Last summer (2017) we took a nearly month-long trip to the west coast in the truck camper. We unfortunately had to cut it short due to a family emergency. Between the family issue and other priorities, the blog post and pictures from our trip did not get completed last year. Hopefully better late than never, here is last summer’s trip.
Since our trip to Washington got foiled last summer (last summer being 2016 when Opa unexpectedly needed minor surgery), we thought we’d give it another try this July. We wanted to try out the truck camper and see if it would give us more options for easier travel, smaller campsites and mountain roads. We got the camper all packed up and ready to go on July 4th. Woohoo! We exercised our freedom to wander the US following our whims and fancies hoping to reach the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. No reservations and no real deadlines.
We left on July 4th. The weather was hot and uncomfortable but we were driving in a nice big air conditioned truck. We decided that we would want to stay someplace with electricity for the night so we could run the air conditioner in the camper. We made it to Blue Earth, Minnesota the first night where we found inexpensive camping with electricity at the county fair grounds. There were a few other campers when we pulled in. The sites were grassy and had a picnic table and electricity. There was a beautiful walking path behind our site which we enjoyed. I didn’t see if there were available bathrooms, but I was happy using our own. Great start to our trip. The next morning we were able to get off to a relaxing start and back on the road.
As we drove on, the temperatures got hotter. It reached 106 degrees on our drive into South Dakota. We thought it might be nice to visit the Badlands since we were right there, so I called to see if there were available campsites in the park. Yes, but all of the electric sites had been taken. We wanted air conditioning so needed electric. So I kept calling nearby places and finally found an RV park in Wall with available electric sites. We stayed at Sleepy Hollow Campground. It was a lovely RV park and one block away from Wall Drug. Well, if you’re that close, you just have to go to Wall Drug, right? We enjoyed a good night sleep, took the dog for a morning walk, and then walked over to get a 5 cent coffee for me and a doughnut and pastry. Our pets were safe and comfortable in the air conditioned camper. The doughnut was good but I really don’t need to go to Wall Drug ever again. It’s just not our style.
We packed up and went for a leisurely drive through the Badlands National Park. Nature never ceases to amaze me. It is a beautiful place. But, unfortunately, it was too hot for any hikes, and since we both had been there many times before, we were content with just enjoying views from inside the truck. We enjoyed a great morning drive and then headed on down the road, westward bound.
We realized we were going past Rapid City and figured that Custer was not that far away. Hmmm, and that buffalo burger we had in Custer a year and a half ago was SO delicious. How about we take a little side drive to Custer for that fabulous buffalo burger? And so we did. We found an RV park right in Custer (French Creek RV Park) only a block away from our destination, the Black Hills Burger and Bun. It wasn’t a great rv park (small and tight spots) but it served our purpose. We had electricity and kept our pets comfy and safe while we went and had a wonderful and superbly delicious evening dinner. This rv park also was located close to other parks and lovely trails to walk the dog. I love spontaneity! This is so much easier to do in the truck camper. The next morning, we were up and off and headed back to the highway.
We aimed for Tensleep, Wyoming. In 1995, I had come upon a beautiful little empty campground near Tensleep that was on a beautiful little lake. Funny thing was that when I called and told my dad about it at that time in 1995, he knew exactly where I was and even correctly predicted the campsite number that I was in. I tried so hard to find it again now, but was unable to, and instead, we stayed at Sitting Bull campground in Bighorn National Forest, about 20 miles east of Tensleep. Sitting Bull was also a very good campground, but I was bummed not to find my little gem.
Onward to enjoy some of the most beautiful scenic drives in the country. First we drove through the Tensleep Canyon. It was beautiful, but steep enough and curvy enough with few suitable pullouts for photo taking. We drove through Thermopoles, but did not need a hot spring at the time, and continued through the Wind River Canyon. Unfortunately, this was not our destination and we were not ready to call it a day, but there were some magnificent campgrounds right on the reservoir with phenomenal views that I hope to come back to sometime.
We continued on towards Dubois. I loved Dubois and wanted to stop in the little town for lunch and browse through some of the galleries. But despite how flexible we were in the truck camper, it was too hot to just park on the roadside and leave the animals alone without air conditioning and no suitable spots to open the slide on the camper. So my plans to enjoy Dubois for now were foiled and we continued on to look for a campground for the night. There was a beautiful one before we got to the Teton National Forest called Falls Campground in the Shoshone National Forest. Wonderful campsites with a short trail leading to a gorgeous waterfall. We had a wonderful night with no need for air conditioning.
