U.S. North to South – California: Big Sur and the Mexican border

Big Sur CABig Sur CA 

This is it! After 5.437 miles/8.750 km of driving, we’ve finally come to the end of our U.S. North to South adventure we started in Barrow Alaska (planes and boats were also involved). Today we cross into California at Lake Tahoe, slide into San Francisco, discover Big Sur and reach for the Mexican border. We end on a review of Bob. If you enjoyed this series, make sure you check out all previous 16 iterations of our U.S. North to South Photo Reports as well as out 2014 adventure from New York to Los Angeles via Route 66 in a Ram 1500.

Bob Big Sur CAAll the glory of Big Sur in one picture – click to enlargecalifornia-mapThe last leg of this North to South trip

Crossing into California is like crossing into a different country altogether. I feel like this is the Switzerland of the United States. Impossible to stop by Lake Tahoe once you without paying hefty parking fees. Petrol prices are markedly higher than in the rest of the country (see heat map further down the article). I almost feel like I have to show my passport to get in here. The Californian car landscape is like a parallel universe where buying U.S. brands is an afterthought. Hordes of Honda Civic and Toyota Camrys have invaded the streets, the Chevrolet Cruze, Impala and Ford Fusion are long gone and the Chrysler 200 looks like it never made it to the Far-West state. Contrary to all states I have explored so far, there are almost no super/heavy duty pickup trucks here. Check out full sales data for California here.

The map of the entire trip. Zoom in/out and scroll up/down to see the detail

Bob Lake TahoeBob in Lake Tahoe CACadillac Sedan DeVille Lake Tahoe CA Pic2

Cadillac Sedan DeVille CA Pic1Cadillac Sedan DeVille in South Lake Tahoe CAChevrolet Pickup CAChevrolet Pickup truck near South Lake TahoeBob San Francisco CABob in San Francisco CABob Big Sur CA Pic1Bob in Big Sur CABig Sur Petrol PricesThe highest prices I have ever seen on U.S. soil – in Big Sur CAgas-prices-usa-23-october-2015(as of October 23, 2015 – time of visit)Ford Mustang Big Sur CAThe Ford Mustang is the queen of Big Sur

Bob’s pit stop in San Francisco wasn’t much more than posing with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. As we detailed in Seattle, heavy duty crew cab long bed pickups aren’t made for big cities and San Fran is no exception, although parking spots and streets are a lot more accommodating here than they were in Washington state. On to Big Sur, expectedly stunning and surprisingly isolated. The coastal landscape is nothing short of hypnotising. Not so hypnotising to not gasp at the lunar petrol prices asked by the sole servo on the road: up to $7.29 a gallon. Even in the midst of Death Valley last year prices weren’t that high. The Ford Mustang is the queen of Big Sur: brightly coloured rentals dash the road at the rate of 1 Mustang for every 14 vehicles (based on 450 vehicles surveyed).

Tesla Model S CATraffic jams near Los Angeles

Gun roadsign USA. Picture courtesy Caitlin Trimble via news-images.vice.comRoadsign seen half a mile before the Mexican border.Mexico border San Ysidro CAMexico has never been closer!

The very last leg of this North to South trip is the slowest one. Detouring Los Angeles at 3pm was no cure for traffic jams despite the seven lane-highway and it took two hours to just go around the city. While snailing my way towards the Mexican border I saw no less than 12 Tesla Model S zipping past in the car pool lane. Road signs along the highway as we get closer to Mexico remind us that “Guns are illegal in Mexico”. So much for getting anxious at the proximity of “wild” Mexico. It’s actually Mexico looking in that gets anxious at the “wild” United States. Something the ruminate for the last hour of this trip before I arrive in San Ysidro after sunset. This is it! I cannot drive Bob any further down while staying the United States. A handful of nameplates only available in Mexico (Toyota Avanza, VW Gol, Saveiro and Voyage) hit the message home. What an adventure since Barrow Alaska! It’s time to say farewell to Bob, with a quick review below.

Farewell BobFarewell Bob! 

bob-yes

It’s a true truck. It has grunt, power and torque hunger aplenty.

It’s huge! I lived the real American experience with Bob – you always are above everything and everyone on the road.

Extremely impressive handling at high speed in winding roads – given its wheelbase (4.29m) and length (6.59m)

Very good acceleration at 65mph (100km/h) – it’s never an issue to overtake on the highway.

Fuel economy better than anticipated with a peak at 22 mpg. Very reasonable for a 6.7L diesel.

bob-no

It’s a true truck, meaning it drives like a bus when the Ram 1500 drove like a car and the gears are desperately hard to manoeuver.

It’s huge! Forget going to any big city with it or you will hate your life.

The hand brake is a foot brake that is not that instinctive to find and operate.

