Monday, November 5, 2018

West Yellowstone & Henry's Lake

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Saying goodbye to Cody, we headed out of Buffalo Bill State Park at sunrise, which is not so early for us, but not typical for our travel companions. We wanted to travel over the 8,500 ft. Sylvan Pass in the cool weather and get through Yellowstone before the roads became jammed with traffic. Morning is the best time to see wildlife, and no sooner had we cleared the pass and entered the grasslands, we were met with a slow-moving bison herd who seemed to prefer the road rather than the goat paths through the fields. We loved it, of course, but soon enough along came a ranger with some kind of sound device on his vehicle to encourage the big beasts to move along.

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Early morning construction and bison crossings in Yellowstone!
 
'Round and 'Round They Go

Our destination was Bakers Hole campground just outside of West Yellowstone, MT. Bakers Hole is first come, first served and has some sites with electric and some just for boondocking. Because most of the sites are wooded, solar isn't always the best option here. As it turns out, we didn't have a choice as all electric spots were taken. We did manage to find two spots across from each other, both with a good amount of sun. Though not perfect, they would do.

There are two loops of sites in the campground, and all day long rigs arrive and drive the loops looking for a suitable open site. Such is the peril of a no reservation system. While Bill and Kelly went to fill up with water, another rig pulled into their site intending to settle in. Steven went over to inform them that it was taken (and already paid for!) but the guy insisted there was no tag on the pole. Helpfully, Steven pointed out that indeed there was and this made the fellow very cranky and stressed out his wife. Off they went to make another round and (hopefully) find another spot. We never saw them again.

A Bee Story

We only stayed at Bakers Hole for three nights, but we made the most of our time there. We spent a lovely day visiting the Grizzly Bear and Wolf Center. We've been here before and enjoyed it. It's good to see it is expanding to include river otters, which top my list for cuteness. A few years ago, with Steven's parents and Tara and Zac in tow, we went to the IMAX Theatre next door to the center. While we were watching the movie "Yellowstone" (what else, right?) a bee stung Tara squarely on the leg. All hell broke loose in our section of the theater as we all yelped and jumped around while Steven whisked Tara away to get help. Since he is allergic to bee stings he thought Tara might be as well and indeed her leg was swelling up nicely. Turns out the doctor (only one in the whole town, I guess) was actually out of town taking his own son to a doctor, so Tara just had to tough it out. She did great. We got our money refunded, even though the rest of us saw the entire movie. We seem to have our fair share of fond family memories based on emergencies. :)

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Plenty of wildlife to be seen at the Grizzly Bear and Wolf Center.

Pajama Party

On our second morning at Bakers Hole, we enticed Bill and Kelly to get up early again (noticing a theme here?) and drive to Hayden Valley. For years this has been one of our favorite places to see wildlife before the crowds set in. It was, as always, beautiful, but the hoards of bison were missing. It appears they've moved to the east side of the park, as that's where we found them in numbers. Following our sunrise adventures, we headed to Canyon Village for breakfast. This is my favorite place in Yellowstone for breakfast, partly because it's so central. When we used to camp in our little popup Alfred Hitchpop, I usually started out the day wearing my pajamas because it was way too cold in the early mornings to do anything other than hop out of bed and make a dash to my warm SUV with butt warmers blasting. We'd spend a few hours sightseeing at sunrise before we'd arrive and Canyon and I would change into regular clothes. Steven has a ton of video footage of me roaming around Yellowstone in my PJs. :)

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Hayden Valley is one of our favorite places to be at sunrise.

We continued our day in Yellowstone visiting Artist's Point and the spectacular Lower and Upper Falls, Firehole and other geysers. Then we made our way through Mammoth Hot Springs to the north entrance at Gardiner, MT.

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An artist sets up his easel and paints at Artist’s Point. How fitting!

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The colors are breathtaking at Mammoth Hot Springs.

