Fossil Butte National Monument, Idaho, Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Utah, Wyoming

Fossil Butte National Monument, and going home

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There seemed to be historical markers about the Oregon Trail or California Trail or Mormon pioneers everywhere we went. I like the way Idaho paints its historical markers. Our metal ones might hold up to all kinds of abuse (and we saw one marker in Idaho that had been destroyed by a wildfire) but the metal ones with just type are so boring compared to Idaho’s artful markers.

We crossed back over the state line to see Fossil Butte National Monument, near Kemmerer, Wyoming. The visitor’s center was extremely interesting, with a timeline that led from the beginning of geological history up to the present, beginning as you drove up the road. The spatial aspect of it was mind-blowing. I am fascinated with geology but if I studied it for long my head would explode. Seriously. The fossils within were excellent too. A nice follow-up to our trips to four other fossil-related National Monuments in the last five years.

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We didn’t spend long here. We needed food and we had turned our thoughts to returning home. A side trip to Kemmerer filled our bellies at a sweet little diner on the main drag and then Sandy wanted to take the quickest way to Salt Lake City, so instead of the scenic route, we took Interstate 80, where the speed limit was 80 and every big truck in the area was zooming through. The wind was up and I can say that this was my least favorite part of the trip. I had a death grip on the wheel while Sandy napped, and then he awoke to watch me drive a long fast descent into Utah. There was a time when a drive like this would not have been possible for me due to panic attacks. I am a flatlander from the swamps of coastal Carolina. But I’ve gotten a lot of experience driving in the past ten years so I did not relinquish the wheel. I would not choose this route again if possible.

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We ate at a chain restaurant because no independent restaurants nearby were open on a Sunday night, and stayed at a chain hotel. Early in the morning, we returned the rental car. We drove around Salt Lake City airport three times – what a confusing place! Our plane stopped on the runway and returned to the gate because of an engine problem. One man insisted on getting off the plane. I think he was scared. But the engine was repaired and we made it to Phoenix in time to catch our connection. Southwest delayed its flights to give us a little more time, which was nice.

Flying into Raleigh Durham Airport, we didn’t know what to expect. Our car smelled dank, but it was fine. The pilot had said that the storm had moved to our west, but the drive home wasn’t bad. My friend had cooked us dinner. We had a great time, but we were glad to be home and see our kitties.

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Now where will we go next?

Grand Teton National Park, Idaho, Idaho-Wyoming trip, Montana, National Parks and Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Saturday: Yellowstone to Soda Springs, Idaho

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

^^^The inlaid wooden map that gives the Map Room in Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel its name. The Carolinas were very much on my mind.

Saturday was another day of perfect weather. We left Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace behind and drove north to Gardiner, Montana, for coffee and breakfast at the Two Bit Saloon and to fill the gas tank, since Montana gas was cheaper. Then we drove south on the same road we had been on the day before, except we kept going at Yellowstone Falls through the Hayden Valley. Trumpeter swans swam in the river below us.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

We stopped at the general store at Yellowstone Lake for coffee, ice cream, and a hot dog. This is a HUGE lake. A lot of this area is still coming back from the big fires several years ago. We decided we didn’t have time to see Grand Prismatic Spring and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Too bad, but that’s a reason to come back. 🙂

Yellowstone National Park

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A quick stop at Lewis Falls and down John D. Rockefeller Memorial Highway through Grand Teton National Park again. This time I saw the beginning of a wildfire in a canyon that turned major after we left. I think it is called the Roosevelt Fire. We listened to KHOL community radio from Jackson Hole and a New Wave program that was great for the drive.

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We stopped at the National Wildlife Art Museum to see the sculptures and I bought a beautiful coffee mug with an aspen design in the gift shop there.

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We drove through Jackson and south on Hwy 89, along the Snake River Canyon where we had rafted on Tuesday. Near Etna, we decided to take Hwy 34, a back road through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and past Gray’s Lake National Wildlife Refuge. I’m so glad that we did because it was absolutely lovely. It also was a part of the Oregon Trail, as many of these older roads seem to be.

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In Soda Springs, Idaho, we were hungry and tired. We ate at a restaurant that I won’t name, because I don’t recommend it, and settled down in our room at the Caribou Lodge, an older hotel/lodge that was very inexpensive and comfortable and clean and had friendly staff. I recommend it if you don’t need air conditioning. I find these old hotels charming and I wish that more of them had survived here on the East Coast.

Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wonderfulness, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Day Three

On Friday, Judy joined us again and guided us to the areas where wildlife is most often spotted. We drove to the Lamar Valley where wolf watchers scan the meadows for members of the packs that were re-introduced there years ago. Judy spotted a wolf and aimed her spotting scope at it so we could take a look. This area with its wide vistas was stunningly beautiful in a difficult way to capture with a photo.

Yellowstone National Park

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We saw hundreds of bison in this area of the park. At Soda Butte, we joined a small crowd of humans where the bison were very close. The little ones pranced around and butted heads in play. When one large male decided to cross the creek in a place where he could have come at us quickly, we all backed toward our cars while he eyeballed us. Fortunately nobody in this group was stupid enough to think that stare meant that he wanted to be petted.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

^^^Click the photo above to see a video of the bison on my Flickr page.

At the top of Mount Washburn we stopped because someone said there was a grizzly on the hillside across from us. It must have slipped into the trees by the time we parked and got out. The pink of the fireweed was beautiful, though.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

One of the big attractions is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Falls. We viewed it from Artist’s Point and walked down to the edge of the upper falls on the other side of the canyon.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Here’s a petrified redwood tree stump from a time when the climate was very different here. There used to be more of these, which is why this one is fenced off. People, please. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Yellowstone National Park

More wildflowers

Yellowstone National Park

We said goodbye to Judy and she headed back home to get ready to go on her next backpacking adventure. I admire this woman so much! Thank you, Judy, for your companionship and guidance on our trip!

There was a large bull elk wandering around our cabins with his harem of does. Rangers stayed close to make sure people stayed back from this one. Elks were in rutting season and we heard their bugle calls every morning and evening.

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That night we ate in the Mammoth Hot Springs Dining Room and planned our trip back through the two national parks south toward Salt Lake City the next day. We decided that instead of exploring Salt Lake City on Sunday, we would swing east in Wyoming and pick up a fifth National Park/Monument for our list: Fossil Butte National Monument.

critters, Idaho-Wyoming trip, Montana, National Parks and Monuments, Wonderfulness, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful Geyser Basin

I guess that I thought Old Faithful would be one solitary nature soul surrounded by humans looking at their phones. In a way, it was, but it was one feature in a large field of thermal pools, geysers, and bubbling springs called the Upper Geyser Basin. While we waited for it to erupt, Judy and I went for a walk around the basin and Sandy hung out at the Visitor’s Center, then saved us seats on the benches for the main event.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

^^^Aurun and Anemone Geysers?

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Beehive Geyser was one of a few major geysers we did not get to see erupt. It’s just bubbling here. After Old Faithful erupted, we could see a large geyser erupting beyond the trees. We think that may have been Riverside or Grand Geyser. We saw so many geysers – honestly, I had no idea.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

^^^Click photo to see the video of Old Faithful erupting on my Flickr page.

Yellowstone National Park

The inside of the Old Faithful Lodge was almost as impressive as the geysers.

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Yellowstone National Park

^^^Critters on the way back to our cabin.

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That night we decided to drive five miles to Gardiner, Montana, just outside the northern entrance to the park. We ate bison cheeseburgers at Wonderland Cafe, and they were excellent. I was able to text with my sister and get a wifi signal to check in back home where everyone was prepping for a major hurricane.

Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wonderfulness, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Day Two

Judy met us for coffee and we got on the road reasonably early for us. First we drove up to the top of Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace where a good photographer obliged us to take photos of the three of us. This is the lookout over the top of the terraces. You can see the hotel complex in the background on the top photo.

Upper Terrace Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP

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We meandered around the upper terrace and then we went to the Artist Paintpots and then the Fountain Paintpots which was a delight in all senses. We walked the trail up and around to see the mudpots. Bloop, bloop, bloop. Sulfur smells. Crusty textures. Unexpected color.

Upper Terrace Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP

Upper Terrace Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP

Upper Terrace Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP

Artist Paintpots. Click photo to see the video of the mudpots on Flickr

Upper Terrace Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP

Artist Paintpots, Yellowstone NP

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Fountain Paintpots:

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

As artists, Judy and I were particularly drawn to the patterns and colors that the different kinds of bacteria make in the thermal pools.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Judy brought us lunch, which we had “Western style” in the parking lot of Black Sand Geyser Basin.

Okay, break for a new post.