St. Anthony Sand Dunes - Idaho - 15 & 16 May (1 Viewer)

Joined
Aug 10, 2018
Messages
444
Location
Bozeman, MT
ABSOLUTELY NOT AN OFFICIAL CLUB EVENT

My wife and I will be leaving the Bozeman area at about 8 AM Saturday the 15th of May. We'll be driving (at V8 40-series speeds) on 191 and 20 to Idaho Dunes RV Park.

We'll spend Saturday afternoon playing in the dunes, tent camp at Idaho Dunes RV Park Saturday night, get up whenever we get up Sunday morning, probably get breakfast in Rexburg or St. Anthony, and head north on 20 to Ashton where we'll follow 47 (Mesa Falls Scenic Byway) to Mesa Falls. Then (depending on time, how we're feeling, and how the 40 has been running) we'll either head back to the Bozeman area the same way we came or detour on 87 and 287 to Three Forks to stop at the Iron Horse Cafe & Pie Shop for lunch. We'll be back in the Bozeman area middle-late afternoon Sunday 16th of May.

This is a shakedown run for the FJ-40 and our car camping/overlanding gear and an excuse to try out wheeling in the sand dunes. I have zero experience driving in dunes, so I'd be the worst possible person to tag along with if you're hoping to learn anything. I imagine this will be a weekend of lots of digging and self-recovery. I'll be monitoring 146.520 MHz and 146.460 MHz during the drive and while in the dunes. We'll be in our red '78 FJ-40 and we'll be camping in an MSR tent with a green rainfly. Say hi if you happen to be in the area.
 
Joined
Aug 10, 2018
Messages
444
Location
Bozeman, MT
I like checklists. I'll use this same checklist for multiple short trips and make edits each time. Eventually it'll be a pretty solid list of everything I need for longer trips.

20210516_143027.jpg


Friday night started with me pulling everything out of the FJ40 so it could be inspected, checked on the list, and packed. I also cleaned the windshield thoroughly and applied 2 coats of Rainx. I downloaded offline maps on Google Maps of the area along our route and around St. Anthony and Rexburg, I saved several locations so that the would be available for offline navigation, and then I downloaded a bunch of areas on the onX Offroad app. I loaded the cooler and our two bags of clothing and toiletries Saturday morning and we were on the road by 8:10.

Traffic was pretty light on 191 and the 40 can drive at 65 mph quite comfortably, so Gallatin Canyon to West Yellowstone was a pleasant drive. Past West Yellowstone the speed limit goes up a bit which isn't great in the 40. 65 is real comfortable. 70 is less fun. 75+ is a lot of work. So we cruised along at 65-70 and got passed once in a while. Now, the thing about Idaho is that the roads are generally trash. Major highways are better, but side roads and country roads are trash. 20 seems to be in pretty good shape, with the notable exception of the 7 mile two-lane stretch between Ashton and Chester. That section is filled with large, deep potholes, ruts, patches that aren't flush with the road surface, and tar snakes, and it just isn't a good time. Immediately after Chester, 20 becomes a divided, but not limited access, highway, and the road surface gets a lot better. We made out first fuel stop when we exited 20 at St. Anthony. It was 155 miles and we got 15.5 mpg.

The drive to Idaho Dunes RV takes you through Idaho farmland. You can see the dunes in the distance shortly after getting out of town. There are lots of interesting irrigation canals along the road, and it's kind of neat if you like that sort of stuff. The road condition...boy...it's something, and we'll just leave it at that.

Idaho Dunes RV is probably the second cheapest option for camping over finding a spot on public land and just setting up. There are a few power and water hookup sites, but mostly it's a dry camp. The dry camp is basically just a big dirt/gravel lot without any defined spaces. So you just drive out into the lot and claim your spot. We picked a spot that backed us up to an irrigation canal next to the foot bridge, which gave us a pretty short walk to the bathrooms. The bathrooms are pretty decent. There's actual hot water in the sinks. They are passably clean (understanding that my standards are based around 8 years of Army field conditions) and there are showers! The showers require quarters, which you can get at the camp office/store. It's $3 for 12 minutes and, at least in my experience, you get 12 minutes of good hot water. Other than the bathroom and shower situation, the camp isn't great. It's pretty loud most of the time. People are moving into and out of the dunes constantly. The "quiet hours" are not at all strongly enforced. But, it's the cheapest of the campground options in that area and you aren't really there to hang out in camp.

