I’m going for a record breaking 3 posts in 3 days in an attempt to get caught up here! Although I’m feeling frustrated that the storms I’ve encountered in Wisconsin have deprived me of the kayak adventure I had planned for this morning, they may be working in my favor. So, I’ll bypass the grumblings and get on with my story… While planning my route through the Teton-Yellowstone area I found out that one of my very dearest friends, Brandi Carrera, was going to be in Big Sky, Montana with her boyfriend during the latter part of my stay there. Unfortunately, the timing of her trip did not sinc-up with mine since she was arriving in Big Sky a week after I was traveling through that area on my way from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone. I didn’t have the luxury of delaying my plans because I had a limited amount of time before I had to be in Sturgis, South Dakota to start on another book, and there was much I wanted to do farther south by the Tetons before then. Simply put, when she arrived in Big Sky I would be 180 miles south near Kelly Wyoming. We’re not talking interstate miles. Teton and Yellowstone National Parks were between us, and those are NOT quick and easy miles. Let it serve as a testament to our friendship that I was determined to make this work. An overnighter trip by car was my only reasonable option. All I had to do was find a safe place to leave my motorhome behind. While I was pondering this and asking around, my new friend Jesse (introduced in my last post) volunteered to move the auto he was traveling in over to the space my RV was parked in and camp there for the night. He even insisted on paying the fee, which meant I not only stayed parked for free, he was there to keep an eye on things as well! How cool is that! (Thanks again Jesse!!) In the mean time, while visiting with Ted Kerasote (also introduced in the last post) about the next leg of my journey, he suggested that taking the northeast exit out of Yellowstone and traveling over Beartooth Pass would be much more appealing to the photographer in me than taking the more direct route out the east end of the park toward Cody. I greatly appreciated his suggestion, but questioned how “Beast” friendly that pass would be. (For you newcomers here… the Beast is my 35′ motorhome, and I tow a car.) I didn’t want to miss a route that was so highly recommended but looking closely at a map made it very clear to me that, although I could no doubt DO the drive, it would not be enjoyable in the RV. I know from experience that I’d be so focused on keeping the Beast between the lines on those narrow, windy, steep roads that I would miss the view entirely, AND I’d likely have few opportunities to pull over. My remedy to this dilemma was to make that trip over Beartooth Pass on my way back “home” from Big Sky. (On the map below- D=Kelly, my start and end point. B=Big Sky. And C=the top of Beartooth Pass.) This totaled up to more than 600 miles of driving in two days, with time for my friend too! That meant the first day would start very early and the second day would be very long. I’d have to travel much of the roadway in both directions too, but I knew I would not be bored with the scenery. I was on my way by 5am, which set me up for sunrise at one of the most notable vistas in Grand Teton National Park. While traveling farther north, I stopped at a few favorite spots I discovered last fall during my brief trip through these parks on my way to the Northwest.
With a little more time to play than I had last fall I was able to get off the beaten path and discover a few new things… like these vistas of the valley floor, Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic. The only way to see this is to climb a fairly steep and unmarked hill. It’s not too hard to find, but be aware that the climb is not fit for everyone.
Those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning may recall me ranting in frustration about driving up Gallatin Canyon with no opportunity to pull over at any of the amazingly beautiful vistas in my RV. This canyon is where “A River Runs Through It” (one of my favorites!) was filmed. There’s no wondering why. It’s stunning! I took advantage of being in my trusty little car and pulled over for pictures several times that afternoon and again the following morning.
I had a marvelous time visiting with Brandi and her boyfriend, David, as well as much of David’s extended family that afternoon and evening in Big Sky. The tempting offer was made for me to stay another day, but I had already put off my departure for Sturgis and had much ground to cover to get there (and one more hike in the Tetons before leaving), so, once again, I rolled before sunrise the following morning. The planned 430 mile trek would typically take about 9 hours, but I knew I had a lot of traffic jams and photo ops ahead of me.
So, I have kinda of a funny story that a friend suggested I share. On the way out of Big Sky in the wee hours I stopped at their one-and-only open store/deli for a cup of coffee and decided to grab a “freshly made” (and way over priced) breakfast bagel as well, knowing I’d have few opportunities to grab a snack on my way through the park. A few miles down the road I opened it and took a bite. Cold. Yuck! I do not like cold eggs and ham! I do not like them… (I know most all of you will complete that thought in your mind. ) I wasn’t all that hungry yet, but I was very disappointed in my $7 breakfast. I continued down the highway wishing I had some way to heat up my bagel, and it occurred to me that the hot water line in my RV is strategically routed past my engine, providing me with a tank full of hot water upon arrival without the use of propane. Why wouldn’t the same concept work for heating up a breakfast bagel? I pulled off the road, made sure the foil wrapper was secure (didn’t want to find gooey cheese all over my engine at the next stop), laid the little package right on top of the engine, and headed on down the highway. When my stomach started growling 30 minutes later I had a nice warm bagel sandwich waiting for me under the hood! Seriously! It worked great!
