Why, yes, we are quite behind on the blog. Last we checked in, we were at Rainy Lake with our boat buddies, David, Eileen, and Jack, enjoying proper Midwestern weather and life off the grid. After of few days of bliss, we were back on the road, bee-lining it for Yellowstone, one of the many National Parks that Jody had never visited until this summer. After a quick overnight at the lovely Medina Park and Campground in North Dakota, we zipped across to the Scheels Sporting Goods in Fargo for some shock cord to fix an errant tent pole, and drove through the Bitty Bean in Bismarck for some much needed caffeine.
We sped through the plains and a bit of the badlands, and by sunset, we’d landed in Red Lodge, Montana, just inside the Custer Gallatin National Forest at the pine-enshrouded (and chilly) Ratine campground. Our site was practically IN Rock Creek, which definitely kept us cool – ok, cold – and the sound of the water rushing by was like a lullaby. The next morning, we ventured into the quaint little town of Red Lodge, found some breakfast (read: carbo-loaded in anticipation of sitting in the car most of the day) and some wifi (read: someone had to pay for our summer shenanigans). Once we were properly fed and Rand was caught up on email, we hit the Beartooth Scenic Byway, and quickly found ourselves awestruck by the vastness of the views – and the number of people and cars doing exactly what we were doing. The trek was well worth enduring the crowds, and in some ways, we were happy to see so many people from around the country, and the world, supporting the National Park System.
The goal of this trip, thanks to our self-imposed schedule (bah! When will we ever learn?!), was not to get off the beaten path, but stay firmly planted upon it in order to witness some of the most iconic features in Yellowstone. For those of you who have been there, you know what we mean when we say it’s other-worldly, with the geothermal features swallowing up broad swaths of land in a brilliant display of sharp and contrasting colors, mostly the result of a diverse thermophilic microbial community. The sheer intensity of the heat that emanates from the ground should be enough to scare anyone from wanting to set foot on the crusty, sometimes saturated soils. But, of course, the obvious danger, not to mention the numerous warning signs strategically placed by the Park, often aren’t enough to ward people away, and every year some dumb-dumbs find themselves in hospital with severe burns. Sheesh.
Early afternoon found us having traversed the Lamar Valley (and getting stuck in the obligatory traffic jam caused by bison on and around the roadway), and then checking out the very busy visitor center below Mammoth Hot Springs. Here, we found a super informative and useful real-time digital display of the status of each of the campgrounds in the immediate vicinity (full or not full, but most importantly, the time of day they filled up for the night on the previous day). A bit of panic set in when we saw that most of the campgrounds were already full, with only a couple showing availability, and not for long based on the previous day’s data. There were other things we wanted to do in the area, but we decided we should secure a sleep spot before venturing much further. So, we beat feet about 7 miles down the road to the Indian Creek Campground and scored one of the last available tent sites – whew!
With our sleeping accommodations secured, we headed back to take a stroll around the Mammoth Hot Springs, then for a soak in the Boiling River. Now, I’m not one for public hot tubs or swimming pools, and this place is very public, but under the circumstances where the relatively fast moving cold water river mixes with the inflow of the hot, geothermal waters, I felt confident enough that we wouldn’t walk away with some nasty bacterial infection to enjoy the warm, hot, and cold fresh water flowing around us. It was the perfect end to a long day on the road.
Our second and last day in Yellowstone was not unlike the whirlwind of the first. We hit a few of the highlights – Roaring Mountain, Norris Geyser Basin (unfortunately, the Steamboat Geyser had just let loose the day before – on my birthday, but we missed it), Fountain Paint Pots, the Grand Prismatic Spring, and of course, Old Faithful. It was fast and furious, but we’re glad we did the pass-through because these are sights that should be seen – not only to take in the beauty of the landscapes, but to recognize that there’s a lot going on underneath the crust of our planet. Something way more powerful and fascinating than us is in charge here on Earth.
That was it for Yellowstone…we were off to Driggs, Idaho, by way of the Tetons and Jackson, Wyoming. Our attempt to camp along the way was thwarted by a combination of high fees and a less than desirable site location, so we opted to push on to Teton Village and score warm showers and a cozy bed at The Hostel, followed by pretty good bar food at the Mangy Moose. After a lovely morning hike at Jackson Hole, a little food and wifi, and a walkabout in the town of Jackson, we sped over the pass to Jack and Laura’s place in Driggs, where we were treated to stunning views of the backside of the Tetons, scrumptious, homemade meals, another cozy bed, and wonderful company and conversation with Jack and Laura.
For those who don’t know or don’t remember, Jack is our friend from Tahoe who we had deputized to perform our wedding ceremony almost 20 years ago. He and his lovely wife, Laura, moved to Idaho a few years back, so we couldn’t pass through the state without connecting with them. And we’re so glad we did. Not only was it great fun reminiscing about old times in Tahoe, but we got to enjoy a day in the life with them – the farmer’s market in downtown Driggs, a local breakfast joint, and a gorgeous hike at the Grand Targhee Ski Resort and Bike Park. It was all fun and games until I dropped my Hydroflask from the chair lift, then it became an epic adventure to retrieve the darn thing. But we did it, and everyone survived. A great stop on our journey!