Our time in Yellowstone came to an end and that meant our epic trip was coming to an end as well. We had to get back to San Fran, return the camper and then fly home. This was it, one year flew past in no time. Like they say, time flies when you are having fun!
We decided to ease the return trip, stop as much as we could and enjoy the last few days. On the way back we drove through parts of Montana, Idaho, Nevada and California.
The start of the end
Montana was a blur on the road and landscape hardly changed. Idaho, on the other hand, was flat, green and full of water. The places on the west of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons were perfect for fishing.
We stopped at Twin Falls, Idaho, to indulge in the famous potatoes. Apparently McDonald’s used potatoes from Idaho for it’s french fries. They are grown all over and were really good! We decided to wrap up driving for the day and ended up in a RV park not too far from Twin Falls. We got there around 3pm+, showered, had our chairs out when a neighbour came over for a chat. Turns out he was a US veteran who had been driving from South Carolina to California. A journey of thousands of miles and the guy ended up injuring himself in the process. But we enjoyed the sun go down and chatted away from couple of hours.
The drive from Idaho to California meant crossing Nevada! We were going through the desert, crazy wind and heat all over again. We stayed 2 nights in Elko in a RV Park run by the Hilton group. After freshing up, we were ready for some action but it seemed like there were only casinos around. So we spent the day chilling in the air conditioned visitors centre, playing Scrabble and sipping on ice water. This helped fight the heat as the tempratures were easily in high 30s.
After a rest day, we were fighting the winds again to arrive in the town of Reno. This is in the north end of Nevada state but looked like mini Vegas. We of course parked ourselves in the RV park but enjoyed all the resort facilities. The amazing thing was the “beach” and a pool with an island bar. It appeared to be a popular spot for stopping between Nevada and California. We tried our hand at gambling (again!), watched a movie, hit some golf balls in the driving range, enjoyed the pool in crouching heat and cooked for ourselves.
From Reno, we drove to the west part of Napa Valley as our final destination before San Fransisco. Our campsite was in the bone dry area near Lake Berryessa. The campsite was primitive unlike the previous two location but we had a good time by the lake. As the sun set on Lake Berryessa, we realised our holiday, road trip, crazy and alone romantic times were at an end.
Just before we returned the Beast off, we decided to do a laundry stop to pack our bags and chuck unwanted items. Driving through the CBD and Mission District was a painful. Firstly, of course the traffic and secondly, the San Fran marathon was on so roads were closed! Anyway, after going around in circles, we finally said goodbye to our home of 45 days. But first, we had to settle the bill with Escape Campervan. We knew we were way over the mileage limit, but when we mentioned that we experienced the flat tyre, they decided to one third the mileage cost. We were amazed and shocked at the same time. WoW, we get to save some more money. Thanks Escape!
A uber to Oakland later, we were in a Holiday Inn for one night, booked by Suyash. The best thing here was meeting my chidhood friend, Harpreet a.k.a. Winky, whom I had not met in 16 years. It was a great night with him and his wife, talking about our life and times in Faridabad, 16 years ago. Good to see you bro!
We arrived at the airport, way earlier than we needed to. A few hours later, we were ready to leave. The AirNZ flight went through Auckland and was one of the longest flight since Gujarat to New York. We enjoyed it though, as were were going home. We even managed to surprise Mum on a cold Sydney day by arriving a day earlier. She couldn’t believe her eyes for at least an hour or so. Well done to us!
We finally arrived at Yellowstone! After first learning about it in December 2015, in one of the museums in New York, we were determined to visit the oldest National Park. But we never thought it would happen so soon!
After leaving Grand Tetons at 5:00am in the morning, we crossed the Yellowstone National Park checkpoint at 5:30am. There was no one at the point so we grabbed a map and drove in. We noticed the landscape had changed, it was flatter now. And although there was some light at dawn, we could see steam rising in the distance. We were in hot springs country. We were in the place where we can see, hear and feel the Earth breathe!
