3,200 miles in 11 Days; Mark’s Vacation Recap

A LOT of driving; that would best describe the past 11 days of my life. 

I’ve never done a big road trip with my family so I figured we should do it big.  And we did.   On the day of the Grand Floral Parade I packed up the travel trailer, fueled up (the first of 18 gas station stops), and headed for Reno.  I got there at sunset and met my wife and two kids who had been staying with relatives for a week.

Then it was on to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone.   Did you know it’s possible to do a 4 hour trip of Yellowstone, including standing with 1,000 others watching Old Faithful do its thing?  We did.

It totalled 3,255 miles.  Longest day was about 650 from Reno, NV to Green River, UT.  That was a 14 hour day, compounded by lots of up and down on the Loneliest Highway in the USA, plus I forgot we lose an hour traveling into Mountain Time.

Here are a few thoughts:

1.  Even though I am one of the chief complainers about our cloudy and wet weather, I’ll try to complain a bit less.  It’s amazing at what a narrow strip of “greenness” we are here in western Oregon and Washington.  The entire rest of the Western USA is never far from drought if not in it.  Only the 1st 100 miles and the last 50 were real green (okay, some in northern Idaho too).  All the rest of the drive was mostly sagebrush, dry grass, and some trees at times.  Even the Rockies aren’t nearly as green as the Cascades.  You have to get up around 8,000′ or so in Colorado to see trees.

2.  Weirdest Sight?  In Wyoming I saw a pickup towing a scary old travel trailer (think “free candy”)…which was towing a trailer with 4 wheelers!  Is that legal?  Looked like a nightmare waiting to happen on a windy freeway.   Sorry, no pic, but really, I did see it.

3.  No Thunderstorms!  Can you believe all those days traveling in summer through Nevada, Utah, and the Rockies, I didn’t see a single flash of lightning or hear a rumble of thunder?  Ughhh, no exciting weather at all.  Lots of sunny warm days and very cold nights in spots. 

4.  Favorite Places.  Grand Teton National Park was my favorite, and beautiful.  So was Yellowstone, but leaving Old Faithful I felt like I was in a mall parking lot looking for my car…too many people and too big.  I did feel that it was important to share in that time-honored American tradition of going faster than the speed limit in a national park.  Wow…45 mph maximum for about 50 miles…slow.  Oh, and at one point I had to slam on the brakes because the fancy sports care ahead of me slowed down to take a (moving) picture of some sort of wildlife.  Pull off the road!

5.  Most Interesting Spot I Didn’t Know About.  Quake Lake was formed in 1959 when a huge landslide came off a mountain, damming the Madison River (just NW of Yellowstone Park).   You can see all the dead trees still sticking out of the water.   This is a picture of the mountain, still bare after 50+ years. 

6. Dumpster Fire at Truck Stop in Ritzville.  This appeared to be the most exciting event for our kids…on the last day.  Pulling into the gas station, flames were leaping out of a metal dumpster.  I just shrugged and mumbled “it’ll burn down, at least they’ll have more space for garbage”.  Instead my son leaped out and did a running commentary on the firefighters arriving.  He’ll probably be posting that HD video on YouTube I suppose…good times.

7.  Why can’t we pump our own gas in Oregon?  So bizarre…and I even grew up here!  I could get in and out of a gas station in 3-5 minutes easily in other states.  Here I have to wait for someone to come out.  Sometimes on the way home at midnight it’s quite a wait.

By the way, I wouldn’t advise doing all that driving in such a short period.  We decided to do about half that mileage next year during the same period. 

Speaking of mileage, at each stop I kept a running tab on miles, gas used, mileage, and cost.   We were pulling our hybrid travel trailer with a Toyota 4Runner.  It normally gets about 18 mpg, but I only average 11-13 mph towing.  Note the really bad mileage at the end.  Strong west wind from Butte, Montana all the way to Hood River (briefly calm in N. Idaho).

45 Responses to 3,200 miles in 11 Days; Mark’s Vacation Recap

  1. weathercrazy82 says:

    Very nice Mark! My longest road trip was 4140 in 9 days, but then again, I didn’t have kids and a wife to drag along either 🙂

    Also, I found Earthquake Lake too. Not only is it pretty, but I had never heard about it either. Plus there is a nice little camping area (which I’ll keep secret) nearby. In fact, I think it’s one of the prettiest campsites I’ve ever been to.

  2. Dave in South Salem (500') says:

    Yeah in the summer you hate not being able to pump your own gas… try living in Colorado for a winter and you’ll wish you had someone there to pump gas for you.

  3. paulbeugene says:

    Had a couple brief thunderstorms yesterday evening/last night here at Black Butte in central OR…only saw one CG bolt..rest was CC.

