Posts Tagged With: Wyoming

GART Day 22: Craters of the Moon

With Johnny and June Carter Cash’s “Jackson” on the iPod we lit out of Jackson, Wyoming across Teton Pass. Its the route our GPS “Delores” told us to go. Although last night in the hot tub chatting with a few about our route they had told us “You don’t want to take the Teton Pass with a trailer”. But Delores hadn’t failed us yet and WYO 22 was the shortest route to Craters of the Moon National Monument. At over 8400 feet we’d been on passes just as high, so I didn’t think much of it. But when we saw the 10% grades I started to reconsider. As luck would have it we had no traffic over the pass so nobody was inconvenienced by my strained 35mph trying to reach the top. The route paid off as the drive through western Wyoming into Victor, Idaho had beautiful light, color, and western character.






As we started across the desolate high desert of Idaho we noticed some restricted areas on either side of Highway 20. A sign informed us it was the INL (Idaho National Laboratory). which is huge 890 square mile energy research facility. Mysterious buildings in the distance, small towns beyond the security fences, and large checkpoints captured our imagination. The only part of INL open to the public is that of the Atomic Museum for EBR-1. We didn’t stop there but we did stop for lunch in nearby Arco. After seeing this sign for Pickle’s Place on the road we had to stop and check it out. And looking across the street at the nuclear submarine tail with the numbers 666 on it I felt compelled to order myself the Atomic Burger.




Unfortunately the Atomic Burger was a disappointment (although the tater tots served with it were fine). Tawny and Cody insisted their French Dip was excellent while Clara’s tuna melt was soggy and was left uneaten. We headed out of Arco (which looks to have seen better days) and on toward Craters of the Moon National Monument


At Craters we went to the visitor center to learn more about the history of the lava field here, and then walked amongst the cinder cones, lava flows, and scrub brush of this unique high desert landscape with trails names like “The Devil’s Orchard”.








We continued across the high desert of Idaho, passed long or soon to be abandoned ranches and towns making our way to Mountain Home, Idaho for the night. We had planned to go to Nampa, Idaho where we had been told there was an old roller skating rink, but on Monday they weren’t open in the hours we’d be in town. Clara was disappointed not to be able to get her skates on, while Cody may have been secretly relieved.
It was hard to find a good RV park in and around Boise, but in Mountain Home there was one that was so highly rated and reviewed it was nearly off the charts. They weren’t mistaken, the Mountain Home RV Park was definitely one of the nicest, cleanest, levelest, green grassed, and quietest RV parks we’d ever been too. Unfortunately, its in Mountain Home which didn’t seem to have a lot to offer except a place to put down your head for the night that wasn’t Boise or work yourself into a patriotic fervor. The town is also a bit of a misnomer. While there are plenty of homes in Mountain Home, there is no mountain. It sits in the high desert Southeast of Boise, and due West of the Middle-of-Nowhere. While driving in from the desert and scrub and greeted by the tank on the side of the road as we entered the town near a ginormous Walmart rising from the desert like an corporate oasis, we questioned if this was the best town for us to be staying in. Even so, we picked up some Idaho Potatoes at the local Safeway and had baked (well…microwaved in the RV) potatoes with all the trimmings in honor of our one night stay in Idaho. Idaho does produce one hell of a fine potato.







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GART Day 21: Grand Tetons

The kids wanted to try their hand at fishing again. To discourage them I told them the best time to fish is early in the morning. Really early in the morning. That didn’t sway them so at 5:30am their alarms started going off and they got me from bed. It was a cold morning. But they still wanted to go.

We headed back to Gull Point Drive to a sand spit where we had seen others fishing the night before. The sunrise was beautiful over the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Lake. We had the place to ourselves. And for good reason…it was cold. And windy. It may be in the 60s and 70s at 7800+ feet during the day, but in the early morning before the sun comes up its cold cold cold. We tried our luck anyway.

We fished a half hour on the point, then went back to where we saw that guy land the large cutthroat the day before and tried there. Still no luck. We tried another half hour near the entrance to Bay Bridge but again no luck. These fish were eating flies on the water and fly fishing was needed, not our spinner-and-spoon lures on casting rods and reels. We called it a day and went to get som coffee and cocoa spotting a white pelican in the early morning light as we returned to camp where Tawny was still asleep.




