Published: July 20th 2012July 20th 2012
: This week we visited Yellowstone National Park for a three night stop from Thursday to Sunday morning. The wildlife highlight turned out to be on our first drive through the park on our way to find our campground. We came from Montana and drove east through the herds of wild bison either side of the road; we were very impressed at their size and scariness. Suddenly we turned a corner and a chaotic scene confronted us. Cars and RVs were parked up on either side of the road, not caring whether there was a parking space there or not, some were just stopped in the middle of the road. People were out of their cars climbing up clumps of grass and peering through binoculars and camera lenses. We looked in the direction of their gaze and across a meadow and a fast-running stream we saw three Grizzly Bears; a mother and two cubs wandering up the grassy slope, taking their time and looking for food as they went. We were impressed and excited but assumed (wrongly) that such bear sightings were commonplace at Yellowstone. We found out later that we had been very lucky to see Grizzlies and (in some
ways, thankfully) we didn't see any others during our stay in the park. Yellowstone is America's first National Park and is famous for its geo-thermal features and for its wildlife, there's also some scenic views to be had. The landscape is reasonably gentle as the main part of the park is a giant caldera formed by a volcanic explosion and so the mountain peaks and valleys that would have been there have been blown away leaving lakes, meadows, forests, hot springs and lots of geysers. On Friday, after a hearty lunch of bison burger (they didn't eat the wild ones!) at a park restaurant we entered Ruby and George into the Junior Ranger programme so they could earn a Junior Ranger patch. It turned out to be a challenge with lots of activities and quizzes to be completed but they enjoyed themselves doing it. They attended a talk by a (very old, I think he said he was 80) Park Ranger at the Visitor Centre and learned all about animal markings and how to detect wildlife which came in very handy later in our visit. We then made our way to the Yellowstone Canyon – formed by the Yellowstone River
– for a quick gander at some rather stunning waterfalls. George and Alex decided to set out on a walk to Inspiration Point for a better look at the canyon; Ruby and I were too chicken as a rather large thunderstorm had begun to rumble in the distance. As we sat in the van waiting for them to return the rain began to lash down and we felt sorry for them. It also began to really thunder and lightning in earnest. Soon a bedraggled pair returned having, sensibly, given up on their walk after they counted less than three seconds between a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder. So they're not as dumb as they look after all! Alex
: The next morning we set off on a guided walk. The guide took us up to a very scenic overlook of West Thumb Lake, and pointed out the wild-life clues like claw-marks made by grizzly bears on the tree trunks, and where the buffalo had worn away tree bark by rubbing against them trying to shed it's thick woolly coat. The view of the lake was great, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It's funny, we're getting so used to
amazing views everywhere we go - vast wildernesses, mountains, lakes etc. On the way around Yellowstone, we crossed the continental divide 3 times. The water that falls on one side of the continental divide flows to the Pacific Ocean, on the other flows to the Atlantic. We stopped at Issa Lake, which crossed the continental divide, with one end flowing out to each ocean. In the afternoon we went to 'Old Faithful' – a geyser that erupts regularly every 90 minutes or so, and shoots steaming hot water about 100 feet up in the air. We wandered around the area which contained many more smaller geysers, hot springs and geothermal features. It was our second geothermal wonderland experience of the trip, and reminded us of Wai-O-Tapu in New Zealand. Although, oddly enough, not as eggy. Behind was the 'Old Faithful Inn', a victorian building made entirely from local trees, the stairways were decorated with wierdly twisted boughs, and the main hall had immense wooden columns. They're no longer allowed to build using trees from within the National Park. Another big thunderstorm followed in the evening. The following morning we were set to leaveYellowstone, but not before George and Ruby had
completed and collected their Junior Ranger badges. They had worked very hard finding answers to questions about geology, wildlife and conservation. We took them to the visitors' centre where one of the rangers made a public announcement and presented them with their badges. As we drove out of the park we had to come to a sudden stop as a bison / buffalo had decided to take a stroll down the road. Despite dire warnings to keep away and the dangers of being to close, a family followed the buffalo on foot, taking photos from far too close. Apparently there are a few people gorred by buffalo every year, I can see why. I would guess they're mostly fools that follow them around on foot! The drive out of Yellowstone was scary, the mountain roads were windy and narrow, and a few inches to the side meant a 200 ft drop. Not ideal for driving a 25 foot RV! Travelling east we came to Buffalo Bill State Park and the Buffalo Bill Dam. As we came through a deer jumped out of the forest, and ran across the road in front of the RV before leaping a fence and disappearing
back into the forest. As if driving an RV around these parts isn't difficult enough already! The landscape changed again, with weird sandstone formations eroded out of the rocks, pointy peaks, and gulches. We stopped briefly in Cody, a town founded by Buffalo Bill, to visit a bank and found a deer in the car-park, how quaint. We decided not to stay for the Buffalo Bill Rodeo Show in the evening and went on to Greybull, in Big Horn County, where we stopped for the night. On the way we passed through Emblem, the smallest town we've driven through so far – population 10. Carla
