Utah Lake SP
5/8/2011 Moving Sunday, again. I shorted the dog a bit on his morning walk, but he still got a couple of short ones in. Buddy was obviously wanting to say good-by to his newly adapted god parents and they saw him looking into their RV, tail wagging, toy in mouth, and came out to say good-by. We all stood around chatting in the yard for quite awhile. I’m sure they thought they were holding us up, but we’re not really that concerned with getting an early start to our travels, this, or most, mornings. I really enjoyed being next to these folks for a week and will miss them. I don’t even remember what their names were, but I’ll always remember them.
After digesting the weather news, and getting a little local advice, our plan was to take UT 89 north all the way to Nefi, UT, about 200 miles. Supposedly I-15 had a nasty mountain pass that was best avoided and UT 89 followed the old wagon trail along the valley so it was the preferred route. We had driven 89 several times going to Brice Canyon so we were familiar with the first 40 or so miles. Past the Brice exit the scenery along 89 turned spectacular. We were on a well-maintained two-lane road right beside a raging mountain river, angry with spring thaw. The valley was very narrow with steep colorful mountain cliffs on either side. As we ventured farther down the valleys, it seemed on several occasions that we’d have to hit a dead end, only to squeeze through a tight pass to another beautiful valley. About half way to Nefi Donna started daydreaming about fast food for lunch, and I was only too willing to jump on the interstate to lessen my chance of getting caught on some unforeseen mountain trek. About half way to Nefi we had a chance to get on I-40, head 20 miles west, then get on I-15 and head north again. We figured at this point we’d be past the mountain pass we were supposed to avoid, and we were almost right. As soon as we got on I-40 it started a steep climb towards some snowy mountain peaks. Then the first bands of the storm system started to move through with the threat of snow in the passes we’d been warned about. I’m thinking we should have stuck with UT 89. Donna divided her time between reading a magazine and napping. I guess she figured I was worrying enough for both of us. We did, miraculously, make it through yet another treacherous mountain pass, but Donna never did get her fast food lunch.
Once we hit I-15, progress is going so well we decide to push on a few more miles, if possible. Donna gets on her trusty mobile device and scouts out a state park just outside of Provo, UT, allowing us to put in another 60 miles. Just about 15 miles from Provo the weather turns decidedly nasty. Low clouds begin to obscure the mountains. Then the rain starts coming down. Like clockwork, the road construction begins. But, like all the other times, we make it to our exit, and on to the state park. It appears to be a wonderful spot to wait out the weather. It’s secluded, waterfront, almost completely deserted, and relatively cheap ($20 per night).
I take an evening dog walk during a lull in the rain. It’s still a light rain, but walk able. The campground is set on the edge of the 96,900 acre Utah Lake, just to the west of Provo, UT, and only about four mile off the interstate. The shoreline next to the campground is covered with some kind of marsh plant resembling wheat to a depth of a couple hundred yards. This marsh area attracts an enormous amount of bird life. The highlight of the stay was the non-stop chorus of bird calls coming from this marsh. Up until this point nothing has come close to the desert around Big Bend National Park for birds but this place seems to be up to the challenge. .
Only one section of the park is open to RVs, with two loops of 30 spots each. I counted four RVs in our section, with two of those being gone at first light. The rain was starting to come down pretty hard and there was a cold gusty wind blowing, but we couldn’t have been much more comfortable in our little rig. I was ready for a good night’s sleep.
5/9/11 I start my day as usual, with an early morning walk with the dog. The low clouds obscure the beautiful snow covered mountain peaks that surround the park. It’s record cold for this time of year, 39, with gusty wind and steady rain. Buddy usually doesn’t like walking in the rain, but he seems quite eager to explore this new location. From the marsh behind the RV a cacophony of diverse bird calls flowed. The lake was full to the brim with debris piled along the shoreline from winter storms but the flocks of ducks and geese didn’t seem to mind.
We spent the rest of the day running around town getting some much needed supplies. We’ve spent the bulk of our trip in such remote locations a Wal-Mart was a consumerist wonderland. The Provo area, just south of Salt Lake City, is a shopping Mecca like we haven’t seen in months. Actually, I haven’t seen such a concentrated mass of shopping and restaurants in many years, ever that I can recall. When in the retail district in Provo, the malls and strip centers seem to go on for blocks and blocks in every direction. No matter where one turns, you just seem to get deeper into mall-o-mania. We managed to resupply my cache of somewhat difficult to find dog food, resupply our personal cupboards, and made the mistake of venturing into Cabella’s to update our travel/camping wardrobe. Oh well, I’ll worry about money again when we get back.
