Glacier National Park and Beyond

Model S owner Bob Kalayjian takes Model S on a 4,500-mile road trip over 15 days and records his experience in a travel journal.

With the opening of the West Coast Supercharger network from Mexico to Canada this week, this article may seem a little dated. We have driven seven round trips from our home in Long Beach to San Francisco on Superchargers and have a strategy of fast driving and fast charging to make that 400 mile drive in just over seven hours. But last month, I wanted to get off the “Fast Lane” and explore driving the Model S on highways only serviced by 220 volt 50 amp RV park charging options. Long Beach to Glacier National Park, then on to Lethbridge, Alberta Canada, returning by way of Vancouver, BC, Seattle, Portland, and Fremont. Many segments were on Superchargers, but I also spent many driving in the “Slow Lane” to conserve every electron and make a day’s drive as easy as possible.

Because of committed reservations, I would have to average 400 miles per day with only 50 amp hookups for a number of days driving through Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Canada and eastern Washington. In retrospect, I would have planned four 300-mile days for comfort and more sightseeing. Getting the charge for the first 250 miles was easy by overnight charging in an RV park; getting the extra 150 miles during the day required more patience at 28 miles/hour of charging. Of course, the prime directive was: Don't run out of Rated Range!

A typical day in the “Slow Lane:” my overnight charge was in Winnemucca, Nevada. I packed up the tent and sleeping bag at 5:30 AM and left very quietly before daybreak. Interstate 80 East to Interstate 93 North to Arco, Idaho was the route. Setting the cruise control at 55 mph, I just watched the high desert roll by as the sky ahead slowly grew lighter. Cactus, sagebrush and low mountains slowly gained definition as the sun rose, and only a rare car or truck passed by. I drove the 162 miles to my first stop for charging in Wells, Nevada, touching the brakes just once at the bottom of the off ramp. It was 9 o'clock and the Mountain Shadow RV Park was expecting me. I plugged, showered, shaved, ate breakfast, washed the car and put everything inside back in its place.

At every RV park, I got a lot of questions about the Model S, and this morning was no exception. I gave a tour, showed off the interior, the front trunk, the 17-inch screen, and told them about the range and my planned itinerary. I gave a one page handout with a picture of the power train and battery and helped them visualize how mechanically simple the Model S really is. Travelers, hard rock miners, retired or working folks – they were all surprised to see what, in this part of the country, is nearly a totally unknown technology.

Five hours later with the Rated Range up to 240 miles, the email answered (all RV parks have WiFi), some time spent with the managers on the porch learning about Wells, and lunch eaten, it was time to set off for Arco, Idaho, 233 miles away. I was planning on another charge closer to Arco if needed. Driving north into Idaho was moving from the desert into the mountains with more trees and fewer cacti. There were cattle ranches and grazing lands and the rivers were flowing wider. In spite of a 2,000-foot elevation gain on this leg, driving at 55 mph with a slight tail wind was very efficient as I calculated my actual miles traveled to the rated miles lost. By Twin Falls, it was clear I could make Arco without a charge, so I stopped to get dinner and drove the last couple of hours at 50 mph, enjoying the onset of evening cruising along the Craters of the Moon National Park.

I arrived at the Mountain View RV Park at dusk, plugged in, ate dinner, and bedded down for the night. Setting up and taking down a tent didn't seem efficient, so I set up the Model S for sleeping. Sleeping in the back of the Model S on an air mattress, listening to the gaggle of geese in the nearby lake and seeing a black sky filled with stars was just a little slice of heaven. Another discovery was that the heat of the charger, which is under the back seat, kept me warm through most of the night. This was a perfect end to a typical day on the Slow Road. I also learned this day that the range of the Model S on the slow road is much greater than the Rated Range – more like 280-290 miles – and that would make day charging shorter.

Not all RV parks are created equal. In some parks, I had to drop the charge amperage to 35 amps to avoid tripping the circuit breaker. At some parks, the shower facilities were very upscale, while at others, they were not so great. Some parks had laundry facilities and/or grocery marts. But the best one I found was San-Suz-Ed Montana RV Park and Bed and Breakfast in West Glacier: $107 for the B&B and $10 for an overnight charge. Located just a few miles from the West entrance to Glacier National Park, this would make a great stop for a couple of days to allow day hiking to the glaciers (hurry, they are almost gone) and seeing the beauty of this great national park.

My first objective was achieved after three days of driving. Now it was easy to drive to my next stop: the Prince of Wales Hotel in the Canadian side of Glacier just 66 miles away. What a great “Slow Drive” on the two-lane road called “Going-to-the-Sun Highway.” The route through Glacier is a steady 3,500-foot climb to Logan Pass, then down into Canada, hang a left and end up at the Prince of Wales. It was clear and sunny and a glorious drive.

There are no plug options at the Prince of Wales except the nearby campground that had 30 amp hookups, but they were only 110 volts, ugh. This backup option turned out to be a frequent point of confusion. Many RV parks advertise 30 amp hookups, but I found they invariably were the tt30 plugs for small trailers, not the big RVs. Charging at six miles per hour of charge is not an option for us unless in an emergency.

The Prince of Wales was built in 1927 and is one of the classic railroad destination resorts. Fortunately, my next stop was the University of Lethbridge just 70 miles away and there was plenty of range to make that. Friends from the university were putting me up for the night and had arranged for an overnight charge in an RV park near their home. In the future, this will be a convenient midway stop when driving from Calgary to Glacier (we are planning this trip for 2015).

James Byrne, PhD, professor of Geophysics at Lethbridge University, put together a panel discussion on the need for electrical charging infrastructure to address climate change and global warming. I was to be on the panel as the “expert” on driving the battery electric vehicle in the existing infrastructure. It was also a time to share the Model S with a very interested university community.

The rest of the journey back through Glacier, south to Interstate 90, west to the Burlington Supercharger and then north to Vancouver was really uneventful, as was the trip back south through Portland, Grants Pass, Redding, Freemont and home. The RV park infrastructure on the Slow Lane was so familiar, the last part of the trip was very uneventful. Finally home, the data was checked and the tally showed:

15 Days – 4491 miles – 1295 kWh (3.5 miles/kWh) – 14 RV Parks

Perhaps it would be best to list a few of the essentials learned along the way:

  • Call ahead to the next plug-in to confirm availability of a 50 amp hookup before setting off.
  • Monitor charging and decrease the charging amperage if needed.
  • For overnight charges, if there is time, drop the charge rate to 35 amps.
  • The rated range at 55 mph is 10% higher than 65 mph. At 45 mph it is 20% higher at least. When you think it will be close to the next charge, drop the speed.
  • Mountain passes aren't a problem because of the 90% return of charge on the downside, but remember that a net gain of elevation between two charging points requires 10 miles/1000 feet gained. Of course we get 9 miles back for every 1000 feet of descent.

I have found my favorite RV parks and know we may return to them someday, but it would be great to have a guidebook for the ones that are “electric car friendly.” It will also be nice when more hotels and motels offer 220v 50amp hookups so that overnight charging is more comfortable, but I will miss sleeping in the back of the Model S.

I hope all who read this journal of traveling the Slow Road will be inspired to take the opportunity to explore off the Supercharger highway. After full implementation of the Superchargers, I believe there will still be a place for an occasional charge at an RV park in order to see some of the great natural wonders and visit the out of the way towns in North America.

Finally, I want to thank Elon Musk and the entire Tesla Motors team for making and supporting this great car that can go far and wide with comfort and a tiny carbon footprint.

Bob Kalayjian


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