Yellowstone – part II
As we are staying in Indian Creek campground for 2 nights, today is a relaxed day with action in the morning and relaxing in the afternoon. Mammoth Springs is on the agenda, both the site of splendid terraces of limestone created by hot springs, and the place where Fort Yellowstone was set up to protect the National Park (by military that is) in the early years of its existence. The upper loop you can drive if you have a car, but our RV has to stay out, so we walk everything there is to walk between the upper loop and the Fort. It is surprising to see that every area in the park has its own characteristics and highlights, and that there is still much to learn.
We head back to the campsite for lunch and a relaxing afternoon. The boys build a fort in the RV, Sven fixes things on the bikes, and Kim gets to chat with our new neighbors who turn out to be very nice people. After again a fresh dip in another creek, and building a proper dam in it, we enjoy a grill dinner with the chicken we bought from the farm we stayed at (YUM!) and invited our neighbors over for a beer. It was really nice to talk about the US, its culture and rules, and the big differences between Europe/The Netherlands and the way things are dealt with here. But it is much colder here, so at 23:00 we called it a night and rolled up under the blankets to warm up again…
With our last day in Yellowstone ahead of us, we decided to make it a mix of all the highlights we have seen from geysers to bison, from canyons to pastures. Starting early, we headed out to the Norris Basin for a proper hike along all the sights. But first stop is the ranger station as Luc and Bo worked very hard on their ranger booklet. As they both did more pages than they had to for their age, they had a choice between the ‘geyser’ and the ‘bear’ patch. Bo chose the bear, while Luc went with the geyser, after taking the junior ranger pledge (“hand in the air and repeat after me!”).
The Norris basin has the Steamboat geyser in it, which is so strong that if it erupts, it can damage the cars in the parking lot quite a distance away! It had been 37 days since the last one, so there was a chance of it bursting, but as we were contemplating whether an eruption would be considered lucky or not, nothing happened and we enjoyed the rest of the stop 😊.
After Norris we took a stab at the Yellowstone Canyon with some colorful views on the river and cascades before heading out to the Hayden valley for some lunch and bison watching. Last stop in Yellowstone is West Thumb at the Yellowstone Lake to do a final round of springs, geysers, fumaroles and mud volcanoes. If you think this would have been a chance to get clean, think again, as the lake is only 7 degrees in summer… YIKES! So we continue on south – all stinky and gross – to the next national park; Grand Teton.
Grand Teton National Park
We found a beautiful spot to sleep at for free between the borders of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Right by the creek where we would of course hope to see a bear or moose, but to no avail. As Grand Teton is lauded for its stunning mountain range that juts out of the ground, we are excited to go and explore. Starting with the visitor center to pick up Junior Ranger books, it becomes clear that we will have to swallow 2 disappointing facts:
- It is extremely busy in the park, meaning no space to park at highlights and no room on ferries etcetera…
- The fires that are surrounding the area we are in (but are still often 100+ miles away) cause the sky to be smogged up, which means the clear blue sky picture perfect views of the Tetons are not there…
This is probably the main reason why we are quite underwhelmed by the whole experience in Teton. With not that much to do (the ‘good’ hiking trails are difficult to reach with no parking nearby and there is hardly any biking except for a bikepath along the road) and a lack of views to take your breath away, our stay at Grand Teton is short-lived. Not to say we did not enjoy ourselves! The Craig Thomas discovery center is a fantastic stop on the way with beautiful interactive displays to enjoy, and the Oxbow Bend was a fine dip to wash of the summer heat. At the north we found another free spot to park for the night, so we have made the most out of it.
Wyoming cross-over: Thermopolis
We have adjusted our travel plans somewhat as we had to cancel our Canada ideas, and thus we are heading further east than we had originally planned. The idea is to add more of Wyoming and the southwest of South Dakota to our itinerary, and then move south to add Colorado into the mix of states. This means we will cross over the state of Wyoming, with a first stop in Thermopolis, a haven in the middle of nowhere, but after a stupendously beautiful 3-mile drive through the wind river gorge.
Thermopolis is a beautiful town in the middle of Hot Spring County… guess what they have here?! After the much needed shower (ok it has been 10 days) and a change of sheets / laundry round, we hit the road on our bikes to the state park. It contains some nice treats, including a local bison herd and a hot spring – Bo found out the spring in the park is just that: HOT! Adhering to an agreement with the native population, the spring needs to be open for them and freely accessible, which means there are 2 15,50 dollar waterparks (though I would not count a pool and 2 slides as a waterpark) and in between them is the state bath house for FREE!! So even though we had had a shower, we could still do with a nice mineral wash. On the ride back we enjoyed an ice cream halfway to get our final strength and back at the campground the boys tried out their new toy: A fishing rod! Caught nothing though ;-)…
Devil’s Tower – National Monument
With a long drive ahead of us, we settle into the RV. Driving in the RV is a fun exercise and the boys do great in the back. Plenty of things to do; from drawing/working in their ranger booklets, to listening to music and stories on the tablet. As today is a truly long drive, we downloaded a movie for them to enjoy along the way as well. The road through Wyoming is smooth, crossing another mountain range through Bighorn National forest before driving along pastures and rolling hills on the Interstate 90. It is clear we are starting to hit the middle of the country, and the wide open spaces and small towns are becoming the standard. We adopted a guessing game of how many inhabitants a town has based on the size on the map and they always turn out smaller than we think!
Almost at the end of are drive we visit Devil’s Tower – you guessed it, another National Park site – an impressive impact of nature that sticks out of the ground like a sore thumb. Sacred to Native Americans and a challenge for climbers it is a busy tourist attraction. We visit the visitor center and score the Junior Ranger booklet, after which we take the 2km loop around the rock through the woods. We see deer and turkey vulture and of course our friend the chipmunk. Plenty of rocks to climb and we have decided to be TEAM ORANGE today with our matching shirts – showing off our sportsmanship by jogging the trail led by Bo who is keen on gaining muscle before he comes home :-).
Leaving the Monument, we pass a prairie dog town, which is an absolute treat! We will run into them more in the upcoming days, but the animals are incredibly cute and not shy at all, warning each other with a high ‘bark’ if people come to close, followed by all of them popping back into their holes. Can’t wait to see more of those and spend more time checking them out. Now we had to move on to go to another Harvest Host stay – Red Water Farms. Animals a plenty and a nice green field to park our RV at, need we say more? The boys hug the sheep good night (enough to count later on) and get startled by the horses running their way. If they are lucky, they get to ride the buggy in the morning, as Tracey our host has given them that idea…
Next week: On to South Dakota, another state with many natural and historical treasures!