Day 16/Wednesday/September 24:
I really wished for some beautiful clouds this morning but the fog gods left their trail of dewy droplets. Still, fog can make for some moody images. It soon lifted but the sky was cloudless and there was a ripple on the lake where yesterday was like glass. We said goodbye to Karry from Colorado and headed out to the roads that would take us back home. We had reached the furthest point east and south of our trip so the remainder of our adventure would be homeward bound.
There are several spots off the road where you can disperse camp. We had met some campers who had camped along the Green River who showed me a photo they had taken yesterday, a wide angle shot with the river running toward Squaretop Mountain, a terrific example of leading lines/S-curve composition. We looked for it and found a few possibilities. Our plans for further adventures would be to more throughly explore Western Wyoming, places on the map like Plumes Rock, Chimney Rock, Killpecker Sand Dunes, Adobe Town, Crazy Woman Canyon, The Haystacks, etc. And, spend a few days, exploring this area and relaxing in our chairs along the banks of the Green River, fishing and relaxing.
We missed 40 Rod Road, a shortcut over to 189/191, by gawking at the scenery. It would have saved us probably 10-15 miles. We drove back through Hoback Canyon to 26/89 heading west into Idaho. This is beautiful country, I thought, as we drove along the Grand Canyon of the Snake River toward Alpine, Idaho. In Alpine Junction, where we fueled up, tourism hit a dead end. A large complex of Swiss Alpine themed buildings including a restaurant and motel was for sale and appeared to have been for some time. We see a lot of businesses that cater to travelers that are for sale and abandoned. I want to know the backstory. Why are these places for sale? Where do people stay? Is it the RV industry or do people have to ration their vacation time to see only the top-tier of their bucket list?
We dropped down along 26 to parallel the Palisades Reservoir, a dammed up portion of the Snake River. Our camping destination was Falls Campground along Fall Creek near Swan Valley. We turned off of 26 to USFS Road 058 toward the campground keeping an eye out for a sign for Fall Creek Falls, a scenic falls that I wanted to photograph. The campground was closed (for the season?) so we drove down Fall Creek Road (USFS Road 077) along the creek of the same name and found some areas with informal camping spots (rock fire pits). The waterfall was visible as we returned from the closed campground so we at least knew where it was. It was getting dark and we were tired. It was quiet except for the occasional bellow from the free range cattle.
Day 17/Thursday/September 25:
I misjudged the time that the sun would rise so parts of the waterfall were already basking in the sunshine. I made the best of an poor situation and fired off a few wide angle shots. We returned to Highway 26 enroute to Idaho Falls. Because we wanted to arrive home to tend to the garden and attend a friend’s going away party, we, gasp, got on I15 and drove to its junction with I86 just north of Pocatello. I86 merges into I84 just east of Burley. I am not a fan of freeways but Idaho’s aren’t as congested and the traffic flows freely, if fast.
Soon, we said good-bye to freeways at Mountain Home and fueled up. From Mountain Home, we drove on Highway 67 (Grand View Road), crossing the Snake River at Grand View to 78. We followed 78 (the Murphy Grand View Road) past dairy farms and the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Site. We saw no eagles or other larger birds of prey but did spot many hawks. We drove through Murphy and Guffey at times following the Snake closely.
At Marsing, we turned west on 55 then north on 95 through Homedale. At Homedale, we turned onto 19/201 and proceeded through Adrian. We crossed the Idaho/Oregon border just west of Homedale. It was harvest time in this part of the world. Overladen dump trucks spilled their loads of red and yellow onions at every turn. There were trucks also carrying carrots and potatoes, stew veggies. We picked up a few large red onions laying by the road side.
Somewhere in the midst of this farmland, the winds began to blow forcefully and we were now trying to see our way through the soil billowing across the road from one fallow or harvested field to the other. 201 brought us to Nyssa where we stopped to fuel up. One of the local farmers was fueling up next to us and said if we continued to drive west, we would be driving away from the winds. He also mentioned he was having a great harvest this year.
From Nyssa, we headed north until the junction with 20/26 which would take us to Vale, Oregon. We camped at Bully Creek Reservoir northwest of Vale, at a county park that had showers and power, our first hook up site on this trip. Since we were out of daylight, campgrounds were few and boon docking on farmland is not encouraged, we took advantage of the power and showers for $15. The reservoir was down substantially, like most of those we have seen. It was quiet as there were only two campers here including us.
