Monday, June 7, 2021

Road Trip to Yellowstone National Park {San Diego to Yellowstone}

If you've been around my corner of the InterWebs for a decent amount of time, you've probably picked up on the fact that the hubby and I love to #OptOutside and adventure. Not only that, but we love the National Parks. In the past year (once it was safe and appropriate to do so), we've visited Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park (along with trips to places like Lake Tahoe/ Truckee, Mammoth Lakes, Bishop, etc). 

In February we had a trip planned to go to Death Valley National Park with the hubby's dad and his wife. They were going to fly into Vegas and drive to a hotel in Death Valley while we camped. Well, this was right around the time that things were re-locking down in California and the trip got cancelled. While we were thinking about rescheduling it, we were realizing to make it work it was getting later and later into the year when the temps would start rising further and further. (As I'm sure you can imagine from the name alone, Death Valley isn't necessarily a place top on your vacation list in the middle of summer...) I had never been to Yellowstone National Park and have had it on my list of places I would love to visit, so I suggested, what if we met them there instead?! Everyone was onboard with the idea so we started planning.


The game plan was the hubby and I (we'd be leaving Walt the Wiener Dog with friends because National Parks aren't super welcoming with pets) would drive to Yellowstone in the AdventureMobile and Ryan's dad and wife would meet us from Michigan (originally they had ordered a Winnebago Revel 4x4 but with delays and demand due to COVID it wasn't going to be finished in time so they decided to rent a trailer and have it delivered to the campground we'd be staying at). 


When looking into dates that worked, we heard that spring was an amazing time to visit. Although you might have to deal with chillier temps (depending on when the seasons actually got around to changing), there were usually smaller crowds and more wildlife. As soon as we heard the words "baby bison" we were ALL IN! We checked the campground websites and snagged 2 spots for the last week in May (and, in case you're looking for specifics, it'd be Yellowstone NP from Saturday, May 22nd through Thursday, May 27th, then Grand Teton NP Thursday, May 27th through Saturday, May 29th).

But, just because Yellowstone and Grand Teton were the ultimate destinations, that doesn't mean we're going to leave out the journey... In fact, a large part of the magic and adventure happens on the way to and from the destination! 


This post is about the road trip TO Yellowstone. Sure, technically the drive from our place in Oceanside to Yellowstone in Wyoming is "only" 16 hours/ 1,000 miles and could be done in a day {woof, I'm not sure who would want to make that trek in one solid push though}, we decided to break it up over four days and three nights. Obviously this post is not an itinerary meant to be followed exactly for future travelers, but more just as a diary of what we did and saw along our trip. 

Day 1: Oceanside to Las Vegas

Although I'm considering this "Day 1" because it was the beginning of our journey, it wasn't what I would technically deem a legit travel day. You see, I work at our local running store until 7pm every weeknight and because the hubby is a night owl and prefers to drive in the evenings if possible, we figured we'd leave after I got off work (that way neither of us would technically have to take off another day of work). With that said, we didn't officially hit the road until about 7:15pm on Wednesday, May 19th. Our hope was to drive to the border of California and Nevada before we pulled over and hit the hay for the evening. The hubby was in charge of researching places to go/ things to do/ spots to stay and found the Ivanpah West Dry Lake for the first night (we tried to do the majority of our camping on the way to and from Wyoming at BLM spots or free campgrounds #FrugalCarlee). Surprisingly we were still wide awake and raring to go when we got there, so the hubby called an audible and decided to push on just past Vegas so we'd be a little further on the journey when we woke up Thursday morning. He found another free spot to crash {Valley of Fire West Dispersed Camping}, thanks to Campendium, and rerouted us there. We pulled in around 11:45, popped the top of the AdventureMobile, unrolled our sleeping bags and fell asleep almost immediately. The Vegas area was experiencing high winds, but it sort of acted like our white noise machine we sleep with at home so it wasn't terrible ;) [Obviously Day 1 was pretty boring, which we were expecting, but at least it got us about 350 miles into the journey so Day 2 could be full of more adventure.]

This is a picture of the sunrise (since we obviously missed the sunset).

The place we camped was pretty wide open and empty (mid-week, at least).

