2019 Fall Trip to Yellowstone

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swalker

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Well, this has sure taken a long time to do! I planned to put up a post about our fall trip to Yellowstone National Park, but things became so busy that I never got around to it. I am starting to catch up on a few things, so time to share with you our fun in Yellowstone!

It was an interesting trip.

This was our first trip in our new-to-us motorhome. It is a 38 foot long diesel pusher, which is quite a step up in size and complexity from what we have used before. I prefer to backpack! So much simpler. But, we realized that the trailer we were using was not sufficient for our needs, so we decided to buy a motorhome so that we can continue to camp.

We were not even completely certain that large of a motorhome would fit in the campsite we had reserved. After way too much work (thanks Greg!) getting the motorhome set up for our needs we embarked on our great adventure.

I drove the motorhome and my wife drove the wheelchair van (it is not set up yet to tow behind the motorhome...good thing I can still drive). The motorhome is 104 inches wide, not including mirrors, awning housings, and such. There was road construction enroute that had 10 foot load restrictions. 104 inches is 8 feet, 8 inches, meaning I had about 8 inches of clearance on each side of the motorhome through these stretches. Quite the challenge for a new motorhome driver!

We spent the first night in a wonderful accessible room at a hotel in Pinedale, Wyoming. We got up the next morning and continued on our journey.

Most of the route from our house to Yellowstone consists of driving on two lane highways. There is a total of about 110 miles of four lane interstate. The remaining 500 miles are twisting, winding, narrow, two lane roads. Probably the worst section is from the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park to Grant Village. It is only about 20 miles, but has some very narrow spots. Since we were travelling this road in fall, we were sure to encounter large trucks hauling boats out of Yellowstone Lake south for winter storage. There was one in particular that was a hauling a very large boat. We met at one of the narrowest parts of the road with a 1000 foot drop off the right side. I don't know how we made it past each other, but we did.

It was snowing as we pulled into the campground. We checked in and filled up the motorhome's water tank and then headed to our campsite. I am sure we were quite the spectacle as my wife guided while I wiggled the motorhome into the spot. There was a lot of backing up, going forward, and then backing up again, but, it fit, and that was all that mattered! Heck, I think there were several inches to spare all the way around!

We were looking forward to spending a warm night in the motorhome. The trailer we had used on previous trips had a propane heater. It used quite a bit of propane. To keep us from refilling the propane too many times, we would keep the trailer relatively cool in the evenings. I need warm! The motorhome uses a diesel heater and we had 105 gallons of diesel. I figured we would be good for the duration of the trip.

Unfortunately, the heater also uses a lot of electrical power. The campsite did not have electrical hookups, so we were running the generator during the day (allowed from 8AM to 8PM) and then using batteries at night.

Before we bought the motorhome, we had it thoroughly inspected. During this inspection, the batteries tested out fine. Unfortunately, we found on our first night the batteries would not make it through a night of moderate temperatures (just slightly below freezing). After several days of testing things out, I became convinced the batteries needed to be replaced. We also discovered that both the diesel generator and diesel engine were leaking coolant.

We discovered there were no batteries available locally. After doing a lot of research, we decided to go with a different battery configuration and ordered batteries to be delivered to and installed by Camping World in Idaho Falls, which was about a 2.5 hour drive away. We arrived early, as they requested and discovered the batteries were not due to be delivered until the afternoon.

They did not finish installing the batteries that day and offered to hook our motorhome up to power and let us spend the night in their parking lot (they are well set up for this). Unfortunately, the power was not tested and it was not turned on at their end. We did not find this out until after they had closed for the day.

We spent yet another night trying to keep the motorhome above freezing so the pipes would not burst. We succeeded and the next day the batteries were replaced in the morning. While we were waiting, they fixed the coolant leak in the generator, which required replacing the coolant and putting thread sealant on the drain plug.

We then took it to a diesel/motorhome specialist (who was not able to get the batteries we wanted) and they investigated the coolant leak in the main engine. They confirmed my suspicion that it was a minor issue that would not be too expensive (by motorhome standards) to fix, but that they would need to order the parts.

