As a kid, I learned that winters are for planning summer road trips. So of course, I spent a lot of time on that, on the computer at midnight booking sites, focused on getting to Craters of the Moon Nat’l Monument, in Idaho. It’s such a stark landscape, don’t ask me why, but it’s got this strong pull, like the desolate Hell Creek State Park in Montana (that’s changed significantly, no longer operated by the Montana State Parks system), and the Badlands, of course.

The plan, about 2/3 of the trip and then 1/3 (can only add so many stops):

Shall we just say that travel requires flexibility??

Split Rock Creek State Park (not to be confused with Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on N Shore) was great, and we had intense view of the full moon and eclipse, and by Monday, we were the only ones left in the park. It was a good opportunity to get used to the tent and the notion of tenting!

I was a bit nervous about “first come/first serve” campsites at Devils Tower National Monument, but it worked out well, plenty available. Hadn’t been there for what ??? 55+ years? On the day to leave Devil’s Tower, the wind picked up, extremely, up to 45 mph, and when taking down the tent, pieces almost blew away, but thankfully, no rain.

Heading south, that’s when we started to feel the effects of the moon and eclipse. The next stop was planned for 4 days at Curt Gowdy State Park in Wyoming. It’s a HUGE park, with LOTS of sites, but Wyoming has a 7 day delay for out of state reservations, and it’s a VERY popular park. By sitting on the computer waiting for reservations to open, I was able to grab the last electric site, C-170, overlooking the reservoir, electric, and steps from bathroom & showers, SCORE!! What more could one want in life!


On the way down, we stopped at Fort Laramie Nat’l Historic Site and fought the building wind as we had a picnic under the bridge and then strolled around the site. Beautiful sunny day, fluffy clouds and blue sky, but VERY windy.

Heading from Ft. Laramie to Cheyenne and Curt Gowdy State Park, the wind picked up from the 40-45 mph at Devils Tower, and we stopped at a rest area to get online.

Weather predictions were for gusts up to 60 mph and SNOW, “expecting up to 12 inches of heavy snow, gusting winds, and freezing temperatures at night for the next three nights.” In a tent? I don’t think so. Even the park pretty much recommended cancelling:

OK, motel time, not easy to find in a blizzard and high winds… that’s a LONG story that I’m still going back and forth with and the motel… suffice it to say they did NOT leave the light on, didn’t even clean the room. We did finally find a room, and yes, it DID snow — this is the sheltered “smoking lounge” at the motel:

I-80 was shut down for a day:

There are days I do NOT miss driving truck!

So we braved the cold and wind, and did touristy things in Cheyenne, like the Union Depot. Alan is seriously into trains, and Cheyenne is a good place for that!

This is part of several model train set-ups inside the depot:

And the Big Boy:

… and best of all, we discovered Anong’s Thai (EXCELLENT, even came back for seconds on the way back through Wyoming a week later!).

It was in Cheyenne that we decided that it made a lot of sense to get a cartop carrier (like the one sitting on the front porch! GAACK!), so it wasn’t so fussy and time consuming to stuff everything into the Subaru:

It ain’t rocket science. Such a simple thing, and what an improvement!!! The tent, mattress, camp chairs fit, and then there’s room to see out the back window, over everything in the back.

Onward, next was Craters of the Moon, and on the way there, between Cheyenne and a stop in Evanston, we visited Dugway Rec Area, a BLM site on the North Platte River, where we’d planned to camp on the way back, but had eliminated when cutting out all one day overnights due to the hassle of set up and tear down. This is Dugway, a bit north east from the 219 milemarker, just a few miles from Sinclair, WY.

It’s a no frills FREE camping area next to the river, with 5 sites, pit toilet, a broken water pump, and with a few “undeveloped” sites too, apparently a popular area for fishing.

The sky was amazing, and just doesn’t end:

The White Mountain Wild Horse Management Area and Trail, above Rock Springs included a lesson in horse shit, vistas of transmission lines, and yes, more storms too:

On the way to a late “family Thanksgiving” with David and Ellen at Craters of the Mon, we had a night’s stay in Evanston — remembering my stay here with dear Sake, my LA rescue dog for a day:

So back to the Dunmar Hotel in Evanston, WY, just because it is a cool 50s design, with 50s luxuries in the bathroom — all it needs is a gold toilet:

When shopping in Evanston, we saw evidence of military build-up, huge train of military equipment headed west, probably to the coast:

Anyway, onward, to Craters of the Moon, and on the way, we passed Idaho National Laboratory, f/k/a INEL, and drat, to get a tour, must have extreme ID so they know we’re not terrorists!

Needless to say, we were not prepared, but tours are virtual in these days of COVID, so maybe next time…

The nuclear theme extended to Arco, ID, which bragged about being the first city powered by atomic energy, and a park dedicated to “Atoms for Peace.”

