January, the idea for a western trip was spawned. Actually for years we’ve talked about doing such a trip. Well finally we were planning. Research and reservations needed to be made, if it wasn’t too late. We decided to stay in two places, Silver Gate, MT and Signal Mt. Lodge inside the Tetons.
We shoved off 5 minutes earlier than planned at 5:55 AM. We took our usual route north to Portage but then kept driving north and west through Wisconsin’s wonderful driftless region. I told the kids we didn’t need to go all the way to Wyoming, we could just climb the hills we were seeing there!
Crossing the Mississippi River is not unusual to us, but here, in Lacrosse it is. Beautiful palisades of the mighty river invite exploration but with 800 miles still to go, we must press on. And press on we did. Pretty farmland Minnesota and entering South Dakota. When we eventually reached the Missouri River the land seemed to change. It began to look western immediately as we made the crossing into a barren treeless rolling plain. SD’s roads let us go almost 90 MPH so the miles ticked off quickly and we decided we had time for the Badlands. Saw some prairie dogs first, another sign we were not anywhere close to home and then made the drive through the unique park. So many beautiful overlooks.
A disappointing dinner at tacky Wall Drug and we were pressing on to Gillette. We skirted the Black ills and pressed on through really barren Wyoming. No wonder it’s one of the least densely packed state!
We stopped in Gillette after 1000+ miles of driving eager to press on to much better things the next day. Thank you LORD Jesus for many miles of protection and good conversation and for the hints of the beauty to come.
After a nice rest, the LORD’s day dawned brightly. I had been praying a vain prayer that we would see the mountains and that they wouldn’t be enshrouded in clouds. Well today, the tops of the Bighorns appeared brightly, 50 miles away!
As we arrived in Sheridan we, John driving, began the switchbacks up into the foothills Much snow remained in the mountains as can be seen in the picture.
Our descent was just as thrilling as entered Shell Canyon, a spectacular site to us flatlanders!
We viewed Shell Falls and spilled out into the wasteland between Mountain ranges. Soon we were seeing large mountain ranges across the horizon from North to South. One range after another, two highpoints of states visible. On the CD player in the car “How Great Thou Art” was playing. I worshipped with tears filling my eyes as I listened to the appropriate words. Not wanting to diminish what are the best words of the song I sang with great awe, “And when I think that God His Son not sparing sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.” It’s a wonder I kept the car on the road!
After a supply stop in the textbook western town of Cody we made our 2nd mountain drive of the day, Jamie driving this time, the spectacular Chief Joseph Drive. We enjoyed the colorful rocks and the vistas that we were just not used to seeing.
Awestruck once again we arrived our cute little cabin, with the little kitchen and the little living room and the little bathrooms in the cute little town, notice a theme?
Silver Gate is hemmed in by large mountains and sits along the banks of a babbling mountain stream, water which some day would flow just past our house in Louisiana. After a tasty dinner in the cabin John, Jamie, Grace and I ventured into the park for the first time, and found a short trail which turned us around after a storm blew in and blew over a tree 5 feet away.
Time to check out Yellowstone, a huge park supposedly larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, and putting my geography knowledge to the test, larger than 10-15 countries. It’s a big place! A theme of the trip developed yesterday actually as I told the kids “prepare to be amazed” Yesterday was one of those days and today was going to be another. We did a lot today so I’ll just list the events.
1. Hike to Trout Lake. A short hike with a steep climb, the first of many steep climbs. Pretty spot with, aptly, many trout visible in the clear waters.
2. Lamar Valley We will eventually drive through this magical place 7 times in total but this is the first. It is filled with Bison and a few other animals like Bear, Elk and Antelope, all of which we saw with varying success. Today we saw a herd of bison ‘stampeding’ down a hillside. The sage filled valley (instead of trees) allows the driver to see the 10,000 foot peaks lining it’s 20 mile length.
3. One bison inched along a road that had nowhere for him to go except keep walking on the road, cliffs on both sides the road preventing it from doing anything else except keep walking down the road.
4. Old Faithful geyser area. For about 30 miles we had been passing steaming, burping and smelly features. Just an amazing place. The complex of Old Faithful is like a theme park. Stores, restaurants, lodges and of course the main attraction. What fascinates me is looking into a hole in which steam is steam is coming or water is boiling and it feels like you have the rarest opportunity to look into the earth. We explored a lot and then made the long trip back. We did climb up to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook and saw that marvelous sight.
5. Driving back. A ferocious storm approached as were getting ready to drive through Dryden Pass, a sinewy drive we’d do a total five times on the trip. We stopped at an overlook and saw the strong storm off in the distance.
When we’d arrive back to Silver Gate the entire tiny town with the tiny cabin was in the dark. This park was in the process of wearing us out!
It’s always been one of my dreams to climb a tall mountain. Today was that chance. A lot of people are content to look at the hills and mountains, but a lot like to climb as well and count me in that number.