Day 18/Friday/September 26:
After using the campground’s water and our hose to wash off almost 3 weeks of dirt, we returned to Vale and turned north on highway 26. Our map showed a shortcut via Reservoir Road but it hadn’t been used in a long time. 26 took us through small towns like Willow Creek, Jamieson, Brogan, Ironside, towns that are fading away or gone. We were looking for a cut bank along the road just before Unity that someone during one of our travels was said to have carnelian rocks. It wasn’t really evident as there were a few rocky banks along the highway and we weren’t sure how far from Unity, but we did find some pretty rocks along a promising area. The few people driving by were probably wondering what we were looking for.
In Burns, several weeks ago, a local man told us about Strawberry Mountain where he worked falling juniper. He said it may be worth our while to check it out. We drove toward Unity to ask for information at the Ranger District station but it hadn’t been open for some time. You could buy some maps from a kiosk but we wanted utd info on camping, road conditions, POIs. We could have backtracked to USFS Road 16 but chose to just sample the area by driving to Prairie City.
We immediately liked Prairie City, a friendly Mayberry RFD kind of town. The storefronts were original with stone, brick and wood. The friendly locals directed us to the correct road to the Strawberries and Tony shopped at the Mom and Pop grocery store. We had this same feeling at Condon, Oregon, last spring, another authentic real small town America place on the map..
Following the Prairie City South Road (62), we made a semi-circuitous route through the Strawberries. 62 turns left becoming 16. Since we were in the Malheur National Forest, there were a few campgrounds along or off the road. They were circled on the map for a “next time”. At Parish Cabin campground, we turned onto 15 toward Seneca and Highway 395.
It seemed just a few days ago we were traveling south on 395. Northward bound, we passed through Canyon City (fuel at Shell) and John Day. From John Day, 395/26 took us west toward Mt. Vernon where we followed 395 north toward the Oregon/Washington border. Since it was getting dark quickly, we drove onto USFS Road 432/3940 to find a place to camp for the night. It was hunting season so we did see a few hunters parked here and there. We set up camp on a single track dirt road among the pines, far enough off in case someone wanted to pass by.
Day 19/Saturday/September 27:
It appeared that the road we were camped off of would take us north a ways then drop down to 395. But, since it was a weekend and hunting season, we back tracked to 395 to resume our homeward direction. As we drive along 395 in this section from south of Fox to Long Creek and north of Ukiah, there are some really photogenic old barns, churches and homes. Somehow, we are there too late in the morning or too early in the evening or it is a cloudless day. One of these days….
We make good time driving 395. It is a good road with some traffic, altitude changes, and curves, but very drivable. We pass through small towns that time forgot, thriving at one time in this open range ranch country when ranches were smaller.
At 74, we turn west to travel this time on the Little Butter Creek Road through ranches along Little Butter Creek. Turning onto 207, we stopped at the Echo Meadows Oregon Trail Interpretive Site. We stretched our legs, read the information in the kiosk and wandered down the trail to look at the wagon wheel ruts. Overhead, we heard strange sounds. Hundreds of large black birds were flying south in numerous Vees. Later, we found out that they were brants.
We stopped in Umatilla for fuel then crossed the Columbia River into Washington. We exited onto 14 then headed north on 221.retracing our steps from when we began. From Benton City, on 221, we drove along the Yakima River to connect with highway 240. We turned left, again passing through the Hanford area. Too soon, it was getting dark and we needed a spot to camp. We thought of the rest area just before the Vernita Bridge. But, semis were there, maybe for the night, so not wanting to hear and smell diesel all night, we drove across the bridge to the boat launch and found a spot away from the weekend crowds. And, I don’t think Washington has an ordinance that allows you to spend the night at a rest area like Oregon and Nevada.
Day 19/Sunday/September 28:
We slept well and hit the road early. It was beautiful sunny morning as we drove along the Columbia River and the vineyards that thrive here. I forgot to mention when we passed by here several weeks ago, we also drove by Priest Rapids Lake and Dam. There is a large RV park and community there called Desert Aire, definitely not our style. They even have their own airport.
Since we are adhering to our route that we began this trip with, in reverse heading home, I will be brief. From 205 , we joined I90 until the exit 151 past George to 283 to Ephrata. In Ephrata, we drove the Sagebrush Flat Road/Rimrock Road/Coulee Meadows Road northbound. I took a few iPhone photos of some barns and the volcanic rimrocks. When “the road that frequently changes its name” ended on Highway 2, we made a sharp left on 2 westbound for about 5 miles then turned north yet again on 172 which meandered past wheat fields and more abandoned buildings. Someday, I would like to get permission to photograph these old structures before they become one with the ground. Most of the access roads are gated and posted so no trespassing.
