Friday, July 30, 2021

Two Medicine for the Soul

On the 13th day of our 35 day trip we reached the mileage halfway point, Glacier National Park. The Two Medicine Campground is a first-come, first-served site with 100 spaces. Elena made the ultimate sacrifice by letting me wake her up early, so we could make the ~2 hour drive and get there to claim a campsite. It worked. We are here for 4 nights. 

At Two Medicine Campground in Glacier National Park

There is still some smoke haze, but it seems to be a little better today. Instead of being rated a 10.0, the views are more like a 9.8 - still pretty special. We walked around the campsite the first day and scouted the hikes. We splashed in the cool lake water. We also booked a scenic boat trip on the lake for Saturday. 

Over the next few days we'll drive less, hike more, relax more, and maybe take an afternoon nap (one down already). We are in the no-generator section of the campground, so it's nice and quiet. The high is a sunny 83, and we'll be in the 50's at night.

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." —Albert Einstein

We'll be on the lookout for wildlife. I can't help but flashback to a favorite Simpsons episode, Kamp Krusty:

Bart: How could you, Krusty? I never lend my name to an inferior product.
Krusty: (gasps and sobs) They drove a dump truck full of money up to my house! I'm not made of stone.
Bart: Krusty, this camp was a nightmare! They fed us gruel! They forced us to make wallets for export and one of the campers was eaten by a bear!
Oh, my God! [sobs harder]
Well, actually the bear just ate his hat.
Was it a nice hat?
Oh, yeah.
Oh, my God! [sobs even harder than before] 

(Editorial note from Elena: Paul makes the "was it a nice hat?" joke ALL the time, so if you hear him say that, now you know where it came from.)

I'm not worried about a bear encounter, and neither is my hat. Hiking is calming and relaxing, even if you are carrying bear spray and keeping a careful watch. The risk of a bear attack is about 1 in 2.1 million. Driving is about 21,000 times riskier than hiking in bear country. A bear attack while hiking is 7,000 times less likely than being shot by a Yosemite Sam wannabe while walking around in Texas. I just want to shoot a bear -- with a camera. 

"Nature is loved by what is best in us." —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nature heals, nature soothes, nature restores. The Two Medicine area is not as touristy as some other park areas, so the nature to people ratio is pretty favorable. We're fortunate to live on a couple of wooded acres at home, so we can bathe in the forest whenever we want. There is also something so majestic about the mountains. 

Elena at the lake

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

- Paul

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Winnebago Travato Observations

After 15 days of ownership and 12 days of travel covering 2,500 horizontal miles and quite a few vertical miles, we’re starting to figure out our 2022 Winnebago Travato systems and our sequence of operations. We've been over the continental divide a few times and climbed to over 10,000 feet a few times as well. We are currently at point #31 on the map below on our 5 week  ~5,200 mile trip.

Trip Plan (# are POI, not days)

The RAM Promaster drives very well. With both of us coming out of a Prius we were a little concerned, but it handles well, has a tight turning radius, and does a great job of downshifting automatically on steep grades. We both feel very comfortable driving it. The front A/C puts out a lot of cool air and can keep the back cool as well on modestly hot days. We’ve averaged about 16 mpg with some very mountainous terrain. Our best tank was over 17 mpg. See all our gas mileage stats at Our Travato Page.

Actual MPG Data

As for the systems, we love the 12.8kW lithium-ion Volta battery bank. It can run the air conditioner for many hours and it runs all the other systems and refrigerator nicely as well. We’ve used the microwave numerous times. The induction cooktop heats water incredibly fast. The Truma water heater quickly provided hot water for showers. We’ve successfully filled the water tank and dumped the black and grey water tanks several times. We haven’t used the TV even once. The refrigerator / freezer holds a good amount of food. We've cooked all of our meals so far.

I’m glad we got the double pane awning style windows. They insulate nicely and really reduce outside noise. The MaxAir vent fan in the ceiling works well to draw cool air in through the windows. 