I am reminded of mountain climbers in the Bible. Moses was led up Pisgah to see the Promised Land, Elijah climbed the Mt. Carmel to make fools of 400 prophets of Baal. Jesus dragged a cross up a hill He had created called Calvary, which many believe is the same as Moriah, where Abraham climbed with his son to sacrifice him in that unreal test of a mans faith.
Mt. Washburn is a popular mountain to climb because of its’ access road to the top. So instead of a narrow path with rocks, roots, and other things to trip over and fall off 1000 foot cliffs, there is an old unused road making it more like a walk instead of a hike. So the top 1400 feet of Washburn is a steady climb on a still snow covered trail, packed down by numerous hikers. Not always easy to walk on, but not that bad. But it’s still 1400 feet of climbing and 3 miles of distance to the top. Many times we could see the fire tower on top and it looked very small, and far and high. To add to the intrigue we could see storms building seemingly in every direction. By the time we got to the top, we looked like we were going to get nailed by heavy rain. There were amazing views at every turn. Snow clouds to the west, the Tetons far to the south, the Absaroka’s to the east, the Beartooths to the north. I slipped off a snowbank near the top. While I was in no imminent danger right there, there were some large drop-offs along the way and I was thankful it didn’t turn out worse. The top was as advertised, but with the menacing skies we didn’t stick around long, just like those who climb Everest and turn around after a few minutes.
The way down had us in a short snow shower, and then in brilliant sunshine. It quickly melted the snow on the path making the path a semi quagmire of mud and water.
A semi comical moment was when I arrived last to the parking lot I took a little shortcut. I jumped over to a snowbank and was suddenly chest deep in snow. I was stuck! Bystanders instead of offering a helping hand got out their cameras, but who can blame them! It could have been worse, there could have been a rock hidden under the snow, or a hibernating bear, or it could have been 10 feet deep instead of 6 and no one would have known what happened to me until the snow melted!
We made a dash for the Falls and Grand Canyon area where Janice and I watched a film that Yellowstone is waiting to blow, or if that doesn’t get you, then the bears, moose, wolves, bison and elk will get you, or you could fall into a hot spring. We decided we’d be much more careful after that.
We next hiked to a place most visitors wouldn’t see because it’s too far from a parking lot, like a mile.. Clear Lake is a sulfurous blue lagoon in the middle of the woods. The water was invitingly warm for a swim, but who knew what was in it so I declined. We next hiked past fumaroles and boiling pools of mud, a science fiction type of landscape that we may not see again in our lifetime.
From the ridiculous to the sublime describes our leg through the woods to a most amazing site. After passing a north woods Wisconsin like pond there was a clearing ahead on this longish hike. We climbed the short hill and our jaws dropped. We were standing at the edge of 1200 feet deep Yellowstone Canyon. We were expecting to see this on the hike we were on but it still just blew us away. 1200 feet down, and artist palette of earth tones and an emerald blue spastic river running through it. On upstream the fabulous Lower Falls. Maybe the greatest juxtaposition of falls and surrounding scenery on the entire planet. We were certainly seeing scenes today that were uniquely incredible in both their beauty, and their you won’t see this anywhere else amazement.
We walked two incredible miles along the rim and made it back to the car exhausted. We had hiked 11 miles in one day and not much of it on level ground either!
We made the long drive back to our tiny cabin with a couple of stops to see spectacular Tower Falls which falls sideways into the lower end of the Canyon. It was an extraordinary site that somehow in this park of superlatives becomes kind of ho hum. Look at the picture to see how ho hum this spot is!
Just a few yards down the road and another sign beckons. “Calcite Springs” The overlook down into the Canyon pointed towards a bank of the river with steam pouring out of the rock. And 600 feet above it and a half mile away you could smell the strong sulfur odor. There must have been a lot of that escaping the earth!
Back in the Lamar Valley I spotted with the binoculars a grizzly jump off a bank into the stream. Another ho hum on this amazing day!
This is our lagniappe day for Yellowstone. We’re going to discover what else we can see because we’d covered the highlights of the park.
We went for a hike on the Slough Creek trail in which there was no view of the creek which we were looking forward to and on which there was a grizzly bear which the boys encountered 20 yards away. They followed bear encounter protocol and calmly turned around and walked away and lived to tell us ab out it. I’m disappointed they didn’t snap a picture!
We had learned a lot about going into bear country. Make noise, hike in groups, and in Jamie’s memorable words “carry bear spray so you don’t become bears prey”. We heard a description of a grizzly with a bison kill that was stashed down in a hole. The observer watched as the grizzly pulled the bison out of the hole with one ‘arm’. Incredibly powerful and magnificent creatures.
Down the road a bit, there was a wildlife traffic jam, and I observed a pack of wolves through the binoculars tearing into a kill of some sort. Just another ‘ho hum’ moment!
