Wilderness at its Best
2011 Yellowstone Trip
Lead RV Driver: Dan and company
Co-Pilot RV Driver: Loren and company
Tag Along RV Driver: Phil and company
Yellowstone cannot be described in entirety.
You must experience this park firsthand.
Yellowstone, America's first national park, will not disappoint. Since 1872 people have been visiting this park and enjoying the wilderness and its inhabitants. As far as the eye can see, wilderness virtually untouched will tantalize your musings.
The Journey Begins
Well...what can I say? Despite a rough start to our long journey to Wyoming, we rolled into our destination 3 days later.
This year we enjoyed phenomenal weather in and around the park. Compared to the inclement weather last year, this year proved to be heavenly sent. We hardly had any serious weather with only a few thundershowers over the course of 2 weeks. This year felt like summer no doubt. Some days, the temperatures racked up into the mid 80's, and at high altitude, it feels a lot hotter for some reason.
High Fuel Prices a Concern
Before we left, Dan and I cringed as we saw the price of oil bolt well over a hundred dollars a barrel. We knew that this year travel costs for fuel would reach all time highs compared to last year. This year we were paying around $4 dollars a gallon compared to last years $2.75 a gallon. We decided not to fret as we were already commited to the parks and the campsites along the way.
We racked up another 3,000 miles under our belt as are route went through California's Central Valley through Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. We definitely burned the gas and old Al Gore would not be happy with us on all the greenhouse gases we sent up into the atmosphere.
Flat Tires and Faulty Brakes
As we made our way out of town, Loren's trailer brakes went "on the fritz." We waylaid for at least a few hours as we waited for purchase and installation. We waited roadside anticipating the "all clear" signal over the radios. Soon we were heading north on Highway 99 and were soon to be pulled over roadside with a flat tire on my RV.
My trailer tire blew and I was concerned as the trailer was swerving heavily from right to left. Unbeknownst to me, my right trailer tire had blown up and someone in the fast lane yelled to me, "you blew a tire." Before I knew it, Dan and Loren had changed the tire and we were back on the road again.
New Family to our Party This Year
This year, we added a family to our travelling RV wagon train: Loren, Jen and their 2 daughters Bonnie and Avery. They were a great addition to our travels and enjoyed their company very much. We are are grateful for them as last year they had loaned us their RV for our trip and this year they were able to join us.
As usual, my long time friend Dan convinced me that another year of travel to Yellowstone with him was in order, and to my disappointment with my lack of excuses, I was off on yet another adventure with the "Damned Fool." Perhaps he is getting even after all the years of backpacking in the Sierras and getting lost with me.
This leads me to my next point. I want to personally thank Eddy and his wife for allowing us to borrow their RV and truck this summer.
Once we had our mechanical malfunctions behind us, we made our way towards Reno and made our first rest stop somewhere in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Catching our breaths, we fastidiously made our way up toward Donner Pass, hoping not to relive any remnant of the Donner Party of yesteryear.
As we blew through Reno while losing most of our daylight, we stretched out past Fernleywith over 100 miles plus to Winnemucca. Rolliing into Winnemucca late into the evening, with most of your young campers asleep, we rolled into our campground and remained hitched for the night. We were weary and tired but we made our way through the toughest day. We had escaped the gravitational pull of Turlock! .
Day 2- "On The Road Again" to Jerome Idaho KOA
We didn't waste any time as we headed out early to Jerome Idaho, an RV campground with KOA that is an earshot away from Twin Falls Idaho. As we refueled in Wells Nevada, our kids waived at all the U.S. Army trucks as they made their way in to refuel.
Soon thereafter we turned north onto a stretch of highway that would lead us to Twin Falls. This is part of the trip that starts to get beautiful as we go through high desert and the land turns green as we approach the open fields of Idaho, which had a lot of their grass drying in the warm sunlight. There is quite a contrast from the deserts of Nevada as we crossed Jackpot Nevada into Idaho.
Landing at KOA in Jerome, we were finally starting to feel human again. The kids unwound at the pool as the boys went out, Dan, Loren and myself, to find a few items such as binoculars and food. Loren bought all the kids binoculars as well as the pizza for the night. First time we were all able to eat a meal together and enjoy the fellowship. Ice cream social for Bonnie, Avery, Nick, Jonah, Jake and Jonah. Dad's Loren, Dan and Phil took the kids to the always fun and delicious "ice cream social" held nightly at the KOA.
Early to bed, we planned an early start the next morning, too early for me!
Day 3- Early Wake Up Call (Much to Phil's Disappointment)
Dan and Loren warned me of the early start the night before and they lived up to their promise. As I lay on my my bed early the next morning, I could hear Loren and Dan with their drills taking up the supports for their RV's. I had no option but to get up and get on the road with them.
