2015  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Denali

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
Previous       2015 Journal Topics       Home       Next
 

   SCENIC DRIVE UNDER THE BIG SKY FROM 
GREAT FALLS, MT TO THE TETONS IN WYOMING

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9

 
"The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life   
comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than
to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."
 
~ Christopher McCandless
 
 

We're continuing our annual fall migration to warmer climes for the winter. 

We aren't exactly following the fall leaf color any more, though -- the last colorful leaves were in British Columbia -- and we're probably ahead of the migrating birds, too. Oh, well. We mainly want to find some nice sunny, dry weather for a while.


Following the Cameo on I-15 south of Great Falls on Tuesday; I drive the car, Jim the truck.

Tuesday and Wednesday's weather was perfect -- mid-40s F. in the morning, mid-70s F.  in the afternoon, mostly sunny with some interesting clouds along the way, and enough breeze to feel refreshing.

There was little to no fire haze the entire way down to the Tetons. Last week was very smoky in MT, ID, and WY so we didn't know what to expect this week Our timing is good in that respect.

DAY 1 (TUESDAY) FROM GREAT FALLS, MT TO IDAHO FALLS, ID

We left the RV park just outside the main gate at Malmstrom AFB at 9:20 AM yesterday and arrived in Idaho Springs about 4:45 PM = 7:25 hours with five stops and several one-lane freeway work areas. The distance was 371 miles. 

We took US 3/89 west through Great Falls to I-15, which we followed the rest of the way to exit 118 in Idaho Falls.

Traffic was light everywhere except near the small cities of Great Falls, Helena, Butte, and Idaho Falls. We saw lots of RVs heading northbound and some our way. The speed limit was mostly 75 MPH in MT and 80 in ID. Jim averaged mostly 61-2 MPH except up hills and through the canyons. The road surfaces were very good.

 
No one else in sight


Near Tower Rock State Park in Montana


Typical Montana rangeland


Another 5th-wheel is going northbound as we drop into a valley going southbound.


Heavier traffic near Butte, but probably looks light to folks from bigger metro areas!

This is a gorgeous route through western Montana to the Idaho border, with several scenic canyons, lots of mountains and foothills, numerous streams and lakes, rolling rangeland, and some well-watered green crops:

 

Especially scenic were the Wolf Creek-Canyon Creek area, another canyon south of there (both cut by the Missouri River), and the Clark Canyon Reservoir:


Entering Wolf Creek Canyon, where crews were working to prevent rock slides.


Clark Canyon Reservoir looks like a beautiful place to boat and fish.

We crossed the Missouri River several times and saw other pretty streams along the way:

 

 

 

We crossed the Continental Divide three times but the highest point was only 6,386 feet.

I'm a sucker for interesting clouds and we sure saw some on the first day's journey. I was a totally distracted driver with all the great scenery and clouds. I took all but a few of the photos in this entry while I was driving behind Jim.

He hates me doing that. I know it's dangerous but hey, the freeway was practically empty, I don't do it when someone is close to me, and I didn't want to stop frequently by the side of the road.

 

 

 

Pretty interesting clouds, eh?

OUR "FREE" OVERNIGHT STOP

When we got to Idaho Falls we stopped at the super Walmart on Utah Ave. first to see if we could stay there overnight. There were enough trucks and RVs already parked there to make us consider Sam's Club instead. We parked the camper and drove the car two miles to Sam's Club. No semis or RVs were there.

Management OK'd us staying there, so we went back for the Cameo and spent the night at Sam's. It was well worth the little extra distance off our route.

We were the only RV at Sam's Club overnight and we had a perfect spot along wide, deep, green grass out near the fuel station. It was far enough off 17th Street to be relatively quiet and the store closed at 8 PM so there was virtually no traffic in and out of the parking lot after that. We're very glad we stayed there instead of at Walmart.