No GPS – for $48.565 it’s a little hard to swallow.

My pet hate of the trip: The electric window command on the passenger seat (see below). In my driving position my hand always naturally fell on the back window command, every. single. time. Oh well, I recovered. And the absent back seat passengers got a lot of wind for sure!

 

 

U.S. North to South: The cars of Eureka, Nevada

Ford F-150 Eureka NVFord F-150 and the 1880 Eureka Opera House.

In Nevada we’ve explored the Extraterrestrial Highway up to Area 51 – or the gate leading to it – as well as Highway 50, nicknamed the Loneliest Road in America. Today we zoom in on one of the tiny outposts along the Loneliest Road: Eureka If you enjoy this series, make sure you check out all previous iterations of our U.S. North to South adventure here as we started all the way north in Barrow Alaska – the northernmost settlement in the U.S.

Eureka NVLocation of Eureka NV in the United States.

Located at 6.481 feet (1.975 m) altitude in the Diamond Mountains, tiny Eureka has a population of 610 according to the 2010 Census. It is technically the loneliest town on the Loneliest Road in America: the nearest towns along the highway are Ely (77 mi/124 km east) and Austin (70 mi/110 km west). Attractions include the Eureka Opera House, built in 1880 and restored in 1993, and – the reason why we stopped – its collection of pickups and vintage cars. Some parts of town seem stuck in 1983…

1983 Chevrolet Suburban Eureka NV1983 Chevrolet SuburbanIsuzu Trooper Eureka NV1983 Isuzu Trooper

Ford Ranger Eureka NV

Bob Eureka NVIt’s been closed for years, Bob…Jeep Wrangler Eureka NV

Ram 3500 Eureka NV

GMC Acadia Eureka NV

Ford F-250 Eureka NV

Bob Ram 1500 Eureka NVBob catching up with his lil bro the Ram 1500 in Eureka NV.

Next we drive into the continuous traffic jam that is California, to attempt at finally reaching the Mexican border to conclude this adventure! We also review Bob. Stay tuned for the final instalment of our U.S. North to South Photo Report series.

U.S. North to South – Nevada: Area 51 and the Loneliest Road in America

Bob Little Aleinn NVHanging out with the local aliens near Area 51.

I’ve got two car keys instead of one for Bob after our Zion episode, so we are all set to cross Nevada to the west. First stop: the elusive Area 51, then the Loneliest Road in America: Route 50. Fasten your seat belts! If you enjoy this series, make sure you check out all previous iterations of our U.S. North to South adventure here as we started all the way north in Barrow Alaska – the northernmost settlement in the U.S.

Route 50 NV Pic1Route 50: the Loneliest Road in America.Nevada mapOur itinerary in Nevada (click on image to enlarge)Bob NV Pic1

NV Pic2

Bob NV Pic2Near Coyote Springs NV

Entering Nevada in Mesquite and the Moapa Valley brings back landscape reminiscent of Death Valley we traversed last year with Albert the Ram 1500, in fact just 150 miles west of here. Cars are sparse, and we’ll take this opportunity to detail the best-sellers in the state before we attempt to find the elusive Area 51. For more detailed U.S. sales data by state, make sure you check out our Exclusive 2015 State by State sales charts. Dominated by Las Vegas, sales in Nevada are biased towards passenger cars with 5 of the 6 overall best-sellers in 2015 belonging to this segment. They are led by the Nissan Altima, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla and Camry followed by the Ram Pickup at #5. The Toyota RAV4 outsells both the Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150.

NV Pic3On the Extraterrestrial Highway.Area 51 NVSpooky: the gate to Area 51 near Rachel NV
Bob Area 51It wouldn’t be alien fun without a grainy picture… Is that a flying saucer landing on the right?Little Aleinn NVEasy as. At Little Ale’inn, Rachel NV

At Crystal Springs we get onto Highway 375, dubbed the “Extraterrestrial Highway” partly because of the high number of UFO sightings along this stretch, but mostly due to the proximity of top-secret Area 51, part of Ellis Airforce Base and the central focus of many alien-involving conspiracy theories. The Little Ale’inn in nearby Rachel banks on the legend and offers free parking for flying saucers. Generous. I feel sorry for asking what the barman must hear about half a billion times a day but “where exactly is Area 51?” as there’s obviously no road signs. “It’s easy, you have to trace back your steps for about two miles and drive for 14 miles on an unsealed track. You’ll get to a closed gate. You can take as many pictures as you like but by all means do not walk in!” By the time I arrive darkness is settling in, the guarding post seems unmanned and the only sound around is the stop lights blinking on the gate. I can’t help but feel watched, probably by a half-dozen surveillance screens a few miles away in a top-secret bunker. It’s spooky. Time to leave.