Idaho Dunes RV has it's own direct access to the dunes. So, after we got checked in, set up our tent, inflated our sleep pads, put on our dune flag, deflated our tires, and locked in our hubs, we drove out onto the dunes for the first time. Idaho Dunes RV is located approximately in the middle of the dunes. The dunes to the east end tend to be smaller and the dunes to the west end tend to be the largest. In between the east and west end, the dunes are medium sized. So my first time driving on sand dunes was, quite frankly, not a good time. The 40 felt slow, like it was sinking in, but it was able to maintain momentum and climb some impressively large dunes. I figured out fairly quickly that I needed to use a lot more throttle than I typically do. We made a quick 2 mile loop and I noticed that the engine temperature was getting higher than I like, so we made our way back to the campground.

At this point I was pretty disappointed. Driving in the dunes was scary. The 40 was simply not able to navigate the dunes in the same way as the paddle tired side by sides that probably make the same or more power with 1/3 the weight. The 40 was slow and felt very top heavy. It felt completely out of place and I was happy to out of the sand. But, it was only about 1 in the afternoon at that point. We came back to our tent to let the 40 cool down and regroup. We got to looking at the onX Offroad app and decided that the spur of dunes on the north side looked like they might be more manageable and probably less busy. Plus, the app showed access trails from public roads. Great!

We got back in the truck and made our way around the dunes going east, then north, and then following the routes shown on onX Offroad to access the dune spur on the north side. This is where we discovered just how useless onX Offroad is for overland navigation. Many of the things it shows as road are not roads. Just about every actual road ended at a locked gate. We ended up making an 84 mile loop around the dunes without ever being able to access the section we had hoped to get to. I'm going to give onX Offroad another chance to navigate either The Gravelly Range road or The Ringing Rocks trail, but I'm totally unimpressed at this point. Besides not giving useful information, it kept trying to drop waypoints while we were trying to scroll and zoom on the map and then wouldn't allow us to back out of the waypoint screen. We'd have to close the app completely and restart it. The performance of this app ended up being the biggest disappoint of the trip.

My wife found some information about The Red Road area on the east end of the dunes being pretty easy and accessible, so we turned off onX Offroad and used Google Maps to navigate us there. I found a nice spot to access the dunes near the Sand Hills Resort (which has actual grass, trees, and defined camping spaces, if those are things you care about) and drove up into the dunes. The dunes on the east end were much smaller and there were a lot fewer of the fast moving side by sides. The 40 still felt slow and top heavy, but I started to enjoy myself a little bit here. We stopped frequently to allow the engine to cool and to plan our route through the dunes.

20210516_142722.jpg


20210516_143204.jpg


I'm not sure how far we went, but we probably spent an hour, maybe an hour and half, tooling around in the small dunes. This area seemed much more suitable for the capabilities of the 40 and my skill level as a driver.

Here's a video of me not knowing what was on the other side of the dune. (It was a big, steep, drop.) We had to back down off that one.

Here's the way out. You can see Sand Hills Resort in the background.

We did some playing, put air back in the tires, and drove into St. Anthony for some dinner. Idaho Burger Grill is a pretty solid choice, and they have locations in St. Anthony and Rexburg. After dinner we drove back to Idaho Dunes RV, took showers, and got ready to call it day. Thankfully, my wife thought ahead and brought 2 pairs of earplugs. The camp was loud enough anyway, but a group came in after midnight and set up about 10 feet from us (in a giant empty field!). They had a toy hauler trailer and needed to get four 2-stroke quads out of the trailer before they could lower the rear bed on an winch that desperately needed service. I did enough time in the Army that my ability to go from dead asleep to wide awake to dead asleep is well developed, but it's just rude to get into camp that late. If you are going to be that late, and there is room, set up away from other people. Don't be a dick. Those people were dicks.
 
Joined
Jul 24, 2016
Messages
908
Location
Bozeman
I have tracks from the past four years and always have trouble navigating. the dunes are constantly changing and are NEVER the same. a set of binos for spotting the little "designated route" signs is usually what gets us through to the lake. And a couple of tense moments cresting a hill first with NO IDEA what exactly is on the other side. when were camping we usually go up a path a little ways to get away from the toy haulers and block the trail so people dont come rippin through.
 
Joined
Aug 10, 2018
Messages
444
Location
Bozeman, MT
I woke up about 6:30 on Sunday morning, which is just a hair later than normal for me. It took about 30 minutes to do morning stuff and get everything packed back in the 40. It's pretty tight, but everything fits and nothing rattles around.

