Yellowstone National Park was our destination when we awoke in Rapid City, South Dakota on Wednesday morning. We were hoping to be there around 6pm, time enough to have dinner and enjoy the cool mountain weather. But then the Buckhorns jumped in our path, distracted us, and slowed us down considerably.
Then, along came the little town of Cody, named after the American West legend, Buffalo Bill Cody, and had us open-mouthed again. About thirty seconds after leaving Cody, when we were ready to buckle down and hit the road hard to make up for some lost time, along came the cliffs of Cedar Mountain and the deep gorge that is just below Buffalo Bill Dam. The gorge was only visible for a brief second or two before the road headed into a long tunnel but those two seconds were very captivating. Wyoming teases its travelers. We sat on a flat road, through a mix of fields and sage brush and then BAM! A deep gorge and towering cliiffs. Unfortunately, there was no time to get photos and turning around with a 31′ Airstream isn’t something easily achieved with us rookies.
So we kept going on Highway 14. More distractions were in store as now we could see the beginnings of mountains. Big mountains. And what’s that? A wide shallow mountain river wandering through the valley floor? Are those fly fisherman? (Indy, put your head back in the window). Are those gigantic beautiful log lodges and cabins on huge ranches with pine trees and meadows? The Shoshone River Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys ever designed. Washington State has some pretty impressive valleys in and around the Cascades and Olympics, so for all those north-westerners who haven’t seen the Shoshone River valley, that’s saying something. The mountains on either side of the river grew taller and taller and the road slowly gained in elevation the closer we got to Yellowstone. We highly recommend taking this route into Yellowstone (unfortunately there was a certain girl who didn’t notice any of it due to some Nancy Drew books). The disease of MGTN (Must Get There Now) prevented photos from being taken. It was painful to not stop. Indy, the fly fisherman in training, moaned at each bridge crossing the river. The fear was that if we stopped, we would not want to continue on. Could it get better than this?
Finally, Yellowstone National Park
We arrived at the Yellowstone National Park entrance at last! After forking over $25, we immediately started climbing in elevation. Up and up and up and up through switchbacks and curves… all at 35 mph. One thing to remember: it takes a long time to drive distances in Yellowstone. Top speed is 45 mph (the sign said “45 means 45”). The road finally crested at the tree line and in the rocks beside Hoyt Peak and we started down towards Yellowstone Lake. The eerie remains of the 1988 fires were all around us at this point. Huge swaths of blackened sticks still remain, even 25 years later. I (Kelly) remember the fires vividly as our church youth group took a trip to Yellowstone that year. I remember seeing the smoke billowing from behind the hill as we looked on the Old Faithful geyser and then large flares a 1/4 mile off the road on our way back towards Jackson Hole.
We saw our first wildlife just before coming up to Yellowstone Lake. There were two bison standing in a small patch of grass. They were dark, still as a statue and almost looked fake. They weren’t eating or grazing, just standing still. Miette was excited! She loved getting to pet the bison at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park in Pennsylvania and this was feeding her passion even more.
We stopped at the lake to finally take a photo since the clouds were SCREAMING for some photography to be performed. We were at Fishing Bridge RV Park a few minutes later. After a little mix up with our reservations in which Steve, the reservations guru on staff, fixed for us (thanks Steve!), we were setting up “camp”. This place was more of a temporary city than an RV Park. We pulled the Airstream through what looked and sounded like a street party. Nonetheless, we arrived, were tired and happy to be in Yellowstone.
The next day we awoke, had coffee from the Moka Pot using beans from Capitol Grounds in Montpelier (we were in a desperate search of beans in Vermont and finally found a local roaster) and spent a full day making the rounds inside the park. We first stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin, where Brier discovered that walking backwards on the boardwalk almost the entire time was fun (and slow). He did this for the rest of the day whenever a boardwalk presented itself.
From there we headed north through the Continental Divide and made a quick stop at Kepler Cascades before dropping down into the Old Faithful complex. We ate at Old Faithful and waited what seemed like a really long time for the geyser to go (it was “late” by 25 minutes). It was amazing to see the amount of people that gather for that show. After some ice cream, we started heading further north with the intent to get to a place where there’s a swimming hole (somewhere around Firehole Falls – but we weren’t sure where). Brier crashed and so we took a side track to the Great Fountain Geyser so he could sleep a little longer before needing to get out of the truck. We waited 30 minutes for a smaller geyser to go off and then continued towards Firehole Falls. We ended up finding the beautiful swimming hole on a one way drive off the road. The kids loved it! It was not too deep for the kids and they spent a little over an hour swimming and enjoying themselves. A perfect natural outdoor pool.
From there we quickly (46mph) headed east to the “Canyon” for a quick peek at the lower waterfall. We debated whether a bird we saw (the size of a dot) sitting way out on a rock formation was a bald eagle or osprey. We agreed on it being a bald eagle since it would be a better story to tell. After that we started the last leg south towards the RV park around 7 PM. The goal at the beginning of the day was to hit this section (the Hayden Valley) around evening time to increase our chances of seeing wildlife. We saw a lot of bison, some up close, and Miette was ecstatic! She was counting them and lost track around 40 or 50. We never did see any moose, which Esme was really craving to see. We made another quick stop at the Mud Volcano. As I told Indy and Esme, I’ll tell you all as well: if you ever had the strange desire to let out a toot with a whole bunch of people around, do it at the Mud Volcano since it already smells like that. No one will EVER know it was you and you can walk around giggling to yourself, knowing what you just did and that no one has any clue about it. But I digress. We arrived back at the Airstream for some leftover chicken Caesar salad. It was a very busy day at Yellowstone National Park but worth every single one of the $25 entrance fee.
I’ll finish up Friday’s travels in the next post so stay tuned. Here are some photos from Thursday though.