This is a day by day diary of our 1996 motorhome trip to the Grand Tetons,
Yellowstone Park, Mount Rushmore, and various parts of South Dakota, Wyoming,
Colorado, and Utah. We arranged to meet the Scholls on the third
day and continue traveling with them until a couple of days before reaching
Saturday, June 1
We left Escondido at about 9:00 AM and headed to Las Vegas. Arriving
at Vegas around 3:30, we settled into the same RV park in northern Vegas
as we used for our Death Valley trip several months ago. Not feeling
like typical Vegas food, we started looking for a nice coffee shop.
We ended up in Boulder City at a small 50’s cafe. We never did go
into any of the casinos or other typical Vegas locations.
Sunday, June 2
We left LV at around 5:40 AM and headed for Cedar City. With
our early start and only about 200 miles, we were there by about 10:00
AM! (The clock changed an hour on this drive.) We decided to
visit Cedar Breaks National Monument, then continue on to Fillmore, UT
to get about 100 miles closer for our next day. As we passed the
merge from I-70 we commented that Keith and Virg would be coming (or probably
already had come) from that way. We saw a motorhome ahead towing
a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Betty facetiously quipped “There they
are”. It really was the Scholls!!!! What are the chances that
they could start out from Page, AZ that morning, and that we could start
from Las Vegas, visit Cedar Breaks, and then head north, both with totally
arbitrary schedules, and that we would meet on I-15 enroute?
We then both proceeded on to Fillmore, UT where we spent the night
in a beautiful RV park.
Monday, June 3
We left Fillmore and headed for our new destination of Pocatello, ID.
This is about 100 miles past Brigham City where we originally planned to
meet the Scholls. Betty and I wanted to visit the Golden Spike National
Historical Site, about 30 miles out of Brigham City, so we left the Scholls
there, where they continued on to a pre-designated RV park in Pocatello
and we visited Golden Spike. After an enjoyable side trip, we continued
on to Pocatello. When we finally got to the park, there was Keith
sitting in his car waiting for us. The campground directory was in
error, the fairground where we were going was not really open. It
was only open for special events, but was miss-published in the guide.
Keith then led us across town to the Cowboy RV park, which is very nice.
Tuesday, June 4
We broke camp and were on the road by about 8:15. The CB radios
work really well to stay in contact while traveling. We headed north
into Wyoming, through Jackson, WY and on to Coulter Bay Campground in Grand
Teton National Park. We got fore and aft adjacent spaces with a spectacular
view of one of the snow covered peaks, beautifully framed by pine trees.
This is really a nice site!
Wednesday, June 5
Still in Grand Tetons, we slept late and spent the day touring the
valley. Went to Jackson Lake. The water coming from the dam
spillways was spectacular. The Tetons, of course were still breathtaking.
After Jackson Lake, we proceeded south to Signal Mountain, and drove to
the top. The view there was unbelievable - a 270 degree panorama.
Proceeding south, we explored the Jenny Lake campground and surrounding
areas. From there we went to the Chapel of the Transfiguration.
This is a small Chapel with a picture window behind the alter which beautifully
frames one of the Teton peaks.
Thursday, June 6
This morning we broke camp and headed to Yellowstone. Upon entering
the park the snow was banked along the sides of the road 4 to 6 feet.
We were beginning to think we had made a major goof in our planning!
We had been going to stop at Tower Falls campground on the eastern side
of the upper loop. (The roads through Yellowstone form a large figure
eight.) At the entrance gate to the park, we were told that that
road was closed by snow. We decided to go to Mammoth Campground which
is at the northern most point of the park. Much of the road into
the area was terrible! Major potholes and poor earlier repairs.
Fortunately we ran out of snow fairly quickly, and the majority of the
park was clear and dry. When we finally arrived, we found two adjacent
spots. Ours was well shaded by a couple of pine trees, and Scholl’s
was on the side of a large grass covered hillside which was great for their
dogs. Since the road in was so bad, we modified our itinerary to
exit the park to the north and go through Montana on our way out.
Doing this, we will be totally skipping our planned stop at Cody.
Friday, June 7
Today we took the “grand tour”. We headed down the western side
of the figure eight towards Old Faithful. We made numerous stops
at various geysers and other attractions. One of the more interesting
was the Mud Paint Pots, blurping up bubbles through the thick liquid.
When we arrived at Old Faithful, we saw lots of people on the benches around
it, so figured it must be almost time. We quickly parked and went
over to a shady area, and in several minutes it erupted. We then
decided to hike to Morning Glory Pond, some 1.5 miles from where we were.
When we were about .3 miles from it, a ranger with a small group of people
came by and indicated that Daisy Geyser was due to erupt in about 7 minutes.
