Last Chance Road Trip – Part 2

Last Chance Road Trip – Part 2

Day 6

Wednesday, July 28, 2021 – Cody, WY

Well, we haven’t run away screaming from Wyoming yet.  ha!  We awakened and the decision had been made by Sarah and Matt – yes, we were going back to Yellowstone.  Like we can stay away.  Sarah found some ridiculous hike rated “difficult” that essentially was just ascending to the summit of a 10k elevation mountain.  NOTE: we are definitely not acclimated to the 5k elevation here in Cody.  ALSO NOTE: Zoe usually ends up riding parts of hikes still on Matt’s shoulders, which is hard if going up or downhill.   

Sometimes a map is helpful to see how all these places line up. Or not, ignore if you want. Also, for being a useless lake, Yellowstone Lake is enormous!

We ate a delicious avocado toast and scrambled egg breakfast (kids ate crappy sugared breakfast treats (it is true, children)), and we quickly packed and off we went!  We have to drive all the way around the reservoir, then get on the highway to the East Entrance of Yellowstone (took about an hour).  Also, there is no cell phone reception.  Back to listening to Home and the children fighting.  It was a gorgeous drive, though.  

We hit the entrance, went through Sylvan Pass, and found the parking lot for Avalanche Peak.  This is only 4-4.5 mile round trip but you ascend from like 8k to 10k ft elevation – do the math, it is insane elevation gain for such a short hike.  It’s basically entirely ascending and descending, no flats.  When we were in the parking lot, other friendly hikers said hi.  We got our packs on, strapped in the bear spray, and crossed the street and up the mountain we went!

Look how dry and happy we are!

The kids quickly figured out that this was no normal hike.  “Why is this all going up?”  “My legs hurt!”  haha!   Honestly, this is the only hike we have ever been on where we desperately wished we had brought our hiking poles.  We all did quickly find hiking sticks.  Also note: when in grizzly country, the goal is to make as much noise as possible.  We have ZERO problem with that.

Still happy hikers, sitting in the warm sun…

We ascended above the treeline and shit got real.  The trail got very narrow, and it was VERY crumbly.  The only good part (unlike in Hawaii, where there was a 2000 foot sheer cliff into the ocean) was that there was a steep field of rocks below the trail, so you would live if you fell, but be severely injured, and unlikely to be able to get up back to the trail, so you would need to be helicoptered out.  Unless you were scavenged by creatures.  Sarah swore to herself if she survived this hike, she would have a cocktail tonight.  Matt meanwhile effortlessly had Zoe on his shoulders (“only for 100 yards or so”).  

Flower meadow – if you were a grizzly, wouldn’t you hang out here? (spoiler: we didn’t see any here)
This is the actual trail slope – how Zoe (or any of us) didn’t just slip on the rocks and fall to a certain death, we will never know.

We made it up to just short of the ridgeline, and the kids really needed a break.  We sat down for some trail mix, and by a vote of 3-2, we elected to continue on, at least to the false summit which was quite close (where you think you are at the top of the mountain, but you are not).  However, the 2 NO votes decided to tear up and plead to go back to the car.  THEN Matt saw a thunder clouds which we were not totally convinced were heading our way until a big gust of wind blew through and we noticed the clouds were a bit closer.  WELL, we guess the NO votes win.  

Our break very close to the top. Gosh that sky looks pretty!
Hmm, maybe the sky actually does look a bit ominous on this side of the mountain. Don’t slip on the rocks or you will die – just another fun family hike.

We made it down through the scary part filled with loose dirt and scree and Matt again reminded the kids how to hike (back faces the mountain, step down sideways side to side, place your hiking stick first – it was f***ing terrifying).  When we hit the treeline, we knew we were good!  There was a really nice couple that passed us – in their mid-50s – the lady was distinctively fit and wearing Ironman gear.  They told us how great the kids were doing hiking.  We let them pass by.

