We checked out of Buffalo Fireside RV campsite and made our way to our next campsite – headwaters at Flagg Ranch, just outside Grand Teton National Park but inside John D Rockefeller Memorial Parkway and a mile South of Yellowstone National Park. What a fantastic location. Highly recommend this place. Nestled amongst trees, the distance between each campsite is decent, the trees buffer out a lot of the noise. There were log cabins, tent and RV sites intermingled amongst each other. The facilities were basic but decent, with a small gas station and convenience store in walkable distance.
The next day we decided to have a day ‘at home’. No driving anywhere. The day before, as we were driving to our next campsite, Aviana told us that she wanted to go home. It came out of no where really. It made us sad and realized that she was missing all her things and friends. So taking an ‘at home’ day was mostly about chilling out with Aviana.
It was also the first day of ‘home school’. We have planned Montessori lessons for the next few months Monday to Friday, no more than 30 minutes a day, led by her. The themes planned for each week are mostly around the subjects of the places we will be visiting. So this week the theme is flowers and plants, introducing what earth is, it’s layers and what geysers and volcanoes are (because of course, we are heading to Yellowstone!). Aviana enjoyed homeschooling during lockdown, but her teachers did a 20 minute video and we prepared the lesson materials the day before. It was a lot of work for us, but it showed us how Aviana thrives on learning new things.
We took a quick bike ride from our campsite to snake river a few miles away, we discovered an incredible campsite for boondocking. Although the road on the map says no trailers/RVs, we could easily get to this campsite to boondock at campsite 1. You would have to be lucky to snag a site as they are not reservable and you probably also need a permit as it is technically backcountry.
On our day back in Grand Teton National park we headed to Jackson Dam (thanks to Frozen 2 Aviana is inquiring over Dams). It was pretty, but once you’ve seen something like the Hoover Dam, it’s nothing in comparison. We headed to Colter Bay for a 2 mile hike along ‘lakeshore trail’. We found about .5 of a mile in a gorgeous spot for bathing in the lake. Aviana loved splashing around in the water, the weather was perfect and the view SPECTACULAR!!! Does it get much better than this? I asked how we can beat this for the rest of our trip? Had we peaked too soon??!!
Eventually after taking lunch on the shore we packed up to complete the rest of our two mile hike. Aviana stayed in the carrier for the rest of the hike. She was not in the mood for walking, but that was OK because she is still just about tolerable to carry on my back (she’s over 32lbs). It’s hard work carrying her in the soft structured carrier when going uphill. Especially when she wants to snooze!! Overall a pleasant hike to finish up our stay at the Grand Teton National Park.
It should be noted that internet access has been extremely limited during our stay at the park – which has had its pluses and minuses. We are anticipating it to be just as bad when we head to Yellowstone for a week. So these blog posts may all come at once!!
The journey to the Tetons from Casper was geographically fascinating as well as stunning. Another journey of 250 or so, this time we were mostly not on one single carriage highway and not interstates. One road the whole way!!! It was the kind of route where it was 80 miles to the next nearest services and no cell phone signal. Keeping our fingers crossed we didn’t breakdown or get a blow out! Luckily the journey was uneventful, but the last 25 miles or so the Tetons teased us with their snow capped peaks. Apparently, it had only snowed in the mountains a couple of days ago. Brrrrrrr!
We arrived at our campsite with the Tetons looming over us, abruptly out of nowhere. We made our reservations around April time when to our dismay, we could not find spots in any of the campsites we liked. So we had to split our week long stay in half between two campsites. The first half at Buffalo fireside RV, located 4 miles from the National park and the second half at Headwaters at Flag staff, located in the National Park.
On our first day at the Grand Teton National park we purchased our annual interagency pass (courtesy of my Colleagues as part of my leaving gift). We headed towards Moose entrance. Along the way we saw Buffalo and stopped at a beautiful vantage point of the whole range. Once we reached Moose we headed North on Teton Park Road. Our first stop was Jenny Lake to check out the boat we planned to take the next day. Aviana enjoyed paddling in the icy cool waters that lay at the foot of the actual Grand Teton. We quickly learned that the area became packed and parking was overflowing by 11AM and so figured we had better leave super early the next day for our hike around Jenny lake.