For The Benefit and Enjoyment of the People

Every time I see the arch at the north entrance of Yellowstone with this saying etched in stone at the top, I get a little verklempt. To me, it somehow seems even more poignant today than ever before. In 2016 when the National Park Service had their 100 Year Anniversary, they launched the "Find Your Park" campaign. At the time, we were in Alaska. Denali! Still, I knew, Yellowstone was my park, no question. It has been my park since I was a child and it thrills me to no end to take friends to see the sights I have enjoyed most of my life and have shared with my own family for years.

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With our favorite peeps at Yellowstone’s North Entrance.

Just You Wait

After three days in West Yellowstone, guess where we moved to? ANOTHER of our Top Ten campgrounds! How many is that, like,14?

Henry's Lake is a serious Top Tenner, though, because it's a gorgeous state park nestled at the edge of a beautiful lake and surrounded by mountains. Overall, we had not seen a great deal of wildlife in our travels through Yellowstone, but just you wait, we said to Bill and Kelly. Just wait until we get to Henry's Lake, you'll be tripping over the wildlife!

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You can’t beat the views at one of our favorite parks: Henry’s Lake State Park.

Well, not so much, but we did see two moose, a herd of pronghorns, a couple of elk, deer and lots of raptors. But most were really far away and it was difficult to see them without binoculars. I don't know where all the wildlife has gone, but this year they were scarce.

A Grand Sunrise

The campground at Henry's Lake is still a great basecamp for Yellowstone, as it's only about 15 miles or so from the west entrance. We all got up again before the crack of dawn to make the drive into Yellowstone to watch the sunrise over the Grand Prismatic hot spring in the Midway Geyser Basin. If you've seen a photo of Yellowstone, you've probably seen this gorgeous spring with it's rainbow-like colors. Even though it's quite large, it's actually very difficult to photograph. That money shot you've seen on the cover of National Geographic is taken from a fixed wing aircraft, a perspective not readily available to visitors. But, all is not lost.  

Just south of Midway is Fairy Falls Trail. From the parking lot, it's about a half mile hike, somewhat steep but completely doable, to an overlook. Not only did we get a better perspective of Grand Prismatic, we also enjoyed the beautiful sunrise that backlit the steam from surrounding springs. We didn't get to see the rainbow colors of the spring, but that's because the ambient temps were far too cold. Still, it's quite an experience and well worth losing a bit of sleep over. We shared the overlook with one other couple and could hear just a few hikers below us.

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Spectacular views from the overlook on the Fairy Falls trail.

Later in the day when we passed by the parking lot was full and the cars overflowed into the road. As we strolled the boardwalk that surrounds Grand Prismatic, we could see the crowd gathered at the overlook and congratulated ourselves for getting there early.

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Grand Prismatic Spring from the boardwalk.

Don't I Know You?

We visited a few other geyser areas and as we made our way around a boardwalk, we ran into friends from Sammamish, Jerry & Sandi Bishop! Dr. B, as we call him, was our beloved veterinarian for many years for our kitty Pixel, then both Steven and I went to work at the clinic. Dr. B retired not long ago, as did Sandi from her teaching job, and now they are traveling from their new home near Spokane. We later met them in West Yellowstone for dinner. How fun to meet up during our travels!

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After bumping into Dr. B and Sandi around the geysers, we met up again for dinner. So much fun!

Breakfast And A Show

We made our way once again to Old Faithful and this time she did not disappoint! We were pretty happy to see she still has it in her to reach high in the sky! While I do like visiting Yellowstone in the early mornings, Old Faithful is one place where I prefer the afternoons. In the days before we got a rig too large to fit in most of the park campgrounds, we always stayed inside the park, along with a ton of other people. The line for the showers always seem to snake around the building, but of course we were usually there in the height of the season. We learned early on that at the Old Faithful Lodge you go up to the check-in desk and "buy" a shower. For $3.50 we were given a fluffy towel, mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and all the hot water we could stand. Afterward, we would mosey out to the second story balcony, order a glass of wine and settle in to watch Old Faithful. Now THAT's the best way to see the show!

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Old Faithful in (most of) her glory.

And, finally....

At Henry's Lake State Park we enjoyed eight glorious days of the beautiful Idaho autumn, with colors seeming to change before our very eyes. We also managed a day trip to Mesa Falls and beyond, but for the most part, we were happy to just relax by the lake, watching for wildlife.

