The Long Way Around

Thursday, October 1

I’m about 90% sure I see a wolf when driving to my morning truck appointment in West Yellowstone. The air is cool, traffic is almost non-existant, and puddles grace the pavement from last night’s rain. Around a curve a light colored shape is trotting along the shoulder towards me on the other side of the road.

At first I’m angry, thinking that someone let their pet off leash and now it’s running amok. But there is no owner hurrying after it. As it draws closer I see she is large and a dirty white color, with proud erect ears and no collar to speak of. She’s also limping noticeably, but the pain she must be feeling isn’t slowing her down.

I say she because I’m nearly positive this is a wolf, and there is only one known white wolf in Yellowstone, the old alpha female of the Canyon Pack. Called “Valley Girl” by some wolf watchers, her and her mate, a collared black wolf #712M, are pretty well known in Yellowstone because they’re not afraid of being seen by people and traditionally have had a large range that extends from Canyon up to Mammoth and down to Old Faithful. Last year the aging pair produced no pups and the pack shrunk considerably, leading wolf enthusiasts to question the pack’s future. This year I heard Valley Girl’s daughter (or maybe granddaughter?) took over as pack alpha.

The trotting canine spares not even a glance for me as we pass each other, then Bertha finishes going around the curve and I’m out of sight. Just past that curve, an SUV is stopped in a pullout and a man with a camera makes eye contact with me as we pass. I believe we’re thinking the same thing: Was that really what I think that was?

I can’t say for sure if it was Valley Girl or not, but what a great sendoff from Yellowstone either way! (Edit: Yes, this was Valley Girl! Another visitor got pictures of her in this area the same day I saw her and the sighting was confirmed on the Yellowstone Wolf Project website)

After getting a green light on Bertha from the mechanic (I’ll have one or two minor things to take care of once I’m down in Texas, but nothing that’ll impact this trip) I drive back to the RV and continue packing up camp.

There’s an advisory out for the mountains, snow is expected this weekend starting tomorrow at higher elevations, and all of us employees who were released yesterday want to get out of Yellowstone before the storm hits.

Wouldn't be a proper Yellowstone sendoff without a bison slowing traffic on the way out. ;)

Wouldn’t be a proper Yellowstone sendoff without a bison slowing traffic on the way out. πŸ˜‰

Originally my plan is to head south through part of the Tetons and then turn southeast on highway 287 at Moran junction. It does have a pass over 9000 feet but should be clear if I can make it across today.

Idaho! And the first of several Continental Divide crossings.

Idaho! And the first of several Continental Divide crossings.

Sadly I forgot my laptop at the auto repair shop in West Yellowstone (when I published the last post on Thursday itself). This necessitates a complete change in plans.

After hitching up I retrace my steps from this morning and leave through the west entrance, then stay on highway 20 as it curves southwest and into Idaho. It’ll take longer to get down to Texas this way, but it’s a state I haven’t been to yet so that’s a bonus!

It’s pretty country, rolling forested hills interspersed with golden valleys through Targhee National Forest. There is one 6% grade lasting two miles, it’s not hard.

Targhee

Targhee

South of the national forest, farms dominate the valley and towns become more common. Not far before Idaho Falls the Tetons become visible from my driver side window, it’s interesting to see them from the west even if they are far in the distance. A plume of smoke rises up not as far in the distance, I wonder if that’s a wildfire or a controlled burn…

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At Idaho Falls I merge onto I15, and not far beyond that a curious sight greets me. The grassland abruptly ends under mounds of lumpy, broken black rock which look suspiciously like old lava. Grass doesn’t grow on it and instead sage dominates, interspersed with juniper trees. A sign looms up: “Geological Site Ahead”. Curiosity necessitates that I pull over.

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It’s a standard rest area, but also includes a not-so-standard self-guided paved trail through the lava flow. I don’t have time to take the full loop, as the sun is setting but I do the little quarter mile one.

It is lava. Not from a volcano, but pushed up through cracks in the earth. The Hawaiian term for this type of lava is “pahoehoe”. The lava was a super heated liquid flow when it reached the surface a few thousand years ago. The skin cooled first and lava continued to flow underneath, wrinkling the surface into ropy coils. As it turns out much of this part of Idaho has lava like this, but it’s older and buried under surface soil now, as this flow will eventually be.