Then the raindrops started.  Then the pouring rain.  We struggled to not fall – YES KIDS GOING DOWNHILL IS HARDER.  We got on our rain gear.  Then the hail started.  And the mud.  Above the sound of the rain and thunder, we had to keep yelling and singing so the grizzly bears wouldn’t kill us.  It was great.  We only all fell a few times.  Then we saw our car.  You have never seen a happier group running across the highway in the pouring rain – as we did, the Ironman people drove by out of the parking lot and gave us a thumbs up and yelled “great job” out of their window.  We took off our shoes and grabbed sandwiches and sat in the warm dry car.  Great job, kids!  That was not a long hike, but was CRAZY tough!!

The stream of rain down the trail – eesh.
Look, there’s our warm car across the road! Smiles from all of us.

We decided we deserved ice cream, so we drove on to Fishing Village.  Matt inspected the ice cream selection, which he deemed “small”, so we thought we would continue on to West Thumb.  Also note, no stamps available in Fishing Village.  It took us what felt like WAY longer than 21 miles to drive around Lake Yellowstone to get to West Thumb.  We passed the Ironman people gathering wood in the forest.  Huh.  West Thumb had no ice cream.  ARRRRRGGGHHH.  But they had stamps at least!  We walked around and looked at the pools and little geysers along Lake Yellowstone there and it was gorgeous.  68 degrees and cool with occ sprinkles.  We can get on board with this kind of Yellowstone!  

Geyser thing in the water? Who knows. B LOVES this stuff though, definitely a budding geology type.
There is something enchanting about all these pools. Not the smell, of course.
They updated their danger signs (with the kid blowing up in the geyser), which are always a source of amusement to our children.

We then drove all the way back to Fishing Village and as we stood at the register in back of the big store, the power went out.  The guy working was like, eh, sometimes this happens.  We waited 5 minutes and it came back on.  We were determined not to lose our place in line.  We all happily ate our ice cream, and began motoring back to Cody.

Jesus, where are we, Waupaca? 
The moose tracks ice cream they have here in the Park is simply the best ice cream ever.

The drive from East Entrance to Cody was STUNNING.  It was pretty towards Yellowstone, but toward Cody was freaking amazing.  We motored into town and found a liquor store called “Libations”.  It had a drive through and alcoholic slushies to go!  Dang!!  It was hopping, and we almost hit another car in the parking lot.  WI plates, figures. 

Sarah had a Wild Bill Huckleberry and Matt had a “Painkiller”.  Apparently it is legal to drive with them because they vacuum seal a plastic bag around the cup. Huh.

Had leftover pizza for dinner and we are hunkered down watching the Olympics.  Out west fun has finally begun!

Miles driven: negligible

Beers drank: do slushies count?

Day 7

Thursday, July 29, 2021 – Cody, WY

Today was the only day we had something actually planned ahead of time!  We had been river rafting with our Montana friends twice before (a mellow Madison River float and slightly more whitewater rafting down the Yellowstone) and really had fun.  Although it felt a wee bit like cheating on them, we had signed up for a 2-3 hour whitewater rafting trip through Wyoming River Trips.  They seemed family friendly, although we couldn’t do the wilder trip as all the kids needed to be 10.  Or 14.  Basically something that Zoe couldn’t pass for.  

We ate the same exact meal as yesterday, and into the car we went!  We checked in, got our lifejackets (and had to bribe Zoe into a protective water proof jacket thing as she literally weighs 20 pounds and the water is 41 degrees), and got on the bus to head down to the river.  We would be rafting down ~15 miles of the Shoshone River.

We were lucky enough to get our own raft with our guide – Inna was her name – she was originally from CT and has lived in a bunch of places and done interesting stuff – lived and worked in Jackson, here, Alaska, etc.  All the raft people got the intro and safety talk and we were off.  (For the record, we feel like our friend Bill gave us a more extensive safety talk than this, and we were a tad concerned.  Spoiler: none of us fell out this time.  The same cannot be said for the kayakers with our group, based on the pics available online lol)

Yes, we paid a confiscatory $17 for this picture without the watermark on it, but we knew if we had brought our phones, they would be at the bottom of the Shoshone River at this moment.

