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.

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

Wednesday: North to Yellowstone

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We eased out of Driggs after breakfast and a handmade doughnut at Yeti’s Post and a quick visit to the kind folks at Teton Arts Council. (HEY). Instead of going back through the parks, we chose highways 33 and 32 to enjoy the flowing hay and wheat fields and small towns in the Teton Valley on Idaho’s side of the range. Once we got to Ashton, the well traveled Hwy 20 took us into West Yellowstone, Montana, the home of the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, a non-profit rescue and education center for grizzlies, wolves, and birds of prey at the edge of town.

Our timing was lucky, because the grizzlies in the area that the public can view included Grant and Roosevelt, two brothers who wrestled in the pool. We learned a lot about wolves, although the wolves in the exhibit area were only interested in sleeping. I did catch one doing downward dog between changing nap spots, but not on camera. They are about to open a river otter section. All the animals and birds in this center cannot live in the wild on their own. Most were brought to the center as orphaned cubs or injured birds. Some had become habituated to eating human food and would have been destroyed if they had not been rescued.

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Well, hey there, Miss Ground Squirrel.

Rolling into Yellowstone National Park, we saw anglers, elk, and bison in the Madison River. We turned toward our destination and stopped at the Norris Geyser Basin, hiking down to see Steamboat Geyser, which had become active early that morning. This is the world’s tallest active geyser, going up to 300 feet in a major eruption! There was a long boardwalk trail that led to many other geysers and hot springs in the basin. We did not go farther, but I did check out the Porcelain Basin before we left. Parking was a bit scarce, so I can’t imagine what it must be like in July or August on a weekend.

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^^^Click the photo to see the video of Steamboat Geyser erupt on Flickr.

Can you imagine building the boardwalks that cross these thermal areas?

There was major road construction between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs, where we were renting a cabin, so there were times that we sat in stopped traffic. We had our first up-close and personal view of a bison. One casually walked down the yellow line between the two lines of vehicles. The other munched at the side of our lane.

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^^^Click the photo to see the video of the bison on Flickr.

Once we got to Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace, there was a large herd of elk in the meadow between the parking lot and the terraces. We would learn that this herd hangs out around the hotel and headquarters complexes there, including in front of our cabin.

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We checked in to our cabin, which was comfortable but had no bathroom, TV or wifi. I was becoming increasingly worried about the forecast for Hurricane Florence, and I did not have phone service. The front desk told us that one of the bartenders at the dining room bar was from North Carolina and to ask him to turn the TV to the Weather Channel. We did this, had a couple of drinks and ate huge appetizer plates at the bar for dinner. In the middle of the night we regretted the drinks, since we had to dress and go to a separate building outside to go to the restroom! It wasn’t that bad, though, I just haven’t had to do that in a long time. I’d stay there again. It was much more comfortable than camping, and not terribly expensive. I found out later that I could get on wifi at the Visitor’s Center for free, but the wifi in the whole park was unreliable and generally reserved for park operations. Understandable.

Next: More geysers, steam, bubbles and bloops.

critters, Grand Teton National Park, Idaho, Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park and the Teton Valley

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^^^Overlooking Jackson Hole from the Teton Pass

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^^^The view of the Tetons from the “other” side in Driggs, Idaho, near our AirBNB.

We didn’t really have an agenda on Monday so we went looking for a late breakfast and ended up eating at Barrels and Bins, a natural foods grocery in Driggs, which reminded me of the old Deep Roots Market that I miss so much. It was privately owned but it had that co-op vibe. Then we looked at the museum at the geotourism center and crossed the street to The Local Galleria, where Sandy bought me a sweater that I wore a lot on the rest of the trip. We wished that we could go to their painting class that night because it sounded like fun, but we couldn’t make it. I always meant to stop in Victor, a smaller little funky town on the way to Jackson, but we never made the time for it. Either the stores were closed or we were tired.

Other good spots to eat breakfast in Driggs: Rise, and Yeti’s Post.

(It seems to me that Driggs, Idaho could benefit from the presence of a weaver from North Carolina each summer, ya think? Yeah.)

