Airstream Adventure #5: Seattle to Jackson Hole, Wyoming

I flew to Jackson Hole to work on a video project for a client and John followed a few days later with Margaret traversing close to 900 miles in 2 days and 17 hours of driving. Between our last trip to Mt. Adams and this trip, we changed out our tow vehicle from a 4-Runner to a Ford F-150 XLT with tow package. This made all the difference. Towing with the F-150 is a far better experience and nearly automatic in every way with their tow package that shifts gears, has much better braking and has a 4000 pound advantage in GVW than the 4-Runner did. It just feels much safer. John did comment that you have to remember on occasion that you are pulling something behind you.

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Our plan was to stay at the Lazy J Corral RV Park in Hoback Junction to be near my work, but they don’t take reservations and luckily they were booked. This RV Park sits hard by the highway and has a mix of long-term residents and RVs smacked up right next to each other with absolutely no trees to speak of. We then tried KOA down the road, but they were full and the nice ladies efficiently running the front desk hooked me up with a place called Fireside – AKA – Jackson Hole RV Camp, which I’d already booked a reservation for two nights later.

Fireside/Jackson Hole RV Camp (74.00/night for a pull-through, which is expensive in my book) is a mix of brand new custom cabins built from old Wyoming snow fence, metal and other materials, which you pass by on your way into the RV sections and comprises the mid section of the entire acreage. It is a narrow slice of land. Fireside has many pull-through sites as well as several back-in. Unfortunately, since we called late, we were closest to bathrooms in a fairly narrow, hard to back into site, which John negotiated with the help of some campers.

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Pluses for Fireside include close proximity to Grand Teton National Park, Teton Village and Jackson. The bathroom is kept clean and the spots all include fire rings, picnic tables and full hook-ups provided you can park your trailer in a way to utilize the sewer line. Some of the sites are extremely close to each other, but others feel spacious. They do have a dump station, which we utilized on the way out. WiFi was very spotty and I ended up having to go into the office to conduct business.

Jackson, itself, has become a huge disappointment as it’s over-run by cars and tourists, and traffic during the day is horrendous.  We chose to stay out of Jackson as much as possible. The best part of Jackson, however, is Ernie Patterson’s Veterinary Clinic where we went to have Buster’s leg looked at, which wasn’t diagnosed by our vet in Seattle. He had been suffering terribly on the trip and required knee surgery upon our return to Seattle. We cut our trip short and headed back a week early.

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After a couple of days at Fireside, we headed up to Granite Hot Springs on the advice of the mother of two children selling lemonade at the entrance to a dog park along the Snake River. It was the best thing that could have happened. As we drove up the dirt road towards the hot springs we saw several other boondockers along the way up, which gave us the impetus to boondock ourselves along the Granite River with incredible views of the majestic mountains and valley. This river flows into the Hoback River, and joins it along the highway between Pinedale and Hoback Junction.

Pinedale has become the poster child for all that is wrong with fracking and natural gas drilling that is quickly ruining the water tables, environment and lives of the people living nearby. Winter in Pinedale sees vast amounts of Ozone depletion, methane gas usage and water contamination as a result. 32 ounces of Benzine, which is a chemical they use in this process, can contaminate thousands of gallons of drinking water. Wildlife habitat has been destroyed, and roads have been cut through pristine wilderness for huge Halliburton trucks that rumble up down the roads incessantly. There is simply nothing good about the fracking process, which this country will feel the results of for hundreds of years to come. It is sad that Dick Cheney has sold out his own state, by opening up vast amounts of territories to Halliburton and other energy companies, like he did our country.

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But back to our wonderful valley and the Hoback Basin, where we spent the entire day shooting photographs and video.

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We made our way to the top of the canyon and discovered a lake with the brightest blue dragonflies I’ve ever seen.

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Exhausted, we then went to Granite Hot Springs for a dip in the 96 degree water ($6 per person). Well-maintained and peaceful, we ended the day feeling renewed, but tired. Quite simply, heading up the Hoback Basin was, for me, the highlight of the trip and camping along the Granite River was sublime.

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John made a delicious Caprese salad, a couple of cocktails and all three of us enjoyed the evening sunset.

