2020 Airstream Trip – Part 2: Grand Teton and Jackson

The second stop on our RV trip was Grand Teton. It was originally the first stop, but due to limited availability at RV parks, we went to Yellowstone first, which I think worked out great. I don’t know anything about this area, so even though “Teton Valley Resort” sounds like it’s near the Grand Teton National Park, it’s not. It was about 45 minutes over the hill in Victor, Idaho

We dropped off the Airstream at the park and headed straight out in search for a late lunch. Grace found a great little Thai place in Teton Village at the base of Jackson Hole. I know many people love to ski here, but I just haven’t made the trip (until now). After having our picnic lunch, we went to the top of the mountain on the gondola and took in the sights over a drink.

Afterwards, we went into the park to knock out some must sees. Our first stop was Mormon Row, which is technically just outside the park. After some photos, thankfully we continued down the road beyond the most famous house where several cars were stopped to gawk at … a herd of bison! After the onesies and twosies in Yellowstone, we felt like we hit the bison jackpot. There were baby bison and huge bison. Long before this trip I taught the kids that the scientific name for bison is Bison Bison (thanks, Mr. Engelhard – 9th grade biology).

We had dinner back in Teton Village at Il Villaggio Osteria in Hotel Terra. This was only our second meal indoors during COVID-19. The food was great and the service even better.

For our only full day in Grand Teton, we got an early start. No, we didn’t. We made it to downtown Jackson for brunch at Persephone Bakery. We didn’t get into the park until almost noon.

Skip down to the bears if you don’t care to geek out on cameras.

In anticipation of this trip and possibly these specific photos, I bought a new (used) camera. For the past seven years, almost every photo on this blog has been shot exclusively with the Sony RX1 and then Sony RX1R II. It was the world’s first full frame mirrorless point and shoot. Coupled with its fixed 35mm F2.0 Zeiss lens, the RX1 produces amazing results in a small camera I would take anywhere. I love it. Shortly after getting it, I sold my Canon 5D Mk II rig and never looked back.

During COVID-19, I’ve been selling every unused thing in sight: 5 iPads, 3 iPhones, bike, SUV, golf clubs, memorabilia, etc. A while back, Grace indulged me in an old hobby and I assembled a stereo system that was beautiful to look at, but rarely made any sound. Initially while sheltering in place I was listening to it a lot, much to the dismay of the other inhabitants in our household. I’m not hard of hearing, but I like it loud, like concert level. No one else likes that. So, piece by piece (some 130 lbs), it has been liquidated.

I decided to swap my hobby of not listening to music with a new hobby of not taking pictures. Just kidding, I take a shit ton of pictures. I knew for this trip I would need something wider than 35mm. There aren’t any bad cameras these days, but also no perfect camera has been created. Mostly out of brand affinity, I bought a pre-owned Leica SL. The camera was basically new, but the model is five years old and the SL2 recently came out. Most digital cameras do not hold their value, Leicas included, which I used to my advantage. The body was already 75% depreciated. The glass, on the other hand, is still nuts and the SUV mentioned above barely covered one lens. I know it’s not the best or most capable camera, but it was the one I was most interested in shooting.

Now that I had the body in hand, I still didn’t have a lens to shoot. I knew I wanted to try something different than 35mm, which I already had covered. I started with a 50mm because I haven’t shot with that in forever. Specifically for this trip, I also got a 16-35mm wide zoom, too. This, too, is not the fastest, nor does it have a constant aperture, which Canon, Nikon and Sony all offer. For landscape, I knew I’d be shooting stopped down, so a fast wide-angle lens was not a priority. It turned out to be perfect for Yellowstone, as so many sights are visible only from the boardwalk, where you can’t back up. I ended up shooting it almost exclusively at the beginning of the trip. It’s only F4.5 at 35mm, but even so, I rarely took out the Sony except to do some A/B testing. I also got a tripod, which came in handy for some longer exposures and family shots.

The irony of all of this is that I somehow forgot the Leica in the RV for our one full day in Grand Teton. It was too far to go back and get it. Grace told me it was done and get over it. By the end of the boat ride across Jenny Lake, I was fine. No, I wasn’t. I was crying on the inside all the way up to Inspiration Point.

It turned out that the Sony was more than adequate for Grand Teton. It’s faster than my wide zoom and after developing the Yellowstone photos, I decided wide zooms are terrible for people photos. 35mm isn’t great for portraits, but it’s perfect for family shots, is wide enough for a lot of landscape, and works for friendly chipmunks, too. Each camera can do its own thing, but the Leica cannot really replace the Sony. The SL with a 35mm F2.0 Summicron-SL lens would weigh 3.5 lbs. (more than 3x the Sony) and is twice as large. I could shoot fast M-glass, but it would be manual focus only and that chipmunk would have never cooperated.

End of camera talk.

Getting back to animals, we saw two bears on the way back to the west boat dock at Jenny Lake (possibly the same bear). The first one was only about 20 feet off the trail and Grace didn’t approve of me chasing it for a photo. We had an afternoon snack on the shore of Jackson Lake. Just as we were leaving the park, we finally spotted our first moose! We checked basically every animal off the list.

We had time to kill before a late dinner back in Jackson. We spent about an hour just hanging out in Jackson Town Square. Grace and the kids got re-obsessed with Word Bubbles, which helped pass the time. We had our best meal of the trip so far at The Kitchen.