We set off, with Zoe in the middle front and Matt and Sarah flanking the front sides, and Noah and B in the middle, and the guide in the back.  We all definitely got wet, and had a great time.  We learned about the invasive Russian olive trees that grow everywhere out here (B had LOTS of questions about those and still continues to mention them), and general geology/geography.  We rafted through class 2-3 rapids at times, and other times it was much more mellow. 

There was a photographer or two for the company stalking all of the boats along the river and high above the cliffs, and we really had no idea until we had to take a dorky picture and touch our paddles. 

Yes, we paid another $17 for this, but B and Z looked so happy.
Not us, but we just liked giggling at pictures of people who did end up in the water (all freely available for gawking on the rafting website).
Matt was expressly forbidden by Sarah to buy this photo.

At the end, we were exhausted and motored back via bus to the company.  Although we really didn’t do much, sitting in the sun and being worried about drowning take a fair amount of energy.  Thus, we rolled through the liquor drive thru and purchased ourselves some slushies – $5 cash per slushy.

Sarah tried Strawberry Daiquiri and Matt tried the Mudslide.  God this place has quite a racket going.

As you can imagine, we got home and collapsed, eating leftovers for lunch.  It began to rain, heavily at times, and we all lazed about.  We decided to try and find a restaurant to get take out from.  THIS was an issue.  Our hosts here had sent a long text message to us when we got here, detailing some restaurant recs.  When the #3 recommendation has given them and other guests GI issues in the past, that doesn’t say much about all of the restaurant choices.  Also repeatedly our hosts said things operate on “Cody time” and it just takes a while, and there has been significant issues with consistency and staffing over the years.  WELL.  This year was no different.  Armed with their recommendations, as well as some recommendations that the head guide on the rafting trip announced to all on the bus back, and TripAdvisor, it sounded like Michael’s Tacos was the least awful place to try.

Try again.  Matt called over and over and didn’t get an answer, so drove the 15 minutes into town.  He went in and ordered in a half empty restaurant, and they told him he could wait outside.  In the pouring rain (in all fairness, they did give him a buzzer and the bench was mostly covered).  The food was fine, it was pretty typical Mexican food.  Salsa was mediocre to not great.  Either way, we had eaten slushies earlier and didn’t care for the most part.

We cuddled up and everyone cozied up and watched the Olympics, as the rain came down.

Miles driven: negligible

Beer drank: more of those damn slushies

Day 8

Friday, July 30, 2021 – still in Cody, WY

For today, we made the operative decision to not go hiking (boo) and instead travel down south of here to Thermopolis.  This is a small town about 1.5 hours south of Cody that is the site of the largest mineral hot springs in the world, and has some neat stuff surrounding it.

Another awesome map.

We all straggled out of bed, and after, shockingly, the same breakfast as yesterday, we packed a cooler in the car and off we went!  The highway down to Thermopolis is just as boring as you would suspect, with sagebrush, scrub, and small hills and mountains.  Honestly, we were shocked there was a rest stop with flush toilets on the way.  Matt’s nemeses, the baby boomers in giant ass RVs pulling full sized trucks and jeeps, were out in full force, driving slowly along highway 120, sometimes even at 45 mph.  When the speed limit is 70. 

We pulled into Thermopolis, and headed for the Star Plunge.  This is something we found on TripAdvisor, and WOW did they deliver.  So it is a hot springs pool complex with a few water slides that has been around since 1900.  It was fantastic!  

Clearly their last remodeling update was in 1960. 

We had packed swimsuits, changed in the locker rooms, and off we were to enjoy the hot springs!  There was a large indoor area with a huge pool and hot tub and vapor room, as well as a several story slide that was terrifying (Blue Thunder).  Outside, there was another large pool and hot tub with medium high diving board and smaller slide.  There was another area with something called the Super Star 500 which was a STEEP hike uphill to a platform, then you slid down an enormous water slide with a mat.  

