Day 1 Oct. 3: Newark, NJ to Salt Lake City to Garden City, UT
We flew out to Salt Lake City from Newark, arriving early in the morning. As we were planning this trip, we found an RV rental dealer close by the airport via web browsing. We took a taxi from the airport and rented a Class C motorhome for two weeks. Having never been in Salt Lake, the majestic scenery in the valley and looking eastward towards the mountains was absolutely stunning! The weather was autumn-like, cloudy and chilly with the hint of winter on the way. After picking up groceries and supplies at a local market, we travelled north out of the city, and upwards in altitude. I15 and US 89 were fabulous tour routes. Gorgeous scenery greeted us, with golden aspens dotting the hillside amongst the evergreens and snowy mountain peaks in the distance. The route wound upwards over mountain passes and then downwards into a valley and into Bear Lake (Garden City). We stayed in a nearly-deserted KOA on the lakeshore, having only one other RV traveler for company. There were magpies all around.
Day 2 Oct. 4: Garden City, UT to Jackson, WY
Cold night last evening. After a small breakfast, we headed north on US 89 towards Jackson, WY. I spotted a small flock of Sandhill cranes in a field near Afton, WY. Along our route, I got my very first glimpse of some famed western fly fishing trout rivers such as the Hogback and the Snake rivers. Compared to New Jersey trout streams, these looked wide, fast-slowing, and very inviting. We crossed a high mountain pass and stopped at a layby for lunch as snow flakes swirled all around. Towards evening, we stopped by the Hogback Junction KOA (on the Hogback River), but it was closed for the season, so we pressed onwards and into Jackson. There, we settled in at the Virginian RV park in town.
Both of us felt dizzy, nauseous and breathless from the 7000’+ altitude. We rested a bit at the RV park, then ventured into town for dinner. We ate at a notable restaurant called the Cadillac Cowboy Bar. There, I ordered buffalo osso bucco (buffalo bone beef stew, marinated for 8+ hours). It was so big, and looked so awful that it brought me to tears.. I just could not eat it. It made me feel as if I was going to eat a huge bowl of goopy roadkill. I sent it back and ordered a simple ribeye steak instead. Though we were reeling from altitude sickness, we managed to walk around the town a bit. It was a very scenic town, with covered wooden walkways by the shops in the old western style. We stopped by a fly fishing store to inquire about licensing and fishing in the area. The store owner seemed skeptical of me being a fly fisher, but he did mention the Gros Ventre and Hogback rivers being accessible to motorhomes. I did not buy flies or a WY license. We returned to the Virginian and went straight to bed.
Day 3 Oct. 5: Jackson, WY
Both of us awoke with nausea and dizziness. Too ill to travel far, we decided to take it easy and just cruise around Jackson Hole and Grand Teton NP (Jackson is the name of the town and ‘Jackson Hole’ is western nomenclature for the valley by the mountain peaks.) We passed through very wealth neighborhoods, with large beautiful log homes and ranches. We took the scenic park loop in the National Park, stopping to view herds of elk and for a brief walk around Jenny Lake. It was chilly out, and a low overcast of clouds obscured the Grand Teton peaks. We also stopped at a scenic overlook called the Oxbow to do some birding. Both of us were grumpy and irritated with the nausea, so we returned to Jackson and John stayed in the motorhome while I walked about the shops in town. There were many stores selling western clothing and home furnishings (antler chandeliers, elk hide rugs, tooled leather, cowboy hats and boots, and mounted elk and deer heads). We returned by nightfall to the Virginian.
Day 4 Oct. 6: Jackson, WY to West Yellowstone, ID
Still suffering from the altitude, we departed Jackson and headed north, stopping by the Gros Ventre overlook. The Gros Ventre slide is a mountain which collapsed and slid into the valley. We also stopped by an elk refuge to do some birding and saw many trumpeter swans. After crossing the Continental divide at 8300′, we entered Yellowstone National Park. The ground at this altitude was snow covered and it was very cold. We stopped at the visitors center to get our stamp and we were just in time to watch the Old Faithful geyser erupt. I was also able to purchase a 3-day fishing license. We warmed up with some coffee in the restaurant (weird restaurant help) and got our passport book stamped.
As we drove through the park, we encountered small herds bison and elk right on the verge of the road. We stopped for photos. We spotted a coyote and passed many steaming, smoking geothermal areas. We travelled west out of the park, following a broad, free stone river and also saw many ‘burns’ in the adjacent forest, the remnants of wildfires from several years ago. At the western entrance to Yellowstone is a small town called west Yellowstone. There, we drove about and decided to stay the night at The Grizzly Yellowstone RV park, a highly-rated, excellent campground. We retired to bed early, still altitude sick and grumpy.