Around the Jenny lake visitor center (which of course was closed, thanks COVID-19) there were brass figures next to benches that represented various wildlife of the park. Aviana enjoyed touching and learning about these animals, in particular their footprints in the concrete and the occasional brass poop on the floor!! Sometimes it’s the little things you don’t expect to be the most memorable!
After Jenny Lake we got back on to Teton Park Road, heading North for signal mountain. Apparently (according to our National Parks secrets book) this area is often skipped over by visitors. We turned over the Park road onto signal mountain road that headed straight up the mountain that would give us a grand vantage point of the Teton range. Along the way up the mountain we found a small turnout to stop and have our picnic lunch. A little pathway led us to a secluded lake filled with Lillypads that had just finished flowering their giant yellow flowers.
After lunch we continued up the mountain (driving of course!) where at the summit we parked up and finished the finals steps by foot. The vastness and unspoiled mountainous land went for miles around, it was breathtaking! We also found a painter who was painting the stunning view of the Tetons. Unsurprisingly his skin was like a brown leather from his clear passion to be outside painting without any shade. Much Kudos to him.
Aviana had a hard time listening to us whilst we tried to keep her safe. It’s a hard balance letting her explore and roam free in the outdoors versus staying safe, not running down Rocky paths Willy nilly with steep edges!! So eventually I had to carry her down the top of the mountain back to the car practically over my shoulders as she kicked and screamed. Fortunately she seemed to have learned her lesson and listened better at the next walk. Hopefully this lasts more than 24 hours!
After a long morning being out in the sun we headed back to the tiny house for some coffee and bubbles (obviously not at the same time!!). Plus some exercise (trying to keep up!!).
We decided after seeing how busy Jenny lake was to get up early the next day for our boat trip and 4.5 mile hike. We prepared everything the night before so we could get up, get dressed, hop in the car and drive to the national park to have our breakfast. We gave Aviana a small pot of Cheerios to keep her from hungrumpy whining and I made myself a tea to go (because a morning without a tea = grumpy Dani). After I was rudely awoken by howling (or laughing?) wolves at 4AM, we were through the park gates by 0630 AM. It took us a while to find a good spot for breakfast because we wanted to park up with somewhere in the sun as it was still bloody cold outside! (40 something Fahrenheit) Eventually we cooked our breakfast at Jenny Lake visitor center car park. It was the weekend and we had promised Pancakes to Aviana earlier in the week. So true to our word, we had pancakes in Grand Teton National Park at 7AM!!!
By the time we made it on to the boat (thanks COVID-19) it was 0830. It was a beautiful short 5 minute boat ride over to the otherside of Jenny Lake where we took the 1 mile trail to hidden falls and inspiration point.
Hidden falls was spectacular, just half a mile from the boat – a huge fast water waterfall from glacier melt that caused the surrounding air temperature to dip by about 10F. It was a little busy so we masked up. Aviana was more interested in climbing the boulders and other rocks more than a anything else. But she impressed us by hiking almost the whole mile all the way to inspiration point with a 900ft climb. The last few hundred feet Aviana wanted to be carried in the carrier, which was just as well because there were sheer drops along the path! Aviana still has a lot to learn about sticking to paths. The climb was totally worth it, an aptly named view point.
After the dramatic views of hidden falls and inspiration point we descending back down to Jenny lake where we opted to hike around the lake back to car. The trails were starting to get really busy and it was hard to keep 6ft away, so we were constantly pulling to the side and donning our masks. There were a lot of rude people who did not seem to appreciate us stopping to let them past (which we would have done regardless of the virus). Despite the business of the trails we had a good hike along the lake. Aviana remained in the hiking carrier for most of the way and I carried her in the soft carrier for the last part of the hike as Chris needed a break. Aviana is over 32lbs now so that plus the framed hiking carrier and all our lunch is a pretty heavy load!
After making it back to Jenny lake car park we spotted the little beach we paddled at the day before and decided to eat our lunch there. One really couldn’t complain about the views and tranquility. It was fascinating to experience a sudden change of wind over the lake. It went from calm and warm to windy and cold in 3 seconds. So we decided not to hang around for too much longer and headed back early.
