Monday, August 14, 2023

Packing a bit of Yellowstone, Montana, and Wyoming into a day

The best things about early Friday morning were that we woke early and it was easy to latch down our car-roof tent (rather than tearing down a normal tent) and get quickly to the south gate of Yellowstone National Park. At 7 a.m., we were the only ones in line!

Heading up the Grand Loop on the west side, our first stop was the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which I highly recommend early in the morning when nobody else is around. Because of the stillness and early-morning quiet, this series of geysers that we viewed from a boardwalk were almost as great as our next stop, Old Faithful. I didn’t recall such an extensive series of boardwalks, but the amount of geysers surrounding Old Faithful, which blew about 30 minutes after we arrived and typically goes off about every 70 minutes, is pretty awesome.

The can’t-miss part of our relatively short swing through Yellowstone was maybe not even Old Faithful. Just a little further north of there is the Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin. Somehow my dad and I missed this one back in 1995 when I was last in Yellowstone. We parked on the main road and walked past a long line of cars waiting to enter the small lot. Once past the lot, we made our way through the tourists, not expecting a whole lot. But while on the boardwalk, we witnessed an unbelievable pool of scorching water steaming up at us in brilliant blues and greens and yellows and oranges.

We were out of there in under 45 minutes and shortly thereafter I spotted a prehistoric male bison in the distance. I got out and watched it come out of the forest and graze on grass in the field. Eventually it started walking towards us and cars started lining up on the road. By the time the bison crossed the pavement, dozens of cars and tons of people had pulled up and were cheering it on.

We veered west at Madison out of the park, into the town of West Yellowstone for coffee and t-shirt purchases, and then north up 191 to the Montana-Wyoming border. Rachel was set on doing a hike in bear country from the Fawn Pass Trailhead, where many years ago she led a conservation crew in building a bridge. She thought the bridge was only a few miles out, but we ended up walking further and never finding the it. No matter, the hike ended up being really cool, through a narrow backcountry trail, as we sang and whistles and clapped to keep bears from potentially appearing over the many crests of high brush.

We were a little leery of what our campground would be like on the last night of the trip, because we knew it was going to be really close to the busy and loud traffic of 191. But it ended up being a stunning place. Yes, it was close to the road, but there was a huge cliff face on the other side of the road and a rushing stream mere feet from where we pitched the tent (where we watched a bald eagle fly all the way up the river and right past us). There were only a few other sites and the guys next to us were really nice and getting set to run some rivers in rafts and canoes in the coming days. We put in some earplugs and slept like babies and the next morning we woke up early to get breakfast at an excellent coffee shop on Main Street in Bozeman before our uneventful flights back through Denver and on to Baltimore.

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