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 44

yellowstone_canyonvillageCanyon Village, Grant Village, Yellowstone National Park

Monday, July 11th – I have been regularly using my VX-8GR handheld to listen to the local NOAA weather radio station. The weather forecast last night was pretty grim. Temperatures dropping. Snow. Snow? In July? Yes. I decided to spend Sunday night packing up. Sarah helped me put the bikes on the station wagon. We put away the folding chairs and rolled up the awning. I had really been enjoying our campsite at Canyon (J200). The Canyon campground is huge. The camping sites are nice – lots of trees and separated at a good distance. Quiet. Canyon also has laundry facilities and showers. Both worked out well. They even have over sized washers and dryers for sleeping bags and comforters. But it was time to move. We’d been here over a week.

We woke up to light snow. It wasn’t really sticking to the ground but the temps were way down. We broke down the remainder of camp and head out. We made use of the campground’s dump station and then made the short drive out down to Grant Village. They have a full-service gas station were I was able to fill up my propane canister. After it was filled, I kept smelling gas. I didn’t know if the canister was leaking or I had some type of line leak. Eventually the smell dissipated.

While I enjoyed Canyon campground, Canyon Village is too busy. Lots of people, lots of craziness. Grant Village is the opposite. The campground is not as nice. Less trees. Sites are a bit closer together. But the village part is low key. Much less people. The visitors center at Grant is not as fancy as the one at Canyon. But the ranger programs at Grant Village were a lot more personal. There is a book shop at the visitors center. A daily ranger program on the back deck, one down near the water, and one at their amphitheater.

Grant also has a very large general store (just a bit smaller than the one at Fishing Bridge). Attached the store is a counter-service eatery with your standard fare (although they make an effort to have healthy choices). The eatery includes ice cream, served by the scoop. My favorite was called Moose Tracks. There are also two restaurants. One is somewhat fancy and requires reservations. The other is right on the lake and serves an Asian fusion menu. Emily acquired a liking for potstickers. Both the girls became intrigued with chopsticks.

Did I mention the ranger programs? We attended a few on the back porch of the visitors center. There were others that took place down by the lake that where meant for young families. Always great topics. Then we would go to the evening programs at the amphitheater. Fairly quickly, all the rangers at Grant Village began to get to know Sarah and Emily. Both really enjoyed participating in the programs – raising their hands to answer questions. My favorite evening program was about the history of the US Army running Yellowstone.

Backporch ranger program with Ranger Miles about bison.
Movie in the visitors center on the Yellowstone forest fire.
Ranger program near the lake was about bears and bear cubs.
Evening program with Ranger Miles about the history of wolves in Yellowstone.

We got to know the rangers so well, we knew all of them by name:
David
Ellen
Miles
Jon
Landon
Ali
Brian

Thank you Rangers!

2016 Summer Trip – Day 41

Friday, July 8th – Canyon Village, Yellowstone National Park.

Day trip to Cody, Wyoming. We got on the road later than we should have. We took the road out of the east entrance to Yellowstone. I had never been on this road before. The east entrance appeared to be a good way to pull a travel trailer into the park, but probably not out. The trip was about 90 miles and took around two and half hours.

The big attraction in Cody is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. You can’t swing a dead cat west of the Missouri River without hitting something connected to Buffalo Bill. But the Buffalo Bill Center is the place to go to learn about ol’ Bill. We got here a too late to take advantage of everything there is to see. This is definitely on the list to return to see again. I honesty think you could spend two days seeing it all.

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