It is true, the town of Estes Park is beautiful, nestled in amongst the Rockies, it’s picture perfect. Our campsite, Jellystone at Estes Park, was located about 5 miles out of town. The nice thing about this campsite was it was resort style, so it had a pool, giant jump pad, playgrounds, mini golf and entertainment etc. Just outside Estes Park is the entrance the Rocky Mountain National Park (link to post). It really was the perfect place for is to start our tiny house adventure at.
We headed into town to cycle around the lake, surrounded by rocky outcrops. It was only about 3.5 miles but it was scenic and peaceful. A few mild inclines got the old heart racing, especially with a 32lb girl on the back of my bike! Aviana got a chance to climb some rocks and throw stones into the lake. Chris was on form with his stone skimming.
I got a sense that the town was not filled with the normal tourist crowd. In fact there were many signs saying ‘welcome back’. After our bike ride we only made it so far into town as to find an ice cream. They had only been open a few days, I think we had lucked out.
We treated ourselves to ice cream floats. I had lemon sorbet float on kombucha, Chris had caramel crisp ice cream float on nitro coffee. Aviana kept it simple with double chocolate. Just as we sat down to enjoy our treats, the wind picked up and blew chairs across the garden and almost into the stream nearby! A storm was brewing and so we gulped down our well deserved frozen goodies and headed straight home to the tiny house. It’s a shame because I felt that the quaint town deserved to be explored.
4.21 AM Mountain time. Aviana was clearly still on Eastern time. We had agreed the night before if she woke up at 4 AM we would get up and get to Rocky Mountain National Park before 6AM. Yes we are lunatics, but why? Because COVID-19. The park was only allowing entry by advanced reservations in 2hr time slots. We didn’t get the time slot we wanted, but apparently if you arrived before 6AM it’s a free for all.
We had a bit of breakfast, packed our lunch, got dressed and hit the road at 5.30AM. It was surprisingly busy at that time of the morning, I guess everyone else had the same idea.
Our first point of interest was old Fall River rd, a one way unpaved track, open only 4 months of the year, with some crazy hairpin turns and steep drop offs. It was a fantastic drive. We stopped at chasm falls a short walk to some fast moving and very cold waterfalls. Aviana was thrilled to be amongst rocks to climb, although she kept asking when would we be at the mountains. Confused, we told her we were in the mountains. It wasn’t until we met direct sunlight that she declared that we were officially in the mountains. Ok then!
As we climbed and climbed to 12000 ft we met the beautiful early morning sunshine and the tundra. Alpine tundra, filled with lush green grass and beautiful wild alpine flowers. We met some wildlife along the way…deer, a moose and plenty of marmots whom I have nicknamed as the beaver cats. As they run, their thick fluffy tails swish high like a happy cat. I also caught sight of a Pica and a tiny bird that I am determined to find out what it was because it was amazing how fast it dipped and dived.
Aviana had to learn the hard lesson of staying on the footpath. It took somewhat of a tantrum from her before she realized that we must follow the rules to stop the alpine flowers from becoming extinct. We then learned the hard lesson of ensuring we carry a carrier with us whenever we can because although she appeared seemingly capable and willing of walking, she was actually kaput. Some more climbing up to the peak and playing around rocks. The temperature was as the book said somewhat 30 degrees F cooler at the top. We were glad we came prepared with hats to keep our ears warm.
After being completely wind swept we started to drive back to camp just in time for lunch. We couldn’t believe how much we achieved in just one morning. It wasn’t actually too busy in the park, the reservation limits clearly was having an impact, and we can’t imagine what it would be like without COVID-19. In some ways, we were spoilt to be able to enjoy the park without the crowds.
Friday was a tough day. A lot of goodbyes were said. Aviana’s teachers and school, my work colleagues, my car, our medium sized house we rented for 3 months, our city-Chesapeake, VA, plus a whole lot of personal items that we ended up donating or throwing away. It was a busy day full of all sorts of emotions.
Meanwhile, Chris was completing his cross country five day road trip from Chesapeake, Virginia to Estes Park, Colorado. Thankfully Chris arrived safely, the tiny house all in one piece.
