With fresh memories of Cathedral Valley and Capitol Reef National Park still lingering, we were off to Wyoming and Idaho. Our drive on Utah Hwy 24 west took us through Loa, Sigurd then joined Utah Hwy 118 which passed I-70 near Salina where we took US Hwy 50 West near the community of Scipio & Scipio Lake. We hopped on I-15 North to Provo. US Hwy 189 provided a scenic route past Brigham Young University and through Provo Canyon. The Provo River entertained us with cascades and white-water rapids. No shortage of campgrounds, picnic areas and parks here and we noticed a number of waterfront state parks along this route which piqued our interest.
Interstate 80 East would take us to Evanston where we would return to Utah SR 30, head north, briefly to Wyoming, before our destination in Garden City, Utah on Bear Lake.
We aspired to have supper at Merlin’s Diner which “wowed” us with their awesome burgers and raspberry shakes a few years back. We chose poorly. A Sunday evening proved to be the wrong time, as the place was packed out the door! Absolutely not a mask in sight nor was there any effort to social distance. We opted to check in to our nearby campground and had some costly but pretty good Stromboli at the local pizza joint. The epic raspberry shakes will just have to wait!
There is something special about knowing you are heading to Grand Teton National Park.
With making reservations, cancellations, and re-booking we were happy to get into Colter Bay RV village for a few days. The weather was a bit stormy which gave us some interesting photographic opportunities as we ventured through the park. Teton Park Road provides dramatic views of the mountain peaks. Heading south from Colter Bay you will catch glimpses of Jackson Lake, Leigh Lake, String Lake and Jenny Lake. Looking up above the shorelines you will see Eagle Rest Peak, Mt Moran, Mt St John, the Grand Teton and Buck Mountain displaying their pure awesomeness. There is an abundance of observation turnouts, lake access, trailheads along this route.
The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose is at the southern entrance to the park. The day we visited was the first day the Center was open because of the pandemic. Park Rangers controlled the number of guests that entered and strictly enforced the wearing of masks. We experienced similar guidelines at Colter Bay General Store. Guests were responsive to the established guidelines.
Upon our departure, we got back on US HWY 26/89/191 and headed north to see a broader view of the mountain peaks and more scenic lookouts and opportunities to observe the majesty of this National Park.
We also enjoyed the trails in and around the campground. Any time you can walk the dogs without bear or coyote encounters is ALWAYS a plus. Zeus is still is intrigued by anything with horns or antlers. Antelope, deer, elk, and moose still cause a frantic “barooo” which eliminates any chance of a candid photograph of nature’s wildlife.
Our time at the Tetons has come to an end. Short but rewarding and our lives have become further enriched by the expansive beauty of the park. A short journey north into Yellowstone National Park where we would be exposed to a completely different kind of beauty and splendor.
A brief stop at “Old Faithful” was next on the agenda. We had plenty of room to park the RV with our Jeep attached as the parking facilities at this iconic destination was easily over 20 acres. After a short puppy walk, Deb and I were off to see Old Faithful blow her lid.
After experiencing professional pandemic park management techniques during our visit at the Grand Tetons, we were not so fortunate in Yellowstone. Overcrowding, little or no social distancing, less than 20% wore masks and the only way you knew there was a pandemic going on was most of the bathrooms were closed. We witnessed the venting of Old Faithful and made our way to the General store for tourist trinkets before our departure. ABSOLUTELY no constraints for COVID whatsoever! For a minute we thought it was Black Friday at Kohls…no mistaking that Yellowstone NP was fully open for business.
Heading west on Grand Loop Road, the drive on US Hwy 191 was simply amazing. We continued our journey along the West Entrance Road that followed the Madison River until we left the park. West Yellowstone is a bustling tourist community that we would later find ourselves spending more time here, shopping and dining.
Our destination was Henry Lake State Park in Idaho. Less than 30 minutes from Yellowstone, it was a perfect spot for trips back into the park and a chance for us to further explore the “Other-side of the Tetons” in Idaho.
