Sunday July 1.
I left rather early and took hwy 15 north to Idaho. As I crossed the state line and proceeded into Idaho the surroundings became gradually greener, which was a welcome change. I am just more comfortable when it’s green around me. On one of my rest stops the strangest things happened. I got off the road and parked next to a tourist information building. As I got out of the van I heard a strange hiss from underneath. First I thought it was my propane tank, but instead it was my right rear tire losing air! It had waited to deflate till I was conveniently parked next to a place with vending machines, wifi and air-conditioning. I knew it had a damaged spot on the inside of that tire and that I probably would have to deal with it at some point in time. I was glad I wasn’t emergency parked along roaring traffic on some god-awful hot spot in the desert or something. It took me about half an hour to change tires, had cool drinks and checked emails while I was at it!
At Idaho Falls I got onto the 26 east toward Jackson and entered a pretty valley with irrigation everywhere and therefore very green. The Snake River runs through that valley and had carved out some nice canyons. Further upriver a dam had created the Palisades Reservoir. Half way along the lake I found an unusually quite camp spot. There were nicely kept up out-houses and a few car campers were casually spread out in the field along the lake, but there was no fee. One of the campers told me that Uncle Sam hadn’t discovered it yet. One of the guys had a chainsaw with him to cut up firewood and his kids were trying to shoot birds out of the tree with a bee-bee gun. Maybe I was approaching the Wild West?
The next morning I followed the Snake River into Wyoming toward Yellowstone National Park. Driving through Jackson (Jackson Hole as it’s called) it seemed bigger than I expected, so I stopped for supplies and to take care of my busted tire. At a tire place I had them put a new tire on the rim and change out the trailer tires for new ones as well, because they suddenly seemed very bald to me.
Somewhere along the way there I stopped by a truck weighing station to have my rig weighed. The van was about 7000 lb. and the boat and trailer about 1800 lb. (4000 kg total) (for those who are interested in this kind of stuff). I was interested in the weight because the van was lugging up the hills slowing down to 40 – 45 mph at times. Every day I was dumping about $100 of gas in the thing to keep up with it’s thirst. I figured it would cost me about $1000 in gas to cross the country this way…Still, it could be worse AND I was having a bunch of free nights and cheap meals because of the van. Again the van was very comfortable and kept me cool during the ride.
By some magic trick they seem to keep the Grand Tetons hidden until you actually drive into the park itself. Suddenly there they are; a beautiful row of ragged snowy peaks along the Snake River. In the approach from where I came from I hadn’t seen any of it. Along the river were wide open fields with Elk and Bison. Apparently I would have to start watching out for Grizzlies and other wildlife as well. All the delay in Jackson had cut into the day considerately and by the time I drove by the campgrounds, most of them had filled up. I had to pass Jackson Lake (where I wanted to go sailing) for about 15 miles to find a campground with openings. Tomorrow I just would have to go back to the lake.
Tuesday July 3.
I had breakfast in the Lodge of the campground, which had wifi. I had hoped to update my blog, but it was so tediously slow, that I barely was able to get my email so I didn’t bother with the blog.
I drove back to where I wanted to put in. A guy at the information center in Jackson, who sailed a Laser from there, had recommended Signal Mountain campground, which had a boat launch. I had stopped by Colter Bay on the way down and I agreed that Signal Mountain was far nicer. The Grand Teton Mountain Range rises directly up from the lake to the west. The lake has an elevation of 6772’ and the Mount Moran (adjacent to the lake) is at 12605’. That’s a 5833’ rise! (1778 meter) Grand Teton to the south is the highest at 13770’.
First thing to do was to secure a campsite. They all fill up in the morning as soon as people leave their spot, since it is high season. I then launched Fetch, which was a bit of a headache. First of all there was a lot of fetch (ha-ha), so the waves spilled water in my bicycle box. Second, the ramp was really shallow, so it was hard to get Fetch off the trailer, without backing my whole van in the water. Third, the dock was too far from the ramp, so that I couldn’t hold on to the bowline to let her drift to the dock. She ended up square between ramp and dock and almost on the rocky beach. Bad design I would say, to put just one dock on the leeward side of prevailing winds (and too far away). I guess one has to be in the boat and drive it to the dock, but how do you do that under those conditions when you are by yourself?
Soon all this was forgotten when I set sail and made my way toward the gorgeous looking mountains. The wind came right off those high mountains and was very uneven and gusty. I started off with two reefs and storm jib, but that was too slow going, so I shook one reef out. That worked well by just easing the main a bit in a gust. There was only one other sailboat in sight. The water and the sky were bright blue, the white caps crystal white and the mountains were enormous. They rose straight out of the lake, which was spectacular.
I headed for Elk Island and found a nice looking sheltered cove on the leeward side. There were some folks camping on the shore and watched me sail in. I drove Fetch gently on the beach and dug my anchor in the velvet grass. The deserts were definitely behind my, all around me was green and greener. The mountain peaks loomed over the trees and made this spot picture perfect.
One of the guys came up and we had a nice conversation about this that and the other. I had lunch on a log after which I set out again. I was planning to go around the island and come back to the same spot. I noticed a wildfire to the east. The huge billowing cloud looked like a volcano eruption. Later I heard that there were a lot of wildfires around. Hundreds of acres of forest land including houses had burned down.
