The great summer trip of 2018 is complete

Sixty-six days out on the road. A 5,000 mile journey through eleven states. Twenty-one campgrounds. Five national parks. Four national historic sites. One national monument. Twenty-two Junior Ranger Badges earned. The great summer trip of 2018 is complete.

Highlights:

A new national park for all of us: Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Experiencing Glacier National Park during the beginning of the season.

Traveling on a Puget Sound car ferry.

Exploring the ocean tidepools of Olympic National Park.

Hiking through the snow of Mount Rainier National Park but still enjoying the wildflowers.

Hiking out to Glacier National Park’s Bullhead Lake, soaking our feet in its waterfall fed water and having the lake to ourselves.

Crossing paths with an elderly big horn sheep on the Medicine Loop Trail in Badlands National Park.

I hope to post more in depth posts of the trip soon.

2017 Summer Trip Countdown

The 2017 Summer Trip is just around the corner. I feel a bit more prepared this year compared to the past. Attempting to learn and improve, I have made the following changes with the preparation this year:

(1) Not waiting until the last minute to pack. My clothes duffel is practically complete. I’ve picked through the large storage areas under the main bed and the bunks, getting rid of items not needed. Hitch up and ready to go.

(2) Doing campsite research ahead of time and then being ready to make reservations when sites are first available. Camping at a national park campground is almost always preferable. The price is right and the location puts you near where you want to be. When making a campground reservation you need to know what sites can fit your RV (the smaller the RV, the more sites that are available). Using Google Maps for a bit of reconnaissance helps me take the campground map and figure out which site will work best. Come reservation time, you need to be ready. Most national park’s book their campsites 6 months out… to the day. Usually the reservation window opens at 10am eastern and if you want that dream campsite on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then you need to click the book button at exactly 10am.

(3) I took a course in how to offroad using my 4 wheel drive. I have an offroad capable vehicle but have been hesitant to go on the national park’s 4×4 roads because of my lack of knowledge. A few weeks back, Sarah and I headed to a offroad park for a 4×4 101 class. I was able to learn about all the capabilities of my vehicle as well as my limitations as a driver. I was amazed at the terrain that my vehicle could handle and feel much more confident in adventuring on 4×4 roads in the national parks.

(4) Pre-execution checks. Maintenance at the RV dealership where I purchased my travel trailer is becoming problematic. They have proved themselves untrustworthy with their ability to do basic tasks, despite my willingness to pay for it. I have to start doing most the maintenance myself. Before the big trip, I was able to take the trailer on a few weekend camping trips to make sure everything is working.

(5) Less books. I read all the time. On past trips, I’ve packed a milk crate worth of hardcover books. Piles of guide books had surround my bed. Christa said, “Why don’t you use your Kindle?” Besides the fact that I prefer the advantages of a hardcover book (no power required, easy to bookmark, highly portable). Well, I’m going Kindle for this summer. That should easily save about 25lbs of weight and space.

(6) Bluetooth adapter for travel trailer sound system. I saw a recommendations for a bluetooth adapter to connect an iPod to a trailer’s sound system. In the past I have used a simple patch cable. That was often a pain due to the case my iPod is in, it was hard to get the plug seated properly. Then I relied on a playlist shuffle and preset volume to carry the day. Now with the bluetooth adapter I can keep the iPod with me and adjust what is playing on the fly. The only downside is the battery life of the bluetooth adapter. When it runs out of juice, your done.

(7) Practice cooking. Easily one of my biggest summer trip failings is my inability to throw together decent dinners. Usually it will not take much to convince me to make dinner plans at the national park’s dining concessions. I consistently underestimate the time involved in dinner meal preparation. Therefore, I have been trying to practice cooking some basic dinner meals that I will be able to reproduce while at the campsite.

2016 Summer Trip – Day 57

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota.

Sunday, July 24th – Left Devils Tower. Bits of rain. Easy drive on I-90. Stopped in Deadwood, South Dakota at Family Dollar for bread and ice. They had neither. Arrived at the Mount Rushmore KOA – that place is like a circus. Dropped the trailer and headed to Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore

Was able to squeeze in a 3pm and 3:30pm ranger program. Helped us understand why the memorial was built and how. The girls finished their Junior Ranger books.

Final Junior Ranger Badges of the trip!
Final Junior Ranger Badges of the trip!

It was pretty emotional for me to complete our last “park” of the trip.

Did we find our park?
Did we find our park?

Yosemite
Zion
Bryce Canyon
Grand Canyon
Glacier
Yellowstone
Grand Teton
Wind Cave
Devils Tower
Mount Rushmore
… what a Summer!

2016 Summer Trip – Day 55

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming.

Lakota Native Americans call it the Bear Lodge.
Lakota Native Americans call it the Bear Lodge.

Friday, July 22nd – Toured Wind Cave. Once we entered the cave and started to descend, Emily was scared at first but then was ok. After the tour, the girls finished up their Junior Ranger books and received their badges for Wind Cave.