As we headed towards Pocatello Idaho for our first refuel, we could see for miles as the weather was absolutely stunning. Looking north as we went along the interstate, you could see the beautiful snow-capped mountains toward Sun Valley. In this area of the country smog doesn't exist and the visibility is excellent. I would guess that we were looking at around 100+ miles of visibility.
Entering Idaho Falls we were able to find a tire shop to replace the spare which was now working for us. Soon thereafter, we headed north towards Yellowstone.
There are 2 routes to Yellowstone from Idaho Falls. You can go up through Jackson Hole Wyoming or circle around the Tetons and head throught to West Yellowstone Montana. The Jackson Hole route is longer but more scenic, whereas the route to West Yellowstone is shorter and less scenic.
As we move north through Idaho Falls, we soon would enter Targee National Forest, and would travel through until we would arrive in Yellowstone's west entrance from a small town called West Yellowstone.
West Yellowstone is a quaint little town and has many shops and restaurants to choose from. We bought a lot of souveneirs last year and found a few fun restaurants. Last year we stayed at the Grizzly RV park in town. This is a very clean RV park and last year when we stayed there, it was very cold and rainy, not much summer to be enjoyed. Dan and I still laugh at the chicken we BBQ'd that night as we faced the North Wind blowing through our campground!
There are a number of entrances to the park: West Entrance, North Entrance, Northeast Entrance, East Entrance and the South Entrance. Once inside the park, there are 2 loops that circle within the park, almost like a figure-eight. This is also called the Grand Loop of the park, and the design behind this was to enable many of the park's visitor's to see much of the park.
The upper loop from the top will encompass Mammoth Hot Springs and moving clockwise, you will see Tower-Roosevelt to the east, and moving south you will see Canyon Village, home of the park's Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Moving west to Norris and then turning north will complete the loop.
The bottom loop, if you start at Canyon Village and go south, you will encounter Fishing Bridge (at the top of Lake Yellowstone) and which empties into the Yellowstone River. Moving on you will go through Lake Village onto the next junction at West Thumb. From here, you can turn south towards the South Entrance or turn west towards Old Faithful. From Old Faithful the road will turn north towards Madison, completing the loop.
Most of the park is close to 8,000 feet high and the weather can be very unpredictable. We encountered a very violent display of wind and rain and witnessed around a dozen or so trees falling over virtually in every direction.
While travelling the park, you will witness some of the most bizarre sites. The thermal features you will witness come in 4 varieties: Geysers, Hot Springs, Fuamaroles (steam vents) and Mudpots. Together, these spectacles throw off all sorts of steam, mud, smells such as rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide) and ground malformations. Some areas are constantly changing and groves of trees one year may be totally gone the next.
Old Faithful is no doubt the most popular geyser in the world. It erupts continuously every 60-90 minutes and shoots streams of super heated water into the air. As water hits super heated rocks underneath the earth, the water eventually erupts upward throught the cracks and crevices and shoots out the top. It is a incredible experience to witness. If you want to get a bird's-eye view, there are trails once can hike above the geyser.
Old Faithful Inn, one of the parks great attractions, is located here.
2011 Grand Entrance
2011, just like 2010, we made our way into the West Entrance through the lovely town of West Yellowstone.
This first leg will take you to Madison, around 14 miles and 30 min drive time. A Bald Eagles nest can be viewed on the right hand side as you wind your way along the river. You will see signs for the nest and the eagles can be seen from the roadway.
From Madison we make a left hand turn and go north to Norris. This leg is another 14 miles, around 30 minute drive time. From Norris, we will travel approximately 12 miles to Canyon Village. Turning south from Canyon Village, the last 16 miles will take us to our destination at Fishing Bridge.
We arrived safely into Fishing Bridge, checked in, and we pulled into our campsite for our 6 night stay. As we stood in awe of the our campground its great location in the park, we nestled into our first day in the park.
That night we ventured out to Hayden Valley for wildlife viewing. This is just up the road around 10 miles driving towards Canyon Village. Hayden Valley is quite a treat as vistas from the roadside allow wildlife viewing par excellance!
We spotted our first Black Wolf as he circled an elk down in the river but soon gave up his interest in the animal. Later we witnessed a grizzly making his way from right to left, not even bothering to look at any of the potential prey right in front of him.
Fishing Bridge and Things To Do
The kids made theirselves at home as they rode their bicycles around the campground. One hill was especially precarious, Nick and Jake weaved around campers, oblivious to the obvious danger around them.
I would recommend that if you do travel to Yellowstone, bring your bicycles as it adds another dimension to your experience in the park. At Fishing Bridge, we were able to ride our bikes to the Visitor Center and the Yellowstone General Store withing minutes of the campgrond. Paved bike trails can be accessed from the campground to the Visitors Center and the General Store.
The Visitors Center at Fishing Bridge is a neat place to take your kids. Inside you will find animals that you will find in the park such as Bald Eagles, Hawks, Osprey, Sand Cranes, Owls, Ducks, Beavers and Grizzly bears. The rangers were very helpful, and right out the back door is Yellowstone Lake, a beatiful view looking South and East.