Bob Route 50 Pic1

Route 50 NV Pic2On Route 50, the Loneliest Road in AmericaBob Middlegate NV

Ford Ranger Middlegate NVAt Middlegate Station NV Diesel price Middlegate NV

Bob Middlegate NV Pic3Pit stop at Middlegate Station on Route 50

The next day, we join Ely to start on one of my most anticipated stretches of road in this trip: the fabled Route 50, nicknamed “The loneliest Road in America”. On it, we cross Nevada from East to West to reach Carson City near the border with California. Route 50 follows the route of the Overland Coach, the Pony Express and the first transcontinental telegraph lines. Among the very few towns we passed, Eureka stood out with its quiet quaintness and its collection of vintage cars. Tired and lonely, we get rewarded with a delicious burger at Middlegate Station and sigh of relief at not needing to refuel at $3.999 per gallon, by far the steepest diesel price of the entire trip.

Next we return to Eureka on Route 50 for a full Photo Report, so be sure to check in tomorrow!

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U.S. North to South: Stranded in Zion National Park, Utah

Zion NP 2Zion National Park UT

Now that I know Bob is a closeted rallyman in a tradesman suit, I decided to reward my Ram 2500 crew cab with a short trip to Zion National Park back north in Utah. Turns out this would be the theatre of the most challenging episode of this entire trip as I got stranded right in Hurricane near Zion National Park and unable to get back at Bob’s wheel… But it also ended with the most moving encounter I have made during this entire month-long journey. Grab a drink and read on…

If you enjoy this series, be sure to check out all previous iterations of this U.S. North to South adventure here as we started all the way north in Barrow Alaska – the northernmost settlement in the U.S.

Grand Canyon Zion mapGrand Canyon to Zion NP itinerary – click on image to enlarge.

Let’s get one thing sorted first and foremost: the beauty of Zion National Park. Absolutely eye-popping, a mix of crimson cliffs, intricately cut gorges and fierce desert vegetation. So eye-popping in fact, that I got distracted as my car keys dropped out of my pocket – I probably should also consider zip-lock pockets – at the top of a strenuous 3-hour climb leading to the spectacular Observation Point. But I wouldn’t find this out until much later in the day. Here is how the most challenging – but also the most heart-warming – 72 hours of this North to South adventure unfolded…

Zion NP 3Coming to Observation Point, Zion National Park UT Zion NP 4“You lost your keys, go back!” I did think that rock squirrel was very agitated on my way back down…

Day 1

After a short drive to Hurricane I drop all my luggage at the Rodeway Inn – very important precision – before heading to Zion NP. It is the first time in this trip that I’m able to check in before I go on the day’s exploration. Saving grace. I park Bob at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center as no cars are allowed into the Park in summer. After a long ascension to Observation Point totalling roughly 5 hours including the descent, and just as the sun disappears and plunges the canyon into darkness, I get that sinking feeling on the shuttle bus taking me back to the Visitor Center: no car keys.

Promptly the shuttle driver voices a message to all other shuttle buses to check for car keys. Nothing. What if someone found them and drove off with Bob? A slight tang of panic starts ringing in my ears. Hurricane is only 24 miles/40km away but with no car it’s impossible to get there alone, especially at night. Rachel and Chuck, the only other passengers in the last shuttle bus of the day and my first guardian angels of this trip, propose to drive me to my hotel. The very friendly shuttle driver tries to distract us with the story of how he met his wife at the Park and they got married here decades ago and never left. All I hear is “I DON’T HAVE ANY CAR KEYS”.

As soon as we arrive at the car park I run to make sure that Bob is still at his spot. He is. Chuck is relaxed: “I’m sure someone already found your keys, there are thousands of people walking the trails each day. They’ll be there for you at the Visitor Center tomorrow morning.” I hope you’re right Chuck… Rachel: “I wish you’d be that positive in everyday life!” We all laugh. After dropping me and leaving my hotel, they suddenly make a u-turn and come back. “Did you want us to pick you up in the morning?” I told you, guardian angels.

Lonely Bob Zion NPBob is stuck in the Zion Visitor Center car park with no way for me to get in.

Day 2:

This morning Rachel and Chuck are bent on making me feel good and positive, and our half-hour trip is filled with laughter as we swap life stories, what I’m doing here, what they’re driving (“I’m ashamed to say it, a Camry…”), their jobs, their happiness, their worries. So much so that when I say goodbye I feel like I’ve known them all my life. And I take it with a smile when the ranger at the Visitor Center tells me they have found no car keys (yet?). I fill all the ‘lost’ paperwork and think of giving my driving license number to the Zion NP security guards at the Park’s gate – where there is actually no gate – asking them to check any bright red Ram pickup truck leaving the Center today. You never know. Then I sheepishly email the guys at Ram asking if by any chance the closest Ram dealer could help out… No immediate answer.

