Yellowstone Road Trip Take 2

Yellowstone Road Trip Take 2

Seven years ago, I did a road trip to Yellowstone National Park with my then 15-year old nephew. My knees were bad and I couldn’t do very much walking without a lot of pain.

Now that my knees are replaced and I’m feeling pretty good, I wanted to go back and see more things. Since my nephew or my niece couldn’t go with me, I posted on my Facebook neighborhood group asking if anyone wanted to go with me. A woman from Brazil, Mumtaz, who I had met on one of my Mountaineer hikes, wanted to go since she had never been there.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

We left on Thursday morning and drove to our first stop to spend the night at Camp Coeur d’Alene.

After setting up our tents, we decided to use one of the free canoes and explore the lake. I hadn’t been in a canoe in years and Mumtaz had never been in one. We were both used to kayaks. I told her that canoes were a bit shaky until you sat and got situated. I was in my seat and Mumtaz was seated facing me. I explained that she needed to turn around. She was trying to hold onto the pier as she tried to swing her legs around to the other side of the sea. As she did so, I could feel the canoe starting to tip over. There was nothing I could do to prevent it.

The water wasn’t that deep and actually felt pretty good, cooling us off. I was glad my cellphone was in a fairly waterproof shoulder bag as I tried to get myself out of the lake. The edge of the lake wasn’t gradual and it was a bit too high for me to just step out. As a result, I banged my shin against a tree rood along the bank, causing it to knot up and turn purple. An old man took pity on me and helped pull me out. Too bad someone wasn’t filming us…I would have loved to see the replay! LOL

We were both pretty muddy and totally wet, so we hit the showers (thank goodness we were camping at a spot that had real toilets and showers) and changed clothes.

After eating dinner, I taught Mumtaz how to play War and Rummy with cards. While playing, the huge group of people beside us had multiple yappy f*ing dogs that they didn’t even bother to try and quiet.

Campsites were very close together and since there was free firewood, there was too much smoke in the air. My eyes burned and we were both coughing all night.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Help, I’m being abducted!

After we got up on Friday morning, downed some coffee and oatmeal muffins, we packed up and hit the road. Our plan was to make a stop in Wallace, ID, and do the silver mine tour (since Mumtaz hadn’t done anything like it) and visit a funky restaurant that I found on the previous trip.

Unfortunately, since it wasn’t the weekend, the silver mine tour wasn’t open. Forget about getting a better bite to eat at the Red Light Garage…they were packed. We did, however, get coffee to go.

Quake Lake – the trees in the water was once where a campground was located.

Night of Terror

On our way to our camping location, we came upon a spot along a lake that had a sign with the title “Night of Terror.” The lake was called Quake Lake and back in August 1959, there was a massive earthquake that caused part of the mountain to slide into the lake, changing the water level and shape of the lake. The avalanche and water completely buried a campground that was full of people. Only a few escaped. The rest are still under water, along with twisted vehicles, tents, trees, etc. Miles away in Yellowstone, it caused all the geysers to go off at the same time and changed a lot of the thermal pools.

Our campsite at Beaver Creek Campground was really nice. It was large and surrounded by wildflowers. Plus, the sites were spaced out far enough that it seemed pretty private.

Beaver Creek Campground

After setting up our tents, we walked the entire A loop, enjoying all the flowers and gorgeous scenery.

The camp host was an old hippy dude who was very friendly, boasting the cleanest, freshest smelling pit toilets in the country (he was right). He told me where there was a grocery store and a good restaurant, if we were interested.

After our walk, I fell partially asleep in my hammock for about 20 minutes, then drove down the road to pick up a few things at the small grocery store. While I was gone, Mumtaz took her own nap in my hammock, falling asleep while she was crocheting.

That night, the temperature dropped a bit, but I was very snug in my sleeping bag. Too bad my bladder always wakes me up in the middle of the night, but on the plus side, I got to see an amazing night sky!

The next morning, we stopped at Campfire Lodge for breakfast before heading to Yellowstone.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Our drive from Beaver Creek to West Yellowstone was only around 30 minutes, so we stopped at a bigger grocery store to pick up wipes (since we wouldn’t be getting showers for three more nights).

I forgot how much of a drive it was from the west entrance of Yellowstone to Madison Junction campground. About a mile from the campground, cars were stopped, but always signals an animal sighting. I figured it was either bison or elk, but to my surprise, it was a black bear walking along the other side of the river! Our first animal sighting at the park was a black bear! OMG! Talk about being excited! Too made my biggest camera lens only goes to 200mm, though, I could at least tell I saw a bear by looking at the photos.

After seeing the bear, we saw several bachelor bison, but no female herd.

Male bison out for a stroll.

We couldn’t check in for our campsite until after 11am, so we started to explore the lower basin, primarily Firehold Canyon. Everything was as awe inspiring as I remembered!

After going back and setting up camp, we decided to make a dinner reservation at Grant Lodge since it was supposed to thunderstorm during dinner time. We also decided to drive to Norris Junction, then cross over to the east side of the park, then drive south along Yellowstone Lake, making it to Grant Village in time for dinner.

For dinner, I started with some really delicious mussels and my third beer in a month (Blue Moon). My entree was trout with couscous and snap peas. I was getting full and only ate around half the salmon and all the snap peas, leaving the couscous untouched.

After dinner, it started to rain. We didn’t want to have to sit inside our tents while it stormed, so we decided to drive through the Hayden and Lamar Valleys (I didn’t get to explore them before). We didn’t see any animals, but we did see an amazing sunset from Mount Washburn!

Sunset view from the Mount Washburn vicinity.