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After boondocking, we headed back to Fireside for two days of camping and John drove the River Road in Grand Teton National Park as I took photographs. The flowers and the Snake River were unbelievable and Buster enjoyed looking out over it along the way. It was a stunningly beautiful drive, but you need a truck with high clearance and best to have a 4×4 just in case. We stopped at Jackson for dinner at a very mediocre Mexican restaurant called The Three Piglets.

The following day found us exhausted and so we just did some chores, went to the Auto Parts store for grease and napped. We met some wonderful people from The Netherlands and Portland.

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That evening, we met up with fellow ‘streamers, Monica, Jeff and their son Bradley for an extraordinary dinner at Couloir, which requires a gondola ride to the top. Monica is doing a story on Coloir for her blog, Just Five More Minutes and photographed their amazing dishes throughout the 4-course meal. The view was spectacular, the food delicious, and once again, as we usually do with Monica and Jeff, talked non-stop throughout. It was so much fun! For those wanting to spend less money, they do have outdoor seating at the top, the gondola ride is free and there is a deli restaurant and drinks to enjoy while watching evening descend on the valley below.

We then went through Yellowstone National Park and headed towards Montana and home to get Buster back for surgery.

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We went through Ennis, Montana, which stirred up many memories for me as I used to fish every summer there with my brother and dad and friends. It hasn’t changed at all in all these years and I was glad to see that.

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That night we boondocked just outside Missoula at Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest (free camping!), which was also grazing area for cows. Buster was very curious about them and at about 3am I heard footsteps outside our Airstream only to discover several cows wandering through our camp.

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We stopped in at Airstream of Spokane to fix a few things and rework our hitch due to the new F150.  Doug fixed us right up and Nick and Karyn, as always, were a delight to see. Unfortunately, between AOS and the Columbia River Gorge, our TV completely came off the wall of our Airstream and broke. Still under warranty, we’ll get this fixed soon.

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Our last night found us at Wanapum State Park by the Columbia River just off I-90. The clouds were extraordinary, the campsite beautiful and well maintained with hookups ($32.00 a night) and a view that is gorgeous.

All in all, it was a great trip marred only by lots of stress from selling my house, Buster’s knee issue and me trying to work and enjoy all of it at the same time.

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However, I’m blessed to have John stick by me through all of it, and Buster be our constant joy during the whole trip. Next stop: Alumafandango in August in Oregon.

(As always, click on the photographs to see larger versions of them). All photos © 2013 by Tom Schabarum

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Bringing Margaret Home

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It was an amazing experience at Airstream of Spokane picking up Margaret. She is a beautiful Airstream both inside and out just like her namesake was – my Grandmother.

Nick and Karyn Dietz of Airstream of Spokane spent hours with us going over every detail and getting us squared away on getting her back to Seattle in one piece. Our tutorial session was over 6 hours long and our questions were many. Nick was patient at every turn and is a fantastic resourceful guy. They set us up for the night outside of their building where we spent our very first night slumbering inside. Buster seemed to enjoy it although he woke John up at 4:30am to see what was up.

It was the first time I’ve ever trailered anything and setting her up with the 4Runner went pretty smooth, although Toyota’s placement of the electric wire is not very intelligent and pretty far from the hitch, which Doug at AS did a great job of changing it. They also installed a bike rack primarily for John’s love of mountain biking. Starting this spring, I believe it will be used quite a bit!

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We left AS and began our journey home without any problems whatsoever. Buster fell asleep because he was chasing John and myself while we tried out AS’s Pedego electric bikes, which are very cool. If I ever have to commute to work, I’ll think about getting one of them. We stopped at the Wild Horses Monument (closed for the winter) and went over to look at the Columbia River Gorge and got this great shot of Buster.

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Going up the grade out of the Gorge was a little tricky as I was learning when to shift into a lower gear, but we went slow and made it up just fine. When we got near Snoqualmie Pass, the weather was awful and you couldn’t see the lane lines on the road. A bit of a white-knuckler for me, but we ended up just fine.

Backing her into the driveway proved to be another great challenge, but we have plans to make it easier despite having just widened it. After we fix what we need to fix, it will be a lot easier. Today was all about doing little chores and make her landing a little nicer. We gave tours to many of our neighbors who were all as excited as we were. It was a lot of fun!