5/10/11. And on this day, we did nothing, for the most part. I really didn’t need to go anywhere as I was enjoying the weather, the mountains that were occasionally visible, the birds, and our cozy little cabin on wheels, right in the campground. The park has a small marina protected by a very long breakwater built of boulders. There is a long gravel road to the end apparently used by locals for fishing and building campfires. Due to the weather Buddy and I pretty much had the place to ourselves and we enjoyed several memorable walks to the end of the jetty.
5/11/11. The weather system was dissipating enough that it was time to hit the road. We took one last walk to the end of the deserted jetty to watch the sun rise. Several people had told us that Salt Lake City was about as bad an RV commute as one was likely to encounter and it might be better to detour around it if at all possible. Our plan was to just deal with making it though, no matter how difficult. We hit the road right at 9:00 AM expecting to hit the SLC area right at 10:00 AM. By 11:00 AM we were through the city and it was not bad at all. Soon were in the rolling hills north of town heading for Yellowstone. Our planned layover was a truck stop at the Dubois, ID exit.
After doing our 300+ miles, we pull into the truck stop to settle in for our free stay parked out back with mostly truckers in a large graveled clearing. After setting up I set out for my walk and to explore the town. Dubois, ID is one sad sight. From appearances, it’s about as poor and run down as any city we’ve been through. Although I’m dying to cruise through town and check it out, it’s getting late, so I head back. We almost never eat out, or get take out, but this night we treated ourselves to a pizza from the truck stop, along with a few groceries. The least we can do at a free stopover is to spend a few bucks in the store, if they have anything we want, and top off the diesel. Truck stop pizza in the middle of nowhere is a lousy gamble, but it was pretty good pizza.
5/12/11. This marks our two month anniversary of this trip. I’m in no rush to leave the truck stop, preferring to enjoy a slow morning before hitting the road. I want to explore the town a bit but Buddy is in no particular mood. After a bit of play in the dilapidated, but very clean, town park, he’s content to just lay around watching life. Donna is in the mood to hit the road but I ignore it and do some serious net surfing. The place is free, we’ve got good TV reception, internet, and phone, what’s the rush?
Finally, Buddy is ready for a decent walk downtown. I get to explore what I’ve only been able to observe from a distance, the old downtown of Dubois, ID. Most every occupied building in the downtown area is held together with bailing wire and duct tape. The other buildings, including almost every commercial building, are boarded up. At the far end of town is another park, this one with a swift river flowing through it. It is just as worn out as the other town park, and just as spotless. For the most part, the only occupied commercial buildings in town were government. There was a tiny library that was in very sad shape. The forest service headquarters stood out for their well-maintained appearance amidst the decay. A county court house with an attached sheriff’s department and ambulance, and few other government buildings were apparently occupied. A bank, a Mexican restaurant, some generic type of café, and our truck stop rounded out the commercial district of Dubois. Everyone in town must shop for groceries and fast food at the truck stop, as everything else in town was closed.
I spent an hour or so sitting on park benches on the main street, observing Dubois life while Buddy rested. The main drag was maybe eight blocks with no stoplights or stop signs. Rarely was there more than one car at a time on the street. Virtually every man that drove by took the time to wave to me.
In spite of my foot dragging, we were on the road by 10:15 AM. All of our trucker neighbors had long since departed. We were sticking to the Interstates, despite the shorter routes suggested by mapquest and the GPS. North on I-15 to Butte, then east on I-90 to Bozeman to resupply, then a little more east on I-90 to Livingston, then South on 89 to the park.
Mapquest showed we were going to pass through some mountains just east of Butte, but we weren’t sure just how the going would be. Our only hope was that the Interstate system would keep the ascents and descents manageable for the tuckers, hence us. The long mountain pass was brutal in that it wasn’t broken up into several ascents, but one long, seemingly never ending, steep climb. Getting down is always a bit more challenging. We were faced with a 6 mile 6 ½% grade descent. The posted speed limit for anything over 12,000# GVW (we’re at about 21,500#) was 25 mph. Personally, I was thrilled with the restricted speed limit, as I’d just as soon creep down safely. We made the descent at a typical speed of 30 to 35 mph, with most other trucks passing us at probably 50. This was the first time I’d seen a reasonable speed posted for trucks descending mountains.
At Bozeman, we were scheduled to get Donna’s prescriptions filled, re-grocery, re-booze, re-fuel, and head on to Livingston for our trip into the Yellowstone Canyon. We exited into Bozeman to find it mobbed in peak season. We got off at the wrong end of town and had to drive through downtown Bozeman to get to a CVS to fill Donna’s prescriptions. In the middle of the nuttiest jammed up tourist traffic anyone in their right mind would subject themselves to while driving an RV, the brakes on the fifth wheel start acting up. When we tried to brake, the trailer would come to a shaking, jerking stop. We had to nurse the rig another 20 blocks before we could find a spot to pull over, conveniently located right at the CVS. While Donna was picking up her scripts, I fretted about the brakes and started inquiring about repair facilities. We headed out looking for a large, empty parking lot to do a little field-testing of the brake situation and the problem seemed to have vanished. I’m guessing the brakes are just waiting for a more opportune time to act up again.
