RV as we drove thru and exited Yellowstone, or as the kids (mainly E) kept calling it, Jellystone.
We reached Cody, Wyoming and ate at an old steakhouse and had a big time and I even spun Summer around the dance floor after dinner to the country/western music of a one man band that let Summer sing with him while we waited for a table before supper.
There were two times today I wanted to scurry to my phone and blog an experience but I could not so I hope I remember the facts. We stopped in J-Hole to do laundry, drove thru town, saw a ton of tourists walking and looking around and I drive us straight thru and OUT of town, north, to see what was out in the country. I never liked cities very much. Too many people, too much service industry and too much concrete and brick. Also reminds me of what my father told me when I left home for college decades ago - Son, just remember, there are alot of assholes out there.
Anyway, we leave the city and drive north about five miles and I see a sign for a campground. We had passed back into the Teton National Park and the sign was very simple. Off to our left we can see the ice pack capped Tetons so I turn right for the campground. It is the middle of the day and Yellowstone is only 50 miles away, but damn the torpedos, I go to the camp grounds. It is four miles east but soon we pass a herd of buffalos right there! Cool! We move on and find the campground along a running rocky bottom river. We decide to get a spot. The lady in the office is from Tennessee so we talk about the South and she sets us up with a spot with a great view of the mountains. There are vast expanses of scrub and sage along the flats and everything is pretty arid. The sun is intense in the middle of the day. We are two miles above sea level.
I take Sum and E to the river and the paths thru the scrub and sage aren't exactly well defined but we get to the river. No one is there. Every ten minutes new campers roll in but no one is going to the river. We were told all about bear behavior etcetera and I look up and down the shallow flowing river but see nothing so we wade into the rush. It is not to fast or deep to worry about the kids if we stay at the sides but the water is COLD. We dunk ourselves and try to skip rocks that look like potatos and when I think we have had enough sun we make our way back to our RV site... no hook ups, but we emptied and topped off the various fluids necessary at Rim Station.
So here is where the first blog moment happens. Kris takes the kids on a walk around the park roads while I gather firewood for the fire pit. I get enough kindling and a few branches but I have no logs. I take a break and get my binoculars out and decide to go glass for some animals. Our camp is on a flat just above the river bed. Just above our spot is another flat about ten feet higher. I walk up to that level and about 80 yards across the sage and scrub is another rise in the land just above a sparse row or trees. I start walking. I figure the higher the level the more I can see.
I am wearing surf shorts, a white t-shirt and flip flops. I am carrying binoculars... that is it. I don't mind the scrub or the rocks and I have not seen a snake since we were launching the raft in Colorado and one slithered right in front of me. I didn't tell anyone or they would have dropped the raft. So I am nearly to the sparse tree line and the next rise in the land when right in front of me, 20 feet away, a brown mass stands up and stares me down. In a split second I think, I have a pair of binoculars to defend myself and flip flops to run in, but I see it is a male mule deer with horns, in velvet, that would rival any Mississippi whitetail deer. It just looks at me. I look at him. He looks at me. I turn and bend over and act like I am eating sage. He does the same. I walk away a bit and keep acting like I'm eating sage and he stays right there in the shade of a poplar tree and eats and watches me. I walk a little farther away and up on the next level of land and glass around with the binoculars to see what there is to see. The mountains are awesome. I find several dry logs from a fallen tree and choose two to carry back to camp but first I watch the mule deer stiil standing there. I glass him and watch his O ring open up and drop maybe 50 pellets on the ground. Nice. He seems pretty relaxed. I shoulder up my logs and hike back to camp.
The family is not back so I grab my phone and hustle back to the mule deer and walk right up to him lying in the shade in the same spot as before. I take a bunch of pictures and make some racket to get him to stand, take more pics and then he bounds slowly away as I take a few more pics. What a thrill.
The second blog moment was with me and the kids sitting around our fire. We were giving ourselves Indian names. I called Ethan, Chief Ethan Feather. I called Sum, Summer Talks Alot but she didn't like it even though it fits perfectly. Then Ethan asks what my name is and I say Chief Daddy Dog but we didn't like it so I say Chief Harry Bear or Hair Bear as Mrs. Culley used to call me, but... Summer says Chief Harry Bear is a terrible name... and she thinks and then says, You are Chief Harry Cock!!!