I walked the dogs through the grass to the back of the store and Jim played ball with Casey right outside our door:

 

After we ate supper and watched the news we went into Sam's Club and spent over $200 (including a new Garmin GPS for our vehicles, so we'll both have one). That should cover our nice "free" overnight parking spot! To our surprise we could get free WiFi from Sam's Club, so Jim used it to load the software on the new GPS.

He also filled the tanks in the truck ($2.53/gallon for diesel) and car ($2.81/gallon for gasoline) a few blocks away. This Sam's Club doesn't have a fuel station.  

BY THE SEAT OF OUR PANTS

Our plan was to drive to Grand Teton National Park the next day (Wednesday) and try to snag one of the first-come campsites at Gros Ventre Campground in the southern end of the park. Because the sites fill up early in the morning, however, our chances weren't looking too good unless we left at oh-dark-thirty from Idaho Falls.

Just before bedtime Jim commented re: how close we'd be to Reunion Flat, a National Forest Service campground we like on the west side of the Tetons, on our way to the east side where the national park is located. Did I want to go there first for a few days??


Parts of Alaska Basin above Reunion Flat were still covered in snow
as late as 8-24-11 when I hiked up there that "summer."  Cool!

I love Reunion Flat and the trails on the west side of Tetons in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. It's just over the Wyoming-Idaho state line in Idaho. We've been there five times before in late August/early September. Since it's in a wilderness area, I can hike on those trails with the dogs, whereas I can't on the national park side of the mountains in Wyoming.

Sometimes I'll agree to a change in plans right away but I had to think about that new wrinkle in our plans overnight because it simply had not been on my radar. I didn't think Jim ever wanted to drive back the bumpy canyon road again -- three years ago he swore he wouldn't -- and we didn't know if we could get a site there, either. We've always had a reservation before going to Reunion Flat. Would it be full after Labor Day, or some sort of event going on like a wedding or reunion?

By morning, however, I was definitely on board with that plan and excited about it. Our chances of getting a site at Reunion Flat were better than at the national park. If we tried there first, I figured it would increase our chance by 50% of getting a spot at one place or the other.

DAY 2 (WEDNESDAY) FROM IDAHO FALLS TO TETON CANYON, WY

This was a shorter day on the road with just 85 miles because we did decide to stay at Reunion Flat Campground east of Alta, WY instead of going around the southern end of the Tetons to the national park.

From Sam's Club in Idaho Falls we drove north to US 20, which is a freeway as far as we took it. We were surrounded by large farms and rangeland:

Then we went east on ID 33, a smooth, rolling two-lane highway we've driven several times previously to Driggs, ID. In Driggs we turned east on Ski Hill Rd. We crossed into Wyoming in the tiny town of Alta. About a mile later we turned onto Teton Canyon Rd. and back to our campground.

The scenery wasn't as dramatic as yesterday's canyons, mountains, and rivers until we were heading east toward the Tetons on ID 33. I always love the views of the Teton Range as we get closer and closer to the four most identifiable mountains in the park. Grand Teton, the tallest, has the curved sharkfin-like profile from this direction(left of the arrow in the next picture):

 

 

 


Arrow marks the approximate way to Teton Canyon on the west side of the mountain range.

Traffic was moderate the whole way. Road conditions were excellent until the dusty, washboard Teton Canyon Road, which is as rough as ever. It took Jim 20 minutes to negotiate 2+ miles safely with the Cameo.

Today, however, he was more cheerful about it than the five previous times he's driven the camper in and out on that forest service road. <smiley face> 

We left Sam's Club at 9 AM and arrived in Driggs about 11 AM. We stopped once at an overlook (shown above) so I could take better photos of the Tetons, although it was a challenge taking pictures toward the morning sun.

The weather couldn't have been nicer this week (we stayed in the area parts of five days), just what we've been wanting -- sunny, low 70s F., minimal breeze, very dry.

We are happy campers!

Next entry:  camping at Reunion Flat, our 6th time there, and activities in the area this week

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

Previous       Next

2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

-