Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 10: California!

Today was the last official driving day of the trip. We slept in and left Reno around 11 with about 3.5 hours to go until Alameda. We were more than happy to say goodbye to Nevada and couldn't wait to get to San Francisco.

Getting close!

When we crossed the border in California, we decided to take a detour to Lake Tahoe since I'd never been and Brian has been gushing about how great the skiing is going to be out here. (Brian: "I just don't understand why people live on the east coast.") The Lake was as beautiful as he bragged about and it was definitely worth the trip over there.

Lake Tahoe
(Stole this from Wikipedia because apparently I didn't take any photos)

The other reason for the detour was that we wanted to find one of the trailheads for the Rubicon Trail. It's a difficult trail for off-highway vehicles and Jeep (the company) apparently does some of their testing for trail-rated jeeps on it. According to Brian, for a Jeep to be trail-rated like his, it has to be able to make it through all 22 miles of the trail (though not necessarily without significant damage). Apparently it takes 3 days and a certain amount of skill to make the trip. (A lifted jeep with 33" tires and a roll cage are also recommended. And even so, you can expect sheet metal damage.)

Photos stolen from the internet of jeeps on the Rubicon Trail
(photos from and

We found tiny Georgetown, CA but couldn't find the trailhead. After doing some research, we discovered that this end of the trail has since been paved. We weren't interested in backtracking to the east since we wanted to get to Alameda and San Francisco, so we decided to let it go.

Unfortunately by that time it was about 4pm so we hit rush hour around Sacramento. It was the first real traffic we'd seen the whole trip, though, so we couldn't complain too much. Once we were past Sacramento we could see the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco Bay. Exciting.

Tunnel right before we got to Brian's neighborhood

Pretty soon we were in Oakland and then Alameda. We drove past Brian's house, which he moved into that Friday. It was a really cute place from the outside and the neighborhood was very well kept. Almost everyone had flowers, too. There was also a school right across the street and the gym he might join is within walking distance. The location is also close to the base so hopefully traffic won't be a problem.

Brian's house! So jealous of the kitchen.

After we saw the house, we stopped by Ballena Isle Marina where Brian's parents used to live, just to see it and send them a picture. The drive took us right by the bay and we could see 15 or 20 kite boarders out on the water. By that time, the temperature had dropped from 95 when we got into California to 62 degrees. Brian was more than fine with that.

On the way out of town we spotted Domenico's Italian Deli and had to stop; Brian's mom would stop there for a turkey and avocado sandwich while she was pregnant with Brian

Next we made a quick detour to Coast Guard Island to check out the situation. The commute from Brian's place should be not bad at all and he can even avoid the highway if he wanted to. I'm trying to convince him that he could find a suitable bike route, but he's not convinced. The base itself was small, but

Then we headed into San Francisco. Brian got us a room at the Marine Memorial Hotel on Union Square which was awesome. The room was very snazzy and we were in the corner so there were a lot of windows. We ended up heading around the block (we literally walked in a circle thanks for Brian's impeccable navigation skills) to get sushi for dinner and it ended up being a great choice. We found a little prices with a lot of options and good prices and went to town.


Turns out we didn't last too long before falling asleep when we got back to the room, but it was a night well spent and we were certainly glad to have reached our destination. The next morning we were up relatively early for my flight at noon. We had to sort through all of our stuff since it was pretty well intermingled after 10 days of being on the road. There ended up being only a few things I left behind, and nothing that wasn't easily replaced. 

10 days, 4000+ miles, and a great time. I'd call that a success.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 9: A loooong drive through Nevada

On Sunday our main goal was to drive as far as we could stand to make the ride into California on Monday as short as possible. Our goal was to leave around 8am, so I was pretty impressed when we were on the road by 8:30. We started the day with more than 1000 miles to go to Alameda. We decided to add some time to the trip so we could cut south through Grand Teton National Forest and see the sights.

