Our Highlights: Utah, Grand Tetons, Wyoming, and Yellowstone, especially Old Faithful and the Upper and Lower Falls.
We had programmed “day of rest” into our itinerary, but most of them turned out to be half a day of rest. This time, however, having crawled into our RV Park after 5:00 p.m., we needed a full day of rest and we took it. After a leisurely wake-up with no alarm, we dawdled at breakfast, then did our laundry at the RV Park’s Laundromat. Small but inviting, we took our Nooks, filled up a few machines with dozens of quarters, and sat down to catch up on the New York Times. Funny, the world hasn’t changed much since we last got a chance to read the news. Still wars, dysfunction, poverty, and natural catastrophes. Once again we realized how fortunate we are to be traveling together in good health and good circumstances. Even doing laundry feels like a rest.
Laundry washed, dried, folded and put away, we took a cab into Moab where we found “the best Reuben I’ve ever eaten” for Allie and a marvelous chicken salad sandwich for me. This was gourmet food for us and I still remember the little deli and the charming waitress. Shopping was a disappointment, however, for I was looking for Native American crafts, and the closest we found were “made in India”. But the food market was excellent, we are once again stocked up with fresh produce as well as Lactaid milk, not always available on the road.
Then back to the Sabel (our Unity) and the lounge chairs, and as you can see from the pictures we reveled in the beauty of the mountains and the wind blowing through the trees. It was a perfect day of R&R in preparation for our long trip the next day to Grand Teton, Wyoming. I continue to marvel at the scope and magnitude of our country and can even begin to understand how different the mentality and politics are in these wide-open spaces, compared with the density of our New England heritage. Bostonians transplanted to Florida, we had a coastal mentality, thinking the U.S.A. consisted of two coasts with not much in between. Not so. There is a whole lot in between, much of it magnificent. Utah is particularly spectacular with its weather, its scenery, its lovely RV parks, and its friendly people.
As planned, it was a very long day en route to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. As we get more experienced on the road, we have begun rethinking these very long days. We decided that we are not punching a time clock, so Allie sat down with his maps, his books and his GPS and rerouted us to make each day shorter. This involved changing reservations, not always easy on a cell phone in the wild, but we got it done.
The topography changes as you drive through Wyoming, with fields of light green, flat-topped mountains circling the horizon on one side and Utah’s red-rocked peaks on the other. Forests are dense with spruce, fir and pine. We pass vast ranches, miles of snow fence, the J.C. Penney mother store of 1902 in Kemmerer, salt licks, dunes, sculpted foothills, and a peek at La Barge, population 431, with a motel, a bar, gas station, a post office and a well service company. The Grand Tetons appear in the distance, and grand they are. Snow frosted at their peaks and down the sides, they glow in the sunlight, changing their positions as we continue driving. The Bridger-Teton National Forest rises up just as we reach Jackson Hole and we arrive. Too tired to begin sightseeing, we found our way to the Grand Teton RV Resort, which is neither grand nor a resort, but we had a place to park, plug in, lock up, eat, and go to bed.
As we headed to Yellowstone the next day we found we had to go through Grand Teton Park to get there, so it worked out perfectly. We crossed the Continental Divide several times, experiencing altitudes of 7,988 feet and 8,391 feet. We hummed along through Yellowstone, admiring the forest, which stands, proud and tall in spite of recent forest fires. New growth sprouts right beside as the forest renews itself. I missed a turn and we found ourselves, not on the way to Fishing Bridge RV Park, our stop for three nights, but instead at Old Faithful which was to erupt in 20 minutes. We stayed and watched and it was wonderful.
We got back on the road to our RV Park, where we settled in quickly. We were fortunate to get reservations there, the only RV Park in Yellowstone. It’s gorgeous, looks like camp, and is surely isolated, with woods so tall that we see only our next-door neighbors in their RV’s, not the whole 370 RVs that are in the Park. No cell phone, no WiFi, no store unless you want to walk half a mile, but it does have laundry facilities and showers. Tonight we’re going on a tour of Lake Yellowstone by bus, and tomorrow we take a circle tour of the Lower Basin. The temperature is 34 degrees; altitude 7,000 feet. Patches of snow dotted the forest floor, and nippy noses are were the rage.
When we arrived we took a Yellowstone “bus” tour of Yellowstone Lake. It was a 1936 “Woodie” with a cloth top, and a very nice guide, but he wasn’t really knowledgeable and the trip was boring, boring. We were saved from complete boredom by a ride up a very steep cliff where a piece of the road had fallen down into the cavern and we had to go single file through the remaining road. Exciting, especially since Allie wasn’t driving. Then, to make sure we had a really good time, it began to hail, then rain. Being in a “Woodie” with a cloth top made the wind howl louder and the rain land harder, so it was fun. The best part was that the lovely man drove us right to the Sabel instead of dropping us at the Office. There are some advantages to being old.
