Bad internet again last night...
We finally got on the road Wednesday about noon after the repair shop finished up replacing the fuel pump.
We had decided to make a two day run for our first Colorado destination: Mesa Verde National Park. Our maps said it was about 18 hours away. Instead of taking the absolutely shortest path - back through Montana, down through Wyoming, and into Colorado, Chris decided we'd take a route closely following the route we would have taken leaving Yellowstone - Idaho, Utah to Colorado.
This route goes west from Billings to Bozeman, MT, then down route 191 into Idaho. It so happens that it passes through a small slice of Yellowstone Park. After passing into the park, we began to second guess our choice to skip Yellowstone. It so happens we were about 20 miles or so from West Yellowstone, MT. This is the town just outside the west entrance to Yellowstone. Chris and Annie decided to see if they could possibly get camping reservations near there (after canceling all the Yellowstone campground reservations the previous couple of days.) We discussed what it might cost in cancellation penalties for the stuff planned in Colorado. Looking through our reservations it didn't seem too bad. At this point we just thought Yellowstone was too close to pass up, and no one was looking forward to the rest of the drive to Colorado (now down to about 14 hours) anyway.
After calling a few places, we found the KOA-Yellowstone. They had the three nights available we thought we wanted.
The KOA was just down the road from where we were, and we arrived there about dinner time. We set up, then went right back into town for dinner. West Yellowstone is a tourist trap since it's very close to Yellowstone and the most popular entrance. After a good dinner, we decided to go into the park, get our entrance pass taken care of, and see a few sights.
About 4 miles into the park, we began seeing the great scenery and wildlife. First were two Moose. They were right next to the road. A few miles down, we saw several Elk munching just off the road. Everyone was very excited! As it was getting dark by now, we decided to head back to camp and get an early start on Thursday (today). On the way, Annie made some calls and got some information on a special outing we're going to do with the kids while here - something we had to cancel previously in Jackson Hole, WY due to the truck problems. More about that tomorrow.
Today we got on the road to Yellowstone about 8:30am. This after reserving a fourth night here. The plan now is to leave here Sunday morning for the five day trek home. By the way, it was 80 last night, and 36 overnight. Chris had to turn on the heat early this morning. Annie was not happy walking outside this morning in 40 degree weather!
Anyway, we hit the park just before 9. As I said above, the scenery is just unbelievable here. The first things we saw were the areas burned out back in 1988 which are recovering beautifully with new trees and grass - this after they thought they'd just be meadows for generations to come. The rivers, streams, canyons, and mountains are spectacular. We can't wait to share our pictures.
A little further down the road, we started to see the thermal features of the park - geysers, steam vents, boiling springs, and boiling mud. Again, this place is indescribable. We ALL were very impressed today. The only downside is the super strong sulfur smell at some of the features - you get used to it after a while.
Soon we were at Old Faithful, obviously the most famous of the sites here. Our luck must be changing because just as we were walking up to the visitor center, we found out the next eruption was in just a few minutes and they are normally every 90 minutes. The spectacle was fantastic. There were A LOT of people there, but we still had a great view.
Afterwards, Chris took the kids on a hike up the hill to an observation point just above the geysers. It was a half-mile mostly uphill hike. There was only a small amount of complaining. Between this hike and the one at Devil’s Tower, we now know which of the kids is not going to be a hiker. Anyway, the view of Old Faithful, several other geysers and the surrounding mountains was great. We noticed right way how dry it is here. Your nose and eyes feel dry all the time and you go through a lot of drinks. We’ll be buying more water while here for sure. (Sorry Vicky, no Poland Spring available anywhere since we left)
I forgot to mention that we saw many places which still had snow. Not just on the tops of the mountains where it is commonplace, but also along several roads we travelled. It was, after all, 85 degrees.
Anyway, while we were hiking, Annie stayed down at the lodge and enjoyed speaking to a couple from Chicago. They had also recently arrived from Mount Rushmore. By the time the hikers got back, a second eruption of the geyser was close at hand so we stayed to watch it after having just enough time to grab some ice cream. Christopher then became officially a Junior Ranger, with outfit and all which is very cute. He’ll be wearing it when we get home, we’re sure.
We then headed off to the next stops along the south loop road including several waterfalls, more geysers, and the campground we were supposed to have stayed in. By the way, we are glad it didn’t work out. Not only no electricity, but the sites were unbelievably small. We’re not sure how’d we’d have ever parked our trailer in some of them.
Chris had expected rough roads and traffic jams from what he read. What we experienced was a pleasant surprise. Traffic but no traffic jams. Crowds at the large features, but with plenty of space. And narrow but smooth roads. The only thing to watch out for was for drivers stopping suddenly when they spotted wildlife.
One note on spotting wildlife. You didn’t really need to keep a sharp eye out for animals in a field. You just looked for the grouping of cars parked on the side of the road and invariably you’d see some animal. It never failed.
After eating a late lunch out of the back of the truck, where Annie was a bit spooked having food outside because of bears and other evil creatures (chipmunks), we headed up to the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”. On the way Marissa spotted a huge herd of Bison. They were way off the road, but we were able to see them well using binoculars and zoom cameras.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon and after a short drive and two short hikes, we viewed the two waterfalls which take the Yellowstone river down into a thousand-foot deep canyon of smooth, colorful walls. We’re told it’s much narrower than the actual Grand Canyon, but it seems just as deep.
By now it was about 6:30pm and we decided to head back to the camp site. On the way out we saw some Elk feeding in a parking area. We pulled in and the two Elk were no more than 30 feet from us. As we sat there, one began walking toward the truck, went around the back, and walked along side eat the grass. Annie had to tell Makayla to close her window. That’s how close this was. We were so tired and hungry we stopped in town and picked up a pizza and salads to eat at the trailer. We were glad not to have to cook or clean.
We’ve seen the highlights of the south loop of Yellowstone. Tomorrow, we head to our special field trip and will probably hang around the rest of the day. Saturday it’s back to Yellowstone’s north loop, and maybe the Beartooth Highway which we missed because of the delays.
Christopher’s thought of the day: “Even if I’m a ranger, it doesn’t mean I need to share my water with Makayla”
Peace to everyone and we hope all is well at home. More updates tomorrow if the internet gods allow. By the way, we have marginal cell service at the campground, good service in town, and little to none in the park itself. Oh, and thanks to everyone who sent thoughts of encouragement during our downtime, especially Annie’s dad. Your thoughts really helped us and meant a lot. We look forward to comments everyone sends via the website.