The Elk shot above brings up a point I should share… You CANNOT be in a hurry when traveling through Yellowstone. This is true here more than any other national park I’ve been through. Plan on more time than you think you’ll need, especially during the summer. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself extremely frustrated. Animal sightings bring traffic to a standstill. Everywhere. I was amused by this last fall, and fell in line with the rest without complaint, but there was far less traffic then. During the summer… stopping in the middle of the road to photograph Elk or Bison, which can easily be seen from pull-outs throughout the park… is really quite inconsiderate. Not only are these people blocking huge lines of traffic, they are keeping the folks behind them from enjoying the animals themselves.
In my last two blog posts I promised to share a story, and here it is… While driving along the north end of Yellowstone Lake I got stuck behind a car who was following a BIG bull Bison down the road. That car finally made his way past and then the Bison cut me off. Seriously… he was plodding along just to the right of the yellow line in front of me, grunting very audibly along the way. Ahead of me on the right side of the road there were dozens of folks lined up with their cameras and video cams going. “Big Boy” finally moved to the left as he was nearing the crowd, and when I felt I had room I slowly started moving past him. My mistake… I glanced over at him as I passed. I made eye contact. At that moment, with a big warning grunt, he charged me!! In my Honda! Luckily I have quick reflexes and hit the gas just in time to avoid body damage. You should have heard the crowd squeal! They have me to thank for the exciting footage they’re taking home. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… as docile as these animals seem, if they feel threatened they will react. This guy was just giving me a warning, but a gentle warning from a 1200 lb animal could easily kill or maim. The signs are posted, and literature handed out… DO NOT APPROACH THE WILDLIFE! How much more clear can it be? And yet, later in the day I watched a couple pull over and get out of their car to walk back to a very large Bull Bison who was resting quietly near the road. For their benefit I slowed, rolled down my window and said, “Excuse me, but just so you know… one of those guys charged MY CAR earlier today.” I was not surprised to see them continuing their advance toward the Bison in my rearview mirror.
I came upon a very understandable traffic jam as I traveled east along the Lamar River. A pack of wolves had taken down an Elk on the river earlier that morning and were feeding on it throughout the day. From what I observed, they do not stay with the kill until it’s gone, but feed, and retreat. The carcass lay in the shallows of the river, and although it seemed completely unattended at times, the wolves were never far away. I literally got chills up my spine when I heard how this kill was brought to the attention of the park rangers. Supposedly a boy from a nearby campground was out exploring in the morning, and came back with a picture of this dead Elk on his cell phone and asked someone (a parent?) what it was. When I heard this I couldn’t help imagining what MIGHT have happened. Lucky boy! Onward to Beartooth Pass. Huge thanks to Ted Kerasote for the suggestion! What a remarkable stretch of highway! I’m glad I chose to do this in my car as opposed to traveling out of the park on this highway in my motorhome, and I’m also very glad to have seen, enjoyed and photographed the vistas viewed from both directions!
On my way back through the park, tired as I was, I stopped to see The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I have to admit, I toyed with skipping it, but I’m pretty focused on “not regretting what I might have missed” these days. And if I hadn’t stopped, I might have missed this!
Back around to one of my favorite vistas in the entire area… The Grand Tetons majestically reaching out toward Jackson Lake.
I debated from this point… the quicker route past Moran on the highway or the slower route down Teton Park Road. I think I wagged back and forth a time or two at the intersection, but chose the road I had not yet traveled. It brought me to new vistas of the mountains, and at a “dramatic” time of day. I drove along and stopped a time or two… but I was tired, (really, really tired) and looking forward to the end of the road, when around the next turn I saw a sign… “Scenic Route >”. My head was still asking… I don’t know… my heart I guess… if we wanted to stop, and before “we” could decide, I drove right past the turn. I have to admit it was a labored movement, turning the car around, but I was extremely glad I did. As I stood on the edge of Jenny Lake looking at those mountains I was astounded once again, at the talent and artistry of the Master of all Master Artists. What an amazing work of art! At that moment, photographing the scene before me felt a bit like taking a picture of a master painting in Le Louvre. I was humbled beyond words.