Day 3: Whirlwind Yellowstone tour

Snow and ice cover the walls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone below Lower Falls.

Snow and ice dust the walls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone below Lower Falls.

Growing up, my family would spend a couple of weeks every few years visiting Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I wish I had the time on this trip to do that, but I have to get moving east.  I did the highlights of Yellowstone in a day, and it wasn’t nearly enough time.

Today took me up through Grand Teton National Park, through parts of Yellowstone, and out to Cody, Wyoming. It was a very special and spectacular day. Special, because I saw things that I haven’t seen since I was in my teens. Spectacular, due to the amazing, unseasonal weather. I started before sunrise, in 16 degree temperatures. It warmed rapidly, and by the time I got to Old Faithful it was around 60 degrees and sunny.

I missed the moment of sunrise on the Grand Tetons. I was turned the other way, photographing a group of 5 moose alongside the road. It was so cool.

Alongside my digital cameras, I’m going old school on this trip with a medium format film camera. I’m reminding myself of how a photo is supposed to be made, with thought, purpose, patience and more skill than pointing your cell phone requires. And you only have 12 exposures per roll of film, so you have to make them count.

The red canoe that I’m carrying back to North Carolina still has its national park permit stickers from 1973, ’74 and ‘75. The ranger at the south entrance of Yellowstone was amazed by that. Then he wanted to make sure it wasn’t going in the water today, because I’d have to pay to update the stickers a bit.  I did have to get the boat inspected for invasive species, which was funny as the boat hasn’t been in the water in 20+ years.

My timing at Old Faithful was perfect. It erupted less than 5 minutes after I arrived. After a few days of driving, I really needed to get some exercise, so I walked a 4-mile loop around the geyser basin, and caught 2 more geysers erupting. By the way, Old Faithful is at about 7,400 feet above sea level.  I’ll remember that next time I decide to take a hike there. I needed more oxygen, but I made up for yesterday’s waffles.

Much of what park rangers have to do is protect stupid people from themselves. I watched as someone walked to within 20 feet of a bison, turn his back to it, and take a selfie. At least if something went wrong, the last photo would have been amazing.

A bear, a bear, I saw a bear!

A bear, a bear, I saw a bear!

It’s a great time to be in the parks because the watchable wildlife seemed to outnumber the few tourists. All the services, except the visitors’ centers, were closed. Besides the aforementioned moose and hundreds of bison, I also saw elk and completed the day with a grizzly bear sighting. A grizzly is the holy grail of Yellowstone wildlife watching.

Alas, too much to see, and too little time. I had to head out of the park via a route that took me through an area that was ravaged by the fires of 1995. The comeback has new evergreens growing up through the burned, yet standing, timber.

The road from the east entrance of the park to Cody, Wyoming is the scariest road I’ve ever driven. In the 70 miles of highway, there were over 50 deer crossing the road or standing on the shoulder. And those were just the ones I saw. The speed limit was 65, I was doing 40, and that was still white knuckle all the way.

Me and my shadow.

Me and my shadow.

Cumulative MPG in the Sorento has bounced back up after a day of driving 45 mph through the parks. The seat heaters were essential this morning, quick to warm and toasty. By afternoon, it was warm enough that I was using the front seat ventilators which filter cool air through the seat surface. Xenon headlights are only available on the top of the line Sorento, and I sorely wished I had them on the drive tonight.

Total miles: 166
Total steps hiked, according to my FitBit: 15,397
Start: Jackson, Wyoming
Finish: Cody, Wyoming
Next up: Rapid City, South Dakota and Mount Rushmore

Cross-country adventure: To the Tetons

Day2No2

Even though they’ve already had a few snowfalls, there are still spots of fall color in Grand Teton National Park.

Another great day on the road.  Not a cloud in the sky, and temperatures in the mid 60’s.

Thursday started with a long slog across the southern edge of Idaho. When you’re driving across Idaho you have lots of time to think. Really, lots of time. I spent the time trying to figure out why southern Idaho exists, and I came up with four reasons:

1)      To make southern Wyoming feel better about itself.

2)      As a place to base ICBMs, although they don’t even do that there anymore.

3)      To grow tasty potatoes which later become McDonalds French fries.

4)      Windmills and cows.  Lots of both.  Sometimes sharing the same pastures.