Only 996 miles to go and 17+ hours to go

The first 40 or 50 miles, we were still in Yellowstone. It was a gorgeous drive and the sky was turning more gray, but it was still cool outside. We went out the south entrance of the park and entered into Grand Teton National Forest pretty much right away. And then we couldn't believe our luck.

It turns out that our wildlife scavenger hunt wasn't a lost cause yet. On our way through Grand Teton, there was a lot of slow traffic in one particular area, and one RV stopped completely in the road. Brian was less than thrilled. At first we thought people were stopping to check out a herd of deer in the distance, but then we saw that there was actually a coyote closer up in the grass! Brian snapped a quick photo, but kept driving.


Of course, spotting the coyote reignited our search for the other animals we had yet to see -- a moose, a grizzly, and a wolf. We weren't holding out too much hope, but we started looking anyway. And then we saw an electronic sign by the road that warned to slow down because families of grizzly bears had been spotted crossing the road in the next 10 miles. So. exciting. We kept driving, still not expecting to get that lucky, but then about 15 miles down the road we saw a large group of people by the side of the road with a handful of Park Rangers stopped, too. We drove past the crowd, not able to see what they were looking at through the tall grass, but as we passed a saw what had to be a bear. And this was definitely not a black bear. We pulled off the road a little further up and walked over to the crowd.

Grizzly bear

The rangers made us cross to the far side of the road with everyone else. The grizzlies were that close. And then we got word that it was a sow and 3 cubs. The ranger said the cubs were napping in the grass while their mom stood watch. She was pretty well hidden and you couldn't see the cubs at all, but we hung out for a bit while Brian got some pictures with his big camera lens. Then just as we were getting ready to leave she lifted her head out of the grass. It was so cool. Brian got several good photos of her and I realized later that you can actually see two of the cubs with her in one of the photos. Pro photographer, right there.

Sow and her cubs (see the cute little ears to the left?)

We decided to get back on the road since we had a long day ahead of us. At this point, I really wanted to see a moose. Brian told me we probably wouldn't, but that's the same thing I'd told him about the grizzly the day before so I wasn't convinced. Unfortunately, the moose weren't out that morning in Grand Teton.

We passed through Jackson Hole next and stopped for gas and chapstick. The town was hopping with tourists and advertisements for white water rafting. I love rafting. But of course we had to keep moving. The roads started to get pretty steep as we headed up into the mountains. And that's when we saw it: another road sign that warned to slow down for moose in the next 7 miles. I had never considered moose hanging out on steep mountainsides like the ones we were passing, but that was enough to put me on full alert searching out the window for moose. We passed through the designated moose zone without seeing anything, but I kept looking while Brian alternated between cursing slow drivers and the Jeep's nonexistent uphill acceleration.

A view from Jackson Hole

We were finally clear of other slow drivers, having passed them over the dotted yellow line and Brian was having a grand old time when I actually SAW A MOOSE on the side of the road. No kidding. Naturally, I squealed "MOOSE!" and Brian turned to me in disbelief and said, "really?" Of course, I wouldn't joke about such things, so we turned around so Brian could see and we could snap a picture. We couldn't find it on the first pass, but when we turned back around Brian spotted it by the road. It was a female so it didn't have huge antlers (or any at all), but a moose is a moose, people, and we saw one.


Our wildlife scavenger hunt was still short a wolf and the birds that we didn't even try to look for, but we saw a moose and a grizzly bear so we were content to leave Wyoming behind.

Nice seeing you, Wyoming

After that the drive became way less cool, obviously. We headed into Nevada and the next time we stopped we switched drivers so Brian could have a break and find temporary housing for himself in Alameda and us for the next few days.


As we sped across the Nevada desert, I realized why prostitution and gambling are legal in Nevada: there is NOTHING else Nevada has to offer. I don't mean to sound harsh, but it's miles and miles of nothingness. The rest stops are 40 miles apart and in between is tumbleweed and bushes.

Still in Nevada

There's barely any cattle. There are no houses. Even some of the exit ramps are for "truck parking".... they offer no services and don't lead anywhere. It even took me a while to find a gas station in pretty much the only town we passed.

