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Published: June 27th 2016
Yellowstone was a must see stop on this trip for both of us, a magical place, why? because you can see wild animals, bear, bison and wolves; fantastic scenery in the rivers, gorges and waterfalls; and witness eruptions of geysers, boiling mud pools and colourful geothermal sites all sitting on top of a huge volcano!
However, it’s a long way from anywhere, and we had a 12 hour (minimum) drive from Seattle. We stopped at a place called Coeur D’Alene which left us 7 hours to drive the following day, with 1 hour lost in time difference from Washington State, through Montana to Wyoming. The journey through Montana was great diverse scenery, hills, mountains, forest and a lot of green pasture, there’s a reason they call it the Big Sky State.
We arrived at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park around 6.30pm, its so huge we had some 50 miles further to get to our campsite and pitch our tent. Luckily the weather has been fabulous and we’ve had long sunny days, also the tent is so pathetically small it took us only a few minutes to erect and set up camp. The campsite was near ‘Canyon National Park
Village’, one of about 5 hubs around the park made up of a visitor centre, eateries and a few shops.
On entering the park and the camp ground we were bombarded with advice about our likely encounter with bears, somewhat unnerving when you are camping! We were advised to carry pepper spray with us all of the time, this supposedly stops the bears in their tracks if they are approaching you, and you manage to get the spray out in time, oh and the wind is in the right direction when you spray the pepper! Also advice about walking trails, walk in groups of 3 or more, make noise shouting ‘hey bear!’ frequently this will ensure the bear is not startled by you, and they will likely try and avoid you. Sold… we hired a canister of pepper spray.
The following day we headed out to explore the park, its huge, we drove the south loop road which is 96 miles long and stopping many times along the route.
We learnt that a group of cars/people on the side of the road meant an animal sighting. Throughout the park we saw Grizzly Bear, Black Bear with baby
bears, lots of Bison (they are huge), a Moose, Deer and Elk.
The National Park Rangers’ offer a variety of talks and guided walks around the park, so we took the Canyon walk. It was good to get some history of the Park, and hear how the early Victorian era tourists were lowered into canyons etc. but the Ranger was a little patronising and we felt as if we were on a school party! still we enjoyed the walk and the stunning views of the Canyon and falls.
Of the thermal sites, we saw ‘Old Faithful’, not the largest but a big and very reliable geyser who erupts every 90 minutes. Because of its reliability its very popular and draws large crowds. We had a lot of fun watching people, after waiting a long time to see the geyser, suddenly turn their back on it as it starts to erupt to get that all important selfie!. We viewed some quite stunning thermal features, my favourite being the coloured and bubbling mud pools at Fountain Paint Pot, and the roaring hot spring coming from a small cave aptly named the Dragon’s cave. We had a Ranger tour
of Norris Geysers and thermal pools, this Ranger was really good. Apart from learning about the thermals we also found out that a young man died at the pools only a few days before. He walked off the wooden walkway, which you are told specifically not to do, the ground collapsed, and he fell into a boiling pool where his body was not able to be recovered. Apparently there are many such deaths over the years of people doing stupid things, either too near the wild animals or going ‘off piste’ in the thermal trails.
At Roosevelt Corale within the park we signed up for a western style horse ride across the prairie. Kim was given Waiko a large bay, and I was given Tux so named because she is black and white. We set off single file, about 20 riders and 3 Wranglers all in good humour, another glorious sunny day. Shortly we were faced with a herd of bison across our path, the Wrangler tried to usher them away but the Bison stood his ground and ‘faced up’ to the Wrangler saying ‘I’m not moving’, he looked pretty fearsome. So horses and riders had to walk a
long detour around the herd through marshy ground to get away from them, quite scary. Meanwhile Kim was busy bonding with his horse, and the western style riding, he quite fancies himself as a Cowboy! We both really enjoyed the ride, a lovely way to experience the fabulous views and wildlife!
Unfortunately our good weather didn’t last and we had heavy rain on our last night. We learnt not only was our tent too small it also leaked!! Crawling into damp sleeping bags fully clothed, we did manage to sleep a little. But we were up early next morning having decamped and watched the sun coming up at Artists point in the Canyon.. all part of the magic of Yellowstone.
Grand Teton National Park just south of Yellowstone is described in Lonely Planet as having some of the finest scenery in America. Unfortunately, there was low cloud, so high mountain hikes were out, and we could not see the mountain peaks. We were somewhat jaded after our wet camping, so we relaxed and had a coffee at the very posh Jackson lounge. Later touring the picturesque Jenny lake and taking a lovely 4 mile circular trail around Taggart
lake. A group of historic buildings from the early pioneer days took our interest. An old wooden church had a large clear window, if you sat in the right place in the pews the mountains were visible, luckily the sun came out for us and the glorious mountain view opened up.
Heading on to Boulder Colorado, another long drive, this time to see some friends. We stopped at Laramie overnight, a small cowboy town. This area was famed for being a hideout for some Wild West outlaws. The old town had an interesting vibe, but it was the Wyoming Territorial Prison Museum that caught our fancy. We were intrigued by the stories of the ‘Wild Bunch’ many of whom spent time in this prison in the late 1800s, one famous resident being Butch Cassidy.
Once at Boulder it we had a very warm welcome from our friends Matt & Joni, and their lovely dogs and cats. Poor Matt had to work but Joni took us around Boulder, and we had dinner in the lovely Dushanbe Teahouse, a present to Boulder from Kazakhstan. The following day Matt took us to Rocky Mountain National Park, we had great weather and
High up some 12,000 feet
Rocky Mountain National Park
stunning mountain views. Starting with a good walk to Bear and Dream lakes, we struggled a little in the high altitude, but Matt driving the rest allowed us to sit back and relax. All too soon it was time to move on, armed with helpful advice on a route and some strawberry and rhubarb pie we were off.
Our route south west took us across plains with incredible vistas. It set us up for another really great drive through Red Pass and the old silver mining towns of Ouray and Silverton. Really great looking Wild West towns, if a little touristy. There is a great scenic railway which we would have liked to have taken if we had the time and money, but we managed to catch up with it in Silverton, and drove the train route through the mountains. Mining must have been so incredibly hard here as its so hard to access, maybe that’s why a town nearby is called Purgatory!
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