The Mighty Yellowstone
Yellowstone is officially America’s oldest national park. In fact, it is the oldest national park in the world! It is a massive 2 million square miles area and spreads over two states. Having been to Yosemite already, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see it all. But we decided to spend 5 days and see as much as we could!
Entry and West Thumb
Considering the distance between campgrounds within Yellowstone, we decided to stay at first come first serve Lewis Lake campground, which was close to the south entry. After reviewing the map of the park, we come up with a plan. We decided to split our excursions within the park based on our campground.
West Thumb was the closest geyser basin and further east was the Fishing Bridge. We decided to cover these spots while we camped at Lewis Lake. As we parked at West Thumb parking, we realised there was steam escaping from protected holes within the car park itself. Of course that got us excited! Moving on, as we got to the basin area, it smelled like rotten egg. Of course it was foul smell but what lied ahead of us was just amazing. There were colourful hot springs, small geysers and other volcanic plumbings!
The temperature of the steam was extreme and could burn us. Luckily it was still cool weather and we quite enjoyed the hot air touching against our skins. This was nature’s beating heart and it was there to see.
The basin was adjacent to Yellowstone Lake and water from the hot springs was flowing straight into it. We spotted a small heart shaped geyser within the edges of the lake. It look like it had popped out of the ground which actually is not uncommon in Yellowstone! What a start!
We drove from West Thumb to Fishing Bridge area for a few walks. Shruti was sound asleep and I took a wrong turn for the camping area. Good thing I did as there was a big male Bison standing 20 yards away. He was busy eating grass and didn’t care. We managed to get a nice photobomb photo with him. Having said that, this was not the closest we came to a Bison in Yellowstone! Read on for another epic encounter!
At the Fishing Bridge, there was a traffic jam of Chinese tourists but the bridge was spectacular over the Yellowstone river. We parked at the visitors center, bought a junior rangers book for me and managed to catch a “animals in Yellowstone” talk. Shruti went to the bathroom while I waited near the car and upon returning she told me this:
Ladies queuing for restroom
Lady 1: oh look! Buffaloes walkin past.
Lady 2: *African American accent* Thats a buffalo!! Where ma man? Stevennnnnnn! Come quick take a photo! Grab your camera! There is another one coming. I ain’t never seen one! Ermaghard!
We then decided to walk to a trail head instead of driving. We had miles to watch and Shruti wanted to walk. We walked around 8km up and down a road and a little through a forest but never made it to the trail head. Fortunately, never saw any bears but we did see a walking trail of Bisons. Their hoof tracks were everywhere and so were there rubbing pits.
On return to the campsite, we got stuck in an animal jam! This is basically like normal traffic jam but caused by an animal. This time it was elk stags with beautiful antlers just grazing along. They were definitely loving the attention. The issue was getting out but we eventually managed and saw more elks. This was just day 1 – hard to believe!
The most famous Geyser in the entire world is Old Faithful. It’s has been so consistent that it is named accordingly. We arrived to the basin, and the enormity, and the popularity dawned upon us. The carpark was the size of a Walmart carpark, there were 6-7 strong wooden buildings, and even hurts for glamping.
We visited the visitors center where we learnt a little about why Yellowstone is the way it is. There were huge volcanic explosions millions of years ago and a supervolcano still exists underneath the surface at Yellowstone. The heat from the magma coupled with rain and snow melt causes geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mudpots. As we finished, we realised that the time for the next Old Faithful eruption was almost there. Bring it on!
The old faithful geyser is the most consistent of the big geysers. It is so popular that there tables for hundreds of people to watch it erupted. Like others, we grab a spot and waited. The eruption time had 10 minutes buffer however we waited past 10 minutes and nothing happened. People around us were assuring the kids that it will happen.
Occasionally, there were spurts of water and we would think “is that it?”. Finally, it erupted! It went on for 10 minutes and as high as 100 feet. We could see, hear and smell it! Exactly what we were told in the documentary we watched.
There were many other geysers and hot springs in the area. Castle geyser was going off when we saw it while Grotto geyser looks like its about to pop anytime.
