Tag Archives: roadtrip

GAR: Day Fifteen – West Yellowstone MT

This was a planned goof-off day. We started the day with some breakfast — blueberry pancakes! — and wandered about West Yellowstone, looking for souvenirs and gifts.

Today was the hottest day of our stay, and with no wind, the apparent state bird of Montana — mosquitoes — came out in droves. I have never seen so many, so large skeeters in my life. I truly believe that an unaccompanied child could be carried away by these swarms!

Becky and Sio decided to take in some local entertainment tonight, and saw a production of Hello Dolly at The Playmill. The Playmill is a tiny theatre in West Yellowstone, probably seating a couple hundred patrons, named after the windmill on the front of the building. Beck and Sio both seemed to enjoy the show. Me? I stayed “home” and packed, getting us ready for tomorrow!

GAR: Day Fourteen – Yellowstone NP

After yesterday’s wonderful day in the park, I figured there couldn’t be much that could be improved upon. I believe I was wrong!

We started the day doing laundry. Hooray! 🙂 Not exciting, but an essential part of a trip like this. We each packed enough clothes to keep the laundry work to a minimum, shooting for two laundry days.

Since we’re in West Yellowstone MT, there’s only one way to conveniently get into the park, and once you’ve entered, it’s the same 14 miles every time. And after a full day in the park yesterday, we felt like old pros, not necessarily needing to stop for every bison on the side of the road. 🙂 Our goal today was to get to the northeast part of the park, eventually getting to the Lamar Valley.

We made our way to the Canyon Lodge for a little lunch. It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we’d gotten to the lodge, so the lines were non-existent, but I really get the sense that this part of the park isn’t quite as well-traveled as some of the other parts we visited yesterday. It was nice to see fewer crowds and quieter roads in parts of the park.

While at Canyon Lodge, Darla signed us up with the Yellowstone Association. This group devotes most of the money they bring in to the preservation of Yellowstone, and education of folks about Yellowstone and its beauty. I can’t help but support folks with these goals in mind — were it not for organizations like this, I wouldn’t have places like Yellowstone, Yosemite and others to inspire me and take my breath away.

Another feature of Yellowstone that I’d heard a ton about was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This is a mammoth gorge carved out by the Yellowstone River, visually not unlike the Grand Canyon in Arizona. At one end of the gorge is the Lower Falls, and from Artist Point, you can stare right down the gorge into the falls, probably half-a-mile away. This place was crowded, with every photographic tour stopping to get this classic view of Yellowstone in their cameras. A little patience though, and I was able to get my tripod set up and focus on the beauty of this waterfall. This is definitely a place I will visit again, hiking around as much as I can so I can really take it all in.

We’d heard about the Lamar Valley since we arrived at Yellowstone, and it’s being dubbed the Serengeti of Yellowstone. It is a beautiful area — a long way from West Yellowstone, maybe three hours northeast — full of lush vegetation, streams and rivers, and all the wildlife you could possibly want to see. We saw loads of pronghorns, but more importantly, herds and herds of bison.

Any text talking about the Old West will talk about how the plains were black with bison before man nearly eradicated them. While I’m sure our sightings were nowhere close to those described long ago, but it was exciting to us to see these large herds, thriving on the plains. Sio was trying to count them all, and there were easily hundreds of bison visible in the valley. It was a sight to see.

We drove through a lot of the northeastern part of the upper loop of the park through the afternoon, heading toward Mammoth Hot Springs. As we’d heard a ton, just look for the traffic jam, and that’s where the animals are. As we continued around the loop, we came to a dead stop to see…. a black bear! The bear was coming up the hill toward the passenger side of the Jeep, and looked like he was on an intersect course for our vehicle. Becky and Sio got a great view of him before the park rangers started breaking up the traffic jam, and encouraged us to move along. Dunno if the bear would’ve come up to the Jeep or not, but it was one of the more exciting moments of the trip.

We finally got to the Fort Yellowstone/Mammoth Hot Springs area, but we didn’t really stop. This is a living quarters area for folks who run the park, and although there is a visitor center here, we arrived too late to visit it. The Mammoth Hot Springs is a giant, oozing hot spring, towering over any other volcanic-related feature we’ve seen. You can climb it (via boardwalks and stairs), but it was a lot of stairs, and it was too late in the day for us. We did do a “drive-through” on a path that went around the big springs, but it was just gawking for us — no hiking by this point of the day!

