August 9, Tuesday
My time at the employee campground at Old Faithful is up. It’s time to leave Yellowstone and head on to new adventures.
Bertha chugs over Craig Pass and down the other side, crossing the continental divide three times on the way to Grand Teton National Park. Sunday’s storms are well gone and it’s smooth sailing all the way, with just a few fluffy cotton clouds dotting the sky. The Tetons dominate the horizon to the west, their grandeur heightened by the relative flatness of the land around them.
There’s some pretty impressive boondocking in the Tetons for those in the know. It’s not in the park proper, but on Forest Service land to the east of 191. At Moran junction I point Bertha’s nose south and watch the road signs.
When the turnoff for the Cunningham Cabin Historic Site shows up, I turn left instead (south) onto an unassuming gravel road – Forest Road 30333. This isn’t uncommon. Most dispersed camping areas have no signs or indicators to point out what they are from the main road. It’s hard to stumble onto boondocking spots without maps and/or knowledge from prior campers (I use FreeCampsites.net and Campendium to find most of my boondocking spots).
About a half-mile down, out of sight from 191, are three large pullouts and a board with camping rules posted. Two big rigs with a horse trailer are in one of the large areas preparing for a ride. If you’re in a large RV this is the easiest option, but if you’re smaller like Cas, the reviews online all say the place to be is at the top of the hill. I park Bertha and Cas and walk on foot first to scope it out. In heavy rains the road can become muddy and impassable, and the storms two days ago dumped a fair bit of rain where I was in Yellowstone. Luckily, the road here is dry and in good shape.
I walk back down to the rig and slowly climb the “S” curve along the steep hillside, keeping to the left at the fork. The grade isn’t bad and the road is wide enough not to feel dangerous but it is a steep drop-off on one side, and if the road were to erode it could become perilous.
The view at the top is priceless. This is a well-known boondocking area with several reviews online gushing about how good it is, and as a result there are already several campers here, even on a Tuesday. Two RVs and two tents have taken the primo location at the edge of the hill overlooking the Tetons. The spot is big enough that I could squeeze in there with them, but since I value privacy more I pick the next site back.
It’s still a good spot. A van and another RV show up before dark, but they park away from me. The orange of sunset behind the deep purple of the mountains makes for a pretty good picture.
August 10, Wednesday
My office view from the side window improves throughout the next morning as campers leave one by one. By noon I have the whole place to myself, sweet!
I could move to the site along the edge and have this fantastic view…
…But I opt not to stay a second night. The chances of new campers coming in and not parking right next to me is about nil this time of year. Plus, my propane is due to run out any day now and my tanks need dumping.
Back at the bottom of the hill, I retrace my steps up 191 to Moran Junction and this time veer east onto US26.
The road slowly climbs up through spruce and fir forests and high meadows dotted with creeks and lakes. The sage disappears, and things start to look decidedly alpine. I cross the continental divide again, and shortly after and my suspicions are confirmed as I see the sign for Togwotee Pass at 9,658 feet, this is pretty high up there!
But it’s not nerve-wracking like some high passes are. It’s like driving up and down steps with steeper parts interspersed with more level ground which makes it a much easier drive for RVs. As I start down the other side, a sign proclaims: “2% – 6% grades next 9 miles, use lower gear”. I don’t even need to be in 2nd gear for parts of it.
Picturesque gray cliffs poke out from the tops of conifers on the other side, worn in places to spires, a creek appears along the road and grows as the road descends toward Dubois. The scenery is a perfect example of western mountains. Wow, what a nice drive.
But wait, that’s not all.
The hillside to the northeast of 26 gets progressively drier, while the valley the creek (now the Wind River) flows through remains green and forests carpet the southwest hillside (all except for the part that the Lava Mountain fire has eaten up anyway).
Around a bend the grass on the northern slope disappears entirely and stunning white and red striped badlands appear opposite the meadows and forests. It’s like I’ve been instantly transported to South Dakota. Wow, now there’s a contrast!
But wait, that’s still not all.
Past Dubois, the badlands slowly take over the southern side of the road too, and end shortly before entering the Wind River Reservation. But then near the riverside, bright red cliffs loom over the road, and it’s like I’ve been transported to Utah. Gee, three states in one short drive, how cool!