Day 5 Oct. 7: West Yellowstone, ID
Very cold night. John claimed to have heard howling wolves while he was in the bathroom last night. I didn’t believe him. After breakfast, we stopped by a fly fishing shop and I picked up a new wading jacket and some fly patterns. We then ventured into the park for a leisurely day of book writing and fly fishing. Yellowstone National Park contains many famous fly fishing rivers and streams, often called ‘Blue Ribbon trout streams’. One of them is the Firehole River, an often photographed river meandering through the steaming geysers and fumeroles of the park. I managed to be quite successful there, landing 2 good sized brown trout. I used several patterns I purchased in West Yellowstone (elk hair caddis, BWO). These browns grow rather large here due to the insect-rich environment. John stayed in the motorhome and managed to get some writing done on his book, Chemical Properties of Ceramics. After a few hours of great fishing, we visited the Painted Pots (blubbing mud pits) and fumeroles…steamy and smelly.
Day 6 Oct. 8: West Yellowstone, ID to Gardener, MT
Today, we journeyed through the Park, stopping at the Norris Geyser basin and walking along the boardwalk trails through steaming, stinky sulfur-smelling geyser pots. We stopped by the 45 degree Parallel bridge above Mammoth Hot Springs (45° between the North Pole and the Equator). At a small bridge crossing the Gardener River, we parked in the lot and I fished as John wrote. In the drizzle, I managed to catch 10 trout, 5 rainbows (which jumped like crazy!) and 5 brown…all within a couple of hours. No one else was on the river and I wore my new Patagonia wading jacket that John bought me as a present. We exited the park out the northern entrance and camped for the night in Gardiner, MT at the Yellowstone RV park. It was situated on a high cliff overlooking the powerful Yellowstone river.
Day 7 Oct. 9: Gardiner, MT to Cody, WY
We had a leisurely breakfast, then departed Gardiner and returned to Yellowstone Park, passing under the Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance. We spent some time visiting Mammouth Hot Springs, walking about the vast limestone terraces covering the hillside. There were boardwalk trails up and down the steaming white limestone cascades, and after hiking around a bit in the cold, blustery winds, we grabbed a coffee in our little RV and continued on. After viewing Tower falls and catching a glimpse of mountain sheep high up on some cliffs, we stopped by a bridge crossing Soda Butte Creek so that I could fish and John could write. This time, I managed to catch two wild cutthroat trout, one 7″ and one 14″. All the while, a small American Dipper kept me company bobbing around the rocks at streamside searching for insects. In the meantime, I also kept my eye out looking for grizzlies.
We departed Yellowstone by the east entrance. We hoped to traverse the Bear Tooth Highway, one of the highest scenic drives in the US, but we were informed it was already closed for the season due to snowfall. The East entrance highway was a tough drive through road construction, but we were well rewarded with a hair-raising drive up and over Dead Indian pass (el. 8048′), a winding, narrow, switch-back route through the fog (clouds!) and snowfall. Down, down into the opposite valley and into Cody, Wyoming. We camped in town and had dinner at another famous eating spot, the Irma Hotel, built by Buffalo Bill Cody. Fabulous baby back ribs! The interior was just like an old western movie…numerous mounted elk, bison, bear and deer heads on all the walls.
Day 8 Oct. 10: Cody, WY
Laundry day. We watched deer walk through the RV park as we ate breakfast. We relaxed in Cody, visiting the Buffalo Bill Cody museum, which was really a collaboration if 5 museums in one: Buffalo Bill’s life, Wild west art, wildlife, Native American life, and American firearms. Afterwards, John did some writing while I visited some antique shops.
Day 9 Oct. 11: Cody, WY to Yellowstone NP, WY
A clear, sunny morning today. We left Cody and travelled back into Yellowstone NP via the Sylvan pass and the east entrance. Descended the pass down to Yellowstone lake and crossed the famous ‘Fishing Bridge’ over the Yellowstone river. We would have liked to stay at the Fishing Bridge campground (with hookups) but it was closed for the season. So, we decided to spend a night ‘roughing it’ at one of the national park’s primitive campgrounds. We headed back to the visitor’s center at Old Faithful, bought another 3-day fishing license, then went on to the Madison Campground situated on the Madison River and got a site for the evening. No hookups, but bathrooms, paved roadways, and close to a great river. We lit a campfire as evening settled down over the valley and went to bed hoping the batteries would last while we ran the heater fan (1/3 battery power). No CNN here, but at least John managed to hook up his breather to the cab engine.
Day 10 Oct. 12: Yellowstone NP to West Yellowstone, ID
We slept OK, but it became very cold at night. As dawn came, most campers had moved on so we had the campground mostly to ourselves. The motorhome managed to start up just fine. We had a quick bite to eat, then drove up to the Midway Geyser Basin to see the Prismatic Geyser, a gigantic emerald green hole in a white limestone pit. We took showers in the RV in the parking lot after the water warmed up, next to a bus load of Chinese tourists. As John did some writing, I fished the Firehole River again and did very well…caught a very large brown with a tan caddis pattern, casting clear across the stream near to the opposite bank. We drove on and I tried the Gibbon River, but no luck there. Moved onward to the Madison river (7 Mile Bridge) and though I saw a few large fish from on the bridge, I had no luck. There were a few handicap boardwalk access points and I tried there, and managed to catch 2 chub. We returned to the Grizzly Yellowstone RV park in West Yellowstone for the night. Ah! CNN, wireless access, heat…home.