: Monday was a quiet day spent swimming in the campsite pool, driving in a leisurely fashion to East Wyoming stopping on the way for an oil change (Yes, we'd done 3000 miles since San Fran!) and lunch in the Bighorn National Forest. Our destination was 'Devil's Tower' a strange, large, rocky thumb which sticks out of the Wyoming landscape near the border with South Dakota. We stopped in a KOA at the foot of the Tower and drank in the view. Of course, a massive thunderstorm broke out that evening - you'd probably guessed
that by now. In the morning we drove up to the Tower through a field of prairie dogs (cutely named Prairie Dog Town by the National Park Service people) then we took a stroll around the Tower. For those of you who are old enough to remember, the Tower (which is actually an igneous intrusion into the surrounding sandstone, Al tells me) featured in Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Richard Deryfus made a model of it out of mashed potatoes. After our little walk we drove on into South Dakota and took a stop at Spearfish, the first town of any size on the state's western edge. Earlier in the day we had had to use our Mastercard twice at one petrol station. The RV's petrol tank is so large that when we fill it up we always exceed the limit for a single 'pay-at-the-pump' credit card transaction and have to do two. Well apparently this sort of behaviour flags you up as some kind of master criminal and fraudster and so when we went into Spearfish Safeways our card was declined due to 'suspicious use'. We made our second call to our credit card company of the week
(this had happened before in Montana) and begged them to let us use the card unless we phoned them to say it had been lost or stolen. We are just travelling in the US, we told them, not planning a major defrauding of the banking systems of the world!! That night we stayed in Mystic Hills Campground en route to the South Dakota Black Hills. We met the grizzled and friendly proprietor in his bar in the evening and swapped tales with him and his friends, one of whom had travelled down from Canada for a holiday. They had tips on where to get the cheapest petrol this side of the state line and when we related why we couldn't go into Canada (the Canadian guy being quite offended that we weren't intending to go there) the proprietor offered to tell us about back roads upon which we could get across the border and back unmolested. Don't worry though, we're not going to try it; we've had quite enough excitement for one trip. Mystic Hills was worrying when we arrived as all the other campers had ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles or Quad-Bikes) and we thought it might be noisy with
revving etc. However, as we have found throughout or trip in the US, everyone was quiet by 10pm and remained so until morning. Campers here go early to bed and rise early and are very quiet and considerate in general. It really is quite different from camping in Spain or the South of France where kids are often running around until after midnight and I pack earplugs as essential kit! On Wednesday we drove on through Deadwood (yes it is real!) and arrived at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It's quite bizarre and oddly impressive. It was originally conceived by a local historian as a carving of regional heroes such as Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull but he asked a famous sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, for help who refused to do the project unless figures of national significance were used. They chose Washington to represent the founding of the nation, Jefferson the westward expansion, Lincoln the permanent union of the states and equality for all citizens and Teddy Roosevelt the establishment of America's role on the world stage and its industrialisation and development. As you can see they left out the Native American contribution but this is being remedied by the nearby
Crazy Horse Memorial which isn't finished yet but is going to be perhaps even more impressive as it will be a full figure riding a horse rather than just heads. The heads, mind you, are 60ft tall (their noses alone are 20ft) and so it's not too pathetic. It was started in 1927 and work pnly finished in1941 due to World War II. In the afternoon we visited Keystone a nearby 'tourist trap' and duly got trapped into getting George and Rubys' picture taken in Old West clothing (to be truthful, we were quite pleased with the results) and tried the salt-water taffy (made in front of you) and tasted ice cream at a parlour that had been patronised by Michelle Obama and 'the first daughters' earlier this year. Yum. We stayed in a campground on the shores of Horsethief Lake in the Black Hills National Forest that night.
Alex: On Thursday morning I took a run and a quick bath in Horsethief Lake. After that we drove to Spirit Horse Stables near Custer City and George, Ruby and I got saddled up. Ruby rode 'Two-Spots', George rode 'Convict' (so named as
he was a wild Mustang rounded up on Federal land and taken to be trained by prisoners as part of their rehabilitation program), and I was on 'Tall Boy' (don't know why I got him?). All the horses were very calm and easy. Ruby was a bit nervous at first and was led by the wrangler, but after a couple of hundred yards she was let loose and rode for the whole hour single-handedly. It was nice and easy, I hardly did anything with the reigns as the horses all knew what to do and where to go. George's horse was a little more hard work as it kept stopping to eat the wild-flowers at the side of the path. Afterwards we were all hot and sweaty, and stopped for a cold drink before heading out through Custer State Park into the Badlands of South Dakota.
There are more photos below