VERY early Spring RV travel through the mountains – factors to consider & more…

This past weeks drive from Pinedale, Wyoming to Vernal, Utah served as a reminder to me that travel in March through the mountains at elevations exceeding 8000 ft. can present hazards no matter how “mild” or tranquil a winter it’s been! I set out on March 23 to follow my plan… head to lower elevations where Spring comes earlier that where I’ve been all winter and start enjoying biking and kayaking in March!!

The Flaming Gorge (Northern Utah) as seen in Early Spring along VERY scenic highway 191

My plan, frankly succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. This past weekend (March 26-27) has been more like summer with temperatures in the mid-70’s and light winds. It was surreal kayaking on Steinaker Lake (near Vernal, Ut.) with ice remaining on the lake – but enough open water to enjoy it. (See the photos!!)

Flaming Gorge Reservoir (there IS great camping right along the reservoir)
Flaming Gorge Dam – Electric Station
Flaming Gorge Dam – right along Hwy 191

Late Winter – Early Spring RV Travel

Honestly, with almost no snow on the ground in Boulder (about 12 miles outside of Pinedale, Wyoming) on March 23, and knowing Boulder is at 7200 ft. elevation vs. Vernal, Utah at 5400 ft., I let my guard down and had little expectation of running into any adverse travel conditions on my 200 mile journey to Vernal.

The winter is ending – but I continue to wear my SCOTTeVEST almost every day! I’m on my second now and I think this new one is constructed even better than the Fireside Vest I purchased about 4 years ago. This is an incredibly versatile garment as SCOTTeVESTs “claim to fame” is providing great storage within each garment without making the garment wile still looking stylish.

Click the above image to see the vest I chose

My first stretch of road heading south from Boulder was familiar to me as I drove towards Rock Springs (Wyoming) hauling my 15000 pound, 35 foot trailer (with tires that NEED to be replaced – story on that shortly!) And within the first 20 miles, any traces of snow were GONE! It looked more like JUNE than March. That remained until I got south of Rock Springs.

A view from the boat ramp – plenty of ice, but some open water!
Kayak “season” began for me on March 25 with 95% of the lake STILL covered by ICE! The air was NEAR 70F, so it WAS very much worth it! Steinaker Lake (State Park) – just outside of Vernal, Utah

Here in the Intermountain West – “UP” and “DOWN” mean far more than North and South…

I grew up in New Jersey, I quickly learned in winter, “north” means colder and more snow and “south” means warmer and less snow! Not so much here… as I traveled south of Rock Springs on US 191, I began to climb. I was heading towards the Flaming Gorge and had not been on this stretch of road before.

Kayaking on 3/25 with ICE ahead!

My first cause for concern was an electronic sign advising that travel by semi-trucks was not allowed – I found this to be unusual for a U.S. highway. I continued despite the warning as I’m pulling a 5th wheel – not a semi and the weather was clear, and after all, 191 IS designated as a U.S. Highway! The road climbed more and more (see video) and soon the snow along the side of the road was much deeper than I’ve seen it all winter near Pinedale.

Trying out my kayak as an ice breaker!

I was over 8000 ft. (the road peaks at just over 8400 ft. elevation) and I even found patches of “old” snow ON the road surface – reminding me of just how early in the season my travel was AND knowing it had been a while since the last snowfall – how easy it would be for the entire road surface be snow-covered – a VERY UNenviable situation when pulling a 5th wheel!

Note the diving platform still frozen

The road incidentally is winding and in places quite steep (9% grades.) I suspect the semi-truck restriction is due to narrow roads that are frequently snow covered until at least April 1st. This is definitely a stretch of road I would not recommend winter travel on with a trailer in most circumstances. My good fortune to find (mostly) dry roads was the very tepid winter we’ve had. I did learn that the Uinta’s (Unita Mountains) that I drove through to get to Vernal DID experience a FAR more normal winter than the snow-starved Wind Rivers to the north where Pinedale is located.

Snow Covered Uinta Mountains just 15 miles up the road

Even now, on March 29 as I write this, there’s snow visible on the ridges JUST outside of Vernal – and with a storm rolling in, more snow is LIKELY to accumulate as close to town as about 20 miles (and 3000 ft.) north of here. In fact, IF this happens, I will probably drive up to the mountains on and do some late season cross country skiing! Because of Vernal’s unique geography, I may ski in the morning and kayak in the afternoon!

When it comes to RV travel – especially early season – really please do consider this…

Because of the massive elevation changes that can take place along your route and that fact that you’re driving or towing an oversized vehicle, you really DO need to think twice before setting out on the road anytime between October and late April in this part of the nation. Even in traditionally warm weather months, snow CAN and DOES fall – and if its heavy enough, it will coat the road. Pay attention to not only the weather where you are now, but to the forecasted weather along your route – AND be prepared to pull over and take a break (maybe even a 24 hour or more break) if the roads get bad. It’s always good to have a flexible schedule when traveling and if your destination is a RV park/campground, many will be understanding if the situation turns hazardous or dangerous.

A word about RV trailer tires…

I was truly impressed that my Outdoors RV Glacier Peak 5th wheel camper came with Goodyear Endurance G-rated, 14 ply tires – but that was nearly 5 years ago and its time for a new set of tires. Remember – even if the tread is barely worn, trailer tires should be replaced every 5 years.

In searching for a replacement set of tires, naturally I looked into another set of Goodyear Endurance and was SHOCKED to learn they’ll cost $480. EACH, making a set of 4 nearly $2000! In speaking with a manager at TJ’s Tire Pros in Vernal, he suggested Milestar Steelpro AST tires at $239 each as a more than acceptable alternative. In his experience, they’ve installed them on trailers for guys who work in the oil fields and they’ve dragged their trailers all over VERY rough roads (if you can call them roads at all!)

I have not made a final decision, but I find his argument compelling and so far, though the reviews are limited, it appear the Milestar (which IS made in China) is a good tire and should serve me well. Honestly, I’m leaning towards getting them and having them installed when I break camp in late April or May to move on to other destinations I’d like to visit this Spring and coming Summer. As I discussed in my prior post, I will try to do monthly stays where possible and where it makes good fiscal sense due to the insane fuel prices.

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