We found Ridgeport Hill Road which, in a meandering way, took us to 17 and through the town of Bridgeport. Next time I will play tourist and photograph the really well-done chain-sawn sculptures hewn from standing 70 year old sycamore trees along the main road through town. There is a salmon, horse, eagle, and other animals.
From Bridgeport, we drove onto Highway 97 to fuel up in Brewster. Highway 153 was just ahead at Pateros and our favorite fruit stand called the Rest Awhile Country Market. We bought some organic apples and a pastry for Tony. This is fruit tree country: cherries, nectarines, peaches, apricots, pears, and apples. With productive volcanic soil watered by the Columbia and Methow rivers, this region grows some of the best produce in the country. You know, famous Washington apples.
153 past before Carlton was open so we drove it to just before Twisp. For a change of scenery, we took the Eastside Winthrop Twisp Road. It is a little slower paced and you drive by the North Cascades Smokejumper Base. We noticed all the homemade signs of gratitude to the firefighters in this area who fought the Carlton Complex fire. Brave men and women.
We picked up 20 again in Winthrop. Because it was still early, we drove off 20 to Mazama to check out several USFS campgrounds. Around Mazama, there are many vacation homes, some grandiose but most just small weekend cabins in the woods. The closer we got to the campgrounds, the rougher the road became. We stopped at a trailhead to walk around and let Toller stretch his long legs. We returned to highway 20, deciding the spend our last night at Klipchuck. We could have pushed to head home but we don’t like to travel at night, especially along very winding and dark roads.
Day 20/Monday/September 29:
We were a little anxious this morning as we were going to head up the looooong switchback on 20 toward Washington Pass. Last June, the radiator in our truck developed a leak almost to the top. (I have yet to document that episode as it is not fun to relate). At this point, I can recall it and almost laugh, well, almost, as it cost us over $2000 to replace it with a Mishimoto aluminum model. We limped to where we could get cell phone service in Newhalem to call AAA. We were certainly glad that we had a camper full of water and that there was a campground that we could replenish the tank with. Pretty trying at the time.
We took the long climb with ease, both of us breathing a sigh of relief. We made our usual stops along the way home, at the Diablo Lake overlook where we met several men in a homemade wooden camper sitting an older fire truck and at Gorge Creek Falls Viewpoint.
Since we had lots of time, I wanted to reshoot the falls behind the Gorge Powerhouse. I usually just shoot the one you can see from the bridge but there are several others to see by climbing a steep set of stairs. I promised that I would return in a half hour and you know how it goes when you are having fun. My time was up so maybe next time I will ask for an hour.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. We returned home to put the garden to bed, clean the truck and camper, plan our next adventure, work on photos and attend a going away party. I usually don’t keep track of mileage, food or fuel expenses. I do know that we spent $57 for camping. I think it might help others if I tally up our costs, either daily and/or at the trip’s end. I only know that it is worth whatever it costs. We are not extravagant people, choosing not to camp at RV resorts or dine out. Happy trails.
Day 12/Saturday/September 20:
I am glad we gave our tent camping neighbors firewood as it was cold last night. We broke camp (easy to do with a truck camper) and drove south to the Tetons. One of my bucket list photography locations is Oxbow Bend along the Snake River. There is guaranteed to be a crowd of photographers waiting for the early light to hit the Tetons above the glowing gold of the aspens groves. Anyone can photograph here; access is anywhere you park along the roadside. I knew we wouldn’t arrive in time for the early morning light so we drove along Jackson Lake taking our time, stopping at Moose Falls.
The Flagg Ranch Visitor Center was closed for the season (I wanted info on dispersed camping) so we drove on to scout out a camping spot for the night. While we were taking a bathroom break at a picnic area near Fonda Point/Lizard Creek Campground, we met a Four Wheel Camper owner from Idaho. He advised us to travel down the Pacific Creek Road to boon dock on USFS land. I had circled it on our benchmark Wyoming map as a place to check out. He confirmed that it was a decent place.
Since it was along the way, we joined the hordes along Oxbow Bend. We managed to snag a place to park along the road among the large RVs and tour busses. It was a clear, cloudless day showcasing the brilliant blues and golds. I scouted the area for a spot to shoot from in the early dawn as it would be dark when we came to shoot tomorrow or the next day.
Just a short drive south from Oxbow Bend was the turn east onto Pacific Creek Road. We drove on a paved road for a time then past the turn for private residences. After the turn to the left, it became an easy graded gravel road where we encountered another Four Wheel Camper on a truck with FWC graphics. He was in a hurry but waved to us. We didn’t drive all the way in but decided that this would be fine for a night or two.