We were up and off bright and early to try to get a campsite in the Tetons. The Tetons were not on our agenda. But why not? Why not spend a night and enjoy the beauty of these majestic mountains for a day. We got a site, registered and paid, and marked it off with our orange cone and then took off to enjoy. We spent the day driving through the entire park. The dog was happy to spend the day with us. The cat was not quite as happy, but we opened up the truck camper every couple of hours, and he was happy to get those breaks.
The beauty of the truck camper was that we could pull into scenic turnouts and picnic areas and pull out our one and only slide, and enjoy our meals with great beauty. We had a lovely time and enjoyed trying to get the perfect photographs depicting the many moods of the Tetons. Now, let’s head out to Craters of the Moon National Monument.
We drove along some amazing scenic byways which at times were very steep and curvy. I don’t think I would have liked to take the fifth-wheel over these, but the truck camper was perfect. We noticed some great national forest sites along the way, but we wanted to get nearer to Craters of the Moon, so we drove without too much distraction. It was still hot and I needed to do laundry, so we found a sweet rv park in Arco, Mountain View RV, a few miles away from Craters of the Moon. This rv park looked much like a park with lots of green areas, trees, and space between campers. We recombobulated and got a great night’s rest before we took off the next morning to get to Craters of the Moon before the heat set in.
Craters of the Moon National Monument was fabulous! Craters of the Moon is a vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones that goes on as far as the eye can see. Some vegetation is beginning but it is scarce. There are some great trails throughout to experience this weird environment that makes you feel like you are walking on the moon and you can walk through lava tubes and check out caves. We had a lot of fun hiking around and poking our heads into the lava tubes. After our hikes, we finally had a picnic lunch in the parking/ picnic area. No, it wasn’t a good place for the dog on the trails, but there were comfortable winds blowing, the temperature wasn’t high yet, and we found great parking to open the camper slide to keep the animals happy. A great visit and now we’re off!
We drove a couple of hours into the Sawtooth Mountains and found many national forest campgrounds along highway 75. Between flooding closing some of the campgrounds and this area being around Sun Valley, a very popular destination, it was a little hard to find an open campsite. We finally found one at Easley Campground which couldn’t help but have beautiful views of the mountains and valleys. We settled in, relaxed, walked the dog, made dinner and took another walk up the hill after it was cooler. We discovered that there were hot spring pools up there! And a huge lovely swimming pool warmed by the hot springs as well. If only we had known earlier, it would have been awesome to take advantage of, but now it was closing for the evening and tomorrow morning we wanted to be on our way. Too bad!
The next morning we headed to Redfish Lake, another beautiful and popular area. We drove in to look for an available campsite even though the sign posted no campsites available. We stopped at the visitor center first where I asked about the campsite situation and I was told “Oh yeah. We never take the signs down because the sites fill up everyday. But you might find a site.” So we started searching and drove through just a few of the campgrounds, but it was so crowded and crazy that we decided against camping there. Then we wanted to check out the “great deli” they had there and thought we would get a sandwich and picnic. The deli had a few hot pockets and yogurt. Not what I was looking for. Trying to park at the beach/ picnic area was insane probably because the other picnic area was closed (due to flooding?). The park also boasted of an rv dumping station, which we took advantage of, and a laundromat and gas station. Could’ve used some gas, so I looked and looked for it, but when I asked people at the laundromat, they said that the gas station closed down several years ago. This place was a mess. Extremely beautiful location, but clearly this was not the time for us to be there. We got out as fast as we could and continued up highway 75 to Stanley.
We found a beautiful national forest site just east of Stanley on the Salmon River. It was pretty open and sunny, but we got a spot right next to the river. Opa and I both have great memories of adventure boating the Salmon River, unfortunately at separate times, but never-the-less awesome experiences. So we both really enjoyed being at the headwaters of this spectacular river. It was time to take a little break. We enjoyed our location and campsite, had plenty of space to walk the dog, and decided to hang out for two nights watching the river and the stars at night. Very calming and peaceful.
