We looked at the map, looked at the AAA guidebook to see where we might find a place for tonight, and decided to alter our travel plans a bit. We found a tiny place in West Yellowstone, Montana, called “Al’s Westward Ho”, and made our reservations. This meant that instead of heading south to Grand Teton,we were going to do the bulk of Yellowstone today.
We headed north from Worland to Greybull, then west toward Cody. The land continued to be very dry – I think the term is chapperal. It was a good time to have books on tape.
Cody turned out to be a delightful town. Laura’s aunt and uncle owned a saloon here many years ago, but we had no idea if it still existed. We initially thought we might spend some time in town looking at the neat shops. We went in one place, then stopped in a coffee shop for more caffiene. We realized that the day was getting on, and if we wanted to make the park, we needed to move.
The drive from Cody to Yellowstone is astounding – canyons and ranches with rugged landscape. We first came to the Buffalo Bill Dam and lake, then continued along the Shoshonee River. As we drove along the river,I really wanted to put a kayak on it. Rivers have that affect on me, and there were plenty that we crossed today that made me want to take a paddle trip.
At the Yellowstone entrance, cars were lined up at least a quarter mile in front of us,and moving at a snail’s pace. I was hoping this wasn’t a preview of things to come. Once we got through the entrance, thirty minutes later, the cars cleared out, and things relaxed a bit.
What can one say about Yellowstone that hasn’t already been said? There is new scenery around every bend. The great 1988 wildfire was still evident throughout the park. At that time,we had visited Laura’s parents, and on the return trip flew over the fire. From the air it was incredible how hight the smoke clouds rose. In the 16 years since that fire there are still blackened tree corpses everywhere, but there is also new growth.
At one point, a bison wandered down the middle of the road. I didn’t know what to do – it looked like it could wander into my lane at any minute. I crept by, and the bison stayed in its lane.
We reached Yellowstone Lake, and the wind was whipping up whitecaps. At Fishing Bridge, we had a madding lunch in a crowded cafe, bought T-Shirts and hats,then we headed north. Unfortunately, the road was under construction,so there were several times that we had to follow a lead vehicle. We soon reached our first neat geological feature – a series of gurgling sulpher springs. The odor was unreal, as were the steaming, gurgling mud pits. I was most impressed with the sounds made by the sulpher pits. Laura, unfortunately,couldn’t handle the smells. She said that this was how she imagined Mordor from Lord of the Rings – noxious gases and steam gurgling everywhere. At one point she also mentioned that the felled trees everywhere looked like the work of Orcs, rather than sulpher and wildfire.
We stopped at the upper and lower falls of the Yellowstone River – again, astounding. However,by that time we were tired of the crowds. Humans are less predictible than the bison and elk we saw along the way,especially if they are in cars. They will stop right in the middle of a crowded road to take a picture of a bison that’s exactly like the herd of bison they just passed. This park is better off without humans.
We reached Madison Junction,and headed west. Just before reaching the park boundary, we reached a glade that had a heard of buffalo, including many calves. We wondered if the single bison we saw were the males, roaming through the park.
We exited the park and began the search for our motel. It turned out to be the first one outside the park, very easy to find. Al’s Westward Ho was an older establishment, and it looked like the lobby doubled as their living room. The room was decorated in floral pinks, but was otherwise spartan. There wasn’t even a telephone in the room! So why we decided to reserve a second night is beyond me.
We set off looking for dinner. Laura told me about a family reunion she had many years ago here. They had caught some fish,and the restaurant cooked their fish for them. That started us thinking about trout, so we looked for someplace that might have some. Our answer was a place called Bullwinkles. We both ordered the trout – Laura with a nice chardonnay, and me with a dark beer called Moose Drool. With a name like that, I had to give it a try. (It was very smooth.) The food was incredible, and seasoned to perfection.
After dinner we headed back into the park to see if dusk would bring out more wildlife. We saw (and heard) a family of elk, but didn’t really see more than we had earlier. There was a minor traffic jam as the herd of bison with the calves we saw earlier decided to cross the road. We took a couple of side routes we would have avoided earlier, then decided to head to Old Faithful while there weren’t too many people around.
We were able to park right next to the geyser. We took the short trail amongst some of the lesser-known geysers, and the setting sun backlit the steam venting from them. We found out from a ranger that Old Faithful was going to erupt again around 9:00, and since it was still light, we decided to stay. It did erupt right on time. It was impressive to see that much water forced out of a hole in the ground.
After the eruption, we went to the Old Faithful Inn to try to find dessert. It celebrates its 100th year this year. The main atrium of the lodge is 6 stories tall, and constructed of whole pine timbers. The columns are carved to looked like saguaros. The setting was stunning, but the restaurant looked like it was going to be too crowded. Luckily (I thought at the time) there was a coffee shop on the second floor overlooking the lobby. It turned out to be an expresso cart, and I came face-to-face with my second example of park incompetence today. After waiting in line, I was informed that they had no chocolate, so no mochas like we wanted. I asked for just simple coffee, and they didn’t even have that! Tomorrow we picnic.