Days 1-11 12-19 20-30 31-40 41-51 52-60 61-109
Day 12 - August 31, 2008
On our way out of Idaho, we stop at Kellogg and have lunch in the RV. We dine in the lovely parking lot of the Silver Mountain Resort. The mountains are snow-free but the gondola is bringing mountain bikers to the top so they can ride the trails back down.
As we cross the state line into Montana, the sky doesn't look any bigger - just more threatening! By the time we reach Camp Jellystone RV Park in Missoula, it's starting to rain. Martin & Colin sneak in a game of mini-golf before the weather gets too bad.
My lesson for today is to HAVE MY CAMERA READY! I missed a picture of the Testicle Festival billboard and the backpacking 20 year-olds panhandling with the "Hungry Hungry Hippies" sign. As you can see here, there are no photos of those events!
Gotta love Montana -- 75 mph speed limit and no sales tax -- woohoo!
Welcome to Labor Day in Montana -- it snowed last night! San Jose is having a heat wave and the highs here are about 45 degrees. I'm not ready for summer to end yet!
I'm having a little deja vu when we stop at Butte for lunch. I'm pretty sure we stopped in this town when I was 10. I was traveling with my grandpa Fenton then and we visited the town he was born in - Sheridan, MT. It's only a few miles from here. Butte has distinctive mining rig towers around town, a huge open pit copper mine (called the Berkeley pit) and is now part of the largest Superfund site in the US. It all seems very familiar (except for the Superfund part).
We arrive at the Bozeman KOA by mid-afternoon and head over to the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University. This museum is phenomenal! It is curated by Jack Horner - the famous dinosaur-hunter paleontologist who consulted on Jurassic Park. The largest collection of dinosaur remains in the US are here along with excellent displays and explanations of geologic processes, paleontology detective work, evolution and how fossils are preserved. It is right up my alley! They have the largest T. Rex skull ever found, 100 million year-old dinosaur skin impressions, dino egg clutches with fossilized embryos inside, and huge triceratops neck frills to name a few items. Usually the fossils displayed in museums are replicas or casts of the real bones. Most of the fossils here are the real specimens - some can even be touched! They also have a planetarium and displays on local Indian and early settlers history. Everything was very well done. I would highly recommend a visit.
We had dinner at Ted's Montana Grill in downtown Bozeman. The food and drinks were excellent. Bison is on the menu a lot around here; I tried a bison burger. Martin had a Moose Drool beer - kind of like a light Guinness. The restaurant opened in June and has been packed ever since. It is housed in an ornate refurbished building. It looks like a gentrification of downtown Bozeman is in the works.
We stopped at a huge brand new grocery store on our way out Bozeman. I found stuff in their organic section that I can't get in the Los Gatos Whole Foods. I'm quickly realizing how lame that Los Gatos store is!
The sun and the snow topped mountains make for a beautiful drive into Yellowstone. We go through the North Entrance. This was the original 1872 entrance to the park. It has a huge stone drive-thru arch that Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for in 1916.
There are tons of bison in the park. They are quite brazen when crossing the road, but traffic definitely stops for them! We see elk, bison, coyote and a bald eagle all before getting to the campground and without getting out of the RV.
We are staying at Fishing Bridge RV Park. It is the only RV camping area in Yellowstone with full hook-ups, but no internet or cell service.
Yesterday was beautiful; today is very cold and cloudy. We check out Old Faithful and the surrounding geysers. Some of the pools are beautifully colored by the heat-loving bacteria that live in them. Some reach temperatures of 270 degrees F. Once Old Faithful starts, the wind blows the wet mineral rich geyser mist all over me and my camera - lovely! I picked the wrong place to stand.
We also drive up to terraced Mammoth Hot Springs. The terraces result from the magma-heated water rising up through porous limestone. The dissolved limestone is re-deposited as travertine and these beautiful terraces are created. This is the only area in the park with limestone and therefore the only area with these unique terraces.
The major spots in the world with geyser thermal activity are Yellowstone, New Zealand and Iceland. We visited the geysers in New Zealand a few years ago and the locals were actually swimming in the geyser hot pools (apparently not the 270 degree ones!) In New Zealand, I saw historical photos of beautiful pink and white terraces. There were much bigger than the current ones in Yellowstone. There were obliterated by a volcano in the 1887. Even though geologic time is slow, the beauty of these volcanically active areas is often fleeting.
