Last Time to Yellowstone (for real this time)…
Day 1 – Friday – July 26, 2019 – Waupaca, WI to Fargo, ND
Welp, here we go again. We just needed to visit Yellowstone and Paradise Valley one last time before we select a new area to oversaturate with visits. We are drawn to this area, and not just because Sarah swears her treasure (please see last year’s trip for details) is hidden near here. Weirdly for all her research, she has no solid theory this time that we can investigate, but she sure likes taking about it.
Plan was to leave between 8 and 9 am, but the work gods did not agree with the plan, and gave Sarah SIX admissions after 6 pm the night before. So we left around 10:40 am instead – Sarah had rounded and gotten out on time, but then wandered around the house like a stroke victim, mumbling and not efficiently packing. Anyway, out the door and we were off! Matt is the most amazing planner and packer. The trip fairy even paid a visit in our driveway with books for the kids!
Stopped for some Mickey D’s in Wausau and down highway 29 to Interstate 94 we went! Note: Sarah is the one who usually writes these things and has no comments for a long stretch to the Twin Cities, as she appeared to be in a coma in the front seat.
We hit rush hour traffic at 2-3 pm in the cities, which is exactly the same time as Zoe decided that she wanted her iPad. The deal was that the kids could have them in St. Cloud. She literally screamed and cried for an hour demanding her iPad, and us parents kind of lost some hearing permanently. At one point she was softly crying and mumbled what we thought was “I bad” and Sarah said, “You aren’t bad!” and then Z went berserk again screaming “iPad! iPad!” She had a small plastic slime like thing that she weaponized, whipping all of us with it. Yeah, a drive to remember.
We hit St. Cloud and the trip was a breeze after iPads were distributed. We stopped at our favorite rest stop, Middle Spunk Rest Stop (Hehe) and the kids played PokemonGo (we are only 2 years behind on the trend) while Z showed off her monkey bar skills. Off we zoomed up the highway to Fergus Falls – what Matt didn’t tell us was his ulterior motive – a picture near the world’s largest otter. The children were not as cooperative as hoped. We then hit up Jimmy John’s and continued on.
Years ago we stopped at the DQ in Moorhead because it is a renegade DQ – they have Mr. Misty’s, they have their own non-sanctioned menu, as they have been rebelling against their corporate overlords for many years. So we love them. Well, now they have constructed the largest Dilly Bar in the world, so we had a reason to stop and get ice cream. Note: much to Braden and Sarah’s disappointment, it was not a real Dilly Bar. We then zoomed through the slightly shadier part of Fargo to our hotel!
We are staying at the C’mon Inn. We should be preferred members at this point. Sarah’s phone immediately connected to the WiFi, and our trip records indicate the last time we stayed at this particular C’mon Inn was 3 years ago. Weirdly, Sarah has gotten a new phone since then too. Huh. This place definitely had some folks who were rough around the edges (us included). The usual mix of families who are exhausted playing in the spacious pool area (they should give us money for schilling for them). The past middle aged swinger crowd lurking in the many lobby hot tubs. The families with kids randomly playing catch in the lobby/dome area while they swill Bud Lights.
We got the kids to bed and crept out to be with our lobby people. We know the drill. The lights dim at 11 pm to give us all a hint to go to bed, and they kill them at 11:15 pm. We are trying cocktails from Sarah’s “Road Soda” millennial type book, and in order to do so had gone to “Harry’s Drink Store” and a grocery store. We weren’t successful but tried to recreate a road Cosmo! Along with appetizers of veggie straws and string cheese. Who are we to point fingers at the other sketch people?
Matt bought about 10 pounds of string cheese from Costco last weekend before our power went out. He made a valiant effort to drive home while we were out of town and fill our refrigerator with ice, then powering our house with a generator just so this pile of string cheese could survive to make it on this trip. We BETTER be eating it.
Drinks today: Road Cosmo and Ectogasm by Drekker Brewing Company
Miles driven: 473.5 miles
Day 2 – Saturday – July 27, 2019 – Fargo, ND to Billings, MT
We slept deeply in our fantastic C’mon Inn hotel room – we woke up and shoveled some subpar continental breakfast into our mouths, and off we went! As we dined outside our room, a guy slipped into a nearby hot tub, relaxing with coffee and a book. God, we love this place.