There were some famous springs like the Morning Glory, which sadly is turning green from a cool blue. There were many other springs in the basin and its hard to remember all of them. Each of them were magical in their own way and represented the power of nature.
Biscuit Basin, a 15 minute walk, from Upper Geyser Basin was another unbelievable area. There were only 5-6 geysers and springs but the amazing things were the colours. Some were bright orange, aquamarine and steel blue.
Another great thing was we spotted a in the area! At first, we thought it was a wolf but a ranger corrected us. It was a coyote. They are the poor cousins of the wolf and have taken over many areas. Afterwards, we walked back, grabbed some American fast food and headed to see Mother Earth.
Eye of the Earth
Midway Basin is a collection of several springs not far from Upper Basin. The most famous of these is the Grand Prismatic Spring also known as the Eye of the Earth. The spring was the biggest we saw in Yellowstone around 379 feet in diameter. It is popular due to its colors. Blue in the middle, yellow, orange, and green at the edges. Being on the boardwalk around it, we were hit by the warm steam. It was a pity we couldn’t see the entire spring as a whole from the top but it definitely was our favourite volcanic lake.
Walking back to our van, we spotted a couple of massive birds in the sky. Hoping they were bald eagles, we watched them for a while. After taking a few photos through the binocular, we went to the rangers and asked them to name the bird. Turns out we were watching ospreys!
We even managed to squeeze in a hike to the top of a hill! Though it was only 2 hours hike, it was mostly up the hill. Such a strenuous hike but the view was rewarding!
Our two days in Lewis Lake campground were coming to an end and we had to move so we could explore other parts of Yellowstone. We picked Norris Campground, another first come first serve spot. We knew Yellowstone is very popular during the summer so the only way to get a spot would be to get in early! We found our how long it would take us to drive and prepared for an early morning next day. We left our campsite at 4:30am and were on the road for 1.5 hours before we got to Norris. Driving in the National Park at night / dawn is scary. We didn’t want to hit any animal of course. I had my lights on high beam while Shruti had a close watch on the side of the roads.
Arriving at the campground, we noticed some people sitting in front at the ranger station. There were already 3 people with their sleeping bags and quilts waiting to get a campsite from 5:15am! It seemed like a line to buy an iPhone honestly. We sat along with them on our chairs with our blanket and waited. The queue got longer and people from different backgrounds, places and of different age waited patiently while chatting away. Cars started driving out of the campground from 6:30am and we were getting excited. It felt like winning food during rationing but that shows how popular camping is in Yellowstone!
At 7:50am the camp host got to the station. We were explained how the allocation worked. Luckily we were 3rd in queue and had our campsite by 8:30am! Planning ahead and waking up early definitely worked in our favour.
Norris Basin was around the corner from our campground. After parking at our spot, we relaxed a little. Post breakfast, we slowly got ready to walk to Norris Basin. As we entered, we first thought we had stumbled upon a desert in the middle of a forest. The sand was all white but the springs were blue, saffron and green colours. The water was spilling out into the ground and it made for a great start!
The basin is so toxic that the colors in the springs are stunning. Some colours, quite rare in other basins, were prominent here. We walked along the boardwalk and stopped to occasionally to watch and observe the springs.
The tallest geyser in Yellowstone, steamboat, is also in this basin but it didn’t go off on the day we were there. Well that was alright with us. In all, we spent a few hours walking around Norris Basin and were just overwhelmed at nature’s game play.
30 mins drive from Norris Basin was the mudpots basin. A unique geothermal feature that exists in the Hayden Valley. Here the water from the springs mixes with mud and forms mudpot. Over time and depending on the season, it looks like mud boiling. As it hadn’t rain and snow had already melted, most of the pots were dry. Having said that, we did see the Mud Volcano which was a scary boiling natural vat of mud boiling. If the Grand Prismatic Spring was the beautiful spring, mud volcano was the scary spring.
The best thing though was a Bull Bison sitting next to a hot spring. It was so close that we could have touched it. But of course we didnt! And just across the basin was Hayden Valley, a meadow home to plenty of animals.
