Great America Road Trip Day 17: A Long and Bumpy Road

The Rialta bumped and jostled as Daniel swerved to avoid another set of potholes. We had been driving for 5 miles on unimproved roads that kept getting worse…and we had over 30 miles to go. This experience would be fun in a truck or a Jeep – but not so much in a motorhome. Of course, I had no idea that the roads were like this when we started out.

I met Daniel’s eyes with a worried expression on my face. Should we turn around? Or do we stay the course and hope that the roads improves?

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The Long and Bumpy Road

The New Plan

Rewind the clock back to this morning when I was plotting our route for the day. After yesterday’s harrowing drive over Teton Pass, Daniel and I were in no hurry to repeat the experience.

Our campsite was located on the other side of the mountains from Grand Teton National Park, however, which was a problem. There was no way we were going to drive over the pass and back every day to visit the park.

It was time for a new plan and a new campsite.

Camping in a National Park

I’m sort of obsessed with National Parks, and camping inside of one is my absolute dream. Unlike Glacier and Yellowstone, all the campgrounds in the Grand Tetons are open for the season. There is a lot of competition for these campsites, however.

Some spots have to be reserved in advance (and they booked up months ago). The rest are first-come first-served. This means we have to arrive super early to get a spot, and we were too far away for that.

Daniel and I decided to drive closer to the park. This way, we’d be better positioned to jump on an open campsite tomorrow morning. But where? We considered booking a hotel room in Jackson but they were outrageously expensive. Even the “budget” hotels cost over $200 a night.

Flagg Ranch to the Rescue

After a fair amount of sleuthing, I found a primitive cabin at Flagg Ranch. The ranch is located just north of Grand Tetons National Park on land that is managed by the Park Service. It was a bit of a drive, but the cabin was in our price range and located not too far from several nice campgrounds.

Even better – we didn’t have to drive over Teton Pass to get there. I found another route that skirted around the west and north sides of the mountain range. Win-win!

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Eating dinner at our Primitive Cabin in Flagg Ranch

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire

Daniel and I were both feeling pretty tired after yesterday’s long drive, so we weren’t in any particular hurry to get started. Plus, it was only a 2-3 hour drive to get to the cabin. Easy peasy. So we had a relaxing morning and hit the road in mid-afternoon.

The drive was easy at first. We drove north through some rolling farmlands and a few small towns. The Tetons rose majestically behind us to the southeast.

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Pretty farm land
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The Tetons rise majestically in the distance
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The Tetons rise majestically in the distance

Before long, however, our map program directed us off the highway onto a gravel county road. It was fairly nice for a gravel road and we didn’t think much of it. Because, surely this was just a shortcut to a nicer road.

This did not turn out to be the case. A few miles later, we were directed onto another unimproved road – and this one wasn’t as nice. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t the kind of road we should’ve been driving on.

But it got worse. At one point, the road was so washed out that I was sure we’d have to turn around. We were on a narrow one-lane road by this point, however, and turning around would have been impossible. Daniel gently coaxed the Rialta through the washout while I held on for dear life. Then we both breathed a sigh of relief.

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We shouldn’t be driving on this road

Crossing the Mountains on a Forest Service Road

Shortly afterwards, we turned onto Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road. This road would eventually lead us with Flagg Ranch – which was over 30 miles away. We left the farmlands behind and it was all forests from here on out.

The road was in slightly better condition than the ones we had just traversed, but only barely. On the bright side, the road was wide enough for two lanes. Passing by oncoming traffic would be much easier. Plus we could turn around if we wanted to. We stubbornly decided to stick it out.

“I don’t think we could handle a road much worse than this,” said Daniel as he deftly avoided a pothole. Famous last words.

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Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road
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Welcome to Wyoming!

Daniel and I soon passed the state line into Wyoming…and that’s when things really got interesting. By this point there was no gravel on the road anymore – it had devolved into a dirt track that went from washout to washout. Daniel slowed to crawl as we inched our way along.