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Rabbits abound along the trail, I must see a half dozen of the critters as I read the informational signs and try to snap pictures in the failing light. While it’s hard to get a good picture of the dark rocks, the wispy clouds overhead make for a pretty sunset.

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After the hike is done I go about locating tonight’s stop. Earlier this year I wrote a post on repositioning trips, where the goal is simply to make miles and not sight-see, and this is one of those kinds of trips. I use the handy dandy overnightrvparking.com website to locate most of my free overnight stops when I’m not looking for hookups or something scenic, and am pleased to discover a Walmart not far away in Blackfoot that allows overnight parking. That’s where I’ll spend the night as I haven’t been to a Walmart in well over a month and I have a little shopping to do.

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Friday, October 2

the-long-way-around-9The Walmart here in Blackfoot, ID has to be about the quietest Walmart I’ve ever slept at. Trees block the noise from the interstate and the west end of the parking lot is it’s own little nook away from the traffic coming into and out of the store, it’s nice.

I’m amazed at the number of magpies I see along the road as I continue south on I15. Dozens of them all told, sightings continue well into Wyoming. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At McCammon I take the exit onto Highway 30. Lava Hot Springs sounds like a promising place but when I drive by it looks more like an amusement park than anything else, with a large water park and a touristy kind of feel. After that low mountains close in on both sides and the land slowly becomes more arid and less populated. I lose my Verizon signal completely for a good hour and a half along this route.

There are a few passes on this road but other than slowing a person down they’re not hard. There was one sign for a 5% grade lasting two miles, I hardly had to use my brakes for that.

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Soda Springs lies along highway 30, a stopover along the historic the Oregon Trail route. Attending grade school in the 90’s, the Oregon Trail educational computer game is something I remember with a lot of fondness. Usually by the time I got to Soda Springs, half my party of pilgrims was dead. I didn’t realize until later in life that you should never short yourself on oxen when buying supplies at the beginning of the game, the more you have the faster you travel and the less time your people have to get sick or injured.

There will be no sick ox, spoiled food, or bad water to foil my trip. I stop at a Flying J to fuel up Bertha and myself then continue driving through folded hills that are looking more and more like badlands. One spectacular specimen looms up to the north of the road and I learn through signs that this is Fossil Butte National Monument.

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When my phone signal comes back, I know I must be getting close to I80. At Green River, WY along I80 are some fantastic cliffs, buttes, and monuments. I haven’t been to Monument Valley yet, so this looks pretty great to me.

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It’s been raining on and off all day, but not heavy rain that would slow travel down. As I progress further into Wyoming the land flattens, and the little cells of rain are visible from a long way off.

Because of these clouds, the sunset is once again quite nice, and I get to see a rainbow too.

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Tonight I stop at another Flying J, just west of Rawlins, WY. There are parking spots here specifically for RVers but they’re back in and only the width of a regular parking spot. Not a problem for my diminutive rig!

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Saturday, October 3

When I wake up this morning my fridge is off because I’ve run out of propane. There is a propane fueling station right here at Flying J and it should be no problem to refill it and be on my way, but the attendant who comes out doesn’t realize that RV propane fittings are different from say, backyard bbq ones. It’s reverse threaded, so it needs to be unscrewed clockwise (right) instead of left. He turns it the wrong way and my assembly pops apart in the wrong spot, creating a potential leak and fire hazard.

As it’s Saturday the propane specialty place is Rawlins is closed. For a while I’m thinking I’ll be without propane this weekend until I can take it into a shop on Monday, but the manager manages to get someone on the phone to drive out and take a look at it.

Took this photo farther down the road

Took this photo farther down the road

The man who shows up about a halfhour later is a member of the local fire department judging by his hat and clothes. We screw everything back together, turn on the propane, and he takes a spray bottle full of soapy water and squirts it on the connections to see if any bubbles show up, which would indicate a leak.

No bubbles, my system is pronounced safe. I get a later start than I’d hoped for, but in the end the snafu ended up costing me nothing but a little time and the propane itself. Quick trivia, did you know that 20 lb propane tanks have an expiration date? They can only be used 12 years before they need to be re-certified. My tank was expired so it wasn’t legal to refill it, I ended up exchanging it for a newer one ($21.50 with trade in), and my old tank will get sent off to be examined and re-certified if it’s still in good enough shape.