We stopped by Sandy’s Donuts and Coffee on our way out, which was fantastic! We find these places by trolling TripAdvisor and we were so pleased with this joint. Lines of people, steaming coffee, huge amount and selection of donuts.
Off we went! Down Interstate 94 we went… Kids were told no iPads until Teddy Roosevelt National Park, so they peacefully played with their car fairy presents. We motored by Jamestown (home of the world’s largest buffalo, done that before, check) and Bismarck (home of the state prison and mental hospital, um, check?), and then to a rest stop to eat our food out of a cooler. Other families near by were lunching as well. Beautiful day! Then off to New Salem. This is our favorite – the largest Holstein cow in the world, and our first time back in 3 years.
We then motored to…. Somewhere. North Dakota is beautiful but long. Then there it was, what we consider gateway to the West – Teddy Roosevelt National Park/rest stop. You are following rolling hills, then BOOM, badlands everywhere. We happily trolled around and then took our traditional photo. We aren’t wearing these 10 year old clothes for nothing.
Got our passports stamped and Zoe procured a stuffed prairie dog (her room at home is a wasteland of abandoned previous National Park stuffed animals) and off we zoomed. We happily hit Mountain Time Zone and got another hour (always appreciated on the way out West, angry when we lose our hour heading East). We then entered Montana, and gave Miles City regards from Sarah’s mom (where SHE believes the west begins). We watched some presumably drunk drivers zoom around on the freeway, cutting off other cars, then slowing down, then speeding up. Then getting off and throwing up out of their driver’s side door onto an exit ramp. Oh, Montana. It’s no longer legal to do that here!
We were almost to Billings when we saw a sign for Pompey’s Pillar that appeared to be in National Park brown. Matt says, “We can get a stamp there! It’s a National Monument! It’s open until 6!” (note: it was 5:24 pm). We happily exited and drove to it (appeared to be large rock formation), and the guy working the tiny entrance told us it closed at 6 pm and we had to hurry if we wanted to see “the signature”. We just smiled and said thanks and pulled away, and were like, “What signature?” Matt’s like, “I don’t know what this place is, I just know we can get national park stamps here”. We read the brochure to learn that this is the only place still remaining today along Lewis and Clark’s expedition where you can see actual evidence that they were here. There is a large 1 acre sandstone formation along the Yellowstone River that Clark carved his name and date into. Wow!! We climbed many steps in a hurry (after getting our stamps, of course) and viewed the signature. We enjoyed views of the Yellowstone River as well. It was actually a really cool site and we wish we would have had more time there. By the time we left, the entrance gate was locked (5:56 pm).
We rolled into Billings and happily drove to the C’mon Inn. We have never been to this one before! It was fantastic – we stayed in the Bobcat Suite (eerily 3 years ago we stayed in this same suite in the Fargo one) and enjoyed a beautiful pool area, with some other kids. The hot tubs were filled with people by the time we were done swimming, and the kids enjoyed mac and cheese while we ate Outback take out (whatever, it was across the street and we were tired and it was yummy).
After the kids passed out and Matt did our grocery shopping, we sat near the koi pond in the lobby (I know, right?!? It is so awesome here) and enjoyed another road drink and beer and spent our time planning tomorrow. A road trip through America’s Most Scenic Highway (per Charles Kuralt, former CBS correspondent) and a water rafting trip (if all of Sarah and her friend Nicole’s plotting works)??? Tomorrow will be the highlight of our trip! IF we can pull this off, that is.
Miles driven: 618
Drinks drank: Pineapple & Malibu & Lip Ripper – Mighty Mo Brewing Company
Day 3 – Sunday, July 28, 2019 – Billings, MT to Gardiner, MT (Yellowstone!)
We busted out of bed early – we had fed the lobby koi fish (highlight of trip for kids – done), packed up our stuff, eaten breakfast (the only non-perfect thing about the Come On Inn is their breakfast), Zoe had raked up compliments on her stylish green claw slippers, hit Starbucks (Matt was so happy a single tear slid down his cheek) – and we were off!