Wildlife Spotting in Hayden Valley
We made it a habit to visit the Hayden Valley early in the morning and late in the evening from Norris Campground. Wildlife watchers with hi-tech equipment sat for hours watching wildlife activities.
One morning, we parked near an animal jam and next thing we knew, we were watching a grizzly bear walking around. Luckily we were a 50 meters away from him!
Another morning, we were photographing a huge bull Bison when he decided to walk towards us. It was getting close and for our safety we ran inside the van!
Our favourite moment in the Hayden Valley, though, was when we were watching wolves with a family from Utah. Yes, you read that right! Wolves! The family had a hi-tech monocular and had attached their phone onto it. This meant, more than one person could watch at the same time! As it was getting dark, we spotted plenty of wolves jumping around and a grizzly bear walking around a hill! It truly was an amazing experience. We had seen quite a few exotic animals of the lower 48 USA!
Sadly, all good things come to an end, and so did our time in the Yellowstone. We decided to leave from the western entrance. On the way, we picked up a Slovakian hitchhiker who we dropped to the nearest town outside. We drove along the meadows and could see Grand Tetons in the distance. We knew just then that we would never forget this place and our experience.
After successfully extending our campervan for another 5 days, we were on the way to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone from Bryce Canyon! Flat tire and no campsite booking on Saturday but everything was working out well. It almost seemed like the world was making it happen for us – Bollywood reference from Om Shanti Om right here!
The drive from outskirts of Ogden to Grand Tetons was one of the prettiest. The landscape reminded me of South Island of NZ, minus the lakes.
We stopped for coffee and spotted a cowboy family! The dads and sons were dressed appropriately and Shruti couldn’t help but snap them from the car.
As we got closer to the Twin National Parks (Grand Tetons & Yellowstone), the hills became mountains and eventually we were seeing the most beautiful mountains I have ever witnessed!
Grand Tetons National Park
We drove towards Jackson Hole which is the epicenter for angling and other sports in Wyoming. The town is at the edge of the National Park. With hundreds of people visiting the area, the town was bustling with energy. What a pity we had to skip the town as we had to rush for a campsite.
Upon entering the park from Moose entrance, we were surprised to see that most of the campsites were full. We hit the accelerator and rushed towards Coulter Bay at the northern area of the park and hoped they had a spot.
The drive was through some of the best mountainous country that we had seen in the USA. In the winter, the place would be in several feet of snow. We went past several lakes before arriving at Coulter Bay. Again what a pity we couldn’t stop anywhere. Well it all paid off. Upon arriving at the campground, we realised that only a handful campsites were available. Alas, we were here and thats all that mattered. Oh and the camp host told us not to leave anything outside unattended as bears lived in the area. What!!!
The first day, we checked out the lake itself, the visitors centre and the facilities. Unlike many other national parks, this place had paid showers, internet and laundry but no shuttle service. Moreover, this was serious bear country. Both Grizzly and Black bears lived in these parts along with wolves, bisons, moose, ploghorns and elks. This was real America and we were quite pumped. We decided to buy a pair of binoculars. But first we had to go get cleaned up.
After being at a few National Parks, we wanted to take full advantage if ranger talks and their knowledge. The first talk we attended was on an American animal sometimes called Buffalo. The ranger was a little nervous as we sat around the ampitheatre. She explained how White Americans nearly wiped out the Bison off the earth. 1000 were saved and now there are 30,000 wild bison. The next talk was about photography in Grand Tetons. We realised during the slideshow, that we had missed the best scenic parts of the park as we rushed towards North for campsite. Bummer!
The final talk the next day was eventful. We scheduled to attend another ranger talk on predator and prey. We reached 5 mins late and the talk was underway. It had only been a second in the talk when a little girl pointed to a bear 50 metres from us. Next, the crowd went wild. Everyone clapping to get the Black bear away from us especially the kids. That had no effect on the bear though, and he kept looking for food. He wasn’t scared which was scary, though he eventually left. Phew!