As it got darker, we pressed on, no realizing how far it was to drive back to the campsite. We didn’t arrive back until around 10:30 pm. By then, the rain had stopped, but it was muddy and wet trying to get inside the tent. It was a long day, so exhaustion overtook me quickly.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

I decided to try one of the squeezable fruit oatmeals I had brought along for breakfast on Sunday morning. I also heated water for coffee. I discovered Tree Line, which makes these cute little bags with handles that site over you mug while you pour water through the grounds.

Before leaving the campground, I popped into the camp store and picked up things for a picnic lunch. Then, we were off, heading north to Mammoth Hot Springs (another section I didn’t get to explore last trip).

A couple of miles north and traffic was creeping at a snail’s pace. When we were driving up a hill, I finally saw why….a big male bison was strutting along the middle of the lane, making it impossible to go faster. He had his own agenda and all we could do was wait and hope he decided to leave the road for the meadow. Nobody could pass him on the left because of traffic coming in the opposite direction. After about 15 minutes, he moved to the middle of the road, so we could finally drive by. As I drove by, slowly, he gave me the eye…the one that asked if he needed to challenge me. Nope!…I hit the gas and sped away before he even thought about ramming my car!

Closer to Mammoth Hot Springs, we spotted our first elk…a young male. Driving down into Mammoth, we stopped at Hot Springs Terrace and hiked around the lower springs. More elk were walking around the parking lot area and we found a mother and two young (one about a year old and the other about a couple of months old) grazing near the church. More were in a nearby field.

It was getting close to lunch time, so we stopped at a picnic area between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Falls. We found a table in a shady spot (the last one). I devoured a chicken salad sandwich, chips, and a big dill pickle. It was probably the most I had eaten on the trip so far. The pickle juice also made me feel better after being in the hot sun.

Black bear foraging.

After lunch, we were heading into the Lamar Valley when we spotted a black bear that was foraging about 10 feet from the road. We knew better and stayed on the other side of the road. A ranger showed up soon after and had to yell at some people who had crossed the road and were starting to walk into the grass (idiots!).

Pulling away from the bear spot, we hadn’t gone very far when a coyote ran across the road in front of us! It went to fast to get a photo, plus I was driving.

Gold-mantled Ground Squirrel

A few miles later, we found a self-guided nature trail and decided to walk part of it. We were watching a gold-mantled ground squirrel eat flower buds when something over my shoulder caught my eye. OMG, it was a badger…the first I’ve ever seen in the wild! Again, it moved too fast to get a photo and all I managed to capture was a blurry picture of its back.

Instead of heading south on the loop right away, we ventured on the road to the northeast entrance for a bit. I’m glad we did, because we saw a lone pronghorn antelope in the distance (I could barely get a photo with my longest lens).

Another stop we made was Mount Washburn. We drove up close to the top and Mumtaz hiked the rest of the way. It was the highest I had ever walked (except in an airplane). The 10,000+ elevation got to me a bit and I had to huff some oxygen that I brought along for that reason. It was also windy as hell and I ended up with an ear ache.

We continued on the loop to head back to our campsite. We wanted to stop at the Grand Prismatic Pool, but it was so ridiculously crowded that parking would have been a mile away (and that’s if we parked illegally). Instead, we drove Firehold Lake road, not expectly much traffic in this lesser known spot.

We got to Grand Geyser and saw a small crowd, but there was still a lot of empty space on the benches. We learned that the geyser was to erupt at any moment. It turned out to be about 45 minutes later, but I’m glad we stayed. This geyser was showier and much longer than Old Faithful (I like it a whole lot better)!

Grand Geyser Eruption (only filmed part of it).

Back at camp, I made Backcountry Soba for dinner. My appetite was almost non-existent and I only had a small bowl of this vegetarian soup. I also had a bad headache.

Since we had to get up at 4am to pack up and make it to Old Faithful Inn by 5:45am, we called it an early night. I think I was asleep by 9:30 pm.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Getting up at 4 am and packing up a tent was brutal. It was also hard to find Old Faithful Inn since the signage was very small it was pitch black outside. At least the Inn had coffee for us to purchase before leaving with the tour guide at 6 am!

The tour guide was great, but half of us realized that we signed up for a photography safari that was all about landscapes…not the animals we hoped to photograph. It was a big waste of our money since we had already seen all but one stop. Plus, one of the drives we were supposed to do was closed due to road construction (we had already seen it the first day). It wasn’t worth getting up as early as we did for this tour! I was pissed off enough to write a bad review on!

Following our piss poor tour, we departed Yellowstone and headed back to Missoula, MT, to spend the night.

Our campground was called Jellystone…yes, like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo. Our site was nothing but gravel and it was over 90 degrees. We set up the tents and were drenched in sweat by the time we were done. We were both looking forward to taking our first shower in three days!

After my shower, I did a load of laundry in the camp laundromat. While waiting for it to finish, I sat inside a lounge area with A/C instead of back at the campsite in the heat. As I was sitting there checking social media and email,

When I finished and got back to our site, of course I had to pee and walk the whole way to the other side of the campground to the bathroom. But, while walking there, I noticed that there were half a dozen cabins that didn’t seem to be in use. I went on their website to see how much they cost….not quite double what I paid to pitch a tent in a teeny space of gravel.

So, I went into registration to see if I could get a cabin instead of the tent site. I was in luck! I got a cabin right beside the bathrooms AND my tent fee was applied towards the cabin fee (since they were packed and were turning campers away).

Packing the tents back up in the heat wasn’t fun, but we discovered that the cabin had A/C and a ceiling fan! Woohoo! Best splurge I bought on this trip!

When we got up the next day, we decided to drive the whole way home. The original plan was to drive to Sun Lake/Dry Falls State Park, but with a projected temp in the low 90s, we just couldn’t bear putting up and taking down tents one more time in that heat.

So, we pressed on and got home around 4:30 pm. A reasonable time to unload the car and have a nice dinner.

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