We usually connect the twin beds together at night into one large bed. The two of us and Bebop have plenty of room - it’s probably a little larger than a queen size bed. We just brought a couple of sleeping bags and a pair of sheets. We can arrange them in a variety of ways depending on the weather. For a couple of mornings we wanted to get out quickly, we didn’t connect the beds. Bebop slept in the drivers seat - she curls up and fits perfectly. Also, I think she secretly wants to take a turn driving.

With our very late RV delivery, we had to hastily pack, but we did a pretty good job organizing our stuff. We’ll add a few small shelves in the upper cabinets for more effective and accessible storage once we get home. 

We have a few things that need work. The in-dash radio has a couple of quirks and will need to be repaired or replaced when we get home. There are a few other minor issues that will need attention, but all the big systems are working well.
We've stayed in state parks, national parks, and boondocked on forest service land. We're self-contained, so a tent site works perfectly well for us (and is cheaper too). 

Our connectivity comes from our cell phones (Consumer Cellular, who uses the AT&T network), and we picked up a Jetpack and put a MIMO antenna on the roof. My jetpack SIM is from Visible ($25/month for unlimited) and they use the Verizon network. We usually have service from one or the other.

We had our first big on the road scare today (7/29). A few times we’ve had to brake quickly for deer, but the big scare came today on a rural road in Montana. The road was two narrow lanes wide with zero shoulder. The speed limit was 70, and we were going about 60 when we topped a hill. I saw a large RV at the bottom of the hill facing the wrong way in a grass ravine. Then I spotted guardrail debris strewn across the roadway. I swerved and clipped one piece, then dodged the next two pieces. We slowed at the bottom of the hill. Two pickups had pulled off the road to assist, and there was no place for us to even pull over. It was a big RV towing a trailer, and it was going to require quite an extraction job to get them out of there. The occupants were out of the vehicle being tended, and it looked like they didn't have serious injuries, which is very lucky, considering the state of their vehicle. It was upright and mostly intact, but way off the road.
As for us, our hearts were both racing and I kept watching for a low tire pressure warning. It looks like we had no damage - I inspected under the vehicle at the next stop and all looked well. Whew!
- Paul

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Yellowstone, Boondocks, and Beartooth

We spent Tue (7/27) driving through Yellowstone NP. It was crowded, as I feared it would be, but we avoided the Old Faithful Geyser area, which seems to be the most packed. We visited the West Thumb Geyser Basin. We watched the bison, and the Darwin Award candidates who exited their cars and walked near the bison. We visited both upper and lower falls on the Yellowstone River, finishing with Mammoth Hot Springs. In a couple of weeks, we'll come back through Yellowstone on our way home, which gives us a chance to see some things we missed. (Elena's hoping to see a wolf.)

Bison in Yellowstone's Hayden Valley
Possible future Darwin Award winners for removing themselves from the gene pool
Paul and Elena at Lower Yellowstone Falls
Lower Yellowstone Falls in the valley

This was the first night we didn't know where we would stop and sleep. Boondocking is the term used for finding an open space in a national forest or other public lands area and parking/sleeping there for the night. We initially planned to try somewhere around the northeast entrance to the park along the Beartooth Highway. However, a road closure in Yellowstone forced us to the northwest side of the park. We needed to get gas, so we decided to exit the north entrance into the town of Gardiner, MT to fill up and make a plan. 

I had scouted possible boondocking sites along the Beartooth Hwy, but not in Gardiner. We called a couple of RV parks, but they were full (no surprise). I'll admit that I really like to have a plan. Thank goodness I married Elena, who is much more calm and comfortable in these situations. We gassed up and were driving through Gardiner when I spotted a Forest Service office. Elena went up to the window (still not allowing people inside) and inquired about boondocking sites. The employee said there was a rest area just five miles up the road on the banks of the Gardiner River with nice shade trees. We were the first to arrive. We were joined by one other vehicle before 9:30 PM (when I fell asleep). When I got up at 6 AM I found four other boondockers had joined us during the night. I didn't hear them even pull in.

Our first boondocking spot. RV is on the right
with the white windshield cover on.

The site was right against the Gardiner River, where we watched elk graze across the river in the evening. The next morning, I watched a couple dozen elk come down from the mountain and cross the highway to the river. There were a few close calls with speeding cars, but they all made it across safely. 

