When I was planning the first weeks of our trip, I wanted to be somewhere special for our 5 year wedding anniversary, and nothing is quite as special as Yellowstone National Park. Our Anniversary fell on a Friday this year and so I decided to burn a little of my remaining PTO to be sure we could spend that day exploring the park, so on Thursday the 29th of September we picked up from Cody and drove through the park to our site at the Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park in West Yellowstone. I had tried to find us a place inside the park, but the only campground with sites capable of holding our rig were at Fishing Bridge which was already closed for the season. West Yellowstone, though, is less than a mile from the park entrance and we didn't find it at all inconvenient. In fact, it was nice to have decent restaurants nearby.
On driving days, we don't do much sightseeing as its hard to stop and find a place to park Bertha and Gigantor. Sometimes that can be hard as we pass by places we'd love to stop and explore. Often we get the chance to backtrack on a day trip once we've stopped, but sometimes we don't. This day, I was making mental notes as we drove through the park of all the places I wanted to come back and check out. One oddity was that our GPS insisted on routing us entirely around the park. We've come to find out that its programming was based on commercial truck GPS, so it deliberately routes us around National Parks since trucks generally can't drive through them without a permit. This is something we'll have to keep in mind. I've gotten in the habit of checking Google, our Garmin RV GPS and the trucks own GPS for route suggestions. If they all three agree, which is rare, I'll take that route. If not, then it's time to investigate the route and find out why they don't agree.
We got to the park and got settled in. We splurged a bit on this RV park. It's by far the most expensive place we've stayed or scouted so far, but it's Yellowstone and our anniversary and we're worth it :) The place did not disappoint. Super friendly staff, nice newer, clean, well kept facilities, a playground, nice landscaping. It was super nice. And with 10 nights to spend, a nice place to call home base. Almost as soon as we got here we started re-jiggering our trip west and decided we could swing another day here if we combined some driving days, so 11 nights it was!
All set at the Grizzly RV Park in West Yellowstone
We were so excited to be there that we almost immediately went back into the park for the rest of the day and went to see a number of sites from the west entrance up through the Norris Geyser basin, including the hike at the Artists Paint Pots and Gibbon Falls. Crayton LOVED the mudpots and giggled himself silly at the sounds they made. Our appetite was whet and we were ready for more, but light was failing us, so back to camp we went.
Our Brave Explorer on the 'shake shake bridge' at Artists Paint Pots
Our Anniversary day began back at Norris Geyser Basin with a two mile hike! (go Crayton!!) and then continued along the south loop to Lower Yellowstone falls, Mud Volcano and then around to Old Faithful. We got there just as it was erupting and it went again as we were walking around the basin so it was nice to see it from a couple of different angles. As we were leaving the lodge for lunch we got to see Castle Geyser erupt from a distance. Finally the day was getting on and it was time to head back. We stopped along the Madison River to watch the sunset and ended another long day back at camp, exhausted.
One of the more colorful springs from the day. Emerald Spring, I think
Sunset on the Madison River
On Saturday, we took off exploring again, this time catching Firehole Canyon, and the Fountain Paint Pot area. It started to rain on us, though, and we were feeling a bit tired, so we headed back to camp to rest for the rest of the day. We did get a stereotypical Yellowstone traffic jam caused by Bison
Sunday we went to the West Yellowstone Grizzy and Wolf Discovery Center, a rescue center for wolves, bears and raptors. It was fairly neat, though I doubt their sincerity since there are lots of other less sexy animals that need rescuing that were conspicuously absent.
Not in the wild, but still beautiful!
Honestly, Monday is a blur, I know I didn't work that day, but we have no pictures. I'm guessing we laid low and rested. It probably rained :)
That work week, we stayed fairly active. The electric fireplace in the camper had died on us, so I called Grand Design who coached me through some basic troubleshooting confirmed it was truly dead. They then two-day-air shipped us a new one directly to the RV park and coached me through the replacement, which wasn't hard. Yay Grand Design! One evening we went to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. The one huge hot spring that you always see in postcards. However, the temp difference between the water and air was too great and all we could see was steam.
We also met up with our new friends, Rachel and Wayne, that we'd met in Ashland. They had been staying down in a state park in Idaho about 20 miles from us and we had a nice breakfast with them, talking for quite a while and getting to know each other better. We look forward to seeing them again in Quartzsite, AZ in January for a Grand Design Rally there. Wayne gave me a tip for a gizmo you can use to attach a smartphone to a spotting scope. I immediately ordered one and sure enough it was pretty cool! It's kind of a pain to get set up, but it can take some nice photos and lets all three of us use the scope as once since the phone becomes a display screen for it.
Elk from approx 300 yards!
The next weekend, we spent Saturday on a grand journey down through Idaho, looking for moose on back roads around Big Springs before catching the springs themselves. We also went to Mesa Falls and then over the Tetons to the Wilson-Moose road and into Grant Teton National Park. Lots of construction and renovation and stuff closed for the season, but these are still the most picturesque mountains I've yet seen. Truly breathtaking. Finally, we completed the circuit by coming up through Yellowstone's south entrance and back to West Yellowstone just as dark fell. An epic day.
Neat Textures in the water at Big Spring, ID
Crayton "Mountain Climbing"
Sunday, the road between Norris and Mammoth was finally open, having been closed since we arrived for road work. So we drove the north loop through the park, spending most of our time at Mammoth Hot Springs. It looked completely different from when I was last here in 1982. A testament to just how dynamic this environment is. Along the road near Tower Falls, I spotted movement on the far side of a small lake. No one was behind us, so I stopped quick to get out the long-lens camera and have a look. As I suspected, it was a wolf or possibly a coyote. I got some photos, but at such long range, it was hard to get much detail.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Amazing Sunset to cap a wonderful visit to Yellowstone!
Monday rolled around and it was time to leave, our 11 day exploration of the area complete. We still felt like we left a lot unseen. Pam and I are avid backpackers, but have had little opportunity to do so since Crayton arrived. We're working on getting him comfortable walking longer and longer distances and plan to do some tent camping on this trip as well, so hopefully he'll be a backpacking champ before too long and we can come back and explore off road a bit and see more of what this area has to offer.