Yellowstone and Grand Teton Trip June 1996

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 home. 

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 evening.

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 the morning.

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 for me!

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.  Very interesting!

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