June 29, 2020
I woke up about 2 am and turned off the fan, partly because we didn’t need it anymore and partly because I was worried about running Rocky’s battery down. At sunrise, the wind had stopped (though forecast to blow 25 mph) but the clouds were thick and soon it started to rain lightly. That was not in the forecast either. During a lull, we made breakfast but the light rain refused to leave.
We decided that rather than stay another night, especially with the unsettled weather, we’d take some of the best hikes in Dinosaur National Monument then head north to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.
The hikes in Dinosaur were terrific. One followed the Green River from high above along the canyon wall. Even though it drizzled some of the way, it was beautiful and uncrowded.
The second hike took us back into the colorful rocky hills, winding up through junipers and sagebrush, surrounded by boulders. It was eerily quiet and there were no other hikers. It wasn’t hard to imagine dinosaurs inhabiting this landscape.
Back near the trailhead, we stopped briefly to watch rafters on the Green River as they rounded the bend beneath massive high granite walls. Several companies offered multi-day raft excursions and we read they were fun and exhilarating, but between the cost, the weather, and Covid, we chose to move on.
We left the park around 3 pm with ominous clouds hovering above. When we had a cell signal we checked the local forecast. There still was no mention of the rain we’d been experiencing. We hoped it would clear up by the time we reached Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area about an hour to the north.
As we drove, we discussed where we’d head next. Our hope was that we’d be able to time things so we’d reach Grand Teton National Park within the next few days and arrive at the park entrance first thing in the morning to snag a campsite. Nearly all the campsites there are first come first serve/no reservations accepted and we were a bit worried about getting a site because the July 4th holiday was approaching and we reckoned lots of people would be taking off the whole week
We checked the weather in the Grand Tetons and saw it was lousy at the moment. We hoped that would discourage some campers and help us get a campsite even though the 4th was predicted to be beautiful.
We also decided to check the forecast for Glacier National Park one more time. The cold and rainy weather continued throughout Montana, with more bad weather on the way. Going there still was not an option—plus we no longer had camping reservations because we’d canceled them due to previous bad weather. Glacier would have to wait.
The unsettled (and apparently un-forecastable) weather over the past few days meant that we were constantly changing our schedule. Such is the life of a voyager.
Heading north from Dinosaur through the high desert country of northern Utah, we turned off into the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and started climbing. For a minute I thought something was wrong with the truck when I felt warm air coming from the vents, then I was startled to see the outside temperature had dropped from mid-70s at Dinosaur to 44 degrees just 50 miles away.
Undeterred by the rain, we turned off the road right after the 485-foot high dam and found the Little Hole trailhead Susan had read about. We donned our Seattle Sombreros and hiked in the rain down the steep trail from the dam to the same river we’d bathed in the day before.
We followed the trail along the banks of the river, watching fly fishermen catch large trout. At one section, a man with a toddler strapped in a backpack was casting, and even more surprising was his wife fishing downstream with a newborn strapped to her chest. Given the rain, chilly air, and steep trail to the river these were hard core fisherfolk!
Eventually, we looped back around to a boat launch at the base of the dam and then climbed several hundred feet back up to the parking lot. Most of the hike had been in a gentle rain in the mid-40’s. It looked like it was time for me to get out of shorts and into long hiking pants, perhaps for the duration of the trip, most of which would be in the Tetons and Yellowstone. One of the joys of traveling like we do is not only does the scenery change, but the climate is often completely different from one day to the next.
After the hike, we warmed up quickly in the truck and headed into Wyoming.
The highway was unlike anything either of us had ever been on. We gradually climbed up the two-lane 70-mph road in the rain until we were at a plateau that went on and on for about 50 miles.
I could tell the truck was laboring and I was startled to see the GPS said we were at 8,000 feet, which seemed crazy because we weren’t in the mountains, just on a very high road in southern Wyoming. At that altitude, Rocky was losing 25% of his power due to the lower air density. We shared the road with only an occasional car or RV; undoubtedly trucks avoided this route because they’d have a hard time climbing at the high elevation.
We drove along the high road for miles with hanging valleys below and a few peaks farther off in the clouds, looking for the turn-off to a campground. But when we found it, the rain (which was completely not forecast for the day) and wind had picked up and it was 39 degrees out. We quickly decided to keep going and seek out a hotel – it was shower time anyway. If we timed it right and the weather cooperated, we’d get to Grand Teton National Park at the end of the rain and would stay put there for 5 days before heading to Yellowstone where we had campground reservations.
An hour later, we found an inexpensive Comfort Inn in Rock Springs, WY where we could shower, freeze our ice packs, and wait out the weather. Because of Covid, we’d been making a point of staying only in well-known chain hotels whose reputation depended on employing careful cleaning practices. Marriott and Choice Hotel brands fit the bill, could be found in most locations, and Susan had accumulated lots of points at both chains after all her work travels over the past two years that often that resulted in discounted or even free stays for us.