Pocatello, ID to Hurricane, UT

I didn’t plan to do a long day today. So when I awoke at 6:00 to rain in Pocatello, I promptly went back to sleep. The weather had not improved when I finally got up two hours later.

Last night, my GPS insisted that there was a Starbucks near my overnighting spot, by the McDonald’s, but I couldn’t find it. In the light of day, I had an epiphany, the Starbucks was likely in the Fred Meyers (a store like a Super Walmart) that I had spotted. So I headed there in the hopes of getting decent coffee, breakfast, and munchies for the road. Success! I found some nice Oscar Meyer ‘protein packs’ with lean meat, a few nuts, and cubes of cheese for dirt cheap, and one of those was the perfect breakfast, along with a grande dark roast from Starbucks.

I then hit the road, sticking to I-15 to make sure that I wouldn’t miss the Utah welcome centre. It was very dark almost all the way to the Utah border. It was weird to driven I-15 in that direction, although I do believe I’ve drive the Idaho/Montana portion of the highway as well. I just associate it with the long drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. πŸ™‚

I wasn’t sure if I was going to stop in Salt Lake City or not. When I finally came to the welcome centre, many miles into the state, and got a ‘SLC highlights’ map, I knew that a stop would not be a good use of my time. SLC is a planned community established by the Mormon Brigham Young and the highlights of the city all have to do with the LDS church. I’m all for learning about different faiths, but I’m on an increasingly tight schedule. One thing I can say about the Great Salt Lake, you can smell it from a distance!

I stuck to I-15 through the city (not for the faint of heart and glad not to have done it in an RV!) and then took back roads, most notably route 6. At first, it was painful going, lots of stop and go and slow speed limits, then the road opened up and I was glad to have made the decision. The drive was incredibly isolated, with almost no services, much like the drive through the Sierra Nevadas and the Mojave Desert. I would not recommend getting off the interstate in Utah unless you trust your vehicle! My truck is running great, by the way. πŸ™‚

There really wasn’t much to stop at and the landscape was all the same, so I didn’t take a lot of pictures. I was very grateful to find a small rest area south (or was it west?) of Elberta (not a typo), and I got fuel in Delta ($3.35, I think, compared to $3.19 at Fred Meyer). I didn’t fill up completely, hoping to do so at cheaper prices later.

I had a lot of time to think today, even with the radio blaring the whole way. It’s 10 days to the end of the month and I really want to get to Mexico the first week of November. I have four days’ of work in my queue and ideally need to do another three to be in good shape for November. I hadn’t planned on a canon ball run to Zion, but it suddenly made sense to push on tonight and stay there a full week, giving me time to alternate work and exploring days.

It got really, really hot by mid-afternoon and in an act of desperation, I turned on the truck AC, which has been dead as a doornail since I left Quebec in late 2012. Whadya know, it started blowing cool air… Not super cold, but just perfect! WOW.

I stopped at a McDonald’s in Cedar City to check out the hotel situation in Springdale, the gateway community to Zion National Park. Hotel prices were out of my price range. It makes no sense to sink nearly a day’s income into a hotel room. Might as well not work and truck camp instead! Prices in St. George were much more reasonable, but St. George is a full hour to Zion. Priceline clued me in that there might be a compromise, the city of Hurricane, 30 minutes from Springdale. Online prices weren’t great and I decided to go door to door at each hotel in Hurricane until I found one with a decent weekly rate.

It was coming on seven when I pulled into the first motel on my list. No weekly rates and the daily rate was $50 for weeknights, $90 for weekends. PASS.

Next motel had a weekly rate of about $33 plus tax per night. Amenities included an onsite laundromat and a pool. Suspicious, I asked for a key to a room on the second floor away from the main road so I could inspect it. The room was large, clean, and newly renovated, had yet another super comfy bed, a microwave and fridge, and a decent table and chair setup for work. SOLD. I booked for the week and was assured that I can renew for a few days at the same rate if I want to as I may decide to just hang out if I get work for next week early in the week. We shall see.

I lugged about 50 billion pounds of luggage into the room. I hadn’t planned to get on the road so late and therefore hadn’t expected to be in HOT weather quickly. I really need to switch out the fall clothes with more summery ones!

Dinner was from a well reviewed fast food Mexican joint, Alberto’s. My enchiladas were made with corn tortillas and were not smothered in cheese and sour cream, so even with the beans and rice, it wasn’t a heavy meal. It wasn’t a wow meal, but it hit the spot.