Craters of the Moon was PERFECT! Got just the site I wanted, but the wind was too strong to set up on the upper level of the site — it seems it’s calm in the morning, but afternoon and evening, it’s too windy to cook outside! The two flush toilets were still closed due to freezing concerns, and the two-holer pit toilet way down at the campground entrance was the only one for 40+ sites! First come/first serve campground and most people stayed only for a day or two, so it would empty out in the afternoon, but then be pretty much full by sunset. $4/night for old farts, cannot beat that!

I really liked the setting, and wished I’d booked for a week!

Hey, it’s a Monkey Flower!

David and Ellen arrived the next day in nearby Arco. They got lost using google earth, we were having picinc in local park, and saw them arrive from the opposite direction of their KOA site. KOA?!?! BWAAAA-HAAAAA-HAAAA! Their site was on the next loop up from that dot:

Touring around Craters of the Moon, Alan took a hike up the cinder mound – hard pass for moi!

We did the road around the park, the touristy thing, with all of us and the two pups in David’s truck:

The clouds were threatening more rain, but nope!

And David’s grrrrrls:

And then Alan and I went on to Bessey campground in Nebraska National Forest. Struggled to get a site because of our changing plans… errr… flexibility… with not much for internet at the registration station. The one electric site we’d reserved for the following week seemed to be open, but the system didn’t recognize that it was, so we couldn’t get it, and got the last reserveable site open for Memorial Day — and of course, once we got there, there were MANY sites open, perhaps due to the rainy and windy forecast. We ended up in Site 19, last one the reservation system said was open (!) and of course not electric. Phone signal was 4 bars so that made up for it. The second day, everyone else in the loop had departed.

The second night, near sunset, it started storming, REALLY storming, lots of lightning, HIGH winds rocking the tent, and HAIL for at least half an hour. Poor Sadie was terrified, shaking and trembling, and drooling, soaking the top sleeping bag. It continued raining hard, all night, and raining hard into the morning. Time to pack up and go, but the rain… breakfast was simple, cooking oatmeal and strawberries in the vestibule (the WAWONA 6 is a great tent for rain, really couldn’t be better. Room to snooze, room to office, it’s perfect.) Sadie had calmed down some as the rain was gentle after sunrise. Sadie LOVES camping:

All morning we were packing what we could inside the tent, waiting for a break to run stuff out to car, load, and then wait to take down the tent. Just as we’d finished what we could inside, we got another break, just enough time to quickly take the tent down and put it and other stuff in the car top carrier, get into the car, and just as we rolled out of the campground, intense DOWNPOUR. What timing.

From Bessey, we hammered down, another hotel stay in Sioux Falls where the storm had taken down some trees and power was out across the city and phones too in much of the city, a perfect ending to yet another Climate Change “vacation.” Then back to Red Wing.

3,701.8 miles and 25.8 mpg. Not bad!

The “flexibility” part, having to cancel campground reservations, having to find hotels when everyone else was also having to find hotels, meant that we spent too much time and money in hotels where weather made tenting impossible, or where timing meant we didn’t have time to fart around setting up and taking down the tent and all accoutrements, and it was royal PITA.

The Wawona 6 was a BIG success as a tent, but we need to figure out better way to deal with those times when the tent just doesn’t work, and it looks like that means taking the van rather than the Subaru, putting in a platform, or planning for unexpected hotel expenses.

The non-electric sites don’t work too well, because we’ve been using a battery, and the air mattress has been deflating. The tag says, “DON’T WORRY, IT’S NOT LEAKING, IT’S STRETCHING” but that’s not helpful when 3 a.m. one of the three of us rolls onto the floor! So in the middle of the night, it means running the battery-inverter and inflating the mattress. Now looking into “self-inflating” camping mattresses with a cot. There must be a way, but this old fart just cannot do it if it means being on the ground. I recall so many times camping in a tent, on nominal air mattress, and it leaking like a sieve, the tent leaking like a sieve, and waking up in a puddle of water. This tent is a joy, it passed the test and did not leak, not at all, but the air mattress, that needs work. What to do?

I did figure that out, gave up on the air mattress, and got a big cot and thin self-inflating sleeping pad. IT WORKS!!! And even if the “self-inflating” sleeping pad deflates, it’s still OK!

I also didn’t get to cook as much as I wanted. In most places, it was so windy that it was impossible to cook outside, and we weren’t really set up with table space to cook in the vestibule, so that also needs work. We’ve got a broken collapsible camp table, and that’ll do. Plenty of time to figure it out before the next trip — the Lake Superior Circle — towards fall.

On to Clubhouse Lake, in Chippewa National Forest in early August.

It’s time to plan the trip after Lake Superior!!

One Response to “Another climate extreme trip out west!”

  1. Sadie Green Says:

    You are amazing Carol. I should take lessons from you, technology wize. Really impressive what you do. Thank you.

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