So we finish up doing errands in a mobbed tourist city with an oversized truck and trailer. I make note of the fact that we’re the only ones dumb enough to venture into the mayhem of peak season Bozeman with an RV, in spite of the fact that there are literally 10,000 rigs on the outskirts of the fray. At this point I’m more than willing to overpay for an evening at an RV park but Donna keeps whipping me on towards the Yellowstone entrance and it’s nearby forest service campground.
One item we forgot to take care of in Bozeman was filling our water tanks so, in Livingston we had to find water before continuing on to our hoped for campsite. A little more pulling through parking lots, making u-turns, venturing down dead end streets, and finally, eureka, a kindly mobile home park operator allowed us to pull into a site and refill our water tanks. Every commercial campground we pass looks inviting to me, but Donna whips me on towards the forest service campground.
From Livingston to the north entrance of Yellowstone is about 89 miles. We had just enough time to get to the forest service camp with maybe ½ hour to spare. I was expecting another two-mile long single lane dirt road leading to a campground with no room available. About a half an hour before sunset, miraculously, the forest service campground did appear. Canyon Campground is just off of 89, fifteen miles north of Gardiner, MT. We pull in and park the truck right at the entrance to walk the park and pick a spot. There are two loops, one to the right, one to the left, and both are completely empty. It’s a good thing it’s empty as only a couple of sites will fit our rig. We end up opting for last site on the left side, right at the turnaround.
After several attempts at getting the RV somewhat level in the designated spot, it became apparent nothing was going to work. As it was right at dark, and we were the only ones in the park, I opted to set up in the roadway in front of our spot. The only problem with this was this was the turn around for anyone on our side of the park, but as we were the only one’s here, and it was getting dark, I figured it wouldn’t be a problem. Even with parking on the road, it took every leveling block we had to get the rig leveled enough to use.
After finishing setting up, Donna started dinner and I strolled back to the entrance to pay at the honor booth. Just as I was depositing the outrageous $3.50 fee for the night, another truck and trailer pull in. The truck, trailer and the driver are very long in the tooth. I explain to the guy our situation, telling him we’ve got the turn around on our end of the park blocked, but the other end of the park is completely empty. I tell him I know I’m in the wrong and will move if necessary, but if he will pick just about any spot in the campground except right at the end of our loop, there will be no problem. Of course the guy drives right down to the end of our loop, right up to our RV, then can’t turn around.
I guess we’re all different. I would have, upon hearing of the situation, been more than happy to go to the other end of the campground in order not to cause any problems, and to be completely secluded. Not causing any problems didn’t seem to cross this guy’s mind. And he seemed intent on setting up right beside us in an otherwise completely empty park. So, with much effort, we got him backed into the site, right next to us. Then he wanted to come over and talk. He was a pretty nice guy, but I’ve never been happier to see a nasty swarm of large mosquitoes arrive.
The campground sits right at the base of a steep granite cliff with a base of large boulders. The Yellowstone River runs just across 89. In our morning walk Buddy and I explore the bolder rubble field. I’m expecting grizzly bears to come strolling out from behind every bolder. I keep up a pretty steady and loud chatter with Buddy as we walk. I also decide buying a can of bear spray might make sense.
As we’re getting ready to leave our neighbor stops by for a morning chat. Actually, he stopped by to tell me his life’s story. For a while I just listened in amazement at a guy who could continue telling an endless story. After about 20 minutes I my fascination turned into trying to figure out how to politely end this saga. I finally abandoned my plans on being polite and just cut him off. It was now fairly clear why the guy insisted on parking right next to us, rather than what I thought was a much better option.
So on Friday the 13th we began pulling out of the remote and somewhat decrepit forest service campground heading to Mammoth Springs Campground in Yellowstone that may, or may not, have a spot for us. If they were full, we’d have to go back into town and pick up a commercial spot for the night. From the park entrance to the campground is five miles of fairly steep, narrow, winding, mountain roads. By now we’ve become accustomed to these roads, but I was really, really happy when we rounded one last bend and spotted RVs in the trees.We’d called the park several times to check availability and they’d been filling up by very early afternoon. We arrived at about 11:00 AM to find plenty of room available. We just happened to be the first RV to pull in after the best spot in the place was vacated. Our new home was the very last spot, at the top of the hill, overlooking the rest of the park, and far away from the street noise. We quickly settled into our new $7 per night digs in Yellowstone.