Sunday, August 29, 2021

A Few Quickies Getting to Utah

 August 26-29, 2021
Pocatello, Idaho - Cokeville, Rock Springs, Wyoming

Our departure day from Henry's Lake SP starts with a wonderful surprise! After looking for Moose in our travels over the last week, a large cow is wandering the field below our campsite :-) By the time I get outside she's got her head down eating, but it's such a treat to see her that close. 

Maggie shared her great shot of the cow across the pond from their site.

We're all out to see her.

I also forgot to include that on our way to Ennis for dinner Bill saw a black bear up on the mountain. We turned around and all of us got to see him on the way into the bushes. So cool!

150 smoky miles take us to Cowboy RV Park in Pocatello for a one night stop. One of three we'll do to reposition further south. It's a busy stop getting the Jeep a much needed bath, and a stock-up grocery run at a nice size Albertson's. Our next surprise is finding my favorite Dutch pancake (they call it German here) at Elmer's nearby - so yummy with lemon and butter.

So much yum!

Jim and Maggie are also staying here a couple days so we plan for a final dinner out. We get the best surprise when we're joined by another high school friend (Jimmy found out she was here and invited her to join us)!! Kathy is a new solo full-timer who's back in her home area to participate in a body building competition - wow! Delicious Italian at Cafe Tuscany, with more fun conversation wraps up this quick stop. 

Kathy, Jim, Maggie, Jodee and Bill

Friday morning we head south on Hwy 30 over a couple 6200 foot passes, through acres of wheat and other crops, and unfortunately under smoky haze all the way into Wyoming. Our stop is in tiny Cokeville at the Hideaway Motel right on the highway. Three 50 AMP FHU level dirt sites are in the back of the property next to a nice grass park. 

A volleyball tournament nearby brings a busload of high school girls to join us. They're good neighbors.

Across the road is the Golden Buckle Grill, a surprisingly upgraded eatery where we enjoy Navajo Tacos. The rest of our short stay we chill indoors.

Rare for us, we make a stop on our travel day. Fossil Butte National Monument is a treat for fossil/geology geeks like us. Four RV parking spaces in the small parking lot give us access to the nice visitors' center. Well done videos and a huge collection of fossils collected in the monument.

This timeline railing shows how insignificant our time on earth has been!

Can't wrap my head around these numbers.

A small and beautiful video room.

Many of the fossils are pieces of art.

We've seen many fossils around the country, but I don't remember any like this. They have a large display of predatory interaction.

Displays include the very small

to the very large!

Fossil Butte

Fossil Lake

There is also a five mile drive to the top of the butte, but we opt not to unhook the Jeep to check it out this time. If you're in the area, this is a wonderful stop just 3 miles off the highway.

Like many places in the last six weeks, we wake on departure day to blue skies, and find ourselves in the smoke by the time we get to our next stop. This is not the prettiest part of Wyoming, and for most of our Saturday drive the skies and landscape are the same color. Unfortunately the drive includes miles of road construction. Despite the posted reduced speed limit, most big rigs are doing the maximum of 70, kicking up the loose gravel in every direction. Before we get to the end of it we have THREE chips in our (6 months old) windshield! I am not happy.

We arrive at the Rock Springs Walmart and find the last spot along the back of the parking lot. This is a busy, chaotic place. I saw a sushi restaurant sign on the highway, and am confidant this will improve my cranky mood.

A couple yummy sushi rolls at Saporo, and a nice nap, and I'm back to my usual sweet self. We run the genny and the AC for a couple hours, read, people watch, play games, and with the large slide out we get a decent night's sleep.

Every place we've left behind since mid-July gets clear skies after we leave. And the places ahead of us that are clear get smoky as we arrive. Hard not to take it personal! Checking the air quality map Sunday morning I find the trend continues. 

With an earlier-than-usual start of 8:30, we take our time along Hwy 191 through part of Flaming Gorge into Vernal, Utah. Until we drop into the valley, we're blessed with blue skies over the beautiful gorge. It's a nice drive with a few 9% grades - including ten 20 mph switchbacks coming down to Flaming Gorge Lake. 

Little Osprey Island in Flaming Gorge Lake.

The first dam I've driven the motorhome over.

