SARATOGA: It’s perfect, for the first time on the trip I truly relax.
The free BLM campground was so flooded that I took off my boots and waded through the river with the dogs, batting away the mosquitos, just because we could. Then I got back in the van, loaded up one two three critters and headed back to the local campground on the lake. For only $7 per night it was well worth it, spacious and open with so many different kinds of bird and waterfowl that I sat at night with a cuppa tea happily watching all the activity.
Town itself has two branches of the North Platte River, high with snowmelt, running and flooding through the parks and town of 1692 population and a through fare of visitors and truckers on this small highway. The Hobo Hot Springs made my day; tiled swimming pool sized hot tub that overflows into the river, shaded by cottonwoods, cleaned by the town, open and airy with hot showers and all this for free? Yes, perfect, especially since I followed this with a visit to the local microbrewery and chatted to Tammy and Jasmine. An entertaining few hours listening to their stories brought a smile to my face.
Saratoga is definitely one of those hidden gems. Stevie liked it too.
ATLANTIC CITY: I’d heard of it but I couldn’t remember where or why so I decided that was next on the list. Another day’s drive of about 150 miles brought us out on high range BLM land near the Wild River Mountains. The gravel road took us past a couple of campgrounds but they were busy and crowded. Not my style at all. Into town we drove, just to see the small mining town of 57 that has been a booming gold mining town that came and went a few times over time. There is a dark and crowded tavern, which tempted me, but first I needed to find a campsite for the night. Dispersed camping on BLM was the plan. I stopped out of town a few times, walking around, but didn’t feel safe in the trees and steep valleys. I took the loop road to the northeast and came out on open rangeland I pulled off and parked up, letting the critters out to explore. We were so high and exposed that the wind did quite a number on my hair, but crazy works for me…
JACKSON HOLE: On the way to Jackson Hole we pulled off Hwy 28 and onto FS 30530 and followed the gravel road a mile or so back past other campers and found a place off to the side in a meadow. Perfect. Again though, with trees near by, little Stevie wants to run and hide in the forest, which makes me nervous. I can’t see what’s out there, what’s watching us. On open rangeland I’m most relaxed. The steep valley made the campsite a tad claustrophobic for me and there was more traffic than I’d like but we still got to relax, make a fire, walk all three critters and sleep well.
I’m happy to be in a van, everywhere I look and everything I read warns of Bear activity. Be Bear Aware! Yikes. Not my happy place. I carry a bum-bag as we call them in England, one with the Spot GPS tracker, a knife, the bear spray, camera, and water. That is my standard walking gear nowadays.
Tall trees, small meadows, and flooding rivers, that’s Wyoming. I love it.
GRAND TETONS: A back route into the park took us past Rendezvous Park on Snake River so I of course pulled over and let the dogs out, but not Stevie. I’d done laundry in town, grabbed a coffee, and now felt suitably relaxed enough to stop and walk the pups. The cloud cover was so low that the Tetons hid out of sight completely. The Wilson-Moose road appealed for the name and that is had signs all over saying ‘extremely narrow and winding road’. It wasn’t that bad! Nothing compared to most places I’ve driven. Anyway, it’s a great little road through the valley at the base of the Tetons, still hidden the buggers. No big game to be seen just birds and squirrels but hey, that’s okay by me! The windows were open, the temperature just perfect, and there we were driving through the Grand Teton National Park in a van with no time limits or deadlines. Life is good.
Jenny Lake was stunning, deep, wide, dramatic, and fed by waterfalls and glaciers. Yep, if it weren’t for all the other pesky tourists taking photos like me, I’d have stayed! Oh, but for the fact that dogs are only allowed in parking lots, vehicles, and turnouts. No walking the pups here. I had a plan though, to have lunch on the east side in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Yep, if you head back south on 191 towards Jackson, you’ll see a sign for Two Ocean Lake and that gravel road takes you up and back into the forest. Dogs free. Sandwich. Cat free. Cuppa tea. Breaktime!
Snake River Brewery in Jackson called my name and there we headed once all the critters were worn out. Outside the brewpub were signs declaring no dogs allowed. That put me off but since it was still a cool wet day the critters were fine in the van for an hour or so. The brewery was established in 1993 and obviously is doing great! Two stories of a warehouse size building, the bar itself had enough space for over twenty of us I’d guess plus tables and restaurant business filled to the brim. It was loud, vibrant, and packed completely. Yep, a good Sunday afternoon beer sounded perfect to me. The Rolling Thunder German style lager was just right.
Frank on my left swapped stories with me the whole time. Frank was about my height and build, in his mid fifties with bright blue eyes. He’s been in the area since 1979 and raises sled dogs. He’s famous for it apparently and has over 200 at his property, not that he sells them, but they are raised to work and when they no longer can, he keeps them at home in a doggy retirement community. Fascinating man. Time went fast and my notebook filled up with his suggestions for small towns and local hot springs in Montana and Idaho.
The GPS coordinates for the BLM campground near the river brought me out at some gated communities so that didn’t work. I backtracked up into the National Forest, looking for an empty dispersed campsite but suddenly came across Slide Lake and the Atherton Campground. The windows look out over the lake as the sun sets and I fall asleep before dark. As usual.
For only $12, I have a table, fire pit, potable water, bathrooms, and I’m ten feet from a lake. Sweet…and this is my office for the morning! Ducks, sunshine, chai, free critters, and an omelet to set me up for the day. Okay. I can do this. Stevie runs into the trees, I take a deep breath and then make chai. The sound of spoon on a tin of wet cat food brings him back inside.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK: If you like to be enclosed by tall lodge-pole pines on a highway full of RVs, trailers, and vans like mine, you’ll love it. I didn’t. I couldn’t wait to get out. It was a long wait. The road from Atherton Campground back to Hwy 191 is paved but slow, incredible views though as the clouds lifted. The main highway north was slow too, the bison crossed in front of us, the deer and antelope played in the meadows and then we hit Yellowstone and the trees began. For hours we drove through the mountains and forests towards Old Faithful and the Geysers. There are no views worth mentioning as the trees lined every mile northwest. The park had put in many a turnout but why bother, you couldn’t see anything?
Finally we got to the Old Faithful, and the parking lots were full, on a Monday in June, it was packed. I drove around and found somewhere, opened the windows, and took a wander. Old Faithful was to spout off again in half an hour so I felt I should stay. I stayed, not feeling the magic. I just wanted to get out of there. Not good…I took the damn photo and left as soon as I could. Choices, choices.
North of there was the turning to the west entrance or I could head further north to the hot springs and the north entrance into Gardiner. I got out. Within 30 miles I drove through wide-open valleys with lush meadows and rushing rivers, my kind of happy. West Yellowstone town was right there at the exit and as much as I wanted to get some shampoo and a six pack I drove through town knowing I can come back in the morning. Yep. Freedom from those bloody trees.
Hebden Lake is about 12,350 acres, wide and deep blue, with mallard ducks, and yes Grizzlies. There are signs everywhere for the grizzlies. I’m not impressed. So even though I’m on the edge of a lake, with incredible views, I’m inside and not by a campfire. Not tonight anyway. We all hung outside, the critters walking and sniffing but as the evening falls we head inside the van for safety and warmth. Two others are camped here, both in vehicles on long road trips so we chat a while before hiding out for the night. Time to read maps and play with my routes and plans for the next week.