Yellowtone Lake - A Great Fishing Experience
Our travelling companion Loren loves fishing, period. Loren is they type of guy you want in your corner when it comes to fishing. Thankfully, we were able to join him as he set up for catching some fish in Yellowstone Lake.
Now fishing is not my thing although I enjoy it when there's actually a chance of catching some fish. I had my doubts as Dan and I watched Loren throw his line in the water. Soon we would see large Cutthroat Trout on the end of his line!
Cutthroat Trout are native fish and are beautiful to catch. They are fighters and will hit your line pretty hard for a trout. You almost need two hands to hold them as they are very meaty fish. These are catch-and-release as they cannot be eaten.
Lake Trout are non-native species that can be caught without number, the reason being that they are predators to the native Cutthroat. One of the serious problems wildlife scientists face is this threat to the native species. Many of the parks wildlife depend on the cutthroat trout for food. The yearly spawning will bring them close to the surface and will easily feed many animals. The Lake Trout do not swim as close to the surface and this could be devastating to much of the wildlife that depend on fish for their survival.
The Park Rangers could hardly believe we were catching so many Cutthroat and didn't believe us when we said we caught a Lake Trout.
Believe it or not, the kids can fish without a license. You will have to fill out a form to fish but the kids can fish for free as long as they are being supervised by an adult.
Check into the Yellowstone General Store in the sport section.
Adult licenses were $15 for 3 days, a complete bargain!
Live bait is a "no-no" and you will have to strip the barbs on the lures as barbless hooks are in order.
A Wildlife Viewing Paradise
We made many day trips to such locations as Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs and Canyon and Lamar Valley in the NE part of the park. We also made a day trip to Cody Wyoming to see Buffalo Bill's Historical Museum. This was a very doable drive from Fishing Bridge as you make your way out to the East Entrance of the park.
A hundred years ago, travellers were driven by horse wagon. Today, travelling in the park by car is easy as the roads are well maintained. The speed limit in the park is on average around 45 MPH.
If you are in a hurry, you are in the wrong park!
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River
As you approach Canyon Village from the south, you will see turnoff for the South Rim Drive. If you want to experience seeing the falls from below, take this exit. You will be able to park and see a place called Artist Point. At the end of Artist Point, you will see a trail that will lead down to Uncle Tom's Point (named after Tom Richardson, one of the park's first concessioners who used to guide travellers down to the bottom using ropes and ladders).
This trail is around 4 miles round trip and will desend down the canyon and eventually wind up at a downward set of very steep stairs. At the end, you will look up and see the waterfall from Yellowstone River as it tumbles downward to the canyon below. This destination is refreshing, not only the view but also the cool water as it mists into your face.
As you experience the park, you will eventually learn to love certain parts of the park as you interact with it.
Lamar Valley is one of those areas. To get there, you must head towards the upper-loop and arrive at Tower-Roosevelt. Turning toward the east, you will be heading out of the park towards the Northeast Exit/Entrance.
This valley is incredible and stretches as far as they eye can see. The Lamar River runs down the valley and is replete with some serious wildlife. Most of the bears we have seen in the park can be found here.
This part of the park is less travelled. We witnessed grizzlies running in and out of thickets of trees, some laying down by the river and others galloping on the hillside in and out of bison and their young.
We had a BBQ dinner at Pebble Creek and witnessed mountain goats high on the rocky crags through our spotting scopes. They grazed with their young, with seeming impunity to the rocks below.
Another afternoon, as we were winding our way down from Washburn Pass, we witnessed the best bear sighting one could wish for. As my wife was looking out the window to her right, two huge Cinnamon Black Bears were rooting around some felled trees not far from the road (appromately 100 yards down from the road). They were so close that I got a little uncomfortable at times and wondered what I would do if they made their way toward us. They were incredibly massive in size, beatiful in color, a brilliant light brown. One of them was standing toward the viewers on the log as if he knew he was getting photographed! One note for those of you who have not travelled to Yellowstone: the more cars on the side of the road, the more likely they are viewing a bear. Fewer cars will not generate as much interest. But, if you look closely, you will see all sorts of animals from the road.
If you haven't seen the Grand Tetons, you must set a time and date to see them with your family. This incredible stretch of mountains will be an incredible experience as you glance upwards toward the heavens. These majestic mountains do not look real as they penetrate the deep blue sky at high altitudes. Jackson Lake is a great lake that lies in front of them and can be accessed via boat and canoe.
Overall it was another great trip, full of memories and great companionship. We also ate like kings as we shared main meals every night. We celebrated Jacob and Luke's birthday in Coulter Bay and made hot wings, flank steak and went with the Pinata!
Special thanks to Dan and Merry and Loren and Jen, without your help and RV experience, i would never have been able to handle this type of trip alone.