Vernal is a repeat stop with so much to see. Being able to see it is the challenge this time. Arriving at Fossil Valley RV Park is like being welcomed home. The owner's son (can't believe I forgot his name) is delightful and makes us feel like we're his favorite guests! He takes us to a spot he's sure will accommodate our satellite, with lots of beautiful shade trees. Level gravel with a strip of grass, 50 AMP FHU's and zero view :-) - we love it here!

Feels good to slow down again.......

Ten months old and taking a few steps, Elliott is growing up way tooooo fast!


Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Joy of Dear Friends in Beautiful Places

 August 23-26, 2021
Island Park, Idaho

Monday morning we wake once again to smoky skies. No!!! Our friends Jim and Maggie are arriving and I was so looking forward to sharing the natural beauty of this place :-( Maybe it will clear before we all leave in a few days.

Jim and Maggie are our only "combined" friends. We went to high school with Jim, and welcomed Maggie to the family many years ago. Plus they travel part time in their 5er, we follow each other's adventures, and have met up on the road. So while we have lots of both high school and traveling friends, these are the only who combine the two! I still don't understand why more of our retired friends don't travel, but it's not for everyone I guess. 

Lots of hugs upon their arrival then soon it's time to get caught up with dinner at our place. Realizing we haven't seen each other since Super Bowl at our Arizona house in February 2020 is unbelievable! The guys play Cribbage of course. Maggie and I talk until well after dark, solving most of the world's problems. 

Next morning the smoke seems lighter, and we're soon off to see Mesa Falls. It's fun to share these beautiful places with our dear friends. 

Upper Mesa Falls

I love getting to see the very edge of the falls.

Bright orange lichen glows from across the canyon.

Lower Mesa Falls.

Love the power of these beautiful falls.

Back home for a nap and then Maggie brings homemade enchiladas (I prefer her "itchyladas" name!) for our dinner. More cribbage and conversation - how we've missed these two :-)

Wednesday we're all in the Jeep and off to show them our newest discovery of Red Rock Mountain and Centennial Valley. In addition to the routes we explored earlier in the week, we see more of the wildlife refuge, Elk Lake, and a glimpse of Lower Lake. 

We all keep our eyes open for moose, but none show themselves. A very exciting sighting is a large, very beautiful, Badger! Maggie and Bill see dirt flying in the air, and I back up to see what it is. Jim is sure it's a Badger and gets out, cautiously getting a little closer to confirm. He moves much quicker back to the Jeep when the animal backs out of the hole to prove him correct! No pics, happened too quickly, but a great sighting. Swan and Magpies, and a large Antelope herd round out our wildlife for the day.

Jim and Maggie

Although there is a "swan pond" at the state park, this family of three on Elk Lake are the first Swans we see.

Duck photo-bomber!

Little Lizzie waits for us to catch up.

Then she stalks the unsuspecting explorers.....

Elk Lake

Taylor Mountain

Widgeon Pond

A new 8000 acre fire nearby has been contained, but the valley is getting more smoke again. Lower Red Rocks Lake is filled with what look like man-made islands (I can't find what they are).

One of dozens of antelope in the distance.

Back home for a short break then we pile into their truck and return to Ennis! A couple other high school friends who live in Sheridan, Montana, are meeting us for dinner. A thunder storm greets us when we arrive, including lightening and hail - woohoo! Tavern 287 serves up more great meals and our visit with Jack and Sheila (siblings who moved from our hometown in 1970) is more fun catching up. 

In a little town filled with burgers and steak, it's wonderful to find fresh beet salad and pheasant rangoon!

It went way too fast, and we didn't get the bright blue skies we were hoping for, but our time with good friends was really wonderful. This time there won't be a long wait to see them again - we'll all be at the high school reunion in October.

Monday, August 23, 2021

We're Finally Seeing that Big Sky!

 August 19 - 22, 2021
Island Park, Idaho

Although we're surrounded by rain clouds for all of our 55 mile drive south, I never need the windshield wipers all the way from Ennis, Montana to Island Park, Idaho. Probably could have used a good downpour just to clean off all the bugs :-)

Henry's Lake State Park is one of several wonderful places recommended by good friends Steven and Linda (The Chouters), and this is our second time here. What a blessing to have days of drenching rain for the first couple days!