I walk to Bob and whisper: “It’s going to be ok.” Call me crazy but I felt bad for him having to wait all alone in the car park not knowing what was going on. I have a full day in front of me and no transportation back to Hurricane so I decide to climb to Observation Point again – my fitness will thank me – and keep my eyes peeled for my keys along the trail, asking every hiker I meet if they found any keys – including Rachel and Chuck who started a little earlier. Everyone’s pained look prompts me to say “it’s ok” each time. Is it? Will I have to abort this trip and fly back to Australia one week early?

Six hours later I’m back at the Zion Lodge and discover that the guys at Ram not only do have a spare key, but moved heaven and earth to locate it – not as easy as it sounds given this is a loan truck that travels across the country all the time – and express-send it to my hotel in Hurricane. I’m very impressed. “Don’t lose the spare, as we have none left!” they write. I’ll try. Not sure how long it will take to get them though, and to be honest I’d much rather have found the keys I lost, as I still don’t know whether someone found them and is waiting for the car park to empty up so Bob stands out and they can snap him up and drive off.

Now to get back to Hurricane. No buses or taxis link Zion to Hurricane and hitch-hiking isn’t very popular around here. This is where you realise someone without a car in the United States basically does not exist. I call each shuttle service company in vain, only one asks me to “hold on”… “Jane lives in Hurricane and she could give you a lift… Only thing is you’d have to wait an hour until she finishes…” Of course I’m in. This earned you a link on here Zion Adventures… Jane and I share our life and dreams in the car. “I came to Zion ten years ago just by curiosity and I ended up never leaving! I love this place so much! It relaxes me and keeps me grounded”. Stole the words out of my mouth Jane.

Zion NP 1Zion National Park UT

Day 3:

Midday. A UPS truck roars into the Rodeway Inn carpark in Hurricane. Hotel manager Jamie has been spending all morning trying to organise my ride to Zion NP to meet again with Bob my Ram truck. She even called her dad, in vain: every one is held up with their busy day, and she evidently can’t leave the hotel unattended. As soon as she sees the UPS truck she bolts out of the office and runs to it so fast the driver doesn’t even need to actually stop to deliver my much-awaited spare keys. I run after the truck myself and ask if by any chance he wouldn’t be driving to Zion NP. No chance. Back at the hotel, the Zion Visitor Center calls to tell me someone dropped my lost keys at the desk! From zero to two keys in five minutes… I’m off hitch-hiking and start walking along the desert road leading to Zion NP, hoping I won’t have to walk 24 miles in stifling heat.

Here comes Ivan with a huge dog in his station wagon. “Don’t worry she’s just curious… I’m only going to Virgin though.” It’s halfway through, but it will get me closer anyway. After I explained how he already played a role in returning my life back to normal, I ask whether he’s a local. “Oh no. I live way up north now. I used to live here with my dad. He passed away ten years ago and I’ve never been back since. It’s my first time. I arrived today.” Ivan has moved on with his life, but his past has just hit him in the face. We arrive at Virgin. We drive through town, we leave. He doesn’t stop. Instead, he shows me houses along the way. “My best friend used to live here… And here the police station: we would always hang here smoking pot with the police officers! What a laugh. They were so friendly. Everyone in town loved them, it was such a cool time.”

I ask if he would consider moving back here. “I don’t know. I have five young kids now, it’s not easy moving an entire family. Perhaps if I was by myself. But that’s not how life turned out and I love my wife and kids.” I figure Ivan can’t be much older than in his early thirties. We arrive at Springdale, a few miles before Zion. “We passed Virgin long ago…” I point out with a wink in the voice. “I know. I didn’t think I could drive all the way up to Zion. Too many good memories. I wasn’t sure I could face them. See how I helped you get back to your truck, well you gave me the courage to come back to my favourite place in the world. Thank you.”

It’s me who’s thanking you Ivan.

Keys SentSpare keys are in!Keys FoundLost keys are found!

As I arrive at the Zion Visitor Center, Lucy at reception delivers the found keys with a smile bigger than her face. All is well in the end. I can continue on my adventure to get to the southernmost point in continental U.S. Stay tuned for the next part driving into Nevada…

U.S. North to South: Rally driving in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon NP 2Sunset on the Grand Canyon North Rim, AZ

After crossing Utah from north to south, admiring a multitude of National Parks along the way, we now travel to the National Park that tops them all: Grand Canyon. Check out all previous iterations of this U.S. North to South photo series here as we started all the way north in Barrow Alaska – the northernmost settlement in the U.S.!

