Trip Over View

As you may have noticed I did not succeed in blogging every day of our epic van trip out to explore the Northwest of the United States of America. These trips are tough. 2 weeks on the road driving almost every day. Waking up at 6 am to either get miles in early or beat the crowds to the trailheads so we can get a parking spot. I certainly don’t want to complain about the number of people that are choosing to enjoy the countries national parks as I think it’s an important part of appreciating our country.

We visited a total of 5! yes 5 national parks and 1 National Memorial on this trip. I think it may be best to blog about each one of them separately.

We saw in this order:

  • Theador Rosevelt NP in North Dakota
  • Glacier NP in Montana
  • Yellowstone NP in  Wyoming
  • Grand Tetons NP in Wyoming
  • Mount Rushmore NM South Dakota
  • Badlands NP in Soth Dakota

If that sounds like too much, well you would be right, it nearly was. Here’s the breakdown!

  • 12 States
  • 1 Vanagon
  • 16 days
  • 5,739.9 Miles
  • 388.052 Gallons of Gas

Mount Rushmore and The Badlands
8/14/19-8/16/19

Coming out of Jackson’s Hole Kate and I were on the last gasp of this trip. We had completed a trimendouise tour of the mid north west, after coming this far we couldn’t pass up Mount Rushmore and the Badlands.

Mount Rushmore….. Well, it’s there and you can see it. Other than that I’m not sure what else to say. It’s not disappointing, it’s just what you want it to be. If you had the time to take all the tours and read all the plaques it might be even more impressive… We did not have time for that. We parked in the giant parking garage outside the grounds. Walked into the monument with thousands of other people and looks up at the sculpture. It’s one of those things, I wanted to check it off the list. It’s an icon of American culture and no matter how you feel about it, it’s part of the fabric of the country.

We turned on to a dirt road somewhere on the west end entrance of the Badlands and drove for what seemed like forever before getting to a campsite suggested by a friend of Kate’s over Facebook. I will not bury the lead here. It was the end of the trip and this was a very rough campsite. These two things do not mix. The site is called Sage Creek. As we drove up the dirt path to the camp spot a huge slow-moving bison walked into our path and stood in the middle of the road begging us to hit him. I was all to aware that our tin can van stood no chance against this very solid animal and we politely waited for the bison to decide to keep moving before we entered the camp.

Getting to the camp spot we took our place in the ring you see in the above photo. We opened the door to put out some chairs and have a relaxing afternoon drink. In that moment a massive cloud of black flies swarmed us and the van. Biting us and filling the inside of the van. After only a moment of trying to live in this fly hell scape we decided to get back in the van and decide what to do next. We discussed trying to find a hotel in a near by town but that seemed like a long shot. We decised to take a little walk and try to calm ourselves down. We strolled back down the road we cam in on and i climed a very muddy hill to get that arieal shot of the cam site.

Tired and beaten we made our way back to the van and took final stock of the situation. Both tired and annoyed at this point we found we had just enough food left for dinner and enough booze left to make the night bearable. By the true grace of God, my phone had just enough signal to play music in the van while we ate a combo of boiled hot dogs whiskey, and wine till we found ourselves relaxed enough to drift off to sleep.

The next morning we got up and drove to the visitors center for the Badlands and drover through some of the more scenic areas running across amazing land formations and amazing wild life.

With tired eyes and bodies, we pointed ourselves back east and made a mad dash for the NJ state to continue on with real life. sadly…

Grand Tetons and Yellowstone 081119 – 081419

Leaving Glacier we set our sights on the Grand Tetons. What you might not know is that the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are butted up against each other. That meant we needed to drive through Yellowstone to get to our destination.

Yellowstone is a full day’s drive through Montana. We spent the entire drive trying to outrun storms and getting caught in them anyway. I learned that Kate has some significant anxiety around driving through these storms, which is completely fair. That said we still had to do it. We hit a couple of very small hail pockets but all in all faires quite well. In fact, we had the opportunity to stop for some food old Montana BBQ I. A little place called Sparky’s Garage in Butte Montana. I think I got the brisket sandwich and Kate and my behest got the ribs.

We arrived outside Yellowstone that evening and stayed at the most expensive KOA ever. Managing enough time and energy to wash some clothes and get some rest. In the morning we got up early and made our way into the park. Our plan was to drive through only seeing the essentials getting to the Tetons by early afternoon. Against our better intentions, we couldn’t help but stop at Old Faithful. It’s just an America National Park icon and to come all this way and skip it seemed, well, wrong. Of course, we ending up missing it’s guessing my only moments so we spent the next 90 minutes walking around and checking out the gift shop. When the time came to see the blast the unwashed masses fill a stadium of benches only the be underwhelmed by something that can’t possibly live up to the hype. We saw it and promptly took off.

We drove the rest of the way to the Grand Tetons listening to Willie Nelson songs and feeling quite Western. Arriving at the Tetons is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. As described by an early western author. “They seem to rise up straight out of the ground. No foothills no warning at all”. It couldn’t be more true. They are a steep and jagged mountain range. Still massive in size just surrounded by prairie. We set off to find a campsite. With no reservations, we had to hope there were walkup sites available. Lucky for us there was. We were able to secure 2 nights a the Colter Bay.

