My wife Pam and I left our home in Southern California on a cool Sunday last May. Our eastern destination was Northeastern Kentucky to attend a family reunion.
In Part 2, we are heading back from the family reunion and are in Des Moines.
Day 26 — June 1, Des Moines, Iowa (Des Moines West KOA):
Off we go again, on a much nicer day. Driving west on Interstate-80, we enjoyed the drive across Illinois and part of Iowa. Other than the Intestate’s road surface, which is in terrible shape, the gently rolling plains and scattered farms were a treat to the eye.
Our beagles loved Iowa’s grassy rest areas and would have liked camping at one of them. We hit some gusty winds around Des Moines that made our last miles a bit tricky towing the trailer.
The Des Moines West KOA is about 17 miles west of the city and a mile off the freeway. It is a well-maintained park with plenty of grass and a few trees. There is a small lake (fishing allowed, swimming prohibited) set off to one corner. The sites are deep, have grass and the interior roads are covered with fine gravel. Fields and farms surround it. For an overnight stay, it is an excellent choice.
The management was not very outgoing, but was polite to us. We met a couple in a small fifth wheel, from Vermont, that is headed for Alaska. They were a nice couple. Tomorrow we continue west, then north into South Dakota.
Day 27 — June 2, Mitchell, South Dakota (Riverside KOA):
Not much to talk about on this drive. We had good weather and the scenery was rolling low hills and farms. Mitchell, S.D., is the home of the famous Corn Palace — where they redecorate a large Moorish style building each year with corn and local grasses. We drove into town hoping to see it, but its location — off the Interstate on sixth and Main–was difficult to get to while towing a trailer. We bought a pizza instead and headed to the KOA. The Riverside KOA is very nice. It’s off the freeway, surrounded by farms and has large, well-spaced sites. The park has plenty of grass, trees and is well kept. We enjoyed our overnighter here, and would come back again. The management was very polite and especially friendly.
Day 28 — June 3, Black Hills, South Dakota (Rafter J Bar Ranch):
We are here! After a long flat drive across southern South Dakota, Pam and I finally are setup near Mt. Rushmore in the gorgeous Black Hills. En-route, we made a brief stop in Wall, S.D. and wandered through the famous Wall Drug. They provide plenty of RV parking and a general store that offers just about anything you could want to buy and the ice water is always free. This is the type of place that if you have never been here, you have to go! There also are a number of other Old West style shops lining the street. We bought a pound of homemade fudge and a large ice cream cone.
The Black Hills is one of our favorite places to camp and visit. We will spend three too-short days here at the Rafter J-Bar Ranch. I cannot say too many good things about this wonderful RV Park. It is the most beautiful private park (and well laid out campgrounds) we have ever camped — bar none! The park is surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest and has loads of pines, meadows and big, private campsites. You could spend a full vacation in the park. They offer every amenity you can think of and everyone is very friendly. The Ranch’s location is perfect for touring the whole area. You would think you are camping in a National Park campground with full hookups, a swimming pool and much more.
Day 29-30 — June 4-5, Black Hills, South Dakota:
Mt. Rushmore National Monument always inspires me and touches my heart with a bit of patriotism. We drove over there on a cool, windy day. The front entrance and parking area has been completely redone since our last visit. A parking structure has been built and the walk of State Flags has been improved. You can also take the Presidential Trail down to the faces. We didn’t attend the nightly lighting ceremony, as it was just too darn cold for us.
Black Hills’ Buffalo
Pam and I drove over to the little western town of Keystone, shopped in the gift stores and bought a large ice cream cone. Keystone and Hill City are two small tourist towns in the area. The Crazy Horse Monument is coming along slowly. The Chief’s face is now complete. Monday we did some scenic driving. The Norbeck Scenic Drive is beautiful and, in Custer State Park, we drove the Wildlife Loop. Pam brought along some carrots and fed the burros. These guys walk right up to the car, stick their heads in the window and beg for food. There also is a very large herd of bison here and we got some photos of them. Deer were plentiful also. We really enjoyed our touring. In the evenings, our beagles led us on a few very nice short hikes. Just being in the Black Hills is a treat for me — it is so beautiful!
Day 31 — June 6, Greybull, Wyoming (Greybull KOA):
Well, we are off and running again! The drive from the Black Hills to Greybull, Wyo., is one of the most beautiful drives in America. We took U.S. 16 out of the Black Hills, connected with Interstate-90 at Moorcraft and resumed on U.S. 16 at Buffalo, Wyo. The best part of the drive is over the Big Horn Mountains. It is simply awesome in the Big Horns. The highway climbs to over 9,000 feet at the summit. There are still some snow patches near the top. The rock formations, deep green pines and multi-colored soils are gorgeous! Descending on the western slope, we drove through canyons with sheer rock faces and unique formations — much like Zion National Park or the Badlands National Park.
Greybull is located in an arid valley between the Big Horns and the Shoshone National Forest; therefore, the KOA here has a bit of scrub grass, gravel and dirt. It is a very small campground and the campsites are small as well. It is a full-service park and the management is helpful and very friendly. It serves the purpose for an overnight stay. Tomorrow we drive on to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.