Heading towards Mammoth Hot Springs we saw a petrified tree, a black bear, and a beautiful overlook. After the overlook we followed a pretty stream along the road called the Gardner River. Suddenly without warning the river was 500 feet below us. This was something I observed frequently in the park. Roadside stream, then it’s lost in a steep impenetrable canyon.
Sometimes steep, impenetrable canyon awaiting reckless drivers who don’t recognize the lack of guardrails!
The spot where this canyon started was called Urdine Falls which barely gets mentioned because it’s not superlative enough I’d guess.
We ended up at the village of Mammoth Hot Springs. It was an old army outpost and thus has historical buildings left behind. There’s a classy hotel, post office and the fort, so it really was like a small village.
As strange as it seems, we were reaching geothermal feature saturation. MHS is an amazing place however and we walked the boardwalks around all of the incredible travertine features, which are formed similar to in caves. Steam, odors, bubblings, boilings, strange colors, odd textures all are evident here.
Part of the MHS area you drive from feature to feature and saw this fascinating dome, with a ‘drinking fountain’ of water spewing out of it. It kind of looks like a melting pile of ice cream with caramel. Didn’t smell like it though.
We drove out of the park to the touristy town of Gardiner, MT beneath a 2000 foot high stream bank across from us. We got 25 cent coffee at a really tacky gift shop and was disappointed that they were working on the Roosevelt Arch, a historic grand arc d’ triumph (sp?) like structure that normally you’d drive through on that entrance to the park.
We made the very long drive back to Silver Gate and our tiny cabin where once again, an amazing sight. Sitting on the porch I scanned the cliffs 1000 feet above our cabin. I saw what I was looking for. Mountain Sheep scampering around where only birds can go. How can they cling to those heights? God knows and He told Job about it when He was describing His power and omniscience. God said, “Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth?” In other words, no one, especially at those days would know because, who besides God could possibly observe these things?
A transition day as we pack up our cozy little place and make the long drive to the Tetons and another cozy little cabin.
John and Jamie woke up early and had another wildlife adventure. They were getting ready to head up on a trail through the sage of the Lamar Valley. A ranger pulled up and showed them a black wolf, coming right up the trail they were heading out on! The boys stood with the ranger and watched a whole pack emerge and begin harassing some antelope. The wolves crossed the road leaving them with another story to tell!
After packing the car we had a long trip through Yellowstone, but first we had to take this picture:
(This was the only time during the trip the kids weren’t excited to do something.)
It’s a huge park with slower speed limits, and narrow dangerous roads and tie ups for wildlife spotting, and people will think nothing of stopping right in the middle of the road leaving you no choice but to wait for them to go or get around them.
At the lower falls of the Yellowstone, we stopped again and hiked down Uncle Tom’s staircase. This is a steep staircase/trail that gets you down into the canyon. The signs give a brief history and this warning:
The view of the falls was worth the steep climb back out, we’re at about 7000 feet so breathing was a bit difficult.
Mud volcano the sign read, and we pulled in to see more amazing geothermal features. At this incredible place there are mud pots, some letting out an awful stinky steam, another hissing and steaming hole in the side of the hill that somehow sends waves of putrid water out. It looked like what an entrance to a forbidden underworld would look like in a movie, but here it is just the opposite, another part of God’s glorious creation!
There were more falls, canyons, and lakes to see as we exited the park, the relatively boring side of the park save for the magnificent Yellowstone Lake.
You leave Yellowstone immediately for the Tetons and its amazing mountain range. We moved into our cabin at Signal Mountain Lodge and then hiked up to beautiful Taggart Lake, right at the base of America’s most famous mountain range. We passed a corral with a moose in it. John lingered to see the moose and the moose suddenly jumped over the fence! We determined it was a wild moose and it would hop into the corral looking for a handout! Another day of awe and wonder completed.
When I first researched the trip I knew I should lead my family on some epic hikes. Mt. Washburn was one and Cascade Canyon in the Tetons was the other.
Today we enjoyed a relaxing morning eating breakfast with a view of the Tetons across Jackson Lake. Then we headed for the trail which starts at a trail along the shore of another great alpine Jenny Lake. Nothing like an alpine lake, especially at the base of the Tetons!
A right turn off the trail took us up steeply to Cascade Canyon. Tallest trees I’ve ever seen in this spruce and fir forest! Not long into the Canyon we were standing between walls that rose to a mile above our heads. A rushing stream added to the experience. Most people look over at the Tetons, but now we had to look straight up to see the Tetons! We really we wanted to go further up into the canyon, but time wasn’t permitting it. After hiking out to Inspiration Point we headed back.
The thrill of being up in that spot will be with me for many years. I praise God that in His Grace he gives us these occasional opportunities to enjoy His wondrous works!
After freshening up we drove to touristy Jackson and had some touristy pizza, then took some touristy pictures of the Mouton Barn and the touristy Snake River.
This wrapped up our time in the two parks. Time to head home. Drove through some scenic country before spilling out onto the Great Plains. Nebraska and Iowa are pretty but it’s very relative when you see what we’ve seen!