Driggs to Jackson to St Anthony Sand Dunes
Quick set-up: Living Overland will be doing a full trip report. Until then I will refrain from many of the specific references to roads, GPS coordinates, trail names, etc. This trip was planned and organized by Beau and Christa and its up to them on the specific route they wish to share…
750 miles, over 600 on dirt. Three guys and a pre-teen girl would travel across every type of terrain that Idaho has to offer. A trip that would begin in Jackson, Wyoming and end in Jordan Valley, Oregon that would include tents, flyfishing gear, and great views along the way.
How do you describe the expedition of a lifetime? How do you explain the beauty seen from the cab of your rig as you blaze down both common and many not-so-common paths in the back country of Idaho? How do you tell others about the comrade built between total strangers as they traveled together through mountains and deserts? What words describe the feeling as a team jumps in to solve a problem like broken parts on a rig, a flat tire, or setting up a camp? You ramble in several segments like I am about to do…
Our trip began when we met up with the team in Driggs, Idaho. Team member Chad had set up a crash pad for us. For $20, my daughter Abby and I had a room to our selves, access to showers, and even a Jacuzzi. When we arrived we had a chance to meet Chad and his wife and their beautiful little girl. We made small talk while Chad repacked his Toyota FJ. Chad and I both share military backgrounds, a love for the outdoors, and an interest in expeditions. Chad is also a great photographer.
It wasn’t long before Lance showed up. A financial analyst and fellow adventurer we quickly took a liking to each other. The immediate commonality was his XTERRA. I love the Nissan XTERRA as an expedition platform and often lament that my 2003 was not 4WD. We also shared the brotherhood of diving. Both of us trained in the military and civilian life. Plus, he is just a great guy. His experience in running for state senate would pay off, as he used his charisma to quickly break the ice and get great conversation going.
Not long afterwards our team leader Beau showed up. Beau has been planning this trip for over a year and I think we all wanted to do what we could to support it, while being very careful about stepping on any toes. I teach leadership development for a living, and in moments I could not help falling into the evaluation role. I was immediately impressed with Beau from the beginning. After small talk about vehicles in the driveway, we soon over a great Italian meal in downtown Driggs, Lance, Beau, and myself with Abby in tow, discussed expedition financing, previous expeditions, goals and strategies for our own expedition companies, etc. Chad couldn’t join us and was out shooting great photos of an amazing moonrise. Getting to know each other of dinner was a great idea and we sat inside probing each other for new nuggets of advice.
The next morning after hitting the sack late, we departed on time from Driggs to Jackson Hole. Chad made the tough decision to drop since this would be his daughter’s first expedition at 7-months old. After topping off our fuel tanks in Jackson we picked up Andy and Claudia who were joining the expedition for only a day. They both work in the local area and could show us some great places on our way to St. Anthony.
Our convoy moved through Jackson, to Teton National Park and then Yellowstone. On the way to our dirt road launching site we had close encounters with a couple of Moose that Andy calls “Lucky”, since they have yet to be hit by a car in spite of lingering in roadways in the local area.
Taking a break near a ranch area Beau and Andy were familiar with, we were within viewing range of a Buffalo heard as well as a half-dozen Antelope following along. Getting through the ranch area was already providing us with the cool stuff you often think of in expeditions—including water crossings, dusty roads, and great views. Andy gave us a special treat of a river walk in the area that doesn’t get much traffic and though there were people along the route, the side trail tour he gave us was void of anyone else.
After lunch we proceeded on to St Anthony Sand Dunes to camp for the night. The plan was to watch fireworks from the dunes. With the threat of wildfires in the area, the town of Ashton had cancelled the show. Instead we stayed up for awhile and talked more about gear. Lance brought out a Kurig coffee machine and successfully blew out both mine and Beau’s inverters. An inverter is a device used to convert AC powered appliances (like those in your house) to DC current (like your car battery). No coffee for us. But amazing sunsets…
St Anthony is a “dry camp” area meaning no facilities including water. This was the first place our Scepter water cans paid off.
