Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 17 - Hailey - Jackson

Today I leave Hailey, Idaho, a favorite place with the rich and famous and will be ending the day at another favorite spot of the rich and famous, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Today is also the day my brother and I will split for a while but more on that later. I had calculated about 400 miles and three parks to visit but with stops for photos and sightseeing I knew it was going to be a long day. Since I have lots of beautiful photos I will let them document the trip.
To speed up things we had the complementary breakfast in the motel and hit the road around 8:30 heading south out of Hailey on route 75, the temperature in the mid 60's. We pass large farms with the irrigation systems going full blast, most likely potato fields.

We hit route 20 and go east passing Picabo on the way to Carey, the town with no motels. We quickly pass Carey and continue east towards our first first stop, the Craters of the Moon National Monument. It didn't take long before we started seeing lava rocks, mountains of lava rock right up to the edge of the road.

We approach the entrance and make a stop at the visitor center for information. At an average elevation of 5,900 feet (1,800 m) above sea level, the area's features are volcanic and represent one of the best preserved flood basalt areas in the continental United States. The park encompasses three major lava fields to cover a total area of 1,117 square miles (2,893 km2). All three lava fields lie along the Great Rift of Idaho, with some of the best examples of open rift cracks in the world, including the deepest known on Earth at 800 feet (240 m).

We enter the park and make the first stop at the Inferno Cone, a black soil and very rocky hill. I ask my brother to take a few photos as I run to the top but I wasn't thinking, three quarters into it, I was out of breath and had to stop, my heart pounding rapidly, ended up walking the rest of the way. The view at the top is simply breathtaking, you look around and see lava rocks and hills in all directions, my brother thought better and decided to stay at the bottom of the hill.

We move to the next viewing area and that's where I see the most ferocious creature so far on my trip, a hairy caterpillar crossing one of the walkways. I snap a picture as she goes about her business totally unaware of us.

We continue our tour of the park on the narrow road taking our time to admire the rugged landscape and collect a few lava rocks for my daughter. It's amazing to see the pine trees, cedars, junipers, and sagebrush growing in this environment with the constant dry winds and heat-absorbing black lavas that tend to quickly sap water from living things. Summer soil temperatures often exceed 150 °F (66 °C).   The air temperature was in the high 90's by now.

We leave the park and make our next stop in Arco for a drink, the temperature in the 90's. Arco was the first community in the world ever to be lit by electricity generated by nuclear power. This occurred on July 17, 1955, powered by a reactor at the nearby "National Reactor Testing Station", which is now the Idaho National Laboratory.

The next 90 miles to Rexburg are mostly deserted, we continue east, traveling great expanses of empty and seemingly endless roads. As we approach Mud Lake we pass a young guy traveling alone by bicycle. We make a stop at a gas station in Mud Lake and a few minutes later while we were hydrating ourselves the young guy pulls in. We strike up a conversation and find out he is traveling from California to Montana where he is going to start a new life. He had all his belongings on the bicycle. Pretty amazing distance to travel by bike. Across from the gas station is the Wayside Cafe, a very old and rundown saloon.

We continue on our way again on seemingly endless roads towards Rexburg were we stop for lunch. A quick sandwich and a soda at a fast food restaurant and we back on the road, now traveling north on route 20 towards the western entrance to Yellowstone NP. We pass the Caldera Lookout, a 72-foot forest service lookout tower and then enter Targhee National Forest.

We finally reach West Yellowstone, a town at the western entrance to Yellowstone, we pull off to take the obligatory picture with the sign.

We enter the park after showing our National Parks pass and make the first stop to walk around some of the famous hot water springs and mud lakes. The Yellowstone Caldera is the largest volcanic system in North America. It has been termed a "supervolcano" because the caldera was formed by exceptionally large explosive eruptions. The current caldera was created by a cataclysmic eruption that occurred 640,000 years ago, which released 240 cubic miles (1,000 km³) of ash, rock and pyroclastic materials. This eruption was 1,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens (Wikipedia). I had seen lots of pictures before but was still amazed at the color and clarity of the water flowing out of the ground. We walk around the boiling hot mud on walkways, steam billowing out of the cracks and holes in the ground. It's an amazing sight.

We continue and a little later I see the first of many Bison in the park. A truly amazing sight to see these animals roaming around and mostly ignoring the humans.

