August 7 – 23, 2020
We left home in Independence, Missouri at 9:03am. We stopped at Runza for lunch in Nebraska City at the Van Dorn Exit. It is a German yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings. We had wanted to try one for a few years and finally did and both of us really liked them. They were freshly made and the filling was delicious. Next time we may add the crinkly fries and mini-shakes they advertise to go with them. We had a “nice” dinner at Ribs and Chops in Cheyenne, Wyoming before spending two weeks eating camping and backpacking food. Their ribeye with garlic mushrooms was delicious. They were distancing because of Covid 19 every other table, used disposable paper tablecloths and allowed only four people in the bar at one time. They make their own salad dressings in house and served them on very cold plates – excellent! The steak arrived on a sizzling hot plate and finished cooking at the table – we would definitely eat here again. Our waitress was laid off during the start of Covid restrictions, but got engaged so overall things for her went pretty well. We spent the night at the Econolodge in Rawlins which was a repeat for us and we would still recommend it. Two queens was $71 plus tax and the room had a frig, microwave and coffeepot – not the single serve cups that I am not a fan of. The beds have good mattresses and there is also a table with two chairs. Rick saw one pronghorn on our drive, and we saw lots of hawks.
The Econolodge provided coffee with bagged breakfasts due to Covid. Inside was Apple Juice, Diced Peaches, a Blueberry Nutrigrain Bar and an Apple. We slept in and left at 10am. We saw a herd of Pronghorn in a grassy square in Jeffery City. We had a sit down lunch at the Oxbow Restaurant in in Lander. Rick had an Onion Burger and I had the Chicken Fried Steak. When the waitress set my plate on the table, several of the fries slid off into my lap and she felt terrible. But there was a mountain of them, so it was not problem to me at all. They had a Charles Chips can as part of the décor which was interesting to me since we used to get them when I was growing up. We continued driving, seeing lots of Pronghorn along the way. We stopped in Dubois for gas, pickle relish and propane. We turned onto the road to Brooks Lake in the Shoshone National Forest and drove down the road looking for the dispersed campsites we had heard were there. I saw a very few, and in one of them that was empty I saw a black bear. I told Rick and he turned around and we went back to watch it. It was ambling through the clearing eating natural food, completely ignoring the fire ring. We both noticed that if we moved the car forward so we could see him better, he would move behind a tree or brush so he was hidden. After he moved completely out of sight, we continued and drove through the Pinnacles Campground (not to be confused with the Pinnacle Campground right after you turn off Highway 287 – which is much more primitive and the road very rutted.) Pinnacles is a pretty campground and many of the sites have good views of Brooks Lake and the Pinnacles. Three sites were open and we chose # 1 with a great view of the Pinnacles and Brooks Lake Creek winding down below. Just after we parked in the site, Rick said, “There’s a bear!” And pointed across the creek. The bear walked down to the creek and proceeded to cross it, coming straight toward us. Luckily, we had turned off the engine, but hadn’t even opened the doors. Then he turned and went across the side of the hill below us and through campsite #2, then down the campground road. By this time, quite a few people had seen him and were watching him and taking pictures. After we were sure he had left our immediate vicinity, I walked a few yards back to the kiosk at the entry and got a registration slip and completed it for two nights. I saw there was a warning that a bear was frequenting the campground. We don’t know if the two sightings were of the same bear or not, but we enjoyed watching him/them. We walked around the campground (with our bear spray), but didn’t see him again. We decided to drive over to the other campground – Brooks Lake Campground. Some of the sites are nice, but several are crowded together and it wasn’t as wooded. We did find lots of free dispersed sites on the hillside above it. On the way back to our campsite we stopped to gather firewood since it is allowed in the National Forest. When we got back, we unloaded the wood, then walked down to the creek, and then over to the lakeshore and explored a little. The wildflowers here are really pretty. It started to rain, so we headed back to camp to wait it out in the van. We drive a conversion van with a three-part bench seat that folds down. We can put two coolers behind it and that makes a platform for a queen size airbed so we can camp in the van. After the short shower the sun came out and we set our chairs in the shade and ate the peaches from our bagged breakfast. Then we heated Chicken and Veggie Korma from our favorite Indian restaurant on the camp stove. Because of Covid 19, we had brought enough food from home that we could eat at our campsite the entire trip if we felt it was necessary. We made coffee and filled the thermoses for tomorrow morning – neither of us are morning people and want coffee the minute we wake up. After we’d finished eating, a very large motor home stopped on the road across from us and we figured they were wondering if there was a place to camp large enough for their rig. We went over and told them that we’d seen a large trailer pull through site open that would work for them, and that the road was a loop so they could exit easily if they didn’t like the site. They thanked us and ended up staying. Some mosquitos were starting to come out, so we lit a fire and enjoyed our view of the pinnacles as dusk fell. We went to bed early, tired after the long drive.