The next day we were picked up at 9:00 am for a tour of the lower basin. The guide was Thomas Tennessee, not sure whether that was his last name or his home state, a perfect Southern gentleman who drove us to at least ten wonderful lookouts, to the Lake Hotel for a snack, to Old Faithful Lodge for lunch, and home at 5:45, totally exhausted, but thrilled. His knowledge of the topography, the geology, the history, the geography, and the forestry was rich and endless. I asked him at the end of the day how far we had walked on our different excursions from the bus to the lookouts, and he said just about three miles. Would you believe? Of course I have Allie on one hand and the walking stick on the other, but the legs were all mine.
We were thrilled with the geysers, the thermal pools, the hot steam shooting up out of calderas, the wonderful lodge with the wood stove that warmed us for a few minutes when we came in and out of the cold. We met a lady over the stove who said she grew up in North Carolina’s mountains and used only a wood stove and kerosene lamps until she was 16. I told her we were the city mouse and the country mouse. I remember flunking a test once because I didn’t know what a silo was. We passed the Continental Divide at 8950 altitude and the Lake of Two Oceans. The precipitation that falls into it on the East empties into the Atlantic Ocean and the precipitation that falls into from the West empties into the Pacific Ocean. Finally, I know what the Continental Divide means.
Just thinking – if we took all the money we spend on schools and instead took reluctant learners on a year long trip across the country – we could teach history, geography, geology, sociology, psychology, English, Spanish, and much, much more and they’d really care about learning. Just musing…
I found the forestry particularly fascinating as the guide explained that forest fires are needed to rejuvenate the forests. The tall Lodge Pine is the pioneer in the forest. It grows straight and tall (the Indians used them for their Lodges), and when the fire hits it decimates the pines, but not before they throw their seeds to the wind to bring their progeny back to life years later. As the ground cools, the Aspen and the Fir take root in the fertile soil and they grow into what is called the “climax forest”. Years later the pines return and the cycle begins all over again. Mother Nature, you are a marvel.
Sightings: osprey, bison, elk, deer, coyote. Sounds: only waterfalls and hail. People are very quiet in this environment, as are the cars, busses, RV’s, bicycles. Even the motorcycles don’t seem loud. Everyone is so respectful of this land of ours.
Change of plans when the day at leisure in Yellowstone became so cold and dreary that we decided to head for Buffalo, WY, a day early. There is no cell phone coverage all the way, so we took a chance that they would have room for us a day early. It turned out they did, but had they not had room, there was a Hampton Inn right next door. This was a lovely KOA park, complete with laundry (which we used), showers (which we did) and chaise lounges, which we enjoy for most of the day. It was brisk but clear and sunny, so we spent the day outside reading and sleeping, mostly sleeping. But I want to tell you about how we got here.
We left the Park by the east entrance and exit, where a two-lane highway is billed as “the most beautiful and scenic route” to Buffalo. It started out with a traffic light, the second one we saw in Yellowstone. A piece of the road had fallen into the Yellowstone River and they were repairing the road, so the two lane became one lane and we treaded very lightly until we were over the fallen road area. Cars were pulled over shortly after that, so we thought perhaps there was another problem. But, no, it was a herd of big horn sheep at the bottom of the mountain. Our last sighting in Yellowstone. And the first sign: “$750 fine for littering”. That’s how seriously they take their job at the National Parks. Everything is kept up so well and people seem to respect that culture. So it was goodbye Yellowstone and hello beautiful scenic byway. We passed three yellow school buses filled to the brim with kids of all ages, about to tour Yellowstone. Great stuff.
Cody, the home of Buffalo Bill Cody was halfway to Buffalo, a perfect stop for gas, lunch, and the Bill Cody Museum. As the skies opened up and the temperature dropped, we opted for gas and lunch and no museum. We had been too cold for too long to be chilled again, so it was back to the Sabel and on to Buffalo. This gorgeous stretch of highway goes through the Buffalo Bill Cody National Forest, the Shoshone River, the Shoshone Mountains, and the Aboraska Mountain Range. “Watch for Falling Rocks” the sign warned as we passed through canyons surrounded by red rocked mountains topped with rocky sentinels watching over us. Tunnels cut out of the mountains were picturesque and narrow and we exited into Emblem, pop 10. One store and a post office! The snow-crowned Bighorn Mountains rose up on the horizon as we passed endless fields of hay and cattle ranches filled with cattle.
Guard rails made us feel somewhat comfortable as we drove higher and higher into the Bighorn Mountains and Bighorn National Forest where switchbacks and hairpins were more the certainty than the exception. Steep inclines and declines (6% and 7%), whatever that means, but the warning was to trucks to check their brakes and go into low gear. We paid attention. And then, when it looked as if it couldn’t get more difficult, the heavy, low clouds descended into the mountain pass and filled the valleys with a fine, foggy mist. Visibility, maybe 10%. for the last 15 or 20 miles. Buffalo finally rose out of the mist and the KOA park appeared. Really, not a mirage. We exhaled.