We woke up pretty early this morning, ate breakfast, packed up and got ready to go. We were heading towards Wyoming with a route that would bring us to the southern end of Grand Tetons National Park. We had planned to camp somewhere in the area of Grand Tetons and then take a day trip down to Jackson Hole. However, the Eclipse had other plans for us.
We took Route 16 out of the KOA campground through Rapid City up to I-90W. We drove I-90 for a few hours into Buffalo, Wyoming where we stopped for lunch, got some groceries, bought a couple extra blankets, etc. Our planned route was to take Route 16 from Buffalo to Route 20 in Worland and then go south to find a place to stay in Riverton, WY. Well, Route 16W from Buffalo is an incredible mountain pass. Earlier on I-90W, I was driving and noticed that the Highlander had started to feel like it was struggling to stay up to the speed of traffic (which out here where the interstates are incredibly straight and generally flat on the eastern side of the state) is hovering around 80 miles per hour. The speed limit is actually 80 miles an hour! It’s AWESOME!
Well, as you approach the western border of the state of South Dakota, it becomes gradually hillier and as we continued through the hilly area I noticed this change in the vehicle. But I’m a super sensitive driver that tends to overanalyze and over-assess my vehicle’s performance. I listen to and feel (through the steering wheel, seat, or gas peddle) any changes in the vehicle and it just sounded like the engine and/or transmission just wasn’t right. I didn’t know exactly how. The RPMs seemed to be quite normal for those speeds. Anyway, after a little while, I mentioned it to Mom and Dad as I was driving so they were aware of it.
After lunch in Buffalo, Dad drove because I was exhausted (hadn’t slept very well in the tent) and I wanted to nap. As we headed into the mountain Pass of Route 16, Dad noticed the change in the vehicle as well. We began assessing whether it warrented heading back to Buffalo (before we got too far away) or if we could continue. We decided to pull off in one of the several nice scenic parking areas to check the transmission fluid. Dad had gotten the transmission fluid flushed, the oil changed (basically a general tune-up for the vehicle) before embarking on this huge road trip. We looked at the User’s Manual for the vehicle; it doesn’t even have “Transmission” as a line item in the Index!! Seriously Toyota?!?! How is transmission not in the User’s Manual? Ok, scratch that approach. We got paper towels, opened up the hood and pulled out the transmission fluid stick; wiped it off, re-inserted it, and then pulled it out again to check it. There are three markings on our transmission fluid stick. They are “Cold”, “Hot”, and “WS”. Does anyone know what “WS” means because I don’t and we couldn’t find it in the User’s Manual with no transmission section. Well, with the vehicle working as hard as it was (towing our camping trailer, gear, and us), the transmission fluid was up to that “WS” marking. We decided to take it parking area by parking area, providing the vehicle time to cool off between hill climbs. Of course, there is no service in this mountain pass so we couldn’t contact anyone immediately with questions or to ask advice. Dad noticed that after each little cool-down period, the vehicle acted better.
Well, I highly recommend this mountain pass for anyone heading west towards Grand Tetons/Jackson/Yellowstone. It is incredibly beautiful. Especially this one descent into Tensleep where there is cell service. The pictures I’m sure don’t do it justice but wow…. it was breathtaking. In Tensleep we were finally able to contact a good friend of ours about the transmission issue.
Continuing from Tensleep, we went through Worland, then onto Route 20S. At this point, it was getting later in the afternoon where we began to consider where we were going to stay for the night. We were driving along and noticed up on this big hill the words “Worlds Largest Mineral Hotsprings” with an arrow pointing down the hill to a park-looking area. We decided to stop and see what it was all about.
It’s a beautiful large hotspring. We walked around and found the source of this hot water; a beautiful blue pool in the upload area of the park. On the downland area is a river with a cable-bridge across. My little sister and I crossed the bridge which (being only a cable-suspension bridge) swayed and moved as you walked across. (Note: Yes, I am an engineer but I am not sure if I called this bridge by its rightful design name so please see the picture below and let me know what its proper name is). 🙂
On the chainlink fence that protects the pedestrian while crossing were locks with names on them representing (I believe) married couples who had secured this lock to the bridge and thrown the key in the river. Once across the bridge, you could see the mineral deposit walls from the hot springs where the hot water flowed into the river. In this area, several people were swimming in the river. It really looked inviting.
Anyway, it was now about that we were contemplating where we were going to stay for the night. We would be continuing our trek towards the Grand Tetons/Jackson Hole the next day (or so we thought). We called a few hotels in the area but due to the eclipse, prices for rooms were through the roof. One room in Riverton (a very hotspot for the eclipse) was ˜$650/night. We then tried calling the hotel that were were about a block away from in Thermopolis thinking for sure it would be much cheaper. That room was going for ˜$300 or $350. Being a little out of our budget we pressed on. We thought for sure we could find a camp site somewhere!
We continued driving out of Thermopolis on Route 20 and went through another beautiful canyon drive right as the sun was setting. It was magnificent.
We pulled off at this one little campground area thinking maybe we could just take up some undesireable parking space. The campground host wasn’t available so we went and talked to a couple people until a Wyoming forest ranger pulled in. He told us about a camping area further up the road where they were letting overflow campers just pull anywhere outside the main camping area and just stay there. We thought hallelujah we have a place to stay!
As we were walking back to our car, there was another truck with a couple people who were also looking for camping. The ranger talked to them for a little while and then as we walked by he said “Just follow them!”. We ended up spending the night and the next day (Monday, August 21st) in Tough Creek Campground (part of Boysen State Park off of Route 20) on Boysen Reservoir. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend the night! And we had a blast hanging out with our new friends Rob and Sue! You guys are awesome!
August 21 (Total Eclipse Day)
I didn’t sleep very well; the wind last evening was quite strong and I had midnight imaginings that mountain lions or other carnivorous animal was going to come and sniff me. It was weird… I know. Anyway, I woke up to a great calm, it was really bright out, meaning I had slept pretty late (or later than usual) so I immediately got up to see the sunrise.
Then, at about 11:30AM (I don’t know the exact time of totality), the moon totally eclipsed the sun and it got dark for about 56 seconds.
As soon as the period of totality was done, people started packing up and leaving. The traffic was incredible for a while so we just stayed where we were until about 3:00PM. Then we hit the road to find another camp site closer to the Grand Tetons.
Little did we know that campsites were NOT going to immediately empty. We drove through another amazing mountain pass before approaching Moran, WY. We ended up camping in a camping overflow parking lot. It was a pretty are with a view of the Tetons beyond some trees. So we set up camp, had a yummy dinner and then… well, we tried to fit four people in our little teardrop camper for the night since there weren’t many good trees to set up a hammock and we didn’t want to set up a tent on a gravel parking lot. One of us ended up in the car at about midnight since none of us could stretch out. It wasn’t very comfortable.
During the night, one of the other campers I think, had a fire going and the smoke was wafting directly into our camper vent and windows. Also, there was quite a bit of traffic that went by us that night which I was able to hear. All combined, my apparently hyperactive subconcious was telling me that a forest fire had started during the night somewhere nearby and that the traffic was of people leaving the area that knew of the fire and we were just lying there oblivious, doing nothing…. just sleeping through it!!! I woke up for a little while, got my phone and searched for news or fire incidents in the area. I couldn’t find any and so I figured someone would raise the alarm if we were in serious danger.
Anyway, no one got much sleep that night. I was very thankful when the sun started coming up and it got light out. Why does darkness make everything seem so much more frightfull or intense?? 😀