Today (7/28) we exited Yellowstone through the Lamar Valley and drove the Beartooth Highway. The Lamar Valley had an abundance of bison and even some pronghorn. We stopped to have lunch and enjoyed a quiet trail that led to a very nice waterfall. What a stunning drive it was along that highway - especially at Beartooth Pass! At 11,000 feet, we were above the peaks of many mountains and even some snow fields. Although high-altitude smoke from western forest fires obscured the views, they were still spectacular. We are visiting parks out west, but it looks like they are all mimicking the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Bebop at Beartooth Lake - very alert for bears

On the Beartooth Highway  

On the Beartooth Highway

Now we are in a campground in Reed Point, Montana, for the night. Tomorrow (7/29) we'll drive up closer to Glacier National Park and try to grab a first-come, first-serve camp site at Two Medicine on Friday morning. We plan to stay there for four nights and explore the eastern side of the park before driving across the Going to the Sun road. Connectivity will be pretty sparse there, so if you don't hear from us, don't worry; we weren't eaten by a moose. Probably.

- Paul

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Moose, Hiking, and Bears . . . Oh My!

We often try to route ourselves to maximize nature and minimize human contact. We did want to visit three of the beautiful parks on our route: Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier. We knew they would be busy, but we dove in (drove in actually) anyway. We camped at Gros Ventre (translation Big Belly) campground in Teton National Park Sunday (7/25) night. It was full, but I’m happy to report that the campers were good people - pleasant, respectful, and friendly. We often find that the vast majority of people out in nature are the kind of people you would love to have for next door neighbors.

 In the evening I enjoyed a nice bike ride around the campsite. Overnight the temperature dropped to 47ºF and our van interior dropped to about 60ºF. No need to turn on the heater -- it was great sleeping weather. When I woke up early to take Bebop for a walk, I spotted a mom and calf moose a few campsites down. I returned Bebop to the camper and grabbed my camera. They were still around when I got back, and I watched them eat for a while.

Big and little moose

Look both ways

Full stride

Little moose

The wildfire smoke obscured the Tetons from our campsite, so we headed in close for a couple of hikes. They were still a bit ghostly through the haze, but you could at least see them. Elena is a good horizontal distance hiker, but she doesn’t like vertical. I let her pick the first hike and she surprisingly picked the 5 mile RT, 500 ft elevation gain hike to Hidden Falls. She may have been delirious from altitude or fire smoke. 

The Tetons - slightly better visibility up close
On the trail to Hidden Falls
It was a lightly trafficked trail until we came to the place where the Jenny Lake boat drops off passengers. It looked like the Tom Sawyer ride at Disney with all the people pouring off the boat. The last 1/2 mile of the trail up to the falls also merged with other trails and it was a constant stream of people. I’m really happy to report that 90% of them seemed to still understand trail etiquette. We made it to the falls and there were many people there so we didn’t linger too long. We headed down and once we got past the boat loading ramp (with a sign that said 45 minute wait from this point, a la Disney) it cleared out again. On our way up and back, we apparently just missed a momma bear and cubs in one forested section. As we got less than a mile from the end of the trail, we spotted the bear and cubs splashing in the edge of Jenny Lake. We watched them for a while, then Mom quickly ran up the hill and crossed the trail right behind us. The cubs were lagging behind, as children often do.

Mom and cubs

Pair of cubs

Mom on log
Cub inspects flowers

Dogs aren’t allowed on the National Park trails, so we had turned on the A/C and left Bebop in the van. She was just fine 3 hours later when we returned. The van was cool and our big battery had only dropped 10%. We enjoyed lunch in the van and rested for a bit, then set out on another hike in the afternoon. We are really enjoying having our house available in the parking lot.

After some lunch and rest, we hiked the trail to Leigh Lake. There is a chain of lakes between Leigh and Jenny called String Lakes. On our return trip back through in a couple of weeks, we’ll get a permit for Elena to use her stand-up paddleboard on them - glassy smooth water. We then went to our campsite at Colter Bay. After dinner, we walked along the edge of the bay at sunset.

