Shujie planned a 9 day family road trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. She took care of all the logistics, all the food and most of the packing. Amelia and I just had to show up, and we were on our way!
We drove from San Francisco to Auburn where we picked up this T@G teardrop trailer:
The back of the trailer holds an outdoor kitchen (see photos below for days 3 and 8). The inside is really just a bed – but large enough for our family of 3 to sleep very comfortably.
The total distance for the trip was just under 2400 miles, of which about 1700 miles were with the trailer. We did about 40 hours of driving over the 9 days.
We had a mishap the 2nd day and another on the 3rd-last day; all part of the adventure, though both events could have ended our trip abruptly and badly, we fortunately discovered the problems in time and were able to continue our trip safely.
Here is our route with all the places we stayed over: http://goo.gl/87AI5N
Day 1 (Sunday): We drove from San Francisco and picked up the trailer from http://sierrateardrops.com/. The original plan was to then drive to Winnemucca NV and stay at a KOA campsite there. However, because of a late start we only got as far as Lovelock – 1 hour drive short of Winnemucca – when we started looking for a place to spend the night. We then spent about 15 minutes driving through Lovelock looking for an RV site, and another 15 minutes looking for a site at Rye Patch dam. We couldn’t find a place we wanted to sleep and was then tired enough that we decided to spend the night at a gas station:
It worked out really well. The gas station was open 24 hours so we could use the bathroom in the middle of the night. (And it was free!)
We got up early the next morning to find a praying mantis on the hood of the car:
Day 2 (Monday): We got up at 6 AM, washed up at the gas station’s bathroom and headed out. We stopped in Winnemucca for a sit-down breakfast at a Casino restaurant where I ordered a cup of coffee, and got a whole flask. So about 30 minutes after leaving Winnemucca we had to make a quick pitstop at a roadside stop (Valmy Rest Area). Here we noticed our first mishap: The 4-pin plug connecting the trailer wiring to the car was gone. The plug had come loose and was destroyed while dragging on the ground at 75mph. So we had no break lights or turn signals on the trailer.
We frantically started looking for a trailer dealer – the next one was 85 miles away in Elko. Luckily, we found a Napa Auto Parts in Battle Mountain, a mere 20 minutes later. Even luckier, they had the plug we needed and one of the salesmen attached it to the trailer wiring for us! (I need to send that shop some steaks or something to show my gratitude). I also bought electric tape to secure the new plug to the car, to make sure it didn’t come loose again.
We made a long stop for lunch at a beautiful green park in Elko. We had been awake for 7 hours, and had driven only 175 miles, so we weren’t going to get as close to Yellowstone as we had hoped. Using her phone, Shujie found a KOA campground at Arco in Wyoming and we started making our way there. On our way to Arco we passed the Craters of the Moon national monument.
At the Arco campground Amelia set up our sun tent as I read out the instructions:
Day 3 (Tuesday): For lunch we bought Subway sandwiches at a gas station; Amelia picked her own bread and toppings. But it turns out that Italian bread is white bread. Do not order this at Subway – it leads to inquiries about what one was thinking, and requests to aid the understanding of why one would order white bread for one’s daughter while one’s own sandwich and that of one’s spouse was made with perfectly fine whole wheat bread.
As we entered Yellowstone, we spotted an large male elk right away. It was too far away to get a good photo with a phone, but here’s our explorer looking at the elk:
Here’s our campsite at Madison Junction:
Day 4 (Wednesday): On our way to Old Faithful I wanted to do a detour to Mammoth Hot Springs. Here’s a tip: Driving 34.6 miles in Yellowstone can take as much a 2 hours because of: (a) spectacular sites to see along the way, (b) road construction with one-lane traffic, (c) bathroom breaks, and (d) wildlife sitings.
About 4 hours later than anticipated, we got to the Prismatic Pool:
Stops like this are very popular in Yellowstone and it’s hard to find parking in a regular car, never mind a car with a trailer. We were lucky to find a place to park.
Next stop: Old Faithful, along with about two thousand other people:
I think we were pretty tired after the day’s driving and site-seeing. There are no photos of our stay at Bridge Bay Campground.
Day 5 (Thursday): Before heading South to Grand Teeton National Park, we made a stop at Lake Yellowstone hotel. Here Amelia lost a tooth!
Later that day we set up camp at Colter Bay in Grand Teeton National Park:
In the afternoon it rained. I’m glad it did, because it made us go into the Visitor’s Center where we watched two great documentaries: A film about the massive 1988 fire at Yellowstone, and another narrating the reintroduction Gray Wolfs in Yellowstone.
In the evening we ate at the Ranch House restaurant. It’s the only night that Shujie didn’t cook for us, and it underscored how much better it is to eat food from your own kitchen: It’s healthier and way cheaper. We paid about $90/night for the trailer, which sounds like a lot of money considering that we still had to pay for the campsite, but since the trailer comes with a kitchen we probably saved $90/day in meals. (And perhaps again as much by stemming high sodium diet healthcare related expenses).