Still in Nevada
(We decided Nevada is also a great place for a prison since there's nowhere to escape to.)

Now, there are some perks. The speed limit is 75 and the roads are straight, so there are plenty of opportunities to pass on the 2-lane road that is I-80 in that part of the country. The bad news is that the Jeep might as well be laughing at the thought of going 85 up a hill and setting the cruise control to 85 even on a flat road out there makes the mileage drop down to 15 mpg.

Still in Nevada

We decided to keep up the pace anyway since we had 800 miles to go. There was a lot of nothing going on out there so we turned up the music and ate a lot of brie to pass the time. We decided Reno would be a suitable destination for the night, as well as a cheap place to find a hotel room, so Brian called and got us a room when we ran into some cell reception.

Still in Nevada
(Brian: "I'm sorry, but if you dump a body out here and 
someone finds it, you're doing something wrong.")

He also booked us an awesome room for San Francisco the next night (thanks to his dad for the suggestion!). Then he spent some time trying to find temporary housing in Alameda until he can move into his house, but he didn't have much luck finding something other than a hotel.

Still in Nevada

After 13 hours on the road, we finally pulled into Reno. I managed to knock an hour off the estimated time the GPS gave us and we changed time zones somewhere in Nevada, so we'd gained some time. It was good that Brian had called ahead to reserve a room. When we checked in, we discovered that the rodeo was in town. That explained all the dualies parked in the parking garage; they literally had a level reserved for them. We opted for a room on the 30th floor which had a pretty nice view of the city and the nothingness beyond it.

Downtown Reno (and bug splatter on the camera lens)

We ordered a pizza (although we didn't jump on the bed like my brother and I did on road trips when we were kids) and stayed in watching movies. One more day til California!

Day 8: Yellowstone!

Having a whole day to spend in Yellowstone was definitely the way to go. The weather was beautiful and cool the whole time, the scenery was incredible, and the wildlife was amazing to see.

We slept in til around 10 just because we could and it wasn't too hot. The only downside was that sometime during the night the air mattress we were sleeping on had mysteriously deflated. Brian just bought it the Sunday before so he was a little peeved about that. We decided to leave that problem for later since we wanted to get our day started.

No picture of the pitiful airbed, but here's 
something cool we saw on the way to Yellowstone

After some bagels and cream cheese for breakfast and a glance at the park map, we decided to do the entire loop around the park -- about 150 miles -- so we could see everything we wanted to see. It ended up being a really good way to see the park. We set out heading west to Old Faithful from our campsite. The plan was to use a shower on the way so we didn't have to backtrack to the nearest showers. That was a mistake; turns out the showers at the campground west of ours didn't open for another week. Since we had already driven more than 20 miles, we decided we weren't gross enough yet to go all the way back.

No picture of the closed showers, either, but here are some bison
Sidenote: my dad informs be that American "buffalo" are actually bison

It was another 25 miles or so to get to Old Faithful so we started heading in that direction. The drive was beautiful everywhere we went. There was quite a bit of evidence of a massive wildfire that had torn through the park in the 80's. There were a lot of large trees that were scorched but still standing and even more that were littering the ground.

Some of the burnt trees

And then there were the hot springs. They were all over the place, even along the side of the road. There were also many streams and overlooks and general awesomeness that would be impossible to sum up in words. When we got to Old Faithful it was pretty crowded. Turns out that was because the geyser was erupting as we arrived. Of course, we didn't know that and took our sweet time getting over there. It was just finishing when we got to see it, which is what Brian had predicted would happen earlier in the day. Oh well. We had about 90 minutes to kill until the next eruption so we checked out the museum and gift shop. We also made some sandwiches for lunch and grabbed our cameras.

Old Faithful

We had a front row seat for the next eruption and it was pretty cool. Brian used his fancy camera to get some pictures and I took a video on the GoPro. After that, we walked around the rest of the area and checked out some of the other cool geysers and hot springs next to Old Faithful. According to the museum exhibit, that area has the highest density of active hydrothermal features in the world, all within sight of the visitor center there (or something like that). There were some cool ones and Brian got some more good pictures.