We drove out through the south entrance of Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park. We stopped at Colter Bay Visitor Center to get oriented to the park and have the kids check off another park in their National Park Passports. Grand Teton is dramatic. We drove through the park transfixed on the peaks rising straight up from the high plains as we made our way to Jackson.





We dropped off the trailer at the campy but nice Virginia Inn Lodge (and Saloon, and RV Park, and Drive Through Liquor Store) which reminded us of the Madonna Inn from the first few days of our Great American Road Trip.



We went into Jackson to walk around town square and take the kids to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar so they could sit on at the bar on a saddle amongst the burl wood decor. This is more biker bar than cowboy. Unfortunately they have to be 21 or over to go into the bar. They wanted pictures so we sent the kids across the street to Ripley’s Believe it or Not while Tawny and I had a beer in the bar and took some pictures of the saddles for the kids at the suggestion of the woman who worked in the Cowboy Bar Gift Shop. Not 15 minutes later the kids called us to say they’d been through the Ripley’s Museum already – 3 times! We bailed and worked on finding a place for dinner. We ended up at The Rendezvous Bistro which had a line out the door when we arrived while thunder, hail, and rain poured down around us. The place was packed and offered us one of our better meals while on the road. After dinner the skies cleared and we enjoyed the large hot tub at the Virginian. Later that evening I updated my blog from amongst the taxidermic animals and patrons of the Virginian Saloon.








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GART Day 20: Yellowstone Day 3

One of my favorite things about Yellowstone is that its literally off the grid. No cell phone, no wifi, no Interwebs – for 3 days. Its probably a liberal leftist government agenda to get us all in tune with nature, and while that may have been a minor inconvenience to you (the readers of my blog) it saved me immeasurable time in having to tell the kids to “Get your freakin’ nose out of your device and look out the g-damn window!”. So, to the park rangers and stewards of Yellowstone, I thank you.

We slept in a little on Saturday because we knew we’d have to pack up the campsite and move from Bay Bridge to Fishing Bridge RV campground. While Fishing Bridge is only about 5 miles up the road, its a hard sided RV only park because of the frequent visitations by bears – no tents allowed. Usually you can’t check in until after 1pm so we hit the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center to kill a little time. The kids had been working on their National Park Passports and wanted to get cancellation stamps and stickers in the gift shop while Tawny and I got advice on the best way to spend our last day in Yellowstone. Then we headed to Fishing Bridge at 10:30 am, and as luck would have it our space was available. We unhooked the trailer and headed out on the days adventure by 11am.

We first headed up to Canyon, the Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. On the way we passed through a heard of buffalo and almost had a buffalo pass through us. It was an encounter by inches.





After the close encounter we took a break from wildlife and went for some landscapes of canyons and waterfalls.




We drove on to Mammoth were we were told we’d see elk and to see the thermal terraces. We easily saw elk in downtown Mammoth but before the terraces we wanted to head out of the park to visit Gardiner so the kids could say they made it to Montana and add another state to their trip log. We had lunch there at the K-BAR (decent pizza), did some souvenir shopping, visited the Roosevelt Arch before heading back into the park to explore the terraces.












Next we drove the long way back to Fishing Bridge so we could see Prismatic Spring which both Clara and Cody had bought a postcard of. Unfortunately because the day was somewhat cold the steam off the spring obscured see the true colors of it. Even so, it was a sight to behold as are the other pools nearby with colors that challenge the palette of the imagination.






We got back to Fishing Bridge about 6:30pm. I had promised the kids I’d take them fishing (and had bought a fishing license for Yellowstone earlier in the day). You can only fish between sun-up and sun-down and on the rivers its restricted to fly fishing only. That meant we had to fish Yellowstone Lake for lake trout (invasive species) or cutthroat (native and must be released). We drove to Gull Point Drive and tried to find a good spot for fishing. We saw a guy landing a fish as we drove by. It was a beauty, a prized Yellowstone Cutthroat that looked to be just south of 20 inches. We felt the excitement of fishing a pristine lake. We asked what lures he was using, and luckily I had a few of the same. We dipped our lines for 90 minutes, but came up without a bite, although fish were jumping all around our casts. Hopefully we’d have better luck in the morning.




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GART Day 19: Yellowstone Day 2

Andy made steak and eggs and beans in a cast-iron skillet over the morning fire. Cowboy breakfast extraordinaire. It was a fine way to start the day and an even better way to fend off the post whiskey morning cobwebs.

