Our last night in Yellowstone some new neighbors appeared in the campsite next to ours. Jim and Pat arrived with their 4-wheel drive with a camper tent on top. They turn out to be wonderful neighbors who live in Golden, Colorado. When they hear that I will be camping in Golden for 8 days while Carsten is away in New Jersey at his 50th high school reunion, they immediately tell me that I should call them and they will show me the sights of Golden.
They are true campers, meaning they sleep in a tent, albeit it is on the roof of their car. It is more primitive camping than ours is, and they generally prefer to camp in the wilderness, instead of in campgrounds. They are retired and camp from May to November, taking some breaks along the way to go home and get “civilized” again.
Many of the campers we meet are retired and have sold their homes, buying a huge motorhome or trailer. They live permanently in the motorhome or trailer and are called “Snowbirds” or Snowbunnies”. They follow the summer, going north in springtime and south in the winter.
Our motorhome, Caprise, who we like and enjoy living in, has become an expensive acquaintance. There have been a number of expensive repairs draining our budget, but the gas mileage is atrocious. Caprise whinnies every time we pass a gas station (as someone jokingly said – these motorhomes pass everything except a gas station). Hang on to your hat – after driving almost 3000 miles we now know she is getting about 10 miles per gallon! OK, we are used to European cars, our Fiat in Denmark got about 20 miles per LITER or 80 miles per gallon. Admittedly, gasoline costs the half here in the US, but this is ridiculous. We’ve spoken with a number of other motorhome owners and they are surprised we get so much, even their brand new motorhomes get about the same. Teresa’s brand new 33 footer averages 8-10 mpg and even Jeff’s slightly larger than normal van only gets 12. But this is still cheaper than flying around the US, renting cars etc.
Besides, you can’t put a price on everything. We are having an unforgettable trip with unforgettable experiences as we drive through the western US. There is no way we could do this, by flying & renting cars. We certainly haven’t regretted buying Caprise, but we’re hoping we can recoup most of our investment when we sell her next spring.
Back to our road trip. We’re driving south, out of Yellowstone, almost immediately entering Grand Tetons. Jim and Pat were in Grand Tetons last week and have told us the visibility is horrible due to the smoke from the forest fires in California and Oregon. During their 5 days there, they never managed to see the panorama the Tetons are so famous for. Fortunately, we are extremely lucky and as we drive in, the weather is crystal clear. One of the Rangers will later tell us that that one day is the only clear day they have experienced for 2 months. The Americans here are not surprised at the smoke. They have gotten used to the horrid forest fires on the west coast spreading smoke over half of the US. It is difficult for a couple of Danes like us to understand. Many of the big fires are caused by lightning and drought, so they are caused by nature and not people. Although one can’t help but wonder if climate change is playing a hand in it.
This is the first time we will be camping at a privately owned campground. Holy Christ, it is expensive. $100 per night. Ok it is with full hook-ups, meaning we can hook up to electricity, sewage and water. We booked 3 nights since all the Federal campsites are full, but when the receptionist tells us that we have to pay $5 dollars to use the showers, we get pissed and tell them we’ll leave after only one night. The receptionist tells us that the reason they charge for the showers is that everyone in their motorhomes takes showers there, so those that want to use a shower have to pay. Screw them. We should get a price reduction when we use our own shower. Ok, we’ll just use Caprise’s shower. I guess we are also paying for the view from the campground – which is fabulous beyond belief.
The next day we managed to find a Federal campground that has a cancelation and we can stay there 2 days – this time it only costs $15. We’re sitting in our camping chairs later that afternoon reading, when Carsten suddenly notices something out of the corner of his eye. His first thought is that it is a dog, but when he turns his head, he sees it is a fox, standing only a couple of feet from us. “Vinni, he says – “look there!” Wow! I’ve never seen a live fox before and certainly not one as close as that. He seems unperturbed by us, stands still for a few seconds studying the terrain before him and then trots off into the underbrush. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the camera at ready – but on the other hand – it isn’t everything that should be photographed.
We enjoy driving along the magnificent panorama but it only lasts the one day before the smoke again closes in.
The next morning we follow a small road that runs along the Snake River through mountain meadows. From here, we simply can’t even see the mountains.
We’re hoping to see moose, no luck with that, but we do see a flock of odder playing in the water while the blue heron watches from the other shore.
We visit the “Cunningham Cabin”, a well-preserved cabin from the Homestead times. Congress passed a law in 1862 (The Homestead Act of 1862) in an effort to get people to move out west and populate the land. The 20 year old, J. Pierce Cunningham, took advantage of this, leaving New York City and moving here to Wyoming. By Homesteading, he was given the right to lay claim to 160 acres of land free, if he stayed on it and worked the land for 5 years. Out here, the main issue was surviving the harsh winters. During the summer, he and his family could enjoy the fantastic view over the Snake River and see the mountains in the distance.
In 1877, the Congress decided to give Homesteaders the option of buying more land so they could raise cattle. During the First World War, there was great demand for beef to feed the soldiers, but after the war the demand collapsed and many for the ranchers, Cunningham included, went bankrupt and had to sell their land to the government. This land and other federally owned lands became Grand Teton national Park in 1926.
In 1923 the government reached an agreement with many of the privately owned ranches that when they wanted to sell their land, they had to sell it to the government or let it go to their immediate heirs. This agreement still stands and there are several private ranches within the park today.
A larger area between Yellowstone and the Tetons was owned by John D. Rockefeller jr. (yes, that Rockefeller) who later donated the land to the government on condition it became part of the National Park.
On our third day, we see a female moose placidly munching away at tree leaves alongside the river. We now only need to see a wolf, but that is not to be. Perhaps somewhere else on our road trip.
We must onwards and very early the next morning we depart only to see 4 large moose contently grazing in the meadows. They are a little too far away from the road and it is still early morning semi-darkness, so the pictures are not good. They eventually lumber off through the trees into out campsite.
We drive out of Grand Teton and into Bridger Teton National Forest and make our way down to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.