The first day was devoted to a trip down into Teton Canyon near Victor, Idaho. The drive on US Hwy 20 South through Island Park to Ashton then SR 32 to Tetonia brought back wonderful memories of our last visit here. The rolling hills in the fall of 2019 were golden fields of wheat awaiting harvest. With “Amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty” bouncing around in our heads, we were overcome with the beauty here and nicknamed it “The other-side of the Tetons”. The fields were now fresh green with a new crop in the ground as we continued down past the abandoned grain elevators that once stored the harvested grain to be transported out by rail. The Ashton-Tetonia State park follows that old railroad route through this area and is now a popular bike trail.
Before we reached Driggs, Idaho, we began our backroad journey into Teton Canyon. There were several campgrounds we were doing “recon” on to see if they were suitable for the Black Pearl. Some the sites were big enough for our needs, but we quickly realized that the washboard roads were NOT conducive for big motorhome travel. The drive followed the Teton Creek, so Deb and I had ample opportunities for Puppy walks in the creek, some beautiful shots of the Teton Mountain peaks and found a nice spot to picnic before we headed back toward Henry’s Lake.
We retraced our route back to Ashton with a couple of detours to seek out grain elevators along the way. We were successful. Deb wants to buy this one and make it a summer home and Airbnb along the bike trail. Let us know if we should start a “Go Fund Me” account to make this happen.. LOL
The Mesa Falls Scenic route is a loop drive from Ashton back to US Hwy 20 near Island Park. Well worth the trip. The downer for us was everything was closed to COVID. The Lower Mesa Falls Observation area was open and there were some Social Distancing posters visible. Quite a view to the falls in the canyon below. A few miles up the road was the Mesa Falls Visitor Center. Parking lot was slammed full, no visible signs of anyone wearing a mask so we decided the falls would still be here for another visit and we would keep it on our bucket list.
The cool morning air provided some excellent photo ops along the Madison River on our way to visit the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.
Our early start proved fruitful as there was still plenty of parking. For anyone that visits these iconic stops be prepared for full parking lots and traffic congestion because people still park on the roadways which creates traffic gridlock. Toss in a bear, an elk, a buffalo or two and people will park in the middle of the road for a selfie. Same consideration should be given if you are an avid hiker, parking is limited at many of the trail heads and the early bird DOES get the worm.
It is June and with the growing number of people now in the park, Deb and I have opted to find more scenic drives to take and less stops at attractions to minimize contact with outsiders / strangers / mouthbreathers. Firehole Lake Loop was unbelievable. Firehole Spring, Broken Egg Spring, Pink Cone Geyser and Firehole Lake highlighted this short one-way drive. We also had several buffalo sightings along this route.
Firehole Canyon Drive is another short one-way scenic route that takes you up the Firehole Canyon past the falls. Also, there is a famous swimming hole along this route that was closed to COVID, so the traffic flow up the river canyon was pretty good.
As we were leaving around 1130 we noticed that both lanes entering the park were backed up all the way into West Yellowstone. The timing for our morning visit was near perfect.
Our last day in Idaho was spent adventuring and looking for future camping opportunities. A short drive from Henry’s Lake St. Park is Big Springs. It’s the birth of Henry’s Fork River. Crystal clear water boiling up from the underground. On a technical note, Big Springs is one of the 40 largest springs in the country and is a major source for Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, the water originates from the Yellowstone Plateau and maintains a year-round temperature of 52 degrees.
A short drive down US Hwy 20 takes you to Island Park Dam and the nearby Buffalo River Dam. There was a nice trail that took you right to the waters edge to the top of the Buffalo dam where you could see the penstocks and fish ladders. There were quite a few fishermen at the confluence of these two rivers and plenty of fishing floats at the nearby boat landing. A fishing license is a must the next time we visit this area.
There are several USFS campgrounds in the vicinity. Some are for primitive camping for tents and some are equipped to handle motorhomes/RVs. With Henry’s Lake state park so close, Deb and I will have some decisions to make for our next visit.
Back on the open road – Bound for the Big Skies of Montana.