20210516_142135.jpg


I may have left the choke out and let the engine warm up a bit longer than was necessary or polite at 7 am and 10 feet from our neighbors tent. That may have happened. I noticed an odd noise in the front suspension on the way out of the campground. I stopped before getting on the road to do a quick check. I suspect it's a shock absorber that needs to be replaced, but the sound went away after a couple miles of driving. We drove in to Rexburg to grab some McDonald's breakfast and fuel up for the second time. We ended up with 14.3 mpg on the second tank with the majority of the miles on dirt or sand. Then we pointed the truck north and started the return trip.

We made a detour at Ashton, going east on 47 to the Mesa Falls scenic byway. It's a paved scenic route that accesses the upper and lower Mesa Falls. Part of the route is closed during the winter months, and the road surface of that section is in remarkably better condition. This route and the stops probably adds an hour to the trip, but the upper falls is one of the better waterfalls I've seen west of the Mississippi.

20210516_143539.jpg


There are also a couple decent scenic overlooks with views of the Tetons.
20210516_142532.jpg


It was early enough, and I like supporting the businesses of people I served with, so we decided to take 87 near Henry's Lake and then 287 through Ennis and up to Three Forks so we could have lunch at the Iron Horse Cafe & Pie Shop. That part of the drive was super windy and the speed limit is a bit higher. It wasn't very much fun. My wife also noted that at speeds above 70, there is a high pitched whistle through the passenger door weather-strip. I've been informed that new weather-strip just became a top maintenance priority.

I had a pretty fantastic slice of key lime with graham cracker crust at the Iron Horse Cafe & Pie Shop. I think everyone should make it a stop on your next adventure. Then we pushed the limits of fuel capacity to make it back home on our remaining fuel. I had previously calculated a maximum range of 217 miles. Our last tank took us 209.5 miles at 14.8 mpg, but I was only able to get 14.129 gallons back into the tank. Maybe I started with more than 16 gallons in the tank? Maybe the tank doesn't actually hold 16 gallons? Maybe my calculations were just wrong? I'm not sure. Anyway, we made it home.

(edit: I had previously calculated the maximum range using 13.26 mpg and we did better than that. 209.5 miles / 14.8 mpg = 14.2 gallons used. 16.4 gallon fuel capacity - 14.2 gallon = 2.2 gallons left. I didn't fill up into the fuel neck, so 16.4 gallon fuel capacity - 2.2 gallons left = 14.2 gallons to fill the tank. That makes sense to me.

The mpg average over the whole trip was 14.94 mpg. 14.94 mpg x 16.4 gallon fuel capacity = 245.016 miles range. Add my two 5.3 gallon fuel cans and my total range becomes 538.38 miles. That makes me very confident when it comes to exploring spurs on the Magruder trip later this year.)

We covered 491 miles in a 44 year old truck and, other than being a bit tired and the noise from the shock, didn't have any issues. We'll make a couple changes to our packing list before our next trip. I'm going to give the onX Offroad app one more chance on a defined trail to show that it has some value, but I kind of doubt that it does. Big sand dunes are scary. Small sand dunes are fun. Some people in campgrounds are dicks. Waterfalls are cool. You should stop at the Iron Horse Cafe & Pie Shop. Overall, a pretty good trip.

20210516_141913.jpg
 
Last edited:
Joined
Aug 10, 2018
Messages
444
Location
Bozeman, MT
I have tracks from the past four years and always have trouble navigating. the dunes are constantly changing and are NEVER the same. a set of binos for spotting the little "designated route" signs is usually what gets us through to the lake. And a couple of tense moments cresting a hill first with NO IDEA what exactly is on the other side. when were camping we usually go up a path a little ways to get away from the toy haulers and block the trail so people dont come rippin through.
Once we gave up on onX and started using the previously downloaded offline Google Maps, we didn't have much trouble getting to where we wanted to be. There were a couple times in the dunes were we came up over something only to find a 3 story drop on the other side. Backing down the first one was pretty scary, but it's not so bad. Hot showers are nice, but not getting woken up multiple times during the night is nicer.
 
Joined
Sep 11, 2017
Messages
276
Location
Bozeman, MT
Looks like you guys had and adventure, which comes with fun and not-so-fun.
And no mechanical problems except for a bit of extra heat. That's good work!
We camped at the dunes once a few years ago. I remember lots of noise. Those V8 powered sand rails with straight pipes can be heard from miles away.
I'm gonna have to check out the waterfall. Never been that way before.
 
Joined
Aug 10, 2018
Messages
444
Location
Bozeman, MT
I'm gonna have to check out the waterfall. Never been that way before.
It's a pretty cool area. I imagine there are hiking/backpacking trails in the area too. We're going to do a little investigation and see if we can find some decent backpacking around that area so that we can bring the dogs down with us.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top Bottom