Monday, September 23, 2013

Ketchum, Craters of the Moon and trailer shopping in Boise

We left Wilson, WY just outside of the Grand Tetons National Park around 4:30 pm, having spent a great few days with some friends from the Bay Area. But we’d already taken over their vacation enough and needed to start moving west if we were going to get back to the Farmlet in California in time for a family friend’s retirement party that had always been the closing bracket of this 8 week trip. Teton Pass was another one of those roads like the Moki Dugway in Utah or the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park that we’d been warned about. “I dunno. You’d probably make it. Not sure if I’d pull my trailer up or down that.” After an unexciting, mostly four lane mountain pass, we topped out at about 8,500 ft and slipped down into Idaho with the Tetons in the rear view mirror(s).


I made up a flimsy argument for a sharp right turn when I saw the sigh for the Grand Tetons Brewing Company just outside of Victor, ID. After all, “the baby” was getting hungry. Never mind that daddy was getting thirsty. Besides, they’d followed my cardinal rule: Name your brewpub “THE NAME OF THE PLACE WE’RE AT Brewing Company” and we’ll probably stop there. After walking through a cloud of spent mash aroma outside the non-descript warehouse building with retired kegs leaning against the facade, our happy little family entered the dark tasting room as all 5 heads inside turned to check us out. Okay, so it wasn’t the serves-fresh-hoppy-high-alcohol-content-but-also-has-a-children's-menu-and-gives-crayons(oh-and-also-doesn't-smell-like-the-floor-of-a-frat-so-it’s-okay-with-mom) place I’d promised, but they were happy to point us to Wildlife Brewing Company just up the road that was more our pace.

With full bellies and pleasantly fuzzy heads, we managed a 3 point turn in the gravel parking lot and found our way to the Teton Valley RV Park just around the corner. The reviews looked good despite violating another cardinal rule: Never stay at the RV park called “THE NAME OF THE PLACE WE’RE AT RV Park.” We pulled in about 8 pm, and squinted in the headlights to read the site numbers, realizing it was the first time we’d arrived at a park in the dark. We hooked up the power and left everything else til the morning.


After slight detour through the town of Driggs, a cute mainstreet in the shadows of the Tetons, we mapped as straight as we could towards our destination of Ketchum. That route bypassed Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Twin Falls and instead took us right along the perimeter of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, indicated on the map by an 890 square mile blank gray area, pretty much guaranteeing that they’re up to no good. In fact, while my research department tells me that some of what’s done there includes testing of hybrid vehicles, cyber security vulnerability analysis and feasibility studies on large-scale biofuel production, development of “next-generation” nuclear technologies seems to be the primary purpose. In fact, the National Reactor Testing Station, as it was named at the time, was the site of the only fatal nuclear reactor accident in the US in which three military personnel were killed in a core meltdown. Apparently, the bodies were so radioactive, they had to be buried in lead coffins. We opted not to ask the guard at the isolated, razor-wire enclosed entrance to the facility what time the next tour was.

I thought it was a bit interesting that the in-dash Toyota nav system was thoroughly confused about which direction we were heading as we passed by. The Garmin was accurate. I took it as conclusive evidence that the moon landing was faked.


Just to our north, a series of finger-shaped mountain ranges raked the landscape like inverted claw marks. In the visitor center of Craters of the Moon National Monument, we got an explanation of their formation and a revelation about this valley and its connection the smoldering geysers of Yellowstone. While we knew we’d been driving southeast, we learned that the road beneath us had also been moving in that direction. In fact, it was the entire North American Plate that had been sliding over a weak spot in the earth’s crust leaving a series of calderas behind over the past 15 million years (give or take). Picture holding a piece of paper over a candle and slowly moving it from left to right. The result would be burn marks that appeared to move the opposite direction.

In the case of the Great Rift of Idaho, the southwestern movement of the plate has “migrated” the hotspot northeast from Craters of the Moon to its current location under Yellowstone National Park, leaving behind the Snake River Plain and the mountain ridges – basically “stretch marks” in the Earth’s skin - we’d driven by earlier. Ah, so *that’s* why all of Yellowstone seems to be about to erupt. And while the first major eruption occurred in what is now the Yellowstone Caldera about 2.1 million years ago, scientists are closely watching the variations in the uplift of the whole region to gauge pressure build up that could precede the next one.


Meanwhile, Craters of the Moon has seen lava flows through the weakened area of the plate as recently as 2,000 years ago. When a vent erupts and shoots liquefied magma high into the air, the rock cools as it lands and creates giant cinder cones. Inferno Cone is one of the largest and makes for an easy (less than a km) hike.


Note, while collecting rocks is prohibited, if you do happen to find your gray velour sweatshirt pockets over-flowing with them, you may need some assistance reaching the top.

DSC_6802 DSC_6804




But once, you get there, it’s a pretty great view.




