USA, Rockies: A Most Excellent Adventure - RV Trip Part 1The weather on June 15th 2013 was crisp, clear, hot and sunny. It was my birthday. When we arrived at the summit of Wyoming’s Teton Pass at 8,431-feet (2560 m) a group of Harley Davidson riders were taking in the view. And what a view. Laid out below us was a landscape canvas of the southern Jackson Hole valley.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
The first page of a western novel: 'He rode into our valley in the summer of '89, a slim man, dressed in black. Call me Shane, he said. He never told us more.'
The weather on June 15th 2013 was crisp, clear, hot and sunny. It was my birthday. When we arrived at the summit of Wyoming’s Teton Pass at 8,431-feet (2560 m) a group of Harley Davidson riders were taking in the view. And what a view. Laid out below us was a landscape canvas of the southern Jackson Hole valley. Appropriately, my christian name was as a direct result of the western movie that was filmed in and around Jackson Hole in 1953, titled ‘Shane,’ taken from the title of a novel written in 1949 by Jack Schaefer.
As with any road trip the most beguiling part of heading out onto the open road is experiencing new regions and sights for the first time. I was travelling with my best buddy of 30 years, Mark, another travel writer based in Sydney. Our annual recreational vehicle (RV) trip in the USA was from Los Angeles to the Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota with the second leg back to Los Angeles via Utah, Nevada and California – a round trip of 3,600 miles (about 5,800 km).
After our first night stop in Lava Hot Springs in southeast Idaho we had booked a fly fishing trip on the South Fork of the Snake River. It didn’t take us long working either side of the river with a Stone Fly Nymph (known as a rubber legs) and on a 6 pound leader and below that a San Juan worm we soon found ourselves hooking cutthroat trout. We were drift fishing from a 16-feet (4.8 m) dory-style boat that was owned by Mason Haggard, our guide who rowed skillfully back and forth. I asked Mason, a local 25-year-old lad from Idaho Falls, how long he’d been guiding, “To be honest,’ he replied, ‘this is my first season and you guys are my very first clients.” Fancy hooking two travel writers on your first day as a professional trout fishing guide!
The following day we reached Jackson Hole, a town of about 8,500 permanent residents who live at the southern gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. It boasts a thriving arts fraternity, and is a popular ski destination in winter and an even more popular summer destination for hikers, fishermen and outdoor entusiasts such as white water river rafters.
The most famous bar in town is the Million Dollar Cowboy Saloon, which boasts inlaid 1870-1890s silver dollars from one end of the bar to the other, hence the name. For bar seating the well-worn cowboy saddles still give you an ache in the backside, but that’s all part of the fun. Add some local lasses and a country music band with western swing dancing and a Saturday night in this bar is one you’ll remember for a long time.
With another day came another chance to go fishing with an outfit called, Fish the Fly. Tim Smith was our guide and he’s a man so knowledgeable about fly fishing I was in awe. Tim had started us wet fly fishing with marginal results but we could see fish rising, so he quickly switching us over to a dry fly and with the first cast I hooked a cutthroat. It was one of those days when fishing in the Rockies is forever ingrained in your memory. As a bonus Tim took me wilderness fly fishing the next day in the backcountry where I caught at least 30 (catch and release) trout. The biggest was only 15-inches but what an awesome experience.
On March 1st 1872, Congress set aside 2.1 million acres of Yellowstone creating the world’s first national park. We arrived in Yellowstone National Park to find our first campsite at Madison near the west entrance at 6,806-feet (2,074 m) – still cold enough to dip below freezing at night and snow during the day – this was the start of summer! Our second campsite at Bay Bridge looked out across Yellowstone Lake and was even higher at 7,735-feet (2,358 m) elevation where the temperature that night dropped to 24F (-4.4C).
Yellowstone is worth spending at least four days in to fully appreciate the scenery and the wildlife. Early morning is the best time to spot bears, bison, mule deer, elk, coyotes, big-horn sheep, beavers, weasels, foxes, marmots and even gray wolves. But beware. We saw one motorcycylist almost get headbutted by a bison which turned on a dime and charged his bike when he got too close.