I had to stand up and walk to the RV where Kris was resting and tell her right away and get my laughing out. The kids had no idea what Summer had said, thank the Lord. So we agreed on Chief Hair Bear and left it at that.
We rolled into JHW about noon today and excitedly went straight to The Missing Sock, aka... the laundry. The girls went in to do women's work (wink) and E and I played Uno, or as Summer yells when she has one card left, You-no!
We RV camped 30 miles from here at Rim Station right on the edge of the Bridget-Teton National Park. Sum and E quickly befriended the local little tyke, Andrew. His young grandparents run the RV stop and he runs around and helps while tbey work. Grandpa George showed is a trail to hike but we did not go far enough to find it. Later our RV neighbor drove me to the right trailhead and brought me back to camp. The last thing he asked me before I got out of his Louisianna truck was, Do you have a pistol? I told him I have a 22 Mag revolver and he paused and said that might scare any predator away but if we walked up on a momma bear with cubs, she would kill us!
So we go on the hike b/c the weather is fantastic, cool, breezy, sunny... everything is tender and green growing from the rocky soil. We find huge deer pellets also identified as elk poop but we see no other animals aside flittering birds. We reach the trails short destination, a small bench with a terrific view of a line of the Rockies to the west. We sit and look and breathe in the fresh evergreen mountain air and take some photos and hike back.
As it is getting dark Kris makes a pasta dinner in the RV while E and I look out over the lush fields behind the camp, looking for wildlife. We see two mule deer lope out of some trees and browse around before melting back into the trees again. We eat supper and then Lris turns on the water heater to take a RV shower. It takes a while for the water to heat up and when she yelps we know the water has gone cold on her. Long showers in RVs dont happen here.
It was the coldest night yet and Summer and I slept back to back to keep warm. Lris brought flannel sheets and fleecy blankets but only one heavy quilt, which she and E use. It may have been colder that S. Jacobs basement which could almost double for a meat locker, but that was one of the reasons for this trip, mountains and COOL weather.
We are hanging around Jackson Hole for the six o'clock shoot out they put on for the tourons and then we will find a place to camp.
An interesting note - somewhere in this town is my old maroon 1990 VW Vanagon that made the 7 week journey from Charleston SC all the way down to the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, Mexico and back up the mainland Mexican coast to Arizona and then back to Charleston in the spring of 1999. That was a long surf trip with 30 days spent in Mexico.
I sold the van to the man I worked for renting out kayaks and sailing rides during the summer on Folly Beach, SC.
But here in JHW or J-Hole as I'm told, there is no surf... or skiing in July. Our clothes are drying still. I've seen car tags from all over and I figure this is a stopping place before or after Yellowstone. I suppose we will wade into Yellowstone too since we are so close... not sure when but most likely just the southern areas of the mammoth park. That is as far north or west as we will go and we are just over half way thru our trip.
pic 1 - driving north thru western Wyoming.
pic 2 - ethan photobombing Summer.
pic 3 - playing Uno with the kids. Summer won everytime.
pic 4 - Ethan hiding in the grass at the campsite.
pic 5 - how we hook up at RV camps. notice the long ribbed tube. that is the yuck tube.
The above pic is a chain of gas stations. in the Rockies area. Its name is ironic since the ratio of men to women in Colorado cities averages to be 8 to 1. Is that ironic? I used one of these as a scene setting in my 2002 homemade comedy movie Family Dies. I played all parts with cheap wigs except for Jeff Davis and Jaime Pittman. I shot the thing while driving from California to Mississippi to Colorado to California to Las Vegas and back to California. Ask me sometime at home and I might embarassingly show it on my computer.
We drove to Steamboat yesterday evening and ate at a cook-it-yourself steak house. Kris and I split a buffalo steak and it was good though it tasted like a prime but lean ribeye beef. There is nothing like the flavor of a beef ribeye with fat though I hear bear steaks are the best. They had no bear steaks.
We could not find the Walmart so we drove another 40 miles to the isolated town of Craig and Walmart camped there. When we are between destinations we like the free Walmart RV camping. At midnight, after reading in my biography of Earnest Hemingway, I sat on the side door steps in the cool midnight air, ate a clear Solo cup of cereal and watched the ebb and flow of Craig Colorado nightlife... not as exciting as us nearly hitting a mule deer buck between towns last night.
We are already in Wyoming in high desert-like environs, making our way to Jackson Hole and the Tetons. We may even hop up to Yellowstone for a drive-thru for some bear burgers and fries!