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Sunsets at Henry’s Lake were beautiful, of course.

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A rainbow over Mesa Falls!

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Bill, don’t look now, but . . . .

NEXT UP: The Big Eddy!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Cody – Gateway to Yellowstone

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Boxed In

After a productive stay in Buffalo, we woke up excited to begin our drive to Cody. Not only were we returning to a place we love, but we were meeting up with our awesome travel buds Bill & Kelly Murray! Even though the trip was under 200 miles, we knew it was going to be a long day. The route to Cody out of Buffalo is U.S. Highway 16, which crosses the Powder River Pass at the south end of the Big Horn Mountains at just under 10,000 ft. To add to the excitement, the weather forecast was calling for snow. Great.

It was a stunning drive and we saw two female moose just hanging out by the side of the road munching away. We came upon them so quickly we didn't have time to get a photo. Still, pretty exciting!

We had no issues with snow or ice and before long we had cleared the pass and eased into Worland. This, we thought, would be a great place for breakfast! We found a little diner just across from a trucking yard. Having found no "Do Not Park' signs, we parked and headed to the restaurant. During our absence a trucker apparently took issue with us taking up a space (of which there were plenty) so he parked at an angle intended to block us in, dropped his trailer and took off.

We were stunned! Toadie was at such an awkward angle that unhooking would be nearly impossible. In front of us there was a pole on the left and that stupid trailer on the right. We studied it for a long time, then Steven said, "We can do this."

I hope that trucker was off in the distance watching with his mouth hanging open, because even though we had a gnat's hair width of wiggle room on each side, while I drove, Steven expertly guided all 54' 4" of our bad selves out of that snare without a scratch! Onward to Cody!

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It looks roomy, but the more we pulled forward, the closer that trailer got!

The Wild West

By wild west, I'm referring to the Walmart on the west side of Cody. Since we had a few boondocking days ahead, it was time to stock up. Oh. My. God. This was the kind of Walmart that is packed with rigs, to the point that even if you get in, you might not get out. It reminded me of the Walmart in Whitehorse in the Yukon. That place got so crazy that just this year they decided to ban RV overnighting all together. It might not be too long before that happens in other popular places, like Cody.

The Dam Campground

We got our provisions and headed further out of town, past the Buffalo Bill Dam to the very end of the reservoir and into the North Fork campground at Buffalo Bill State Park. There are two parts to this state park and we had previously stayed at the North Shore. We were slightly disappointed that we couldn't return there because it was full, but once we laid eyes on our campsite, we fell completely in love. One of these days I'm going to have to look back and count how many campgrounds I have actually designated as a Top Ten, because I'm sure there are more than ten, this one being right at the top!. :)

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The view when we arrived at Buffalo Bill State Park.

We loved it so much, that not long after Bill & Kelly arrived, we had a group meeting and unanimously agreed to scuttle the reservations we had made months ago at a campground near the east entrance of Yellowstone and stay put in the boondocking section of the North Fork. It took us just a few minutes to pack up and changes spots, then we settled in for eight glorious days.

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Our new boondocking spot!

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This beautiful little spot is where we sat around the fire and solved the world’s problems.

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We had music blasting and the wine was a-flowin’. It doesn’t get better than this.

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We visited the nearby dam one day. Bill and Kelly decided to take an Uber to the Visitors Center.

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The Buffalo Bill Dam.

Tour Guides

I think I've mentioned before that I lived in Cody as a child, maybe four or five years old. It may have been a long time ago, but Cody has always been at the top of my family’s list of "Favorite Places We've Lived". Of course, there is so much to see, such history in the area, what's not to love? Steven and I know it well, and since Kelly and Bill had never been to this area of the country, or Yellowstone, we hoped to show them the beautiful sights that keep us coming back time and again.

Although Bill & Kelly are not early risers, we promised them that if they would get out early, the payoff would be worth it. They did, and it was! We saw our first bison as we rounded the corner over Lake Yellowstone. We headed to Old Faithful, where we enjoyed a lovely picnic with wine before the big show. I've seen Old Faithful shoot off probably a couple of dozen times since I was a kid, and this time was the puniest I've ever seen. What's up with that? Still, you can't help but be awed by it.

