The number in the title is the number of miles we drove on our “West of the Rockies” road trip we just finished last week, Wednesday November 21. We began our trip on August 25 and drove a “little” further than we expected in my initial planning. Our original goal was to arrive back home by October 25th. However once we got to Utah at the end of September we realized how close we really were to Southern California and made a decision to extend our trip another month.
This required me changing my work gateway to the San Diego International Airport. Due to our company rules I had to wait another 30 days before changing the gateway to Asheville for when we returned. So this was the major reason we spent an extra month away.
I thought I’d highlight some places we visited with a few pics here and later I may focus on each unique location with their own photos. As you might imagine I took a lot of photographs. Of course most are not keepers but I just looked at my Aperture Library and I have close to 4,000 images to work through.
We thought we’d start this vacation by visiting the Rapid City, South Dakota area which includes the Mount Rushmore National Park. But since we hadn’t made any official plans for really any part of this trip we changed our minds and drove to the Estes Park, Colorado to begin our vacation at the Rocky Mountain National Park.
We had never been here before and tried to get here a couple years ago but we left too late in the early fall and they already had snow there. We arrived to the Spruce Lake Campground the week before Labor Day Weekend. Hadn’t thought much about but by Thursday evening prior to the weekend it became an issue. We didn’t have reservations and the place was booked through the weekend. We thought we were going to have to find a Walmart parking lot to park our trailer.
Fortunately the campground had a cancellation and we stayed through the weekend. What we learned is that Estes Park over the Labor Weekend becomes a big party place. So we went with the flow and enjoyed meeting some new people and tried to fit in the best we could.
After spending a week in Estes Park we time to keep heading west. The shortest route going west from Estes Park is through the Rocky Mountain National Park via the Trail Ridge Road. From the national park website: “Covering the 48 miles between Estes Park on the park’s east side and Grand Lake on the west, Trail Ridge Road more than lives up to its advanced billing. Eleven miles of this high highway travel above treeline, the elevation near 11,500 feet where the park’s evergreen forests come to a halt. As it winds across the tundra’s vastness to its high point at 12,183 feet elevation, Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34) offers visitors thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their car.”
After driving the truck up to the highest point without the trailer the day before we decided not to go over the top but we drove south to I-70 and then across Colorado a ways before driving north to Steamboat Springs.
We spent a couple days in Steamboat Springs where I tried to improve my luck fly fishing that I didn’t do so well with back at Estes Park but struck out again.
From the “Springs” we continued west and camped along the Green River on the Utah side of the Dinosaur National Monument Park. What a wonderful park. Right on the river with hardly a sole there. Plus its a dry camping park with no hookups.
When we arrived to the park I noticed a small leak coming from the truck’s radiator. Not good as our next jaunt was going through Flaming Gorge with 8% grades. Vernal, Utah was just down the road and had a Ford dealership. We got there on a Sunday afternoon September 9th to allow me to go to their service center first thing Monday morning. Vernal, Utah is very busy with pipeline work and found out quickly that my truck was not the only one around that needed service. It would be days.
However, another camper where we were staying was a foreman for one of the pipeline companies said to call the Ford dealer in Kemmerer, Wyoming as that was where they took their trucks when they were working in the Rock Springs, Wyoming area. I called their service center first thing Monday and they could see me that afternoon.
(Kemmerer, Wyoming is where JC Penny started his first store)
So we blasted out of Vernal and headed north to Kemmerer, Wyoming through Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. The truck did fine as the leak was very small. The radiator was repaired in a day and the costs were covered by a service bulletin. Not bad as Kemmerer was on our way to the Tetons/Yellowstone.
We stayed a evening in Alpine, Wyoming southwest of Jackson, Wyoming and I tried fly fishing the Grays River there. Again I was skunked. Leaving Alpine the plan was to spend a couple days at Teton National Park but the air was affected by forest fires in Idaho. You could hardly see the mountains.
A phone call up to Yellowstone told us the visibility wasn’t affected there so we drove through the Tetons and found an awesome camping site at Grant Village near West Thumb. We spent 10 days dry camping at Grant Village and was there the perfect time to watch an Elk Rut and was fairly centrally located to drive to the other parts of the park.
From Grant Village we drove on to West Yellowstone and spent another 4 days there before driving to Hill AFB in Ogden, Utah. I finally had to go to work for a week and this stopping point was the only really pre-planning we had done before leaving North Carolina.
When I got to the Salt Lake City area on October 5th we drove south to Zion National Park. (From here we had originally planned to drive east through Moab to visit Arches/Canyonland/Dead Horse Point Parks.)
We camped in Zion for a week and the first day in the park we were able to hike the canyon in Zion before it rained. My oldest son and I also hike Observation Point trail. Unfortunately I chickened out 3/4 of the way up due to the narrow trails and 1,500′ drop offs. Those type of heights are not my idea of fun just as we didn’t drive across Trail Ridge Road in Colorado.
After leaving Zion we camped a couple places along Mead Lake and visited the Hoover Dam. On a sad note, as we were driving into the entrance to the dam we noticed a coroners SUV in front of us. It became apparent a bit later that someone had jumped off the dam and of course the coroner was there to deal with that tragedy. It didn’t make our visit to the dam so pleasant.
We left the Las Vegas, Nevada area on October 18 and our next destination was the beach at Camp Pendleton’s San Onofre Campground. The campground was almost empty and we were able to get a spot on the sand!! San Onofre is surfing heaven for California and of course you couldn’t beat the views.
From the beach we drove down to San Diego and camped at the Admiral Baker RV Campground where we spent the rest of our vacation before the 2,400 mile drive back home.