We backtracked out to visit Two Ocean Lake reached by taking the first fork before the road continues back to the highway. Parking was at a premium here and we just squeezed in. It is a lovely lake but too many people spoiled what could be solitude. There were trails that you could explore here and at Emma Matilda Lake but there were bears in the area and Toller was not allowed on the trails. We headed back to the main road, stopping along a pullover to eat lunch.
It was still early so we decided to visit Mormon Row and the famous Moulton Barn where, in 2010 I was fortunate to photograph a double rainbow behind the iconic structure. I found a good place to plant my tripod for a morning shot (Tetons are primarily for early risers as the range is lit up with the first rays at dawn). A quick look at our map showed that Flats Road was a good candidate for boon docking. We drove past a huge mega-mansion that displayed larger than life bronze figures of a Native American on a horse that was pawing the air and several men in a canoe hitting rapids at an angle. Very stunning and very expensive.
I wasn’t sure if we were within park boundaries but we saw some folks camping off the road so decided this would be a good spot amongst groves of aspens with a million dollar view of the Teton Range. After supper, I searched for the perfect backlit aspen images and found one near our campsite. We watched the sun set behind the Tetons and fell asleep under the clear night skies.
Day 13/Sunday/September 21:
If you want to photograph that special predawn light, you have to arise early. We broke camp quickly then headed the short distance toward the Moulton Barn. There were already several photographers there and I set up my gear at the spot I had chosen yesterday. Funny that we all chose to be at an angle to the building rather than directly in front. Just our artists’ eyes that line up the perfect framing.
The clouds were lovely but the more dramatic ones were outside of my ideal composition. I had to go really wide to include them. The light didn’t hit the front of the barn as I wanted but just to be there was exciting. My company was a great group of other photographers who were glad to be there, too. I met a guy whose brother’s blog I follow. He was a fine photographer in his own right. I have his card somewhere. Usually, I am the lone female but there was one other this morning. I don’t think she really knew what she was doing as she was asking many questions. This is poor etiquette as you never interrupt someone shooting during peak light.
Since we were near the Gros Ventre area, we drove south on Mormon Row to its intersection with Gros Ventre Road. This scenic road will bring you through the Gros Ventre Slide area. In 1925 a huge rock slide tumbled down the north face of Sheep Mountain, across the Gros Ventre River and uphill for 300 feet. This created a large dam across the river which, in 1927, partially failed causing a flood which destroyed the town of Kelly downstream. There is an overlook above Lower Slide Lake where you can see the slide area. This lake also has the Atherton Creek campground.
Driving on, we came to the red hills. I remember that the area was prettier in the spring when the green fields contrast more deeply with the red of the hills. Still, it is lovely and the complementary color scheme is stunning. We passed by several campgrounds (Red Hills and Crystal Creek). There was a beautiful ranch property along the banks across the river.
The road continued but we decided to quit early to check out River Road, a 4×4 road that parallels the Snake River. We started driving it but it hadn’t been graded for some time and washboards really bother my husband’s back. We returned to Teton Park Road. Since we were close to Jackson and getting low on fuel, we went on into town to get fuel and a few groceries at the Albertsons.
Returning from Jackson, we headed up the highway to the Pacific Creek Road to camp for the night. There were a few vehicles parked off the road but they weren’t very private and we weren’t desperate yet. We found a rutted road that led to a clearing. There were several horses tethered and one who was in a portable corral. We saw the FWC guy from Idaho and talked about places to explore. There was a very nice spot down by Pacific Creek which was occupied. We settled for a place off the muddy road near some cottonwoods but not too close. We call them widow makers back home. Early to bed for early we shall rise in the morning to grab a spot at Oxbow Bend.
Day 14/Monday/September 22:
It was a dark and stormy morning, but photographers are ever hopeful for a break in the clouds or a stray shaft of light. What I previewed from this morning didn’t excite me. I only had time to process the 5 stars during the week we returned home before our next epic trip to the Southwest. I mainly shot reflections of the aspens in the water as the Tetons didn’t want to come out to play. While waiting for some drama, I met a gal who took her photography seriously. Three camera bodies, all Nikon, one set up on remote firing every few seconds. She had just quit her job as one of mayor deBlasio’s staff photographers because, as she said, she was tired of podium shots. We had quite a bit in common (Nikons, suspicious of Adobe CC, etc.) but I didn’t get her card.
We drove north to explore a gravel road to the river where there used to be a cattleman’s bridge before the area became a national park (interesting history of the conflict between ranchers, conservationists and the Rockefellers). I shot a few reflections then we moved on.