DSC_6825 DSC_6824

As we approached Ketchum, intermittent cell service seemed to say that most of the National Forest campgrounds, at least the ones with first-come first-served sites, would already be closed for the season, so we ended up in the wide open lot of the The Meadows RV Park. Despite the park being not much more than rows of sites with a little grass in between, the woman who checked us in consulted diligently with us on our best orientation to maximize afternoon sun before it dipped below the ridge. In fact, since we had to pull the trailer all the way forward in the spot anyway to make our sewer connections, I took the opportunity to take off the solar rock guards – basically protective sunglasses that save the glass but can make the interior seem dark – and pretend we had an FB (front bedroom) model. The difference was dramatic enough that I’d consider taking them on and off more often.


Other than ample electricity to power the blower on the furnace as the temperature dropped each night, the best part about the location was access to a great bike path that wound three miles to Ketchum and beyond. One afternoon, we strapped Wynne into her bike seat and set off for town only to find an Oktoberfest celebration in full swing in the central square.




We had a couple beers, hung out and people watched. Ketchum’s got an interesting vibe. Seems like everyone’s trying really hard, whether they be recently matriculated frat brothers extending the party or retired escapees from LA nipped and tucked to their idea of perfection. Even the dogs seem to be trying to get your attention. There were three lounging in this sweet old BMW.



Whereas the people in Jackson, WY obviously had money to burn, they weren’t as interested in making sure everyone around them knew it. Of course, this is all just our perspective after only a couple afternoons in town. And while the bike path was awesome for our morning runs – even if they were starting to be a little chilly as we moved into late September – we did have an appointment to keep in Boise.


You see, for the past couple weeks, we’d been talking a lot about the idea of getting a slightly larger trailer. We’ve always commented on how much we like the smaller footprint of our 19’ and shorter wheelbase tow vehicle that has allowed us to tuck into some unlikely campgrounds and park through two spaces at the grocery store. Still as we approach the triple digit mark for nights spent in the trailer so far this year, we feel like we’ve officially crossed the line between “camping” and “living” when we’re on the road.

As impressed as we’ve been with the efficiency of the 19’ floorplan to keep us comfortable and even decently well organized, we acknowledge that there are frequent times when just one more area other than the multi-use dinette (eating, cooking prep, working, lounging) would be nice to have. When I’m making lasagnas for the freezer and don’t want to chop off little fingers along with the onions, Ann’s making her granola breakfast bars and the hot oven is right next to Wynne’s head as she’s playing her ukeleke on the gray shag rug, or I’m trying to work on the laptop and don’t particularly want Wynne grabbing the portable hard drive by its USB cable and swinging it around like a medieval mace. You know, those times. Plus, we’ve been enjoying this trip so much, there’s talk of others – longer ones – and talk of more kids – younger ones – that led us to get online and start searching.


We’d been back and forth on the perfect Airstream floorplan for a small family. Remember us crawling around trailers near the beginning of our trip in Seattle? Unfortunately, none of the usual 25’ or 27’ layouts seemed right for us; Because of the bumpout in the kitchen to accommodate the round “lobster pot” sink, floor space for a little one to roll around is really limited and, as nice as it would be, a fully dedicated room for our bed wasn’t going to be the most efficient use of space. Of course, the 30’ bunkhouse model would be great, but did I mention the length? Oh yeah, I did, but hadn’t yet mentioned the price tag of almost $90K!


Eventually, we stumbled upon a more rare configuration called the SS or “Six Sleeper” coming in at a modest 25 feet (above). What that means is that in addition to a dinette oriented along one wall opposite the kitchen counter that converts into a double bed, there’s a lounge (couch in non-RV terms) that turns into another one for a theoretical total of six sleepers. What it meant for us was another six feet outside of “the kitchen” that could be inhabited while the kitchen was in use. Even better, when Airstream finally started paying attention to the ideas of a San Francisco architect and furniture builder named Christopher C. Deam who had originally been told that his designs didn’t fit the Airstream customer demographic, his first production designs for the company included a revamp of the SS floorplan (this and more info on the collaboration at Ludwig Design) which updated the scratchy grandma fabric on padded plywood designs to the sleek and modern interiors you see on today’s Airstreams, whether or not they bear his initials - CCD.


Now, I should mention that there are plenty of SS naysayers out there, though the complaints are primarily centered around aspects that it has in common with our current 19’ (above). Both layouts have a corner bed, meaning that the inside occupant must climb over the outside one for latenight trips to the bathroom, something we’re used to from the roof top tent on the Pan American Highway. Although, in that case, we then had to stumble down an 8 foot metal ladder while watching out for scorpions and howler monkeys. And speaking of the bathroom, it’s small and oddly shaped. Fortunately, so are we and find it quite useable once you resign yourself to a modified “Thinker” pose with one foot in the shower for your “throne work.” The shower itself is plenty roomy for us and features a deep tub at the bottom, perfect for baby’s bath time. When you add the extra clothing and food storage, larger fridge and freezer, expanded kitchen counter space, almost double the fresh and gray water tanks and tons of light thanks to a skylight and vista windows, it’s a huge upgrade. But I know, this post is useless without pictures… I’m getting there.