We headed south to Red Lodge, the last town before the scenic Beartooth Highway. We passed by a spot very special to three of us (Matt, Sarah, and our friend Kara) – the site of the only time in our lives we had hit a deer with a car, 15 years ago. It was just as we remember it – don’t worry, the deer lived AND Matt accidentally got the right rental insurance so we totally got a new rental car free back then, despite ours covered in blood and deer fur.
We then motored up the highway on switchbacks. It was beautiful. We took time at Rock Vista Point to look at the switchbacks and valley below. There were 10 cars in the lot and 3 were from Wisconsin. Us Wisconsinites get around!
We oohed and aahed over how pretty is was, THEN we crossed the border into Wyoming, passed the summit at over 10k feet, and it was simply stunning. Alpine and subalpine lakes, snow, glaciers, etc. Numerous pull outs to enjoy the beauty, nice cool temperatures and brisk wind. It was just beautiful. We would compare it to Going to the Sun Road, but prettier and with way less traffic. Amazing. Someone noted that at the pass here, you are ¾ mile higher than you are at Logan Pass on Going to the Sun Road. Can’t believe we hadn’t done this before this. Note: we are “experienced” mountain drivers (heck, Sarah has put on chains and driven with them over a pass in a blizzard (note: she does not recommend doing this and was terrified the entire time)) and Sarah hates heights (yet hikes on mountains), but we did not find this drive scary at all. We get it, weather was good, no sleet or snow – and we were not driving an RV – but we feel this is an easy drive in good weather for an average driver.
We motored into Cooke City-Silver Gate, then entered Yellowstone Natl Park. We’re home! We had a small picnic next to Soda Butte Creek, then drove through the Lamar Valley. Hundreds of bison were sunning themselves at Soda Butte. We had the most exciting thing – a stupid human sighting! (Thanks Nic, for the idea of what to call these!). A guy was on a little ridge leaning over and petting a bison. Another bison came up behind him and our fingers were crossed that he was going to get gored. Boo, not that we saw.
We saw a black bear on a hillside as we drove. Saw lots of elk. Heading past Lava Creek we saw a familiar site – our friend Steve and Vanessa’s car! We left a note on their windshield and continued on – they are staying at our cabin cluster for a few nights as well with their kids, having come up from the Tetons a couple days ago.
We cruised into Gardiner 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We wanted to get to Gardiner by 2 pm to meet our friends Bill and Nic and their kids to go rafting. And it worked! We were thrilled to see them – this has become a yearly tradition at this point. Bill used to be a whitewater rafting guide in CO and MT, and took us on a mellow float last year down the Madison. This year? Rafting down class 1 and 2 rapids on the Yellowstone.
We got ready at the put in in Gardiner and got their raft down to the water, then Matt and Bill drove down to leave a car at Corwin Springs where we would take out. They arrived back and off we went after instructions from Bill – he was a great instructor (he had to be, given we have never done this before, sorry Bill!). Off we went, hitting some rapids right away. Their daughter Danni and our Zoe road in the front, with waves shmucking both of them – at one point a wave went over Zoe completely. She loved it. We did about 8 miles of the river in 2 hours, including floating past the cabins (note: could not see supposed treasure from our raft), some hot springs, osprey with fish in its talons, and beautiful Devil’s Slide. The weather was perfect. At the take out, we enjoyed a few beers while the kids played catch with a stuffed animal (whatever, we don’t judge).
We motored to the Corral for some supper (delicious) and more beer and their tiny playground, then said good bye to our friends. It was wonderful and we look forward to seeing them every time we are out here! Nic is busy recruiting Sarah to come work out here. 😉
We drove to the same cabin we stayed in last year, documented that treasure was still on the side of river bluff (somewhere Matt sighed, “that is not the treasure, that is some shiny trash”). We loaded all our stuff in and set the kids in front of the TV – then our friends Steve and Vanessa popped over from their place! We drank more beer and got to hear about their adventures, and after the sun set, light rain drops fell. A perfect day for sure. No other day in this vacation will compare so maybe we just pack it all up now!
Beers drank: Leinie’s Summer Shandy, Coors Light, IPAs, etc
Miles driven: 218.6