I got some groceries after dinner from a nearby supermarket and noticed a frozen yoghurt place on the way back similar to the one I went to in Salem, OR, where you pay by the weight and can add toppings. I got a small portion of yoghurt with a few toppings and was shocked when it weighed in at over $10! I could have bought several Ben and Jerry containers for that price! It was outrageous and I would have complained had tonight not happened to be ‘fill your container for $3 night’ and my price got reduced to that! Phew! I had a yummy pineapple yoghurt with fresh fruit. Very refreshing!

So now, the plan is to work tomorrow and go exploring on Thursday and Sunday. Andy Baird is camped just minutes away, so I’m hoping to meet up with him while I’m here! This is the guy who gave me a vision of the RV I wanted when I was shopping way back in 2008 and who has been an incredible mentor. It would be the proverbial cherry on top of the sundae to cap off a trip to Zion with a meetup!

So Zion… The LAST item on my American bucket list! Sure, there are other things I’d like to see, volcanoes in Hawaii, the Everglades, the Black Hills, Arches National Park, and Monument Valley come to mind, but nothing absolutely pressing that I’d want to make an express trip to (post edited on July 20th, 2017, to note that I’ve been to the Black Hills, Arches National Park, and Monument Valley since then!). I started traveling as a grown up at the age of 17, starting with my trips to Colorado and NYC in the fall of 1996, and it has taken me less than 20 years to make my way through my list of must dos. My Canada list has only two things left on it. I think it’s high time for me to get to Mexico, and then the world beyond, no? πŸ™‚

A Visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

I wound up not seeing anything at all in Idaho Falls, locked as I was in my motel room typing. πŸ™‚ I was super happy with my room at Motel West. My absolute only quibble with it was the flaky internet connection. The room was not only clean, but also recently remodeled. I had everything I needed for an extended stay, including a fridge and microwave. It was lovely to be able to make my own coffee in the morning!

This morning, I headed west towards Arco and the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, a site of volcanic activity where I was able to see lava flows, cinder cones, oceans of sagebrush, and even climb a volcano!

Access to the site was ‘free’ with my Interagency Pass. There’s a seven-mile loop road from which you can access hiking trails. I did a ton of hiking today, more than five miles, and a lot of it was uphill over uneven terrain. I am so out of shape, but the weight loss is compensating a bit for that. πŸ™‚

The site was very much a detour for me, but a worthwhile one. I spent the day going, “Wow. Wow. Wow. Um, more wow?” πŸ˜€ This was my first experience with a volcanic site and the evidence of nature’s wrath was breathtaking, as was the earth’s insistence on healing. There were so many signs of life among the lava, from lichens to pines, insects to rodents.

The weather was hot and the sun unrelenting. I was glad to have my outback hat and my Keen sandals were perfect for balancing on volcanic rock.

I am in Pocatello tonight and will head to Salt Lake City tomorrow, probably overnighting somewhere south of there. I have a lot of work to do this week, so I think I will do Zion early next week, otherwise I will have to do a canon ball run there tomorrow. We shall see. πŸ™‚

Idaho Falls Has Real Pizza!!!!!!!

I’m having one of those ‘nope, not getting dressed or going out’ kind of days. I’ve been working steadily and decided to order a pizza for dinner. I hit Google and found Lucy’s Authentic New York Pizza, which had rave reviews.

There are all sorts of opinions about what’s the best pizza. I’m a New York slice gal, with the chewy crust, brick cheese, and mild tomato sauce. Anything else is pizza, yes, but not quite right and leaves me profoundly unsatisfied.

I put in an order for a 15″ pie, just sauce and cheese, and was told delivery would take 45 minutes. The pie was here in under 20 minutes!

And what a beauty it was…

IMG_0235

It looked pretty right. Not quite enough cheese and certainly not greasy enough, but very promising. The sauce was spot on. The crust was a little too done, so more crispy in bits than chewy, and the edge not quite doughy enough. But I’m quibbling because I do like the slightly charred taste of crust fired in a super hot oven.

It was definitely not the best New York style pizza I’ve ever had, but it was definitely the best pizza I’ve had in my travels, not counting visits to my mother’s to enjoy a Tre Colori pie.

Idaho Falls, you’re damn lucky to have Lucy’s! And you’re closer than Chambly, so now I’ll have to find an excuse to come here a couple of times a year…

The pie was very reasonably priced, too! $13.61, including tax, for a 15″, no delivery charge, and I tipped $2. I’ll be able to nibble at cold slices all weekend. πŸ™‚

A Day At Yellowstone National Park

I got to bed quite a bit later than I really wanted to last night and by the time I fell asleep it was about 12:30. I woke up at 6:30. That might sound like a short night, but six solid and uninterrupted hours is amazing for me. The bed at the motel was probably the comfiest I have ever slept in! I dozed until 7:30 and then got going.

