When pleasure touring turns to truck driving

  • Smoke from local fires and from California drifts into the Idaho forests.

Hurricane-force winds and an Arctic blast in early September wiped out our Rocky Mountain hiking days during our basin-and-range trip, the longest in a COVID-shortened travel year.

Heading north on the basin portion of our loop was bliss. During our crawl through the Escalante Staircase in Utah and Great Basin National Park in Nevada, we enjoyed sunny 80-degree afternoons, though skies were a bit smoky from California megafires. After a week in Great Basin country, we arrived at our northern destination, Yellow Pine, Idaho, on the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River.

After successful installation of a custom-welded bed and decorative barn-wood wall in The Epic Van, thanks to the craftiness of friends Jeff and Ann, we left Yellow Pine. We enjoyed an idyllic week, our first extended social outings (all outdoors) since March. To avoid Labor Day weekend crowds at our next destination, the Sawtooth Mountains, we slow rolled through central Idaho at less popular Forest Service camps just off of Idaho 21. We’ve been to Idaho four times since Judy and I began traveling in The Epic Van five years ago, taking sunny summer afternoons in the 80s and lows near 50 for granted. Fortunately, I asked Judy to check the forecast in Stanley before registering at Sunny Gulch, our favorite spot. Lows were expected near 20, exposing our plumbing to possible freezing.

After checking our Idaho map and forecasts downstate, we drove 150 miles southeast to Craters of the Moon National Monument, where temperatures on the Snake River Plain were just above freezing and 40 mph wind gusts from the northeast rocked me to sleep.

At least once a month, it seems, our travel rhythm is disrupted by something big. We truck drive to avoid tornadoes, forest fires, hail or tropical storms. At least once a month we tweak our route for something small, like extended exposure to rain, wind, cold, or even too many pesky flying insects.

This summer, just about all of California, now, Oregon and Washington are off limits to travel, even without the threat of covid, as millions of acres are consumed in unprecedented fires.

Departing the chilly eeriness of Craters of the Moon, we plan a daylong drive on Interstate 15 toward warmth on the Colorado Plateau. Once again, Judy, at the forecast desk, spots trouble: high wind advisories. Wind gusts near 90 mph are possible for the next 36 hours west of the Wasatch Mountains.

We lay up for the evening in Logan, Utah, littered with tree branches from overnight winds, spending another frigid and wind-jostled night at Walmart. Judy sleeps uneasily.

The next morning, we read about a 99 mph wind gust south of us that raked  Farmington, Utah, elevation 4,288 feet. As cold air from the northeast rolled over the Wasatch Mountains, downslope winds accelerated, uprooting trees, overturning big-rig trucks and leaving 100,000 people without electricity. Later in the day, after wind advisories expired, we viewed fallen trees in Evanston, Wyoming, and snow-covered ridges above on our meandering route south.

We’re back in our summer home-away-from-home, the Colorado Plateau, near Moab, Utah.

From now on, we’ll do the range before the basin when we travel to the northern Rockies in August.


  1. Reply
    Ann Forster September 11, 2020

    We so miss having you here; missing our conversations, meals together, moments of silence, and everything. Looking forward to seeing you this winter. Always challenging times on your adventures but will be glad when you’re back home COVID free. Will stay in touch.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols September 12, 2020

      Ann, It was heaven, as usual. You make us feel so welcomed. Can’t wait for you to show up in Arizona. Love, love, love, Judy

  2. Reply
    Jim J September 12, 2020

    We are in Santa Barbara after dodging fires in California and southern Oregon for almost a month. Heading home. Some weather. Be safe. Jim Johnson’, Marilyn and Mandy.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols September 12, 2020

      We saw photos of the air in California. Amazingly awful. Hope you get home safe. J&T

  3. Reply
    Kirstin C September 12, 2020

    Wish you could reach us out here in the East! We are having great weather and should through November if typical. We’ve done so many hikes and campouts this COVID-19 year, many gems we would love to share with you. We feel we have perfected the Socially Distant hangout model!

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols September 12, 2020

      That sounds WONDERFUL! Someday, we’ll be back there, and you can show us around. For the rest of the year, we’ll be doing short jaunts in Arizona and to Utah, maybe California, if it’s still there.

  4. Reply
    Hansie September 12, 2020

    Envious, as always. We are trapped inside with very poor air quality and a sense of dread, as the fire season has only started here in LA. But – the fire clouds dropped the high temps from 100 to 70, so there is that nuclear winter comfort. We are so bored that we are watching a Netflix telenovela in Spanish – OK, it’s a good one, Money Heist, but still.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols September 12, 2020

      We saw the apocalyptic photos. Unbelievable. Have you redone your fire prep around the house? Have you watched Ozark? Creepy but addicting. We’re in Moab now and the weather is much better. Hiked this morning at Fisher Towers. Staying here two more nights, then heading back to Arizona. Stay safe. Wear your masks for Covid AND smoke.

Leave a Reply to Hansie Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.