Scepter was cool enough to provide us with water and fuel cans for the trip. The water cans hold a little more than 5 gallons and are virtually indestructible. We knew we would be passing through hot desert areas later in our trip and the only water we would have would be what we carried. With canisters strapped both inside the Jeep as well as the rear rack, we were well prepared. I prefer the heavy duty plastic that Scepter uses compared to metal cans. Metal cans are not forgiving, can rust, and more likely to have a leak in the seam. In addition, the NATO style can by Scepter uses a far superior plastic than other companies. I have had water canisters fail on me- I was not going to have that happen. In addition, the fuel canisters they provided have more flex than metal. As you drive down bumpy roads and have the variance in temperatures, fuel cans expand and contract. Too often I have seen metal cans from discount hardware stores fail under these circumstances. Our trip would take us in to several extremes of temperatures.
The St Anthony Sand Dunes is a 10,000 acre area of clear white quartz sand that is constantly shifting. Driving into it from Ashton was a great experience. We found the loose sand laden roads not only a blast to drive, but also the views had a unique beauty. I really wish I would have packed our kites due to the winds in the area. Geologically speaking, the Prevailing winds carried the sand from the Snake and Teton Rivers to once active volcanic vents pouring, thus creating the dunes. You can still see signs of the vents that poured great depths of lava over the area.
Abby and I quick set up our tent and her privy. We used a privacy shelter and a Luggable Loo mounted to a 5-gallon bucket. The bucket was double lined with heavy duty plastic bags.
The area provides great sunsets and as Abby and I settled down with our backpacking meals, we watched Lance and Beau create some amazing concoctions for dinner. Lance showed how he could easily create an Indian based dish using microwavable rice, and Beau displayed how pre-cooking items and then freezing is a much better alternative- and less messy than preparing everything fresh.
We chose to use backpacking meals at the last moment. As I was trying to get our part of the trip organized I found that adding a small table, cast iron pans, cleaning supplies, cooking utensils, etc was taking up more space than I had planned. In addition, I was trying to treat our packing plan as if we were a backpacking trip on 4-wheels. This resulted in us having a really big cooler that held 4 blocks of ice, a dozen sodas, a block of cheese and a few packs of meat and tortillas…while all our dinner and breakfast meals were stowed in a backpack. While testing some of the new meals from Mountain House and Camp Chef were on the list this summer, we would have been much better off preparing fresh meals. I admit one of my concerns were bears once we got into the Challis, Sawtooth, and Boise NF areas, still I think we would have saved space by packing fresh meals.
Day one ended with good conversation and a visit to Abby’s privy set up…
The next morning I woke before everyone and started getting our stuff packed. I never factored in how much of an anti-morning person my 11-year old is and struggled throughout the trip finding a balance of motivation, compassion, and @$$ kicking. She often acts like an adult so much, I forget that she is not even a teenager yet. This is also where I had the first wrestling match with the privy shelter we set up. Will have to post a video on how this thing is supposed to “easily” pack away…
The trip out of the sand dunes brought us through more beauty and dust. Dust was our main dilemma throughout the trip. To keep is cooled off I opted to travel with the ½ top on the Jeep and a cargo net across the back. Because I had one of the two ham radios it made sense for me to be in the rear of the convoy. We found that we needed to back off a few hundred yards in the morning, while in the evening we would drop back in some cases to more than a mile while the dust settled. We also found the Ghotra, the scarf often seen in Arab countries, was great at keeping the dust out of lungs. I admit though, Abby and I both had black boogers at times. The Ghotra or Shemag can be wet with water to help filter as well as placed on the back of the neck to cool. I even placed it on my head during the afternoon to protect against the heat of the sun.
With the trip begining, there is so much to learn about each other, our skills, our quirks, and how to deal with sdversity. The next day Abby and I would have another encounter with Moose and other wildlife!