It was a nippy morning and there was frost on the truck. The day remained cool, but very comfortable, a perfect fall day where you need to layer up, but not get super bundled. I was really impressed by my packing when I tried to remember where I had put a pair of gloves and a tuque and found them tucked into a side pocket of my travel bag.

I made a stop at McDonald’s for coffee ($1.70 versus $1.00 in non-resort towns!) and decided to be smart and top up the fuel tank ($3.55, which really isn’t horrible).

The west entrance to Yellowstone Park was right after the gas station, at the edge of town. I didn’t realise I was so close! Unfortunately, I had the sun in my eyes the whole drive down to Old Faithful, which meant that I could barely see anything and missed key signs I wanted to photograph, especially the ones welcoming me to Yellowstone and then Wyoming!

The ranger who greeted me at the ticket booth was super friendly. I took my friend Jody’s advice and got the $80 Interagency Pass (commonly called the America the Beautiful Pass). Jody says that it’s good for a lot of sites in Idaho, Utah, and Arizona.

The first milestone of the day was crossing into the first of the two new states I’ll be visiting on the way down, Wyoming!

From the west access road, I turned south onto the Grand Loop towards Old Faithful and stopped at the first walk, Fountain Pots, to see some hot springs and mud holes. It was a nice leg stretch, but the boardwalk was slick with frost and I nearly slipped a few times!

I knew that I needed to go back to West Yellowstone to get to Idaho Falls, so I decided to go straight to Old Faithful and then come back and do as many walks as I had time for, not knowing how long I would have to wait for the old geyser to blow. Old Faithful was essentially a dead end today because of road closures so I couldn’t go beyond it anyway. There was thankfully no construction so the drive in was quick and I got to the visitor’s centre around 10:20. The next eruption was predicted to be at 10:40. Do I have good timing or what?!

Old Faithful isn’t the biggest geyser in Yellowstone and it doesn’t go off like clockwork, but it is very predictable, so I knew I had to go right back outside. The minute I found a spot to watch the famous geyser, it started its show.

And what a show it was! I couldn’t believe the plume of steam coming out of the ground and the column of water! I couldn’t help but think that this is where clouds are manufactured.

I then went back to the visitor’s centre and toured the exhibit and gift shop. I learned in the exhibit just how unique Yellowstone is in the world. It has the largest number of undisturbed hydrothermal features and what really makes it stand out is that it has all four types of features, hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and steam vents. Geysers are also a lot rarer than I realised.

I went to the other gift shop across from the VC and treated myself to a lovely pair of silver earrings. I got my ears repierced this spring after piercing my nose and was pretty sick of the pink stones I’ve had in my ears since the spring! I got studs in a leaf pattern. They were just $13, to my immense surprise.

It was surprising to see this other gift shop and the restaurant being open, so late in the season. In the summer, the Old Faithful site is a bustling community, with a general store, gas pumps, and rental yurts.

Before leaving the Old Faithful site, I had a picnic lunch in my truck. It was only noonish when I headed out, so I went back up to the west entrance junction at Madison and stopped at literally every point along the way to walk and see every type of geothermal feature!

A lady suggested that I make one last stop at the Artists’ Pots just north of Madison and I decided to do the detour since I didn’t feel quite done yet. On the way there, I stopped at Gibbon Falls.

The Artists’ Pots loop involved quite a hike upwards over rough terrain, but it was worth it for the view! I was quite glad to see my truck after and even gladder that I really felt ‘done’ instead of rushed to get back on the road so I could get to Idaho Falls at a decent hour.

I think I did a pretty good job filling my day at Yellowstone! I saw and did a lot more than I expected and really got a sense for what the park is all about.

A few pictures from the day…

And a video…

From Yellowstone, it was time to head to Idaho Falls, where I had reserved a motel room for the weekend. It was only about a two hour drive (except for a half hour construction delay! πŸ™ ), so it was the perfect place to get to to get out of the mountains and feel like I was making progress before stopping for three days.

My gas mileage today was perfectly normal, maybe even good since I had a very long downhill stretch where I just put the truck in second and third gears (depending on the slope) and coasted.

I’m not in Idaho Falls to play tourist because I have quite a bit of work to do. If I manage to be on schedule or better, I do have one excursion planned for Sunday. Otherwise, I will do it Monday and head to Utah from there.

