The turn north

imageOne long 275 mile slog north to Helena on the I 15 today. At last we wake up to fine weather, just what we need on a boring drive. This route was pioneered by Lewis and Clark (everything around here seems to have been found by them) but the wagon trains were overtaken by the steam version and the route fell into disuse, until the Interstate was built. Even now the road is fairly quiet and we speed along at slightly above the 80mph speed limit (this is Idaho). As a result our average fuel consumption of 50 mpg is affected.

imageCrossing into Montana (speed limit 75mph) we try and find the Irish Festival and the 2nd tallest statue in the country (after the one liberty one in New York) in Bute but have no luck with either. Bute is a bit of a ghost mining town.

imageWe arrive in the state capital of Helena and stop by the Capitol building. The government must be taking the month off, either that or no new legislation needs passing. Like many other state capitals Helena is quiet imageand in parts a bit run down as they generally keep government out of the way of business. We follow the recommended tourist route to Reeder’s alley and Last Chance Gulch in the sun then pick up a club foot take out, recommended by Shawn and Scott, our neighbour who grew up in Helena, and go to the trailhead for a Mount Helena picnic lunch – too hot to go up.

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imageFeeling in need of some religion we check out the cathedral, I love god’s grass.

Yellowstone, Teton, Jackson & Idaho Falls

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We are up at 6am again and wander down to the river just as the sun is coming up. Across the narrow strip of water a mother and calf moose are grazing. Lisa will be annoyed with him for not having a camera. To give them space we walk up the river and see a beaver. Two animal sighting ticks for Mark.

We have changed our plans to try and meet up with old friends from Connecticut. The meeting didn’t happen but we head south anyway. We opt for the longer route south through the park again in the hope that we add to the animal set. No luck, however soon after we leave Yellowstone and enter Teton National Park we come across a long traffic line up. Turns out we have our wild Grizzly after all, just have to share him with 100’s of others.

imageElk horn arch - JacksonOn south, taking the scenic route – Teton Park Road towards
Jackson, ski resort in the winter, tourist destination in the summer. Quick lunch at a cafe and a walk around the square deliberately avoiding the horse drawn carriages on my behalf.

The drive from Jackson to Idaho Falls is one of the best of the trip, winding roads going high over a mountain pass, the sun fighting with sudden downpours.

Idaho Falls was not on the itinerary it is just a useful jumping off point for tomorrows drive north to Helena, the capital of Montana. We plug downtown into the GPS and we arrive at the Falls which has a strip of parkland on either side of the river, this being my walk for the afternoon. On the advice of some locals we go to a converted railway shack for dinner and sit outside on the patio. Not expecting much the food is surprisingly good but the beer awful.

Hotel for the night is a Motel 6, we have the last room almost. It was difficult to find anywhere so at least we all have a dry none canvas place to sleep. The dog treats at reception are awful so I spit them out – not exactly the glamping I was promised.

Yellowstone and Old Faithful

imageWe are up with the sunrise, the one on the other side of the thick low cloud cover. He takes a shower before the rush and then we walk up the river for a while and disturb a couple of cranes.

imageWe wake Lisa up and manage to get out of camp by 8am and head to Old Faithful hoping that we don’t have to wait for two hours for an eruption. We miss the 10am show by 10 mins so hang around for an hour with an increasing throng of tourists for the 1108 am one. I am allowed to get in a position to see it but not as close as the rest of them.

As soon as we leave the geyser the rain starts and doesn’t stop all day. We head down to Lewis lake camp where we had planned to spend tomorrow night however it doesn’t look very inviting in the rain so we decide to hunt for a hotel that has vacancies and will take me. We find one in Idaho Falls so that is where we will be after Jackson Hole. We know nothing about Idaho Falls so it should be interesting.

Apparently the place to see the animals is Hayden Valley so we head north and clock a couple of elk with well developed racks. A few bison at very close range and we almost have a full set, just need a wolf, moose and a bear in the wild – tomorrow perhaps.

We exit the park at West Yellowstone and find one of the few restaurants with a patio, meaning it is dinner for three. Our waiter is from Bulgaria. There are 25 Bulgarians working in town and we have met two of them, the other at our campsite. After dinner we retire to the camp site and sit around the camp fire with other guests until the fire is extinguished at 11pm. Rules are rules apparently.

And a river runs through it…

Yes, that would be our tent. He woke me up at 4am this morning, it was pouring outside and apparently our little blue tent was leaking. Unknown to me my bed was forming a useful foam dam. We debated waking her up but thought better of it and decided to wait out the storm which was meant to abate at 6am. Some of his clothes and my towel soaked up some of the dampness whilst her gortex jacket collected a pouchful of water. Ironic for gortex.

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After sunrise we spent a couple of hours drying out the tent and beds before packing up and leaving the Bozeman camp ground. Five miles down the road we got diverted by a sign offering a grizzly bear encounter. $14 and many photos later we had encountered our first grizzlies of the trip, with a moat and strong fence separating us. I didn’t know what to make of Jake and Maggie other than that I felt glad that they were on the other side of the fence.

We pressed on through Livingston and on to the Yellowstone Park gateway town of Gardiner. The plan was to take in the eastern part of the great loop before going to our glampsite in West Yellowstone. Park rules mean that I am hardly allowed anywhere so Lisa does the obligatory photo expeditions while we wait behind the no dogs signs. Yellowstone is a zoo, and that is not a reference to the animals, of which there seem to be relatively few. Finding the few that are visible from the road is simple, just join the traffic jam. The day’s count ended up as one mule deer and two bison(s), not the herds that we were led to believe were abundant.

Driving through alternating sun burst and cloudbursts mean that imagesome of the best views are obscured and the forecast is not promising for the next few days. Tonight though we are staying in someone else’s tent, glamping by tipi. Really just a larger version of our own tent but almost certainly water proof. The drive into the ranch requires transiting herds of cows and horses so I of course go off my head. Lisa walks up to a herd of horses and one decides to lick her jacket. They are so friendly and probably hungry following any tourists holding a bag hoping to find edibles. One horse sticks his head into someone’s car truck and refuses to leave searching for food. Don’t they get fed?

They go off to Bar N Ranch, a posh restaurant for dinner and leave me in the back of the car, feeding me the same kibble. Luck has it though Lisa walks out with a piece of salmon and a fresh warm loaf of bread so I too have a nice treat. After dinner we return to Yellow Stone Under Canvas and gather around the campfire with other tourists from Colorado, California, South Africa, England and Denmark, quite a UN.

Tomorrow, Old Faithful, something else that I will miss.