We backtracked about .1 miles and went out to the geyser. We sat
on a bench about 50 feet from it and watched a beautiful display when it
finally went off.
On our way back to the campground we saw the Upper and the Lower Falls,
Artist’s Point, and the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”.
When we got to Canyon, the place the road had been closed yesterday, it
was now open, so we took it. We went through some more deep snow
areas, and saw some pretty sights. We went into Tower Falls campground,
where we had originally planned to stop. There were only about 35
spots, and it would have been really hard to put our rig into any of them.
Glad we went to Mammoth!.
It was a long (11 hours) and tiring day, but very enjoyable.
Saturday, June 8
This was a relaxing day. We saw the terraces just south of camp,
and went into Gardener, MT about 5 miles north. We did some grocery
shopping and returned back to camp.
Sunday, June 9
We left Yellowstone this morning and headed for Buffalo, WY, one of
our longer drives at about 335 miles. Our route took us north into
Montana to I-90 and east through Billings and back into Wyoming.
We camped at a place called Indian Campground, where they emphasized the
shady spots and the many trees. It was very nice. We unhooked
and drove through town. We stopped at a small cafe and had dinner.
On our way back we checked out a car wash place that had advertised in
the campground paper. It was right across the street from the campground.
We took the motorhome over there and for $6.00 of quarters gave it a pretty
good bath. It needed it! We returned to the campground, and
while I finished cleaning the windows, etc. and talking to the neighbors,
I was almost eaten alive by the mosquitoes! I really shouldn’t wear
shorts at dusk!
Monday, June 10
Today we had only about a 115 mile drive to Keyhole State Park, WY.
We found a couple of tree shaded spots and parked. This is the first
place this trip where we had to unhook prior to parking. We are in
the pine trees just above a good size reservoir lake. We drove over about
10 miles of gravel road, and then another 11 of paved to get to Devil’s
Tower Natl. Monument. The tower is a unique upthrust of rock, about
865 feet high with a crystalline structure showing as a series of vertical
striations all around the circumference. We also stopped a short
distance away at Prairie Dog Town. This was a large area of the fields
where hundreds of prairie dogs live. They were all over, standing
in their holes, squeaking loudly, and scurrying around busily. We
then explored the city of Sundance, WY and returned to camp for a relaxing
Tuesday, June 11
We broke camp and were on the road to Custer, WY by about 8:30 and
arrived at around 11:30 after about 100 miles. We stopped at Big
Pines Campground, about 2 miles west of Custer. We got a really nice,
isolated spot among the Ponderosa Pines. We opted for a spot with
electrical hookup only to get that location. Since we had just dumped
2 nights earlier, this was not a problem.
We drove to Jewel Cave to see what they offered. We found they
had one accessible tour which was an elevator ride to a large cave room
and a talk about the caves. We decided to go the next day as all
today’s tours were over. While looking in the gift shop, a ranger
came over and asked if we would like to do that tour. She went to
check and came back stating that Sandy would be happy to escort us.
When we asked about the tickets (normally $2.00), she said “Oh no, this
will be free.” We went down with the 4:00 tour, but stayed at the
wheelchair platform. The ranger then gave a talk to the group, and
then they continued through the cave and we returned. Sandy answered
all our questions. Upon leaving Jewel Cave, we decided to head off
to Rapid City, about 40 miles from camp. BIG MISTAKE! When
we were about 10 miles from Rapid City, we started getting some rain from
a large thunderstorm we had been watching. Almost immediately, we
started getting pelted with hail at least the size of grapes. It
made a deafening noise inside our poor Nissan. We immediately stopped
at the side of the road, and shortly made a U turn to get out. After
a while, we decided to try again, as the hail may have been short lived.
We again headed into the storm and got hammered by even larger hail.
This time we turned around and kept running. We came back through
Hot Springs, SD, where we stopped at Pizza Hut and had dinner. We
finally arrived back in camp around 9:00 to find out that there had been
a tornado spotted in the Hot Springs area, and that our entire area was
under a severe thunderstorm warning.
Wednesday, June 12
We left camp at about 8:30 and headed to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial.
It was really impressive! After a couple of hours at Rushmore, we
drove through Needle Highway in Custer State Park. This is a beautiful,
park with forests, plains areas, and interesting rock formations.
After relaxing in camp for a while, we then drove the Wildlife Loop.
We saw one of the 1500 or so bison in the park, we saw several Pronghorn
Antelope, many Prairie Dogs, and some wild (?) Burros who wanted to stick
their noses into our car. We again tried to make it into Rapid City,
this time with success.