The road was in this state for over 15 miles.

Eventually, we came to the Grassy Lake Reservoir where we started to see more people. Various folks were camped out by the side of the road here in the middle of nowhere. We must be getting closer to civilization of some kind.

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Indian Lake
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Grassy Lake Reservoir

Grassy Lake Road

After a few more miles of bad road, we entered the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Scenic Byway. Here, the quality of the road improved dramatically. It was still a gravel road but a nice one. Daniel cranked up our speed to a whopping 25 miles per hour.

Road signs warned oncoming traffic that the road was no longer maintained. Only high clearance vehicles were recommended past this point. Too bad there wasn’t a similar warning on the other end of the road where we entered it.

Daniel and I passed a number of nice camp sites along the side of the road as we approached Flagg Ranch. They had picnic tables and outhouses and were really spread out for lots of privacy. I later learned that these were free. Too bad they were all full.

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The road finally improved after this point. Whew!
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There was a big forest fire here some time ago.
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Lovely river views approaching Flagg Ranch

Flagg Ranch

We arrived at Flagg Ranch around 8:00 pm, relieved that the order was finally over. It took us a total of four hours to travel 65 miles. The Rialta was coated in dust but otherwise seemed intact – although we won’t know for sure until we inspect her more thoroughly.

Our cabin was cute and small and very rustic. It had no electricity or plumbing or linens – only a double bunk bed with a desk. I liked the cabin but the location wasn’t very nice. There were lots of little wooden huts tightly packed together in a semi-circle that ringed the campground. People were jammed into the area like sardines. There was hardly any privacy at all.

Daniel and I brought in our bedding from the Rialta and crashed hard. We would be up early tomorrow morning – and this time we hoped to finally get the perfect campsite.

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Parked in the Flagg Ranch Campground. Our cabin is behind the Rialta – the one visible in this picture is the neighbor’s.

Where are we now?

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We are in Grand Tetons National Park! This photo taken next to Indian Lake on Ashton-Flagg Road

Date: July 22
Great American Road Trip Status: Day 17

Starting Location: Victor, ID
Ending Location: Flagg Ranch, WY
Miles Today: 65.4
Total Trip Mileage: 1885.3

For more details on our Great American (Socially Distanced) Road Trip, see my previous posts:

Day 16: Hello Grand Tetons
Day 15: Too Many People
Day 14: Lazy Day by the River
Day 13: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Day 12: Welcome to Yellowstone

11 thoughts

    1. Thanks Rod! This blog post accidentally published before I was quite finished with it this morning. I’ve fixed it now if you want to see some photos to accompany the story ☺️

  1. When we lived on Prince of Wales Island in SE AK for a year we were 60 miles from the nearest paved road on very rough logging roads. It beat up my truck that year. I have a week off work in August and our family is going to drive down to Denali park where we plan to camp for a night and then start the over 100 mile Denali Highway (not in the park) that connects the Parks highway and the Richardson. One of the most beautiful highways in Alaska, but all but a few miles is unpaved. We plan to take it slow and camp somewhere in the middle, there are no campgrounds or really any towns on the whole stretch. It should be fun, but not something I would try in a motor-home. Our Truck may not be as comfy as the Ride, but it does have it’s advantages. Plus Lara bought a large canvas tent last year that is large enough to hold about 4 cots. I’ll probably still be in my smaller tent. I’ve enjoyed reading your adventures, keep them coming.

    1. That sounds like an amazing adventure! I’d love to make it that way some day, although in a different vehicle.

  2. Ahhh, my kind of road trip, it just doesn’t get much better than that! Now that you are settling into this epic adventure isn’t it time to give the Rialta a name, make her part of the family as it were? May I suggest Shirley, as in “Slowly but Shirley”.

    1. Thanks Gary ☺️☺️ Daniel and I actually have been discussing a name for the Rialta for some time. We haven’t settled on one yet though. It’s like a trail name, it needs to be just right. We’ll figure it out one of these days ☺️

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