Day 2: Las Vegas to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

We woke up around 5 on the morning of Thursday, May 20th (in part due to my alarm and in part due to our excitement/ anticipation). I grabbed a PROBAR PROTEIN bar to eat while the hubby enjoyed some oatmeal and coffee to start the day. One of the many things we love about our AdventureMobile is how quickly we can "tear down" and be on the move. After finishing breakfast it took all of about 5 minutes to put things away, pack up and get on the road to the next stop. 

Hubby drove all of Wednesday, so I hopped in the driver seat to kick off Thursday.

Neither the hubby nor I had ever been to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, but a friend of mine had written a travel guide and it's been on my list of "must go" places since then. Although it was a detour off the direct route from Oceanside to Yellowstone, we knew it'd be worth it! Our hope was leaving Vegas around 6am would get us to Grand Staircase-Escalante around noon (it was about 5 hours/ 300 miles away and you lose an hour with the time difference) and we'd use the afternoon to explore as much of the area as possible. Obviously we wouldn't even scratch the surface, but were hoping to see if we were to return how much time we'd realistically need to see everything we'd want to explore.

Not a National Park, but a National Monument.

Like the rest of the trip, we had done our fair share of research beforehand and found a handful of things we wanted to see and do. First up was the Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike. When we got there it was a little after noon and the parking area was overflowing (we knew showing up later in the day would have this issue, but were hoping that it being midweek might help... it didn't... so be aware if you plan to visit - go early or you might have to wait for a spot to open). Thankfully patience paid off and after circling the lot we snagged a spot. We made our lunch (PB&Js) and went chasing waterfalls.

Let's do this thang!

We made sure to sign the trail registers every time just in case something happened and folks needed to know where we were going,
when we left and when they should have expected us back. #BetterSafeThanSorry

The trail itself isn't too difficult, but it is sand, which tends to zap your energy and momentum. We found ourselves dragging a bit, but that could've also been due to the mid-afternoon heat and having been cooped up in a car all morning. The allure of a waterfall in the middle of a desert landscape kept us pushing (and the hubby had grabbed a guide at the trailhead and was reading the interesting facts when we'd go by a numbered marker, which kept our minds engaged).

Hiking along and checking out our gorgeous surroundings. 

It's always amazing to see water flowing (and a decent amount of it) in the middle of the desert!

Once we got closer to the falls we saw a few folks on the trail, but, for the most part, we didn't run into too many people (which surprised us since the lot was full). When we could hear the 126-foot falls our pace picked up and we charged on.

Can you see the person in the sunshine along the wall? That gives you an idea of scale.

In the shade of the canyon walls the temps felt quite a bit cooler. We could've stayed and relaxed for quite a while, but we had more things to explore, so we marveled at the waterfall for a few moments, snapped some pics and continued on.

We made it and it was absolutely worth it!

Pretty spectacular if I do say so myself!

Always thankful when someone offers to snap a picture of us together (rather
than having to take a selfie or only having one of us in the shot at a time).

For some reason AllTrails had the hike at over 8 miles, but we got a little over six on my watch by the time we got back to the truck (maybe it was because the GPS was off due to the canyon walls, but I don't think I would have lost two miles...). Once we got back to the parking lot it was time to refill our water bottles (we travel with an extra large jug in case we don't run across water on our journeys and need it to drink, cook, brush our teeth, etc), grab a snack and head to the next stop.

Super cool to have the falls seem to be randomly placed where they are, but the sand made the hike tougher than expected.

Next up was the Escalante Natural Bridge. The hubby and I both said the "pay off" at the end of the hike was better at Lower Calf Creek Falls (it's hard to top a huge waterfall), but we enjoyed the hike itself more on this one. There were a ton of water crossings and you had to keep your eyes peeled for the trail, which made it different than your traditional hike.

It might not have been deep, but you still got your feet soaked...

The views along the way definitely did not suck!

The bridge was pretty awesome to see, but it is hard to capture straight on (it sort of blends in with the rocks behind it). Thankfully we were able to scramble up a bit inside so you could look out with the sky in the background to fully see it.

I thought we might be able to get on top of this bridge, but I was confusing it with one in Capitol Reef that I had
researched... so I'm glad we didn't try because there didn't really seem to be a safe possibility anywhere we looked.

As you can see from the "outside", the bridge sort of blends in with the rocks behind it.

We were able to capture a little more of the bridge (from the "inside") with Ryan's wide angle feature on his iPhone.

Once we made it back to the AdventureMobile the hubby decided to take a plunge in the Escalante River (to rinse off and cool down - we're normally total dirtbags while camping). We were able to clean our shoes a bit (but, let's be real, rinsing shoes in a river with flowing sentiment isn't the best way to get out mud/ sand, but we made it work as best as we could).