Aviana’s sitter, Vanessa, housed Aviana and I up for our last night in Virginia at her condo in Virginia Beach. This was not far from where we used to live when we first moved to the US 7.5 years ago. It was a bit surreal to be finishing up in the same place we started.
I shared a bed with Aviana who has been ridiculously excited for months about the tiny house adventure. Of course she woke up at 4AM!!! I also discovered she is also a crazy sleeper-flailing, kicking, sleep talking, duvet stealing (I’m sure Chris would tell you she gets it from me!!) so I was running on poor sleep anyway.
We arrived at the airport early morning and I found myself pondering how many times I had been to that airport in the past 7.5 years. I estimated around 200. It was strange to think that might be the last time I could see it, and it was even more surreal that everyone was masked up. Well, almost everyone, a large number of people were wearing their masks below their nose. *sigh*
Naturally as I had a short connection in Washington Dulles something was going to be screwed up with the first flight. It’s called the law of short connections that should never be sold to you. (We didn’t choose these flights as our direct flight to Denver was cancelled due to COVID-19).
The plane and crew were already there to go. But this time the gate door wouldn’t open. It was rather amusing to see the number of people it took to figure it out. Not so amusing as time ticked away delaying us. Just as they figured out a plan to get us on the plane without going through the gate, the gate door magically opened. So in the end we arrived 25 mins late, leaving just 15 mins for me to get from one end of one terminal to the end of a completely different terminal. I made it by the skin of my teeth carrying Aviana on my back with FOUR bags on my front. (Not planned, my checked bag was overweight!) I will not miss running across airports, that’s for sure! I think I have done my fair share for life.
The flight into Denver was mostly uneventful (apart from weirdness from COVID-19). I did fail majorly and forgot to charge up the tablet for Aviana, so I had to get creative on our 4hr flight!
And so after all of those goodbyes, it was finally hello! Hello to Chris who was waiting for us at Denver airport, hello to big the Rocky Mountains, hello to our tiny house….and….hello to our new adventure!!!!
I’ve been meaning to write our first post for a while, but planning and preparing for our tiny house adventure has been the top priority. Finally today we packed up the tiny house. Our home for the next months. We are almost ready to leave Hampton Roads, Virginia, and head to the mountains on our big sabbatical road trip! Whoop whoop!
Here are some stats about our tiny house adventure…
7307 miles (at least!)
198 hours of driving
75 points of interest marked on our route
120 days that’s 17 weeks and 1 day!
14 National Parks
This list is totally dependent on just one thing! The US borders have to open up to tourists before the 14th August OR USCIS let’s us stay after we make an appeal to them (but we can’t do that until August). Otherwise we will have to cut our trip short and we will only go for 38 days.
The truth is, we have always been flexible about this trip. And with COVID-19 we knew we would have to be extra flexible and go where COVID-19 wasn’t, as well as isolate when needed to. But the borders remaining closed is highly problematic for us. You see we are Brits living in the USA! We have been legal non-immigrant aliens for the past 7.5 years. So, our plan was to fly from Spokane to Vancouver for a short city trip and return on tourist visas. But the US aren’t allowing tourists in (understandably). And we can’t simply just stay in the US.
I didn’t want to start this blog with a seemingly negative post. Whatever happens we WILL have a sabbatical (even if that isn’t in the USA) and COVID-19 won’t get us down!!!
Today we packed up the tiny house. It was HOT!! 93F feels like 110F! For those of who know, air conditioning doesn’t work on battery, so we unpacked the house without it. As you can imagine, we were hot sweaty messes! We still have a bit more to pack and organize before Chris takes the Tiny House and departs on Monday. We were pleasantly surprised all this fit….
We are packed as if we are going to do the full 120 days, including two excursions to Canada and Hawaii AND tent camping in Yellowstone National Park for 5 days! Whoever buys our tiny house at the end of our trip will have a fully kitted out trailer. Everything from kitchen ware, to blankets, to boxes, to cleaning stuff 😝
Enough for our first post…it’s going to get exciting soon.
By the way, we think this is a good omen that Chris found this wine today (Yosemite is one of our last stops).