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We still have a ton of stuff to do to outfit our Airstream (like getting a topper for the bed, which is not her best quality), but we’re going out again next weekend up to Snoqualmie to hopefully meet Monica Bennett, who has one of the best Airstream blogs going: Just Five More Minutes. If the snow is great, we hope to go snowshoeing again. We love the Source Lake Basin up near Alpenthal to hike in.

We are true ‘streamers now and are totally in love with Margaret. On another note: I was amazed and delighted that Karyn of Airstream of Spokane read my novel Airstreaming the night after I gave her a copy. She couldn’t stop reading it and didn’t get to sleep until 4am. Nick said she was wiped out the next day. Sorry Nick! And Karyn wrote that she was “riveted.” Nice! Oh, and if you’re in Spokane or ‘streaming through, stop by and pick up a paperback copy!

If you are thinking of buying an Airstream, I highly recommend Airstream of Spokane. It was a great experience.

The New Driveway is Ready for Margaret

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After a solid week of mud, cleaning the floors of the house constantly and moving rocks and debris around, the driveway is finished. We widened it by 4 feet, put in two retaining walls and a new pad with 5/8 – foundation gravel. It looks great. The team at Wall Systems, NW could not have been nicer, more professional and greater problem solvers. Thanks to Paul Benedict for walking us through everything from start to finish. If you need retaining walls, these are the guys to go to. I’m happy to send you their info. They are working on a new website so I’ll post it when they finish it up.

Now we have to go pick up our Airstream at the beginning of March. I can’t wait.

Meet Margaret

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After a full year of longing, research, talking and dreaming, we finally did it. John and I purchased our first big thing together: A 23ft. Airstream Flying Cloud FB (Front Bedroom). I had gone back and forth between buying a vintage model (Overlander circa 1970’s) and a newer model. After looking and researching the vintage models, I realized the time and expense in rehabilitating an older Airstream would be too much and might never get done. I’m just not handy that way and it took me awhile to really accept it. I had been keeping an eye on a 23ft model after meeting Matt and Rebecca of Boxfoto’s Airstream in Tampa Bay, Florida last spring.

Let’s back up. Airstreams have been on my mind for over 14 years. I’d written a short story called Airstreaming with the trailer as the central metaphor. A little while later, it became a screenplay, which was a finalist in the Chesterfield Screenplay Competition sponsored by Universal Studios, Spielberg’s Amblin’ Entertainment and a few others. Then, the screenplay needed to become a novel, which was far different from the short story and screenplay, and it took me nearly 12 years to finish it. In other words, Airstreams, or the idea of them have consumed me for all this time.

Airstream of Spokane had just the exact model we were looking for and I kept watching it for nearly two months as they dropped the price on the 23 ft Flying Cloud as the model year came to an end. John and I drove out to Spokane yesterday and met Nick and Karyn who own Aistream of Spokane. They could not have been nicer people and very patient with all of our questions. While we were going over the trailer with a fine tooth comb, John said, “Why don’t we buy this together.” It made total sense since we’ll be traveling together in it all over and it will be the first big purchase we will make together. It made us both very happy, and all the way home John researched sites and came across several like Monica Bennet’s “Just Five More Minutes” and Riveted by Laura Domela and her husband, Kevin and Anna Sullivan’s site, Glamper: An Airstream Diary –  sites I’d been following for quite awhile.

Most everyone names their Airstreams. I told John I really wanted to name our Airstream, Margaret.

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Margaret Brittingham Curtice was my grandmother. I dedicated my novel, Airstreaming, to her when it was published. She passed away last spring and her generosity to all her grandchildren helped me with fulfilling this dream of mine – and now ours. I lived with my Grandmother for 3 years while going to college and we formed a special bond that transcended age and family. I came back to Santa Barbara to live for another 3.5 years and saw her for dinner or our trips to Costco, walks on the beach and our special Thanksgiving tradition of free donuts and coffee at Hendry’s Beach in the early morning. I miss her so much, but now she’ll continue to be a part of us for the rest of our lives.

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In the next several years, watch this blog as we come to learn about Margaret, travel to wonderful places with Buster the Wonderdog, and most especially of all, meet fellow ‘streamers along the way.