Day 7 – July 6, 2018 – Friday – Gardiner, MT and BOTG
We all stayed up a bit too late in our cozy cabin last night, and decided today would be a lazy day. Well, relatively. We had a hearty breakfast of cereal, and loaded up the car for treasure hunting!! So, the scoop is that a millionaire named Forrest Fenn hid a treasure chest full of gold nuggets and jewelry in the Rocky Mountains TEN years ago (worth 2-4 million dollars!), and there is a poem that contains all the clues needed to find it. You can buy the book the poem is in, but eh. We lazy.
Several people have died looking for it, which piqued Sarah’s interest last year when it was in the news. Also, there is a subreddit devoted to this on Reddit, and Sarah spends a fair amount of time reading through “solves” that people have figured out. When you go out looking for it, not just figuring out where it is on maps – it is called BOTG – or “boots on the ground”. That’s us today!
Our solve takes us down the Yellowstone River to Tom Miner Creek Road, and up the road to a petrified forest that is part of the Gallatin National Forest (if you would like to know precisely how our solve came about, contact Sarah – she really really likes this kind of stuff). There is a hike there to some cool petrified forest features, and that is where Sarah was convinced it was. Because every crazy person is convinced their solve is the right one.
Anyway, we convinced the kids (who are kind of aware of our treasure hunt) that collecting petrified wood would be cool, and we obtained our permit from a forest ranger in Gardiner to “collect 20 cubic cm in this calendar year”. Matt had to sign something for this. And we bought fresh bear spray as we weren’t sure if it expires. Because when you are being attacked by a grizzly, you don’t want to find out it actually does expire. (We found out from the ranger that the spray doesn’t expire, but the propellant does. So it just won’t go very far. Yeah, time for new stuff).
Anyway, down the canyon we went, found our road called Tom Miner Creek Road, and drove up it. Gravel road which alternated between one and two lanes and lots of curves and hills. TOTALLY gorgeous but wow, there ain’t nothing up there but meadows and ranches and mountains. We pulled into the campground which is where the trailhead was. There was a campground host, and another couple camping who waved us down. And no one else. The couple wanted to tell us that there was a grizzly and a black bear in the area and yesterday multiple hikers had to leave the trail as the bears were lurking closely. Meanwhile, the campground host told us they thought we would be fine. We walked past the friendly elderly couple again who regaled us with grizzly stories and told us this area had the largest density of them you could ever expect to be seen, and told us at the fancy ranch we had passed that some woman got mauled there when out for her fancy morning walk. We don’t think they were dissuading us from hiking, just REALLY excited to talk about grizzly attacks. Also, we are not sure they had seen anyone else besides the campground host in a long time.
We embarked on the trail, and started making noise. Plan was to hike the 2 mile interpretative trail that has plaques, and be back within 1-2 hours. THUS begins the descent (ascent) into hell. We saw the first plaque that is labeled “treasures” – how can the treasure NOT be on this trail? Matt hiked around the dry river bed and turned over some rocks and nothing. Continued on…
The views were stunning, of wildflower filled meadows and snow covered peaks. Too bad we were terrified of the grizzly potential. Then the switchbacks started. The trail was very narrow, and as we ascended steeply to the top (Zoe was riding on Matt’s shoulders, partially because she refused to hike and partially because the trail was dicey) the dirt gave way to dry crumbly sand. Damn petrified forest soil! At one point it was steep enough and part of the trail was washed out enough that Sarah scooted along on her butt. But she’s a wuss.
We got to the top of the trail and the views were amazing. At the top, there were rock formations made of petrified wood and rock, and caves in them. The only other hikers we saw were at the top, and they warned us about continuing past the caves, as the trail was totally washed out as you rounded a corner. Well then, guess we were done. After they left, Matt crawled into a bunch of caves (way too small to stand up in – he wins the awesome award today) and found what looked like a blaze (white streak on cave wall) but dug around and moved rocks and no treasure. Oh well!
By this point we were hot and starving and kind of falling a lot. No longer were we terrified of grizzly bears, because they would have put us out of our misery. The trail going down was…. Stumble inducing. One wrong step and you would have been tumbling down hundreds of feet. Perhaps not our best move for a day hike with kids, but so pretty! We stopped in several dried creek beds, and kids and us collected pieces of petrified wood (no more than 20 cubic cm). We finally got back to the trailhead, passing another hiking group containing a man with a huge revolver strapped across the front of his chest (Matt: Sarah is not exaggerating this time). Like, why? What does he think he could possibly kill in nature with that? People? Like say, people hauling a 40 pound treasure chest off a trail? Yes. We are glad we didn’t find it (today), as that man would have likely killed us and taken it. Not finding the treasure saved our lives today. (We will just keep telling ourselves that.)
