Yellow Stone Park and the Grand Tetons

Fox Creek Campground — Yellowstone is a really interesting place.  It would be a great place if there weren’t so many people.  I say this having visited in late September when most of the crowds were gone.  In fact, I stayed in the park only one night — the last night that the campground I was in was open.  Pretty much everything in the park was shutting down.

The roads around Yellowstone aren’t very scenic compared to what I’d seen passing through Montana.  That’s because they’re mostly tree-lined 2-lane roads.  Nice, but nothing special.   What makes Yellowstone special is the stuff that bubbles out of the ground, and the wildlife.  That said, the misty picture at the top of this post was taken near the South entrance to the park.

As for the wildlife.  It is abundant, but not as abundant as the people.  So, if you want to spot the wildlife, just look for the crowds.  I learned that lesson not more than 10 minutes after entering the park.  Take this elk for example.  I took this picture from inside my truck.

Elk -- The illusion
Elk — The illusion

Of course, the reason that I could take this picture is that I was stuck in a traffic jam caused by said elk.  Can you spot the elk beyond the people?

Elk -- The Reality
Elk — The Reality

I can see why the less informed might wander up to these “wild” animals.  They almost seem to have been placed there by the park staff — for the wilderness experience.  It’s just like Disneyland!

My next great wildlife shot occurred a few miles down the road.  Aren’t these Bison great?

Bison -- The Illusion
Bison — The Illusion

I didn’t need a long lens for that last shot.  I did, however, have to wait a bit for the bison to move so I could park the truck.

Bison -- The Reality
Bison — The Reality

The only time I needed a long lens for wildlife was when I was shooting the Grizzly.  Again, there was a crowd of people, but the rangers wisely kept everyone a few hundred yards away.  Eventually this bear wandered back into the trees.  With a Grizzly that close I decided not to hang around in event that the rangers re-opened the Mud Volcano trail.

Grizzly near Mud Volcano

I missed seeing Old Faithful by about 3 minutes.   I’m sure the 300 odd people that were there enjoyed it.  However,  I did see lots of interesting things bubbling or spewing out of the ground.   Here are a few shots.

Silex Spring
Silex Spring
Small Geyser
Small Geyser
Mud Pot
Mud Pot

While not that impressive as a photograph, one of my favorites  is Dragon’s Mouth Spring, near the Mud Volcano. The name is so appropriate.  It’s hard to believe that this attraction wasn’t dreamed up by some Disney Imagineer.   What the photo doesn’t capture is the belching noises and the waves of water that accompany them.  Here’s a YouTube video that sort of captures the sound.

ysDragon's Mouth Spring
Dragon’s Mouth Spring

On my way towards the NE exit,  I did pass a spectacular canyon with some amazing geological features.  Here’s a shot of that area.  You really need to click the picture to see the detail.   I’m not sure of what the place is called, but that’s the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone River Canyon
Yellowstone River Canyon

As I was in the neighborhood,  I made an early morning trip down to the Grand Tetons before heading up the east side of Yellowstone Park.  Wow!   It was gorgeous!  Don’t the Tetons look great in the morning light?

Grand Tetons

Up next,  Beartooth Pass — Crazy!

Miles Today:178
Total Miles:1034
Avg Miles/Day: 259

Virginia City — Great place to visit

Virginia City —  It’s not big, and it won’t take you long to see what there is to see, but what impressed me about Virginia City, MT is that it’s not really a tourist trap.  This gold-rush ghost town has a large collections of period buildings, many of which were moved there from other places.  That said,  they weren’t turned into cheezy t-shirt and gift shops.   Sure, there are a few buildings like that, but most of the them are set up with period interiors.  The best part — it’s all free.   Step inside the doorways and you’ll see an old dry goods store, barber shop, newspaper, or dress shop.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  But before I show you Virginia City,  here’s a shot from Nevada City, which is less than one mile away.  One of the great things about a truck camper for a road trip is that you can park almost anywhere.   Here’s my truck in front of the Star Bakery.  If you ever pass through Nevada City, stop and try the cinnamon rolls.  They’re perfect.  Not very sweet, and very soft.  The locals seem to eat here.


Star Bakery, Nevada City, MT
Star Bakery, Nevada City, MT

As you can see, the Virginia City isn’t very large.

Virginia City (almost all of it!)
Virginia City (almost all of it!)

Here are some example of what you’ll see when you step inside a doorway.

Dry Goods Store
Dry Goods Store
Barber Shop
Barber Shop
Sweet Shop
Sweet Shop
Fire Engine
Fire Engine

Here’s a peek at the other side of the street.

More Virginia City Buildings
More Virginia City Buildings

If only every day could be like this one…

Virginia City — My expectations for today were admittedly low as I just knew I was in for a lot of boring interstate driving.   I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I’m predicting that today will end up ranking near the top of great driving days on this trip.

It’s probably been twenty years  since I’ve been east of CDA on I-90;  it was like seeing this scenery for the first time, and it was nothing short of spectacular!  As the trip progressed from rugged mountains to open forests and valleys, not once did I find that there wasn’t something interesting to look at (well, except for the gas stop at Costco in Missoula).    If I didn’t have a more distant destination in mind  I think I could have played around in Western Montana for quite some time.