After scoping out the campsite we went to get some lunch. There was a little cafeteria type place near the campgrounds. We went in and they tried to seat us in that saddest darkest corner of the restaurant. When we asked to sit closer to one of the giant windows the “hostess” said “no! There are sections and I must seat as such!” In what only can be described as a blind rage, Kate and I marched out of the establishment and out onto the street. We soon realize we may have made a mistake. In a defeated panic we started driving and came across the Jackson Lodge just a few miles down the road. It was effing incredible! We walked into the lodge to find the most spectacular views. We quickly made our way to the outdoor restaurant and found a table pointed right at the Tetons! It was the most amazing lunch save ever recorded. So to you the hostess bound by the stringent rules of the restaurant industry, Thank You!

Our campsite was relativity close to the water. In our excitement and a successful lunch under our belts, we busted out the kayak and got on the water. It such a great way to see the mountains. So crisp and clean. The water was truly beautiful although a bit rough as we paddled back to camp.
The next day we got our hike on. Our feet had just about had enough by now. After the 2 massive hikes in Glacier, our dogs were bark’n. In what can only be categorized as pure will Kate and I embarked on yet another epic hike. This time we hiked a valley between two of the giant Teton peaks. On this one there was a lovely waterfall about 2 miles in. (Then a climb up to the valley. I know that sounds weird) . We got up close and personal with a Moose. We also had an incredible view of the mountains from a uniquely close vantage point.

After the hike, we went to look for a place to shower. This is always a truck on the road. We consulted the map and we found a shower spot not too far down the road. Turns out the place was the American Alpine Club Climber’s Ranch. This was a cool little place. It was a good way down a dirt road and it was a set of 4-5 rough looking cabins that had a little shower building. It cost us 4 bucks apiece but it was cool. All over the walls of the place, both inside and out were those wall climber handholds. You know those ones you see if you go to an indoor climbing wall. Very cool place.

We got dinner that night at the place we walked out of the day before. It wasn’t good anyway. After a long day of hiking, you don’t really care anyway. Like most nights on the road, we headed back to the campsite early enough to hang out by a fire. Watch the bats fly in and out of the trees, and take a drive around to look for other Vanagons. The Grand Tetons seemed to be the high watermark for Vanagon sightings. We always love it.

The next morning we decided to head out of the park to go explore Jackson Hole. I think this was Kate’s favorite part of the trip. I don’t know if this is at all true, but I feel like Jackson Hole is like an Aspen of sorts. It looked to me like a place where rich Californians go skiing and hang out. It was a welcome relief. We definitely should have spent the night there but we only spent the day. As we went around town checking things out we can across a store with photo prints for sale by Harper Smith from her series called Paloma. Harper Smith is a well-known fashion photographer and one of the photos really struck me and I thought it would be a great way to remember our trip. The series is northwestern in nature and the photos are truly stunning. After a day of walking the streets of Jackson Hole, we finally turned out sights east. With a view of making 1 more National Parks visit.

Glacier National Park 080719-081019

We arrived to the South East Entrance of Glacier national park around in the early afternoon of August 7th. After 4 days of solid driving and camping I arranged for us to stay in one of the original Glacier park lodges. This seemed like a good idea. The lobby was gigantic and majestic. It seemed historic as one of the early National Park hotels. It was all of that, possibly to a fault. The rooms were very small, cell like. They hadn’t been updated since the 70s (my best guess). The rooms were not air-conditioned which certainly isn’t the end of the world, but after 5 hot days on the road we were looking forward to a bit of that. All that aside it was still a decent time. They had a pool so we spent the remaining part of the day there. We went to dinner in the large dining room, where I got the prime rib! It was fantastic. We then hung out on one of the large porches and watched the sun set glow behind the mountains of Glacier.

Our first full day at Glacier had us up early to start the adventure. We drove north to the east entrance of the park where our campground St. Mary’s. At the visitors center there we managed to get the most burned out ranger I’ve ever met. We asked for advice on what hikes to do and where we might kayake and she was like “I don’t know what things you like to do.”. I remembered I watched a video about Many Glacier and it was supposed to be a great place to hike so we headed in that direction. It was about a 40min drive and luck for us there was parking on the street near the Lodge and the trail head. We wanted to start think off easy but ended up doing an epic 13mile hike up one of the peaks at Many Glacier.

The hike was up to Grinnel Lake. We didn’t know it when we started but Grennel Lake is a lake filled with melting glaciers. There are big chunks of ice float around in ice cold water melting in the changing climate. The think is this Glacier lake is at the top of one of the many mountains in Many Glacier. The hike was long, but the change in landscape and environment along the way was worth the struggle. We saw mountian goats and a moose along with spectacular views of the 3 massive lakes that are in the valley of these mountains.