I got up early and had coffee and a Nutrigrain bar. It was cold so I lit a fire. The airbed felt cold underneath me all night. We need to put an insulating layer under the fitted sheet or something for warmth. When Rick got up we made a big breakfast of Sausage, Eggs and Fried Potatoes with Onions. We were planning to hike around the lake so we fixed a lunch and packed it in a daypack. The campground host came by and asked if we wanted to move to one of the most coveted sites with a great view. We said yes, so he moved our tag to that site and we loaded everything at #1 into the van and headed up there. Our new neighbors greeted us and when we mentioned our plans for the day they said there was no trail all the way around the lake because of the willows. We’d have to wade or bushwhack. They recommend the hike to Upper Brooks lake as an easy warmup hike for the first day of a trip. They mentioned we could go as far as we felt comfortable. It is a beautiful hike in a wide open glacial meadow with the creek winding through it. We stopped on a knoll to have a snack and then continued. We ended up going up the trail on the east side of the creek, circling the upper end of Upper Brooks Lake and returning on the (easier) trail on the west side. We saw a trail crew building bridges over side creeks and thanked them after we’d had to wade a couple of them. We also saw a backpacker’s camp and made a mental note for the future. We also returned in time to see the Brooks Lake Lodge let their horses run free for the night – a really neat thing. But we had to stand in the hot sun for over fifteen minutes waiting for them to all go by so it was safe to use the trail. Unfortunately, we had bitten off a longer hike at 9,000 feet (we’re from 600 feet) in the blazing sun and strong wind. I ended up with sunburn and severely chapped lips, Rick developed a nasty blister on one toe, and we were both exhausted and dehydrated by the time we got back to our campsite. Only to find another camper with a chair standing in our site. She was upset that we had not left a chair in out site, just the tag. They had set up camp and then had to move when the host explained the procedure here. We apologized and asked her to join us and enjoy the view. We also told her that we were leaving early in the morning and she could move her tag over as soon as she got up. We ended up visiting with her and her husband, a really nice couple. They went back to their camp across the street for dinner and we were so exhausted that we just ate cold pizza (from Minsky’s – yum!) out of the cooler and had a beer. We managed to make coffee for the thermoses and went to bed early. I have a pretty bad sore throat on top of everything else. We set the alarm for 7:00 am so we can hightail it to Gros Ventre to get a campsite. We will heat a breakfast casserole I made at home in the Roadpro lunchbox stove as we drive and then eat when we get a campsite. It is already cold enough here that I went ahead and moved the casserole from the cooler to the Roadpro so I can just plug it in the cigarette lighter in the morning. Or it is probably called a 12volt receptacle now? I’m showing my age.
I woke up before the alarm even went off – it is 37 degrees. I put a thick towel under the sheet and it did keep me warm last night, plus I wore thick, wool socks. Rick got up when the alarm went off and we put the wood and chairs in the van, plugged in the Roadpro and left at 7:15. We drank coffee while we drove and saw a grizzly bear out in a meadow just before Togwotee Pass. We pulled over along with five other cars to watch it eating and take some pictures. We continued on to the park down to Gros Ventre Junction and into the campground, arriving at 7:45. We stopped in the line of six cars for our turn for a ranger to come to our car and assign us a site. They wore masks, as did we. I asked for a site in A Loop, and she checked to see if one was open. It was - #74 and it ended up having a pretty good view of the Tetons around the end of Blacktail Butte. It did not have much shade, though. Luckily, our van is tall and makes some shade in all but the very middle of the day. We paid for the site, bought some firewood and were finished at 8:00 am. We drove to the site, unloaded the wood and chairs, and ate the hot breakfast casserole with some cold grape juice. Rick napped (went back to bed?) and I washed my hair and cleaned up at the restrooms which have cold running water. I might mention that I grew up camping in the National Parks and long ago perfected the art of washing up and shampooing with ice cold water. We are both still really tired from the altitude and the hike yesterday. When Rick got up we drove to the first pull off on Gros Ventre Road to hike through the Cottonwood Bottoms by the river in the shade. We crossed an irrigation ditch at the gate and went down to the river and explored. We didn’t see any animals, but the river is beautiful. As we drove back to camp we saw three cars stopped to watch a big bull moose across the river. He was in the shade eating and we watched him and took some pictures. At camp we loaded Mongolian Beef from a Chinese restaurant at home into the Roadpro and headed to Mormon Row in search of a shady place to eat lunch. Rick saw a shady spot under two trees so we got out our chairs and enjoyed our lunch with a beautiful view of the Tetons. There were lots of butterflies there. After that we took a short hike by Jackson Lake to check out our backcountry campsite for next week. Afterwards we drove to Dornan’s where we bought souvenirs and postcards for our granddaughters. They also sold us stamps and offered to mail them for us. Last year we only drove into Dornan’s once – for ice – and it happened to be a really busy time of the morning and we could hardly find a parking space. We never went back, despite the many positive reviews. This year we went later in the day, or earlier and had positive experiences every single time. We have become part of the Dornan’s Fan Club. Rick made some work calls while I did the shopping. We were in and out in no time. We returned to camp. Rick read in the shade of the van, and I walked down to the river behind A Loop. There is a maze of trails down there and I wished I had more time to explore. After I got back, Rick and I walked way out in the meadow to see if there was a good place to sit in the shade of a line of trees out there, but there was not much and it was not worth the effort to get out there through the sagebrush. We were still tired from the altitude and ran the engine to heat more Indian food in the Roadpro. Several rigs were running their generators so we didn’t figure 15 minutes was too intrusive. Shade from a tree two sites down did hit our picnic table at just before 7pm. That is welcome! After the sun went down we moved our chairs up on the bench behind camp for a better view of the mountains. When it got dark, we made coffee for the morning and sat by the fire for a while before going to bed.