Kanab Grand Canyon NP mapOur itinerary for today (click on the image to enlarge)Bob Grand Canyon NP Pic2Bob admiring the Grand Canyon

Having already visited the Grand Canyon’s more touristic South Rim as a teenager, I decided to opt this time for the more quiet North Rim – also helping was the fact that reaching the South Rim from Kanab would have required an additional 200 miles/322 km which is something I cannot afford in the limited time I am loaned Bob the Ram 2500. And I wasn’t disappointed by my choice – by far. After a mixed experience at Yellowstone NP, anything that can keep me away from the crowds will make me happy. I had forgotten how breathtakingly grandiose Grand Canyon is, and the North Rim offers a more finely cut landscape where it is possible to get your eyes lost for hours studying every asperity of the rock formations. If you haven’t done so already, visiting both rims of the Grand Canyon should definitely be on your to-do list.

Bob Grand Canyon NPBob on the Kaibab Plateau just before arriving in Grand Canyon National Park AZ 

Crowds flee the Park as soon as the sun dips below the horizon, and because I waited long after that to discover the bottom of the canyon – inscrutable when the sun is glaring – I found myself on a 130 mile/200 km trip back to Hurricane at night on a completely deserted winding mountain road. It was the perfect opportunity to push Bob to its limits and see what the 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel engine has in its guts. A lot, as it turns out. Bob being a Ram 2500 crew cab with an 8′ extended bed, its length culminates at 259.4in/6.59m! Which I would have thought would hamper its stability in high speed mountain road “rally” driving mode, constantly swapping between strong acceleration and heavy braking. Yet I was extremely surprised by how much Bob stuck to the road and was manoeuvrable at high speed. I pushed him to 85mph (140 km/h) on the short straights that the road afforded me with no negative impact whatsoever on its handling. Bob a rallyman? Who would have thought…

Grand Canyon NP 1

Grand Canyon NP 3North Rim at Grand Canyon National Park AZ

We finish today as is now the tradition on a short analysis of the best-selling new vehicles in Arizona, if you want to know detailed sales figures for all U.S. states be sure to check out our Exclusive 2015 State by State sales charts. Here too the best-sellers are all pickup trucks but it’s a surprise on top: the Chevrolet Silverado reigns above GMC Sierra! The Ram and Ford F-150 follow, distancing the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Jeep Wrangler. The Wrangler is #5 light truck in Arizona, one of only two Top 5 placements in 2015 along with Hawaii where it ranks #2.

Next we get back to Utah to explore Zion National Park where I got… stranded! Be sure to check in tomorrow for more.

U.S. North to South: Driving through Utah National Parks

Chevrolet Viking 6.0 Ferron UT1960 Chevrolet Viking 6.0 in Ferron UT 

After Grand Teton National Park, we continue our North to South exploration of the United States in a Ram 2500 tradesman diesel baptised Bob. Today, we cross the state of Utah entirely to arrive at Kanab at the border with Arizona. On the way, we will admire such wonders as Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante via the sublime Highway 12 Scenic Byway and Bryce Canyon National Park. Check out all U.S. North to South photo reports here: we started all the way in Barrow, the northernmost settlement in the U.S.!

Capitol Reef NP Pic1Capitol Reef National Park, UT Jackson Kanab mapJackson Hole WY to Kanab UT itinerary – click on the map to enlarge.Bob Hwy 12 Scenic Byway UTBob on the Highway 12 Scenic By-Way UT

The first part of this journey takes up to Green River, Ashley National Forest, Flaming Gorge and Red Canyon to stop overnight in Vernal UT. Next, we cross verdant plains towered by yellow rock formation where lie sleepy quaint towns: Helper and its hanging rock, Price, Orangeville, Ferron and Lyman. They are relics of bygone, less stressful times where automotive treasures await to be discovered, such as the superb 1960 Chevrolet Viking 6.0 medium-duty pickup pictured at the start of this article. It was just one of many olden workhorses abandoned in the nook and crannies of leftover fields.

Bob Hwy 12 UTGrand Staircase-Escalante UTCapitol Reef NP Pic2Capitol Reef National Park, UTBob Helper UTBob in Helper UT. Notice the hanging rock at the center.

