After nine wonderful weeks in the Pacific Northwest, it was time to conclude that portion of our road trip and move inland, way inland, to one of our favorite areas in the western United States; Yellowstone and Teton NPs. Originally our plans called for a stop-over in Leavenworth, WA and then some time in the Spokane area visiting friends. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond either of our control, they were not able to be in Spokane when we were passing through, so we amended our plans, and added a stop in Gardiner, MT at the north entrance to Yellowstone. Our plan had always included the Tetons, but the added stop in Yellowstone simply fit in too smoothly. We have been to both parks numerous times, so this visit focused on the “small” things. Animals, fall colors, and those little things that always seem to go unnoticed when overwhelmed by “the big sights”.
I do not usually write about our repositioning drives from one location to another, but this time I felt it worthy of a comment. We had a minor mechanical problem with the coach while climbing the steep grades on the interstate in Montana. We were fortunate enough to find Floyds Freightliner repair in Bozeman who does a lot of work on motorhomes. Not only did the fit us in right away and find the cause of our problem, they were also kind enough to let us stay the night with an electric hook-up. We took advantage of the time to explore Bozeman. What a nice town. We found a park to hang out at and have a picnic lunch, toured Montana State University and explored their downtown. It turned out to be a great unplanned diversion.
Gardiner is a small gateway community at the north entrance to Yellowstone with fun restaurants and shops bordering both sides of the Gardiner River. The north entrance, while maybe not the best-known entrance to Yellowstone, is the original entrance to the park. Its landmark is the Roosevelt Arch. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt was camping in Yellowstone. He spoke at the dedication ceremony, even laying the cornerstone as part of the Masonic ceremony.
We decided to spend a day just driving around the Grand Loop and stopping wherever we wanted in places we had not been before. However, we did stop in one place we always stop at for a picture. On our first visit to Yellowstone, way back in 1985, we stopped and took our picture at “The Chocolate Pot”. We have taken our picture in the exact same place every time we have visited Yellowstone. The chocolate pot is next to a small turnout along the Grand Loop Road.
The Chocolate Pot
The geysers and geothermal features have always been one of Yellowstone’s most fascinating features for us. The beautiful and colorful hues of the mineral and hot spring pools are so vibrant, it is hard to believe they are real, the constant steam and the erupting boiling water, etc. It’s amazing to think it comes from deep in the earth and all of them are interconnected in some way. The mornings were crisp while we were there and the steam was covering the entire area.
Our time in the northern part of Yellowstone was all about looking for animals. The one rule about searching for wildlife is to get an early morning start. On our way into the park, we had a bald eagle cruising the river flying right alongside of us. We took that as a good omen.
The Mammoth Hot Springs area is home to a herd of elk. We were fortunate to see them as we started our morning outing. There was even a young buck in the meadow nearby.
The Lamar Valley is famous for its bison herds and wide-open spaces. There was definitely no shortage of bison during our trip through the valley. We were stopped at least four times for “Bison Jams” with herds crossing the roads. A couple of times they crossed right in front of our Jeep. They were so close you could smell and hear them. We found a couple nice turnouts to just sit and watch them.
We enjoyed our brief time in Yellowstone and then drove the three hours south to spend a week in the Tetons. Fall is one of our favorite times in the Tetons. The aspen trees are all changing into varying shades of yellow, the days are cooler, and the animals are active. After almost ten weeks on the road, and staying ahead of all the smoke out west, it finally caught up with us our last evening in Gardiner and followed us to the Tetons. It was a very heartbreaking sight! The mountains were totally obscured. But with every cloud there is a silver lining. We decided that as we had seen the beauty of them previously, we would concentrate on those things we had not seen, places we had not been, and look at the “small stuff”
Every trip we have made to Yellowstone and the Tetons we are in search of that elusive species, the Moose. In fact, our search for them has been so unsuccessful we often jest they do not really exist. Well this year was different and our search for moose rekindled our faith in their existence. This was the first of our silver linings. While driving to Jackson we saw a Momma Moose and her two calves out for breakfast near, of all places, Moose Junction. The next morning, we saw another family in the same area.
Then while on a short stroll after a picnic lunch, we watched yet another feasting away on reeds and grass in a marshy river. This time we were so close you could hear it eating and grunting (Moose Talk) as it waded in and out of the marsh and stream.
Our final siting was a pair running along the road. Total Moose tally for the trip, 9 Moose! Yes, Virginia they do exist!
But Moose weren’t our only silver lining. After our bear experience in Lassen N.P. we have been a little leery getting too far out on the trails. We definitely have been carrying our bear spray with us every time we get out of the car! Well, on one of our short walks along a river and pond what should happen, but this fellow appeared out of the bushes, walked down the trail right behind us, then down towards the stream, happily eating berries all along the way.
After a wide berth detour, we sat down to eat lunch, in the car!, in the pullout beside the pond. What should we see, while eating our lunch but a momma bear and her cub walking along the opposite shore of the pond! Wow, three bears in one day!
Turned out not to be the last of them though. On our last night, as we were walking our dog, Maggie, in the campground, a ranger came up and asked us to head back to our vehicle. Apparently, there was a bear and her two cubs wandering the campground. Sure enough, we saw her walking along the exact path we had used to get to the visitor center. Sorry the picture is not better, hope you understand.
After a couple days of smoke, the skies seemed to clear, and we were off in search of fall colors. When we first arrived in the Yellowstone/Teton area, the trees looked to be just starting to change colors. Then we had a couple “crisp” mornings and even a nighttime shower that seemed to have accelerated the changing. On the days when the smoke lingered, it was more about the close up areas of color than the wide panorama views. But as the smoke started clearing some, we found some wonderful spots of brilliant colors and blue skies.
There were a couple full days when the sky cleared of smoke, haze and clouds and it provided us with the classic Tetons day; deep blue skies, no wind and wonderful views. The Tetons are just majestic, and when you get to see them like we did a couple days, you are truly lucky.
Once again, we had a wonderful time in one of our favorite places out west. Even after so many visits we continue to find and see new things and are in constant awe of the beauty of these two National Parks. Can’t wait to visit again.