Day 4 – Tuesday, July 3, 2018 – Tuesday – Estes Park, CO
Well, the Fourth of July crowds are reaching a fevered peak here in the village. We slept in until 7:00 today but couldn’t wait any longer to get out of bed and have fun! (Well, Matt could have slept more). We were ready and on the road by 7:30 am. Our next door motel neighbors were loading stuff as quickly into their car as they could. We approached the gates to the park and the sign was flashing at 7:45 am “Bear Lake Parking FULL/CLOSED”. Haha! Already checked that off on our to-do list, losers!
We headed in and the plan was to drive up Trail Ridge Road to the visitor’s center. Actually, that was the entire plan. Matt also had some mushroom shaped rocks he wanted to hike to. We started the drive up, and hit several overlooks. We almost hit an elk, too! Beautiful morning for a drive, not a lot of people out on the road yet. Lots of bicyclists (looks TERRIFYING, props to them).
We did all get out at the Tundra/Rock Cut area and hiked a sad little 0.5 miles to the mushroom rocks. Zoe had a breakdown, screaming “no hike, no hike” (a feeling of déjà vu came over us) at the start of the trail, until she was bribed with something. We don’t remember what. There was a lot of bribing today. We saw marmots sunning themselves, wrestling, running around, pretty cute. Mushroom rocks looked like mushrooms. At the end of the trail, there was a tall rock formation you could climb up and it had a plaque with how far it was and which direction to a lot of national parks! Matt and all the kids climbed up quickly while Sarah waited at the bottom. Cue everyone getting down except Zoe. Lots of “NO”. Finally, Sarah had to climb up and retrieve her. That one, we tell ya. She’s the spiciest of all the kids!
We ambled back, with our marmot friends buzzing around near by. Hit the road, stopping occasionally to take pictures, and of course eating gobs of trail mix given we hiked a single mile. We made it to the visitor center (Zoe kept screeching “Ranger Station!”). Yeah, that’s a no go. Total shitshow and packed parking lot. We decided to continue on over the western edge of the park and drove down to the Bowen/Baker Trailhead – Matt had seen that the Colorado River was on that side of the park and wanted to check it out.
The kids threw rocks in the river for a half hour. We thought it was the highlight of their day. After that, we actually hiked a bit into the forest, convinced we found some creek NEAR the river, not the actual river. Nope. We dejectedly hiked back and ate some lunch at a secluded picnic table (read: in the bug infested woods) and climbed back in the car. We drove down to Grand Lake, a hardscrabble town filled with ski bums, locals, and only SUVs and trucks. We didn’t see a single car there. We turned around lest they run us outsiders out of town first, and headed back along the route we came. Nothing too exciting – Sarah read her Death book, kids played on iPads, we drove back thru and ended up back in Estes Park.
NOW, more than anything, we wanted to go on the tram ride up one of the mountains in town. The kids were all in favor yesterday but today, not so much. (kids chanting “no tram, no tram” in unison (they also frequently will chant other things including “we are hungry we are hungry” or “no more hikes”… we are just happy they are working together)). WELL, bribery works and we promised them all ice cream if they would just ride in the damn tram. So we drive to the tram place in town, wait in line, and are in the tram for the 4 minute ride up the mountain when we hear thunder and see lightning striking the nearby mountain tops. SWELL. Because let’s get in a metal box suspended on a metal wire higher than anything around it. We made it to the top, and Zoe’s tiger did not fall out the open window.
You get to the top and can buy peanuts and feed a bunch of chipmunks that live in some kind of weird chipmunk world up there, or hike high on the mountain to the summit (near the lightning strikes). We fed some peanuts to some overweight chipmunks and got back in line because we are wusses about lightning (Sarah’s death book has an entire chapter dedicated to lightning deaths at Rocky Mtn National Park).
On the way back down, we took a survey of everyone’s favorite part of the day:
Matt – mushroom rock hike
Sarah – washing her hands at the Beaver Meadows visitor’s station in a REAL bathroom
Noah – tram
Braden – tram
Zoe – pool (note: we had not been to the pool yet today)
We safely made it to the bottom (it was a great view on the way down – we saw the helipad at the local hospital, the hotel from the Shining, our hotel, and the hoards of tourists moving around like ants). Coincidentally, that brewery that Rambo had recommended was right next to the tram place! Matt stopped in for some crowlers. We then went to the Munchin House to get ice cream. 3.5/5 stars – service was good and ice cream was good but was not up to our (Sarah’s) WI standards.