We headed out to West Thumb Geyser Basin along Yellowstone Lake to see the geyser basin. It was a great way to whet our appetite for the myriad of thermals to come. A highlight was seeing the skeletal remains of a baby elk that had died at the edge of a pool only 2 months ago and how only two months in acidic and boiling water had stripped the bones clean.
Next we drove past Old Faithful (we’d return there later) towards Norris, about 1 hour away to see the Norris Geyser Basin and the Steamboat Geyser. On the way we saw 2 wolves out in a field at a great distance but we stayed and watched them for awhile. Norris Basin was great but it was hot. To cool off we drove back a few miles to a picnic area along the river and made some sandwiches. The kids waded in the river. From there we went to the Artist Paintpots and Gibbon Falls. From there we drove all the way back to Old Faithful where Andy, Pam and kids would be spending the night. We had reservations to eat at the Old Faithful Inn. So we changed clothes and went and had a nice meal.
After dinner we all went and saw Old Faithful at sunset and then took a twilight walk around the myriad of geysers, springs and other thermals near the lodge. As darkness encroached we said our goodbyes and drove the 40 minutes or so back to our campsite, narrowly missing two rabbits and a deer during our drive.










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GART Day 18: Buffalo Bill and Yellowstone Day 1

We filled the trailer with water because we knew the campsite we’d have in Yellowstone for the next two days would have no services. It added another 750lbs to the trailer and we knew we’d have a 2500 foot elevation gain into Yellowstone from Cody.

Before heading to Yellowstone we took a side trip to the very well done Buffalo Bill Cody Center, which is 5 museums, one for Buffalo Bill, the Firearm Museum (largest collection of American firearms in the world, a natural history museum focused on Yellowstone, a Native American Plains Indian Museum, a Museum of Western Art. We toured three of them; the Firearms Museum (which I could understand how it might be interesting if you were interested in firearms, as there were several thousands of them, but I personally couldn’t muster any interest, nor could Tawny or Clara. So after ten minutes or so we left and headed to the Buffalo Bill Museum.

The Buffalo Bill Museum was pretty interesting. I didn’t know the history of Buffalo Bill at all. Knew nothing. But it was really interesting to learn about how one person single handedly helped to shape the enduring image of the American West and the Cowboy. Buffalo Bill has a fascinating personal story, as well as legend and enigma. Rather than detail it here you can read about Buffalo Bill on Wikipedia. 20130728-213629.jpg







As we checked out the natural history museum – which focused on Yellowstone – we realized we’d rather see the real thing, so we left and headed to the park…
On the way to Yellowstone I got the first speeding ticket I’ve received in over 20 years. We were going from a 65 zone to a 50 zone and I wasn’t even going 65 (because our trailer was so weighted down). I wasn’t paying attention and got caught going in the low sixties in the fifty zone – speed trap. The annoying thing was I wasn’t intentionally speeding. We weren’t in a hurry and we had nobody behind us pressuring us on. I was just enjoying the view and the drive. I chalked it up to an “entrance fee” for Yellowstone.

We came in from the East Entrance and continued on into the park and Yellowstone Lake. We headed to the Bridge Bay campground and checked in. Our friends Andy, Pam, their derby daughter Zoetrope and her friend Nico would be joining us but hadn’t yet arrived. We went and set up camp, putting on the big r-dome on our r-pod trailer and getting out the picnic table, chairs, etc., to cozy the place up. We had a very cute little meadow vole living in a hole right next to our fire-pit and we watched him work on redecorating his hole entryway. Very cute.

Just as we were pulling out to do a little touring we saw Andy, Pam and family. We directed them to our site (they were car camping with tents) and told them we’d be back in about 2 hours for happy hour. We headed out to Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron. As we approached Mud Volcano we saw some Bison by the road. We pulled over, took a few shots and moved on parking at Mud Volcano. One Bison was working his way through the parking lot and along the road very close to us. We saw our first thermals, bacteria mats, the Dragon’s Tongue, Mud Volcano, etc and headed up the plank trail to see more. As we headed up the hill there was another bison laying just below the platform. But just over the crest of the hill was a heard of buffalo with babies and they were standing on the trail. There were people stuck on the opposite side of the trail and this trail was open plank with no railings on the side. A group of people – idiots – started approaching the buffalo from the other side and it cause the buffalo to turn away from them and start moving towards us. We, and about 30 other people quick turned tail and hustled our way out of there.