Day 11 Oct. 13: West Yellowstone, ID to Macks Inn, ID
Today, we decided to take a road trip up into Montana and see Big Sky country. Travelled north out of west Yellowstone towards Bozeman, following a dangerous curving highway along the Gallatin River (where ‘A River Runs Through It’ was filmed). We noticed lots of white crosses along the roadside marking traffic fatalities, and it was these that gave birth to our fun, if stramge, game of counting Roadkill. It was a clear, warm sunny day and the scenery was spectacular! Wide open skies, snow-capped mountains in the distance, meadows and grasslands that stretched out to the horizon.
We travelled westward into Butte, Mt, an old western mining town nestled into the side of a mountain that had been strip-mined into terraces. There were many old buildings dating back to the 1800’s. We took a ride up the hillside to get a better look at the mining pit. Passing through town, we noticed many closed and shuttered storefront. There were many establishments with Irish names, a lasting testament to the mine laborers that once were here. South of Butte, the afternoon was pressing on and we decided to have some adventure by taking a more ‘scenic route’! Near Spencer, Id, we left the interstate and got onto a secondary gravel road that skirted Signal Peak and headed towards Kilgore, Id. Yikes!! Bumping, crashing, and rattling our teeth loose! We drove over Porcupine Pass (el. 7000′) on a wash-board gravel road surface, kicking up dust and stones in our wake, and laughing all the way!! We really entered the remote backcountry, spotting cattlemen rounding up their herds high on distant mountain meadows. We became lost around Kilgore, but thankfully, we had a GPS which sorted us out. Darkness fell quickly, and we came back to civilization near Mack’s Inn, Id. There, we camped at the first campground we came across, the Sawtelle Mountain Resort RV park. The diner was closed, so we had a light meal, then went to bed.
Day 12 Oct. 14: Mack’s Inn, ID to Arco, ID
Bad night. Bad morning. I could not sleep because this campground gave me the creeps. It was isolated and empty of travelers and did not seem very safe. John was dumping the holding tank as we were preparing to leave and the flexi tube slipped off its ring mount, spilling poo and gook all over the site! Ugh. There was no water at the site since all the taps had been shut off for the winter. Also, all the showers were not working either (no one told us at the office when we checked in). So, we drove off, leaving them to deal with the mess.
As we gassed up, I bought an Idaho fishing license. We journeyed southwards along the famous Henry’s Fork of the Idaho river. We tried to find suitable access to the river using the GPS map and an Idaho fly fishing guide. We tried to get near the ‘Box Canyon’ but the dirt road was too narrow, and there was construction in the area for a hydro project. Inquired at Henry’s Fork outfitters and did get directions to a riverside campground. As I cast my line, John did some writing. We didn’t linger there though. We moved on and crossed the Snake river near Twin Falls, Id. Arriving in a small town called Arco, we camped at the Arco Landing Zone RV park, an eclectic place run by a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. All the signs in the campground were in military jargon, and all the sites were named after memorable soldiers. We had dinner at Pickle’s Place Restaurant down the road (angus steak..yum!)
Day 13 Oct. 15: Arco, ID to Ketchum, ID
We visited Craters of The Moon National Park today, just outside of Arco. Volcanic activity in the area created a vast wilderness of dense black lava flows millions of years ago. We crawled around some lava tubes (Dewdrop cave, Indian Cave) and strolled through the Devil’s Garden. We also climbed a small cinder cone and a few spatter cones, and then broke for lunch. Afterwards, we travelled into Sun Valley and on to Ketchum, passing by multi-million dollar mansions of the rich movie stars that still flock here. We had dinner at the Roosevelt Grille in town. A huge Roosevelt Elk was mounted over the bar. Both of us had fabulous scallops. We walked abround the ritzy stores and drove to the town cemetery to see if we could find Ernest Hemmingway’s gravesite. We found the family grave site, but did not locate his (unmarked, perhaps?) Camped just outside town.
Day 14 Oct. 16: Ketchum, ID to Salt Lake City, UT
This morning we treated ourselves to a Starbuck’s cappuchino and a newspaper, and started our long trek back to Salt Lake City. The drive was very uninteresting as we passed through mile after mile of empty desert. It only became interesting as we descended onto the salt pan of the lakebed. Brilliant white salt, flat to the far horizon. We stayed at the SLC KOA and did a quick scrub down of our motorhome before we returned it (it was covered in dust from our off-road adventure).
Day 14 Oct. 16: Salt Lake City, UT to Newark, NJ
We returned our motorhome at the dealer, and took a taxi back to the airport. It was a long 6+ hour wait til our flight home.