On our last day in the park we had booked a four hour fishing trip on Yellowstone Lake. Our fishing guide Eric Lane introduced himself as we cruised out of the dock at 8-o’clock well-wrapped up in cold weather gear. Eric, originally from Michigan, is passionate about dry fly fishing. He casually told us he had boated 437 trout in the 2012 season (late May to Nov 2nd) and the largest was 11 pounds (5 kg). The fishing was slow at times with only about six to eight fish boated, however on the last cast of the day I hooked a 22-inch (55 cm) cutthroat trout that tipped the scales at just over 4 pounds (1.8 kg) . . . smiling I returned back to our RV one very happy camper.
Our next night stop was Cody, Wyoming, named after ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, who once owned the 8,000-acre T E Ranch, 30 miles (48 km) southwest of town. At 7.30 pm we made our way to the famous Cody Rodeo. It was a balmy evening and the cowgirls were decked out in rhinestone outfits with chaps over jeans and of course obligatory cowboy hats. As well as the cowgirls the cowboys were all hyped up for competition too with bareback riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, steer riding, team roping, barrel racing and bull riding on the agenda. Our night ended at the famous Irma Hotel built in 1902, and reputedly the saloon where Buffalo Bill Cody drank regularly!
Another must-see attraction in Cody we visited was the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. The museum is split up into five different centers: 1. ‘Buffalo Bill’ where you can learn all about William F. Cody, his Wild West show and the west he knew and loved. 2. ‘Greater Yellowstone Natural History’ is where you’ll follow interactive trails that introduce the sights, sounds and even the smells of nature. 3. ‘Western Art’ is the place to discover some of the most stunning masterpieces of the American West. 4. ‘Plains Indians’ is the life stories of the Northern Plains Indian people. 5. ‘Firearms’ is the room to research and learn all about the history of rifles and guns.
Next stop was the town of Buffalo where we’d reserved two rooms at the famous Occidental Hotel. Entering the front door is to step back into the old west, to an era that was both elegant and dangerous. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid often rode to the Occidental from their hideout at the nearby Hole-in-the-Wall. Among those who enjoyed the hospitality of the Occidental in the early days were Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and General Phil Sheridan. Calamity Jane, who drove freight wagons on the Bozeman Trail, also often visited the hotel.
With only two rooms remaining we slept in the infamous ‘bordello rooms’ at the base of the backstairs, which in the 1890s sold for 50 cents a night including a lady of ‘negotiable virtue.’ The original wooden stairs still show the scuffmarks from the boots and spurs the old-time cowboys wore. The rest of the night we spent in the saloon being entertained by Alycia Vince, a renowned jazz singer who grew up in this part of Wyoming.
Driving further east along Interstate 90 we looped north to visit a geologic wonder – America’s first National Monument designated by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 – Devils Tower. This geologic feature protrudes out of the rolling prairie that surrounds the Black Hills. The site is considered sacred to the Lakota and other Native American Indian tribes that have a connection to the area. Nearly half a million visitors come to see Devils Tower every year, which was made famous by the movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
We had travelled just over 1,000 miles across some of northern Wyoming’s breathtaking scenic wonders. It was the perfect way to end the first leg of our epic journey.
Part 2 will be featured in Issue 28 (Feb/Mar 2014)
Shane Boocock travelled to the United States courtesy of Air Tahiti Nui who have four scheduled flights a week via Papeete to Los Angeles
Assistance with outfitters, campgrounds, resorts and attractions was courtesy of Rocky Mountains International. W: www.RMI-RealAmerica.com
El Monte RV is privately owned offering RV rentals from different city locations across the United States. They feature the largest number of RV models in the motorhome industry. El Monte RV can be contacted at www.elmonterv.com
State Tourism Bureaus:
Wyoming Office of Tourism
Yellowstone NP Campgrounds, Wyoming
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Cody Nite Rodeo, Wyoming
Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming
Heise Expeditions, Snake River, Idaho
Fish The Fly Guided Fly Fishing, Snake River, Wyoming
Guided Fly Fishing, Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming
Mad River Boat Trips, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The Rusty Parrot Lodge & Spa, Jackson, Wyoming
Rustic Inn at Jackson Hole Creekside Resort & Spa, Wyoming
Lake Hotel, Yellowstone, Wyoming
Occidental Hotel, Buffalo, Wyoming
If you would like to read this article in full or licence it for your own publication, please click here to contact Shane.