RealImaginaryWest 2018 Day 1—Our Adventure to (fill in the blank)!

So here it is September 7 and here we go on our RealImaginaryWest 2018 road trip! This year we have worked out maybe 4 itineraries for this trip because of high hopes, unrealized dreams, revelations, and most of all—wildfires.

Itinerary 1 would have been a victorious and likely crowd-free return to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, as well as revisiting our favorite park from last year’s trip, Arches. This plan was born mostly out of necessity and practicality, as we only have 17 days this year. I looked into an even more glorious return for us to Yosemite National Park, but scrubbed the idea when I realized it was seriously untenable to fit all the stuff I really wanted to do nearby. I looked at possibly revisiting the Pacific Northwest so we could get more time in at Mt. Rainier and what have you, but concluded it was probably best to set our sights a little lower. We had invited a couple of adventurous young friends to come with us, and so I thought we should keep things simple.

Then I realized Yellowstone and Grand Teton can get crazy cold at night (like under 20 degrees F!), so we might want to at least have a contingency plan. I had long dreamed of hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and we really have all the gear we need to make that happen—so I put in for a permit. From what I could tell, we had roughly a 30% chance of winning a permit during September, but alas we struck out! I also put in for an even longer shot (like 3%), a permit for North Coyote Buttes, where we could hike to The Wave. That didn’t pan out either, so I was back to no real feature for our trip. I only had a 3-night reservation at Arches, and not much else figured out.

Then I had an epiphany—I realized that we could hit Crater Lake, Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, and possibly Lake Tahoe as well as Great Basin and Arches. None of those parks are super huge, so we could experience quite a bit of each in 1-2 days and continue on. By now our young friends realized they couldn’t get the time off, so we could make any pace we wanted and have only ourselves to care for. Therefore Itinerary 3 was the plan I worked on in earnest…finding all the cool in-between places and charting out the drive times. This would be an awesome trip! I just needed to find a way to adjust our reservation at Arches…

But then the Carr Fire happened. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area had some interesting waterfalls along our route, but it now was engulfed in flames—closing the road between Redwood National Park and Redding, California. As the fire grew, I could see that the glory of Mount Shasta and the many sites of the Upper Sacramento Valley may not be great destinations this summer. 😞 I thought maybe the coast would be clear, but that turned out to be questionable as north winds blew smoke out of Oregon and even British Columbia down into the California coast. A month later the Carr Fire still burns, along with several others in NoCal and Southwest Oregon. Even Crater Lake looked like a bad place to reliably find clean air, blue skies, or great views.

Now we were really back to square one! I really liked the idea of crossing Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada on Interstate 80, but I had no idea where we’d go after that! Checking into smoke maps revealed that smoke had set in all across most of the Northwest. Fires in British Columbia were sending smoke down into Washington, making Mount Rainier and Olympic risky…even Yellowstone and Grand Teton looked like they could be enshrouded in gray. Glacier was always in the back of my mind as a last resort, since it’s low enough it wouldn’t be quite as chilly as Yellowstone. But then Glacier also caught fire!

The only region that looked mostly clear was the Southwest, especially far enough south of US-50. Most of the Sierra Nevada looked good too…air quality reports for Lake Tahoe looked ok, and the Fergusson Fire had died down enough that Yosemite of all places even looked possible.

I started thinking things through and realized that maybe Yosemite could work out after all… if I simplified what we saw and did out in the Sierras, it could seriously work! It’s really just a matter of where the smoke goes and whether we can score a campsite. If Yosemite doesn’t work out, we could head further south to the clear skies of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks—maybe this was more doable than I thought?

Well, I guess we’ll see! We’ve had a terribly crazy August, with some really unexpected changes happening in rather big parts of our life. (Don’t worry, nobody got hospitalized or died, but some serious curveballs got thrown out way and we’re in the middle of an adjustment right now.) As a result, we struggled to get organized like we usually have, and we got a terribly late start today. Worse yet, I totally forgot our E-ZPass and we had to turn around and get it out of our car back at home. So we didn’t really get started on our trip until about 5:30pm.

For now the plan is to keep the hotel reservation I made at the La Quinta Inn in Moline, Illinois, along the Mississippi River across from Davenport, Iowa. It’s a little over a 7-hour drive to get there. Hopefully we make it OK! Tomorrow we’ll try our best to get an early start to get to Vedauwoo Campground in Medicine Bow National Forest, which is not far off of I-80 just before Laramie, Wyoming. The plan is to go West until the smoke seems to be taking a toll on our blue skies. Hopefully it won’t be too bad at least into Northern Nevada. If the fires and smoke clear in Oregon and NoCal we may head for Crater Lake…otherwise we may head to Lake Tahoe or Yosemite. If the smoke is too much before we get far across Nevada, we will probably just head south into the Colorado Plateau in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. Eventually we’ll make our way up toward our reservations at Arches National Park and we’ll head home on I-70 through Colorado.

But unlike most any of our trips previously, our itinerary really depends literally on which way the wind is blowing! 😳 Either way, I’m confident that we’ll have a good time and see some areas we’ve not yet seen. We may also get to spend more time in some places we’d wished we could have stayed in longer. So buckle up…this should be fun! 😃