National Parks- Theodore Roosevelt, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons

Published: July 10th 2012
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1: Mud pot! 21 secs
What a hot summer! Colorado is burning up in temperature and in fires! It seemed like a great time to hit the road and finish my continental US states! I roped a friend intohitting my forty seventh and eighth states- North Dakota and Montana. The “concession” from my end was time in Yellowstone on the way back. Though I had visited Yellowstone and Grand Tetons last year, I knew that there was plenty more there to explore, so we sketched out a trip and threw our camping gear in the trunk.

A long stretch of road lay ahead as we headed out on Friday afternoon. We passed the Ft. Collins fire, choking on the smoke and feeling for all of those who have lived in that for weeks. As we crossed into South Dakota, we stumbled upon another fire raging in the night. Though the fire blazed right next to the road, the road stayed open so we kept on until we found a site to set up camp in the headlights. In the morning, we packed the tent and headed north. We wound through beautiful state parks and past green rolling hills. A quick check in at Mt. Rushmore brought us both back to trips in our childhoods- it was admittedly more glorious to me as a child... now it just seems a little random. Back to the car and our northern route where the landscape dried with each passing mile. We set up camp in Theodore Roosevelt National Park known for being badlands- well named. The air and ground are equally dry. We took some nature walks and enjoyed some local meat before stretching out at the campsite to play some music and relax. A buffalo strolled by our campsite, maybe 20 ft away, making us feel like our campsite was really and truly in nature.

The morning brought a loud sharp exhale that jolted me from my sleep. I slowly sat up realizing that an animal was close to us. I peered through the screen to see a HUGE buffalo, our friend from the previous night?, a foot from our tent. It was on the move and kept moving by until it stopped 10 feet away to feast on some grass. Our car, a Honda Fit, was the same size as the buffalo that ate away beside it. What a wake up call!

Another long day of driving lay ahead, so we packed up camp and made our way to my 48th state, Montana! We took a detour down to see the battle site Little Big Horn, or Custer’s Last Stand. Standing on the parched hills in 103 degree heat made one wonder why this land was fought over so ferociously, especially seeing as there is so much to go around. The museum and pamphlets filled us in on the battle and the war doing justice to both sides of the story.

As we neared Yellowstone, we seemed to come back to life after being in the harsh dryness. We took Beartooth Pass which reinvigorated these two mountain women! The road and the views took our breath away!! We came down and snagged the first camp spot we found in bear country. We soaked up the mountain views, the clear lake, and the green plants as we learned the rules of camping in bear country. The fact that any odor, not just food, attracts bears surprised me. That meant that toiletries and such had to be handled with care. It was kind of fun being aware of what I used and how I used it instead of being on autopilot. All the while, I kept repeating in my head how much I never ever need to see a bear! The moon was nearing full, so we went to sleep by moonlight ready to dive into the park the next day.

As we made our way into Yellowstone the next morning, we passed yet another fire, though this one was contained. It has been such a hard start to summer for this part of the country. We took in the forests and enjoyed the winding road that meanders around the enormous park. Our sore bodies craved some stretching, so we hopped out of the car and explored a bit where we could. We marveled at the Mammoth Hot Springs where minerals pour from the earth making beautiful patterns and colors. They also make a huge stink- sulfur- and emit so much heat, a little brutal to walk near as the sun beat down from above. The need for more exercise led us to throw the tent up quickly and then make our way over to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We followed a trail down down down for an awesome view of the waterfall. The stone in the canyon looks yellow, perhaps where the park earned its name? We then wound our way back towards our campsite, an adventure that took hours! We stopped at all the little turn offs to admire mud pots, steam vents, and other geological wonders. We even spotted a grizzly bear from a very comfortable distance through a kind gentleman’s telescope. In all honesty, it was a big brown fuzzy spot, but it sounds cooler to say we saw a bear. A heard of buffalo slowed our progress as they dined on the grass by the road. Yellowstone Lake made for a nice spot for reflection as we walked along on the beach marveling at the size of the lake. We nestled in to bed that evening, skipping our fire and music in favor of needed rest before another day exploring the enormous park.

We intended to hike 11 miles to a waterfall, but the more we talked about it, the more we thought we should experience more of Yellowstone’s unique wonders and hike to a waterfall together sometime soon in Colorado. We therefore started at the Noris Geyser Basin. A path of a few miles weaves through the various geysers and mud pots, a nice way to start the day. The next stop at the Artist’s Paintpots proved slightly disappointing, perhaps we were oversaturated on such wonders, until we climbed a hill and enjoyed a fantastically active mud pot that shot mud feet into the air with a really satisfying sound! We enjoyed the alternate route down Firehole Canyon and lamented that the swimming hole there was closed. Finally we made it to Old Faithful. On my last visit, rain poured down dampening my excitement, but on this day the sun shone and I was ready for some more excitement. Of course, as we filled our tank, we saw the eruption. Sigh. Thankfully, there is so much to see right by there, that we filled the hour and a half until the next eruption easily. We took in the Old Faithful Lodge, beautiful old wooden building, explored the visitor center, and then strolled around enjoying really powerful steam vents and gorgeous geothermal pools. The eruption of Old Faithful was right on schedule. Our last stop was at the West Thumb Geyser Basin-we just couldn’t stay away! Again, I had seen these in the rain the year before, so I was excited to see what the colors would look like in the sun and I was not let down.

The day was winding down, and we had some distance to cover to make it to Grand Teton National Park where we hoped to hike and camp that night. The Tetons sneak up on you as you turn a bend and the trees thin and you see these amazing mountains! We zipped over to Jenny Lake and caught the boat across the lake. This gave us time to hike up to the Hidden Waterfall and up to Inspiration Point. The peaks above us as the sun slipped in behind them were incredibly majestic. We would have loved to hike for longer, but the need for a campsite kept our trek short and sweet, but we still appreciated the columbine and views as we made our way back to the boat. For the first time we struggled to find a camping spot! That should not be a surprise seeing as it was July 3rd at 6 pm! We finally did and we set ourselves up for a roaring fire, tasty feast, and some quality guitar time. It was an ideal last evening together out in nature.

We held up for breakfast in Jackson where everyone was out in their red, white, and blue for the 4th. A parade was in process and people were clearly ready to celebrate. The 10-hour drive back to Colorado passed quickly enough and the showers that awaited us were greatly appreciated!! I feel so fortunate to be back in the west where I have access to all sorts of wonders!

Alaska and Hawaii, get ready!

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10th July 2012

You almost have 50!
It won't be long now until you have visited all 50. This sounds like a great trip....and what a way to wake up. I'm glad the buffalo was friendly and only hungry. I finished all 50 last year (finally made it to Vermont). Enjoy the camping. Can't wait to read more. Happy travels.
18th July 2012

All 50 states! Well done you! Not sure when I'll hit Alaska and Hawaii, but I am looking forward to both! Excited for you two to get to Cuba!

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