Hydrothermal features near Old Faithful

After our walk it was already 3:30 so we decided to move on. We started driving north toward Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way we saw a lot more bison and I saw my first elk! The elk were right in the road and enormous. The ranger was flagging us on so we kept driving and took a scenic detour down Firehole Lane (or something like that -- Brian threw out my map. He's clearly not a pro blogger like I am.) and saw more big hydrothermal areas spewing steam.


Next we stopped at the Paint Pots trail. There was a boardwalk that weaved throw an area with lots of hydrothermal features like hot springs and mud pots that were all sorts of fun colors. There were some really bubbly caldron-like ones and some that just spewed steam. One of the mudpots was tinged shades of blue and pink and was flinging mud a fairly good distance.

Cool hydrothermal features

At one point we passed a guy warning another person on the trail that if you touched the water (they clearly had) then you might go blind if you touch your eye. Who knows if it's true, but Brian commented after we'd passed them that "the Ranger also wants you to know that you're a [inappropriate word I won't repeat here]." Needless to say, there were a lot of signs saying not to touch anything. Including the bacterial mats. Although it was tempting because they were cool looking.

Deposits collecting around a hot spring

After we left that trail, there was a scenic drive up to Mammoth Hot Springs. They really were mammoth. He walked up the steps and admired all the colors and shapes of the mineral deposits. There was a little water flowing down but apparently sometimes there can be a huge rush of water; there was a picture of the flow from the 1970's and it looked really cool. We walked all the way top to take some pictures and admire the scenery before heading back down.

Mammoth Hot Springs

We made a quick stop in the town at Mammoth Hot Springs and noticed two private residences right next to the restrooms. We decided they must have been passed down in the families of whoever owns them now. But we also figured that the park admin must be trying to run them out because they'd built a parking lot and rest stop in their front yards. With such an enormous park, you'd think they could've found a spot more than 4 feet away. But what do I know?

After Mammoth Hot Springs we were about 100 miles into our journey. There wasn't a whole lot we specifically wanted to see on our way back around the other half of the loop, so we started driving and occasionally stopped at interesting overlooks and such. We also quickly realized that this was the best time of day to be driving all over Yellowstone since it was getting to be dusk and the animals were coming out. We saw the typical bison, elk, mule deer, and prairie dogs/groundhogs/small-furry-animal-things all over the place. It was incredible how the animals hang out right by the road.

We also noticed that driving around Yellowstone was GREAT for our gas mileage.

Several places along the road, there would be a lot of cars pulled over, and it was always obvious in those cases that a crowd was forming to take pictures of an interesting animal. We stopped this way and saw a black bear and her cub in the distance. We also came across a beaver with quite an audience.

Black bears by a stream

At this point finding the wildlife was becoming a competition. We had pictures of wildlife to expect in the park on the back of our map so we were checking things off the list. By the end of the drive, the only animals we had yet to see were a grizzly bear, a moose, a coyote, and a wolf. Brian was really desperate to see a grizzly ("anger, on its hind legs and standing in the road") so we pretty must spent the rest of the trip back driving slowly past rivers looking intently for bears. We came across a few more black bears with a crowd in the road, but that was about it.

From a distance we thought this guy was a moose, 
but Brian zoomed in with his camera and confirmed it was just an elk

Our last scenic stop of the day was at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and it was very worth it. We arrived as the sun was going down so the canyon was especially pretty. The canyon itself was really deep and colorful and there was a huge waterfall at one end to top it all off.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

On our way back to the campsite, we stopped at the showers at an RV campground up the road from our campground. We got to the showers around 9, which turned out to be just in time to get in before they closed. Brian was less than thrilled that we hadn't been told we'd need to pay for showers and there was a line in the women's showers, but we were both happy to take a long, hot shower. Afterward, we headed back to camp.