Thursday, June 13
Keith, Betty and I left camp shortly after 7:30 and headed for Wind
Cave National Park. Keith and I signed up for the first “Natural
Entrance” tour of the day (9:00). Betty stayed in the car after going
through the museum. The tour was great! We started at the natural
entrance, an opening in the ground rock about 14 or 15 inches in diameter.
We had passed a set of revolving doors in a concrete frame a few feet back.
As the ranger showed us the opening in the rock, she said “You did sign
up for the natural entrance tour, not the revolving door tour, didn’t you?”
. I’m not sure anyone in the group could have made it into the cave
through that opening. I asked if that was the only opening, and she
said there were a couple of others, but this was the large one. The
inside the cave was a long narrow passage with side and top passages taking
off everywhere. The ranger described it as like ants crawling through
a sponge. We went down about 300 steps and up about 8 or 10.
Not a bad ratio! At the end of the tour, the elevator took us back
up to the surface. It was a very enjoyable hour and a quarter.
From Wind Cave, we went to Hot Springs where there is a sink hole which
had trapped hundreds of prehistoric animals. There is a large building
over 97% of the site, with digs ranging from just below the surface to
about 40 feet deep. Most of the bones which are found are left in
place to show exactly how the animal was. So far they have found
over 50 Mammoths along with a number of smaller animals. They expect
to find at least another 50 Mammoths by the time the digging is complete.
In the afternoon, we went grocery shopping, and got ready to leave in
Friday, June 14
We got up, dumped, filled with fresh water, cleaned the windshield,
hooked up the Nissan, got away by about 7:40, and headed for the
Fort Laramie area. At about noon, we arrived at the 4W Ranch RV Park.
It is an all grass, electric and water hookup park with no trees at all.
After relaxing for a while, we headed out and saw the Oregon Trail Wagon
Ruts National Historic Site. This is an area of rock which was worn
down about 6 feet by the steel rims on the wagon wheels, leaving a notch
about 5 or 6 feet wide. As the ruts got deep enough to start hitting
the axles, the rock in the center was chipped out for clearance.
At that site, I met a young fellow with a jogging stroller loaded with
his pack and supplies. He had started from Kansas City, MO and had
been hiking the trail for a number of weeks. He started back packing,
but twisted his ankle rather badly early on and had to spend about a week
in a hotel to recuperate. He then started using the cart, and expects
to reach Oregon City, OR around the end of August. Too much ambition
From there we went to Register Cliff, where many of the early travelers
engraved their names in the rock. Unfortunately, many of the later
travelers did likewise, and except for a small area protected by chain
link fence, it is hard to find a date older than the 1980’s and the 1990’s.
From here, we went to Fort Laramie and toured the old barracks and visitor’s
center which had been a provisions house. It was all very interesting.
That evening, after we went to bed the wind started to blow fiercely.
It howled and whistled, and the motorhome rocked and bounced.
Saturday, June 15
The morning was breezy and overcast. We left at about 7:45 toward
Denver. Enroute it started raining. Most of the 200 miles was
in the rain. When we arrived at the park we had selected we were
told it was full. The girl there was very helpful and suggested another
park. She then picked up her cordless phone, dialed the park and
handed me the phone. We drove another 4 or 5 miles to the park.
It was a more expensive park and the motorhomes here attest to that fact.
There are some very nice (and large) ones. We spent the afternoon
in the motorhome waiting out the rain. After it mostly stopped raining,
I went to the laundry and washed enough clothes to finish the trip.
Sunday, June 16
Today we went to the Garden of the Gods, about 60 miles from the park.
There are very interesting rock formations and a couple of nice loop roads.
It was a very impressive place, especially since this is a city park.
After leaving the Garden of the Gods, we headed to the Air Force Academy
in Colorado Springs. It is a beautiful campus, nestled in the hills.
We first went to the visitor center, and then the chapel. At the
chapel, we had a private guide who took us to the Catholic chapel, the
Jewish chapel, and then upstairs to the main chapel, the Protestant one.
All were beautiful, but the Protestant chapel was spectacular. The
aluminum beams rise about 100 feet over you to the peak. There are
stained glass windows inset everywhere. The pews have a spike design
on the ends.
After returning briefly to the motorhome, we went in search of a large
electronics store we saw as we were approaching the area, and then to a
large shopping center and went to the Wal Mart there. Leaving the
store it was like a hurricane! The wind was just whipping everything
and the clouds were very low and black. We hurried to the car and
got everything stowed just before the rain started. We then raced
the thunderstorm back to the park where we again got into the motorhome
just before the rain hit there. It only lasted 15 or 20 minutes and
then the sky cleared again.
