A long drive on Day 4 brought us to West Yellowstone Montana. Last October, when making reservations for campsites, I discovered that Yellowstone National Park had some very nice ones, but they had closed down for 2 Covid years. And when they reopened to reservations, all the campers whose reservations had been “put on hold” were given priority to make new reservations starting on May 20, 2022. It normally takes at least a year in advance to get one of these reservations, and with the Covid backlog, it will probably take between 2 and 3 years to get one. So we were obliged to seek a space outside the park, and the Pony Express RV Park had a slot. It is basically in the parking lot of the Brandin’ Iron Motel, and they hadn’t yet turned on the water service, but it had a 50 amp electric hookup which would power both of our electric heaters, something very important to us on nights that get down to about 20 degrees F. West Yellowstone is, after all, in the Rockies at about 7,000 feet of altitude.
If you have been following this blog, you will remember Christmas 2021, where we got frozen out of Deception Pass when the overnight temp fell to 9 degrees F and our water pump froze. We also got stuck trying to get up an icy hill, and well you can click back a few posts and read all the gory details. So, worried this might repeat, we set up the trailer and high-tailed it over to the Do It home center. We bought a 3’ length of “heat tape”, an extension cord looking thing that plugs in and has a thermostat on it to turn on and warm the length of the device. You zip tie it to a problematic piece of plumbing to keep it from freezing when the cold sets in. In this case, I just stuffed it around the water pump and plugged it into an extension cord. And it worked like a charm, keeping not only the pump nice and cozy, but the entire equipment bay around it. The truck didn’t look too cozy in the morning.
We rewarded our ingenuity by going out for dinner at the Slippery Otter Bar & Grill. I had the house specialty, the Elk Burger. It didn’t taste any different than a regular Beef Burger, or likely the Bison Burger either, but at least I gave it a shot. I did discover my all-time favorite non-alcoholic beer. Sam Adam’s “Just the Haze” NA. Really tasty, and you can buy it online for about $65 a case. Not too bad when you consider my 12 oz. can was $6. They had a “wall of beers” there, a great selection.
Also, here’s an update on the painted rock “100 Days” project. These were our productions for Glacier and Yellowstone. One of the Yellowstone rocks was left at Pony Express, the other at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which we visited as a “drive by” tourist on our trip to Sheridan Wyoming on Day 6.
We got up and got going early on our day dedicated to a Yellowstone tour. We had both been there before (just not together) and decided we would focus most of our attention on the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The only visible part of the GC is a 2-mile stretch that contains two waterfalls, incredulously named Upper and Lower falls. There is a short drive loop on the South Rim that has 2 overlook stops, and another short one-way drive on the North Rim that has 4 overlook stops and deposits you back at the Canyon Visitor Center at the end. We did both and got some breathtaking views of the falls and the amazing colors in the rocks that have been exposed over 150,000 years of the Yellowstone River carving out the canyon.
The North Rim is a kind of repeat of the South Rim, but from a different angle. The great view is supposed to be from the Grand View overlook, so we headed there. Arriving at the parking lot, Wendy remarked “Look at the size of this bird! It must be a raven”. Whereupon it flew up and perched on her rear view mirror and began to pose for photos. Meet Quoth, the Raven (apologies to EA Poe).
Quoth really was big, and annoying. I got out and attempted to shoo him away, but he wasn’t budging. Wendy snapped a shot of our standoff, with the killer and I locked in a staring contest. My 2 week gnarly beard and snarling, threatening tone didn’t intimidate him much, and when I started to get close, Wendy insisted that I get back in the truck and drive to another parking spot. I got up to about 5 mph before he gave up and flew off.
Wendy has been keeping 2 journals, one for trip details, and one for wildlife. We figured Yellowstone would be the holy grail of wildlife and set out to find 3 prime species: a bear, a bison, and a moose (or multiples of any of them). It is a little early in mid-May for bears because so many of them are still hibernating. And moose are concentrated around the slower river flows, and not too many of those are near roads. But if poop is any indicator, bison are everywhere. We saw a bunch of examples of big guys like this right along the road. I’m still scratching my head about who the ranger is that keeps moving the orange cone….
And we saw a few flashing signs along the way imploring us to be careful because “Bison are on the Road”. And what do you know, there he was. This big guy held up traffic for many minutes as he ambled right down the middle of the road over a bridge until he could put on his blinkers and pull into a turnout.
We compromised on the moose with the only one we found
Steam is a big feature of Yellowstone, especially on a cold day. Somebody asked the weather, wondering if we would have sun, snow, rain, or clouds for the day. Yep. Lots of sun, followed by squalls of either rain or snow/sleet/corn snow, followed by more sun, then clouds, then more snow. And steam everywhere. It comes out of almost every feature in the landscape. It even comes out of holes in the road, which is a little unnerving considering what you are driving over. But the biggest steam feature of them all is Old Faithful. We anchored the other end of our tour there and wondered if we would have to wait long after arriving for an eruption. OF only goes off about every hour and 10 minutes or so, and the last time I was watching I waited the whole time to finally see the spectacle. We arrived at the visitor center, which is enormous, and parked in the lot, which is enormous, and walked in the direction that everyone else was walking. As we approached the viewing area, off she went! Zero wait, eruption, and boom, we’re off to the gift shop! Timing is everything.
And the steam comes with colors. Pools of blues, and reds, and pinks, and greens, and muddy browns. Vast flat plains just full of bubbling holes and steam. And sulphur steam, which stinks. I couldn’t help but think about all the energy under my feet as I looked at it all. And how small I was in comparison.
Tonight we’ll sleep in Ranchester Wyoming, a suburb of Sheridan. We’ll mark up a couple more rocks, this time advising a lucky rock-finder to “Live simply, Love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, and enjoy the ride.” And tomorrow’s ride will take us to a well-deserved 3 night stay in Rapid City South Dakota.
Tippy, of course, will have the last word.