It’s possible that I didn’t schedule enough time in Grand Teton. Everyone agreed we should return at least to ski. I might have to come back alone to get some images I know I missed.

2020 Airstream Trip – Part 1: Yellowstone

Despite the global pandemic, we were determined to do something with the kids this summer and get them out of the house. We had a great long weekend with the Lees over 4th of July to test the waters at a resort. Carneros was ideal because each unit is a separate cottage and most everything is outdoors.

Early on during COVID-19, I could foresee our future of travel and I immediately started lobbying to purchase an Airstream. I figured we could live and work in it, travel, see my parents, etc. I picked the one I wanted (27′ Globetrotter), found some pre-owned models for sale (I almost never buy anything new), and even researched storage options (fearing this could be the money in money pit). In the end, I got a hard no from Grace.

During this time, I was also looking to rent during August from the same place where I’ve rented the last three Airstream trips. The business is now on its third owner and I was having a hard time pinning down dates and the model I wanted. Once I made the reservation (for the same exact unit we took to Utah last time), there was a switcheroo, but it was going to be in my favor. Another client couldn’t tow anything longer than 25′ and the owner told me he was buying a brand new 27′ Globetrotter. This was going to be the perfect test drive. Grace’s hard no was actually a “can we really survive two weeks in this thing?”

About a week before the trip, it turned out the Globetrotter had an issue with the power awning, so we got switched again to a barely used 2020 27′ Flying Cloud. Honestly, I was a little disappointed, but the bonus was that this particular model had the rear hatch option, which is rare and novel. I was just glad we were still going to be on our way.

Which way, in Grace’s mind, was still up for debate. I had made the itinerary and all the reservations a month in advance. “Maybe we should just stay in California? Maybe we should stay close to home?” This was my hard no. I had a plan (basically) and we were sticking to it.

Our first stop was going to be Yellowstone National Park. Pickup is late in the afternoon and I wanted to make as much progress as possible, so I booked a stop in Elko, Nevada, just to sleep. We got a late start and didn’t pull into the RV park until about 1am. I didn’t even hook anything up except for electricity as we had a full tank of water, which in retrospect probably wasn’t great for handling or MPG. The latter was at times 3-5 MPG. For a long stretch of Nevada the speed limit was 80 MPH, so I went 80 (I know, that limit might not have applied to us). The problem with 80 MPH is that gas mileage was abysmal and could barely hit 10 MPG as we ascended into Idaho and Montana. This was my first time to both of those states as well as Wyoming, which was just inside the park.

We stayed at Grizzly RV in West Yellowstone. The first night we got some groceries and some take out. I ran out to get breakfast the next morning from Running Bear Pancake House. Due to our late planning, I couldn’t reserve a spot for the entire stay, so I had to check out after one night and check in again to move spots. Grace made ramen for lunch and we didn’t enter Yellowstone until 2pm.

Thanks to the suggestion (among many) of my friend, Annika, we downloaded the Gaper Guide to North and South Yellowstone, which was the perfect in-car audio guide and told us what to see along the way. As we were entering the area, it finally clicked with Lucas that we were in Yellowstone and he recalled that it was a super volcano, which could erupt at any time. I thought he might be on edge the entire time, but the prospect of being blown off the planet at any instant wasn’t in the forefront of anyone’s mind.

That first afternoon, we saw most of North Yellowstone, including Beryl Spring, Gibbon Falls, Norris Geyser Basin, and Mammoth Hot Springs, where we had a late afternoon snack. We also saw our first wildlife there, as Elk were wandering around, up-close and personal. We walked around the lower terrace and drove the upper terrace before calling it a day.

Day 2 started with Cup Noodle (a Lucas favorite). Just as we’re not first chair skiers, we’re also not first into the park. We didn’t enter until around noon. This day was for South Yellowstone and we started in Canyon Village, where we had lunch and gathered supplies (snacks). Our first stop was to see The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which was spectacular from every vantage. We stopped at multiple points along the Lower and Upper Falls and then crossed to the other side to see it from Artist Point, which is an amazing vista of the falls. We ended this area with a short hike to the Upper Falls and along the river.

The kids were particularly interested in seeing wildlife, especially Olivia. We finally stumbled upon a few Bison, so pulled over to get a look. There were only a few and they were far away. It was exciting for all. We ended the day at Yellowstone Lake and the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which was beautiful. Pretty much every geothermal feature we saw during the first two days was unique and otherworldly.

On Day 3, we didn’t have much left to see except Old Faithful, which is ironically the park’s biggest attraction. We got there just after it had gone off, so we had about 40 minutes to wait. By the time it finally erupted, there were hundreds of people waiting. Honestly, it wasn’t the most impressive display to see in the park, but I’m glad we saw it. After that, we went to the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin, which was one of my favorite attractions.

Lucas and Grace had ramen for dinner and Olivia and I went to the taco truck that was suggested by my friend, Narayan. After dinner, I went back into the park myself to photograph the sunset. I had to just pick a spot, so I went back to the Grand Prismatic Spring. I shot what I could and called it a night.

Yellowstone exceeded my expectation and was one of the most impressive places I’ve visited. Three days was perfect for us to see most of the park at our pace. We probably drove around 300 miles just around the park. I don’t know if we’ll be back again as a family, but I hope the kids will visit again to explore it on their own.