Western Follies

So as usual, we depart the house at 10pm, as this ensures that we drive without any traffic and we can make great time. As expected, even with one lane in the interstate for many miles, I was alone and make quick progress through Pennsylvania.

By the time the sun came up, my wife has been asleep for about 7 hours, and it was time to pull over and switch up, so we pulled over at the next rest stop, took in the sunrise, had a quick bathroom break, and onwards!

During the day, clear skies and the miles tumbled one by one. Unfortunately, a box with big tires and sloppy steering requires a bit of knowledge to drive quickly, so the wife was comfortable at 65mph, above that she was tensing up grabbing the steering wheel too tightly and tiring herself out. I didn’t mind as we weren’t in any sort of rush.

Saw an interesting Nike ad that caught my attention….

After a few more state lines, the skies stopped being so friendly….

…and opened up like I haven’t seen in quite some time.

Visibility was probably 1-2 carlengths at the worst of it, and we did drive past two interstate closing accidents…..

The first one was a semi that lost control and hit the ditch, causing the tractor and the trailer to separate and dump his cargo all over the highway…

The second was more grim looking….a semi rear ended a sedan (this is another screen grab from gopro footage, look through the driver’s side window.)

After probably another 30 minutes of rain that seemingly kept following up, the skies finally started to clear up

Driving through Iowa reminded me a lot of driving through Tuscany, a lot of green rolling hills and farmland, only it was more corn than grapes 

During our dinner stop, my wife mentioned to me that if we are planning to possibly head up to Canada/Montana, we dont have the time to see everything I had marked up on the above map. A quick evaluation of my timeline made me quickly realize that she was right, I was over ambitious with the planning and I wouldn’t have enough time to make it home before I needed to head back to work, so after some deliberation, we decided to cut off the northern part of the state, and stay on i80, then head UP to Jackson, Tetons, Yellowstone, etc.  So I finally settled in for the last night shift, and when the sun comes up, we will have crossed the Wyoming state line. It was a tiring night shift, but listening to good podcasts made it tolerable, but the backside was starting to get sore. Luckily, I saw the sun peeking through the horizon….(notice the bug/guts covered windshield  )

Sadly it was dark out prior to this and I missed the Wyoming state line sign, oh well, next time. While I was excited to be in Wyoming (which meant the long drive is over,) I was not prepared to be greeted with one of the best sunrises I have ever seen. Not even Hawaii gave us a sunrise with so many colors and with such intensity. I even had to break out the big boy camera for it.

The temps were nice and cool, just what I wanted, to escape the NJ heat….so much so that the cool temps actually set off the TPMS with a drop in PSI.

Hustling through the eastern part of the state, we were about to make it to our first stop…

(luckily I can’t really go much faster than that  )

So the first stop was in the middle of nowhere….and driving there was a bit of a pain down more monotonous roads…

When I arrived at the turnoff, there was a dusty turnoff that seeme to lead into the hills

(image courtesy of google maps street view)

There were two cars at the intersection on the road that we were on, and they watched in utter bewilderment why a vehicle from NJ is crawling onto this weird dusty track. The surface was sandy and loose, and very hollow, almost as if underneath the sand there were pockets of air that collapsed as I drove over them, so I needed 4WD in this section. The road seemed to cross over itself a bunch of times almost like a maze, so I had to resort pulling out my GPS to see satellite images so I can trace my “steps” to the destination. Finally after a few more minutes of driving/looking around, we spot it in the distance.

Long before GPS and modern pilot instrumentation, airmail pilots had to rely on visual ground “beacons” to help them navigate their way around the nation. Deployed in 1924, these beacons helped mail get delivered 2 days faster by allowing pilots to continue flying at night, as they no longer had to land and load the mail onto rail cars, and at it’s peak, there were 285 of these beacons across the nation. If you look closely, in one of the photos you will notice a “box” outline on the ground where something once stood. In this box stood a tower that would light up the arrow so the pilots could see it clearly at night. Most of these beacons on the east coast have been destroyed, a few pieces remain on private property, but out west, many remain waiting to be found like a classic western treasure hunt. This particular beacon indicated a heading for the Chicago to San Francisco route.

Drone error/lesson 1…always make sure you have autofocus turned ON. Unfortunately, the photos (like the single one above) and the video from this location was all blurry, as I had manual focus turned on for some reason (by accident Im sure) and as a result, the video, and the pics of me and the wife taken from the air are worthless. You have no idea how angry I was when I got to the hotel. I also later learned that you can playback the video from the drone to the phone wirelessly to double check that the video/photos are on point. “Expensive” lesson to learn, as it cost me time and a priceless photo. Really a shame, but what can you do.