After dinner we paid $15 so all three of us could shower (national parks tend to not have showers at the campsite ablution blocks).
Day 6 (Friday): This was the only day we didn’t have to drive to another campsite. When we do this again we’ll plain on staying 2 nights as often as possible.
In the morning Amelia and I played by the lake while Shujie did laundry.
In the afternoon we took a boat ride to the foot of the Grand Teton mountains.
Day 7 (Saturday): This was the coldest morning at 38F. However, it warmed up soon enough. We got a relatively early start, had breakfast, packed up, hooked up the he trailer, checked it, checked it again, and started heading back home. We left the campsite at 9:15 AM, but had to stop again right away because the trailer in the rearview mirror looked like it was a little further back from the car than what I had gotten used to. We checked it again. Lo! It was 2” too far back from the car! The pin holding the towing ball to the hitch was gone! (It looks like this: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Reese-Towpower-5-8-in-Pin-and-Clip-7010500/202282290).
Bliksem! (Yes, sometimes I swear in front of my daughter).
It’s very hard to imagine how it could have fallen out. It’s even harder to imagine someone taking it (and leaving the hitch in place on top of that). I prefer to imagine a fairy had unintentionally cast a bad spell: “May your journey go off without a hitch”.
We unhitched the trailer, slid the towing ball out of the hitch, and went looking for a replacement pin. We had to drive all the way to Jackson to get a replacement pin. We finally were on our way again, with a new locking pin, at 1:15 PM. Two things about this: One: When you optimistically first look for a pin at the local general store, then at the next service station, then at the RV rental location, etc., etc., it takes two times longer than necessary before you inevitably end up at the closest Napa Auto Parts dealer, which for us was 48 miles away in Jackson. It’s probably better to just head straight to the Napa dealer, and skip all the other stops. Two: Yesterday (a week too late) I realized I could probably have used a few tent pegs as a temporary pin.
We drove until about 7 PM, with the usual frequent stops, and arrived at Nat-Soo-Pah Warm Springs. No photos from this day either, but it was a great place to spend the night.
Day 8 (Sunday): We drove toward Truckee through Nevada, which is a semi-dessert. We decided to stop for lunch in Carlin. On her phone, Shujie found a very green park. When we got there it turned out to be a cemetery. The cemeteries we saw in Nevada and Wyoming had spectacularly lush lawns. Amelia said cemeteries are for dead people. I disagreed; I think it’s for their friends and family who are still alive.
Not wanting to picnic in the cemetery, we found another small patch of green grass in front of the Wells Rural Electric Company. It was Sunday, so all was quiet and nobody came to chase us away. Shujie used the trailer kitchen to make sandwiches (whole wheat bread):
In the evening we camped at Coachland RV Park in Truckee, and enjoyed another great camping dinner. How idyllic!
Day 9 (Monday): Before heading back to Auburn we organized our stuff so when we dropped the trailer off we just had to transfer a few things from the trailer to our car. Which we did, except for my computer bag, which I put down on the ground to check out their new Outback trailer (btw, we plan on renting it next year).
I wanted to eat lunch at Ikeda in Auburn, but Shujie wanted to drive for another hour and eat lunch at Whole Foods in Davis. We got very close to Davis when I remembered my computer bag and we had to go back to Aburn to get it. On the up side, we then had lunch at Ikeda.
One of the fun things about pulling the little trailer is that it’s a nice conversation piece. Somebody would ask us about it almost every day. We’ll probably go with a slightly little bigger trailer next year, but it’ll be a long time before we go this big:
Technical Notes: The trailer weighed just over 1000lbs, so it was no problem for our 4-cylinder Subaru Outback. The Outback CVT adjusted smoothly on the hills, and the paddle shifters made it easy to control engine power and reduce speed when going up or downhill. On the way out to Yellowstone I kept the speed at 75 mph; on long steep climbs the RPMs would touch on 5000 to keep us at that speed. On the way back I was feeling less rushed and the outside temperature approached 100F, so I tried to keep RPMs at ~3000, which still kept us going at 60+mph on the hills. The average gas mileage for the trip was about 20mpg, which I think is very reasonable. The speed limit in the national parks is 45mph, which helped keep the gas consumption down. Without the trailer we probably would have averaged about 30 mpg for the whole trip.
The little T@G trailer uses a 4-pin connector. On their website, Sierra Teardrops recommends getting a 7 pin connector. You don’t need it for the T@G, and my car’s hitch came with the 4-pin so we were good to go, but I wished I had gotten the 7 pin. It wouldn’t have fallen out (Day 2 mishap), and we would have had the option to pull a bigger trailer.