The land gets hillier again east of Rawlins as I continue on I80. Pine trees carpet the peaks, near the road long rows of wooden fencing have been set up – to keep snow from drifting I think.

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East of Laramie lies Curt Gowdy State Park, full of rounded granite boulders, visible from the interstate. Google reviews of the campground and park seem favorable, it would be neat to see it up close sometime.

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At Cheyenne I point Bertha’s nose south, exiting onto I25 and into Colorado. From Fort Collins all the way through Colorado Springs the traffic is heavy. I25 goes right through the heart of Denver, which at 3 pm on a Saturday is busy, but not impossibly so. Traffic comes to a near stand still three or four times, but it never stays stopped for long. At some point I’m going to write a post about driving an RV through big cities, I’ve done it enough times now to have a system worked out.

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The Rockies are now to the west, out my passenger side window. The farther south I go, the greener things get. Trees have leaves again, farmer’s fields are lush. A storm looms ahead, it’s been dry driving so far today.

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At a rest stop near Pueblo, the driver of the semi parked next to me calls me over and asks if I came from Wyoming. Not knowing who he is or what he’s getting at, I answer in a friendly but vague way. He explains that he thinks he passed me on I80 this morning, and passed me again this afternoon on I25. Knowing that he’s not being creepy, I’m more forthcoming with my answers. Turns out he’s delivering wine down to San Antonio, we’re taking the same route. I meet his traveling companion, a Pomeranian who has to be the most laid back of the breed I’ve ever met. He’s from Virginia originally but has been a truck driver for many years. We talk about life on the road, I show him how to do something on his smart phone that he’s been having troubles with, then we get back into our respective vehicles as the storm arrives and plinking on the roof announces the presence of small hail.

Back on I25, the second rainbow in as many days heralds the end of the storm. As the clouds blow over I am treated yet again to a pretty neat sunset over the mountains.

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Tonight’s stop is the Acorn Plaza, a truck stop in Walsenburg, CO. The back of the parking lot looks west toward the mountains, and I think I should have a pretty view come tomorrow morning.

* * *

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

38 Comments

  1. Debbie in VA on October 24, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    Playing catch up with your blog. What a great send off, a wolf! Beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing.
    Debbie in VA recently posted..Escaped Prisoners!My Profile



    • Becky on October 25, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      You’re welcome Debbie, thanks for reading. The wolf sighting was surreal, a very special thing.



  2. Mike Goad on October 12, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    If “Valley Girl” is the only white wolf in Yellowstone, I captured some images of her in an encounter with a grizzly last year in Hayden Valley. I shared them in a post on my blog. I wish I had a better camera and/or lens to take the pictures with. That grizzly was one of 6 sightings we had while we were in Yellowstone, this one, a group of four, and then another single bear. The sightings were on three different days in Hayden Valley, it’s possible that we saw one or two of the bears more than once.

    (We also saw 6 black bears in Glacier later in the trip.)
    Mike Goad recently posted..Route 66My Profile



    • Becky on October 13, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      Nice Mike! Yep that looks like 712M and Valley Girl, they’re probably the most distinctive alpha pair in Yellowstone being black and white. I’m glad you had a chance to see them and so many bear.



  3. Terri on October 8, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    I would love to hear your thoughts about driving the rig through big cities – I drove through Denver myself on the way to Utah and all I had was a small car, so I can only imagine what it was like for you!

    Aren’t storms (or the after-storm rainbows) beautiful in the west??
    Terri recently posted..My Relationship with MoneyMy Profile



    • Becky on October 8, 2015 at 10:05 pm

      They sure are beautiful Terri. πŸ™‚

      I’ll get working on it once I’m settled in at Amazon.



  4. pamelab on October 7, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    I agree with Dawn from Camano Island, Becky – almost a spiritual experience. Some would say the white wolf and the bison are part of your totem. Whatever, what a lovely send off for you and all your time you spent at Yellowstone.

    I would love to see the bison in the snow sometime. You never know :0) I will look forward to your post regarding driving through big cities. Thanks, Becky.