The day started getting hot. The expectation was temps into the upper 90s. I had gotten a prime parking spot in front of the Wind Cave Visitors Center which allowed me to connect to their wifi. I used the wifi connection to make reservations at the Devils Tower KOA. The heat made me want to camp at a location where we could make use of our air conditioner.

We left the Elk Mountain Campground around 1pm. Elk Mountain Campground is a good place to camp if the weather had been a bit more cooperative. I was disappointed in the lack of any substantial Ranger-led evening program.

It was a nice drive in a northeast direction through a national forest to I-90 where we were only on I-90 to go up one exit. Checked into Devils Tower KOA (located immediately outside the monument) and had some food across the street at the trading post. Ended up getting a pull-thru site next to another ham (KF5SA). He has an HF station mounted inside his trailer.

Quick trip up to the visitors center to get Junior Ranger books (from Ranger Erin Cahill). Attended evening program at the campground amphitheater which was blown out by bad weather into the picnic area.

Devils Tower
Devils Tower

2016 Summer Trip – Day 52

colter_bay_posterTuesday, July 19th – Coulter Bay Village, Grand Teton National Park.

Took showers at the facilities here at Colter Bay. Not as nice as Canyon or Grant Village. Ate breakfast at the full restaurant across from the marina. Dropped Christa off at the airport.

Road our bikes to the Colter Bay Visitors Center; saw a documentary about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone at the Colter Bay Visitors Center. Shopped at the bookstore and bought a Sibley’s book on trees, a book by the Muries and a National Park book.

After lunch we attended a program by D.G. House, a Native American artist, who talked about “ledger art“. She was a very dynamic speaker and spoke to the clash of civilizations between the American Indian and the expanding United States.

Had ice cream from the General Store (a recommended daily activity).

Power went out. Everywhere. Heard over the Ranger frequency that it was a major power outage in Idaho. Started to read the book by the Muries.

Hot dogs for dinner. Attend the 7pm amphitheater program about bears (Ranger JJ, Steve Martin look alike). We then decided to go out and look for wildlife. After striking out at Oxbow Bend and Willow Flats, a tip from the ranger frequency led us near Pilgrim Creek where we saw a black bear bounding between the tree line and meadow.

Out for a stroll in Grand Teton National Park
Out for a stroll in Grand Teton National Park

2016 Summer Trip – Day 46

Wednesday, July 13th – Grant Village, Yellowstone National Park. 9:30am Overlook Hike lead by Ranger Miles Augur. We left from West Thumb and started hiking up into the hills overlooking Yellowstone Lake. We ended up hiking through a group of about 8 elk. Perhaps the most amazing experience of the entire Summer.

Picture taken by Sarah
Picture taken by Sarah

Trip to Old Faithful General Store to restock. Not a great selection, but not many other alternatives.

2016 Summer Trip – Day 30

St. Mary Campground, Glacier National Park, Montana

glacier_old_poster_st_mary_lake

Monday, June 27th – The girls slept in a bit. I got out the solar panel – great light here for using the solar panel to recharge the trailer’s battery system. The batteries really needed the juice. The morning was going to be quiet until…. I ran out of propane! I heard the refrigerator clicking and the check light came on. I tried to light the stove… nothing! We’d last swapped propane in Las Vegas (Day 12). I expected it to last longer.

I should have just gone to St. Mary to see if they exchanged propane canisters but I thought maybe the general store at Rising Sun might. Rising Sun is about 5 miles away and (I found out) does not exchange propane canisters. I turned around and was able to do it at the grocery store in St. Mary. Then we headed back to the campsite where I swapped the propane canisters. The food in the refrigerator was saved.

We rode our bikes to the Visitors Center. The girls got Junior Ranger books. We ate lunch in Babb, then headed into Many Glacier. We made it to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn where our 2pm hike was meeting. The ranger leading the hike was the same ranger that lead our hike to Grinnell Lake last year (Ranger Monica). After the nature hike, we did a ranger tour of the Many Glacier Hotel. They are in the last year of the renovation plan. We had a fancy dinner at the hotel (topped off by a chocolate fondue dessert) and then drove back to camp. On the way to the Rising Sun Campground for their evening program, Sarah spotted a coyote. The evening program was about the history of the beaver in North America.

2016 Summer Trip – Day 27

Apgar Village/Fish Creek Campground, Glacier National Park, Montana.

Friday, June 24th – We got up early to attend the bird watching ranger program in the morning with Ranger Sarah from Wisconsin. The girls enjoyed the walk and so did I. We were able to use our binoculars to see several birds.

Rains came at about 11am. Ate a second breakfast at Eddie’s, the restaurant in Apgar Village. Went to the Visitors Center and the girls received their Junior Ranger badges for Glacier.