Me at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

We made a Mexican rice dish with sausage which was delicious and built a huge campfire. Brian tried to find the leak in the air mattress, but had to luck. We decided to blow it up right before we went to bed in the hopes that it stay full a little longer. We killed off the gallon of painkillers from earlier in the week in honor of our last night of camping and then packed up camp. The alarms were set early so we could be on the road by 8am. The plan for the next day was to drive as long as we possibly could since we had about 16 hours left to get to Alameda. Leaving extra early left some time for us to detour through Grand Teton National Forest and stop for overlooks if we felt so inclined.

Day 7: Our first glimpse of Yellowstone!

Our excuse for being behind on updating this time is that we were in Yellowstone Friday and Saturday nights with no internet or phone signal for the most part, followed by a 13 hour drive on Sunday. Normally that would have meant plenty of time for updating during the Sunday drive, but there's no 3G in the Nevada desert and I ended up driving for more than 8 hours so I was preoccupied. But the good news is that Brian ended up writing a post to get us back on track!


Well,  I thought I would be able to make it the entire trip without having to write a blog post, but alas, I have finally been goaded into it.  If nothing else it takes me out of the driver's seat….

Our campsite in Custer

Three days ago now, we did the long but reasonable drive from our campsite in Custer State Park to our campsite in Yellowstone National Park.  The day started early, apparently with Gail waking up and going to check out some bison that were wandering around near our campsite.  I have seen bison before, and deemed it not worthy of waking up.  I think she got some pictures, which I'm sure she will gladly put in when she publishes this and edits my awful grammar.  [ Done and done! -Gail ] 

A few bison were just hanging out by our campground eating some grass

We got on the road at about 0900 and made our way back towards our favorite road, I-90.  Just before we hopped on the Interstate we saw a carwash, and given the copious amount of cow waste that was coating the jeep we thought it wise to drive through, and hey! it got us ten cents off at the gas station.  So I pulled into the station to fill up and selected what I thought was the usual regular gasoline, failing to notice until i removed the nozzle that what i had actually just pumped into my beautiful Jeep was E30 Ethanol.  I guess that is more common in the midwest. Thinking it wouldn't be too big of a deal we proceeded to the carwash.  The GoPro camera mounted on my roof survived without a scratch, and probably with a few less bugs.  

The GoPro gets a car wash

After finishing there we pulled onto the highway, and almost immediately I began to notice the effects of the ethanol.  My available power was paltry at best.  Flooring it I couldn't for the life of me get the Jeep to accelerate to above about 75 and then I took a gander at the miles per gallon I was getting and realized that it had fallen to 12.6, GREAT!  Gail did a little research for me online while we were driving and determined that it wasn't really going to damage the car, just reduce power and increase fuel consumption.  With that fantastic info we decided to just keep heading towards Yellowstone.  Needless to say though, I felt bad for my Jeep, so I gave her some premium at the next fill up and now she's running great.  

Driving through Bighorn National Forest

The drive across Wyoming was rather unremarkable until we exited I-90 and headed towards Bighorn National Forest.  The drive over the mountain was absolutely beautiful, and was topped off with a stop at an amazing waterfall just before we exited the forest.  

  Picturesque Drive

We stopped in Cody, WY, for some more Sudafed and firewood before the final press towards the park.  We arrived in the park late in the evening as the sun was setting and enjoyed an incredible thirty mile drive from the park's east entrance to our campground at Bridge Bay.  

Welcome to Yellowstone!
Our drive skirted Lake Yellowstone, the largest high-elevation lake in the world 
with 141 miles of shoreline

After a lengthy speech from the ranger who checked us in on the importance of putting our food away in the car so as to avoid a Grizzly encounter we headed to our campsite.  It was a nice little site in a tent only section of the campground, I couldn't see or hear a single RV from where we were. 

Our campsite in Yellowstone

  Once we set up camp we threw dinner together, which was a hamburger helper, something mexican flavored.  Turned out pretty well for a camping meal, and since it was starting to get chilly (50-55) it was nice to have a warm meal.  After dinner and a bottle of wine we didn't last long before passing out with no alarm set since we were going to be in Yellowstone all day the following day!