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Another reason why I’ll never be a cowgirl – the seats at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson are real saddles. Fun, but not good on elderly hips. Also, my horseback riding abilities were proved to be lacking in Girl Scouts.

Sandy loves to shop so we spent a good part of the day going in and out of shops and galleries in Jackson. I bought him a hat but he later decided he didn’t want to wear it so I happily snatched it away for my own use, since my hair was driving me nuts.

Then we drove up through Grand Teton National Park. We did not hike any but we made lots of stops. It was hazy throughout our trip in this park so for the most part I couldn’t get the quality photos I’d have liked, but on the other hand, that finally made me put the camera down for much of it. A good thing. The Tetons are impressive because they stick up suddenly from the valley like a row of jagged teeth, with rivers and lakes at their feet. The grand scale of it means it is best experienced in person. We didn’t see any wildlife in this park other than a mother mule doe and her two fawns. I guess somebody forgot to tell the elk about the National Elk Wildlife Refuge!

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^^^Click to view the video and turn up the audio.

The next day we went whitewater rafting with Barker-Ewing Whitewater on the Snake River. I didn’t use a camera all day, a refreshing change in perspective. The rapids were class 2-3 so it was a fun ride without being scary, and the weather could not have been more perfect. I was accommodated in not being able to paddle, but we were put in the smaller raft anyway – yay! An osprey circled above our heads and we saw an otter very briefly.

After rafting, we ate stew and I drank the local brew at Snake River Brewery in Jackson. Many of the meat dishes out there contained bison or elk, which worked great for me. I don’t get a chance to eat venison much any more.

Something seems to compel me to caress every moose statue I see. Maybe I had a crush on Bullwinkle as a kid, or maybe I’m just weird. We did not see any live moose on our trip. I hear that these sightings are increasingly scarce.

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On Wednesday morning, we said goodbye to the good people of Driggs, Idaho and headed north to Yellowstone National Park via West Yellowstone, Montana.

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments

Craters of the Moon National Monument

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Craters of the Moon NM blew us away! I knew it was volcanic in origin, but I did not expect it to look like it did. As we drove up the highway, the landscape gave way to rows of jagged black rock. It looked like some giant had plowed a field there. Across the road there was this pretty scene:

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After a stop at the visitor’s center, we climbed up a trail that looked over a major lava field. It is hazy because of the wildfires in the west.

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Then we took a stroll over the lava field and marveled at the different textures.

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We didn’t have much time to spend here since we had chosen to go to Shoshone Falls and Minidoka NHS before we came here, and we had hours of driving ahead to get to Driggs, so we toured the rest of it from the car. WOW.

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^^^Here’s what one of these little plants look like up close. They have evolved to spread in that even distribution because each root system is about three feet square.

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It would be great to go back here to camp and go into the caves. It is an International Dark Sky Park, and considering how far it is from any large towns, I can see that it would be an awesome place to watch the stars.

This terrain is so different from what this swamp-raised girl is used to, that I thoroughly enjoyed driving through this high elevation sage brush desert where I didn’t see houses for miles. (Click the photo to go to a short video.)

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Sandy was napping and as a result of relying on a map I missed a turn and got a little lost around Rexburg. We found a recreation area of huge sand dunes near St. Anthony, which was actually what I expected Craters of the Moon to look like.

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Once we got on the right road and drove past huge flowing hay and wheat fields on our way to Driggs, we were whipped and ready to eat and go to bed. We couldn’t find our AirBNB, which was a converted assistant living facility, so we had a lovely dinner at Three Peaks Dinner Table. Even with updated GPS and a clear map, we had a difficult time finding it in the dark. I was about to lose it I was so tired. Once we found it and got in, our room had not been made up and no one else was there so we moved to room 13 at the end of a dark hallway. Sandy was concerned about running into two little girls holding hands, but the room was clean and comfortable and we enjoyed staying there for three nights while we explored Jackson and Grand Teton National Park.

Next: Jackson and Grand Teton National Park