With darkness encroaching, we continued our drive toward West Yellowstone… only to see another black bear! This little guy was ambling through the forest, moving away from us, but that didn’t stop a dozen or more cars from pulling over, getting out, and gawking.

After our second bear encounter, we pointed toward West Yellowstone, and despite the late hour we got back to West Yellowstone, the crazy sun was still up… I just can’t get used to how late the sun is up out here!

GAR: Day Twelve – East Glacier MT to West Yellowstone MT (375mi)

This morning, we started with breakfast at the Whistle Stop. We’d had two very nice dinners there, and the menu advertised the best french toast in the world. French toast is one of Beck’s favorites, so we had to try it. I’d say they lived up to their billing. I won’t spill any secrets about it, but it was the biggest and best french toast I’ve ever seen. Add to that the atmosphere. We were waited on by a self-proclaimed “crazy Polish guy” who was in East Glacier because he had a flat tire, and never left. He was an amazing waiter and knew his stuff!

We let the GPS lead us toward West Yellowstone through all kinds of Montana highways. As we got an hour or so away from West Yellowstone, we began to see ominous storm clouds roiling over the mountains with massive rain shafts. We could see the rain pouring around us, but were fortunate enough to only get a few sprinkles. The image of the clouds against the mountains was really amazing, and I’m sure the photos we grabbed of the event won’t do it justice.

West Yellowstone is a lot busier than East Glacier was. There’s a couple of big main streets of shopping and Yellowstone-related stuff (tours, etc.), and loads of folks running around. Beck lined us up four nights at Al’s Westward Ho, and as we’ve discovered, we could walk right into the park entrance from here. I’m very surprised and pleased with how close we are to the park.

Tomorrow, we head into the park, and begin our exploration of Yellowstone…

GAR: Day Eleven – Glacier NP

Today was a down day for us, tying up loose ends, and doing some journeying on our own. After sleeping in a bit, followed by a big breakfast, we set out for West Glacier MT, and the other side of the park. Obviously, we woulda preferred to do this over the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but with it close, the only path was Highway 2 around the southern rim of Glacier NP — about 55mi.

On the west side, we stopped in Apgar Village, got some directions, and looked around. Generally, everyone we talked to said that Lake McDonald was the place to visit, so we drove up to the lodge there, and arranged for a boat tour around the lake. It’s the biggest lake in the park, about 10mi long and 1.5mi wide, and was gorgeous. Our boat, the DeSmet, chugged about 80 of us around the lake for an hour. We had one of the park guides tell us loads about the lake, and stories about the people who live there. It was a fantastic tour, and a great way to spend the early afternoon.

Once arriving back on dry land, we souvenir shopped, ate some lunch, and made the big drive back to our lodge. We had packing to do, and basically wanted to wind down and relax, given tomorrow’s drive to Yellowstone.

So Beck asked if we’d come back again. I’d be back in a second! She asked what we’d do. For me, it was hiking and photographing, and probably doing all that in winter. 🙂 For her, it was fishing and painting. And for Sio, it was sitting on a porch someplace, reading a book.

Glacier has been so good and so relaxing. I’ve slept like I haven’t slept in a very long time, and I’ve been inspired like never before. This was a great place to visit, and I’ve got to figure out how to get back up here.

Tomorrow: Yellowstone!

GAR: Day Ten – Glacier NP

We spent most of the day on the Red Bus, touring around the eastern part of Glacier National Park. With the Going-to-the-Sun Road still closed, that left the typically cross-park tours only servicing one half of the park or the other. Come 9am, we were on the bus and cruising with our “jammer”, Stan.

As I understand it, the drivers are called jammers because in the old days, the vehicles shifted badly, and the drivers were jamming the gears. Now, the red busses are automatics, with 5.4L V8s, running on propane. Big difference from the old days, I suppose.

With the big snow here last week, the streams are like rivers. Everywhere you looked, there was water running off from on high. Even at the lodge, you can hear the rushing waters non-stop.

We dropped the top on the bus mid-morning, and enjoyed the see through roof. It was like being in my Jeep, only in a longer format! We traveled to Two Falls, and enjoyed watching the pair of falls. Stan told us that the upper fall would be dried up by July — I guess it’s mostly from run off.

One of our stops was Many Glacier Lodge. This place had a beautiful view of Two Medicine Lake, which was surrounded on one end my mountains. The lodge was built like a Swiss chalet, and really had a European feel to it. We ate lunch there, and moved on.