Large indoor area, very patriotic feeling.
B jumping off the diving board (note: no diving allowed), with his new friends he had just met watching.
Zoe was the first one of us to jump off. She is scared of nothing.
At the top of Blue Thunder – check out the non functioning TV monitor from 1986. After you slid down the slide, you pulled on a rope at the bottom, and the rope in this picture would move, signaling the next slider could go. Pretend the floor looks this way due to minerals crystallizing, and not because it is sketchy (it’s probably both).
The climb to the top of the Star Plunge 500, god forbid you would ever have to hike down it.
Great view from the top. The “lifeguard” up there was binging on sour airheads and mountain dew and would just say “go”, “go”, “go” with no particular pattern of when. B wants his job.
Noah demonstrating proper sliding with mat. At one point, B came down the slide without a mat, which had gotten stuck somehow high on the side of the slide, and multiple sliders couldn’t dislodge it.

We had SO much fun.  This place was GREAT – we spent about 3 hours here and easily could have been here all day.  The water temp was always toasty but not hot except in the hot tubs, and no significant lines to deal with.  There were plenty of people but not packed at all.  Weather was beautiful outside.  Yes, the lifeguards did look like prison convicts (per TripAdvisor review) but they were attentive and nice and did a great job!  Sarah and Noah saw a small child get rescued after he struggled coming off of Blue Thunder.  The most threatening convict (um, lifeguard) was concerned and checked in after Zoe bopped her head on a water slide.  Really, it was lovely.

Note: because they are hot spring fed pools, everything smells like sulfur.  I guess we don’t mention that part.  It’s kind of like hanging out in a pool at Yellowstone in the smelliest part of the park.  We were so desperate for water slides (it’s been > 1 year) that we could have been covered in radioactive waste and wouldn’t have cared.

We ate lunch in the park across the street, which turned out to be Hot Springs State Park (hence the largest spring in the world).  There is also the Wyoming State Bath House (scary sounding) that had pools similar to the one we had just been in, so no need to repeat.  We walked around a boardwalk there so Zoe would stop climbing on things.  There was a cool swinging suspension bridge that gave a great view of the hot springs dripping into a river below.  Beautiful!

View of the hot springs trickling into a river – lots of people in the river below. We were not putting on our swim suits again – that ship had sailed for the day.
Spring in town, very pretty.
Oh yes, thank you for the arrow, we would not have figured out that was where it was.

We packed up our stuff and headed back up north.  We then turned down a dirt road (complete with multiple cattle guards) and hit up Legend Rock Petroglyphs.  We were the only people there initially.  Matt took a picture of the car and was certain our tires would be slashed after we got back.  There was a box with a single pamphlet in it that helpfully had written on it: this is the last one, please order more.  So we took it and started on our hike, mindful of the rattlesnake signs.  

I don’t know if we saw any cameras except in the parking lot?

We hiked up to a rocky ridge and there was an interpretative trail – the brochure described all the different petroglyphs that were visible.  Some dated back to 10,000 BC.  Maybe.  We gave the brochure to the other car of people that showed up.  Either way, it was pretty incredible to think they survived for so long.  B’s favorite were the phallic looking people.  Of course.

See the guys at the top… yep. Made B’s day.
Very cool to think these have been here for thousands of years.
Trail along the rocks, no rattlers were sighted.

We then winded our way back up north toward Cody.  Sarah’s special hobby is to check in on celebrity gossip regarding various vacation locales.  Well, not really, but she specifically doesn’t care for the Kardashians, and Kanye used to be married to Kim but they are separated, BUT when they were together, Kanye bought a huge property in Cody.  WELL, it was pretty easy to find where it was.  Thanks, google!  Also someone dropped a pin in on the map and labeled it, and two locals gave it unfavorable reviews.  So Matt slowed down on the highway (not quite as slow as the RVs, though) and Sarah snapped a few pics.  Looks like Kanye abandoned the property despite some kind of wall that is being built with dirt to keep the peepers (ie, Sarah) out.  If he doesn’t want the property, we are interested!  (Matt: “we most certainly are not”).  Either way, it’s as close to a star as we are getting any time soon.

Kanye’s place – google up “Kanye West Lake”. Like if I had a bazillion dollars, I wouldn’t put my buildings so close to the highway.