At Torrey, we enter the bright-red cliffs of Capitol Reef National Park with herds of bisons lazily grazing at their foot. It is the start of hours of non-stop awe-inspiring landscapes, best viewed through the oft-ignored Highway 12 Scenic By-Way that takes Bob and I through various mountain passes across the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We manage to reach Bryce Canyon National Park just as the sunset sets the pinkish yellow cliffs ablaze in another magical moment. We also cross the 3.000 miles mark since Seattle in Bryce Canyon (4.828 km). My only regret for Utah on this trip is to not have had the time to veer a little more eastward to the Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Perhaps another time…

Ford F-250 Lyman UTFord F-250 near Lyman UT
Bob Orangeville UTBob in Orangeville UTBob Hwy12 UT Pic2Bob on Highway 12 UT

As far as the vehicles we met along the way, as it was the case in our last update in Wyoming, this part of the United States is the kingdom of pickup trucks with all generations of three decades worth of best-sellers still well represented on the road. In some towns there were already handfuls of new generation Ford F-150 which at the time I visited (October 2015) was a feat in itself. In our Exclusive 2015 State by State sales charts we find that the 2015 best-seller in Utah is the Ram Pickup – once again I’m keeping Bob at home especially given the fact the 2500 variant is the most common here – followed at a distance by the Chevrolet Silverado then the Ford F-150. This is validated by my real-life observations. The Hyundai Elantra, Subaru Outback and Toyota Camry are the most popular cars, something I couldn’t verify as they undoubtedly are more successful in the state capital Salt Lake City which I did not visit.

Our next stop is the majestic Grand Canyon – so be sure to check again tomorrow!

Ram Pickup UTBob’s brothers are very successful in Utah: the Ram Pickup was #1 here in 2015.

U.S. North to South: Grand Teton NP and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Grand Teton NP Pic1Spectacular Grand Teton National Park, WY

After Yellowstone National Park, we now drive a short 80 miles/130 km south to the adjoining Grand Teton National Park, a lot quieter and in my view more spectacular. You can check out the entire U.S. North to South series here (we started in Barrow, the northernmost settlement in the U.S.!)

Yellowstone Grand Teton mapYellowstone and Grand Teton are two adjoining National Parks.Bob Grand Teton NP Pic2

Grand Teton NP Pic2Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park WYJeep Wrangler Jackson WYA Jeep Wrangler feeling well at home in Grand Teton NPStreet scene Jackson Hole WY Jackson Hole WY

Towered by Grand Teton (13.770ft), the National Park of the same name offers pure sceneries of jagged peaks, alpine lakes and fragrant pine forests. Much more my cup of tea than tourist-crazed Yellowstone. Walking along the shore of Jenny Lake as the sun softly slips down the sky is an experience that has the power to refocus your soul onto the important things in life. Nearly, bustling Jackson Hole is a touch of measured sophistication with numerous perfectly painted wooden buildings. A picture perfect place in the United States.

Subaru Outback Jackson Hole WYSubaru Outback in Jackson Hole WYBob Grand Teton NP Pic1Tick! Grand Teton National Park is done for Bob.Ford F-150 Jackson Hole WY

Ford F-250 Jackson Hole WYFord pickups in Jackson Hole WY

Given tomorrow we will be crossing onto Utah to reach Bryce Canyon at the southern end of the state, it is now time to look into the most popular vehicles in Wyoming. For more detail and the exact sales figures of the Top 10 best-sellers in each state, can check out our Exclusive State by State U.S. rankings for 2015 here. Wyoming buyers have one word for you: pickup truck. Okay that’s two. The five best-selling vehicles in the state in 2015 are all pickups, toped by the Ram Pickup – so Bob is completely at home here. It is followed by the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra and Ford F-350 Super Duty. Car-wise, it’s no longer a surprise in this area of the U.S. but still merits a full mention: the Subaru Outback reigns, and it shows in Jackson Hole. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventures in Utah!

Kia Sorento Jackson Hole WYKia Sorento in Jackson Hole WY
Pickups Pinedale WY

Pickups Pinedale WY PIc2Pickups in Pinedale WY
Subaru Forester Jackson Hole WYSubaru Forester in Jackson Hole WY

U.S. North to South: Eye to eye with a bison in Yellowstone, Wyoming

Bob Yellowstone NP Pic1Bob chatting with a brother Ram 2500 in Yellowstone National Park, WY. 

After Glacier National Park and Bozeman in Montana, we continue south and cross into Wyoming to discover the United States’ oldest National Park: Yellowstone. You can check out the entire U.S. North to South series here (we started in Barrow, the northernmost settlement in the U.S.!)

Glacier Yellowstone map

Bison Yellowstone NPClose encounter with a bison near Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone NP, WY

My most memorable experience at Yellowstone NP – otherwise a very busy touristic circus – was completely unexpected and unplanned. Typing 720 Yellowstone Avenue into Google maps when leaving Bozeman (the joys of not having a GPS in the truck), actually directed me the one in Pocatello ID not my destination in Cody WY. I realised it too late and had to cross the Park from West to East to join Cody as the night was falling. This error allowed some fantastic sunset views over the numerous geysers of the park, but also a very close encounter with a bison on the deserted road in full darkness. My Ram 2500 diesel isn’t exactly the most quiet vehicle around and at full beams it would have frightened more than one animal that had ventured on the pitch black road. Not my bison. Walking in the same direction as I was driving, he even stepped closer to the truck as I paused to look him in the eye. Its noisy respiration was drowning the guttural sound of my engine and his mildly annoyed or curious look levelled with my eyes for a few magical seconds. Bob was starting to feel intimidated so we had to go.