    • Becky on October 8, 2015 at 10:03 pm

      Yes Pamelab, was a good end to a great season.

      Well, if you came up to Yellowstone during the winter you’d surely see them in snow. πŸ™‚ South Dakota has two wild bison herds too, at Custer State Park and Badlands.



  5. Dawn from Camano Island on October 7, 2015 at 11:42 am

    You put some miles on, Becky! ^5!! Jim’s like that when we’re on the way home–we have several high mileage days & he just keeps on driving’! Seeing Valley Girl & the bison in the road–that’s almost spiritual.

    We like Flying J too–very RV friendly. Jim said he was glad you bought a new propane tank–“They’re nothing to fool around with.” We’re having a rainy day here on the island so we’re going to take it easy. Hope it won’t be long before you can have a similar day.

    Take good care & enjoy the scenery.



    • Becky on October 8, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      It kind of was Dawn, and yeah when I have a destination and a due date I don’t do much meandering.

      My easy day did come, that’s the post I’m putting up today. πŸ™‚



  6. Sherry in MT on October 7, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Okay don’t laugh – but you have the cleanest windshield of anyone I know! LOL So cool you saw Valley Girl on your way out. A fitting release from YNP for sure. I also think it is super cool that since the Flying J propane dude messed up your connection that they did right by you to find someone to fix it. YAY! Travel safe miss and as always I enjoy your travels!



    • Becky on October 8, 2015 at 9:47 pm

      I do edit some of the bug smears out in post production Sherry, haha. And every time I get gas I clean the windshield cause you never know when you’ll need to take a picture when traveling. πŸ˜‰



  7. RGupnorth on October 6, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    I can just picture your route. Flying J has been one of the more friendly truck stops for an overnight from my experience. Denver any time of the day is busy anymore.

    Hope your trip continues to go well.

    Bob



    • Becky on October 7, 2015 at 8:46 am

      Thanks Bob, I’ve enjoyed Flying J’s too, not that I’ve had a bad experience at any truck stop so far but Flying J tends to have RV specific spots which is nice.



  8. Rene Kipp on October 6, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    The Idaho lava flows are unique. We had a chance to visit Craters of the Moon years ago. It’s fascinating to walk near the lava flows and through the lava tunnels. Definitely a place to stop when time permits. Sometimes taking the long route isn’t so bad after all.
    Rene Kipp recently posted..Hiking At A Ski ResortMy Profile



    • Becky on October 7, 2015 at 8:45 am

      Yeah Rene a coworker back in Yellowstone recommended a place I could stay to see more of the lava flows. Will be interesting to come back sometime and explore more.



  9. Pleinguy on October 6, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Enjoy the trip to Texas. Hope you arrive safely and have a good time at Amazon.
    Pleinguy recently posted..Lees FerryMy Profile



    • Becky on October 7, 2015 at 8:44 am

      Thanks Plein! Hope your adventure is going well.



  10. Jodee Gravel on October 6, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    What a gift to see the old wolf πŸ™‚ You’re really making tracks this trip – glad you’ve had uneventful overnights and easy passes to cross. That Green River area is so pretty, we’re hoping to spend some time there next Fall. Yes, those are snow fences along the highway. We’ve seen a lot of magpies in eastern Oregon and California this trip – they’re so pretty!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Fun With Potty in Virginia City, NVMy Profile



    • Becky on October 7, 2015 at 8:42 am

      Yes I love magpies, pretty and I enjoy the funny calls they make.

      I bet Green River will be a fun place to explore, I wonder if there are trails that take you close to the momuments.

      Just glad I missed the snow, although the high is in the upper 80’s where I am now, I went a little too far south a little too quickly. πŸ˜›



  11. Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on October 6, 2015 at 11:37 am

    Other than the re-routes, it sounds like you have been putting lots of miles behind you. While we were heading back toward home here in S. California from our month long pre-full-time out-and-about trip, Sharon commented “You really like to drive, don’t you?” And you know what, I do. Something about the open road, regardless of the destination. I got that same feeling as I read your post and viewed your photos, although MY “open road” driving has not included a wolf or bison. πŸ™‚
    Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets recently posted..Bear Creek – The Trail That Wants To Kill YouMy Profile



    • Becky on October 7, 2015 at 8:39 am

      I like to drive (or am willing to drive?) more miles in a day than most full-timers Ed. Some of it is my smaller rig I think. It’s less stressful to drive and maneuver so I don’t get weary as quickly. Some of it is my age I think. I have more endurance for long drives. Some of it is having a time limit. Unlike many full-timers I work and I absolutely need to be at my destination in time for that job, so I feel compelled to make miles.

