Conclusion of Trip

Glacier SP12-565

My so-called “Grand Tour of the Northern Rockies” is over now. After 14 days, 3,700 miles of driving, and well over 2,500 images, I am back on the northcoast of California. The trip involved (1) Getting from the northcoast of California to the Rockies, and (2) Getting from the Rockies back to California’s Northcoast. Since the actual northern Rockies consisted almost entirely of Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Tetons National Park, the most efficient itinerary involved a circle of sorts. Starting from Eureka, I proceeded through Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to Glacier National Park in Montana. After five days in Glacier, I commenced to Yellowstone, following the east front of the Rockies nearly the entire way. The next day, I slipped into Grand Teton National Park, where I spent three days. For the return home, I traversed across the Snake River plains in Idaho and the Great Basin desert in Nevada on the way back to California. The trip’s itinerary looked something like the following:

This makes for a pretty good spring trip (the circle itself is 2,700 miles), and would be useful for anyone living near the circle, including those in the Seattle area, in the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento, Portland, etc. Those living closer to the Rockies could tighten circle: say, they could run along the west side of the Rockies in one direction, and the east side in another. In any case, here’s how the trip broke down for me:

(1) Roseburg, Oregon

Leaving Eureka in the afternoon, I could only go so far. Roseburg seemed the logical choice. This was merely a quick stopover: I arrived at 7:30 pm and left at 7:30am. It’s actually a fairly scenic area; but I can go there on any weekend I choose, so there was no use lingering when my real destination is the Rockies, some thousand miles away!

(2) Ritzville, WA

It is about an eight hour drive from Roseburg, Oregon to Ritzville, WA. You pass through the very scenic Columbia Gorge, with all its splendid waterfalls. I ventured through the gorge on Memorial Day Weekend, where the whole place is stuffed to the gills with tourists. I pushed on hence to Ritzville.

What’s in Ritzville? Well, about 40 minutes away is Palouse Falls, perhaps the best waterfall in the entire state of Washington:

(3) Glacier National Park

From Ritzville, it’s only a half day’s drive to Glacier National Park. There are many places to stay in or around the park. I chose to spend one night on the west side, three nights on the east side in St. Mary, and one night on the southeast corner of the park in East Glacier. If you’re going to drive from Glacier to Yellowstone, best bet is to spend your last night at East Glacier, because it’s closer to Yellowstone than any other place in or around Glacier.

(4) Yellowstone

From Glacier the two most obvious destinations are either West Yellowstone or Gardiner, both of which are in Montana. It’s about a six and a half to seven hour drive to either destination, depending on pace and the amount of road construction one runs into. Both West Yellowstone and Gardiner (and just about any place on the border, as well as inside, Yellowstone) is expensive to stay at. Yellowstone is a crowded park, even in the off season. In July and August, it’s insane. I went in the first weekend in June. Lots of people, but it was still manageable. Best time to go: either late spring or early autumn. Do yourself a favor and don’t go in the summer!

(5) Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons National Park is almost right next to Yellowstone. Nonetheless, because of the size of Yellowstone, it can take a bit of time to drive from most of the places either inside or on the north, east, or west borders of Yellowstone to its neighboring park in the south. I took the scenic route, heading from West Yellowstone to Canyon Village (next to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone), and then proceeding late in the afternoon to Jackson, Wyoming, on the southern border of Grand Tetons NP. The drive is over 150 miles long and (minus stopping time) takes three and a half hours.

(6) Wells, Nevada

For the return part of the trip, I chose Wells, Nevada as one of my stopovers. Why? Because of Angel Lake, which is just 12 miles outside of Wells. You can drive right up to the lake and snap up a card-full of images:

It’s about a six and a half to seven hour drive from Jackson to Wells. An alternative stopover destination is Lamoille, near Elko and about an hour from Wells. What does Lamoille offer? Merely Lamoille Canyon, the so-called “Yosemite of Nevada.”

(7) Lakes Basin Recreation Area

There are many fine stopover destinations between Wells, Nevada and the coast of California, including Lake Tahoe, Lassen National Park, Mono Lake, and Yosemite; but if you’re heading for the northcoast of California, none are so suitable as Lakes Basin, north of Tahoe. Again, it’s about a six and a half to seven hour drive (from Wells, NV). The basin itself is very scenic but not over-photographed like some of the other places listed above.

The key to such a trip (at least for those who are motivated primarily by a desire to photograph scenic places) is to find places on the way to and back from one’s destination that will provide quick opportunities to get some stunning shots. That can be a challenge in environs like the Great Basin desert or eastern Washington, unless you know the secret places that yield photographic opportunities. Excellent stopover places for quick scenic photography between northern California and Glacier are: Columbia River Gorge, Palouse Falls, Coeur D’Alene. Excellent stopover places between Grand Tetons and California: Angel Lakes (near Wells, NV), Lamoille Canyon (near Elko, NV), Lake Tahoe, Lakes Basin Recreation Area (near Sierra City, CA).