- Paul

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Bebop's Scratch 'n Sniff Museum

 As Paul and Elena have led me to so many interesting new smells in the Bebopabago, my only frustration is not knowing who left each smell. Bobcats and coyotes I know; I've seen them. But I keep encountering all these new calling cards by the roads and trails, and it makes me crazy not to know what they are. Paul said we saw a "deer," but I don't know which smell belongs to the deer. It's keeping me up at night. 

I heard the hoomans talking about going to a museum to learn about rocks (what a waste of energy -- you can't chew them or chase them) and the people who lived around here so long ago there's no smell of them left at all. Snooze! But a museum of smells: now there's a good idea. 

My soon-to-be-world-famous Bebop's Scratch 'n Sniff Museum will have life-size pictures of all the critters who leave interesting smells, and in front will be a placard you can paw or scratch to release the odor of the animal and both its calling cards, solid and liquid. Maybe paw and hoof print reproductions, too. You know, all the things a dog needs to know about the world. 

First I have to convince Mom and Dad to invest in my idea, and I'm not sure how to approach a marketing plan that would reach dogs directly. We may be forced to go through their hoomans, slow-witted and nose-blind as they are. But I think this is a great idea. I'll just stare at them until they agree, the same way I get cookie treats and plate lickin's.

(Not a trip photo, but this is my best persuasive technique.)

Till next time --


Antelope Island - the Great Salt Lake

We came down out of the mountains and onto Antelope Island (which, due to low water levels, is actually now a peninsula). Our luck with the fire smoke finally ran out as there was a thick haze over the entire area all day.

It was about 95ºF on the island in the middle of the afternoon. We are at a primitive campsite, so we were really glad to have our lithium-ion battery so we could crank up the A/C and take a little afternoon nap.

There is a large herd of bison on the island, and we watched them graze for a while. We went for a swim in the Great Salt Lake, then hiked up to a ridge to watch the sunset. The fire smoke made for a very interesting photo. It looked like one of those double sun planets from the movies. 

Elena in the Great Salt Lake

Sunset through the smoke and reflecting off the lake.

Antelope Island

Tomorrow we head up to cooler weather in the Grand Teton National Park. 

- Paul

Cool at Last - and A Moose

Friday night (7/23) we camped at the Wasatch Mountain State Park. We did a nice evening hike, the settled in for a cool night at last. The low in the morning was 54ºF. We slept with the windows open and the camper was down to 59ºF by morning. Ahhhh!

I wanted to hike the Lake Mary Trail on Saturday (7/24). It's 2.6 miles RT with an 850' elevation gain. I wanted to go early (more on why below). Elena is not a morning person or a vertical hike person, so we agreed I would drive to the trailhead early and she and Bebop could hang out in the van. The Cottonwood Canyon areas do not allow dogs.

From our camp site there were two routes. The bigger road was 29 miles, but Google Maps suggested a shorter 13 mile road through the mountains. Unfortunately, it had some major vertical mileage. We climbed 4,000 feet in about 8 miles, then back down 2,500 feet to the trailhead. At the pass we saw some of the largest Aspen trees I've ever seen, and possibly became the third vehicle (and first non-billionaire) to reach outer space in the past couple of weeks. 

I got up the trail with a steady heart rate of about 130bpm and reached the lake to find only about 8 other people. I sat and enjoyed the view for a bit, then hiked up halfway around the lake for a different view. As I came back to the trailhead the crowd had grown to about 60 people - and more were coming up every minute. Just then I spotted a moose on the edge of the lake, so I climbed on a rock and watched it graze for about 30 minutes. 

Lake Mary

Moose grazing at Lake Mary

Why hike early? Big crowds. Why big crowds? We didn't realize that we were in Utah on a major holiday - Pioneer Day. Everyone was heading into the mountains for the holiday weekend. We even had to detour around a local parade as we exited Cottonwood Canyon. 

In the afternoon, we drove to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. More to come on that adventure.



Friday, July 23, 2021

Nine Mile Canyon - Petroglyphs

On Thursday (July 22), we got away from everyone -- far away. We drove into Nine Mile Canyon in northern Utah. I don’t know what distance-challenged person named it, but we got as far as mile marker 46, and the road still went on from there. Nine Mile Canyon has some of the best petroglyphs in the world, scattered along a 20-mile stretch of the canyon.The Native American petroglyphs (mostly Fremont Culture) were as much as a thousand years old. The Freemont people don’t exist as a distinct group anymore, but the bighorn sheep, deer, elk, owls, and other animals live on. The bison in this canyon have been replaced with cattle. I’ve pasted a few highlight photos below. 