Bob Yellowstone NP Pic2Been there! Bob posing proudly at the Yellowstone NP entrance.Chevrolet Colorado Yellowstone NPChevrolet Silverado 2500 Park Ranger near Yellowstone Lake WY

Established in 1872 as the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone houses half of the world’s geysers and a healthy amount of wildlife, including wolves, bears, moose and of course bisons. Yet it wasn’t my favourite park this year: too many visitors tend to ruin any kind of serene experience you were hoping to get here. At night, things are different: the sky illuminates with an incredible amount of stars, and bisons roam wild. Car-wise, it would appear Chevrolet sponsors the Yellowstone Park Rangers with a multitude of Silverado pickups spotted. Rental Chevrolets for tourists also abound, such as the Equinox and Traverse. The Toyota 4 Runner and Ford Edge are also popular.

Yellowstone NP 1Upper Falls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, WY (note the yellow stones…)Yellowstone NP 2Geyser Basin in Yellowstone NP, WYYellowstone NP 3Are you prepared to avoid a bear attack? In Yellowstone NP, WYBob Yellowstone NP Pic3Bob in all his glory – at Yellowstone NP, WYFord Edge Yellowstone NPFord Edge in Yellowstone NP, WY  Toyota 4Runner Yellowstone NPToyota 4 Runner coming all the way from New Jeresey, in Yellowstone NP, WY.

Late into the night when I arrived in Cody, a small town 53 miles/85 km east of the Park, I passed the 2.000 miles mark since we started this section of the trip with Bob in Seattle. That’s 3.219 km for you non-U.S. readers. Tomorrow we drive a further 80 miles/130 km south to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, still in Wyoming – stay tuned!

Yellowstone NP 4Looking down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, WY.

U.S. North to South: The cars of Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman street scene 2Main street in Bozeman MT 

After Glacier National Park, we continue south to a pit stop in Bozeman, still in the Montana state. This quiet little town offers good coffee shops with wifi, period buildings and leafy streets full of a certain Japanese brand of cars that people here can’t get enough of. The perfect opportunity for a snapshot of the local car landscape. You can check out the entire U.S. North to South series here.

Location of Bozeman MTBozeman MT location in the U.S.Ram 3500 Bozeman MTRam 3500 in Bozeman MT Bozeman street sceneBozeman main streetGMC Pickup Bozeman MTVintage GMC pickup

The Bozeman car landscape can be summarised in two words: Ram and Subaru. Not that only these two brands are present on the streets, far from it, but they are disproportionately successful here compared to other parts of the country. The Ram Pickup is the best-selling new vehicle in Montana in 2015 as you can discover in our Exclusive State by State U.S. rankings, and it shows in Bozeman especially the 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty variants. Roughly 40% of all vehicle circulating in Bozeman are pickup trucks (vs. a 15% national average), the most popular being (in this order) the Ram Pickup, Ford F-250, Toyota Tacoma, GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado and Toyota Tundra. The Dodge Dakota, now discontinued, used to be a smashing success here, looking at its frequency in town.

Toyota 4 Runner Bozeman MTToyota 4RunnerSubaru Impreza Bozeman MTSubaru ImprezaFord F-350 Bozeman MTFord F-250 Super Duty Lariat

As far as non-pickups are concerned, it’s Subarus, Subarus, Subarus everywhere in Bozeman, replicating a success we have seen everywhere so far in this North to South adventure: in Alaska, Seattle, Portland, Idaho and Glacier National Park. But here’s where it gets interesting: Bozeman inhabitants are clinging to their (sometimes rather old) Subarus like dear life and as result they account for a much higher ratio of the landscape as their new car sales market share would allow. Indeed, out of 185 vehicles surveyed in the leafy streets of Bozeman, an astounding 44 were Subaru – an incredible 24% of the park. Other nameplates strong enough to warrant a mention here include the Toyota 4Runner, Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Explorer, Toyota RAV4 and FJ Cruiser.