Off to home and a delicious dinner/lunch (yeah, that trail took a BIT more than 2 hours) – kids had hot dogs and Matt and Sarah had couscous and baked chicken and salad. We’ve eaten too much crap and needed something decent. Now THAT’s vacation!
An evening of relaxation and on to geysers tomorrow (then more treasure hunting later, hehe)…
ADDENDUM: Noah did read this entry and couldn’t believe we didn’t go up on the trail for the exclusive purpose of collecting petrified wood. He then admitted he knew about our solve, but still really thought we went up there to collect wood. Our ruse worked! Also, we googled grizzly man’s stories and they all check out – Tom Miner Basin has the highest concentration of grizzlies in the lower 48 states. Well, good to know. AFTER we already hiked in it.
Beer of the day: Scepter IPA – Draught Works, Missoula, MT
Miles driven: negligible but scary 1 lane dirt road
Day 8 – July 7, 2018 – Saturday – Gardiner, MT still
Today was our day to hit some of the hot springs we had missed 2 years ago. We figured it would be crazy busy given it was a Saturday and early July, so we hauled ourselves up early and left around 7 am. Props to Matt for packing the cooler – and don’t you forget it, the car fairy has been appearing most days! He rocks.
We tooled our way up to Gardiner to enter through the Roosevelt Arch.
The ranger lady who let us in to the park today scrutinized Matt’s license and was like, where are you from? He said, “um Wisconsin”? She says, I mean your name, Kolinski? When he said he was Polish, she got super excited and said she was Czech. Sarah leans over and chirps, “I’m Bohemian” and the lady got so excited she started talking in Czech. She needs to make her way over to Wisconsin to hang out with her people, because clearly she’s not seeing enough Eastern Europeans out here. We loved it!
And off we went! The plan was to hit Midway Geyser Basin, named because it is between the Lower and Upper Geyser Basins. Very original. The largest hot spring in the United States is located there, called the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring; it is the third largest in the world. Sarah remembers it being advertised as being very colorful and through some googling, found that a not very well advertised overlook for that spring had been built off of a hiking trail called Fairy Falls last year. We love our Yellowstone, but the free maps they hand out are shit, FYI. Almost no trailheads/hiking trails are listed, and most named turn outs are not on there. Based on cobbling together some tripadvisor reviews, we thought the hiking trail was NORTH of the Basin parking.
We saw a billion people pulled over to the side of the road despite it being “should be asleep” o’clock and thus we pulled over too. Turns out it was for the entire Midway Basin, not the trail. DAMMIT. We walked through the Basin on the boardwalks and it really is gorgeous. The neat thing about the drive and the hot springs was that it was still a bit “chilly” (60 degrees) so the plumes of steam were amazing! It was crowded – mostly European and Asian tourists it felt like. All of them fulfilled every stereotype, and we are sure we did for them.
We then motored away and found the Fairy Falls trailhead SOUTH of the Basin (stupid useless maps) which was a ZOO. For not being advertised anywhere, it clearly was a known entity (despite being built last year). We circled the lot twice and miraculously got a spot and hiked in. Zoe toted along a Frozen book that auto-plays Let It Go and read it on top of Matt’s head as he carried her on his shoulders, playing it repeatedly. We went up to the overlook (which is a 1-2 mile round trip we guess?) and the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring was seriously amazing. It was worth the annoyance to get parking and get up there. Very beautiful.
Following this, we didn’t really know what to do. Our entire plan was to get to that hot spring. So we picnicked in a random picnic area and used the bathroom a billion times. For anyone not in the know, it is all pit toilets in the Park unless you are in a Visitor Center/store. They are pretty decent as far as pit toilets go (the contents are REALLY far down). We’ve all been fine with this, except Sarah has to go in with and hold Zoe as she is pretty skinny and we fear she would just fall down into the toilet. Anyway, this particular picnic area had a toilet with a menacing large ant living at the base of it – Z refused to pee with the ant lurking nearby. So we went and ate and went back to it, and Sarah said, hey look, it’s gone! We opened the lid up, the giant ant is running on the toilet seat and a swarm of flies comes out of the toilet. Zoe’s screams could be heard for miles.