Day 32– June 7, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Colter Bay Trailer Park):
Today we drove through Cody, Wyo., and up U.S. 16 to Yellowstone National Park, then on down to the Grand Teton National Park. We will spend three nights here. The drive west of Cody is fabulous. The Shoshone River and Buffalo Bill Dam area is a scenic delight. The closer you get to Yellowstone, the higher you climb and the more majestic the vistas. We entered the park at Fishing Bridge. It was difficult for us to continue our drive to the Tetons and leave Yellowstone’s wonders behind. There is a lot of roadwork underway on U.S. 89/26 that makes for some very slow travel.
Grand Teton National Park, south of Yellowstone, is also a wonder to behold. The first view of the majestic Teton Range and Jackson Lake can stop you in your tracks. We had reservations at Colter Bay Trailer Park, with full-hookup. The National Park Campground is adjacent to it. Both are but a short walk to the Bay and an outstanding view of Jackson Lake and the Tetons. The campground here is tiered and the rows of sites are staggered. There are plenty of pines in the park and sites are a fair size. The roads are fine gravel, which can raise a lot of dust. The management is very helpful and friendly.
The Grand Tetons
Day 33-34 — June 8-9, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming:
We slept in some today and then went on a wonderful scenic drive. We drove the Teton Park Loop, drove up Signal Mountain and by Jenny Lake — in intermittent thunderstorms and rainsqualls. We took a lot of video and photos along the way. We bought an ice cream cone down at Moose Junction and watched the storms roll down the Teton Range and Snake River. It was quite a sight to see. Our beagles have managed to drag us all over the Colter Bay area in the evenings — and we enjoy the hikes.
Day 35 — June 10, Provo, Utah (Provo KOA):
Today was a long drive for us (364 Miles), but well worth the effort. Driving south on U.S. 26/89/191 we passed through the interesting Jackson Hole Valley, over Salt River Pass and Geneva Summit (in the Caribou National Forest, Idaho), around Bear Lake and over the 7,800-foot summit in Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah.
Finally we connected with Interstate-15 south at Brigham City, Utah, drove by Salt Lake City and on down to Provo for the night. What a beautiful drive! U.S. 89 is scenic highway from Grand Teton National Park, all the way to Logan, Utah, and it is that. It follows the Snake River to Alpine, Wyo., and then picks up the Salt River — all the way to Salt River Pass (elev. 7,610 feet). Except for some road reconstruction, for a few miles, U.S. 89 is good road. Campgrounds and recreation areas are all along the way. It made us want to stop for a few days, but our days on the road were about up.
Bear Lake straddles the border of Idaho and Utah and is the bluest lake I have ever seen! There is a lot of development around the lake and folks are building houses on the mountainside west of it. The mountains and forest north of Logan, Utah, are simply out of this world. We hope to return here for a future vacation. The Wasatch-Cache National Forest is awesome and an area we’d like to explore. Today’s drive rivals any we have taken on our entire trip.
A word of advice, Interstate-15 through the Salt Lake area is closed for reconstruction. They routed us right through a residential area to Interstate-215, then back on I-15 south of the city. It was a real pain in the neck — especially towing a travel trailer. The Provo KOA is an adequate overnight campground with full hookups, some trees, a creek nearby and a friendly staff. They are modem friendly and their staff was friendly and helpful. There is a lot of noise from I-15, which is nearby. The owner must like ducks, as there are ducks running all around the park. They also have a couple of geese that do not like dogs. One of the geese nipped one of our beagles, on the butt, as we were walking by. (It scared Waldo more than it hurt him.) Tough geese I’d say!
Day 36 — June 11, Las Vegas, Nevada (Destiny’s Oasis RV Resort):
It is now on to Las Vegas, via Interstate-15, and then home to happy Hemet. There is not a lot to be said about this hot drive through the desert except that we made good time. One area south of St. George, Utah, — as you cross the northwest corner of Arizona is very beautiful. The Virgin River flows through here and the Interstate almost becomes mountain highway. Tall sheer walls of rock surround you and the highway winds through the gorge. There are some long steep hills to climb between Mesquite, Nev., and Las Vegas, but the driving is desert travel.
The Oasis Las Vegas RV Park is just off I-15, south of town and is fairly easy to access while towing. And you miss the congestion of Vegas. Pam and I have stayed here before and find it very nice. It is a great place to stay while visiting Las Vegas. It has all the amenities you could ask for with even at-site telephone hookup — with a $25 deposit. The clubhouse is Vegas style high-class with a RV store, snack bar, pool, and much more. Located right on Las Vegas Blvd., we drove up the strip that night and had a good buffet dinner at Circus Circus (a sentimental place for us). Pam hit one of their slots for over $200 bucks, so we left town winners! We were ready for a good night’s sleep!
Day 37– June 12, Hemet, California:
Home again — home again! Our drive from Las Vegas was (for us) long and boring. We have driven this route a number of times and were anxious to get home. We love the road, but it is always nice to get home. A summary of our trip would not do it justice. We saw more beauty than our eyes could absorb and experienced ever kind of weather except snow. We even had some light hail while in the Tetons.
Our Ford F-250 proved reliable and up to the tasks we asked of it. The ride was comfortable and our beagles managed to do fine in our back seat area. (We call it the beagle lair!) The truck’s odometer registered 6,848 miles for the 37-day trip (but that includes miscellaneous driving miles also). We are pooped to be sure and need a few days rest, but give us a little down time and we’ll be ready to hit the road again!