Monday, June 17
We got an early start from camp and hit the road. Most of it
was uphill for the first 60 miles or so. Our highest point was going
through the Eisenhower Tunnel at 11,300 feet elevation. The tunnel
was at least 700 feet below the surface level above it. It was a
slow pull, but the motorhome pulled us and the Nissan steadily up and up
and up! It was a pleasure (most of the time) coming down the western
side. We crossed the continental divide while in the tunnel, and
surely enough, the streams and rivers were running the other way.
We got to our campground in Fruita, CO around 2:30 PM, and got a couple
of adjacent sites with our doors facing each other.
Tuesday, June 18
We headed about 2 miles up the road to the Colorado National Monument.
This was a very picturesque 30 mile drive around the rim, overlooking the
valley. We were able to see our campgrounds from the rim. The
scenery was spectacular, many times reminding us of the area around Lake
Powell. The drive through the monument ended in Grand Junction, CO,
a much larger city than we had thought it would be. After several
stops in “the city”, we headed back to camp. The showers at the campground
were very interesting. There was not an excess of water flow, and
once you got the temperature just right, it would periodically go to full
cold almost instantaneously, and then back to your setting. Also
both Keith and Virg had the lights turned off while they were in the shower.
Wednesday, June 19
We left Fruita and headed for Moab, UT, arriving before noon.
We went to a park that advertised “every spot shady”. I mentioned
that the shade was a major factor in choosing their park. They gave
us a couple of spots that they said should please us. They were almost
totally shaded from dawn to dusk. They were great, especially since
the temperature was as high as it was.
After relaxing for a while, we drove a couple of miles out of town to
Arches National Park. There we saw some very interesting rock structures
and arches. There were a couple of places where formations above
the road made driving under downright scary! Large rocks perched
on the base rock appeared to be balanced with no apparent support.
An enjoyable afternoon.
Thursday, June 20
This was the day to tour Canyonlands National Park. The entrance
to the park is about 30 miles from the campground. This park consists
mostly of the canyons formed by the Green and the Colorado rivers.
The two combine within the park boundaries. The canyons were very
much like the Grand Canyon in places. As we drove out the main road,
the Green River canyon on the right, and the Colorado River canyon on the
left kept getting closer together. At Grand View Point, you can see
the two combine, and see the canyon walls at the confluence. A really
magnificent view. Thursday afternoon was spent relaxing for a while,
then driving out to Castle Valley. This road follows the Colorado
River for a number of miles. We saw a kyacker on the way out, and
several rafts full of people on the way back. While we were there,
the wind started to howl and then we were pelted with large rain drops.
After several minutes, the cell passed over and we had sun again.
This happened about 3 times. Back at camp, I hooked up the Nissan,
and prepared for an early departure in the morning. This was a sad
evening, as it was the final night for the Scholl’s and us to share a campground.
In the morning they will be heading south, and we will be heading west.
Friday, June 21
We woke up at about 5:30 and started to get up. Almost immediately,
we were greeted by the “crack - kaboom” of a thunderstorm. For about
10 minutes the lightning and thunder were breaking all about us while we
got a good soaking. Soon it was all over and we left, waving good-bye
to Virg and Keith! The first several hours of driving toward Mesquite,
NV were in mountainous country, with thunderheads always off to the right
or to the left. We only got a few drops of rain from them.
We got basically clear of the storms and stopped at a rest stop.
Guess What? We started getting rained on! We pulled out and
truly got clear of the storms, but started running into wind. The
balance of the drive to Mesquite was horrible! Winds were constantly
gusting, bouncing the motorhome from one side of the lane to the other.
We drove between 40 and 50 miles an hour for the balance of the day.
About 3:30 (actually 2:30 Nevada time), we arrived in our campground in
Mesquite. It was over 100 degrees and the wind is gusting to 30 to
40 miles per hour. The TV forecasts say it should die down tonight
and not be present tomorrow. Thank heavens!
We went to one of the casino resturaunts and had prime rib dinners (for
$5.95 including our iced tea). They were delicious! By the
time we returned to the campground, the wind had dropped to normal levels.
Saturday, June 22
We left Mesquite for our final leg home at about 5:20 AM. There
were no thunderstorms in sight, and the wind was light and variable.
With joy, we headed toward Las Vegas for our gas/leg stretch stop.
We then continued on with a very uneventful drive. Our last afternoon
rest stop was at the outlet center in Elsinore. I left Betty in the
motorhome, and I went into the Sony factory store. They sure have
a lot of neat stuff! We pulled into our driveway and were unhooked
and parked by 3:00 PM.
We were gone a total of 22 days, traveled 3334 miles, burning 503.0
gallons of gas for a trip average of 6.63 mpg. We saw 8 states, went
to 5 national parks, 4 national monuments, 3 national historic sites, 1
national memorial, 2 state parks, and 1 city park (if I have my counts
correct!). All of it was terrific!
What a trip!
Betty and Dick Mason June 1996