Just in case you were wondering, these shoes were purchased the day before we left
and this was the first time wearing them, haha, but that's the point of trail shoes, right?!

One of the (many) things we love about Utah is how quickly you dry off (the lack of humidity in the atmosphere just draws any moisture out). Shortly after getting out of the water the hubby was dry and we were off to see the Devils Garden

We would make up stories about what we thought the rocks were and what they were doing.

The Devils Garden is a mile(ish) loop where you can walk amongst some pretty awesome rock formations (some arches, hoodoos, etc). I'd say if you've been to Bryce Canyon NP you could skip this (especially because it seemed to be pretty far out of the way and the road to get there was very washboard-y), but even still, it was a great way to end the day.

Exploring around the area was pretty awesome.

You shouldn't climb on the formations (the sandstone is 
fragile), but you can walk up close to them to check it out.

Couldn't imagine visiting in the summer (it was already toasty warm in mid-May), but worth the trip!

Although we could have spent much longer exploring, we called it a day around 7pm to make it to where we were planning to camp for the evening - the Hole-In-The-Rock Road in Escalante, Utah. It was just up the road from our last stop, which may seem silly, but it's what I wanted, because that gave us more time to spend at the national monument and not have to worry about having to jump in the truck and drive for another few hours before stopping for the night.

Day 3: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to McCammon, Idaho

After a great night sleep at Hole-In-The-Rock Road, we were up and at 'em around 6:30am on Friday, May 21st. When I woke up I noticed rain in the forecast, so I woke up the hubby so we wouldn't have to pack up in the wetness. Day 3 was scheduled to be the furthest amount of driving (about 6.5 hours/ 420 miles) in a single day, but we had to get it done. Road tripping isn't always the "fun" pictures on social media, sometimes it's boring freeway driving between locations ;) 

When I'm driving, normally the hubby is working (unless he has taken a vacation day) or napping ;)

Originally we were hoping to stop by PROBAR in Salt Lake City (one of the brands I've worked with for many years), but due to COVID they didn't have staff in on Friday afternoon. I was pretty bummed about it, but the hubby quickly got over it because one of his favorite breweries is also located in Salt Lake City and that meant we could make a pit stop at Uintas to check out their space and grab beer for the road. {FYI: We'd also stop on the way home so he could snag more!}

I don't drink beer, but it makes the hubby HOPPY so I tag along.

Along with the brewery stop, we also made a brief stop at the REAL UP HOUSE! When we were first starting to look at the road trip, the hubby was perusing "roadside attractions" and saw that there was a house modeled from the one in Pixar's UP near where we'd be driving. We obviously had to stop for a photo. (Note: This is a private residence, so they ask visitors to be brief, be courteous, snap a photo and keep moving along unless you want to schedule a tour/ photoshoot.)

I mean, how stinkin' awesome is this?!

Other than those two main stops, everything else was just potty breaks or gas refills. We sort of just wanted to get to our next spot for the night so we'd have time to put our feet up and relax (I know, I know, all we had really been doing for the day was sitting/ driving, but it can be pretty draining too!). We were ready to get out of the truck and into nature!

We love BLM spots. Especially ones that are well kept with very few people around.

I'm not sure why this spot was the only one left open. It was right next to the water, level and huge.

And the tiny rapids outside the truck were a pleasant sound to sleep to.

#RealTalk - I'd never been to Idaho before. I've heard it's awesome, but had never spent any time there before. Even though it'd be short and we wouldn't see much of the state, I was stoked. Our spot for the night was at the Goodenough Creek Campground. We didn't realize it when we first picked the place, but there were very few spots. When we pulled in around 4pm we snagged the last available campsite (a few hours later we had some folks ask if they could use the tent pad {since we were staying in the truck and really only needed the parking space}, which was fine, so shared the spot). 

I couldn't agree more, Idaho!

Camping up in the clouds.

After we pop the top on the truck, the hubby pops the top on a beverage and we go explore.

Just in case you were wondering about our gourmet meals... Kimchi hot dogs on the fire are a perfect option!

And you better believe I busted out the s'more goodies since it was the first place we were staying with a firepit.

