Let’s use our time travel machine once again and set the dial for Saturday, August 27th. We woke up in Lolo National Forest and headed east through Montana, stopping in Butte for lunch. Butte is not quite bustling like other towns we’ve seen on our travels – the center of town was pretty quiet for a Saturday afternoon – but the people we met there were very nice and from what we’ve read, Butte has a rich history in mining, in which its residents take great pride.
From there, we drove to Bozeman, which has more of a revitalized main street with restaurants and shops, perhaps because of its proximity to Big Sky, the popular ski town. It is also the town where Greg Mortenson lives, the author of Three Cups of Tea (who faced some controversy this past spring). We stopped there for Mike to change the oil and then we drove to Big Sky, which proved to be one of our favorite ski mountain areas of the trip. We arrived in the late afternoon, a very peaceful time of day, when you feel the sun getting ready to set behind the peaks. The resort area and base has a more laid-back atmosphere than Vail, for example, and for skiiers, they have more acreage to ski than any other mountain in the country. Last but not least, we had the best wrap either of us has ever had in a little place called the Wrap Shack. It’s a must-try if you’re in the area!
From Big Sky, we continued on and drove south through some of Yellowstone National Park (Yellowstone is located primarily in Wyoming, but also extends into Montana and Idaho), which was one of the most beautiful drives of the trip. As the sun set and the air filled with the scent of evergreens, conjuring thoughts of Christmas, we stared out at the creeks and rivers, which made their way gracefully through the green landscape, sometimes reflecting the image of the mountains behind them. Other cars and humans were few and far between on this drive, but fly fishermen appeared once in a while, reminding us of man’s presence in this rugged terrain. It was truly special.
That night, we stopped at a local rodeo, which was close to Yellowstone, and it was awesome! It was the last rodeo of the summer season (they take place every Saturday night), so after each event, they announced the winner of the season. There was bull riding and barrel racing and tie-down roping. The members of this very rural community come together every Saturday night for the rodeo tradition and it felt special to be able to step into their world in a small way.
After the rodeo, we stopped at a nearby National Forest, where we camped for the night. On Saturday morning, we drove into Wyoming to Jackson, a beautiful (albeit a bit touristy) town surrounded by the mountains, with lots of apparent pride in its western, cowboy tradition.
We then drove to Jackson Hole, the ski mountain, which is just a few miles away. Jackson Hole, like Big Sky, offers some of the best and most challenging skiing in the country, so needless to say, Mike would like to return in the winter! It was storming when we were there, but we wandered around the base where there are shops and a weekend art festival was taking place.
And from Jackson Hole, we entered Grand Teton National Park! It was unforrtunately pouring rain as we drove past the beautiful scenery of the mountains, but about an hour later, the rain stopped and then even later, the clouds cleared for a breathtaking sunset. We ate dinner at one of the lodges (it was our anniversary #1 that day) and then registered at one of the campgrounds within the park.
On Sunday morning, we drove into Yellowstone National Park! Our first stop was at the first visitor center we hit (Grant Village Visitor Center) to pick up a map and their newsletter guide, which tells you what activities and ranger-led programs are taking place while you’re there. We recommend picking up these materials and talking to a park ranger in the visitor center when planning what to do and see in any national park. Right away in the visitor center parking lot, we were introduced to the plethora of wildlife which makes Yellowstone such a special place. Right there on the pavement were a couple of elk who were making their way to the next grassy knoll.
From Grant Village, we drove to Old Faithful because we knew it would be erupting soon. Before we talk about Old Faithful, here is some background on Yellowstone. It was the first national park in the world, and in addition to the extensive wildlife, it is also known for its geothermal features. The park spans an area of over 3,000 square miles and sits on the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent – and yes, it is active (and no, we’re not kidding). In fact, half of the world’s geothermal features are actually found in Yellowstone, due to the ongoing volcanism. There are so many interesting things to learn about this park – we encourage you to read more!
Back to Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in Yellowstone. We arrived there with a little time to spare (they can tell you, plus or minus ten minutes, when it will go off, which is about every 90 minutes), so we grabbed a quick lunch and then made our way over to watch the eruption. It was really interesting to watch – it starts off slow and the height of the boiling water increases quickly, but it all happens without much sound. We toured the visitor center after watching and then took a tour with a park ranger of the area. Old Faithful is just one of hundreds of geysers in Yellowstone, and there are many surrounding it, so the tour taught us a lot more about the geothermal features and the park itself.
In the late afternoon, we hopped in the car to go check out some of the hot springs nearby, which are beautiful (but dangerous)!
After driving through more beautiful scenery in the park, we registered at our campsite near Canyon Village and then set out again to Hayden Valley because it was dusk and that is the best time to spot wildlife in the park.
On Monday morning, we attended a walk with a ranger at Canyon Falls, which was fascinating and beautiful! It was an early morning hike and the air was clean and fresh – it felt great! We didn’t see any bears on our walk, which apparently is unusual on this ranger’s route, but they had two humans killed by bears in Yellowstone this summer, so it might have been for the best.
From there, we drove to the Lamar Valley, where our good friend Jimmy had told us we could find herds of bison…and he was right! We saw hundreds of bison grazing there in the valley – it was amazing! And the drive to get there was beautiful as well!
It was time to move on in the afternoon, so we set out on another beautiful drive to exit the park in the northeast corner. Cody, Wyoming was our next stop, where we caught up on our computers in a local coffee shop and then had dinner on Main Street. We slept in a state park near Cody that night.
On Wednesday morning, we left Cody and headed east. Unfortunately, near Sheridan, Wyoming, a belt on the van popped off going over a pass. Fortunately, Mike saved the day and was able to fix the problem, but it took most of the afternoon and evening. So we settled into a motel for the night and then hit the road the next day (Thursday, September 1st), excited to see Mount Rushmore! We’ll pick up from South Dakota in our next post, which we promise will take us pretty far east, because we drove and drove for the next few days. To give you an idea, we were in Chicago by September 4th. More to come soon!