We headed home after a quick grocery stop, and made up spaghetti and meatballs and had homemade ice cream chocolate chip cookie sandwiches too.  (YES, the hosts will make chocolate chip cookies for a fee here, but we can buy a tube of dough, eat half of it raw, and then stack some cookies together for ice cream for an even better treat!!).  We binged on the Olympics and relaxed the rest of the night (the one time every 4 years we become experts on every sport, including rugby and trampoline).

Miles driven: not a ton

Beer drank: premade bottled cocktails that were way too strong. Maybe we were dehydrated.

Day 9

Saturday, July 31, 2021 – Cody, WY (last day, finally)

We got to sleep in today and enjoyed a leisurely morning of the same damn breakfast we have had every other day.  Also, with berries.  We drifted about in our jammies watching the Olympics, as the kids cooked their brains on various electronic devices.

Our plan for the day was to do a hike along a river that was up to the Buffalo Bill Dam, visit the visitor center, and then hike back to our car.  Hike is a strong word for walking along a blocked off paved road, but let us pretend.  We happily motored to the start at the Hayden Arch bridge, and maneuvered into a mostly legal parking spot, and we were off!

Hayden Arches bridge – the start of “hiking” for the day.

We walked along the paved road, which had a nice drop off to the river rushing below – the Shoshone River had a beautiful green-blue color to it – we saw plenty of fly fisherman at the start.  It was a pretty exposed trail, and the sun did beat down.  We descended into the valley/gorge with towering rock wall on our right, and the river and rock walls on the left.  We did see metal holds for rock climbing drilled into the cliffs, which was cool – then saw a climber high above the river drilling in new holds as well!  Very cool. 

Shoshone River flowing through the canyon.
It may have been a road near the river, but it was still a pretty hike.

We then came to a fork in the road – the dam was clearly visible in front of us, and the lower trail seemed to lead near the river and the upper trail appeared to climb up and toward the visitor center.  We had hauled along our damn passports and money and were ready for the visitor center, so up we went.  To be met with a closed and locked gate at the visitor center.  So we turned around, no one really caring except for Zoe, who desperately wanted a stuffed animal, and Sarah who desperately needed to pee.  We made our way down and took the fork to go back towards the dam near the river.  There appeared to an area hidden by a rocky cliff where Sarah could pee, without all the visitors at the visitor center and those on the dam walkway and the other hikers would not see her.  Well, we hope so.

WTF, AllTrails app,  YOU SUCK.  Theoretically, we could have shimmied under the gate, but we do not screw with govt entities.
Guess you don’t get a cool dam view if you don’t do the hike…(said to make ourselves feel better)

We continued on, enjoying a nice day and seeing plenty of others out.  We made it back to the car and drove to the visitor’s center and the top of the dam.  It was pretty cool!  We enjoyed reading the history, getting passport stamps, being crammed into a tiny center with a bunch of strangers from all over during a pandemic, and of course, purchasing a tiny jackalope for Zoe.

When you have so many stuffed animals that you need to start purchasing imaginary animals to keep feeding your habit.

We headed back to Cody, stopped through the drive through liquor store and ponied up $10 more for two more slushes (hello key lime pie and watermelon) (hello we have a problem) and headed back to the house to rest and start packing.  

We decided instead of Arby’s (note: Matt really wanted this, but also wanted to support a local business) we would try something else.  Highly rated was the restaurant in the Best Western Premier (sadly we are not lying, Cody kind of sucks), but they were not doing to go orders.  So we tried the Meatery and got burgers, which were adequate.  The staff was not rude, we didn’t have to wait 1-2 hours, and we got mostly what we ordered.  The fries were a big hit at least!  The standards for restaurant food are quite low, despite the cutest main street full of awesome looking eateries here.

Sarah made more of her patented chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches for the kids, then after they went to bed, we ate all the leftover cookie dough ourselves lol.  That’s right, kids, who are reading this.  And it was delicious!!!  

Idea totally not stolen from DQ chipper sandwiches™, we promise.

Miles driven: negligible again

Beer drank: more slushies

Tomorrow? On the road again – to South Dakota, baby!

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