Once reaching the top we were hot and tired. So we sat on the bank of the glacier lake and watched the ice float around. Kate was pretty interesting in getting in the water. Some folks behind us were talking about how they had just taken a swim and how exilerating it was. Before I knew it Kate was up to her waist in the water and had hopped to a little rock just off the bank. Feeling as if I won’t have another opportunity to do such a thing I jumped in. It was cold. Although I wonder if the body can only feel a certain level of cold and then it kind of all the same. I don’t know. Either way I did it and you can watch the video for proof.

The hike down was much easier and the heat of that day had passed. We made it back to the van and had a a beer. As I was packing up to leave a guy pulled up next to us and said a bear just walked by our van not 20 min earlier and continued up the hill. That my friends was our one and only near miss with a bear on this trip.

The next day we needed to take it easy. The plan was to drive the “going to the sun road” which is the east to west passage through the park. This would put us on the west side of the park. The road is a bit steep and winding but nothing compared to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. We got an early start and made the drive in an hour and 45 min. The early start was 2 fold. 1 the “Going to the Sun” gets pretty crowded and can take forever. 2 we needed a camp site for the next 2 days. The plan worked! We got a fantastic campsite at one of the smallest campgrounds in the park called Sprague. It is super small and back in the trees. It is also is steps away from Lake McDonald. This was perfect, we were able to set up camp just steps away from the lake allowing for easy kayak access. We spent the day kayaking around the lake and then went to the Lake McDonald lodge for dinner!

Let me say this. If your going to visit Glacier National Park I would highly suggest staying at the Lake McDonald lodge. Now I didn’t see the rooms but it seemed the most refined of the lodges. Plus it feels like a more central location in the park. We walked around the grounds a both really likes it.

The last day at Glacier was a big one. The center point of the “Going to the Sun Road” is the place called Logan’s Pass. It is home to the Continental Divide and is a good point to do some high elevation hiking. When we had passed by it the day before it looked like the hikes would have beautiful views. We decided to yet again get up early and get in a good hike. Unfortunately the the clouds had moved in over night and we found ourselves hiking 12 miles in those clouds to one of the famouse Glacier Park chalets. The one we made it to was the Granite Park Chalets. These are a kind of bare bone shelters that long distance multi day hikers can stay at. It was cool to get to see it and it was a relief to have a moment to sit down and have a snack. Sadly the dumb girl working in the Chalet told us all that dangerous thunderstorms were moving in and we should hurry to get down the mountain as we only had about 2 hours before they hit. Kate looked at me with a “I’m getting the eff of this effing mountain” look in her eye. Which is gospel to me to shut up and follow. We set out down to a section of the “Going to the Sun Road” where a shuttle would take us back up to Logan’s Pass where we parked the van. With fear in our hearts we scappered down that mounting only to find things clearing up into a beautiful day.

Exhausted we got back in the van and headed to Apgar where the showers were. Got clean, got some lunch and tried to take it easy for the evening. For in the morning we would be heading toward Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

Day 2: Defiance OH > Hixton WI

Hello from the great state of Wisconsin! We left Defiance at 7am and pointed the van West. We drove to Byan Ohio and got back on 80/90 toward Chicago. We stopped for gas again and I forget the keys and gas cap on top of the pump again. Lucky for me this time I figured out the loss in 5 min so no disasters this time. Shortly after that, we got on 80/90 and the PopUp came loose and shot up into the air. Kate was driving and got us off to the side of the road before things got bad. Everything was fine. We aren’t sure how that happened. I guess we must have engaged the latch at some point. We are being extra cautious with it now. Must have been quite a sight.

We had one special stop in Rockford IL. Kate was born there and spent the first 5 years of life in a house on Harlem BLVD. I’ve heard a lot about it so we stopped by to take some pictures. The women that bought the house from Kate’s parents in 1989 still lives there and she came out and talked to us for a while.

We found ourselves and the end of the day in Hixton Wisconsin at the Hixton KOA which was lovely! The owners where super nice and the grounds were lovely and clean.



Saying goodbye to Mom and Dad

Kate at the famous Harlem Blvd house


The loveliest KOA

Day 1!!
Welcome to the 2019 Glacier National Park trip! In 2017 we made the ambitious trip to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park and I did a terrible job documenting it. To be fair it was the first big trip in the van as I was stressed out!
This time is different! We have even more upgrades to the van and she is running like a top.

The trip started with Kate and jumping in the van at 6am on Saturday 8/3/19 to make our way to Defiance Ohio. For those of you that are on your game, you will notice that that date is Kates birthday. What better gift could one ask for than setting off on a monster adventure across the country!
We arrived in Defiance ay about 4:15pm that day with enough time to have a little birthday party and open some gifts. My parents were nice enough to prepare a little birthday jam. With a Mexican (build that wall) casserole and a beautiful Bert and Ernie cake to match the one, Kate had on her 3rd birthday.
It was a great (although short) visit. I borrowed my dads GoPro so maybe we’ll have some good video of our trip.



This was our lunch stop in Clarion PA : Pretty good,rough looking establishment.