We have 50 AMP FHUs to go with our expansive lake views, but when hooking up I note a fault that won't clear no matter what I do from the inside. Bill switches us to 30 AMP which works fine. Maintenance checks it out and finds nothing wrong on the pedestal. When Bill tries 50 it's again a no-go, then the same when he plugs the 30 back in. Uh, oh! Quickly he finds the surge protector is full of water. Removing it gets us 50 and a sigh of relief. We'll pick up a new surge protector at our next stop. Whew......

Overnight rain gives us cloudy, not smoky, skies on Friday morning. I find a route for the south side of the lake, and from there Bill suggests we take Red Rock Mountain Pass. Turns out to be a brilliant idea!! 

It's also grandson Maximus' birthday - our sweet, gentle, second oldest grandchild. Time goes too fast!! Son Jeff's was earlier in the week, and we still have one more before August is over :-)

Happy Birthday precious boy!

This drive makes us feel like we're finally seeing what we were looking forward to for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Unfettered views, healthy forest of Aspen and Pine, huge cattle ranches, a pretty lake inside a nature refuge, and of course those big skies overhead. 

The clouds open up and quickly the road is all slick mud and puddles. So fun :-)

Where the road goes over the pass, we're among the pretty Aspens.

Like often happens in this area, we find ourselves in another state during our day trip.

Lunch with a view. Mom doesn't look impressed with our invasion.

Giving Tessa some competition in the cute department.

Over the pass the views of the Centennial Valley open up forever.

Fluffy dog loves having the whole world to explore - it's so big out here!

Lots of room for zoomies. Too fast to catch most of them!

One of five pretty (and massive) gates along many miles bordering the multi-generation Grayling Centennial Ranch. It shares the 450,000 acre valley with a nature preserve, BLM land and three other large ranches. 

Upper Red Rock Lake, part of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Must be 200 ducks visible from the little tent campground.

One of a few old homesteads in the valley.

Pretty views from the old corrals.

I love these pockets of hardwoods and evergreens along the lower hills.

The Red Rock that gives the road and lake their name.

See? Fun!!

I can't recommend this incredible drive enough - and it goes even further than we went if you get started sooner! We hope to take our friends out here when they arrive next week.

While I wouldn't normally make a trip to Yellowstone on a Saturday in August, with more rain and it being one of two days we have to go, we head for the park in the late morning. A stop for a mediocre brunch in West Yellowstone (like every meal we've had in this somewhat dumpy tourist zoo), and we arrive in the park about noon. A surprising wide open entrance is the pre-cursor for what turns out to be the least crowded visit we've had here. 

Although it's a mid-day start, we still do the full Grand Loop drive. There are a lot of miles through forest, which get old, but the loop takes us to many of the very best sights. 
The drive along the Madison River is a lovely west entrance to what is a lot of people's favorite national park.

Firehole Falls

Firehole Lake Drive is a great alternative to the always packed (today as well) boardwalk through Geyser Valley.

A lot of geyser activity today, fun to see this one shooting high in the air.

One of many along the trail spewing after a few bubbles. 

Muted rainy colors.

Our only Bison sighting. Like so many places we've been this summer, they're short-staffed today!

Upper Falls 

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is still the most surprising place in the park for me. The colors, although muted here, are stunning.

As much as I try to ignore the smell of fire, I have to admit that some of the "haze" is smoke and not mist from the rain.

The Yellowstone River cuts through these beautiful canyon walls, dotted with hot springs and steam vents. 

Our first and only wildlife traffic jam comes on our way out of the park.

At first we think it's the small herd of Elk cows beside a bridge.

But another 1/2 mile we find several vehicles pulled over along the river with binoculars and large camera lenses aimed at the mountainside. We find a spot to stop and get some help from those who have "found" where the animal is - two thirds up, to the red trunk, just to the right, see that black dot? Takes me a while to find him with the camera. At full zoom I finally find the black bear taking a nap.

This is our fifth trip to the park (we're so blessed), and definitely the least number of critters we've seen, but even with that and the limited visibility, it's a great day. The massive size of this park, with all of the diversity of flora and fauna and geography, means we will always come back when we have the opportunity. Having so little crowds (we didn't do Old Faithful or Canyon Village) made it even better! We woke up in Idaho, ate in Montana, and played in Wyoming - love this area :-))

Sunday morning I'm relieved to see blue skies behind the clouds. We had more rain and wind overnight and our air quality isn't bad. Laundry, house cleaning, cooking, and football get done. We're excited that Monday our dear friends will be joining us for the rest of our time here!