We scheduled to have that work done on our way home after our 4 week trip to Yellowstone.

As we left Idaho Falls, a major winter storm was rolling in. We were really trying to get back to the campground before the roads became impassable. There was construction on the way, and we pulled in just as it was getting dark and wiggled the motorhome back into our campsite.

At this point, we figured we would be spending a warm night in the motorhome, but we were wrong. It turns out that not only did we need new batteries, but that the heater had not been serviced in many years (the inspection also missed this important fact). We spent the rest of the trip with a very inefficient heater that used much more battery power than it should. We could keep the motorhome above 50 degrees F on most night, but it was quite chilly for me.

The expected snowstorm hit and we discovered that the front slide out leaked. We had to retract it, but discovered that it would not retract all the way. Even with it retracted, it still leaked. My poor wife spent a lot of time blotting water out of the carpet!

I will tell you about the excitement of the motorhome in future installments, but I think I have relayed enough to give you an idea of just how exciting it was.

The trip was magnificent. We saw many friends. Our friends Vic and Christy visited us for a few days and were a joy. We also got to spend time with our friends John and Cathy, who were working that summer in Yellowstone. We saw many of our geyser gazer friends and just had a wonderful time.

Even though the weather was pretty rough for most of the trip (worst weather I have experienced in Yellowstone), we had a wonderful time. My wife finally got to see a Steamboat Geyser eruption from the beginning, which was a treat for her (I was there as well for my 6th full eruption of Steamboat). We got to go on many trails and see wonderful sights.

I will wrap this installment up with a few pictures from the trip.

Steve




Our giant motorhome in our front yard. My friend Greg is on top working on the roof.
Exterior View 2.jpg


Our giant motorhome parked at our campsite in Yellowstone after a bit of snow
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Steamboat geyser erupting
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Lori and me in front of an erupting Steamboat geyser
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Beehive geyser erupting with a double rainbow
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wow what a wonderful tale you write Steve and those photos are pure gold!
 

blitzc

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Steve, such a wonderful tale of adventure! I am envious of you and your wife, wishing I could be alongside you!!!! ☺
 

mytmouz

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Nice writeup...
 

KimT

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Wow, Steve, you really have all the gear and look very happy. Sorry about the motor home mishaps....but it's very nice.

I'm so glad you share your adventures with us. It's like riding along. The photography is excellent, as usual.
 

swalker

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Here is some more about our fall trip to Yellowstone.

Lori and I were able to go on a few hikes, though the weather was generally pretty bad (cold and snow). I don't have any pictures of the hikes, because I was bundled up too much to get my cell phone out. We enjoyed the hiking, even though it was a bit limited.

We had the Magic Mobility X4 wheelchair with us. In the spring we had replaced the lead acid batteries with lithium ones. The improved range means that I can easily go over 20 miles on a single charge in that wheelchair. It was absolutely wonderful to be able to go on longer outings. I especially enjoyed trips through the upper geyser basin through black sands and biscuit basin.

We were also able to take a couple of trips to the overlook of Grand Prismatic Spring, which is a new trail and has amazing views. The X4 wheelchair just barely makes it up, but it does!

Wildlife photography was hampered by the weather and by all the time we spent dealing with the motorhome issues. We did find some sandhill cranes close enough to the road for me to take a few shots of. We also found the trumpeter swan that usually hangs out on the Firehole river.

We made several long drives through nasty construction to look for Snow, one of my favorite grizzly bears. I have been watching her since she was a cub and also have spent countless hours watching her mother (Raspberry) and grandmother (Blaze) over the last decade or so. We were fortunate to find Snow on a hill right next to the road on one of these drives and I was able to get a few shots of her before the crowds noticed her and started lining up to watch her.

After a couple of weeks, my wife needed to leave for a business trip. We drove her to West Yellowstone to catch her flight and at the same time picked up my sister there. I really enjoyed the time with my sister and she took really good care of me.

While my sister was there, we had one really spectacular day. It was cool (about freezing), but there was not a cloud in the sky. We drove down to the Grand Teton National Park (about 6 hours round trip) and went for a wonderful walk on the new bike path. It is a favorite of mine and I never seem to be able to spend enough time there. The views are amazing!

