And the saga continues…
We got on the road and drove the northern part of the loop road to Tower, and then down toward Canyon. Note: those damn elk were near the Gardiner River again and the antelopes were hanging around the entrance to the park. It’s so idyllic and perfect, it’s a little…fake? Just saying, if all those Asian and European tourists came here and didn’t see wildlife…
We saw a bison (probably the same one from the other day) clomping in the middle of the road, then it veered off to the side. Of course Matt threw the camera at Sarah and was all, get a picture. The bison was 6 feet away from her car window, and she was too wussy to roll it down, so here’s what she got:
We made it to the trailhead shortly before 9, and it was clearly a very popular trail, with cars streaming in. We put on sunscreen and got Z in the pack, and up the trail we went. We hadn’t gone more than 1/8 mile, and noticed that everyone was stopped and was looking down into some meadows. There was a sow grizzly and her cub at about 200 yards away! Very exciting and kind of scary as we were just up the slope from her and her cub, and she was clearly foraging for berries in the meadow. Matt got some shots of her. GRIZZLIES!!! The day was already a success, but we guess we still had to hike the trail.
The trail was actually great, being about a 6.4 mile round trip. The trailhead is at 8,838 feet elevation, and you gain 1400 feet over the hike up, so you end at 10,243 feet. It is called moderate difficulty, but some sources say strenuous (we think moderate). The views are INCREDIBLE as you ascend through switchbacks. There are enough people on the trail that someone else is more likely to be attacked by a grizzly than you are! Simple statistics, people. But you aren’t walking in a line of people and most of the time there is no one in sight. The kids tolerated this with only moderate whining. Noah actually hikes at a good clip (he might have been trying to get away from us). B collects rocks, hops on things, and dragged a stick in the trail so we know how to get back. Trying to reason with him only ends in us carrying handfuls of rocks for him and then us realizing we are doing his bidding – remember, WE should be the parents! Noah talked about Minecraft most of the way up, until near the top he realized he was out of breath (10,000 ft will do that to you). Still tried to keep talking about it, as he wanted to recruit Sarah to play. No way, kiddo. Matt got numerous comments on Z in the pack. Z stared judgmentally at the other couple of toddlers we saw in packs.
It was awesome. We love hiking and hope our kids will share that love with us. They did not seem to today and many false promises and bribes were made to complete this journey. Many pringles, M&Ms carefully picked out of the trail mix, and fruit snacks were distributed to ensure the children didn’t just collapse and die. Zoe was mostly on good behavior until she started viciously kicking Matt. In general, we avoided eye contact with her and she would stop whining.
We were just about to finish the hike, and were approached by, wait for it, a grizzly bear researcher who wanted one of us to take an 8 minute survey! Sarah eagerly volunteered and Matt and the kids bolted to the parking lot. By the time Sarah got there, everyone was devouring a special treat of S’More Oreos (ew) and the ipads and paw patrol were fired up. Total hike time was 4 hours which was 2 hours up, ½ hour eating, and 90 minutes down. (Matt and the kids think the S’more Oreos were awesome, hence eating the whole box in 15 minutes).
We then decided to explore the part of the park on the way up to Gardiner that we had missed before. We caravaned on up to Gibbon Falls, which were amazing. Zoe only sort of lost it there.
We then went to the Artist Paint Pots where the most illegal parking job occurred. Hey, if you are going to super illegally park someone in, it should be someone you know, right? We walked down the trail to look at the hot springs and mud pots, and Z decided she was DONE. She ran through every emotion in the 1/3 mile as Matt brought her struggling back to the car, including rage, happiness, tantrums, delight. She was pacified in the car by being allowed to crawl wherever she wanted, and watch Minions and Paw Patrol and by being allowed to look through Matt’s cell phone full of pictures. Matt gets the father of the year award for volunteering to bring her back. Eesh. Meanwhile, B, Noah, the D family, and Sarah continued on.
In what was simultaneously an awesome and sad event, Danni’s hat blew off and landed in the hot spring area. We are not kidding. Bill used a pine branch to retrieve it, blowing Sarah’s mind. A celebrity – someone who managed to rescue a hot springs hat!
The paint pots were cute, and on we went. Given Z’s breakdown, we all decided to skip the Norris Geyser Basin, and drive on to Gardiner to get some dinner. We stopped at the Corral to eat – it had an outdoor playground and elk burgers, as well as high winds and hot temperatures. Everyone had a great meal and all the kids had to be dragged screaming off the playground around 8 pm. Zoe appeared to have some kind of 2 year old mental breakdown, complete with crazy eyes. If you stop the day RIGHT before Zoe’s breakdown, it was perfect. Thank you so much for a wonderful time, guys. Next year, same time, same place, right?? (Or Glacier, we’re cool with that too!)
Saturday, July…22?, 2016 – Day #4 in Yellowstone
We drove into the park and there was an actual line of cars at the entrance. Given today was Saturday, we were a tad worried that park traffic would pick up, which it definitely had. We drove down to Norris. We decided to skip the geyser basin. We’ve seen billions by this point. We motored on to Virginia Cascade, which was of course recommended by “the book”. We went down a little spur road, and there was the waterfall hidden behind the trees! For a second. And then there was just a little river by the road. Seriously, that’s it?? We didn’t even take a photo, as the shutter speed on the camera wouldn’t have been fast enough. We made some PBJ and trucked on. Matt hacked at a cube of cheese with a Swiss Army knife as our cheese knife was at the cabin. The horror!