PS, this was probably the only time Shruti didn’t carry her camera :(
Hikes in Grand Tetons
We did a few hikes in the area. First, we went up a hill in the area early in the morning which would give us a view of the entire region and the mountains. We had been told that there were a couple of grizzly bears in the area. I was shit scared for obvious reasons! We drove down a dirty road to the entry of the trail and started walking up a steep quiet trail. The entire time I was knocking things, making sounds, and trying to make sure we don’t run into a grizzly looking for breakfast.
Once we reached the top, the view was enchanting. At the top, looking east, we could see two elks peacefully grazing in the distance on the paddocks, while looking west, we could see the mountain range in all its might. A true paradise!
We also did a 4 hour walk around the Coulter Lake. It was mostly a pine forest walk with a few lakes, though we lost our way along with many others. The forest was thick, and we were struggling to talk loudly to avoid bears again. However, once the forest opened, the view was picture perfect. The Grand Teton mountains were only across the lake. Incredible!
On the last day, we wanted to see more animals, especially wolves. We had heard from rangers that wolves hang around young Elks. We arrived near the Elk calving area at 6:30am sharp and stayed til 8am but we couldn’t see any wolves or bears. But nevertheless, the massive herd of elks provided enough entertainment!
Later on, we focussed on spotting a bison. We had heard from people that a herd usually grazes at a ranch nearby. The herd was too far from the road, though we could see the iconic American animal with our new binoculars. On return, we again tried to find wolves to no avail.
Finally, it maybe a bit offtrack, but one of the best things about this NP was that there was internet. We could sit there and plan out the next few days while also working on our blog. It provided some downtime so we could recharge our batteries. This NP was one of the prettiest in our trip. We would love to return someday!
But right now all we could think about was – Yellowstone, here we come!
Driving from Nevada, we visited Hoover Dam at the state border and suddenly we were an hour behind. Clocks had changed, we think. We actually never managed to figure that out! Anyway, we were finally in Arizona, the land of Canyons! We knew our next leg of the journey, Arizona and Utah, were going to be spectacular but we had to be aware of the time we spent at each stop. Sad to say, we were running out of time.
After spending a lonesome night on BLM land, we had 150 miles (240 kms) to go before we were at Grand Canyon. I drove the first 100 miles including the drive down the gravel road. It was an uneventful drive except some deer that decided to jump 20 metres away from the van. Shruti drove the rest of the way and got us to the campsite in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. Upon arriving, we checked into our pre-booked campsite and went to see the most famous ditch in the world.
The South Rim is home to the rim trail that stretches for miles. The park has a shuttle bus service to view most of it. We took the bus to the Bright Angel Trail Point and as we got off the bus, we were overwhelmed. As far as the eye could see was Grand Canyon. The rim trail was, as the name suggests, a paved path which mostly sticks to the rim. We decided to descend the Bright Angel Trail and then walk along the rim. Descending down the magnificent cliffs was a humbling experience, these rocks have been around longer than us and everything we believe in.
Upon returning to the rim, we saw a Native American Cultural Show at Hopi Point. This was the place where the hopi people would come to trade with white tourists in the early years of the tourist boom. Today, the hopi house stood as a reminder selling native jewelry. The host and his family brought the native culture live, they sang, danced and narrated ancient stories, particularly those belonging to the Navajo tribe. He was a positive man who blew me away by his view of people apologising to him for injustice against Native Americans. “The past was not in our control”, he said. “We are here today, it is our job to share our culture and protect the present for the future generation”. How wise of him!
We walked along the rim trail all day and saw more amazing places like an old artists studio and identified flat tops that were called temples. These were part of the canyon but overtime they have been carved by wind, rain and river. The pioneers somehow named them after Hindu Gods such as Shiva Temple, Brahma Temple and Vishnu Temple.
The final place on the first day was the Museum of Geology . This was located along the rim and showed exactly what might have happened over time. The colorado river over millions of years, cut the land like knife cuts butter. The amazing thing is that Grand Canyon is constantly changing. It is different each day. Change is nature! Well we stuck around at the museum to catch the sunset, and all I can say is – I’m glad we did.