I really lucked out on the motel. The cost per night after taxes is $51.75. I have a newly renovated room on the second floor well away from the busy road. The desk and chair setup is adequate, a fridge and microwave mean I was able to get a few groceries (and will be able to make my own coffee), and there is even a pool and hot tub (not that I’m going to make it there tonight, I’m so beat!). This was the absolute cheapest place I could find in the area and the reviews were so good I was suspicious. I am really pleased and won’t mind being locked in here typing for a few days. πŸ™‚

One of the promises I made to myself for the trip down was that I was going to avoid chain restaurants. But by the time I was unpacked tonight, I realised that I was famished from all that fresh air and exercise and that I didn’t want to research local restaurants and drive all over town when there was an Applebee’s close by. So I headed there and, to my immense surprise, ordered a STEAK. Seriously, what’s gotten into me?! πŸ˜€ I splurged and got shrimp in a garlicky cheese sauce to top the steak and had nice veggies and mashed potatoes as sides, along with a glass of white wine. It’s a good thing I don’t eat like that every day! But, hey, did I mention I did A LOT of walking today?! πŸ˜€ It was a crazy good meal and not too expensive.

After dinner, I went over to Walmart (the closest grocery store) and got some food so that I don’t have to go out first thing in the morning. I’ll do one meal out per day, likely lunch (cheaper), but it’ll be nice to have coffee in the morning without having to get dressed!

Into Montana

I awoke to a leaden sky and what could only be called slush falling from the sky. I headed over to the casino to see if I could get internet (no), but the fellow at the front desk gave me a number to call to get road conditions. The information wasn’t very descriptive (basically “All is good on I-90 eastbound”) and did not describe what was going on at the 4th of July Summit or Lookout Pass. But I’d left the day before in comparable conditions and would have been comfortable running the passes, so I decided to pull out.

There’s an easy-access Conoco station right near the casino with prices at $3.59 a gallon (compare to $3,90 in Oregon!), so I headed there first since I only had a quarter tank left. I pulled in and was quickly boxed in by a trio of cars, the drivers of which were not content to fill up and go. No, they had to fill up, go into the store to shop, come back to their cars, scratch their lottery tickets, and finish their coffees. I was there almost a half hour! I decided to be unusually patient and not give anyone a dirty look. πŸ™‚

Driving north to Coeur d’Alene was the first of today’s three tricky sections: a two mile long 6% grade followed by a flat stretch, and then a sharp drop with a change to 25MPH in the middle and a stop for construction at the bottom. No problem.

When I hit Coeur d’Alene I had the option of just going with my gut and knowledge and turning onto I-90, or parking Miranda at a mall and schlepping to the nearby McDonald’s for internet. It was nasty out so I decided to go with the first option.

The climb to 4th of July Summit sneaks up on you. One minute you’re zipping along at 65MPH and the next you start to lose power. I settled Miranda at about 45, took off the overdrive, slipped into D2, and smoothly crested the summit. I started down in the same conditions and the rig drove itself, with me gently guiding its slalom down to the bottom, no brakes needed. Miranda doesn’t have an RPM gauge (stupid, stupid, stupid automatic transmission dashboard design!), so I was going by sound and the engine wasn’t straining at all.

There’s a long stretch of flat between 4th of July and the climb to Lookout. That climb is a bit steeper, but I did it in the same conditions as 4th of July. Signs recommend going down at 25MPH MAX, so I started down at 20MPH in D1, but that was way too slow! I moved up to 40MPH and D2 and just coasted down, tapping the brakes twice when the engine got too loud.

As planned, I pulled into the rest area just below Lookout Pass for lunch. Unexpectedly, I was still in full possession of my nerves. I have my mojo back! πŸ™‚

After lunch, it was a quick drive to the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar/Casino/Gift Shop/Restaurant. There’s parking out back with dead power outlets. I wouldn’t trust them if they were live! The RV parking area isn’t maintained and it’s very snowy, but I found a flat dry spot behind the motel to spend a night or two.

Speaking of power, I’m still holding it together, but I haven’t had a full charge in days (I’ve hit 12.6 volts at best and 12.2 at worst) and I can only use one thing at a time. My inverter is driving me nuts: I can have 12.2 volts registering at the batteries and 2 amps coming in from the array, but the inverter insists my battery is completely depleted and refuses to charge my computer unless it’s off. Otherwise, all is good. My LED lights are awesome power sippers and I can keep the rig at a comfortable temperature.

The only downer is that I’m out of water and every single dump station I have passed in the last few days still had the water shut off for the winter! I have plenty of drinking water left and a gallon of clean water from a tap for washing up so I’m fine, but I sure wouldn’t mind a shower. I’m only a couple of days out of Lethbridge and aim to arrive there Saturday, so if I can find an open RV park I just may splurge on one night on FHU.

Now, if I could only get used to the time change!