That close encounter made us leave Mud Volcano and go across the street to Sulphur Cauldron where we could see a herd of buffalo with babies across the river. It was beautiful and we stayed there some time watching before returning to our campsite to fix dinner and hang out by the fire with Andy, Pam, Zoetrope and Nico. The kids ran amok in the fields and wore themselves out while we had a fine dinner, and roasted marshmallows by the fire.







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GART Day 17: Part II – Cody, Wyoming

Day 17 Continued…After Devil’s Tower we drove on to Cody, Wyoming. We had to go to Cody so Cody could get a picture of himself in front of the sign saying Welcome to Cody. Conveniently, it was also the cross-roads to the Eastern Gate of Yellowstone park.

The drive made for a very long day but with such an inspiring side trip as Devils Tower it didn’t seem as long. We drove I90 from Devils Tower to Sheridan, but made a quick stop in Buffalo to visit the famous and historic Occidental Hotel (where several notorious guests have stayed and drank, such as Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Calamity Jane, and others from the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. We perused the historic town and its great old signage and bought some malted milkshakes at the old fashions soda fountain (The Busy Bee) next door.





From Sheridan we started up highway 14. It was a steep climb quickly rising over 3000 feet in elevation gain to over 8000 feet. From here the view back across Wyoming plains left us in awe. It certainly made up for the very boring drive on I90 for two hours. Once we reached the summit it was several hours of downhill driving to Cody through Greybull. We headed through the Big Horn National Forest and came out at a jaw dropping canyon on the other side.



As we headed further west across scrub and desert high plain towards Cody we passed a sign that said “FOAL – Friends of a Legacy”. Tawny looked up the acronym and we saw that it was a wild horse reserve. We looked for horses and saw some as we got closer to Cody. They were off in the distance but you could see them running wild and fighting each other as we passed by.



A storm was brewing on the horizon. Dark clouds and lightning could be seen in the hills west of Cody. We were able to pull over at the welcome sign and get a few shots before the rains came. As we pulled into our campground (right on the highway unfortunately) it started to pour rain. Tawny and I were drenched as we tried to unhook the trailer. We left the trailer, and wet we drove into town to find someplace to eat. We ended up at the Cody Rib and Chop House and had a very good meal and some local beer before running some errands and returning to our campground. We planned on going to the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum the following morning.





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GART Day 17: Devil’s Tower

Ever since I first saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the age of 8 I’ve wanted to visit Devils Tower. I couldn’t believe such a place could exist. This was main the purpose for our whole road trip. “We should take a road trip for my sabbatical” I said. But where would we go? “Let’s go to Devils Tower. And I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore.” That statement set in motion a series of events that led to today. One slightly used travel trailer and a new car to pull it. Four thousand miles and more than 80 hours of driving on this Great American Road Trip we finally arrived. And it was spiritual.

We made Clara watch Close Encounters a few weeks before we left on this trip and she had an experience similar to mine. “We have to go there”. As we drove across the Black Hills from South Dakota into the Black Hills of Wyoming we discussed the movie and if we were on road they had filmed with dead cows littering the landscape. Ominous road signs stating “If lights are flashing turn back to “X” town” which are meant for winter driving conditions took on new meaning. As we first saw the tower peak up on the horizon as we crested a plateau on the rolling and winding road we took from Sundance, WY we all immediately started singing “Dom dom dom dom dom!”.


We pulled to a roadside marker to read the story of the tower. The legend behind it is far more interesting and compelling than the scientific hypothesis (there are three of them) about how the structure was formed. The images it conjured in our minds made us want to rush to the tower and get close enough to touch it.




As we approached our nation’s first national monument we passed through a huge field of prairie dogs. We’d seen prairie dogs before, but never this close.



As we started our hike around the base of Devils Tower we encountered several small pieces of cloth in the trees. A sign near the ranger station had indicated that these are prayer cloths and they most not be disturbed as Devils Tower is a sacred site to many Native American peoples.

We walked around the entire tower, each side of it presenting a different perspective of this massive object. Buzzards and hawks soared on the thermals around the tower. The view of the countryside was breathtaking. And the tower…mystical…











I highly recommend going out of your way to visit here. The experience was both transcendent and transformative. I know I will be back again.