We have dinner at the Mammoth Dining Room, overlooking the old Fort Yellowstone cavalry grounds. We have to drive back an hour in the dark (really dark) to get to our campground. I was paranoid that an elk or bison would be crossing or standing on the road. We saw a few pairs of elk eyeballs, but they safely get to the side of the road.
It's cold and rainy today so we decide to take it easy. We catch up on laundry, shop and have lunch at the Fishing Bridge Lodge. In the afternoon we go to a ranger talk on beavers. The ranger tells us they live close by in the Yellowstone River. After dinner we go for a hike along the river. We discover all the trees they've cut down and then we see two of them swimming by - way cool!
Colin is working on becoming a Junior Ranger, so our hike counts as one of the activities. His bedtime story is "Who Pooped in the Park?" The books helps us ID scat and tracks of the animals who live in Yellowstone.
We add another National Park to our repertoire today - Grand Teton. Grand Teton borders Yellowstone to the south, but it seems to take forever to get there. The speed limit in the parks is 45 mph and people actually obey the signs! With the slow speed and construction delays, it takes us about two hours to go 50 miles. We make it to Coulter Marina on Jackson Lake and have lunch at the Chuck Wagon. The Chuck Wagon is a cheesy attempt to step back in time to the wild west. Those tax dollars are definitely not going to the Grand Tetons!
We had originally planned to go south the Jackson, but we don't want to spend the entire day in the car, so we head back into Yellowstone.
The 1988 fires burnt over 50% of Yellowstone. The trees are recovering, but we see most of the hills covered with burnt limbless Lodge Pole Pines, some still standing, others toppled. The new growth trees are about eight feet tall after 20 years.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was first on our list today. I didn't even realize that Yellowstone had a large canyon. The waterfalls in the canyon are spectacular. The weather is windy but sunny and I get some great photos. All that is missing is a rainbow.
Colin proudly completed his Junior Ranger project and got a Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch from a ranger (who grew up in San Jose) at Canyon Visitor Center.
The national park service has done a really good job with the all the visitors center in the park. (There are eight of them.) Each center focuses on one aspect of the park. For instance: the Fishing Bridge Center focuses on the birds of the park and the Canyon Center focuses on the geology of the park. Many of the buildings and exhibits are new or refurbished. So your tax dollars are really doing something here.
We had a bison close encounter today. We got stuck in the car traffic as the herd was crossing the road ahead of us. Soon a big male bison was ten feet away from us grunting and growling rather aggressively. I could see his black tongue as he yelled at us. Of course I had the window down to take a picture, but my finger was close to the up button. The bison have been known to gore people and charge cars. Considering he weighed about as much as my Mini, we were rightfully a little paranoid. Cool picture though!
Martin and Colin went on a fishing trip this afternoon with a boat and a guide. There are two types of trout in Yellowstone Lake - the native Cut Throat and the invasive Rainbow Trout. If you catch a Cut Throat, you must release it. If you catch a Rainbow, you must destroy it - preferable by bringing to the lake lodge and having the chef cook it up for you. Martin and Colin caught two Cut Throats but unfortunately we couldn't eat those for dinner.
We woke to the smell of sulfur in the campground this morning. Last night there were bison wandering around. This is one weird and spectacular place! We ended our stay at Yellowstone today, headed out the east entrance of the park and stopped in Cody for lunch. It is Sunday and all the restaurants are closed. We finally find an open dining room in the Irma Hotel. Cody is named for Buffalo Bill and he built the Irma Hotel in 1902 for visitors to stay at on their way to Yellowstone. The dining room has a pressed tin ceiling, antler chandelier, dead animals all over the walls and a cool old wood bar. We definitely feel like we've stepped back in time. The clientele seem from a different era too. The prime rib is primo though. This is not the area of the country to be a vegetarian!
Do you think our cow would like a bear friend?
We encounter more spectacular scenery between Cody and Buffalo. The pinnacles, buttes and red rocks made for an interesting drive. The state has put up road signs stating the age and types of rocks along the way. They have some old ones here too - one pre-cambrian granite is 2.5 billion years old. We have to go over the 9,000 foot Granite Pass in the Bighorn Mountains; half way up it starts to snow. Even though Martin grew-up with cold weather in Boston, he doesn't normally drive 17,000 pound vehicles over high snowy passes. We were both happy when we made it back down to the plains.
I didn't feel like going to the grocery store, so we had dinner at another place with dead things on the wall. We are staying at the Indian Campground in Buffalo.