Click on the pictures for a larger image.  Even enlarged, it’s hard to capture the scale of the scenery in a picture.


From I-90 West of Missoula
From I-90 West of Missoula
Road (It’s a road trip!) I-90 west of Missoula

The Garmin provided me with the icing on the cake.  It routed me off of I-90 in Butte and  put me on Montana Highway 2, which is a twisty two lane road more suited to a motorcycle or sports car than an RV.

The truck did great.  It really doesn’t seem to roll much in the twisties.   I’m just glad I wasn’t towing something or I’d been cursing the Garmin!   I’m also glad that I had the road to myself; it was a steep climb, which at the peak approached 6800 feet according to my altimeter.   This next picture was taken on that road.  The early fall colors are typical of what I witnessed all day long.


Montana Highway 2
Montana Highway 2 near Butte

From HW 2  I turned onto HW 41.   These last two pictures were taken as I drove along this valley.  I could probably see 100 miles.

Montana Highway 41
Montana Highway 41
Montana Highway 41
View to East from Highway 41

I arrived too late to do, or see anything in Virginia City,  an gold-rush ghost town.  Tomorrow I’ll explore town.  Though not the most famous one, this town also has a cemetery named Boot Hill.

As for the check-engine light.  It finally went out only to come back on again when the engine was under a bit more strain.  Lee could be right about the transmission.  It might also be the EGR valve — I’m sure I’m blowing out a bit of carbon 8-).


Miles Today: 372
Total Miles: 712
Avg Miles/Day: 354

The Trip Begins!

Coeur d’Alene —  Well, I’m finally on my way.   Everything seems to be working  great except that a check engine light came on when I was driving up the west side of the pass.  That said, the truck seems to be running well, so I’ll just pretend it’s having a BMW moment and push on.

I’m currently in an RV  park in town.  There seem to be a lot of people living full time in here.  Except for a bit of distant traffic noise, it was pretty quiet last night, and the WiFi seems to work great, so not a bad stop.

I hope to have pictures with most of my future posts, but this leg was just a bunch of I-90 driving.  I don’t expect to have internet, or phone access tomorrow, so it may be a day or two before I update the blog again.

Next stop, somewhere in Montana.

Miles Today:  336
Total Miles: 336
Avg Miles/Day: 336

The Rig

This is my home for the next few weeks.  It’s a Northern Lite 9’6″ camper built in Canada in 1994, making it only three years older than the ’97 Chev K2500 it’s setting on.  The Northern Lite brand is generally regarded as one of the highest quality campers on the market.  I like that it’s made of fiberglass.  Besides being lighter, it’s built like a boat;  I understand boats.


The camper is fully self-contained and well equipped.  It has air conditioning, propane heat, a bathroom with a shower, a three-way refrigerator, a stove with an oven, hot and cold running water, and a full size bed.  In other words, it has just about everything a guy who’s desperate to avoid airlines, hotels and rental car companies would need, and, it’s larger inside than a Tokyo hotel room.  There’s even room for my piano, should I decide to take it with me.

I’ve spent the last five months getting the camper and truck ready for the trip.  Along the way I’ve also made some upgrades including all-LED interior lighting, LED clearance lights, a new battery charger and fuse panel, and  a new 8″ memory-foam mattress.  New roof vents and miles of butyl tape will hopefully prevent any water leaks.

On the truck I’ve installed frame-mounted tie downs and an automatic charge relay along with all of the other wiring necessary to run the lights and charge the camper battery.  I also splurged and fixed the truck’s air conditioning and had a new windshield installed.  With new plugs, wires, tires, rear shocks, radiator, air filter, brake and transmission fluid,  I’m hoping to avoid any mechanical problems while on the road.  The truck just turned over 100,000 miles, so a lot of the maintenance was needed anyway.

A shakedown trip to Ocean Shores uncovered the need for longer sewer hoses, which presented a problem — where to put the smelly things?  Guessing that I wasn’t the first to have this problem I searched the web.  It turns out that you can fabricate a hollow bumper with a sliding hose tray out of a vinyl fence post and a section of rain gutter.  So, after a trip to the big box stores and a bit of welding to fabricate a support that fits into the truck’s trailer hitch,  I now have an extra “RV bumper” with 20′ of hose.  That plus the 10′ in the camper should handle most situations.  If not,  I guess I’ll cut back on the coffee.


I’ve borrowed my high-gain WiFi antenna and router from the boat.  While not properly installed outside on the camper roof, I’m hoping that it will work well enough to pick up the WiFi signal in the RV parks.  With WiFi and a small portable inverter to run the computer, I’m ready to go!

If you’re into specifications…

  • Fresh Water tank (US Gal) 24
  • Waste tank (Us Gal) 6
  • Gray tank (US Gal) 11*
  • Hot Water tank (US gal) 6
  • Propane Gas lbs 40 (two standard bottles, like on your BBQ)
  • Approx dry weight (lbs) 1450  (guessing more like 1700 with the options).

* I was wondering how I was going to tell when the gray water tank is full.  During the shakedown cruise I discovered that it’s quite simple; the tank backs up into the shower pan. Not fun, but not a disaster either.  The gray water tank is mostly soapy water from the sinks or shower.