While driving through the canyon we saw a deer staring at us in a lush meadow. Later, we rounded a corner to find 7 bighorn sheep in the road. Two of them took off down the road a bit and the other 5 scrambled up the steep cliff face. We only saw a few other vehicles and people all day. 

We camped the night at the historic Nine Mile Ranch. When we pulled in there was no one in the office and the campground host came over and said “They’re out mending fences.” (Cue the song "Desperado.") We had the camp to ourselves and it was stunningly quiet. I measured 34dB with the app on my phone. No TV, radio, cell, or electricity in the canyon. 

We went to sleep around 9PM with the windows open and the temperature fell to 60F overnight. At 2AM we were startled awake by Bebop barking at something outside the van. I could hear some strange noises and see two animals playing or fighting. There were smallish, but I couldn’t identify them in the dark and they were just to the side of the crittercam. I think they were skunks, but I’ve never heard them make that sound before. They finally scurried off, Bebop calmed down, and we went back to sleep.  

Bebop and I got up at 6AM, and I was sitting at the picnic table typing this. Suddenly she started growling and barking, and I turned to see a deer come up out of the creek bed about 30 feet away. It bolted back down the creek channel and I got Bebop to settle back down. We’re headed to the Wasatch Mountains today. 

Coyote Placing the Stars

Great Bear Claw

Owl Panel

Owl Panel Family Photo

The Great Hunt Panel

Big Bison

Pregnant Bison


Thursday, July 22, 2021

Bebop Blogging

I'm really glad my people bought this camper van for me so I can travel with them. Yesterday was more fun than the first 3 days of long drives. I saw my first deer. I didn't know what it was when it ran past. I thought it was a long-legged coyote. 

I got to hike up to an arch, splash and play in the Green River, and met some new dog friends from other states. They barked with slightly different dialects. 

I am settling into a routine and sleeping through the night. I was a little off the first few days and wouldn't eat much. My people gave me some of their delicious food to make sure I had nutrients, so I'll probably keep pretending I don't want my dog food and get more tasty people food.

In the camper I ride on a bed that is up high, so I have my own view window. I am enjoying the scenery. My harness tethers to the seat belt latch for safety.


My visit to the Green River in UT


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Finally, A Slower Day

We caught up to our previous planned itinerary today and only had a short driving day. For picking out things we want to do here are our general likes: Nature, geology, Native American sites, mountains, great views, mild temperatures, hiking (Paul), water (Elena), being with Paul and Elena (Bebop). Our dislikes are crowds, touristy things, and heat. 

Today, we are in the hottest part of our journey near Moab. We got up early in Monticello, UT and headed toward Moab. As we passed Wilson Arch we noticed there was no one there - no one. We had an arch to ourselves in the cool part of the morning. 

Wilson Arch family photo

Elena in Wilson Arch

Then we passed through Moab and followed the Colorado River to see some petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks. For my running friends, these are dinosaur footprints, not running tracks where they held races for the Dino Olympics. For my less enlightened friends, the tracks and petroglyphs were not made at the same time or by the same creatures. 


Dinosaur Footprint


We then headed to Sego Canyon to look at the Rock Art. It was getting pretty hot and the sun was blazing, so we found one of the great joys of our Travato. We fired up the rooftop A/C in the parking lot and had lunch in the cool van. Then we visited the three distinct panels of rock art. 

This panel is colored drawings

This panel is the classic pecked drawings

This panel is drawn in red and has spawned many Ancient Alien theories.  

We are at the Green River State Park for the night. In the evening, we drove to Swasey's Beach on the Green River and played in the rapids.

Swasey's Beach

Elena in the Green River

It feels good to be back on our original trip plan, getting familiar with the Travato functions, and beginning to relax into retired-people-in-an-RV stereotype mode. Off to Nine Mile Canyon tomorrow!