      The wolf and bison do make long drives more interesting, I’ll give you that!



  12. Susabelle on October 6, 2015 at 9:17 am

    I’m a transplanted Missourian living in Colorado, northwest of Denver in the small city of Longmont. I-25 is bad no matter what time of day you are trying to drive it, no matter what day of the week. I avoid it, and Denver, whenever I can! My mother and I were in South Dakota October 1-2 and driving back to Longmont on the afternoon of the 3rd. The storm that came through as we got home (7 p.m.-ish) was a gully-washer and the first rain we’ve had since mid-July. I didn’t mind emptying the car in the downpour. πŸ™‚



    • Becky on October 6, 2015 at 10:31 am

      I had the feeling I25 was like that Susabelle, I’d like to see more of Colorado sometime when I’m not on a deadline, it seems like a pretty state. Glad to hear your area got some much needed rain!



  13. Jim@HiTek on October 6, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Great pictures once again. Always enjoy your posts.

    BTW, you don’t say when you got your laptop back? How much backtracking did you have to do?
    Jim@HiTek recently posted..On the way to Portland…My Profile



    • Becky on October 6, 2015 at 10:29 am

      I had to pick it up in West Yellowstone Jim, so I went out the west entrance of the park into Idaho instead of south into the Tetons like I had planned. Didn’t calculate how many extra miles that tacked on, it didn’t matter cause I had to do it either way. πŸ™‚ Glad you enjoyed this.



  14. EmilyO on October 6, 2015 at 8:27 am

    This summer, where I worked, a person had brought in a bottle with the mfg year date of 1949. The propane delivery driver and I both checked for re-certification dates but found none. He looks at the latest dates of all non-product bottles and places them in a different section of his truck. I knew about the 12-yr rule but had not paid attention to the bottles being the reverse threaded. Safe travels.



    • Becky on October 6, 2015 at 10:28 am

      Wow, that was an old one Emily.

      The bottles have both types of threads, the outside of the connection point is threaded regularly, the inside is reverse threaded, so it all depends on what kind of connection the RV (or grill, etc.) has. Mine (like many but not all trailers) has the kind that fits the inside, reverse threaded part.



  15. Shelly, Durham, NC on October 6, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Smart girl being cautious of the truck driver. The good and the bad of our rigs is that we are somewhat unique. Drive safe, make plenty of stops and enjoy the changing scenery.



    • Becky on October 6, 2015 at 10:25 am

      I will Shelly, enjoying myself so far. πŸ™‚



  16. Andy on October 6, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Those are some great pictures. I’ve always loved driving through that part of the country – with all of the beautiful views at each bend in the road and every horizon, I was never board. Thanks for sharing the photos!
    Andy recently posted..Hiking Fox Lake SanctuaryMy Profile



    • Becky on October 6, 2015 at 10:23 am

      You’re welcome Andy. It was a nice drive, I’m enjoying myself.



  17. Yvonne on October 6, 2015 at 7:02 am

    A wolf and a bison. What a great end to a great summer. Can’t wait to read about the next chapter in your adventure.
    Safe traveling,
    Yvonne



    • Becky on October 6, 2015 at 10:23 am

      It was a good summer Yvonne! Hope yours went well too, thanks for reading.



  18. John L. on October 5, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Playing catch up with you and several other bloggers I follow. Glad you found out about the LP tanks having a limited lifespan before a tragic accident happened…yeah, they don’t last forever!! As always, beautiful pics!! Safe Travels………..



    • Becky on October 6, 2015 at 10:22 am

      Even this many years of RVing I’m still learning new things John and glad of it. πŸ™‚



  19. Ron on October 5, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    What a great description of your travels. Almost like being there. Love the buffalo on the road photo. Safe travels



    • Becky on October 6, 2015 at 10:21 am

      Thanks Ron, glad you enjoyed this.



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