Got back to motel and jumped in pool for an hour. Rain and thunder do not deter our children, and at this point in the day who are we to make safe decisions? Then mac and cheese for kids and off to bed while we furiously pack and now are enjoying beer and take out food from Bird and Jim’s super artisanal and local/organic/farm to table/etc etc restaurant next door. Our burgers were delicious. Overall, a relaxing and albeit smooth day. Off to Wyoming tomorrow!
Beer of the day: Interference IPA by Rock Cut in Estes Park
Miles driven: negligible again (dreading tomorrow)
Day 5 – Fourth of July! – Wednesday – Estes Park, CO to Pinedale, WY
We slept in today until 7 am, and were packed and out the door between 8 and 8:30. Good bye cute little motel! Sarah’s favorite part was how the doors didn’t shut automatically and would just kind of stay open, and the next door motel neighbors came into our room thinking it was theirs. It was very cozy. Also, the kickass bathroom windows!
We headed out, past all the shops and workers quietly cleaning the streets, as the tourists were busy swarming brunch and coffee places in other areas of town. We saw the largest freestanding Starbucks we think we have ever seen, and motored past Rambo’s Longhorn Liquors. Gotta say, looked a little rough from the outside. (Matt said he never would have gone in to this place if he hadn’t checked out their website first (Rambo’s really nice – definitely recommend if you’re there, but bring New Glarus Serendipity with you!)).
The drive down the valley (canyon?) from Estes Park to Loveland was amazing. It was pretty at dusk when we arrived, but stunning on our drive out. Fly fishermen everywhere, steep hills and cliffs covered in trees, just beautiful. We then motored into Loveland, where we stopped at some place called “Liquor Max”. Well, gotta load up with beer we suppose. Everyone the parking lot had cases of Coors (back in the day, Coors was a rare thing to find outside of Colorado – even Sarah’s death book referenced that fact).
We continued up the highway for another 6 (or more) hours of driving. Not much to report. We took the interstate to Cheyenne WY and then cut over on I-80 to Rock Springs. FINALLY, we hit the 80 mph speed limit (has been 75 mph until today). THIS is why we come out west! It was windy and dry. We ate lunch at a rest stop and determined a large orange beetle did not like the rice cakes but did like the wheat bread crust we gave it. We were so bored we played with the beetle for 15 minutes until Matt took it away and put it in the grass before Zoe might have stepped on it. The only road side thing we saw all day was a strange statue of Abraham Lincoln at the same rest stop. Sarah was super excited and tried to remind the kids about the TV show about Lincoln we watched last night, until we remembered it was an episode of Drunk History we watched after they were in bed.
Drive, drive, drive. Kids argued about quarters and kind of went berserk for a while, then calmed down after… We gave them Skittles? It’s unclear. We then headed north on some highway – 191. This is classic Wyoming driving – nothing. There are outcroppings of rocks, dry scrubland, lots of cattle, and not much more. Beautiful views of mountains in the distance, but you never get close to them. You get excited when you see a sign for a “rest area in 53 miles” or “services in 67 miles”.
But Sarah was busy studying her Oregon Trail paraphernalia and discovered at Farson that there was an intersection with the Oregon Trail! And if you just took highway 28 (which closely mirrors the trail route) and followed it east a bit, you would find the False Parting of the Ways. This is where the Oregon Trail was thought to split into the route to California/Oregon and the route to Utah. However, the history people re-looked at the tracks, and realized they had confused what they thought was a single trail diverging into two trails, with instead what was actually where the transcontinental railroad had come close to the trail. Yes, this is all quite exciting.
Well, the kids were happily playing on their iPads, so off we went down highway 28 to look for the false parting of the ways (the real one was 7-8 miles down some godforsaken dirt road, we were fine with the fake one). Except we really didn’t know where it was, it wasn’t in the Wyoming gazeteer, and we had no internet service. Sarah saw a set of wagon tracks going through the scrubby land near by and got super excited – were these the “swales” (wagon ruts) from the trail still visible?? Then we found the monument and found another set of what appeared to be ruts as well…. Then we were more confused. So we took photos and resolved to look at google earth and figure it out later. We saw the trail! Well, we saw a bunch of trails, but one of them was definitely (probably) the real Oregon trail!
We got back on the road, got back onto 191 – then continued north. And hit Pinedale! Population 2000. Not much here, won’t lie. We had booked a room at a mostly empty Hampton Inn and Suites and Sarah and kids hit the pool (max occupancy of pool was 10; max occupancy of whirlpool was 10; max occupancy of pool deck was 101 – Noah had many questions that Sarah couldn’t answer regarding this). Matt hit up Wind River Brewpub for some beer and takeout, which we enjoyed in the hotel room while watching America Ninja Warrior. A nice family friendly night!