Apgar Visitors Center
Apgar Visitors Center

Went to the 11:30am Junior Ranger program at the Nature Center in Apgar Village. The focus was for younger children; Emily had a good time but Sarah was a bit bored. Ranger Teagan ran the program. After a brief presentation she did an activity with the children were they each were an animal or plant and then formed a food web connected with string. Once one item was eliminated from the web, the rest of the food wed could feel the impact.

We headed back to the trailer, hiding from the rain. After a brief lunch and a nap, we headed back to the Nature Center for a 3pm program discussing the “Peace Park” nature of Glacier being connected to Waterton. Also talked about other Peace Parks.

Next we headed to the Glacier Conservancy book store near the West Glacier train station and picked up a few items. Then to the restaurant in West Glacier for an early dinner where we ate too much. We followed the early dinner by a trip to a gift shop on the other side of the grocery store in West Glacier.

Then a drive to Lake McDonald Lodge where we are awaiting the 8pm Evening Program in the auditorium on Night Creatures. We staked out a corner in the lodge’s lobby, making use of the electrical outlets to charge our laptops. With the campsite’s location in heavy trees and the poor weather, it is difficult to use the solar panel to charge our electronics.
welcome_to_montana_wpa_poster

2016 Summer Trip – Day 15

Original WPA Poster
Original WPA Poster
Saturday, June 11th – Zion National Park, Utah.

Ranger interpretative tour with Ranger Grace Lily. Sarah and Emily finished and received their Zion Junior Ranger badges. Interesting couple from Tennessee occupied the site adjacent to ours. The girls and I rode our bikes to the Zion Nature Center. Attempted to ride back towards the museum but went the wrong way and ended up at the Visitors Center. Line for the shuttle was LONG. I promised the girls ice cream at the lodge. Instead I ask Christa if she wants to go back to the Bumblebee restaurant/gift shop to get ice cream. We depart the park around 2:30pm and the line to get in extends well into Springdale. The streets are packed with parked cars of people in the park. We get ice cream. I decide to start driving towards Rockville and maybe Hurricane. A huge storm comes in with lots of lightning and huge rain fall. I decide to head to Cedar Breaks National Monument. I have no idea what Cedar Breaks National Monument is. I just know that the it is a National Monument run by the Park Service and that the GPS says it is about 30 miles away. Off we go north on I-15. I see a sign to turn off for Cedar Breaks at exit 57. The GPS says that I want exit 59. I follow the GPS and it takes me to a location that is not the Cedar Breaks National Monument. Back on I-15 heading south. I forget what exit it says to get off on and there is no southbound sign saying exit 57 for Cedar Breaks. Christa deploys her cellphone GPS. I have to go a further 3 miles down to get an exit and turn around once again on I-15. Christa’s cellphone says Cedar Breaks National Monument is another 30 miles away. I look at my gas gauge and it is in between 1/4 and 1/8 of a tank (3/16 of a tank?). Gas is relatively cheap in Cedar Pass (the major town off of I-15). I decide to wait for gas on the way back from Cedar Breaks. Ends up the route up to Cedar Breaks (Utah Hwy 14) is your standard two lane, narrow, steep mountain road. The Cedar Breaks National Monument is up at over 10,000 feet in elevation. As soon as I pulled in to the parking lot the fuel light came on! Cedar Breaks National Monument is like Bryce Canyon on steroids. A huge, massive amphitheater of rock. 2000 feet drop. Beautiful. Cold too…. snow still on the ground. As the ride back down was downhill, I made it to a gas station without running out of gas (although I was sweating it). Dinner at IHOP. Easy drive back to camp. Hopefully going to a Ranger amphitheater program tonight.

2016 Summer Trip – Day 14

Friday, June 10th – Bryce Canyon trip. We packed quite a bit into a small period of time. Left at 8am (wanted to leave at 6am). The route goes through the Zion Tunnel. Twisty, curvy the first 13 miles. Beautiful scenery. Arrive at Bryce Canyon. Park at the Visitors Center (not full yet). Get the Junior Ranger handbooks. Take the park shuttle to Sunset Point to hike the Queens Garden Trail. Slow going down 0.8 miles as it was steep. Had an excellent snack break down at the trail’s end under the shade of a large rock. The sun was beating on us during the steep accent back up. That trail really winded us. Took the shuttle bus back to the Visitors Center. Ate our picnic lunch. The girls continued to finish their handbooks. Toured the Visitors Center and saw the movie about the park. Picked up another shuttle to Sunrise Point for a geology talk by Joel (Geology Joel) Allen. The talk was excellent and was almost an interpretative dance describing how Bryce Canyon was formed. Back on the shuttle to the Visitors Center. Requirements complete for Junior Ranger, Sarah and Emily receive their badges. We then take the station wagon to the General Store and make use of their pay showers. Afterwards I am able to complete one HF contact. We then drive out to Rainbow Point, the furthest point out. We complete our snacks as it is getting late in the day now and I want to get back before we run out of sunshine. The drive back is nice and we stop at the Thunderbird Diner in Mount Carmel Junction for dinner. We wind our way back through the tunnel and down the mountain into Zion.