Here are a few pictures from the adventures discussed above.

Steve

Adult and juvenile sandhill crane
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The grizzly bear nicknamed Snow
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The Tetons from a pullout along the road
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The Tetons from a trail around String Lake
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The Tetons from the bike path
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Grand Prismatic Spring
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A lone trumpeter swan in the Firehole River
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Steve, truly spectacular photos (as usual!). The photo of the Grand Prismatic Spring is exceptional, as are the sandhill cranes and grizzly ones. You have such a good eye for composition.
 

swalker

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Here is the next post about our fall trip to Yellowstone.

My sister flew in and my wife flew out on a business trip on the same day. My sister and I spent a couple of days wandering around Yellowstone and then had one day of really nice weather (at least sunny and dry...still cold). We spent that day in the Grand Teton National Park, where I took the photos I posted earlier. It was an absolutely spectacular day!

We knew that a serious storm was approaching and made it back to camp before it hit. The weather over the next several days was the worst I have experienced in Yellowstone. I have never done a winter trip there, just spring, summer, and fall. These next few days felt a lot like a winter trip! This part of the trip was in early October.

The first day was pretty bad. Most of the roads in the park were closed and we were confined to the campground. We learned in the afternoon that the National Park Service had considered closing our campground and enforcing an mandatory evacuation. The plan was to escort the campers out in a series of convoys. This would have been exciting for us, because at that time the rear slide out was in the "out" position and was stuck there. We were not going anywhere! Fortunately, they did no make anyone evacuate, though they did escort out anyone who wanted to leave.

That night it got very cold. I can't remember for sure, but think it was about 8 degrees below zero fahrenheit. That would be -22 degrees celsius. It was Chilly!

With our balky heater, we had a real hard time keeping the motorhome warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing. On top of that, we had not brought warm blankets for my sister to use because my wife was convinced the motorhome would be well heated because I do better in warmer temperatures. My sister slept under a variety of makeshift blankets and jackets to keep warm (enough). Did I mention she had flow in from San Antonio, Texas, where the temperatures were in the 90s F (33 C)? She was not used to the cold, at all!

The next day was again brutal. and that night was the coldest I have ever spent in Yellowstone. The little town of West Yellowstone, Montana is 14 miles west of the campground we stay at. That night, it recorded the coldest temperature in the US. We disagree with that, because at the campground, it was a few degrees colder, hitting -11 degrees F (-24 C). That was enough to get our attention.

By this time, the campground was mostly empty. Only the employees, us, and one other hearty soul were left. We were given permission to run the generator all night as necessary to keep our heater working. Our freshwater pipes still froze enough to keep them from flowing, but not enough to cause them to rupture.

We had a couple more very cold nights, but did not reach -11 degrees F again. Needless to say, we spent those days couped up in the motorhome. Except...

Earlier that year I had switch the batteries on the four wheel drive wheelchair from lead acid to lithium. The only drawback to lithium is that they will be damaged if they get too cold. The specifications for the ones I have state that they will be damaged if stored at 14 degrees F (-10 C) or colder. We had occasionally seen temperatures that cold on previous trips, so I was a bit worried, but not too much.

We store and charge the wheelchairs in our wheelchair van, which is obviously not heated overnight. I bought an electric blanket to use for the wheelchair just in case we had super cold temperatures predicted. Boy, did we use that electric blanket. I was concerned that it would not be sufficient, but it was. The most suitable electric blanket I could find automatically turns off after 10 hours. So, every 10 hours my sister had to make the trek to where the wheelchair van was parked and cycle the power on the electric blanket.

This was an adventure we will not soon forget! As my sister's time in Yellowstone came to an end, we were able to finally drive to the Old Faithful area, where we found just about everything closed. We watched an Old Faithful eruption from the visitor's center and then headed back to camp.