Day 4: McCammon, Idaho to Yellowstone National Park

Technically our reservation at the Madison Campground in Yellowstone National Park started around 2pm on Saturday, May 22nd, so we had the morning to drive from McCammon, Idaho to Yellowstone, Wyoming (about 3 hours/ 180 miles). 

Our first stop of the morning was Pocatello. We had seen on one of the sites that there was a pretty cool park so we figured we'd stop by. When we got there and were wrapping things up, we realized we would be at our next location about 45 minutes before it opened, so why not throw on some running clothes and go out for a 5K cruise around the area?!

When I was looking at Google maps I noticed there was a zoo a few streets over, so we ran in that direction and saw quite a few animals out and about (it seemed pretty small, so maybe it was more of a petting zoo than a traditional zoo). We also ran through a park with a disc golf course set up that was OVERRUN with marmots. You may not know this about me, but marmots are a fave of mine. You can normally only see them at or above certain elevations in California (like on Mt Whitney), so when we saw hordes of them we had to stop and try to snap a picture. {The locals probably thought we had lost our marbles [and maybe I have ;)]... marmots to them are like ground squirrels are to us, but I didn't care!}

We saw marmots, goats, sheep, cows, a peacock, the ears of a mountain lion (NOT part of the petting zoo part, hehe,
he or she was in a separate area and we could only see their ears popping out over a rock), donkeys, a vulture, etc. 

I always love starting the day with a run, and a run around a random area in Idaho with plenty of animal sightings was a pretty great way to kick off our Saturday. Eventually we made it back to the truck and hit the road to our next adventure. 

Our pace was "off" because of all the animal stops and photo attempts ;)

The hubby told me when we started planning the drive that there was one place he "needed" to go... The Idaho Potato Museum. Well, ask and you shall receive. The Idaho Potato Museum was a bit off our route, but that didn't matter. It was $6/ adult and the hubby thought it was well worth the $12 admission fee for us to learn about the history of the potato (and the museum) AND to RACE POTATOES! We probably spent about an hour in the museum (and although I thought it was a bit silly and wouldn't go back, I was okay with supporting the local community and making the hubby happy). 

Who loves potatoes?! We love potatoes ;)

A World Record Potato Chip (from Pringles)



Let's just say I was winning until my Potato Head had a wardrobe malfunction...
His hat came off mid-race and slowed him down... DRATS!

After our "important" detour, we were back on the road towards Wyoming with one last pit stop before we made it to Yellowstone... The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. The hubby found out about this spot a few years back and has always wanted to go - so we HAD TO make it happen! I think he learned about the center when he was researching coolers for our AdventureMobile. I'm not sure if you've noticed it or not, but some products are actually "bear rated". He was wondering how they got that seal of approval and found out that brands will send their goods to this location, give the item to the animals and see if they can break into it. (They also do some other amazing things, but that is what first peaked his interest... he wanted to see a grizzly jumping up and down on a cooler, trying to get out a tasty treat.) Although the entrance fee was $15 per person {good for two days}, we figured it was going to a good cause (and the hubby was beyond excited to check it out), so we sprung for the experience and ended up spending almost two hours there.

FYI - They were not currently doing any container testing while we were there, which the 
hubby was pretty bummed about, but learning about the animals was still pretty awesome.

My favorite part was watching the otters. I think I could have stayed there all day watching them scurry around and swim to and fro. It's funny, but when we give Walt a bath we call him an otter pup, so it was sort of like having him with us ;) 

It was so fun watching these two otters chase each other around the enclosure.

But trying to snap a decent photo of them was almost impossible!

They were like lightning fast and the glare on the glass was pretty terrible!

We watched the bears for a while. The staff will "enrich" the areas, hiding food and treats for the animals to find (they also do this in the wolf enclosure as well), so it was fun to watch them explore their area, as well as play with one another. 


This was before their area was "enriched", but I thought how they were napping on each other was too sweet!

Once we said goodbye to our furry friends, it was time to check out the spot we'd be calling home for the coming days. 

We should have known that the soggy entrance sign would be a foreshadowing of the weather we'd experience...

Be bear aware... ALWAYS!

Make sure to check back for what went down in Yellowstone, the Grand Teton NP and our journey home. {As I'm sure you can imagine, these recaps take time to put together, and seeing as we were gone for two weeks, we came back to tons to do as we re-entered "real life", so the posts might be spread over a few weeks, but I promise they'll be worth the wait ;)}


Do you enjoy the journey just as much as the final destination?

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