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A day at Yellowstone is always epic!

We decided that instead of retracing our drive, we would continue on the park loop and go all the way around through Hayden Valley before once again going through the east entrance of the park and back to our campground. It took hours, but it was a lot of fun. Wildlife was kind of scarce, but we finally stopped at the south end of Hayden and watched a herd of bison across the Yellowstone River. Then a couple of huge bulls decided the grass was greener on our side, and they began to swim over. It was all fun and games until everyone realized these guys were fairly swift. Folks cleared out pretty quickly and gave them a wide berth.

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The unique and beautiful colors of Hayden Valley in Yellowstone.

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Just when we thought we hadn’t seen very much wildlife, this herd of bison appeared.

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This guy decided it was better on the our side of the river.

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The evening light was amazing as we drove out of Hayden Valley.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

You know who I think had the best job in the whole world? Charles Kuralt. Remember when he did that series "On The Road" for CBS? I loved that show. Maybe the idea of traveling around in an RV was implanted into my brain all the way back then. He traveled around for a quarter of a century in six different RVs. One of his favorite places was Beartooth Pass, which he deemed to be the most scenic drive in America.I suppose this episode has stayed with me over the years because Beartooth is one of my favorites, too. No matter where we go in this beautiful country of ours, nothing has toppled it off my own Top Ten list.

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We agree with Mr. Kuralt that Beartooth Pass is breathtaking.

When we lived in Cody, my parents would load us into the car and drive up and across the pass. We'd stop at the top and play in the pink snow, the color caused by algae. It was always there, and we always stopped to play. I remember driving Steven and the kids over the pass on a day when the sky will filled with dramatic clouds. Both he and Tara were affected by the nearly 11,000 ft. altitude, so we didn't stay for long, but I pointed out the pink snow!

We have a photo of my Mom taken somewhere on Beartooth. We've always said she looked like she was posing for Life Magazine, with her binoculars pointed in such a way as to take in the vast view below. I was very excited to take Bill & Kelly on this trip, through Red Lodge, over Beartooth and onto Chief Joseph Scenic Highway on the return trip back to Cody. We picked a spectacular day for it and the views were amazing.

While we were at a rest stop near the top of the pass, Kelly and I saw a path that led to an overlook. We figured we might as well go take a look and off we went. Bill and Steven soon joined us. Nearly simultaneously, Steven and I recognized this as the spot where the photo of my Mom was taken. We set about trying to duplicate it, with Bill's binoculars and Steven's sharp eye. We came pretty close! I wish I had her skinny arms. :)

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These two photos are more than half a century apart.

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This is the highest elevation our GPS measured on Bear Tooth Pass!

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We strolled through the mountain town of Red Lodge.

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Lunch on the pass with only the essentials.

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At the summit of Chief Joseph Scenic Highway.

Ride "Em, Cowboy!

Actually, that should read "Cowgirls", because it wasn't Bill and Steven who hoisted themselves up on a real, live bull. It was after Happy Hour that we began our night out at the World Famous Cody Rodeo and therefore had the courage to get on that bull. He was big but the sharp ends of his horns were cut off and with all the heavy-duty fencing, he wasn't going anywhere. Still, we felt very brave.

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That’s a lot of bull!

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Watching the Rodeo.

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Some highlights of the rodeo.

Cody is a western town loaded with cute shops, tons of eateries and all things Buffalo Bill. We visited the amazing Buffalo Bill Cody statue. It sure seemed a lot bigger when I was four years old crawling up there with my Dad.

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More Good Things To Come

We had fabulous weather while we were boondocking at the state park. We enjoyed catching up around the campfire, having happy hours and dinners in our cozy spots at the end of the reservoir. Kelly and I got pedicures and made up some menus. We shopped, we cooked, we yakked, we laughed. We talked about our kids. You just can't beat spending time in beautiful surroundings with people you enjoy. And this was just the beginning. We have a few more weeks together, traveling in our favorite part of the country. Life is really good. 

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Necessary pampering.

Next up: West Yellowstone!