I wanted to photograph Schwalbacher’s Pond so we drove down to the parking area. I shot a few reflections near the trailhead but soon the rain dampened any further attempts. It was a nice place for a lunch as not many people ventured down here except for serious photographers who were probably here much earlier for the classic shot.
Antelope Flats was just down the highway so we headed east. The clouds and sun were playing peekaboo with the aspens and cottonwoods in the Antelope Flats Road area. The lighting was dramatic for afternoon photography so we parked off the road so I could mingle with buffalo. Not really, they are powerful animals and you do not want to get in their way. They are faster than you think so I kept a watchful eye on them and the light.
Soon, it was time to return to Pacific Creek Road for the night. The light was fading and storm clouds were brewing. Returning, I saw some really dramatic lighting at the parking lot just before Oxbow so we pulled to shoot some of the more dramatic shots of our trip. The aspens obligingly lit up, the Tetons were dark brooding hulks and the clouds were ominously black, grey and navy. This is what I love about photography: the suspense, the drama, the beautiful locations, and the surprising compositions you can find just off the highway. I was joined by an Asian couple who stood right next to me when there was plenty of room many yards on either side of me. Maybe it is the culture or maybe they thought I looked like I knew what I was doing. They were shooting wide, I was shooting long.
We drove to Pacific Creek Road just a short jaunt away and parked next to the sign that marked the USFS/NP boundary. As good as any, we thought. This is bear country so we kept our bear spray handy. Toller was quiet all night so we didn’t need to worry but it still pays to be “bear aware”.
Day 15/Tuesday/September 23:
We were up early to return to Oxbow Bend, in the dark. As we approached the target area, we could see photographers’ head lamps which made it easier to find. When it is dark in the Tetons, it is dark. They sky looked promising so I set up at “my” spot. The clouds over the Tetons began to color up and I believe there may be some keepers in amongst some duds. I broke my split neutral density filter and don’t own enough flash card capacity to set my camera up for HDR (3-9 shots of the same scene in ½ to 1 stop increments). At least I have Nik’s HDR Effex Pro which will do tone mapping with a single exposure and balance out the highlights/shadows.
Sadly, we left the Tetons and headed into Jackson for fuel, this time stopping at Smith’s for groceries then we were on our way to the Green River Lakes area north of Pinedale. We followed 26/89/189/191 south to Hoback Junction where we turned southeast on 189/191. This highway passes through Hoback Canyon which has a nice campground between the Hoback River and the highway. We may return for photographic possibilities.
When we plan for trips, I, the planner/navigator, look carefully for POI and geologic features that may be interesting to explore and photograph. One such feature I wanted to check out in Wyoming on this route was the Open Door on Granite Creek Road (USFS Road 30500). Also, Granite Hot Springs and Granite Falls might prove worth the drive and a place to camp. We started up the road but signs at the beginning indicated the hot springs were closed. We drove on anyway but the road deteriorated so we stopped to have a snack and return to the highway. In the winter it is a Snopark.
We passed through ranch country and trophy homes and the town of Bondurant. Just before the Green River at Daniel Junction, 191/189 divides and we drove east on 191 toward 352, the road that would take us to the Green River Lakes area. We drove by by small towns like Cora and ranches like the Flying U and Circle S and The Place and Green River Guest Ranch, closed and for sale. The aspens were in their prime glowing red and gold against the blue sky.
352 eventually changes from paved to gravel as it enters the Bridger Teton National Forest becoming USFS Road 650. It follows the Green River until its headwaters at Green River Lakes. The road is rough in places and graded in others. I will tell you now, the long drive drive is worth it. There is an official campground along the way, Whiskey Grove but there are also many places to disperse camp.
Waiting for us at the end of the road was the Green River Lakes campground. It had just officially closed for the season so was free. We were one of two campers there plus the camp host who was leaving the next day. The light was fading fast so I grabbed my equipment and headed down to the shore. I discovered this place from the cover of a book on camping in Wyoming. Squaretop Mountain is reflected in the lake along with White Rock (I think that’a the name). If the lake is clear of any ripples, the reflection is stunning. It is an evening shot as the fading light highlights the peaks.
While I was shooting, a fisher in his canoe came toward shore. He asked if he was bothering my shots and I replied, no way, you add to the images. He obliged by casting his line as he paddled back and forth across the lake. I shot some photos of his catch with his P&S (it was too damaged to release, the fish, not the camera) and we chatted awhile. Nice guy who lives in Colorado and loves to fish. I did send the images I shot of him after we returned home.
Tired, but happy, I walked up to the camper, ate dinner and fell promptly asleep.