So anyway, we drove to Grant Village and had ourselves some ice cream. We now know there are tiers of ice cream and we have reached the top. There’s a scoop; there’s a Scoopers (Waupaca) scoop; and there’s the Grant Village scoop. They actually weigh your cup to make sure they are putting in enough. Zoe got a “double scoop” of ice cream in a sundae and it was 6-7 scoops. She told the lady “that’s enough!” as she continued to weigh and scoop. This entire trip Z has whined “I’m hungry” continuously. We didn’t hear a peep out of her after that ice cream. Which she basically ate all of. Matt got a huckleberry float, B and Noah got root beer floats, and Sarah was boring and got a scoop (4 scoops) of Moose tracks.
We then drove over to West Thumb Geyser area – this was one of our favorite places last time we were here, and it didn’t disappoint us this time. The hot springs were beautiful and some of the pools including the Abyss Pool are among our favorites, and they are along the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Braden also saw a snake for the first time in the wild (yeah, we can’t believe that either), and was fascinated. Bad news: the snake was hanging around on the shores of the lake near a hot spring and moving verrrry slowly. Definitely mostly alive though. The foreign tourists thought that it was pretty awesome.
We then motored back through the park, taking in the sights. We drove down Firehole Canyon Road to see the falls – apparently all the normal swimming spots on the Firehole River are closed due to high water.
We ordered up some pizza from Yellowstone Pizza Company (margherita for Sarah and elk for Matt). Yum! And off to bed after staring at the Yellowstone River for a while…. And after scouring maps of the park for potential treasure hunting spots.
Beer of the day: First Cast IPA – Elevation Beer Company, Poncha Springs, CO
Miles driven: negligible as in the Park, but still super annoying
Day 9 – July 8, 2018 – Sunday – still in Gardiner, MT
Today began lazily – we all slept in and laid around in our pajamas, the kids gorging on electronics, Matt and Sarah on coffee. We spent the morning laughing at the boaters and rafters on the Yellowstone River who were struggling with the high currents and going sideways. Nature’s entertainment. Sarah lazily checked her online sources for new treasure hunt clues, and replied to someone’s post on Reddit about it and mentioned where her solve was. Before she knew it, she had made friends with several people who agreed with her where we thought it was, and was getting ideas for new hiking spots. It was the BEST.
Either way, no one had any interest in doing anything except for Noah, who wanted to see Old Faithful. Really?? We thought we made a pact as a family never to drive down that god awful road between Gardiner and Old Faithful in the Park ever again. Sigh. We all finally got dressed and hauled ourselves into the car for the drive there. It may say 50 miles on the sign, but it takes like 2 hours to get there. It is so painful. Meanwhile, the car fairy brought everyone travel sized spirographs (remember those?!?) that only work if you aren’t doing them as your car goes down a bumpy gravel road. And they don’t work great with colored pencils. It was a wonderful start to our cranky journey.
We arrived at Old Faithful and it was just as awful as Sarah remembers from 2 years ago. And from when she was 9 years old. It is the worst place in the entire world. It takes every annoying tourist (us included!) who thinks they need to see a geyser (even thought it isn’t the biggest or most regular geyser (Matt: “it is the most regular big geyser”)) and crowds them into a small area every 90 minutes when it is 90 degrees outside, but worse because there’s all these hot springs and geysers making it hotter and more humid. All families are yelling at each other. Because no one wants to be there (but feels obligated to be there, because Old Faithful).
So we get ice cream and we only take 5 napkins down to the geyser seating area and the waffle cones aren’t adequate to stop the dripping, which is accelerated by the heat from the geysers and hot springs. It was just great. Plus side of today: flush toilets. And adequate parking because the parking lot for the geyser is enough for a mid sized college football stadium.
After the glorious eruption (and getting the all important passports stamped), we piled back in the car for the long drive back. We stopped in Gardiner at the Corral restaurant, which we had eaten at two years ago. They really had classed up the joint – still outside ordering, but nice chairs and fancy plates. The shabby little children’s playground filled with unsupervised children was still there, which of course Zoe wanted to play in after not eating her dinner. Sarah was surrounded by children saying “mama??” and “empuja?” on the swings. She was all, ask your own mama. The hot dogs were actually a foot long and the burger and pork sandwich were decent!
Home we motored. What a day. Sarah spent the night educating the kids on binoculars… There was a herd of 30 elk that would slowly move down the hill across the river and road each night. So beautiful. Sarah spends a lot of time scanning the hillside, and thought she even saw something glinting in the sunlight on the other side of the river on the cliff that banks the Yellowstone River, but couldn’t quite see what it was. Oh well. Time to clean up and get ready for the drive to Bozeman tomorrow! And maybe more treasure hunting?? (Matt: We will see about that)
Beer of the day: Melvin IPA – Melvin Brewing, Alpine, WY
Miles driven: not many, but all painful and Old Faithful related