We did get to look at a glacier — Jackson Glacier. We were told that there are less than 20 glaciers left in the park. In the 1800s there were over a hundred. Most of the drivers and folks we’ve talked to seem to think this is just part of a cyclical pattern. Myself, well, I think I believe something else!

After eight hours on the road, we returned to our lodge, exhausted, and ready for dinner and sleep…

GAR: Day Nine – Spokane WA to East Glacier MT (375mi)

Today’s trek took us from our stop in Spokane to Glacier, driving across the upper part of Idaho, and into Montana. The upper part of Idaho wasn’t nearly as impressive as I thought it would be — not exactly as bland as Napoleon Dynamite portrayed Idaho, but more bland than I expected. And then we crossed into Montana.


I can honestly say that I’ve never seen such amazing natural beauty as we saw in Montana today. This place is special, and boy does the landscape speak to me. We drove alongside Flathead Lake, stopping here and there for lunch and gas, and it just never got any less beautiful. We traversed the state highways, making our way toward Glacier, and the farther we drove, the more the mountains came into view. They were… are… beautiful, still with snowtops.

We arrived at the lodge, which was built in the early 1900s, and it had a quaint charm about it. No elevators, bellhops, folks opening doors for you, no TV, barely any connectivity through my Sprint card…. it’s well off the beaten path. As someone here said, they don’t believe in upgrades.

And about that snow… The Going-to-the-Sun road didn’t open on the 12th. Seems that there was a snowstorm that dumped six inches of snow at the lodge location just a few days ago. That’s about 4000′ lower than the pass through the mountains. Right now, they’re expecting the road to open no earlier than July. Now that’s some snow.

We made arrangements tonight to ride one of the Red Bus tours tomorrow. That should be a blast!

GAR: Day Eight – Salem OR to Spokane WA (409mi)

After such a late night last night, we slept in a bit this morning. Today was a big day. Today we crossed 3000 miles on the journey, and we stopped pushing north, and began pushing east.

Our travel today was pretty uneventful, again watching the landscape slowly change from the big forests of the western inland part of Oregon to the unexpectedly scruffy prairie of eastern Washington, and then change again to the green colors that I expected from eastern Washington as we approached Spokane.

The highlight for today was visiting Multnomah Falls just outside Portland. This is a huge waterfall, filling the air with spray from its cold water. You can even hike to the top… we elected to only go as far as the bridge 60 feet or so up, which was plenty wet enough for us! The falls were really beautiful, and I coulda spent hours standing there watching the sun move across the spray. An hour with the falls was all we had time for though, so eastward we plunged.

Around lunchtime, we stopped in Cascade Locks at the Charburger Restaurant. I like going to “flavor of the area” joints, and this was definitely a good one. The whole place was decked out in western iron goods — brands, spurs, etc. — with plenty of room for tons of folks to eat. We were there a little after the lunch rush, so we got right in. I had a big ol’ half-pound BBQ-bacon-cheeseburger, with some onion rings and fries. This was just about the best hamburger I’d had in a long, long time. I dolled it up with some mayo, mustard, lettuce, pickle relish, pickles, and tomatoes for the what tasted like the perfect burger. If you’re on I-84 and looking for lunch, stop at the Charburger!

We continued driving northeast through eastern Washington’s farming areas, and stopped for some fresh cherries and strawberries. Man, there’s nothing like fruit straight from the field!

Washington’s greeted us with open arms, and tomorrow’s drive brings a short pass through Idaho before landing at Glacier National Park for three nights, followed by four nights at Yellowstone National Park. I have no idea what the connectivity will be like from either of those places, so things may be quiet on the Deauxmayne for the next week or so….

GAR: Day Seven – Eureka CA to Salem OR (386mi)

This morning, it was early to rise, and off toward Oregon. Our first stop was the Redwood National and State Park.

We got to the Kuchel Visitor Center right as it opened, and started asking questions about what to do in the park. We were pointed to Elk Meadow, and true to its name, we saw a dozen elk feasting in the meadow. They were beautiful to see in their natural habitat. Of course, we have these at Lone Elk SP at home, but the addition of the vistas in the park made viewing them spectacular.

Having been told by the rangers about Davison Road, we headed up it to Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon. However, before heading up the dirt/gravel road, we took the front tops off, and set off through the dense forest. The road was clear, but canopied with the tallest trees I’ve ever seen, with ferns of all types covering the forest floor. This place was green, green, green, and beautiful to drive through, especially with the tops off. We could look skyward — right through the missing roof — and enjoy the majesty of these giant trees.