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GART Day 15: Black Hills, Mammoths, and Bison Burgers

I’m not sure what my favorite part of the Terry Bison Ranch RV Park and Campground was my favorite? Was it the stench of bison dung wafting in so strong that we had to keep the r-pod trailer tight as a drum? Or was it the thundering whoosh of Ford F-150s and Semis careening down Interstate 25 at speeds well exceeding the posted 75 MPH limit? No, it was probably the yippy little dog barking in the tent site adjacent to ours starting at 5am. Or perhaps the experience of heading to the shower facilities but after seeing their condition deciding against it. Needless to say, this was not my favorite campground. But we wanted to make the most of it, so Tawny took the kids to see the giant stuffed jack-a-lope and some of the animals they have on the ranch which I had the pleasure of emptying our holding tanks.









Then we hit the road. We decided to drive up highway 89 from Cheyenne to Custer and back road it a bit. It was an excellent choice and a stunning drive. Lush grasslands. Rolling hills. Rock formations. Antelope. And no services. We saw a sign saying “Next Services 74 miles” and my trip calculator on our truck told us we had 89 miles left. That was cutting it a little close but we had no choice but to carry on. We made it to fuel with few fumes to spare in a little town called Torrington where we had lunch and visited a rock stop to buy geodes. Then we carried on. As we crossed into South Dakota we took a little detour to The Mammoth Site which is the largest concentration of mammoths in the world. It was a fascinating little tour (still excavating) and museum. It reminded me very much of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.





We drove through very cute little Hot Springs, SD (someplace I’d like to explore more) and headed to our campsite in Custer, SD at Fort Welikit and unhooked the trailer to head back into Custer for dinner. We went to Black Hills Burger and Bun which hands down had the best burger I’ve ever tasted. We all thought so. This was really one incredible burger. First of all it was Bison, and the most moist and juicy burger I’ve had. It was simple, and not oversized. It was just right – a Goldie-Locks burger. I had The Hot Granny – Bacon, cream cheese, chopped fresh jalapenos, and sweet/spicy jalapeno sauce. It was indescribably delicious. OMG. I can’t even begin to emphasize how good it was. Go there. Go there now. Get in the car and go.
We walked out of the restaurant planning to go to Custer State Park and see some animals, but a storm was clearly brewing. Dark clouds. Lightning. Winds whipping up. We decided to go anyway and see what we could see since we have limited time here. We drove the southern “wildlife loop” and saw a few antelope, elk, and a few bison, with one buffalo crossing just in front of our car. “You were delicious” I thought to myself. “And you are huge. Please don’t smell your brethren on my breath and destroy my car”.






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GART Day 14: Moab to Cheyenne – Frontier Days

Today was a long 450 mile drive from Moab, Utah to Cheyenne, Wyoming. It took over 10 hours. We ran into road construction and a 60 mile bumper to bumper backup on Interstate 70 outside of Denver that cost us several hours. The drive was mostly desolate and boring interstate but it was interesting to drive through the Rocky Mountain Hotspring towns such as Glenwood Springs, and ski resorts such as Beaver Creek, Vail, and Breckenridge an altitudes on the pass up to 11200 feet!

On the way to Cheyenne we realized we’d have trouble finding a RV Park because the selection is minimal. Most that we found has reviews of 1 or 2 stars (on a scale of 10) and sounded like scary nightmares. We finally found one that had decent reviews and was on a bison ranch: Terry Bison Ranch Resort. It looked like it could be interesting for the kids (Bison, other animals, a train ride, horseback riding, fishing pond, restaurant, etc). So we called them up and they said they were booked but had lots of grass parking if we just wanted to dry camp and park for the night. We said we might. But upon arrival they had an opening for a basic water/electricity hookup for the night. So we took it. We also found out they were so booked because it was Cheyenne’s 117th Annual Frontier Days 10 Day Celebration. Since 1897 its one of the oldest (if not the oldest) an the largest outdoor rodeo in the world.

We arrived a bit late to make the rodeo shows. And we couldn’t visit the Indian Village. The kids just wanted to go on rides and we were hungry so we ate at the Fair to the sounds of Dwight Yoakam playing in the nearby stadium. Its very much like our own Puyallup Fair, but with beer and lots more cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and Wrangler jeans. All-in-all it was a good way to end a rather exhaustingly long day of driving.






















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