We were so blown away that we decided to stay another day at Grand Canyon. At checkout time, we asked if we could stay another day. “No!” replied the park ranger, “not at the site you’re on. I have a better place”. We got an even better site! We checked in and then caught a bus to Hermits Point on the West End of the National Park. Once again, the view was overwhelming. Grand Canyon’s might is impossible to describe it. It is 1.8 kms deep, 29 kms wide and 446 kms long. It is incredible 2 days spent in this magical place!
A brief view into the Native American Cultural at Grand Canyon got us excited to spend a couple of days in living breathing Native American Nation. We had hardly left the National Park when shacks of Native Americans selling handmade jewelry started appearing on side of roads. Upon crossing the borders of Navajo Nation, we came across a small town of Cameron. It was a trading post dating back to the wild wild west days.
Native Americans still sold jewelry here mostly to tourists going east from the Grand Canyon. We bought some souvenirs and grabbed lunch on the way to our destination, Page, Arizona. We didn’t have any booking for our next stop, Page, and drove into the first RV Park we could find. We asked about the things to do in Page and were told of two things: Antelope Canyons and Horshoe Bend.
We visited the Horseshoe Bend that evening. It was best seen at sunset and we were there at 6pm. A little early as the sunset wasn’t going to set til 8pm. The carpark was almost full and we knew we were at a good spot. However, nothing could have prepared us for the view of the Horshoe Bend.
The Colorado river turns around a big red rock almost like the end of a hair pin. In reality though, Colorado river has cut through this rock over millions of years. It’s the bend, the cliff over the river at 300 metres in height and the color of the water which makes the location so perfect. We sat at the edge for hours along with lots of fellow travelers. The sunset finally came and the colors changed. A magical view again!
Another spectacular location was Antelope Canyons. We knew nothing about it till the RV Park recommended going for the first tour in the morning. We arrived 7:30am, paid a tribal fee of around $4 per person for entry to premises, got our tickets and soon realised the entire peak operation was owned by the Navajo Tribe. Our guide, a young Navajo girl, took us to the canyon. The canyon was red in colour, like Grand Canyon.
As we went in further into the canyon, it got narrower. It was dark and the growing rays of sun were shining only at the top. What we saw next in another part of the canyon was incredible. Looking through the camera lens, the lack of light and the angle of the rock made the canyon appear blue and pink!
In total, we walked around 500 metres inside the canyon. Our guide explained how the canyon was made using sand and water. It was scientific but easy to understand. We got it. Definitely an amazing place!
The town of Page was a cute little one in the middle of the desert. The major population of the town was brought in to build a smaller dam on the Colorado River. We visited the dam, saw the tours taking place on the lake and watched a documentary to escape the heat. The best part of the town though was Native Americans going around the town speaking their language, following their laws and making us feel like we were in the Wild Wild West!
At this point in the trip, we were inn a dilemma. Number one, we could go east, check out a few national parks and then head towards to San Fransisco. The alternative was to skip everything in the middle and head north to Yellowstone National Park. Having heard so much about it, we couldn’t say No to Yellowstone. The issue was the number of days, mileage limitation and the price of accomodation in San Fran. We killed several birds with one stone by extending our camping trip by 5 days and going to Yellowstone before heading back. YAY to us!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Getting from Page to Yellowstone was a long drive so we decided to break it up. First stop was Bryce Canyon National Park. Though we had extended our trip, we still had to be conscious of miles. The drive from Page to Bryce was 140 miles and that meant we would be over the 100 miles a day mark. Google Maps suggested another way through the BLM lands on unpaved road for more than 40 miles. The area on the border of Arizona and Utah has lots of National Parks and Monuments including Bryce Canyon. Anyhow, we took this road against the advice of an RV driver. The road was very bumpy, almost like the ad for the Aussie Outback. There were some steep hills, sandy stretches and sometimes the dirt road disappeared all together.
The area was incredibly rural until we reached the edge of the National Park. A tiny touristy city was setup given the popularity of Bryce Canyon. We entered the park and got a campsite quickly. The next step was to see the famous amphitheater but before that, we needed maps. Heading to Visitor Center, we got some knowledge about the park, grabbed maps and took the shuttle bus service to Inspiration Point.