    Looks like with short wave exiting to the NE may get some filtered sun through high clouds to get some more instability this afternoon. Nothing severe. If this upper low was just a bit farther S and W would have had a decent convective outbreak both sides of Cascades.

  4. Sandi (Wilsonville) says:

    Welcome back Mark! Maybe you can rest up now from all that driving, huh? I’ve seen much of that country, but not all on one trip. Wow! If you enjoyed Teton NP, consider a trip up through the Canadian Rockies (esp. Banff NP). The mighty Columbia River is just a stream up there. (We included Glacier NP on that trip, too). Beautiful country!

  5. Garron near Washington Square says:

    Umm, I’m not sure, but I really think an advisory should be issued east of the cascades for these type of showers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Quote from the NOAA morning report, probably BEFORE they had their coffee!!!!




  6. Fred482 says:

    Hi Mark,
    Glad you and your family are back safe and that you had a good time. Every time I go outside Western Oregon, I remember why I live here! I wouldn’t trade our area for any place.

  7. Dale Hubert says:

    Love all the details of your trip. Really It did made me want to do it myself. Almost. I totally agree about all that area of land with no trees, depressing. Was in the Prineville area a while ago and although they have trees it is nothing like home. Once we hit Mt. Hood National Forest it felt like home again. Love my trees.

  8. bgb41 says:

    6/21/2012 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:98 at Rye Valley(I-84(2230 ft)
    Low: 62 at Rowena(107 ft) & AC7WN Hermiston(497 ft)

    High:54 at YACHTS Yachats(82 ft)
    Low: 31 at CRANE PRAIRIE (5500 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 57 degrees
    FOSTER FLAT (91/34 ) (5000 ft )

  9. Nice. I love road trips and going south by southeast thru Nevada and back up is such a fine rep of the the American SW. This IS the green patch we live. Great to hear your recap. Now lets hear about how fantastic its going to be after this little down turn!

  10. Dave in SW PDX (235') says:

    This should be a good night to observe the International Space Station making an orbital pass over Portland – at approx 10:12-10:14pm tonight look to the west about 20° above the horizon and you can’t miss it. It’ll be visible for 4-5 minutes as it passes almost directly overhead. Worth a look!


    • W7ENK says:

      Too bad it’s cloudy now. Just like when the auroras were visible over Oregon last Saturday night. 😦

    • AdamInAumsville says:

      Just saw it! Bright, and man, that thing is going fast. Also saw some flashes of lightning to my SE.

    • runrain says:

      Wow!! I just saw the space station pass over and I was cool! It kind of pulsed as it went behind some of the high thin clouds. It moved from northwest to southeast almost directly overhead.

    • Dave in SW PDX (235') says:

      Yeah, the high clouds almost ruined the show, but it was still very bright tonight.

    • Mr Data says:

      I saw some lighting flashes too. 3 to be exact but now there is a long pause.

    • W7ENK says:

      Sounds like it cleared out on the West side then? Top o’ the hill in Oregon City, I could see a couple of stars to the South and a narrow strip of twilight low to the SW, but solid clouds to the North, East, West and up. Didn’t see any lightning, either.

  11. ben says:


  12. Garron near Washington Square says:

    Wow, very impressive trip. I was planning to hit Jellystone Park this summer myself, and maybe pick up a few fireworks along the way…And, yes I would like to be able to pump my own gas too! My last car I had 2 gas caps broken off, as they were over twisted, I suppose. I made the mistake of mumbling “I wish I could break my own gas cap myself!” and the gas attendant got quite irritated by my comment. I always love the drive from Oregon coast to Umatilla Oregon. The changes in landscape are awestriking.

    I’m just glad you and family are back safe and sound, WELCOME BACK! And tghe skies outside almost look like we might get a few flare up thunder cells in the W. Valley just to welcome you back….

    • Garron near Washington Square says:

      Also, I used to make the trip from grandma’s house in Taylor, North Dakota, to Beaverton, Or. in about 18 hours. Pretty much a straight driving time with a couple of food/gas stops. Talk about a llllooooooooong day!!! I’d leave about 5 AM (our time) and by the time I got to The Dalles (usually) around 11 PM, I’d swear I could see the electricity arching through the massive power lines around the dam. It always seemed as soon as I got to the Idaho/Washington border, I was almost home and might as well press on home…Those last 100 miles or so were the longest ever…

  13. Mr Data says:

    I forgot to quote it.


    … Record low temperature set at Troutdale or…

    a record low temperature of 45 degrees was set at Troutdale or
    yesterday. This ties the old record of 45 set in 1951. unquote.

  14. Mr Data says:

    Troutdale Oregon tied a record low yesterday morning.
    … Record low temperature set at Troutdale or…

    a record low temperature of 45 degrees was set at Troutdale or
    yesterday. This ties the old record of 45 set in 1951.