Two days later, we left our beautiful campground on the Salmon River and got onto highway 21 in Stanley. We drove the Ponderosa Pine Scenic byway towards Boise. It was spectacular along the Payette River where there was great scenery and beautiful NF campsites along the river. But after that you had to pay attention to the road. It became very steep and curvy. We could have taken the fifth-wheel over it, but I don’t think I would have liked it at all. We also noted that there had been lots of fires in that area. Towards the end was a beautiful lake which we think was a reservoir. Truly spectacular scenery. At the end of the day, it was still about 100 degrees, so we looked for an rv park with electric. We found one that took us in and created a place for us to park behind some of the large units. We were literally on the road and were hooked up to a nearby electric and water post. Unfortunately for the other units, we blocked their view, but we got the view of green grass and trees, very parklike. I think we had the best spot in the park at an incredibly reduced rate.
Next, we headed to the Columbia River Gorge. Tonight we are boondocking right by the John Day Dam on the Columbia River. Water in front of us and rocks and trains behind. Boy, this must be the windiest place in the whole world! It was okay for boondocking, but there were some crowded areas and some spots that looked a little junky. I was real happy to move on to Memaloose State Park where we stayed for two nights.
I love Memaloose State Park. Again, we were able to sit out and watch the river flow and trains roll by. We also took time out to visit one of our favorite wineries, Marchesi, at Hood River where we leisurely sampled great wine complimented with antipasto. Marchesi is also dog friendly, so Coda could join us and we didn’t worry about having to leave him in the parked camper. That just helped us relax a little more.
Time to move on. Last time we were in Oregon we spent some time exploring their fine wine country. We especially had enjoyed our visit at Vista Hills Winery, so much that we became wine club members with them. We decided to go back and visit them again, and as members we got very nice treatment there. I love their wine and I love their location and setting. And they were dog friendly. We sat on their beautiful deck with large shady trees in the foreground and overlooking their beautiful vineyard. Life can be wonderful! To finish our day off, we were able to boondock at a nearby fruit farm which we found through Harvest Hosts. When we checked in, I picked up one of the several tempting pies they had left and a huge box of different kinds of berries. We were the only ones boondocking there that night. We had a wonderful dinner followed by pie. And Coda had a beautiful area to walk and check out.
Next stop, Washington. Finally! We headed to Mt. St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument, which was 50 miles off the highway along a scenic but winding road. The observatory (basically a visitor center) is located near volcanologist David A. Johnston’s camp and is named after him. (He was one of 57 people killed in the 1980 eruption.)
We spent several hours exploring the area around the observatory, walking the trails and watching one of the two films. It was quite informative and a great experience to explore that area. It was also sobering to think that the volcano, six miles away, killed everything here during the 1980 eruption and very likely will do so again some day.
After a full day, we pulled into our rv park for the evening. We stayed at Toutle River Mt. St. Helen’s RV park. Oma was able to do laundry at the campground laundromat and we were able to top off the truck camper’s batteries with electric hookups. We also did a fill on our propane tank (the only tank fill we had to do on our trip) and now we’re ready to head to the ocean and the Olympic National Park.
The next day was beachside camping at Pacific Beach State Park. We only could get one night on the beach, so that’s all we planned on. It was a busy and crowded park. The shoreline was so far out and the sand was almost black. We did a couple of beach walks but there weren’t too many shells to be had. The next morning, Coda and I did another beach walk while Opa was tending to an important phone call. I found two beautifully intact sand dollars. Woohoo! A great find to add to my sea shell collection. But Opa’s phone call was not good news. We made a decision to head back home as quickly as we could and that meant leaving right now.
So we started the long haul back, putting in many hours of driving each day and boon-docking at Walmarts. We spent one morning having a lovely breakfast with a dear friend in Wallace, Idaho whom we had met camping while in New Mexico a year and a half earlier. Other than that, we made a bee line to get home. I guess the Olympic National Park was still not meant to be. I’m looking forward to getting there some day.
In reflection, we had a great time trying to get to the Olympic National Park. We enjoyed the spontaneity that we could have by traveling in the truck camper. There was much less urgency to get reservations. We did a lot of one night stands, a lot of boon-docking, and we always had our fur babies with us. Lunchtime was more fun because we usually pulled over in nice spots, opened the camper with the slide out, and our pets enjoyed a nice leisurely rest as well as we did. It was easier to get campsites at the last minute because we could fit into a lot more spots. I loved our time in our truck camper. But I’m not ready to give up the fifth-wheel either. I guess we’ll just take turns in them.