After motoring out of the lee, I set sail and had a somewhat blustery ride; kind of a roller coaster, with gusts coming and going. I came up with the idea to sail up to those mountains a bit to get a real sense of scale. However, as soon as this thought was broadcasted the mountains gave me a fierce blast of a gust (I guess to make me change my mind). The gust was so strong, that I automatically ducked down and released the main in a hurry. The pressure was even too much for the storm jib so I let go of the jib sheet as well. The poor jib flapped so hard that the two sheets balled up in a tight knot. I was holding on wondering what would happen, but it blew over and I was able to relax a bit again. I lowered the jib and undid the knot. I listened to the mountain’s warning, left the jib down and turned downwind. I had lost all interest to tack up into it. I think this was the most wind Fetch had ever felt. Sailing down wind, I had to watch out for gust from unpredictable direction. I gave that up as well and turned on the iron horse. I made it back around the island and beached Fetch in the same spot I came from. It’s amazing how an adventure can be had so easily and unannounced.
The guys from the campsite were just starting a walk to the tip of the island and walked by Fetch. I asked if I could come along and got my stuff. There are no human trails on the island, just from wild life. There is elk and deer abound. The views were spectacular and at the tip of the island we ran into a group having BBQ on the beach. It was a commercial outfit that does three trips to that spot every day and provides food. Participants look right at that mountain range. I think they operate out of Colter Bay. While walking back, I told the guys I hadn’t planned on staying out, so my food supply was restricted to pasta and water. They promptly invited me over for dinner. Steak, corn in the cob and potatoes was on the menu (and beer, yahoo).
The three adults knew each other from working on a submarine out of Bangor, less than an hour away from where I live. I believe that Larry and his son Louis together with Jeff and his son Nate had driven up from Missouri in one day. Bob and Tamara with their sons Calvin, Orion and 2-year old Logan had come up from Camano Island, just north of Seattle. Because of wild fire danger we were not allowed to make a fire, but the food tasted delicious nonetheless. On top of it all, we watched a huge full moon slowly rise across the lake. They insisted I came back for breakfast the next morning.
I put out a stern anchor and had a quite night. The moon was bright and there wasn’t a ripple on the water. At about 5:30 in the morning I heard oars dipping in the water nearby and stuck my head out the companionway. Larry had gone out in his brand new drift boat to photograph the setting moon over the Tetons. He gave me a ride to where I could take pictures as well. If Ansell Adams had been in the boat, he would have shot a winning picture I bet. His camera didn’t have image stabilization like mine however.
Wednesday July 4.
Breakfast was bacon with scrambled eggs with cheese and coffee. While they packed their boats after breakfast I started motoring on glassy water toward the boat ramp. There were no waves this time, so loading up was easy. Shortly I was on the road toward Yellowstone Park.
Going north on the 191 one drives along some nice canyons alternated by green valleys. Between Lewis Lake and Yellowstone Lake one crosses the continental Divide. Water in each lake, only a few miles apart, will eventually reach an entire different ocean.
When I arrived at the Old Faithful, there seemed to be a million people there. This is a huge established tourist attraction. Big impressive lodges, restaurants, gift shops, hotels and endless parking lots. Yellowstone is the first national park of the US, so they had some time to work things out. People from all over the world made their way to see the geysers. The main attraction seems to be the Old Faithful Geyser itself. Every 90 minutes, give or take 10 minutes, he/she gives a show of about 5 to 10 minutes. By the expected blow time people gather around and wait in anticipation. The geyser first gives a few teasers to warm up the crowd and finally spouts water up in the air and the crowd cheers. After the show everybody gets up again and continues walking around.
It’s a fascinating place. As you walk around on the boardwalk, you find more and more holes in the ground. Holes that bubble, holes that hiss, holes that seem dormant and suddenly spout water up, holes with muddy water. Some holes are literally boiling and the idea of falling in one is not inviting at all. One gets fried before one drowns I imagine. Some holes have a small chimney around them, some are just flat. Some have bright colors of orange, yellow and browns contrasting with the clear blue water inside the hole. It’s one of the few places where one has some inclination of something going on inside the earth. Often the holes are on top of a low dome and water drains through little streams that appear to be acid, because of the colors. Eventually it all drains in a small river that runs through the park and gets taken far away. It probably all ends up in the Mississippi River on its way to the Gulf of Mexico if it didn’t get deposited somewhere along the way.
There was a lot more to see in the park, but I was ready to move on with my trip east. I headed toward the east entrance and drove by Yellowstone Lake. This lake is huge and I didn’t see a single boat on it. I could have sailed here as well, but I wanted to keep moving. The surrounding wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Jackson Lake anyway. At several spots along the Lake one drives by more thermic hot spots, this time without any tourists and barely any signs except some warning signs. Those spots were almost more worthwhile being in their natural environment, without parking lots, gift shops and restaurants. I had had the same feeling in the redwoods, where one enjoys them more outside of a park setting.
I drove out Yellowstone Park toward Cody through a long valley between high mountains of the Absaroka Range. In the Shoshone National Forest I found a quite campground to spend the night. There were warnings for Grizzly and no tents were allowed, just hard sided vehicles.
Funny, I’m writing this at night, sitting in my van, with lights on and iTunes going, while outside there might be a Grizzly sniffing around. They have been sighted lately on this camping and only hard-sided camping vehicles (no tents) are allowed, because of bear danger. Wait, did I hear something?…..