Jeep Cherokee Bozeman MTJeep CherokeeNissan Juke Bozeman MTNissan JukeRam 2500 Bozeman MTRam 2500Chevrolet Apache Bozeman MT Pic1 Chevrolet Apache Bozeman MT Pic21958 Chevrolet-NAPCO Apache 31 in Bozeman MT

Finally over the couple of hours I explored the streets of Bozeman, I chanced upon a beautiful and very rare pale green 1958 Chevrolet Apache 31 suburban truck with a NAPCO four-wheel drive conversion. The Apache 30 Series was sold mostly as a pickup truck in 1958 and 1959, it replaced the Task Force Series and would be replaced in 1960 by the Apache 10 Series. You can see more pictures of the Chevrolet Apache 30 Series below.

1959 Chevrolet-NAPCO Apache 31 Deluxe Fleetside Pickup truck1959 Chevrolet-NAPCO Apache 31 Deluxe Fleetside Pickup Truck
1958 Chevrolet-NAPCO Apache 36 Pickup1958 Chevrolet-NAPCO Apache 36 Stepside Pickup Truck
1958 Chevrolet Apache 31 Panel Truck1958 Chevrolet Apache 31 Panel Truck 

As you can notice the correct appellation for the specific truck I spotted is Chevrolet-NAPCO. That’s because from 1956 to 1959, the NAPCO (Northwestern Auto Parts Company) “Powr-Pak” four-wheel drive conversion could be ordered directly from GM and factory installed on trucks with very few modifications to the original chassis. This conversion was mostly factory ordered on pickup trucks, only rarely on vans which makes the one I spotted in Bozeman rather unique. In 1960 NAPCO and GM parted ways when GM redesigned the front suspension on their 1960 pickup line so that it wasn’t easily compatible with the existing Power-Pak kits, this according to Wikipedia.

Tomorrow we drive south to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming – stay tuned!

Ram 1500 Black Bozeman MTRam 1500
Subaru Outback Bozeman MTSubaru Outback
VW Beetle Bozeman MTVW Beetle in Bozeman MT

U.S. North to South: Glacier National Park, Montana

Bob Glacier NP Pic1Bob in Glacier NP, Montana

It took a while, but we are finally back in the U.S. for the remaining posts of our North to South adventure that started in Barrow, Alaska. You can check out the entire series here. We now leave Portland to travel back up northeast towards Glacier National Park in Montana. For this we must cross the state of Idaho at Coeur d’Alene.

Portland Glacier mapPortland OR to Glacier National Park MT via Coeur d’Alene ID Ram 3500 Glacier NPRam 3500 in Glacier National Park, MT

Bob my Ram 2500 is at home here: the Ram Pickup was the 2nd best-selling vehicle overall in Idaho in 2015 as you can discover in our Exclusive U.S. state by state rankings. The Ford F-150 led the way for just 130 units with the Chevrolet Silverado in third place. As it was the case in Alaska and Oregon, Subaru is extremely strong in Idaho, placing the Outback at a fantastic 4th place overall, and this was confirmed by my observations on the road. The GMC Sierra (#5), Ford Focus and Fusion are also popular here, but for the latter two this has a lot to do with purchases from rental car companies.

Bob Glacier NP Pic2

Bob Glacier NP Pic3

Bob Glacier NP PIc4Bob on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, MT 

Now crossing over onto Montana, and let’s clear it once and for all: Glacier National Park is one of the very best (if not the best) National Parks in the United States. It is the only place in the lower 48 states where grizzly bears still roam in abundance as a flurry of warning signs attests along the way – yet I did not see any. I drove Bob through the aptly named Going-to-the-Sun Road which ended up being every bit of the wonder it was drummed up to be: one of the most spectacular roads I have ever driven on. I had the chance to be in Glacier NP on perfect sunny days and was lucky enough to experience a totally still Lake MacDonald (see below). Not a single ripple on the surface had me pinch myself to make sure this wasn’t all a dream. Stunning.

Bob Glacier NP Pic6Bob at the mountain pass of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, MTGlacier NP Pic1Lake MacDonald, Glacier National Park MTGlacier NP Pic3Glacier National Park, MT 

Given the Going-to-the-Sun Road was only open until the Jackson Glacier Overlook and mountain pass, day Two of our Glacier National Park exploration was spent contouring the park to the south at Devil Creek to check out East Glacier Park, Two Medicine and St Mary near the Blackfeet Indian Reservation for sunset. Although an unassuming drive, the element I missed was the total absence of petrol station in the vicinity and I ended up having to cut the engine at every downhill in order to make the most use of the little petrol I had. This led to the best fuel economy of the entire trip at 22 miles per gallon! Tomorrow we stop in Bozeman, still in Montana – stay tuned!

Bob Fuel EconomyBest fuel economy of the trip so far…Paradise SignParadise does exist, and is only 24 miles away… Entering Grizzly CountryGlacier National Park is the only place in the lower 48 states where grizzly bears abound.Subaru Outback Glacier NP Subaru Outback in Glacier National Park, MT

The Photo Report continues with more pictures below.

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