OK, with number 3 in there, I guess there is some redeeming value. Fortunately, the speed limit is 75 mph most of the way across, so you can eat up the miles pretty quickly. Although I was tempted, I passed on visiting the National Museum of the Potato. Yes, there is such a place.

As you turn northeast towards Wyoming the scenery gets better and better as you cross the Teton Pass and drop into Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Jackson is the gateway to Grand Teton National Park, and it’s been years since I’ve visited. The western-themed town has grown quite a lot larger than the last time I was there. Is that a good thing or not? I’m not sure. It now feels kind of like an elite ski town. It was really weird to see the antler arches in the town square lit up with purple LED lighting. It was just wrong.

I spent the afternoon driving through Grand Teton National Park.  Some advice here: if you’re going to visit more than one National Park in a year, buy the annual pass that gets you into most park, monuments, and other federally controlled properties.  It’s only $80/year, while just the entry to Grand Teton NP is $25 and is only good for 7 days.

Rare for this time of year, all of the roads in the park are still open, although most of the facilities are closed for the season. There are so few visitors this time of year that it’s like you have the park to yourself. Even the wildlife realizes that there aren’t as many vehicles on the road, and are using the roads for themselves.

A whole herd of healthy elk wandered across the road in front of the car, with no sense of urgency or alarm. They almost don’t need to have rangers enforcing traffic laws, as fear of hitting an animal is a pretty good deterrent to speeding. Just as it was getting dark, I passed a meadow covered with hundreds of bison. Of course, American bald eagles are plentiful around the mountain lakes and Snake River.

There's lots of wildlife to be seen, and sometimes the park feels like you have it all to yourself.

There’s lots of wildlife to be seen, and sometimes the park feels like you have it all to yourself.

The 2014 Kia Sorento continues to run like a champ, although at speeds over 75 mileage starts dropping precipitously. Even in the EcoMode you drop about 2 mpg between 70 and 80 mph.  Keep in mind, however, the massive red boat on the roof destroying the finely crafted aerodynamics of the SUV. Plus, I’m a 6,000 feet altitude in the Rockies, and the Sorento is naturally-aspirated (not a turbo.)

Since the Satellite radio antenna is completely blocked by the big red boat, I’ve been relying on my iPhone music library and streaming music from Pandora. The Sorento SX features a phenomenal Infinity audio system, which is powerful enough even to drown out the wind noise from all of the straps holding down the canoe.

It’s supposed to get into the low 20s overnight, so I’ll be testing the seat heaters tomorrow morning.

Miles today: 447
States: Idaho, Wyoming
Start: Boise, Idaho
End: Jackson, Wyoming
Tomorrow: Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

 

Cross-country adventure: And it begins.

My view for the next couple of weeks. If it changes, it probably means I've lost the boat, and that would be bad.

My view for the next couple of weeks. If it changes, it probably means I’ve lost the boat, and that would be bad.

It was a beautiful day for a drive. Today’s segment took me from a late start at home in Portland to Boise, Idaho. The route followed I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge, through the Blue Mountains, and across the rolling hills of eastern Oregon. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of fall color, but I was pleasantly surprised as I drove though the Blues with the dramatic swaths of golden color.

Growing up so close to it I’ve always taken the Columbia River Gorge for granted, but it truly is a magnificent corridor. Trouble is that it funnels wind from the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains to the west. That makes for a challenging drive in car, let alone an SUV with a 17-foot canoe on top. Thanks to the guys at Portland’s ReRack who helped me design the Yakima rack system on top of the Sorento, the canoe stayed solid and stable. But it killed my gas mileage.

Once I got out of the gorge, the mileage number started climbing, and the Sorento is now getting over 20 mpg.  That’s pretty darn good with the aerodynamic penalty of the boat.

Although some find it boring, I’ll take driving across eastern Oregon over driving north or south on I-5 from Portland any day. The only problem is the archaic 65 mph speed limit that makes driving in Oregon feel like you’re driving in quicksand. But that’s behind me.  I’m now in the land of the 75 mph limit.  WooHoo.

Taking a break after entering Idaho.

Taking a break after entering Idaho.

The 2014 Sorento is doing a great job, and I’m learning about all the little things that make a long drive more pleasant. For one, the Sorento’s navigation system can list all of the upcoming rest areas, so you can time your stops. Like most automotive journalists, I loathe most electric power steering systems. But when you’re driving in high winds, an electric steering unit can do a great job of adjusting itself to eliminate drifting. The Kia offers three steering modes, so the feel and feedback can be tweaked for different driving conditions.