We started looking in earnest for a 25’ CCD and, after coming up empty on the Airstream Classifieds, found one while doing a national Craigslist search (Google “ Airstream 25 CCD”). The only “problem” wasn’t much of a problem for us at all; The trailer was in Boise, ID and we were coming south through Montana. We’d be headed right for it in a couple weeks. Lucky for us, it was still around by the time we left Ketchum, so we set up a time to come see it, hence the appointment in Boise.

We took a scenic route up through the town of Stanley where a good friend’s family has a house.


DSC_6847 DSC_6852



We rejected the RV park near the airport and then had to set a world speed record for unhitching the trailer at the Boise Riverside RV Park in order to only be 10 minutes late for our appointment. But there she was, tucked behind a fence, waiting for us…


The owner had bought a cabin in the mountains and no longer needed the trailer for weekend adventures. He’d bought it new in 2005 and had been very accommodating with our questions, even sending along the VIN so I could check a few specs with an Airstream dealer. Once again, the Seattle store of Airstream Adventures Northwest has been an awesome dealer, despite being like 1,500 miles from home and being under the same ownership as our closest one with which we’ve had less than favorable interactions. And on this evening, the owner basically let us crawl all over to check it out.


I could get used to having a real couch, and look at all the light from the two side windows with vista views above. We also have ideas for adding a curtain to this area to create something of a second bedroom for kids.


Sitting at the side dinette may not be quite as scenic as the front bedroom models, but unlike the 19’ which has minimal windows on the sides sometimes giving you the feeling that you don’t know what’s going on around the trailer, has a nice view and an operable window for a cross breeze. A few details hint at the vintage of the trailer such as the tiny TV, likely state of the art 8 years ago. The new season of Downton Abbey starts in January, so we’ll likely upgrade to a larger LED TV with a mount that can swing forward or around for viewing from the bedroom. Also pictured is a Honda EU2000 generator included in the deal. Exactly the one we were planning on buying.



Counterspace is always going to be at a premium in an Airstream, but this kitchen has at least 18 more inches of prep space plus the same large sink as the other 25’s and 27’s, just not at the sacrifice of floor space. To the right of the sink is a microwave. Honestly, at home we use our microwave to reheat leftovers for ourselves or Wynne, but on the road, we just scoop them into a frying pan and cover them. Works just as well if not better, and since the microwave would only work on shore power anyway, we’d remove it and trim the space out as an “appliance garage,” maybe for the coffee stuff or anything else we reach for every morning. With that done, in addition to replacing the faucet with the upgraded one we have in the 19, I’d be tempted to move the faucet to that back right corner out of the way. There’s also a fold up countertop extension that I may want to do some modifications on. Heck, we’d likely just replace whole countertop with cork or something.


Just beyond the kitchen counter is a tall cabinet just begging to be tricked out with full extension sliding drawers and a spice rack. Across from that is the fridge with a separate freezer. Have I mentioned how much homemade food and frozen meat we typically travel with? Oh yeah, and a skylight for even more light to go with with the front and back Fantastic Fans.


The bathroom is identical to our 19’, but the bedroom has a couple interesting differences. First, the bed is about 6 inches wider, taking some extra room from the additional 8 inches of overall trailer width from our 19’. Second, there’s no storage cabinet above the bed on the curb side, making everything feel a little bigger and preventing latenight head bumps while climbing over for a bathroom run. With the additional wardrobes – actually two more than we currently have – and the deeper design of the CCD cabinets, we’re not that worried about storage space. Finally, while the rear window on our 19’ is only an emergency exit, this one is also an operable window allowing for a front to back breeze and avoiding the wind tunnel funneled behind our drapes from the side window.


While Ann and I have mastered a carefully choreographed nighttime dance in the only bedroom floorspace in front of the vanity, by moving the curtain (we quickly replaced the fragile and frustrating accordion door Airstream installs with a curtain and would plan to do the same here) back to align with the fridge, we could include the wardrobes in the “bedroom” and gain a few valuable square feet of footroom.


Well, there you have it. Can you tell we’re a little excited about this? Although, there are a few tiny details to work out. Like the fact that it’s in Boise, and we’re already towing a trailer back to California at the moment. Or the fact that even if we wanted to take it with us, our 2006 Toyota Sequoia 4x4 has a maximum tow rating of 6300 lbs, above the 5200 lb dry weight of the 25’ CCD but not allowing much room towards the 7000 lb max loaded weight. Which means… we’re gonna need a bigger truck. Stay tuned…