    Brrrrrrrr! I wonder if anybody here will break the record for the coldest average nights in June?

    This is like a redux of the 1950s.

  15. W7ENK says:

    Jeez, when did Baltimore move to Mercury…
    Holy Crap!!! 😯

  16. David B. says:

    Too bad you spent so little time at Yellowstone. It can be really worth having some patience and hanging around to see if “action” happens.

    Last time I was there was ages ago, but I noticed that Giantess Geyser (one of the largest in the park, but it erupts only a few times per year) was doing what the guidebook said it did before it erupted, and begged everyone else to linger. Giantess, Castle, and another major geyser whose name escapes me now ended up going off as well as Old Faithful.

    • Mr Data says:

      It’s amazing Yellowstone Monument is now like the Washington Square mall crowd wise.

    • David B says:

      @Mr. Data: Even back in the mid-80s (which is when I last was to Yellowstone), there were hordes there. The cloverleaf interchange near Old Faithful (and acres of parking lots) were already there. Though it’s probably even worse now.

  17. W7ENK says:

    Wow, quite the trip! Glad a fun time was had by all, and glad you all came back in one piece.

    Let me answer some of your questions:

    2) Yes, it is. Also in Idaho. Why? I don’t know. Seems like a really bad idea, but I guess there’s generally far less traffic on their roads back there.

    3) That sucks! Usually that’s my luck when I travel. I spent a week in Washington DC one June, experienced a passing cold front, not a single lightning strike. How does that even happen?!?

    4) Idiots and sports cars are virtually synonymous. Toss in a roadside buffalo and you’ve got a pileup in the making, so beware!

    5) Never even heard of it, sounds pretty cool! I’ll have to remember that for the next time I’m though Jellystone…

    6) Your son sounds just like me! 😆

    7) Gas stations in Oregon pay about 1/4 for liability insurance as compared to other states because the station has “trained professionals” there on hand to pump gas for the customers. Less risk for accidents, plus it creates jobs, so I don’t mind the wait so much. It’s really nice when the 20 degree wind is blowing snow around the pumps sideways, I only have to crack the window enough to slip my card through! Not thit-that will ever happen in Portland again… 😕

    Glad you had a great time, welcome home Mark!

    Now, get back to work, summer’s supposed to be here!!!

  18. JSmith says:

    Sorry, I meant Arches Natl Park. Dinosaur is farther north and is certainly another must see.

  19. JSmith says:

    You missed Dinosaur National Park?? It is a must see. You were right there.

  20. chiefWright (Marquam) says:

    Like the story of Earthquake Lake. Reminds me of Table Rock & the Bridge of the Gods. Interesting to compare the relative progress of the one 60 years ago vs the one 260 years ago. Makes me wonder what new lake might get formed when cascadia decides to unzip again?

  21. Jeremy KF7NGT says:

    Izee, Seneca, Prairie City, Dayville, Mt. Vernon, John Day, Granite, Pine Creek, and Fox last weekend. Deer, elk, turkey, pronghorns, coyotes, snakes. I do love this state!

  22. runrain says:

    PDX to Reno is one of my favorite drives. Crossing the Cascaded into the pine and sagebrush country, hitting the CA stateline, the dusty downs of Alturas and Adin, winding down the hill to Susanville, the seemingly endless last 70 miles to Reno (passing that strange isolated town of Herlong on the way). And of course the side trips from Reno to Virginia City and Lake Tahoe. With a good thunderstorm or two over the Sierra!

  23. Sifton says:

    Brookings, & lately the Napa Valley have been calling my name, warmer Southbound & still fairly lush & green.

  24. bgb41 says:

    6/20/2012 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:91 at ILLINOIS VALLEY(1389 ft)
    Low: 55 at CW8449 Charlesto(322 ft)

    High:50 at Timberline Lodge(7001 ft)
    Low: 22 at CRANE PRAIRIE (5500 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 56 degrees
    Horse Ridge (US (84/28 ) (4160 ft )

  25. It’s easy to forget just how exceptional the lush maritime PNW look is in the western USA. It ends as soon as you go east of Hood River or over the Cascade passes or over Sexton Summit in SW Oregon.

    The Dalles, in particular, is pretty much the “Gateway to the Great Northern Desert.” I can think of no other town in western North America that rolls out the “red carpet” in this manner. Almost instantaneous shift from temperate rainforest to cool temperate desert/steppe. And in between, a nice little belt with an almost eerie resemblance to California and the Mediterranean.

  26. rianmuleback says:

    I’ll be doing a PDX, to Reno, to Lake Tahoe, to Florence, OR, to Lincoln City, OR back to PDX starting Friday. Should be good driving weather, I hope, and I’ll get roughly 30mpg’s. Oh, and I’ll spend 2 weeks for the whole trip so it sounds like I’ll have a bit more time to relax.

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