We drove to the Canyon area to look at the upper and lower falls of the Yellowstone River, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It was amazing!! We took the South Rim Road first to Uncle Tom’s Point and Artist’s Point. If we see another person yelling and holding a selfie stick, we WILL hurt someone. Those stupid sticks were everywhere! Most seem to have just been purchased because it usually took someone 3-4 tries to get the phone to actually take the picture. So many beautiful pictures of waterfalls with someone’s face stuck in it.
We then drove through Hayden Valley on our way to Fishing Bridge. Before the trip, Sarah had been schooled that this was THE place to see grizzlies. It is a beautiful valley with the river and marsh-y areas. Alas, no bears today but we were still riding high from yesterday’s sighting so it was cool. We saw a billion bison, elk, deer, etc. Then the traffic slowed down to nothing… We thought there might be a bear jam but no. Thirty minutes later, we got near the front of the line and a bison was clomping along the road heading in the same direction as we were IN our lane. SLOWLY. Like 1-2 mph slowly. For a while it was in the center but then it went back into our lane – we were about 4 cars back. Then those cars passed it and it was us following a bison. Everyone in the other lane coming from the other direction was laughing their asses off at all of us and the bison. Finally, we got a chance to pass it though!
We headed into Fishing Bridge, ignoring stops #8 and 9 (kind of burnt out on hot springs and mud pits) and just went straight to the ice cream area in the shop there. Ahhh…. Everyone was happy again. We all did some shopping, and agreed as a group we were driving the hell back to the cabin and NOT STOPPING AGAIN. We waited long enough for the bison to “go somewhere else” and then retraced our route back to Gardiner, noting steam on the side of the road at the hot springs, and that was good enough for us. You sure go a lot faster when you aren’t following a bison slowly. For THIRTY MINUTES. (Matt had talked to one of the cashiers at the store and found out a truck had been gored by a bison a few weeks ago and had a couple nice holes put in it, so patience was good).
Sunday, July 24, 2016 – Gardiner, MT to Rapid City, SD (otherwise known as, why do we keep making this same awful drive and torturing ourselves??)
The children woke up bright and early around 6 to 6:30 am, and we struggled out of bed. It was going to be a rough day. Matt busily packed everything in the car while Sarah made last minute checks. Matt then drove the trash to the dump at the very last minute while Sarah closed up the house. So sad to see the cabin go… Seriously, we would come back here ANY time. It was just awesome. NO we were not cool cats camping in the back country or anything, but we have 3 kids and a love of the internet. Cut us some slack this time.
We motored to Gardiner for a quick car wash (it is very dusty here!) and off we drove. Sarah was particularly motivated to read her newest grizzly book, “Taken by Bear in Yellowstone” – it is an excellent book so far and she highly recommends! We drove up from Gardiner back to Livingston MT and got back on Interstate 90 and headed over to Billings (UGH). We picked up some McDonald’s, which thrilled the kids beyond belief (they then promptly threw all their food on the floor and played with their Happy Meal toys), then went to a gas station and bought more Strong Red Ale for Sarah (she was thrilled and carefully concealed the beer under all the McDonald’s food on the floor, as well as Zoe’s blanket and stuffed bison toy). Life was good.
We saw the BEST RV ever, which was towing a car AND a boat! What kind of gas mileage do you get? How do you get the boat down? Where were they going as there is no water in Wyoming? And why did we pass it twice? So many questions…
We motored on down highway 90 towards Wyoming. For the second year in a row, we mentally reviewed past trip logs and how horrible this drive was. IT STILL WAS. OMG, we have no idea why this is always so horrible. There’s like two towns in Wyoming, Sheridan and Gillette (okay, yes, there are more but you don’t get to see them on this route which may or may not be a good thing). There are two rest stops. OK, there are more in Montana and South Dakota, but ALL of them were closed for construction. If you’re going west you’re fine, but you’re holding it if you’re heading east. We stopped at “the other rest stop” today, not our usual one in Wyoming. It was 95 degrees and it had burning hot metal playground equipment. Same as EVERY rest area out west. The kids played for 5 minutes before going and sitting in the shade because it was too hot.
In good news, this is the first time we have driven through Wyoming and NOT cracked our windshield. Go us! We saw a wild fire, many many cows, a steer (B asks, “What is a steer?” and we realized we had no freaking idea – it’s not a boy cow, as those are bulls… We just mumbled something about horns and then pointed at a train nearby). We entered South Dakota many harrowing miles later. Starving. We decided to stop at a Culvers in Spearfish, SD which was 1 hour from Rapid City. There were 4 freeway exits and all of them were under construction. We are not kidding. So we motored on (like we had a fucking choice) and eventually took the wrong exit into Rapid City and DIDN’T CARE as we finally found a Culver’s. We really intensely hate Wyoming driving. It is beautiful but awful in a way we cannot describe. Try it yourself and let us know.
There is a pretty sweet waterslide and an excellent pool, so everyone had a good time. Matt slid down with Zoe multiple times, which everyone except Sarah loved (the rules CLEARLY stated no doubling up! We were going to get in trouble!). Everyone collapsed exhausted. Matt and Sarah are enjoying some Strong Red Ale and a little bit of cinema – “Air Force One” (yeah, baby).