Once we cleared the big hill, we descended to the beach, where we found a couple of large elk. I’ve never thought about elk being near the beach, but in this environment, that must be pretty normal. The beach was beautiful to drive along. As we continued down the path, there were a couple of small stream crossings… the Jeep finally had its toes in the water! Nothing deep, but fun nonetheless. Darla even got out and shot its first crossing.

Once we got to the end of the trail, we came to a walking trail into Fern Canyon. This canyon was mammoth, with walls that were more than thirty feet tall, and covered from top to bottom in ferns, with a small creek running in the bottom of the canyon. The rangers told us that some of this area was used to film one of the Jurassic Park films — the second one, I believe — and I could certainly see how that could be. This area looked prehistoric, and you could imagine a velociraptor cruising down the canyon pretty easily.

We doubled back, and continued north on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. This is the old road through the park, and was lined with giant redwoods on either side, with plenty of turnouts to stop and enjoy them. After that drive, we had ended up spending just under four hours in the park, with the biggest part of the day’s drive ahead of us.

We continued up toward Crescent City, and found a little turnout next to a beach covered in rich, black sand. This little cove had loads of dark rocks jutting from the water, and I’m sure the wearing of those rocks by the waves created the sand we walked on. It was here that Sio finally got to dip her toes in the Pacific Ocean… it was cold! We played on the beach for a while, and continued on up the beach.

Once we got to Crescent City, we stopped on the shore, and ate at a little place called The Chart House Restaurant. This was a classic seaside dive — you could almost imagine the fisherman coming here to celebrate their catch. Their claim to fame was a beer battered fish, and it really lived up the billing. Really, really tasty and light. I could’ve eaten two orders easily!

On up the coast we went, crossing from California to Oregon, watching the redwoods dwindle, and the landscape change as we moved inland. We finally got to Salem — late — did our laundry, and crashed … late.

GAR: Day Six – Half Moon Bay CA to Eureka CA (356mi)

Teased by the mileage and GPS as being a short driving day, we moseyed around this morning, getting our fill of free breakfast from the Comfort Inn (the chain we’ve elected to try to favor during the trip), and reloaded the Jeep. A week of only pulling/replacing a few items at a time had made for a very unruly interior. With Sio’s stuff all over the backseat, it looked like a teenager exploded back there. A reload was definitely in order!

Part of that timing was around the Apple Company Store at Apple HQ, which opened at 10am. We arrived a little early, but found the doors open, and started wandering about inside. Generally, the hardware/software choices were the same as what was available at other Apple Stores — and the same price! — but half the store was devoted to trinkets…. hats, shirts, cups, pens, pencils, pocketknives. The three of us frolicked in the aisles for almost an hour before finally landing on a basketfull of goodies. A few photos, and we were on our way.

As we left San Francisco, we crossed the Golden Gate bridge. This was a cool trek! I was really surprised at how much pedestrian traffic there was. It seemed like the pedestrian walkway was stuffed with walkers, skateboarders, and cyclists. It was a great way to cap our stay in San Francisco.

The drive through the interior of California on US 101 was pleasant, although uneventful. However, in Petaluma, we did eat at our first In-N-Out Burger. This is a western chain I’d heard of, but never nibbled at. Essentially, it’s a fast paced, short menued hamburger joint with pretty good food.

Also in Petaluma, while refueling, I had a couple of folks asking about the Jeep. One of them had never seen an Unlimited, which was a surprise to me. After some good conversation, we continued on up the road.

After a little more driving, we saw a sign for a drive-through tree. We figured we had to take a look. As it ends up, that was a very, very cool deal. In the bottom of a giant redwood, a 6′ x 6′ 9″ square was carved out, just big enough to drive a vehicle through. Guess how big the Jeep is? About an inch shy of those dimensions all the way around! It was a neat experience, and I’m glad we took the new Jeep through it.

We saw tons of motorcycles today. From what the folks at the drive-through tree told us, there was a big biker party going on about 70 miles south of Eureka. Seems like that’s about when we started seeing fewer in the rear view mirror, and more in the oncoming lanes. Fun to see all the bikes, but they sure must’ve had a big ol’ place to gather so many folks!

We jaunted the rest of the way to Eureka, found our hotel, and slept well after hitting the hay!