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

^^^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.

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. 🙂

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.

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.

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.

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-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.

^^^Aurun and Anemone Geysers?

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.

^^^Click to see the video of Old Faithful erupting.

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

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

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.

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

Wednesday: North to Yellowstone

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. 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.

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.

^^^Click to see the video of Steamboat Geyser erupt.

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.

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

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.

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.

Glacier National Park, Montana, Montana/PNW trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wildflowers

Glacier National Park, May 17, 2016, Part II

Next we headed north to the east side of Going-to-the-Sun Road at St. Mary’s Lake. I wanted to do a bit more hiking but we had no water left in our bottles and every store in the little town there was closed. We drove up as far as we could to the point where you could see Jackson Glacier. It looked like a snowfield in the distance, which was a bit disappointing after some of the dramatic glaciers we saw in Alaska. I took photos of wildflowers everywhere that I could.

Near the bottom of the road a grizzly bear ran in front of the car ahead of us out of a meadow into a little stand of trees. I only got a glimpse because I was fumbling with my camera. Lesson learned – I mostly missed seeing the bear AND I didn’t get the shot. But still! A grizzly bear!

^^^There it is. “Jackson Glacier is approximately the seventh largest of the remaining 25 glaciers in Glacier National Park…In 1850, there were an estimated 150 glaciers in the park. Glaciologists have stated that by the year 2030, many if not all of the glaciers in the park may disappear completely.”

^^^This was a lovely little stream with several waterfalls and a good trail. Those are colorful rocks, not leaves.

^^^The sedimentary layers in the Lewis Overthrust were fascinating.

^^^We returned the car, hung out at the historic depot, and got on the train with no problem. Taking clear photos from the train was not easy, so I don’t have many. I smuggled a few Montana beers with us which I ended up lugging around for most of the trip! We had dinner on the train and I got off for a few minutes at Whitefish, but after that we slept through the rest of Montana, Idaho, and the edge of eastern Washington.

Glacier National Park, hiking, Montana, Montana/PNW trip, National Parks and Monuments

Glacier National Park, May 17, 2016, Part I

We decided to explore the east side of the park on Tuesday, sticking fairly close to the East Glacier depot since we didn’t want a repeat of nearly missing the train. After a visit to the Spiral Spoon and Brownies next door, we headed to Two Medicine Lake.

On the way, we stopped for a small herd of horses in the highway.

A young couple equipped with bear spray let us tag along with them on an easy trail to Running Eagle Falls. Part of the waterfall seemed to pour out from inside the cliff. We saw moose scat on the trail and later we saw a female moose back in the trees, as well as a big-horned ram running along the road.

Then at Two Medicine Lake, there was a spot on the shore that must have had a special meaning for Native Americans.

I wonder what the story was behind these two sites. I told Sandy that this was a place that I would like for my ashes to be scattered. I’d like to think that I might end up in a rocky stream headed for an ocean. Traveling after life.

Glacier National Park, Montana, Montana/PNW trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wonderfulness

Glacier National Park, May 16, 2016

This was our 29th anniversary. We started by heading east to Browning, Montana, to see the Museum of the Plains Indian, operated by members of the Blackfeet Nation. It is a very unassuming building on the outside and we wondered if it was even open. I’m glad that it was, because the exhibits were excellent. I wish that I could have taken photos but it was not allowed. If you are interested in Native American clothing, needlework, art, and culture, I highly recommend it.

Then we decided to head over to the western side of the park, where the little town of West Glacier was pretty much closed. We were able to find some good food down the road at a bar called Packer’s Roost in Coram. The only park facility that was open was the visitor’s center on that side of Going-to-the-Sun Road, so I was able to buy my all-important magnets and get that coveted stamp for my National Parks Passport book. We found out that this road was closed through the highest part of the park due to massive amounts of snow. However, we were able to see some of the most beautiful parts of the park along the part that was still open.

Even though I griped about us getting to the park a week early, it turned out that a week later they had a big storm with major flooding and we couldn’t have seen even these parts if we had waited, so the lesson is to shut up and enjoy what’s there to be enjoyed. And we did. Lake McDonald is famous for its clear waters, reflections of the mountains around it, a picturesque old lodge, which, of course, was not open…and oh my God, I could have just sat down on its shore for hours just playing with the rocks.

There was some impressive whitewater coming down McDonald Creek. It would have been nice to hang a hammock and listen to the falls. The water was glacial green where it roared through narrow passes.

Hard to believe all that empties into this:

Then, just when we felt like we were sated with beauty, the day ended with a rainbow.

Montana, Montana/PNW trip, North Dakota

On the Empire Builder, May 15, 2016

On Sunday morning, we headed to the dining car for a full breakfast. Part of the reason I decided to spring for the sleeping room was that our meals came with the room, and I thought that we’d probably sleep better than in coach. We had always wanted to travel on a train with sleeping berths, so now that’s done. The upper sleeping berth was not a good option for either of us and the tiny room was stuffy and hot with the door closed. However, the meals were good and it was nice to have some privacy. It was a long ride so I guess that I’m glad we chose this option. I’d give it a 5 on a scale of 1-10 for the experience.

^^^Sandy watches North Dakota go by from the sleeper car.

We slept through Minnesota and most of North Dakota, but the rest of the day was spent gazing out the windows of our room or the observation car. I had planned to weave on my travel loom, but I quickly figured out that my choices were needlework/reading/nausea, Dramamine/naps, or watching the scenery of a part of the country I have never been. We enjoyed meeting people in the dining and observation cars.

The North Dakota and Montana plains were greener and more beautiful than I expected. Much of the route followed a river that snaked and back and forth on either side. I’ve learned in the past few years that mostly treeless hills appeal to me very much because I love to see the way the earth is shaped and cut. The small towns that we moved through showed their backsides to the railroad. It was almost voyeuristic. I loved the geometry. Maybe I am destined for the high plains.

We stopped long enough in a couple of towns that we were able to get off and stretch our legs. In Shelby, Montana we were there long enough for me to take some photos around the depot.

Finally we pulled up to the little town of East Glacier, Montana, at the eastern foot of Glacier National Park in the Blackfeet Reservation. Here we were met by Mark, who owned the Whistling Swan Motel, the rental car business, Two Medicine Grill, and the general store. In other words, he owned almost every business that was open that we needed. He was quite an entrepreneur. We soon learned that we had arrived about 1-2 weeks before businesses in the area opened for the season. Mark upgraded our room in honor of our 29th anniversary, and we caught up on the sleep that we’d missed the night before in a spacious clean room with cable, a new bathroom, and a much-needed high pressure massaging hot shower in a motel that most people wouldn’t even consider. I’ve reached the point where I couldn’t care less if I ever sleep in a chain motel again. (I found the Whistling Swan by exploring Google maps.)

There was still snow on the ground in places from the six inches they had gotten the day before, but the weather was perfect while we were there.