This point of the National Park provided a great view of millions of years old rock formation. The view was not only incredible but unique. Wind, rain and ice had cracked rock and separated it making little towers of rock after years of erosion. The towers were called hoodoo.
After spending some time admiring the view, we walked along the rim to get to Navajo loop trail. We hiked down to the bottom of the canyon and experienced something completely different. There wasn’t much light, less wind, the voices echoed and red sand everywhere!
Ranger Talk & Rainbow Point Tour
That evening we decided to attend a night talk by a ranger. The talk was about the sounds of the canyon. It explained the soundscape, a word I learnt during the talk. The sound of wind hitting trees, the sound of Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre, the sounds at the top of hoodoos and the soundlessness at the bottom. The talk really blew me away.
At some point during our hike, we had asked a ranger about Rainbow Point and he recommended us to book the tour a day prior. The bus tour was an alternate to driving 60 miles. Worked for us! The trip started off with us getting on a bus and driving for 40 minutes to Rainbow Point. The guide, a retiree who lived in the area was extremely funny and witty.
On return, we stopped at various points to enjoy the views and different hoodoo formation. We also saw a few pronghorns, a North American antelope, while on tour. It truly was half a day well spent!
Driving from Bryce to Yellowstone would be long – around 600 miles (965 kms). That meant it would take us around 2 days. Anyway we started our journey and we’re heading North on Route 15. As we were driving through the middle of Mormon Country, we saw an ad for Hare Krishna Temple around lunch time. Perfect! We made a stopover for some great food and some blessings at Spanish Fork, UT.
Well, probably God wanted to challenge us because 50 miles after the Temple, we had a flat tire on a 10 lane highway in Salt Lake City. I felt the van jerk a little but thought its just the wind. Within seconds a lady in another car pointed out and yelled to us. Shruti waved to the traffic while I moved to the right and came to a halt in the service lane. It was hot and we had never changed the tyre. Luckily, I had asked the guy at the head office where the jack was so I knew where to start.
We got the car manual out and started reading. I lifted the jack, unscrewed the nuts and got the tyre out but the new tyre wouldn’t get in place as the van was too low. We went through this 3 times and eventually got the new tyre on and off we went. We survived!
I was shattered by now in the heat so Shruti had to do some driving. Along the way, we stopped at the local Walmart just outside Ogden to stock up and were blown away by the huge wall of soldiers’ photographs from the local area. We had never seen anything like it. It was real America!
Well all set with food for Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, the main issue still laid ahead of us. We didn’t have a campsite for the night and it was Saturday and past 6pm. Of course we were nervous! Once we arrived at the camping reserver areas, all camps were taken up. We decided to try one anyway and there was a cancellation. Woohoo! We spent the night there and left early the next morning to drive to Grand Tetons. It was all working out!
Our plan after leaving California wasn’t set in stone but we knew that we would be heading to Las Vegas, crossing the Mojave desert in Nevada and finally making our way to Grand Canyon, the pride of Arizona. Plenty of planning happened alongside doing and the journey turned out to be epic!
The bollywood film, Anjana Anjani had scenes from the Mojave desert when the characters drive through the desert and have their car stolen. It was Shruti’s dream to drive through it and as luck would have it, we drove through parts of it. We started our drive from Joshua National Park and next stop was Vegas baby.
First thing to understand is that it is incredibly hot in this part of the world. It was so hot that Shruti had to buy a new “sun shirt” just to avoid the sunburn. Second the scenery is stunning but it can be incredibly boring to drive through a desert.
Although we were checking an item off the list, no one had warned us about how tough the drive could be. The roads were pretty much empty and nothing to be seen till the horizon except for red mountains. To top up, certain parts of the road was covered in sand and we had to avoid gliding off!
However, there were also some amazing moments when we drove on some parts of the original Route 69 – an iconic road. Americans over generations have used this connection to get to California. We were able to kick that off our bucket-list too.
