July 20, Wednesday
There’s a heaviness to the air as I pack up and prepare to depart Beaver Dick County Park, near Rexburg, ID. Insects hum from the protection of the scrubby woods, there’s not a lick of breeze to be found. It’s going to be a hot day.
Luckily my destination is at a higher elevation. At Rexburg I get back on US20 headed north and drive through several towns and farming communities. The boundary of Targhee National Forest is easy to spot from a distance – a plateau of darker green carpeted with conifers.
There’s a lot of road work under way between Ashton and Island Park. I get stopped once where a stretch of the road is down to one lane. The fellow in front of me gets out of his car to grab something from his back seat. The lady behind me gets out to talk to the fellow directing traffic – probably to ask how long it’ll take. Farther back, a young man ducks off into the woods, probably to relieve himself. Being an RVer is incredibly handy in this sort of situation. If I need to use the bathroom, I have it with me. If I’m hungry, my pantry is just a few feet away.
About 15 minutes pass, then the stream of cars start coming from the direction, it’s almost our turn. The rest of the drive is uneventful.
Island Park isn’t a town so much as a loose collection of subdivisions and businesses catering to tourists. It spans many miles along 20 but isn’t a built up area. Technically, my boondocking spot is in Island Park. Finding the boondocking area isn’t hard, during the busy summer season you can see RVs right from 20, but it’s hard to give directions. I’ll do my best, but the easiest way is to go to the Campendium or Free Campsites website and look at a map – this is a popular area and it’s well documented.
Red Rock Road is south of Henry’s Lake on the west side of 20. It’s a paved road, but immediately after turning onto it you turn right (north) onto Bootjack Drive (a wide dirt road) and cross the cattle grate. The spur roads to the boondocking start right after that.
Parts of the area are forested and parts are open meadow, so whether you have solar or prefer shade and a generator, there are options. Depending on the time of year that you come, privacy may be a rare commodity. This spot is about 20 minutes from West Yellowstone and July is the busiest month of the year for the park. There is plenty of space, as long as you’re willing to crowd together. In places, it looks like a campground. Big rigs will have no trouble accessing the spots at the start of the spur roads and there are several large groups with ATVs when I arrive.
Wanting to be away from the crowds, I drive farther in, where the dirt road is very rutted from being driven over while wet. This is probably the bumpiest road I’ve driven on to find camping, although the road condition must change constantly depending on the weather. If there’s significant rain in the forecast, you’d be better off staying up front.
I find a clearing in the woods big enough that my solar won’t be useless and pull on in. The grass is very tall out here but in the popular sites it looks like it gets cut occasionally, I don’t know if the forest service does this or if campers do it themselves.
July 26, Tuesday
After several days hanging out around camp, I take a drive down Red Rock Road out to the lake. There is supposedly boondocking along the shore. There is definitely boondocking along the road before you get to the lake. This camper had several bovine visitors when I drove past.
All the trees around my site make it hard to tell, but this really is a pretty area. Forests of pine, sagebrush meadows with wildflowers, and mountains. Today the sky is overcast, lending a moody air to the landscape.
You may wonder why I so often take day trips when it’s cloudy, it’s certainly not by chance. There are two reasons. For starters, overcast days tend to be cooler. If I can avoid getting sweaty, I don’t need to shower as often. It’s a cost and time-saving method for a boondocker. The second reasons is on cloudy days I’m not drawing much power in from my solar equipment, so I can’t be on my computer working all day.
Bertha rumbles up to the edge of the lake at the location where the boondocking is suppose to be. There’s nobody camping here, and I’m not sure this is a “legit” location. I do find one firepit, but it’s been mostly dismantled and doesn’t look like it’s been used for a while. My guess is people occasionally come out here to overnight, but if you tried for an extended stay you’d be kicked out.
There are other camping options, for those who want to be closer to the lake. On the east end is Henry’s Lake State Park, on the west is Bill Frome Memorial County RV Park. I haven’t been to either so you’ll have to look online for details.
Henry’s Lake is good sized. Wind coming out of the north blows waves up on the rocky shore below, there’s a bit of a cliff here.
Once again I test Bertha’s off-roading capabilities, following the dirt road beyond the quasi-camping area along the lake shore. I soon encounter a group of free-ranging cattle that are reluctant to move and let me past. Beyond them is another camp site, this one with an intact fire ring, but there’s no way I’d take Cas this far down the road, it’s just too rough.
Just beyond the campsite, the road climbs sharply up a hill that Bertha can’t pass. I just can’t get enough traction on the loose dirt to power up it, maybe if I had all-terrain tires. When I stop, the truck starts sliding backwards at an angle which is a bit alarming. I’m able to straighten up and back up to the campsite to turn around.
Up next: Hiking in Yellowstone, and a visitor to camp.
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