Zoe and Braden collapsed and the rest of us stayed up to watch the fireworks outside of our hotel room window – conveniently only a few blocks away. It was perfect and we were actually pretty impressed with the display. Dang, must have been half the city budget for the year.
Beer of the day: Wind River Brewing Wyoming Pale Ale
Miles driven: 480 miles
Day 6 – July 5, 2018 – Thursday (or Wednesday…? The grim march in the car continues) – Pinedale, WY to Gardiner, MT
Up and at ‘em in beautiful Pinedale. The continental breakfast was excellent – waffle maker, lots of fresh fruit, both normal and “robust” coffee…. It was pretty decent. Several other families there and people who appeared to be business travelers, although we are unsure exactly what business would take them to Pinedale (city motto: “All the civilization you need”).
We cruised out of town and headed up to Jackson, which was about an hour away, otherwise known as Jackson Hole, fancy ski place for celebrities! (At least, we think they are the same). And gateway to Grand Teton National Park! Matt had the National Park passport books out and ready.
The highway between Pinedale and Jackson was beautiful with creeks, hills, and mountains. Zoe completely freaked out and started screaming for no reason (although in retrospect it seems to happen every day about 20-30 minutes after we get on the road, when she realizes that her day will be spent in between a bossy Noah and a Braden who wants to play war games the whole time and shoot her). As Zoe was screaming, Sarah was trying to make up some story about lotion and stuffed animals (no one is completely sure what the point of that was) when “clunk!”. Oh yes, a giant rock came out of nowhere and cracked our brand new windshield. EVERY GODDAMN YEAR. Well, well. We purchased the “unlimited windshields for 7 years” policy through our dealership. They tried to sell us on some other deal, but we KNEW we would make up more than the cost of the policy (nay, the VEHICLE) in windshields based on our track records. We burn through 2-3 windshields a YEAR already! Haha!
Anyway, we cruised into Jackson and it was fancy but filled with obvious non-celebrities. They had an airport just outside of town with jetliners landing, which was impressive. We then drove into Grand Teton National Park and hit the visitor center. Now we know where all the fancy rich people go when they want to be around nature… Wow. Also, the people sitting next to us at the continental breakfast in Pinedale were there, too. Go figure. They weren’t fancy; they had just spent the night in Pinedale, for god’s sake. We then cruised up the main highway in the park along the mountains and Jackson Lake. Just amazing. Matt and I voted that the stretch from Pinedale up through Jackson and to the top of the National Park here was quite possibly the prettiest stretch of road we have ever driven.
Stopped and had a picnic (are we sick of PBJs and turkey sandwiches yet? Never!) and watched an Indian family from CA in a Tesla have a picnic with containers of Indian food. Sarah had to use the pit toilet after their 12 year old. A bad situation went from bad to worse right then.
Then we hit lines of traffic. NO IDEA why there was such a back up. Sat there for ½ hour driving about 1 mile per hour. People starting jogging along the side of the road to see what was going on, which we always giggle at. Turns out we were about to enter the south entrance of Yellowstone, and it was as much of a cluster as you might expect. They usually have orderly lines with rangers in little buildings checking your card, taking money, handing out maps. This time they had a ranger on the right hand side of the road screening people, and all Sarah did was wave Matt’s driver license and our annual National Park pass out the passenger door (yes, we are ballers) and she was all, you drive straight around all these other people because you are awesome (Matt: “she told us to drive in the right hand lane slowly and not go through the main lines because we have a pass”).
Yellowstone was as we remember it: an obstacle to eating, going to the bathroom, and getting to our cabin. Kidding!! It was lots of steaming geysers and hot springs, lots of traffic, lots of strategically placed wildlife (but not the good kind), and road construction. We stopped at Lewis Lake as we had never been that far south (“so many mosquitos”), and proceeded to take many hours to drive all the way through the park, to the north entrance at Gardiner. We stopped and got frozen pizzas and Sarah’s favorite beer (let’s be honest, it no longer is, but memories!) from the local uber expensive “market” and headed to our cabin cluster located just north of town.
YES, we are staying in the same cluster of cabins we did 2 years ago, but this time we planned ahead and got one on the Yellowstone River! It is pretty sweet. (however, the only thing Sarah wanted was to watch some shitty TV channel we got last time we were here that had Cybil and Night Court on it, and now there are no TV channels – just Netflix, and you know that shit ain’t on Netflix).
Resting up, doing some laundry, and planning for tomorrow! The treasure hunts begins… Oh you didn’t hear about Sarah’s ulterior motive for the trip? MORE TO COME
Beer of the day: Good Medicine – Great Northern Brewing Company
Miles driven: 240 miles