Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Free camping in the land of $50 sites

We are at a wayside camp site along the Snake River in the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, about a mile from Flagg Ranch (map).

We never made it to Signal Mountain Lodge for dinner Monday night. I ended up spending most of Monday finishing the flooring in the bedroom, as the weather was finally pleasant enough for me to go outside and cut and trim vinyl on the picnic table (carefully working around the dire bear/food warnings screwed to the tabletop). It's mostly done (I ran out of stair nosing, so I'll have to finish the trim after we pass another hardware store), and the roll of excess vinyl that was taking up a good chunk of the living room floor is gone. It actually looks pretty good -- I'll try to remember to post a photo once the rest of the nosing is in.

When I was done with the floor I rode over to the "service station" next door to pick up a fuel filter that I ordered on Sunday for the Webasto (it turns out that they can get CarQuest parts daily from Jackson), in the hopes that it would cure our furnace problems. No dice -- the restriction gauge read at about the same spot in the yellow zone as with the old filter. I even tried blasting some compressed air down the supply line into the tank.

I was pretty beat at the end of the day, and we decided just to ride the short distance over to the Chuck Wagon restaurant in Colter Bay Village. It was decent -- nicer than we expected, and the food was good. The service was a bit over the top -- they are staffed up for the summer but it's still pretty slow right now.

Yesterday morning we packed Odyssey up, dumped and filled tanks, and dropped by the Colter Bay visitor center and Indian Arts Museum. We then headed north out of the park, figuring to be in Yellowstone by late afternoon.

As we arrived here at Flagg Ranch, we decided to drop in to the visitor center to stamp our NPS "Passport," and we also checked out the restaurant and campground. The campground here is concessionaire-operated and is strictly "full hookup" for $53 (yipe!), or tent camping for $25. I put that in quotes because the electrical service provided is 20 amps. Yep, for $53 per night, you get barely enough electricity to run the water heater.

We noticed, however, at the Park Service visitor station (hardly a center -- a one-room shack staffed by a pair of volunteers), a map and sign discussing primitive camping along Grassy Lake Road, with a note that "Sites 1-8 are free." Hmmm -- I did not recall seeing anything at all about these camp sites on the park service web site. An inquiry to the volunteers got us a handout of a hand-drawn, not-to-scale "map" to the sites, and we headed down Grassy Lake Road for a mile to "Site 1", which is actually a cluster of four sites, two of which are right on the Snake River. Only one was occupied, by a truck camper which left later in the day, and we snagged a primo spot right on the water. For free!

This is a great spot, and we decided to put down stakes and stay a few days. We knew the weather would be miserable today anyway, and this is a great spot to just hunker down. And, while the pesky Webasto problem has us power-cycling the darn thing once every five to ten minutes, we'll still only use perhaps five gallons of diesel in it each day, and maybe one or two for the generator -- call it less than $30, and it's a way nicer spot than the campground over at Flagg Ranch.

We nearly had the place to ourselves, but a young family in a minivan towing a fishing boat pulled in late in the day, and set up an elaborate tent which they then fully enclosed in tarps. Today, in the snow and the sleet, the dad and his perhaps 10-12 year old daughter were standing out fishing in the river. I'm guessing they had a cold night last night, and it will be colder still tonight. It puts our "get up and cycle the damn Webasto again" every five minutes into perspective.

Speaking of which, I spent a good part of today outside in the sleet working on the Webasto. I was able to jury-rig a one-gallon can of diesel to the input side of the filter, and running on that the restriction gauge read in the lower half of the green zone. More evidence that we have an obstructed fuel line. I made an adapter to put more air pressure into the supply line back to the tank to dislodge anything that might be stuck there, to no avail. So we'll have to start looking for collapsed lines when we are someplace where we can get under the coach.

Unfortunately, a one-gallon can of diesel will only run the furnace for about ten minutes. The furnace only burns about 0.4 gallon per hour, but much more than that circulates through it and returns to the tank -- I did not have the parts to also plumb the return line back to the one-gallon can. So while it was useful as a test, we could not just run the darn thing that way. Tomorrow I might see if the gas station at Flagg Ranch has a length of fuel hose in the right diameter to try to jury-rig the system up to the gallon can -- that would at least let us run two hours at a stretch.


  1. Sean, I installed an in line el cheapo electric fuel pump in DML to make sure I had fuel for both the Webasto and the genset. I think it came from Pep Boys and the output pressure was adjustable. I kept it on the lowest pressure setting available. I normally used it if I had opened a fuel line and needed to re-prime, but it can actually be left in the line at all times. The genset or Webasto fuel pumps will pull the fuel thru it, even if it is not turned on.


  2. Wow. Nice camping spot. I like the view.

  3. @Richard -- we have such a pump in the line to the generator, which is how I extracted the gallon of diesel from the tank. The Webasto manual, however, explicitly forbids any kind of fuel pump ahead of the one built-in to the unit. Webasto wants to have very definite control of the fuel pressure at the nozzle. (BTW, this morning everything ran fine for two hours -- I hate diagnosing intermittent problems!)

    @ej -- The pictures don't even do it justice. It's way more beautiful here than our little camera could capture.


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