Gas is expensive here in Boise. I just paid $3.64/gallon at the Costco here. I can’t wait to see what the price will be as I get close to the Grand Tetons tomorrow.  Ugh.

Total miles: 413

Start: Portland, Oregon

Finish: Boise, Idaho

Tomorrow: Jackson, Wyoming

Introduction

Call it the bucket list, midlife crisis or just say John’s gone crazy.

I was fortunate to travel across the western U.S. and Canada with my family in the classic Ford LTD Country Squire wagon . This time the car will be much less crowded.

I was fortunate to travel across the western U.S. and Canada with my family in the classic Ford LTD Country Squire wagon . This time the car will be much less crowded.

I’ve always wanted to drive across the United States. Given that I’m currently, umm, “between opportunities,” it seems like a good time to check that off the list.  Who knows when, or even if, the opportunity will present itself again. I’ll be driving almost corner to corner — from Portland, Oregon to Miami, Florida.

I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to many places in America, but usually it’s been by airplane. As magic as it is to see the country from 30,000 feet, it’s much cooler to see it from 5’11”.

Since I was little — and that was a long, long time ago — my family has owned a bright red 17-foot Grumman canoe. We carried that boat all over the western U.S. and Canada, dropping it in the water at every scenic mountain lake we could find. It rode on the classic family truckster, a 1968 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon with a monster 392 cubic-inch V-8 under the hood.

My father has now decreed that the boat should go to live with my nieces in North Carolina. So I’m strapping it to the top of a 2014 Kia Sorento and I’m going to take it there. After dropping it off in Raleigh, I’ll hang a hard right to head for my ultimate destination, Miami, Florida.

Along the way I’ll be sharing my journey via my blogs: johnmvincent.com, my portfolio site and vincentsdozen.com, my brand spankin’ new vehicle review site. Plus several times each day I’ll be posting about the adventure on my Facebook and Twitter (@OregonianCarGuy) feeds.

I’m going to try not to make too much fun of the desolation of southern Idaho, but I’m not sure how successful I’ll be.

What’s my itinerary? I don’t really have one. Depending on the weather, I’ll probably try to drive through Yellowstone and by Mt. Rushmore and the St. Louis Gateway Arch. I’m doing the trip solo, so if I see a sign that says “World’s biggest ball of twine, next left” and I feel like seeing the world’s biggest gosh darn ball of twine, I can go see the world’s biggest gosh darn ball of twine.

I'll be driving a 2014 Kia Sorento as I journey across the country.

I’ll be driving a 2014 Kia Sorento as I journey across the country.

After dropping off the boat, I’m not sure how I’ll go to Florida, whether along the coast or closer to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I may even visit my pal Mickey Mouse as I head through Florida.

How long is it going to take?  I have to be in Miami by November 7. That’s my only deadline, although it would be kinda cool to go trick or treating with the nieces in North Carolina.

Do I have the most understanding wife on the planet? Yes I do. But she also realizes that I could have wanted to sell my car and do this trip on a Harley. For the fact that I’m driving an ultra-reliable Kia SUV, she is grateful.

What am I driving? My friends at Kia are loaning me the best midsize SUV available in the market today, a 2014 Kia Sorento. Substantially updated for 2014, the 3.3-liter V-6 powered Sorento should provide ample thrust across the Rockies with efficiency that shouldn’t drain my wallet. I must confess, however, that I’m going to absolutely destroy the aerodynamics that they spent so much time perfecting by strapping a massive boat to the integrated roof rails.

The Sorento offers features and comfort surpassing many luxury models. I’ll be sharing more details on them as I go….

 

 John M. Vincent is a professional journalist based in Portland, Oregon. He’s the former automotive writer and custom publications photographer for The Oregonian.

Welcome to JohnMVincent.com

Mercedes-Benz SL550Welcome to my new website.  This site is devoted to the marketing of me!

In the coming weeks, this site will become the hub for information about my great cross-country adventure.  For those of you who don’t know, I’ll be driving across the United States in a couple of weeks, delivering the old family canoe to my nieces in North Carolina and then continuing on to the Miami Auto Show.

As with any new venture, your feedback is critical.  Just send me a note at JMVinc02@comcast.net.

Thanks,

John Vincent