The next day, I dropped my sister off at the airport and picked up my wife. My wife was glad to have missed the cold, but had been quite worried about us. Unfortunately, we had run the heater so much that we were in danger of running out of the diesel it uses (even though we started with a full tank of 105 gallons). We purchased a 5 gallon fuel can and filled it with diesel on the way back to the campground. Adding that to the motorhome's fuel tank was just enough to get us through the next two nights and to drive the motorhome the 14 miles to West Yellowstone at the end our trip to fill up.

Fortunately, as the temperatures warmed up, we were able to get the rear slide out to start working again and could retract it. Also, we got the fresh water running again. When it was time to leave, the motorhome started up with no problems (we were concerned about the diesel fuel gelling in the cold temperatures) and we were able to exit the park.

You would think this would be the end of our adventure, but it was not. I will write a bit more about the end of our trip later.

Steve


A picture of our campsite a couple of days after the worst of the cold weather.
20191009_164754.jpg
 

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Steve I so love reading of your adventures in Yellowstone and I am thrilled that you can still go, freezing temps or not. Thank you so much for sharing.

hugs
 

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Honestly I was hanging on every word Steve!
I've never seen snow, so I read your words but I just can't even begin to imagine the intensity of that kind of cold and dealing with it.
What memories you made and what a tale to add to your fantastic list of larger than life adventures!
 

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This post wraps up our fall trip to Yellowstone last year.

When we left the park to head home, many of the roads were closed because of snow. We would normally head south out of the park and into the Grand Teton National Park, which is a beautiful drive. But, because the road were closed, we had to head west, through the small town of West Yellowstone, Montana.

That worked out well because we still needed to have some work done on the motorhome and had made an appointment at a shop in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Going through West Yellowstone was the most direct route to Idaho Falls. We had been to the shop earlier in the trip and were very impressed with them. So, we made our way to Idaho Falls and checked into an RV park and spent the night.

The next day we drove the motorhome to the repair shop, where they fixed the coolant leak in the engine, fixed the coolant leak that had recurred in the generator, serviced both the engine and the generator, fixed various vents, electrical problems, etc. and, most importantly, did the long delayed service on the heating system.

It took longer than expected and they wrapped up the work after normal closing hours. It was still daylight, so we drove south and spent the night in a Walmart parking lot in Brigham City, Utah (about 160 miles south of Idaho Falls).

This was the first time we had camped in a Walmart parking lot. Lori called ahead to make sure it was OK. There were several others camped there. We settled in and turned on the heat, to find that it did not work! Fortunately, we had headed far enough south, were lower enough in elevation, and the weather had moderated enough so that the temperatures stayed just above freezing.

The next morning, we contacted the repair shop and drove back to Idaho Falls. They completely accepted responsibility for the issue and took really great care of us. The owner said that it was his fault - he had neglected to ask the technician to wrap that work up even though a replacement fuel filter was not available. I really liked how they handled it, even though it cost us a bit more than a half a day of time and over 300 miles of unnecessary driving.

We like the shop so much that we plan to swing by there every year before or after a Yellowstone trip to have them do the annual motorhome maintenance. Mistakes happen, but they took really good care of us.

We were pressed for time because we had a trip to the Grand Canyon scheduled a week later. The trip through Idaho Falls cost us an entire day, which meant I would have less than a week to recover before heading to the Grand Canyon.

Because we had been delayed, the weather had a chance to get a bit warmer as the tail end of the major winter storm we had been dealing with moved out. Because of this, we were able to take a slightly shorter route home from Idaho Falls. Instead of following the interstate south through Salt Lake City, we headed east on secondary roads. We have driven those before, but never in a motorhome. It was a fine and enjoyable drive with magnificent scenery.

We spent the night at a rest area (another first for us), which worked out very well. The heater worked! The drive home the next day was uneventful. Once we got home, we had 5 days to prepare for our Grand Canyon trip. That is another story, which I will post in a separate thread.

It was a crazy trip and one that I will not soon forget. I am so glad I am still able to do crazy things every now and then, even if they are unplanned!

Steve
 

DeborahK

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What a wonderful adventure! Absolutely amazing photography. I will be going back to view these beautiful pictures over and over. Thank you for providing an escape into your exciting experience. Looking forward to finding more of your gorgeous work.
 
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