We drove into Vegas through the Mojave desert which was a very tough drive. Shruti and I had to swap drives quite a bit to avoid dozing off on the wheel. As soon as we crossed over to Nevada, something changed. Shruti quickly handed me the wheel and asked me to continue. That’s when I realised what was going on – crazy winds!
Several times, I nearly lost the control of the Beast. After being very alert for the remaining drive, we finally made it to Vegas in about 4-5 hours. Normally we would stay in an RV Park away from the city centre but Circus Circus had a RV Park. We were living on the strip for $40 a day. Only possible in a campervan!
While the location was great, the weather was not. Vegas is white hot! It was easily 40 degrees during the day. The problem was spending time on a budget. The entire city is catered to night time gambling/partying or day time shopping/rides which in our case meant $$$. We showered and got ready for our first night out in Vegas. We started with White Castle burgers, something I had seen in my teen years, Harold and Kumar films.
The burgers were sliders really but we didn’t mind. They even had beer on tap, how good is that! The rest of the night there was a blur. There was drinking, more food and a couple of casinos. We found the city unbelievable. It was safe as houses and night was as good as day. Shruti and I aren’t the biggest gamblers so we didn’t have to worry. Somehow there was a limo ride and few more drinks at the end of the night.
The next morning though was a killer. When we woke up it was already so hot that we had to open all doors of the camper and sleep again. Not the best place for a hangover! The challenge was what to do in the day given our condition. We got ready, went out to have breakfast and then walked around casinos and malls. We spent several hours in starbucks drinking ice water and iced coffee. Somehow, we spent the day on the strip, had a quick swim then got ready for the night. This time there was only casinos, no drinking. We visited the Bellagio and a few other famous casinos. We gambled a bit in our small budget and had good fun. Who says you need drinking to have fun?
The next morning we had to check out. We grabbed a quick dosa from the Indian restaurant in a nearby mall and left Vegas with promise that we’ll be back. Before leaving though, we visited Escape Campers to check the fridge of the Beast. Turns out, the fridge found it too hard to cope with the desert sun. The kiwi guy at Escape, Kevin, gave us an eski, extra bits for the car and changed the back tyres when he heard we were heading to Yellowstone. What a legend!
The drive from Vegas to Grand Canyon was a long one. We split it into two with one night in a campsite 11 miles off the main freeway with no paved road and on top of a mountain. On the way there was one of America’s most famous landmarks: Hoover Dam.
The dam is on the border of Nevada and Arizona in black canyon of the Colorado river. Before we got to the Dam though we had to go through security. Seeing two brown people in a campervan was an obvious terrorist signal so we were checked by the security. It wasn’t anything too bad and they took hands off the guns as soon as they realised we were from Australia! Ah Mate!
The dam itself was in a very windy location. We had to hold onto our hats as we crossed through the bridge overlooking the wall of the dam. The amazing thing is that this wall has been in so many films, Hollywood, Bollywood and others. Surprisingly, the dam is built on the border of two states, Arizona and Nevada. The view though is spectacular, no matter which state you’re in.
After the wall, we went around the other side to see the water storage itself. However, the parking rates were ridiculous, the sun was harsh and the free parking was far away from the dam. We parked, took a few photos and we were out of there.
Night on BML Land
Our campsite for the night was 11 miles off the highway connecting Las Vegas, NV to Flagstaff, AZ. We weren’t meant to drive the campervan on dirt roads and would not be covered if we broke down. However, the drive to Grand Canyon in fast desert wind was too much for us and we had to make this stop. The gravel road was rough and the drive was hardly over 10 miles per hour. We were also going up the side of a mountain so it was an adventure in every sense of the word.
Finally, we made it to the first “primitive” camp, which meant, it was free and no one looked after it. We drove 2 miles down the road to our less primitive site which meant there were flat campsites for only $4 a night. Well $4 was optional really, no one was coming around to check. There was absolutely no one in the campground and we had top of a mountain to ourselves for $4.
We took some photos of the night sky while watching out for snakes but there was practically nothing there. It was really a different experience being in the wild by ourselves. Really was Into The Wild experience.