Saturday, July 21, 2012

The long road home

Friday we gassed up in Jackson, then headed to Pinedale where we took a road up to a hiking spot.  When we got there, the visitors center was closed and there were no maps or signs, so we couldn't hike safely without having a clue where we were going.  We enjoyed an overlook of the Wind River Range, a bunch of 13,000 foot mountains in Wyoming and chatted it up with some nice Australians.  This area had such intense beetle kill, I can't imagine there being a single tree left in another year or so.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole place burned to the ground next week.  It was DRY.

A little friend of Dave's.

The Westy is a tiny bit smaller than a camper.  Hah!
While we were planning on sleeping at this hiking spot, we now had nothing to do there (thanks a lot, state park service of Wyoming!), so we headed south through the most awful, boring part of Wyoming.  We filled up at Rock Springs, then hit I80.  This is where things got bad.  On I80 we had a headwind from a dry thunderstorm and were only able to go about 40mph.  This felt unsafe.  The road was also very hilly and sometimes we barely could get over the hill while flooring it.  Not cool.

Evidence of the intense winds coming out of this dry thunderstorm... a dust cloud along the gust front.
We got to the divide and the Westy was dying, big time.  We stopped 3 miles before our exit that would take us south to Craig, Colorado.  We stopped, the van smoked, it was overheated.  It wouldn't start back up.  We were literally in the middle of nowhere.  This exit didn't even have a building, just a gravel parking lot for work vehicles that was empty.  Dave made a few adjustments and eventually started the van.  We got back on the highway and turned off for Craig.  We couldn't do anymore flooring it on the highway.  (Looking back, this is when we ruined the Westy's engine.)

We slowly made our way to Craig and got there probably around midnight (GPS had us arriving at 8pm when we first decided our destination, so that's how slow we were going).  We narrowly missed hitting a cow and a pronghorn.  It was lovely.  We found a cute little campground just outside of Craig and went to bed without dinner.

Friday it was apparent that the van was not running properly.  It had issues in first gear and wouldn't get up to speed.  We drove to Steamboat, promising to stop on the way to fish, but we forgot due to our car troubles.  Steamboat welcomed us with a NAPA, but we had no idea what was wrong, so no part in the world would help us.  We tried Rabbit Ears Pass, a 6%+ grade for 7 miles.  We got up to the first curve and could only go 15 mph, so we pulled over and turned around.  This was not fun.  I don't like heights or traffic, so pulling over on the edge of the road, up high was not my thing.

I called every mechanic in town and only one was willing to give us a five minute look.  Thank you Westside Auto!  We parked downtown for a bit and Dave replaced the part that was suggested to change.  We tried the pass again.  No luck.  The Westy had oil all over one side of the engine, the under part, and the back door.  Something was wrong that might not be fixable without a major engine overhaul.  We could drive around town, but were kind of stuck in this bowl of Steamboat Springs, not able to get out from hills on almost all sides.

I called for towing information and Park at Westside Auto (and towing, and Uhaul) suggested we tow it home with a Uhaul.  A real tow would be about $700 and Dave and I would have to find our own ride back.  Dave's cousin offered to come get us and the van in their porsche trailer, but they were out of state at the moment and we'd have to wait until Tuesday.  That would be fine if we weren't trying to move Dave to New York later this week!  The Uhaul was the cheapest and easiest choice.  We camped at the town KOA with about 2000 other people and one bathroom and fished for trout in the Yampa.


Saturday morning Dave talked to two more people about the mechanics of the situation, tried one last attempt at finding the problem, and then we gave in and rented the Uhaul before it closed at noon.  Unfortunately, all they did was help us hook up the dolly, but not put the car on the dolly.  While we were loading the van, a tow truck driver stopped by and told us we had to have the van backwards or we'd ruin the transmission.  (I'd like to think we would have figured that out, but I really appreciate the tow truck driver stopping to suggest!)  We put the van on the dolly, rigged up some rope to hold the steering wheel in place, and hoped for the best.

We made it over Rabbit ears pass.  It then started getting windy and rainy.  Two light, high profile vehicles in the wind were not fun.  We stopped at Green Reservoir and I thought we were going to blow right into it, so we kept going.  We made it through Eisenhower tunnel, down the other side, and made it home safely.  Thanks to some rain, my tomato plants are at least a foot taller than when I left them!

I have to say, the first issue with the van was totally not a big deal.  Being "stranded" in a campground in a national park was totally fun.  The second time was not as fun.  Dave is still trying to figure out what the problem is, but has narrowed it down to two pistons not having proper pressure (or something like that, I'm not so good with mechanics).  I think this means we can't fix it ourselves and this leaves us without a plan for moving to New York this weekend.  I'm sure we'll work something out!

All in all, it was a great trip.  I really love the camper-van lifestyle and loved Grand Teton National Park!.  Having a stove and a sink and two beds in one place made for easy camping in black and grizzly bear country.  I hate seeing it broken down!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Gros Ventre

We stocked up on groceries, then went back through Yellowstone on Wednesday and stopped at a few of the places we had missed including one of the bigger pools with some of the coolest colors.

Check out the steam colors.
This one was on the lake!

We drove south back through Tetons and hiked to Taggart Lake near the base of the Tetons at sunset.

A sweet falls on the way to the lake.

Taggart Lake, a great place to think.

Watching the fish.
The blue monster.

Take my picture!

Crepuscular Rays over the Tetons!

Sleeping Indian.