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because I don’t make it to the reservation until the next day.
I stop at Dubois and pay for a night in a full-hookup park, as I do once every six weeks or so to flush my black tank thoroughly and charge up all my electronics.
I stay at the KOA, where there is a barn and horse corral right outside my window. Not a bad view while I have supper.
I also get my laundry done, make use of the free WiFi, and generally enjoy all the benefits of free power. One thing they don’t have is propane though, and the AmeriGas in town is closed due to the fire that I mentioned on the way in.
August 11, Thursday
Goodbye overpriced KOA, hello open road. I finally procure propane at the Longhorn RV park on the east end of town ($16 for 4.7 gallons and one tank lasts 18-22 days, not bad) and continue southeast on US26 into the reservation, where I get that picture of the red cliffs. Farther on the drive becomes less interesting, but at one point there is a spot off in the distance near Jeffrey City, WY where domes of tan granite have been fractured into blocks similar to the rocks at Joshua Tree National Park in CA, that makes four states in one drive.
I stop at a rest area shortly after noon for lunch and another Casita pulls in. That makes the third one I’ve seen since yesterday. The couple are from Florida on and their way to Colorado to visit family. We leave at the same time and unintentionally caravan for a while.
My route leaves 26 behind in favor of 287, which veers farther south towards Rawlins. Casitas #4-8 pass me going the other way. I can only conclude there must be a meetup going on. I wave at them as they pass.
The storm clouds that have been advancing in a line from the southwest since lunchtime hit Bertha and Cas like a wall not far outside of Rawlins. One minute I’m driving along minding my own business, the next I’m fighting the wheel as strong gusts threaten to pull me into oncoming traffic. Bertha’s engine roars to keep speed at 50 mph, and I can almost see the needle of my gas gauge dropping in the strong headwind. I watch my side mirrors closely, but Cas behaves like a gentleman, dutifully following along behind Bertha with no indication of fish-tailing. Still, I’ve never driven in wind like this before and if it gets any worse I’ll have to pull over until the front passes over.
Twenty minutes later the wind lets up, and as I pull into a gas station in Rawlins to refuel the sun appears. After topping off the tank, I pull into I80 heading east, back into the storm – this come entering it from behind. An LED billboard on the edge of town is flashing with a warning as the menacing clouds loom overhead: “50 mph wind gusts, light trailers not advised”. Heh, I knew it was some serious wind. Thank goodness for fancy sway control hitches – best $600 I spent on RVing equipment.
The wind isn’t as bad going this direction, as it’s blowing with me rather than against me. I’m on the interstate only about 15 miles or so before my exit appears for 130, a little two-lane road that vanishes off into an endless expanse of scrub.
Four miles north of Saratoga, WY I drive right by the turnoff for tonight’s camp – not recognizing it until it’s too late. I turn around in a pullout and try again at a slower speed. Like the road in the Tetons it’s unassuming, the brown BLM sign for Foote Access Area is small and easy to miss, much bigger is the sign for 5N ranch next to it which makes it look like a private road.
I proceed at a crawl down 1.5 miles of excruciatingly bad washboard, the worst I’ve driven on to date. At 5N ranch the road goes left or right, and I follow the right fork up a slight hill through more sage brush. At the top of the hill the cottonwood trees growing along the north fork of the Platte River become visible, the camping area is hidden down there. At the second fork, you can turn left for the fishing area or right for the campground.
It’s a small free dispersed camping area with maybe five sites, and has a pit toilet and a five day stay limit – trash is pack-in pack-out. I pick the site off by itself behind the outhouse, which has it’s own private walk down to the river – not visible through the brush growing along the shore.
Five minutes after I arrive, the fridge runs out of gas. Is that good timing or what? I replace the bottle with the one filled at Longhorn RV earlier in the day and heat up supper without fear of running out of gas half-way through.
The view from the rocky bar at the edge of the river is worth the rough drive to get here. The storm has moved out, but the clouds left behind make for a good sunset.
There’s only one other RV here tonight (they arrived right after I did), and like me they seem to value peace and quiet. After the crowds at Yellowstone and the Tetons, it’s nice camping more or less alone again.
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