So after this quick stop, we hit the road to our next destination. The destination is Killpecker Sand Dunes, the second largest active dune field in the world, as well as being 1 of only 7 singing dune fields in the world. For those unfamiliar with the concept of singing sand, check this out….. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_sand

So after some slightly more interesting driving,

We arrived at the dirt turnoff.

Before hitting the dunes, I wanted to check out Boar’s Tusk, a rock formation that rises up in the middle of nowhere, is essentially a volcanic plug. So we start our drive, which is actually quite long, and realize OMG, this entire road is corrugation hell. If you have never driven on a corrugated road, it’s an extremely unpleasant experience. If feels like Thor has picked up your vehicle with you in it, and is shaking it like a clogged salt shaker, and the more carefully you drive, it seems the worst it gets. After about a mile of punishment, we couldn’t take it anymore. So we pulled over for a little chat….so I decided I would try something else, instead of driving slowly, Im going to hit the pedal to the metal and “go fast Ricky Bobby,” hoping that my tires wouldn’t have the time to fall into the dips and the ride would smooth out. I also knew that this puts A LOT of strain on the shocks (I run Rancho 9000s), but regardless, driving slowly was not an option, especially for 28 miles. In the trailer you see me bombing down that road, and wouldn’t you know it, the ride was as smooth as butter. We did pass a few rental “SUVs” that were pulled over with what looked like smoking brakes, but it wasn’t the brakes that were smoking, it was their shock fluid. Another vehicle had 2 puddles near the back tires, the shocks puked up all their fluid. I felt mine at the end of the ride and while they were fairly warm, they were not blown or had any damage.

After a few miles, we arrive at the turnoff for boars tusk. I make it about 100 feet before realizing Im driving in pretty caked mud..dry at the surface but sopping wet underneath…it must have rained here very recently, and the conditions made the road impassable. To add insult to injury, before my trip, I ordered a set of MAXTRAX to help if I got stuck in the sand or mud, but UPS lost the shipment, and it was too late to order another set before my Sunday departure. To make it not a total loss, I said, ok, I can’t get there with the Jeep, let me at least get some drone footage. So I bust out the mavic, and let it loose. I do a nice 15 flight, and bring it back…only to realize…

Drone Error/Lesson #2…..always make sure you hit record before you set out on your flight. I was so worried about getting nice and smooth footage, that I forgot to hit record, so all that flight was for nothing. However, later that night when I got to my hotel, I realized that everything I would have recorded was out of focus anyway (same day as the concrete arrow) but I didn’t know that at the time, so you can image my frustration. At this point, the wife was starting to get annoyed, as we’ve spent a big part of the day and decent detour out of “the way” to get here, without a payoff. This is boar’s tusk (not my photo)

I knew I didn’t have much time left in terms of wife’s tolerance, so I took off towards the dunes…which again, were underwhelming from a get out and look perspective.

They were not very large and “dune looking” from the ground level, and because we were absolutely alone, and I had no method of extraction should I get stuck in the sand, I made a safety call NOT to go out onto the dunes. I guess I will have to save my dune exploration for the Dumont dunes on something when I venture out to Nevada. These dunes however, were wide, and the sand went on as far as the eye can see.

Feeling a bit deflated and a bit frustrated, I pulled a hoonigan and bombed my way out of those 28 miles, reaching speeds of nearly 75mph…..and as a seasoned tail of the dragon driver, it must say it was the most exciting piece of driving I’ve ever done. Going fast on dirt is 1000X more exciting that doing it on concrete.

After this “misadventure” we grabbed a quick lunch and once again hit the open road….

On the way to getting some ice cream cones…

we decided to pull over for a bite to eat, and have a little talk. We were approximately 590 miles away from Jackson at this point, and learning my lesson from our Hawaii trip (going to volcano national park during a time where the winds were blowing the wrong way and 95% of the park was closed) as well as my last trip where I was locked out of the shafer switchbacks, I decided to look up current conditions in the big parks. Now I should point out, a good number of locals advised me to stay away from these parks in August, as it is PACKED with tourists, on 1 lane roads, constant traffic jams (talking 2-3 hours+) and just generally a miserable time…so much so, that locals never go to these parks in the summer. I looked up the current conditions and Im reading there are fires throughout, and they are closing this entrance and that entrance, etc….learning my lessons from prior trips, we made the decision to scrap our northern route, save the Wyoming/Montana parks for another time (not peak season) and head south into Utah instead.

After a long 4 days of living out of a cooler and roadside food, we were finally able to grab a decent dinner….

and take a day to rest up and recharge the ol’ batteries in Park City UT, for tomorrow, I get to cross an item off my bucket list that I’ve been wanting to see with my own eyes for a LONG time.

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