Bison in the morning after sleeping at Gros Ventre.

Just crossed the road, don't want to hit this dude!
We found a comfortable camping spot at the Gros Ventre campground at the south end of the park and enjoyed a relaxing evening.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


We ventured into Yellowstone on Tuesday and made the mistake of not grabbing camping right away.  The whole park is like a figure eight and we wanted to do the bottom circle, starting at the south and ending west.  By the time we got to the west campground it was full, so we went up to the top of the figure eight only to find that was also full.  Fun fun.  We'd enjoy what we could in the park, then have to find camping outside the park, which is about an extra hour drive at the end of the day.

We started off at Old Faithful and enjoyed the geysers around that area.  We got a surprise show from the lion geyser and got to see a bison.  We grabbed lunch and watched Old Faithful one last time before hitting the road and dealing with massive crowds the rest of the day.

Dave saw a kid posing like this and thought it was hilarious.  This is brother Andy's favorite geyser.  :)

Old Faithful finally went off!

My first Bison!
 If I could sum up yellowstone briefly... it is one of the weirdest places on earth, but you should only go here if you are okay with feeling like a schmoe tourist who is willing to walk on prescribed paths with no shade in July sun with hundreds and thousands of people.  I really didn't care for it.  I'm glad I saw it, but there is no reason for me to ever, ever go back, especially because we felt extremely unwelcome due to the lack of camping availability and the lack of the ability to find out any information about which sites still had space.

We hiked to the Yellowstone Grand Canyon, which was at the top of the lower falls, the biggest waterfall I've ever seen!  I suffered from major vertigo at the falls.  The water rushing by and the several hundred foot fall at my feet had me sitting on the bench while Dave enjoyed the view.  We also hit up the upper falls, which was less spectacular.   
Lower falls.  300 foot drop.

Yellowstone Cascade Canyon, 300 feet falls.

This is my "holy crap!" face.

Upper falls, not as far down.

I was starting to like this guy, pretty cozy.

Norris Geysers at sunset.  I'd have enjoyed the sunset more if we knew where we were going to be sleeping!

Such a weird place.  I highly recommend night viewing at Yellowstone.  There were only 10 total people at this place at 9:20pm.

We look totally wiped in this picture!  Long day!  Still had an hour drive in front of us.
After hitting the best geyser spot of the day at sunset, Norris, we left the park and headed towards West Yellowstone.  I thought it would be a campsite, but it was a town.  A town complete with a late night McDonalds.  Yup, it was 11:00, we had no place to stay, and we hadn't eaten dinner.  McDonalds it was!  Dave has a no-McDonalds rule, so he was extremely unhappy with this turn of events.  We drove around town and found several full RV sites, then illegally pulled into an empty one after hours and paid in the morning.  We paid an incredible amount of money, but had electricity and so we charged our phones and slept in.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cascade Canyon

We hiked from Jenny Lake up to the top of Cascade Canyon, about 13 miles round trip.  It's a good thing we didn't do the extra 6 miles to Solitude Lake because my body was aching from a poorly placed pack.  It was a beautiful hike!  We saw falls, a moose, wild flowers, butterflies, the Tetons, glaciers, and enjoyed lunch at the top of the canyon.

Ready to go!  It was super cold out so early in the morning, but I quickly warmed up. 

On the way to Hidden Falls we found these falls.

Hidden Falls.  There were gobs of people here.  While we hiked around half of the lake to get here, there was a ferry that brought every schmoe from here to Texas. 

Lots of butterflies on our hike!

The Grand Teton was to our left all the way up the canyon.  Also, I hike with poles.

Looking left.  Lots of cool falls coming from the glaciers.

This mom and her baby moose were munching on the bushes about 20 feet from us, then turned and quickly ran down the trail in front of us!  I ran the other way until the people behind me gave me a funny look.  It freaked me out!  We saw her later drinking at the river.

At the top of Cascade Canyon, we could have gone further to Solitude Lake, but had lunch watching these cool falls, then turned back. 

We stopped for a dip in Jackson Lake before heading to Flagg Ranch to sleep for the night on our way to Yellowstone.  Our 7-day Teton/Yellowstone park pass was about to expire!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Charlie and the Coil

Sunday we woke up early to catch the bus to Jackson to pick up the part that was broken on the Westy.  Our bus driver was a really nice guy and acted as a sort of tour guide.  We hadn't seen the Tetons up close yet because we hadn't been out of Coulter Bay, so it was awesome to get a tour on our way to town.  The stop after ours, Charlie got on the bus.  He is a man who works at the parks during the summer, ski resorts in the winter, and is a sort of concierge.  He knows what to do, how to get around, who to talk to, and made the rest of our day interesting, easy, and fun.  He told us about a free bus that would take us right to the Carquest, then suggested a place for lunch, a cool thrift shop, and met us back on the bus for the way back.

A labyrinth in town.
Charlie-- thanks for making our day bright! 
Not a bad view from the bus!

Engine is in the back, which means all of our stuff was strewn about.
Dave put the coil in, and after a few adjustments, the car started!!!  I was actually not jumping for joy when it happened, I think I had inhaled too many bad fumes during the process and needed a breather.  I was much happier later!
We picked up some jiffy pop from the grocery store.  I'm pretty sure this was my first jiffy pop.  I got a lot of joy out of this popcorn making process!
Now we could finally do the hike Monday morning, only we adjusted it due to some suggestions from Charlie.  This was our last night in Coulter Bay.