Our next stop is at the most famous geyser in the park, and perhaps the world, Old Faithful Geyser.  Eruptions can shoot 3,700 to 8,400 U.S. gallons (14–32,000 litre) of boiling water to a height of 106–185 feet (30–56 m) lasting from 1.5 to 5 minutes.  The average height of an eruption is 145 feet (44 m)(Wikipedia). I sit in between the throngs of people and patiently wait for the next eruption. Intervals between eruptions can range from 45 to 125 minutes, averaging 90 minutes apart today.

About an hour later I get what I came here for, an eruption and I get my photos. It's an amazing experience when all of a sudden you hear the noise and see boiling hot water shoot up into the sky, steam billowing all around. It's all over too fast and the place quickly empties.

This is where my brother and I split, it was getting late and we were tired, he didn't want to continue south to Jackson, so we decided to split, I would continue south and he would go east and spend the night in Cody.  I would call him the next day and we would eventually meet in Cooke City, Montana to go through the Beartooth Pass in Montana. I left and headed south stopping at the Continental Divide for a picture of the sign and a little later to take a rest by a waterfall. The roads are beautifully maintained but you do have to contend with the very large campers and RV's.

I continue south stopping again when I reach the entrance to Grand Teton National Park. I get another visitor to take a picture of me with the sign and then continue with the sun quickly disappearing behind the mountains.

I stop at the Jackson Lake to bask in the afternoon sun and soak the beauty of the Grand Tetons. It was so serene, no other soul in sight, I'm all alone in my thoughts. The place is so beautiful and calm, I could hear my heart beat.

I stop later to see the most beautiful sunset, the sun disappearing behind the Grand Tetons. I call my wife and daughter, I wish they were here with me.

I still had a long way to go and I had been warned to be very careful with the elk as they love to sprint across the road. This area is know for the large herds of elk roaming the plains. I travel the next 40 miles between 40 and 45mph, my eyes scanning both sides of the road constantly, my high beam on and the two spot lights illuminating the sides of the road. Cars were passing me but I wasn't going to risk running into an elk.

Along the way I kept looking for camp sites but all I saw were no vacancy signs. I reach Jackson at 10:45 and pass a few motels with no vacancy signs. I start getting worried and pull out the cell phone but after a few calls, all hotels I call are fully booked up. I see what looks like an expensive hotel, pull in and was told by the hotel manager I would not find a room in town but he still had a few, all "honeymoon suites" with jacuzzi. I hesitantly ask how much? what was I supposed to do? sleep on the sidewalk? I quickly charge the room and then was surprised to know all restaurants close at 11PM, it was now 10:58, I had two minutes to run to the corner Wendy's, the manager tells me. I get to Wendy's and the manager is walking to the door key in hand to close the place. She lets me in and I end the night watching TV in the jacuzzi, eating chicken nuggets, fries and a soda. I slept comfortably like a baby on the king size bed.

It was the perfect ending for a long day of about 400 miles.  I am a lucky guy.


  1. Yes, you are a lucky guy, aren't you! Isn't the Craters of the Moon an eery place? It still looks like the eruptions only happened a few hours ago (and geologically speaking it very much has). And Yellowstone is simply another highlight on your road trip. It certainly had been mine when I travelled there three years ago. Keep on rolling, George!

  2. I agree George, looking at the photos it looks like a fantastic place to visit.

  3. SonjaM:
    Was very lucky with the weather. It's an amazing place, it feels as if you left earth and are visiting another planet :-) and in Yellowstone you could spend a week there.

    Do you think we will have time to go there in December when you visit the US?

  4. Wonderful pictures, wish I could have experienced same in person. Perhaps one day I will be that lucky! Happy though that you got to experience it and shared it.

  5. There's some nice shots in there. I had never wanted to travel to that area, but now I kinda do...

  6. Brady
    I have traveled in the south but the western part of the country is wonderful for riding, just amazing the amount of landscapes you go through from forest one moment to desert like the next :-)

  7. Wow, that was quite a day. 400 miles and 3 parks, and everything in between. I'd love to visit all those places, but I don't think I'll try to do it in one day! Wonderful photos of all the different stops along the way. I think the images of the Tetons speak to me the most - Lovely and so peaceful.

  8. Great write-up and wonderful photos George! I feel like I was traveling with you guys. That one shot with the flat landscape and the road going straight to the horizon felt uncomfortable, especially knowing it was in the 90's. No trees or hills would be hard to get use to. The Tetons though look great!

  9. Thanks Mike. Coming from the east side of the country I just love the west open roads and vastness, I love the desert look. My next report will be through the Tetons and Yellowstone going north.